Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Stone Paradox

We discussed a piece by Thomas Morris on the nature of omnipotence today in class.  In it, he considers the Stone Paradox.  Here's how he put the paradox:
The question is this:  If God is omnipotent, then can he create a stone which he cannot lift (cause to rise)?  If the answer is 'no' then , the critic reasons, there is something God cannot do, namely, create the sort of stone in question, and so he is not, after all, omnipotent.  If the answer is 'yes', he can create such a stone, then again there is a task he cannot perform, namely, lift the stone once created, and therefore again he is not omnipotent. Regardless of which answer is given, the conclusion follows that God is not omnipotent (p. 408).  
The upshot of the paradox is not simply that God must fail to be omnipotent, but rather it's that omnipotence isn't a coherent property--no being could be omnipotent.

Morris dismissed the paradox as a "silly little brain-teaser." Morris thought that the theist can consistently say that God isn't able to create such a stone and that God is omnipotent. He thought that the description of the action of creating a stone too heavy for God to lift is incoherent and so we do not specify any activity that is beyond God's power when we say that "God can't create a stone too heavy for Him to lift." Morris also suggested that the theist can consistently claim that God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift while still maintaining that God is omnipotent. Morris claims that "...we can block the inference to his (God's) lacking omnipotence by explaining that the subsequent inability to lift cannot be thought of as reflecting the lack of any power it is possible to have" (p. 410).

I'm going to focus on his second suggestion.  It certainly appears that one has described a possible power when one says "the power to lift that really heavy stone, S, that God just created." But Morris contended that this is a mistake. His argument is subtle. Following Kenny, Morris argued that if God were to create a stone that had the property of being unliftable (even by God), then this "power to lift that stone" doesn't actually pick out or specify any coherent power that a being could have. This is because, the stone is unliftable and it's not possible to have the power to lift something that cannot be lifted. As Morris put it, "Thus, lacking a power to lift S is not lacking a possible power, a power possible to have, and so no such lack would detract from God's being omnipotent."

What do you make of Morris's argument here?  Do you find it persuasive?  How might one object to this line of reasoning?

17 comments:

isaac scott said...

I agree with Morris for the most part. The paradox is created by showing that God cannot bring about a state of the world in which a contradiction can exist; specifically lifting something that is unliftable. An "absolutist" view would seem to show that God is not omnipotent and therefore cannot exist. On the other hand a person who sees God as being able to do anything within the rules of logic, would have less of a problem with the paradox. I have a problem with the idea of lifting a rock that is unliftable. Such a rock would be an asteroid or planet size and would seem to be unliftable because there is nothing from which to lift it from. I guess I find the question ridiculous in the first place from a more physics perspective than philosophical. But maybe that is besides the point. :)

Stoehr said...

I buy it. I think the inability for the stone to be lifted does maintain God's omnipotence, since, as Morris says, the "power to lift the stone" isn't an actual power that one could possibly possess. Like I said, I'd buy it. However, I could see someone raising an objection to Morris that relies on the absolutist definition of omnipotence, i.e. that God can do anything. Even if the stone is necessarily unliftable, God should still be able to lift it, regardless of its inherent "unliftability". As we said in class, in accordance with the absolutist view, God doesnt have to abide by the physical laws of the universe. Now, do I buy that objection? Not so much. I think it, along with the absolutist view, are cop outs. I'd sooner agree with Morris and his claim that God's inability to lift the stone doesn't hinder his omnipotence due to the stone's inherent "unliftability."

Aviva Stein said...

While Morris's response to the stone argument is sound, his entire essay rests heavily on an anthropocentric view of omnipotence. The act of lifting a stone, of experiencing weight, is entirely corporeal. In Morris's examples, he offers human situations and applies them to G-d's power (the stone, the moral quandry, the desire to do or not do). Those with a non-human understanding of G-d, those who view G-d as a spirit, a thought, or a power in itself, should be entirely unswayed by Morris's argument. One who believes in a wholly ethereal G-d is not concerned with G-d's ability to lift a stone, because, as Morris suggested, there are many factors that go into "can" beyond physical ability. What Morris fails to address, however, is the possibility of total duality of our being and G-d's, of the two on simply distinct planes of existence and therefore also of functioning. Though Morris effectively responds to one argument for omnipotence, he largely overlooks another.

