AskDefine | Define omnipotency

Extensive Definition

Omnipotence (from Latin root Omni Potens: "all power") is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence only to God.
In the philosophy of most Western monotheistic religions, omnipotence is listed as one of God's characteristics among many, including omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. Since he was God made flesh, Jesus was also said to be omnipotent.

Meanings of omnipotence

Between people of different faiths, or indeed even between people of the same faith, the term omnipotent has been used to connote a number of different positions. These positions include, but are not limited to, the following:
  1. God is able to do anything, i. e. the answer to "can God do x" is always "yes", regardless of what x may be. However this leads to obvious contradictions and is a view rarely held by theologians.
  2. God is able to do anything Aquinas Summa Theologica link here.
  3. God is able to do anything that God chooses to do.
  4. God is able to do anything that is in accord with His own nature (thus, for instance, if it is a logical consequence of God's nature that what God speaks is truth, then God is not able to lie).
  5. Hold that it is part of God's nature to be consistent and that it would be inconsistent for God to go against His own laws unless there were a reason to do so.
Under many philosophical definitions of the term "God", senses 2, 3 and 4 can be shown to be equivalent. However, on all understandings of Omnipotence, it is generally held that God is able to intervene in the world by superseding the laws of physics, since they are not part of his nature, but the principles on which he has created the physical world. However many modern scholars (such as John Polkinghorne) hold that it is part of God's nature to be consistent and that it would be inconsistent for God to go against His own laws unless there were an overwhelming reason to do so.). Although much of the narrative of the Old Testament describes God as interacting with creation primarily through persuasion, and only occasionally through force. A primary New Testament text used to assert the limit of God's power is Paul's assertion that God cannot tell a lie http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus%201:2;&version=49;. Thus, it is argued, there is no scriptural reason to adhere to omnipotence, and the adoption of the doctrine is merely a result of the synthesis of Hellenic and early Christian thought.
Many other verses in the Bible do assert God's omnipotence without actually using the word itself. There are several times in the Bible when God is called simply "Almighty", showing that the Bible supports the belief in an omnipotent God. Some such verses are listed below:
Psalms 33:8-9: Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.
Genesis 17:1: And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (The Hebrew word used here is "shadday" )
Jeremiah 32:27: Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?
At his command a storm arose and covered the sea. (Psalm 107:25)

Paradoxes of omnipotence

Belief that God can do absolutely anything can be thought to yield certain logical paradoxes. A simple example goes as follows: Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it? If he can, then the rock is now unliftable, limiting God's power. But if he cannot, then he is still not omnipotent. This question cannot be answered using formal logic due to its self-referential nature. See liar paradox and Godel's incompleteness theorem. This problem led in the High Middle Ages to developing the concept of mathematical infinity, and laid the basis for infinitesimal calculus. Combining omnipotence with omniscience can yield the difficulty of whether or not God can pose a question to which he would not know the answer.
Augustine, in his City of God, argued that God could not do anything that would make God non-omnipotent:
For He is called omnipotent on account of His doing what He wills, not on account of His suffering what He wills not; for if that should befall Him, He would by no means be omnipotent. Wherefore, He cannot do some things for the very reason that He is omnipotent.
Thus Augustine argued that God could not do anything or create any situation that would in effect make God not God.
Others have argued that (alluding to C.S. Lewis' argument above), that when talking about omnipotence, referencing "a rock so heavy that God cannot lift it" is nonsense just as much as referencing "a square circle." So asking "Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it?" is just as much nonsense as asking "Can God draw a square circle?" Therefore the question (and therefore the perceived paradox) is meaningless.
There is also the argument that omnipotency breaks logic. Meaning, "God can make a rock so heavy God can not lift it, and lift it anyways because he is omnipotent." It is the only way to properly explain omnipotency as to be able to do everything.

Uncertainty and other views

All the above stated claims of power are all based on scriptual grounds and upon empirical human perception. This perception is limited to our senses. The power of God is related to its existence; for more info on the proof on the existence of God and methods see Existence of God.There are however other ways of perception like: reason, intuition, revelation, divine inspiration, religious experience, mystical states, and historical testimony.
According to the Hindu philosophy the essence of God or Brahman can never be understood or known since Brahman is beyond both existence and non-existence, transcending and including time, causation and space, and thus can never be known in the same material sense as one traditionally 'understands' a given concept or object.
So presuming there is a god-like entity consciently taking actions, we cannot know the limits of God's powers.
Since the current laws of physics are only known to be valid in this universe, it is possible that the laws of physics are different in parallel universes, giving a God-like entity, more power. If the number of universes is unlimited, than the power of a certain God-like entity is also unlimited, since the laws of physics may be different in other universes, and accordingly making this entity omnipotent. Unfortunately concerning a multiverse there is a lack of empirical correlation. To the extreme there are theories about realms beyond this multiverse (Nirvana, Chaos, Nothingness).
Also trying to develop a theory to explain, assign or reject omnipotence on grounds of logic has little merit, since being omnipotent would mean the omnipotent being is above logic. A view supported by René Descartes He issues this idea in his Meditations on First Philosophy.
It can also be debated that God, assuming there is a God-like entity, is consciously taking actions. It could be concluded from an emanationism point of view, that all actions and creations by God are simply flows of divine energy (the flowing Tao in conjunction with qi is often seen as a river; Dharma (Buddhism) the law of nature discovered by Buddha has no beginning or end.) Pantheism and/or panentheism sees the universe/multiverse as the body of God, making God everybody and everything. So if one does something, actually God is doing it. We are God's means according to this view.
In the Taoist religious or philosophical tradition, the Tao is in some ways equivalent to God or the logos. The Tao is understood to have inexhaustible power, yet that power is simply another aspect of its weakness.

Notes

References

See also

omnipotency in German: Allmacht
omnipotency in Spanish: Omnipotencia
omnipotency in French: Omnipotence
omnipotency in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Omnipotentia
omnipotency in Italian: Onnipotenza
omnipotency in Hebrew: אומניפוטנטיות
omnipotency in Dutch: Almacht
omnipotency in Polish: Omnipotencja
omnipotency in Portuguese: Omnipotência
omnipotency in Russian: Всемогущество
omnipotency in Serbian: Омнипотенција
omnipotency in Swedish: Allsmäktighet
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