Friday, June 22, 2012

The Materialistic Limitations of God

Recently I've rediscovered my love for the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and have - thanks to Kindle versions available online for free - been reading and rereading his entire works of fiction. Lovecraft is famous for his creation of the mollusk-headed god Cthulhu, and there are many who, while not knowing the name of Lovecraft, do know the name of Cthulhu. Lovecraft is considered today one of the greatest writers of the horror genre, and one of the first to really evolve the "cosmic horror" niche. Modern writers like Stephen King and others cite him as inspiration.

He was also, among these things, an atheist. On this subject, I came across this article quoting chunks from a written correspondence between H.P. Lovecraft and three acquaintances. In particular among Lovecraft's acquaintances was a friend named Maurice W. Moe, with whom Lovecraft often sparred in regards to religion. An interesting section to me was near the beginning, in which Lovecraft writes:
The latter conception, of a God who is confined in action to our visible universe, leaves us to speculate as to what God or forces may preside over the rest of creation—or if we adhere to the commandment of Scripture, and believe only in one God, we must assume that the rest of space is godless; that no personal loving father-deity is there to bless his sons and subjects. But then, if this be so, why did the personal all-wise parent select this one particular little universe wherein to exercise his beneficence? I fear that all theism consists mostly of reasoning in circles, and guessing or inventing what we do not know.

If God is omnipotent, then why did he pick out this one little period and world for his experiment with mankind? Or if he is local, then why did he select this locality, when he had an infinity of universes and an infinity of eras to choose from? And why should the fundamental tenets of theology hold him to be all-pervasive? These are monstrous uncomfortable questions for a pious man to answer, and yet the orthodox clergy continue to assert a complete understanding of all these things, brushing inquiry aside either by sophistry and mysticism, or by evasion and sanctified horror.
It seems that Lovecraft's contention is this: does the limitation of God's personal work present a limitation on God Himself? In other words, why would God create such a spectacular universe if He only intended to interact with a small part of it? What was the thinking process in such an endeavor? Why, in the great expansive universe, is religion in general so geocentric?

Those most familiar with Lovecraft's work would know that this thought process is present in his stories. Characters often interact with creatures, spirits, or gods that cross time and space. For example, in a 1919 short story entitled Beyond the Wall of Sleep, the narrator, working at an insane asylum, discovers that a patient there has become a "prison" for a star-like entity that belongs, as it itself explains, to a race of "roamers of vast spaces and travellers in many ages," adding: "Next year I may be dwelling in the dark Egypt which you call ancient, or in the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan which is to come three thousand years hence" (source). The entity likewise states: "We shall meet again—perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away" (ibid). In Lovecraft's universe, the idea of a "godless" galaxy was not an issue, as every corner of time and space had some form of deity or spiritual force. It was interesting, therefore, to read this line of thinking from Mr. Lovecraft outside of his fictional works, and I thought it was worth giving a response, just for the sake of discussion.

Firstly, we read the objection "we...believe only in one God, we must assume that the rest of space is godless; that no personal loving father-deity is there to bless his sons and subjects." This objection tells us that if there is one God, who focuses on earth, then "the rest of space is godless," as there is "no personal loving father-deity...there to bless his sons and subjects," as God has, for whatever reason, limited Himself to earth. However, this presupposes that by God's giving direct revelation to one part of His creation, God limits Himself to that part of His creation. We are to believe that if God gives particular attention to one planet, then all the rest are forsaken.

However, there is a fallacy behind the very idea that giving special attention to one part of our focus while giving general attention to the rest means those under the general attention are completely forsaken. Let me present a scenario: a mother has two children, one with Down Syndrome, the other mentally healthy. She is going to be giving special attention to the child with Down Syndrome, but the general motherly attention owed to the child without Down Syndrome. In this case, it would be erroneous and cruel to suppose that, because she gives special attention to the child with Down Syndrome and general attention to the other, she must either hate or completely ignore the other child. In like manner, that God gives special attention towards the Earth and its inhabitants does not mean God has completely forsaken the rest of the universe.

Such thinking as proposed in this first argument also ignores a few important elements from the Christian perspective:

1) All the universe exists by the supreme will of God. The universe cannot be "godless" if we know that it is sourced to God itself (Gen 1:14-19; Psa 8:3, 33:6, 136:5-9; Isa 42:5; John 1:3; Heb 1:10, 11:3; Rev 4:11) and performs its daily actions by the will of God (Job 9:7; Psa 147:4). Obviously we are not proposing that God has marionette strings and is guiding the planets along - there are rational and scientific explanations for the method by which the planets revolve and stars do what they do. Science does not contradict the sovereignty of God over creation; it merely reveals the natural means by which He performs it. Neither is this a case of "the god of the gaps" as so many wrongfully call it, for we are not saying that God is a God of Planets, nor (as we outlined before) that the planets revolve because God is actively doing so in the same manner I would push a stalled car down the road. Rather, we are arguing that the source of a planet's existence - as well as the source of all physics and science behind its planetary motion - is sourced to God. I know that lightning does not strike the earth because God is up in the clouds chucking lightning bolts at people - all the same, I know that lightning does not strike, be it through natural means, except by God's will.

