Things God Can’t Do

December 10, 2010 · Published in Philosophy, Theology  by Jonathan Garrison ·

You know the old quandary. Can God make a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it? Either God’s not powerful enough to do one thing, or He’s not powerful enough to do the other. I’ve heard it asked many times, but not by anyone who really expected an answer. So let me give it to you straight. No, God cannot make a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it. That’s right, I said it. There’s something God can’t do. But don’t be frightened. Let me explain, because there’s more where that came from.

By most people’s definition, God is the creator of all space, time, matter and energy; i.e., the universe. He is also a being of perfect goodness and moral perfection. Additionally, God is all-knowing, all-loving, perfectly just and, let’s not forget, all-powerful.

That’s a lot of superlatives for someone I just claimed couldn’t do something. So, what gives? When you consider God’s attributes — really think about them — it’s not long before you discover lots of things that God cannot do. And at first blush it’s tempting to think of these things as shortcomings, but this is not so in God’s case.

As the creator of all space, time, matter and energy, God is the first cause. As such, He is, Himself, uncaused. Therefore, God did not and cannot come into existence. He is not made. He is not the result of anything else. He cannot be unmade or destroyed. Not exactly shortcomings, eh? Yet they are still things He cannot do or be.

As a being of moral perfection, He cannot be evil. In a real sense, God is the very definition of goodness. Goodness has no meaning outside of God. Any objective moral values or duties we perceive are just extensions of God’s divine nature. Even most atheists agree with this, which is why the honest ones try to deny the existence of objective moral values and duties. God is perfectly trustworthy, so He cannot lie. As creator of everything, God already owns all property and all life, so it is not possible for God to steal or murder. All of these things are completely God-like, and all are things God cannot do or be.

As all-knowing, God cannot believe untruths. As all-loving, He cannot cease to love you (even as He despises your imperfections). To budge one iota in the area of justice would diminish God’s goodness. He, therefore, cannot tolerate that which is not in accordance with His ultimate will. Even as He permits human beings the free will to defy Him, it is only in accordance with His ultimate will, which comes to fruition through His divine providence. As Gandalf was quick to remind Frodo, “Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Last, but not least, if the power to create and sustain all that exists is not all-powerful, I don’t know what is. But how does this mean that God can’t make a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it? I just claimed that God is all-powerful.

All the things God can’t do, which I have described so far, involve God’s nature. As God is, by definition, the most excellent being, to act in any way contrary to His nature would be less than excellent; He would cease to be God.

There’s another attribute of God that I failed to mention, and which often gets overlooked. God is also perfectly rational. Reason and the logic that powers it are, like moral perfection, part of God’s essence. The value of logic in helping determine the truth of our reasoning is, like our perception of objective right and wrong, part of the essence of God; and the power to reason is, I believe, one of the ways in which we were created “in His image.”

As with the other aspects of God’s nature, God cannot behave in any way which is less than rational, in any way that is not in accordance with what we would call logical. We may not always see the underlying logic to God’s actions, but it is there, nonetheless. To talk about God creating a stone so heavy that even He can’t lift it is to talk about God doing something that even He cannot do. Can God do something He can’t do? No. This is logically incoherent. God cannot make a square circle or a married bachelor either, as all these things are not things. They are collections of words with contradictory meanings. You can say the words, but they refer to non-entities. The words taken together are irrational. So, of course, God cannot bring into existence that which is logically incoherent, because God cannot cease to be God.

It is often assumed that God could have made the universe any way He wanted to. I suppose this is true at some level, as His ultimate will is satisfied, but if humans are to have free will, to be able to freely deny God (as indeed we seem to be able to do), then God must have allowed — condescended to permit — actions which oppose His will. It might have been possible for God to create a universe in which all people freely choose to serve Him, or perhaps not. By giving us free will, God may have, knowingly and willingly, prevented Himself from creating such a universe. For it would be logically incoherent, and therefore impossible, for God to force anyone to freely choose Him. So, given free will, this may indeed be the best of all possible worlds God could have created.

Autumn 2

October 14, 2010 · Published in Haiku, Poetry  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Stretching and yawning,
Nature descends sleepily
into Winter’s nap.

What Makes a Sound Argument

September 13, 2010 · Published in Philosophy  by Jonathan Garrison ·

A sound argument has the following properties:

  • The conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the premises.
  • The premises are objectively true.
  • The truth of each premise is discernible.
In a philosophical argument, the truth of each premise need not be demonstrated to 100% certainty. In fact, no premise in human experience is shown to be true or false with absolute certainty. To demand such a criterion would result in skepticism so extreme as to prevent arriving at any useful conclusion. For a sound argument, it must simply be shown that the truth of each premise is more plausible than its negation. The greater the extent to which each premise is more plausibly true than its negation, the stronger the argument.

Choose Wisely

August 24, 2010 · Published in Philosophy, Theology  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Consciously or not, we are all compelled to worship something in life. It is why we were built. It is woven into the fabric of our being. So choose wisely.

To Love

August 24, 2010 · Published in Philosophy  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Loving someone is not about how you feel. It’s about what you do and what you don’t do.


July 31, 2010 · Published in Poetry  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Though it’s three in morning,
I’m nowhere near snoring.
My mind just keeps racing,
after thoughts it’s still chasing.
They burst into bloom,
then fade into gloom.
Before one can take shape,
two are spawned in its wake,
and I’m left with the remnants,
just the gossamer semblance,
of what I was thinking,
ere my brain began linking.
And now I stare blinking,
my thoughts at me winking,
with impish delight,
at my fading insight.
It’s hard now to write.
I’ll press on, despite.
But as I grow weary,
my eyesight so bleary,
I calm to a stillness,
shed of some illness.
So ends the polyphony,
gone the epiphany.
I conjure a yawn,
and with it, the dawn.
No need for an ambulance,
I’m just a somnambulist,
who’s ended his travels,
lest something unravels.
And now off to sleep,
appointments to keep.
Don’t wake me too soon,
no, not before noon.
I have dreams to explore,
and my muse to implore,
to rekindle one thought,
I once eagerly sought,
when my mind was still racing,
at its ludicrous pacing.
But I’ll never return,
to those thoughts that I learned.
For it’s the chase that delights me,
what e’re the insights be.
Now it’s late in the morning,
and I’m happily snoring.

Nature Is Playing a Game

July 24, 2010 · Published in Philosophy, Science  by Jonathan Garrison ·

It appears that Nature is playing a game. There is consistency to her moves, so we have faith (but no guarantee) that there are rules. To make matters worse, we don’t have a copy of the instruction manual. So, it becomes the scientist’s job to watch the game unfold and maybe interfere occasionally. By doing so, we learn how to play. Maybe, if we’re careful and play nice, we won’t put an eye out.

Numinous Breeze

May 25, 2010 · Published in Haiku, Philosophy, Poetry, Theology  by Jonathan Garrison ·

The numinous breeze
whispers subtle truths in a
low, thunderous voice.


April 16, 2010 · Published in Haiku, Poetry  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Break no vow you make.
For it unravels the soul,
taints all joy with grief.

Quick Question

March 18, 2010 · Published in Miscellanea  by Jonathan Garrison ·

Why do so many people misuse the subject line? Be it message boards or e-mail, I have noted an irritating disregard for proper subject line usage.

In my experience, there are two flavors of this rudeness: either the subject line is a brief essay which really belongs as message content, or it is a terse, nondescript phrase that provides no hint about the content of the message, like “quick question, ” or “newbie question”.

Aaaarrrghh! Stop it! Stop it NOW!