Limits on God

Bob asked:

If ‘God’ is defined as ‘an omnipotent being’ does that mean that everything must be exactly as God wills it? Can there be limits on God other than God’s own nature?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

No it doesn’t Bob. That’s simply a theological argument, based on black and white opposition. And bringing ‘will’ into it only confuses the issue. Because now you have to define what you mean by God’s will. Not forgetting that God does not have a ‘nature’ with inherent limitations. Nevertheless I get the gist of your question; but how you take the answer is up to your own ‘free will’.

Omnipotence is completely compatible with inexact knowledge. I could quote you some relevant passages from the great philosophers on this, but seeing that we live in the computer age, you may find this example (I hope) highly intuitive:

Computers are designed by engineers and programmers. These are the computer’s omnipotent gods, because the computer must execute whatever these men built into it, and it’s altogether determined. But men are not omnipotent. They are omnipotent only in relation to the potency of the computer.

Further, the programmers may not be able to foresee all the results of the computer’s operations. Yet they are still its omnipotent architects.

Finally, in this scenario you might wish to consider what would happen if you asked your computer to give you the full length of the number ‘Pi’. It can’t be done and therefore your computer will hang up. Does an omniscient God know the answer? No, because there are many things of this nature that have no answer. In fact to ask for an answer (i.e. for the complete string of ‘Pi’) is to show a limited understanding of the nature of those issues. So in the sense of your question, God could will as much as he likes to calculate ‘Pi’ down to the last decimal, but the real point here is that IT IS UNNECESSARY. The assumption of omnipotence is a fallacy to begin with, because it assumes knowledge of every detail. God does NOT NEED it. (It’s really nothing more than a purely human preoccupation).

One last comment: God’s omniscience is theologically axiomatic. It can’t be questioned (a few hundred years ago it would have cost you your life to doubt it). Philosophers are of course free to consider aspects of the question that are barred to theologians. This doesn’t mean that philosophers are happy to embrace this freedom — far from it! But it is a good philosophical position to take, that if anyone tells you ‘omnipotence’ means total and in detail, you ask for proof and for examples. You might then discover that the other person doesn’t have either.

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