Personal introduction and first post: Musings about God's limitations, creation, theodicy and eschatology

Hello everyone!

Alejandro D’Brot here. I’m a lecturer in the Biological Sciences department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas - essentially a secular institution with Methodist affiliation. I did my PhD and post-doc in genetics, development and disease at UT Southwestern. I’m Peruvian. Grew up agnostic. Have been on a journey with Jesus these last 20 years.

I just joined the forum, despite appreciating the work BioLogos has done on the intersection of religion and science for well over a decade now. I remember reading The Language of God by Francis Collins for the first time and discovering that there were other Christians who were excited to hold God on one hand and evolution on the other. It is incredibly refreshing and encouraging to know you are not alone!


Musings about God’s limitations, creation, theodicy and eschatology

I recently posted the following on the Peaceful Science forum and was curious what thoughts and feedback this would receive here on the BioLogos forum. This is the first time putting these ideas to paper, so bear with me.

Disclaimer: I am not trained in theology or philosophy. I am virtually certain these ideas are not new or unique to me (they may even be found on this very forum!); I am simply not well-read enough to be aware of those who have pioneered and expounded on them. I believe they may fit best with process theology but I’m not sure. Someone on the Peaceful Science forum pointed me toward Thomas Jay Oord - very excited to read up more on Open and Relational theology. If there are any other theologians or philosophers that you would recommend, please send them my way!

Proposal: God is limited and this helps make sense of creation, eschatology, and the problem of evil in the natural world.

Most Christians and theists accept that God is limited to some extent.

Is God evil? No. Does God hate people? No. I think most Christians believe that God is good and he is loving. and evil and hatred of people are contrary to God’s nature. This is reflected throughout the Scriptures.

“Can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?” This statement is illogical and circular, therefore we cannot impose it on God. Most agree that God abides by the rules of logic. Thank you C.S. Lewis.

Open theism proposes that God is limited in his knowledge of the future.

My question is: can we extend God’s limitations to the laws of nature (mathematics and physics)?

If so, was God limited in how created the universe, the earth and humans? I think most of us think God is limitless in his creative abilities. He can create ANYTHING imaginable. If God CAN create anything conceivable, this implies this universe is the best conceivable universe, right? Why would he create anything less than that?

But maybe this universe is not the best conceivable universe. Maybe this is the best universe that God could have created given the limitations of the laws of mathematics and physics. In other words, our idea of what is possible is unrealistic and unattainable, even by God. So maybe the best universe God could have created necessarily involves the long arduous natural processes of birth and death of solar systems, evolution, natural selection, tectonic plate shifts, volcanic eruptions, flooding, earthquakes, etc.

I think to most people, this would imply that God is not omnipotent. But as we’ve seen, God cannot act contrary to his nature; he cannot act contrary to logic. Similarly, perhaps God cannot act contrary to the laws of nature. This does not necessarily mean these exist apart from God or outside of God. Maybe the laws of mathematics and physics, like goodness and love, are part of the very nature of God and, therefore, he cannot act contrary to them or outside of them. So perhaps, this is simply an extension of what it means to say that God’s power is limited by his nature.

Now, if this universe is the best God could have created given the limitations of the laws of nature, does this mean the universe is subject to an eternity of pain and suffering? No. I think creation is ongoing and still happening. I think this is alluded to in Revelation. Here comes the eschatological part.

The new heaven and new earth (which is really heaven coming down to earth) described in Revelation 21 and 22 appears to be a description superior to that of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2. This implies that the universe is not simply being redeemed back to Eden, but beyond Eden. This implies an ongoing act of creation. Further up and further in, as C.S. Lewis put it.

I see God’s covenant with Israel and the incarnation of Jesus as two important milestones in God’s continuing process of creation. He has chosen to partner with humans to “redeem all things” or, in this view I am proposing, to “co-create” with Him. In the incarnation, he has chosen to enter into our suffering, open the fountain of forgiveness, and give us His Spirit to empower our “co-creation” with Him, our “reconciling” all things to Christ.

This is obviously pretty unorthodox theology. I know there are numerous problems that arise with this view. I think that one of the most glaring counterpoints to be made from an orthodox Christian standpoint is that God works via miracles throughout the scriptures. IF by definition a miracle is God suspending the laws of nature, then why could he have not done this at the point of creation? I don’t think this is necessarily a defeater and I’m sure this has been addressed by others when arguing for theistic evolution/evolutionary creation.

