Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Divine Omnipotence Revisited

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God Has Infinite Power
1. God's power is infinite{1} because the Divine essence through which He acts is infinite{2} and active power exists in God according to His degree of actuality. God is omnipotent in the sense that He can do all things that are absolutely possible (this is a very simple way of phrasing the doctrine), i.e. things in which the predicate is compatible with the subject.{3} There is no effect which can be taken away from God's power: there are three ways an effect might not be in an agent's power and none of them apply to God: unlikeness of effect does not apply because all beings inasmuch as they exist are like God, excellence of effect does not apply because God is supremely good and perfect, and defect of material does not apply because God does not need material to act (after all He created the universe ex nihilo and not ex materia).

Misunderstandings of Omnipotence
2. God's omnipotence is not nullified by His immovability (no change, etc.) and impassibility (no anger, sadness, etc.) because He is omnipotent as regards His active power. God's impeccability is no prejudice to His omnipotence because to be able to sin is to be able to fall short in action.{4} As was said, it is impossible for God to do absolutely impossible things because the object and effect of His active power is a certain produced reality. Thus God cannot make a soulless man, make the past not to have been,{5} stop being happy, or annihilate Himself. Yet we are not incoherent when we affirm with St. Job that God can do all "things" and that He cannot make a square circle because a square circle is not a "thing" (it is absolutely impossible and cannot exist in any way).

3. Divine omnipotence does not entail universal possibilism; God’s omnipotence does not remove the necessity and impossibility of things. Things are called absolutely possible in reference to themselves. The effect has contingency or necessity according to the condition of the proximate cause and things which are possible with regard to some power are possible in reference to their proximate cause.{6} God's power is not defective because He cannot make a square circle, since things which imply being and non-being at the same time do not have the nature of a possible thing and do not come under the scope of God's power.

Falsehood of Universal Possibilism
4. It is easy to show conclusively that universal possibilism is a false doctrine, pace the belief attributed to René Descartes by many scholars.{7} Assume for the sake of argument that there is a possible world in which God makes it so that there are propositions that are true in every possible world. However, if there are such propositions then there is no world in which no propositions are true in every possible world, which is to say that it is not possible that there are no necessary truths, contrary to the absurd notion of universal possibilism.

Notes and References
{1} St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, De Trin. viii.
{2} God’s existence is infinite inasmuch as nothing that receives it can limit it.
{3} St. Luke says [Lk 1:37], "No word shall be impossible with God." "Word" here means something in which the subject and predicate are compatible. St. Job says [Job 42:2], "I know that You can do all things."
{4} St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 25, art. 3, ad 2.
{5} St. Jerome the Great, Doctor of the Church, Ep. 22 ad Eustoch.
{6} St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 25, art. 3, ad 4.
{7} Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. J.P. Moreland. This is one of the many valuable gems to be found in the book despite several grave errors which I have enumerated and refuted elsewhere.

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