Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has the advantage of allowing us to understand omnipotence without first solving the puzzles about power. A disadvantage, however, is that it does answer all of the questions of the form “does God have the power to…” (which I take to be equivalent to “can God…” on the most usual meaning of the latter in these sorts of questions). Indeed, without an analysis of power, our account does not answer any questions of that form. What it does do is tell us enough about what an omnipotent being would be like that if we did have an analysis of power we would presumably be able to give the correct answer to each such question and explain why these are the correct answers.
One such question which is of particular interest is, “does God have the power to do evil?” According to the Pearce-Pruss theory, the claim that God is omnipotent entails the following two claims:
Let E (for ‘election’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be saved that he or she will be saved. That is, E is the longest conjunction of the form ‘John will be saved, and Mary will be saved, and Lois will be saved…’ which is true. Let R (for ‘reprobation’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be damned that he or she will be damned.
The doctrine of predestination is the doctrine that God, from eternity, has issued an efficacious decree of election – that is, God, from eternity, effectively chose that E should be true. The doctrine of double predestination states that in addition to the decree of election, God also issued a decree of reprobation – that is, in addition to effectively choosing that E should be true, God effectively chose that R should be true.
Double predestination is much more contentious among Christians than predestination (although predestination is not entirely uncontroversial – for instance, open theists will have to deny it). Many Christians would rather have single predestination, holding that all people are, on their own, bound for hell, and God intervenes to save those he wishes to save, and just leaves the rest alone.
In his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross proposes the following analysis of omnipotence:
S is omnipotent if and only if for every logically contingent state of affairs, p, whether p or ~p is the case is logically equivalent to the effective choice, by S, that p or that ~p (respectively). (p. 211)
This analysis appears to have the consequence that, if God is omnipotent, then double predestination is true. Both E and R are true contingent propositions, so if God is omnipotent then God effectively chooses that the corresponding states of affairs should be the case.
Here is a set (no doubt incomplete) of important traditional Christian theological commitments directly about humans in hell:
- All human beings in hell will be in hell everlastingly.
- No human being in hell experiences the union with God characteristic of heaven.
- All human beings in hell deserve to be in hell everlastingly and deserve all of the harsh treatment they receives there.
- No human being in hell would have been better off to have ceased existing instead or to have never existed.
- Some human beings are in hell and experience on-balance significant everlasting suffering there.
What could the doctrine that all times are present to God mean?
Suppose you have a time machine that lets you travel through all of time in a finite amount of subjective time. How? Well, first travel back a thousand years; then slow down your internal time, so that you live through the millenium in half a second of internal time, or else fast-forward with your time machine at two thousand years per second; then travel back two thousand years, and then change your subjective time so as to live through that millenium in a quarter of a second (or else fast-forward); keep on going until all the past is covered. This will take no longer than one second, even if the past is infinite (if the past is finite, you need to adjust for the fact that the age of the world may not be a multiple of a thousand years, but that’s a triviality). Now do the future, which is easier: just slow down your internal time to cover the future millenium in half a second, the next millenium in a quarter of a second, and so on (or else use your time machine in fast-forward mode). In at most two (subjective) seconds, you’ll have covered all of time.
Now, repeat this process over and over, forever. Assuming your specious present is at least two seconds long (if it’s shorter, just speed up the process and/or increase your mental capacity), all objective times will always be within your specious present. So here is one apparently coherent sense of the claim that all objective times are present to a being: all objective times are within that being’s specious present. And the above argument suggests that it is logically possible to have a being such that all times are within the being’s specious present. Indeed, it is possible to have a being such that this is always the case.
I am not claiming that God is such a time-traveler. For one, God is unchanging, while this being seems to live on a changing two second cycle. But we can get a bit of a help towards imagining of God’s relation to time as follows. The above being goes through all of objective time every two seconds. We can imagine another being that does this every second. And another that does this every half second. God, then, is like the limiting case of this progression of beings.
What is helpful about this is that it suggests a way of understanding the idea that God’s immutability is not stasis but infinitely fast activity.