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The Limits of Omnipotence

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/20/2015 Category: Religion
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 626 times Debate No: 68616
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (9)
Votes (1)




I maintain that an omnipotent deity is either:
(1) Limited by logic in what it can and cannot do or
(2) Utterly incomprehensible and thus unworthy of further consideration.

Round 1 shall be for acceptance only.
Rounds 2 and 3 shall be for presenting arguments and rebuttals.
Round 4 shall be for final rebuttals and conclusions. No new arguments in this round.

Burden of Proof is shared equally.


I accept.
Debate Round No. 1


Excellent! I'd like to thank Esiar for this opportunity to discuss a frequently overlooked topic in theology. I look forward to an interesting debate.

Back in the day deities used their powers sustainably. The lightnings of Zeus and thunders of Thor were very impressive, Pele's eruptions had actual fire and brimstone and a variety of nature gods and goddesses made the crops grow. They fought incessantly but they all had the good sense not to try and be all-powerful.

Then came the theological arms race that is monotheism and all-mighty gods became necessary. This stems from this simple fact that if you're a follower of The One True God then it simply doesn't do to have some smelly goat-herder brag about how his god can lift more oxen than your god can. Especially if you're a smelly goat-herder too. The unfortunate result was that people from the "Because we have the biggest army!" school of philosophy who had to remove their sandals to count above ten went and added infinity to their gods.

I've always thought that if God were all-powerful he'd at least be limited to exercising power in logical and sensible ways. It's a pretty dim-witted deity that arm-wrestles itself by trying to make rocks so big that it can't lift them. There is at least some dim hope for an all-powerful-within-the-limits-of-reason God as outlined above.

If God's power extends to committing paradoxical acts then it is entirely beyond our comprehension and unworthy of any further consideration. God may be beyond the rules of logic but you and I and the rest of the universe are not. To comprehend a God that could commit a paradox we would have to believe two contradictory axioms and any logical system that contains contradictory axioms suffers the principle of explosion [1].

The principle of explosion is actually fairly simple. If a logical system holds any two contradictory axioms then it can be used to derive anything, including more contradictions. It explodes, hence the name. Let A represent any old axiom, it doesn't matter which. In this case, "The sky is blue." Now, if a logical system holds both A and Not A as true then it's true that "The sky is blue." and "The sky is not blue." Now add another axiom. Again, it doesn't matter which one. In this case let's let SCE represent "Santa Claus Exists." Now for the explosion.

- (A or SCE) is true. We know this because A is true.

- However, A is also false.

- Thus since (A or SCE) is true then SCE must be true.

- QED, Santa Claus Exists! (and a ding-dong merrily on high.)

It should be fairly obvious why contradictory axioms and the principle of explosion are to be avoided when one is trying to understand a deity, figure out one's place in the grand scheme of things or derive a moral code. It's worse than that though. Using the principle of explosion we can prove that God does not exist with the same ease that we can show that Santa does. Any deity that can commit contradiction is unknowable to the mortal mind.

The single possible exception to this would be a deity that is capable of paradox but conceals that from us. This deity would have omnipotence unbound by the rules of logic but would be indistinguishable to us from a deity that was constrained by logic and so is the same thing for the purposes of this or any discussion.

Thus, either an omnipotent deity is limited by logic in what it can and cannot do or it is utterly incomprehensible and thus unworthy of any further consideration.

In anticipation of Esiar's reply I have a question for him for next round. Can God elevate a mere mortal to status greater than his own? Could God make a person into an even-more-omnipotent God?

Yes, I know that looks foolish but that's what happens when you start trying to describe contradictions using the English language.


[1] Gary Hayden's Popular Philosophy Blog - The Principle of Explosion



To say omnipotence has limits is a logical contradiction, if one wants to speak of that.

Definition of omnipotent: Having unlimited power; able to do anything.
Definition of unlimited: Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.

