God & Rocks

Given that He is all-powerful, can God create a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it? Theologians have puzzled over this particular nugget for centuries. The general consensus has been that God can’t do anything which involves logical contradiction, and therefore the answer is no. Even God’s omnipotence, in other words, is limited by the rules of logic.

But it has always been the wrong question. The more important question is this: can God lift any rock at all? The answer would appear to be no.

God’s problem, of course, is that He’s not a body-being; He doesn’t have a body. (Which means also, strictly speaking, God can’t be He since God lacks genitalia — but we’ll politely ignore that little detail.)

Theists, we know, scoff at the notion that God requires a body to do anything. Even atheists generally consider this a pretty weak argument. And yet no one, theist or atheist, can imagine how God, a purely spiritual infinite being with no specific location in space, interacts with the physical world.

It’s not that God is in a different location than the universe; rather God has no location at all. God is also timeless: no moving parts. And that’s the crux of the problem: logically speaking it’s impossible for any being defined as God is defined to do anything.

Doing involves change, and the changeless — as a matter of definition — can’t change. Doing something with a physical world involves being someplace, in some physical location, and then interacting with constantly changing physical things. At every step required for doing anything with the physical world, God’s definition gets in the way and makes the interaction impossible.

Ah, but God can just have an idea and it will happen. God doesn’t have to interact with anything, He merely has to think a thought.

The Limitation of Thought

But this doesn’t work either. Even if we concede the doubtful proposition that God can think thoughts, those thoughts can’t get anything done. And we all know this. A thought of a tree can’t bring an actual tree into existence. Thoughts are simply incapable of being anything other than, well, thoughts. If anyone doubts this obvious truth, they can prove me wrong by simply imagining a tree into real existence.

Thoughts can’t move, create or destroy anything in the physical world. This is not because our human thoughts aren’t strong enough, or because we are “only human”. Rather, the limitation is inherent to the nature of thoughts. Thoughts can’t do any real, physical work because thoughts are a type of experiencing, and nothing more. We use thoughts to guide our physical actions, but it is those physical actions (using our hands and arms and legs and so on) which do all of our actual doing.

Thoughts, in other words, are useful only because we have bodies with which to carry those thoughts out. God has no body, and therefore God’s thoughts would be useless.

At this point, the theist’s typical response is to assert that nothing we know about thoughts applies when thinking about God’s thoughts. His thoughts are not like our thoughts at all but infinitely more powerful, and yes, His thoughts can bring matter into existence. Yes they can.

Which is simply an admission of defeat. Theists insist the answer is God, even though they know it is an answer chock full of contradiction and impossibility. Faith alone makes it work.

If only faith could.

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3 Responses to God & Rocks

  1. Pingback: Atheology » Thoughts & Trees

  2. Mark Hudson says:

    I, sadly, cannot remember where I read the following response to the question of God and Rocks, but this is it anyway:

    Since God is all-powerful, there is nothing that he cannot do. This means that he can do both possible *and* impossible things. So he simply creates a rock that is so heavy he cannot lift it.

    And lifts it anyway.

  3. Rastaban says:

    Mark, that reminds me of what I always thought was a perfectly acceptable theistic answer: “Of course God can create a rock so heavy that even He can’t lift it. But He hasn’t.”

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