Friday, October 31, 2008

Emails to a Skeptic #2: Thinking About Creation

My skeptical interlocutor wrote:

I guess one of the biggest things for me is the philosophical concept of God as he is portrayed in the Bible.  I don't want to seem like I'm a blasphemer here, but it strikes me as absurd that a being that is infinite in all ways and is outside the dimension of Time would have any reason to create us in the first place; and then to create us and screw it up so badly, when he's apparently omniscient, is really strange.  Here's a being that knows all: past, present and future.  He creates a universe, which is actually pretty hard to wrap your head around the sheer size of, well, billions of galaxies, with billions of solar systems, etc.; and then to only populate one Planet in the whole thing!  And then within a very short time, days maybe weeks, put Original Sin on the whole human race forever, because Eve was tricked by a talking snake (presumably the devil) into taking the forbidden fruit. And this is before they have the knowledge of good and evil?  How are they supposed to understand these concepts at that point?!  And yet God basically proceeds to curse the entire human race from thence forward for the very first mistake made by his very recent creation?  It seems very arrogant to me that you would create a race with free will and then require them to worship you or else suffer mass executions…. Or that you would care at all after having been around an eternity, outside the bounds of time. 

I don't know that I've got great answers for all your questions, though I can tell you how I approach thinking about them.  I don't have time or room to talk about everything you mention, but I'll try to talk about the ones that have bothered me as well, so I can at least be talking from experience.

With regard to how and/or why God created us . . . yeah, it's kind of mind-blowing, and sometimes it seems so incredible to me as to be unbelievable.  It does rather beggar belief that an all-powerful being would in any way be interested in anything less than Himself.  (And indeed, a certain trend of philosophy with a pedigree going back to Aristotle has assumed that God doesn't particularly care about the world, since He's too worthy to think about anything unworthy, i.e., anything less than Himself, i.e., us.) 

There are two ways I tend to think about this when it starts bothering me:

  1. I agree that it's hard to imagine God either existing or creating us – but I can't figure out any other way that we could get here.  As Martin Heidegger put it, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"  In other words, isn't it astonishing that there's anything at all, however big or small it might be?  I'm aware that physicists have speculated about what might have "preceded" the Big Bang (if the word "preceded" has any meaning in that context), but from what I've read, it pretty much all comes down to, "We have no frigging idea how it all started or why or why then."  And even if a theory about what preceded the Big Bang ever does gain general acceptance, it still begs the question, "Where did that come from?"  The idea of God – a being who, if He exists at all, exists necessarily – seems more plausible to me than any theory about why an obviously contingent universe must have come into existence.  (Though, like I said, the Big Bang seems like a perfectly valid description about what happened once it all got kicked off.)
  2. I also agree that it's incredible God would take any interest in us.  This is one of the reasons why I'm specifically a Christian and not, say, a Deist or a Muslim.  The Christian theory is that God is nothing if not humble.  In other words, most other theories about God (whether philosophical or religious) describe a God who insists upon getting his due, and there's of course a sense in which this would necessarily be correct (if God exists at all).  But Christians believe in a God who, alongside everything else, is pretty damn humble, willing to, say, arrive in this world in a mess of blood and mucous, take His shits on the shore of the sea of Galilee, and leave this world impaled on a spike.  It may be difficult to believe that any being who could call Himself God would be willing to engage in that sort of behavior – but it's certainly the God that Christianity describes.  And if God is anything like humble enough to die for us, I don't think it's a priori unlikely that He would create us in the first place.

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