This past weekend, Educate for Life participated in a Christian home school expo. The most popular aspect of our booth by far was a sign that offered a free starburst or drink to anyone who answered one of several apologetics-related questions. The question that elicited the greatest response was the one in the title of this post:
“If God is all-powerful, can He create a stone so big that even He cannot move it?”
Because I had a lot of time to think about it in great detail recently and came to several new conclusions, I thought I’d share my thoughts. Here are the main issues that I’ve come up with regarding this challenge:
1. Confuses “all-powerful” with “can do anything”
Many fail to see the difference, but it is distinctly there. To say that God is “all-powerful,” or in other words, perfectly powerful, is to put certain limits on Him: the limits of the definition of power. All attributes impose limits, but a “perfect” attribute even more so, because the essence of perfection is an unflawed completeness. (For example, I could get many different bowling scores and still be accurately defined as a very good bowler; but to be defined as a perfect bowler, I am limited to only one possible score: 300.) To be completely one way is to be completely not the opposite way. Because God is perfectly powerful, He is automatically unable to be anything less than powerful (or contrary to power). It applies to His other attributes as well: by being perfectly good, He cannot do wrong. By being perfectly honest, He can neither mislead nor renege. God is a Being who possesses certain characteristics, and therefore corresponding limits. Any being or object that would be unlimited in every sense would be completely undefined, and therefore totally incomprehensible. By defining God as the all-powerful Being, we eliminate the possibility of all actions and characteristics associated with weakness (failure, defeat, fear, death, etc.). God cannot do or be anything; He must be Who and what He is, and part of what He is is perfectly powerful.
2. Confuses a weakness with a strength
The question is internally contradictory, for it cleverly mislabels a weakness as a strength, and does so in a way that is difficult to detect at first glance. Within the stipulations of this challenge to God’s power is a requirement of weakness: the inability to move something. Worded more explicitly, the question becomes: “If God is perfectly strong, is He strong enough to make Himself weak?”—which is of course absurd. If He could make Himself weak, He would no longer be perfectly strong, as the question attempts to show. But the alternate goal is to confuse the hearer into thinking that the limit of being unable to weaken Himself is itself an instance of weakness in God. Of course it is not, for immutability is a necessary aspect of God’s perfect strength in order for it to be considered perfeft. What it does prove that there is something God cannot do, but again, God was never defined as “the Being who can do or be absolutely anything;” among other things, He is the Being who is eternally, unalterably all-powerful.
3. Confuses quantitative limits and unlimited attributes
Another absurdity of this challenge is its application of a physical, quantitative limit to a non-physical, unlimited Being. Why would God be unable to move the rock? Because it would be too large, and presumably too heavy. But these designations are meaningless in the face of unlimited power; it is a category mistake. God isn’t just a Being who is extremely strong; He is a Being whose strength knows no bounds, because there are no external limits imposed on it (the internal limits of His nature were discussed earlier). To put it in mathematical terms, God’s strength is not defined by an extremely large quantity; it is defined by the concept of infinity, to which no quantity can be meaningfully compared. To propose that a stone could be “big enough” to surpass the abilities of an unlimited being is to create a contradiction in terms, which this question does. Therefore, one correct response to the question is: “logically there is no such thing as a stone God cannot move; it could not exist in any possible world; the idea is self-contradictory.” The contradiction becomes explicit if one words the challenge in this way: “Could an omnipotent [perfectly and completely powerful] being create something beyond its own power?” Of course not, because by definition there is no such quality as “beyond the power of the omnipotent,” or “beyond the power to which there is no end or limit.” One might as well speak of circles with right angles.
That’s all for now. I always gladly welcome responses, reactions, discussion, and the like. Thanks for reading! God bless. -Robert Gerow