Argument Against a Perfect Being Creating the World

Argument Against a Perfect Being Creating the World September 3, 2012

I was listening to a podcast by bloggers Reasonable Doubts recently whereby one of the contributors, Justin Schieber, formulated a logical argument showing the inconsistency of the classic understanding of God, particularly a God who moves from an eternal (a-temporal) existence, to creating time (and space) and living within the framework of such dimensions.

This is an argument that I have often talked about, formulated more formally than I have done and is well worth thinking about. It actually has a twofold set of ramifications, one concerning desires and intentions, and the other concerning the ontology of perfection.

I will set the first out here today, followed by discussing the other later this week. I will set them out in my own manner, which may differ to Justin Schieber’s.

1) God existed as an ontologically perfect being, causally prior to creating the world.
2) There is nothing more perfect than the state of affairs in 1)
3) God intended to change the state of affairs to create the world (spacetime)
4) God, as a perfect being, cannot do anything or create anything imperfectly
5) The state of affairs with the world is ontologically less perfect than the pure perfection of the state of affairs with God

5) implies an incoherence since God, in a perfect state where nothing greater can be conceived or realised, creates the world. How and why would a perfect being want to change the state of affairs to an ontology that is less than perfect? One can only surmise from this that either God does not exist, or God is not perfect, or that the universe retains the state of ontological perfection upon creation. The last option is patently wrong, surely, since the Christian claims that humans are fallen, inescapably prone to sin. This cannot be as perfect as one can be! The Christian claim is that man is imperfect, that we are not synonymous with the perfection of God. And so surely the universe does not continue the state of perfection. The other two option pretty much invalidate notions of a theistic state of affairs.

1) and 2) seem to be pretty much taken as standard, although I will have more to say on this in my next post on perfection, since I think the whole concept is inherently flawed and incoherent.

3) seems to be the generally accepted understanding of temporal creation from an a-temporal state of affairs, as according to theists like Craig.

4) follows from 1) in being a necessary characteristic of God’s ontological status.

I would like anyone to comment on this to see if it can be tightened in any way. Obviously, and as Schieber concurs, it is an argument dependent upon the presupposition of many of the terms and theology accepted by mainstream theistic thought which accepted the coherence of perfection, omniscience, benevolence and potence, and that they are not themselves entirely incoherent.


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  • Sergio

    For me, the most obvious BS is about 3. Can “change” and “intention” work in a a-temporal state? The second would be the definition of “perfect being”.

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      Agreed. I will write something on perfection soon. Obviously, for the argument to work, and since it is fighting theists on their own territory, one accepts both premises and resulting definitions.

      With these working, does this work to you?

      • Sergio

        Then, I also agree with your (5). But the theist would object saying “God” indeed created a perfect state because perfection would require free-will. And it was the human who felt.
        Of course it’s stupid, but it would give them time to run away ;-)

  • KB147

    When creationists try to argue that matter and energy cannot be created from nothing, as per the first rule of thermodynamics, the response seems to be to invoke negative energy and postulate that the sum of energy and negative energy may be zero. If this is the case then energy wasn’t necessarily created. (see talk origins guide to creationist claims, claim CF101.) Could creationists use a similar argument? For example, prior to creation God is in a state of perfection/equilibrium. His creation is less than perfect, so God assumes a ‘higher level’ of perfection (for want of a better term) to retain equilibrium? I know a higher level of perfection is a contradiction in terms, but it’s the idea of equilibrium that I’m interested in. Any thoughts?

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      Not sure I get you. So God exists in equilibrium. Let’s say a value of 10. He then creates the world which has a value of -2 to the state of affairs, so God ups his own value at creation and becomes 12?

      • KB147

        Yes that is essentially what I’m getting at. I suppose it’s special pleading to suggest that we adopt an unconventional definition of perfection wherein it is conceivable that God could become “more perfect”. However, perfection is subjective surely, so perhaps talking instead about some sort of equilibrium could overcome this problem.

        So, do you think that it would be possible for a theist to make such an argument? I’m not at all convinced by this but it occured to me that one could attempt to respond in such a manner.

        • Jonathan MS Pearce

          Perfection is inherently nonsensical granted. But given it making sense, as I said below: God being the most perfect ontological state of affairs means that nothing more perfect could be conceived. This is the generally accepted idea of God, and follows from the Ontological Argument. Thus it is inconceivable that God, as ontologically perfect, could be bettered in perfection by anything else, whether something created, or several Gods, since it that is so, THAT would be what God would be in the first place.

          So despite the claim that it could be an imperfect seeming universe that is a journey to a greater perfection, it cannot, by definition be more perfect than the original state of affairs. You are starting with the most perfect thing in conception as premise 1. You cannot then suppose something more perfect in any further premises since that makes the logic of the syllogism invalid since you are invalidating, necessarily, the first premise.

