God as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 4
Previously, I argued that it is not possible to become eternal. Recall that a person P is eternal if and only if P has always existed and P will always continue to exist. Here is a step-by-step proof showing that it is impossible for a person to become eternal:
1. At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (supposition for indirect proof/reduction to absurdity)
2. At time t1 P is NOT eternal. (from 1)
3. At time t2 P is eternal. (from 1)
4. At t2 P exists. (from 3)
5. At every moment prior to t2 P exists. (from 3)
6. At every moment after t2 P exists. (from 3)
7. At t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists. (from 4, 5, and 6)
8. If at t2 P exists AND at every moment prior to t2 P exists AND at every moment after t2 P exists, THEN at every moment P exists. (analytic truth)
9. At every moment P exists. (from 7 and 8)
10. EITHER at t1 P does not exist OR at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist OR at some moment after t1 P does not exist. (from 2)
11. If at t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
12. If at some moment prior to t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist. (analytic truth)
13. If at some moment after t1 P does not exist, then there is a moment when P does not exist.(analytic truth)
14. There is a moment when P does not exist. (from 10, 11, 12, 13)
15. Any moment when P does not exist is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (analytic truth)
16. There is a moment when it is NOT the case that P exists. (from 14 and 15)
17. It is NOT the case that at every momement P exists. (from 16)
18. At every moment P exists AND it is NOT the case that at every moment P exists. (from 9 and 17)
19. The following statement is FALSE: At time t1 person P is NOT eternal AND at a later moment t2 P is eternal. (1 through 18, indirect proof/ reduction to absurdity, because 18 is a self-contradiction that was deduced from 1).
Thus, it is logically impossible for a person to become eternal.
I have been thinking about omnipotence and the idea of omnipotence as an essential property of some person.
Some of my thoughts remind me of the conversations that boys in Jr. high used to have: “What if Superman was to get into a fight with Batman? I think Superman could take one swing at Batman and knock him so hard that he would land a block away.” Such conversations seem silly and trivial, but in the case of philosophy, it can be helpful to have a childlike enjoyment of such imaginary scenarios. Imagination helps one to map out the logical boundaries of a concept, plus it makes thinking about God fun, even for an atheist.
We have previously seen that ‘existence’ appears to be an essential property for anything that in fact exists, so if ‘necessary existence’ means ‘having existence as an essential property’ then necessary existence is nothing special. We have also seen that ‘being eternal’ is an attribute that cannot be lost; once something is eternal, it will always be eternal (and will always have been eternal). So, again having the property of ‘being eternal’ as an essential property is nothing special, there is no other way of ‘being eternal’. One cannot have the property of ‘being eternal’ as an accidental property.
I eventually want to figure out what it means for a person to have the property of ‘being eternally omnipotent’ as an essential property. But before I tackle that challenge, it may be helpful to first consider the simpler property of just being omnipotent. After that I will consider the more complex idea of having the property of omnipotence as an essential property.
Being omnipotent does not mean that one can literally do anything. An omnipotent being cannot create a four-sided triangle. This is no limitation of power or ability. The idea of a four-sided triangle is incoherent, so the statement “John made a four-sided triangle” is an incoherent statement, a statement that contains a self-contradiciton.
Can an omnipotent being create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it? I agree with Swinburne’s analysis of this traditional problem. The answer is: YES.
But in order to do so, the omnipotent being must make itself less than omnipotent. Time is the key missing ingredient in this puzzle. At one point in time an omnipotent being creates a massive rock, say a rock that has ten times the mass of our universe. Then the omnipotent being causes itself to have a certain degree of weakness- the inability to lift rocks that are ten times the mass of our universe. Now the being is unable to lift the massive rock. The being, however, has sacrificed its omnipotence in order to achieve this feat, but it is a feat that an omnipotent being can achieve.
The being started out as an omnipotent being, formed the objective of creating a rock that it could not lift, and then using its unlimited power acheived that objective. However, in order to achieve the objective the being must sacrifice its omnipotence.
There are various other limitations on what God can do. God cannot change the past. This is because changing the past would involve backwards causation, and backwards causation is logically impossible. So, again God’s inablility to change the past is not a weakness or lack of power. The problem is, rather, that sentences like “John changed the past” are incoherent; they involve a logical self-contradiction.
Omnipotence can come into conflict with other divine attributes. God is perfectly good, and so according to Aquinas and Swinburne God cannot do evil. God’s goodness thus creates a limitation on what God can do. Human beings can be unjust and cruel but God is not able to be unjust or cruel, on this view. So human beings can do some things that God is unable to do. But this is considered to be a ‘legitimate’ exception or limitation of God’s power. So, when Christians assert that ‘God is omnipotent’ they usually will allow that God’s perfect goodness creates constraints on what God can do.
One might say that God can do anything that it is LOGICALLY POSSIBLE for a perfectly free and omniscient and perfectly good person to do.
I think there are some additional constraints on God’s power or ability to do things, but this clarification of ‘omnipotence’ covers the constraints that arise from God’s other divine attributes.
Can a person become omnipotent? or is omnipotence like the attribute of being eternal? One cannot become an eternal person, so perhaps it is also impossible for one to become an omnipotent person.
