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Discussion 1 to A Miscellany 278
Three Responses

by: Will Petillo

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As I see it, there are three basic responses:

  1. Negate the question by arguing that, although there appears to be a paradox, there really isn't.  The Christian response you encountered as well all of the responses you gave (if I am reading them right) fit into this category.  I don't particularly like this strategy as it just leads to a game where the questioner tries to cut out all of the loopholes while the responder looks for new ones or a theological discussion on "what is omnipotence?" For this reason, I wouldn't get too focused on the physics of lifting rocks because the underlying question here is: can an all-powerful being perform a contradiction?

  2. "Yes, and not only that, God could lift it too!"  If one allows for contradictions then the rules of logic cease to apply, in which case there is no point in having a logical argument.  This may sound silly, but it's fair game in theology to say that a Supreme Being simply transcends the worldly rules of what we consider possible just so long as one doesn't simultaneously try to say that one's beliefs can be proven through reason.

  3. Even if one rejects the above two responses, the paradox of the stone still doesn't really lead to a strong argument for atheism, it only denies a specific claim about God's omnipotence.  One could still believe in a God (or gods) that have some finite amount of power.

That said, there is one manner in which considering the paradox of the stone could lead a person to atheism or agnosticism.  Namely, it can be used to assess the intellectual character of people who claim unique knowledge about God.  Do they lie, pretend to be logical when they really are not, evade the question, get angry, disengage, or reflect and reconsider how they see things?  For all the talk about how modern science is pulling people away from religion, I think the biggest thing that gives a religious person that critical first shake out of their habitual ways of thinking and into considering disbelief is the realization that their preacher or holy book is simply full of it.