Omnipotence and Omniscience Arguments
The Omnipotence Paradox and the Omniscience Paradox are separate arguments, but they are both variations of a common theme -- that the popular conception of God cannot exist because the intrinsically self-contradicting properties of omnipotence (being all-powerful) and omniscience (being all-knowing). These arguments cannot prove God's nonexistence; they prove that God suffers from limitations -- God can exist, but not “as-advertised,” because he is a “lowercase-g” god. However, these limits synergistically reinforce each other, and contribute to the Problem of Evil. The end result demonstrates that god is not all-knowing and not all-powerful, because the nature of omnipotence and omniscience requires the two to come as a matched set. Since God cannot be both or either, he is then neither, as illustrated in the truth table below:
|All Possible Gods|
|True||True||True||NO||The Problem of Evil demonstrates that one or more of the three propositions must be false.|
|True||True||False||NO||The Omniscience Paradox demonstrates that an all-knowing God lacks the ability to change his mind, and is therefore, not all-powerful.|
|True||False||True||NO||An all-powerful God would have the power to make himself all-knowing.|
|True||False||False||NO||An all-powerful God would have the power to make himself all-knowing.|
|False||True||True||NO||An all-knowing God would know how to make himself all-powerful.|
|False||True||False||NO||An all-knowing God would know how to make himself all-powerful.|
Type-1 gods are tragic, saintly figures who genuinely want to invoke positive change, but lack the means or ability to do so. While they may have great knowledge (like Cassandra) or great power (like Odin preparing for Ragnorök), these will ultimately be insufficient.
Type-2 gods are not all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-loving; they cannot truly be considered gods per se, as any and all humans also meet this criterion. If beings with immense knowledge or power existed, it is unclear why anyone would want to worship them, as their literary counterparts tend to be:
- Absorbed in their private agendas and concerns; e.g., Q, Dream, or Dr. Manhattan.
- Largely indifferent to human affairs; e.g., Crom.
- Overtly malevolent; e.g., Cthulhu, or Thanos (while in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet).
- Mundane. David Hasselhoff is a Type-2 god who possesses miraculous power, as indicated by his abnormally-high CPR success rates, as well as those of his Baywatch pantheon. While seems like a joke, the miracles of the saints are based on less evidence than any grainy VHS tape could provide.
Worshiping a Type-2 god is functionally the same as having no god at all. The creation of man could have occurred through natural processes independently of a Type-2 god, who may also be the product of natural processes.
Details of these paradoxes are listed below.
The Omnipotence Paradox
The Omnipotence Paradox discusses the theological implications of the Irresistible Force Paradox, commonly stated as the Paradox of the Stone (“Could God create a stone so heavy that even he could not lift it?”), or as a question of that form (e.g., “Can God create a prison so secure that he could not escape from it?”). This argument has existed since antiquity, but was not relevant to Christianity until the late-1100s, when counterarguments were needed to stop the influence of emergent sects, such as the Cathars, who did not believe in an all-powerful God.
Scripture credits the notion that God is not all-powerful:
- God was unable to overcome the people in the valley, who possessed iron chariots (JUDG 1:19).
- God required 6 days to create the earth (GEN 1:1-31). An all-powerful God could have done this in an instant.
- God rested after creating the Earth (GEN 2:2). An all-powerful being would not require rest, or need to feel refreshed.
- Assuming that Trinitarianism is true, then God is not omnipotent, since Christ was not all-powerful, despite being imbued with all of God’s powers and abilities.
- The fact that God even needs to invoke power is evidence that he faces challenges, problems, hurdles, and needs. Power, in any of its forms, is something that is used to influence one’s environment to solve problems. An all-powerful God would have the power to preclude such events, and thus avoid the need for exercising power.
Additionally, the idea that God is not all-powerful is a reoccurring theme in the Christian tradition:
- Christians claim that God has a plan for all of us, but why would an all-powerful being need plans? Such a being would not need to take steps to meet their goals; they could just outright create the final result.
- If God can be moved by prayer, then mankind has acquired and shares in his omnipotence.
- The fact that God so desperately wanted to be loved that he (via his son) would die for each of us implies that we each have some degree of power over God.
- God is unable to stop his followers from being unjustly harmed from natural disasters and other “Acts of God.” Christian apologists have tried to reconcile this by:
- Variations of the “God works in mysterious ways” platitude.
