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Why Did God Create the Material Universe?

Michael D. Reynolds



The naturalistic description of how the universe came into being is through the "Big Bang." The Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) supernaturalistic description of how the universe came into being is: "God created it." When asked why the universe came into being, the naturalist replies that why is an adverb about purpose, and the question is meaningless because its presupposition that there was a purpose in the universe's coming into being requires a purposeful engendering entity, which is contrary to naturalism. However, by attributing the universe to a purposeful being, the monotheist is obligated to answer the why question.[1] The query "Why did God make the material universe?" is not explicitly addressed in the Bible. The present essay aims to show that there is no plausible answer, and that there are cogent reasons why God would not have desired to make a universe.

Possible Answers to the Question and Why They Should Be Rejected

One response to the why question might be that God created the universe to increase 'his' glory. Christians assert, however, that God has several attributes that are named by prefixing ordinary secular nouns with all, such as being all-powerful and all-knowing. In his essence, God must also possess the maximum possible glory (i.e., be all-glorious). Had it even been possible for him to increase his glory, he would not have been a perfect being. Hence God did not create the universe to enhance his glory.

A similar (and more common) answer is that God created the universe to manifest his glory: "God created the world to show forth and communicate his glory" (Catechism §319); "The supreme purpose of God in creation [was] to display His glory" (MacArthur, 2001, p. 119); "God accomplishes ... his purpose in displaying his glory in the created world" (Van Til, 1967, p. 165). But to whom did he manifest his glory by this act of creation? The angels presumably do not underestimate his glory, and thus it cannot be shown to be even greater than they think. And the spiritual realm that they inhabit is so much more grand and noble than the material realm that they are unlikely to be impressed by the latter. Theists say that the universe manifests God's glory to human beings. That this was his intention in creating the universe leads to the following questions.

First, why does God want to manifest his glory to a creature? One of his attributes is total self-sufficiency. Of necessity, he is completely self-satisfied. Were he to be pleased by any act of the beings that he created, this would mean that he was not always in a state of maximum contentment, and therefore was not perfect. God can have no need of reverence or praise, much less of material creatures "ooh-ing and ah-ing" over the universe.

Furthermore, if one of the reasons that God made the universe was to manifest his glory to human beings, then at least one of his purposes in making us had to be for us to perceive his glory in the universe; we were to be the agents who fulfilled the intention with which God created the universe. But nowhere does the Bible so much as mention this purpose of humankind. All that the creation story in Genesis states is that human beings were made "in the image of God." Now, if we are his images, and one of our purposes is to perceive God's glory, then perceiving his own glory must also be an aspect of God's behavior, one which is manifested in the behavior of the human images. Hence, the perception of his own glory must be one of God's attributes. But if God is self-sufficient, then his own perception of himself will suffice; no purpose would be served by making creatures that do so. (A parallel argument applies if human beings were made to admire God's glory; then self-satisfying self-admiration must be one of his attributes.)

The idea of creation in order to manifest glory poses other theological problems. The response of human beings to God's glory (as shown in the universe he created) depends on their having a capacity for admiration. As a result, the created universe admires itself; that is, it includes intelligent beings capable of admiring their environment. In Heaven, the angels admire only God. They cannot admire one another because they are fully aware that they are creatures of God, and any admirable quality that they possess, they have only as a gift from God. The creation of a material world interposes a block between God and the spirits (souls) confined in the material realm; the spirits admire the material initially and directly, and God secondarily and indirectly as the glorious creator of the material. Embodied souls cannot have the direct perception of God that the angels enjoy and cannot respond to him fully. Hence the human response to God's glory is inferior to that of the angels; it is as if the praise of the heavenly choirs had been supplemented by a chorus of frogs. What explanation is there for God's desiring a form of admiration inferior to that which he receives from the angels?

A third possible reason for having made humankind was the benevolence exhibited by creating additional spiritual beings (souls), some of whom would eventually enjoy bliss by being with God. But up to the present day, the majority of human beings who have ever lived have never even heard of God, the Trinity, or Jesus. According to the common Christian doctrine, all those people have gone to Hell. This occurred with God's foreknowledge, and casts doubt on the benevolence of his act.

The idea of going to Heaven suggests another reason for making humankind and a home for it—namely, that God wanted to manifest his merciful benevolence particularly by the redemption of some human beings. Again the question arises, whom must God convince that he is merciful? Certainly not himself. Presumably, mercy is unnecessary in Heaven, and perhaps the angels were ignorant of the concept and needed a demonstration of it. But alleging redemption as the purpose of creating humankind is contrary to the Christian doctrine that God's intention was that Adam and Eve and all their descendants should be sinless. Even God cannot perform an act contrary to his purposes, for doing this would render him less than perfect.[2] Finally, if mercy and redemption were to be exhibited, God could have redeemed some or all of the fallen angels; human beings were not needed to effect this demonstration.

