Could God Create Boulder so Heavy that Even He Could Not Lift It?

Could God create a boulder so heavy that even He could not lift it? Perhaps you are already familiar with the question but, if you have never encountered it, the reasoning goes like this:

The Christian God is said to be All-Good, All-Powerful, Everywhere, and Knowing Everything (or if you want to sound very intelligent you could say that the Christian God is said to be omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient). For the above stated question, let us look at specifically at God’s characteristic of being All-Powerful, or omnipotent. The argument goes as follows:

  1. God is all-powerful
  2. If God is all-powerful, then God should be able to create a boulder so heavy that He could not lift it.
  3. If God is all-powerful, then He should be able to lift any boulder.
  4. God cannot both create the boulder he could not lift and lift any boulder.
  5. Therefore God is not all-powerful

It seems the Christian has run into a dilemma concerning their understanding of God. What are we to make of this argument? Could God create a boulder so heavy that even He could not lift it? Given that I am rather analytically minded and consider myself a strong proponent of logic, I don’t find the answer that ‘God is mysterious and we cannot understand His ways’ to be the answer I want to give to the question. To clarify, I do believe that we, as humans, cannot understand God in His fullness at the present, however I also believe that God created us with intellect and reasoning for, well, a reason.

I find it quite interesting that Christians are often dismissed as shying away from critical thinking or seen  as being discouraged from being intellectual. If we look at the person of Jesus Christ, it is readily apparent that the guy was pretty smart. (Perhaps I’ll elaborate on that in another post, for now if you have doubts I recommend reading the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12). In addition to Jesus, the Book of Acts is filled with stories about the early apostles reasoning with the Jews and Gentiles about the veracity of Jesus being the Messiah. Outside of the Bible, there are many people who approach Christianity from a point of intellect. Names that quickly come to mind are Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Alvin Plantinga, and C.S. Lewis. Now I’m not saying that you necessarily agree with these thinkers, however I do think you would be hard-pressed to indicate that they lack critical thinking or intelligence when approaching Christianity.

alvin_plantinga
This is Alvin Plantinga, if you’ve never heard of him and want to know why he’s so great ask me! Or Google.

All that being said, I would like to use this gift of reasoning that God has given me and consider a logical answer for a Christian to have in response to the question, ‘Could God create a boulder so heavy that even He could not lift it?’ Here is my humble go at a response…

The problem, as I see it lies in the term all-powerful. What does it mean for God to be all-powerful? Does it mean that God is able to do anything?

For example, if God is all-powerful should he be able to make a round square? Warning: I’m going to tangent for a moment because I am a math nerd. If you hate math, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. For the ‘round square’ we are assuming Euclidean geometry, which is the geometry people typically learn in school. However, there are other kinds of geometry! If we were talking about Non-Euclidean geometry then the question would be less interesting because a spherical square is rounded, and two spherical squares are verifiably round in that should you put them together they would create a sphere. (See the picture below) In addition to being a math nerd, I point this out for another reason. Namely, it was a humbling moment for me to learn that there could be rounded (spherical) squares, so I like to remind myself that I don’t know everything and I should strive to keep my mind open even to things that seem impossible at first.

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 10.03.19 PM
A picture to accompany my above tangent on different kinds of squares.  This is from Wikipedia’s page on squares.

Okay, back to the point. A (Euclidean) square is, by definition, a geometrical figure with four equal sides (where a side is a straight line) and four ninety-degree angles. What would it mean for the square to be round? Does it mean that sides would be convex and curve like the outer edges of a sphere? No, that wouldn’t make sense because a square, by definition, has four, equal sides comprised of straight lines. Then perhaps for a square to be rounded would mean that there would no longer be sharp corners, but rather the straight lines of the sides would gracefully curve into one another? Well, no, that wouldn’t work either because a square, by definition again, has four ninety-degree angles.

What then does it mean for there to be a round square? Nothing. It means nothing, because it is an absurdity! Its non-sensical (to borrow a phrase from Jon Foreman). It is logically impossible. By definition a square cannot be round.

So, just in case you hate math and you totally zoned out when I mentioned Euclidean Geometry. Let us look at another example:

If God is all-powerful, should He be able to create a married bachelor?

If you tracked with the round square reasoning, you may have an idea about where there is going. By definition, a bachelor is a man who is not and has never been married. What then would it mean for God to create a married bachelor? Nothing. It means nothing, because it is an absurdity! Its non-sensical. It is logically impossible. By definition a bachelor cannot be married.

Here is the crux of the matter: Does being all-powerful mean that God should be able to create a logical inconsistency?

If we say yes, God should be able to create a logical inconsistency. Where does that leave us? I would venture that it leaves us in a place of absurdum. There can be no such thing as a round square or an unmarried bachelor. What would be the meaning of an object created of traits that are incapable of existing together? There would be no meaning in such an object beyond a string of incompatible adjectives. It is mere sophistry.

If we say no, being all-powerful does not mean that God should be able to create a logical inconsistency. Does that mean that we are limiting God and, in effect, restricting his boundless power? Are we somehow elevating the laws of logic above the almighty God? No, I don’t think we have grounds to say logic is above God, because God is himself the point of rationality and the limit of logic. The evidence of God being rational and logical is all around us. In fact, despite the sometimes-tense history of Christianity and science, there have been many scientific accomplishments that have arisen out of Christian beliefs. Adding to that, being made in the image of God means we are also able to see God’s intellect and reasoning reflected in our own human capacity of thought and logic.

Omnipotence_Paradox_Debunked
This cartoon gives the answer I’d like to avoid.  Although Henry Frankfurt once gave the following seemingly tongue-in-cheek response…

 For why should God not be able to perform the task in question? To be sure, it is a task—the task of lifting a stone which He cannot lift—whose description is self-contradictory. But if God is supposed capable of performing one task whose description is self-contradictory—that of creating the problematic stone in the first place—why should He not be supposed capable of performing another—that of lifting the stone? After all, is there any greater trick in performing two logically impossible tasks than there is in performing one?

At this point we have established that we can create literally meaningless questions in the form of, ‘Could God create some logical inconsistency?’ We have also considered the extent of God’s omnipotence and whether the inability to create a logical inconsistency somehow detracts from being the trait of being all-powerful. We now return to the original question:

Could God create a boulder so heavy that even He could not lift it?

The original argument rides on the assumption that God is all-powerful, so we will move forward with this premise intact. If God is all-powerful, then there cannot be a boulder that He could not lift. Therefore, because of God’s almighty power, by definition, all boulders must be able to be lifted by God. A boulder that God could not lift is like a rounded square, or an unmarried bachelor, it is a logical inconsistency. There is no meaning to be found in such a boulder. It is relegated to the land of absurdum.

And that is my logical look at the question.

I will throw in this caveat, suppose you disagree with me and you think that God should be able to create logical absurdities. In that case, I agree with you that the argument I first presented in this post deconstructs such a God’s omnipotence. However I also side with you in your following choice, should you make it, not to believe in such a God, for the God that I believe in is a rational God.

This ‘Omnipotence Paradox’ has been around for centuries. My answer is not the first attempt to resolve it, and in fact many more intelligent people have delved further into its nuances than my brief post here. My mathematical and philosophical background, my undergraduate philosophy advisor, and apparently C.S. Lewis influenced my thoughts on the question at some point. For more reading on this paradoxical question, the Wikipedia page is a good place to get a quick introduction on thoughts, responses, and objections.

Share with me:What do you think of the question? Could God create a boulder so heavy that even He could not lift it? Seriously, call me up, write me a note, send me a message or comment somewhere. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  1. The featured image for this post is from seesharppress.wordpress.com