Can God Be Perfect if We Exist Apart from Him?

As I do every Spring Semester, I am once more teaching Modern Philosophy. While the Modern era was marked by the rise of what is now taken to be modern science, it was also a time of great faith. Philosophers such as Descartes and scientists such as Newton advanced arguments for God’s existence and considered the impact of science on religion.

Recently, my students and I were discussing<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Spinoza”>Spinoza</a>. Spinoza presents a rather interesting  and unusual view of God. To be specific,  Spinoza is a pantheist. On his view, everything is God. Literally. This view contrasts sharply with the stock monotheistic view in which God exists apart from His creation (and, of course, us). For Spinoza, there is no such distinction. Everything is one substance and this substance is God.

Having thought about his view and his argument for years, I still find it interesting and fairly powerful. If his line of reasoning is correct, then it would seem to indicate that if we actually existed independently of God, then God could not be perfect. The argument, which seems so easy that surely something must be wrong with it, is as follows:

God is supposed to infinitely perfect and lacking in nothing. But, suppose that I (or anything else) exist apart from God. If so, God is lacking all that I am. In other words, my existence apart from God diminishes what He has and thus entails He is less than infinitely perfect. However, if I (and everything else) am part of God, then this would lead to pantheism. Pantheism, to be properly technical, seems completely nuts. So, it would seem that if I exist apart from God, then God (assuming He exists) would not be perfect.

One might object and  say that God is perfect even if I exist apart from Him.  This would be because all his qualities are so much greater than mine. While he does not have what I am, what He has is infinitely greater. To use an analogy, one might say that my wealth makes Bill Gates less rich because he does not have my meager wealth. However, Gates is still vastly wealthy.

In reply, while God would be vastly more than I, he would still lack all that I am, because I am not a part of Him. Going with the wealth analogy, Gates is super wealthy, but as long as I have even one penny (or pence)that he lacks, his wealth is still diminished (even if only by that one coin).

Another obvious way to reply would be to define “perfection” in such a way that God can still be perfect and yet I (and everything else) can exist apart from him. In this case, perfection would be having all qualities to perfection. This would, of course, exclude those qualities that God lacks because we are not part of Him. For example, God could not perfectly have the quality of being me. But, one might say, this would seem to leave God lacking.

Yet another tactic would be to use the idea of eminent containment (having a quality in what we would call a “virtual” manner today as opposed to having the quality “for real”). On this view, God would have all our qualities without being us. Naturally, this might then lead one to wonder why we would exist apart from God if He has all our qualities as well. If God contains all that we are, then we would seem to exist within God. This would seem to result in an odd sort of double existence for the world. This sort of reasoning is not original to me-it has been used to argue that Leibniz’ views about his monads lead him into pantheism (something he dearly wished to avoid).

A final tactic (well, the last one I’m considering) could be to make use of the magic of infinity. Part of this “magic” is that infinities come in different sizes. So, one might argue, God could be infinitely perfect even when I (and everything else) exist apart from Him. He would be infinite, just infinite in a way that does not include me (and all the rest).Of course, using infinity in this manner might seem more like a trick than a real solution.

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