Wednesday, February 13, 2008

God's Impracticality (or, Why God is Not a Superman Villain)

This blog entry has piqued some curious thoughts in my brain. The subject matter (and comments, and atheist blog responses) is a bit much to all take in, so I'll summarize and then make my point. Basically, there is an atheist argument put forth against God that goes a little something like this: if man is the crown jewel, the apex of God's creation, then God would have built a more "human-scale" (i.e., smaller) universe, a universe more conducive to human exploration and dominion, a universe that reflected man's position as the apex of creation. However, because the universe is not "human-scale," because it's so...so...big, obviously there is no God, because if there was one, than He would have made a universe fit for man. Yeah.
I could get bogged down in historical facts (like how people have known since Ptolemy that the universe was huge, and it never affected Christian faith), or cultural facts (like the real meaning behind Dante's universe in The Divine Comedy; our good old friend atheist Joe completely butchers it), but I won't. Heck, I won't even quibble with old atheistic trump cards (old Joe asks what was the purpose of all the suffering of animal life that existed before man; you know, for a man that supposedly has something "equivalent" to a "Ph.d." in theology, he forgets the Fall at the drop of a hat. Just a quickie: Death is a result of sin. Sin is a result of the Fall. Therefore, before the Fall, there was no death, e.g., "the law predation"). Anyway, I found something more interesting to grapple with.
You see, I couldn't help noticing several atheists (when commenting on the blog) kept making statements like this:
"What about places in the universe where mankind hasn't reached and will never reach? What about parts of the universe that are inhospitable to man? What's the point of them if man can't reach them?"
"What was the point of life before man? Why did God not just make man and everything all at once?"
These statements (and those like them) come from the basic premises of the aforementioned argument (i.e., If God were real, He would have created a universe that reflected man's position as the apex of creation). There are all basically asking the same thing: Why is God so impractical? You would think He would not be so wasteful, so distracted. Why all these galaxies? Why not just ours? Why all this stars? Why not just ours? Why all these worlds? Why not just ours? Why is there anything other than that which is necessary for man?
What I find interesting about all this is the assumption behind these statements, i.e., that God (if He's real) is practical. He would take the most effective and most efficient course in all His doings. Any signs of ineffectiveness or inefficiency, any signs of impracticality, speaks against God's existence. It was here that I was struck with a tremendous (though blindingly obvious) thought: the God the atheist claim we believe in is not the God we believe in.
Apparently, the God that the atheists believe that we believe in is mere machine, mere brain, a cold, calculating computer (kinda like Brainiac, the villainous Kryptonian computer from the adventures of Superman). The universe as it is disproves the existence of such a God. That's perfectly fine. Such a concept of God should be damned as heresy.
I want to say this deliberately and defiantly: Christianity has never believed in a practical God, per se, i.e., we have never believed in the God that is all brain. We have long held that the God who is is a brain and a heart, i.e., a person (in fact, three persons in one). Christianity has always held to a personal God, a God with artistic flair, a God who is "wondrously wasteful," a God who enjoys a perfect disinterestedness that does not require Him to create anything other than for the joy of creating it.
We have never believed in a machine God. If God is a machine, then why stop your questions at the "wasted spaces" and "wasted times" of the universe? Quit being cowards and ask the courageous question: Why is there anything at all? Why is there history? Why are there races? Why are there people? Why is there our world, and star, and galaxy? Why did God even bother with creation? Why did He bother with angels or mankind? The fact is that even a "human-scale" universe would be impractical in the end. The universe, of any conceivable size or structure, is ultimately superfluous, fundamentally unnecessary; it does not need to be. Than why is it?
Why does an artist create? Generally speaking, for the sheer joy of creation, and nothing more. The atheists are most correct in saying the universe disproves a machine God; any universe would disprove a machine God. Thank goodness we do not believe in such a God.
In addition (and this is key), Christianity has never held that the universe is for man. That man is the "apex" does not necessitate that the universe is about man. The universe is for and about God. Man's "apexness," man's very existence, is meant to point to Him, not us. The universe is for Him, not us. We are for Him, and not ourselves. The animals that existed before us were for Him, not us. The spaces we can never reach, both on and off our world, are for Him, not us. They are to His glory, not ours. The glaring error in the argument "If God were real, He would have created a universe that reflected man's position as the apex of creation," is that creation reflects the creator, and man is a part of the creation; its "apex" maybe, but still just a part, just as a peak is just a part of the mountain, and the mountain is just a part of the earth, and the earth is just a part of the universe. As a part of the creation, man joins in all creation by reflecting the glory of the creator. Simply put, the universe is not supposed to be "human-scale." It is supposed to be God-scale.
By the way, that all is for God and for His glory rubs atheists the wrong way. "Why does He deserve it?" God deserves it because He is God, the highest and the greatest, the par excellence of all things. Strictly speaking, God doesn't need to do anything to be worthy or praise; He just needs to be, and He is worthy. Creation is, in one sense, an added bonus, a superfluous wonderland for His pleasure and ours, built to bathe us in the glory of God.
Interesting enough, C.S. Lewis dealt with this very issue (surprise, surprise). In Perelandra, the protagonist Elwin Ransom had an interesting question for the king of Venus, to which the king (and the angelic guardians present) had an interesting response that states the Christian stance I have been talking about much better than I ever could (this excerpt can be found in the last chapter):

