Monday, 28 July 2014

The major constraint on the omnipotence of God

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(This is differently emphasized version of the basic argument to be found at http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/christians-dont-really-believe-that-god.html )

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The major constraint on the omnipotence of the Christian God is Christ: specifically the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

For Christians, the situation is that before the incarnation of Christ, God could not accomplish the salvation of Man; and after the incarnation of Christ, he could.

Therefore, in Time - the Christian God is not omnipotent.

This is such a very large and very significant constraint on the omnipotence of God, that to non-Christian monotheists it destroys mono-theism, in a way which they find shockingly offensive to God.

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The only sense in which the Christian God could be legitimately described as omnipotent, is by having God located outside of Time - in the sense that everything that will happen already has happened.

And therefore, for God to be omnipotent requires that the incarnation of Christ had already happened before it actually happened.

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If, and only if, a person can make sense of Life and Salvation on that basis (the ultimate-simultaneity of all things past, present and future - and the ultimately-illusory nature of Time, change, progress etc.), then you will be able to make sense of the Christian God being described as 'omnipotent'.

Otherwise, it is necessary to be clear that the Christian conception of God is not omnipotent - and to try and deny this is to provoke confusion.

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8 comments:

T.D. Kryeter said...

Perhaps the difficulty is that our minds are hard wired to only deal with linear time, and can only indirectly deal with extra-linear time as a mathematical abstraction in theoretical physics, which only a few gifted, dedicated individuals attain. Think of the novel "Flatland" where a triangle (or was it a square) finds out about the 3 dimensional world.

"Eternity" then is time "cubed", as opposed to our experience of time as straight line.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDK - "Perhaps the difficulty is that our minds are hard wired to only deal with linear time" - indeed, which I take to be evidence that time is indeed linear and sequential(otherwise we would have been otherwise hard-wired - built that way by God).

It seems an extreme measure that in order to endow God with the characteristic of omnipotence, which contradicts His behavior as described in scripture, a non-natural and unthinkable mode of time needed to be invented (or rather, co-opted from pagan Greek philosophy).

The alternative is to acknowledge that God is constrained (in non-logical ways) - and then the debate moves on to whether this constraint is intrinsic to basic metaphysics (the Mormon theological explanation), or that God is (for unknown reasons) self-constrained (which is the classical theological position).

Bruce Charlton said...

@ORTHODOX SAID: "God being outside time is not a constraint, it is part of what makes God omnipotent. It still falls within the classic theological position that God chooses to act.

"Is Christianity actually monotheistic as you are using the term here? God commands you will have no other gods before me, so He is saying there are other gods, and you are not to worship them.

"Christ showed us the Way. It is up to us to follow. You can do your child's homework and they learn nothing. Or you can show them how, and they must do it. (...)"

BGC replies: I think you are misunderstanding the thrust of this post.

O said: "God being outside time is not a constraint, it is part of what makes God omnipotent."

BGC replies - I did not say God being outside of Time was a constraint - I said it was necessary in order to explain what are apparently very major and central examples of non-omnipotence - such as Christ being necessary for salvation.

The constraint is that Christ was required for salvation - whereas it would seem (on the face of it) obvious that an omnipotent God would not need to go through the elaborate and time-bound process of Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension in order that Man be saved.

An omnipotent God (God the Father) would, presumably, be able to save man all by himself and instantly. The fact that He does-not implies that he can-not (or else will-not).

Nicholas Fulford said...

There is another way of looking at it. The three omni's can exist with respect to something that is virtual. I will use as my example a fractal equation. The equation is virtual, it does not need to be instantiated and iterated to express it's unfolding "universe", as the equation is the necessary first cause for anything that can unfold. The equation is eternal - never changing in itself - and when instantiated, all that is expressed has a contingent relationship to the equation. In this way the equation has the three omni characteristics with respect to its universe.

Years ago I was looking for something that could demonstrate that an unchanging and eternal entity with the three omni's could in fact be the basis for a universe. The fractal equation was what I found.

A manifesting universe may simply be the view from the inside of what is a virtual-eternal basis of that universe. Instantiation and iteration may simply be a way in which the abstract base expresses its qualities, much as a Mandelbrot equation does when we instantiate it an iterate it on a computer.

Samson J. said...

whereas it would seem (on the face of it) obvious that an omnipotent God would not need to go through the elaborate and time-bound process of Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension in order that Man be saved.

This is not obvious at all, Bruce. An omnipotent God cannot make 2+2=5, and acknowledging that he can't isn't much of an "admission". But we were through this already.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - You need it think about it some more - because at the moment you aren't getting the argument. 2+2=5 is a logical contradiction, which has nothing to do with the point I am making.

Gabe Ruth said...

"whereas it would seem (on the face of it) obvious that an omnipotent God would not need to go through the elaborate and time-bound process of Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension in order that Man be saved."

Reading this, a scene from a movie I saw recently came to me. There's a business man wandering in a man- made forest, put together for research, and he runs into a guy taking care of the trees or something. They're talking about the forest, and the forest keeper mentions that it took several years before the cicadas would come and go through their life cycle in the forest, and the business man says "That long?" incredulously. The forest guy says "Is that long?"

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR - Nice joke.

That the implementation of salvation takes any time at all and requires any sequence of contingencies is the point, however.