Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?

NO!

God also cannot dig a ditch that’s so wide he can’t jump over it.

God also can’t make a burrito that’s too hot for him to eat.

God also can’t build a skyscraper that’s so high that he can’t jump over it.

These are not clever, profound or interesting objections to the doctrine of God’s omnipotence,1 and if you think they are, kill yourself.

That is all.

 

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  1. Omnipotence is the property of being all-powerful []

84 thoughts on “Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?

  1. Objections like this are based on a misunderstanding of the word “Omnipotent.” If “Omnipotent” means “Can do anything,” then we are free to make up any self-contradictory nonsense and claim that it fits under the umbrella of “anything.” If, however, “Omnipotent” is defined as “All Powerful” in the sense of having all necessary power to do anything than can be done, then it makes more sense, and objections like this fail.

    I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. But when I hear things like this, I’m just bursting to point this out, but I usually have no audience because its when I’m in my car by myself listening to a lecture, podcast, debate, etc. This was an opportunity to open the valve and release this thought. Though I’m sure I didn’t actually give Glenn any information he didn’t already have by this.

    Another “objection” that always bothers me is when an atheist looks at some undesirable state of affairs and says something like “well, why didn’t God just [insert whatever miraculous deus ex machina absurdity you want here].” For instance, something like, “If God was going to deliver the Iraelites from Egyptian slavery, why didn’t he just teleport the whole nation to the promised land by magic? Huh? Huh? Why didn’t he?” Underlying this is an assumption on the part of the atheist that the theist deep down doesn’t really believe in God and is just making it all up, and since we’re just making it all up, why not have “God” do something even more spectacular? Why limit ourselves this way? In this case it seems to be forgotten that the theist regards God as a real person who might have his reasons for doing or not doing things and in a certain way, and that we are not free to just invent whatever miraculous nonsense we think he should be doing.

    That’s another one I just had to express somewhere.

  2. But I think I would dishonour the spirit of this particular blog entry to go there – into serious discussion of issues worthy of our time.

  3. @ Glenn

    “But I think I would dishonour the spirit of this particular blog entry to go there – into serious discussion of issues worthy of our time.”

    I admire your restraint.

  4. Hold on! Here’s a more fundamental question:
    Can God destroy himself?

    Also if we limit God’s omnipotence to only things that are logically consistent, then are we saying God didn’t create the laws of logic?

    Also these statements are not contradictory:
    1. God can lift any rock that will ever exist.
    2. God can (at his choice) create a rock that he can’t lift.

    And one more point to ponder:
    If you are the type of person who would never [insert morally destitute action] then does that mean that you can not [same action]?

  5. Well you’re certainly keeping with the style of this post – stating things without backing them up in any way.

  6. I assume that the supposed reasons for these objections being uninteresting is that omnipotence doesn’t entail the ability to do logically impossible things.

    But then we can quite trivially construct an argument for the non-existence of God.

    1. If God exists, God created everything from nothing.
    2. It is logically impossible for something to come from nothing. (At least, this is what most theists tell me.)
    3. God cannot do that which is logically impossible.
    4. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    There are a few way out of this arguments. Reject the logical impossibility of something coming from nothing. But then, God would be redundant. Reject that God created everything from nothing. But then, that goes against the classic God-narrative and possibly also against what most people mean by “God.” Insist that God can, in fact, do logically impossible things. But then, that would reintroduce the unliftable rock objection.

    So which is it?

  7. It’s not logically impossible to create something from nothing. It is just physically impossible. God can do things that are (to all who are constrained by the physical laws of the universe) physically impossible.

    And “something coming from nothing” isn’t really the same proposition as “an omnipotent being creating something from nothing”

  8. Colin, if it’s not (logically) impossible for something to come from nothing, then why do we need God? We’re talking about the original advent of the physical here. Nomological possibility is irrelevant. If it is possible for something to come from nothing, then the universe could have done so with and without the help of any God. If the universe could have come from nothing without God’s involvement, then God is redundant as an explanation for the existence of the universe. Sure, you can still believe in a redundant link in a causal chain but that’s an extremely unparsimonious ontology.

  9. Here’s another way to look at it: Assuming there is no end to the causal chain, it’s impossible to draw any final conclusion on the origin of the universe — or anything else for that matter.

    However, this doesn’t invalidate the idea of an uncreated — i.e. physically not “existing” — Creator of all things.

  10. Bui Tyril, if there is no end to the causal chain, then either God didn’t cause anything or something caused God. So yes, it would precisely invalidate an uncreated creator of all things. There can be no uncaused causes in an infinite causal chain.

  11. Sketch.

    A logical impossibility would be something that is self-contradictory, such as “I have no money and I also have $75”

    “We’re talking about the original advent of the physical here.”
    Right, Theists claim that it is possible for something to come from nothing specifically when caused to do so by a non-physical entity. And your argument is that if that is possible, then it must also be possible for it to come from nothing without any assistance. But that doesn’t follow at all.

    Nomological possibility is irrelevant. If it is possible for something to come from nothing, then the universe could have done so with and without the help of any God. If the universe could have come from nothing without God’s involvement, then God is redundant as an explanation for the existence of the universe. Sure, you can still believe in a redundant link in a causal chain but that’s an extremely unparsimonious ontology.

  12. Colin

    “A logical impossibility would be something that is self-contradictory, such as “I have no money and I also have $75?”

    I agree. We share an understanding of what constitutes logical impossibility.

    “Right, Theists claim that it is possible for something to come from nothing specifically when caused to do so by a non-physical entity. And your argument is that if that is possible, then it must also be possible for it to come from nothing without any assistance. But that doesn’t follow at all.”

    Right, but that’s terribly ad hoc. My argument is that either it’s impossible or it’s possible. If it’s impossible, my former argument against God’s existence stands. If it’s possible, we don’t need God’s assistance, unless, of course, it is ONLY possible with God’s assistance. I assume this is your hypothetical theist’s (and perhaps your own) position, but I don’t see any justification for limiting the possibilities like this. At the very least you ought now provide a positive argument for the logical impossibility of something coming from nothing without God’s assistance. If there is no logical contradiction (like your money example) in something coming from nothing with God’s help, I fail to see what non-ad hoc reasoning you might employ to argue for a contradiction in something coming from nothing spontaneously. At least you would have to argue very carefully so as not to undermine the possibility of God doing it. Care to offer such an argument? I would honestly be intrigued to hear you out.

  13. “it is ONLY possible with God’s assistance”
    Right, that is certainly what I believe.

    To put it another way, every physical effect that we observe has a cause (though not necessarily a physical cause)

    When stated that way, maybe it doesn’t seem so ad-hoc to you? Sure it’s not a proven assertion, but maybe you see how it is a reasonable one that is nevertheless of no use to an atheist.

