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Unread 07-29-2008, 02:36 PM   #1
Cayne-Abel
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Can G-d make a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it?...

Yes, I know this is an old, cliched theological riddle that has been discussed to death. And I have read some reactions to it from some of this board's members, in this thread:

http://www.chabadtalk.com/forum/show...ight=ROCK+LIFT

...but the most coherent and, in my opinion, most rational answer to the question came from - of all people - an agnostic philosopher I was reading.

In short, his answer to the question was: No, G-d cannot create such a rock - BUT, that does not mean that He is not all-powerful. To elaborate: Traditional theism does not claim that G-d can do the logically impossible - it only claims that He can do everything that can be logically done (including the physically impossible). Thus, G-d cannot make a shape that is both circle and square...He cannot make a four-sided triangle...He cannot make 1+1=3...He cannot destroy Himself...and He cannot make a rock too big for Him to lift. But just because there are things that G-d "cannot do" does not make Him less than all-powerful.

This answer makes more sense to me than simply saying "G-d transcends logic." I mean, surely, even G-d cannot make 1+1=3.

Any thoughts? Is this position incompatible with normative Judaism? With Chassidus?
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Unread 07-29-2008, 03:15 PM   #2
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Traditional theism does not claim that G-d can do the logically impossible - it only claims that He can do everything that can be logically done (including the physically impossible). Thus, G-d cannot make a shape that is both circle and square...He cannot make a four-sided triangle...He cannot make 1+1=3...He cannot destroy Himself...and He cannot make a rock too big for Him to lift. But just because there are things that G-d "cannot do" does not make Him less than all-powerful.

This answer makes more sense to me than simply saying "G-d transcends logic." I mean, surely, even G-d cannot make 1+1=3.

Any thoughts? Is this position incompatible with normative Judaism? With Chassidus?
FWIW, R. Aryeh Kaplan Z"L took the same position.

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Unread 07-29-2008, 03:17 PM   #3
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I mean, surely, even G-d cannot make 1+1=3.
BS"D

Making 1+1=3 is strictly the province of some of those responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis in the US.
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Unread 07-29-2008, 06:33 PM   #4
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The answer does not comport with normative Judaism. G-d is "kol yachol," which means he can do anything. He is not limited by logic, or by language. As one Rosh Yeshiva said, "G-d make make a rock so big that he cannot lift it. And then he can lift it." He later went on to say that a stupid question deserves such a stupid answer.
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Unread 07-29-2008, 06:47 PM   #5
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Meshulam - I think the Rishonim etc. weighed in on the issue. I, however, don't know if that is considered normative...
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Unread 07-29-2008, 08:36 PM   #6
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This specific question?
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Unread 07-29-2008, 09:45 PM   #7
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I believe so. The experts can weigh in.
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Unread 07-29-2008, 09:57 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Meshulam View Post
G-d is "kol yachol," which means he can do anything.
That doesnt contradict the answer I recited. One who holds the position I articulated would respond "indeed, He can do anything - anything that is logically possible."

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He later went on to say that a stupid question deserves such a stupid answer.
The question of what G-d's nature is, and what is His relation to the rules of logic, is far from stupid. Lofty, esoteric, and difficult to answer, perhaps.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 04:58 AM   #9
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Why is something lofty just because its paradoxical? Your answer is based on the assumption that G-d is bound by human logic. That assumption is incorrect. G-d is not bound by our logic, because He created our logic. Therefore, like I said, He could build such a rock, and then he could lift it.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 08:58 AM   #10
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The answer does not comport with normative Judaism.
WADR, I have to disagree with you. As I pointed out, R. Aryeh Kaplan maintained that God cannot do what is logically impossible. Furthermore, I looked it up in his sefer Facets and Faces, and he ascribes this view to the Rambam. He states:

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Facets and Faces, page 69
I have been asked by clever students a very tricky question concerning this concept of God. If God is omnipotent, can He create a stone that He cannot lift up? This intriguing question is actually very similar to some questions raised by Maimonides in his Guide to the Preplexed. Maimonides asks, "Can God produce another being like Himself? Can God change Himself? Can God create for Himself a body?" Maimonides answers "No" to all these questions for the following reason: we do not ascribe to God the power to do what is categorically impossible.
Now, you may disagree with R. Kaplan and you may even feel that the Rambam is wrong... but it's definitely within normative Judaism.