2) All the universe is a sign of God's existence. Of this scripture speaks plainly: the heavens are said to "declare the glory of God" (Psa 19:1); the prophet Isaiah asks, "Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?" (Isa 40:26); the apostle Paul writes that God's "eternal power" and "divine nature" are perceived "in the things that have been made" (Rom 1:20), and I have no doubt the blessed apostle would include the stars and planets within this passage. Contrary to the idea that the universe sans Earth is considered godless, scripture sees the universe as a sign that the universe is anything but godless, and in fact is a sign of a Divine Creator.

When one thinks about it, the very notion that the rest of space is "godless" seems to imply God can create a universe too big for even Him, which is similar to the conundrum as to whether or not God can create a rock so big even He can't lift it up. God is not limited to planets, nor to moments in space itself. The fallacy here may be in equating, as I outlined earlier, God giving one kind of attention to a part of His creation does not mean He has forsaken the rest of His creation. This just simply isn't true - God is not limited by the scope of His own creation.

In fact, the prophet Jonah had an even more close-minded view of God's scope than earth versus the universe, as he believed God's control only extended so far as the holy land of Israel. Hence the reluctant prophet, not desiring to preach to Nineveh (Jon 1:1-2), left Israel to escape the call (Jon 1:3). His hypothesis proved utterly false, as God came to his boat and caused the storm that would unfold the rest of the story. In Jonah's mind, the fact that God, at that time, was giving special attention to Israel, that must mean that the rest of the world is godless. This wasn't true - wherever one of God's people went, He was there. In like manner, if mankind were to ever reach a state of scientific development that he would be able to reach out and colonize on other planets - perhaps even the most distant galaxies - I have no doubt that God would be able to have the gospel spread among the stars, and to save men even on the utmost limits of creation itself.

Secondly, we have the question: "why did the personal all-wise parent select this one particular little universe wherein to exercise his beneficence?"; as well as "why did he pick out this one little period and world for his experiment with mankind?"; and finally "why did he select this locality, when he had an infinity of universes and an infinity of eras to choose from?" Again, all fair questions to ask, but when we ask the question of why we must seek to resolve the question of motive. To ask why with no interest in resolving motive is about as sensible as asking why a man bought a 2012 Kia Rio5 with all the possible car models on the world, and then concluding from this question that the man must not exist at all.

It might be interesting to point out, first and foremost, that our planet - at the time of this writing - is practically the only planet in the known universe which can sustain life, and this is because Earth meets all the necessary requirements for this. The rate of rotation, the distance from the sun, the atmosphere, and many other factors key into this. For certain there are planets out there which are close to being able to support life, or have the possibility of supporting life, but Earth is the only planet on which all requirements are met and which we know for a fact these requirements have given us life. In any case, God could not provide the same form of attention He gives to Earth to other planets such as Jupiter, Neptune, or Mercury for obvious reasons: there's no reason to do so. None of the stars on Orion's Belt could provide sustenance for humans, nor could any "dwarf planet" like Pluto. That God would choose Earth to create mankind and show it benevolence is hence, in many ways, a logical step, given He could not do it on any other planet.

Yet many might make the logical contention that God did not happen across the planets, but rather was the creator of them, and so we might ask: "why did God design only one planet upon which to have the climax of His creation, which is mankind?" Again, a fair question, one that might be flatly answered by stating that it was God's will. While this might sound like a cop out response when taken in isolation from the rest of this post, it is not when one considers the focus on the creation of Earth. This was where the climax of God's creation occurred, and where God focused his special revelation. This was the methodology by which God ordained that His glory would be seen, both in the past, present and the future.

Thirdly, we are asked: "why should the fundamental tenets of theology hold him to be all-pervasive?" I would argue because by necessity a god who created the universe would have to be all-pervasive. If God created all matter as we know it, and began what we know by our limited measurement as time, then God would have be outside the natural, material world. God would, by necessity, have to exist outside of time, space and matter - and yet He is likewise the creator and initiator of it all. What I mean by this is that God is the Great Initiator of all we know: it was He who began the roll of history; it was He who made the first matter; it was He who brought about all things into existence. In order for all this existence to come into being, something outside of that existence would have to...well...exist.

Let me put it this way: an automotive designer does not initially exist as part of the car he designs. Before even the idea of that car comes into being, something outside of that car has to exist. It is from the creativity and the will of that automotive designer that the car's design, purpose and existence comes into being. However, the automotive designer does not morph himself into that car, or suddenly cease to exist because that car of his now exists, nor is the designer compelled to stay inside that car and never leave it. The car may be limited by the designer, but the designer is not limited by the car. In like manner, time, matter and all existence exists because of God, according to His design and purpose, and hence He is, by necessity, outside of such limitations. If this is the case, then God is indeed "all-pervasive."