Latter-day Atheists

Introduction

Latter day Atheists: The Problem of Omnipotence in Mormon Theology is a paper presented in 2007 by Adam P. Groza at the National Meeting of the International Society of Christian Apologetics.

The main contention of the paper is as follows:

(i) Mormons believe in a maximally powerful God, (ii) Mormons believe in at least two Gods (Elohim and Jesus) and (iii) this involves a contradiction because two beings cannot share maximal power 1

Points (i) and (ii) will not be contested here, only (iii) will be discussed. 

Richard Swinburne has defined omnipotence as:

S is omnipotent at time t if S is able at t to bring about any state of affairs p such that it is consistent with the facts about what happened before t that, after t, S should bring about p 2

Blake Ostler proposes a similar definition of omnipotence:

A is omnipotent at t if A is able unilaterally to bring any logically possible state of affairs SA after t which (i) does not entail that “A does not bring about SA at t,” and (ii) is compossible with all events which preceded t in time in the actual world. 3

According to both these definitions, there is no trouble having multiple beings with omnipotence so long as the beings have wills which are perfectly aligned. 

Richard Swinburne in The Social theory of the Trinity says:

There could only be more than one omnipotent person, if each of the omnipotent persons believed that it would be bad for him to bring about effects of certain kinds, kinds which only some other omnipotent person had the right to bring about. That is, there must be some agreement among them about which area each is entitled to control… But given that the omnipotence of a person is only a power to do actions of a kind which that person had the right to do, more than one person could be omnipotent. 4

William Lane Craig has said on the same topic:

Philosophers like Richard Swinburne have, indeed, argued for monotheism on the grounds that there cannot be a plurality of omnipotent beings because they could come into conflict with each other and so would limit each other’s power. But suppose that it is logically impossible for the persons to come into conflict because they are essentially harmonious and so always will the same thing. Then the argument would fall to the ground. And it is part of the classical doctrine of the Trinity that the persons of the Godhead all share the same knowledge, love, and volition, making conflict impossible. 5

Specifically on the Mormon concept of God, Blake Ostler said:

Necessarily, there cannot be competing omnipotent wills because, if the wills are in competition, they are, by definition in the view I have proposed, not omnipotent. Each of them severally possesses the property of “being maximally powerful” but only to the extent that they are in a relationship of indwelling unity and full agreement with each other…  In other words, they cannot exercise omnipotent power unless they are agreed, so there is no possibility that their wills could conflict and that they could desire to exercise omnipotent power in competing ways. 6 

With the quotes above in mind, consider the following argument:

P1. Maximal power is the “ability” to accomplish all things which are logically possible at that moment in time

P2. This “ability” could be jointly held by multiple beings as long as their will is in complete harmony

P3. The will of all three members of the Godhead (Elohim, Jesus and the Holy Ghost) and even any other divine beings, is in complete harmony

C. Therefore this “ability” (maximal power) could be jointly held by all three members of the Godhead (Elohim, Jesus and the Holy Ghost) and even any other divine beings

Demonstrating that it is possible for at least two beings to share maximal power refutes the conclusion of the paper that Mormons are atheists.

  1. Adam P. Groza. 2007. LATTER DAY ATHEISTS: THE PROBLEM OF OMNIPOTENCE IN MORMON THEOLOGY . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.isca-apologetics.org/sites/default/files/papers/Jared%20Martinez/Groza-LatterdayAtheists.pdf. [Accessed 6 August 2016].[]
  2.  Swinburne, Richard. 1973. Omnipotence. American Philosophical Quarterly 10: 231-237[]
  3. Blake T. Ostler, 2001. Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God (vol. 1). 1st Edition. Greg Kofford Books Inc.[]
  4. Richard Swinburne, The Social theory of the Trinity, []
  5. William Lane Craig. 2010. The Trinity and God’s Omni- Attributes. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-trinity-and-gods-omni-attributes. [Accessed 6 August 2016].[]
  6. Blake T. Ostler, 2012. Exploring Mormon Thought: Volume 3, Of God and Gods (Part 2). Edition. Greg Kofford Books.[]