Does the idea of omnipotence make sense?

Udo’s response:

The idea of God’s omnipotence simply means that God’s ability to act extends to all possible state of affairs.

This ability to instantiate a possible state of affairs, accentuates the difference between what is imaginable and what is conceivable. To imagine a certain state of affairs, is not the same as conceiving it. One could imagine, that is, make as if there is a state of affairs where, for example, 2 + 2 = 5, but in reality such a state of affairs is inconceivable. To imagine that something is the case, is clearly not the same as conceiving its possibility in reality.

In other words, not all things that are imaginable are conceivable. I might imagine that a square circle exists (a proposition of make-belief), but I cannot conceive of such a thing in reality.

To ask if God can create a square circle is therefore a question that merely *imagines* a certain act by God, but there really is no such act because the state of affairs is logically impossible, it is inconceivable. God cannot make square circles or make 2 + 2 = 5, not because God is not all-powerful, but because there are no such acts to perform.

The example of changing the rules of chess to ensure a different outcome, isn’t so much a matter of cheating, nor of doing the impossible, but simply of playing a different game. Chess is defined by its rules, so if you’re going to change the rules, then you’re not playing chess anymore.

Can God make a five dollar bill so that it looks as if it was made by the Bank of Canada? Clearly not, for God cannot make something that wasn’t made by him. But again, this doesn’t say anything about God’s omnipotence, but simply of what state of affairs is actually possible.

2 Comments

  1. Some disjointed thoughts:
    If God, by definition, exists outside of time and space, and if “everything is possible with God” surely God can do anything (create rules we’ve not conceived or imagined)? We would only consider it cheating because it doesn’t fit with our rules.
    Whether God will do something apparently impossible to us is a different question. God can do what God wants, but won’t (not because he can’t) but because of the laws that circumscribe stuff.
    Other thoughts: I like the distinction between what we imagine and what is conceivable, however:
    We may have neither imagined or conceived (scuse the pun) of a virgin birth or of physical resurrection from the dead, but it seems that both are imaginable and conceivable to God … and apparently possible!
    That we don’t know how is not so much a reflection of God’s limitation, but ours.
    So what else can and will God do?!

    • I would agree that whether the human mind can imagine or conceive of something, might not necessarily reflect on what God can or cannot do. God can and does perform miracles. And God can indeed create possible worlds where the rules work differently than they do in this world.
      But that wasn’t really the issue under consideration. The salient question was whether God can do the logical or metaphysical impossible in any possible world (and maybe the words ‘imaginable’ and ‘conceivable’ wasn’t so helpful after all in trying to make this point).
      Can God create a possible world in which a square circle exists? No, but not because God lacks omnipotence, but because a ‘square circle’ is an incoherent concept in any possible world.
      Can God create a possible world in which 2 + 2 = 5? No, but not because God is impotent, but because making two plus two equal five is an incoherent idea in any possible world.
      In a very real sense what God can do is determined by his own nature. For example, if God has a perfectly good nature, then he cannot do anything evil (it’s not just that he won’t, because what God ‘wills’ necessarily proceeds from who God is) and he cannot do evil in any possible world that he might create. In the same way we can say that what is logically (or metaphysically) possible, reflects God rational nature. But the more basic point I was trying to make was that the reason God cannot do the logically impossible, is simply because the logically impossible really isn’t something to be done, whether you are God or not.

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