Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe
Christians love to say their god is "sovereign." Bahnsen, for instance, writes of "Godís all-controlling sovereignty" (Van Tilís Apologetic: Reading & Analysis, p. 122n.106). And by this they generally mean that whatever their god wants, their god gets. I.e., its say-so is sufficient to bring about any outcome it desires, for its say-so is final and ultimately authoritative, and omnipotence is the power which makes this happen.
Enter now the Cartoon Universe of Theism. The theist is truly caught between a rock and a hard place here. If he affirms that his god can do in the universe what a cartoonist can do in his cartoons, then he confirms the appropriateness of the cartoon universe analogy and thus should not try to resist it. But if he denies that his god can do the things that a cartoonist can do in his cartoons, then heís essentially saying that the cartoonist can do things that his god cannot do. But of course this would violate the principle of divine sovereignty.
Many Christians of course will still resent it when non-believers point out that the theistic view of the universe essentially amounts to the view that it is nothing more than a cartoon. So here are some questions readers might ask themselves to determine whether or not they really do ascribe to the cartoon universe premise of theism. Any "yes" answer to one of these questions affirms endorsement of the cartoon universe premise; a "no" answer affirms either that one is an atheist, or, if he thinks he is a theist, that he thinks his god is impotent.
- Can your god create something ex nihilo (i.e., without using materials that already exist)?
- Can your god create a water-breathing man?
- Can your god create green snow?
- Can your god create red grass?
- Can your god create flowers that speak Mandarin Chinese?
- Can your god create a human being with 42 arms?
- Can your god create a woman who gives birth to elephants?
- Can your god create a teacup that dances with a spoon?
- Can your god create a second moon to orbit the earth?
- Can your god remove all salinity from the world's oceans?
- Can your god create a biological organism which requires no nutrients or oxygen to live?
And so on...
Notice that these questions are not like the age-old "Can God create a square circle," for even a cartoonist would be stumped by such a challenge. But a cartoonist can do all these things in the context of a cartoon. He can make things suddenly pop into existence, or create a man who breathes underwater, or make green snow or red grass, etc. He can do all these things. Christians who claim that their deity is "omnipotent" will likely want to affirm that it can do all these things if it wants to. This puts their god on a par with the cartoonist, and its creations on a par with the cartoonist's cartoons. Those who urge us to believe these things essentially urge us to believe that the universe is like a cartoon: conforming completely to someone's wishes and designs. If a person truly believes these bizarre notions, why would he resent being identified as an adherent to the cartoon universe premise?
In the final analysis, it all boils down to this: Either you believe the universe is like a cartoon in the hands of a master illustrator (theism), or you donít (atheism).
I donít believe the universe is like a cartoon, so that makes me an atheist.