On the face of it, I don’t see an obvious problem with the idea of becoming omnipotent. Human beings have various powers and abilities. We can imagine becoming more and more powerful. One can imagine discovering one day that one can make objects ex nihilo (from nothing) just by willing the objects to appear. One can imagine stumbling on the power to move mountains or even planets by sheer willpower. Of course one could never have enough experiences to prove with certainty that one had become omnipotent, but we can imagine experiences that would strongly support this hypothesis. Thus, it seems perfectly conceivable that an ordinary human being could become an omnipotent person.
But once a person becomes omnipotent, one might think that they could never lose their omnipotence. We think of gaining great power as being like obtaining great wealth: someone else could take away what we have gained. But in the case of omnipotence, who could take that away? If I’m the biggest and strongest kid at school, then I don’t need to worry about a bully taking my lunch money, right? If I become omnipotent, then I don’t have to worry about any being taking away any of my power.
But what if there was another omnipotent person? Such a person, it would seem could take away my omnipotence, because our power would be equal, so I would not be like the biggest and strongest kid on the block, if there were other omnipotent persons who might want to take away some of my power.
However, there is an old puzzle about omnipotence that comes to mind: Can there be two omnipotent persons? It seems as if there can be no more than just one omnipotent person. Suppose that there are two omnipotent persons: John and Sara. John and Sara both simultaneously look at the same little gray rock resting on a desk. John wills the rock to immediately rise up into the sky, but Sara wills the rock to immediately plummet downward, through the desk and through the floor and the foundation, etc. These two objectives are not logically compatible with each other. The rock cannot both rise and fall at the same time. So, either the rock will rise and Sara’s will will be defeated by John’s will, or the rock will NOT rise and John’s will will be defeated by Sara’s will. At least one of them must fail to cause their desired outcome.
Let’s suppose that there can only be one omnipotent person in existence at any given point in time. Does that mean that becoming omnipotent, and thus being the one and only omnipotent person, would mean complete safety? Does this mean that I have no reason to fear losing some of my newly gained power? Sadly, it does not. Even if there can be at most only one omnipotent person, there is nothing to prevent some other person from being or becoming omniscient (all knowing).
If I have become omnipotent, I would still be in danger of losing my omnipotence if some other person was omniscient. This would set up the classic struggle between brains and brawn. The omniscient person would know everything about me, including my deepest secrets and my every thought. The omniscient person would know all of my weaknesses. The omniscient person would know every detail of my personal history. The omniscient person would know everything there was to know about human psychology and about how to persuade and manipulate other people. So, it is quite possible that an omniscient person could fool me into destroying myself or causing myself to become less than omnipotent, perhaps even getting me to make that other person into the one and only omnipotent person, and then that person would be both omniscient and omnipotent.
However, an omnipotent person does have a way to fight back. An omnipotent person could make himself or herself become omniscient. There is no obvious logical contradiction between there being two or more omniscient persons. Two people can know the same fact without there being any conflict or contradiction, for example. So, if an omnipotent person was concerned about the possibility of being fooled or manipulated by an omniscient person, then he or she could simply will it to be the case that he or she immediately became omniscient, and presumably a being that was both omnipotent and omniscient would not have to worry about a being that was merely omniscient being able to fool or manipulate him or her.
Nevertheless, although there is this nice strategy for how a person could easily secure his or her newly discovered omnipotence, there is no logical necessity that this would be the case. If you wake up tomorrow morning and have become an omnipotent being while you were asleep, it will probably take several hours or days before you have enough experiences to confidently conclude that you have become omnipotent. The experiences you have that convince you of this fact would be quite unusual and extraordinary experiences (such as moving the moon across the sky with just a thought), and those experiences would keep you very distracted for a while. You probably would not immediately start thinking about the question “How can I secure my omnipotence, so that if there is a omniscient being somewhere I can avoid being fooled or manipulated by that being into giving up or losing my omnipotence?”. For as long as you do not think about this question, you would be vulnerable to being deceived by an omniscient person.
Furthermore, even if you immediately began to worry about this possibility of being decieved by an omniscient person, you might not immediately come up with the solution of making yourself become omniscient. Having been an ordinary weak human being for many years, your attitudes and beliefs about yourself may take time to change, and you might not immediately realize that you have gained the ability to radically transform yourself.
Even if you immediately started to worry about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, and even if you immediately realized that you had the power to make yourself omniscient, you might well hesitate to do so. You have lived your entire life up to that moment as a limited and finite human being, and willing yourself to become omniscient would mean basically willing yourself to become God. But being omniscient or having a God-like experience of reality would be radically different from experiencing reality as a limited and finite human being. Would you really want to give up ordinary human thoughts and feelings and experiences, to become a god-like being? The idea seems terrifying to me. I would certainly hesitate, and give some thought to the matter before turning myself into an omniscient person.
So, although it may be possible for an omnipotent person to turn himself or herself into a person who was also omniscient, it is quite possible that it would take a significant amount of time for a person who had recently become omnipotent to become worried about the possibility of being deceived by an omniscient person, to come up with the solution of making oneself omniscient, and to actually make the very serious decision to carry out this plan and make oneself omniscient, and some might well decide to live with the risk rather than to so radically transform their own consciousness of reality. Thus, it is likely that there would be a significant period of time in which a person who had become omnipotent would remain less than omniscient and thus would be subject to being deceived or manipulated by an omniscient person, so that the omnipotent person would destroy himself or herself or would cause the loss of his or her own omnipotence.
Therfore, it seems to me that not only is it possible for a person of finite and limited power to become an omnipotent person, but it is also possible for an omnipotent person to lose his or her omnipotence.