  14. It seems ad hoc to me to say that only physical effects must have causes. I can’t think of any reason whatsoever, except apologetics, to maintain that non-physical effects (whatever those are supposed to be) require no causes whereas their physical counterparts do.

    I’m not even sure what ‘physical’/’non-physical’ is supposed to mean in this context. I understand ‘physical’ means if we refer to ‘concrete existents’as opposed to ‘abstract existents’ but surely you don’t think God is an abstract entity. Surely you think God is a concrete existent, so evidently you have a division between ‘physical concretes’ and ‘non-physical concretes’ but that’s just so many words to me.

    I fail to see why the distinction is useful or meaningful or why some concretes would require causes while other concretes get a free pass. Suppose I told you I think the universe entire is non-physical and therefore doesn’t require a cause? How would you argue against this position?

  15. “It seems ad hoc to me to say that only physical effects must have causes.”
    Look at it this way, we observe that everything in the physical realm has a cause and so we infer that this must be the rule. But not being able to directly observe the non-physical, we refrain from making presuppositions about it.

    “evidently you have a division between ‘physical concretes’ and ‘non-physical concretes’”
    Sure I do, as have many philosophers down the ages. I think it’s called dualism. The point is that I believe God is real, but not comprised of matter/energy

    “Suppose I told you I think the universe entire is non-physical”
    That’d be a hard sell, and kind of contrary to our understanding of the terms.

  16. “Look at it this way, we observe that everything in the physical realm has a cause and so we infer that this must be the rule. But not being able to directly observe the non-physical, we refrain from making presuppositions about it.”

    Erm…no you don’t. You just presupposed that its supposed existence doesn’t require any cause. Not to mention that you presupposed that it exists in the first place, even despite your inability to even tell me what it is.

    “Sure I do, as have many philosophers down the ages. I think it’s called dualism. The point is that I believe God is real, but not comprised of matter/energy”

    What does “real” mean in this context and what is God comprised of? Why and how do you suppose Godstuff is sufficiently different from otherstuff to warrant a non-physical/physical distinction? Suppose we had some “real” stuff “over here.” (Or “up there” or whathaveyou.) Let’s call it barglestuff. What is the determining criteria for concluding that barglestuff is physical or non-physical?

    This is basically the crux of what I’m asking you.

    “That’d be a hard sell, and kind of contrary to our understanding of the terms.”

    It’s not contrary to my understanding of the terms, since I don’t understand the terms at all and you refuse to help me along the path of understanding. If God, the universe, and barglestuff all possess concrete existence – are equally “real.” What, exactly, makes God non-physica, the universe physical, and how do we determine which category barglestuff falls into?

    Which necessary and sufficient conditions for demarcation between “physicality” and “non-physicality” make me wrong in my hypothetical claim that the universe is non-physical?

    Hey, if you don’t know, just say so. But then at least admit that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Otherwise, please try to be patient in explaining it to me, because I sure don’t.

  17. SketchSepahi,

    I think your conversation with Colin is getting bogged down in tangential matters and it might be helpful to come back to the primary issues. It seems like you are arguing in the shadow of the Kalaam Argument. Do you actually disagree with that argument’s first premise, that everything that begins to exist has a cause?

  18. “You just presupposed that its supposed existence doesn’t require any cause.”
    No I didn’t, because I’m not trying to prove anything about it’s cause, so I need no presupposition. You’re the one trying to prove something about God (that he doesn’t exist)

    “Not to mention that you presupposed that it exists in the first place”
    No, I inferred that it exists by its necessity to cause the universe.

    “What does “real” mean in this context and what is God comprised of?”
    I don’t know what God is comprised of.

    “What is the determining criteria for concluding that barglestuff is physical or non-physical?”
    Physical things consist of matter, energy, and I suppose the forces that act on them.

    “It’s not contrary to my understanding of the terms, since I don’t understand the terms at all”
    I’m not offering any wild new defenition of the universe here. Intuitively it is ‘all of physical reality’. You’re proposal that “the universe entire is non-physical” doesn’t make much sense in that light.

    “and you refuse to help me along the path of understanding.”
    No need to get hostile. I haven’t refused anything.

    “how do we determine which category barglestuff falls into?”
    is it comprised of matter, energy or the forces thereof?

    “Which necessary and sufficient conditions for demarcation between “physicality” and “non-physicality” make me wrong in my hypothetical claim that the universe is non-physical?”
    the universe as defined above is comprised of matter, energy and forces.

    “But then at least admit that you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
    Certainly. I certainly don’t have this all figured out, analyzed, explained and wrapped in a bow, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

  19. Eugene, you’re right that I’m arguing in the shadow of preceding apologetics, though I wasn’t thinking of the Kalaam argument in particular. I’m inclined to neither disagree nor agree with the Kalaam premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” I’m just interested in consistency. I don’t think atheists and theists are really in much of a disagreement that there is some “ultimate” cause or explanation. The disagreement, as far as I’m concerned, consists in whether said cause/explanation wears an “anthropic face” – whether there is any justification for personifying it.

  20. Colin,

    “No I didn’t, because I’m not trying to prove anything about it’s cause, so I need no presupposition. You’re the one trying to prove something about God (that he doesn’t exist)”

    No, I provided you an argument for God’s non-existence based on certain premises, each of which have ample support among theists and each of which would have implications for theism if denied. I then asked you which implications you were willing to concede in defending your theism. And come now, you did implicitly presuppose that non-physical effects do not similarly necessitate a cause as do the physical.

    “No, I inferred that it exists by its necessity to cause the universe.”

    In which case your mode of inference bears the common title of “argument from ignorance.” Not to mention that you have not explained to me what this supposed “it” you fallaciously inferred to exist actually is.

    “I don’t know what God is comprised of.”

    Right. I don’t either. So really neither of us knows what you’re talking about.

    “Physical things consist of matter, energy, and I suppose the forces that act on them.”

    Great. You have told me what non-physical concretes are not. Now, please do tell me what they are. Abstracta – e.g. the ‘number 7’ and ‘democracy’ – don’t consist of matter, energy, or forces either, but that doesn’t make them non-physical concretes. I know what it is for a physical concrete to exist; it has a spatiotemporal location, say. Or more trivially, I can point at it, prod it, experience it etc.

    I can also sort of get my head around what it means for a non-physical non-concrete object to exist, though admittedly it’s a little trickier. Democracy exists as joint act of human beings, say. Or the number 7 exists by virtue of representing a certain generic quantity of anythings. In any case if you want to say ‘God’ exists as an abstracta, I would absolutely agree with you. But then, you would maintain that God exists as a non-physical concrete. I don’t know what that means. At all.

