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July 18, 2008

The “aye” in God’s mote
Posted by Avram Grumer at 01:05 AM * 122 comments

I’ve been thinking about the paradox of the stone. You know, Could God make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?

(This is the ANSI-standard Abrahamic monodeity I’m talking about here. One of the ones I don’t believe in. Advertised as “omnipotent” on the label.)

CS Lewis’s take on it was that it’s a nonsense question, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a technical question of a non-technical person. I mean, it’s not obviously nonsense. If you swap a person in for God — Can a person make a rock so big that he himself can’t lift it? — the answer becomes obvious: Yes, of course. Sedimentary rock would probably be the easiest. Blackboard chalk is made of artificially compressed gypsum powder; it shouldn’t be impossible for a person of typical strength to make a huge chunk of it, too big for a person of typical strength to lift. The question is well-formed, except for the word “God”, which isn’t well defined.

(People trying to resolve this paradox have come up with various different definitions for the word “omnipotent”. Aquinas seems to have thought that God can do anything logically possible, while Descartes figured that God transcended the merely possible. It’s pretty tough to talk rationally about Descartes’s version of God, so I’m going with the Aquinas model.)

Looked at from a mathematical angle, this seems like it might be another example from the family of paradoxes related to Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. The key terms in the paradox are never formally defined, which keeps us from being certain that the question is an example of Gödel-type incompleteness. Still, it shares the most obvious family traits: It’s got an element of self-reference (God’s power is being asked to act on God’s power), and negation (we’re speculating about God’s inability to lift the stone — to keep himself from being able to do something).

(Areas for further speculation: For Christians, could Jesus’s dual nature as wholly man and wholly God be described as a reconciliation of the use-mention distinction? For Jews, if the Torah is the blueprint used to create the universe, then the universe contains its own formal description, and must therefore also be subject to Gödel-type incompleteness.)

But if we move from mathematics to the realm of physics, the question actually becomes answerable, although we’ll have to change it slightly. What does the word lift mean? To raise something from a lower to a higher position, to move it away from the local center of gravity. And since the Abrahamic God has the power to create universes to spec, there’s our answer: God can create a universe in which there’s no force of gravity. No gravity, no lifting, by definition, though the size of the rock is irrelevant.

There’s a problem with this solution, though. A universe without gravity would be very different from our own universe. It’s possible that the laws of physics would be such that no substance we’d recognize as rock would be possible. So let’s assume a universe with the same physics as ours, but only one material object — the rock. As the only piece of matter in this universe, the center of gravity of the rock would always be the lowest point in the universe, no matter how it was moved. The rock would therefore be unliftable.

There still remains a quibble: What if God breaks the rock? That would make the smaller pieces of rock liftable, and open my solution up to all sorts of arguments about whether a piece of the rock constitutes the original rock. So, another change. Let’s assume that God makes a universe empty of matter except for the smallest piece of matter that could be considered a rock. There we have it! This tiny speck of rock would be, by definition, unliftable, even by an omnipotent (in Aquinas’s sense) deity, though this unliftability is not a property of the rock’s bigness, but its smallness. Yes, God can create a rock that he himself cannot lift.

Comments on The “aye” in God’s mote:
#1 ::: Charles ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:22 AM:

> Advertised as “omnipotent” on the label
> Yes, God can create a rock that he himself cannot lift.
(Therefore, not omnipotent.)
Proof by contradiction. Yippee!

#2 ::: Mojo ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:42 AM:

But if God can lift anything, then there cannot be a rock he cannot lift. Omnipotence means God can do anything, but a rock that he cannot lift is not in the realm of anything. Specifically, it is not "a thing," but rather "no thing."

The question is at its very root nonsense.

#3 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:52 AM:

Another gravitational possibility: it's our normal world, and physics, but God makes a rock on the Earth that's bigger than the Earth. At some point, the word "lift" no longer applies; it's like talking about "lifting" the Earth off of a normal-sized rock. So that would be a rock he can't lift.

#4 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:59 AM:

Stoned agin...

(I've been watching Dr. Horrible. Sosumi.)

#5 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:00 AM:

In school we always answered this one "yes, but he can make a gorilla big enough to lift the rock for him."

#6 ::: J.K.Richard ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:34 AM:

Your answer assumes Euclidian uniformity. If that same universe that you propose followed any number of Riemannian geometric curvatures then depending upon the observer's position relative to the original location of this particle then yes ...it can still be 'lifted.'

You have also presented a universe with a lot of nothing. A very symmetric universe. The problem here is that symmetric systems tend to be unstable --- the more symmetric, the more unstable. Nothing is more symmetric than nothing. Therefore nothing is unstable

I collapse your universe and order you to put the Kool-Aid down.

#7 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:53 AM:

God can create a stone with the property "Cannot be lifted by God" inside Schrödinger's catbox. Inside the box, the stone can maintain a dual state of "liftable" and "not liftable"; God then tells us the state of the rock inside the box, and, as mere mortals, we'd never be able to know if the Almighty is lying to us or not.

Saint Anselm's ghost would probably haunt us for the impudence of setting up this experiment, however....

#8 ::: J.K.Richard ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:59 AM:

Now, is that Schrödinger's catbox, or Schrödinger's cat's litterbox...because that changes parameters a bit.

#9 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:02 AM:

I'm not sure you're approaching this correctly. The question is, specifically: "Can God create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it" (or some variation thereon).

But this question does two things. First, as you've already identified, it requires a reasonable definition of "lift", which one should probably take to mean "to apply force to move an object counter to the direction of the gravitational pull on it". Though we could likely substitute any force for gravity and have an equivalent problem.

This is reinforced by the second requirement, namely that the *reason* God could not lift the hypothetical stone would have to be that it was too heavy. Without this notion of "heaviness" - and without the requirement that the reason for failure be the weight of the stone - the question is about as meaningful as "Could God create a rock so purple that he couldn't lift it?".

For example, even within our universe, it would be easy to find a place that even a small rock could not be "lifted" by applying any amount of force, no matter how large. God need simply place the rock inside the Schwarzchild Radius of a black hole, where the curvature of space itself prevents any movement away from the collapsed star. But the question is not "can God place a rock somewhere that he could not lift it", and this example has nothing at all to do with the weight of the stone.

Equally meaningless is an alternate physics with no force, or where force in the sense we understand it has no effect. In such a universe, "weight" would also have little to do with an object's movability. It may be possible to conceive of a physics where an object ceased to be "liftable" by any amount of force after a certain mass threshold *without effectively creating a black hole* (and therefore returning to the problem of it being a positional issue rather than one of weight) but I can't think of any way to do it right now.

