Friday, October 5, 2012

Mortality Week: Could God Kill Himself?

Could God create a stone so heavy even He couldn’t lift it? How does God know what it is like to learn if He has always known everything? These are just a couple examples of logic busting paradoxes that an idealized deity runs into. I’ve posed these questions to apologists who explain them away as illogical...but that’s kind of the point. If they think God can hold his omnipotent title while being confined by logic, fine. Thinking about mortality this week, I thought of a new question. Could God kill himself?

There is nothing illogical about this question. Suicide is something you or I can do fairly easily (although I don’t recommend you try.) I’ve reached out to a few high-profile apologists with this question. No answers. None. I’ve never gotten such a lack of feedback from these people.* I guess it’s because they know the repercussions of the question.

I’ve come to realize that I may never be able to convince a true believer that God is imaginary, but if this question can convince them that God is either mortal or less-than-omnipotent, I’m at least making some headway.

From my understanding, the biblically accurate answer is that yes, God could kill himself. We are made in his image, so anything we can do, he should be able to accomplish. A theist might argue that God can’t sin and suicide is a sin. To this I say that He clearly sins in the bible by wiping out masses of people on more than one occasion. The theist would then either have to grant me that God sins or take the stance that anything God does is inherently not a sin, which makes suicide not a sin if and when God commits it. This isn’t a question of whether God would commit suicide, it is a question if He could.

Any theists who would like to weight in on this, please do so in the comments or by email or on Twitter or by...carrier pigeon? Anything, just show me how I’m wrong. Until then, let’s just agree that your God ain’t what He used to be.

Upon further Googling, I realize that I'm not the first to ponder this question--even though I arrived at it organically. The only answers out there from the theist perspective I have already covered or fall under the "puny humans can't comprehend God" category. These same people then go on to explain all about God...paradoxes within paradoxes.

15 comments:

  1. Well done Grundy. I had not seen this question before. It seems to me that you have covered your bases on possible theistic responses, and your flow chart is excellent. This should give theists something pretty uncomfortable to think about if they treat it honestly, which is why I suspect you did not hear back from the prominent apologists...

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  2. I do have a possible defense here. Asking if God can kill Himself operates under the assumption that the life of God would be analogous to organic life. Inherently, we know that could not be the case. For example, such a God needs no sustenance to survive based on the fact (using that term loosely) that God existed for an eternity before anything other than Himself was in existence.

    Perhaps it could be that asking if God can kill Himself is the same as asking if God can make Himself not exist, which would seem to be an impossibility. Similarly, even though we can kill ourselves, our carcasses, molecules, atoms, etc. will remain behind. So this question may be like "Can God make a square circle?" It is logically impossible, so the question is invalid.

    Does that make sense?

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  3. Interesting question. In fact, any deity with multiple absolute traits can easily be shown to be incoherent, since any two absolutes potentially clash with each other (in this case, omnipotence vs. immortality).

    Some medieval Muslim theologians were aware of this problem and ultimately decided God has no traits at all except omnipotence, since any other attribute of God could be shown to clash with omnipotence in some sense. A less easily challenged, but incredibly stark and barren, concept.

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  4. Asking if God can kill Himself operates under the assumption that the life of God would be analogous to organic life.

    Not really. It makes perfect sense to imagine a non-organic being such as an intelligent computer killing itself. Some pagan mythologies include gods who die. The concept is perfectly plausible. In fact, it's the idea of anything (organic or not) lasting forever which requires unusual assumptions, since nothing we know of seems capable of naturally lasting for eternity, even the universe.

    So this question may be like "Can God make a square circle?" It is logically impossible, so the question is invalid.

    A square circle is impossible in the rather trivial sense that it contains two words whose definitions are mutually exclusive. The concept of an existing deity ceasing to exist is not definitionally invalid in that sense. Even if your argument shows that God could not commit suicide, that still falls under Grundy's point that there is something which God (for whatever reason) could not do, therefore God is not omnipotent.

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  5. The concept is perfectly plausible.
    That depends on the boundary of our discussion. I am assuming we are speaking of the God of the Bible, and as such, use the Bible as the boundary. Sure, pagan gods died. They were also born, but we're not speaking of pagan gods here. Allegedly, God wasn't born.

    How can you kill that which was never brought to life?

    To answer this question challenges the definition of life, and therefore makes the question somewhat invalid, right?

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  6. I don't see why. There's no reason why a self-aware entity that wasn't born would be definitionally incapable of ceasing to exist (in the sense that a circle by definition can't be a square). You're just making up arbitrary criteria out of nowhere and declaring the question invalid because it doesn't fit them.

    Again, even if your argument shows that God could not commit suicide, that still
    falls under Grundy's point that there is something which God (for
    whatever reason) could not do, therefore God is not omnipotent.

    Infidel753

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  7. But can an all powerful being make a sandwich so big even he can't eat it?