    You could perhaps tell me a story about how God exists in roughly the same way as forces of nature do – i.e. by having a certain causal influence on physical concretes. (God allegedly having created them.) But then that would only compound the issue of why God then is not a physical force of nature rather than a non-physical whatever-he-is.

    “I’m not offering any wild new defenition of the universe here. Intuitively it is ‘all of physical reality’. You’re proposal that “the universe entire is non-physical” doesn’t make much sense in that light.”

    Now you’re just being circular. of course my proposal that the universe is non-physical makes no sense if you have defined it as physical. I’m not asking you the definition of the universe. What I’m asking of you is to coherently explain your proposed demarcation between physical and non-physical concretes, or perhaps a satisfactory conceptual analysis of “non-physical concrete” existence. I know what a physical concrete is. I don’t know what a non-physical concrete is.

    “No need to get hostile. I haven’t refused anything.”

    I wasn’t being hostile. I was just pointing out your explanatory inadequacy and your continued failure to produce anything of substance. You might have detected a hint of frustration, but I assure you there was no ill-will behind my words.

    “is it comprised of matter, energy or the forces thereof?”

    Let’s say it isn’t. Then how do we tell if it exists or doesn’t? How do we tell if it’s an abstract or a concrete non-physical? (Please note that I’m not driving at any epistemological point here. It might be the case that we can’t actually know whether barglestuff exists or whether it falls within one category or the other. I’m just looking for a general characterisation of what barglestuff existence entails or the demarcation between abstract and concrete non-physical barglestuff.)

    “the universe as defined above is comprised of matter, energy and forces.”

    Very well. How does that help us along? What is it about stuff made out of matter, energy, and forces that necessitates preceding causes? What is it about supposed non-physical constituents that foregoes this necessity? What exactly are these constituents? What does it mean to say they exist?

    Suppose I take your word for it that “physical” means “comprised of matter, energy, and forces” and further take your word for it that the non-physical does not require preceding causes. Suppose I tell you that matter, energy, and forces are not comprised out of matter, energy, and forces, are therefore non-physical, and therefore do not require any causes? Will you then say that matter, energy, and forces are themselves physical and embrace circular reasoning wholeheartedly?

    “Certainly. I certainly don’t have this all figured out, analyzed, explained and wrapped in a bow, but that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.”

    No, for all I know it might be true that “slythee toves gyre and gimble in the wabe,” but I wouldn’t dream of asserting its truth, since I have no idea what it means. You on the other hand seem to be quite happy to make assertions you yourself don’t understand. Sort of like an obstinately insistent man who’s picked up a smatter of Russian phrases phonetically and now adamantly tells everyone they’re gospel even if he himself understands no Russian whatsoever and has no idea what he’s saying. That’s quite comical, really.

  21. “but I wouldn’t dream of asserting its truth, since I have no idea what it means”
    Oh, you only believe things that you fully understand?

    “No, I provided you an argument for God’s non-existence based on certain premises”
    Yes, how we have gotten off track. As I said, the basic problem with your argument is that you take the theist’s belief that God could have created out of nothing, as support for the belief that things can appear out of nothing unaided. Your subsequent tirade about the theist having no right to believe in God is irrelevant, your argument is still not valid.

    “Suppose I tell you that matter, energy, and forces are not comprised out of matter, energy, and forces, are therefore non-physical”
    What? Are you serious? The statment that matter, energy, and forces are comprised out of matter, energy, and forces is tautologically true. Similar to how my lunch today (which was a banana) was comrpised out of a banana.

  22. its always strange when folks talk about immaterial things as if they are really just invisible material things. It’s sketchy philosophy… hrrm.

  23. “Colin, if it’s not (logically) impossible for something to come from nothing, then why do we need God?”

    Because the logical possibility of bringing about some state of affairs does not imply (logically or otherwise) that said state of affairs doesn’t need a cause.

    No premise of the Kalaam argument states “nothing can come into existence when it didn’t exist before.” Instead it claims “whatever comes into existence has a cause.”

    The fact that it’s logically possible for the first physical thing to be created (i.e. for something physical to come into being where no physical thing existed previously) changes nothing.

    Put differently: You question is similar to asking: “If effects are logically possible, then why appeal to causes?”

    When stated that way it’s clear how the challenge goes wrong. Also, you have to remember: No version of the kalaam cosmological argument says “there was a cause, ergo God.” That would be a ludicrous straw man. Instead, there’s a process of reasoning along the lines of: The cause of space and time is not temporal or spatial. Ergo it is not physical. So we are talking about an eternal non-physical cause of the universe.

    Now, if naturalism is true, then there are no immaterial eternal things. Ergo naturalism is false.

  24. Sketch,

    You said, “if there is no end to the causal chain, then either God didn’t cause anything or something caused God. So yes, it would precisely invalidate an uncreated creator of all things. There can be no uncaused causes in an infinite causal chain.”

    This is what they call the mystery of the origin of creation — that there is no beginning and no end to creation, that the notion of a Creator presupposes a creation, much like a king presupposes a kingdom with subjects etc.

    But again, in this perspective, the ultimate Cause of causes is also known as God, the Uncreated, the Unknowable, the Almighty.

  25. Colin,
    “Oh, you only believe things that you fully understand?”

    I am incapable of believing a proposition whose truth-conditions are obscure to me. If I don’t know what it means for something to be true, I cannot believe that it is true. I could believe that a Russian sentence is true, if, say, enough people I consider reliable deem it to be true. But then my belief would be about the sentence, not its proposition. I could still (unbeknownst to me inconsistently) believe that the sentence is true, while I also believe that the proposition of the sentence is false, since I have no idea which proposition the sentence is. Of course, I don’t “fully understand” all that I believe in the sense you seem to be getting at. But I must know what it is I believe in order to believe it. Otherwise I’m just making false claims about my own beliefs.

    “Yes, how we have gotten off track. As I said, the basic problem with your argument is that you take the theist’s belief that God could have created out of nothing, as support for the belief that things can appear out of nothing unaided.”

    I did no such thing. Please reread what I actually wrote.

    “Your subsequent tirade about the theist having no right to believe in God is irrelevant, your argument is still not valid.”

    And here I thought we were having a discussion, and now you’re telling me I’m tirading? Also when have I ever said the theist has no right to believe in God? That’s contrary to my values. I’m very much for freedom of religion. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they so choose. However, that right doesn’t entail freedom from criticism. I also believe in freedom of expression, which means I have the right to criticise whichever beliefs you have the right to hold. That’s just how these things go. I’m not forcing to have a discussion with me. If you feel uncomfortable with what you perceive as a freedom-infringing tirade, I would advice you to stop reading and engaging. Wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable.

    “What? Are you serious? The statment that matter, energy, and forces are comprised out of matter, energy, and forces is tautologically true. Similar to how my lunch today (which was a banana) was comrpised out of a banana.”

