Creation Paradox

Let us leave aside, for the moment, the question of benevolence, and whether it is a quality of whatever creator god may exist. We can focus on just two of this purported god’s qualities, omnipotence and omniscience. If he, she, or it* created the universe, and has all power that can be had and knows everything that can be known, then we run into a problem, the creation paradox.

If God were a conscious being who decided to create the universe, then prior to deciding that, he must have been in the condition of not knowing whether he was going to create it or not. If he always knew he was going to create the universe and when he was going to do so, then he did not decide to do it. Either there was a time when he didn’t know what his decision was going to be, which would mean he isn’t all-knowing, or the decision was built into his nature from the beginning, in which case it wasn’t God’s decision.

So it was impossible for God to decide to create the universe. By the same reasoning, he could not have decided to do anything. If God always knew everything, then there was never a time before he made any particular decision. All God’s decisions had to be part of his nature from eternity. Where does that leave free will? Clearly God doesn’t have it. God cannot will to do anything different from what his nature had always required.

Of course, if you don’t believe that God is all-knowing, that removes the difficulty, but then we are talking about a different kind of god. I am perfectly willing to discuss the possibility of a god who is not all-knowing or all-powerful, or even a god who is not benevolent. Those kinds of gods would at least be logically conceivable. In the future I may address the possibility that such gods could exist.

paradox

*Rather than list out all the possible pronouns that might be used to refer to a god, I will use “he” as the default here, since we are discussing a god that is generally thought of as male. This is contrary to my normal policy of using the impersonal pronoun when referring to gods. I do this not to imply that said gods are necessarily impersonal; I am simply trying to avoid assigning gender when no particular gender is claimed. “They” would also work, but that implies a plurality that confuses the issue.
Title image credit: “Creation” by Justin R. Christenbery
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8 thoughts on “Creation Paradox

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  1. What if instead, the sentence read: “If God were a conscious being who planned to create the universe”? Well when did he come up with that plan? That’s a whole different question. Same thing with the word decide here: “If he always knew he was going to create the universe and when he was going to do so, then he did not decide to do it.” Incorrect – again, this is akin to long term planning. Think retirement – you know that you will do it, you can plan when to do it, you can decide to do it whenever you fit the criteria. Are you “all knowing” about your career, health, marital status, or any other future life changing possibilities? No. But then you are not God are you? Yet, you can plan and live your live driving toward those goals. You can decide at any point to change your world to better fit your desires, hence free will. I don’t see any paradox when I replace decide for plan.

    Finally, let’s review the definition of decide – de·cide
    dəˈsīd/
    verb
    come to a resolution in the mind as a result of consideration.

    So prior to making “the decision” – there is an acknowledged period of consideration. Prior to execution, there was a plan. Prior to creating our universe, there was a consideration, there was careful analysis of all the possibilities that would be created along with our universe. If I give something life, and free will, I have to accept the fact that it will eventually rebel against me, The Creator. It may conspire to kill me, or worse, kill those that worship me as The Creator. How can I balance these two opposing forces? …I can create an Ark of Safety for those whom believe. These are just a few of the thoughts that must have crossed His mind during this period of consideration. Is life even worth creating? Will the bloodshed that will follow, the pain and suffering that is inevitable, be worth it all? For all the blight and sadness of human tragedy, I think you can agree that the beauty created by us as is even more powerful, and has ultimately been worth it. If instead, this is a an existential cry for help, let’s talk about that – and not around it.

  2. You may be on to something here, Steve. You are free to refer to creation as a plan. I’m not married to the word “decision.” Anyway, a plan of that magnitude involves many decisions.

    The clear implication of what you are saying regarding God’s planning is that God is not omniscient. Obviously, if he knew everything from the beginning, if he knew that future in detail, he would not need to carefully consider the possibilities. On the other hand, if, as you say, he did make decisions and carefully formulate a plan, then he must not have known all the details of the future when he started planning.

    I’m fine with that. This is a god that I can relate to, one that is logically possible: very intelligent but not all-knowing, very powerful but not omnipotent. I assume he is also very good but not perfect. This doesn’t answer all the questions, of course, but it is a starting point. Where do you want to go from here?

  3. Well I think we should discuss this gift of Free Will, because in essence that becomes the X factor here.

    All Knowing doesn’t translate to All Controlling right? He wrote the story, placed the characters of you and I in it, and then let us loose with our free will. However, as the All Knowing, time is fluid and he can see the end of our stories, without necessarily influencing, or even actively controlling them. Remember the Choose your own Adventure series? The authors knew how the stories ended, they did not control what path we took, but yet knew all of the free will alternative endings. This is God being omniscient, His omnipotence allows him to interact as much as he would like. He can call us through a burning bush, a vivid dream, or even a special messenger and offer guidance for our path. Most times, He allows nature to take its’ course, but sometimes He bends the laws of physics (as we understand them) to His will.

