Can Jesus Make A Burrito So Hot He Couldn't Eat It?

Even the cartoon character Homer Simpson (who posed this question) has a philosopher within. And though he is not exactly the paradigm of reverence, the question is a real one for any philosophically reverent person. For one of the first properties that believers ascribe to God is that He is omnipotent or all-powerful, which means at least that there is or could be nothing God cannot do. And here is where Homer’s question fits in—or at least a somewhat more reverent version thereof:

Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?

There are only two possible answers here: yes or no.

Suppose, first, we say no. But then there is something that God cannot do: create such a stone. And if there’s something He cannot do then He is not omnipotent after all.

So suppose we say yes. If God can create such a stone then there could exist a stone so heavy God could not lift it. But then there could be something God cannot do, namely lift that stone. And if there could be something God cannot do, then again He is not omnipotent after all.

Some try to avoid this conclusion by insisting that God simply never will make the stone, so there never will actually exist the thing He cannot do. But this doesn’t work. To be omnipotent, it’s not enough that there happens to be nothing He cannot do. Rather, there could not even possibly be something He cannot do. And if He can create that stone—even if He doesn’t— then there could be something He cannot do, namely lift it.

Since yes and no are the only possible answers and each leads to the same conclusion, then either way there is no omnipotent being. So if God is supposed to be omnipotent it follows that there is no God.

That’s some powerful burrito!

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9 thoughts on “Can Jesus Make A Burrito So Hot He Couldn't Eat It?

  1. Touche, eh?

    Well written words, but if you translate it to a logic expression (symbols and all that math-y crap)–assumptions and postulates–it turns out that you are starting with a faulty assumption.

    If I did my logic right (I’m tired, so no assumptions made there), it’s equivalent to asking if jesus, Jesus, God or god (take your pick) could make himself bigger than he is.

    The (really clever, I add) burrito argument, although faulty, is like a easy-to-grasp version of the bigger question, where did God (for simplicity’s sake, it’s nice to just use the accepted “God”) come from? Diest folks tend to say “well, if you don’t believe in God than where’d your universe come from?” and atheist folks tend to say “well where did your God come from then?”

    Kinda a stalemate eh? One question off to another, so on and so forth.

    • “Symbols and math-y crap”? I’m not sure I follow your mental association process, David. There is no assumption here, just a question. My point is: for absolute omnipotence [intentionally redundant], there must be no exception, nor even the possibility of an exception to what god can do.

  2. Huh? What faulty assumption?

    It’s a philosophical question to a philosophical premise that is clearly flawed.

    What “math-y crap” are you talking about?

  3. Hello Monicks,

    This isn’t the best argument against the existence for God, and a believer could easily refute this. How you answer this paradox depends on how you view God’s omnipotence.

    If you believe that he can do absolutely anything, that he his power is unlimited, then he is capable of defying logic. He can create a stone that he cannot move, and then move it; he can make a contradiction true. It’s like believing that God can make 2+2=5. If his power is limitless, then he can defy the laws of mathematics and logic.

    If you believe that God is unlimited in his use of natural power, then you believe that God is in fact incapable of doing some things — specifically, defying the laws of logic and mathematics. God could create an immovable stone, and his inability to move it would not change the perception of his power.

    Both answers are horribly frightening, if you think about it. And they display a great deal of mental hurdling that theists must accomplish in order to maintain their beliefs. But really, when you start with a vague, open-ended starting point (an all-powerful God), it’s not very hard to come up with a semi-cogent argument in support of it.

    However, this is still a good question for people to consider. Certainly, someone with a very skeptical outlook on God could look at this question and appreciate how difficult it can be to defend God. This paradox makes me think of a parent defending the existence of Santa to a curious and inquiring child.

  4. Pingback: Reading Digest: Emmy Apathy Edition (Part II) « Dead Homer Society

  5. “for absolute omnipotence [intentionally redundant], there must be no exception, nor even the possibility of an exception to what god can do”

    I’m not a theist and consider the theistic conception of omnipotence to be nonsense but this is still a bad argument.

    I expect the assumption that Donqvijote referred to is the hidden premise in this quasi-paradox that an omnipotent being could do something that is a priori impossible: violate the law of non-contradiction (a priori impossible insofar as any philosopher would reject it out of hand because once non-contadiction is gone philosophy ceases to work, unless you’re into that paraconsistency shit that thinks paradoxes are really existing things and not bumps in our epistemology). This argument only works if we think it’s possible for God to make it rain and not rain simultaneously or, (to save listing unnecessary examples) God would need to be able to make it the case that p and ¬p simultaneously. For this “immovable stone” example to work it requires that it be coherent and possible for an omnipotent being to be simultaneously omnipotent and limited. Ultimately, this problem is attempting to speak to an inconsistency in the concept of God but the inconsistency is only there if a concept can contain the negation of its own attributes.

    Even a competent first year philosophy student should be able to spot this hidden premise and drive a truck through the gaping hole in this argument.

    FYI, the “symbols and all that math-y crap” that Donqvijote is referring to is the notation that logic employs in an attempt to think algebraically about philosophical problems: http://www.xs4all.nl/~maartens/philosophy/Dictionary/L/Logic%20Notation.htm or http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modeltheory-fo/ As a continental philosopher, the idea of reducing concepts to their propositional content and representing them this way is problematic but smarter people than myself seem to think it works so, whatever.

  6. Actually, our traditional form of the question is somewhat slanted, if one cares to notice. A more accurate question would be – “Can an omnipotent free agent create something it could not destroy?” or “Does omnipotence include the power to exhaust one’s own power?” All-powerful, therefore, is actually not sufficient for our needs. Eternally powerful or infinitely powerful would immediately render an answer of no- because no matter what action or creation A is, the agent would always have infinite destructive power over that as well. But this does not concede that the being is not omnipotent. The statement “God cannot out-perform himself” is actually sound with the idea of omnipotence. Out-performing oneself is not power, it is actually a lack of power, therefore it does not fall under the category of “power.” It really boils down to how one interprets “omnipotent” or all-powerful.
    Though the argument itself does not really refute a god hypothesis, it does illustrate how short-sighted the writers of the bible were. I’ve heard time and again limitations put on the possible decisions and actions of God, as if he’s not powerful enough to do away with the inbred-sin rule, or not powerful enough to open heaven up to all people, or not powerful enough to cleanse peoples sins regardless of them believing in him or not. It’s cherry picking. God is either all-powerful or he’s not. Speak to any religious person long enough, and they will eventually concede some limitation to what God can do. It’s always quite rewarding to hear it.

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