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Are Omnipotence and Omniscience Incompatible?

Richard Dawkins3

A reader recently asked for my response to this passage from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

"Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent." (pp. 77-78)

We have here a clever rhetorical trick: Take a simplistic objection to theism that has been raised and answered many times and present it to the unwary, non-expert reader as if it were a devastating refutation that no one has ever been able to rebut.

Note first that for almost all theists, “omnipotence” does not entail the power to bring into being a self-contradictory state of affairs (e.g. creating a round square or a stone that is too heavy for an omnipotent being to lift). The reason is that there is no such power; the very notion of such a power is incoherent, precisely because the notion of a self-contradictory state of affairs is incoherent. God’s power would be limited only if there was some power he lacked. Since there is no such thing as a power to make contradictions true, his inability to do so is no limitation on his power. (And if an atheist insists that an omnipotent being would have to have such a power, that only hurts his own case. For that enables the theist to say, in response to any possible objection that the atheist could ever raise: “Since God can make contradictions true, he can make it true that he exists even though your argument shows he doesn’t!”)

Now, suppose A and B are logically coherent but mutually incompatible states of affairs. God, being omnipotent, can bring about either one. Suppose that in fact he wills to bring about A rather than B. Being omniscient, he knows that A rather than B is what he wills to bring about. Where is the conflict with omnipotence? Does his knowing that A is what he wills entail that he could not have willed B instead? No, he could have willed it; he just hasn’t. Does the conflict lie instead in the fact that he can’t will A and B together? No, because A and B are logically incompatible, and (as we have seen) omnipotence does not entail the power to generate contradictory states of affairs.

It seems that what Dawkins has in mind is a situation where God decides to do A at one point in time and actually carries out his decision at some later point in time. Since at the time of his decision he infallibly knows what he will do later on (given that he is omnipotent) it is not open to him to “change His mind” and do something different at that later time, and thus (Dawkins concludes) he is not omnipotent.

There are two problems with this, though. First, even if this were the right way to think about divine action, Dawkins’ conclusion wouldn’t follow. For what he is saying is that God cannot bring about the following situation:

S: An omniscient being infallibly knows that he will bring about A in the future and yet does not bring A about.

And from the fact that God cannot bring about S, Dawkins infers that He is not omnipotent. But the reason God cannot bring about S is that S is self-contradictory, and omnipotence does not entail the power to bring about self-contradictory states of affairs. (Again, if Dawkins wants to dig in his heels and insist that omnipotence must entail such a power, that will only hurt his case. For the theist can then say “Sure God can bring S about, since, being omnipotent, he can even make contradictions true!”)

As it happens, though, this is not the right way to think about divine action. From the point of view of classical theism, anyway, God is immutable and eternal. He doesn’t “change his mind” because he doesn’t change at all. Nor is there any temporal gap between his willing and his acting. Rather, God is altogether outside time. We make decisions and then carry them out moments, hours, days, or years later. God isn’t like that. When he wills that A happens at such-and-such a point in time, we might have to wait for A to happen, since we are within the temporal order; but God doesn’t wait, because he isn’t within the temporal order. For him, the whole created order – including every event at every point in time – follows from his one creative act.
 

NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 
(Image credit: The Times)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • Raul88

    Saying "he must already know" or "he can’t change his mind" obviously put God inside time when classical theism put Him always outside time, being time itself part of His creation. Now my question is: Does Dawkins ignores this very basic fact ? If he does. How did he earn so much money writing and talking about theism ? If he doesn't. Is he intellectually honest ?

    • David Nickol

      Everybody discusses God as if he were inside of time, except when a handful of issues (such as foreknowledge and determinism) arise. Perhaps Dawkins sees the assertion that God is outside of time an all too convenient solution—a conversation stopper—and chooses to ignore it.

      • Raul88

        I thought the discussion was Dawkins ideas vs Theists ideas. But apparently, it is between Dawkins ideas vs Dawkins ideas about how theists ideas really (for him) are. Interesting.

        • Many theists would connect God exclusively to the present time. Many theists think God changes.

          • Raul88

            God changes ? For better ? Or for worst ?

          • Neither. God changes what he thinks, but not for better or for worse. For example, right now he thinks I'm writing a response to your comment. Later, God won't be thinking that I'm writing a response to your comment, because later it won't be true. God changes what he thinks, because God always thinks true things, and what's true changes.

            This is more or less Alvin Plantinga's understanding.

          • TomD123

            This could not be true if all times are equally real. That is the majority philosophical position today I believe. (e.g. I know it was held by David Lewis and Ted Sider).

          • Yes, and that's the position I accept.

            But what I'm pointing out is that for some Christian philosophers and theologians, such as William Lane Craig, Dean Zimmerman and Alvin Plantinga, They think that God is exclusively connected to the present, and that he changes what he thinks, in the way I described. These people are theists and, at least in the case of Craig and Plantinga, orthodox Christians (I don't know about Zimmerman).

            My only point is that theist ideas aren't exclusively that God is unchanging.

          • TomD123

            That is true. Two points though can be added to that: I know for sure that Craig is not an eternalist so that would make sense of why he thinks what he does (although still, being an eternalist myself, I would disagree with Craig).
            Second, according to Catholicism, their views on certain things (including God's relationship with time) would be heterodox.

          • Tom, thanks for that. That's what I was wondering. Catholics have some freedom with their philosophy. I was wondering whether Catholics were free to accept Plantinga's view on God and time.

            Can you point me to some Church documents that show that God's unchangeability is part of Catholic dogma?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is dis what you're looking for?

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm#article7

          • Yes, like this, but something like this but an official Church document to that effect. Only because Aquinas has been wrong about other things, and the Catholic Church does not require all their members to be Thomists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is the CCC:

            2086 “The first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity. When we say ‘God’ we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just, without any evil. It follows that we must necessarily accept his words and have complete faith in him and acknowledge his authority. He is almighty, merciful, and infinitely beneficent.... Who could not place all hope in him? Who could not love him when contemplating the treasures of goodness and love he has poured out on us? Hence the formula God employs in the Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the LORD.’”8 (212, 2061)

          • Yes, thanks. That works.

          • David Nickol

            we confess a constant, unchangeable being, always the same, faithful and just . . . .

            I don't see how one can have the attributes of being constant, faithful, and just without the concept of duration or the passage of time.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why is that?

          • TomD123

            God's unchangeability is taught formally in the profession of faith at the Fourth Lateran Council and in Chapter 1 of session 3 in the first Vatican Council.

          • Thanks.

          • Tim Dacey

            Hey Paul,

            Just to be clear--Plantinga and Craig are *only* orthodox in the sense that they subscribe to certain *orthodox* Christian teachings, however they are not *Orthodox* in the sense of *Orthodox Christianity*; they are both Protestant.

            Also, neither Plantinga nor Craig would endorse the view that God "changes" in the way the way process theology or open theism does. The traditional view (which both Plantinga and Craig endorse) is that God is both immanent and transcendent Therefore, to answer your question, I see no reason why Catholics should disagree with most of what Plantinga and Craig have to say.

          • I agree, Plantinga isn't a process theologian or open theist. But he does think God changes. He doesn't accept divine simplicity. Dawkins's argument addresses his views (since for Plantinga, God isn't sitting outside of time, but knows the future), and doesn't defeat them. That's my impression anyway.

