“God Can Do Anything”

As a sort-of follow up to my previous post, one more comment related to the problem of evil:

According to some believers, God can do anything – and that means literally anything. He can make square circles, married bachelors, and even non-Catholic Popes! In these people's opinion, to say that God is omnipotent is to say that logical impossibility is no obstacle to his power.

And it’s often hard to convince them otherwise. I used to teach philosophy, and I remember several former students who were adamant on this point – including two who became visibly upset when I argued that not even God could make a married bachelor. Their suspicion that I was an atheist probably had something to do with it (though my pointing out that it’s common for Christian theologians to agree with me didn’t help).

It’s instructive to ask these people what they think of the problem of evil. Usually, they will offer one of the standard replies, such as the free-will defense. In other words, they will say that there is evil in the world because God gave us freedom. But of course if God can do what these people claim, then, even if it is logically impossible, he can give us freedom and make it the case that no one ever does the wrong thing. And the same goes for any other reason God might allow evil. Whatever the believer offers as an excuse (“evil exists because of X”), the reply can be, “according to your view, God could have made the world both with X and without evil.”

Even after having this pointed out to them, many of these true believers refuse to change their minds. One of the two students who had initially became upset, however, did admit a few weeks later that God could not create married bachelors after all: he had asked his pastor about it!