God's rocks (was: Re: Good books generally)

Tue Feb 18 09:10:46 PST 2003

On Tue, 18 Feb 2003, Matthew Hunter wrote:

@> > (I am not saying I endorse Leibniz's point of view, simply that this
@> > argument is not bulletproof.)
@> > Or there's this one: He could make a rock, then decide not to lift it.
@> I've always preferred the solution that says if he makes a rock 
@> he cannot lift, he is no longer omnipotent -- there's no going 
@> back.

>From the point of view of a religious scholar, though, that's not an
acceptable solution; basically, the tension arises from the following set
of statements:

1. A being must be able to do anything to be God.
2. If a being can create a rock that can't be lifted, that being can't
lift it and therefore there is something that the being can't do.
3. If a being can't create a rock that can't be lifted, that represents
something that the being can't do.
4. Since either 2 or 3 must be true for all beings, there is no being
that can do anything.
5. Since there is no being that can do anything, no being can be God.
6. Therefore, God does not exist. QED.

The obvious areas to attack are statements 1, 2, and 3. Yours doesn't
quite do it, because it acknowledges 2: even if there is something that
the being can't do that is distant in time (e.g., after I make this rock, 
which I will do someday), that represents a thing that can't be done and
therefore proves statements 4-6. That is, the statement of omnipotence has
to be true across all of time to really be a statement of omnipotence (as
opposed to just a statement of a-whole-lot-of-potence).

Leibniz is attacking statement 3; he's saying that the act of creating a
rock that can't be lifted doesn't constitute anything in the realm of
things, and therefore doesn't represent a thing that the being can't
do. This, if you buy it, effectively kills statments 4-6.

The "chooses not to" argument attacks statement 2. The idea is that if God
swears not to lift a rock, God will in fact never lift that rock (because
one of the other properties that is dogmatically ascribed to God is
perfect morality). So, God has created a rock that God cannot, personally
lift. It's not a violation of omnipotence, though, since it's not clear
that making a promise not to do something actually removes the power to do
that thing from you.

I've seen attacks on 1, as well. If you sacrifice the idea that God has to
be omnipotent, it's pretty easy to get out of this trap. Unfortunately,
it's a major component of Christian dogma that God is, in fact, omnipotent, 
and if they let go of the idea that the dogma contains essential truths,
how could they look down their noses at the other religions?

(I'm sure you're aware of all of this already. I've typed it out because I
just spent a lot of time moving snow around and I'm too tired to get up
and do anything useful, like eat. Besides, I enjoy listening to myself
talk. Or, uh, type.)