    Well, an atom is not comprised out of atoms. You’re free to say it’s comprised out of itself, I suppose, but I don’t see how that helps you much in this case. Are matter, energy, and forces physical? I would assume you to say ‘yes’ but then your concept of ‘physicality’ is viciously tautological. I wanted to know something about physicality beyond the trivial “shaped like itself.” It’s most certainly true, but it still tells me nothing about what shape “itself” is.

  26. matt, agreed.

    Glenn, I don’t know what you’re talking about the Kalaam cosmological argument. As I told Eugene further up I wasn’t referencing that argument. I was specifically contending with the two common theist claims that “God cannot do the logically impossible” and “it’s logically impossible for something to come from nothing.” (Both claims which I have heard theists make on numerous occasions.) Whether the Kalaam cosmological argument includes any of these as a premise is irrelevant. I never said that it does.

    Now, you end up talking about an “eternal non-physical cause” of the universe. I assume we’re not talking about some unified field theory formula, which by principle “causes” there to be something rather than nothing. Am I right in my assumption that you, like Colin before you, posit the existence of non-physical concretes? Because then perhaps you would like to answer the questions, which Colin has become so skilled in evading?

    Whether naturalism is true or false is no matter to a poor uninformed fellow like me, who doesn’t know what naturalism is.

    Bui Tyril, oh well, if it’s a mystery then it must be true. You’ve certainly convinced me. 🙂

  27. “I am incapable of believing a proposition whose truth-conditions are obscure to me.”
    There are a lot of long words in there, Miss; we’re naught but humble pirates

    “If I don’t know what it means for something to be true, I cannot believe that it is true.”
    I know what it means for belief in God to be true. But I don’t know what he’s made of.

    “I did no such thing. Please reread what I actually wrote.”
    Glenn put it well – “You question is similar to asking: “If effects are logically possible, then why appeal to causes?””

    Your original argument was this:
    1. If God exists, God created everything from nothing.
    2. It is logically impossible for something to come from nothing. (At least, this is what most theists tell me.)
    3. God cannot do that which is logically impossible.
    4. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    I don’t know any theists that believe #2 the way you have stated it. Now I’m sure that most theists would believe this:
    2a. It is impossible for something to come from nothing unaided.

    But then that’s no good for your argument is it.

    “I also believe in freedom of expression, which means I have the right to criticize whichever beliefs you have the right to hold.”
    Right. But your criticism of my belief in God is that I don’t know the recipe for God.

    “but then your concept of ‘physicality’ is viciously tautological”
    No it’s not, it’s called a definition.
    If I define peanut butter as “a creamy substance made out of peanuts” and then assert that peanut butter is obviously made out of peanuts, is that vicious also?

  28. matt, be that as it may, I still agree with your statement. If you thought your statement was somehow contrary to my position, then either I must have misunderstood your statement or you must have misunderstood my position. I did gather you intended it for me, but I find it difficult to respond to criticism, which I don’t perceive as actually criticising anything I support.

  29. I wonder if what Matt was referring to was your insistence to ask ‘material’ questions of the ‘immaterial’, such as “what is God comprised of?”

  30. That was the idea, Colin.

    I think, sketch, that youve been using terms and concepts here in a pretty idiosyncratic way. Because of that, it seems as though you’re not understanding how other people are using them. More importantly, you’re not using the words to refer to ideas that the words are intended to refer to (not all the time, but most of the time). Your use of language indicates an ignorance that is not flattering to the confidence in which you have engaged the other commenters here. Because of this, I think, you will fail to discern where this conversation ceased to be an atheist vs theist exchange and turned into a concerted effort to aid you in your philosophical education. I’m sorry, i know that all sounds terribly condescending, but I hope that, if it is true enough, it will be helpful to you.

  31. matt, you’re right that does sound terribly condescending, extremely arrogant, and completely uncalled for. I would have expected more of the frequent visitors to this blog than this sort of unphilosophy-like conduct, especially since the author of the blog has a phd in philosophy. I don’t see what kind of aid you think commenting on some random blog on the internet could possible lend to my education. I suppose you imagine that universities the world over are trawling the world wide web for comments made under silly handles and go “By golly! Look at this chap! He sure showed those other commenters! By jove! We must award this ‘Sketch’ person a degree poste haste for his-or-her efforts!” Ah, but I am feeding the trolls. Back under the bridge with you! Git!

  32. Sketch, whether you named the Kalaam argument or not, it’s perfectly clear that the issues in discussion just are the issues addressed by that argument, and your denial notwithstanding, you do know why I am talking about that argument. You have chosen not to address my criticisms of your criticism, which is fine.

    As for the rest of what’s going on here, please remember that by commenting here you have agreed to the blog policy.

  33. Sketch,

    I’m afraid such a response to my simple reference to an ancient puzzle may only serves to showcase the fact that combining sarcasm with some form of absolutism (or its equivalent) offers little in the way of convincing people of whatever substance there might be in your argument.

    There is a word for such style but I hesitate to use it.

  34. I was pointing out that the other good people on the board were having to educate you, not myself. My degrees are in fine art, but I find that it is good for my practice to keep up with science and philosophy, so I enjoy blogs like this one and comment now and then. I’m not sure that my education disqualifies my knowledge in a particular area outside of my specialization. it might make my knowledge suspect, but only if I were to consistently demonstrate an inability to engage with the subject competently by failing to understand or use the language of that subject properly or by misrepresenting whole theories, models, etc, or failing to understand or even know the very model I was defending. (I’m sure that last sentence was a good reason to call my mastery of syntax into question).

  35. Glenn, I don’t see how the Kalaam cosmological argument is relevant to the initial point I was trying to make. It might be relevant to the tangent it has become, but then nearly everything might be at this point. I don’t consider it to be very interesting, though of course you may win me over if you can tell me a bit more about why it’s interesting. As of my discussion with Colin I think a criteria of identity or a conceptual analysis of ‘non-physical concretes’ to be more to the point.

    As for your blog policy, it seems perfectly reasonable, but I don’t see it as having been broken by Colin, matt, or me (I’m 99% sure I didn’t let any curses slip by). I was just lamenting the lack of courteousness and intellectual integrity.

    matt, your lack of credentials certainly doesn’t disqualify you from having an informed opinion on science and philosophy. However, your lack of credentials does disqualify you from being condescending toward strangers in regards to their level of education. (Whatever that may be.) If you think I’m in error by all means tell me so and back it up with reasoned argument. Kindly refrain from having the arrogance to “professionally” assess my level of education if you’re not at least as, but preferably better, educated on the subject than I. It’s courteousness and intellectual integrity. Try it some time. I’m sure your parents taught you as much.

