#177 Logic of Omnipotence

#177 Logic of Omnipotence

This comic is inspired by a neat little paper by Harry Frankfurt that I stumbled across recently, titled “The Logic of Omnipotence”. It’s a quick read, and very clever, I recommend taking a look at it.

Also, today’s comic is my first experiment with drawing on my shiny new iPad! Unfortunately I think I drew the panels way too large, so when I shrunk them for the comic they came out a bit pixelated. Ah well. Drawing on the iPad is still lots of fun!

And speaking of iPad drawings, keep an eye out for a guest comic in the very near future….

Discussion (16)¬

  1. Emil says:

    I thought that paper was bad. Not very analytic at all. The full argument was not even presented. In any case, I have never seen any sound version of the stone-paradox argument against omnipotence. Once you expose the full argument, it doesn’t work.


  2. chaospet says:

    Emil: Frankfurt is offering a good reply to those who argue that omnipotence implies being able to do contradictory things (that is, those who reject Mavrodes’ principle) and still want to argue that the stone paradox undermines the possibility of God’s omnipotence. I think Frankfurt’s reply to this argument is clever; if omnipotence does indeed imply that God can do contradictory things, then there is no reason that God cannot lift the stone that he cannot lift. So even if he DID create the stone he couldn’t lift, there would be no problem for his omnipotence. In short, he rejects even the second premise of the second formulation of the argument in your link. So even if someone could provide a valid formulation of the stone paradox using that premise, if Frankfurt is right it still would not be sound.

  3. DapperAnarchist says:

    Frankfurt’s response may work for those who want to have it both ways, but if what if you say that the contradiction in omnipotence is the argument against it, no exceptions?

  4. chaospet says:

    I think what Frankfurt’s doing is setting up a dilemma. If Mavrodes is right and omnipotence does not imply the ability to create contradictory states of affairs (like a stone that an omnipotent being cannot move), then the inability to create a stone doesn’t count against omnipotence and there is no contradiction involved in omnipotence. If Mavrodes is wrong, then the omnipotent creator must have the ability to create the immovable stone – but since we’ve already allowed that God can create contradictions, then there is no reason he can’t move the immovable stone – it’s just another contradictory thing he can do. Either way, there is no argument against omnipotence from the stone paradox.

  5. DapperAnarchist says:

    Oh I see… clever. That is a rather neat idea there. Still uncertain about the coherence of the idea of Omnipotence, but that is good all the same.

    Also, I have the best avatar. Monocle for the win!

  6. chaospet says:

    I agree, there are probably other reasons to be skeptical about the coherence of omnipotence. But this is a nice reply to the stone paradox.

    And yes, your monocle is fabulous!

  7. Canuovea says:

    You could always ask God to die forever as a present for Nietzsche’s birthday. Can he do that? Hmm?

    Yeah, there are two things I know. I know that last time we (I?) started a debate about what God can/can’t do it went on forever! I also know that the whole “God is dead” thing wasn’t necessarily meant to be taken as a physical reality thingy.

    The most recent thing I’ve come up against during my studies are questions of what it means to be human. A la androids in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (DADOES, that acronym cracks me up) and clones in Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (Sorry if I ruin plot lines for anyone).

    So to connect that with today’s comic (so that wasn’t just me rambling)… if androids and clones can be considered human… can God be considered human as well? Dun dun duuuuuunnn… Well, okay, it isn’t that big of a problem, but it is interesting. Once what we define as “human” becomes broad enough it may even be able to include something like God… perhaps. Interesting. I’ll go off and ponder now…

  8. DapperAnarchist says:

    Lets swap “human” for something more like “person” – human strikes me as a biological catagory as much as anything. A corpse is a human, but is it a person? A clone would, in reality, be both – though transporter or replicator clones might be a little odder, sharing memories and history with another being. This question of human vs. person is in fact my dissertation topic…

    There’s an interesting discussion of immortality going on, with two strands – one being “would immortality be all it’s cracked up to be?” and the other being “would an immortal being be human?”… Also, there’s the question of what the hell does immortal mean.

    But Canuovea, that is a good point. What if the request of God in the Stone Paradox is to make a stone so heavy God can NEVER lift it? I mean, as presented here, its not really that hard to see it as not a paradox, if you add (or recognise, whatever) the temporal component. Imagine I use steel bars and a welding torch to make an object that is 10 kilos beyond my current lifting weight limit. It is a thing I cannot lift. I then work out, become stronger, and can now lift it. Not a problem. Here, God couldn’t, then he can. Temporal factor, problem solved. But… Factor in the time issue, and then you have a better question.

  9. Emil says:


    There are many notions of omnipotence. One of them is unrestricted omnipotence, the ability to do all actions, even logically impossible ones. Another is logical omnipotence, the ability to do all logically possible actions. The first one is waste of time talking about and the second one is not entirely a waste of time, as it is a good opportunity for people to learn about modal logic, something that people almost always gets wrong. (Even though there are no omnipotent beings.) I can’t think of anyway to formulate a potentially sound argument that logical omnipotence is logically impossible. As soon as one tries to formulate it properly (that is, making a complete argument (see ref)), the argument evaporates (so to speak).

    http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?page_id=1630 (for the notion of complete argument)

    Unfortunately, most people do not try to formulate complete arguments, and so it is not in many cases entirely clear what it exactly is that they are arguing. This does not stop them from being convinced by unclear arguments.

    I’m aware that my views about clarity are pretty radical. 🙂

  10. chaospet says:


    Quite right – and I think this is exactly what Frankfurt is getting at. Using your terminology, here is another way we can put Frankfurt’s argument: Once we get clear that there are two distinct notions of omnipotence, then we see that the stone paradox has no teeth. If what we’re attributing to God is logical omnipotence, then there is no stone paradox at all (as argued by Mavrodes in the bit Frankfurt alludes to). And if what we’re talking about is unrestricted omnipotence, then the stone paradox isn’t a problem either – moving the unmovable stone is just another contradictory thing God can do. It’s only if we equivocate between the two notions, using unrestricted omnipotence in saying God should be able to create the stone, but using logical omnipotence in saying that he could not move it, that we get the illusion that the stone paradox creates any problems.

  11. Wm Tanksley says:

    Woot! A comic! And an _awesome_ one! An awesome discussion too, but as much as I’d like to argue with Canuovea some more (j/k, but we DO have fun arguing ;-), I don’t have time anymore.

    (I used up all my time proving the existence of actual infinities by construction.)

  12. chaospet says:

    Aw, but I like it when you two argue. It means lots of comments, which makes my comic look popular!

  13. Canuovea says:

    LOTS of comments.

    And I have exams!

  14. Wm Tanksley says:

    Lots of looooooong comments. 🙂

  15. […] en kommentar » Chaospet illustrerar ett snyggt, två sidor långt religionsfilosofiskt argument av Harry […]

  16. Simon says:

    So Swartz’ argument (the one that Emil linked to), if I’m understanding it correctly basically translates to:

    – Hey God, I have a question for you! Can you create a block so heavy that even you can’t lift it?
    – Well sure I can, Nester!
    – Ok. So… Please do that, then!
    – No! I will not create that block! Not for you, not for anyone!
    – Why not?
    – Because then I wouldn’t be omnipotent anymore, duh!

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