Christian Theology and Apologetics

Attributes of God: Omnipotence

In traditional theism, God is thought to be the greatest conceivable being. Philosophers and theologians alike posit that a maximally great being would possess certain great-making properties such as omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, aseity, and so on.[1] These are properties that a maximally great being would possess. There is a great deal of biblical authority ascribing God the attribute of omnipotence.[2] It is my goal to give a cogent examination of the doctrine of God’s omnipotence.

There is some debate over what omnipotence is and isn’t. The French philosopher Rene Descartes posited that an omnipotent being would have the ability to perform all tasks, for instance, to make 1 + 1 = 3, or to do other logical impossibilities such as making a squared-circle or a mountain that only has an upslope. States of affairs such as those are not possible, even to an omnipotent being. What one needs to understand is that logical absurdities (squatted-circles, etc. . . . ) are not actual things—they cannot exist—not due to a lack of power on God’s part, but due to their self-contradiction. Thus, it is not a limit on God’s power; rather it is a logical limit, which is to say there is no limit at all.

Omnipotence paradoxes have been offered which attempt to show the perceived incoherence of omnipotence. Contentions such as “can an omnipotent being create such a stone of mass, which that being cannot move?” If the answer to the paradox is “yes” then there is a state of affairs that the being cannot bring about—the moving of the stone. On the contrary, if the answer is “no,” then there is another state of affairs that the omnipotent being cannot bring about—the creation of such a stone.

The resolution to omnipotence paradoxes comes in the definition of omnipotence itself; omnipotence does not mean that a being has the power to do the logically impossible. If the agent were able to create a stone of mass that it could not lift, that agent could not be omnipotent. Omnipotence does not require than an agent be required to bring about an impossible state of affairs.

Descartes position is self-referentially incoherent. That is to say, that his position actually refutes itself. His view is that there are no necessary truths. Squares could have been made so that they do not necessarily have four sides, God could have made them with three. Likewise, God could cease to be omnipotent, if he chose to do so. If Descartes believes there are no necessary truths, than that claim also applies to the proposition, “there are no necessary truths,” and if that proposition is true, then it is also false, for it could not be necessarily true. Thus, Descartes view collapses under its own fundamental supposition.

Hoffman and Rosenkrantz offer a second solution to the omnipotent paradox as well. They posit that if both states of affairs are somehow possible, they could be so at periods in time. That is to say while omnipotent the agent could create a stone of mass, and subsequently cease to be omnipotent and lack the ability to move the same stone. Such a notion presupposes a contingently omnipotent being, which is an absurdity itself, as an omnipotent being must be necessarily so. It must be said, that the first solution to the paradox is sufficient as the God of traditional theism is necessary and as such, must also be necessarily omnipotent as well. The second solution offered is not necessary and is simply another impossible state of affairs for an omnipotent being; as such it must be rejected. Thus, paradoxes fail to demonstrate any incoherence in the doctrine of omnipotence.

Now that there is no reason to object to omnipotence, another difficulty must be dealt with, namely the notion that there could exist more than one omnipotent being. If it were possible for there to be two omnipotent beings, could these beings be omnipotent at the same time? For the sake of simplicity, we will assume there are two omnipotent beings—Mark and Sarah. Suppose both of these omnipotent beings wish to act upon the same pebble; Mark wishes to move it, and Sarah wishes it to remain where it rests. Ad oculos, the omnipotent beings would cancel one another out and either agent would not affect the pebble. That is to say, Mark did not possess the power to move the pebble and Sarah did not possess the power to keep it stationary; neither agent had the power to act upon the pebble, so neither of the agents are omnipotent, and the notion that there are more than one omnipotent being is an impossibility.

For the sake of argument, suppose there are three omnipotent agents (Mark, Sarah, and John). Say these three also wished to act upon a single pebble. Mark and Sarah wish that the pebble be moved and John wishes that it to remain motionless. Again, ad oculos, it would seem the balance of power is on the side of Mark and Sarah, thus the pebble would move whereas John wanted it to remain still. Does this signify that Mark and Sarah are omnipotent and John is not? No, as it took two agents to overpower the one. Thus, John could not be omnipotent as he was overpowered and Mark and Sarah could not have been omnipotent because it took both of their combined power to overcome John. The notion of combining omnipotence is itself incoherent and can be illustrated mathematically. If one omnipotent agent is 1 and 1 + 1 = 2, this demonstrates that if power can be added, then that power is not omnipotent power. This means none of the agents possess the attribute of omnipotence as omnipotence means “all powerful.” This signifies that polytheism is incoherent, and monotheism is the only rational theistic belief. Thus, one is very rational in holding to the traditional God of Christian Theism.

[1] Quinn, Philip, L. and Charles Taliaferro, A Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Malden; Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 229.

[2] Gen 1:1-3; 17.1; 18:14; Isa 44:24; Ps 115:3; Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 1:19; 3:20; Matt 3:9; Matt 19:26; Rom 4:17.



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6 thoughts on “Attributes of God: Omnipotence

  1. Interesting writeup….


  2. Nice logic. The problem, is that logic doesn’t apply to what exists beyond space and time (different laws of physics for one thing).


  3. New to this blog. Interesting writing 🙂 But it seems from this writing that God is not omnipotent (Jesus being limited by being in a body,…)


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