It’s a very simple question and one I’ve asked a number of believers over the years, but have yet to get any kind of a reasonable answer. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of it’s been kicking around in my brain the past couple of days so I thought I’d take the time to write it down.
For the sake of the argument we’ll have to assume that God does exist and he has a reason for doing the things that he does. We should also try to define his basic properties; what we mean when we use the word “God.” To keep it simple let’s go with the basic assumptions present in most of the big religions:
- God is perfect.
- God is all-powerful.
- God is all-knowing.
- God is eternal.
Right off the bat with the first aspect of God we have a problem of motivation that I’ve never been able to get past. A common interpretation of the word “perfect” is: entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings, thorough; complete. A truly perfect being would need nothing and thus want for nothing and, logically, have no reason to do anything. All the usual motivations us mere humans have for doing things would be of no concern to a God. Our motivations are driven by needs, both real and perceived, and even when we claim we’re doing something for no reason that’s often not the reality of the situation. God wouldn’t need anything. Not food, companionship, entertainment, sleep, sex, or anything else.
So why would he create anything? He has no need for Heaven, angels, universes, planets, people, critters, and so on and he couldn’t possibly gain anything from the creation process he doesn’t already have because he’s perfect. If he needed any of those things or even if he just had a need to create he wouldn’t be perfect. If God has no good reason to create anything then why are we here? I recognize that this implies that God could exist and not be perfect, but most religions reject that possibility.
The second attribute of God invites all manner of logical paradoxes. Most folks interpret all-powerful to mean that God can do anything which invites classic questions like, “Can God make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it?” The obvious answer being no which means that there’s a limit to God’s power (it’s a limit on what he can do and thus not all-powerful) and at the same time if he could do it then there would still be a limit to God’s power (a limit to how heavy an object he can lift, but not how heavy he can create). Of course that assumes that God has a physical form to lift things with, unless you assume he does his lifting by some other means (telekinesis perhaps?), and the further your pursue that rabbit the deeper you’ll find the rabbit hole goes. Of course it’s a moot point in the face of attribute one which removes any need to create a heavy stone and then try to lift it. Still you can have a lot of fun thinking up various paradoxes like “can God get lost” which ties into aspect number three as well as two.
Speaking of the third attribute, this introduces yet more motivation and paradox problems. Most of the big religions consider all-knowing to mean that he knows everything there is to know from the past, now, and the future. Ask how this is possible and the most common explanation you’ll get is that God exists outside of the universe and thus can see the whole thing from beginning to end. The obvious logical contradiction this causes is in regards to free will. Most of the big religions believe that you have free will, but they also believe that God knows everything you will do before you’re born. God, being all-knowing and perfect, can’t be wrong so logically you have to live out the life that God knows you will live which means that you don’t really have a choice and thusly don’t really have free will, but the believers will insist that you do because otherwise you can’t be held accountable for your actions by God. It’s a paradox and one that people will happily argue with you about until you’re blue in the face without ever grasping that it’s a paradox.
But assuming for the moment that God went ahead and created everything for no reason and assuming that it’s possible to have free will in spite of God knowing ahead of time what you’re going to do, the fact that he’s all-knowing still makes the exercise pointless. Before God created even the first elementary particles for the first atoms at the very start of creation he already knew how it would all play out in the end. Again this begs the question of why even bother if it’s all just going through the motions? What does God gain from this that he wouldn’t have already had if he’d not done anything at all? Again, by definition, God doesn’t need anything and is complete unto himself. What value could an exercise like reality hold that would motivate a being who doesn’t need any of it to be complete?
The fourth attribute is an interesting one because it’s hard to really wrap your head around the concept of forever. We are finite beings and everything we see around us is also finite. Though bits of reality have mind bogglingly long existences that they may as well be infinite as far as the length of our puny lives are concerned, the point remains that everything appears to have a beginning and, at some point, an end. The universe itself is finite as far as most of the big religions are concerned. It has a beginning and will have an end and while the length of its existence is beyond human comprehension it’s also ridiculously short in comparison to “forever.” Which brings us once again to asking why God would bother? Consider that God may have existed for countless eons compared to the universe (though most would argue that time is meaningless where God resides) and will continue to exist for countless eons after the universe is gone. What does he gain with the relatively short experiment with reality that he wouldn’t have had prior to it? Being perfect he doesn’t need anything and he was perfectly comfortable with existing on his own for, if you’ll pardon the pun, God knows how long prior to bothering with creation and he’ll continue to exist – unchanging by most religion’s definition – long after the universe has gone the way of the dodo. Reality is a pointless exercise on that time scale.
All of these problems are before we even start in on what reasons a particular religion’s take on God might have for the various rules and regulations he’s laid down, which, when you consider the source, are almost entirely arbitrary. These questions imply a single God, but most of them apply to religions with many Gods as well. Perfect beings, as a whole, would have no motivation to do anything. That’s the sort of thinking I do when my brain gets going.