          • Raul88

            God is OUTSIDE time. He sees from His eternal present all your life and all history. That's why you are free and He "already knows". Because He is seeing it.

          • I'm not disputing that you believe that. What I'm saying is that not all theists agree with you. So the discussion is about Dawkins ideas vs theist ideas.

          • Raul88

            Not me. Classical theism thinks that. So the "delusion" was about some heterodox theists ideas about God and no what classical theism thinks about Him ? That would deserve a clarification from Dawkins. But, maybe, that will result in far less book selling.

          • Well, I think most believers, day to day, are not classical theists. Admittedly, this is a supposition, based on anecdote, on my own experience around theist friends and family. Most talk about and treat God as existing in time. So I suspect Dawkins is aiming his comments at most theists.

            Also, why should Dawkins care what you think is heterodox?

          • Raul88

            Then, he is aiming to a straw man. No target for a good hunter.

          • It's a straw man made of meat. Not so easy to knock down. Dawkins's argument is well aimed at theists who think God is connected exclusively to the present. And he doesn't hurt their case at all. It's a bad argument against theists who think God changes.

          • Mike

            Bc if the doesn't care he might as well be arguing against the existence of the flying monster, no? What's the point otherwise; it not taking on the strongest arguments, the most time tested ones.

          • David Nickol

            But, maybe, that will result in far less book selling.

            Are we to suspect both Edward Feser and Richard Dawkins of some kind of dishonesty because they both write books? Do you think Dawkins writes his books to make money and Edward Feser doesn't? Or are we to be suspicious of anyone who sells his or her work?

          • Raul88

            I suspect of anyone who uses an straw man as Dawkins does here. So, I return to my first question. Does he do it on purpose ? Or just for ignorance ?

          • I agree with you that this argument is a bad argument, whether you think God changes or not. I think Dawkins uses both good arguments and bad arguments in his book. This is a particularly bad one.

            Brandon Vogt and others keep using the Kalam argument, even though they've been shown multiple times that it's a terrible argument. Is this out of persistent ignorance or do they use this bad argument on purpose?

            If we must impute a motive, the charitable option is to suspect that Dawkins and Vogt persist in terrible arguments because of emotion instead of reason. Everyone does this. Everyone has their pet ideas that they don't want to give up. Me included. :D

          • "Brandon Vogt and others keep using the Kalam argument, even though they've been shown multiple times that it's a terrible argument. Is this out of persistent ignorance or do they use this bad argument on purpose?"

            It's true that the Kalam argument has been vigorously dismissed as "a terrible argument," both here and elsewhere.

            But it's also true that, despite the vigor of the accusations, I haven't seen any good reason to doubt its soundness. Each of the most common objections have been thoroughly debunked, here and elsewhere.

            But to treat your assertion with the respect it deserves, can you succinctly explain here, in one or two sentences, why the Kalam argument is a "terrible" argument?

            Do you deny one or both of its premises? If so, which?

            Do you accept the premises but deny the conclusion? If so, where's the logical misstep?

            I'm not looking for a link to another comment, or a video, or an article. I'm asking you to explain, clearly and succinctly, why the argument is "terrible."

            If the argument is as terrible as you believe, this should presumably be a fairly simple task.

            "If we must impute a motive, the charitable option is to suspect that Dawkins and Vogt persist in terrible arguments because of emotion instead of reason. Everyone does this. Everyone has their pet ideas that they don't want to give up. Me included."

            Or perhaps we can assume that those who dismiss the arguments do not understand them, but believe they do. They're not governed by emotion but by ignorance.

            I believe this is the case with Dawkins (as Feser has clearly shown in this article), and I believe this is ture with those who reject the Kalam argument.

          • But to treat your assertion with the respect it deserves, can you
            succinctly explain here, in one or two sentences, why the Kalam argument
            is a "terrible" argument?

            I already have, in the first article I shared here. I presume you read it. It would indeed be quite irresponsible if you hadn't read it, but simply posted it. I'll also point out that Andrew Pinsent agreed with the conclusions of that article and reiterated even more strongly his objections to the Kalam argument. I believe you would have read his article as well. So far, no one has responded to either my objection or Andrew's objection. I'll stick with his, because it's simpler and stronger.

            From the reference-frame of light, all points in time are simultaneous, and "beginning" or "temporal origin" seems difficult to define from this reference frame, and impossible to uniquely define. Provide a definition for beginning for which all points in time are simultaneous, and then you can continue with the argument.

            If the argument is as terrible as you believe, this should presumably be a fairly simple task.

            It was. I don't think either Andrew or I had any terrible time writing our articles.

            But it's also true that, despite the vigor of the accusations, I haven't
            seen any good reason to doubt its soundness. Each of the most common
            objections have been thoroughly debunked, here and elsewhere.

            I suspect that Dawkins would say the same thing about his argument here. But he's wrong. And so are you.

          • Michael Murray

            Nice explanation.

            A few weeks back Brandon explained to me that metaphysics can distinguish particles that physics thinks are identical. I suspect your difficulty here is due to being a physicist not a metaphysicist. With the larger metaphysicist's toolkit you get an identical particle distinguisher and also a temporal time beginning locator.

          • Thank you for the kind words.

            Brandon can try that technique, but he'd then be going against William Lane Craig. Craig believes that (see Craig and Sinclair, Kalam Cosmological Argument, Blackwell Companion for Natural Theology, p. 183-184):

            (a) the Kalam argument only works with an A-theory of time (which would involve God changing, among other things),

            (b) Special Relativity strongly implies a B-theory of time and so

            (c) special relativity is wrong.

            Brandon could go in that direction, and say that there is a preferred reference frame and that special relativity is wrong. Maybe he could claim that special relativity is correct and that there's a "metaphysically preferred" reference frame?

          • "Brandon could go in that direction, and say that there is a preferred reference frame and that special relativity is wrong. Maybe he could claim that special relativity is correct and that there's a "metaphysically preferred" reference frame?"

            Indeed, there is. I agree with William Lane Craig on this point:

            "Is there a frame of reference in the universe which yields a measured time which can naturally be associated with the succession of such moments? Yes, there is.

            It is not, indeed, the inertial frame of any spatially local observer, rather it is the reference frame of the cosmic expansion of space itself. The relativity of simultaneity depends upon the assumption that there is no preferred reference frame; but if there exists a preferred frame, as the Lorentzian interpretation would have it, then the relations of simultaneity in it would be absolute, and relativity would apply to all other frames. But the frame associated with the cosmic expansion seems naturally suited to such a privileged position."

            Instead of me typing out a long defense of that position, simply read this article (see especially the section title "God's Time and Cosmic Time"):

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-real-time

          • "A few weeks back Brandon explained to me that metaphysics can distinguish particles that physics thinks are identical."

            That's correct. And you provided no reason to think otherwise. Two entities can be identical in some respects, but distinct—wouldn't you agree?

          • Michael Murray

            We weren't discussing "entities" we were discussing what physicists called identical or indistinguishable particles

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identical_particles

            which are

            Identical particles, also called indistinguishable or indiscernible particles, are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle.

            I suggest discussing the point with Fr Andrew Pinsent sometimes. He can no doubt explain it better than I can.

          • "I already have, in the first article I shared here. I presume you read it. I'll also point out that Andrew Pinsent agreed with the conclusions of that article and reiterated even more strongly his objections to the Kalam argument. I believe you would have read his article as well. So far, no one has responded to either my objection or Andrew's objection. I'll stick with his, because it's simpler and stronger."

