Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rejection or limitation of omnipotence

Some monotheists reject the view that God is or could be omnipotent, or take the view that, by choosing to create creatures with freewill, God has chosen to limit divine omnipotence. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, and some movements within Protestant Christianity, including process theology and open theism, God is said to act in the world through persuasion, and not by coercion (for open theism, this is a matter of choice--God could act miraculously, and perhaps on occasion does so--while for process theism it is a matter of necessity--creatures have inherent powers that God cannot, even in principle, override). God is manifest in the world through inspiration and the creation of possibility, not necessarily by miracles or violations of the laws of nature.

The rejection of omnipotence often follows from either philosophical or scriptural considerations, discussed below.

Philosophical groundsProcess theology rejects unlimited omnipotence on a philosophical basis, arguing that omnipotence as classically understood would be less than perfect, and is therefore incompatible with the idea of a perfect God.
The idea is grounded in Plato's oft-overlooked statement that "Being is power."
My notion would be, that anything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply power
– Plato, 247E

From this premise, Charles Hartshorne argues further that:
Power is influence, and perfect power is perfect influence ... power must be exercised upon something, at least if by power we mean influence, control; but the something controlled cannot be absolutely inert, since the merely passive, that which has no active tendency of its own, is nothing; yet if the something acted upon is itself partly active, then there must be some resistance, however slight, to the "absolute" power, and how can power which is resisted be absolute?

– Hartshorne, 89
The argument can be stated as follows:
1) If a being exists, then it must have some active tendency 2) If beings have some active tendency, then they have some power to resist God 3) If beings have the power to resist God, then God does not have absolute power Thus, if God does not have absolute power, God must therefore embody some of the characteristics of power, and some of the characteristics of persuasion. This view is known as dipolar theism.

The most popular works espousing this point are from Harold Kushner (in Judaism). The need for a modified view of omnipotence was also articulated by Alfred North Whitehead in the early 20th century and expanded upon by the aforementioned philosopher Charles Hartshorne. Hartshorne proceeded within the context of the theological system known as process theology.

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