Omnipotence: intrinsic impossibilities


hi. :wave:

i was debating an atheist a few weks back about the infamously flawed god-rock question. i backed up lewis’ claim that god cannot make a contradiction to his own nature, or anything like say, a married bachelor, because they’re just words strung together rather than an actual thing capable of being made. although i didn’t fall for it, he argued that virgin birth, creating the universe and dying and rising again were also instrinsic impossibilities.

can you help me define exactly what an intrinsic impossibility is and why it doesn’t affect god’s omnipotence?



It’s a logical impossibility. It’s logically impossible for 2+2 to equal 5. It’s logically impossible for pi to be a different number. It’s logically impossible for an immovable object and an irresistible force to exist in the same universe, so it doesn’t make sense to ask questions about it. Likewise, it’s logically impossible for an unliftable object and an omnipotent being to exist in the same universe.

There’s nothing logically impossible about virgins giving birth. There are animals that do it: it’s called parthenogenesis and happens occasionally among certain species of sharks.

There’s nothing logically impossible about creating the universe: your friend is merely operating under a materialistic assumption wherein “the universe” describes “all that is” and so to posit its creation would require that there exist something outside the universe, but we don’t (and we have no reason to) accept his materialistic premise.



Square Circle - intrinsic impossibility. The very concept of to be square shaped is necessarily contradictory to the concept of to be a circle.

To die and rise again - NOT intrinsic impossibility. One is dead, and then rises again. they are not “alive dead.” Is your friend presuming that when a patient flatlines that doctors who bring him back to life are performing intrinsic impossibilities?

Infinitely large physical object - intrinsic impossibility. The character of ANY physically dependent object is that it is NOT infinite. In order for a rock to be so big that God could not “lift” it it would have to be infinite. This contradicts the very definition of rock, then, being that a rock is a physical object.


Phrases like “square circle” do not indicate real concepts. In other words, not only is there no such thing, the definition of ‘square’ and the definition of ‘circle’ preclude a priori the possibility of a “square circle.” The fact that we can put the words together does not mean that they point to a possible reality.

A word like “unicorn,” for instance, indicates something that does not really exist but which could exist.

The question “could God make a rock so big that he couldn’t lift it?” really means “can God be omnipotent and not omnipotent at the same time?”

No. Of course not.

Why is this not a “limitation” so to speak? Because God is omnipotent rather than “not omnipotent.” That’s exactly the point!


In addition to the excellent points already made :slight_smile:

“God cannot 661guygyugyguiui” - is meaningless; fairly obviously. Even if it has meaning in the language of some distant race on a yet-undiscovered planet, it is meaningless as a phrase in English; & as one is taking part in a discussion in English, the possibility that it may conceivably be intelligible in some yet-undiscovered tongue needn’t detain us. For our purposes, it has no meaning.

“God cannot run a mile in under four minutes” is equally meaningless; less obviously, because it is a verbally coherent set of words. But there is no guarantee that statements about God denote anything real purely because they are verbally coherent - to mean anything real, they have to be
*]verbally coherent - and,
*]coherent with Who God Is.[/LIST]IOW, we can test them for meaning, only if we have something to test them by - & that “something”, is the Reality of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This is a point of the greatest importance - Christian knowledge of God, is of its very nature always based on God as known in Christ: it is never a vague, unspecific, impersonal theism, but always the revelation of one Person in another Person to other persons.

Just my 2 d. :slight_smile:


a bit off-topic: circle (in mathematical sense) that looks like square is theoretically possible. But that requires understanding of advanced calculus.


one more quick question: is creating everything ex nihilo an instrinsic impossibility? something out of nothing?


Things arising from nothing is not logically inconsistent. Heck, it’s not even physically inconsistent, to a certain degree: a great many subatomic particles are constantly being created ex nihilo and immediately annihilating themselves and returning to nothing all the time. At its lowest level, our universe looks like a quantum “foam” of such sudden manifestations and annihilations of such particles.



the virtual particles you’re talking about do not come from “nothing” - they come from the quantum vaccum, which is decidedly something. nor is their production necessarily uncaused - that is certainly the view of canonical quantum theory, but it is not the only view, nor the most reasonable.


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