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Why the Abundance Theory of Creation Fails

Horia George Plugaru

How can God be both a perfect being and the creator of the universe? Doesn't the fact that he created the world imply that he had a need or want? Otherwise, why would he bother creating anything at all? But then, if he had a need that implied the existence of the universe in order to be fulfilled, it seems he is not perfect: he lacks something. But by definition, a perfect being could not lack anything. So if the universe exists, God is not perfect, so God does not exist.

To counter this argument, some theists have proposed what I will call "The Abundance Theory of Creation" (ATC). The point of ATC is to explain creation without any reference to a supposed need on God's part. Rather, God created from an abundance of overflowing love. One proponent is Ralph Wagenet, who writes: "God's nature is not simply to possess his attributes to himself, but to pour out his attributes in love for the blessing of others. The nature of God as a union of three persons allows this perfect love to exist between Father, Son and Spirit as each blesses the other, so God does not need the creation in order to have something to love. However it gives God great joy to extend his love beyond the Trinity to others, for which purpose he created the universe. Thus God was not motivated by need in creating the universe, but by an abundant love."[1]

William Hasker concurs with respect to the Trinity: "The idea that God 'needs' the world in order to fulfill his own life is sharply rejected by theism. God needs nothing outside himself, and so it is wrong to say (as is sometimes said even in orthodox Christian circles) that God 'was lonely' and 'needed our companionship,' and therefore created us. God is, after all, according to Christianity, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is it to be supposed that their eternal companionship lacks something which could be made up by human beings?"[2]

Thus, the Trinity has the role of providing the recipient of God's love. Without the Trinity, God's "personal needs" for interpersonal interaction could not be fulfilled. Since his essence is love ("God is love," 1 John 4:8) God would need to create at least a being towards whom he would direct his love, because the existence of an essentially loving God without anything (anyone) to love would be meaningless. I will argue, however, that contrary to ATC, God needs, after all, the world—and especially mankind—in order to fulfill his own life.

There are at least two problems with ATC. The first, which I will not address in detail here, has to do with ATC's reliance on the doctrine of Trinity. According to this Christian doctrine, God exists as three persons but is one God, meaning that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have exactly the same nature or being as God the Father in every way. But the Trinity is a rather controversial concept. It is not shared by all Christian denominations; some other theists (some Muslims, for example) view it as incompatible with theism, and it has been regarded by some philosophers as incoherent. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the dogma of the holy Trinity is a mystery of the Christian faith. I will not say anything more here, but it is useful to keep in mind that since ATC is based on such a problematic notion, ATC itself becomes problematic.

But let us suppose the use of the Trinity raises no difficulties. We arrive at the second and more fundamental problem with ATC. ATC fails to acknowledge that despite God's overflowing love, a special charitable act, indeed the deepest and greatest act of benevolence, could not exist if the Trinity were all that existed. That is, unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another would be impossible. Since all the three members of the Trinity are divine (because God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are as eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, infinitely wise, infinitely holy, infinitely loving and omniscient as God the Father is), none of them could be in a situation which would require the voluntarily sacrifice of the other two in order to save the third. In what possible danger could one person of the Trinity find himself in a world where only God exists? What good would, say, the Spirit need that could be achieved only through the others' greatest possible act of altruism— self-sacrifice? Intra-Trinitarian relations might involve communications of love, the sharing of goodness and a perfect harmony, but not an ultimate sacrifice. Moreover, even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that such a sacrifice would be possible in this context, it is not clear that it would be an unconditional act of selfless love. In an important sense, God would be saving himself.[3]

