SOME UNSOLICITED THEOLOGY FROM A SELF-CONFESSED ATHEIST

A being that wants for nothing wants nothing. That’s why it makes no sense to talk about the self-sufficiency of God. If there was nothing He felt was wanting He wouldn’t have bothered creating anything. But apparently He did. In fact the kind of world He created – including the kind of creatures He created – tells us not just something about what He felt He was lacking. It tells us a great deal.

But it doesn’t tell us everything. And there are two reasons for this. First, we don’t know the limitations on God’s creative powers. And second, if He’d exhausted His creative powers, or if He’s satisfied with what He’s done, then He’s done meddling with the world. And if He’s done meddling with the world, His druthers, whatever they may have been, are utterly irrelevant to us. God’s purposes, whatever they may be, are incumbent upon us only insofar as they impinge on ours, and they don’t if He’s incapable of any further impingements.

The only way around this irrelevance is to suppose that our two sets of purposes, ours and His, whatever they might be, have impinged, and continue to impinge, on each other’s. This is precisely what my ancient Hebraic ancestors had figured out, and – after fifteen hundred years of theological silliness – what contemporary Christian believers have rediscovered. That is, there’s a reason why God’s druthers reflect our own, and it’s not because, as the atheist insists, we project our druthers onto Him. Rather it’s because He’s adopted our druthers as His own, in precisely the way I came to want to go to Disneyland because my son wanted to go there. I was a single dad. So was God. Having a child changes one. And having us changed God.

I’m an atheist, but I’m a Scriptural atheist. Why? Because Scripture just is the story of how we’ve changed God. Try reading it this way, as does Jack Miles in his Pulitzer Prize-winning God, a Biography. It’s not that this reading of Scripture makes a whole lot of sense. It’s that it’s the only reading of Scripture that makes any sense.

Morality is an emergent property of the need to compromise with the druthers of others, from which it follows that God is in moral training no less than we are. Why? Because prior to having created us, there were no others, and so He couldn’t have had any morality, let alone a developing one.

I think I could come to like this God. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like people – or Gods for that matter – who think they know it all. To me the most endearing feature of another being, be she human or divine, is acknowledging that she or He is just doing the best she or He can. The first born of Egypt wasn’t God’s finest hour. But then neither was Rwanda ours. I say we cut each other a little slack.



Categories: Philosophy of Religion

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4 replies

  1. If God is both omniscient and omnipotent (as some theology tells us) wouldn’t He have known that in creating people he was creating morally inferior, flawed beings? And if he was omnipotent, wouldn’t he have known how to create perfect beings when he created us? So what explains why he created us this way when he could have done so much better?

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  2. Hi Andrew,

    You’ve put your finger on the Logical Problem of Evil as articulated by J.L. Mackie in Evil and Omnipotence (1955). You can find Mackie’s paper via Google Scholar if you are interested. In a nutshell, the argument goes: God is 1) omnibenevolent, and 2) omnipotent, and 3) evil exists. An all-good God would eliminate evil as far as he could, an all-powerful God could eliminate evil. Yet evil exists. So one might conclude that God does not exist, or at least the “God of the Omnis” doesn’t exist (e.g. God is all-good, but not all-powerful). But some people attempt to demonstrate that the existence of the God of the Omnis and the existence of evil are logically consistent. This attempt is called Theodicy.

    One attempt to respond to your question — So what explains why he created us this way when he could have done so much better? — was put forward by Gottfried Leibniz, The Best of All Possible World Defense. You might be interested in reading my theodicy primer here: https://pam-mentations.com/?s=theodicy

    Otherwise, here’s an excerpt from my post:

    The Best of All Possible Worlds Defense (BAPW). Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). It is Leibniz who coined the word Theodicy, which literally means ‘God’s Justice’.

    The BAPW defense is the theodicy most compatible with our post-Darwinian understanding of the world. God was under some design constraints given His conception of what counts as “best.” For example, God could have made us spiritual (non-material) beings, but then we wouldn’t be able to give each other hugs. In order that we can hug each other, God had to give us extended bodies. But since we have extended bodies, we can also get hurt. So clearly God thought that it’s better to have a world in which we can hug each other, even if it means we sometimes get hurt.

    So, here’s the argument. i) God exists; ii) The world could have been other than it is. That is, there are other worlds God could have chosen to make; iii) The God of the Omnis would have only chosen the best possible world. Conclusion: This is the best possible world.

    Objection: ‘Best’ by whose lights? God’s? Or ours? Certainly not by the lights of the mother whose child died of inoperable throat cancer!

    Trivia: Voltaire satirized Leibniz’s Best of All Possible Worlds defense in the novel, Candide (1759).

    What Viminitz is claiming is that if there is a God, then He is not all-powerful or not fully morally-developed — or neither.

    Kind Regards,

    Pam

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  3. I followed your links and read your writing. I now see that Paul and Pam write about theology in opposite ways. He is irreverent and iconoclastic; she is respectful and reasonable; he is tongue-in-cheek, she is serious.

    My own views don’t fit along this spectrum, but owe more to psychology than theology. The problem of evil in the world wouldn’t exist as a theological debate but for the assertions that there is a God and that God created the universe with evil in it. It is only then that we can discuss God’s characteristics. Prior to monotheism people worshipped numerous gods, believed to have numerous different and sometimes competing responsibilities. Some of the thinking persists in the widespread belief in Satan.

    I have an Indian friend who is a computer genius and highly rational. He has a temple in his home where he worships the Elephant God. I have highly intelligent friends who believe in the accuracy of horoscopes and reincarnation of the soul in different bodies of humans and animals. This persuades me that theology exists because of a human need for something comforting, even if it is invisible and intangible. I share the view of those who would argue that man created God in his own idealized image for reasons of emotional comfort. (“There are no atheists in foxholes.”) Man is a myth-making animal, creating what Yuval Noah Hariri politely calls “stories” that are unverifiable and unfalsifiable but are either believed or not believed.

    To return to Paul and Pam, as professional philosophers you have to discuss ideas even if you don’t personally believe in them. That’s just part of your job description. Assuming that there is a God it seems reasonable to believe that after He created the heavens and the earth as in the Book of Genesis, Nietzsche was wrong and God is not dead. Therefore, if God looks at human life and conduct on earth, He could easily fix it if he doesn’t like the evil in it. But He hasn’t fixed it because various different evils persist, including needless and unjustifiable deaths of good people in the current pandemic.There can be numerous theories about why He hasn’t chosen to eliminate evil. That is why theology continues to be at least sustainable, if no longer a growth industry.

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