Does God Have To Be Perfect?

Posted on August 10, 2010. Filed under: Atheism, Personal, Religion |

Note from George: This is a response to a comment and new post over at my friend Kate’s blog Just Another  Inkling. For a reader seeking the full context of this discussion between our blogs, it will be necessary to read these posts in this order.  I will attempt to give context where possible.  I want to seize on a few things Kate has said recently….

The central theme of our discussion has revolved around the following questions:

(Kate should indicate if I stand corrected or need to expand this list)

  1. Is there a difference between the way in which a theist and atheist think which predisposes someone to that line of thought?  Does the theist gain some advantage in trusting intuition more than the atheist?
  2. Is it possible to be both a skeptic and a Christian?
  3. Is there a valid argument for a personal God in the Christian tradition? For any God period?

I believe we are at a bit of a logjam at question #3.  I would like to hone in on a few points made in posts on her site.

Her newest post is Let’s Objectively Imagine the Perfect God where she begins to lay out a case for her personal God using an allegory.  This stems from my comment of whether a case can be made for a personal God that is divinely inspired as opposed to man made.

I want to first question why her God need be perfect, and whether “perfection” is a state that can be gleaned from the evidence at hand.

From my comments:

Jesus' hopes to win election were ruined when he flip-flopped on slavery. That and he was against term limits....

I think that religious folks are always seeking a “perfect God”, and I don’t find that philosophically tenable. If there is one constant in the universe, one that has never been shown to have exception, it is the lack of “perfection”. In fact, I would say that the religious concept is partly born of the dichotomy between right and wrong, good and evil, moral and amoral and the lack of any semblance of perfection within those systems. We only have an abstract concept of perfection as a “lack of fault”, yet this state cannot exist.
What decision could be perfect? Is there not always a trade-off? I can make a decision that is better than another one, but we must always assume that there is some shade of gray to every choice. Perfection is an abstract, it does not exist.
So for me to imagine a perfect society of beings is also an abstract. It is also to my mind superfluous to a God concept. Why must a “God” be perfect? Why must a God be benevolent, omnipotent, omnipresent or any other concept we associate with a “perfect God”? God could be a petty creator, only capable of breathing life into an amoeba, perhaps with some ability to set the variables for life to favor our eventual arrival. Perhaps that “God” spoke to “Moses” and boasted pridefully that he created us ex-nihilo like a man taking credit for a twist of luck? Perhaps he is more powerful than us but no better morally. Why must God be perfect? Perhaps he is “benevolent” only so far that he has the power to control. Perhaps he is like me, and can be benevolent but is more often temperamental and harsh.
Does this make him less a “God”?
He is, under this scenario, our creator. Given that the bible tells us that He created us in His image, it certainly makes more sense to be so. It also creates a way for us to imagine a world with a God, because the facts now match the hypothesis much better. We do not live in a perfect world, and God is not perfect. We witness great suffering, and God is impotent to assist us. We are limited by the limits in which a limited “God” could create. We are the imperfect result of an imperfect god.

If you choose to breath perfection into your God then you must be held accountable for the logical consequences of that choice. He could create a perfect world and chose not to. He could make perfect choices and chooses not to. He created limits when he was unlimited. All these facts must be true and yet those choices must have a perfect answer?

I would argue that there is a reasonable dichotomy that can be reached with the evidence available without trying to make assumptions about what may or may not lie in a world beyond our perception.
1. God exists in the form I just mentioned. He is a fallible being with powers beyond ours but not limitless power. He is nothing we would call perfect, although you may rightly assume that He would prefer to appear that way to man. He is a God by some standards we would hold a God to, but in no way is the God of any world religion, except possibly through His deception.
2. Equally plausible is that no god exists. The world as we know it fits this conclusion as well. We are the product of a series of fortunate events in conflux with the inevitable conclusion of natural processes. Our limited brains create a god to explain phenomena that lie beyond our understanding. God in this case satisfies the human desire for causal explanations to semi-random or random events and evolved into the all encompassing control freak we know and love today.

Neither of these propositions require us to make propositions that are at the present time extra-scientific or subject to conveniently specious logic.
I will let you run with your premise, but I will argue that for one to imagine an actively participating entity as perfect, one must be able to quantify that perfection, which I am finding is an impossible task.

Why must your God be perfect? I don’t really understand the need for this concept.  It requires so much extra legwork on your part.  What makes this so important to theists?   I could lay out a pretty good argument for an imperfect creator.  Perhaps the problem with that is that it is equally a good argument for an anthropomorphic man made God.  I think Kate knows this already, and has at time attempted to distance herself from biblical literalism and dogma.  Yet she still holds firm to a Jesus concept.

This also comes back to the analogy she offers of the iceberg and seeing the other 90% of what lies below the surface.  Here is her iceberg diagram from her site:

Kate's iceberg metaphor: Cold, Hard Facts...

She has stated that as humans we are only privy to 10% of our world as illustrated by the “tip of the iceberg”.  We must use intuition, imagination and deduction to visualize the remaining 90%.