    I don’t think weighing choices belies all knowing, if anything, coming up with a preemptive damage control plan kind of proves the point. We tend to anthropomorphise God, and in doing so we tend to limit His thinking to our levels. This in itself is a limited view, almost as if to say, because I don’t fully understand something, it must not exist. But back to the X factor of free will – it is Pandora’s Box, once opened it can lead anywhere, sometimes far away in search of our own god, sometimes it leads us right back to Him. As far as being a relatable God? Can a flea ever really relate to a burning star? For Christians, (let’s minimize denominations for a minute), the relatable God is Christ Jesus; God made into man. A man that lived as a baby, cried as an infant, had to be potty trained, stubbed His toe, had teenage acne, got a job working with His Dad, and ultimately gave His life for His friends. I can relate to this God, because he experienced so much of what I experienced. He was hungry, He was sleepy, He was lonely. This…was a Human God.

  4. “All Knowing doesn’t translate to All Controlling right?” That’s correct, in principle. Sometimes even a limited being such as myself can predict what’s going to happen in a perticular instance. When I see a friend attempt something impossible, I may know with certainty that he is going to fall on his face. When he does, I was not the cause of it. I probably tried to talk him out of it. It’s a little different with God, of course. I didn’t create my friend, with his proclivity toward dangerous activities. The question then is how much control God exercises over our later behavior by how he puts us together. That all has to do with the nature of human free will. I may write on that another time.

    As I said in this post, if God is all-knowing, he cannot have free will. Assuming “all-knowing” means he knows everything that is going to happen, in detail, then he can’t do anything to change what is going to happen. Think about this. For instance, at the beginning of the universe, God already knew that Mount Pinatubo was going to erupt on June 15, 1991, killing hundreds. If, on June 14, God decided to put off the eruption a few days, that would mean that he was incorrect when he “knew” it was going to erupt on the 15th. That is true of everything that happens. If God knows it is going to happen, then he can’t change it. Either he is powerless to change it, or he is imperfect in his knowledge.

    If God is all-knowing, he cannot have free will. He cannot change the tiniest part of what he foreknew. Alternatively, if he has free will, he cannot know everything he is going to do. In theory, God can have omniscience or free will, but not both.

  5. Not to sound flippant, but what if God simply changed His mind? As I noted earlier, Most times, He allows nature to take its’ course, but sometimes He bends the laws of physics/nature/fate (as we understand them) to His will. Can you (or God in particular) know that you will change your mind later? Possibly. Certainly not impossible.

    For example, I think I will work out today. Probably not though. But maybe! I just don’t know…we’ll see. (I probably won’t.)

    All Knowing and Free Will. 🙂

    Keep in mind that God is not bound to the rules the same as we are…although in a sense He is. So maybe you are right after all; He is bound by His Word. What He says will come to past, must come to past. Otherwise He is a liar and not God. So in a sense, maybe He doesn’t have 100% complete Free Will – because if He said it, He has to do it. I guess we agree then! (as my tiny brain struggles to understand the nature of Godliness.) For example, during the prophet Jonah’s time, the destruction of Nineveh was delayed due to their repentance in ~760 B.C., but was the prophecy was completed years later by the Medes in ~612 B.C.

    So he Knew it would be destroyed, but His Free Will determined the date. He was bound by His Word, but maintained flexibility with the schedule.

  6. So, God knew Nineveh would be destroyed, but he didn’t know when? It is self-contradictory to say that he knew when it would happen, but that changed when he changed his mind. That would mean he was originally wrong about when he thought it would happen.

    My point is that if God were omniscient, he would have 0% free will. He would be completely bound to do everything he always knew he was going to do. That’s a problem for many reasons. I would think it is more logical to assume he has some kind of free will and is not omniscient. Or, if you prefer, a simpler solution would be that he is imaginary. That way he doesn’t have to be bound by such mundane things as logic and reason.

  7. Thanks for the drinks and food for thought.

    Here’s what the Texts describe what we call omniscience:

    1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
    2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
    3 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
    4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
    5 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

    He is omniscient when it comes to humanity, since He is our Creator. I think that if you would rather think/call Him imaginary, then that is your free will. I use mine and choose to believe. Again, just because I don’t fully understand something does not mean it does not exist. Just because He doesn’t fit nicely into the limited definitions that we have created doesn’t make us correct in proving anything..other than the fact that perhaps there are things that exist somewhere beyond our comprehension.

  8. You’re welcome, Steve. Food for thought it what I am all about.

    You raise an excellent point regarding the biblical definition, or lack thereof, of “omniscience.” The definition I was going by is a more modern invention of pop theology, that God literally knows every detail of everything that happens, past, present, or future. That’s the way speakers like William Lane Craig use the term, and that seems to be the way most Christians use it. It is not biblical. We might be better to define it as having all the knowledge necessary to do what God does. That would be a great deal of information, but he wouldn’t have to know his own future thoughts.

    I tend to think God is imaginary, but I can’t prove it. Discussions like this help to clarify the definitions.

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