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Can God Make a Rock So Big that He Cannot Lift It?

“The atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman.”

These kinds of arguments are clearly illogical and even silly, although they
are commonly used by inexperienced atheists. Most intelligent atheists have
dropped these kinds of arguments long ago.


The following will explain why many experienced atheists have given up this
argument. Richard Swinburn in his book, The Coherence of Theism, explains why
such thinking is illogical (pp. 153-154):

… A person is omnipotent if and only if he is able to do any logically possible

action, any action, that is, of which the description is coherent. It may be
objected that in order to be truly omnipotent, a person should be able to do
not merely the logically possible, but the logically impossible as well. This
objection is, however, misguided. It arises from regarding a logically
impossible action as an action of one of one kind on a par with an action of
another kind, the logically possible. But it is not. A logically impossible action
is not an action. It is what is described by a form of words which purport to
describe an action, but do not describe anything which is coherent to
suppose could be done. It is no objection to A’s omnipotence that he cannot
make a square circle. This is because “making a square circle” does not
describe anything which it is coherent to suppose could be done.

A proper understanding of omnipotence has been known and defined for quite some
time; the way it is used by the skeptics here in this thread is the misdefining of a
well-defined concept. For instance, in the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics &
Philosophy of Religion, omnipotence is defined as: “The quality of being all-
powerful, normally understood as the power to perform any action that is logically
possible and consistent with God’s essential nature.”

Even Thomas Aquinas saw this o’ so long ago:

This point was recognized by Aquinas. He wrote that “it is incompatible with
the meaning of the absolutely possible that anything involving the
contradiction of simultaneous being and not being should fall under divine
omnipotence. Such a contradiction is not subject to it, not from any impotence
in God, but simply because it does not have the nature of being feasible or
possible. Whatever does not involve a contradiction is in the realm of the
possible with respect to which God is called omnipotent.”

Summa Theologiae, vol. v. (Thomas Gilby trans.), Ia.25.3

From a previous debate elsewhere on the net,

You are again making a category mistake, this is a real “logical fallacy,” or, mistake!
When you ask who made God – or, does God need a beginning, it is akin to asking,

“how does the color green taste.” Your other comments about change and the like
is akin to the following mock conversation, don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed your last
few queries… why? Because you are asking questions while assuming the thing said
is true, e.g., God’s unlimited power (you are assuming what you are refuting – in
other words). A true skeptic sheds even skepticism at times and puts on the
alternative view and seeks answers and criticisms from within:

One day, while I (SeanG) am having lunch with some student friends,
tom decides to sit at the table and say, “Do you mind if I ask you a few

You answer, “No prob.”

Tom then asks you, “Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 19:26, ‘With God all
things are possible?”

I answer, “Yes.”

Tom continues, “Do you believe that God is all-powerful and can do all

Again I answer, “Yes.”

Now Tom thinks his moment is about to unfold, so with a sarcastic grin
he asks, “Okay, can God create a rock so big that He cannot lift it?”


I ponder the question for a moment, thinking to myself, If I say yes, I’ll be admitting
that God is powerful enough to create the rock but not powerful enough to move it!
However, if I say no, I’ll be admitting that God is not all-powerful, because He
cannot create a rock of that magnitude. It seems that either answer will force you to
violate the law-of-noncontradiction and contradict your view of God, defined as an
all-powerful Being. It also seems as if Tom is using first principles to discredit you
and your view of God. It is true that Tom is speaking correctly about God’s power,
but is he using first principles correctly?

Before we examine Tom’s questions, remember that now is not the time to appeal
to ignorance and tell Tom that he is trying to use human reason and that there are
some things we just cannot understand about God. Nor should you say that
somehow God is exempt from such a question. Instead, I must focus in on this
question and think of a principle question to ask him (Socratic method) that moves
the conversation from unstable emotional ground to firm conceptual territory.

Let’s think about Tom’s question and apply the law-of-noncontradiction. Tom wants
God to create a rock so big that He cannot lift it. What is Tom really asking God to
do? In order to find out, we need to define and clarify the use of Tom’s words. The
first question that comes to mind is, “How big of a rock does Tom want God to
create?” Well, Tom wants God to create a rock so big that it would be impossible for
Him to move it. Now, how big would a rock have to be in order for God not to be

able to move it? What is the biggest physical entity that exists? Of the course, the
biggest physical entity is the universe, and no matter how much the universe
expands it will remain limited, finite physical reality – a reality that God can “lift.”
even if God created a rock the size of an ever-expanding universe, God could still lift
or control it. The only logical option is for God to create something that exceeds His
power to lift or control. But since God’s power is infinite, He would have to create a
rock of infinite proportions! This is the key: Tom wants God to create a rock, and a
rock is a physical, finite thing. How can God create an object that is finite by nature
– and give it an infinite size? There is something terribly wrong with Tom’s question.
So let’s apply the correct use of the law-of-noncontradiction to analyze it.