Danny Witt said...

My aim with this comment is to hone in on the second suggestion: the ability to lift an “unliftable” stone is not a possible power. Morris suggests that this is not a coherent view of a logically possible power. If a stone is unliftable (i.e., it has the necessary property of not being able to be lifted by any corporeal or metaphysical forces) then it follows that, by its very nature, no agent could lift that stone.

Morris thinks he’s made an awesome case; I think he’s deviating from the original intentions of the Stone Paradox: depicting God as failing to lift something corporeal, and thus lacking a coherent power. The original intent of the Stone Paradox is to show that God fails—in the specified case (lifting an “unliftable” stone)—to exert a sufficient causal force on the stone. God’s failure to lift (a lack of a tangible power) should be viewed in physical terms, based on the mechanics of exerting force between an agent and some object. It should not be cast into the realm of semantics and conceptual abstraction—as is the case with Morris’ framing of the situation in his second response to the Paradox. Simply, Morris wrongly reifies an adjective—namely, “unliftable”—into a logical property depicted in binary fashion as being present or absent within an individual object. He warps the descriptive term “unliftable”—which is meant to convey a physical, reciprocal relationship between agent and object—into a singular property of a corporeal object. He means to equate “unliftable-ness” with something like “stoniness” (i.e., the essential property of the stone which allows us to distinguish that object as a stone and not give it some other title). But “unliftable-ness” is not an essential, necessary property of any object. Something is only deemed “unliftable” with respect to the degree of force-generating power of some agent and the object upon which the agent is attempting to exert motive force; it’s not a defining characteristic as Morris chooses to treat the adjective.

For example, a 200lb. barbell is not necessarily “unliftable” given that George fails to lift said barbell. It is only because George has weak muscles (i.e., is lacking a tangible power) that he cannot lift the barbell. George can hit the gym for a year and eventually gain enough strength so that he can lift the same 200lb. barbell with his new huge muscles. The “power to lift” lies in the agent—namely, George—and the barbell is no longer “unliftable”; hence, “unliftable-ness” does not constitute a fundamental, essential property of the barbell since the same barbell remains a year later. The case of George and his barbell is perfectly analogous to God and his stone. The property of “unliftable-ness” has been shown to NOT be a necessary property, and instead is a relative description of whether an agent can perform the action of lifting on some object.

In conclusion, Morris’ rebuttal teeters on the idea that the stone has the necessary property of “unliftable-ness”; it is logically necessary that the stone not be lifted; and thus God cannot be said to be lacking in any real power if he cannot bring about an illogical state of affairs. However, this is wrong. Morris fails to adequately address the concern of God lacking a real, corporeal power; hence, Morris does not adequately refute the Stone Paradox with his “second suggestion” that the power to lift an “unliftable” stone is not a coherent power.

Joshua Adams said...

For me Morris's response seems to work. Explaining that since it is outside the realm of possibility for the rock to be lifted, then this does not hurt God's omnipotence. The problem I find with it is having God bound by logic. It seems Morris is saying that even God must follow the rules of logic. This would mean that logic is something outside of God and which God has no control over. It almost seems as if logic is essentially a greater thing than even God, because it is something to which God must abide by. I am curious as to why scholars are fine with God being bound to logic because that binding to me makes logic greater then even God is.

Natalie North said...

I believe that the response Morris gives to the stone paradox is sufficient if you allow for this qualified definition of omnipotence. I do have a problem with this approach to the problem. It seems that this approach could become problematic as time goes on because it opens the door for definitions of choice to be used in logical arguments. Could we not now attempt to redefine the words “liftable,” “create,” “heavy,” or “lift” in our attempts to make this apparent paradox possible? My thoughts are drawn to Spinoza's propositions concerning human beings' inadequate knowledge of God. He states that our knowledge are only are perceptions. Whenever those perceptions seem to contradict the perfect world that God has created or makes him seem imperfect, it is only because the perceiver has inadequate knowledge of God. The perceiver with inadequate knowledge of God will have incorrect perceptions as a result of this.

Adam Bontje said...