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G-d is "kol yachol," which means he can do anything. He is not limited by logic, or by language. As one Rosh Yeshiva said, "G-d make make a rock so big that he cannot lift it. And then he can lift it." He later went on to say that a stupid question deserves such a stupid answer.
I'll leave aside, for now, the question of whether denigrating a student's honest question is a good thing to do. Nonetheless, the question *is* a valid one. How about if we change it a bit then... Can God create a rock that He can *never* lift? The answer to such a question must be no. You can't tell me that He can create it and then lift it up, because then it's not a rock that He can never lift.

The point is that there are certain things that are impossible by their very definition. In a reality with an Omnipotent Diety, a rock that He cannot lift is a logical impossibility. So is a triangle with four sides. God can't create a triangle with four sides for the very simple reason that if it has four sides, it's no longer a triangle. A triangle is defined as a polygon with three sides. If you give it a fourth, it's no longer a triangle.

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Unread 07-30-2008, 10:12 AM   #11
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WADR, I have to disagree with you. As I pointed out, R. Aryeh Kaplan maintained that God cannot do what is logically impossible. Furthermore, I looked it up in his sefer Facets and Faces, and he ascribes this view to the Rambam. He states:



Now, you may disagree with R. Kaplan and you may even feel that the Rambam is wrong... but it's definitely within normative Judaism.



I'll leave aside, for now, the question of whether denigrating a student's honest question is a good thing to do. Nonetheless, the question *is* a valid one. How about if we change it a bit then... Can God create a rock that He can *never* lift? The answer to such a question must be no. You can't tell me that He can create it and then lift it up, because then it's not a rock that He can never lift.

The point is that there are certain things that are impossible by their very definition. In a reality with an Omnipotent Diety, a rock that He cannot lift is a logical impossibility. So is a triangle with four sides. God can't create a triangle with four sides for the very simple reason that if it has four sides, it's no longer a triangle. A triangle is defined as a polygon with three sides. If you give it a fourth, it's no longer a triangle.

The Wolf

Thank you Wolf, you articulated my point better than I did. I didn’t know that Rambam held such a view, but based on his teachings that I do know of, I suspected him of holding to such a view as well.


I might be wrong, but I think that part of the reason why so many insist on the answer “G-d can do even the logically impossible” is because there is a natural, instinctive aversion to concede that there is something that G-d *cannot* do, making Him less than all-powerful. But there is nothing incompatible with an all-powerful entity who has to respect fundamental logical principles.


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Unread 07-30-2008, 11:42 AM   #12
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Can G-d make...

I heard a lecture by Rav Imanuel Schochet in which he responded that the question is not a question because it is altogether absurd. It is like asking whether Gd can make a square circle - i.e., a circle that is not a circle, or a square that is not a square. In othger words, you are not asking any question but simply make disparate sounds which may have meaning in isolation but not in combination. He attributed this answer to Rav Saadia Gaon.
Then again, the idea of "logical absurdities" is something which Rav Saadia Gaon, Rambam and Ikaarim etc. reject with regards to G-d. On the other hand, it seems that there is a divergent view - i.e. Rashba's, who states that Gd is nimna hanimno'os, and this is accepted by Chassidus. Their argument is the concept of ho'oron einoh min hamidoh which is also logically inconsistent.
From the Alter Rebbe it appears that he adopts the Rambam etc. view in his refutation of tzimtzum kipshuto. But the Rebbe once said that tzimtzum kipshuto is possible because of kol yochol (nimna hanimno'os).

So far from said lecture. To my mind still a perplexing dilemma.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 11:48 AM   #13
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Boruch shekivanti - that there are opinions in Rishonim.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 12:15 PM   #14
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I heard a lecture by Rav Imanuel Schochet in which he responded that the question is not a question because it is altogether absurd. It is like asking whether Gd can make a square circle - i.e., a circle that is not a circle, or a square that is not a square.

