Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why Would A Perfect God Create The Universe?

Why Would A Perfect God Create The Universe?
Will G

A very short article (840 words) about a very common objection to the existence of God.


Why would a perfect being, lacking nothing, create the universe?

This is actually one of the easier objections to the existence of God to answer, but it still keeps on popping up in discussions between atheists and Christians. The objection basically is, that perfection doesn't need anything. So something that is perfect doesn't need something else to be added to it. A perfect stone cannot have any improvements in other words, you can't add anything to a perfect stone to make it better. So if God is perfect, then nothing God does can add to the perfection already existing. But moreover, and this is the part of the argument that I think is essential, a perfect God would not want to create anything, because a perfect God would be 'fulfilled' in itself. I am not exactly sure as to the precise details why perfection cannot create anything, and why a perfect being cannot do anything or create anything else, but I am willing to take the argument as being sound, as it stands.

So I will respond to the argument as if it were true, that is, I take it as true that a perfect God would not create anything. The problem I see with the argument is that it doesn't take into account 'levels of perfection' that God could have. More on this in a moment.

An Informal Statement of a Response

Let me state how I would respond to the problem informally.

Now, God is perfect. This means that he has a number of characteristics that are possessed in perfection, I take it. For example, take knowledge. God has perfect knowledge. Perfect knowledge is another word for 'omniscience', so we think God is all-knowing. This is a part of God having perfection. Also, take power. God is perfectly powerful, so God can do anything. Anything, that is, logically possible.

Note the interesting distinction. Even though God is perfectly powerful, perfect power doesn't extend to doing absolutely everything, like making 2+2=5. More on this in a moment.

Continuing with the perfection theme, God is also perfectly good. In other words, God is not a deistic God, he has concerns for his creatures. And moral goodness is a basic quality of any thinking being, according to Christians. So while a desk has the property of being 'solid', a sentient creature has the property of being 'good', 'evil'. This is important because it justifies the idea that any God must have perfect goodness if the God is perfect to any degree.

Now, the part about levels of perfection I mentioned. I think some of God's perfect characteristics could conflict with other parts of his perfect characteristics. For example, I think that God cannot make 2+2=5 because his perfect power could contradict what I might call his perfect 'conceptual coherency'. In other words, making 2+2=5 is conceptually incoherent, and God must be perfectly coherent. So one level of perfection, that of coherency, contradicts the level of perfection accorded to power. And the perfection of coherency wins out, and supersedes the perfection of power, so that God cannot do some things.

Is this applicable to good/evil concepts and perfection generally? Let's take perfection itself, that idea of being a perfect God. I agree with the atheist that a perfect God would never create. But could this perfection that means a perfect God would never create be contradicted by another perfection, one presumably higher on the list? I would say it does, and the perfection it contradicts is moral perfection. Because a morally perfect being is driven to create, it can do no other. Just like parents who wish to have children to bring other creatures in the world to love, a morally perfect God would wish to create beings other than Himself in order to give them joy and happiness.

So I would say the perfection of morality contradicts the perfection of not creating, and the perfection of morality wins out, because morality is more central to God's character.

Thus, from a certain perspective, it is true that a perfect God would never create, but God is necessarily imperfect from his love. Or from another perspective, the lower level of perfection of not creating is contradicted by the higher level of perfection of being loving.

Either way I think my ideas are completely compatible with Christian ideas, and they solve the problem.

A Formal Response to the Argument

1. Morality is a basic and essential characteristic to any thinking being
2. The most perfect possible being is a thinking one
3. A perfect being would never create something


4. A perfectly moral being would always choose to create beings outside of itself in order to love them and make them happy


5. Perfection of morality in God would override perfection not to create


6. God would create the universe and us


Will G
First Written: 2/12/07


Anonymous Mr_Jargon said...

I admire your efforts, but once the Titanic begins to sink you should get on a lifeboat. If I were going to attempt to demonstrate that the doctrine of God contradicts the Christian doctrine of creation, then I would use the doctrines of Absolute Divine Simplicity or God as Actus Purus. If God is both pure act with no unrealized potentiality, then how is there divine freedom with respect to creation? Get Volumes 2 & 4 of the Philokalia, Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas are just what the doctor ordered!

Blogger Will G said...

Jargon, I think you should write a condensed summary of your responses to these ideas on your blogspot.

Anonymous superversive said...

Mr. Jargon hits it exactly. If the power of God is perfect, then it must be expressed in action; otherwise it is thwarted ('unrealized potentiality'). And if the benevolence of God is perfect, then He must have someone to be benevolent to.

Actually I find this objection utterly bizarre. God does not create because He is in want; He creates because He is filled to overflowing. Even with human artists (and nearly every human is an artist in some sense, at least part of the time), it is out of our abundance that we create, not out of our penury.

Understand, please, that I am talking about the ability to create works of art, not about the economic motives that may attend their creation. We may be motivated to greater creative activity, or to create one thing rather than another, because we have needs and require the help of others to fulfil them. But it is not the need that is creative. Like anyone who makes a trade, we give something that we have in abundance so that we may receive something that we lack. God does not lack anything, but He has abundance; therefore He does not trade, but gives gifts.

It seems to me, therefore, that the most you can say about God is that He has no economic motive to create. But only a doctrinaire Marxist would be foolish enough to say that economic motives are the only motives.

Blogger Will G said...

Well if my answer isn't needed then so much the better...

Blogger John W. Loftus said...

Can you explain for me how it is that an omniscient God can think? Doesn't thinking demand weighing temporal alternatives? But Doesn't God know everything? What's there for him to think about?

It's not just that God didn't need (the operative word) to create. It's that when we weigh one alternative against the other it is nearly impossible that a perfectly good God would create this world, especially if there is eternal conscious torment for the sinners in hell. Impossible.

Blogger Will G said...

Wow, John Loftus. Welcome to my blog!

That's a complex paragraph.

Let me just say on the thinking point, that I think when it comes to God philosophers/christian philosophers should be given some leeway in not being able to explain stuff, because even if it was all true we would not necessarily be able to explain it, given god's difference/mightiness/otherness from us.

Second point on the problem of physical suffering (non-eternal), I agree it's a problem and I don't know the answer, although I like my answer to the problem of natural evil (see sidebar).

Third point on eternal suffering have a look at my argument from nonbelief (free choice hell, etc.). It doesn't necessarily answer the question, there are two objections I thought of after I wrote that, but I think you'll agree it's very interesting.


Blogger Thomas Lee said...

Hi, Will,

This. Is. My. Homepage!

A lot of thought-provoking arguments in my case to defend the gospels over the internet!

I'm inspired to take up philosophy.


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