The Abundance Theory of Creation
A philosopher writes that if God has no needs, especially within the relationship of the Trinity, God would not create. Since creation exists, God does not! Dr. Craig dismantles the argument.
The Abundance Theory of Creation
If God is perfect, why did he bother creating creation?
Why did God create the universe?
Because he was lonely; he wanted to be worshiped.
Something is created because the creator requires something he lacks.
Because he was lonely.
There was a void, and it must be filled.
Why would God create anything at all?
Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Kevin Harris in the studio with Dr. Craig. Dr. Craig, I thought that we would look at an article here. We've talked about this topic, we've touched on it rather briefly in some past podcasts, but let's look at it some more and in some more depth. The title of the article is “Why the Abundance Theory of Creation Fails” from Horia Plugaru from the faculty of philosophy from the University of Bucharest. And in a nutshell it's this:
How can God be both a perfect being and the creator of the universe? Doesn't the fact that he created the world imply that he had a need or want? Otherwise, why would he bother creating anything at all? But then, if he had a need that implied the existence of the universe in order to be fulfilled, it seems he is not perfect: he lacks something. But by definition, a perfect being could not lack anything. So if the universe exists, God is not perfect, so God does not exist.
From the outset, what do you think of that syllogism, that argument?
Dr. Craig: I don't see any reason to think that God creates the universe out of sort of a need or any sort of intrinsic lack in his own being. Typically theists have maintained that God's creation of the universe is a free decision of his will; that there are possible worlds in which God refrains from creation. So although creation is a great good there's no obligation on God's part to create the world. He is intrinsically good in and of himself whether he creates or not, and it's a free exercise of his will.
Kevin Harris: The article goes on,
To counter this argument, some theists have proposed what I will call "The Abundance Theory of Creation" (ATC). The point of ATC is to explain creation without any reference to a supposed need on God's part. Rather, God created from an abundance of overflowing love. One proponent is Ralph Wagenet, who writes: "God's nature is not simply to possess his attributes to himself, but to pour out his attributes in love for the blessing of others. The nature of God as a union of three persons allows this perfect love to exist between Father, Son and Spirit as each blesses the other, so God does not need the creation in order to have something to love. However it gives God great joy to extend his love beyond the Trinity to others, for which purpose he created the universe. Thus God was not motivated by need in creating the universe, but by an abundant love."
Now Plugaru is going to criticize this, but from the outset that seems to be pretty solid.
Dr. Craig: Yes, I think that Wagenet’s statement is a good one. I don't like the title “Abundance Theory of Creation” because that suggests a view of the relationship between God and the world that is more akin to neo-Platonism where the world is the result of the overflow of God's being, a kind of abundance of being on the part of God that overflows into creation. And that's very different from the Christian view that creation is a free act of God, the exercise of his free will. So I would prefer a different title for this theory of creation, something like “The Free Will Theory of Creation,” or something of that sort. But I like Wagenet’s emphasis on the Trinity and that God can be the perfect fellowship of love and goodness within his own being in virtue of the fellowship of the three persons of the Trinity without any need for created persons. So God's decision to create finite persons and to invite them to join into this Trinitarian relationship of love is a tremendous blessing for the creatures, but one that God can freely bestow or not.
Kevin Harris: “William Hasker concurs with respect to the Trinity:” this article goes on,
“The idea that God 'needs' the world in order to fulfill his own life is sharply rejected by theism. God needs nothing outside himself, and so it is wrong to say (as is sometimes said even in orthodox Christian circles) that God 'was lonely' and 'needed our companionship,' and therefore created us. God is, after all, according to Christianity, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is it to be supposed that their eternal companionship lacks something which could be made up by human beings?”
Now, Bill, I got to tell you, if you wonder if anybody's ever said that, that God was lonely, I heard that in a Sunday school class with my own ears.
Dr. Craig: Really.
Kevin Harris: “Why did God create us?” One of the guys said, “Well, I think he was lonely, and he needed our companionship.” And I said, “No!” And everybody laughed, and I went through the . . . but William Hasker says this as well, that there is this fulfillment in the Trinity.
Dr. Craig: Yes, and I think, actually, this is one of the very good reasons to prefer trinitarian monotheism over unitarian monotheism, such as you have in Islam where you have God as just a single isolated person. With trinitarian monotheism you have exactly what Hasker described: this perfect transparency and sharing of goodness and love between the three divine persons of the Trinity with no need of created persons.
Kevin Harris: Okay, and before we get to this critique let's see if we can define a few things, Bill, and one is, for one to desire something does that necessarily imply a need? Or if somebody wants something, does that imply a lack?
Dr. Craig: No, not at all. Sometimes we act altruistically where we do something simply for the benefit it might accord another person, rather than out of a need that we have ourselves.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, I don't see how it would follow that, God being perfect and lacking nothing and needing nothing, that those attributes and his nature couldn't be expressed in whatever way they're expressed: expressed to others, expressed to creatures.
