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A Rock So Big He Can’t Move It

It seems kind of trite, but this was the first ‘challenge’ to my faith when I was a child. An older kid asked me if I thought god could do anything. I said, of course he can. Then the kid asked "Could He make a rock so big, that even He couldn’t move it?" This made my head explode. Prior to that moment, I had not even considered that there could be any contradiction to the faith which had been shoved down my throat before I was old enough to eat solid food.

But a post from olly over at 10,000 Reasons to Doubt the Fish this morning led me to recall that moment, and also to reflect on the age-old problem of defining god. I don’t think it can be done, because the concept of god is entirely man-made and subjective. Which is why it’s so destructive. The name of ‘God,’ ‘Allah,’ ‘Yahweh,’ ‘I AM THAT I AM’ can be invoked to serve any cause, no matter how wicked. I remember an old man named Al Wilman. Al was at CUT for a long time. He later left, and all he could talk about was how people wasted their life chasing their "man-made god." I think Al died about 10 years ago. I’m sorry he didn’t come to this realization earlier in his life.

So how do you define god?

Please go over to 10,000 Reasons to Doubt the Fish and join the discussion.

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Comments (28 comments)

Topher / October 31st, 2006, 12:54 pm / #1

This is a great example of using the logic that applies to the natural laws of the universe in showing how not only God is subjective, but the very idea of the definition of omnipotence flies against reason as well.

The rock question is similar to the Platonic dialogue Euthyphro. If God can create a rock so large he cannot move than he is not omnipotent.

If God cannot create a rock so large he cannot move, than again, he is not omnipotent.

The first one you have this so-called omnipotent diety create something that causes him to lose his omnipotence, thus he was not omnipotent in the first place.

The second example is that something, namely the power to create, is not within God to create something he cannot overcome, again proving that he is not omnipotent.

The faith follower will try to argue that these are just pesky “logical games” that serve nothing. But they cannot get out of the simple logic used in showing that omnipotence is illogical and impossible.

This leads to another problem for the theist, namely, the problem of evil in the face of God’s omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience. Most faith followers blindly adhere to a theodicy because they are unwilling to get rid of their god’s all-powerfullness.

olly / October 31st, 2006, 8:59 pm / #2

Sean, thanks again for the link! I’m going to post this here, since it’s a bit removed from the discussion over there, but I find it interesting that 38 comments into it, very few of the posters have actually tried to posit a good definition of God. Instead, I keep getting a variation on ‘God is essentially unknowable’.

Thanks again for linking, I had 500 hits in one day, which is unheard of for me!

-olly

BlackSun / October 31st, 2006, 9:59 pm / #3

Olly, no problem. I’m sure the 500 hits didn’t come from here, but congrats just the same. Good on you for getting some discussion going!

Dennis Fisher / November 1st, 2006, 8:41 am / #4

perhaps, God could make something or someone to move that rock for him.

Aaron Kinney / November 1st, 2006, 9:11 am / #5

I define God as a sexy woman with olive skin, straight jet black hair, a beautiful hourglass shape, sparkling eyes, radiant smile, and all around exotic beauty.

Basically, Catherine Zeta Jones.

Aaron Kinney / November 1st, 2006, 9:12 am / #6

Oh by the way,

God once DID make a rock so big that even he couldnt lift it.

And then Chuck Norris lifted that rock!

BlackSun / November 1st, 2006, 9:35 am / #7

Dennis, I like Aaron’s idea, that it was Chuck Norris. What do you think? ;-)

Aaron Kinney / November 1st, 2006, 10:02 am / #8

Hey Sean,

Olly inspired me to make a challenge of my own. And boy, is it a nasty one! I call it the “abrahamic test”.

Anyway, I decided to start promoting both challenges across the blogosphere. Take a look at this post here, where I summarize and link to both challenges:

http://goosetheantithesis.blogspot.com/2006/11/two-open-challenges-for-theists.html

Dale / November 1st, 2006, 12:08 pm / #9

Ah yes, your comment about how god can be invoked to serve any cause struck a chord with me.

Although it may be one of the more innocent invocations, this one makes me crazy!

