Positive Omnipotence and Double Negatives

An infamous challenge to God’s omnipotence is the paradox:

Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?

If I (the theist) answer “yes” then I am admitting that God cannot do something – He cannot lift a specific rock.  If I answer “no” then I am saying there is something God cannot do – or am I?  Let’s take a close look at the “no” response:

God cannot create a rock that is so heavy He cannot lift it.

To this, the atheist comes back with, “Then you admit there is something God cannot do!”

But is the second part of the statement really “something?”  A simple lesson in grammar will show us otherwise.  Consider the question:

You haven’t been reading no books on how to cook bugs, right?

How do you respond to this question?  If you answer “No, I haven’t” I could say, “Oh, so you haven’t been reading none of the books.”  If you answer “Yes,” I could say, “So I am right in assuming you have been reading books about cooking bugs.”  In order to clear up the confusion, we need to first resolve the grammatical error – the double negative.  There are two ways to fix a double negative: either get rid of one negative, or remove both.

Case 1:

You haven’t been reading no books on how to cook bugs, right?

OR Case 2:  remove both.

You haven’t been reading no books on how to cook bugs, right?

which becomes:

You have been reading books on how to cook bugs, right?

So case 2 makes a strong positive because “not no” book means definitely a book.  If you say, “No, I haven’t,” then it is clear that you have not been reading books on how to cook bugs.  If you answer “Yes, I have,” then it is clear that you have been reading books on how to cook bugs.

double negative 1

So, if I answer the God question with the response:

God cannot create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it.

Then the two “not’s” cancel each other out in the case of a strong positive.  Bad grammar is resolved by saying:

God cannot create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it.

OR

God can create any rock, regardless of its weight, that He can lift.

Another way to view this cancellation effect is through a thought experiment.  Let’s place all the rocks that God can lift on the right side of our hypothetical space.  On the left side is the set of all the rocks God cannot lift.  We are assuming an omnipotent God.  On the right side, we can place every rock in existence.  We can also place every hypothetical rock, for instance, a rock that fills the entire universe.  If God is omnipotent, He can lift it.  On the left side of our thought experiment, how many rocks do we have?  No rocks.  Nothing.  So when we make the statement,

God cannot create a rock that is so heavy He cannot lift it.

Then “a rock that is so heavy He cannot lift it” belongs on the left side, the set of rocks God cannot lift.  That set is empty, nothingness.  To rephrase:

God cannot create nothingness.

This really is a conclusive definition of a God who creates.  It is a double negative that implies a strong positive.

double negative rocks

 

The best response to the skeptic asking the God-stone paradox is to reply “Not no.”  This prevents the questioner from running away with an assumption of the word “cannot” and from assuming that an empty set is “something.”

“Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?”

“Not no.”

“What?”

“Not no.  God can not create no such thing.”

From that point, the theist catches the atheist in his quick-witted game, and the atheist cannot run with the “cannot.” Or to correct myself, the atheist can run with the “can.”

There are other things besides nothingness that God assigns a negative value, as in worthless by His standards.  One of these qualities is lying.  Since God places such high value on truth, a lie is of no value to Him.  Therefore, God cannot lie.  This is what I call positive omnipotence.  Humans place a positive value on lying because of their finite perspective.  We cannot see that a lie will hurt in the long run, usually by opening the door to more lying.  The real test of God’s omnipotence is to measure the value of the “God cannot” statements.  “God cannot do nothing” is obviously different from “God cannot do something.”  We test by focusing on the second part of the statement and asking whether God would assign it a positive value.  If God approves, it is “something” and God can do it.  If God disapproves, as in lying or creating nothingness, it is out of character and therefore not possible for a positive omnipotent God.

Advertisements

One thought on “Positive Omnipotence and Double Negatives

  1. Pingback: Apologetics and Minions 1 |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s