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Apathetic God Paradox

by Francois Tremblay



Why do we act at all? At first glance, this may seem like a bizarre question. We ask ourselves why we do specific things (even why we get up in the morning), but we never ask ourselves why we act at all. But this point is central to the existence of the paradox that I am describing in this article.

Well, we do all sorts of things. Right now, I am writing this article. Why am I writing this article? Because I wish to communicate and explain a certain piece of information (the Apathetic God Paradox) to other people who may not know about it, and make it open to discussion and future use. Today, I will do a lot of things, including, just as most people I am sure, eat, and sleep. I need to do these things because I desire to stay alive and clear-minded.

We do things because we think we should do them – because they are moral. So to expand the question, why do we need morality? We have values because we need to pursue specific goals in order to further our life. We need morality because we are faced with choices and we have to manage our resources – be they money, time, social relationships, whatever.

What is inherent to all of these things, are the notions of need and limit, which are really two aspects of the same thing. We need something because we are limited, otherwise we would already have it within ourselves. The more actualities and potentialities contained within ourselves, the less limits we have and the less we need. And here is the beginning of the paradox.

Call that power to have within ourselves, or to effect by a process within ourselves, “metaphysical power”. All human beings roughly have the same amount of metaphysical power. We all have the same general homo sapiens body plan, and we can all roughly do the same things. Some of us can jump higher, run faster, or bring to bear a vaster scope of intelligence, but in general those differences are quantitative. We can lose resources and we can die altogether. Therefore we need morality.

Now take the example of Superman. Granted, Superman can still die (although they will resurrect him in another issue, of course). But he can also fly in the air or in space all by himself, has X-Ray vision, and his body has the hardness of steel. Superman definitely has more metaphysical power than any human being. He can do a lot more than we can. But paradoxically, he also needs to do less, and desires to do less, than any human being. The fact that he possesses these powers, in short, means he has less to worry about, and less to do to protect or sustain his life.

What does this have to do with the god-concept? A lot, actually. A god, by definition, has infinite metaphysical power, in that it has no limits whatsoever. It contains all actualities and potentialities within itself, and cannot experience desire or loss, or any other motivating factor.

This may require more explanation, however. How can we say that a god cannot experience any motivating factor? Because motivating factors come from limits. That which pushes us to act, or makes one action more desirable than another, is a value, a need, and therefore limits. Even exterior causes cannot push one to act unless one has a limit that is exploited by that cause.

Being all-knowing, it would have no knowledge to gain, and therefore could not feel any emotion – could never be surprised, angry, pleased, satisfied, dissatisfied, etc. To feel an emotion is an evolutionary shortcut that spurs us to action. A god, being infinite, has no need to act or to have shortcuts.

We can generalize the paradox to any level of metaphysical power. The Amoral God Paradox can be expressed like this:

  1. Raising a volitional being’s metaphysical power will generally raise the scope and potentiality of its actions.
  1. Raising a volitional being’s metaphysical power will generally lower its need to act, and therefore its moral scope.

    Or even simpler, the higher the metaphysical power, the more powerful its moral choices are, but the least it needs or desires to make those choices.

    As for how it applies specifically to the case of the god-concept, the Paradox can be used in atheology to disprove the idea that a god created anything. Without any motivation, there can be no action. This can be used in Materialist Apologetics (especially on theistic moral principles, but everything else too), the Problem of Evil and the Cosmological Argument. The Paradox can also be used as a separate argument.

    The argument could be constructed like this:

  2. If divine creation is true, then the universe was created by a non-limited god.
  3. A god cannot have any internal motivating factor, including need, desire, ignorance, or emotion.
  4. If divine creation is true, then there was no cause outside of a god before Creation.
  5. If divine creation is true, then a god was not subject to exterior causes before Creation. (from 3)
  6. A god before Creation cannot have any internal or exterior motivating factors. (from 2 and 4)
  1. A god would never act, and divine creation cannot be true. (from 5)

    I imagine that theologians would disagree that all motivating factors must be limits. Why cannot God decide something on a whim? Just for amusement? But a god has infinite satisfaction within itself – it contains all actualities. What if God wanted to communicate with other beings, and made humans? But a god is infinite, and already contains within itself the communicative potential of an infinite number of humans. Why would such a being need to create a handful of humans, when he has a lot better within himself?

    The only credible objection would be to say that God’s creative action, or at least the existence of motivational factors, was non-volitional – part of God’s nature. Indeed, to restrict God’s choices when faced with a theological problem is the hallmark of presuppositionalism, for example. So it’s easy to imagine that a theologian would use such an excuse here also.

    But just as in the case of the presuppositionalist positing that logic is part of God’s nature, such an objection is built on completely ad hoc grounds. Furthermore, the imposition of any motivating factor on God contradicts the idea of a god’s nature being unlimited.

    Last updated: October 13, 2004