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Aquinas’ view of omnipotence
- Aquinas has the traditional and popular view – that omnipotence means the power to do any logically possible action.
- For example, God cannot make something which both exists and does not exist at the same time. Or, God cannot create a four-sided triangle.
- God is a perfect being. It would take away from God’s perfection to create a logically impossible thing.
Evaluation: paradox of the stone
- Can God make a stone too heavy for him to lift? If God can create the stone – then he can’t lift it. If God can’t create the stone, then he can’t create it.
- Whatever answer you give – there is one thing God cannot do.
- So, it seems the idea of omnipotence makes no sense. The idea of a being that can do anything is illogical.
Descartes’ view of omnipotence
- Descartes thinks that God can do the logically impossible.
- So God can create a four-sided triangle etc.
- Descartes has no problem with the ‘paradox of the stone’ because he can say God simply can create the stone, and then lift it.
- That seems logically impossible, but that is not a limitation for God.
- God is unlimited – everything depends on God, including logic.
- So, Descartes’ view seems better than Aquinas’
- The popular response to Descartes is that his theory makes no logical sense.
- If God can do the impossible, then it’s no longer impossible.
- Descartes is just undermining the whole distinction between logically possible and impossible.
Optional further evaluation:
- However, Descartes’ still seems right. If God did the impossible, it would still be impossible in our minds.
- God cannot be limited by what makes logical sense to us, is Descartes point.
Self-imposed limitation view of omnipotence
- This view is held by philosophers like Vardy.
- God can do anything – but there must be some limits to God’s power in order for us to have free will and a logically orderly universe.
- This is because if God intervened in our actions we wouldn’t have free will
- If God created something illogical in the universe then it might fall apart.
- However – God wants us to have free will and a logical universe.
- So, he must limit his own power – to stop himself from destroying our free will & universe.
- Vardy thinks this is the way to make sense of omnipotence.
- It makes no sense for an unlimited being to have limits – then it wouldn’t be an unlimited being!
- God cannot limit himself – just like God cannot kill/destroy himself.
Boethius on omniscience vs free will vs omnibenevolence
- Boethius is trying to solve a problem: An omniscience God would know our future actions – but that would undermine free will – and that would mean God couldn’t be omnibenevolent in punishing us in the afterlife.
- If God knows what I’m going to do next, I can’t have the free will to choose to do something else.
- Boethius’ solution: God is outside time (eternal). God sees all time in one moment – the ‘eternal present’.
- So, God sees all past, present and future in one moment – this means God sees our future actions, but he does not determine them.
- God simply sees the results of our free choices.
- So, God knowing our future actions does not conflict with free will.
- Boethius has not really solved the problem. Even if God knowing my future actions does not determine my choices, the fact that God knows what I’m going to do next still means I can’t do otherwise.
- If God knows what I’m going to next, then what I’m going to do next is inevitable, fixed, necessary. I can’t do otherwise.
- So, we still have no free will.
- It makes no sense to say that God simply sees the results of our free choices. That would mean they are not free.
Anselm on omniscience vs free will vs omnibenevolence
- Anselm largely agrees with Boethius’ approach but wanted to improve on it.
- Boethius says God is totally disconnected from time.
- This might address the free will issue, but it doesn’t really make sense of how God is able to affect the world or time.
- If God is totally outside time, how can God affect things happening in time..?
- Boethius can’t explain that, but Anselm tries.
- Anselm says that yes God is outside time – but all of time is in God.
- Basically, God is much greater than time – so God is not limited to being within time – but all of time is in God – which means God has the power to affect time.
- He’s not radically disconnected from time like Boethius suggested, even though he is still outside of time.
- Anselm can then give the same answer as Boethius – that God simply sees the results of our free choices.
- Same as Boethius – if God knows what I’m going to do next, then I can’t have the free will to choose to do otherwise.
Swinburne on omniscience vs free will vs omnibenevolence
- Swinburne’s solution to the problem posed by Boethius is to simply say that God doesn’t know what we’re going to do next.
- This doesn’t take away God’s omniscience though.
- Omniscience means knowing everything that can be known.
- Future actions of free creatures cannot be known.
- Swinburne adds that God is therefore within time – the everlasting/temporal view of God.
- Swinburne thinks this is the only way to have a loving relationship with God – God has to be within time (also to answer prayers)
- There are cases in the Bible where God/Jesus does seem to know what people are going to next.
- Jesus knew Judas would betray him.
- Jesus knew peter would deny him three times before the cockerel crowed.
Optional further defence:
- Swinburne says God knows us like a parent knows their children – so God can have a decent idea of what we are going to do, just can’t know for certain.