Logical Problems with the Doctrine of Creation

Not only is it unclear why God chose to create the universe, but there are several reasons why he should not have done so.

First, in general, would a perfect, self-contained, and self-sufficient God create anything at all? Obviously he would have no need to do so. We're brought back to the still unanswered question of the motive of the deity's volitional act. Without a motive, God's creation of anything external to himself is both inexplicable and devoid of explanatory value.

Next, the act of creating something external to himself renders God imperfect in several ways:

  • He no longer is the sole existing thing, and to exist in complete self-sufficiency is a more perfect state than to exist in company with other things—especially other things that are imperfect, and some of which are opposed to God.
  • If he creates as an act of volition, the act must have a purpose, because to do something external to himself to no purpose is not consonant with his perfection. But if God has a purpose regarding something external to himself, then that something is necessary; it must exist because it is purposed by God. But now God is no longer self-contained; there is something necessary external to him.
  • God exists outside of time. But speaking in the context of time, he is eternal, and he imposed time upon himself to create the temporal universe. God's purposes, including his intention to create, must be "eternal" (timeless). But his acts within time are subject to time, and the fact of acting in time subjects God to time: his existence is divided into a time before and a time after each act (such as creation). Therefore, God becomes subject to something he has created, and he is no longer self-sufficient.
  • To be perfect, God must be unchanging. But by creating in time he becomes changeable. According to Genesis, he created the universe during a period of time. He acted in one way (performed a specific action) at a certain time and in another way at a later time, and so on.[3]

Specific Reasons Why God Ought Not to Have Created the Universe

Turning to specific reasons why God ought not have created the universe, first, why should he want to make a material realm in addition to a spiritual one? With the creation of the spiritual realm (Heaven), God came into possession of a boundless immaterial domain and countless spiritual retainers. And if he wanted an additional outlet for his creative powers, surely his ability to devise new forms of spiritual beings is inexhaustible.

Spiritualists assert that the spiritual is vastly nobler than the material. Did not God demean himself by creating lowly matter? Why should he make a material realm—so inferior in quality and value to the spiritual—and souls that are confined to and troubled by material bodies? It is as if an architect of palaces suddenly devoted himself to designing a privy.

According to the Bible, human beings have frequently angered God, to the point where he once repented of having made them, and destroyed them all except a single extended family. He had foreknowledge of this.[4] Why should he act so as to aggravate himself?[5]

Finally, without the creation of humankind, fallen angels would have nothing to do except participate in the organizational scheme of Hell, try to bolster one another's mood with whatever lies they tell each other, and privately cope with their grief and rage over their folly in making themselves unwelcome in Heaven. The creation of human beings who were foreknown to become sinners opened a vast and rewarding field for diabolical action. The fiends were not confined to Hell; they could enter the universe. They were able to vent their rage on living humans (beginning with Eve) and on damned souls, and thereby find some solace. And they did not have to cope with the depressing knowledge that they were the lowliest creatures; there were beings beneath them, lacking the powers of demons and subjected to them. The news of the creation of human beings was the happiest event in the history of Hell. Why did God perform an act so rewarding to demons?

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1995). New York, NY: Doubleday.

MacArthur, John. (2001). The Battle for the Beginning: The Bible on Creation and the Fall of Adam. Nashville, TN: W Publishing.

Van Til, Cornelius. (1967). The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.

Notes

[1] Note that failure to address the question renders void the monotheist's allegation to have explained the origin of the universe (often expressed as "religion explains what science cannot"). Attributing a purposeful action to a being without supplying a motive deprives the action of prior causation, and brings the chain of causation to a premature end. A voluntary act performed by a human agent is not regarded as being explained by a statement of the form, "He did it just because he wanted to." If God does not act whimsically or irrationally, he must have had a reason for creating the natural realm.

[2] If one alleges that God had a dual purpose of making sinless human beings and also (in virtue of his foreknowledge that they would nevertheless sin) of redeeming some of them, the proper response is that the two purposes are incompatible—both cannot be fulfilled—and such dual purpose would make God illogical.

[3] And if, as Christians allege, God exercises providence over the creation, he also becomes changeable because his behavior before and after creating is different.

[4] One might assert that God did not anticipate these troubles until he had formed the intention of making human beings, at which point he had to continue the project. But if he lacked foreknowledge of Adam and Eve's sin and all its consequences before he formed the purpose of making human beings, then his knowledge was incomplete and he was not perfect. All God's purposes must be eternal.

[5] If God's emotional equilibrium could at all be disturbed by his creatures, doesn't this mean that he is not perfect and is under the influence of those who should be totally subordinate to him?


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Published:
  2017-04-08

Categories:
  Believers, God, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion

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