The argument for an imperfect God
Posted on November 30, 2012
It is often said that God is a perfect being: all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. Yoram Hazony readily admits that there are serious flaws with this conception.
There are two famous problems with this view of God. The first is that it appears to be impossible to make it coherent. For example, it seems unlikely that God can be both perfectly powerful and perfectly good if the world is filled (as it obviously is) with instances of terrible injustice. Similarly, it’s hard to see how God can wield his infinite power to instigate alteration and change in all things if he is flat-out immutable. And there are more such contradictions where these came from.
The second problem is that while this “theist” view of God is supposed to be a description of the God of the Bible, it’s hard to find any evidence that the prophets and scholars who wrote the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) thought of God in this way at all. The God of Hebrew Scripture is not depicted as immutable, but repeatedly changes his mind about things (for example, he regrets having made man). He is not all-knowing, since he’s repeatedly surprised by things (like the Israelites abandoning him for a statue of a cow). He is not perfectly powerful either, in that he famously cannot control Israel and get its people to do what he wants. And so on.
However, for Hazony this is not necessarily an argument in favor of atheism. Instead, it is simply an argument for what Hazony calls “a more plausible conception of God.”
Is it really necessary to say that God is a “perfect being,” or perfect at all, for that matter? As far as I can tell, the biblical authors avoid asserting any such thing. And with good reason. … The ancient Israelites … discovered a more realistic God than that descended from the tradition of Greek thought.
Of course, Hazony’s point is a reasonable one: that a perfect God cannot be made sense of logically only does away with a perfect conception of God, not all conceptions of God. Yet his point also raises an important question: if God isn’t perfect, but acts much like a human being does, then is God really deserving of the name God?
Or, put another way: if whatever people believe God to be exists, but it turns out to be just a significantly advanced life form, would people really still call it God?