A lot of people can’t understand how I can write such great stuff 6 days a week, but then go batty on Sundays. (Krugman and DeLong, in contrast, think I’m consistently nuts.) One thing in particular people like to throw at me, is this passage from Mises’ Human Action:
[T]he endeavors of philosophers to define neatly the attributes of an
absolute being, free from all the limitations and frailties of human
existence, by the use of praxeological concepts, are no less questionable.
Scholastic philosophers and theologians and likewise Theists and
Deists of the Age of Reason conceived an absolute and perfect being,
unchangeable, omnipotent, and omniscient, and yet planning and
acting, aiming at ends and employing means for the attainment of
these ends. But action can only be imputed to a discontented being,
and repeated action only to a being who lacks the power to remove
his uneasiness once and for all at one stroke. An acting being is discontented
and therefore not almighty. If he were contented, he would
not act, and if he were almighty, he would have long since radically
removed his discontent. For an all-powerful being there is no pressure
to choose between various states of uneasiness; he is not under the
necessity of acquiescing in the lesser evil. Omnipotence would mean
the power to achieve everything and to enjoy full satisfaction without
being restrained by any limitations. But this is incompatible with
the very concept of action. For an almighty being the categories of
ends and means do not exist. He is above all human comprehension,
concepts, and understanding. For the almighty being every “means”
renders unlimited services, he can apply every “means” for the attainment
of any ends, he can achieve every end without the employment
of any means. It is beyond the faculties of the human mind
to think the concept of almightiness consistently to its ultimate logical
consequences. The paradoxes are insoluble. Has the almighty being
the power to achieve something which is immune to his later interference?
If he has this power, then there are limits to his might and
he is no longer almighty; if he lacks this power, he is by virtue of this
fact alone not almighty.
Are omnipotence and omniscience compatible? Omniscience presupposes
that all future happenings are already unalterably determined.
If there is omniscience, omnipotence is inconceivable. Impotence
to change anything in the predetermined course of events would
restrict the power of any agent.
This is the most eloquent statement of, “Can God make a rock so heavy He Himself can’t lift it?” ever penned. But let me focus on the issue of action and uneasiness.
In the way I picture God, He does achieve His ends in one fell swoop. God is outside of time; He created time as we experience it. Picture someone drawing out the various scenes in a comic strip. Even though time passes “inside” the comic strip–in order for the story to make sense–it’s obvious that the creator isn’t bound by the time inside the story.
To see how odd Mises’ statements are, imagine that at the end of Return of the Jedi, R2D2 suddenly starts telling C3PO that he thinks there was am omnipotent guy, named George, who created everything in their universe, including their very personalities, and every word coming out of their mouths. Even though they felt like they were sentient, autonomous beings, in fact they were characters created by this omnipotent being George, who had the power to do anything he fancied in their universe.
Then C3PO says, “Nonsense, your circuits are crossed! If you are right, then why would it have taken so long to kill the Emperor? That would have happened in the first moment of Episode 1. And would a benevolent George have created Jar Jar Binks?”