Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pre-Creation (How Good Can God Be?)

I want to consider whatever there was, in the theist conception, prior to creation.  Note: I use the term "prior to" deliberately rather than the term "before", because creation probably implies a beginning of time, in which case there would be no "before" (such as we could understand it).

The idea, as I understand it, is that it is impossible for there to be an infinitely long causal chain back into the past and that, within this universe, all effects (without exception) are preceded by a cause.  Note: I am not interested in Aristotelian "causes" here, which are presented as answers to a "why" question such that considering them would be equivocation.  I very much mean a cause as in the combination of pre-existing conditions and some sort of force acting on something.

The notion of pre-existing conditions and a force acting on something is taken to show that while there must have been some "first cause", that "first cause" could not have come from within this universe.  Note: I am not implying a "first cause" from "outside" the universe, since at this point, notionally, the universe does not (yet, see first note) exist.

This "first cause", it is then claimed, must be a creator god.  Note: I am not implying that this is a specific god, one that maybe has the name "God" or one that Adam and Moses chatted with, so I have no intention to capitalise the term when I use it.

It is further claimed, by most theists, that this creator god is extremely, maximally or all-: powerful, knowing and good.  Some go further, saying that this god is perfect.  I know that, when challenged, some theists suggest a less extreme version of a god, in order to avoid certain problems, but I strongly suspect that in private such theists relax back into believing the full deal.  Let's just say that this hypothetical creator god is, at a minimum, powerful and knowledgeable enough to create this universe and then consider how good such a creator god could be, given that it started with the most rasus of all possible tabulæ rasæ.  Note: This is a questionable metaphor because "rasus" indicates that the "tabula" [slate] has been "scraped" clean, implying that the slate had been in a different state earlier, but I'm just trying to say in an oblique way that this creator has the blankest of all blank canvases before it, that there is nothing before it but potential, and perhaps not even potential, since any potential that exists supposedly exists, as yet unmanifested, within the creator god and that creator god has not yet created anything yet that could be "before" it.

One final, or rather first, thing.  In our understanding of physics, time could have started just prior to the big bang, but it doesn't necessarily have to have started just then.  In the hypothetical that I am considering right now, however, to all extents and purposes time does start with “creation” - because otherwise the causal chain would extend further back, and we're specifically looking at when the chain starts.  I'm willing to accept that the creator god could create time first, with nothing else (so no matter or energy and no space in which to put it), and use the fruit of that initial creative act to "spend time" considering what move to make next.  I'm not saying that a creator god needs to do that, but we're going to consider decision making on the part of the creator god and, as far as we understand it, decision making takes time.

So, we have the creator god.  Nothing is created.  The creator god is sufficiently perfect as to make a universe of some kind.  Is this creator god good?

It seems that we can only tell by employing an awkward, circular definition of good, saying that this creator god is good because it does creator god stuff and creator god stuff (namely creation) is, by definition, good, or good by consideration of what actions this creator god takes - judging it by its fruits, you could say.

But then we come to suffering.  Suffering is, in itself, a bad thing.  I doubt that anyone would argue that suffering, in itself, is a good thing.  It is certainly possible that, if on balance there is more good than bad that accrues from a certain act, then that act can be considered "good" even if it resulted in suffering (in some sort of "the ends justify the means" sort of way).  However, at this point in our hypothetical history, there is nothing and there is, therefore, no suffering at all.

What justification would this creator god have for changing from that primordial, zero-suffering state to a state in which, inevitably, sentient creatures would emerge and suffer, some horribly?  Note: I am not saying here that it's necessarily the case that the creator god should not have created at all, but rather emphasising the (hypothetical) fact that the creator god had an entirely blank canvas (albeit an entirely metaphorical one).  Nothing had yet been created, not even the physical laws of this universe, and the creator god had almost entirely unlimited options (remember that this is a sufficiently powerful and knowledgeable creator god, not an omnipotent or omniscient one).  The creator god could have created, for example, a single intelligent being with which to interact.  It might be argued that loneliness of that being might be an issue, but that is a post hoc quibble.  A deliberately created being, created by a sufficiently powerful and knowledgeable creator god with the sole purpose of interacting perfectly with its creator, would not suffer loneliness - it'd be in (sufficiently) perfect communion with the (sufficiently) perfect creator god.

Some apologists might miss the point (intentionally or not) and suggest that the creator god does not need to justify itself to lowly mortals like myself.  That may well be true, but such a tyrant god is not an inherently good god.  And in any event, I'm not arguing here that this hypothetical creator god does not exist, I am merely pondering on how good it could possibly be.

So, how good can it be?


There's the common argument that this god wants to enter into a loving relationship with us all, and that this is a great gift, offered freely.  Nevertheless, this is satisfying a want on the part of the creator god, and any good that is associated with this offer comes only after our creation.  Therefore, we suffer (and I reckon we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent) to satisfy the wants of a creator god, even if we might subsequently get a boon that seems somewhat secondary (our happiness is subordinate to that of a vastly superior being, after all).  However, I am not considering the post-creation situation – I'm considering the pre-creation situation in which a creator god has the opportunity to decide between A) creation of sentient beings which would then be placed in a quandary, risking future eternal bliss or future eternal suffering (or permanent oblivion), while experiencing a poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives on the material plane; B); creation of sentient beings who would not then be placed in such a quandary and would not then experience poor, nasty, brutish, and short lives (on any plane) or, C) abstention from the creation of sentient beings altogether.

My thinking is that the creator god could be good.  But it would not be good if it chose option A.


  1. See Brian Davies's "The Reality of God and The Problem of Evil"

    1. From the reviews, Davies' argument is that we should not consider why there is so much evil but rather why is there so much good. My argument above short-circuits that consideration. If you feel that it doesn't then feel free to explain. If you are thinking of something else that Davies argues, then how about you provide a summary of what you think is relevant and how it is relevant to the argument I've provided. A bare reference to some writing by some Dominican priest isn't going to convince anyone, certainly not enough to fork out money on his book (not to mention the time I'd be wasting reading it on such a weak recommendation).

      Put it this way, if Davies had a really good, knock-down argument regarding the problem of evil, then I'd probably have heard of him and I'd probably know what his argument was, and his wikipedia page would have a summary of it. As it is ... nothing.


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