In On the Living Construct, I discussed at length how consciousness came to be and its relationship with the body. In it, I first discussed how the Logic of the world is contingent and that everything is limited by it, before moving on to the idea that even though consciousness is not of the world, it is still limited by its Logic. Furthermore, I discussed that consciousness arose as a phenomenon of the living body and thus is inseparable from the body as the body and consciousness are one and the same construct. If all of these are true, then we have a very interesting situation when it comes to the existence of an infinite God.
What was it like when God first realised that He existed? Some people might reply that this question does not make any sense. God is eternal, and thus He has no beginning nor an end. He is the creator of time itself, and thus He is beyond such realities. However, to this, I could reply that the experience of temporality might not be precluded from the existence of our universe’s time-in-itself. After all, temporality can be linked directly to the ontological nature of consciousness. It must nihilate itself to be a consciousness (Sartre, 1992), something which we have discussed earlier in On the Living Construct. In other words, temporality is not something added on to consciousness but instead the direct side effect of being conscious. And thus, we might be warranted to say that it means God Himself has the experience of before and after, and that means our previous question might be warranted. What did God first think of when He realised that He is a being capable of such and such acts?
Nevertheless, because this is God we are talking about, can we not say that He has always been in complete control of His own nature, and thus the previous question does not make any sense since it implies that some part of himself escapes him? This brings us to another point. Assuming God is conscious, then it is reasonable to assume that it means there is something prior to him as well. By “something prior to Him,” I do not mean a “prior world”, like heaven, in which He suddenly came into existence. As long as we can say that “He is”, it means that there is something that always escapes him, that is, His own way of existing and His own way of being (Sartre, 1992). Did any God become a God by choosing to be a God or endowing Himself with Godly powers? If yes, then through what means did He choose, or through what means did He “endow” himself with the power of a God? Did He make the conditions for this possibility? If He did not, then why were things that way, and if He did, then that means He did not really choose to be a God since He already had the power to be one anyway. If He did not choose to be a God, then why is He the way He is now if not because of the contingent nature of his existence? Is it possible to get out from this by saying that He is self-sustaining? But what does it mean, really, if not just empty words? Assuming He is totally self-sufficient, that He is His own beginning, it doesn’t remove the contingency behind His own existence. Something else allowed Him to be so, and this He cannot change. But then, even the concept of “self-sustaining” here is a suspect one. What does “self-sustaining” mean? That He is one with the world? But as long as He is conscious of Himself, of His surroundings, as long as He does not collapse completely and be being-in-itself (which even then we cannot say that being-in-itself is “responsible” for its own existence, for it just “is”), then the concept of “self-sustaining” will be something that is alien. He is not responsible for His own existence, just like humans cannot be accountable for how they are born.
We can summarise the lists of questions above thusly: for any God to be aware of its surrounding, it has to be conscious of itself, and for anything to be conscious of itself, it then has to be made out of what is already there in the world, according to what is possible in the world. And thus, whatever God He may be, He cannot be infinite (Sartre, 1992). There is always a limit to His powers, and whatever power He may have, He cannot choose to be a God nor to not be a God. Any God, just like ourselves, is therefore thrown into His own situation, trapped in His own possibility. And thus, no God can ever be infinite in every way.
This limitation then extends to everything. Not only is God incapable of choosing to exist or not to exist (one cannot imagine Him suddenly waking up and choosing not to exist or choosing to exist, just like a fetus cannot choose on whether it will be conceived or not), it is also therefore incapable of being totally omnipresent, omnipotent, or omniscient, the three properties commonly attributed to the Abrahamic God. Since as long as we can say that “He is”, His existence is supported by being-in-itself as the reason why He is, and since “He is”, His existence therefore also owes much to the possibility that allows Him to be. And this possibility is the possibility of the Logic of the world, and this even He cannot change, for He Himself is the result of it.
