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I have heard it argued that a god can not be all-benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent at the same time. My question is, is this a valid logical argument.

Given the premises I would argue that there are 2 possibilities.

  1. God's omnipotence does not include the ability to violate logic
  2. God's omnipotence include the ability to violate logic

If a god's omnipotence does not allow it to violate logic then it simply may not be able to be all-benevolent and all knowing at the same time as that god also prohibits evil. This is a limit of the meaning of omnipotence.

If god's omnipotence does allow it to violate logic, then a god can simply violate the argument that it can't be omnipotent, all benevolant and all knowing.

I am curious if the argument I am attempting to invalidate is actually presented in the field of philosophy as a real argument against god's existence or is simply a tool for showing the limitations of logical arguments.

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    Omnipotence by itself can already be argued incoherent along these lines (creating a stone one cannot lift, etc.), and has been so argued to death, see e.g. SEP, Omnipotence for a survey. I doubt we can add anything new here.
    – Conifold
    Dec 10, 2021 at 16:54
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    I don't know if its purpose is to point out the limitations of logical arguments so much as it is to point out the incomprehensibility (or incoherence) of god. For the logical argument to be "limited" by this "omni" presentation of god one would need some kind of evidence that such a thing exists. However, if such a thing does not exist there would be no example by which to demonstrate a limitation in the logic.
    – Lucretius
    Dec 10, 2021 at 16:57
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    The key difference between God and any human is the power of controlling causality (miracles, création, superpowers, production of first cause, etc. ). That implies violating logic. If God wouldn't control causality, he would just be a common John Doe.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 11, 2021 at 3:51
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    You're essentially providing a rebuttal to an argument, but then you're asking about the argument instead of the rebuttal. If you want to ask about the argument, then the rebuttal is irrelevant. If you want to present a rebuttal, then the question about the argument is irrelevant. Those seem like 2 very distinct questions that would probably best have been asked in separate question posts (if both are on-topic). It would also help to clearly define and provide a reference for the argument - "God can't have all 3 omni attributes" is the conclusion to the argument, not the argument itself.
    – NotThatGuy
    Dec 11, 2021 at 10:46
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    'God can't be omnipotent, omniscient and all good' is not an argument, it is a statement or a claim.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 12, 2021 at 11:59

13 Answers 13

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The primary argument against a being with the confluence of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence is an empirical refutation, not a logical one. Design inference is always based on a teleological presumption that an agent with certain character or goals would act based on that character or goals, and an omnibenevolent being with sufficient power and knowledge to do so, would have created this universe to be maximally morally perfect. However, we observe this universe, and see that it is NOT maximally morally perfect, hence it does not contain a being with the confluence of those three characteristics. This is called the Problem of Evil, and it was clearly articulated by Epicurus millennia ago.

In addition to this empirical test case of the confluence of these three terms, there are logic cases that have been made against the power and knowledge "omni's" separately. An object too strong to be destroyed, or an item hidden too well to be found, both show that absolutism in the power and knowledge Omni's can lead to apparent self contradictions. This problem is independent of whether they are applied to a God claim or not, hence this "logic" objection basically shows that there are flaws in how we conceive of "logic", and is not actually a challenge to God concepts, but instead to the validity of our logical reasoning around infinities.

Your discussion then ventured into the origins of logic, with an interesting, but highly relevant extension of the Euthyphro Dilemma to logic as well as morality. After all, IF a God created our universe, did that God create logic, hence logic could be an arbitrary selection by that God, or did logic pre-exist that creation, and serve to constrain God, hence that God was not omnipotent relative to logic?

This "Euthyphro with Logic" argument presumes there is "one true logic", which is something that logicians in the last several decades have come to reject. See https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/think/article/abs/guide-to-logical-pluralism-for-nonlogicians/EDFDFA1C9EB65DB71848DABD6B12D877.

Mathematics made this conceptual jump over a century ago -- there IS no "one true math", which the discover of non-Euclidean geometries drove home to mathematicians. Instead, there is an infinite set of positable systems, some of which are useful to model our world. Logicians have over a century later realized the same is true of logics.

