The Cartoon Universe of Christianity
Articles by Dawson Bethrick
Christianity holds that the universe was created by a supernatural deity which, since its creation, has directed all the events which take place within it according to an “eternal plan” of its own devising. In other words, on this view, the universe is essentially analogous to a cartoon, and the supernatural deity which is said to have created it and direct its events according to an “eternal plan,” to a cartoonist who decides what appears in his cartoons and what happens in them. Many Christians, for reasons that are not always very clear, have taken umbrage to this analogy, and have offered various attempts – all dismally weak – to escape it. What is interesting is that statements from Christians themselves validate the analogy beyond all doubt.
A few examples will suffice.
First, there’s the apostle Paul, who supplies a relevant precedent for characterizing the relationship between the Christian god and the universe as its creation in the form of an analogy, albeit a rather crude one. In Romans 9:18-22, Paul writes:
He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
This is, incidentally,
Christianity’s response to the problem of evil, a response which seeks
completely to evade it. But notice how Paul likens the creator to a potter and
the creation to the clay which the potter works into a pot. The cartoon
universe analogy is an obvious improvement over this, for a potter cannot make
Another pupil of Van Til’s, John Frame, validates the cartoon universe analogy by comparing the relationship between the creator-deity of Christianity and the universe as its creation to the relationship between an author and the novel he writes:
Perhaps the best illustration... is this: In a well-crafted novel, the author creates a world in which events take place in meaningful causal relationships to one another. Each event has an intelligible cause within the world of the novel. But of course each event also has a higher cause, in the author's mind. Normally, such an author will try to maintain the orderly causal structure of his created universe. He may, of course, also work "without, above, and against" that causal order when he is pleased to do so. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 82)
If the relationship between an author and the novel he writes is at all analogous to the relationship between the creator-deity of Christianity and the universe it supposedly created, so much the more for the cartoon universe analogy. For the relationship between a cartoonist and the cartoon he creates is similar in a most relevant manner to the relationship between an author and the novel he writes, for the very reason that Frame gives: “the author creates a world in which events take place...” The same is the case with a cartoonist: the cartoonist creates a world in which events take place. So we may improve Frame’s statement as follows:
An even better illustration... is this: In a well-crafted cartoon, the cartoonist creates a world in which events take place in meaningful causal relationships to one another. Each event has an intelligible cause within the world of the cartoon. But of course each event also has a higher cause, in the cartoonist’s mind. Normally, such a cartoonist will try to maintain the orderly causal structure of his created universe. He may, of course, also work “without, above, and against” that causal order when he is pleased to do so.
Frame himself credits Vern Poythress, another Christian apologist, for the novel analogy that he introduces in his book. In his essay Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law, Vern Poythress gives an indication of where he may have originally gotten the novel analogy:
Dorothy Sayers acutely observes that the experience of a human author writing a book contains profound analogies to the Trinitarian character of God. An author’s act of creation in writing imitates the action of God in creating the world.
Since both Frame and Poythress have gone on record endorsing the novel analogy, an analogy which itself is a vast improvement over the pot and potter analogy that the apostle Paul gives in Romans 9, I don’t understand why any Christian would not endorse the cartoon universe analogy even more. For notice how a cartoon comes closer than even a novel in serving as an analogue to the universe as the creation of a creator. In a novel, the pace of the action, visualization and even the voices of the characters and sounds occurring during its events must be supplied by the reader and his imagination, and in the case of the universe which the Christian god is said to have created, these things are entirely up to the creator-god, not some third-party observer. This is not the case when it comes to a cartoon: the pace of the action, the visual effects, the voices of the characters and any additional sounds are all supplied by the cartoonist, just as all these things are said to be supplied by the creator-deity in the case of the universe it is alleged to have created.
Unfortunately, in my experience, while defenders of Christianity tend to go along with Frame and Poythress in their novel analogy, they seem rather nonplussed by the cartoon universe analogy, even though it’s obviously an improvement over the novel analogy (and, not to mention, Paul’s pot-potter analogy). So in response to various Christian reactions to the cartoon universe analogy, I have assembled a series of articles which document its strengths and appropriateness as a fitting analogy for the relationship between the Christian god as creator and the universe as its creation. These articles were originally published on my blog Incinerating Presuppositionalism where they can be viewed in their original splendor (links to the original blog entries are given below).
The Cartoon Universe of Theism: This is the seminal piece that started it all. It is with this blog entry that the cartoon universe analogy was born. It gives the basics which will be developed and defended in later pieces.
The “God’s Good Pleasure” Principle and the Cartoon Universe of Theism: In this piece I explore the parallels between the universe as described by the bible as a creation of a deity which guides its creative choices by its own pleasure and the imaginative world of cartoons. (Original blog link)
Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe: In this piece, I explore the qualities of omnipotence and sovereignty, both attributed to the Christian god by its worshippers, in respect to their implications for cartooning, noting the strong parallels of these qualities to the mastery of a good cartoonist. (Original blog link)
Hays on the Cartoon Universe Premise of Theism: Internet apologist Steve Hays of Triablogue attempted his own critique of the cartoon universe analogy. In this piece, I explain why his critique fails. (Original blog link)
Steve’s Hays-ty Reaction to the Cartoon Universe Premise of His Worldview: Steve Hays of Triablogue tried to defend his critique of the cartoon universe analogy, and in this piece I show again why his critique fails. (Original blog link)
Steve’s Persisting Haysiness: Again Steve Hays of Triablogue, eager to practice his fine art of tilting at windmills, made another attempt to discredit the cartoon universe analogy, apparently unaware of the novel analogy endorsed by Frame and Poythress. In this piece I show yet again why his critique can only fail. (Original blog link)
See, I Told You So!: In this piece I point out how Steve Hays of Triablogue himself validates the cartoon universe analogy by his use of a similar but weaker analogy in a post he made in reply to Debunking Christianity’s John Loftus. If ever there was a genuine “See, I told you so!” moment, this is it. (Original blog link)
Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Pt. 1: Steve Hays of Triablogue attempted to take down the concept of metaphysical subjectivism and the cartoon universe analogy’s application as an illustration of its absurdity in one of his pieces. In this piece, I show why again Steve has missed the mark. (Original blog link)
Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Pt. 2: Back for more, Steve Hays of Triablogue again tries to knock down the idea of metaphysical subjectivism and the cartoon universe analogy. Again, I take time out of my day to explain the matter to him, which finally must have sunk in because after this he apparently took a vow of silence on the matter. (Original blog link)