In a video series YouTube user Mike Winger calls, “Things Atheists Should Never Say,” he claims that nonbelievers should never ask this question to believers: “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?”
I believe the typical phraseology goes like this: “Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it,” with the common perception being that if God is all-powerful, he could, in theory, create an object bigger than his omnipotence will allow him to lift, thus hurling his supposed nature into logical entropy. This is called the omnipotence paradox.
Now, I’m not going to write a long essay defending this question. I and fellow nonbelievers don’t need this question, as it were, to tear holes through Christianity and religion in general, but I will add a few words in reference to some comments made over in Mike’s comments section on YouTube.
First, here was my initial response to his video:
What are the list of things an all-powerful god can’t do? It must be a short list. If an all-powerful god has a constraint in character, he is not his own agent, but rather, is answerable to some other entity. If this definition of omnipotence is wrong, then we need another definition of what you mean by “god,” because the traditional Judeo-Christian view holds that he is not only all-powerful but he is the source of all morality, this he has no constraints of character except of his choosing.
And his response:
Again, the false thinking is when we assume that the lack of the ability to do something is because of a lack of power. God cannot lie, this is because of His character not because of some lack of power. This leads to all sorts of strange thinking, I mean, how much more power does God need till He can lie? It starts to sound more and more ridiculous then more you explore it. All powerful doesn’t mean “can do anything” but it does mean “is not limited by any lack of power.”
If I can borrow a line from Nwolfe35 from the Defending the Truth forum, the apologist’s explanation about God’s supposed power usually becomes whatever it needs to be to defend the faith. Thus, Mike is saying here that it is part of God’s nature that he can’t lie, not that he has the inability to lie because of “some lack of power.” OK, but on whose authority does Mike know that God can’t lie? Because the Bible says so? And outside of the passage in Hebrew about God’s supposed natural inability to lie, how does he know? Before going on, I’ll argue again: who says God can’t tell a lie? In any case, he would need to expend very little actual energy to do so.
All we need to do is take a look at scripture to understand that not only God can lie, he does it quite openly. He tells Adam that if he eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he will die (More to the point, the writer of Genesis should have said “when Adam eats” of the fruit because God already knew it was going to happen). Christians like to say this is a figurative statement, but the verse simply doesn’t support it, and any attempt to read back into the story doctrine that would be developed much later in the church’s history is vacuous. The Hebrew word, “מוּת,” is used in this instance, and none of the definitions support some kind of delayed punishment that would befall sinners that was later developed in the New Testament, but the meaning is an immediate and/or premature death. Of course, we know that’s not what happened in the tale: Adam lived to be 930 years old — unless we are to believe that Adam’s punishment was being subjected to centuries of shear boredom. I don’t see how someone could argue that when the writer of Genesis jotted down “מוּת,” that he had in mind a spiritual death or delayed punishment, and certainly not that Adam would live to the ripe old age of 930. Yes, mankind was “cursed” because of the sin, but the quote about Adam eating the fruit did not say that he would be cursed, but that he would die (מוּת), as if the tree contained a poisonous fruit, which is actually the impression I got as I read this as a child. My literal childlike mind knew then that, in context, God was talking about an immediate death based on a severe disobedient action. Further, doesn’t God talk to himself (or to the other members of the godhead … or whatever) when he claims that if mankind eats of the fruit, they will become like “us,” knowing good and evil? Here is more support for a physical death interpretation: by becoming like God, mankind would have to leave his carnal existence for a spiritual one.
Next up in the pack of lies is the covenant. Yahweh tells Abram that he would inherent all the land of Canaan. This did not happen, either in the Bible or historically.
Acts 7:5: And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.
Acts 7:17-18: But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph.
Hebrews 11:13: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Hebrews 11:38-40: … they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
But back to the original question. The argument against whether God can create something too heavy that he can’t lift is not an argument against God, necessarily, but an argument against the idea of omnipotence. Believers’ attempts to redefine omnipotence, which means
1. almighty or infinite in power, as God.
2. having very great or unlimited authority or power.
doesn’t erase the problem of omnipotence, no more than it erases the problem of omniscience, for “infinite in power” must include the ability to make a very large rock indeed, and yes, even one that crushes the logic of omnipotence under its weight. Suggestions that God can’t do something outside of his character presupposes that God gets his character from an outside source or force. If God wants to lie, he is certainly at liberty to do so because even he supercedes whatever may have been written about him in the Bible. If he wanted to change the laws of physics so that humans could walk through walls if he so desired, he could. Indeed, he does do this in some sense if we are to believe that all humans are immortal and will exist as massless souls in the afterlife.
The logic behind this question, then, is not airtight only if Christians are allowed to change the definition of omnipotent to suggest that God can’t perform an action that is against his character or nature. First, we can’t possibly know what that character is, and any believer who claims to know an all-powerful creator of the universe is either deluded or lying. Second, an all-powerful creator of the universe would seem to be unconstrained by space, time and logic itself since he knows every detail about the past, present and future. If he is beholden to the ideas that 1+1=2 or that triangles have three sides, he is not in control of everything. He could just as easily, at his whim, decree that he was changing the rules so that four-sided objects would not be called circles, dogs would now be called pigs, horses would grow wings and birds would no longer fly. If he can make our world and perfectly tune Earth to have the right conditions for life, he can just as easily send it hurling toward the sun or remove our ozone layer and let the sun scorch us to death.
How is it that Christians can say that God is constrained by the nature of his character, and thus, can’t do absolutely anything, yet still believe that he knows the future? How is omniscience more acceptable logically than God having the ability to change the laws of physics or the rules of math? As earlier stated, believers’ attempts to make God fit within the bounds of some defined character traits gets God off the hook, as it were, from being fully omnipotent and fully illogical, thus he is given whatever power necessary to defend the belief. In this case, God appears to have been demoted by several steps. I must have been mistaken; I thought this god was truly “awesome,” as the song goes. It seems that believers who do not fully believe in omnipotence and all its implications have a rather dim view of their god, so much so that the explanations given to show that God somehow does not have unlimited power or authority or is somehow constrained seems to pose more severe problems for believers than the recitation of this question in question, silly or not.