At any rate, once one accepts that there is an infinitude of logics, and some aspects of our universe seem to follow one, and other aspects of our universe seem to follow another -- the sting of claims of Omni or God actions having "logical contradictions" goes away entirely, and this "logic Euthyphro" dilemma basically dissolves. This understanding also provides some explanation for why some of our logic seems to break down around infinities -- THAT logic is simply not universally valid in this universe.

So -- the actual objection is an empirical not a logical one, and while there are two logic-based objections to Omni properties, they are both addressed thoroughly by pluralism in logic.

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    There is a difference between there being different formal logics, and there being different logics. Formal logics are models to study the concept of logic. Confusing different formal logic for there being different logics is like confusing there being different map projections of Earth for there being different Earths. Philosophy rests on there being only one logic. If there is no objective logic, then any act of philosophizing can be obviated by simply positing a different logic. Dec 13, 2021 at 5:56
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    @Acccumulation -- philosophy's "wish it were so" is why logic pluralism was resisted for so long. But a brittle philosophy that cannot handle logic pluralism does nobody any good, when confronting a situation that breaks it. The pragmatic truth standard is what one can use instead.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 13, 2021 at 6:42
  • Bleh. Hidden assumption: the appearance of being morally perfect is the most important thing. When asked to fill in the details of what a morally perfect thing would look like the result usually precludes free will existing and ends up being rather horrific.
    – Joshua
    Dec 13, 2021 at 21:38
  • @Joshua -- WE are not omniscient, and when we try to identify "moral perfection" we are usually pretty bad at it. But we ARE pretty good at identifying moral imperfections -- things which could be improved by some incremental change -- from bad to better. And this world is far far from morally perfect. And that includes our degree of free will, which is currently pretty small. If, as you imply, Free Will trumps all other goods, then our Free Will should be maximized, but it isn't.
    – Dcleve
    Dec 13, 2021 at 22:00
  • @Dcleve: The world looks to me like the natural result of aggregate free will is nearly maximized (rule turned over to humans, and humans ran it into the ground), but I don't think that's the variable being maximized for either.
    – Joshua
    Dec 13, 2021 at 22:23
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Given the premises I would argue that there are 2 possibilities.

  1. God's omnipotence does not include the ability to violate logic
  2. God's omnipotence include the ability to violate logic

Both of these assume that illogical things are things that 'ability' makes sense to talk about. Does it really make sense to ask whether God has the ability to draw a four sided triangle? Isn't it inherently nonsensical to talk about the ability to violate logic? You ask which possibility it is, but the dilemma itself is illogical.

Divine omnipotence should probably be defined as God being able to do whatever God wants to do. Sometimes this is phrased in terms of God always being able to act in perfect accordance with God's nature or character. The key point being that there is never a situation in which God wants to do something but cannot. The more interesting questions are the ones that ask if God's omnipotence implies the ability to, for example, act contrary to God's moral principles. For the Christian God this would mean things like lying or hating the vulnerable.

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Logic isn't a thing that can be violated. It's a tool for understanding and explaining things. It's not a property of the world.

Just like something can't violate the scientific method. At most there can be a flaw in how we apply the scientific method to that thing or that thing could violate incorrect conclusions we've previously drawn by using the scientific method (which the scientific method is capable of dealing with). You similarly also can't say something violates semantics as a concept (the idea of defining words to represent things). At most it can expose a flaw in a particular definition of a word.

If we say "God knows everything" and there's something God doesn't appear to know for any reason, then we wouldn't say logic is violated, we'd simply say our premise appears to be false.

Even if something were completely illogical / random, logic still wouldn't be violated. You just wouldn't be able to reason about it logically (beyond coming to the logical conclusion that you're unable to understand it using logical reasoning at this time, which may mean it's illogical or random, or that you simply don't understand it well enough). Although illogical and random aren't really the properties you'd want your god to have, because that might mean random punishments, commandments that contradict one another and therefore can't all be followed, and rewards you can't be sure you'll get.