            Thanks for the reply, Paul! I did read your article before and didn't have time to comment then. I just re-read it.

            I also re-read Fr. Andrew's reply. It seems you've misrepresented him in your latest comment. Nowhere does Fr. Andrew express "objections to the Kalam argument." He simply questions whether we can confidently say, on the basis of cosmology, that the universe had a temporal beginning. However:

            1) That doesn't mean we can't discern a beginning through other means (e.g.,, philosophy), and

            2) That doesn't refute the KCA.

            Going to back to your own article, here seems to be your major argument:

            "Why isn't the Big Bang “smoking gun” evidence for God? Because it is not the kind of beginning that theologians need. It's the limit of observability. It is the beginning of our current physics. But nothing about the Big Bang necessitates the sort of beginning that begs for a divine cause. That's why Lamaitre talks about the hidden God. If God did set off the Big Bang, evidence of his first creative act is forever shrouded from our instruments and theories."

            I'll start by noting the biggest and most obvious problem with your assertion that your article (and its assertions) explose the KCA as a "terrible argument":

            The soundness of the Kalam argument does not depend on Big Bang cosmology.

            While I personally remain convinced that Big Bang cosmology provides strong proof for the second premise in the KCA--for reasons too long to get into here--there are other, more persuasive lines of philosophical evidence that demonstrate why the universe must have had a beginning. If you're unaware of these, I'd be happen to introduce and discuss them with you.

            Thus even if you were right about the Big Bang not necessitating a beginning of the universe (which would go against mainstream cosmology, and with which I disagree), that would not refute, or cast doubt on, the KCA.

            It certainly would provide no reason to call the KCA a "terrible argument." You've simply failed to justify that claim.

          • I think I represented Andrew's argument quite well. If I'm wrong he can correct me. From both this and the other comment, it seems you agree with Craig that the argument fails if a B-theory of time is true and that relativity strongly implies that a B-theory of time is true. So you, like Craig, have chosen to reject relativity for an alternative model.

            If an argument for (or against) God requires someone to reject consensus views in science, then it's a terrible argument.

            From our conversation, I noticed another reason to reject the Kalam argument. Maybe a reason you would consider more compelling.

            The Kalam argument, according to Craig, requires an A-theory of time.

            An A-theory of time implies that only the present time has objective existence.

            For God, therefore, not all times exist at once, but only the present time.

            God changes. While I was writing this response, God thought "Paul is writing a response". Later, God won't think that because it's not true.

            I don't think it is possible to accept that all of time is present to God at once and to also accept the Kalam cosmological argument. Maybe you will find that a better reason to give up on this argument. Then again, maybe not.

          • "I think I represented Andrew's argument quite well. If I'm wrong he can correct me."

            You did not, and I explained why. You claimed in your comment, "Andrew Pinsent...reiterated even more strongly his objections to the Kalam argument."

            That's simply untrue. He did not express any objection to the Kalam argument, at least in that article, but only questioned one particular line of evidence (Big Bang cosmology) used to support one premise in the argument. As I explained, however, the argument doesn't stand or fall based on that line of evidence.

            You've misrepresented Fr. Andrew's position on the Kalam argument.

            "From both this and the other comment, it seems you agree with Craig that the argument fails if a B-theory of time is true and that relativity strongly implies that a B-theory of time is true....The Kalam argument, according to Craig, requires an A-theory of time"

            It's true Craig believes the Kalam is not compatible with a B-theory of time, although in his book "Time and Eternity" he quotes many B-theorists who themselves believe the two are compatible.

            I personally think the KCA works fine under the B-theory (for reasons too deep to go into here.)

            "If an argument for (or against) God requires someone to reject consensus views in science, then it's a terrible argument."

            This, ironically, is a terrible argument. It presumes that the consensus scientific view of science is true. But as history shows, this is not always the case.

            With that caveat, however, I would generally agree with your sentiment. When arguing for God, theists should be very hesitant if their arguments require countering a prevailing scientific view. That doesn't make the arguments "terrible," however. It just makes them audacious.

            "God changes. While I was writing this response, God thought "Paul is writing a response". Later, God won't think that because it's not true."

            As has been pointed out again and again, this is a misguided, anthropomorphic view of God. It places God within the constraints of time, and that's simply not what Christians mean by God, the immutable cause of all space and time who necessarily transcends them.

            "I don't think it is possible to accept that all of time is present to God at once and to also accept the Kalam cosmological argument."

            Why not? Where's the contradiction? If God is a necessarily transcendent reality, the cause of all space and time, time would exist for him as an eternal now. Yet that's perfectly congruent with the Kalam argument.

            "Maybe you will find that a better reason to give up on this argument. Then again, maybe not."

            I haven't found a good reason to deny it yet. And for that reason, it remains a very persuasive argument for a spaceless, timeless, transcendent, all-powerful, personal cause of the universe.

            I'd like to close this comment by reiterating my original concern: you've provided no evidence to support your claim that the Kalam cosmological argument is a "terrible argument." At best, you've cast doubt on using contemporary Big Bang cosmology (or certain interpretations of it) to support the KCA's second premise. But that in no way invalidates the argument.

            Thus there is no reason to classify the KCA as "terrible", nor any reason to reject it.

          • When I hear it from Andrew, I'll correct my view. I don't think you comprehend what he's getting at all that well. I suspect that your lack of comprehension is due to a particular non-rational bias you carry in favor of the Kalam argument. I believe I've aptly shown that the Kalam argument is not sound, and that only irrational motives could possibly explain people's continued use of such an argument. You will disagree. The individual reader can make up her own mind about which one of us is right.

            In the end, I shouldn't be too judgmental. I have my own biases toward certain pet ideas (such as atomism and Spinoza's pantheism), and cling to them irrationally. I think everyone does this. Let me collect the planck out of my own eye before I worry too much about the speck in yours.

          • "I believe I've aptly shown that the Kalam argument is not sound..."

            You haven't done that at all! As I've explained three times now, you've at best shed doubt on evidence used to support one premise (and I question whether you've even done that much.) But that doesn't nullify the premise, nor does it render the argument unsound.

            You've simply offered no good reason to doubt the Kalam cosmological argument.

            "...and that only irrational motives could possibly explain people's continued use of such an argument. "

            Again, you've failed to show this. You can feel free to make your own psychological assessments (how you judge motives, I know not) but you cannot legitimately claim to have refuted the Kalam argument--at least in this comment thread. That would.

            "In the end, I shouldn't be too judgmental. I have my own biases toward certain pet ideas (such as atomism and Spinoza's pantheism), and cling to them irrationally. I think everyone does this."

            Perhaps. But that is not relevant to the objective soundness of the Kalam argument. Notice how you have moved from trying to refute the Kalam argument (which you haven't done) to accusing its proponents of irrationally holding to it. When someone shifts from logical argumentation to personal insults, or at least ad hominem assessments, their position has weakened considerably.

            "Let me collect the planck out of my own eye before I worry too much about the speck in yours."

            Fair enough. I appreciate your humility.

            "This isn't against the soundness of the argument (I think Andrew and I already did a handy job showing that it's a bad argument)."