If the very essence of God is infinite and perfect love, then it follows that the possibility must exist that would allow God to do the supreme, loving act mentioned earlier: unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another. Otherwise how could God's love be perfect in the greatest conceivable way? In what sense would God be capable of perfect love and of reaching his true loving potential if it would be impossible for him to perform what we deem to be the greatest possible loving act? Just as God needs an object for his love, which according to supporters of ATC is found in the Trinity, God needs at least a being He can love, a being who can open the path for the possibility of God's unconditional self-sacrifice. God needs a fallible and imperfect being, such as man, who can and might put himself in such danger (eternal misery and separation from God) that requires the ultimate sacrifice from God in order to be saved. "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16) (emphasis is mine). Without humanity, God could not love anything so much, that is, to the highest degree imaginable. It is only now, after performing his self-sacrifice, that God's perfect love is actualized and instantiated. Therefore, my answer to Hasker's question regarding the persons of the Trinity, "Is it to be supposed that their eternal companionship lacks something which could be made up by human beings?"—is a resounding Yes!

It should be made clear that I am not claiming that God forced man to sin so that he would be in need of salvation through the divine sacrifice. The fact that a loving father is ready to give his life for his child doesn't mean he hopes it will come to that. We can agree that God hoped man would not fall and sin. All I am saying is that only by creating man could God open the possibility of the aforementioned supreme act of love on his part. Without human beings, the supreme act of love on the part of God would have been impossible. Without human beings' fall into sin, the supreme act of love on the part of God would have been possible but not needed. The crucial difference is that while in the first case, God simply cannot have access to the most praiseworthy act of love, he does have access to it in the second case. God's perfection is not lessened in any way if he doesn't sacrifice himself for the good of another when such a sacrifice is not needed, but it is lessened if it is impossible for him to do it.

So it seems that, contrary to defenders of ATC, God cannot be perfect because he is either limited in a serious way, or depends on something outside himself. On the one hand, assuming a pre-universe world where all that exists is God, he cannot achieve perfection, because it is impossible for him to do the greatest loving act conceivable. He would not be the greatest imaginable loving being (and so would be less than perfect) because an even greater being would be possible: one that is even more loving than God. On the other hand, once God creates humans there is nothing standing in the way of him attaining perfection as an all-loving being, but in order to achieve this he needs a being other than himself.

A proponent of ATC might respond here in the following way. He could say that when God created the world he was not consciously choosing a world in which his perfect love could be actualized. He simply created the universe and humankind from an overflowing love, without having that specific rational intention or goal in mind. So he was not motivated by need, it just so happens that the created world gives him the possibility of realizing his perfect love. The obvious reply here is that if a favorable situation for God happened by accident or by luck, his perfection is not regained in any meaningful way. He is not perfectly rational. It would follow that it is an accident that God's nature is perfect love, which, for obvious reasons, is an unpalatable conclusion for a defender of ATC—or for any theist for that matter. More importantly, this theistic reply still does not change the fact that God depends on mankind in order to maximize his love, whether or not he took this into consideration when he created the world.

I conclude that the ATC fails. God needed mankind in order to make his perfect love possible. Without the existence of fallible beings, which could be in need of salvation through a divine act of complete selflessness, God's love could not be perfect. Contrary to Wagenet, God was indeed motivated by need in creating the universe. The only way to escape this conclusion is to imply that God is perfect love by an accident and even so his perfection still depends on something outside himself. Either way, ATC does not save God's perfection.

References:

[1] Ralph Wagenet, "The Coherence of God: A response to Theodore M. Drange" (2003)
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ralph_wagenet/response_to_drange.html

[2] William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View, InterVarsity Press, 1983, p. 115.

[3] It is worth mentioning that if we define altruism as a motivation to provide a value to a party who must be anyone but the self, it is not clear that if God were all that existed, altruism would be possible. I suppose a defender of the ATC would counter by saying that altruism is possible between the persons of the Trinity, and so altruism is possible even if nothing but God existed. Insofar as every person of the Trinity is God, it is not clear to me that any hypothetical altruistic actions inside the Trinity would mean that God provides a value to a party who must be anyone but the self. I will not pursue this line of reasoning here, but it is a question worth considering whether without creation, God could be an altruist. If he could not, then it is even more obvious that he needs creation in order to give meaning to his perfect and infinite love.


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Published:
  2011-12-28

Categories:
  Atheism, Creationism, Existence of God

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