Most religions, especially western religions, regard their god to be perfect, i.e., whole, entire and without flaw or error, indeed incapable of any fallibility whatsoever. This characteristic is normally asserted without a lot of reasoning as to why that must be so (apart from any reasoning as to why one should accept the claim that a god exists to begin with), but is endorsed virtually unanimously by the church (particularly in the case of Christianity).
But the deeper questions that the attribution of perfection to god evokes usually go unanswered, possibly because they go unasked. What does it mean for a being to be perfect? What would be the expected consequences of a being that can be said to be perfect? How does the attribute ‘perfection’ integrate with other attributes claimed to be possessed by God, such as purpose, omnipotence and omniscience? Or, does integration of these concepts even matter when it comes to defining such a being as God?
God, according to western traditions, is said to be the creator of the universe. As a creator, and as a perfect creator, would it not be expected that perfection follows from perfection? If god has all these absolute superlative traits – omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, etc., would it not be corollary that whatever proceeds from this perfect being would also be perfect itself?
Perfection vs. purpose:
One of the most neglected questions in regard to religious attributions to the notion god is the matter of purpose. Christians are notorious for their constant bleating about God’s plan, or purpose. Just what this purpose is, and how the concept purpose can be legitimately integrated with the notion of an immortal, perfect being, is a mystery. Many theologians have thrown up their hands in confession to their inability to harmonize this conundrum, yet instead of questioning its validity, proceed to insist that men accept it as knowledge anyhow.
When the question of purpose is measured against the attribute perfection, however, the degree of this dilemma is amplified to its fullest extent. For generally the same reasons that the concept purpose cannot be integrated with immortality, there are serious and insurmountable problems which the apologist faces when trying to ascribe purposefulness to a perfect being. Perfection entails entirety, wholeness, the absence of lack, completeness in every sense, in every context, at all times. A perfect being is free of any privation whatsoever, and therefore lacks nothing, and, consequently, wants and needs nothing. Without need or desire, there can be no purpose. Without an appetite, whether for sustenance or for pleasure, for instance, a man has no need to eat, and therefore, eating at that time would serve no purpose. A perfect being does not have all its needs already satisfied; on the contrary, by definition, a perfect being would have no needs whatsoever to satisfy.
Christians may argue that God’s purpose is to create. However, this argument does not explain anything, but merely postpones resolving the essential problem. Why would a perfect being create anything? We already recognize that a perfect being cannot suffer need of any nature whatsoever, so to posit creation as the purpose of a perfect being is unjustified. Insofar as God, an allegedly perfect being, would be concerned, any creative activity in which it might engage itself must necessarily be without purpose, arbitrary, in a word, pointless. However, many Christians might counter that God creates for his pleasure, which infers that the satisfaction of God’s pleasure is his ultimate purpose. But this position would necessarily imply that God can enjoy pleasure, but, since he must create in order to enjoy that pleasure, that he is not perpetually satisfied, as he must act in order to make that pleasure a reality. In other words, any assertion entailing that God’s ultimate purpose is the satisfaction of his pleasure, and that God indeed acts to experience pleasure (e.g., the creation of the universe), strongly suggests that God responds to stimulus, can experience the opposite of pleasure, which is pain, and that God indeed needs pleasure. If God must act in order to enjoy pleasure, would that not mean that it would be his displeasure should he refrain from action, creative or otherwise?
Certainly there are many problems that arise when trying to reconcile the notion of a perfect being exercising any kind of purpose. While purpose presupposes an end which is yet to be achieved or to continually be achieved, an end that is either vital to the being in question, or desired by an act of volition (in the case of man), perfection strongly suggests a finality to all purpose, an end in itself. A perfect being would be a being whose ends have either already been achieved and fulfilled, or, as the case may be, a being which has never suffered need or want and therefore has never required either the pursuit or satisfaction of an end. Yet, in spite of all this, the theist maintains that his deity indeed has a purpose and that purpose is in the process of being fulfilled on a daily basis throughout the universe, and throughout the lives of human beings. We are told that this purpose is of God’s design, just as the universe is said to be God’s creation. But the assertion that a purpose or plan is in the process of being fulfilled infers that the end goal of that purpose is yet to be achieved, which is a state of imperfection, not perfection.
A Perfect Being creating Imperfection?
It is an undeniable fact that the universe is full of motion. Throughout the cosmos stars are birthing and exploding, asteroids are colliding and being pulverized, comets are disintegrating. Even on earth where there is a life supporting atmosphere, natural catastrophes are constantly reshaping the environment, ecosystems are forming and expiring, animal species are evolving and going extinct. The universe is virtually alive with self-correcting action, ever held in check by the balance of natural laws. Do these characteristics describe a perfect existence? Does this sound like a creation of a perfect being?
Essentially, the question to the theist becomes: How does imperfection arise from perfection? While it can be easily demonstrated that perfection can in fact arise from imperfection (a student achieving an A+ on a high school test should serve as adequate evidence for this), it remains to be explained how something claimed to be perfect can create something that is not perfect. If perfection is the starting point, as would be the case in theistic doctrines, especially if that state of perfection were armed with omnipotence (as Christians claim of their God), one would expect that any creative attempt that arose from that state of perfection would necessarily and unequivocally result in more perfection. Yet, the facts of reality do not support this causal chain of perpetual perfection in the least, and apologists and theologians can only grasp at additional absurdities in order to harmonize these facts with their extraordinary claims.
While the universe does offer living beings like man a suitable place for his existence, there are definitely many places quite hostile to his organism, indeed within even his own environment.
How does God’s alleged perfection conflict with his other alleged characteristics? God is said to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Can perfection be harmonized with each of these characteristics without incongruity?
Perfection and Omniscience?
A perfect God is said also to be omniscient by Christians. However, it is hard to see what purpose omniscience would serve for a perfect being. As already discussed, a perfect being would have need of nothing, or want of nothing. The concepts ‘need’ and ‘want’ are completely inapplicable in the case of a perfect being. So the question becomes, with respect to omniscience: why would God – a perfect being – have knowledge? Certainly, this knowledge could serve no purpose for God, since God as a perfect being would have no need for a purpose, and therefore no purpose to fulfill. So, such knowledge, even ‘omniscience’ or knowledge without method, cannot be necessary to God, since knowledge presupposes purpose, need and, indeed, imperfection. But the Christian insists that God possesses all knowledge, that God is omniscient, in fact, that God is necessarily omniscient. However, what purpose a perfect being could have for knowledge, complete or not, is not stated. This incoherence is further magnified by the claim that God would not be perfect unless he were also omniscient. Indeed, how could a perfect being be complete without complete knowledge? Herein lies the unresolvable paradox for the theist: A perfect being has no need to satisfy, and therefore has no need for knowledge, complete or otherwise, yet a perfect being cannot be said to be complete – and therefore perfect – without complete knowledge. By now, the arbitrary nature of the notion ‘god’ should be clear. This is why the priests insist that lay members accept their claims unquestioningly, for once a little critical thought is applied to their assertions, their arbitrary nature is easily discovered. The commandment “Believe, or go to hell,” is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate any man who would dare use his own mind.
Certainly these and many other questions would have to be addressed if the theologians of the world intend to offer a coherent idea of their alleged deity.