When I was in high school, someone brought in a proof that 1 = 0. Some of you have seen this before:
- Set x = 1
- multiply both sides by x: x2 = x
- Subtract one from both sides: x2-1 = x-1
- Factor x2-1: (x+1)(x-1) = x-1
- Divide both sides by (x-1): x+1 = 1
- Subtract 1 from both sides: x = 0
We sat around trying to figure out what was wrong with it, since everything worked out great. In the end, it turned out that since we'd started by defining x as 1, that made (x-1) equal to 0. And we divided by it. You can't divide by zero, because it's meaningless.
So the other day, a 19 year old kid on some forum raised the age-old question "If God is omnipotent, can He make a rock that's so heavy that He can't lift it?" God save me from 19 year olds generally, but this one was apparently quite pleased with himself.
It made me think about that proof for 1 = 0. Because, you see, there's nothing wrong, generally speaking, with dividing by (x-1). It's only because we started by defining x as equal to 1 that it causes a problem. And the same exact thing is true of his question.
When we speak, or write, words have to have meanings. Otherwise, we're not really speaking at all. We're just bibbling our lips. So in that question, the word "God" has to be defined. And it can either be defined as something with limits or something without limits. That should be clear. So consider:
If the word "God" means something without limits, then the last four words of the question "He can't lift it" have no meaning. And the question containing that sentence fragment also has no meaning. If we didn't start by defining God as having no limits, this wouldn't be the case, just like it's fine to divide by (x-1), provided you haven't already set x = 1. But we did, so the sentence becomes gibberish.
That means that for the sentence to make any sense, we have to start from the assumption that the word "God" means something that does have limits. But the question starts out by asking what the case is if God is omnipotent. So it's asking a question about something that it has already ruled out.
And in fact, it turned out that this 19 year old had come to the forum, and posted his question in a new topic, entitled "Can God be omnipotent", despite the fact that he himself doesn't believe in God. What he did by creating that thread was precisely what the question itself does, at its best.
Trolling is about trying to stir things up. Trying to tweak people by pretending that you're interested in a particular subject, when all you're really interested in is eliciting a reaction. Why? I don't know. Maybe because it's fun to watch. Throw a piece of raw meat into a group of sharks and watch the feeding frenzy. It's the same dynamic. And some of us are as clueless as those sharks when a troll stops by. Sometimes we bite because we think the question is being asked honestly. I'm going to try and bear in mind one of the Rules of the Internet:
Do Not Feed The Troll.
Wish me luck.