Can God Make A Rock That He Can’t Lift?

I was going to try and make a couple of posts that attempted to explain the difference between religious beliefs and philosophy of religion, but that just got too complicated and technical so I decided to keep it simple by just looking at examples. Let’s tackle some of the hardest philosophical questions first. Why not?

Is God Omnipotent?

Some religions, but not all hold on to the belief that God is omnipotent. Philosophers has a lot of difficult questions for that belief.

“Can God make a rock he can’t lift?”

If the answer to the above question is no, then God is not omnipotent. If the answer is yes, then God, is not omnipotent. These are the type of philosophical questions that challenge any religion that might hold God’s omnipotence. When it comes to Christianity the omnipotence of God is brought out in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus said nothing is impossible for God.

When I gave this “rock” question to my wife she said “Why even think about that?” Even after 33 years of marriage, she still doesn’t understand I question everything and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t think the same way. 🙂

What About Evil??

Another similar question is how evil can exist in a world controlled by an omnipotent God. This question was put forward before many religions were established by the philosopher Epicurus (341–270 bce)

Epicurus provided a pithy formulation of the problem: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then why is there evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I’m sure the existence of evil in the world as well as tragic, seemingly senseless deaths makes many question the very existence of God, or at least a god who supposedly watches out for each of us. The Abrahamic religions are the most ambivalent to philosophy, and given these types of questions I can see why.

How Many Different Religions Are There?

Changing subjects, they say that there are about 4200 different versions of religion in the world with Christianity and Islam being the two largest two and making up about half the world’s population. Many of the other religions are more philosophical in nature. The prominent ones being Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. These religions seem to comfortably coexist with philosophy.

Some religions regard God as a unity, whereas others take God to be triune. Some religions take God to have been incarnated in human form, whereas others recoil in horror from any such suggestion. Some religions hold that there is but one God, whereas other religions are polytheistic, positing many gods, each with its own jurisdiction. Some religions conceive of God as a supernatural being—an entity that is distinct from cosmos, whereas others identify God with the totality of all that there is.

Source: Reference #1

I need to do some more study on those religions outside the number 1 and 2 spots to see why they handle philosophical questions so much better than Christianity, Islam, or Judiasm.

Next time I want to study some more about Hinduism, in particular Gandhi’s version. To whet your appetite here is a quote from him about religion:

“I believe in the fundamental Truth of all great religions of the world. And I believe that if only we could, all of us, read the scriptures of the different Faiths from the stand-point of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom, all one and were all helpful to one another”

Getting Started with Philosophy of Religion

Where does one start with this topic? To me, all these types of serious discussions start with Wikipedia. They seem to always give me a good high-level view of the topic at hand.

Philosophy of religion is “the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions.

The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believersor non-believers

Source: Wikipedia

Editor’s Note: Since I don’t want to keep repeating it several time throughout our discussions, I am shortening the phrase “philosophy of religion” to POR.

In addition to the quote above what I have learned so far tells me that POR is very different from religious studies in that where philosophy generally tries to be both critical and comprehensive, whereas religion is comprehensive but almost always excludes any critical assessment.  Most religions do attempt to offer at least their general view of all of life and the universe and to their answers to most, if not all, of the most basic questions.

The answers offered by religion are rarely subject to the careful scrutiny of reason and logic. Many times religious beliefs defy logic and seem to be unreasonable.  Religion has its basis in belief.  Philosophy, on the other hand, is a critic of all belief and belief systems. 

To sum it up, theological discussions occur within the context of a particular religious tradition, whereas philosophical discussions aim to transcend the boundaries between traditions so as to treat all of them as objectively as possible.

Most of the posts going forward will be gleaned from what others say of the subject. I will try to limit my personal thoughts and feelings about what I have reported until the end of the post and they will be identified as shown above

Summing up my initial feelings about what I said here, I pretty much only have personal experiences with Christianity so that is the framework from which I currently think. I hope, via this series, to be able to broaden my view of spirituality in the coming months.

I don’t know but I suspect that most Protestant denominations pretty much detest philosophers from trying to logically think of what their religion is about. I know many Lutherans think of the Catholic church as the “enemy” and the Pope as almost the anti-Christ. And they think of most outside of Christianity even worse. That is not a good starting point for Coexistence, is it?

I need to spend some time either validating that belief or dispelling these negative feelings.