Certainly, some people may object that the rule of God is Himself, that He is capable of doing things as He pleases, such as changing the law of nature as He pleases. To this, I will give the following objection, the fact that it is the rule that He has such and such ability is not for Him to decide, and does, saying that the rule is His own self does not change anything at best, and at worst, only affirms what we have established earlier. Can He choose to be not omnipotent? Can He choose not to be a God? The fact is that He is already there with the rule, and He cannot deny Himself of it, for denying Himself of it will be like a person denying his own existence while continuing to exist, i.e., a logical contradiction. Even if such a God can strip Himself of His power, He will never be able to strip Himself of all His power completely, and neither can He ever be the same as an average mortal. It is His contingency, and He just has to accept it.
But then perhaps someone would give another objection. Surely the rules of the world cannot exist on its own if God did not first create it. Surely this makes Him free from any of the same conditions to which we are tied. However, this question (and the presupposed answer embedded within it) is nothing but an attempt to bypass the problem entirely and exempt God from the rule without any good reason. This bypass is only possible if what being-in-itself is is misunderstood. Being-in-itself are things as they are (Sartre, 1992); it is essence itself, i.e. the universe as it is. It is the condition for the revelation of everything. And thus, even if God created the things we see every day in this world, it does not necessarily mean that being-in-itself was also created by God, for even we have to say that God is, that He exists. As long as God is, there will always be something that is prior to Him, something that makes us capable of saying (and thinking) that there is a God, which is Being itself. Therefore even if God has the power to create the world, He is bound by the very same rule which makes His existence possible.
This facticity becomes the reason why it is also impossible for Him to be omniscient. What does it mean for Him to be “omniscient”? Does that mean He knows every fact in the known universe? Perhaps. But is it all there is to know? Some things are impossible to know in a contemplative attitude. Take, for instance, knowledge of ourselves, not in the sense of “Schrodinger’s cat might be dead or alive” but in a sense “I am not talented in music”. The latter statement cannot be known first through contemplation, unlike the second kind of knowledge, which is just a fact about the exterior world. “I am not talented in music” is, first of all, a piece of knowledge about my contingency, something that only makes sense if I meet other people. It is only when I realize that other people can play “Kreutzer” flawlessly do I realize that I do not have such an ability. The same goes for the fact that I am “tall” or “short”, “handsome” or “mediocre”, “genius” or “academically challenged”. It is only when I am in contact with my contingency, and it is through my contingency (I can’t easily play basketball) that I know what my contingency is.
But then what of it? Surely God knows that He is omnipotent from looking at His creations that are finite. Yes, but does that mean He will know what it feels like to be incapable of playing “Kreutzer”? Does this mean that He knows what it feels like to be “academically challenged”, for instance? It is true that we know that we are unable to play “Kreutzer” by watching others play the piece flawlessly, but then to limit ourselves to this is only to miss the point entirely. The self-knowledge that is the result of comparing ourselves with other people allows us to realise that our capacity of comprehension is limited not by our circumstances (a lack of education, a lack of the necessary devices to discover the secrets of the universe), but also but that which allows for there to be comprehension in the first place, which is our very way of existing (Merelau-Ponty, 2015). Since God’s way of existing is so far removed from ours, it is entirely logical to conclude that there are some things that we are able to know that He cannot just because He is different from us. For instance, assuming He is endowed with great power, He will never be able to understand what true helplessness is like. Even if He seemingly encounters difficulties in His life, it will never be the same with a normal person encountering difficulties or if a normal person gets mocked by someone else. If He does not do anything when being mocked, God does so out of the knowledge that He could do something—He just chooses not to. He is so far above any kind of difficulties until there is nothing that will ever endanger His status, His power, and His well-being. If I am being robbed, I face the other who could injure me, who could just as well kill me, and if the difference in power is too great, or if he robs me with a gun, I will then experience total helplessness. It is not because I choose not to do something that I give my wallet to him (or worse, allow him to shoot me), but it is because I have been reduced to nothing more than an object in front of the gaze of the robber, as a tool to be utilized, and that I can do nothing about it (Sartre, 1992). If he then chooses to torture me or to drug me, I can try to fight back, I can scream, but he can then hit me with a baseball bat and gravely injure me. I will then feel totally impotent, totally helpless in front of this person. Whatever it is that I try to do, it will be futile; it is as if I am trying to push an immovable wall. No matter how hard I try to resist, he will still leave me handicapped if the blow is hard enough. As we can see, this “experience of the contingent” is directly related to our contingency, not to our capacity to reason per se. And thus, even if God “knows” what it is like to face danger, He will never be able to know it the way we know it. He will know it as if it is just another fact in the universe, just like “the earth is round”. He will never encounter the feeling of impotence and anguish which stems from the fact that “the robber is stronger than me”.