            No he did not. In fact, he didn't even attempt to engage the soundness of the argument. Like you, he was only concerned with whether Big Bang cosmology could be justifiably used to support the arguments second premise. That's a different question than whether the argument is sound.

            "Has Kalam been helpful in convincing people of God's existence? "

            I think the answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Just look at the work of William Lane Craig. He's led thousands of people to theism, leaning heavily on the Kalam cosmological argument.

            "I know people who have dismissed theism altogether because they've heard this argument presented (a few at St Andrews, right after Craig's public lecture there). It pushes them away,"

            This, of course, is entirely irrational, and I hope you would agree. Even if the Kalam argument was shown to be unsound, that would not mean atheism is true (or that God doesn't exist.) It would simply mean that particular argument fails to demonstrate his existence.

          • General relativity implies that the universe can be thought of as a space-time block. If this implication is accepted, what does "beginning" mean for the universe, how is it known that the universe has one, and why does having one mean that it has to have a cause?

            It seems that, if the universe is thought of as a block of space-time, there's no reason to accept premise (1) or premise (2), or even that the word "beginning" has much meaning in this context.

          • "General relativity implies that the universe can be thought of as a space-time block. If this implication is accepted, what does "beginning" mean for the universe, how is it known that the universe has one, and why does having one mean that it has to have a cause?"

            You again keep going back to modern relativity theory, thinking that it somehow invalidates the second premise of the KCA. I'm willing to *concede,* for the sake of argument, that modern science does *not* support this premise (even though I'm still convinced it does--for reasons too complicated to explain here.)

            There are nevertheless strong philosophical reasons why an actual, as opposed to an imaginary, past-eternal universe is metaphysically impossible. There are only two options: either the universe is past-eternal (and thus never had an ontological beginning) or it is contingent and thus began to exist. If the former is impossible, the latter must be true.

            Again, I'd like to point out that even if your objections in this latest comment were valid (I don't think they are), this would in no way make the KCA a "terrible" argument because it doesn't depend on scientific verification for its premises.

            "It seems that, if the universe is thought of as a block of space-time, there's no reason to accept premise (1) or premise (2), or even that the word "beginning" has much meaning in this context."

            I've already explained how this model of the universe does not invalidate premise 2. But premise 1 ("everything that begins to exist has a cause") is also unaffected by it. You've provided no reason to doubt this premise--much less render it untrue.

          • There are nevertheless strong philosophical reasons why an actual, as opposed to an imaginary, past-eternal universe is metaphysically impossible.

            I'm confused. The universe is this space-time block. It has "edges" (maybe it's open-ended in some directions). What does past-eternal or non-past-eternal mean for this space-time block? If it is open on one end and closed on the other, I flip it and now it's closed on one end and open on the other.

            You keep talking about this premise two hang-up. That's not what I'm asking about, and that's not what the criticism was about. It's not really Andrew's criticism or mine. It's about what the concept of "beginning" even means if the universe is a space-time block.

            Assuming the universe is this space-time block, what do you mean by beginning? How do you distinguish a beginning from an ending?

            (Note that I've now asked this question a third time, and am still waiting for an answer... "beginning" needs to have a clear meaning here, if the Kalam argument can even get off the ground.)

          • "You keep talking about this premise two hang-up. That's not what I'm asking about, and that's not what the criticism was about. It's not really Andrew's criticism or mine. It's about what the concept of "beginning" even means if the universe is a space-time block."

            ...which specifically pertains to premise 2--not to premise 1, not to the logic involved in arriving at the conclusion, but the terms in premise 2.

            "Assuming the universe is this space-time block, what do you mean by beginning? How do you distinguish a beginning from an ending?....... "beginning" needs to have a clear meaning here, if the Kalam argument can even get off the ground."

            I agree that we must define our terms, and that the soundness of any argument depends on it. I guess I just thought "beginning" was a pretty clear term. It simply means the point at which something comes into being (t=0, in the case of time.)

            I'd also recommend this article from Craig, which may provide you more clarity:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/beginning-to-exist#ixzz31pOXrv8U

            And I would highly</em recommend his book Time and Eternity, which contains a whole chapter on the static conception of time (there he engages relativity theory):

            http://www.amazon.com/Time-Eternity-Exploring-Gods-Relationship/dp/1581342411/?tag=ththve-20

          • ...which specifically pertains to premise 2

            And to premise 1, anything that "has a beginning" has a cause. If it's a space-time block, if there's no objective way to slice it into "space" and "time", then it is difficult for me to know what beginning means.

            It simply means the point at which something comes into being

            If the universe is a space-time block, there's no unique point at which it came into being. There's no objective way to set up the direction of time to say when it would start. If the space-time block is open on one end and closed on the other, I can set up my time arrow to say "the universe has a beginning but no end" or "the universe has an end but no beginning.", or possibly even "the universe has no beginning or end."

            (t=0, in the case of time.)

            Any point in time can be set to "t = 0". How do I know I found the real "t = 0" or that there is a real "t = 0"?

            And I would highlyTime and Eternity, which contains a whole chapter on the static conception of time

            I have read this. I've also read his and James Sinclair's article in the Blackwell Companion, and got to be present at his lecture about relativity at the Physics and Philosophy conference in St Andrews. I don't take his arguments about relativity very seriously, and neither do most physicists (including pretty-much all the physicists at his talk). The reasons for this are too complicated to explain here. But I'd be happy to talk with you about them privately, or maybe to write an article about them at some point.

          • David Nickol

            This, of course, is entirely irrational, and I hope you would agree.

            Well, from your point of view (as, admittedly, imagined by me), a person who is not convinced by the Kalam argument is presumably obligated to go on to another, and another, and another argument, until he or she has accepted one. And of course (as I imagine your point of view), if it is necessary for a person to get a graduate degree in Scholastic Philosophy in order to make sure he or she fully understands Thomas Aquinas's arguments, then so be it. You really can't reject an argument, after all, unless you have fully understood it. But this puts the burden on agnostics and atheists to convince themselves that theism is true if the theists do an execrable job of making their case (both by reasoned argument and by example).

            So (at least as it seems to me) you expect the atheists or agnostics to basically assume theism (and, in fact, probably Catholicism) is true, at least until they have spent a lifetime seeing if they can't find something to convince themselves of it.

            However, to the nonbeliever, it is up to the theists to present a clear and convincing case (again, by reasoned argument and by example). An openminded person who is not a believer, it seems to me, is not being irrational to spend a limited amount of time listening to theist arguments and finally saying enough is enough.

            My mother was Catholic and my father was Protestant, and I remember in Catholic grade school being told that kids in my position shouldn't try to argue our "non-Catholic" family members into becoming Catholic. We were to attempt to influence by example. It still seems like it should be a critical part of "apologetics" to me. If I find "apologists" to be arrogant or smug or condescending, it's unlikely I'm going to take it very seriously when they tell me how Jesus has changed their lives. Not that I am not making accusations against anyone here. I am explaining why I think it is not unreasonable to be more or less permanently alienated from theism a relatively limited exposure to ineffective arguments presented by people you wouldn't want to have a beer with.

          • Michael Murray

            I am explaining why I think it is not unreasonable to be more or less permanently alienated from theism after a relatively limited exposure to ineffective arguments presented by people you wouldn't want to have a beer with.

            Would you drink with these guys ?

            http://www.jesusandmo.net/2013/08/21/soul/

          • Guest

            Then they are wrong.