To say that God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent is to say that God will act in a way consistent with those attributes. If God doesn't appear to act in a way consistent with those attributes, we're logically left with these options:

  • God doesn't actually possess 1 or more of those attributes.
  • One of the other premises that led to the conclusion that God isn't acting in a way consistent with those attributes can be shown to be false.
  • There's a flaw in our logical reasoning. This is probably the closest you'll get to "violating logic". But it doesn't really violate logic at all: we have many logical fallacies which represent flaws in logical reasoning. The problem with trying to say this would be that the burden of proof will be on you to show what the flaw is, and the flaw would similarly exist for things other than God.
  • We're incapable of understanding how the acts of God are consistent with those attributes (God is beyond understanding). This is a common rebuttal from theists (and it's an unsatisfying rebuttal, because it allows a theist to only use logic in as far as it supports their argument, and basically prevents anyone from countering their argument using logic).

The idea that God can't be omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient if evil exists (which appears to be the argument you're referencing) is known as the problem of evil, which is quite a popular point of debate. That is: as a serious argument, not as a tool for showing the limitations of logical arguments.

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  • Have a look at intuitionistic and paraconsistent logics to see that the usual notion of logic is something that can be usefully expanded. This suggests that logic being unbreakable isn't an iron-clad argument. Dec 12, 2021 at 11:15
  • +1 I love that opening. Very constructivist.
    – J D
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:49
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The argument about omnipotence is not an argument about God. It is an argument about omnipotence, or indeed about a particular species of omnipotence, which we can dub "unlimited omnipotence". We don't need to get God involved at all. We can just as well assume any being that would be omnipotent in this sense and then argue that the existence of such a being makes no sense. The point is not about the existence of such a being, it is about the human mind. It is about the fact that the existence of an omnipotent being makes no sense to the human mind. Given this, it is up to each of us to decide whether we want to believe something that makes no sense.

I repeat the argument here:

Suppose a being is assumed to be omnipotent. He should be able to create a rock impossible to lift. Once he has created the rock, either he can lift the rock or he cannot. If he cannot lift it, then he is not omnipotent. If he can lift it, then he failed to create a rock impossible to lift, and so he is not omnipotent.

See? There isn't the word "God" there. The argument just shows that the idea of unlimited omnipotence is nonsense.

If god's omnipotence does allow it to violate logic, then a god can simply violate the argument that it can't be omnipotent, all benevolant and all knowing.

If we take omnipotence to be power without any limitation or restriction, then logic cannot possibly be a limitation or restriction to an omnipotent being, but this is precisely because of this that the notion of omnipotence is illogical and therefore nonsensical. You can always choose to speak nonsense but do not expect logical people to accept what you say. To understand what the word "omnipotence" means is to understand that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent being is illogical and therefore cannot make sense. You can always say "I believe in an omnipotent God", but you cannot make logical people agree that your idea makes sense.

It should be noted that this debate about omnipotence has been going on for centuries and still there are people to delude themselves that there may be something somehow that has not been understood about it yet. But no, the argument is very well-known and logically very, very simple and it has been discussed so many times that the idea that we may somehow all have missed a crucial point about it is total wishful thinking.

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Skirting the validity of the argument we can answer the question:

"I am curious if the argument I am attempting to invalidate is actually presented in the field of philosophy as a real argument?"

Yes, see the "Epicurean paradox" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil#Epicurus

Also, even today as a simple challenge to a theist attempting to convert the atheist its a common thing.

Responses along the lines of "god is above logic" (or even "Godel's incompleteness theorem") fall into the trap of "If you admit your belief is illogical/irrational. How are you going to demonstrate its truth/do you expect me to believe?".

The argument challenges the rationality of any argument for god's existence and seeks to force those arguing for that belief to admit to mysticism or define their system of logic.

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I'm am currently in the middle of the February 2021 Commonweal article, "The problem of evil" by Dennis Turner. Interestingly he has proceeded from philosophers' arguments to the mystic Julian of Norwich. In Shewings she speaks sin is behovely to honor the human freedom of choice. " "A sinless world is impossible given freedom, and without freedom there are no human beings" only automata. It might be helpful.

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As an atheist, the Christian God is described as all-knowing, omni-potent, and all-good. As such, if he exists, then he just laughs about all these arguments that he would violate logic.

I don't believe that God exists. You can believe that he exists as much as you like. But trying to make logical arguments why he can't exist is nonsense. If he exists as described by Christian religion, then he is beyond our logic.