Unlimited & Anything include things that contradict. If an omnipotent being cannot do something that logically contradicts itself, then that only being that the being isn't actually omnipotent.

God created logic, therefore he is not under the laws of logic, therefore he can do things that logic wouldn't allow.

Here's an example: An 80's computer couldn't possibly run everything a modern computer could.

Here's another example: If there are people that live in a 2D World, they are under the rules of that world. They could not comprehend anything outside of a 2D world, and some would even say that 3D (A thing not bound by the laws of the 2D world) doesn't exist, and give their reasoning based upon the established laws of the 2D world (Some people do this with 4D)[1]. But, there is a bigger picture, in which both 2D and 3D exist, even though the people in the 2D world couldn't wrap their heads around it.

We live in a logical world, and we are under the rules of logic. We cannot comprehend anything that does not fit within logic, and some people use logic to show that omnipotence (something not bound by logic) is impossible. There is a bigger picture, in which a logic world and something not bound by logic (An omnipotent being) both exist.
Debate Round No. 2


Omnipotent: All-powerful. Not necessarily unlimited or infinite power.

Infinity doesn't do math well and can cause havoc with logic. Visit Hotel Infinity for an example [2]. Best avoid infinity in your theology.

I concede everything else my opponent has said in Round 2 as he's done a decent job of supporting my argument. My resolution is that:

An omnipotent deity is either:

(1) Limited by logic in what it can and cannot do or

(2) Utterly incomprehensible and thus unworthy of further consideration.

My opponent has done an admirable job of arguing against position (1) while arguing for position (2).

Let's take that 30 year-old computer and try running Windows 7 on it. "Hard drive"?!? What's that? "64-bit operating system"?!? As I say above, utterly incomprehensible. And this is just a small technological gap that we could overcome, if we really wanted to.

The Paramecium that Won the Debate

Let's use a more realistic analogy between us and the infinite. We'll sign up one of the paramecia on my desk top on DDO. You argue that "God created logic", the paramecium replies "Mmmm... Dead skin cells." It doesn't matter how long you wait or how hard either you or the paramecium tries. It will never even know that there's a debate going on, much less what the debate is about. And this analogy is still a finite gap between us and a paramecium. The gap between us and the infinite is infinitely larger, infinitely less comprehensible to us.

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Reduction to Absurdity

Sadly, my opponent didn't answer my question from last round regarding whether God can elevate a mere mortal to status greater than his own. Seeing as how "Unlimited & Anything" includes this perverse notion I'll just take it for granted. Any claim to the contrary will be a limit on omnipotence.

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God [3], first stated by St. Anselm of Canterbury in 1078 and refined by such worthies as Descartes, Leibniz and Godel runs as follows:

(P1) God is the greatest being which can be imagined.

(P2) God exists as an idea in the mind.

(P3) All else being equal, a being that exists in reality is greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.

(P4) If God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God, a greatest possible being that exists in reality.

(P5) We cannot imagine something that is greater than God because it is a contradiction to imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.

(C) God must exist in reality.

Congratulations on invalidating the first premise and invalidating the Ontological Argument. The howling horde of apologists that will shortly break down your door is actually the least of your worries. We need not use just any random mortal for elevation to super-deity status. We can use a specific one. Me. Substituting my new name for God's:

(P1) Uber-Paleophyte is the greatest being which can be imagined.

Keep substituting my name into the Ontological Argument in place of God's and Voila!

(C) Uber-Paleophyte exists!

By blending the contradictions inherent in unlimited power with the Ontological Argument we have proven that

I am now God. Kindly Vote Accordingly.

If it'll make you happier I can violate a little causality while I'm here and become the Uncaused Cause.

This is the sort of foolishness that logic degenerates into when you invoke the infinite. It's why any smart philosopher avoids the stuff like the plague.

Conclusion: While it is possible that a deity might have the power to commit paradox, the explosive nature of the logical contradictions lead to absurdities. Even the existence of such an entity would be indeterminate. It is incomprehensible and unworthy of further consideration.

