Is an Omnipotent God a Coherent Idea?

Topics: God, Omnipotence, Atheism Pages: 5 (2018 words) Published: January 16, 2011
The idea of God being omnipotent is a central, or vital, part of the core beliefs of the main monotheistic religions of the world today: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Contemporary theism demands that believers in God accept the notion that He is all-powerful and not subject to limitations on this power; as the Christian Evangelist Matthew puts it in his Gospel: Jesus looked at them and said “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). In Judaism also the belief in God’s omnipotence is rooted in the Bible: “Attribute to the Lord all glory and power” (Psalm 29), and most Rabbinic works attribute to God the characteristics of omnipotence, which I will discuss in the course of this essay. **(Islam)**.

But is the notion of God’s omnipotence a coherent idea? In order to be able to dissect this question we must have an understanding of the true nature of omnipotence, which is in itself interpreted in many different ways. Questioning the coherence of the idea of God being an omnipotent being is most evidently a theological issue; but after further examination it is apparent that there are logical and, most importantly, linguistic aspects to this question. Indeed it is my opinion that this subject is extremely tangled within the realm of linguistic semantics. Can we safely assume that God is omnipotent once we know the characteristics of omnipotence and at the same time are presented with certain puzzles in semantics that would seek to contradict any affirmation of God’s omnipotence as a coherent idea? For indeed there are numerous repudiations of the theory of omnipotence, which I will examine also in this essay.

To begin with, let me outline the nature of the group of related paradoxical questions which seek to reject the existence of God as an omnipotent being on the basis of whether an omnipotent deity is logically coherent, as they form the main basis for any criticism of the theory. The theist is presented with paradoxical problems corresponding to the claim of contemporary religions that God has an almighty, limitless power. The Oxford dictionary definition of the word “omnipotent” is thus: “adjective (of a deity) having unlimited power; able to do anything.” Can God then create a stone heavier than He can lift? Can God create a triangular circle or a married bachelor? Can He commit a sin or an Evil even though it is said that He is a purely good being? Now you can see the theory of omnipotence can be questioned in many ways.

As a starting point, despite the existence of a dictionary definition, we cannot make the mistake of assuming that there is a conclusive or absolute definition of the term omnipotent from which to base any question of coherence on. Instead we can aim to only provisionally - for the sake of preserving omnipotence as an essential property of God and agreeing on its coherence as an idea - define the term with a certain dilution, which provides us with a more evolved term to oppose these problems. Thomas Aquinas, the revered Christian philosopher said “This phrase, God can do all things, is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible”. If we take this for our own use we can adapt the definition of omnipotence to “God can do all things that are logically possible”. Now there is a clause in this definition; omnipotence is not absolute: God can only do all things that are considered logically feasible. This phrasing of the nature of God’s omnipotence would solve some of the paradoxes by virtue of ruling out any action that cannot be considered within the realms of logical possibility – a circle by very definition is circular; if it wasn’t it would cease to be a circle, so to ask can God make a triangular circle is to ask a non-question – each term cancels each other out by way of definition and the question escapes any logical coherence. “God cannot make yes and no true at the same time, not because of His lack of power, but...
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