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June 21, 2010


The funny thing about that is that Dawkins agreed later in the book that omnipotence does not include the ability to do the logically impossible.

Where is that in the book?

Dawkins is a poor philosopher and should not even begin to touch theology. As smart as people seem to think he is, he's not smart enough to know when he is stepping out of his knowledge base. I would not argue against him on some point in zoology, why can he not know his limits

At least one apologist has argued otherwise.

"If an omnipotent being can do what is logically impossible, then he can not only create situations which he cannot handle but also, since he is not bound by the limits of consistency, he can handle situations which he cannot handle."
- Henry Frankfurt claiming God create a stone too heavy for Him to lift in "The Logic of Omnipotence".

I don't know if Frankfurt adapted the argument in order to let God change his mind but it seems like he could have.


RonH, I'll see if I can find the reference for you.

I agree with Frankfurt. If God is not even limited by logic, then he can be all powerful even if he is not all powerful.

RonH, the closest thing I can find is on page 178 where Dawkins, after quoting Richard Swinburne, said, "Swinburne generously concedes that God cannot accomplish feats that are logically impossible, and one feels grateful for this forbearance." That may be where I got the idea that Dawkins was agreeing that omnipotence means the ability to do all things logically possible. Swinburne had said, "And theism postulates for its one cause, a person [with] infinite power (God can do anything logically possible)..." If this is where I got the idea, I'm not so sure I was right after all since although Dawkins agrees God could not do the logically impossible, he doesn't explicitly agree that God could be omnipotent without that ability. But maybe there's somewhere else in the book where he made that concession. I do remember getting that impression the first time I read it.

Seems like Dawkins has an incorrect understanding of both terms as they related to God, rather than a logical contradiction. I also don't see any reason to believe that in having an inability to changes one's mind, would follow that one is not all powerful.

On the contrary, it seems that the being who needs to change his mind if the change is to correct previously eronious (sp) thinking would be the being that is not all-powerful, or at least not omnipotent, like the god depicted by some open theists.

I find your case to be coherent, succinct and biblical. You don't mention it, but Numbers 23:19 specifically adds the notion of "the truth" and "the lie" to this discussion. That is, scripture deliberately pairs the idea of "what is and what is not" with the idea of a "changing mind".

The other theme in the verse is the "accomplishment of the word". The essence of God being spirit, and the word being the instrument of spiritual power, God's agency depends on ontological consistency: God creates what he commands and commands what he creates. This makes sense of such verses as "I am the way and the truth and the life".

"God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?"

as a PS to the last:

Perhaps, if it's not too much trouble, you could address an issue that I find difficult - the distinction between God "relenting" and God "changing his mind". I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

Exodus 32:14 (NAS):

"So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people."

Numbers 14 (NAS)

12 "I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they."

[Moses speaks for several versus]
20 So the LORD said, "I have pardoned them according to your word…"

I hope that most folks here understand that being able to do that which is a logical impossibility is not an issue of power that omnipotence addresses.

No one, God included, can change the future from the way it in fact will be to some different way. That's a contradiction, which is a kind of nonsense. As C.S. Lewis put it in The Problem of Pain, "meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can.'"

However, many individuals, God included, can change the future from the way it would have become had they acted differently to the way it in fact will be.

What Dawkins' 'paradox' seems to involve is that fact that an omnipotent being cannot change the future in the former, incoherent, sense. But God is perfectly able to change the future in the latter coherent sense...omniscient or not.

Imagine the usual picture of the open future as a system of branching passages. It may well be the case that some individual knows what path he will take through the passages. This does not cause the passageways to close or disappear. Why should it? The individual still faces a choice when he reaches a fork.

For all that, of course, no individual can make it the case that he changes the path that he in fact takes through the passages to some different path (whether he knows which path he takes or not). The most anyone can pull off is to change the path from the path he would have taken had he chosen differently to the path he in fact takes.

BTW-The idea that, for each person, there is at most one path that he, in fact, takes through the system of branching passages is evident from the fact that contrary propositions cannot both be true. The proposition "X takes path 1" is contrary to the propositions "X takes path 2", "X takes path 3", "X takes path 4", and so on.

And the idea that there is at least one path that an individual takes through the branching passages is evident from the fact that the branching passages are assumed to exhaust the logical possibilities for future choices. If there were some possibility not included in the system of passages, it is simply to be added.

So, for each individual, there is at most and at least one pathway that he takes through the branching system of passages we call time. Another way to put this is that for each individual, there is exactly one path.

Dawkins' 'paradox' is, at its core, assuming that this single-path-through time implies fatalistic necessity. It does nothing of the kind. The fact that a person follows exactly one path does not imply that he cannot follow another. It only implies that he does not follow another. And, of course, it makes no difference to X's options that the individual knows which path he takes.

Another thing to consider is that God has omniscience, but might choose not to exercise it. Consider, for example, when Adam names all the creatures. God knows what names Adam will give to the creatures, but God could hide that knowledge from Himself so he could share in the wonder and delight experienced by Adam when he encounters each creature.

If humans enjoy being told a story without knowing the ending first, God might enjoy the same kind of thing.


Humans feel surprise when something happens that they did not expect.

It's not perfectly obvious that an unexpected event is a logical requirement of surprise. God might be able to be surprised by events that He fully expects. If so, there's no need for God to hide knowledge from Himself in order to enjoy the end of a story.

God is the cause, we are the effect, including what we think, will and do, whether good or bad. Since the effect emanates from God's perfection, any change would involve imperfection. Therefore the future is as unchangeable as the past.


If you allow the possibility that humans can feel surprise when something happens that is not something that they did not expect, it would seem to be nothing special that God could feel surprise when something happens that is not something that he did not expect.

Dave, Johnnie-

Sorry I haven't replied to your posts. I've been swamped lately. Hope your still following this thread. If not, I'm sure we'll have a chance to mix it up in later threads.

Let me start with Dave (I'll get to your remarks Johnnie in a follow-up post).

"God is the cause, we are the effect, including what we think, will and do, whether good or bad."

Remember that the issue of this thread is whether God's omniscience is compatible with His omnipotence. We're not here discussing just any form of theological fatalism, but theological fatalism applied to God Himself.

"Since the effect emanates from God's perfection, any change would involve imperfection. Therefore the future is as unchangeable as the past."

The fact that any change would result from imperfect doesn't imply that God cannot change the future (in the coherent sense of changing the future). It doesn't even imply that God cannot change the past. On my view that is perfectly within God's power (so I agree with you that "the future is as unchangeable as the past", but probably not for the same reasons). The only thing that we know is that God doesn't change them.

Now Johnnie-

"the possibility that humans can feel surprise when something happens that is not something that they did not expect"

I'm not sure that I don't know what that doesn't mean. ;-)

My earlier point was just that the pleasurable experience of surprise is something we associate through habitual experience with discovery of the unexpected. There is no necessary connection between the two, but a psychological connection that our psyche's make because of the accidents of our life experiences.

The fact that we all make these connections is not the result of some underlying relationship between discovery of the unexpected and surprise. Rather, it's the result of the fact that the life experiences of human beings are all similar in this respect.

And to finish the point as I should have in my prior post, Johnnie, there is no reason to think that God's life experiences have caused Him to psychologically link surprise to discovery of the unexpected. Quite the opposite in fact. He is in control of what psyche's do (human psyche's of course, but His own as well).

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