    (Colin, sorry for not getting back to you. It’s all I can do to keep up with Glenn and matt + living outside the internet right now. You deserve a better response than what time allows. Though do consider criteria of identity + conceptual analysis of non-physical concretes. I would love an answer to that.)

  36. “a criteria of identity”
    Huh? Is this something to do with proving that God is a person?

    “or a conceptual analysis of ‘non-physical concretes’”
    Huh? Isn’t conceptual analysis an oxymoron?

    Again, you’re using very big words. Are we agreed that neither of these things really has much to do with your original argument?

  37. I’m sorry, sketch, for causing you any emotional discomfort that was not relevant to the discussion here. In the interest of the topic at hand, though, and as a show of good will, I will make a brief case in response to your first argument and subsequent comments.

    Here is your argument:

    1. If God exists, God created everything from nothing.
    2. It is logically impossible for something to come from nothing. (At least, this is what most theists tell me.)
    3. God cannot do that which is logically impossible.
    4. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    Now, myself, and I think most other theists are going to have a problem with 2 and, of course, 4. This argument is not much of a problem, however, since it is easy right off the bat to spot a fatal problem for it. Premise 2 uses “nothing” in a different way than 1 does. God’s creation ‘ex nihilo’ is simply to say that God made the physical universe where there was no physical universe before. In the second premise, however, the meaning of “nothing” should be construed as quite final if the premise is to make sense as a sentence. The theist can agree with you here, and point out the ‘2’ is a non-sequitur, since God is not ‘nothing’ after all. I think this alone can demonstrate the complete invalidity of your argument, as well as the argument’s reliance on premises that are metaphysically ignorant.

    Getting to Glenn’s reference to the Kalaam, again, it seems quite obvious that the Kalaam does contribute to this discussion. Using the Kalaam, we have a good inference as to the nature of the first cause, namely that it is spaceless, timeless and personal. Any argument for the existence of God, as well, is an argument for a person who is spaceless and timeless, which makes your demand for a conceptual analysis of a ‘non-physical concrete’ a strange one. What you call a ‘non-physical concrete’ seems to be exactly what the Kalaam is arguing for. So, how would you go about refuting the inference from the conclusion of the Kalaam that the cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless and personal?

    With respect to ‘non-physical concretes’, if Dualism with respect to persons is true (although I doubt it), then the mind is a non-physical conrete object. W. L. Craig ends his inference from the Kalaam to a personal designer by offering two candidates, abstract objects or else an unembodied mind. This isn’t the way I’d choose to describe God, but, again, accepting dualism would mean the world was populated with upwards of 6 billion immaterial concretes. Still, we needn’t depend on the existence of an unembodied Cartesian theater to demonstrate that the universe has an efficient cause that is immaterial since there was no matter prior to the Big Bang, timeless prior to the universe’s existence since there was no time and personal in that the act of causing something is an act of will, understanding that purpose or will is something unique to persons.

  38. Colin,
    I’m sorry for my “big words.” I only use them because I assumed that a philosophy-interested audience (this being a philosophy-blog and all) would be familiar with them, as they are quite basic, fundamental, and well-known to contemporary philosophy and its practitioners. They are also easily Googlable and readily available on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But I’ll happily give you some simplified explanations with a direct link to in-depth resources.

    A proposition is a declarative sentence with a truth-value – i.e. a statement, which is either true or false. You can read more about propositions on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Paradigm examples of propositions are “the ball is red,” “Greg is taller than Jill” etc.

    Truth-conditions are the circumstances, which need to be the case (in the world) in order for a proposition to obtain its truth-value. You can read more about truth-conditions on the SEP. Examples of truth-conditions for the mentioned propositions would be exactly what you think. The actual ball referred to by “the ball” would actually have to have the property of “being red,” the actual height of the person referred to as “Greg” would actually have to be greater than the person referred to as “Jill” etc.

    No, criteria of identity have nothing to do with whether God’s a person. A criterion of identity is the conditions under which two objects, entities, classes (or whathaveyou) are determined to be ‘the same’ or ‘not the same.’ You can read mora about criteria of identity here on the SEP. The criterion of identity for mathematical sets is ‘sets are identical if and only if they share all and exactly the same members.’ The criterion of identity for “physical concretes” could be ‘physical objects are identical if and only if they occupy exactly and wholly the same spacetime coordinates.’ It is widely accepted among metaphysicians that whatever you populate your ontology (philosophy of existence) with, you must be able to provide a criterion of identity for it.

    No, conceptual analysis is not, to my knowledge, an oxymoron. Conceptual analysis (also called philosophical analysis) is a valuable philosophical tool to ensure clarity in our terms. Conceptual analysis consists of the individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions under which a concept applies. You can read more about conceptual analyses here on the SEP. A paradigm case of such analyses – fathered by Socrates – is knowledge being “justified true belief.” Though a more trivial example could be the sufficiency of being a lobster and the necessity of being an animal in order to be a crustacean.

    I hope this helps. At least I might have aided matt in his philosophical education. 🙂

    Kind regards
    Sketch

  39. sketch, I don’t see what this has to do with your original argument, and while I am glad to see that you do have a wealth of philosophical terms in your vocabulary I am left wondering why, in your argument, you equivocated in your use of “nothing.” I am suffering further confusion as well concerning your recourse to the “who designed the designer” as that doesn’t have anything to do with your argument at all and greatly misunderstands the concept of God that it aims to attack (effectively arguing against a straw man).

    Perhaps it is logically impossible for a thing with all the attributes of God to create something like the universe, but your argument fails to show this. Additionally, I am fairly sure that any model of the universe’s origin that does not propose an infinite regress of events is confronted with the problem of something coming into existence where nothing in its likeness existed before (but not absolute metaphysical nothingness).

  40. Sketch, your initial argument has as its first premise, the proposition that “If God exists, God created everything from nothing” and another premise about the possibility of something coming from nothing. The kalaam argument is not tangential to that, it is central. I suspect you see this too, actually.

    So I will just note, again, that you have not responded to my criticisms of your argument, you are just proceeding as though your argument is unscathed. You haven’t even offered a bad response, you are just treating my response like the elephant in the room that you don’t want to talk about. I have shown where I think your argument fails and fails completely, and you are welcome to interact with my criticisms. The way you are criticising others, I would assume that you don’t want to be seen as ignoring criticisms of your own argument. The offer is there.

    As for whether any comment counts as harassment or abuse of other people as mentioned in my blog policy, well that’s my call and nobody else’s, but your thoughts are noted. 🙂

  41. Sketch – for the love of God – throw in the towel! (Or if you prefer, for the love of Richard Dawkins. Either way…. it’s time.)

  42. I realized that I said “show of goodwill” above where I meant that I was “attempting to redeem some goodwill for myself” by laying out a more thorough case in response to sketch’s contentions. Sorry, “show of goodwill” comes off as pretty cocky, but I didn’t mean that.