          • Maybe they are. Maybe there is no God.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hi Paul,
            I don't get the whole thing about the universe being open ended and A-theory and B-theory of time and all that.

            I imagine the universe to be something like a sphere of space that is expanding with time. That if you go back to yesterday, the universe was a smaller sphere than it is today. And that if you go back and back and back, the universe is the size of a tennis ball, and if you go back to t=0, the universe has no size. i.e. it doesn't exist.
            Is this the wrong way to think of the universe? Is there some kind of asymptote as you approach t=0 such that you never get there or something?

            If you have time to write it, an article on relativity vs the word "begins"/"beginning" in the Kalam argument would be appreciated.

      • Kyle

        Dawkin's has the question of whether or not God exists as a scientific question, and one which can be answered scientifically. (I have actually read the book). If God can mingle in our life's, as most theists claim he can, then it would indeed be a scientific question. One would first have to first demonstrate how something can exist outside of time for it to be disputed. The "outside of time" argument is dismissed automatically. As Christopher Hitches said, "what can be asserted with no evidence, can be dismissed with no evidence". He is not ignoring it, he is simply not arguing supernatural assertions, just as you would not argue my assertions that i rode a unicorn to work today.

  • David Nickol

    Rather, God is altogether outside time.

    It seems to me that once you have asserted this, there is basically not much you can say about God that is intelligible. I can't think of anything God is depicted as saying or doing in the Old Testament that can be attributed to a being outside of time. I also can't think of anything Jesus says about his Father that makes sense if God the Father (let alone Jesus himself, that is, his "divine nature") is outside of time.

    For example, we have the following during the Agony in the Garden:

    "He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

    Jesus, knowing the Father, would know that such a prayer is futile, since it cannot change the Father. And Jesus as God Incarnate should know in advance exactly what will happen in the future (including his own crucifixion).

    P.S. I personally am willing to accept that Jesus could be God Incarnate and yet have limited knowledge, but few of the theists here seem willing to accept the possibility. (And saying Jesus knew the future with his divine nature but not his human nature is not a solution to the problem!)

    • GCBill

      (And saying Jesus knew the future with his divine nature but not his human nature is not a solution to the problem!)

      Well that's because natures are incapable of "knowing" anything. It's the people who allegedly possess those natures who do the knowing.

      • Stephen Gann

        The clearest distinction I have been given between the classical understandings of a person and of a nature is the following:

        Person: the answer to the question "Who?"
        Nature: the answer to the question "What?"

        It is a person who knows. However, the instrument with which he knows is his intellect, an aspect of his nature. Both do the knowing, and each is incapable of knowing apart from the other.

    • staircaseghost

      " I can't think of anything God is depicted as saying or doing in the Old Testament that can be attributed to a being outside of time."

      This has come up several times on this site in the last week alone, and it's disheartening to see it either handwaved away -- or worse, just completely ignored.

      No one challenges non-Catholic deist/mere theist Steven Dillon because we know he doesn't believe the OT stories where Yahweh appears as a character on stage ever really happened. But if I were a Catholic (and, when I was a Catholic) I'd be full-to-bursting with the desire to explain what I believed about those stories, and why I believed it.

      • Stephen Gann

        Are you seeking a claim that God, as depicted in the Old Testament, did something that can be attributed to being outside of time? Or are you asking why someone would believe that God would exist outside of time if a large block of purportedly inspired stories about Him do not claim that He does?

        • staircaseghost

          I don't know how we could have been any clearer.

          People are looking for a minimally plausible account of how texts such as the one depicting Zipporah mutilating her son's penis and holding the bloody foreskin against Moses's "feet" (read: "not exactly his feet") to ward off an angry demon came to be written, wherein the author just obviously meant the demon as a metaphor for "the non-contingent ground of all contingent Being" or "a changeless entity outside of time".

          • Michael Murray

            Thank "the non-contingent ground of all contingent Being" that's been cleared up.

            It's doesn't quite run of the tongue like the original does it?

          • Stephen Gann

            Sorry, I'm new.

            I suspect that the primary reason this has gone unanswered is because of the sheer amount of research necessary to come to an answer that most thinking persons would consider worthy of posting. This is research that I am interested in, but I strongly suspect that it will take a lot longer then a few weeks. (If someone reading this knows of a good starting point, I am interested)

            It is also worth noting that the theists on this site consider the existence of God philosophically proven, and those who are Catholic consider the Historicity of the Resurrection account to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
            If those two are a given, then it is not a big stretch for me to say that there is a good account for those passages of Scripture, so I would feel no urgency in explaining them.

            As a preliminary note, Catholic teaching does not require that one hold that any of the human authors of Scripture would recognize that they were writing about "the non-contingent ground of all contingent Being" or any other Scholastic formulation of the nature of God. Only that the intent of the author (which cannot contradict the text) is true.

          • staircaseghost

            "I suspect that the primary reason this has gone unanswered is because of the sheer amount of research necessary to come to an answer that most thinking persons would consider worthy of posting."

            If it would require massive amounts of research, then either 1) apologists have not done the research, which is the same as conceding they have no answer, and know they have no answer but won't admit it or 2) they have an answer but refuse to give it even though people have been asking for it on bended knee for months.

            In neither of these two scenarios do such interlocutors come out as paragons of cultivating "respectful dialogue".

            "(If someone reading this knows of a good starting point, I am interested)"

            Since you are a new arrival, I would be remiss not to inform you that evidence of past experience strongly indicates a Christian poster is no more likely to get an answer than any of the dozens of nonbelievers, many now banned, to this request; or if you do, it will be a "preliminary starting point" along the lines of "read all of Aquinas".

  • I now just have a question about Catholic theology (since it seems unlikely I will be able to understand divine simplicity in the foreseeable future).

    Some very capable philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, connect God to the present. Is this allowed for Catholics? Is this an option Catholics could freely believe?

  • GCBill

    Overall, this article successfully argues against the alleged contradiction between omniscience and omnipotence. However, I don't understand what this paragraph is trying to accomplish:

    And if an atheist insists that an omnipotent being would have to have such a power, that only hurts his own case. For that enables the theist to say, in response to any possible objection that the atheist could ever raise: “Since God can make contradictions true, he can make it true that he exists even though your argument shows he doesn’t!”

    Of course the theist could say that, but should (s)he? Doubling down on contradictions leads to complete absurdity via explosion. If the atheist were right in asserting that contradiction were a true power ((s)he isn't), then it would surely be better to disbelieve in God than to believe everything and nothing. In other words, the argument would be sound if not for this false premise.

    Of course, if Feser merely wishes to argue that a believer might not be persuaded by this argument were it hypothetically sound, then he is probably right. The believer might decide to embrace contradiction rather than give up on God entirely. But (to steal a distinction from Lydia McGrew) this is a statement about psychology, not rationality.

    • TomD123

      I think that the point is more of a half-joking way of pointing out that the atheist can't consistently put forth the argument that omnipotence entails the ability to make contradictions true.

      The way Feser is looking at it is basically this (theist to atheist) "If you are correct in maintaining that omnipotence entails the ability to defy logic, then any argument you put forth against this being loses all force because it is possible that God exists and your argument works because God can make it so!"

      Of course, this would be an absurd world and I think this is just a way of pointing that out.

