Does omnipotence mean “able to create square-circles” etc.?

  • Scholars/philosophers unanimously say “No”

    Academic philosophers have long agreed that omnipotence does not in any way mean the ability to do what is logically impossible.

    Testimony from renowned ATHEIST professors of philosophy:

    • Patrick Grim (Atheist professor at Stonybrook): “Here Aquinas' response has been influential: that what omnipotence requires is the ability to perform any task, and ‘create a square circle’ does not specify a genuine task. Quite generally, it can be held, contradictory specifications fail to specify anything―precisely because they are contradictory―rather than specifying something of a peculiarly contradictory type. If so, contradictory task specifications fail to designate genuine tasks, and thus fail to designate tasks required of any omnipotent being. With regard to contradictory specifications, at least, God and omnipotence are off the hook.” [The Cambridge Companion to Atheism ed. Martin (Cambridge, 2007), 200.]
    • J. L. Mackie (Atheist professor at Oxford): “A logical contradiction is not a state of affairs which it is supremely difficult to produce, but only a form of words which fails to describe any state of affairs. So to say, as we are now saying, that ‘God is omnnipotent’ means ‘God can do or make to be X, for any X provided doing X or making X to be is not logically impossible’ would be to say that if God is omnipotent every coherently describable activity or production is within his power.” [“Omnipotence” Sophia 1 (1962): 16.]
    • Anthony Kenny (Agnostic professor at Oxford): “A being is omnipotent if it has every power which it is logically possible to possess. … Aquinas's own account is tantamount to the proposal that the omnipotence of God is the ability to do whatever is logically possible.” [The God of the Philosophers (Oxford, 1987), 94-95.]
    • Michael Martin (Atheist philosophy professor at Boston): “If God is omnipotent, He could have actualized any logically possible world,” [Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990), 374.]
    • Nicholas Everette (Atheist professor at Sussex): “Let us turn then to the concept of omnipotence. What does it mean to say of any being that it is omnipotent? Here is one natural definition that seems initially obvious: Definition 1  X is omnipotent = X can do everything. Some writers have accepted this simple definition. Descartes, for example, thought that God could even do something which was inconsistent with the laws of logic. God could have made the universe in such a way that 2 + 2 = 5, or triangles had four sides. … But most writers have also thought (again surely correctly) that this is not a genuine incapacity or limitation in God’s power, since this does not imply that there is (as it were) a realm of the do-able from which God is excluded. To say that something is logically impossible is precisely to exclude it from the realm of the do-able. So to say that God cannot do what is logically impossible is not to say that his power is limited in any way. This leads us naturally to a second understanding of divine omnipotence: Definition 2   X is omnipotent = X can do everything which it is logically possible to do.” [The Non-Existence of God (Routledge, 2004), 258.]
    • Jordan Howard Sobel (Atheist/Agnostic professor at Toronto): “An Omnipotent being b would at one time or another (or in one interval or another) be capable of doing any universal action a such that (i) it is logically possible that a should be done by someone, and (ii) b's doing a would not need to be a case of b's doing some universal action a' where this is a 'general impossibility' (as defined in Section 2.3).” [Logic and Theism (Cambridge, 2004), 358.]

    Testimony from standard texts in the Philosophy of Religion:

    • An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion: “O is omnipotent if and only if O can actualize any logically possible states of affairs.” [Michael Murray, Michael Rea (Cambridge, 2008), 19.]
    • Introducing Philosophy of Religion: “Most philosophers have not agreed with Descartes on this point and have qualified the claim ‘God can do anything whatsoever’ with a nuanced one such as "God can do anything that is logically possible” or ‘God possesses every power which is logically possible to posses.’ Something is logically possible if it does not violate the basic laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction.” [Chad Meister (Routledge, 2009), 54.]
    • A Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Vol 9.): “Omnipotence is usually understood as the power to do anything that is logically possible” [“Perfect Being Theology” by Mark Owen Webb, Eds. Taliaferro, Draper & Quinn, (Blackwell Publishing, 2010) 230.]
    • A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion: “In spite of the insistence of Descartes that God can transcend what is logically impossible, most writers accept that ‘a logically impossible action is not an action … Omnipotence denotes an ability to bring about any (logically possible) states of affairs’.” [Anthony Thiselton (Baker Academic, 2002), 207.]