So really, I think you have to conclude that, in any reasonable universe, God cannot create an object that - by virtue of its weight alone - cannot be lifted by an arbitrarily large amount of force. And one would assume that an omnipotent God would be able to apply an arbitrarily large force to the object of his choosing, so the answer to the initial question must be "no".

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:11 AM:

The question becomes a bit simpler if you assume that omnipotence includes the power to change the natural laws of the universe at will. That makes the correct answer "Yes, but...." heh.

#11 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:40 AM:

The problem is not in the word lift but in the word God. When God is a concept of a "being greater than which can not be conceived", then one can always contrive a pair of attributes that can be placed in opposition: in this case the power to create an entity vs power to manipulate a created entity. Who needs rocks and lifting? Could God create a maze so complex that He couldn't solve it?

Here's an easier question: Could humans devise a concept so nebulous and meaningless that nobody can argue sensibly about it?

#12 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:33 AM:

Can God limit his own powers?

Well, can parliament make a law that binds parliament? No -- no parliament can bind another, because parliament is sovereign and omnipotent in a legal sense.

But, why would parliament want to contradict itself? A change in opinion as to the wisdom of that decision on the part of parliament, as the result of an election or a change in circumstances . In other words, parliament deciding that the previous decision was wrong.

God can't decide that he made a mistake, so it doesn't matter if he can limit his power. Likewise, no powers of God can be put into opposition, because God, being Unity, can't be split into separate parts that can be opposed.

The question is just a trick relying on the inadequate expression of the ineffable.

#13 ::: Angel ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:32 AM:

CS Lewis’s take on it was that it’s a nonsense question, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a technical question of a non-technical person.

Is it really a technical question if it involves something that cannot be expressed in definite terms? God isn't measurable or observable. Questions about zir are abstract rather than concrete and technical. And ze is a more evocative and/or useful concept in non-technical areas.

I think C.S. Lewis was rejecting it as the absurd theological question it is, rather than misunderstanding it as a good technical question.

Personally, I imagine that it's nonsense because, positing the existence of an omnipotent God, ze would hopefully have better things to do.

#14 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:34 AM:

Mojo nailed it at #2.

One thing is sure: if God created humans, then S/He gave us our love of playing with words and concepts. And if that's part of being made in His/Her image, then the universe makes a lot more sense.

#15 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:51 AM:

See, this is why I'm an agnostic: I can't for the life of me *define* God. Anything I say about God is unprovable, so the safest thing (bar the proverbial "leap of faith") is to assume nothing.

Of course I can imagine that a transcendent power can casually ignore logic, natural laws etc. Otherwise it wouldn't be transcendent, merely "very very strong", sort of like a physically real being with lots of "bells and whistles" attached.

I can imagine that -- picture this -- a transcendent power can transcend reality. A God might relate to us like we relate to a book or a movie or a computer game. (Scary, no?) The paradox of the stone would mean nothing to such a power.

:-S

#16 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:53 AM:

So let’s assume a universe with the same physics as ours, but only one material object — the rock. As the only piece of matter in this universe, the center of gravity of the rock would always be the lowest point in the universe, no matter how it was moved. The rock would therefore be unliftable.

I'd like to accelerate or spin that rock and do some crazy relativistic stuff to move the centre of gravity, but now I'm wondering what's defining the inertial frame in that universe. What this question has demonstrated to me is that I need some coffee.

(And to Zander @14 - Amen)

#17 ::: Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 06:35 AM:

The problem is trivial to solve with a closed box containing the answer, as above, but you can also just revise the problem to include 'and I know the answer'. If I was god I would design life so it was incapable of asking such pesky questions. Alternatively, make the answer knowable but fatal.

#18 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 08:34 AM:

That is the funniest answer to that paradox that I have ever encountered!

Also:
For Christians, could Jesus’s dual nature as wholly man and wholly God be described as a reconciliation of the use-mention distinction?
A lot of ink has been spilled on that one, but it can be more simply stated that just as an object can have both shape* and mass, you could say that it is 100% x-shaped and 100% y-massed.

Note that weird things happen to Christian theology if you assume that Jesus was a hologram (all spirit), or Just A Nice Man, or even weirder, a hologram glued to but in no way overlapping with A Nice Man. (I can't remember the name of that one.) Among other things, it's not really clear that you can run a human consciousness without the human wetware to run it on, so a resurrection sans body creates all kinds of problems, and a Messiah sans body doesn't fit that either. Plus, he'd be faking his human experience if he was just a hologram which seems kinda unfair and deceptive. I could go on and on, but I think that would just be neepery.

*technically form

#19 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 08:58 AM:

My favorite restarting of this paradox is from Mystery Science Theater 3000: Is God so powerful that he could make a movie so bad that even he couldn't watch it?

#20 ::: wokka ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:09 AM:

That's pretty good thinking! I like it. Typical geek speculation of the best kind. You don't learn much about God, but you might learn something about the Universe.

#21 ::: A&V ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:14 AM:

I always considered this one from the perspective that God is infinite in both directions--infinitely great and infinitely small. God can create a rock of infinite size and God can be an infinitesimal being.

#22 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:36 AM:

I'm with Virge @11.

Keir @11: "Well, can parliament make a law that binds parliament? No -- no parliament can bind another, because parliament is sovereign and omnipotent in a legal sense."

This very much depends on which political system you are talking about; the one you mention is a typical English concept (which has been copied elsewhere) that doesn't necessarily apply elsewhere (and not even in England, if you take the Monarch out of the picture). In several European countries, the Parliament at certain points in time did bind themselves to respect of EU laws, and for some countries even UN resolutions are binding. You can argue that's an exceptional circumstance that might be revoked, but the EU might not agree; this is uncharted territory that is currently being avoided thanks to "consensus" policies. All Federal entities suffer from this sort of tension. I suspect the point will be clarified only when the EU will have to coerce a member country into submission, like the US federal government had to do in the Civil War.

#23 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:53 AM:

Can Goedel make a theorem of incompleteness so incomplete that it doesn't include its own incompleteness?

[tech note: bloglines insisted on spelling out the codes for the quotes around "aye." Aye, thought it was part of the joke for a while.

#24 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:09 AM:

This thread has made me laugh out loud several times.