  43. “a criteria of identity”
    OK then, well the existence of God is typically inferred rather than observed, so his criteria of identity would be that he’s whatever created the physical universe. Then by other means we come to the conclusion that he is a person etc.

    “or a conceptual analysis of ‘non-physical concretes’”
    Well, God as defined above is a non-physical, and can’t be abstract because he directly influences reality.

    I hope these are answers to the questions that you’re asking, though to be honest it seems like the questions could be stated in a simpler manner?

  44. More importantly, can there exist such a thing as has the property of being gruntled? I’m not sure that anyone here could attest to having an experience of that which had gruntledness ever in the absence of a dis-ness, and so we should find the disjunction of the two in reality improbable to the point of meaninglessness methinks.

  45. Actually i’m feeling quite gruntled at the moment. This is easily defined as being the positve emotional and mental state which is the opposite of disgruntled where “dis” is a prefix indicating reversal, negation or removal. Happy happy joy joy.

  46. James:
    Sketch – for the love of God – throw in the towel! (Or if you prefer, for the love of Richard Dawkins. Either way…. it’s time.)

    What are you on about? The salient question about what “non-physical concretes” are supposed to be remains ever evaded and unaddressed. Why should I throw in the towel?

    Oh, and Dawkins? Really? Honestly…

    That little jab might have struck if you had gone with Quine.

  47. Sketch, you invented the phrase “non-physical concretes”, so maybe you should tell us what you mean by it, or why it is so important to you?

    And if we’re going to proceed down this tangent, then at least could you admit that it has nothing to do with your original argument, the flaws of which have been clearly pointed out, and apparently not contended by you.

  48. I hardly invented it and I already explained it. Are you asking me to repeat myself? I don’t mind as long as that’s what you’re asking.

    If it doesn’t have anything to do with my original argument, then that’s hardly doing you any favours, now, is it? After all, you’re the one who started talking about non-physical concretes as your chosen method of circumventing my argument. Although I’ll admit you didn’t use those exact words.

    And I haven’t seen any of you point out any flaws in the argument. You said you believed it to be invalid but then you attempted to show its supposed invalidity by altering one of its premises. I can only conclude you actually believe my argument to be valid but not sound. Otherwise you wouldn’t have to alter a premise in order to show where it goes wrong.

    Of course, if you deny the premises, you don’t get the conclusion. I actually mentioned the denial of each of the premises as a possibility in my original post. So come again? How exactly have any flaws been pointed out?

  49. Hmm…I suspect what has gone wrong in our dialogue. I wasn’t trying to “prove” God’s non-existence. I was trying to point out that talk about unliftable rocks can be interesting. I constructed an argument out of the premise that omnipotence excluding logical impossibility (which I take to be the go-to reason to discard the problem of the rock) and I pointed out that, since theists presumably don’t want to concede the conclusion of the argument, and since the argument is valid, they will have to deny one of the premises. I then pointed out that the denial of each of the premises is interesting. Thus by extension the problem of the unliftable rock can be philosophically interesting. Since we’re still talking about the (tangential) denial of one of the premises of my original argument, am I wrong in deeming it interesting?

  50. As several of us have pointed out, your argument relies on equivocation to work. The proposition of “God created everything from nothing” has an entirely different meaning than “something [coming] from nothing”.

    I’m sorry that I mentioned (in passing) that I believed God to be non-physical, because it isn’t necessary for the refuting of your failed argument, and it has led to this fruitless rabbit trail.

    It’s like I said “Sketch, you’re not making any sense, by gum!” and you replied “Aha, what kind of gum? Is it concrete gum?”

    Maybe it’s not so much that we’re evading your “salient question” as that you’re ignoring every reasoned response given.

  51. “since the argument is valid”
    The argument is poop.

    ” they will have to deny one of the premises”
    The way you’re using it, virtually every theist will deny #2, and there’s nothing really interesting about it.

    ” Since we’re still talking about the (tangential) denial of one of the premises of my original argument”
    Which premise do you consider the discussion of non-physical concrete to be particularly relevant to?

  52. Colin, I’m sorry but your mention of physicality/non-physicality was crucial to your objection to my argument and not merely something said in passing. Saying it was just in passing must be either due to bad memory or dishonesty. Here I’ll quote you directly:

    “Theists claim that it is possible for something to come from nothing specifically when caused to do so by a non-physical entity.”

    “Right, that is certainly what I believe. [that it is ONLY possible for something to come from nothing with God’s assistance.] To put it another way, every physical effect that we observe has a cause (though not necessarily a physical cause)”

    “Look at it this way, we observe that everything in the physical realm has a cause and so we infer that this must be the rule. But not being able to directly observe the non-physical, we refrain from making presuppositions about it.”

    “Sure I do, [see a division between ‘physical concretes’ and ‘non-physical concretes’] as have many philosophers down the ages. I think it’s called dualism. The point is that I believe God is real, but not comprised of matter/energy”

    Do you deny having said these words? I mean it’s fine if you want to change your mind about what you think is wrong with the argument. But please have the courtesy to not attempt to falsify our dialectic. The reason I have been hammering on about the physical/non-physical demarcation is that this was the original crux of your objection. The reason I have not been wanting to get into discussion about Kalaam arguments, equivocations, and whathaveyou is that I believe in finishing one thing before moving on to the next. Debates on the internet are confusing enough as is without having to talk about everything with everyone at once. Please, let’s exhaust the first point before moving on to the next. And please acknowledge it if you are abandoning a line of reasoning for a what you (after our discussion) now believe to be better one. If you can’t acknowledge the points that are being made before moving on to different points, we can’t have a reasonable discussion.

  53. I recall someone trying to pull this one on me.

    What it boils down to is, can God do the logically impossible? Well, he can’t.

    “God also cannot dig a ditch that’s so wide he can’t jump over it.”

    Why? Well, such a ditch would be infinity wide. In order to jump such a ditch, God would have to be able to jump an infinite distance + 1m.

    Simply put, infinity + 1 is still infinity. You cannot (by definition) have a greater number.

    The riddle treats infinity as something that it is not – a definite value which can be incremented.

    We describe God as limitless in various ways. But that is in terms of his ability to deal with the physical world – not logic. God can’t do something that is by sheer definition impossible, such as creating a number greater than infinity.

  54. scrubone, this is pretty much precisely what I’ve been on about. If God cannot do the logically impossible, then that’s still interesting.

    By the way, strictly speaking it’s not true that you can’t have a greater number than infinity. There are different types of infinity. Some are greater than others. (Though that’s hardly relevant to what you’re saying, but it is interesting.)

  55. Didn’t a Biblical angel declare that nothing is impossible for God? Was the angel speaking in error, exaggerating, or what?

