God and omnipotence



  • Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
  • Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
  • On the other hand:
    • Augustine: God cannot die or be deceived
    • Anselm: God cannot be corrupted
    • Aquinas: God cannot move, fail ...

The problem

  1. (a) Suppose God can create a stone that he cannot lift. Then (b) there is a stone that God cannot lift. So (c) God cannot be omnipotent.
  2. (a) Suppose God cannot create such a stone. Then (b) there is something that God cannot do. So again (c) God is not omnipotent.
  3. Given 1 and 2, it follows that either (a) God does not exist, or (b) if God exists, then God is not omnipotent.

Some initial remarks

  • God could be "she" or "it".
  • The argument is not directed specifically at the Christian God. Any version of theism that postulates an omnipotent God would have to deal with this problem.
  • There is no reason why the problem has to be formulated in terms of creating a stone. A similar question is whether God can create a creature that He cannot control.
  • Unless it is necessary that God is omnipotent, God can still be the most powerful agent rather than an omnipotent one.
  • It is sometimes said that even if God cannot create such a stone, we cannot conclude that God is not omnipotent.
    • The purported justification is that to create such a stone is to do something logically impossible, and not being able to do something logically impossible does not imply not being omnipotent.
    • However, this response is not quite correct. It is true that if God cannot create a round square, we should not conclude that God is not omnipotent. But creating a stone that the creator of the stone cannot lift is not logically impossible.


  1. Can God create a stone so heavy that God cannot lift?
  2. Can God create a round triangle?
  3. Can God create a stone so heavy that the creator of the stone cannot lift?

The "beyond logic" response

"The argument relies on man-made logic. God is more powerful than logic. God is beyond logic. So this argument cannot show that God does not exist."

Rene Descartes

@I do not think that we should ever say of anything that it cannot be brought about by God.@

  • D: God made the laws of logic and can change them.
  • God can bring about logical impossibilities.


  1. The short response - nothing is "beyond" logic. Logic is not conventional.
  2. The longer response - if logic is given up, we cannot reason about God at all and we would not know what to believe about God.

How should "omnipotence" be defined?

X is omnipotent =

  1. For any logically possible state of affairs S, X is able to bring about S.
  2. If it is logically possible for any agent to perform action A, then X is able to perform A.
  3. X is able to do whatever X wants to do.
  4. X is able to do whatever that is logically possible for X to do.

Anthony Kenny:

@[An omnipotent being has] ... every power which it is logically possible to possess.@

But see the McEar example

Misc issues

Do you think God (if there is one) is able to:

  1. destroy himself
  2. change the past
  3. do something evil
  4. create another God