#25 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:12 AM:

There are several things wrong with your style of questioning.
To begin with, note that Abrahamic monodeity I’m talking about here. . . Advertised as “omnipotent” uses Greek vocabulary. Your cultural roots are Hellenistic. (As a Hellenized Jew, much of mine are too.) But Judaism is non-Hellenistic, and non-Aristotelian. (Not "anti-Aristotelian", which is itself an Aristotelian formation, non-Aristotelian.) Three hundred years of warfare from the Maccabbees through Bar Kochba are pretty emphatic.
So the Aristotelian "A or not-A" is alien to Judaism. "When is it A? When might it be other than A? What would make it not-A, and when, and what would the implications be?" is more Jewish. Reb Aleph said "A", but Reb Gimmel in the name of Reb Daled said "not-A", and Reb Lamed said "woof".

Now to your question.
When God created Adam, He paraded all the animals before him to see what he would name them. So if you're going to retrofit God with your Greek "omniscience", how could He not already know? How could He be curious about it?
Certainly, if God is "omnipotent", he is capable of not peeking. Wouldn't that do it?
So your "omnipotent" God could choose to be incapable of lifting the stone, if he can do anything, couldn't he?

#26 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:16 AM:

Hold it. Not only can God build universes with customized objects and physics, God is also the ultimate Humpty Dumpty. So "lift" means whatever God wants it to mean at any moment, not merely what puny humans think it ought to.

I am very fond of this conundrum because I first heard it at sunday school (being discussed by grownups) when I was four or five years old. And the clearly logic-puzzle nature of it helped innoculate me against much of the rest of what was going on there. (So by the time I read "I had no need of that hypothesis" I cheered.)

#27 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:18 AM:

I tried going to the source:

From: sclayworth@mortalcoil.net
To: God@heaven.com

Subject: Heavy rocks

God,

I know you must get this a lot, but can you make a rock so heavy you can't lift it?

Thanks -

Steve

This was the reply:

From: God@heaven.com
To: sclayworth@mortalcoil.net

Re: Heavy rocks

No. And you're on The List.

Sincerely,

God

#28 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:38 AM:

"It's not heavy; it's my breccia."

#29 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:47 AM:

SteveC @#27:

From: God@heaven.com
To: sclayworth@mortalcoil.net

FUNDS TRANSFER PROPOSAL.
Dear Sir/Ma,
I am God, an omnipotent being beyod your comprehennsion. I am native of Heaven and I am
the Director of project implementation with the Heavenly Department of Rock Lifting & Natural Resources. As well as all other departments. First and foremost, I apologized using this medium to reach you for a transaction/business of this magnitude, but this is due to lack of flammable bushes your vicinity. Be informed that a member of the Heavenly Host who was at the Seraphimic delegation to your country during a trade exhibition gave your enviable credentials/particulars to me.

[...]

#30 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Heaven.com

So much for throwing out the moneychangers...

#31 ::: Larry Lennhoff ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Can one be omnipotent for a limited period of time? I assume that God could create such a rock, with the limitation that from that time forward God would no longer be omnipotent. God's supposed existence outside of time makes this trickier (see for example the actions of the 'reformed' godlike being in Diane Duane's SPOILER series).

#32 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:56 AM:

Mary Dell @ 29 -

From: Satan@hell.com
To: sclayworth@mortalcoil.net

Re: Heavensent spam

I knew it! I invented it, came up with the hardware (do you know how hard it is to chill a server down here?), got the mailing lists, and that copycat deity goes and usurps my plans!

I've got some rocks for Him!

Thanks - I'll be expecting your soul as an attachment to your next e-mail. Don't bother ZIPing it, it's not that big.

Sincerely -

Satan
satan@hell.com
(666)666-6666

Hell - it's where all the cool people are going!

#33 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:58 AM:

27: I think you've been spammed, Steve. Everyone knows that the correct domain name for Up There is heaven.net.

Heaven's certainly not a .com. It's not part of the US government or armed services, so it can't be a .gov or a .mil. It's probably not a .edu, simply because it doesn't award degrees and it hasn't been accredited. And it can't be a .org either because that's reserved for non-prophet organisations.

#34 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:00 AM:

ajay @ 33 -

groan

God will get you for that.

(but I laughed)

#35 ::: straight ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:08 AM:

C.S. Lewis's answer is disappointing because, of course, the orthodox Christian answer to the question is that regardless of how you wrangle with the logic puzzle, the fact of the matter is that God *did* create a rock he could not lift.

Jesus, being fully human, was unable to lift many (most) of the rocks that he, being fully God, had created.

The most basic form of the question is "Can an omnipotent God limit himself?" And Christian dogma asserts, "Yes, he did."

#36 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Well, the whole thread is just working it's way towards the nub of the whole problem: the creation of the universe is one of the long string of attempts by JHVH-1 to create an object He can't lift.

He spends all his time creating ever larger, higher dimensional constructs, looking at them for a moment, then effortlessly, impossibly, raising them with barely a hint of effort.

He needs only to move it by a planck length to prove his point, but he always, always hefts it.

With a choked sob he throws it over his "shoulder" (for want of a better term) and starts again.

And drinking. Always, the drinking.

"Gnosticism is the belief that creation was an act of Mary-Sue fan fiction" - The Gospel according to St Jude.

#37 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:28 AM:
There’s a problem with this solution, though. A universe without gravity would be very different from our own universe. It’s possible that the laws of physics would be such that no substance we’d recognize as rock would be possible. So let’s assume a universe with the same physics as ours, but only one material object — the rock. As the only piece of matter in this universe, the center of gravity of the rock would always be the lowest point in the universe, no matter how it was moved. The rock would therefore be unliftable.

Wouldn't God doing handstand push-ups on this hypothetical rock qualify as lifting it? or even knee-bends for that matter?

Aren't you overlooking the inherent weaseliness of God? Is an omnipotent God not also the God of semantic BS? These are not the supernatural feats you are looking for.

#38 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Well, this is just the other side of the coin from so-called "creation science". A faith-based resolution to scientific issues is always going to be unsatisfactory from the point of view of science.

Similarly, "God" is ultimately not a rational concept; therefore it is inappropirate and useless to try to use the tools of rationalism/empiricism to examine religious issues, except to the extent you reject religion as unscientific.

#39 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Mary Dell (29) and ajay (33): You both win an internets, complete with rainbow. I was laughing from the beginning of this thread, but you put the whipped cream and sprinkles on this confection.

(wanders off remembering why God didn't get tenure)

#40 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Q: It's simple. Just change the gravitational constant of the universe.
Geordi: What??
Q: Change. The gravitational constant. Of the universe. That's what I'd do.
Geordi : We can't DO that!
Q: Oh... Well then...never mind.

