Can God Be Omnipotent?

An atheist might say God cannot exist because omnipotence is impossible, and God is defined as omnipotent.

This objection wouldn’t apply to all deities, of course. Zeus wasn’t thought to be omnipotent, so this objection wouldn’t prevent anyone from affirming the existence of Zeus.

It does apply to the regular Judeo-Christian idea of God, which is also the idea held by most theistic philosophers.

In this article I’ll defend the possibility of an omnipotent God against a few common objections. First I’ll counter claims that no being can be omnipotent, then claims that omnipotence is incompatible with other qualities God is thought to have.

The possibility of omnipotence

Before we defend omnipotence, we must make clear just what we mean.

Some people, when saying ‘omnipotent,’ mean “capable to doing anything.”

This definition is problematic, as we’ll see later.

For the purposes of this article, let’s use different words to represent the different definitions. We’ll call this first definition “omnipotence-unlimited.”

Most theistic philosophers do not believe God is omnipotent-unlimited. They would say, roughly, that God can do any logically possible thing.

(Actually, this is not restricted enough, but we won’t cover that in a beginner-level article.)

Let’s call this definition ‘omnipotence-maximal.’

Things like making a square circle and making 2+2=5 are impossible, so an omnipotent-maximal being would not be able to do them.

An atheist might insist that a theist defend an omnipotent-unlimited God. But why should the theist do that if he doesn’t believe in such a thing? Instead, it would be best to defend an omnipotent-maximal God.

“Can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”

This is a common objection to God’s existence, and tries to demonstrate that God cannot be omnipotent.

If God cannot make such a rock, then he cannot. If God can make such a rock, then he cannot lift it. Either way, there is at least one thing God cannot do.

However, this assumes we’re defending omnipotence-unlimited. If God is omnipotent-maximal, this is no worry. God cannot create such a rock, for that would be impossible.

Since this is impossible, it doesn’t matter that God can’t do it, for God doesn’t need to be able to do impossible things to be omnipotent-maximal.

Omnipotence and omnibenevolence

If God is omnibenevolent, he doesn’t do evil things. That’s what it means to be omnibenevolent. And Judeo-Christian theists defend an omnibenevolent God.

Is this incompatible with omnipotence?

If God cannot lie, there is something God cannot do. Lying wouldn’t be impossible, so an omnipotent-maximal God could do it.

There are two solutions to this.

First, many respond that God isn’t omnipotent-maximal, but omnipotent in a more restricted sense. God can do any possible thing that doesn’t contradict his nature. We can call this “omnipotence-restricted.”

God can be omnipotent-restricted without being able to lie, sin, or cause himself to not exist.

Second, we could make a distinction between what God has the power to do and what God does. We could say that God has it in his power to lie, but he never does, never has, and never will.

 

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