Any thoughts? I hope this sparks some good conversation! And please forgive me if this has already been discussed in other threads :sweat_smile:. If this is the case, please redirect me to them :grin:.

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Welcome to the forum. Fellow UT Southwestern alumni here, though in medicine. You raise some interesting questions, and we should have some lively discussion, though with the multiple questions may need to divide them out into multiple posts.

That is sort of my thought when the question of “fine tuning” comes up. I would go so far as to say maybe this is the only universe God could have created that could be sustained.
I am currently on vacation and out the door but look forward to the rest of the conversation!

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Hi Alex and welcome!

I think you are proposing that the New Heaven and Earth are already here ? I have heard this before by some but what do you make about the second coming? Do yiu believe it happened or will happen something else maybe?
Dont want to shift the subject here to Revelation only but im curious.

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Hi there, friend! :slight_smile:

Welcome to the forum.

Happy to hear!

When people ask this silly question, I always ask them, “Well, which planet is the rock on?” In all seriousness though, the question isn’t even applicable to God. God is spirit, and it’s kind of like asking, “How much can God bench press?”

Yes.

Personally, I would say no because He created them. That makes Him, by default, outside of them and not subject to them, just as He is outside of the universe, at least as we know it right now. Although, if He chooses to work in a universe constructed to operate according to these laws, He may not break them because that would break the universe that He constructed to operate in a very specific way. So, that wouldn’t so much be a limit to His very nature and more of a self-limiter so that He doesn’t break something He doesn’t want to break.

Maybe.

Can we pull Leviathan up from the depths?

That we do not know why He would create anything less than that does not mean that He wouldn’t. Our knowledge of God is very tiny, and we really only know what God is like because He has revealed Himself to us. Fortunately, we know the most important things about Him. :slight_smile:

It’s a fair question for you to ask, but it seems to imply that He wouldn’t do anything other when, in fact, He could have perfectly good reason to (according to His purposes and knowledge, of course.).

Maybe. I think that it is the best conceivable universe, personally, in terms of the fact that it accomplishes His purposes best. Exactly what all of His purposes are, I cannot say, but I know what is most important. The rest is fun speculation. But I would say that it is not because He was simply stuck making this universe the way He did.

Mathematics–the ultimate language of God, maybe?

What you have mentioned is something I’ve considered as well. It’s certainly reasonable to posit.

Interesting!

Unorthodox is not the same as heretical. Just remember that, for when someone gives you guff. You can point them to The Apostles’ Creed. It was good enough for the early church and it is good enough for us. :slight_smile:

Again, welcome to the forum, friend! I hope you find it warm here, even when disagreements arise.
-Joshua W.

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Welcome!

Also @ThomasJayOord occasionally pops in himself :slight_smile:

You may also like the work of Steven Bouma-Prediger. While we don’t have much on end times theology on our website (creation-heavy!) we have had some eschatology stuff in relation to creation care, and you may find a kindred spirit there.

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Hi Alex and welcome. I’m an agnostic but I’ve always thought that whatever gave rise to God belief must be hard wired into our brains. But I agree with you, I don’t think any god can magic whatever she likes into existence. I lean toward locating God within our psyche. Consciousness gives rise to and supports what we call our “self”, why not what we call “God” too? That would account for efficacy of prayer and if that intra-psychic God was in touch with everything that is unconscious to us, that could account for its greater wisdom. But I personally don’t look to God for creation of creatures, atoms or galaxies. I’m content that He holds together the constancy of our experience mediating far more input than we ever could on our own.

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¡Bienvenido!

I think most Christians conceive of the laws of nature as something the have their source in God, not something the preexisted before creation and formed some sort of environment or constraint within which “God created everything that is.” Can you have laws of physics, pre-Big Bang without a material universe in which they operate? That seems like a meaningless abstraction. Laws are descriptions of how reality works, not some kind of entity or force that determines reality.

I think there is interesting philosophical and theological benefits in the “best possible world” speculation, but I don’t think it necessarily implies limitations on God from pre-time. It could just be that there are limits to the reality that God has created and chooses to interact with. The concepts of omniscience and omnipotence are speculative human constructs, not empirical descriptions of reality, so they may be flawed. Maybe the real problem is that our concept of God and his action is overly constrained by our constructs that attempt to describe his nature.