#41 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:47 AM:

[cue the song "Something's gotta give."]

The original question is a specific instance of the "let's make incompossible things get into a fight!" game. For example:
- Can a gourmand who can eat anything eat a hamburger so large that nobody can eat it?
- Can a naif so credulous as to believe anything believe an idea so bizarre that nobody would fall for it?
- When two boxers who always win have a match, which one wins?
- What happens when a mercenary who would do anything for money is offered a fortune to commit an act that nobody's conscience would allow?
- Can a reader so voracious that she can finish anything complete a series of books so long and abstruse that nobody can finish it?

Naturally, questions like this are ill-posed from a logical point of view. If there is somebody who can eat anything, then no hamburger is too large for anybody to eat. If there are really acts so evil nobody would commit them, then there aren't people who would stop at nothing. If there are readers that can finish anything, then no work of literature is unfinishable, not even a hypothetical cross between Finnegans Wake and Mission Earth.

Theory: Scuffling incompossibles may be bad logic, but they're a great template for myth and folktale. What happens when a wild-man that nobody can civilize meets up with the representative of a goddess that can (presumably) civilize anybody? What happens when a Kryptonian who is too strong and indestructible to defeat fights a vigilante billionaire who is too clever and resourceful to defeat? What happens when Paul Bunyan or John Henry does, well, anything?

#42 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:53 AM:

"Gnosticism is the belief that creation was an act of Mary-Sue fan fiction" - The Gospel according to St Jude.

That is the finest definition of Gnosticism I have ever read.

#43 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Neil from Chicago, "But Judaism is non-Hellenistic..."

Tell that to Philo of Alexandria, the most important Jewish thinker between Ezra and Maimonides, and whose interests were all bound up in harmonizing Judaic and Greek thought. In fact, my (semi-formed) impression is that much or all of the post-Second Temple conception of monotheism has its roots in Philo. The movement of Judaism from "we worship the best god, who is very much like a human being but more powerful" to "we worship the only god, who is nothing like a human being" appears to me to be deeply influenced by Philo's work.

#44 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:10 PM:

If God responds "Yes, I can make a rock so large that I cannot lift it" does Archimedes walk up and say "Give me a firm place to stand and I can move it"?

#45 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Ajay @33: Hilarious! But clearly it's "heaven.ac", the domain for Ascension Island. I've been sitting on that joke for years, thank you very much!

#46 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:30 PM:

There is a 'cheating' way out of the paradox by way of God's omnibenevolence: all he needs to do is to create the smallest pebble, and then place it in a location (say, a load-bearing one, for example) where to move it in the slightest amount would be an act of evil. At this point the omnibenevolence kicks in and prevents him from ever lifting it in a manner at the very least orthogonal to His omnipotence.

#47 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:37 PM:

ajay #33: No, no. It's heaven.co.uk. After all, god is an Englishman.

#48 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 12:49 PM:

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? It goes through without leaving a hole.

I'm tentatively inclined to believe that Gaseous Vertebrates can't lift anything. It would just fall through.

A little more seriously, if God is all through everything, how can he move anything relative to Himself?

And I have a faint memory of seeing the laws of logic included among the Jewish morning prayers. (Conservative prayerbook.) Truth or hallucination?

#49 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Or we can re-write all paradoxes to include an omnipotent God. Can an omnipotent God say, truthfully, that all its statements are false?

#50 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:44 PM:

The question is nonsense. In that spirit, I direct attention here for a Discordian attempt at a solution.

... thinking about the question a bit more, I reckon God can both make the stone and lift it. But to do so would require reworking the universe so that it no longer works by the current standards of logic, so that the question isn't nonsense.

That might well be something It doesn't want to do, but if It is truly omnipotent, changing the rules of logic should be within It's remit.

#51 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 01:50 PM:

This is one of those rare instances where I and C.S. Lewis are in agreement. The question is nonsense. But as another Lewis (Carrol) has amply demonstrated, nonsense has a place in our universe. What fun!

Anyway, I think the problem of deriving a satisfactory (non-nonsensical) answer to the question lies in the language of the question. There are far too many ambiguous terms with flexible definitions, especially this "God" people are on about.

He or it or whatever is far too ambiguous for anything meaningful to be said about Him/it. Something that is defined as omnipresent and omnipotent is just to amorphous to have any implications in the physical universe. But to define God down to a graspable definition is to make Him something less than God.

Therefore:

God is either too big and amorphous, like a cloud, to have any tangible lasting effect on the universe.

or

God is not God.

#52 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Posting these sorts of paradox questions is highly irresponsible. As we all know, posing these questions to highly-advanced computers causes them fail catastrophically, spitting sparks all over the datacenter.* And since human brains are highly-advanced computers, this sort of question is sure to make a person's head exp ...............NO CARRIER


* A proof that Star Trek does not take place in our timeline: clearly in that timeline circuit breakers were never invented.

#53 ::: dilbert dogbert ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:17 PM:

I think this is more interesting if you throw out the idea of just one god. How about a many gods question? Can god 1 create a rock too heavy for god 2 to lift and vs versa. If god is unknowable then it may be possible that there are many of them all contending for our souls.

#54 ::: ajay` ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:22 PM:

It's heaven.co.uk. After all, god is an Englishman.

Good point! But in that case I'm going to have to insist that, as noted above, Heaven cannot be a commercial enterprise, and that for fairly obvious reasons the correct domain should be heaven.ox.ac.uk. If God is an Englishman, he is certainly an Oxford man.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:37 PM:

I'm astonished that in all these comments no one has pointed out the really important flaw in what Avram has stated: the word 'monodeity' is a grotesque hybrid formation, and should be expunged.

'Unideity' or 'monotheos' please. One would think the words 'universe' and 'monotheism' would give a clue, but one would be wrong.

And I'd ask this: can God place His tongue so firmly in His cheek that He Himself cannot extract it?

More seriously, I decided long ago that this question IS nonsense, because the concept of omnipotence is self-contradictory. In logic, that is: so the answer is that it's miraculous, and doesn't make sense to us because of our limited understanding.

So is omnibenevolence, because there are goods that exclude one another, the most obvious being perfect harmony between people, and perfect freedom. In addition, is it omnibenevolent to deliberately create imperfect beings? If it is not, than God is either not omnibenevolent, or is not omnipotent (since God would then lack the ability to create perfect beings).

