Archive for October, 2010

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What Does it Mean to Say That God is All-powerful?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

“Can God create a rock that is so big that he can’t lift it?” It’s a question that has captured the minds of both the philosopher and the average skeptic on the street. I was even confronted with this question by “the campus atheist” at one of the local high schools when I was invited to speak at one of the Christian clubs. I had just finished presenting the scientific case for God when a young man asked this question during a Q&A time. I don’t think that he was asking it purely for amusement or to draw attention to himself. He honestly felt that this was a legitimate question that would somehow push God back into obscurity. It was his attempt to cast doubt on God’s existence and to toss him into the dust bin along with every other “myth”. Whether this question is asked in a serious way or in jest, it’s intended to challenge the notion that God is all-powerful (omnipotent). The reasoning behind the question is as follows: If God can’t create such an object, then he is not all-powerful. If he can create such an object but cannot lift it, he is not all-powerful. Either way, God cannot be all-powerful. That’s the idea, but the question is not as perplexing as it sounds.

I pointed out to the student that the question itself is invalid. It has a fundamental flaw because it contradicts itself. Let’s examine the question more closely. It begins by asking if God can create such an object. Let’s pause for a moment to think about what that means. If God were to create such an object, it tells us quite a bit about the object itself. This object has a beginning to its existence, therefore it must be a finite object by definition. But the remainder of the question suggests that this object would have to be of such mass and weight that God would not be able to lift it. In other words, the object would have to be of infinite mass and weight. We now have a contradiction in the question because it is trying to imagine a finite object of infinite mass and weight- a logical contradiction. Therefore the question itself doesn’t require a response because it’s logically invalid. It violates the law of noncontradiction which states that “something cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship”. In this case, something cannot be finite and not finite at the same time and in the same relationship.

As we think about God’s omnipotence, it’s important for us to begin with a proper understanding of what it means to say that God is all-powerful. It’s often thought to mean that God can do anything, but that’s not the case. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. (For example, God cannot lie and he cannot cease to exist). I think that a more accurate definition of God’s omnipotence is to say that there is no power which exists that is greater than God.

God’s omnipotence is clearly seen in that which he has created, and just a moment’s reflection on it is enough to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder. Take our sun, for example. Our sun is considered to be a medium-sized star, yet its energy output is staggering. In order to appreciate just how powerful it is, let’s compare it to something that we are more familiar with. In the last ten years, the Hoover Dam has generated about 4.8 billion kilowatts of energy. In terms of horsepower, this would mean that it has generated about 6.4 billion horsepower over the past ten years. Suppose that we were to combine the total amount of hydroelectric power worldwide. Let’s add in the total amount of energy produced by all of the nuclear power plants worldwide. In fact, let’s combine the total amount of any and all forms of energy produced on the earth since the beginning of time. The total energy combined is still less than the amount of energy that the sun produces in one second! Now, multiply that times the seemingly innumerable stars in the observable universe. No wonder David wrote in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

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If Life Only Exists on Earth, is the Rest of the Universe “Wasted Space”?

Monday, October 4th, 2010

If the success of a movie at the box office is any indicator of what the general public shows an interest in, then it’s pretty safe to say that the topic of UFOs and extraterrestrials rates pretty high on that list since many of the top grossing films of all time were based on that theme.  I won’t take time here to specifically address the question of whether or not extraterrestrials exist.  Instead, I want to focus on a related question that is often raised whenever the topic of ETs comes up for discussion.  It is usually asked in the following manner, “If our planet is the only one that is inhabited by life, then why did God create such a vast universe?”  I must admit that it seems like a perfectly legitimate question, especially since scientific discoveries have revealed to us that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each one containing billions of stars.

I’m sure that many of you remember the 1997 movie ‘Contact’, starring Jodie Foster.  In that movie, Foster plays an astronomer by the name of Ellie Arroway.  Early on in the movie, we are taken back to a moment in her childhood when she asks her father, “Hey Dad, do you think there’s people on other planets?”  Her father replies, “ I dunno’, Sparks.  But I guess I’d say if it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.”  Just to make sure we didn’t miss the point, this same line is repeated two more times.  It comes up again at the end of the movie and in an earlier conversation when Ellie is stargazing with her friend, Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey).  Ellie says, “..and if just one out of a million of those had intelligent life, there would be literally millions of civilizations out there,” to which Joss replies, “Well, if there wasn’t, it would be an awful waste of space.”

At first glance, this idea of “wasted space” sounds like a reasonable argument. The problem with this line of reasoning has to do with the word “waste” and to whom it is applied.  It’s one thing for us to talk about “wasting” something from a human perspective.  It’s quite another thing to apply such limitations to God.  It makes perfect sense to speak in terms of something being “wasted” when you’re dealing with finite human beings who are limited, both in strength and in material resources.  However, it’s a non sequitur to apply those same restrictions to a Creator who has no such limits in power, ability, or resources.

Still, the question remains. Even though God has the power to do so, why would he create such an immense universe if life only exists here on earth? Keep in mind that God knows the heart of man, and he knows that in our rebellion against him and in our attempt to declare our independence from him, we will look for every opportunity to get rid of him, to explain him away, and to push him out of our thinking.  This rebellious attitude that people have toward God certainly came through in the movie, as the writer (the late Carl Sagan) took several swipes at God throughout the film.   From beginning to end, Sagan seemed to go out of his way to make the point that God doesn’t exist, that the Bible is a myth, that faith and reason are diametrically opposed, and that ‘religious’ people are not only a hindrance to science, they are a threat to scientific discovery and progress.  Let it suffice for now to say that nothing could be further from the truth. The point is, Sagan is certainly not the only one out there who has shown this sort of antipathy toward God.

As I said, man in his arrogance is always looking for any number of ways to explain God away and to reduce him to nothing more than a myth, an invention of man.  Knowing this to be the case, and knowing that man would someday explore space, imagine what would have happened if God had created a much smaller, more modest “puny-verse”.  I could well imagine the moment when researchers finally “conquer” space by reaching the boundaries of our puny-verse.  The celebrations begin, and they pat each other on the back, congratulating themselves on finally putting the god-myth to rest.  “After all, if there really was a god, he certainly could have and would have created something much grander than this,” they tell themselves.

But that is precisely my point.  The further we reach out into space through our explorations and through our telescopes, the more jaw-dropping it becomes.  Just when researchers think that they’ve discovered all that there is to discover, they are silenced by the realization that they’ve barely scratched the surface of space.  The point is, the BIGGER we find the universe to be, the more inadequate and the more ridiculous all materialistic explanations become.  At this point, all naturalistic, atheistic explanations of the origin of the universe must be taken by faith- and lots of it.

The immensity of our universe is unmistakable testimony to the existence of a self-existent Creator who had the power and the authority to give a divine command and bring space, matter, and time itself into being.  So, why did God create such an immense universe if life only exists here on earth?  I guess you could call it “the Awe Factor”.

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