Walter asks: “Why must divine equal perfection? Why is it not possible for a transcendental Creator to be vastly more powerful and intelligent than us, yet still be short of perfection?” There are two questions here. Let’s number them for ease of reference.
(1) Why must divine equal perfection?
(2) Why is it not possible for a transcendental Creator to be vastly more powerful and intelligent than us, yet still be short of perfection?
Let’s deal with (2) first. Actually, there is no problem with a transcendent Creator being vastly more powerful and intelligent than us, yet still falling short of perfection. But here’s the real question (and, I take it, the one Walter intended): is it possible for that transcendent Creator to be divine if he falls short of perfection? And that brings us back to (1).
That, not surprisingly, depends on how we define the concept of “divine” (or, rather, which definition we attach to the word “divine”).
Let’s begin by acknowledging the obvious: many people have used the word “divine” to refer to beings who were less than perfect. The Greek pantheon perched atop Mount Olympus was full of such deities. Indeed, ancient Greek mythology often reads like an episode of Jerry Springer. But here’s the big question: were they right to do this? Is it appropriate to think of agents that are immortal but often act like idiots as truly divine? Greek philosophy is borne out of the recognition that this is not an adequate concept of the divine. And with that new conceptions of God began to emerge cashed out in terms of other more abstract concepts like the Form of the Good, Pure Act, and a Logos or Word inhering in and guiding all things in their logical course.
The same journey toward conceptual clarification is evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition which emerges from polytheism to monolatrism (worship of one gods among many) to henotheism (one God supreme over other gods) to monotheism. And from there it was merely a matter of time before people had honed the concept of God to that being that has, as Kierkegaard said, an infinite qualitative difference from all creatures.
One could argue that the giddy apogee of this process came with Anselm and his formulation of the ontological argument which is as much a definition of God as a proof for God. God, by Anselm’s reckoning, is that than which none greater can be conceived. Thus, if you get your concept of God in mind and then you can conceive of a greater being yet, then your original concept was not a correct description of God. (There are countless other reasons to adopt this concept of God. For example, Aquinas’s fourth way appeals to an ultimate standard as the necessary means to explain the various gradations of the world.)
So here’s an interesting thought experiment. What if there is, in fact, no being such as Anselm described. Rather, it turns out that a non-physical agent of great power brought the world into existence but that agent is not morally perfect. He (or she, or it) is sometimes impatient and unfair, sometimes loses his (or her or its) temper and lashes out. And so on. But even despite these imperfections this being is still better than most if not all human beings. The moral failings are there but they are not many. In other words, we’re not talking about a drooling barbarian sitting astride Olympus. We’re talking about a generally good fellow with some chinks in the armor. And who can’t relate to that, eh?
Certainly we can relate but that’s not the question. The question is whether this agent would be God. And the answer is: not by the defintion Anselm provided and which I and the majority of Christian theologians hold. Thus, if that should be the only omnipotent agent that exists then it would follow that atheism is true. (This has a fascinating implication because it entails that by the Anselmic definition process theists may very well be atheists. But that remains to be seen since many would affirm the Anselmic definition but cash perfection out differently.)
There are many more reasons why Christians accept the concept of God as perfect than I can go into here (as my brief reference to Aquinas’s fourth way suggests). I have focused on one primary motivation: conceptual reflection on our intuitions about deity.