- Accepting scientific explanations of natural phenomena -- but only because it can absolve God from direct responsibility for anything tragic or disorderly.
- Ignoring the death, destruction, and mayhem, and focusing on “miraculous” survivor stories.
Those who would claim that God does not have to be infinitely powerful to counteract the largest possible force in the universe are forgetting that God supposedly created the universe out of himself. The argument of limited omnipotence (i.e., that God possesses finite power which is sufficient to do anything that he would ever do) implies that God has a restriction on how large of a universe he could create. Could he have created a universe 20 times more massive than the current one? 5,000 times more massive? If not, then he is not omnipotent. The old riddle is not entirely inapt: can God create a stone so large that he can’t lift it? Either way, God emerges short of omnipotence. Theologians have tried to counter this argument, but they establish limits while doing so, which inadvertently verifies the argument. For example:
- Theologians work to redefine the term "omnipotent" to only refer to the logically possible, since being all-powerful, by definition, includes being able to do impossible tasks (e.g., drawing square circles). This inability, and the lack of these impossible creations is (strangely) cited as a proof of God’s existence, since only an impossible being could perform these impossible tasks.
- The Paradox of the Stone is often countered by avoiding the question, and claiming that "God would never want to do such a thing." However, this implies that God’s power has bounds, since he is a slave to his own character and predictability.
The Omniscience Paradox
The property of omniscience comes bundled with a number of unresolvable problems and conundrums, because they are intrinsic properties of omniscience itself. These are outlined in the attached flowchart.
God’s Willingly Complacency
If God knows everything, then he must know what all of your future thoughts will be, otherwise he would be some-knowing instead of all-knowing. This implies that God remained complacently silent in the face of fascists, Klansmen, and the whole litany of horrors which mankind has dealt upon itself; God knew all of these things would happen, yet did nothing to stop them. Likewise, God knew how many children he would kill with each earthquake and tsunami, and knowingly sits on his hands as these tragedies unfold.
Additionally, if God knows all, then prayer is a waste of time, since God would already know your wants and desires. Prayer is then reduced to busywork to keep the conscious mind too preoccupied to think or cause trouble.
Freewill Does not Exist
If God knows all of your future thoughts, then he already knows what you will think, act, do, and say before you ever do it. There is no reason for God to test or to try any man, because God would already know what the outcome will be. As a result of this, humans would have no freewill; we would merely carryout the orderly, clockwork actions of God’s pre-determined plans. While apologists may argue otherwise, it is only an illusion because their predetermined opinions regarding freewill are a part of God’s plan.
The Bible offers no solace to this dilemma, speaking in ambiguities and hedging its bets. While there are fleeting references to human freewill in both the Old (JOSH 24:15; PRO 1:29) and New Testaments (LUK 7:30), God never explicitly ascribed that power to man. (While Paul spoke about making a choice in PHIL 1:22, this was in the context of having no real choice.)
This becomes even more convoluted because to be all-knowing entails knowing all thoughts -- including all of God’s future thoughts. An all-knowing God would then have no freewill; God cannot change his mind, because he already knows all of his future thoughts and his final decisions. However, if God lacks the power or ability to change his mind, then he cannot be all-powerful.
God is not Omniscient
The only real way to quell these disquieting thoughts is to deny the omniscience of God, since these problems are caused by the concept of omniscience, and not with God per se. God can exist, but not “as-advertised.” This notion is reinforced by scriptures, which gives multiple examples of things which God did not know.
- Personal conversation with Paul Draper, c.September 2008.
- V. J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis (Prometheus Books, 2008).
- D. Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists (Ulysses Press, 2008).
- L. Kaminski and M. Bagley, Fantastic Four, vol. 1, #351 (Marvel Comics, 1991).
- B. Russell, What I Believe (Routledge Classics, 2004).
- T. Keller, Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Penguin Books, 2009).
- A. S. LaVey, The Satanic Bible (Avon, 1969).
- D. Mills, Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person's Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (Ulysses Press, 2006).
- G. H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (Prometheus Books, 2016).
- B. Russell, edited by P. Edwards, Why I Am Not a Christian (Touchstone, 1967).
- E. D. Cohen, Mind of the Bible-Believer (Prometheus Books, 1988).