For now, the last which I will look into is the impossibility of an omnipresent God. The concept of omnipresence itself is a rather confusing one, to say the least. Does this mean God is everywhere? In our previous essay On the Living Construct, we have seen that consciousness is not the world. It is in the world and is dependent on that which makes it possible. If this is so, then consciousness has to be in a situation, lest it dissolves into idealism (and in that case, it will be more prudent to try to establish our own existence instead of His) (Sartre, 1992). Being-in-itself cannot be the observer (excluding anyone from misusing this term for God), and thus the observer has to be in his particular situation as this particular negation of being-in-itself. The fact that I can only look at a house from one perspective instead of from all perspectives at once stems from the fact that first, I am not the world, and second, I depend on this local construct to exist in this moment. Furthermore, by not being able to see the other side of the house, we come to learn that the house is made out of brick and mortar which are opaque to light, and that it is made from a robust material, that we live in a three-dimensional world, etc. In short, being in a perspective is also what allows us to know that there is a world. The inability to look at the house from all sides is not a limitation or a form of finitude in our part, but instead, first and foremost, it is what allows for there to be a house at all (how can I know that the house is in front of a tree, that the house is three dimensional instead of a paper house, that there are crooks and crannies in the house, if not precisely by viewing it from a perspective). To be in a situation is to be in a relationship with being-in-itself which is different from me as a conscious construct. It is how I know that there is an actual world in the first place. The only way for a conscious construct to be everywhere at once is if the entire world is the construct which makes the world possible, or to be more precise, if the world exists in that consciousness instead of the other way around. But this is what we call a dream, a wish, an imaginary world. A view from everywhere is a view from nowhere, and omnipresence, therefore, becomes an impossibility in virtue of the necessity of being in a certain perspective against the world for there to be a world as such in the first place.
Many other points could be made about this topic. However, it should be possible to extrapolate what those are based on the three main examples that we have discussed for now. In short, it stems from the fact that the world is such that everything under it must follow a certain rule of being, including something that is supposedly the negation of that very being. The same thing applies to the supposedly greatest being in the entire universe, for even he is bound by the possibilities that allow Him to be. To put it in one simple sentence: could God be anything other than what He is right now? If the answer is no, then it means no God that is infinite can exist. No God can simultaneously be being-in-itself and being-for-itself, and thus; no God can be His own foundation and be conscious at the same time (Sartre, 1992). This is actually one of the central tenets of Sartrean atheism. It is not because the idea of the existence of God conflicts with the idea of human freedom (I am not sure if Sartre discussed this at all, but even if he did, he did not put his main emphasis here), but because the infinite God is an ontological impossibility. It is not God who created being-in-itself, but instead, it is being-in-itself that “allows” for there to be a God in the first place.
Therefore, let us return to our question from the beginning of this essay: what did God first think about when He realised that He was a God? Did He rejoice because of His newfound realisation, or did He despair for realising that He was the only one existing in an endless void for eternity? Only He knows the answer. All we can say is that if He did despair, it would at least explain why He created the world and why the world is like what we have today. It is not strictly because He was a benevolent being, or because His wisdom eludes us. On the contrary, perhaps the reason might be a lot more “human” than what we would like to think.
In short, He is just bored.
Sartre, J. (1992). Being and nothingness (H. E. Barnes, Trans.). Washington: Washington
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2015). Phenomenology of perception. London: Forgotten Books.