Divine Creation (reductio ad absurdum)
Before I admitted even to myself that I was an atheist, while I was still struggling with my faith, I was always troubled by the very first chapter of the Bible; God creating the World. Does this even make sense? Why would a God want to create a material World? The more I delved in theology, the more this bothered me. I won’t even touch the rest of the story here, the original sin, the problem of evil, or the grand philosophical problems of heavenly clouds, pits of hell, demons, imps and angels. I’ll stop here, on the first page. After all, if a worldview has a problem right from the start, there’s little point in dealing with details.
There are two alternatives for the Universe having a divine creator. He either created it on purpose (voluntarily) or by accident (involuntarily). Let’s start with the second case, being the most implausible one.
There are many examples of accidental creation in world mythology and two characteristic examples come from Ancient Greece.
Once upon a time, while Hera (wife of Zeus) was sleeping, the newborn Hercules approached her and started nursing. Hera woke up and slapped the infant away, some of the milk got spilled and our galaxy was created (hence the name, from the Greek word «gala» meaning «milk»). It was just an accident.
The birth of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, was also coincidental. The myth goes like this: Cronus (father of Zeus) took a sickle and slashed at Uranus, his father, killing him. His blood trickled in the Ocean and Aphrodite was born from that. Similarly, the birth of Aphrodite was a random event. There are similar stories in other world mythologies.
What would this mean for Christian Cosmogony? What if Yahweh had created the Universe by accident? What if he had no intention of creating, but somehow it came about? What would that mean?
For starters, it would mean that Yahweh is not omniscient, since he didn’t predict the results of his actions, especially with the theory of a divine subconscious that acts independently. (This second alternative is more extreme, but the intense anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament allow me to assume yet another one. After all, I’m trying to cover all possibilities here.)
In this situation of unintentional creation there are four alternatives:
a) Yahweh creates the World unconsciously and is not aware of it. In this case, the World is ruled by the divine subconscious and consequently Yahweh and the Christian God that people worship isn’t God per se, but they’re worshipping the divine subconscious directly. This might explain the unstable behaviour the divine exhibits in the texts of the monotheistic religions (Islam included).
b) Yahweh creates the World unconsciously, but becomes aware of it at some «point». This alternative could have been the natural evolution of the Marcionites, had they survived long enough to develop apologetics. The Marcionites believed that the World is the creation of an inferior deity (the god of the Old Testament) and that Jesus was a superior god that came to save us. Assuming this inferior deity is the divine subconscious, this explains several things in monotheistic scriptures (in this scenario, God sends Muhammad; he just realizes the error later in human history).
c) The Universe is a by-product of some other divine action and Yahweh is just trying to work out the «bugs» without radically changing it. Human beings, since they were not designed from the start in the image and likeness of God, misunderstand the various revelations, and it becomes necessary for God to take human form (this could be the basis for all messianic religions).
d) The Universe is a by-product of some other divine action and Yahweh has not become aware of it nor will he (being atemporal and all). This Yahweh is a clearly deistic God. The World evolves naturally, it retains the traces of perfection people perceive today as signs of divine creation, but God doesn’t intervene, nor will he ever and all religions are human constructs.
Naturally, for the Christian Worldview the very idea of involuntary creation is blasphemous, since it presupposes several weaknesses in God. And if the divine operates like a human being with a conscious and subconscious mind (if, mind you), then it is equally unthinkable to assume imperfections in the divine subconscious. Furthermore, Christians reject the concept of a deistic God as non-personal. Involuntary creation cannot be incorporated into the Christian Worldview, as it is deemed completely incompatible with it.
I will also ignore the idea that God was somehow compelled to create the World. For a divine being, let alone a perfect being, it would be inconceivable to have created the World not because it wanted to, but because it was coerced. In this case, the word «God» shouldn’t apply to the creator, but to the one that forced his hand.
This entire train of thought on involuntary creation can be safely ignored.
This is the standard Christian point of view. God wanted to make the World, he did so and has been maintaining it ever since, trying to lead intelligent beings to theosis (the reunification with the divine essence). But this concept has a serious philosophical flaw, perhaps even more serious that the previous ridiculous scenarios.
