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Previous: 29.2 Mackie’s logical problem of evil Up: 29. Errors and Evils Next: 29.4 Real questions

29.3 Divine versus Absolute omnipotence

There is a simple argument related to divine omnipotence which has a direct bearing on the problem of evil. In its light the argument will be seen in a different way. Mackie agrees that this will be a possible line of reasoning for a theodicy as long as, he reminds us, we are not still “thinking, in other contexts, that [God’s] power is really unlimited”.

There are already well-known ‘paradoxes of omnipotence’ that date back to medieval times, and Mackie (1955) reminds us of them. One such paradox is ‘can God create a stone he cannot lift?’ If he can then he is not omnipotent, since there is something (a lifting task) he cannot do. If he cannot, then he is not omnipotent since there is something (a creation task) he cannot do. A common response is that since God is supposedly omnipotent, the phrase ‘could not lift’ does not make sense, and hence, in relation to God, the paradox is meaningless. However, since science cannot permanently tolerate paradoxes or denials of sensible questions, we do have to come to some resolution of this problem in theistic science.

The only solution to the paradox that I can see is to deny that God is absolutely omnipotent. Since any assumption of absolute omnipotence leads to a contradiction with that presupposition, it is clearly self-contradictory, as argued by Cowan (1965). Nothing self-contradictory can be attributed to God. We are thus logically obliged to distinguish divine omnipotence from absolute omnipotence. Then we can coherently claim that ‘divine omnipotence is not absolute’ and that there are (indeed) some things that God cannot or will not do. This logical argument does not tell us what precisely these limits are. It is more a kind of existence proof, driven by the inconsistency of a non-existence.

The limits of divine omnipotence have been touched on in previous chapters, so we do already have some idea of what God’s limits might be. Most of these limits stem from love, in particular from divine Love. The limits come from the fact that God’s Love always overrides his omnipotence. That is, perhaps he in fact does have many of these powers to be listed, but (from Love) he never does these things. Then God’s omnipotence is effectively reduced. The resulting ‘effective omnipotence’ is what we should henceforth call ‘divine omnipotence’.

There are many things A that an absolute omnipotence can logically perform, but God does not do those things, for reason B. Let me list some of these:

Create beings that live from themselves.
B1: No, because these beings would then be divine and not lovable unselfishly, because not distinct from God. See Section 12.2.
Create theistically-sustained beings suddenly de novo.
B2: No, because they would be missing their own history of actions and hence would not be robust with their own ‘skin’. See Section 26.2.
Remove all evil from the world existing today.
B3: No, because much of that evil consists of the loves that make persons, and all persons are loved by God, so none can be removed. See Section 20.4.
Remove all the evil loves from inside all existing persons.
B4: No, because some people are (very sadly) substantially constituted by their evil loves.
Stop all persons from choosing evil, even though they still can do it.
B5: Maybe some but not all, since influencing persons is done by the presence of some substance, not remotely, so such persons will be hemmed in and will clearly feel constrained. Some small fraction of these will certainly rebel against those internal constraints and end up in more evil than before.
Stop all persons intending all evil, even though they love it and still can do it.
B6: No, because if a person’s love could not intend what is loved, then their loves would have no form in their understanding and so could not permanently exist. God loves all persons, and he wants them all to exist permanently.
We see that, in all these cases29.1, God’s omnipotence is ruled by Love. This is as it should be. So the answer to whether God can create a stone which he cannot lift is ‘yes’. And that stone is us.

It is because of the basic need for all conscious creatures in creation to be able to act as if from themselves and to enjoy the delights from those actions, that most of these limits arise. Also, from these principles, we have the need for freedom of the will for us (supposedly rational) humans. It is always necessary that our actions be our own and not imposed on us. As discussed previously, we cannot ever be allowed to think of ourselves as predestined or unfree, as then our actions would not even seem to be our own.

Previous: 29.2 Mackie’s logical problem of evil Up: 29. Errors and Evils Next: 29.4 Real questions

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