Can God do nonsense?

There’s an interesting post up at our old friend Christian Apologetics Ministries. It presents itself as a discussion of immanence vs. transcendence, but the bulk of the discussion focuses on the topic of understanding what God can and cannot do.

I can begin with by trotting out the old ‘Can God create a rock that he cannot lift or move?’ line. The contention is that if God is all powerful he should be able to do this but in doing so he would simultaneously undermine his own omnipotence. Most of the time this is answered by pointing out that some statements are just nonsense and God’s omni-characteristics do not require him to be able to achieve the nonsensical… Something doesn’t become reasonable just because you insert ‘Can God’ in front of it.

Most people accept this explanation and I’ve found that even nonbelievers come around to accepting it. (Not all of them do, which is why 17 year olds with Google can still find the question to ask it)

Horvath isn’t quite satisfied with this explanation, and he goes on to try a different approach that’s a bit more interesting. But let’s focus on this one for now. At first glance, it seems like a plausible and reasonable answer. Some things are just “nonsense,” meaning that they incorporate two terms that are mutually contradictory. The concept of an irresistable force precludes, by definition, the possibility of any immovable objects, and vice versa. While you can construct a sentence that is grammatically correct and that includes both the terms “immovable object” and “irresistable force,” there’s no way that the sense of that sentence can represent any actual reality. Truth does not contradict itself, and therefore mutually contradictory concepts cannot simultaneously be a part of the real world. It is “non-sense”—a combination of words that does not represent any real condition.

So it makes sense that God would not be able to do things that are nonsense. The only trouble is, Christianity teaches a number of doctrines which are “non-sense” in precisely the same way as God making a stone so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it. The Trinity is the first example that comes to mind. It’s non-sense, which is why the Church councils branded it a “mystery,” a paradox that the human mind cannot fathom, and that must be taken solely on gullibilityfaith.

Not that people don’t try to make the Trinity make sense, of course. You can make sense of the Trinity, provided that you are willing to either turn it into polytheism or else turn the three Persons into only partial fragments of God. Both approaches, however, were declared heretical by the same councils that defined the Trinity, since each seriously compromises the Gospel. The genuine, historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity will settle for nothing less than the contradictory premises that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct Persons, each of whom is God, and the sum of these three is one God, no more, no less.

That’s non-sense in the same way that irresistable force plus immovable object is non-sense. Being three precludes being one in the same way that one thing being irresistable precludes another thing being immovable. You could reconcile this dilemma by saying God is three of a different type of thing than what He is one of. For example, you could say that “God” is a type of being, just like “man” is a type of being. Just as you can have three men who share one common species (humanity), you could have three divine Persons who share one common species (deity).

That, however, is polytheism: multiple individuals who belong to the same “race” of gods. That’s not what the Trinity teaches. It teaches that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and that these three are separate and distinct, and that there is a total of one, and only one, God. God cannot do non-sense, and this is non-sense. But Christians claim He does it.

Similar problems arise when we look at some of the other theological controversies that the Councils grappled with. Does Jesus have a human nature or a divine nature? Does he have a will of his own? The Councils came up with answers that, again, are “mysteries” (aka non-sense). Jesus has both a divine nature and a human nature; he’s 100% man and 100% god. But this is non-sense. “Nature,” in this context, is simply a conceptual enumeration of the attributes that determine one’s observable characteristics and behavior. It’s not like a shirt, that you can just put on or change, and have a whole closet full of. Two contradictory lists of what Jesus’ attributes are, replete with attributes that are true for gods and false for men, and vice versa, that are allegedly simultaneously true, contradictions and all. Non-sense, in the same way that an irresistable force plus an immovable object is.

Or we could look at the more subtle and generic contradictions, like a God that loves us enough to die for us while simultaneously being so aloof and patronizing that He refuses to deign to even let Himself be seen by us, let alone actually spend time in face-to-face, in-Person fellowship and interaction. Or a God who is sovereign and in control of everything that happens in the world, without—somehow—bearing any responsibility for any of the things that go wrong in the world. Or a God who cannot show up in real life because that would violate our free will, who nevertheless allegedly does show up, in ancient times, without apparently violating the free will or otherwise jeopardizing the salvation and well-being of the prophets, apostles, and other eyewitnesses.

Non-sense has a purpose: it exposes the internal and external inconsistencies that allow us to detect when the things men say are non-truth. Such inconsistencies and contradictions are our only means of detecting falsehoods, whether they are deliberate lies, honest misperceptions, erroneous reasoning, or just plain fiction. It’s important, therefore, that we pay attention whenever we see non-sensical arguments being raised in defense of the things men say about God. Since God does not show up in real life, the words of men are our only source of information about Him. It is vital that we be able to identify the untrue, non-sensical claims when they arise.

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Posted in CAMWatch, Unapologetics. 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Can God do nonsense?”

  1. Eric Says:

    Oh wow… flashback. Horvath taught at my high school (a private Lutheran school). I didn’t actually have him for any classes, and I was a Christian at the time I attended so I never paid too much attention to his particular beliefs, but I do remember he was extremely popular with the students.

    It’s just weird to find something about him on a blog that I found through completely different channels.