The problem was first pinpointed by Epicurus and his deistic philosophy about the gods. He said that the gods are «makaria» beings (that is, existing in a state of bliss, self-absorbed introspection and basking in one’s own perfection) that do not involve themselves with matters of the world, nor did they create it, since their only purpose is existing in «makariotis». Divine makariotis was considered by epicurean philosophy as the ultimate, but untenable goal of the human search for happiness and peace of mind («hedone», as he called it). On this level, epicurean philosophy is similar to Buddhism, with the difference being that the goal is not the untenable divine makariotis, but the union with the Universe and the fading away of the self (that is Nirvana, a goal that humans can reach).
This brief analysis is a direct attack on the very essence of the Christian God, even if it’s not apparent at first glance. It emerges when we ask «Why did God create the Universe?»
So why did Yahweh create the Universe? Did he want to feel the joy of creating something? Did he want to have creatures to love and be loved in return? Whatever one assumes here, God is made to desire something and, unfortunately, desire presupposes a lack of something. You must lack something in order to desire it and lack suggests imperfection. God cannot be perfect and desire. He cannot be perfect and be lacking something (especially if that something can be provided by imperfect, material beings).
Even though we’re speaking about the material world, the same goes for Yahweh’s immaterial troupe (material for God, immaterial for humans; a middle ground between matter and divine essence), and the question remains the same: «What was God lacking when he created such beings?» (I won’t even touch the calvinistic approach, that God wanted beings to praise his magnificence. This thrusts upon God a worse flaw; an ego).
For those that grew up with christian mythology this is equally inconceivable. A God that merely floats around inside or outside the Universe thinking about nothing but his own makariotis? Unthinkable. What about God being Love? Unfortunately, this analysis doesn’t even let God reach that stage of Love, since it doesn’t allow him to even create something. The conclusion is simple. A perfect God DOES NOT CREATE. He is either imperfect and a creator or perfect and not a creator. The two options are mutually exclusive.
There is of course a third scenario.
The Divine as not a creative agent
Could it be that if there is a God he did not create the Universe? We’ve already stated that for God to retain his perfection he couldn’t have created anything.
In this case we might have to default to one of these alternatives we’ve already mentioned:
The World is the creation of a mighty, but imperfect being, but then it would be doubtful if it would deserve to be called «God» in the classic philosophical sense. A being like that would be like an imperfect ancient Greek deity. Or perhaps God and the Universe are completely independent of each other. God is self-contained by Epicurean makariotis and the Universe was caused by natural causes and evolves by itself. God never creates the Universe and there is no philosophical issue to be tackled.
But perhaps one might assume that the Universe is made of transubstantiated divine essence. God used to exist, but became the Universe, and once the Universe runs its course its matter will revert back to its original state and God will reform. Bah… all this see-sawing from God to Universe and back again doesn’t sound perfect at all!
The last alternative we’re left with is Pantheism: God and the Universe as a single essence. It’s a clearly dualistic theory. God is the mind and the Universe is the body of a single entity with intelligent beings acting as neurons of sorts. This theory solves the problem of the Universe having to be created, but turns God into a finite being (or rather an organ). He exists as long as there is intelligent life, so if intelligence had never arisen God would not be (and of course, if all intelligent life is wiped out, so is God). Either God continues to exist or he has always existed, only inert and unobserved.
God in this case might be finite, but in effect immortal inside the confines of the Universe. It’s also doubtful if his properties can be divined, since he is dependent on material beings. I’m not entirely sure if the collective consciousness of all intelligent beings in the Universe can be called a «Being», let alone «God.»
It’s definitely a very enticing idea and has been used repeatedly by New Age religions and Sci-Fi (my favourite appearance is in «Babylon 5» where intelligent life is cast as the Universe trying to understand itself). Even though the idea is a very romantic one and joins all intelligent life in a single whirlwind of consciousness and exploration of being. If we encounter other intelligent beings in the Universe (and I’m convinced that we will at some point) it might be used as a good argument for universal peace, but I doubt we can call this «God».
All in all, is a being such as the one christian theology and apologetics describe possible (let alone plausible)? A perfect being, omnipotent, omniscient, timeless, immaterial, omnipresent, creator of the Universe and personification of love? It’s obvious what I think and equally obvious why I’m not a Christian. I have no idea where my spiritual quest will lead me, but I cannot reconsider the Christian God unless I can find a satisfactory answer to the question that jumps off the first pages of the Bible. It’s a short question, like most hard questions are; seven words long:
How can a perfect being have desires?