Some thoughts on Omnipotence as Logical Possibility
Some thoughts on Omnipotence as Logical Possibility

An argument I read from Alex on the nature of omnipotence inspires this discussion. However, I do not speak to Alex but to my thoughts on an argument as I read it. I have felt the need to write down those thoughts, and so here they are.

An Argument Against Omnipotence

O=omnipotence=God can do anything which is logically possible and cannot do that which is logically impossible
x=that which is logically possible and is contingent
p=God can do x
q=God can do ~x
p and q=God can do "x and ~x" (at the same time and respect)
Assuming that O is true,
1. p (true by definition of O and x)
2. q (true by definition of O and that of x which implies that ~x is contingent)
3. p and q (true by conjunction 1,2)
4. (p and q), then ~O (true by law of noncontradiction)
5.p and q (3)
6. ~O (true by modus ponens 4,5)

Response: The contradictory conclusion drawn in "p and q" is that if God were capable of doing anything which is logically possible then God could do both "x and ~x" at the same time and in the same respect. However, this is a fallacious move. Although it is true that both "x and ~x" are possible by definition, one cannot therefore deduce that both are possible as actualities at the same time and in the same respect. In reality, p says the same thing as q. It says, "Either God can do x (Go East), or God can do ~x (Go West)." Their conjunction is not contradictory, but redundant. The bottom line logically, however, is that one cannot deduce from the fact that x is possible and that ~x is possible, that the actuality of both at the same time is possible.

Question: Why is x defined as contingent?

Because O is defined as being able to do what is possible but not being able to do what is impossible. If x is defined merely as possible, then q is not necessarily true. This is so because "~x" might be impossible and the conclusion, "p and q", would not be deducible.

Critique: The theistic God is defined as omnipotent omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Now, what if x is defined as being less than "omni." For instance, is it not possible to be ignorant; but by this definition of omnipotent, it would be logically possible for God to be ignorant. Does this not smack against our common sense? Also, does it not make theism impossible?

Or, perhaps, what it does is make the notion of ignorance logically impossible!

(from the same critique) So, are we to say that our natures as we sense them are logically impossible?! We are clearly able to be less than able to do all that is logically possible. We can do evil, we are ignorant, and we can be present in many places. If it is true that we exist, and O is true, we must really be gods. For, since God cannot apparently do these things which we once thought logically possible, then we even less should be able to do them. How are we supposed to resolve the obvious fact that we do not know everything with the definition of omnipotence?

r=God cannot do every x
1. if r, then ~O (by definition of O)
2. r (true by experience)
3. ~O (true by modus ponens 1,2)

The other conclusion, a priori, that one could draw if one finds that statement r is aroused by a prejudice is that of pantheism, or that it must be impossible for God to do anything that would make God, "not God." In other words, true ignorance, evil, etc. must be truly impossible. So, either, it would seem that we trust experience or logical necessity. If we trust the arguments for the reality of necessary being, then we find ourselves pantheists trying to explain away some very strong illusions, among them our own ignorance. If we trust experience, we find ourselves unable to stand on an existence that has just undercut the logic of itself. For, if experience can stand, it can only be sure of itself with the help of necessity. The deduction of the critique in that case fails to hold weight. One who cannot fathom pantheism but realizes the weakness of experience often becomes agnostic. Agnisticism chases away its own very strong illusions, the illusion in this case becomes that we know something. Experience seems to validate our distinctions. The pantheist must laugh at you for asking what is on your mind, "If you had a mind, I would know it. I know of no such mind, so there is nothing in it." The agnostic puzzles, "I don't even know what a cliff is, so chances are if I knew what driving was, I would drive over it--although I don't know."

I propose that there is something salvagable in both intuitions that can save both from the extremes that violate our common sense.

In a cosmic sense, let us not look so much at the subtle points of theism but at the realm of existence. Our critiquer may as well have said that it is possible for us not to be while it is not possible for God not to be because that would contradict the definition of necessity. Clearly, however, for there to be such a thing as contingency, the notion of "not being" must be in some way logically possible. The pantheist (Spinoza is the greatest example of this line of pantheism) takes this as the greatest proof that there is no such thing as contingency, that however it may appear to our senses or to ourselves, we are not really any different than God. The non-pantheist takes the fact of "not being" so much for granted that it proves to him that there is no such thing as an omnipotent God.

It seems to me that both extremes are fallacious. The pantheist is wrong in presuming that to "not be" is incapable of being relatively true and quite possible in this sense. The non-pantheist agnostic is wrong in presuming that there is a very real sense in which "not being" is impossible.

Now, if the pantheist is right, then God is the entire universe. God is all that is, and anything that is not God, is not. This is to say that God is one and only one. Anything "other" would not be God, and therefore is not. Yet, this sort of God is unknowable because it would be impossible to say what God is not because we would be at a loss to explain how we could speak of what God is not as if "is not" were something. In other words, it would be impossible to say anything false about God. Without being able to say anything false, one could hardly say something true either. Distinctions are lost, and God would be everything and nothing at the same time. So, to speak about what God is, there must be some way in which it is possible to speak about what God is not, and what "is not" must have some sort of existence. Its existence, however, is not real in the sense that God is real. It exists however as a relationship between aspects of God. "The elbow of the body IS NOT the foot." Interestingly, if we are to preserve the distinction that God is incapable of "not being" then it must be true that the elbow and the foot, though not each other in the one sense, are both nevertheless complete expressions of God in another. Both of them ARE. Nevertheless, as we see elbows and feet, they are different from each other, and the necessity of an understanding of "not being" is what permits such a distinction.

The non-pantheist is wrong in presuming that to "not be" is always possible. The non-pantheist presumes that existence is many and contingent, that things go in and out of existence all the time and that change is the only constant. In such a universe, contradictions become possible. This makes the logic of the non-pantheist implausible. In the non-pantheist's universe, everything is possible and therefore without distinction. There must be something the same about the universe for things to change. There must be things which are impossible. In that sense, "not being" is very much impossible. However, as I have written about the pantheist, there is a sense in which it is also possible.

So, when omnipotence is challenged on the grounds that God could not do things which are logically possible, the person making the critique has not made clear whether he/she means whether those things are logically possible in an absolute sense or in a relative sense.
Is it possible for God not to be? No.
Is it possible for us to not be? Yes.
Does "being" in both questions refer to the same thing? It does not.
Then, it does not disprove O.

I realize that this paper is a bit technical and calls upon you to remember the meaning of "necessary," "contingent," "possible" and other such things as I have used them in the past. It is not meant to be a proof for omnipotence, and much less for theism, then a beginning of a discussion that might lead towards a discussion of the oneness and the manyness of being and resolving some of the classical paradoxes that those who have critiqued theism accuse it of supporting. Thus far, my arguments have not ventured to support theism, (nor does this paper), but that is where this is heading. Also, as an aside, it also tends toward arguments supporting the rationality of the trinity as well.

Anyhow, those are some of my thoughts.

Jim Macdonald

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