"I am full of doubts and ignorance," said Ransom, "In our world, those who know [God] at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me, [sir], whither will you lead me? Surely not to the enemy's talk which thrust my world and my race into a remote corner and gives me a universe with no centre at all, but millions of worlds that lead nowhere or (what is worse) to more and more worlds for ever, and comes over me with numbers and empty spaces and repetitions and asks me to bow down before bigness. Or do you make your world the centre? But I am troubled. What of the people on [Mars]? Would they also think that their world was the centre? I do not even see how your world can rightly be called yours. You were made yesterday and it is from old. The most of it is water where you cannot live. And what of the things beneath its crust? And of the great spaces with no world at all? Is the enemy so easily answered when He says that all is without plan or meaning? As soon as we think we see one it melts away into nothing, or into some other plan that we never dreamed of, and what was the centre becomes the rim, till we doubt if any shape or plan or pattern was ever more than a trick of our own eyes, cheated with hope, or tired with too much looking. To what is it all driving? [...]"

Does that sound familiar? "Why all the wasted spaces? Why all the wasted time? How can mankind by the focus of it all when it all is so big?" The angelic guardians answer. Their answer is huge, so I will only copy some key parts. I recommend you find the book and read the whole section...heck, read the whole book while your at it:

"Though men or angels rule them, the worlds are for themselves. The waters you have not floated on, the fruit you have not plucked, the caves into which you have not descended and the fire through which your bodies cannot pass, do not await your coming to put on perfection, though they will obey you when you come. Times without number I have circled Arbol while you were not alive, and those times were not desert. Their own voice was in them, not merely a dreaming of the day when you should awake. They also were at the centre. Be comforted, small immortals. You are not the voice that all things utter, nor is there eternal silence in the places where you cannot come. No feet have walked, nor shall, on the ice of Glund; no eye looked up from beneath on the Ring of Lurga, and Iron-plain Neruval is chaste and empty. Yet it is not for nothing that the gods walk ceaselessly around the fields of Arbol...
"That Dust itself...is at the centre. It waits not till created eyes have seen it or handled it, to be in itself a strength and splendor of [God]...[Always], and beyond all distances, before [beast, man, or god] came and after they are gone and where they never come...[Dust] utters the heart of the Holy One with its own voice...
"Each grain is at the centre. The Dust is at the centre. The Worlds are at the centre. The beasts are at the centre. The ancient peoples [i.e., Mars] are at the center. The race that sinned [i.e., Earth] is there. Tor and Tinidril [i.e., Venus] are there. The gods are there also...
"Where [God] is, there is the centre. He is in every place. Not some of Him in one place and some in another, but in every place the whole [God], even in the smallness beyond thought. There is no way out of the centre, save into the Bent Will which casts itself into the Nowhere...
"Each thing was made for Him. He is the centre. Because we are with Him, each of us is at the centre...Each thing, from the single grain of Dust to the strongest [angel], is the end and final cause of all creation and the mirror in which the beam of His brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him...
"All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans that it looked for...There seems no plan because it is all plan: there seems no centre because it is all centre..."