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Answer to Carl Sagan: Why Would G-d Create a Universe With Gazillions of Galaxies and Only Intelligent Life on one or Two Small Planets?

A fair question!

The basic answer is to be found in Pascal: “God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will.”

God has created you and the world you are in so as to give you the perfect environment for becoming perfect — i.e. as much like God as it is possible for a created, finite being. Part of the recipe for that seems to be to give us the desire to understand but put us in a world that both tempts understanding and then resists it.

A world in which intelligence were scattered around according to an understandable plan would be very clear and easy to understand.  It would help the mind, but harm the will.

In other words it is better for us to exist in a mysterious, hard-to-fathom universe than a clear universe because it is better for our will.

Existing in a mysterious universe (of which the rareness and out out-of-the-wayness of human intelligence on a cosmic scale is but one symptom of many many) mean we have to be able to decide how to live our lives against a background of mystery.  This is a cooler ability than the ability to decide how to live your life against the background of a world that makes perfect sense.

You could say G-d acts to maximize the coolness of our existential situation.  (I think this may be a LITTLE like maximizing the profundity of a story of which we are the star, but I’m not sure.)

Hovering behind Sagan’s question is the view that it is sort of wasteful for God to create all those gazillions of galaxies just to create a mysterious universe for us.  This is wrong.  It’s not wasteful of anything because G-d creates everything from nothing by a simple act of will.  It doesn’t take any more effort for God to create 100 billion galaxies than it would take him to create a grain of sand or a fly’s anus. God creates the way a dreamer or a writer creates — in a single stroke. He doesn’t have to personally haul all the atoms to make those galaxies like he’s on a construction site.

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7 thoughts on “Answer to Carl Sagan: Why Would G-d Create a Universe With Gazillions of Galaxies and Only Intelligent Life on one or Two Small Planets?

  1. yes that follows from the idea of a perfectly good, omnipotent deity. If there were a better possible world then God is either not all powerful (he was unable to make it) or not good (he was able to make it but chose not to).

  2. With all due (and sincere) respect for Carl Sagan, I think his argument proves nothing.

    Though he posed it as a question, his argument plainly is:

    1. Suppose that God created a vast universe but it had intelligent life on only one planet (assuming for the moment that there’s intelligent life on earth).

    2. We can’t think of a good reason why God would do it.

    3. Therefore, God didn’t do it.

    First, there is no necessary connection between God creating the universe and there being intelligent life on only one planet. One might be true without the other. The implausibility of the latter does not reflect on the former. If we’re to believe “Star Trek,” the universe is full of intelligent life forms, and they all speak English.

    Second, the fact that we can’t think of a good reason for something fails to prove that no reason exists. If I find a paint can sitting in the middle of my driveway, there might be no obvious reason for it being there.

    I might later discover that my wife put it there to remind me, ever so gently, of my promise to paint the garage door. If she came out of the house to find me praying in the driveway, she might see no reason for it, but I’d be praying that God would send an angel to paint the garage door for me.

  3. It feels like Carl is taking god down a bit like taking down Capone on tax evasion. May as well say ‘Why do men have nipples!? Checkmate, theists!’

    Surely got to try for something a bit more conclusive.

  4. I would only add that in addition to perfect clarity harming the will, it would also fast become irrelevant. Were G-d to write in natural and understandable calligraphy “I am here” across the sky, man would quickly view it as just another part of a natural world he held dominion over. The lack of perfect clarity, it seems to me, helps drive us toward a necessary humility.

    • It’s an interesting point about humility. Luzzato has a different spin — he says if G-d’s existence were too obvious we would not be able to achieve freedom and mastery. He thinks G-d’s goal in creation is to allow us to be as much like G-d as is possible for a created being, which means to be masters of our own good.

      • That’s fascinating. It’s almost a mirror image point.
        Or at least something of a a self regulating mechanism
        The lack of clarity allows for us to get as close to G-d as limited beings
        are able, but lest we start to get too big for our britches and descend into
        self-deification, the mystery compels us to humility.

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