Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Omnipotence Really Means

I've noticed a funny thing amongst the literalist Protestants I know. They don't really know what omnipotence means.

Imagine the Protestant God. He's created all the angels, and then one of them rebels against him (his favorite one, too). The angel changes his name from Lucifer to Satan and goes on a rampage, making a nuisance of himself throughout all of time and space. When something bad happens: a disease or a typhoon, Satan's to blame.

Except that he's not. See omnipotence means power without limits. If you want something to happen, it does. If you don't, it doesn't. So nothing would be capable of doing anything against an omnipotent God's will. Anything that happens, God wanted to happen. God caused it all. Gives a whole new meaning to "thy will be done."

God caused Lucifer to fall. God caused Adam and Eve to sin. God caused disease, famine and hurricane. There is no one else to blame if there is an omnipotent God in the mix.

For those that are following along, this means you have no free will. Protestants will often take the stance that evil exists in the world because of free will; that God is letting humans make choices for themselves. That's a cute idea, but it is logically contradictory with an omnipotent God. If his will can't be gainsaid, then your will means nothing. If you rob a bank, it's because it matches his will. If he chose otherwise, you couldn't do it.

For bonus points, imagine two omnipotent entities duking it out. Who wins? The rules of logic do! And the rules of logic say that they can't both exist. It's like that old paradox "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?" The answer is that if an unstoppable force exists, there are no immovable objects, and vice versa.

Omnipotence even opposes itself, unfortunately. Try this out: can God become non-omnipotent?

At time T1, God is omnipotent. He knows all and nothing can oppose his will.
At time T2, God will soon lay down his omnipotence. He will cease to know all and things will be able to oppose his will.
At time T3, God is no longer omnipotent. He has ceased to know all and things are able to oppose his will.

Except, T1-God knows things that will happen at T3, and can affect them. Nothing can oppose T1-God's will, not even things at T3. So, even if T3-God were a nonomnipotent entity, T1-God is still in charge. T1-God has not lost anything.

Oh, and please note, we humans are used to opposing ourselves. When we are on a diet, we avoid buying fatty foods to prevent our future self from pigging out on them. As students, if we need to study or do homework, we might go to the library to prevent our future self from being too distracted to get the job done.

But as an omnipotent being, God can't oppose himself. If T1-God and T2-God wanted different things, we'd have the unstoppable-immovable paradox. So God can't change his mind at T2 to decide to lay down his omnipotence. T1-God already planned to become T2-God and T3-God.

So there are two logical problems, with just a single omnipotent being. God can't become non-omnipotent, and God can't change his mind.

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