Example: Someone on the news somehow survives a fall from a 10-story building or some other experience that should have been fatal.

Person that fell: “Well, I guess the good lord above was watching over me today.”

Me: “What about that 5-year-old child that was hit by a car and killed last week? Wouldn’t the good lord be watching over someone like that as well?”

Person that fell: “Well, we can’t possibly understand god’s reasons for the things he does. It’s all way beyond us and part of his plan.”

Makes me want to pull my hair out!

Aaron Kinney / November 1st, 2006, 2:09 pm / #10

Good point Dale!

How about when a baby gets born with his/her heart OUTSIDE their chest cavity? It happens more often than you think!

“I guess God was looking out for them in His own mysterious way”

And they act like WE dont “get it”!!

Lets count the hits, and THEN COUNT THE MISSES TOO! :D

BlackSun / November 1st, 2006, 11:51 pm / #11

Great points, all.

@Topher, I’ll have to check out the Platonic dialog you referred to.

@Aaron, you really got people going with that Abraham test. Good one.

@Dale, another one I always like is how football teams always pray before games. If both teams are praying equally earnestly, and both have equal ’spiritual purity,’ who does god help?

Dennis Fisher / November 2nd, 2006, 8:40 am / #12

Sean, Maybe the “Rock so Big” question has to do with Can the Creator Create something greater then himself? And the answer is no. I don’t find that a paradox.

BlackSun / November 2nd, 2006, 9:23 am / #13

@Dennis, but this still leaves unanswered the question of who created the creator. If he didn’t do it himself, then there has to be another, and another. We end up in the same infinite loop we were talking about before.

And, why, in an infinitely large universe, is there only one creator. And what does that guy do on his day off? Is there another universe he goes and looks after then?

It may sound silly to talk about the creator’s day off, but that’s where we got the whole sabbath thing. “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.” If a creator is infinite, and can do anything, he doesn’t need a day off. But as soon as we start talking about limits, this formerly infinite creator starts looking more and more like a human–kind of along the lines of the greek gods.

Dennis Fisher / November 2nd, 2006, 11:12 am / #14

Sean, i did not intend to answer all those questions but just demonstrate how a seemingly complex question has a simple answer.

I do not know all the answers to your questions but will take a guess at some of then, for kicks and giggles.

1. Who created the Creator?

It could be that God doesn’t need to be “caused”. and according to eastern philosophy God is a “uncaused being’ Time and Space is his creation. Cause and Effect only occurs in time and space. We think the universe is a very big place but maybe God thinks the universe is not so big.

2. The bible and the sabbath thing. haha Well, the bible was written by man in my opinion and yes even a woman but hey, we are all human beings and even the best and brightest of us through out time have got it wrong once or twice. The sabbath thing could be that Mose or who ever wrote that part of book believed that God might have needed a day off. I feel that the
bible is full of bogus information about Creation and the Creator.

Don’t let the bible destroy you personal relationship with God.

olly / November 2nd, 2006, 4:13 pm / #15

“Sean, Maybe the “Rock so Big” question has to do with Can the Creator Create something greater then himself? And the answer is no. I don’t find that a paradox.”

Dennis, the ‘rock so big’ analogy was created in response to those that claim God is All-Powerful. If God is all-powerful, he should be able to do anything, so if he creates a rock he can’t lift, and then he’s unable to lift it, he can’t do something. If he CAN’T create a rock he can’t lift, then he can’t do something. In either way, he’s not all-powerful.

-olly

BlackSun / November 2nd, 2006, 6:19 pm / #16

@olly, thanks for that clarification.

@dennis, my personal relationship with what you call god is probably closer to mysticism than anything. But I reject mysticism’s elevation of the unknown and unknowable. Everything can and should ultimately be known.

The entire universe seems to be essentially a computational device. All knowledge in the universe, including the nature of its origins, is contained within matter. Given the right tools, we can unlock these mysteries.

For me it is the unlocking of natural mysteries that is my relationship to what you might call god. I don’t see any virtue in making assumptions about the nature of existence, when we have the records right in front of us–and we know the method whereby we can learn how to read them.

