Why Did God Create Anything At All?

Recently, in response to my outlined version of Aquinas’s First Cause Argument, I received this question as a possible objection: why would God create anything at all?

Now, this is quite a weighty question, one which a short blog post won’t be able to fully and sufficiently tackle. But I’d like to unpack it briefly and offer a possible answer.

First, the original question which came via twitter user “Rix”:

The question in this form is why would God, who is supposedly perfect in every way, have any need to create anything? If an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal being really did need to create something, what would that tell us about this being? It would tell us that this being has some imperfection within itself which needed to be filled, and as such that the being is intrinsically imperfect. Think, for example, of some human person who so strongly desires and wants the love and affection of other people that without such love and affection he is unable to have happiness and contentment. Such a person would be said to have an imperfection, in the sense that in order for them to attain happiness they require/are dependent upon something external to themselves. Most theists would not be comfortable attributing “imperfection” in this sense, or of any kind, to God.

As such, a possible response from theists is just that God did not need in any sense to create anything; rather, God freely chose to create, not to fulfill some imperfection within himself, but rather to extend his own fullness and perfection outward. One popular theologian describes it as a cup overflowing: God is so full of being, perfection and joy that he desires to “overflow” or “spill out” his own being and goodness into a creation, much like an artist expressing himself [1]. While such analogies can be imprecise and philosophically vague, they do show that there’s just no reason to think that God needed to or was required to create, either by some external persuasion or internal imperfection. The vast majority of theologians and theistic philosophers believe and have believed that God is entirely free in his will, and thus that he freely chose to create, not out of some need, but rather just from his own will to create and extend his own being and goodness.

The famous Puritan theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards wrote about this issue in his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. A contemporary theologian named Ben Stevens adapts Edwards’s argument in a book titled Why God Created the World. The following is an excerpt from that book:

“First, we agree that God is glorious and happy, independent of any external circumstances. His glory and happiness are eternal, and he doesn’t live in fear that someone will steal or wound his joy. Second, we agree that the universe receives everything from God’s hand and consequently has nothing to give back to him that he didn’t already have before creation.

These are not radical Christian convictions, but they go a long way toward eliminating many popular suggestions about why God created the world. I would summarize their implications like this: If God does not need, and cannot receive, anything new from something he creates, then he must not have created in order to fill a need he had.

With one stroke this point wipes out much of what the world’s pagan religions have thought about their gods for millennia. But at the same time, it raises another question: If God didn’t create because of a need he had, then what prompted him to create at all? I think the most logical conclusion is that if creation does not arise to fulfill some need that God has, then it must arise because of the way it promotes something he values” [2].

As this quote shows, it is a pretty standard response from theologians and theistic philosophers to emphasize that God did not need to create. It also shows how there are a variety of possible answers offered to the question of why he did create.

But the question doesn’t end there. The same twitter user Rix then makes a few comments about how Aquinas’s First Cause Argument somehow goes against Aquinas’s own conception of God. I really couldn’t understand what point was trying to be made here, but it had something to do with Aquinas’s notion of divine knowledge and omniscience. Regardless, the real point can be seen below:

Here, the objection is shifted to a whole positive argument against the existence of God. I’ve actually encountered several forms of this argument, so I’ll be responding to more than just Rix’s version in later posts. His argument, however, can be presented as follows:

  1. If God exists, God does not do anything for which he does not have sufficient reason to do
  2. God does not have sufficient reason to create anything
  3. Therefore, if God exists, God would not create anything
  4. If God does exist, and if God does not create anything, then nothing besides God would exist
  5. Something besides God exists (the physical universe)
  6. Therefore, God does not exist

Notice that this is different from the previous objection. This argument does not have anything to do with the question of whether God has any need to create, but rather whether God has any reasons to create. A need is an example of one possible reason for doing something, but not the only possible one. For example, I have a biological need to drink water in order to survive. If I drink water, the reason I’m doing so is because of a need. But sometimes I act for reasons other than needs. Sometimes I listen to music; the reason why I listen to music is not because I physically need to, but rather just because it’s enjoying. So reasons for actions consist of a much broader spectrum than just needs, which are a specific type of reason. Most theists would insist that God does not need to create; but most theists would not contend that therefore God had no reason to create.

This argument, however, asserts that God does not have any reason to create, and so he would not have created; but since creation exists, God must not exist. If God existed and yet had no reason to create, he would not have created, and thus creation would not be here. But it obviously is.

So the crucial question is: does God in fact have any reason to create anything? Rix asserted that the answer is no, and his reason (I think) has something to do with the knowledge/omniscience of God. Perhaps he could comment and shed more light on this, but until then I’m left unsure, and don’t want to speak on his behalf.

Nevertheless, there are still several points to be made in response to his argument. First, his argument seems to confuse our knowledge of God’s possible reasons, with God’s actual reasons themselves. The assumption here is that because we do not know what God’s reasons for creating are, that therefore God has no reasons for creating. But this is blatantly false, as it commits the logical fallacy of a non sequitur. Several questions should suffice to show why this position is so difficult to hold: Why should we think we’re in any position to actually know what God’s possible reasons for creating anything are? After all, they would be God’s reasons, not ours. Second, how do we know for sure that we don’t know God’s reasons? After all, theologians and philosophers throughout history have offered possible explanations, as Ben Stevens’s adaptation of Edwards’s argument above shows. Several more possible reasons will be examined later.