  • Cedomir

    Its too linear for my liking. You all assume that we are the final product, but what if space time and the universe as we know it (including all so important little old us) is just a perfect phase in a perfect process of creating another perfect… something that may have nothing to do with humanity or organic life, no more than a unnamed blue collar cable factory worker had with my inception outside the fact that he made a wire that went into a microphone which Barry White used when he recorded a song that my parents were listening at the time. But then again may be they weren’t listening to anything, for all that I know considering I wasn’t even a single cell organism at the time…
    And just for laughs, as you said “god” normally exists outside of time and space so it would be only perfectly natural for him to pretend not to take notice us screaming in the back seat “are we there yet?”.

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      Some good points. I would say that at prima facie look, this is ad hoc, such that while it might seem logical, it is unevidenced (biblically), unless one claims that the general resurrection is that end perfection. Several questions arise:
      1) can this end result not be arrived at without the imperfect suffering and pain of the world?
      2) IS this the most perfect conceivable end state of affairs and most perfect method of arriving at that?
      3) Is it more perfect to create pain and suffering to arrive at a goal or not to create at all? This would lower God, at best, to a utilitarian, whereby the evil is outweighed by the consequential good in a calculation.
      4) God could be creating for the good of something else, but he seems to have created humans as the apex of creation, at least biblically.

      Also, God does not normally exist outside of time, as per theologians, but existed outside of time prior to creating the universe, and then entered time on creation.So now he would need to be in our time paradigm in order to intervene temporally, as he supposedly id a lot a few thousand years ago. Though he seems to have forgotten now.

      • Cedomir

        Well I don’t take bible as the ultimate guide to understanding the perfect being that supposedly created the whole universe. I have nothing against the middle eastern shepherds but somehow I don’t think their specific point of view was all that special, and definitely not to the point of being ultimate. But I’ll go with it.
        And now to the questions:
        1) What do you mean by “imperfect suffering and pain to the world” Do you mean we should suffer more, or do you think that suffering in it self is somehow imperfect? A perfect man is not a perfect woman, and neither are particularly energy efficient kindling. Its a mater of perspective.
        2) If this was the most perfect conceivable end state there would be no point in existence of time as it would be obsolete and therefore imperfect, and for the second part, I have no idea where are we heeding, or where we started from, let alone the motive behind this trip so it would be quite silly to try to judge it.
        3) Now we are strait into what we think is right and wrong. And no one ever accused God to be a democrat LOL
        4) And bible has been written by humans, who in all their might are no bigger than a speck of dust compared to the sheer size of the creation. We may very well end up being the point of a sword but without the rest of it we are insignificant.
        And as a final though borrowed from a quantum physicist. You don’t know enough so stop trying to understand it, shut up, calculate, end if you don’t screw up, someone, some day might.

        • Jonathan MS Pearce

          The problem is this: Even if you can establish coherence in the claim that this is just a phase in some overarching perfection, it still does not work with God being out of time and then entering time. If God was ontologically perfect causally prior to creating the world, there would be no need to drive a desire or intention to create the world. God wouldn’t create anything that degraded that perfect state of affairs, otherwise God would not be ontologically perfect.

  • I’m not sure that I understand point 2. Even if the god of (1) could not be a more perfect being, I do not see why it necessarily follows that god plus something could not be better still. Two perfect gods, for example.

    The “Problem of Evil” still exists of course and that’s where the usual hand-waving about free will comes in (and faith as a virtue to explain lack of evidence) but if you can make the utilitarian case that the good outweighs the bad – and could not outweigh it more – then existence of this universe could still be “better” than none.

    It all depends how you rate stuff. You say that “this would lower God, at best, to a utilitarian, whereby the evil is outweighed by the consequential good in a calculation” but who is to say that perfect utilitarianism of this nature is not perfection? (If a perfect god cannot act imperfectly then whatever it does is necessarily perfect whether we understand why or not.)

    • Jonathan MS Pearce

      God being the most perfect ontological state of affairs means that nothing more perfect could be conceived. This is the generally accepted idea of God, and follows from the Ontological Argument. Thus it is inconceivable that God, as ontologically perfect, could be bettered in perfection by anything else, whether something created, or several Gods, since it that is so, THAT would be what God would be in the first place.

      So despite the claim that it could be an imperfect seeming universe that is a journey to a greater perfection, it cannot, by definition be more perfect than the original state of affairs. You are starting with the most perfect thing in conception as premise 1. You cannot then suppose something more perfect in any further premises since that makes the logic of the syllogism invalid since you are invalidating, necessarily, the first premise.

      The best you could possibly do is to assume an equal perfection. But then there would be no good reason to create. It seems that an equilibrium of perfections seems incoherent with anything which involves suffering since I could imagine, conceivably at least, the same universe or creation without the suffering. It is hard to imagine something as equally perfect as the most perfect thing in conception (God) which involves billions of years of pain and suffering.

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  • Luke Breuer

    Perfection, or goodness (see here) could include freedom of the will. That is, it could be ‘better’ for there to be free-willed creatures who sin (and at least some of whom are then redeemed), than a sinless state of reality.