Dennis Fisher / November 3rd, 2006, 8:57 am / #17

Sean I looked up “mysticism” because i was not sure of your meaning of the “unknown and unknowable” still don’t. Perhaps, it has to do with so much of every aspect of life is unknown.

Mysticism from the Greek μυστικός (mystikos) “an initiate” (of the Eleusinian Mysteries, μυστήÏ?ια (mysteria) meaning “initiation”[1]) is the pursuit of achieving communion or identity with, or conscious awareness of, ultimate reality, the divine, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, or insight; and the belief that such experience is an important source of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

I feel i too fall into this camp of “mysticism”. I really like the “direct experience” part. Because unless you have a direct experience with God the reality of God is unclear. One method of the American Indians on having a direct experience with God or the “Great Spirit” is going on a “Vision Quest”. In Yoga it is by meditation. Interesting, that in meditation
you calm the mind and reach out with your spiritual senses. It seems that the mind and Matter are in the way.

BlackSun / November 3rd, 2006, 11:33 am / #18

@Dennis, I think there is an important role for meditation and direct experience, as you say. It’s a part of a healthy approach to life. Meditation can help us train our minds and be more relaxed and disciplined in our thinking.

But we cannot confuse our interior subjective process with a perception or connection to a larger reality. When we close our eyes and shut down our senses in meditation, what we experience is the feedback from our own brain. Andrew Newberg gives a detailed description of this in “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Briefly, the OAA, an area of the brain responsible for our localization and sense of spatial relationships shuts down. This gives rise to the feeling of oneness and “non-locality.” But we are still strictly talking about a subjective experience.

When I refer to the knowing of the universe, I am talking about from an objective standpoint.

Re: unknown and unknowable, mystics often take pride in the fact that their explorations cannot be described in words. They use terms like “ineffable.” They seek to avoid what they call “reductionism” whereby profound experiences are deconstructed and explained. They feel, for instance the knowing how ‘love’ or ’spiritual’ experiences work in terms of body and brain chemistry in some way cheapens the experience.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Dennis Fisher / November 6th, 2006, 9:32 am / #19

Olly, I said “Maybe the “Rock so Big” question has to do with Can the Creator Create something greater then himself? And the answer is no. I don’t find that a paradox.

You Said. “Dennis, the ‘rock so big’ analogy was created in response to those that claim God is All-Powerful. If God is all-powerful, he should be able to do anything, so if he creates a rock he can’t lift, and then he’s unable to lift it, he can’t do something. If he CAN’T create a rock he can’t lift, then he can’t do something. In either way, he’s not all-powerful.

Olly, Consider This..

Can God do the logically impossible? Can he make square circles, and he can make 2 + 2 = 5?

Maybe, God is able to do anything possible, but not anything impossible, and creating a stone that God cannot lift is something impossible.

olly / November 8th, 2006, 11:03 am / #20

@Dennis:

A bit of a late reply, perhaps, but if you are going to say that God is limited by logical possibilities, then you are forced into doing what no one could do on my challenge at my blog: describe God as an active entity within the limits of logic. Besides which, the question at hand ‘Can God create a rock he can’t lift’ was in response to the idea held by most Abrahamic theists that God is ‘All-Powerful’. The point of the question is to show that ‘All-powerful’ is an internally illogical idea… it’s impossible to be all-powerful within the confines of logic.

-olly

Joseph / November 22nd, 2006, 2:18 pm / #21

The question “Can God create a rock so big He cannot move?” is not a logical question to begin with and it amounts to asking ” Can God overcome or defeat Himself?” Of course no, it is a nonsense question.
This question is similar to this one “Can God terminate or put an end to Himself?” No, He cannot. God by definition is the first cause by which everything came to be, that cause cannot terminate itself and cannot defeat or overcome itself.

Joseph.

