Can a perfect being create something imperfect? Think about it in religious terms. I think that everyone’s conception of god, regardless of specific religion (excluding religions of the ancient world, of course), is in a word that god is perfect, yet everyone views themselves as being imperfect. If god is perfect and created us then shouldn’t we and everything else god created be perfect as well? Maybe the answer just requires a good definition of ‘perfect.’ I’m not sure, but if my proposition is true then the implications of this would require either a change in the concept of god, or of ourselves.
Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz
You fell right into the linguistic trap that lies in waiting for all who think that concept language can solve our philosophical (and other) problems.
Think very carefully about what you understand by a ‘perfect’ being. Keep trying for a while to account for everything that might be embraced by the word ‘perfection’. You might proceed in line with the medieval scholastics, who kept enumerating human qualities and found all of them ‘imperfect’, therefore God would obviously exhibit superior qualities and attributes. But soon you’re going to run out of attributes, there aren’t that many! In addition, you would find that these attributes all have some relation to human attributes. What we don’t know, we can’t talk about: So – what is a ‘perfect’ existent? If such a one existed, we could know nothing about it! It would have a plethora of attributes utterly beyond our puny understanding of perfection.
There is an anthropological explanation for this, if you feel like pursuing it (e.g. Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity). But this does not validate your conclusion. In fact, your conclusion begs all the questions. ‘God’ is a theological (theoretical and metaphysical) conception. Take ‘him’ out of theory and into the world and you no longer have a ‘God’. You end up like Spinoza, who took this line of thinking to its only logical conclusion, that God is the world, and the world is God, and none of us really exist (empirically). Alternatively you have a household god with whom you can hold a conversation once a day, like with a wise old man.
This is not even mentioning that part where you speak of ‘creating’. Pure prejudice. What makes you state this assumption as if it was self-understood? Why should ‘God’ create anything? Isn’t the essence of perfection to be self-sufficient? Erigena taught that God created the world as a material counterpart in order to mirror himself in the myriad of prototypes which he created by actualising himself. But this is already Step 1 towards ‘imperfection’, as you can surely see.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about in earnest. The best thing for you is to stop using the word ‘perfect’ in arguments of this kind, because it is a word without a denotation – except in such limited environments as a ‘perfectly machined ball bearing’ or a ‘perfect (100%) score’ etc. Now you will also see that ‘perfection’ implies totality, which is ipso facto complete, therefore sterile and therefore uncreative.
So if your ‘God’ was truly perfect, ‘he’ would be a self-contradiction. The only creative act possible to ‘him’ would be to make another exactly like himself. You can see that, can’t you?
Answer by Craig Skinner
The concept you speak of is of an absolutely perfect being (omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, infinite, all-loving). But not even such a being can do the logically impossible. And that is why any creation must be imperfect.
The argument is best set out by Leibniz:
It is logically impossible for a perfect being to create something wholly perfect other than itself; for, by the principle of the identity of indiscernibles (if X and Y are exactly identical in all respects they are one and the same thing), a being that was wholly and completely perfect would just be (identical with) god. So, if god and creation are to be genuinely distinct, they must be ‘discernible’ ie creation can’t have all the perfections of god. Elements of creation may be perfect in some respects, but the fact that they can’t be in all respects is already a departure from absolute perfection.
Part of god’s perfection is infinite creativity. A spiritual world of angels, say, is first created. Although eternal and not subject to decay, they are finite beings, and show moral imperfection (witness Satan).
God’s creativity continues. A physical world is created. But this is necessarily subject to entropic decay. And we, being physical, are part of this process; we are mortal, subject to degeneration and all the accidents of an imperfect world.
The only alternative to an imperfect world is for god not to create a world at all.
In short, the presence of evil in the world, far from being an intractable problem for belief in an absolutely perfect god, is entailed by that very belief.
Leibniz’s view as to the metaphysical necessity of evil was famously lampooned by Voltaire in his short novel ‘Candide’ in which the hero witnesses and experiences horrors and suffering but is constantly reassured by the philosopher, Dr Pangloss, that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Dawkins and other militant atheists continue the tradition of blaming God for the evils in the world, but without endorsing as preferable the only alternative, namely no world at all. Dawkins in particular comes across as being angry with god for not existing, wanting him to come out from under that nonexistence cloak and face the music for all the evils of the world for which he is responsible.
So, evil and suffering are inevitable in any world, whether it arises supernaturally or naturally.
Finally, when talking of the religious conception of god, you exclude ‘religions of the ancient world, of course’. How old do they have to be to fall in this category ? Judaism is some 3000 years old, even Christianity is 2000 years old! Mind you, there are no modern worldwide religions. I wonder if there ever will be a new one in this category.