Omnibenevolence also excludes moral agency, but is the question "Does God have moral agency?" even have any meaning? Does it matter whether things are good because God loves them, or whether God loves them because they're good, in a universe God created Godself? Isn't that a distinction without a difference?

And if omniscience means knowing everything, rather than merely having the ability to know anything, then God's not knowing what Adam would name the animals excludes omniscience. If God just "didn't peek," that means omniscience just means having the ability to know whatever God chooses to know...and that implies that God could miss something by never thinking of wanting to know it.

This kind of argument is a trap, of course. It strengthens the mind, but the exercise is isometric, not calisthenic.

#57 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 02:40 PM:

There was a computer game for a while called "Afterlife", which was a sort of SimCity-like game in which the player was the Demiurge, the being in charge of the afterlife. You had to place buildings for rewards/punishments appropriate to the various souls who were arriving, collect mana to power everything, and so forth.

One of the features of the planes on which you built your structures was a scattering of "Rocks so big you can't lift them", which couldn't be built on nor removed.

#58 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Don Delny #18 -- There's something to be said for the notion that Jesus was a hologram. After all, Jesus is supposed to be the Word of God, and the Torah is also supposed to be the Word of God. The Torah was also written by the hand of God, and a hand-written manuscript is called a holograph. The product of holography is a hologram. Therefore, Stevie Wonder is God.

Neil in Chicago #25 -- The "Abrahamic" God is not specifically the Jewish deity, but the deity that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim to worship, when they aren't accusing each other of heresy and killing each other. There are any number of arguments against God's omniscience to be found in the Torah, such as God having to send angels down to check out Sodom.

#59 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:05 PM:
Similarly, "God" is ultimately not a rational concept; therefore it is inappropirate and useless to try to use the tools of rationalism/empiricism to examine religious issues, except to the extent you reject religion as unscientific.

All concepts are rational. Just as words are not the things they represent, the concept of God may have no fidelity to reality, but they are all still rational. As Oliver Sacks said, all thoughts, as well as all actions, are iconic.

There was even a "This American Life" this year where Glass portrayed a child catching her father trading her tooth for money concluding that her father was the tooth fairy. He specifically said she was wrong but completely rational, which fits in with the Jungian notion of rationality.

What God may represent may be irrational, but that only makes the concept of God a perfect example of us projecting reason over that which is irrational.

Unless you're using some definition of the word rational I'm not aware of.

Also, I know of no model of the mind where rationalism and empiricism are interchangeable terms, while Jung reserved the term "irrational" for our experience and our empiricism. They are typically portrayed as contrasting each other. They are typically portrayed as forming the whole of the functions of the personality.

#60 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Xopher #56: the word 'monodeity' is a grotesque hybrid formation, and should be expunged

On, nonsense. We're speaking English, a language which is itself a grotesque hybrid formation, which is one of its best features.

#61 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 52: A proof that Star Trek does not take place in our timeline: clearly in that timeline circuit breakers were never invented.

Ah, but at the power densities demonstrated by hand-held phaser technology, a single capacitive element could easily hold enough local energy for a cascade failure to blow sparks out of a console.

The question, in other words, is whether the Federation can design a circuit so powerful that even they can't make it function peacefully under stress.

#62 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:13 PM:

If God is an Englishman, he is certainly an Oxford man.

On a not entirely unrelated note, the other week I was on a train to Cambridge and met some Americans who weren't sure if they were going to Christ's college or Jesus college. (As I had one friend who went to King's and another who went to Queen's this amused me slightly more than it might have done).

#63 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:15 PM:

There are so many assumptions inherent in this question, but here we go: Assuming the universe isn't God Himself Made Manifest, and assuming that by "lift" you mean "move in a direction counter to the force of gravity," then the answer hinges on whether God is capable of applying energy to produce any force at all, because gravity is a weak force, and in particular, whether God is capable of destroying matter that he has created, because all God would need to do would be to split a relatively tiny portion of the atoms in the rock (relative to the size of the rock), and goodbye rock. And this nicely refers back to the previous thread re the blast from a nuclear explosion.

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Avram 60: You apparently didn't read my third paragraph. Everything before the "More seriously..." is strictly langue dans la joue.

#65 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:23 PM:

Can I just say how thankful I am that I'm allowed to hang out with y'all and put in five cents from time to time? This thread is... let's just say it's not the first time I've ended up trying to (1)think Deep Thoughts about Deep Subjects and (2)laughing myself silly.

#66 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Fragano @47: After all, god is an Englishman.

...that can't be right; if that were true, why would he make the midday sun go out during the crucifixion, and where does the mad dog fit into the picture?

#67 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:45 PM:

Will no one think of the elephants and turtle?

#68 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 03:45 PM:

I used to be enthusiastic about this kind of thought experiment, but twenty years of religious debate and discussion has changed me. Now this stuff just makes me tired. So pointless.

So why did I take the time to read? Why am I now taking the time to post this?

Because I'm an idiot.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:05 PM:

No, really, it's just big rocks all the way down.

#70 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:06 PM:

What Lighthill @41 said. I'm done my degree, I'm not supposed to have to worry about this kind of thing anymore.

...although I dimly remember reading this problem in Epicurus. Was he the first to have thought of it, I wonder? It seems like it must have been tired and hoary even back then.

#71 ::: Chris Sullins ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:32 PM:

As Dave @ 9 has said, you seem to be forgetting that heaviness must be the reason he can't move it. Heaviness requires gravity. It also requires an external gravitational gradient to work against. It seems that a rock in a universe composed strictly of itself would not cut it, because "lifting" requires a higher position.

Answers that rely on choice fail, because the question isn't "will he move it" but "can he move it".

Answers that rely on definitional aspects of God show some potential, because we can say he is constitutionally unable to do things. The problem then becomes how God is defined. If he cannot cause evil things to occur, then Jeff R. @ 46 comes close. But in his example, all God has to do is lift the load himself while removing the rock and lifting it. It would be very difficult to invent a situation where an omnipotent being cannot solve it in another way. Especially if he can bend the laws of the universe.

But all this is just beating around the bush. When you come down to it, the term "omnipotence" as it is used in this paradox is meaningless. As meaningless as saying that God can create a Turing machine that can solve the halting problem. It may be fun to think about, but it has very little to do with theology.

Sadly, I'm contributing not at all to the humor. So my contribution is just as meaningless as the serious part of the discussion. *sigh*

#72 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 04:37 PM:

Can an omnipotent, omniscient God (leaving aside omnibenevolence) construct a formal, recursively enumerable theory that proves basic arithmetic truths in which there are no true statements which are not provable?

