Creation

creation.jpgIf God created the world and all the species, why did he do it?*

* Quick note. This is a “what if” and nothing more. Kindly take this post in that spirit.

Before I read Arthur Lovejoy’s book The Great Chain of Being (1936), I never realized what a puzzle this is. Here’s God, perfect in every way, and he (she, it) goes and creates this universe, not by any means a perfect place, thereby making reality less perfect than it was in the first place. Whatever for?

Common sense says he had to have a reason. If I create a widget, it’s to do something that I want to be done. Creating something is a way of fulfilling some pre-existing desire. This makes it attractive to say that God created the universe as a means to some end…but what end? No matter what you say, the resulting picture is unsatisfying. Let’s see, his main goal was to create us (the universe being no more than our home). Why create us? To glorify himself, some say. But in whose eyes? And wasn’t he glorious enough to begin with?

The bible, to its credit, doesn’t tell the creation story this way, as if God was a mega-artisan. In the beginning, he simply creates the primordial elements of the world and after creating each one, “He saw that it was good.” It’s not “Now I need something to make plants grow, so I’ll create light.” He lets there be light, sees that it is good, and that’s that.

“He just did it and it was good” doesn’t seem like a bad story, but Lovejoy says another model of creation, different from the desire model or “he just did it,” has been floating around for a couple of thousand years. This view begins by describing the world as a plenitude containing every possible kind of thing, from humans down to worms and centipedes. Moving up, there’s an assortment of angelic beings filling the gap between humans and God. As Lovejoy sums up the idea,“it takes all kinds to make a world.”

This wonderfully varied world exists, on this understanding of creation, because it’s part of God’s perfection to house every kind of being in his divine mind. Fecundity is one of his perfections. Creation, then, is not a deliberate act performed for a reason. Creation is an overflowing of God’s goodness.

chainofbeing.jpg

The fecundity story does much better than the artisan story at explaining the variety of species. If God created all the different species for reasons, it’s one of the greatest mysteries why there are so many species of beetles (350,000 discovered so far). What did he make them all for?

Plenitude thinkers make good naturalists. If there are all kinds, with no gaps between them, then humans ought to have very close animal neighbors. Lovejoy says that plenitude thinkers in the 19th century were happy with the discovery of gorillas in Africa, and happy to see them as similar to humans.  Most of the western tradition likes to see human beings as sharply different and vastly superior.

Plenitude thinkers could even, potentially, make good environmentalists and respecters of animals. Every part of the natural world is recognized as inherently good to some degree on this view.

Of course, the plenitude conception is not without its problems. Humans are supposed to be in the middle of the great chain of being. Are we really to believe the species of angels are as numerous as the species of animals? And why are insects so much more varied (a million discovered so far) than mammals (just about 4000)?

Every creation model does seem to have its problems.

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