Worldview by Daniel Cabal June 22, 2020
So, Can God Create a Rock so Heavy That Even He Can’t Lift It?
Can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?
People have been asking this question for more than eight hundred years. It is frequently deployed as a bad faith “gotcha” to trap Christians. What makes the question troubling is that to accept either a “yes” or “no” answer seemingly leads to a limitation on God’s power.
- If God can make a rock heavier than He can lift, then there’s something God can’t do (lift the rock).
- If God can’t make a rock heavier than He can lift, then there’s still something He can’t do (create the rock).
Either answer indicates that God is restricted in some way. Thus, believers often feel trapped, disliking either option. But, because the Bible teaches that God is all-powerful, there must be a solution to this question (in real life!) that shows that God retains both His omnipotence and His sovereignty. So, what is it?
Approaching the Question
Imagine you’re a young athlete “running the bulls” in Pamplona. The worst-case scenario happens, and you’re suddenly trapped at a dead end in an extremely tight alley with a bull charging straight toward you. You can’t go to the left or to the right, so what do you do? You need to add a literal dimension to your thinking. You jump over the bull.
In fact, this precise move is what logicians call “escaping through the horns” of an argument. When presented with two bad options, a logician attempts to find a third option that is good.
Back in the 1100s (I told you this problem has been around for a long time!), a Jewish thinker named Maimonides tried to escape between the horns and developed a solution that explains the confusion behind the question.
Answering the Question
Maimonides (also known as Ramjam, which is unquestionably the most rock ’n’ roll nickname ever) realized the question was premised on a misunderstanding of impossibility. The question confuses natural impossibility with logical impossibility.
What he meant was that some ideas go against the laws of nature (hence, “natural impossibility”), while other ideas go against logic itself. For example, we can imagine an axe head floating to the surface of water, because even though that would go against the laws of nature, there are multiple ways it could happen (invisible wire lifting it, an angel lifting it, God’s own direct force lifting it, God temporarily changing the properties of the axe head so that it floats, God simply setting aside the law of gravity, etc.). It is naturally impossible for an axe head to float, but it is feasible that God could cause it to float by direct or indirect means.
But logical impossibility? Something logically impossible is self-referentially absurd because of its very description: square circles, married bachelors, a great Transformers movie (okay, that last one might be possible).
Logical impossibilities go against reason itself. The Bible is clear that God is the Logos, that reason is bound up inextricably in God’s nature. God can’t go against Himself. Unlike us, God can’t betray Himself. He can’t sin against Himself. He can’t stop being Himself.
People who ask, “Can God create a rock so big even He can’t lift it?” are typically more interested in watching Christians squirm than in receiving an actual philosophical answer to the question. But there is an answer. The solution to this classic question is not “yes” or “no.” It is to reject the flawed premise of the question as a logical impossibility and to understand that when something is logically impossible, the possibility of its existence is shattered against the rock of God’s own unchanging reality.