Let us assume, for purposes of argument, that the Christian fundamentalists are right, and that the world was created as described in the Book of Genesis. God the Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, did the whole job in a week. But was this omnipotent God also benevolent? He certainly moves in mysterious ways, judging from what He has caused to happen. Is it possible that God, when creating the earth, was motivated by celestial concerns beyond our understanding, and humans just assumed the benevolence bit, in a rather arrogant act of wishful thinking? Here are some possible scenarios, sketching possible motivations for an omnipotent God constructing the earth and humanity as we know it:
1) All the World’s a Stage:
In movies like Jurassic Park and Titanic, the movie moguls have created virtual reality that is overwhelmingly convincing. Dammit, those dinosaurs, let’s face it, scared the bejesus out of all of us, and we all half drowned when the Titanic went under. Where is all this leading?
If you take the realism of Hollywood’s latest megaproductions and extrapolate it, maybe you come right up to and onto what we see around us and fondly and firmly believe is the one and only true reality, namely our planet earth and all the weird and wonderful life forms on it, including the weirdest of all, namely our good selves. In short, maybe we too are just one more relatively advanced form of virtual reality. Maybe Shakespeare wasn’t kidding, and all the world really is a stage. Maybe all this prancing around, all this sturm und drang in our lives, is just for the amusement of some celestial party or parties unknown.
This notion that life as we know it is just some sort of expanded theater could explain a lot of things that now are inexplicable. Lawyers, for instance, and the behavior of the U.S. Congress. But its most useful application, perhaps, is that it could provide a rational, consistent explanation for the view of the creationists that God created the earth and everything on it in a week, and that this extravagant display of inventiveness took place about 6000 years ago. Yes, it took the movie industry years to produce the Titanic, but God presumably has more advanced technology. Not only was He able to put everything in place in a week, He even salted the earth with things like dinosaur bones to confuse us and to provide even more raw material for the unfolding human drama. (Think of His celestial audience rolling in the aisles at the sight of us terrified humans watching Jurassic Park).
This could explain why so many humans are running around right now slaughtering each other, and why so many of us lead tortured lives, whipsawed by all sorts of ethical and other dilemmas. Probably the audience got a real kick out of the Elian Gonzalez case. Our God really picked a winner, when he invented H. sapiens! His ratings have never been higher!
2) Caviar and Pate de Foie Gras:
Who can be sure, in this totally unverifiable series of conjectures, what an omnipotent deity’s motives really were when he created us? Perhaps He is in something like an agrobusiness, supplying a market composed of masses of other deities with a special kind of food, namely, human souls. Perhaps we are flattering ourselves, but our souls may have a respected corner in the celestial cuisine, being sought after in much the way caviar and pate de foie gras are in our own better markets.
Can we further assume that different kinds of souls command different prices in this market? Judging from the way religions drive us, the souls of young men who die heroically in battle, or otherwise martyr themselves for their God and nation, might be exceptionally valuable, like the best grade of Beluga caviar. Women who die in childbirth, presumably because their faith precluded an abortion, could send souls heavenward that would be prized like the best pate de foie gras is here on earth. And so on. The Old Norse may have had it right with their Valhalla concept; they were doing God’s bidding even more accurately than Christians or Muslims.
God could have run a special during the Second World War, or more recently during the fracas between Iran and Iraq, the supply of choice souls being so large. On the other hand, the soul of a crusty old nonbeliever like me, probably destined to die in his bed of old age, would likely end up as pet food.
This scenario lacks the comic dimension of the first one but is even more plausible as an explanation of the way human history has unfolded over the millenia.
3) The High School Lab Project:
Maybe human history has a totally different explanation that is still consistent with the creationist belief. Maybe God is like a high school student with earth as the project he has been assigned to manage for a while. And maybe He is not a gifted student, in fact He is a bumbler. Can you hear His teacher complaining to another faculty member: “That Yahveh, he screws everything up! Can you believe it, last time I looked at his project, he’d managed to get the world polarized into two armed camps, armed with nuclear weapons, and on the verge of blowing up the whole shebang! I barely caught it in time. No telling what he’ll do next. The lad needs a lot of supervision…”
If this is the nature of creation, maybe the true believers should address their prayers, not to God, but to His faculty advisors.
I could go on, but enough is enough. I’m not trying to persuade the diehard creationists that science is right and they are wrong. They’ve made their bed, and they can lie in it. All I’m trying to demonstrate is that even if they are right, their God may be all-powerful, or he may be benevolent, but he surely isn’t both.
Carl Coon (6/30/00. revised 7/7/00)