And there is also a very simple argument that there is no logical proof that God doesn't exist: God is almighty. Therefore he can make me come up with a proof that he doesn't exist. Therefore there can be proof that he doesn't exist, while he happily exists. Therefore, there can be no valid proof.

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  • Interesting answer but it is not relevant to the situation, which is that not only the argument proves omnipotence illogical, but that humans are logical beings. As such, the argument is really problematic for people claiming that there is an omnipotent god. They may try to deny any validity to it, but their logical nature means that they do get the point. Your idea is akin to the idea that we may be living in a simulation. This might be true but most people are not going to believe that. The undeniable fact is that our innate logical sense makes omnipotence nonsensical. Dec 15, 2021 at 18:30
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Some as Aristotle argue that God is the prime mover, i.e the first cause which is not an effect of any previous cause.

There's no description of this prime cause to be with knowledge,power etc. Just a cause.

Anyway, those who believe in God believe that he transcends logic/s.

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  • Human beings all the time transcend logic. As a proof, look at all the stupidities going on around us ;) Dec 13, 2021 at 17:13
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Yes, a being that can violate logic (not just classical logic, but any logical system) is essentially impervious to argumentation. Dcleve says that the argument is not a logical one but assumes the being follows logic anyway: "an omnibenevolent being with sufficient power and knowledge to do so, would have created this universe to be maximally morally perfect". If the being violates logic, there is no reason to think it would act one way or the other.

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There are a few interesting points.

One is to define what does it mean to defy logic. It is something that deserves a very good definition to get an answer to your question. @curiousdannii's answer has a nice touch on this.

But regardless of possibility to defy logic or not, I'd say that logic is an instrument and is kinda limited. Try to make a decision entirely on logical arguments and you go nowhere. You can come up with arguments in both directions equally strong. We mostly use logic to support what we already want and it is often illogical.

If you imagine a computer and a computer program running on it. And a programmer that has written that program. The programmer can modify and alter the program in whatever way he wants. Is he defying logic?

an omnibenevolent being with sufficient power and knowledge to do so, would have created this universe to be maximally morally perfect

This line strikes interest with it's assumption. That world is not maximally morally perfect. According to yogis and their description of karma, the world is already morally perfect. In a sense that you never get what you didn't deserve. Now we can start arguing what does it mean maximally morally perfect but this is also a huge topic.

Another thing from yogis' teachings is that to sustain the creation you need two opposing forces or energies. Similarly how you need light and shadow at the same time to produce a picture on a screen. If one is lacking, there is no picture. So simply for the movie of the world to exist, it has to be built like that.

So answers to questions depend very much on definition of the terms we use. And we have different inner definition for many concepts. So read my answer with this in mind. Don't assume we use same terms with same inner definition.

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  • "The programmer can modify and alter the program in whatever way he wants." Well, no, precisely. Have you any expertise in computer programmation? I have an experience as a programmer and your claim here strikes me as completely wrong. I wish we could modify our programs anyway we wanted but we cannot. Dec 12, 2021 at 18:52
  • @Speakpigeon, that's my job. What stops you from doing any modifications? Now I'm not talking about skills. But you potentially could modify any instructions at any point of the program. Please don't go into technicalities finding incompatibilities of the analogy. It is just an analogy. In this case God is also building the computer itself and is all the characters at the same time. So God also created the logic if you forgive me the pun ;) Dec 13, 2021 at 17:09
  • An analogy? Oops, sorry, I thought you wanted to post a serious answer. Never mind. Dec 13, 2021 at 17:37
  • @Speakpigeon, God forbid. I don't want to be a serious person. I don't understand your comment but maybe issue is in me, because I'm not serious enough. Dec 13, 2021 at 21:05
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Fragile Logic

I hate to announce this, but "violating logic" is the easiest thing in the world. Anyone can do it! Here, I'll show you:

Given:
  A -> B
  B -> C
Therefore:
  C -> A

In fact, it does not logically follow that C implies A from the givens. I just "violated logic". I guarantee you with my life that I have no super-powers and am not omnipotent. But perhaps that is unsatisfying, because I didn't levitate a rock or cause a dog to age backwards into a puppy. Well, it turns out that those things have only a tenuous connection to logic. We can only associate real-world events with logic by fiat. There is no "intrinsic" or "absolute" logical system attached to reality. We can't scrape away the paint of reality and peer at the "Logic System v3" etched into every physical thing. There is no such label.