    I see here an example of a fictional writer exposing his ignorance of logic and later scribes neglecting to correct the error. Presumably, a real angel would know better than to claim God could do the impossible because if that’s what is meant by God then God can’t exist.

  56. Didn’t the Bible indicate that nothing is too hard for God? Were they speaking in error, exaggerating, or what?

    It’s my understanding that clever questions like “Can God create a stone so heavy that He can’t lift it?” were designed to challenge the Biblical view that nothing is too hard for God (Old Testament) and that nothing is impossible for God (New Testament). It is because the argument based on this kind of question effectively refutes such illogical beliefs that logically trained theologians have been forced by reason to reject what the Bible says about divine power.

    However, if you can’t trust what God or an angel or a Biblical prophet claims about God’s power then who can you trust? What a modern religious philosopher claims about such things?

  57. Ah, a lot of water under the bridge since my last post. No new responses despite the premature call for me to throw the towel. I shall interpret the four month hiatus of my debating opponents as a tacit concession that the towel was theirs to throw all along. Too bad they didn’t have the intellectual integrity to admit this explicitly.

  58. While I can’t speak for others, please interpret my four month hiatus as a tacit concession that this whole conversation was getting boring.

    I still think you’re wrong, but I’ve lost interest in trying to convince you of that fact.

  59. Powell, I suppose the angel should have said to Mary, “What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God, except that which is logically impossible. Let me explain. There is that which is logically impossible, and that which is nomologically impossible. A logical impossibility means that which involves a contradiction, or is incoherent; for example, changing the colour of a number, or making a square-circle. That which is nomologically impossible means that there is an important sense in which it is impossible, e.g, the laws of nature forbid it. What I’m talking about here is nomological impossibility” Because obviously, as a first century Palestinian Jewish peasant, Mary was interested in western philosophy and logic.

    There’s this nifty little thing called “context” which is useful when it comes to reading texts.

    Sometimes atheists normally use it, but for some strange reason they stop when they are reading parts of the Bible and then pretend that they have made a useful point.

    Meanwhile, theists (and even intellectually honest atheists) don’t take these kind of people or what they say seriously.

    No points for guessing which you group you belong to.

  60. ‘nothing is too hard for God’

    True, but there is no “thing” that is logically contradictory. Square triangles, for example, are not even a thing. If you disagree, try to imagine one right now!

  61. I was struck recently by how the relatively simple point of this article can seem so difficult and confusing to some people. In a recent Facebook discussion it was claimed (by a fellow named Michael) that really, examples like the heavy rock are a problem for believers in divine omnipotence after all. Because if omnipotence is only the ability to do the things that are logically possible, then God is limited by logic. And that means that God can’t shape those laws, so he didn’t create them. And where did they come from?

    This is a decent question to raise, although it’s the kind of thing that has been addressed numerous times (and is similar to the objection that “if God only does good things, then doesn’t that mean he is subject to laws of morality?”). So I replied by saying that “God is subject to his own character too, so that means he didn’t create it. What if logic is a feature of God?” If logic is a feature of God, then there wouldn’t be any issue with him being subject to logic, for that would just amount to God being subject to God’s own nature, which is hardly a problem. But, said my interlocutor, perhaps it was still a problem. “Did God give himself this feature or does he have it for some other reason?” The suggestion is that if God didn’t have this feature, then he is somehow subject to it, as though this might suggest that God really isn’t sovereign after all. But if this is just a case of God being subject to himself then there’s really no problem. So I just added, “nothing caused God to have the characteristics that he does.”

    But here is where my partner in dialogue thought that he could smell blood in the water: “So why does God have that property of being logical? It’s key to your argument but you’ve shown no evidence that God has that property and you’ve given no reason why he must have that property. Without an answer the blog post makes a completely unfounded point.” And “”To support this notion you’ll need to show evidence that God does have the property of being logical or show he *must* have that property.”

    But the claim is merely that the inability to do logically impossible things is not a problem for an omnipotent being if omnipotence just is the ability to do what is logically possible. Whether or not there really is a God who has this property is not something taken up by this blog post. So this challenge simply fails, as I pointed out:

    My claim was that if logic is a “feature of God” (my phrase) then that would mean that God is not subject to laws external to himself (at least in the case of logic). In order to show that this contingent claim is true, one does not need to show that logic is a feature of God at all. A contingent claim is an if… then claim.

    The point to make is this: If somebody claims that God’s inability to do illogical things means that he is subject to a law outside of himself, then they have the onus to show that it’s impossible God logic to be an aspect of God.

    If they cannot show this, then they sacrifice the right to say that God’s inability to do illogical things shows that he is subject to laws outside of himself.

    And in order to make it crystal clear what argument was intended to be implicit in this blog post, I set it out:

    1) Omnipotence has, in Christian theology, generally* always been construed as the ability to do that which is logically possible, without other limits.
    2) The creation of a rock too heavy for an omnipotent being to lift is logically impossible.
    3) Therefore, given the traditional Christian doctrine of divine omnipotence, of course God cannot create such a rock, and this inability poses no problem for the doctrine of omnipotence.

    There. I thought that should tidy things up. The issue is not whether or not divine omnipotence is true. The issue is whether or not divine omnipotence leads to incoherence. And it doesn’t, which is the only point made here. After a couple more comments, eventually my partner granted, “Ok, so it sounds like the issue of whether logic is a feature of God’s character is completely beside the point so I’ll leave that issue there.”

    Great. That sounded like a wise resolution. Things should have been left there. But no. He had come in to have an argument, so he was going to find one and win it! Now a new argument emerged, this time not about whether or not logic is a feature of God. he changed his argument for this one:

    You’ve formalised the notion that God can’t do the logically impossible with points 1), 2) and 3). However, you’ve assumed in those points that God has the particular type of omnipotence defined in 1). Do you have some evidence that God has precisely this type of omnipotence? This is necessary for the conclusion in the blog.

    It is as though he hadn’t even read the argument I set out in 1-3, the point of which was that given the traditional doctrine of omnipotence, the “rock” argument isn’t a problem. So here I went again:

    If somebody wants to come along and show that God’s inability to create a rock too heavy for him to lift is a problem for omnipotence, then they must show why I need to accept the notion of omnipotence that they are talking about. Otherwise why would I grant that there is a problem?

    What I can easily show is that it’s not a problem for the traditional Christian doctrine of omnipotence, which seems like enough for me to sit back, relax, and wait for a better criticism.

    I actually wanted to make things clearer for this guy, not worse. So I threw out a bone:

    I think what you mean to say is that my argument 1)-3) is not an argument for the truth of divine omnipotence, traditionally construed. And of course it’s not.

