God and the stone too heavy to lift

APOLOGIA By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, October 30, 2008)

God and the stone

Some objectors to God’s existence ask: If God is all-powerful, can God make a stone so big God can’t lift it? If you say Yes, then God is not all-powerful, because God can’t lift the stone. If you say No, then God is again not all-powerful, because God can’t make the stone. Thus, according to this objection, an all-powerful God doesn’t exist.

The objection is mistaken, and here is why.

That God is all-powerful means God can do anything. This doesn’t mean, however, that God can do anything you say.

Consider these strings of words: “square circle”, “triangle with four right angles”, “married bachelor.” The concepts to which the individual words refer cancel each other out, because they are logically contradictory. As a result, the strings of words fail to refer to anything, and cannot refer to anything. Hence, the strings of words are unintelligible nonsense, of the order of blah-blah-blah.

But this means that when we intelligibly say God can do anything, we mean by “thing” or “thing to be done” some task whose description is not contradictory.

Of course, an all-powerful God can do things we don’t understand, because of those things’ immense complexity. However, to ask God to do a thing or task the description of which is contradictory is to ask God to do what is in principle un-understandable (even by God). Such a “thing” is, by definition, not a thing—i.e., not a genuine possibility—since the description fails to refer and cannot refer.

To hold God in disrespect for not doing such a thing or task is like asking a waiter to “blah-blah-blah,” and then getting upset with the waiter because both you and he don’t know what you are talking about!

The objector asks: Can God make a stone God can’t lift? But this is to ask whether God can create a situation in which the following two forces co-exist simultaneously: (1) a force that is in every respect most powerful; and (2) another force that is in one respect more powerful.

In other words: Can God make it true that, with regards to this particular respect, the most powerful force is, at the same time, not the most powerful force?

That is: Can God make X and not-X true at the same time and in the same respect? But this is to ask: Can God make a blah-blah-blah?

In other words, the objector’s question contains a contradiction. Therefore, the objection fails because it fails to qualify as intelligible discourse.

For an objection to succeed, it must at least make sense.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, located in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada.)

Leave a Reply