I mean, sure, Bruce Schneier can do it. But can such a god?

#73 ::: PhilPalmer ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 05:48 PM:

If God can make a rock bigger than he can lift, then ontologically speaking, he must have made one or else he wouldn't know whether he could make one or not, and so he wouldn't be omniscient either. Where can it be? Whose head can he have put it in?

#74 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 07:02 PM:

Perhaps a God could cheat in ways that us humans cannot?

Or make us run in circles around an apparent paradox?
;-)

#76 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 08:09 PM:

Xopher #56: Re your objection to 'monodeity'... Do you also have the same objection to 'homosexual' or 'automobile'?

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 08:13 PM:

Julie L. #66: Have you ever been in English weather? The mad dog was clearly edited out.

#78 ::: insect_hooves ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:16 PM:

Can god make rock so heavy that he can't thrash to it?

"...Thank you! We've been The God Delusion!"

#79 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:41 PM:

Fragano 76: But of course! It's just too late on those; the ship has already left the garage, if you understand me.

And furthermore, lbh qb xabj V'z xvqqvat nobhg gur jubyr guvat, evtug? V cebonoyl fubhyq unir pnyyrq 'zbabqrvgl' na nobzvangvba hagb gur ynjnq be fbzrguvat, naq gura vg jbhyq unir orra pyrnere.

#80 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:42 PM:

Insect_hooves #78, I imagine that question will come up at some point in an episode of Metalocalypse.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Xopher #79: Oh, absolutely. Clearly, the horse has already bolted from classroom on those.

#82 ::: insect_hooves ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2008, 10:22 PM:

Avram @80: Heh, seriously! Dethklok covers Jesus metal band Mortification's "Scrolls of the Megiloth".

#83 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:55 AM:

Speaking of paradoxes, there's the old joke about "I wouldn't join any club that would have me for a member!"

But there was once a prison chaplain who said he wanted to create a support group for people who are on parole, but you can't do that because if someone's on parole they aren't supposed to associate with criminals.

True story. Same paradox but this time not a joke.

#84 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 12:58 AM:

Does God have hands? Where does He stand when He is lifting this rock? And, if this rather distracted thought isn't worthy of this discussion, KJM, #72: God has eternity at his disposal. That makes possible proofs inaccessible to mortals in finite time.

#85 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:36 AM:

Avram: 'CS Lewis’s take on it was that it’s a nonsense question, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a technical question of a non-technical person. I mean, it’s not obviously nonsense. If you swap a person in for God — Can a person make a rock so big that he himself can’t lift it? — the answer becomes obvious: Yes, of course. Sedimentary rock would probably be the easiest. Blackboard chalk is made of artificially compressed gypsum powder; it shouldn’t be impossible for a person of typical strength to make a huge chunk of it, too big for a person of typical strength to lift. The question is well-formed, except for the word “God”, which isn’t well defined.'

I've not got much sympathy for Lewis over most things but isn't this a bit like saying: 'It makes pefect sense to say 'What's the time in Brooklyn?' so how can the question 'What's the time on the sun?' be nonsense?

#86 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 01:55 AM:

Well, Mr Barebones, is it nonsensical to ask what time it is one the sun? Granted, there are no people living there currently to answer that question, but if people somehow could live on the sun, they'd certainly still keep track of the time, just as they would on the moon or Mars or out in the asteroid belt.

The reason we can't answer it is because time (in the "What time is it?" sense) is a human invention, and we haven't gotten around to imposing it on the sun. But we certainly could.

#87 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 05:38 AM:

Nancy@48: You remind me of a bit in the Zot! collection I just bought. Dialogue between Ronnie, aspiring comic-book writer, and his slightly hyper artist Spike:

Spike: "Okay, I've got one: If Thor's hammer is unstoppable, and the Juggernaut is unstoppable, what happens if Thor throws his hammer at the Juggernaut?"

Ronnie: "They did it already. The hammer just stopped."

S: "But that sucks! There should be a big explosion and everybody dies and the universe is set on fire and everybody's guts are all over the place!"

R: "No, what should happen is they should become intangible. That way neither is stopped!"

S: "Thor's hammer doesn't become intangible!"

R: "I know! But it has to! See?"

S: "..."

S: "The universe could split in two."

R: "Yeah!"

#88 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 05:49 AM:

So, I think this thread is where I should talk about Anselm's ontological proof.

Anselm, as I'm sure you guys all know, postulated that God is the Greatest Conceivable Being.

Now what I'd like to know about is: What about the Second Greatest Conceivable Being? If Anselm's proof is valid, and the Greatest Conceivable Being exists, then surely there must be some other being which is greater than all conceivable beings except the Greatest one. I mean, if we can conceive of the Greatest, surely we can conceive of the Second Greatest also? And all of the arguments that imply the existence of the Greatest Conceivable Being apply with equal force to this Second.

Now, the great ontological leaps are from zero to one, and then from one to two. Once you manage two, a hundred million trillion is only a matter of degree...so I'm sure you guys are way ahead of me in postulating an entire transfinitely-numbered hierarchy of Greatest Conceivable Beings. It seems to me that Anselm's proof is not monotheist, it is henotheist...perhaps even apeirotheist.

#89 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 07:03 AM:

Giacomo: yes, it's a pretty rare legal concept of the omnipotent parliament, which is why it springs to mind so readily for me when discussing the self-binding paradox.

Avram, I presume that the argument would be that: it's nonsense to ask what time is it on the sun because the time on the sun is always the same -- strictly, I think it's probably always midnight.

At least, in the sense in which the time in Brooklyn is different from the time in London, which is to say the only sense in which it is really meaningful to ask what the time is at a specific location is, the question of the time on the sun is meaningless owing to the state of continual midnight.

People on the sun would presumably just use GMT (or some other arbitrary 24-hour standard), but that wouldn't be the time on the sun, just the time used by people on the sun.

(I count 5 dodgy bits of argumentation in there; how many can you spot?)

#90 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 07:44 AM:

Sadly, by Anselm's own logic, if the Second Greatest Conceivable Thing possesses all the properties of the First, just in a lesser degree, it also possesses existence in a lesser degree. Add a sprinkle of David Lewis, reverse the ion thrusters, carry the two, and you get the result that wheareas every possible world contains a Greatest Conceivable Thing, some of them do not have a Second Greatest Conceivable Thing. It's possible that, by sheer chance, ours is one of those worlds. Hence no Second Greatest Conceivable Thing. Q. E. D.