      • GCBill

        I agree that it would be an absurd world. I disagree that the absurdity of such a world "hurts [the atheist's] own case," because in fact his argument depends on the absurdity of such a world for a successful reductio.

        If your reading is correct, then I say Feser should have picked a different phrase to express his incredulity toward the atheist's argument (an argument which not-too-subtly implies that theists are oblivious to the implications of their own terms).

        • TomD123

          " I disagree that the absurdity of such a world "hurts [the atheist's] own case,""

          If you say that omnipotence requires the ability to violate the laws of logic, then it does hurt any case an atheist tries to make against the omnipotent being. The reason is simple: any argument you make can just be responded to by saying "True, but God can violate logic."

          Of course, God can't violate logic because that's absurd. Within the confines of logic then, you can argue against the existence of an omnipotent being.

  • David Nickol

    Now, suppose A and B are logically coherent but mutually incompatible states of affairs. God, being omnipotent, can bring about either one. Suppose that in fact he wills to bring about A rather than B.

    The above talks about a God in time. There are two possible states of affairs, presumably in God's mind. He wills to bring about A rather than B. This implies a knowledge of A and B that precedes willing A.

    It seems to me that willing (and particularly willing in the sense of choosing) is an act, and a being that exists outside of time cannot perform an act.

    Also, it does not make any sense to talk about God intervening in history. Intervening is an act. Intervening in history implies that God is watching, and when events take a certain turn, he decides to intervene. But for God, if he is outside of time, all of human history is a book that has already been written.

    • Raul88

      "all of human history is a book that has already been written" No. That puts God in the future. He is OUTSIDE time in an eternal present. He is seeing you born, writing in the computer and dying. He also sees someone praying and the result of that praying. That's why you are free and also He "already knows" the result of your choices. He already see them. He doesn't need to "know first" then "willing". Knowing and willing is the same thing for Him.

      • David Nickol

        He is seeing you born, writing in the computer and dying.

        I don't agree that it makes sense to say that God "is seeing."

        He doesn't need to "know first" then "willing".

        That is an issue for Edward Feser to deal with. He says, "Suppose that in fact he [God] wills to bring about A rather than B." That makes no sense unless both A and B are known, and A is chosen. That, it seems to me, implies a sequence of events, which implies time.

        • Raul88

          Because we live in time, our language reflects that. So, it will only poorly reflect God's actions. From his eternal present He is seeing all your life (all history actually, including His Son sacrifice) from His NOW. Also, there is no time between Him knowing and willing. Actually, we differentiate on Him knowing and willing based in our own experience. But He is completely simple and that distinction does not properly applies to Him.

          • David Nickol

            I don't think "now" has any meaning without past and future. I don't think "eternal present" makes any sense.

            Because we live in time, our language reflects that. So, it will only poorly reflect God's actions.

            God can't perform actions. And if out language is inadequate to discuss God, how can we arrive at any conclusions or have confidence that they are true?

          • Raul88

            From the VERY START we know our language is poor to talk about God. But, poorly reflect IS NOT THE SAME that completely inadequate. If you find trouble with "now" or "eternal present" expressions, stay with the more precise: God is OUTSIDE time. Time is part of His creation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            FWIW, I find this to be a very nice reflection on "the eternal present" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GukuKL0DYCw

          • David Nickol

            Thanks. It was very interesting. But I don't see how to reconcile this with such things as dying and "spending time" in purgatory, going to heaven, praying to saints ("souls") in heaven to intercede with God, and particularly the idea of the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and receiving "glorified bodies."

    • Jonathan Brumley

      According to Aquinas (and Aristotle), God is pure act. He has no potentiality which precedes a willing act.

      So, you are right, this conception of God precludes willing in the sense of "choosing". God doesn't deliberate about what to do. And, for God, "if he is outside of time, all of human history is a book that has already been written".

      However, God's action of creation was/is still a free action, because nothing about God necessitated/necessitates this act. (Now, if I can find the argument I once read for this, then I'll post it...)

      • George

        I've heard of god having a "creative nature" or his loving nature naturally leading to creation. can you give an insight on that angle?

        • Jonathan Brumley

          The nature of love, or charity, is exactly this: to give of oneself for the good of another. But since God is perfect, He has no needs which would necessitate an act of creation, because perfect, infinite love already occurs in His own nature, in the infinite giving within Himself. (See St. Augustine's "De Trinitate").

          Although unnecessary, the act of creation has a purpose. Humanity is the pinnacle and purpose of creation, and we were created for a specific end, to share in the goodness of God by knowing and loving Him. So although it was unnecessary that God create the universe, it was "fitting" to His nature that He did so. For, in addition to giving Himself entirely to Himself, He created us so that He could give Himself entirely to mankind that we also might glory in the joy of His goodness.

          • David Nickol

            Humanity is the pinnacle and purpose of creation . . .

            Really? Isn't that rather grandiose? It seems entirely possible to me that there could be other intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. This is pure conjecture, I know, but if it is true, are all other intelligent life forms supposed to bow down before the human race?

            A few years ago the Vatican astronomer speculated about the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and said one possibility was that Jesus became man was because the human race was the only race that needed a savior.

            "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Humanity is the pinnacle and purpose of creation.

            This is what the Church holds to be true, in this sense:

            CCC 760: Christians of the first centuries said, "The world was created for the sake of the Church." God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the "convocation" of men in Christ, and this "convocation" is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things

            We can see the significance of mankind not only in the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, but also in the creation narrative, in which humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, and then given dominion over all living things. And we can see in scripture that even the angels serve mankind.

            C.S. Lewis's Perelandra series speculates in a similar way about extraterrestrial intelligence. There could be lifeforms much more intelligence than us, perhaps like the angels. Perhaps even without sin. But the "happy fault" of sin is what gained us so great a savior. God allowed the fall and evil in order to demonstrate how great His love is - so this earns us a special place.

            BTW, true humility is not thinking too much of yourself, but also not thinking too little of yourself. Either way is a temptation to pride.

          • David Nickol

            Of course, this view arose when it was thought that Earth ("the world") was all there was. Perhaps if it had been known in the earliest centuries of Christianity that Earth was a planet and that there were possibly 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (10^24) planets in the universe, they would not have been so inclined to conclude that mankind was so incredibly special.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Good point. I bet the ancients couldn't even count that high.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In the Sacred Scriptures the world can refer both to (1) earth or the human world and (2) the cosmos. So, in the CCC 760, the world that was created for the sake of the Church can be seen as the human world.

            On the other hand, if there are 10^24 earths, it would be pretty special if ours is the only one on which God became a member of the rational species on that planet.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But recall that a human is a metaphysical concept: be being possessing intellect and will, as Augustine put it. It is not simply a biological species.

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    the whole created order – including every event at every point in time – follows from his one creative act.

    Are Satan's rebellion, and man's original sin, part of that "one creative act"? Surely they are within the "whole created order".

  • I think Feser is probably correct, but this definition of "omnipotence" renders the term meaningless.He refines omnipotence to exclude that which is logically impossible as well as that which contradicts God's other attributes.

    This renders the description of "God is omnipotent" to be "God has the power to do that which is not incompatible with the other attributes of God" or "God can do what God can do." By THIS definition of the word, we are all omnipotent.

    Not my idea, taken from KownNomore who explains it in more detail.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEizq6iK_zA

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think you are making an error. Define omnipotence as being able to do everything that can be done. God is omnipotent because he can do everything that can be done. Human beings cannot do everything that can be done. So we are not all omnipotent.

