Can God do Anything? Can he create a stone so big that he cannot move it?
In a response to one of our readers, I said that God cannot do anything. The reader responded?
“Then what about Miracles.”
In another post an atheist reader said:
“… God can suspend the law of gravity. God can make 2+2=5 if it suits his purpose …..”
But this seems to indicate a misunderstanding of the Christian God.
So let me see if I can clarify the Christian concept of God. I won’t try to speak for the god of any other religion or myth or a god of anyone’s personal creation. Why? Because that is only limited by your imagination.
In addition do understand that what I am about to present to you is Theology. That is, I maybe able to prove some of these concepts to you, but I can’t prove them all. However I do think that they are all rational, logical and self consistent. So take them as information to understand how Christian philosophers and how most of us on this site view God.
- God cannot do “anything.”
From the writings of the great Christian theologians, thinkers, scientists and philosophers, and from the Bible, we can derive the following of characteristics of the First Cause, uncaused Creator:
God cannot do anything which is not actually possible, for example contrary to the statement above, He cannot make 2+2=5,
He cannot stop being God,
He cannot make a round square in 2 dimensional space,
He cannot make black actually be white,
He cannot paint a door black with red paint bought from Home Depot and no added chemicals and no added activity on his part,
He cannot give someone freedom of choice in an area and then not let them choose in that area.
After all it would seem fallacious and irrational to try to argue that the source of all rationality could be irrational itself.
Here are some more:
He cannot sin,
He cannot cease to exist.
He cannot “not” be God.
He cannot make another God.
He cannot allow anything else to become God.
He cannot be irrational.
He cannot be evil.
He cannot be lonely.
He cannot be unhappy.
He cannot have unmet needs.
He cannot begin to exist.
He cannot forget.
He cannot learn anything new (at least as far as we understand).
The last few imply that He cannot change his mind (because that would mean he’d learned some new information or remembered something He’d forgotten, He can however have always planned to do something different at a certain point in time, or plan to respond to a certain event in a specific way).
And he certainly cannot create a stone so big that he cannot move it. But we’ll cover that in a second blog.
So if someone asks you if God can do anything. Say “No.”
- The Miracles in the Bible are not “actually” impossible
As indicated in my blog of April 28th, Biblical Miracles do not fall into this category because they are not actually “impossible.” They are not irrational. Why do we say that? Well because any miracle or supernatural event recorded in the Bible could have been made to take place if enough technology, equipment or knowledge was available or if an extra-dimensional being was able to manipulate molecules, electrons, quarks or leptons. Look carefully, there are no truly impossible or irrational miracles in the Bible including the creation of the Universe and if an atheist were to suggest that creating matter from nothing is impossible, we’d say “Really, then why do you think it happened accidentally”.
By the way the feasibility of most of the Biblical miracles (short of creation) through technology is quite an interesting observation when you think about it. I doubt I can claim credit for it though, because, as with most things I think I have discovered, I always end up finding out that some other philosopher or theologian had already written about it 1000-2000 years ago.
An entry on my personal webpage titled “Is the Supernatural Impossible? Goes in to more detail about miracles (click for the link).
Let’s look briefly at the the water into wine miracle. The water was changed into wine most probably at the molecular level. It wasn’t water that was also wine (and while it could have been hypnotism, the passage indicates it wasn’t and anyway hypnotism isn’t “impossible”). He changed the water molecules into actual wine molecules (and very good wine at that). Was it synthetic wine? It probably was. (I say probably because of course he could have also swapped the water for pre-made wine – OK OK using the equivalent of a transporter beam…I’m a geek at heart).
What about dead men walking as in the case of those who came to life, again healing of tissue and reanimation of life (God created life to begin with – a merging of some multi-dimensional elements back to their original 4D ones) are all “possible” rational things. They are just not natural or common.
So we see none of these miracles are actually impossible.
Now it’s worth nothing that impossibility is usually seen best in philosophical or conceptual issues. E.g. making the square root of (-1) = 1. Or making the cube of 5, 124. All of which are rationally impossible.
You see making 1+1 = 3 or 2+2= 5 is not a matter of manipulating molecules. It is dealing with things at a much basic and in a sense a higher level. It’s dealing with things at the point of rationality. Mess with that and everything stops being cohesive, the universe starts to unravel, and you start to violate the very nature of God.
What about changing the laws of Gravity in the example. I would argue that God cannot change or suspend the laws of Gravity without having to then simultaneously attend to all the other effects of there being no Gravity. That’s not to say that he couldn’t also stop every individual thing from flinging out in to space using some other power, but the point is He would have to attend to it.
It’s of value to note that the original comment about Gravity by the atheist at the opening of this blog was said in the context of God being unable to be studied by science because he could change the laws of Gravity and we would not know about it. However, the nature of God being what it is and from the examples in the Biblical miracles, I tend to think that if God did do a miracle he would allow the side effects of the miracle to be apparent such that we could indeed measure it and see that an external agent had acted upon things. I also think that while God could indeed do things that cannot be studied by science, He could just as well do certain things that COULD be studied by science and point to him. So we cannot apriori assume that God did not do so. Maybe God has chosen to be able to be detected by Science. In which case would not science be the best way to detect him?
You cannot merely say that Science cannot prove God. If God wanted to, Science could indeed prove God. And contrary to what some believe, most Christians Theologians and Philosophers think that God HAS indeed chosen to leave his Fingerprint for us to detect. The question we are asking ourselves is “Why is he not more obvious about it?”, for that discussion you’ll have to wait for a future post titled “Why doesn’t God just show himself?” So for now know that the miracles in the Bible at not rationally or logically impossible.
- But I thought God was Omnipotent
(this section was updated with the definition of Pantocrator on 5/11/08 – I would like t
o express my appreciation to “db0” who allowed me to bounce these arguments off him and prompted this further expansion, I’m adding this back into the blog to allow people to see most of the argument in one place. )
God IS omnipotent (all powerful) but he is not omni-able (i.e. able to do “any”thing at least not anything irrational). The definition of power should not be confused with capability when it comes to the Christian God. There’s a clear distinction between the two. Christian theologians have long taught that God is all-powerful, not all capable when it comes to irrationality. And if you think about this, we see this as being tied into His character, His personality, His being. If God were to become irrational, it would violate his nature and he would cease to be God. God is a slave to his character (but then so are you).
But you say doesn’t the Bible say that God can do anything? Actually no, it does not. The word used in the Bible for Omni-Potent comes from the Greek word Pantocrator (Pantokrator). Pantocrator means all ruling. Almighty not all-capable. Let me explain.
When the Vulgate Manuscript was created as a translation from the Greek Septuagint (the Old Testament) into Latin, the Greek word Pantocrator was translated into the Latin “omnipotens”, which means having all the power (again note this is still technically correct as it means having power and strength not capability). The word is tied to rulers and ruling not to being all “capable.”
Over the recent years many Christians just started assuming that Omnipotence meant all capable and modern language uses it that way. But the original Greek and Hebrew do not support this. (BTW that’s what we think is infallible, the original Greek and Hebrew autographs written by the apostles and prophets. We don’t think the translations are or the copies are infallible.)
The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon explains Pantocrator as:
Strong’s Number: 3841
pantokravtwr from (3956) and (2904)?
Transliterated Word TDNT Entry:?Pantokrator
Definition: he who holds sway over all things, the ruler of all, almighty: God
As you can see Pantocrator does not mean all capable even of irrational things. It just means powerful, mighty and ruler of all.
Hope this helps clarify where we stand.
By the way: Any errors in examples or theology are my errors and not those of the owners of this site.
Part II. The correct response to: Can God create a stone so big that he cannot move it?