Wednesday, January 14, 2009

God's Omnipotence and the Rules of the Game Existence

The Lion Aslan from Narnia Series by C. S. Lewis

The Creator of the Narnia Series C. S. Lewis has been an outspoken Christian and has written books on Christian thought and philosophy. It does not seem far-fetched when one considers the abundant religious symbolism of his fictional work. Yet in one of his essays called “Divine Omnipotence” he tackles some important traditional objections against Christianity in an interesting fashion.

In fact, he brings up a seemingly valid point about God's omnipotence. He states that omnipotence does not mean that God would be able to commit nonsensical acts; that is, we cannot expect God Himself to break the intrinsic laws of logic or the natural laws of physics.

In other words, God has the power to do all that is intrinsically possible, but not the intrinsically impossible. Among the latter would be to carry out mutually exclusive events, for example, to give and withhold free will at the same time, which would be a meaningless combination of words and would not have any validity whatsoever.

So what is C. S. Lewis trying to do here? He is trying to solve the age-old riddle of the problem of evil. If God is omnipotent and all-good, why does evil then exist or is even allowed to exist? Why does a being that is all-powerful not eradicate all evil and suffering in the world?

As we can see, C. S. Lewis is taking a different route than just insisting on the existence of original sin or free will. The question I often wonder about is whether free will is actually a good thing since Adam was forbidden to eat from the fruit of knowledge. Does that imply that God would actually prefer ignorance or blind obedience? Is free will along with death a form of punishment or a test for us to prove our morality? It is evident that without free will the theory of morality would go down the drain and be completely meaningless.

In this case, C. S. Lewis makes an interesting statement about free will by showing how objects by themselves could be used in different ways. Let's take a baseball bat, for example. It can be used for good purposes, such as for a baseball game; yet at the same time it can turn into a weapon during an argument, when one bashes in windows or seriously hurts somebody. The same object has been used in different ways, and it is not a matter of God's indifference but of free human will. There seems to be a latitude or ambivalence to be able to use things for better or worse causes, which finally depends on the individual's decision.

We might ask why does God not interfere by stopping the act of the baseball bat violence? Does He simply cross his arms and watch? Or even worse, does He perhaps not care or even enjoy the act of violence?

Lewis claims that if God were to break the laws of nature, He would be actually contradicting Himself. That He can or is able to do so is a sign of His miraculous attributes, yet even the Almighty is or chooses to be generally bound by the rules of His self-styled and created game of existence. An example, Lewis gives, would be a chess-game. If your opponent suddenly made up or constantly revised her rules, then playing would become impossible.

Rules and laws are indeed necessary. If we dropped an object, and it would alternatively either fall, go to the left or up to the skies, then we would be constantly left baffled. It is the laws or rules of the game that give us certain predictability and a sense of some assurance that on a normal day pianos won't suddenly fall on our head. As such, reality becomes somewhat more manageable.

Does Lewis have a point then? It seems an interesting way to try to find loopholes in a dead-end street, the relatively persistent problem of evil argument. His arguments may be flawed and fall short merely because God defined as a rational concept or being is full of contradictions.

By adamantly insisting on logic, Lewis is actually limiting himself and reality itself. Contradictions are a part of life and have recently even found their way into science. For example, Quantum Physics has in some cases given us a worldview in which 2 + 2 is not always 4 or when mutually exclusive statements are each simultaneously valid. If quantum science can do it, why can't God?

Also a vital question still remains (apart from the problem of evil, of course): What does unlimited power really mean? What are the limits of absolute power? I think, from a human vantage point, those questions by itself are hard to fathom.


Mulled Vine said...

I've not read the essay but have heard his argument that God cannot do the nonsensical before. So God can't make a rock that is so large He can't lift it, because such a thing is not possible. Sure we can open up our reasoning to allow contradictions to happily coexist but then it becomes difficult to reason about anything sensibly. I don't think this logical argument applies to the problem of evil because its not a contradiction in the same sense that the rock scenario is.

Gabrielle said...

It's me here again... This once the title of your essay caught my attention... and I have to say that I don't agree with your point of view ... even when, unfortunately, I haven't read the book (I totally will, now!)

First, God's logic cannot be understood logically for us, I mean He's GOD, lol. As you mentioned, Adam did something God knew that it was an alternative; but then, he did the opposite. Isn't easy for a kid to disobey his/her parents just for a little thing such as an apple? Hummanly thinking it is not such a big deal... But, anyhow God giving us the whole Paradise, He just asign one, tiny rule...

Lo demás es historia...

You have interesting questions which from my Chtisyian point of view, they are easier to answer...


can't wait to read it...
that's why i wish i was in your "Condición humana" class

Rita T. said...

Great points brought up here....

Thanks for tackling a tough subject.

The Prince of Centraxis said...

The dog is blind and the monkey never stops talking. Omnipotence is exhibited in the world you create around you.
The only real question to address as an omnipotent being is 'why?'

CS Lewis was an effective brainwasher in his time - but the kids of today don't find his heavy-handed symbolic hogwash at all entertaining - or edifying.


yarber said...

CS. Lewis is a thinker and with that brings the gamut of the intellectual to absurdity. I read many all his books. That does not mean I am able to understand all his musings. I enjoy the questioning and percolating of concepts that his words bring to my mind. I would venture to say that balance might be important to Lewis - that the good would be balanced by the evil. In his book Mere Christianity he wrestles with heaven and hell and who should be where for what reason? Similar to all of us. I would say that our free will is our ticket to allowing us to figure out the numerous contradictions that our faith places before us. Yarber, PhD, Novel: TARE

The_Light's_Herald said...

The cause is so that Man might learn to love.

Love isn't forced, it is earned- same as respect.

God put the "tree" in the garden so that Adam can have free will. So that Adam can love God. Without the tree Adam simply will obey God without question. He is simply innocent. With the tree, man could have a choice whether to live his reality with God as his foundation or live a reality where everything is based on the self.

That's why when when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, morality and law was based on the Self rather than on God.