      • David Nickol

        I am currently reading a book called The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us, and the author points out the following:

        Language is a tool used to describe the world in which we live. However, don't confuse the map with the territory! There is one major difference between the world we live in and language: whereas the real world is free of contradictions, the man-made linguistic descriptions of that world can have contradictions.

        Some of the simplest examples are, "I am lying," or "This sentence is false." On the one hand, while these kinds of sentences can't be either true or false, there are other self-contradictory statements in English that convey real meaning, such as "Never say never."

        One thing this discussion of language has caused me to be more alert to is the fact that we can say things that appear true but are either meaningless or nonsensical. For example, we keep hearing that "God is love." Does it really have any meaning other than a "poetic" or figurative one? Why can't someone argue that according to the property of transitivity

        God is love.
        Love is blind.
        God is blind.

        My point is that it is possible to string words together, sometimes even in very impressive sounding and "reasonable" ways, and come up with conclusions that do not reflect reality.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          God is love.
          Love is blind.
          God is blind.

          You can't argue this because the way that God is love is radically different than love is blind. God is love an ontological claim. Love is blind is a metaphor for the way when some people are in love they overlook the faults of the object of their infatuation.

          • David Nickol

            God is love is an ontological claim.

            I was not, of course, making a serious argument that God is blind (although exactly what it would mean to say that God can see is problematic, since God does not have eyes). However, it seems to me there are more problems with the argument than even you have pointed out. Anyone defining love in the statement God is love would certainly not define it in the same way as they would define love[ed] in the statement "Antony loved Cleopatra."

            A lot of the time, love leads people to do terrible things. A case comes to mind in which a husband with 8-year-old twin daughters fell in love with someone other than his wife, and so he left his wife and daughters for the "other woman." I have no doubt that he loves the "other woman." Probably in most such cases, spouses who do this kind of thing genuinely love the third party. But I am sure you would say that is not the kind of love that God is. In many cases, things other than love must take precedence over love.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. Only the love in the second statement was even partly defined.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            In many cases, things other than love must take precedence over love.

            I don't think that's the right moral to draw from that story. Nothing needs to take precedence OVER love. This guy's marriage was an opportunity to engage in a relationship of unconditional love with his wife, to "will her good" even when the conditions of emotional attraction may have worn thin. Like you, I would be willing to believe in the sincerity of his love for "the other woman", but I would still say that his error was in loving too little (i.e. too little depth in his love for his wife) rather than too much.

            I think he would have done well to look at the personal / universal dynamic of God's love for Israel in the Bible. God's love doesn't unfold as some vague impersonal love for all of humanity at once. It unfolds through very personal, specific, irrevocable commitments to Israel. Those very particular commitments are a sort of "kernel" or "generating algorithm" that unfolds in a completely universal way, eventually (at least, this is what we long for) enveloping all of humanity and even all of creation, but the original commitments to Israel remain "irrevocable" (as the Church-going among us heard last Sunday, in Paul's letter to the Romans).

            Likewise, the trick for the guy in your story would have been to find a way to "will the good" of "the other woman" as some sort of outgrowth of the love in his marriage, rather than as something in competition with it. Our marital commitments are supposed to be a sacramental realization of God's love for his people, and should therefore work according to a similar personal / specific --> universal dynamic.

      • George

        But god can't lie.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Haven't you been paying attention?

          • George

            god can't lie and we can't fly. we've got these attributes that just get in the way... surface-area-to-weight ratio, energy consumption, body heat dissipation, you know how it is.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't what your comment is a propos of, or what it is supposed to mean, but I do hear your flippant, scoffing tone.

          • George

            I apologize for my tone and will start over.

            By asking me if I was paying attention, I'm assuming you think the discussion had moved beyond any questions of whether or not god could do what we consider evil things. I think my comment about lying was still relevant. Was it your position that omnipotence should be "able to do what can be done"? Because I don't see how the issue of beings having certain "natures" that define their abilities can just go away after that, and that omnipotence can be applied to one thing as the theist says.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you, George.

            I think Ed Feser made it clear that omnipotence does not mean self-contradictory states of affairs, like God making an object so heavy he could not move it. I think God lying is another example of that.

      • No, Feser is using omnipotence more restrictively that "everything that can be done". God cannot do everything that is logically possible. For example, god cannot lie, sin, change his mind. He is restricted by his other attributes.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I agree. By "everything that can be done" I meant God can do anything and everything that does not contradict his own nature.

          • And this is exactly the point. By this definition I too am "omnipotent", I can do anything that does not contradict my own nature. The word is pretty meaningless defined this way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think this is sophistry. All you are saying is you can do what you can do. That is not omnipotence. Omnipotence for you would entail you being able to do things that are possible but beyond human power, like flying.

            You are also not even omnipotent according to your own definition, since you have many unactualized potentials.

            You have also left out that truth that you can also contradict your own nature by violating the natural law, but that is another discussion.

          • I'm not sure I understand your criticism. You now seem to be advancing another definition of "omnipotence" which involves doing more than is humanly possible. But I don't think this works as a term for God. It would be something like "the power to do anything that is not inconsistent with his nature but includes some things that humans are incapable of"

            Eventually the term starts to seem very weird, which is why I think many apologists use the term maximally powerful or maximally great.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Brian, you seem to be claiming that human beings are humanly omnipotent because they can do everything their nature gives them the power to do.

            Human beings, however, are not omnipotent because there are many things that can be done that they cannot do, like fly by flapping their arms in the air.

            Even within the "set" of "that which human beings are potentially capable of doing" (and we don't even know everything that is in that set), there are many things individual human beings are capable of doing that they cannot and will never be able to do, like me play the piano as well as Vladimir Ashkenazy or do physics as well as Einstein.

          • I am saying, if in the context of God you define "omnipotent" as "an entity that is capable of doing anything that is not inconsistent with its other attributes" that I fit within that definition as well and, under this definition it is a pretty meaningless term.

            I think you mean something else when you describe God as omnipotent, but I'm not sure what it is. We've agreed that it does not mean the ability to do the logically impossible, or that which is incompatible with its nature. I guess you would like to include "more powerful on balance than any other being" but at this point, I don't see the point in using the word "omnipotent" for God. The terms "maximally powerful" seem to apply better.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Omnipotence only applies to one entity, God, and he has the potency to do all (omni) that can be done in reality.

            "More powerful on balance than any other being"?

          • Stephen Gann

            Kevin and Brian,

            I believe that your differing lines of reasoning can be clarified with a brief note on the Privation Theory of Evil.

            Privation is absence where there ought to be a presence. According to Privation theory, evil does not exist positively. Evil is the absence of a good where good ought to be (a privation of goodness).

            For instance, Blindness could be called a physical evil because the eye ought to see. Blindness itself can only be said to exist negatively (or parasitically) as the property of eye failing to exist fully as an eye ought. The eye carries a positive existence from which the blindness detracts.

            If I restate this with an example mentioned a few times on this page, I would say that a lie does not exist. A lie is defined as the statement of an untruth with the intent to deceive, The positive existences in this case are the statement and the speaker. If truth ought to be the content of a statement, the untruth is a failure for it to be true and is an intellectual privation of the statement. The deceitful intention is a moral privation of the speaker is a failure to be honest and a moral privation of the speaker.

