Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Nature of God

Who is this "god" fella?  Why are so many people so concerned with him... or her... or it?

I don't care which euphemism you use.  Supreme being.  Creator.  First cause.  Prime mover.  Higher power.  Greater intelligence.  Spirit of nature, life force, big cheese in the sky, invisible pink unicorn...  None of these actually describe much about the thing they refer to, so I think most of them can be used interchangeably, and are by religious persons.

I guess, if we aggregate the qualities of all of these names for god (at least the serious ones), we find we are talking about something that is smarter and more powerful than human beings, existed before anything else (and is responsible for the existence of everything else), and is not subject to the laws of nature as we understand them.

This leaves a lot of fudge room.  Consider the following gods:

Jehova -- God of the Bible, with an affinity for certain Semitic peoples.  His main purpose seems to be to make sure all of his creations do what he tells them to do.  Is extremely nervous about sex, can be contacted via some sort of telepathy.  Sent/is Jesus, who had to die horribly so that he could forgive us of all of the bad things that we do because of how he made us.  Generally human...ish.

Mork the Incinerator -- God I just made up, lives on the moon.  Did not always live on the moon, because she had to create it first.  Her main purpose is to get her creations to do her work for her.  The human race was created so that we could perfect maple syrup.  Visited earth in the form of Agatha Christie for unknown reasons.  Can be contacted via invisible laser phone to the moon, which is built into the cells of all living creatures.

Both of these fit the basic criteria, as far as I can tell.  As a side comment, I'd like to say that I prefer Mork.

So when someone asks me if I believe in god, what am I supposed to say?  I mean, I say no, but then sometimes people will go off on this whole thing about where did the universe come from and science can't explain the beginning of all things!  Sure.  I agree.  Then they say "So you believe in god!"

Okay... so I guess before I answer their question, I should ask them to clarify what they mean by "god."  For all I know, god is a toaster in a bed-and-breakfast in South Dakota.  And sure, if by "god" you mean "the abstract concept that human science is inherently deficient and can't account of the existence of something rather than nothing," sure, I believe in god!  But that does not mean that I believe in a bearded busybody who gets really upset when people eat pigs or talk smack about him.
I won't even grant that it must be intelligent!

But Dave!  The universe must be designed, because if certain physical constants were only slightly different, matter could not exist as atoms!
Yeah, big whoop.  I bet there are quark-gluon plasma people out in some universe saying the same thing, except they believe in their strange charm god because they are so lucky that things aren't just different enough for quarks to combine into hadrons.  (Among which are protons and neutrons, essential for our existence.)

Okay, I know I'm getting a little snarky.  But frankly, if the universe were incapable of supporting life, who would notice?
And regardless, why be grateful that you exist?  It's not like you'd care if you didn't.

The thing is, individual religions each have a reasonably well-defined description of god, but there are a lot of religions, and they all differ in their views.

If there is an intelligent god, is he really messing around with us?  Homo sapiens has existed for less than a million years, out of the 13.75 or so billion years the universe has probably existed.  That's less than 0.007%.
Assuming that humanity regularly travels anywhere from any point on the earth's surface to the orbit of geosynchronous satellites (which are quite far out), there are approximately 18 billion cubic kilometers of area that has anything to do with us.  The observable universe is about 134 followed by 117 zeroes cubic kilometers in volume.  The part that mankind get around in is is about the same percentage as the percent chance of you getting struck by lightning... twenty time... in one given year.

How much could we possibly matter?  We have existed as a species for 0.007% of the universe's existence, and even then we've (at maximum!) only occupied such a small percentage that I gave it to you in lightning strikes.  It's somewhere around 4*10^-107, if you want the numbers.

If we are the apex of creation, god sure took his sweet time getting around to making us!  I think the creationists aren't scared of what science will do to god's image... I think they are afraid of just how insignificant we are as a species.

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