Many Logics

As mentioned by others, there are many competing logical systems. You have Aristotelian Logic, Intuitionistic Logic, Fuzzy Logic, etc ad nauseum. None of these can claim to be "The One True Logic(TM)" because the very concept does not make sense. Logics are formal systems. They are a set of rules and statements. The rules tell you how the statements can be combined or modified to produce other statements. Some formal systems are used to describe what happens in the physical world, but this description is merely correlative, not determinative. We can say: "We observe the hydrogen atom to obey the Bohr model", but we cannot say: "The Bohr model causes the hydrogen atom's behavior", because it quite clearly does not.

The reason formal systems must define a set of rules is because what makes systems different is exactly which rules they adopt (the axioms and rules of procedure). And the fact that there are many different rule choices one can define leads to the existence of an infinite number of formal systems. So when someone says: "That defies logic!" the first response should be: "Which one?" The second response should be: "That's ok, it's perfectly consistent with Logical System {X}."

Omnipotence

Next, we should ask: "What is omnipotence?" And to answer that, we should back up and ask: "What is potence?" I mean, what does it mean to have power at all? And I think we generally agree that it means the ability to cause some state change in the universe. If the universe just stays in the same state for all eternity, most folks won't say: "It's doing that because of my infinite power." But if a small rock goes flying through the air, someone might say: "I threw the rock. It's going fast because I have great power." And we understand what that means. If a boulder the size of a house goes flying through the air, and someone says: "I caused that boulder to fly", then we are awed by the display of power. We recognize that causing that sequence of state changes in the universe is non-trivial and won't just happen spontaneously under most circumstances.

However, we also recognize that the bigger the difference between State A and State B when B follows A is some kind of measure of the "power" of something (whether an inanimate force or an intelligent agent). Thus, we can enumerate the set of possible state changes under a small, finite power (say, a robot with 1 W of power available to it). This set of universe-histories defines the scope of the power of that entity. As the power increases, the space of possible universe-histories expands. And thus, we can see that a being with unlimited power would simply have the ability to cause any universe-state to follow any other universe-state. It could cause a universe with a billion stars to immediately be followed by a universe with 0 stars and 5 unicorns. Now, lots of folks will step in and say: "But that's illogical! Impossible!!!" And if you subscribe to the Standard Model, that is all true. But if you recognize that the Standard Model just describes what we see, and not what an omnipotent being is capable of, then such a transition is not really "illogical" at all. We just haven't witnessed it yet (and I'm sure most of us are hoping not to).

But viewing power as the ability to choose the future histories of the universe sheds light on the old conundrum of "making a rock so big you can't lift it". The very idea of an "unliftable rock" is not really a demonstration of power under this description. Because sufficient power will always allow any object to suddenly translate to any location at all. The ability to "create" an "immovable object" really boils down to the ability to prevent any future history in which that object changes its position. But for an omnipotent being that can select any next state from the set of all possible states, such a future history is merely contingent upon their will. If that rock never moves, it is only because the omnipotent being wills it so, despite the actions of all finite beings. And so, relative to itself, the rock is moveable. But relative to everyone else, it is not! Such an omnipotent being is self-consistent from this perspective.

Uniqueness

We immediately see a problem if one suggest that there are two omnipotent beings. Because if both beings are truly omnipotent, then each one may select any future universe-state which pleases them. So what happens if they select different universe-states? If there's only one universe, then you have a bona-fide logical contradiction. We can't even describe a universe that is in two states simultaneously (unless you subscribe to the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM). So, omnipotence as I've described it can be possessed by at most one willful entity.

