Paradox of the stone

Introduction

The paradox of the stone asks whether God (an omnipotent being) can create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?

  • If the answer is yes, then we have found something (i.e. not being able to lift a stone) that an omnipotent being cannot do.
  • If the answer is no, then we have found something (i.e. not being able to create a stone) that an omnipotent being cannot do.

Responses

Many responses have been given to the paradox and the real issue lies in the definition of omnipotence. One way to approach the problem is to show how the question itself is incoherent. 

George Mavrodes said:

“On the assumption that God is omnipotent, the phrase ‘a stone too heavy for God to lift’ becomes self contradictory. For it becomes ‘a stone which cannot be lifted by him whose power is sufficient for lifting anything’ 1

As Mavrodes says above, this assumes that God is actually omniscient, whereas the paradox of the stone aims to show that omnipotence is incoherent. 

The paradox of the stone is only an issue for a definition of omnipotence that includes the ability to do anything, rather than the ability to do what is logically possible. 

Blake Ostler proposes the following as a 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. 2 

Under this definition, God is able to create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it but he would still be omnipotent because it would be illogical to then be able to lift it.

Conclusion

Can God (an omnipotent being) create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it? Yes.

  1. Mavrodes, George I. “Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence”, Philosophical Review 72 (1963[]
  2. Blake T. Ostler, 2001. Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God (vol. 1). 1st Edition. Greg Kofford Books Inc.[]