Many people now argue that the continued popularity of these two guys is proof that God cannot be benevolent.

If God is a perfect being, having all those attributes of a perfect being: omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence etc., why is there so little “trace evidence” in our “tip of the iceberg”?  It is though the tip is completely severed from the “reality” below the surface.  In your analogy, the tip, the part we can touch and describe is supposed to be our clue to the bigger whole.  When the bigger whole is a rock pile  several miles from our imagined iceberg, how are we to use the visible clue to steer our ship?

The bible paints a pretty vivid picture of the Abrahamic God.  If I am to square the circle and assume Him to be a perfect entity I must answer a thousand questions:

  1. Why should He chose to reveal Himself to a single tribe of men?
  2. Why would He choose to reveal some truths in the Bible and yet have human evidence contradict other revelations?
  3. Why would He create a world of abject suffering just to punish mankind for the actions of a remote ancestor
  4. Why would he create a “single true revelation” that only a fraction of the world has access to while other peoples should be born to worship false Gods, even though he specifically condemns the worship of any God but He?
  5. Why should it appear to humans that we evolved from lower forms when He claims to have specially created us?

The list could continue in perpetuity.  The evidence I see around me is not at all in favor of a perfect God.  If it can be said to favor one at all, it is a God of diminished capacity.

I wish to question the religious need for an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing god.  Would a moderately powerful, fallible yet noble Creator God not be equally worthy of your praise?

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8 Responses to “Does God Have To Be Perfect?”

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I decline the challenge. I’ll try again with a new challenge. My summer vacation ends this week, so I doubt I’ll have time for this as much, anyway.

Intentions, instead of perfection. I think that the word perfection is bothersome to you. I had only meant by it, “One who had all the information and knowledge…who knew the whole story,” and yet had good intentions for us in spite of all the wreckage that we see round and about us.

So drop the “perfection” case, as I don’t have eight hours a day to type up that case [although I believe it could be “roughly” made].

Let’s talk motives. Can we imagine a God with good intentions toward the creatures, in spite of things “not looking good for the god,” at present??

I’ll think on this awhile and re-do my post.

kate.

Kate,
I can certainly imagine a God with good intentions. In fact, in my this post I concede that He would more than likely have this attribute in spite of his “lack of perfection”.
I didn’t mean to frustrate you, I just think that making a case for God without needing him to be perfect is far easier and requires less mental gymnastics. I am working on another post that I should complete soon. I look forward to your next post.

“Response is my reflection of only the tip of the iceberg of your post”

If there is one constant in the universe, one that has never been shown to have exception, it is the lack of “perfection.”

I take it you are assuming that my tip of the iceberg theory is inadmissible, meaning that we have all the information and need or require no more.

I am going to take it that all texts may be referred to equally in our argument, as long as we remember our agreement. That agreement was that when we do not agree on a line of logic, we must back up and hammer on our “trains of thought” or our “propositions,” until we arrive at the least to a point where we each can follow the logic of the other…even if we do not agree with the other’s conclusions.

Three texts I will presently draw from. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., The New Living Translation of the Christian Holy Documents [the Bible], and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Quote #1 relates to our coming, at the least, into the ballpark of quantifying “perfection.”

“In my own life and in the life of a person who is seeking to be strong, you combine in your character antitheses strongly marked. You are both militant and moderate; you are both idealistic and realistic.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

The Abrahamic God is rumored to be both just and merciful, expedient and patient, etc.

**Announcement: humans do not under any circumstances SEEK a perfect god, for the perfect god is nothing but a huge pain in the ass to most normal humans.**

That being said, we do seek the God we were taught to seek. You said you are puzzled as to why religious folks are always “seeking” a perfect God, and that you just do not find this to be philosophically tenable.

Quote #2 relates to a case being tenable only after one has all the information for making a logical conclusion.

“Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy [brass] mirror, but THEN we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but THEN I will know everything completely, just as God now knows ME completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”—1 Corinthians 13:9-13

Finally, Immanuel Kant taught us that all objects furnish us with intuitions. My question is: intuitions for what purpose?

I’ve only just begun to study this book, but it seems to be speaking of our reasoning about things which are not “the matter” or “the object,” but things we might refer to as representative, and that thought on these things is not empirical, but what Kant refers to as pure in respect to “forms.”

He may be speaking of my further contemplation of the stars [matter/object] once I’ve left the great outdoors and have situated myself indoors on my couch for meditation. I’ll have to read further to see.

But, who is to say that this sort of reasoning could not be employed when contemplating that which we have yet to “perceive” with our sensations?

One final word. I cannot address your entire post in one post, but can only digest small portions and respond to them as such. I’ll get to the rest of your post soon. I must say that I am quite impressed both with your ability to critically analyze and with your ability to be diplomatic toward an opponent, such as myself!

Kate.

One more thought. Quantifying perfection is just as you say. It is very difficult, and comparable more to weather forecasting than to penning simple black and white definitions into an Oxford dictionary—even an extended Oxford!