Benevolence

What is impossible is for a being to be "omnibenevolent". Imagine that there are three people: Adam, Eve, and Lilith. Both Eve and Lilith desire Adam for themselves, and to the exclusion of the other (they don't like to share). Eve considers a "benevolent God" to be one that causes her to acquire Adam, while Lilith believes the same for herself. Clearly, God cannot satisfy both wishes simultaneously, because even if he clones Adam, the exclusivity is then violated (these are jealous women who obtain satisfaction from having Adam to themselves). The problem is not that God is unable to choose the winning universe-state which solves the conflict. The problem is that the "benevolent states" are ill-defined.

The concept of "benevolence" boils down to value judgments. And there is nothing more contentious amongst humans than their values. We don't know what an omni-benevolent being would look like, because we wouldn't even recognize omnibenevolence if it were happening right now! "Benevolence" implies some kind of "goodness", but most humans define "goodness" in a fairly self-centered way (such as: "Me being alive is good"). Multiple humans define it in ways which are mutually exclusive practically every single day of their lives. For a simple example, try to get 10 random people to agree whether a serial killer who has repented deserves to go to heaven or not. Even if it were possible for an omni-benevolent being to exist, a large number of humans would curse it out for any choice it made on this question.

Free Will

If we want to make impossibility statements about super-powered beings, it seems most fruitful to ask the question: "What is free will in the presence of omnipotence?" My answer is: "It doesn't look like anything. There's nothing there." (Or, if you prefer: "It looks like John Cena") After all, if some action occurs because a mere human "willed it", we know that the omnipotent being really chose that universe-state, either actively (by "pushing a button"), or passively (by allowing "the program" to execute). It's possible that the omnipotent being creates "holes" in their own power to give space for freely-acting agents, but the problem with this scenario is that it is exactly indistinguishable from one in which the omnipotent being merely caused the sequence of events by fiat (including the feeling of having exercised free will!). So it doesn't really matter if these "power holes" exist or not, because the only one who can tell the difference is the omnipotent being (and from what I can tell, the difference doesn't actually mean anything to such a being anyway).

This is a fancy way of saying that we are free (even entitled) to blame everything in history on the omnipotent being. They literally have no defense. This is one of the true limitations of being omnipotent. Even if they claim to "give up" a part of their power, there is literally no test they can offer us to convince us that has actually happened. It's really just a charade, and an embarrassing one, at that. It's not really embarrassing for us so much as for the Being, who is trying to trick his own creation into thinking something that he can just cause to happen by his will anyway. So in a roundabout way, the omnipotence is kinda trying to fool itself. I think this is the real problem with omnipotence. And if it sounds like an alternative telling of the Problem of Evil, that's because it is.

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Hmm, if God cannot violate logic, then how come ordinary human beings can?

After all, we have intuitionistic logics where the Law of the Excluded Middle fails. And topos theory whose internal language are intuitionistic have been put forward as alternative foundations to mathematics, that is alternative to set theory. Here, the analogue too Boolean algebras are the Heyting algebras.

This suggests that logic, contra Wittgenstein in his logical idealism, is not the summit of being. And that logic is a poor guide to the attributes of God.

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  • "if God cannot violate logic, then how come ordinary human beings can?" You seem to miss a key difference. The question asks whether God can produce a state of affair that would be illogical in itself. Human beings cannot violate logic in this sense. All they can do is produce illogical statements. No human being can do and not do the same thing at the same time. Your mathematical examples are all examples of illogical statements. Dec 15, 2021 at 18:40
  • "This suggests (...) that logic is a poor guide to the attributes of God." Yes, it is a bad idea to use logic to promote illogical concepts such as omnipotence. Dec 15, 2021 at 18:48
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Here you present two possibilities -- inclusion of the ability to violate logic and its exclusion.

Are you sure you know all the parameters of every logic?

Can I ask you this question: "In this inclusion, why did you not include the ability to create an experience of it (inclusion of logic)? Similarly, in the exclusion, why not include the ability to create an experience of it (exclusion of logic)?"

If so, can all experiences regarding logic (or violation of logic) be treated as a part of omnipotence?

When one tries to separate the attributes we don't know that we forget the consciousness (or the coordinator of those attributes) behind the attributes. If so, who must be that coordinator? I hope you will agree that this is another reasoning/logic.

So, IMHO, with our limited logic it is better that we do not blame it on God or His attributes. I think you didn't focus on the term -- 'omnipotence'.

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