The argument Morris presents makes sense if we assume a definition of omnipotence to be restricted by logical possibility (definitions 2,3,4 presented in class). Though this nullifies the paradox, I think it weakens the notion of omnipotence; since my original exposure to omnipotence was more of the absolutist definition. What is the point of omnipotence if it is restricted to physical or logical laws? The more we alter omnipotence to make sense logically, the weaker it becomes. I would argue being all-knowing is physically impossible, and if we make it possible you could argue the National Security Administration is omnipotent (or is the limit of omnipotence).

Rashad said...

Morris makes a logical argument that I certainly agree with. When dwelling upon existence, Morris’ argument is quite persuasive. It makes sense that lifting the stone is not a possible power. Because the power is not possible to have, it does not exist. To this extent, God’s omnipotence stands coherent. One objection to this claim is that God ought to be able to lift the rock and because He can not His omnipotence is incoherent; He can not “do anything.” However, the fact that the power to lift the rock does not exist trumps this objection; it would be a back and forth argument with no real end. If God is a being and no other being including God can lift the rock, yet God can still do anything that other beings can not, then God is still coherently omnipotent because He is above other beings in that He can do anything that is possible that other beings can not.

Chase Tarrier said...

I feel that in order for God to truly maintain his omnipotence, he must be able to lift the "unliftable stone". I understand Morris' line of thinking when he submits that because the stone is unliftable, the inability to lift it is really not an inability at all, but rather an action that is incoherent. However, it is my opinion that for God to truly be considered omnipotent, he must be able to perform all actions and be limited by nothing, even definitional impossibility. The rules of logic should not apply to God because that would imply that God is limited by something other than himself. This is an issue I raised in class and something I am still struggling with. In my mind God must be limited by nothing, even logic and I am unable to reconcile an interpretation of God's omnipotence in which he is only able to perform logical actions. Did God not create logic? and if that is the case than who did? Are we to assume that God came about after logic? Or was he limited by it only once he created it? It seems to me the only way to accept the stone paradox is under the first interpretation, where God can lift the unliftable and act outside the rules of logic. If we restrict God's actions to merely the logical, his omnipotence is lost and he is merely a limited God. This is a variation of the Euthyphro Dilemma and I am quite interested in the responses to it, especially ones that explain a scenario in which God is omnipotent yet limited in his actions by the rules of logic.

Caitlin Cooper said...

I'm not exactly sure what I think about this concept. I do think that Morris's argument makes a good point that if something is unable to be lifted then we can't expect God to be able to lift it. But I believe that if God is all powerful then the rules of nature (for lack of a better word) do not apply to him. I think that he should be able to have powers that are impossible for people to understand. Like we said in class I think that if God is all powerful he should be able to create a shirt that is both yellow and blue at the same time, even though we can't conceive of what that could possibly mean I still think that God should be able to create it. I do believe his argument is persuasive but I'm not sure if I agree with him.

Enrique Franco said...

I find Morris' argument fairly convincing. I think it's important, and frankly a little sneaky, for him to emphasize that the inability for the stone to be lift is trait innate in this stone. God created the stone so that it's essence is defined by it's inability to be lifted. No power could be possessed by any being and thus no power could be lacking.

That being said I also wouldn't necessarily have an issue with taking the power of total omnipotence away from God. It seems an easy counter objection to this argument that no being could be omnipotent. That doesn't mean that a God being couldn't be logically omnipotent. I think it's an important distinction. Raising examples of logical impossibilities seem to be good ways of forcing the theist to question or at least develop an appropriate response to the possibility of a totally omnipotent being. I'd be curious to know of other objections to Morris' arguments. oh and just watched the end of the packer game :( just thought i'd comment on it ;)

Andrew Josten said...

I'm getting this comment in a little late. I just remembered we were supposed to get our comments in by 7 on Sundays. Hopefully it can still be counted. So, to my comment:

I am fairly convinced by the stone paradox that omnipotence is an impossible property to have. I think I have a possible way to deal with Morris's response. He thinks that the stone has some essential property of being unliftable and so the power to lift it doesn't exist. Therefore on his view a god, or anything else, cannot have that power and therefore, though a god does not have that power, it could still have all powers that exist and therefore be omnipotent. A different version of the stone paradox might avoid this objection. Instead of "can god x create a stone that cannot be lifted by anyone, even him?", we could change it to "can god x create a stone that some people can lift, but which he cannot?" On this formulation, the stone is not essentially unliftable, it is unliftable specifically for god x. Therefore, there is a power out there, which some humans possess, to lift the stone. But god x does not have that power. Therefore he would not be omnipotent in the sense of having all the powers that exist.

