Of God, Rocks, and Infinity
Have you ever run into the question, “Can God make a rock that is SO BIG… that He cannot lift it Himself?” Perhaps you have when out evangelizing or witnessing to someone. It would seem to be a very difficult question, would it not?
In some instances, this might be a sincere inquiry from someone who has pondered this question because they are considering the Christian faith. Perhaps some “intellectual” used this question with them—a professor in college, for example—and now they find this to be a stumbling block to be overcome before embracing the truth of the Gospel.
However, in many other instances, the person simply thinks that they “have you.” They are using this inquiry in an effort to refute your faith, or perhaps simply to get you to leave them alone.
So what is the explanation for the sincere inquirer? What is the appropriate “come back” that should be used for a skeptic? Well…I will explain that for you now. I will show you that theirs is actually a self-refuting question, because it is self-contradictory.
(By the way, please do not let the “infinity” title be a concern to you at all. This is actually one of the shorter articles that I have written on this website.) 🙂
This particular question is actually a logical fallacy known as a “false dilemma” (also called, “bifurcation”). It it presents in such a way that it appears that there are only two possible answers:
- Yes, God can create a rock so big that He cannot lift it (implying clearly that He is NOT omnipotent, because He cannot lift it).
- No, God cannot create such a rock (implying essentially the same thing; that He cannot create something that specific, and thus, He is not omnipotent).
Such a situation appears to be what is called a “dilemma.” This term can be defined as, “a situation requiring—by necessity—a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives; a perplexing predicament.” (Note: This was my own definition, assembled from more than one dictionary source).
In other words, whichever “choice” you pick, you seem to have lost the argument before you even began.
A “false dilemma,” however, is a fake dilemma. It is a deceptive “sleight of hand” (so to speak) that appears to force you into choosing one of two choices—when there might actually be a third one that is unspoken or unidentified; or even that the question itself is self-contradictory, and thus, self-refuted without choosing either of the “choices” that they offered.
This latter criterion is what is the case with the “false dilemma” question about God creating rocks. It is self-contradictory. But to see that fact, we need to explain a concept called “infinity” first.
Infinity as a Principle
If you have studied math to some degree beyond basic addition and subtraction, you have probably run into a term called “infinity.” It is represented in mathematics by the symbol “∞” (which looks like the number eight laying on its side). This English term in its simplest form means “to be without limit”… but it can mean much more than that.
“Infinite” is originally derived from the Latin word, infinitus, which is itself formed by two other Latin roots:
- The inseparable particle in-, which means, “without, not.”
- And the word finis, which means, “boundary, limit, border…end…” (from Cassell’s Latin Dictionary)
Thus, something that is truly “infinite” is without a boundary, limit, border, or end. In short, it is eternal (which is another possible definition for the word “infinite” within most English dictionaries).
So with this term in mind, let me ask this simple math question: If a value is expressed as infinite ( ∞ ), what number is larger than that? The correct answer is: The question itself is absurd, for it is self-contradictory.
- The phrase “larger than” implies logically that the first term is NOT infinite. In order for something to be “larger than” it, the first term must be “finite” — i.e. “capable of being completely counted, NOT infinite or infinitesimal” (Dictionary.com).
- However, the word “infinity” is BY DEFINITION infinite, and thus, unable to be counted or measured.
- Thus, the question contradicts itself by imposing a finite value upon an infinite term.
The Law of Contradiction
The most basic and core law of logic is often called, “The Law of Contradiction.” It states simply that an object cannot be simultaneously “A” and “not A” at the same time.
To use an example, one cannot say that the same exact car is in the garage and NOT in the garage at the same point in time, for that statement is self-contradictory. Or using our math example above, one cannot say that something is “infinite” and “finite” (i.e. “not infinite) at the same time, because that contradicts itself. The two terms cancel each other out, and the result is a logical absurdity:
Absurdity (noun): 1. at variance with reason; manifestly false. 2. Ludicrous; ridiculous.
(World English Dictionary)
God (i.e. the God of Christians and Jews, Who is revealed to us through the Bible) is by definition infinite. In using that description, we are acknowledging that He is without limit, boundary or end; that He is eternal. We can say this:
- Because it is self-evident, in that He created all time, as well as all matter and energy within the universe.
- Because as Christians, the Scriptures themselves clearly tell us that this is the case:
“The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, And will say, ‘Destroy!’”
(Deuteronomy 33:27, NKJV)
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…
Romans 1:20-22, NKJV)
Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
(Revelation 21:6-8, NKJV)
“…then I prayed to the LORD, saying, ‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, who shows lovingkindness to thousands, but repays the iniquity of fathers into the bosom of their children after them, O great and mighty God. The LORD of hosts is His name; great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, giving to everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds; who has set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and even to this day both in Israel and among mankind; and You have made a name for Yourself, as at this day.
(Jeremiah 32:16-20, NASB)
& etc, & etc…
In fact, even the person asking the question, “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?” is clearly IMPLYING that they are discussing this same Holy God of the Bible in most instances. This is because that is the very God you were discussing with them when they decided to ask you this question. So it is self-evident that they must be talking about our infinite God when they make this inquiry.
But in the second part of their question, the person is asking if the rock can be so “heavy” (or “big”) that God cannot lift it Himself.
Thus, he or she is talking about the INFINITE Creator when they ask if He can create something “bigger” than Himself. So it is clear that they have logically contradicted themselves: They have asked if INFINITY Himself can create something “larger” or “heavier” than INFINITY. In other words, the person has just logically implied that infinite is really finite, i.e. that it has limits, boundaries, etc..
Rephrasing this analysis in the same bullet-point manner that we did in the math example further above:
- The phrase “cannot lift” implies logically that the object is “bigger” or “heavier” than the first term. This implies that the first term is NOT infinite, for it must be “finite” in order for something to be “larger” than it in regards to its mass or size.
- However, the word “God,” BY DEFINITION, is infinite. Thus, it is absurd to assert that He is capable of having limits or boundaries.
- Thus, the question contradicts itself by imposing a finite limit upon an infinite Person.
I hope this short article “Of God, Rocks, and Infinity” was a blessing, and answered an importation question for you. If you were struggling with this concept yourself, then please let me encourage you that I was not insulting you in pointing out that this false dilemma is logically absurd. Rather, I am actually endeavoring to direct you toward eternal truth, by simply steering you away from logical error.
If this is the case, let me also recommend to you that you read my conversationally warm article The Supreme Value of Righteousness next. Within that post, you and I will have a good chat about the things of eternity—as if we were talking over a cup of coffee or tea somewhere. I believe it will be a blessing to you in many ways, for it will probably answer many more questions that you may have.
By the way: Are you interested in learning more about logic and biblical reasoning? Then let me recommend that you spend some time studying that particular sub-page of our new Recommendations section, which entitled Logic, Apologetics, and Evangelism.
Lastly, the commentary section is open below for those with an interesting thought to add. Please also feel free to use the Twitter and Facebook buttons, or the “Share/Save” menu below, to let others know about this article. Thanks.
Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
(Ephesians 6:23-24, NKJV)
Always in Jesus,