Analysis / The Omnipotent
Levels of Actual Omnipotence
Philosophers and theologians have come up with different interpretations for what it actually means for a subject (usually God
, whom we'll refer to from now on for simplicity) to be omnipotent. The following is a crude overview of different possible levels of conceived omnipotence. Note that the trope The Omnipotent
concerns not only characters that are actually omnipotent but also those that are virtually so, so the different levels given on the main page are for that reason quite different from these. Logical (im)possibility is also treated less strictly there than here.
- Unconstrained even by logic. This is where God can do anything, even things that are logically self-contradictory. This kind of God could create a stone so heavy he can't lift it and then lift it anyway while it still genuinely was too heavy for him to lift. Such a being would probably be an Eldritch Abomination to our perception. A "milder" version would be where God at least leaves the world to function in its own logic, or got to decide what was going to be logically possible in the world he created, which might or might not mean he can break the rules now; if not, the practical effect would be the same as in the next option.
- Constrained only by logic. God can do anything; however, he can't do self-contradictory things, because those aren't "things"; there are only self-contradictory linguistic constructions that refer to no possible state of affairs. God couldn't create a square circle because the phrase "square circle" doesn't refer to anything, the same way as he couldn't sploorxz because "sploorxz" is a nonsense word that doesn't mean anything. God also probably couldn't create a stone too heavy for himself to lift because, he being omnipotent, that description refers to an inherently impossible object. This type can be defeated by a Logic Bomb. For this reason, it's also difficult to depict truly logic-defying powers in fiction.
- Constrained only by logic, but with extra stipulations. God can do anything that lacks a contradiction, but some extra limits are brought in that aren't immediately obvious just on that basis. For example, it could be said that human free will must be absolutely indeterministic, at most probabilisticnote , and so God can't both give humans true free will and maintain totalitarian control over what they do and what happens to them, which suddenly leaves quite a lot of things beyond his control. This kind of thing can be done to excuse the imperfection of the world. The stipulation in Christianity that God had to sacrifice Jesus Christ, and/or incarnate as him, to atone humanity also goes on this level. It's not a logical necessity without first stipulating a lot of concepts that imply it. Not to be confused with merely self-imposed limits; God's own will "limiting" itself is a whole other debate not included here because it would make this much more complicated while adding little value.
- Not actually omnipotent, but we're saying that anyway. This is when limitations like the above are taken so far that God honestly can't do all that much, maybe just vaguely nudge history in a desired direction or something, but is called omnipotent anyway because that's part of the traditional definition, or because the entity in question is so powerful we primitive humans dismiss as Omnipotent (see also Clarke's Third Law). Definitely not Super Weight class 7 any more, and may not even be The Omnipotent in trope terms. It isn't really until this level that another entity may be imagined as challenging God.
- Some theologians also apply this idea to morality, as most see God as its source. However, there is a very old question regarding this (going back to Socrates) which in modern terms asks: "Are things good because God wills them, or does he will them because they are good?" Som reply that God embodies goodness: his character is wholly good, and thus he cannot will anything evil. Not everyone agrees it answers the question of course, since this can be reframed into "Is God's character good because it's his, or just good by definition? In any case, other theologians have that whatever God wills is good by definition (such as William of Occam, who coined Occam's Razor), so that if he willed that murder was good, it would be so. Not surprisingly, the majority reject this view though.