This is my possible response to Morris, though I don't think he really needed a response. I think that the first formulation of the paradox disproves omnipotence because god x cannot lift the rock. It doesn't seem to matter that no one else can lift the rock - that that power does not exist in anyone. The fact remains that god x cannot lift the rock and is therefore not omnipotent.

In closing, I'd like to mention a different version of the stone paradox, related to Abrahamic mythology, that makes me laugh:

Can God create a foreskin so durable that he cannot cut it off?

-Andrew Josten

Caitlin Carranza said...

I think Morris makes a good argument using the 2, 3, and 4 arguments we went over in class because it uses the word logical when defining God's omnipotence. I think this argument is persuasive when using those definitions because it isn't logically possible for anyone, God or non-God, to pick up a stone that is supposedly unable to be lifted.
Someone who uses that absolutist omnipotent God idea would object to this reasoning because those who believe in this idea believe God can do everything. God should be able to lift the stone even if He made it unable to be lifted just because God is able to do everything, even the impossible.

Alexander Laird said...

In response to Danny Witt's well-written objection, I think, according to the Judeo-Christian model, if God has a type of power, that power is not limited to a specific scale. So if we grant that God can lift a two pound rock, then we also have to concede that God can lift any rock. The theist's response to Danny's argument is simply that it is illogical to ascribe limits to God's physical powers. The question then becomes, is it a limit on God's omnipotence to be incapable of creating a rock that God cannot cause to moved? I think Morris answers this sufficiently when arguing that to be incapable of creating that which cannot coherently exist is not to lack a power. The question Danny asks seems to be more closely related to a different topic, which is, does God have causal abilities in the physical world at all?

Dyllan Taxman said...

One can take a couple of different stances on Morris' response to the Stone Paradox, I believe, with fairly similar levels of rationality. Either you believe God can only perform actions and enter into states based on conceptually logical rules i.e. he cannot make a shirt that is blue and yellow all over at the same time or a rock that even he cannot lift and then lift that rock. I think this is fair, though it seems equally valid to simply infer that God must be able to do these things based on an absolutist model of omnipotence and just chalk up the illogical states thus produced to our inability to comprehend the works of God as mere humans. In the first case, where God is unable to perform logically invalid actions we are confronted with the aforementioned dilemma in which we must ask "is it possible that God is subject to a greater power (logic)?" And if this is the case, what created logic if God is a subsequent entity and not the cause? One argument is that God and logic are one (kind of Spinoza-esque). If logic is part of God, and God's actions in the universe must still be governed by logic, we find ourselves in another kind of metaphorical Stone Paradox, in which God's entity contains a set of rules which he cannot himself break. If we take this model then we find God and logic to be one, and it seems to support Morris' earlier claim that God can be omnipotent, yet unable to bring about contradiction.

David Harms said...

After our discussion in class today regarding Aquinas' approach to justifying God's omnipotence in the face of the logically impossible, I had a remarkable epiphany in realizing that the first Sunday of the school year had already passed, and I had missed my first comment entry... Well, to play catch up, I would agree that Morris' response to the Stone Paradox is an effective method of bailing God out for maybe not being able to do EVERYTHING. By subjecting him to the Laws of Logic, arguably as He created them, Morris is able to stabilize God's omnipotence in the face of a contradictory trap. However, when stating this claim to an absolutist, it seems lacking in its ability to end the argument. Morris' argument really seems to only glaze over the legitimacy for non-absolutists to still believe in omnipotence in the face of logical limitations. Because these logical impossibilities are ontological in the eyes of non-absolutists, I am still having trouble finding a way this methodology to combat that of the absolutist. All in all, Morris' claim seems persuasive enough.

Annalee Galston said...

While Morris' argument is one of the more sound arguments, it still, in my opinion, could not be considered sound. If as defined by the doctrine omnipotence, God is all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful, one to make a coherent, sound argument for Hid'a ominpotence they would have to make an argument for x; God's omnipotence. It would not be enough to claim the truthfulness of this quality by claiming x as being as x like as possible which is the case for argument with the contingency of logical possibility. This, by definition, violates the doctrine of omnipotence as goes for contingency of logical or moral possibility as well.