In other words, it is impossible for Him to do the logically absurd? e.g. create a square-circle, or make 1+1=3
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Unread 07-30-2008, 01:03 PM   #15
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"Sure G‑d can create a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it. G‑d can do anything. And He could even lift that rock that He cannot lift as well."

http://www.chabad.org/693352
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Unread 07-30-2008, 03:10 PM   #16
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"Sure G‑d can create a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it. G‑d can do anything. And He could even lift that rock that He cannot lift as well."

http://www.chabad.org/693352
Except that if He can lift it, then *by definition* it is NOT a rock that He cannot lift.

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Unread 07-30-2008, 05:36 PM   #17
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Wolf, was that you who wrote the last (critical) comment for the article?
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Unread 07-30-2008, 05:45 PM   #18
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Oh, and to those who still hold to the "He can create such a rock and then lift it, despite the logical absurdity" answer, do you also contend that He can make 1+1=3? Create another distinct G-d of equal power? Remove His own omnipotence? Surely He can't do such things, can He?
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Unread 07-30-2008, 05:55 PM   #19
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To say He can't is to limit G-d. But at the same time, limiting omnipotence is an oxymoron to mankind (as well as Majorthinker-kind).
We are not able to understand what G-d does, or what He wants to do. A 'limit' on G-dliness is the root of evil. But evil itself is only G-dliness disguised. And the disguise itself is G-dliness, since G-d is everything.
However, everything is not G-d. And I repeat, we have no inkling of what G-d does, who He is, or what His abilities are.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 06:26 PM   #20
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To say He can't is to limit G-d.
But it's done all the time in rabbinical literature via negative descriptions. "G-d can't be evil; G-d can't be ignorant; G-d can't be confined to space or time", etc.

And Rambam certainly didn't think that saying "G-d can't do the logically absurd" is to imply that G-d is less than omnipotent.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 06:42 PM   #21
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'G-d can't be confined to time or space'. Time and space are both physical, mortal, definitions. To confine G-d to this is to make Him physically fit within our mental capacities. This doesn't- can't- work.

'G-d can't be evil'. G-d is the root of all things, both good and evil. Evil doesn't exist; it is simply a lack of revealed good. Or, in simpler terms, evil is concealed good. Disguised good. The world is good, but we don't always see the good. When we don't see good, we see evil. Evil, however, is a nonexistance, as are you.

'G-d can't be ignorant'. G-d is the Knower, the Knowledge, and the Known. Ignorance is a lack of awareness of all three of these. Ignorance in and of itself, however, has no existence. It is simply a lack of revealed knowledge. Or, if you like, ignorance is not knowing something on a physical plane. Ignorance, like evil, is a cover-up; this time for knowledge that is as of yet undiscovered.

When Rambam says that 'G-d can't do the logically absurd', he is saying something slightly different. Rambam is saying that G-d has made rules, and won't go against them. In other words, He has bound Himself by His own rules. But these rules can and will change, when G-d wills them to. For now, G-d sticks to them, and in general won't break them. An open miracle is a rule broken, which amazes everyone for exactly this reason. In our minds, however, G-d certainly can't break the rules. Why? Because that would be going against the general scheme of things. This general scheme is what the basic plan for the world is. G-d doesn't usually go against that.
I'm stopping now, because I feel like I'm going in circles, but I think my point is clear. If it isn't, either YN, T613, Gevurah, or noahide will hit me over the head. I'm not worried.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 07:52 PM   #22
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Wolf, was that you who wrote the last (critical) comment for the article?
No. I did not comment on the chabad.com article at all.

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Unread 07-30-2008, 07:59 PM   #23
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When Rambam says that 'G-d can't do the logically absurd', he is saying something slightly different. Rambam is saying that G-d has made rules, and won't go against them. In other words, He has bound Himself by His own rules. But these rules can and will change, when G-d wills them to. For now, G-d sticks to them, and in general won't break them. An open miracle is a rule broken, which amazes everyone for exactly this reason. In our minds, however, G-d certainly can't break the rules. Why? Because that would be going against the general scheme of things. This general scheme is what the basic plan for the world is. G-d doesn't usually go against that.
I'm stopping now, because I feel like I'm going in circles, but I think my point is clear. If it isn't, either YN, T613, Gevurah, or noahide will hit me over the head. I'm not worried.
You can't compare a miracle with a logical impossibility. A miracle is usually defined as a suspension of the laws of nature. The sea splitting would be a miracle. A donkey spontaneously developing the power of speech is a miracle. But they are not logical impossibilities. A sea is still a sea, even if it splits. A donkey is still a donkey, even if God grants it the power of speech for a little while.