Patrick / March 24th, 2007, 10:32 am / #22

I think you guys really need to take a look at the BOOK OF JOB (but make sure you read a worthy translation like the Scheindlin or Edwin Good). I’m writing my enablement essay on the question of theodicy in JOB. It really speaks to the question of the innocent suffering and the inherent paradoxes contained in the concept of omnipotence and goodness. Man may understand omnipotence, but not in a way such that it is knowable, much like beholding The One in Plotinus’ THE GOOD OR THE ONE and from Plato’s PARMENIDES. Instead, man may glimpse such things and have a moment of revelation, but will immediately be cast back down from his understanding. It is a mistake to look at God and try to justify Him according to a moral framework, or even a logical one. After all, you would never accuse the lion of being unjust for killing the lamb; it just doesn’t apply. These questions of justice and morality are not Christian ideas, but philosophical ones. Oh, and someone previously posted that God as an uncaused cause is an Eastern tenet; I would have him read Plato’s Timmeaus or Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

BlackSun / March 24th, 2007, 10:52 am / #23

Patrick,

The fact that people even have to worry about things like theodicy is the problem. These are artificial constructs made up to justify the unjustifiable, namely the concept of a supreme intelligence or designer in a random and amoral universe.

The idea that:

man may glimpse such things and have a moment of revelation, but will immediately be cast back down from his understanding

is getting dangerously close to eastern mysticism–the concept that certain things are off-limits, or cannot be known. This would be simple nonsense if it were not so often used as a rhetorical device to keep areas of inquiry safely out of reach.

God as the uncaused cause is the big daddy of these artificial paradoxes. I don’t care whether they have been posed by Buddhist monks or Plato or Aristotle. These historic thinkers were limited by their era. They did not have the tools at their disposal we have today. They cannot compete with the type of knowledge provided by modern science. And no, they are not commenting on separate realms: there is only one natural universe (multiverse, whatever) and any claims about god are claims about that universe.

Theologians will spend their lives unraveling these artificial and ancient conundrums, while the rest of us will follow the scientists as they expand our understanding.

Frost / March 20th, 2008, 11:50 am / #24

As to the question as to whether God could create a rock that he couldn’t move I answer no he couldn’t. Why?
If I understand correctly it took God 6 days to make the universe so if he was to make a rock a billion times the size of the universe it should take him 6 billion days to make it. After finally making it he would of course move it with easy. So he would make a rock a billion times larger than that rock and … move it with easy.

So I don’t believe God could make a rock that he couldn’t move because he would never finish making the rock. The rocks creation would take infinite.

Thoughts?

BlackSun / March 20th, 2008, 12:08 pm / #25

Frost,

OK, then, you have just shifted the problem. If God is omnipotent, then he should be able to create such a rock immediately. Why would he be so weak that it would take him that much time?

The 6 day creation story is also just made up. It has no bearing on the discussion.

Cristy / March 21st, 2008, 10:15 pm / #26

Some people define omnipotence as the power to do anything that is possible (ie logically possible). This definition is used by quite a few philosophers, including Spinoza and Leibniz. This version of God holds that everything that God does or is must be logically consistent. The Stone Paradox (philosophical name of this rock argument) does not contradict omnipotence in that case. However, it takes care of anyone who claims that God is above logic or that God can do the logically impossible.

Alex / March 22nd, 2008, 9:53 pm / #27

Cristy, a changed definition used by only a few (those who know better than to use the lay definition) still leaves those who use the older definition vulnerable to the counter-argument to it. Nevermind that any sort of omnipotence which has limitations isn’t omnipotence, merely potence.

Basically, the problem with things like Omniscience or Omnipotence (in the classic sense) is that there is no restrictions upon them. No piece of information, technique, or solution to a problem can be considered secret, no act cannot be performed. Add this in with the claim of perfect morality, and you get the Epicurean problem, because the theoretical being would have the knowledge, ability, and motivation to correct any suffering or harm, but mysteriously doesn’t.

Frost / March 24th, 2008, 8:08 am / #28

Hey Blacksun,

Thanks for your response. I guess a problem would be in the definition of omnipotent. Can he do the logically impossible? My question would be, how can God make a rock that is infinite in size instantly? Whatever he made could be bigger the next second. So logically, He couldn’t finish making the rock.

Or do you say that omnipotent means the ability to do the logically impossible such as making 2+2=5?

Thanks.

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