    But alas, he insisted:

    What I’m saying is that 3) is only demonstrably true *if* it can be demonstrated that God has the omnipotence described in 1)

    So here was the old claim again: That I cannot show that divine omnipotence escapes the incoherence problem if it can be demonstrated to be true – that God actually has omnipotence. But this was quite clearly wrong, for this blog post does not presuppose an argument that divine omnipotence is true. The conclusion even says, “given the traditional Christian doctrine of omnipotence…” indicating that it does not require the reader to believe that doctrine. It only explains what does (or does not follow) from that doctrine.

    How could I make this clearer? I gave up. There was a bit more back n forth, and then I threw in the towel: “Michael, I am sorry, but you really haven’t understood much of this discussion. Take care.”

    But Michael wasn’t alone. James East of Reasonably Faithless chimed in, saying that if I wanted to, I could have added another argument:

    (4) If God is omnimpotent1, then (because of the 1-3 argument), the rock objection doesn’t cause any problems for God’s omnipotence.
    (5) God is omnipotent1.
    (6) Therefore, the rock objection doesn’t cause any problems for God’s omnipotence.

    Perhaps I could have made this argument. But I didn’t. James went on:

    I think Michael is saying that it’s all well and good to consider abstract notions such as “a being that is omnipotent1”, and whether such proposed beings run into various logical/definitional problems, but it’s another issue to ask whether there is such a being, or whether a certain proposed being is (or could be) omnipotent1.

    Well, at least James’s new argument appreciated that 3) did not require the truth of divine omnipotence. This is quite clear, because he introduces the truth of divine omnipotence in 5). So it hadn’t been introduced yet. (By the way, James is using “omnipotence1” to refer to the traditional doctrine of omnipotence.) And James was right – asking whether or not an omnipotent being has the problem suggested by the rock argument is not at all the same as asking whether or not there is a being like that who exists. Defending the former certainly doesn’t involve defending the latter. Someone understood!

    So then I tried to explain to my interlocutor that even James, our mutual Facebook friend and frequent critic of religion, understood that 3) does not require evidence for the truth of omnipotence. But then, what’s this? We can’t have James agreeing with anything I say! James quickly put a stop to this:

    my 4-6 argument was to show quite clearly that *you* need to demonstrate (by evidence or argument or whatever) that god is (what michael has called) omnipotent1. your 1-3 argument only gets god off the hook if it can be demonstrated that god is omnipotent1.

    But – yes, here we go again, wait a minute… I didn’t include the claim that divine omnipotence is true in my argument. James added that in his argument! James’s argument only proceeds the way that it does because the truth of divine omnipotence is not presupposed in 3). So I pointed this out:

    James, after reading your first comment again, it clearly does accept that 3) can be true without any demonstration of omnipotence1 being true. Omnipotence1 is only stated to be true in the extra argument that you added. 3) is the conclusion that the rock objection isn’t a problem if omnipotence1 is true. Your conclusion 6) is different, stating that because omnipotence1 is true, the rock objection isn’t a problem for the actual omnipotence1 that God has. Your conclusion 6 requires a demonstration that omnipotence1 is true. But my conclusion 3) does not.

    Again, none of this is complicated at all. Yes, of course the argument that james built requires evidence of divine omnipotence, because it claims that divine omnipotence is true. But as James noted – and I had been trying in vain to get Michael to see, there is a huge difference between showing that divine omnipotence does not lead to certain problems (which is what my conclusion was) and claiming that divine omnipotence is true (which is what James’s argument did). Why were these two finding this so uniquely difficult?

    But now something happened. The penny dropped. Or at any rate, Michael had emerged from the confusion, and (apparently) thought that all along he had been saying the opposite! I complained of him saying that “nobody can show that omnipotence is not internally incoherent until we can provide evidence that it is true.” This is quite clearly what his point had been all along. And now look at his turnabout: “I was never trying to make this point. I disagree with this point.” Never trying to make this point! He only said it about three or four times. I reminded him that “Whether or not the doctrine of omniscience leads to the incoherence problem suggested by the rock argument is entirely independent of whether or not omnipotence is true.” And now he had changed his tune completely, saying “I agree with this statement. I was never trying to refute it.” This was enough to make anyone’s head spin.

    But now, in order to avoid simply accepting that his protests had been mistaken all along, he instead attributes a new argument to me: The one that I had clearly explained all along that I was not making!

    Whether or not God can perform logically impossible acts depends on what type of omnipotence he possesses (if any). If someone claims that God cannot perform logically impossible acts, they must first demonstrate that God has some appropriate type of omnipotence.

    The blog post does just this.

    So now, my blog post, instead of arguing for 3) as I claimed it did, was really arguing that the traditional doctrine of omnipotence is true!

    How in the world did we get here! So my reply was brief: “No it doesn’t.” The blog article never said that. I explained this, and invited him to read it again.

    Now here it came… the point where Michael says “Oh. Whoops. OK, so you never said that, and I really didn’t understand you all along. Just like you said, Glenn.”

    I wasn’t confused. This was a simple miscommunication between us.

    I’m glad you finally understand my point. It’s a shame you resorted to an attack of character before you understood my point. It could have been a very interesting and fruitful discussion.

    I just sat there for a few seconds. Then I laughed. This is what happens when a politician has been shown to be flatly and unambiguously wrong, where he was told that he didn’t understand what had been said, but he charged in anyway, and has now realised his mistake. So what does the politician do? Accept that he was confused and wrong? No. You see, there was this thing… out there. A miscommunication, and you were part of it too. And you claimed that I didn’t understand, and that’s an attack on my character!” Yes, when Michael referred to the character attack, that was it. When I said that he didn’t understand what had happened in the conversation.

    At least five times – five times – I told either Michael or James that they had misunderstood the argument, and that it did not take the truth of Christian theism (with an omnipotent God) for granted, but was only ever meant to show that the rock argument does not reduce omnipotence to incoherence, and that’s all the argument was ever meant to do. At least five times. They would come in and complain that I never offered evidence for the truth of omnipotence, and each time – with considerable patience, I think! – I pointed out yet again that this is beside the point because I am showing that omnipotence does not lead to incoherence. And now when Michael finally… finally grants the point. It’s a miscommunication – and how dare I tell him earlier that he didn’t understand, because that’s an attack.

    Then James added this classic line in closing:

    “now that you’re finally seeing Michael’s point, after he (and I) repeated it over and over again, you’re pretending that he has changed his argument.”

    Is this actually the level of clarity and understanding that my critics have of the issues they want to argue about? Please say it aint so! People wonder sometimes why I’m cynical about the way that so many sceptics argue about God online. Please accept this as a small token of my explanation.

  62. You’ve the patience of a saint, Glenn. You’re also wasting your time with people like that. But you’re patient.

    Let me guess. In spite of extensive direct quotes, someone will show up and say: No, AGAIN you are misrepresenting us! 😉

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