  2. jim Says:

    Great, rational exposition here. I’ve heard it said-with straight faces, mind you- that the concept of the Trinity is a solution to a problem. Here’s the trick: whenever you have something that boasts contradictory attributes, just slap a label on it, and consider your problem harmonized. Thus the differing resurrection accounts become ‘complimentary’, the widely disparate geneologies in Matthew and Luke become ‘source specific’, eyewitness discrepancies become ‘POV’; and, of course, three or more gods become ‘Trinitarian’.

    Along those same lines of reasoning, I would posit a solution to the ‘can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it’ puzzle. Simply postulate a fourth aspect of God’s being…let’s call Him Luigi, the rock mover. So, God the father creates the raw material ex nihilo, God the carpenter son molds it into the shape of an infinitely heavy rock (under God the Holy Spirit’s all seeing supervision, naturally), and Luigi the rock lifter lifts the rock. Case solved.

    Of course, we’ll have to find a new descriptor. Quadrinarian? Double-Double? Square (there are the Four-Square churches, so maybe they’re ahead of the game here)?

    Ok, time to run/remain, grab a bite/fast, maybe watch a little TV/take a nap, then on to better/worse things. Ciao for now! *See what I did there? I used a word that means both hello AND goodbye. It’s a miracle!*

  3. Ric Says:

    Jim… your Luigi solutions is wonderfully… Christian. I love it.

  4. jorgaba Says:

    “Could Yarl the Omnipotent create a stone he could not lift?” Green Green
    asked him.
    “No,” said Courtcour.
    “Why not?”
    “He would not.”
    “That is no answer.”
    “Yes it is. Think about it. Would you?”

    –Roger Zelazny, Isle of the Dead (1969)

  5. John Morales Says:

    Most of the time this is answered by pointing out that some statements are just nonsense and God’s omni-characteristics do not require him to be able to achieve the nonsensical…

    What part of “omni” does this person not understand?


  6. harebell Says:

    Ah John you are so spot on.
    My philosophy of religion class had a hard time with this concept and we went with the author of the text and said that God couldn’t do certain things like the stone or break the rules of logic. We agreed that we wouldn’t even consider whether God could create a triangle with four sides or could argue coherently using a statement and its contradiction at the same time. If we hadn’t we’d still be on page 1.
    But omni means everything so why couldn’t an omni – god do all these wacky things?
    It’s a mystery.

  7. SteveM Says:

    You guys are missing a more important argument, who is stronger, Superman or the Hulk!

  8. Galloway Says:

    DD: ” The only trouble is, Christianity teaches a number of doctrines which are “non-sense” in precisely the same way as God making a stone so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it. ”

    One such recurring contradictory, non-sensical doctrine is how the Bible attempts to assign human attributes to its Deity: wrath, love, hate jealousy, vengence, etc. . An omnipotent entity, existing outside of time and space, farther above us on the evolutionary scale than we are above the amoeba, would not likely demand worship or much of anything else, except maybe, obedience. And if that were the case He would make certain that His demands were made directly and unambiguously to every human of every era.

    Attributing ‘desires or needs’ to God, contradicts his nature as an infinite being. Indeed, this humanizing doctrine destroys God’s ‘perfection’ , for if God has needs or desires he clearly wants something that he lacks. Therefore, to preserve this perfection, (and avoid logical inconsistency) God must have no purpose, no agenda, no human qualities.

  9. harebell Says:

    As far as perfection goes:
    Before creation if there is a god then all that existed was god, so I can understand a claim that everything was perfect if all existence was god.
    Then god created all and at the moment of creation perfection was erased forever. So if god exists and did all that is claimed of it, then god is not perfect because he created a situation that came from perfection to what we experience now and what perfect being would diliberately do that? So maybe the followers of this lesser god have the right to ascribe human characteristics to their deity because he can’t be perfect.
    The trouble is that these same followers can’t understand that they cannot have their cake and eat it, but try and fob off folk with the “mystery” line.

  10. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The classic Christian response is that everything was perfect when God created it, but then Satan became proud, pride turned him to evil, and then he corrupted the rest of creation, first in heaven by leading other angels into rebellion, and then on earth by seducing Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. So evil is not God’s fault, you see.

    Of course, that opens up the question of how Satan could become evil if he were originally perfectly good. We’ve got two choices: either Satan never was perfectly good (in which case your original criticism applies) or it’s possible for beings to become sinful even though they’re perfectly good.

    Now, if it’s possible for perfectly good beings to fall into sin, then God’s perfect goodness is no guarantee that He has not sinned and/or will not sin at some point in time. If He exists for an infinite amount of time, then He will eventually experience every possible thing, which would include the set of circumstances that would lead Him into temptation and sin. After all, Satan’s fall was due to pride, and can you think of any being, real or imagined, with a bigger ego than the Judeo-Christian God? Me neither. So if God’s not evil yet, just wait, He will be…

  11. Galloway Says:

    “Harebell: “So if god exists and did all that is claimed of it, then god is not perfect because he created a situation that came from perfection to what we experience now and what perfect being would diliberately do that? ”

    Your point reminds me of a proof against God’s existence (author unknown):

    According to the Bible, God is perfect and created the universe.
    If a being is perfect, then everything that being creates must be perfect.
    The universe is clearly not perfect.
    Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to be the creator of the universe.
    Hence, either ‘God’ did not create the universe, or, God is not perfect.
    Hence, the ‘God’ of the Bible doe not exist.

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