Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Reply to the Stone Paradox Using the Free Will Defense

From guest blogger, Joe.

Could an omnipotent being create a stone too heavy to lift? This can be answered in one of two ways.

1.     If the answer is no, then there is something that this being could not do and is therefore not omnipotent.
2.     If the answer is yes, then such a being would no longer be omnipotent as there would be an activity that he or she could not do.

While this obviously seems quite paradoxical, it can be a real concern for the theist as omnipotence is often taken to constitute part of God’s essence. Supposing that omnipotence is part of God’s essence, failure to have this attribute would seem to entail that God, as traditionally conceived, cannot exist. In this blog post I aim to show that the question ought not prevent the theist from sleeping at night. In order to do so, I will appeal to Paul Tidman’s discussion of Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.

Through Plantinga’s writing, Tidman shows that the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God. Tidman is able to do so by spelling out a common assumption which Plantinga calls a Leibniz’ Lapse. Tidman via Plantinga claims that this assumption "is to assume that it follows from the fact that God is omnipotent that He can bring about any possible world He pleases" (303).

This assumption is problematic for the following reason. Suppose that there are worlds, one of which is possible and one of which is actual (Tidman, 303). Further suppose that some individual, Bob, exists in or is roughly located within each world. In each world, Bob finds himself in the same situation and this situation was brought about by an omnipotent being called God. In both cases, Bob is choosing what to eat for breakfast. In the first world, Bob chooses to eat a banana for breakfast. In the second world, Bob chooses to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Both worlds contain roughly the same individual, but in each world a different choice is made. Therefore, the state of affairs that obtains is not ‘up to’ God, rather it is up to Bob. God cannot make it the case that Bob freely chooses to eat the banana because strictly speaking it would not be a free act if it were caused (Tidman, 404). The same holds in the instance where Bob chooses to eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

The main point of this is that there are certain states of affairs that even an omnipotent being cannot bring about. This, I believe, shows why the question concerning the stone requires too much. In this case, omnipotence seems to consist in the ability to do a task that is logically impossible. Much like a Leibniz’ Lapse, this demand is problematic. If omnipotence consists in the ability to do what is logically impossible, God could ‘make’ a world in which bachelors were married males. But this seems rather odd from my perspective because it would entail that God could bring about even odder states of affairs, one in which modus ponens was invalid. My overall point is that omnipotence ought to be viewed solely in terms of what is logically possible. Not only is this more parsimonious, it also rules out ‘odd’ states of affairs wherein the rules of logic don’t apply.

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