Theism

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Divine Omnipotence

 

Omnipotence is, put simply, the ability to do all things. The doctrine of divine omnipotence is the doctrine that God has this ability, that nothing is beyond his power. An omnipotent god is thus an all-powerful god, one who can do anything.

There are different ways of understanding divine omnipotence, stronger and weaker views of what omnipotence entails. For some theists, when it comes to omnipotence “everything” really does mean “everything”. According to such theists (René Descartes was one of them), God is not only able to perform such great feats as parting the Red Sea and stilling the Sun in the sky, but is also able to perform feats that seem to be logically impossible. Making square circles and making 2+2=5, for example, seem to be even more difficult to bring about than the most dramatic of biblical miracles; they seem to be literally impossible. The Cartesian God, though, can even perform feats like these.

More cautious theists have thought that Descartes’ understanding of omnipotence was a little too extreme. It is one thing to say that God’s power is immense, but quite another to say that he can violate the fundamental laws that govern reality. Such have held not that God can do literally all things, but rather that God can do all things consistent with the laws of logic and mathematics.

Even this has seemed too strong for some theists. There are some acts, such as telling lies or falling off a bike, that do not seem to be possible for God, but clearly are not logically impossible acts (human beings do them all the time). Some have therefore suggested that God’s power is restricted by his nature, that he cannot lie because he is essentially good and that he cannot fall of a bike because he is disembodied, but that because he can do everything consistent with his nature he is omnipotent nevertheless.

 

Links

Can God Truly be Omnipotent?
Article on the paradox of the stone from God and Science .org.

Is God Omnipotent?
From the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Problems with Omnipotence
Difficulties arising from the doctrine of divine omnipotence. From Philosophy of Religion .Info.