Dr. Craig: Right, God would have perfect freedom to create or not to create and to create creatures of his will as he chooses. As I said, sometimes you have altruistic desires, you do something for the benefit of someone else; it doesn't need to imply a need or a lack in you.
Kevin Harris: Okay. There are at least two problems, according to this article, with the abundance theory, as he calls it, of creation. The first has to do with ATC's reliance on the doctrine of Trinity. “According to this Christian doctrine, God exists as three persons but is one God, meaning that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have exactly the same nature or being as God the Father in every way.” Would you agree with his definition?
Dr. Craig: Oh, one might quibble about the word 'being,' that wouldn't be right. But, yes, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share the similar nature.
Kevin Harris: This article goes on,
But the Trinity is a rather controversial concept. It is not shared by all Christian denominations; some other theists (some Muslims, for example) view it as incompatible with theism, and it has been regarded by some philosophers as incoherent. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the dogma of the holy Trinity is a mystery of the Christian faith. I will not say anything more here, but it is useful to keep in mind that since ATC is based on such a problematic notion, ATC itself becomes problematic.
I'm not very impressed with that. I mean, if he's going to say, “This is going to depend on the Trinity and the Trinity is controversial or mysterious, therefore it should be thrown out?”
Dr. Craig: Yeah, that's not a very impressive objection. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Christians affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. The few heretics that deny it are very small proportion of Christianity. And although Islam is a unitarian religion that's no reason to think that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent; especially when you remember that Muhammad in the Qur’an thought that the doctrine of the Trinity was that God the Father and Mary, the mother of God, sired Jesus, that this was the Trinity; no wonder he thought the doctrine was blasphemous, so that's not . . .
Kevin Harris: He thought Mary was part of the Trinity.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, that's not an impressive objection. And when the Catholic Church says that the dogma of the Holy Trinity is a mystery, what they mean by that is that it cannot be established or proven by philosophical argument alone. It's something that is taught by revelation. It's a doctrine that is revealed by God, not one that is attained through human reason or proof. So that is nothing by way of incoherence or being problematic; he hasn't shown any sort of problem in the doctrine.
Kevin Harris: Plugaru goes on and says,
But let us suppose the use of the Trinity raises no difficulties. We arrive at the second and more fundamental problem with ATC. ATC fails to acknowledge that despite God's overflowing love, a special charitable act, indeed the deepest and greatest act of benevolence, could not exist if the Trinity were all that existed. That is, unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another would be impossible. Since all the three members of the Trinity are divine . . . none of them could be in a situation which would require the voluntarily sacrifice of the other two in order to save the third. . . . What good would, say, the Spirit need that could be achieved only through the others' greatest possible act of altruism— self-sacrifice? Intra-Trinitarian relations might involve communications of love, the sharing of goodness and a perfect harmony, but not an ultimate sacrifice.
He says all that to say this:
If the very essence of God is infinite and perfect love, then it follows that the possibility must exist that would allow God to do the supreme, loving act mentioned earlier: unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another. Otherwise how could God's love be perfect in the greatest conceivable way? In what sense would God be capable of perfect love and of reaching his true loving potential if it would be impossible for him to perform what we deem to be the greatest possible loving act?
I want to stop there and see if we can unpack this a little bit, because that's a lot to digest, Bill. We see a move here that says if God is self-sufficient in his love among the Trinity then any expression of that to others would've been necessitated within the Trinity prior to the creation, and yet the persons of the Trinity wouldn't require those altruistic self-sacrificing things.
Dr. Craig: The argument, I think, is problematic, Kevin, because he says that if the essence of God is infinite and perfect love then it follows that the possibility must exist that would allow God to do this supreme loving act of self-sacrifice. But he says, if only the Trinity exists then such an unconditional self-sacrifice for the benefit of another would be impossible, and therefore God cannot be infinite and perfect love. Now, it seems to me that even if you grant these premises the conclusion doesn’t follow; in other words the argument is invalid. Let's suppose it's true that if the essence of God is infinite and perfect love then it must be possible for him to preform an act of supreme self-sacrifice. If only the Trinity exists is it possible for God to do that? Well, yes. All he would have to do is create some creatures and preform an act of self-sacrifice on their benefit. But he wouldn't have to actually do it. All that's required, according to this argument, for God to be infinite and perfect love is for the possibility to exist for him to do that, and that does exist in the Trinity. And I'm not misconstruing his argument, Kevin, here. He says over and over again in modal terms that the special charitable act would be impossible if only the Trinity existed, that it could not exist if the Trinity were all that existed. He says that if God is infinite, perfect love the possibility must exist that would allow God to do this supreme, self-giving act. But very clearly if God exists and is a Trinity the possibility of this act does exist, and that's all that would be required. What he would need to show is that if God is perfect and infinite love then that possibility needs to be actualized, and I see no necessity of that. God is free to express his infinite and perfect love in the form of a self-giving act of sacrifice or not. It is dependent upon his free will, but God is under no moral obligation to perform such an act. So I think the argument is simply invalid. Even if we grant its premise it doesn't follow that God is not infinite and perfect love.