Agreed. And development from disorder and chaos toward an ordered and purposeful eschatological end overlays nicely with the scientific description of reality found in the evolutionary model.

None of this is unorthodox. These themes are echoed by many Christian writers and theologians and Bible scholars.

That is a Humean definition, not a biblical definition.

There’s a good discussion of the biblical sense of the word in Jim Stump’s recent article here:

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“Most”? A source for that claim would be welcomed. So, for that matter, would a working definition.

All in favor, say “Aye”.
Does everyone here agree that “the law of Non-contradiction” is a law of logic?

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By me, as well.

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Welcome. :slightly_smiling_face:

Something (typically addressed to YECs :slightly_smiling_face:) that might be at odds with some of your suggestions is why God created in the first place:

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No way! Great place. Nice meeting you, Phil!

That’s where I’ve been camping out lately too, haha.

Have a great vacation and hit me up when you get back so we can chat some more!

Thanks, Nickolaos! I like you iconography avatar. Are you Eastern Orthodox? I’ve been very much drawn to that tradition because of the room it makes for the mystery of God.

Despite what I put in my first post, I’m kind of agnostic about New Heaven and Earth, haha. Revelation is just so esoteric! But in light of this idea of redemption beyond Eden, I think the New Heaven and Earth have been coming since the fall, little by little. More so with the incarnation of the Christ. At some point I suppose we’ll be able to say “it is here!” but I think even then, the New Heaven and the New Earth will continue to progress into greater and and increasingly-faceted beauty.

I’m not super well read in theology but I know enough to throw out the word preterism. If I had to choose (again, I’m pretty agnostic about this), I’d say I’m a partial preterist. Some of what is in the book of Revelation seems to have come to pass historically, but it doesn’t appear to me that Revelation 21 and 22 have come to pass in any consequential way.

I will say, however, that it’s super interesting that the picture painted in both of those chapters is a city with gates through which the kings of the earth enter and through which the nations bring their glory and honor (Revelation 21:24-26); and that outside of these gates are murderers and those who love and practice falsehood (Revelation 22:15).

To me they sounds like the end of a zombie movie: the zombies have been defeated, everyone is celebrating but at the very last scene, a zombie hand comes out of a pile of rubble or something. In other words: there’s more to come :smile:. Further up and further in.

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Thanks for the welcome, Joshua! I’ve loved reading all of the responses and welcome. Truly a warm place. And interesting. Without any pushback, it wouldn’t be so interesting, would it? haha.

Absolutely! I agree :smile:. I would just say that it doesn’t apply to God because the question is illogical and God abides by logic. Maybe the reason he abides by logic is because it is at the very core of his nature along with love and goodness.

But why are you so confident he created them? Did he create love? Or is he love? Similarly, could he be physics and mathematics? If so, then physics and mathematics are not outside of him but are grounded in him, deeply constituted in his nature. I think you resonate with me when you say:

and


Touche, touche. I agree and I walk back that statement :slight_smile:.

I think the word “stuck” muddles things up. In that case, he is “stuck” loving us. Maybe a better way to put it would be that he is bound or limited by his own nature. Love. Goodness. Mathematics and physics? :slight_smile: In that case, he is simply creating out of his nature. And maybe this universe was the best that he could do. And yeah, that’s a lot of death and suffering. But beauty permeates the whole thing and oozes from every pore. And if creation is still progress and we are co-creators, then this is not the end. And that is good news.

Gracias, Josh! Very encouraging!

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I disbelieve that. There is good reason to think that he is omnitemporal, but that is not something we can comprehend and get our heads around, only apprehend a little. He definitely is inscrutable, as the Bible says in English translations in a couple of places (one OT and one NT, if I recall correctly). There is wonderful mystery in his providential dealings with us.

Nice to meet you, Mark! I kind-of-sort-of consider myself an agnostic who takes a leap of faith whenever I get to a fork in the road :slight_smile: . I’ve taken the atheist road at times. But I guess I’ve taken the theist road at least one time more than that :smile:.