It is like meteorology due to the fact that “perfection” possesses MANY fluctuating FACTORS which are constantly changing in regard to time, circumstance, will/desire, individual being dealt with, etc. One might say we need a perfection prognoticator in order to show that perfection can even exist, let alone show that it actually does exist. A prognosticator takes a set of constantly changing data and runs algorithms upon it which offer the meteorologist, really, just an inkling of an idea about the FACTS he is trying to predict. For instance, a perfect action might be justice in one case, but mercy in another…it might be to withhold assistance in once case, but lavish assistance in another…depending upon data which is not privy in its entirety to us, but only to the God being accused of perfection, impotence, or whatever the case may be.

So, do you see why I wish to steer clear of the “perfect God,” plan and turn our dials toward a more manageable course along the lines of a God with good intentions for the humans??

Kate.

Oh, and I could not find a place for rating your post. This one is excellent. I give you five starts, George! ***** 🙂

Earlier when you were asking if the bible would be considered admissible I said it would.
The passage you chose brings up something I didn’t mention. I like bible passages that expand discussions rather than stop them. This is an example of a great passage. It doesn’t stop the discussion, it doesn’t speak in black and white “God says this so it must be so” words.
These are the passages that remind me of what was good about being a Christian.

When I’m talking about perfection, I’m implying the tired old cliche “it is a path, not a destination.” There is no destination for perfect, just as there is no infinitely large number. Perfection is theoretical; certainly worth striving for but ultimately unreachable.
When I criticize your iceberg, I am saying that without some hint in our observable world, trying to glean what lies below the surface is an impossible task. I am not saying there is nothing that can’t be known or observed, that would be an absurd and untenable position. I am saying that those things we cannot see and must intuit or imagine must have some hint or clue in our observed world or they risk being figments or delusions.
That is why I can’t understand the need for a perfect God. If He exists, He has given us no hint, no clue that he is a perfect being. Yet theists thrust that description upon Him. Why?
So no, I don’t discount your iceberg analogy, I just want you to give the observational hints and clues that help build a circumstantial case for those things I cannot disprove using naturalistic methods.

Jesus Christ was all about the “novelty” you are referring to when you speak of the destination being more important than any destination. Life as abundant, moving, etc. This was Christ’s whole line of thinking and exactly what he was trying to invite us all into, not through our own observance of a set of laws, but by turning over our will and life to his care and management. And he did not leave us without any homework. He meant us to manage the ship, but he meant to be the one to TRAIN us to manage it.

About being able to “see” what lies beneath the surface of our ability to perceive…one thing comes to mind…Plato’s analogies of the philosophers who would “go below and have a look see,” only to come to the surface and find that no one up there would believe a damned thing they had to say.

I truly believe that if a god exists, that god does gift us all uniquely, and that some are gifted to nearly “perceive” in an indescribable manner, that which lies beneath.

As to the evidence provided by the god of rumor, well another scripture comes to mind. If he exists and inspired the scripture, then his answer is as follows:

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”–Romans 1:19-20

Also, about us thrusting upon you our need for a perfect god…

…well, it was first thrust upon us…

“…But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect…”–Matthew 5:48

This is all I have…utterly. I can come up with nothing else. I am impotent to provide any other structure to uphold such a case. It is just intuitive to me.

Kate.

I continue to agree that there is a world that lies beyond or current ability to perceive it. This world has continually shrunk over the past 400 or so years, but I wouldn’t place bets on everything being laid bare in time. “God” used to be the generic explanation for all phenomena that had no visible answer, and as our “eyes” became more acute over centuries of study, He has continued to migrate into the ever decreasing gaps that persist in human knowledge.
My overarching point is that every time we have postulated “God did it” where we have been able to “see below the surface”, we have been disappointed by His apparent absence. As this has been an unbroken rule then, I must err on the side of skepticism when anyone claims that God lies behind the next big question.
Rest assured Kate that I wanted to believe in God. That I read Romans 1:19-20 and tried with all my heart to internalize it without question. That I attempted to “square the circle” over and over because, like you, I desperately believed that I needed God. The constant assault my brain endured by squaring my belief with my observations eventually left me unable to fight to maintain the disconnect.
Re-reading that passage from Romans, I still see all the problems it creates. If I am supposed to infer God from all that I see around me, why is it that the evidence always leads further away; as though your “tip of the iceberg” is floating in the south pacific while I’m trying to navigate the arctic circle? We can’t know the mind of God, but why can we infer things that don’t square with what He should be? If I see his invisible qualities all around me, and cannot square them with His Word, how can I be expected to make a “leap of faith”? I know the stock answer. That a “leap of Faith” is just that. That we must forgo all our trepidations and have faith that He is there. I would love to do that, but I can’t muster the credulity. If you’re standing at a cliff’s edge, and God says “trust Me, jump” and the rocks below are covered with blood and bone, my intuition tells me that it’s not God’s voice I’m hearing, it’s that fellow in the bushes who just took out a policy on me.


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