Can God make a rock so big that even God can’t move it?
Think about that for a moment; it’s a tricky question. If you answer “yes, God can make such a rock,” then you’re going to have to explain why God’s inability to move the rock doesn’t constitute a lack of omnipotence. If, on the other hand, you’re going to say “no, God can’t make a rock so big that even God can’t move it,” then you’re again forced into explaining why God’s inability to make such a rock doesn’t constitute a lack of omnipotence. Ouch!
Yes, this is a tricky question ... it is tricky because it is a trick question. The question is designed to pit God’s omnipotence against itself in a contradictory framework of creation and manipulation. It is specifically designed to try and invalidate omnipotence altogether by forcing God to work at least two contradictory and competing actions at the same time. In this way it is precisely like asking:
“Can God make triangles that are round?”
“Can God make circles that have 4 equal sides
at 90 degree angles to each other?”
“Can God kill Godself?”
Some people take great joy in saying that, if God lacks the ability to do any of these things, then God isn’t omnipotent. They believe that a lack of power in any of these areas constitutes an invalidation of God’s omnipotence. If this were as far as their argument ran, it would be ridiculous enough, but they don’t leave it here. In an example of arrogance that leaves even me speechless, they frequently go on to assert that: “Since the Christian God is universally described as being omnipotent, that God cannot exist!”
Anyone who thinks about these questions for a while can see the flaw inherent in each. In the first one God is asked to make round triangles ... totally disregarding the fact that triangles aren’t, by their very nature as geometric shapes, round. The demand that God create round triangles is a demand for God to work ontological nonsense. So also with the second question: a circle with 4 equal sides that are at 90 degree angles to each other isn’t, by pure definition, a circle – we call such geometric objects squares. Likewise for the third question: one of God’s essential attributes is “being.” God simply cannot not be. Non-existence is not an option for God, and this isn’t due to any lack of God’s ability or power, but due entirely to what it means for God to be God. As I have already pointed out, God is. Hence, God – by pure definition of what it means to be God – cannot kill Godself.
The long and short of it is that these kinds of questions demand that God work contradictory nonsense; they demand that God produce or do something which violates the very nature of things. Since round triangles are not triangles but circles, such are not ontologically possible. This kind of observation doesn’t seem to reach such critics, however. The response I have most frequently received to my observations can be characterized by the taunt: “But, if God can’t or won’t make round triangles, then God can’t do everything!”
Their claim is illogical. Demanding that God work logical nonsense, and then judging God to not be omnipotent because God doesn’t (or “can’t”), is, itself, illogical. The same is true with the question about God making a rock so big that God cannot move it. Nevertheless, there is a possible answer to this question which I have found helpful. It takes a bit of imagination to comprehend the conditions which enable a satisfactory response, but the exercise is worth the effort – if only for the joy of seeing crossed-eyes! Here goes!
For a rock to be so large that God couldn’t move it there would have to be no place in time or space to move it to. In other words, by pure definition of omnipotence, the limitation upon manipulation must be located not in God’s ability to move the rock, but in the nature of the universe. The universe is spatially and temporally finite; hence a rock that filled it would leave no place for it to be moved to