Very interesting! I think there is so much we can discuss about consciousness and God. I think we would both agree that there is a rather under-appreciated relationship between the two that may help solve some important problems.

In my opinion, consciousness is one of the most powerful apologetics for God. As a scientist, I find it hard to think of how consciousness and abstract thought could have arisen from unconscious concrete matter.

Mechanistically speaking, the concrete giving rise to the abstract is a mind-bending quantum leap (pun intended) no matter how many times I revisit the problem. I think it really stands alone in terms of the nature of the problem. I don’t think that this proves God exists, but, at the very least, it is a darn interesting problem. I guess that’s why it’s called “the hard problem of consciousness,” haha.

Evolutionarily and computationally speaking, I don’t see why it wasn’t sufficient for us to be a complex neural network of logical functions sans consciousness. Like computers. One day we may be able to create AI that passes the Turing test (wherein we can’t distinguish AI from human minds). If so, how would we ever know that such a machine is conscious? The more interesting question is: does AI need to be conscious to pass the Turing test? To me, it’s very likely that it doesn’t have to be. And if not, then why was that not enough for evolution? In other words, why did evolution have to take a quantum leap from concrete material objects to consciousness if a neural network consisting of logical functions would suffice?

What a mind trip. The realization that I am a conscious being pondering my own consciousness takes me down theist road more often than not :upside_down_face:.

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¡Gracias! Thanks for your very clear and insightful responses!

Yes! I do too :raising_hand_man:. That’s what I meant when I said:

I agree that it doesn’t make much sense to think of them as external to God.

This is a good distinction! So maybe what I’m trying to say is that laws are descriptions of how God works in the observable universe. I don’t know if that makes it any better though :sweat_smile:.

Yay!

I’ll definitely check this out. Thanks!

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Aye!

I don’t have a source :sweat_smile:. However, do you not agree that most Christians accept that God cannot act outside of the rules of logic (see above), he cannot be evil, he cannot hate his creation, he cannot lie, he cannot be tempted. By definition, does agreeing with at least one of these statements not mean that one accepts “God is limited to some extent”? I would describe this as God being limited by his very own nature.

While I may not agree on everything in that quote, I really appreciated the point about creation being very good but not perfect. That is why, to me, it is not a big deal to say that this world is the best that he could do. It is a progressive creation and now we are co-creators. I can get excited about that!

I am aware that there is a lot of push back against open theism and that it is not a mainstream view. The purpose for which I included it in my list of examples of Christian beliefs on God’s limitations was as a stepping stone to the idea that I proposed.

I appreciate your point on the inscrutability of God and the wonderful mystery in his dealings! There is value in humility and in the awareness of our limited view of God and the universe. Yet, in the same breath, I say it is a glorious thing to seek to know God through nature, through Jesus, through reason, through the scriptures, through loving others :blush:.

Thank you very much!!! Im Eastern Orthodox but i keep it secret that i dont believe in Saints(its kinda tricky for me). So apart from that im

I agree. Some things have happened . Some put Nero as the antichrist as well but i dont know. Maybe he was one of many antichrists? Its a lot of symbplism and mystery and no one knows to be honest.

I have gone to some monasteries over the years that im christian(was an atheist before) and ive seen many eschatological books about Revelation although never read them for some reason.

Maybe we will get a sequel with Christs Return😆

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The difficulty I have with the notion of “God being limited by his very own nature” is that, IMO, an “unlimited God” would seem to be a conundrum and fair game for the assault of the heathen on Reason, justifiably. Consider:

  • Matthew 19:23-26. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them, Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
  • Genesis 18:14. “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you–in about a year–and Sarah will have a son.”
  • Job 42:2. “I know that You can do all things and that no plan of Yours can be thwarted.”
  • Jeremiah 32:17. “Oh, Lord GOD! You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You!”
  • Jeremiah 32:27. “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for Me?”
  • Zechariah 8:6. “This is what the LORD of Hosts says: “If this is impossible in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be impossible in My eyes?” declares the LORD of Hosts.”

Using Scripture to construct a ridiculous god, the heathen then attack him.

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Because it isn’t? Why call ourselves God? God likely gave us consciousness, not something we created on our own. BTW, what have we made from nothingness, anything? Have we made a single string, neutrino, electron, muon, anything, ever? How did we create consciousness?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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