A logical impossibility, OTOH, is not a suspension of the laws of nature, but the a defiance of the definition of reality. God can't make a four sided triangle since the very definition of a triangle is a polygon with three sides. Once you put a fourth side on it, it's no longer a triangle. By definition, a four sided triangle cannot exist any more than 0 can equal 1. Likewise, a rock that God can never lift cannot exist in the same reality as a God whom we define as omnipotent.

It's like the riddle of what happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object. In a logical universe, both cannot exist at the same time. If the immovable object moves, then it's not immovable. If the force is stopped, then it's not irresistable. They cannot both exist because when they do meet, we will discover that one of them is not truly immovable or irresistable. The same can be said about the Omnipotent Diety and the unliftable rock.

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Unread 07-30-2008, 08:28 PM   #24
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You can't compare a miracle with a logical impossibility. A miracle is usually defined as a suspension of the laws of nature. The sea splitting would be a miracle. A donkey spontaneously developing the power of speech is a miracle. But they are not logical impossibilities. A sea is still a sea, even if it splits. A donkey is still a donkey, even if God grants it the power of speech for a little while.
Agreed.

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A logical impossibility, OTOH, is not a suspension of the laws of nature, but the a defiance of the definition of reality. God can't make a four sided triangle since the very definition of a triangle is a polygon with three sides. Once you put a fourth side on it, it's no longer a triangle. By definition, a four sided triangle cannot exist any more than 0 can equal 1.
You obviously don't remember that high school trigonometry/algebra/whatever it was in which one did equal zero. Not that I remember how we got that conclusion; I just remember being totally confused by it.
IOW, if you do the equation right, then the logical impossibilities can exist.

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Likewise, a rock that God can never lift cannot exist in the same reality as a God whom we define as omnipotent.
G-d can create a rock which He can't lift; to say that He can't create it is to limit G-d. But to say that He can't lift it is also limiting. So G-d chooses to be able to lift anything....since He is able to do everything. Of course, G-d could also choose to be unable to either lift the rock or create it. But that is His choice. It says nothing about His ability.

Quote:
It's like the riddle of what happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object. In a logical universe, both cannot exist at the same time. If the immovable object moves, then it's not immovable. If the force is stopped, then it's not irresistable. The same can be said about the Omnipotent Diety and the unliftable rock.

The Wolf
And since when is the universe completely based on logic? Human logic, aderabba.

Omnipotent is omnipotent. Unliftable- to everything but G-d. And therefore, in our minds, unliftable.
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Unread 07-30-2008, 08:41 PM   #25
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You obviously don't remember that high school trigonometry/algebra/whatever it was in which one did equal zero. Not that I remember how we got that conclusion; I just remember being totally confused by it.
IOW, if you do the equation right, then the logical impossibilities can exist.
No, it doesn't. Check out this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/0%3D1 It's called an invalid proof.

Quote:
G-d can create a rock which He can't lift; to say that He can't create it is to limit G-d. But to say that He can't lift it is also limiting. So G-d chooses to be able to lift anything....since He is able to do everything. Of course, G-d could also choose to be unable to either lift the rock or create it. But that is His choice. It says nothing about His ability.
But guess what? We limit God all the time. We agree that He has no body... that's limiting Him. We agree that He rewards good and punishes evil -- that's limiting Him too. We agree that He is the ultimate Unity -- that's a limitation. In short, we limit Him all the time, so to speak. The same would apply here.

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And since when is the universe completely based on logic? Human logic, aderabba.
It is based on logic. Logic is not human in nature. If a superrobot were created on the spot, a triangle would still have three sides for it. If a dolphin developed sentience, they still couldn't make 3 equal 5. No matter what sort of advanced alien we meet in space, seven will still be a prime number for them. Logic is logic -- it's not restricted to humanity.

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