[2] The Infinite Hotel Paradox - Jeff Dekofsky

[3] Anselm: Ontological Argument for God's Existence



I see your point, but your conclusion is completely ridiculous. The rules of the Universe haven't always existed (Because the Universe itself hasn't always existed), so there must be something/one that is not under the limits of logic, time, mater, etc. that exist. It's silly to say a being that can contradict itself is not worth consideration, because you are using your own human logic and applying it to a God that is unaffected by it.
Debate Round No. 3


"It's silly to say a being that can contradict itself is not worth consideration, because you are using your own human logic and applying it to a God that is unaffected by it."

No, I'm applying human logic to the limitations of humans. God may exist and may well be worthy of consideration, but because of the limitations of us mere mortals we can't be the ones to do the considering.

When we attempt to contemplate the infinite, when we apply out reason to topics not limited by reason, we have no chance of actually understanding it. The paramecia living in the dust in the air intake of my computer have a better chance of comprehending this debate. That gap is merely finite.

The topic isn't unworthy of consideration because it isn't important. It's unworthy of consideration because we are incapable.


I have demonstrated that a deity that is capable of paradoxical behavior results in explosive logic leading to logical absurdity, at least in the minds of us mere mortals. Thus, my resolution is supported.

An omnipotent deity is either:
(1) Limited by logic in what it can and cannot do or
(2) Utterly incomprehensible and thus unworthy of further consideration.

I would like to thank Esiar for participating in this debate. It has been a pleasure.


"I have demonstrated that a deity that is capable of paradoxical behavior results in explosive logic leading to logical absurdity, at least in the minds of us mere mortals. Thus, my resolution is supported."
I am saying that, 1) It isn't a paradox in the eyes of God, and 2) Your conclusion is ridiculous because you cannot bound God by human logic.
Debate Round No. 4
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by Ragnar 1 year ago
Yes the 2D universe gaining no merit from 3D considerations, does not rule out the existence of 3D beings; but for the 2D is seems a worthless pursuit.
Posted by Esiar 1 year ago

"if they logically cannot wrap their heads around the 3D universe, it's not worth considering."
In their minds, 3D can't exist, similar to how in our minds an "Illogical" world cannot exist. It's not worth considering for them, but there is a bigger picture from their perspective.

Anyways, omnipotence can have no limits. Anything means ANYTHING, which includes things we can't wrap our heads around. No matter what argument one can give, you would have to change the definition of omnipotence to say omnipotence has limits.
Posted by Paleophyte 1 year ago
Might make for an interesting contrast on power vs. will.
Posted by Ragnar 1 year ago
I wrote a paper for theology class on a similar notion, with a very different conclusion. The idea was that if God loves us (or for that matter is in general 'good'), God can no longer be truly omnipotent. Using a real world analogy, a parent may violently murder their children without provocation, but if they are a good parent who loves their children, they no longer have the power to do that.
Posted by Esiar 1 year ago
In other words, why should you not believe in a God you can't comprehend? Of course a mortal cannot understand God Almighty.
Posted by Esiar 1 year ago
Omnipotence can contradict itself because it exist outside the laws of logic. If it couldn't contradict itself, it wouldn't be omnipotence.
Posted by Smithereens 1 year ago
But you can limit omnipotence, since omnipotence can't contradict itself, it can't be something that contradicts itself.
Posted by Esiar 1 year ago
What he said
Posted by XVIII18 1 year ago
You cannot limit omnipotence, that statement contradicts itself COMPLETELY.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ragnar 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Con pretty much only offered circular reasoning, while accidently (as was caught) arguing in favor of the resolution. Pro on the other had had numerous sourcea to expand his logic in different ways, to support the resolution, all while not shying away from a little comedy.The 2D world point really sealed this one for me: if they logically cannot wrap their heads around the 3D universe, it's not worth considering.