It is logically and actually impossible to create a physically finite thing and have it
be infinitely big! By definition, an infinite, uncreated thing has no limits, and a finite,
created thing does. Consequently, Tom has just asked if God can create an infinitely
finite rock, that is, a rock that has limits and, at the same time and in the same
sense, does not have limits. This question, then, violates the law-of-contradiction
and turns out to be utter nonsense. Tom thought he was asking an important
question, one that would put the Christian on the horns of a dilemma. Instead, he
only managed to show his own inability to think clearly.

Now that we have a clear understanding of Tom’s question, it’s simply a matter of
formulating a principle question to ask him in order to reveal his error. How about
this one: “Tom, how big do you want God to create that rock? If you tell me how big,
I’ll tell you if He can do it.” I can keep asking Tom that question until it reaches the
size of the universe and eventually introduce the idea of infinity. Once Tom reaches
the point where he begins to see what he is really asking God to do, to create an
infinite rock, he needs to be shown that he is asking God to do something that is
logically irrelevant and impossible. God could no more create an infinitely finite rock
than He could create a square circle: both are examples of intrinsic impossibilities.
Commenting on intrinsic impossibility and an all-powerful God, C. S. Lewis said:

“It [the intrinsically impossible] is impossible under all conditions and

in all worlds and for all agents. ‘All agents’ here includes God Himself.
His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible,
not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to
him, but not nonsense.” (The Problem of Pain, p. 28)

Not every question being asked is automatically meaningful just because it is a

question. The question may sound meaningful, but we (anyone here, but especially
the believer) must be sure to test it with first principles to see whether it is valid in
the first place. The key is to not respond too quickly to questions; a person may
wind up trying to find cogent answers to a question that has no logical relevance.
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College (my favorite Catholic
philosopher) says on the matter, “There is nothing more pointless than an answer
to a question that is not fully understood” (Making Sense Out of Suffering, p. 27)

(The above was taken somewhat from the book, Unshakeable Foundations:
Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith, by Geisler &

…. Could God think of a time when He was not omnipotent? If He can't think
of it, He isn't omnipotent, but if He does think of it then there was a time
when He wasn't omnipotent? This question is quite similar to the rock
question above. The answer, of course, is that God can never think of a time
when He wasn't omnipotent. God has always been omnipotent. His inability
to contradict His divine character does not mean that He isn't omnipotent.

The atheist distorts the biblical definition of omnipotence in order to "prove"
that God cannot exist. Contrary to their claims, omnipotence does not
include the ability to do things that are, by definition, impossible. [This is a
straw-man argument] Neither does omnipotence include the ability to fail. By
defining omnipotence as requiring one to have the ability to fail, atheists
have defined omnipotence as being impossible. Of course, an omnipotent
God would never fail.

These kinds of arguments are clearly illogical and even silly, although they
are commonly used by inexperienced atheists. Most intelligent atheists have
dropped these kinds of arguments long ago.


Here is another look at the same problem:



When we say God is unlimited, we mean that He is unlimited in His

perfections. Now evil is not a perfection; it is an imperfection. The
same is true of nonexistence, weakness, ignorance, finitude,
temporality, and any other characteristic that implies limitation or
imperfection. We might say that God is “limited” in that He can’t enter
into limitations, like time, space, weakness, evil – at least not as God.
He is only “limited” by His unlimited perfection.

Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, p. 31.

And finally, I think Keith Ward in his recent book, God: A Guide for the Perplexed,
adds the finishing understanding to this topic.

The real problem, however, comes from our thinking that God must be
able to do anything we can think of or imagine. Because we, ignorant
as we are, can imagine lots of things which are really quite impossible.
For example, we can imagine going back in time to kill our
grandparents before they had any children – you can even see films in
which such things happen. Yet we can see that such a thing is
obviously impossible, since without our grandparents we would not
exist, so we could not kill them. We think we can imagine finding a
square equal in area to a given circle – but mathematicians can prove
that is logically impossible. We think we can imagine the force of

gravity being just a little stronger than it actually is [throughout the

universe, that is] – but physicists can tell us that, if it were, then
electrons would collapse into the nuclei of atoms, there would be no
atoms, and so there would be no organized universe at all…. Our
imaginations are a poor guide to what is really possible, because we
have absolutely no idea of what sorts of things can really exist, or of
what might be necessary or optional for God. So I think we just have to
say that God is powerful enough to create the universe…. and that is
as much as we have a right to expect from omnipotence.

Remember, all my believing brother and sisters out there, saying that God created
the universe is not an argument from ignorance or the “God-of-the-gaps” argument;
it is inferred from the evidence. I suggest you read The Case for a Creator, Lee
Strobel’s newest book.