#91 ::: fuyura ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 09:54 AM:

My favorite version was always "If God is omnipotent, can he make pi equal to three?"

I think it works with genies and three-wishes, too.

#92 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:51 AM:

"Can God create a rock that he cannot lift?"

I'd answer that one "yes, she can" and thus take the whole thing out of the realm of physics and into the realm of gender studies.

Oh, and the correct domain is heaven.id.au - because this is God's Own Country.

#93 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Tlönista@90: I don't agree with that. The Second Being is lesser than the Greatest only in one quality rather than all, and that one quality may well be something other than existence. Indeed, by Anselm's logic, it would have to be. The Second Being (and indeed all the rest of the infinitely many Beings) must be just as non-contingent as the Greatest one.

(Perhaps I should mention that I don't actually agree with Anselm's reasoning.)

#94 ::: Judas ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 03:29 PM:

How much time do you have? ^_^
------------------------------

You: Could God make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?

Me: Of course he could, he's omnipotent!

You: Hah! If he couldn't lift the rock then he's not omnipotent!

Me: Well, since he's omnipotent, he could puff himself up and then lift said rock. Problem solved!

You: Wait! That means he couldn't make a rock so big he couldn't lift it, right?

Me: Not really. He could STILL make a bigger rock (he's omnipotent, after all...) - one so big that he coudn't lift.

You: Hah! Then he's not omnipotent!

Me: Well, since he's omnipotent, he could puff himself up and then lift said rock. Problem solved!

(Lathe, Rinse, Repeat ad infinitum...)

#95 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 05:19 PM:

Judas @ 94: Lathe, Rinse, Repeat

Ah! That must be the famous Lathe of Heaven then? (God stores it right next to The Forge of God, of course.)

#96 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 05:54 PM:

I first learned this one as "...so big He can't move it", which isn't as much fun, because then it becomes the unstoppable force/immovable object problem.

Which has an answer, at least in this universe. "Newton's Second Law! All forces are unstoppable, no objects are immovable. God can't even make a rock so big you can't move it, as long as it's in space and you've got some thrust to apply."

Despite being agnostic, I like the "God made all kinds of rocks Jesus can't lift" answer for the Christian-specific answer.

I also note that the Afterlife game had a disaster called "Disco Inferno". It was a gloriously silly game, albeit one that was ultimately kind of passive and self-defeating.

#97 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2008, 10:03 PM:

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay (originally published in FS&F) stating that the question was meaningless, at least in terms of 'irresistible force/immovable object'. An 'irresistible force' by definition cannot be resisted; an 'immovable object' by definition cannot be moved — you cannot have one in a universe where you have the other.

He claims that he impressed his soon-to-be first wife (who, AFAIK, was not named Brandi) when she asked him this question (know-it-all that he was); she hadn't thought the question had a meaningful answer.

#98 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 05:04 AM:

I happen to know that Asimov's first wife was named Gertrude.

#99 ::: Shmuel Aharon Kahn ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 07:34 AM:

Personally, I think the question is meaningless purely on ground of simple relativistic physics:

Presuming that God created Life, the Universe (and Everything), this implies that the frame of reference of God is external to this Universe. The Rock, on the other hand, being a created object, must exist within whatever frame of reference God creates it within. How then can we apply locally relativistic terms such as mass or lift to God, or across the boundaries of ANY multiple frame of reference?

How "big" is the universe when viewed from the outside? How much does it weigh? When applied from outside, these terms are meaningless.

#100 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2008, 01:01 PM:

David Goldfarb:

My problem with the Conceivable Being argument has always been that I don't think the Being is actually Conceivable.

I mean, obviously it's possible to conceive, in a vague sort of way, of the *idea* of a Being That Nothing Is Greater Than; but vagueness won't do the job. If the argument is to work, somebody has to produce a specific conception of what the Being itself is actually *like*, precise in every detail.

I doubt that such a detailed conception is even possible, and I'm quite certain that none of the existing ideas of God is it.

#101 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 01:10 AM:

Ahem. Please, allow me to be the first:

Inconceivable!

#102 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 01:50 AM:

God created a rock so big that he couldn't lift it, so he levitated it instead. Whereupon he was accused of cheating.

"Cheating?" he said.

"Cheating."

"I'm sorry," he replied. "It was an Occident."

"Erm, if you're gonna pull out that excuse, then you need to be re-Oriented."

#103 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Can a writer write about a fictional rock too heavy for the author to lift?

Same question - God the creator is not a thing in the world, but the author of the world.

Unless God happens to write God into the world, a sort of self-portrait. Then of course the character in the story who represents the author might find rocks they can't lift.

Now which religion had that idea?

#104 ::: Antongarou ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2008, 02:12 PM:

I think it was a certain subgroup of Judaism(Qabbalah of one form or another IIRC)- at the very least there are religious Jews I know to hold it.

#105 ::: Adrian Morgan ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 06:01 AM:

Dave (comment 9) claims that "The question is, specifically: 'Can God create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it' (or some variation thereon)". However, I have not heard a version of the paradox in which heaviness was mentioned, so I am prepared to say that Dave is wrong.

It's important to decide whether one is talking about an abstract god who is invented for the express purpose of presenting the paradox, or the god of a specific religion to whom specific beliefs of that religion apply. Answering for Christianity, we read in 2 Timothy 2:13 that the Christian God is NOT strictly omnipotent, because "he cannot deny his own nature". So if we can envisage a scenario in which lifting a rock would be contrary to God's nature, then God can indeed make a rock that he cannot lift.

Christians generally agree that breaking a promise would be contrary to God's nature. So all that God has to do is to make a rock, and then promise not to lift it.

I discussed this as a light-hearted postscript on my own blog quite recently.

#106 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 01:23 PM:

No, He can't.

If a thing cannot be done by an omnipotent being, it cannot be done at all, right? So really the question is, can God create a rock so heavy that its lifting is completely impossible. Given some reflection, I think it's clear that this question is like asking if God can make a triangle with four sides, or correctly sum two and three to equal six.

The concept of "a rock so heavy it cannot be lifted" is not a coherent one. It's unimaginable. What it means for a thing to be n heavy is that it takes n force to lift. There is simply no such thing, nor can there ever be any such thing, as something so heavy that no amount of force could lift it.