Kevin Harris: He anticipates something, or at least he seems to be anticipating it, and that is, Bill: is it possible that the creation just follows accidentally from God's nature and existence and his attributes? And when I say “accidentally” I'm meaning it in the philosophical term – right? – that it would follow . . .
Dr. Craig: Well, it seems to me that's self-contradictory, Kevin. To say it follows accidentally from his nature, that's self-contradictory. If it follows from his nature it's not accidental; if it's accidental it doesn't follow from his nature. So I would say, again, using the classical terms of accident that creation would be an accident or contingent property of God, but not an essential property of God.
Kevin Harris: Okay, help me with that distinction, then, Bill.
Dr. Craig: Well, classically . . .
Kevin Harris: When I say I had an accident, I tripped over a chair.
Dr. Craig: Right, and that's so misleading. We're using terms here in a very archaic way that was in classical Greek philosophy (like Aristotle) where contingent properties were called accidents because they were properties that a thing could lack and the thing would still remain what it is. So, for example, a chair, say, has the essential property of having four legs, a seat, and a back; anything that lacked those properties wouldn't be a chair. But a chair might have the accidental property of being brown or having a certain size. Those would be accidents of the chair, that is to say, contingent properties. And in that special sense of accident the property of creating the universe is an accidental property of God, not an essential property. And his argument doesn’t show anything otherwise. All his argument shows is that if God is perfect and infinite love then there must be the possibility of an act of supreme self-sacrifice. And that certainly does exist in a world in which only God exists because such a God is free to create a universe if he wants and do such an act of self-sacrifice. What his argument needs to show is that such an act needs to be actual if God is perfect and infinite love, and he doesn’t show that.
Kevin Harris: Yeah, it occurs to me that that might even be kind of undercutting his argument in creation in that since God is perfect in love and since the Trinity is perfect in love, and all that is required is the potential to express that love, then that perfect love would be expressed to the benefit of creatures.
Dr. Craig: If he wanted to. But there wouldn't be any obligation to do so because, if you will, that infinite love is fully expressed between the three members of the Trinity, and it doesn’t need to have an act of self-sacrificing benevolence in order to be fully expressed.
Kevin Harris: How often do we hear, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. God desires relationship with you.”
Dr. Craig: Yes. All of which is true.
Kevin Harris: All of which is true. And we read biblical passages as well that, “This pleases God the Father,” as Paul says. To live, to please Christ, and showing a desire on God's part. And I know that the Scripture in these areas isn't going to do a full philosophical run-down on what that means. But it does show that he does have desire, he does have will, and then they'll throw in the thing about God repenting of ever having made man, and things like that. I think I know what you would say on that, is that that's illustrative of a sermon that the Scriptures are presenting in human terms.
Dr. Craig: Right, they're anthropomorphisms. But the point is that Scripture’s affirmation that God desires, for example, all persons to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth isn't at all incompatible with God's freedom in creating persons or not creating persons. He has the freedom to do so or to refrain from creation.
Kevin Harris: As we wrap this up then, let's see if we can clarify some of the issues. If God actually had a need would that mean he's not perfect – if he's needy?
Dr. Craig: Yes, that would show that he's not self-sufficient.
Kevin Harris: Okay, so if God lacked something he would not be God.
Dr. Craig: Depends on what you mean by lack. I do think that's an ambiguity in this article. For example, God lacks arms and legs, but that's not an imperfection. He lacks a social security card, [laughter] that's not an imperfection. You see what I mean? So what we're talking about is that God doesn't have any lacks in the sense of imperfections; he's morally perfect, he's perfectly good, and doesn’t have any imperfections in him. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t properties that he doesn't have. Of course there are; there are lots of those. So God existing alone as a simple Trinity might lack the property of being related to human creatures, but that wouldn't be an imperfection in him. Or he might lack the property of creating the universe, but that's not an imperfection. What the author would need to show is that it would be an imperfection in God for him to refrain from creation.
Kevin Harris: For God to express himself in creation, does that show imperfection?
Dr. Craig: No, no, because he creates for the benefit of the creature, not for his own benefit. It is a gift of unfathomable value to the creature to offer to people the privilege of joining in this inter-trinitarian love relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as adopted children of God. So this is a bestowal of infinite value on creatures.
 See http://infidels.org/kiosk/article/why-the-abundance-theory-of-creation-fails-845.html (accessed March 22, 2014).
 Total Running Time: 20:54 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)