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  8. I'm not speaking of just the God of the bible, that God I have more problems with than just paradoxes. This applies to any alleged omnipotent, eternal being. I am not challenging the definition of life and think that if a god has a possible end point, then it probably has a start point as well. A god who can die undermines many apologetic arguments, like first cause, because they can no longer claim their God eternal.

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  9. OK, Infidel. Perhaps you'd could explain how it is that a god with no beginning dies. Does its heart stop beating? Does it stop breathing? Does it decay? Does it get cancer? Do its cells make too many replication errors? Does it just think itself into not existing?

    Or perhaps it might be useful to answer the question how does energy die?

    I don't know much about the pagan gods, so I'll have to default back to the Biblical one. And there, it appears that "[y]ou're just making up arbitrary criteria" by assuming that the death of God is more logically possible than a square circle. Yet any being which can "live" without anything external for all eternity defies the notion that its death is possible. If you don't believe me, try fasting for a few years. Even your intelligent computer example fails the test, because it requires energy to "survive."

    I'll tell you what, you find something that has lived which was never brought to life, and does not require any external resources to survive, but has now died, and I'll be happy to concede defeat on this point. :-)

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  10. One last point about this -- It seems that Christian mythology depicts God as having already killed himself, in one very limited and specialized sense. Jesus, according to the baffling-to-everyone concept of the Trinity, was God in human form, and God caused or allowed him to die by crucifixion. Granted, the myth has him rising from the dead later, but I'm not sure that negates the initial death. One could postulate extremely advanced human technology in the future which would bring long-dead humans back to life (I think this is quite likely, in fact), yet that wouldn't negate the fact that they had genuinely been dead in the meantime.

    So, yes, Christian mythology itself says that God can kill himself, at least temporarily. So the burden of proof is surely on the believer to show why he couldn't also kill himself permanently.

    As often seems to happen in discussion of these issues, it ends up reducing to exactly what the words mean.

    Infidel753

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  11. you find something that has lived which was never brought to life, and does not require any external resources to survive,

    It's impossible to find an example of such an entity, whether immune to death or not, because no such entities exist. Your mythology describes them, but no such entities exist in reality.

    You're the one who asserted, on the basis of nothing at all that I can see, that the trait of having had no beginning makes an entity inherently immune from death. The burden of proof is on you.

    Infidel753

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  12. If that's what you think I meant, Infidel, I'm afraid you've missed the point I've been making. Yet you may have finally come close to understanding my point based on your "It's impossible to find an example..." paragraph.

    I do not have any burden of proof. Quite the contrary, actually. I'm making the case that the requirement of proof is on the side of the questioner, because the questioner must first identify that it is possible for such a deity to "die." That is no easy task, given that there are no examples of how something like that "lives" in the first place. The basis of my point is that we do not have the understanding of such a "life" form to know if it can die.

    Does that make sense?

    But in the end, I guess we're just arguing over what shade of white the Easter Bunny's fur is. (It's "eggshell," by the way.) I hope you've enjoyed the fun diversion. ;-)

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  13. Actually, that's a really good question. Of course, God being omnipotent has been thrown out of much of Christian apologetic thought for a while now, they realized that problems like this occur with most of the omni-properties so they replaced all-powerful with "as powerful as God can reasonably be expected to be" or some such nonsense. It just gets them around the problem but it means nothing, like the lions-share of apologetics. It's crap as soon as you start to think about it.

    Kind of like God.

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  14. If God is Omnipotent, can He Destroy Himself?

    What are we working with then?
    • God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
    • God is eternal. He has always existed.

    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, yes? This is Newton’s Third Law. The Universe reflects this law in many ways; one in that it contains balance and equality. Things like light and dark, in and out, long and short; there are fundamental pairs of opposites, such that one does not exist without the other.

    What is the pair of destruction? The opposite of unmaking something is to make it. The opposite of destruction is creation. One cannot exist without the other.

    The event of destruction of an eternal God by Himself, cannot exist without the event of creation of the same eternal God by Himself. However, we have accepted that God is eternal and we know that eternal things have no beginning and no end. Something that is eternal never contains a starting or ending event, because such events are defined and bound by time, something that eternity is devoid of.

    Creation and destruction are events to which things dwelling inside of time are subjected. The rational response then is that the question is irrational. The rules of time cannot be applied to something timeless; i.e., God. Thus a self-destruction event is not a requisite for God to validate His omnipotence, because it has never applied to Him, and never will. Asking the question is simply proof that the asker obviously cannot comprehend the concept of eternity.

    The answer in summary then is not “yes” and it is not “no”. The answer is that the question is rationally flawed; irrational; and cannot be offered a dichotomously selected result due to erring on the asker’s part, by making a paradoxical assumption; that rules and events of time apply to timeless things. Therefore the question is a paradox, not the answer.

    Asking if an omnipotent and eternal God can destroy Himself therefore, is rationally akin to asking whether the moon can change gears, whether cheese can donate blood, or asking what the radius of a triangle is.

    Go and think about it.

    A poor question indeed.

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    Replies
    1. Could God kill himself? And your answer to this straight forward yes or no question is "yes and no"?

      Uh-huh.

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