#107 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2008, 01:38 PM:

Much, SeanH, like the logic that dismisses the "irresistable force/immovable object" discussion per Asimov. The form of words obscures the fact that what we're discussing is a logical impossibility.

To strip it down, this is like (not logically equivalent to, but analogically resembling) asking "Can God be both a and not-a? Why not, if God can do anything?" It's not nonsense, technically, but it's pretty stupid.

To clarify, I'm agreeing with you.

#108 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 04:24 AM:

Given Hertog and Hawking's new model of the birth(s) of the Universe it is plausible that one of those universes created was even created without a creator. Just not probable. In our present universe with our given governing dynamics the scenario presented is possible, just not probable.

#109 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2008, 06:44 AM:

WARNING: contains made up words that proper physicists will scoff at.

Then there's the whole problem with the word "lift" in the context of an object that dominates the local gravity well.

If we take "lift" to mean "move away from the dominant local center of gravity", then once the object *is* the dominant local centre of gravity, then it can't be lifted. QED.

Since an omnipotent being can presumably manipulate the gravitational constant, then the question of the size of the rock is irrelevant. What matters is it's weight under local conditions, which are also under the control of the omnipotent being.

So the question becomes "Can an omnipotent being manipulate the local conditions so He can never move a given object away from the centre of the local gravitational field?"

But at that point, we're dealing with a being that can change the fundamental nature of the universe, so the important question to me would be "Why would such a being do such a thing?"

And as a corollary "Why should people who think that such a question matters be running the world?"

Walks away shaking his head at the "No women bishops" faction, who, as Political Animal pointed out, would only be happy with men and women bishops if jesus had been a transexual. I really don't get anyone who thinks the most important thing about Jesus as the focal point of a religion wasn't the new covenant, redemption of sin or even miracles, but his posession of a Y-chromosome and / or testicles.

#110 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:42 AM:

Omnipotence transcends paradox.

The answer is yes, but at the same time He can lift it without breaking the first condition. Omnipotence requires the ability to do mutually contradictory things simultaneously without paradox getting in the way.

#111 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 09:52 AM:

CS Lewis’s take on it was that it’s a nonsense question, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a technical question of a non-technical person. I mean, it’s not obviously nonsense.

Alas, it is obviously nonsense.

Remember that absolutely everything except God is an idea in the mind of God.

Are there any limits on your imagination? No? Then why assume that there are limits on God's?

#112 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 10:54 PM:

But Jim, that's nonsense -- there are no gods.

#113 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:02 AM:

Dave Robinson@110: The world we see around us is not the product of a benevolent being with that level of omnipotence.

#114 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:22 AM:

Marilee@112: As far as I can see, Jim's statement agrees with you in that there are no gods (plural); if everything exists in the mind of god, then there can only be one (singular) god.

However, I don't see how it's possible to say in this set-up whether it's true or not, since all our observations are within the hypothetical god's mind, and thus unreliable when it comes to measuring it's existence. To me, an untestable statement is nonsense, but that applies to "there is no god" just as much as any other such statement.

David Goldfarb@113: How can we be sure of that? We aren't Omniscient, and can't tell what a being that is might feel it needs to do. God might move in mysterious ways simply because our minds are too small to follow his reasoning.

Of course, that idea leads us to live in a Mythos universe ruled by a god that is, from our perspective, mad: we can never predict it's actions. But again, I don't see how we can rule out the possibility that this is the best possible world, since we can't see or understand the needed alternatives...

#115 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Chaos, it's mostly Christians who say "of course there's no gods, there's just the one God!" But there's no god to have a mind. No ETs on earth, no ghosts, no angels, no fairies, no Captain Carrot. If there were, they could provide proof.

#116 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:35 AM:

Chaos@114: It's the old problem of evil / problem of pain thing. You have to have evil, in order to have free will? A god that can surmount paradox can negate free will without negating free will. Since we do see evil and suffering around us, either god is not able to surmount paradox, or god allows evil and suffering when they are not necessary -- and hence is evil himself.

#117 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:59 AM:

Marilee, there are a lot of people (not just Christians) who say that there's only one god. To say there is no god, though, that's a bold statement. How do you know there's no god? How can you possibly know for sure?

It seems as meaningless to me to claim certainty of god's absence as it does to claim certainty of his presence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

David Goldfarb: I understand the problem, I think. I just don't think we can be certain that there isn't a good reason for the apparent contradiction, which is only apparent to an entity wiser/more informed than ourselves. We can not, by definition, understand the choices an omniscient being is faced with.

I think your argument is a compelling reason not to believe in god, but not proof he/she/it doesn't exist.

#118 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:55 AM:

But as David says, if there were a god, it'd be evil, and most of them claim to be good. It's hard to prove the absence of things, but we can evaluate what that absence would allow, and see those events.

#119 ::: Chaos ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:09 AM:

I wasn't concerning myself with good and evil, here. Just existence.

However - if we all only exist as thoughts in god's mind (as Jim suggested), then I don't think you can hold that bad things happening to us makes god evil, any more than bad things happening to an author's characters make that author evil.

Of course, that's no help at all to the characters in question. Still, they wouldn't exist at all if the author wasn't writing a story about them, so it could even be good for them.

And once again, I am arguing for an agnostic point of view. I don't think we can possibly understand the motivations or actions of an omnipotent/omniscient being, so it is very difficult to judge one.

#120 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2008, 03:49 PM:

#110: Omnipotence transcends paradox.

The answer is yes, but at the same time He can lift it without breaking the first condition. Omnipotence requires the ability to do mutually contradictory things simultaneously without paradox getting in the way.

I disagree. Omnipotence means all-capable; that is, can do everything. The clause "can do everything" has a domain of "things that can be done" (this is a minimum condition of it making any sense).

I think some of the problem here comes of thinking of "impossible" or "paradoxical" as meaning "too hard", in which case such an awesomely powerful being as God ought to be able to brush aside this barrier. Impossible means doesn't exist. God can't make a rock too heavy to lift in the same way that he can't flurble his knids. It's just less obvious because the former meets the standards of the English language.

This approach, incidentally, is also a nice way around the problems created by God's knowledge of the future. God doesn't know the future, because there is no fact of the matter about the future; there's just nothing to know. This claim is contentious, however.

#121 ::: David fry ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2009, 11:12 PM:

Some related but much more interesting questions:

1) Can God let go a fart so smelly that it would kill him?

2) Can God ask a question so stupid that it would make him commit suicide?

#122 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: July 12, 2009, 02:43 AM:

Could God create a Facebook group so stupid He wouldn't want to join it?

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