Omniscience and Omnipotence: The Ultimate Self-Defeating Paradoxes

Categories: Atheism, Religion
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Published on: January 10, 2016

I’d like to address one of the leading concepts of modern religion: omniscience and omnipotence, two very logically flawed concepts. In learning about the Judeo-Christian God, I was always taught that God was omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. I was taught that these were intrinsic to God’s nature.

To define these terms: Omniscient means God is all-knowing (he knows everything there is to know). Omnipotent means God is all-powerful and can do anything. Omnipresent means he is everywhere at once — in all places in the universe at all times.

The first problem with this concept is that in the early Bible (mainly Genesis), the Judeo-Christian God seems to be none of these. Without getting too far into it, many verses reference God going places to find things out, which goes against the grain of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence (which would ultimately enable, and quite possibly even necessitate omnipresence and omniscience), For example, before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (end of Genesis chapter 18), he was wondering whether or not he should tell Abraham. Fine. He then proceeded to inform Abraham that word had reached him that there was a great deal of wickedness in these cities. If he were omnipresent and omniscient, shouldn’t he already know whether this were true or not? Why did word have to be brought to him about these conditions?

Moving along, he says that he will go down to Sodom (being omnipresent, he should have already been there) and see if what he had heard was true or not — and if not, then he will know. Again, this defeats omniscience — why the need to go “find out” whether or not it was true? Shouldn’t he already know since he’s already there and knows everything?

Abraham then proceeds to negotiate for mercy for the city. He asks God (paraphrased), “Would you really kill everyone in the city, including the righteous, because of the wicked? Far be it for you to do such a thing, Lord! If there are fifty righteous people in the city, will you spare it?” God continually promises that when he goes down to the cities, if he finds X amount of righteous people, he will spare everyone. It seems to me that since God, being omnipresent and omnipotent, would already know how many righteous people were in the city, and that his responses to Abraham would be simple: “Sorry, Abe. There aren’t that many righteous people down there. Mercy? No can do.” However, God continually promises that if there are X amount of good people in the city, he won’t destroy it.

This is just one of many places in the Bible I’ve found in which God appears to be bound by certain laws of humanity. There are many other places that seem to reference God being only in one place at one time, and knowing only about what’s going on around him. Now, we could just supply a cop-out response for this quandary, and say that of course God knows all and is everywhere, but he is acting a certain way for a reason… Or maybe even that he is (for whatever “mysterious reason”) limiting his knowledge, but that is not the way the stories seem when you read them objectively and without bias. It really appears that the God of the early Old Testament is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. (Hell, the Bible even opens with God needing a rest after his six days of creating.)

Moving on from all this, we must approach omniscience and omnipotence, in particular, with logic, and examine the logical paradoxes these two features of God present.

First of all, we’ll take a look at the concept of omnipotence, which is a self-defeating paradox all by itself. Is it possible to have limitless power? Is it really possible to be able to do anything at all?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is that we must consider the fact that limitless power means it is impossible to set limits on that power and still have infinite power. Consider the age-old question: If God has infinite power, can he, say, create a rock that not even he can move? If not, then he quite simply does not have infinite power, because there is something (namely, creating that rock) that he cannot do. The interesting thing here is that even if he does posses that kind of power, then he still isn’t all-powerful, because once he creates that rock, he won’t have the power to move that rock. Either way — whether he can create the rock in question or not — he is limited in his power. There is really no way around this logic. Infinite power is not logically possible.

(And as an aside, I know the theist’s response to this is, “Well, God is a god that defies logic.” This is a cop-out. This is a way of saying, “What you say makes absolute sense, but I’m going to ignore a sensible argument in favor of continuing to believe what I believe. When logical evidence is presented that contradicts what I’ve been taught, I will ignore the evidence and continue to believe what I believe.” There are many examples of this type of thought-process all throughout the history of mankind in conjunction with religion… Such as when some heretic suggested that the Earth revolves around the Sun, instead of the other way around, for one.)

Unmitigated power is not logically possible, whether your god likes it or not.

Secondly, we must consider whether omniscience (“all-knowing,” “infinite awareness,” or however you’d like to defined it) is possible… But first, to tackle this particular point, we must consider what it is to be “all-knowing.”

To be all-knowing means to be that you know everything about anything, whether concrete or abstract, and whether it exists or not. If you don’t know everything about something, then you are not all-knowing, you are “all-knowing, except for…” which by definition is not absolutely all-knowing.

Now let’s introduce unicorns, a man-made subject. Obviously, unicorns do not exist. They are fantasy creatures dreamed up by mankind. Now, since we created them, we have knowledge of them, even though they don’t exist. We know of multiple possibilities for their appearance, such as winged or not, of different colors, etc. Since we know a lot about the biology of horses, presumably we have a fair understanding of the basic biology of a unicorn. Being but mortals, we have a fair concept of unicorns — what would be intrinsic to their nature, as well as the multiple possibilities that they might or might not realize (maybe they’re talking creatures? Or maybe not?). How much more, then, would an all-knowing God know about unicorns? Presumably, even though they don’t exist, God would know everything there is to know about unicorns, and even know all the possible differences in opinion on how they would appear, behave, etc. Whetherthey exist or not, God’s knowledge would be complete on them. If God did not possess a complete knowledge of unicorns, he would not be all-knowing… He would be mostly-knowing.

Knowing of something which does not currently exist, or does not yet exist, is necessary for an all-knowing being. Otherwise, that being is only mostly-knowing, not all-knowing.

Now we must consider the implications of this when we think about the future. One might argue that the future does not yet exist, but in the same light that we would consider God’s necessary knowledge of unicorns, we must reason that if God is all-knowing, he must necessarily know the future, or once again, he is not all-knowing, but mostly-knowing. To not know the future in its entirety is to limit the knowledge of God, which goes against the definition of omniscience.

This not only eliminates the prospect of free will (to know the future in its entirety means the future is set in stone), but it presents a problem with God’s omnipotence, as well. As the rhyme goes, “Can omniscient God, who knows all, find/The omnipotence to change his future mind?” If God knows all, then he knows every detail of his existance, including his thoughts, actions, reasoning, etc. for the past, present, and future. Therefore, how/why could he/would he change his mind in the future? If you already know exactly what will happen and everything is set in stone, how could you possibly change it?

If you really stop to consider this subject objectively, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence are not only not found in the God of the early Old Testament, but they are not logically possible.

And yes, logic is quite important, even when you’re considering a subject as off-limits as God. Take a moment to really think about all of this. You might actually be surprised to find that it makes sense.

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