            The inability of God to lie is not His inability to do something, but the inability of God to fail to do something (speak truthfully).

          • Michael Murray

            Doesn't this rather founder on the fact that for any proposition P we have P = not not P. So if we call not P Q then any proposition is a negation. In other words the presence o anything is just the absence of its absence. So any presence is absence and any absence presence.

          • Stephen Gann

            No. The contention of Privation theory is that Evil = Not-Good is false, and it is false for the same reason that Blindness = not-Eye is false.

          • Michael Murray

            I understand the contention. I just don't see why it is not immediately false.

            Why is blindness = not-Eye false ? Blind mole rats are blind because their eyes are tiny and obscured by skin. Sounds like not-Eye to me.

          • Stephen Gann

            I believe that we are using different meanings of "not-Eye".

            I mean the literal absence of an eye, not the failure to see.

          • Michael Murray

            So how would you describe a blind mole rat then. It has an eye but has evolved not to use it. Is that blind ?

          • Stephen Gann

            Blind is accurate. That does raise a valid point about whether I can call all blindness a physical evil, but it does not invalidate Evil as Privation.

          • George

            and I could say that human flight (to clarify, the non-machine assisted kind) does not exist either. humans flying under their own power and with their own form is not really a thing. so we're not unable to do something, we are unable to fail to travel along the ground in accordance with our nature.

          • Stephen Gann

            I'd imagine that you could (and did ;-) ), but I would not. This is for two reasons.

            1) Flight is not a defective form of ground travel. Privation theory is not the broad "not in accord with its nature" so much as the narrower "nature not fully activated". I would say that a human is capable of walking in a manner that is not resonant with the ideal of walking, and this would be a defective walk.

            2) A human being is capable of performing actions in a manner that is defective because a human is not omnipotent. Therefore his actions need not be omnipotent, and can fail be fully what they are.

          • By this reasoning cannot lie either, because it does not exist? Humans cannot be evil or do evil because evil does not exist?

            Humans have the ability to say something that they believe is untrue. God does not have this ability, God cannot be born, change his mind. These are limitations on his power.

          • Stephen Gann

            I am not a particularly good communicator, so I will attempt to clarify.

            I would not say that a lie (or evil) does not exist. I would say that it does not exist in a positive.sense. That is, it does not belong to itself. If you know of the movie, "The Fifth Element", the main conflict of the movie is of mankind trying to stop a wave of Evil (in space!) from reaching the planet. This does not make sense. Neither does a "nation of evil". The nation itself is a good. The evil is the failure of the nation to be fully what it is.

            When I say that God is unable to lie, I say it because He is omnipotent. The actions of the omnipotent are incapable of being deficient versions of what they are. When I claim that this is a failure of His omnipotence, I am claiming that being omnipotent requires the capacity to be not-omnipotent. This is a violation of non-contradiction. I have ceased to speak about God (existent or not) and have begun to question whether the word "omnipotent" has any meaning whatsoever.

          • Thanks Stephen, I understand the point of view. I really would recommend watching the video I posted initially. I think it ends up at the same place you are.

            To be honest I think Catholics are constrained by dogma on this one. Tradition requires that God be characterized with the word omnipotence. But thoughtful folks like yourself and Kevin accept that it is not being used to mean can do anything, or can do anything logically possible, it means he can do anything logically possible that doesn't contradict his other attributes, like timelessness, spacelessness, omni benevolence, omnipresence and so on. We can certainly imagine a being that created the universe, but can also lie, change its mind, and so on. Such a being would be more powerful than God, but not all good etc. I don't think it makes sense to say an inability to lie it increases power, it limits it. It preserves goodness, but power and good are not the same thing are they?

          • staircaseghost

            Every time a person is silent he "fails to speak the truth" or "there is an absence of truth-speaking". So it seems to me this theory needs a bit more meat on its bones, not to mention, any evidence whatsoever.

            It further seems to me that every time I've told a fib, my neurons positively changed their structure to generate the counterfactual scenario I was going to relate, my muscles positively burned ATP to contract in a positive mechanical motion to push positive air out of my mouth in a positive series of pressure waves containing the information about the counterfactual which positively altered others' beliefs etc. So while "Capital 'E' Evil Itself" may indeed be a privation, it does not look, at first or second glance, like lying is a privation in any interesting ontological sense.

          • Stephen Gann

            Perhaps it may on the third. The "counterfactual scenario" is not a positive. It is unreal. Not that it is utterly unreal, as that would be the philosophical nothing, but it is a failure to fully contain reality, as far as your scenario-generation is capable of containing reality. Further, the belief-alteration is not positive, but negative. Your fib has moved their beliefs away from reality to the degree that your are trustworthy.

            There are two privations here. The idea, which ought to conform to reality, has not fully done so. The intention for the good of the "others" did not will fully what is good and proper for their minds, the knowledge of truth.

            If you were to seek a difficulty with this theory, it would likely be that it implicitly assumes that there is an "ought". If we were to reject the notion that things have purpose, then there is nothing from which they can be privated.

          • But when you phrase it like this, again, you suggest he can do everything that humans can do and a whole lot more. We agreed he cannot do everything humans can do. I understand what you mean, but I don't think the label is particularly useful.

          • George

            "Human beings, however, are not omnipotent because there are many things
            that can be done that they cannot do, like fly by flapping their arms in
            the air."

            Which would constitute, in the theist's own language, the human attributes/nature leading to a contradiction. What is wrong with that? That's the point I was trying to make before.

            You said "things that can be done that they cannot do", but the point is that such a thing *cannot* be done. Flapping your arms won't work, you need wings for that, in addition to other changes to our nature, as I pointed out previously.

            Maybe you couldn't ever become a piano master or a physics master (we don't know for sure, especially if we don't try to make that happen), but we could easily say those things "just aren't in your nature".

  • staircaseghost

    "For him, the whole created order – including every event at every point in time – follows from his one creative act."

    fol·low
    ˈfälō/
    verb
    1. go or come after (a person or thing proceeding ahead); move or travel behind.
    2. come after in time or order.

    It seems to me that if Classical Theists really want to continue to act the aggrieved party, constantly complaining about how they're being misrepresented, a very good place to start would be to police their own writings -- including their holy books -- of language that clearly implies Yahweh learning things, changing his mind, or otherwise acting in time.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      This is an inflammatory comment, in my opinion. "Really want to continue to act the aggrieved party"? "Constantly complaining"? "Police their own writing"?

  • Doug Shaver

    I agree with Feser that Dawkins' argument for the inconsistency between omnipotence and omniscience is not a good one. But this isn't because I find Feser's innovative definition of omnipotence to be persuasive.

    Dawkins says that his argument is endorsed by "logicians." I have no idea how many logicians he has read who have commented on this issue. I'm inclined to suspect hardly any, but it doesn't matter much. This is more about semantics than about logic. I don't see a semantic conflict between omnipotence, as most lay people (such as Dawkins) construe that notion, and omniscience.

  • God can change or not any events in past, present or future; the challenge above about (omnipotence vs omniscience) is incorrect as God all powerful and knowing decisions does not have 'qualitative' result for us; it is any decision he chooses and therefore meets all criteria (unlike a logic from 'Back to the future' movie :) . God is Omnipotent and knows it all, any alteration he chooses to do is what he wishes to be and we have no 'challenge' in that.