In short, it seems nearly impossible to prove the truthfulness of premise 2, that God has no sufficient reason for creating anything. How could one even possibly begin to demonstrate such a thing? Again, a lack of knowledge concerning God’s reasons is not equivalent to actual knowledge of God’s lack of reasons. An analogy will illustrate this:

Suppose we happen to know a young married couple who are entirely happy and content with their relationship. Each is fully satisfied merely with the company of the other. Neither has any need of anyone else except for each other to complete their joy and contentment. But suppose at some point we discover that this same couple has had a child. Now we might wonder, “why would two people so completely and utterly happy and content merely with each other, decide to bring another being into their relationship?” We might therefore say, “I can think of no possible reason they would have for having a child.” Now, we know the couple had no need for a child, since they were completely happy with each other. And we can think of no other possible reason for them deciding to have a child. And yet the child exists. Because we can think of no reasons for them having a child, would we be right to conclude that therefore the parents don’t actually exist, and that the child somehow came into existence without parents producing him? No, that would be absurd, because we all know that children don’t pop into existence uncaused. Based on what we do know about children, whenever we come across a child, we correctly deduce that such a child had parents, irregardless of whether or not we happen to know the parents’ reasons for deciding to have the child.

In the same way, theistic philosophers offer many reasons for thinking that the existence of God is necessary. I’ve looked at two of these arguments in some depth (see here and here for outlines of those arguments). If these arguments or others like them are successful (as I think they are), then the fact that we might not know God’s reasons for creating are simply irrelevant to whether or not God exists. We know God exists because of the existence and nature of our physical world.

So the argument fails unless premise 2 can be adequately defended. If premise 2 turned out to be true, however, then we would have a successful argument for the non-existence of God, and thus we would have reason to believe that positive arguments for God’s existence are unsuccessful. But until premise 2 is defended, we are justified in concluding that, whatever God’s reasons may have been, God’s existence is surely necessary and true.

 

 

Sources

[1]. See Keller, Timothy. Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God. New York: Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

[2]. Stevens, Ben. Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaptation. Colorado Springs: NavPress published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014. Print. Quoted from: “Why Did God Create the World?” The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Jul. 2016. <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-did-god-create-the-world>.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Why Did God Create Anything At All?

  1. Here is a possible argument against God as first cause or first mover:

    (1) If God created the universe, he must have preceded the universe (the universe began to exist).
    (2) If (1), then God had the potential to create the universe before he did so.
    (3) If God had that potential, he was not pure act.
    (4) If (3), then God is not the first cause or the first mover.

    Like

    • Thanks for commenting. I had a similar question to that argument when I was writing about the Prime Mover argument. I think the answer deals with “temporal” as opposed to “causal” priority. Because we exist in time and only experience events temporally, it’s very confusing to try to think of a Being that is entirely outside of time. For example, if there’s an artist who creates a painting, there is a clear time “before” he paints, and then a time when he begins to paint, a time while he’s painting, and a time after he has completed the painting. Before he paints, he certainly has the potential to paint, and when he begins to paint this potential is actualized. So for temporal creators of any kind, your objection would work. But I don’t think it applies to the Being of Pure Act. Every thing that exists within time by definition has potencies, so that’s why we said the Being of Pure Act must be outside of time. And as absolutely confusing to conceive as it is, for a Being outside of time, there is no “before” or “after.” Time just didn’t exist until the universe began to exist, and it doesn’t exist outside of the universe, so we can’t apply temporal terms and conceptions to a Being outside of time. So we can say that God is “causally” prior to the universe in the sense that God is more fundamental than the universe and the universe depends for its existence upon God, but we cannot say that God was “temporally” prior to the universe, because temporal terms just break down at that point.

      Like

      • Your response makes sense from the viewpoint that the first mover / cause exists as defined. I agree with you that it is confusing, if not impossible, to conceive of the reality deduced therefrom. We are now at a place where I refuse to believe that any of this is real. The arguments that got us here are sound, but I don’t like this place at all. As I have said before, It is a world of weird abstractions with only the most tenuous of connections to my everyday world. I am not philosophically educated enough to find a way out, but I believe that one must exist. A few days ago I read quite a bit about these matters from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and I was not satisfied. My hunch is that my difficulty is a matter of language, so I am now studying definitions. Thank you for replying to my questions.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the comment. I think you’re a very intellectually honest person, which is really quite rare and commendable. As far as refusing to believe that any of this is real, I can quite understand. These arguments that Aquinas and others have given/defended can be extremely difficult and confusing. But I don’t think they’re meant to give us everything there is to know about this Being. I think these arguments are meant just to sort of nudge or hint us towards the existence of such a Being. They don’t give us an exhaustive explanation of who or what the Being is. And here’s where I’d suggest that perhaps religion might play a role. If such a Being does exist, and these arguments point us towards this Being, then it might be at least feasibly possible that this Being has, in some way, revealed himself to humanity. As a Christian, I believe He has done this, specifically through the person Jesus of Nazareth. Now, getting into this matter introduces a whole other host of philosophical and theological issues. But I think it is, and is meant to be, a lifelong process of studying, seeking, and thinking. I don’t think we can ever find all the answers to all our questions, but a main reason I created this blog is because I really believe asking and thinking about these questions is central to our humanity, to what it means to be human. So all I can suggest is to keep looking and thinking and asking questions, whatever answers you may come to. I’ve quite enjoyed our correspondences.
        Harrison

        Like

      • Harrison,
        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m happy that you have enjoyed our exchanges, as have I. I learn from you, from Feser, and from Thomas. It’s true that I am a seeker, and I am still an unbeliever after decades of off and on study. While you guys have not convinced me to believe, you have challenged me intellectually, and I think you have helped me to sharpen my reasoning and logic skills. I try to keep an open mind and it bothers me when I encounter good arguments that challenge my beliefs. So, I will probably have more questions. Good luck with your studies.
        Paul

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s