Why Can’t God Do the Impossible?

ssWhy can’t God do the “impossible?” Doesn’t that prove he is not the perfect being that Christians claim?

No, what it proves is that the challenger is, well, challenged when it comes to asking a rational question. The challenge goes something like this:

“Since God is omnipotent,  making an object that is simultaneously square and circular should not be beyond the power of this being.”

These arguments have surface appeal, because they appear to apply logic. The listener is urged to follow the chain of reasoning to the only possible conclusion. The atheist “wins” by the force of the logic. But in fact these arguments constitute an abandonment of logic and reason, rendering them, in the end, nonsensical.

When we employ reason, we do something which is natural to all human beings. We utilize a way of thinking that others can grasp and utilize. We follow rules of logic which are at some level apparent and self evident. We know, for instance that A will always equal C, if A equals B and B equals C. This rule applied thousands of years ago and will always hold true; it is not subject to change. Similarly, we know that if all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is also mortal.

How do we know these things? How do we know that it is valid to form conclusions based on evidence? Who has proven that it is “reasonable” to use reason in this fashion? No one, of course. Reason is the starting point, the given that we must all employ to reach a logical – a correct – conclusion. Abandon reason and you may have emotion and feeling and opinion, but you will not have a conclusion that must be accepted.

The skeptic knows this intuitively, and seeks to use reason, but by rejecting the source of reason and logic – the being that grounds them – his conclusions are often fallacious. How does God “ground” reason? It’s rather straightforward, really. When I am thinking about a thing, such as a dog or a car, I am holding in my mind something real that exists. But all things are subject to change. When I am thinking instead about a feeling, I similarly realize that feelings, like things, are subject to change. But, when I think about certain eternal truths, like the logical statements made above, or like mathematical equations such as the value of pi, what am I thinking about? These are neither feelings nor things, both of which are subject to change, but are themselves changeless. Since neither mind nor matter is permanent, but these concepts are permanent, there must exist something else that is permanent, that ground these ideas that we access through the use of our minds and reason. That something is God.

What we can know about God has limits, but to know anything about God, we must employ reason. We cannot abandon it, as the square-circle challenge does. What things, then, can we know about God? We know that he must have certain perfections for the concept to make sense. As St. Anselm framed it, if you can conceive a being with powers greater than “god,” then you have not yet grasped the concept of God, for God is that being a greater than which cannot be conceived. This is the starting point.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the challenge. Let’s start with the square circle. To contend that God “should” be able to make a square circle, the skeptic has descended into the nonsensical. A square is a defined object consisting of straight lines and angles; it exists as an idea and whatever word is put to it, its essence remains that. A circle, by contrast, has neither straight lines nor angles. To suggest that God should be able to merge those two concepts is simply another way of asking if an object can be a square and not a square at the same time. It is stating a contradiction, and those who hold to a contradiction are acting irrationally. They have abandoned reason.

“But,” the challenger might persist, “Why would god not be able to bend reality in such a way that something we think would be impossible (in this this case a square circle) could be shown to us? Why can’t god defy logic in this way?”

This too is nonsensical. Reality describes the way things really are; fantasy, by contrast, is an imagined, unreal thing. In reality, “square” and “circle” are words we use to designate two different objects. Whatever sounds (words) we associate with these concepts, their essence remains the same. So, the question becomes why can’t God change the way things really are to make them the way things really are not? Again, this is little more than gibberish. Logic is not a force that controls God; it is a reflection of God’s nature. He would no more “defy” logic than he would defy himself. It is a part of what and who he is. So expecting him to depart from logic is another way, yet again, of asking a contradiction: can God be God and not God at the same time. Why can’t God change his nature to be “not-God.”

It is easy, of course, to continually ask “why” questions. Digging deep enough to realize what the questions say about the questioner takes a bit more work.

Posted by Al Serrato


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