Christians and other believers in God often say, ‘God created everything.’ If we take this literally, as a young child would do, we might start thinking of some objections or possible counterexamples: ‘Did God create nuclear weapons?’ ‘Did God create the ebola virus?’ etc. The doctrine of divine creation leads quickly to the problem of evil.
A common response to such an idea would be to say that ‘God created humans, and it was humans who created nuclear weapons–not God.’ So, God is one-step removed from the creation of nuclear weapons, and this supposedly relieves God of the moral responsibility for the creation of nuclear weapons. Richard Swinburne has done some thinking about the meaning of the view of theists that ‘God is the creator of all things.’ Here is his analysis of this basic aspect of theism:
God is the creator of all things in that for all logically contingent things that exist (apart from himself) he himself brings about, or makes or permits other beings to bring about, their existence. He is, that is, the source of the being and power of all other substances. (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.94)
Swinburne has a more sophisticated view of creation than fundamentalists and many evangelicals. Swinburne accepts the theory of evolution as the correct explanation for the origin of the human species (although he also believes that human mental lives are best explained as the result of non-physical minds or ‘souls’ that have complicated causal connections with human brains). Swinburne’s view is that God created the universe, and that the initial conditions and natural laws of the universe made the evolution of human beings (or at least human bodies) possible and even probable. In a sense, the universe “created” or produced humans; the physical universe is viewed as an intermediary step between God and the origin of human beings. His view is illustrated by the diagram below: However, just as Swinburne’s analysis of the belief that God is the creator allows for God to bring about humans indirectly via the natural processes of the physical universe, so his analysis also allows for God to bring about the existence of the universe indirectly, by creating a powerful supernatural being, such as an angel, and allowing the angel to design and create a universe:
Once this possibility is admitted, then further intermediaries can also be postulated. For example, God could have created a finite god (a powerful supernatural being that is less than omnipotent and omniscient), and the finite god could have had the power to create an angel, and the angel could have then created a physical universe:
There appears to be no contradiction in the idea of God being able to create many finite gods, in the way that there does appear to be a contradiction in the idea of there being more than one infinite God (there appears to be a contradiction in the idea of there being two omnipotent persons– If one wills an event E to happen, and the other wills for event E to NOT happen,. then one of them must fail to obtain what was willed to happen). God is by definition omnipotent, so God has the power to create finite gods, as many finite gods as he wishes to make. So, although we often think of polytheism as an alternative to theism, it is clear that polytheism is logically compatible with traditional theism; an infinite God can create many finite gods.
Swinburne’s view, however, is that human beings are an important part of God’s motivation for creating the physical universe, perhaps the most important reason why God created the physical universe. But it is important to keep in mind that his concept of God as creator allows for intermediaries between God and humans, and while this allows Swinburne to avoid a fundamentalist anti-scientific view of the origin of human beings, it also opens the door to God being, potentially, quite remote from human beings. His conception of God as creator leaves open the possibility of a Hindu-like view where there are hundreds or thousands or millions of layers of deities and supernatural beings that exist between human beings and God: