In Probing Shand’s Refutation of the Existence of God, I contended that John Shand, associate lecturer in Philosophy at The Open University, attacked a Straw God and committed an informal fallacy of composition. In this article I addressed his (mis)understanding of omnipotence. His (mis)understanding of omniscience and omnipresence are addressed in the next article.
Shand described necessary features of monotheistic God as a being who is “omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.” He expounded,
He[God] knows everything, can do anything, and is everywhere. What these characteristics share is unlimitedness,that is to say in all these respects and taken together God is maximally great. He is all- knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere. To present the definitional characteristics negatively: there is nothing that he cannot know, there is nothing that is beyond his power to do, and there is nowhere he is not. (Shand 2010: 63)
He went further to explain,
“God’s omnipresence extends across time as well as space, and it is for the former reason that God is more accurately characterised as eternal; he does not just go on existing necessarily for all time, rather he is transcendent in being outside time, and on most monotheists’ views, outside space too. (ibid. 64)
Shand explained that ‘ Perfect’ and Absolute’ are sometimes used as “unlimitedness”. He believed they have the same linguistic derivation(78). Thus unlimitedness is the shared characteristics of these greatness making properties. I would argue that what is shared is not unlimitedness but maximality, viz., maximal perfection or maximal excellence. For example, when God is said to be omnipotent (all powerful), what is meant is not that His power is unlimited but that God possesses a maximal perfection with respect to power.
Omnipotent: Nothing That Is Beyond God’s Power To Do?
Shand seem to have misunderstood or perhaps is misinformed in his understanding of God’s omnipotence. Contrary to Shand’s understanding of the term, omnipotence does not mean that there is “nothing that is beyond his [God’s] power to do”. What theists are trying to communicate is that there is nothing that is metaphysically possible that is beyond God’s power to do (actualize). They are things, or more correctly states of affair, that are metaphysically impossible, or using Shand’s terms, beyond God’s power, to actualize. Example it is metaphysically impossible for God (a necessary being) to cease to exit or both exist and not exist at the same time and sense. Thomas V. Morris thus rightly explained that:
“[L]ogically impossible tasks are not just particularly esoteric and unusually difficult tasks—when you have attempted to describe an act or task and end up with an expression of a logical impossibility, you end up with nothing that can even be a candidate for power ascriptions” (Morris 1991: 66–67).
This is what Thomas Aquinas also contended in Summa: “God can do all things, is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent.”(Aquinas 2009: 1.25.a3) Things that are not metaphysically feasible, according to Aquinas cannot be “numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility.”(ibid).
If Aquinas and Morris are correct, then God’s omnipotence cannot be defined in terms of un/limits terms. It could be argued that God is limited to actualize only what is metaphysically possible (this would exclude God incapability of doing what is against His essential nature). This is in accordance with what Christians believe from what is revealed in Scripture. The Holy Writ clearly stated that God possesses maximal excellence in respect to power (Genesis 18:14 & amp;Jeremiah 32:17) while at the same time He cannot lie ( Titus 1:2), He cannot get tired (Isaiah 40:28), He cannot break a promise (Psalm 89:34) &c., It is, thus, not true that God can do anything, as Shand believes. Here Shand holds a misconception of what theist philosophers mean by omnipotence.
Aquinas, Thomas (2009). Summa theologica (Complete English ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Shand, John (2010) A Refutation Of The Existence Of God. Think No. 26, Vol. 9 Autumn 2010: 61-79
Morris, Thomas. V. (1991). Our Idea of God. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.