There is no RationalWiki without you. We are a small non-profit with no staff — we are hundreds of volunteers who document pseudoscience and crankery around the world every day. We will never allow ads because we must remain independent. We cannot rely on big donors with corresponding big agendas. We are not the largest website around, but we believe we play an important role in defending truth and objectivity.
If everyone seeing this today donates $5, we will meet our goal for 2018.
| Fighting pseudoscience isn't free.|
We are 100% user-supported! Help and donate $5, $20 or whatever you can today with !
Essay:What God would have to be
DISCLAIMER: I am not a physicist. Contributions by those with referenced information are welcome on the talk page. Special thanks to User:Shagie for inspiring this page by private email.
A bumper sticker you will not see nearly enough of is one that says "Your God is too small for my universe". It's an interesting argument -- essentially, it says that the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic God -- YHWH or Allah, as you might prefer -- is simply incapable of being the omnipotent and omniscient god of the universe we exist in. Truth be told, I don't think a lot of people really realize the implications of omniscience and omnipotence -- the producers of Star Trek, for example, threw around the term "omnipotent" rather lightly when dealing with Q and the Continuum, but whether any given member of the Continuum could be considered omnipotent (as opposed to simply extremely powerful on an arbitrarily local level, and possibly extradimensional) was never truly demonstrated. This essay will examine the meaning of these terms and explain why such a god, if possible, has an incredibly high standard to meet to be worthy of the terms.
If there is assumed to be a creator God in the universe,
And if this God is the god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it must be both omnipotent and omniscient,
And if the universe is in any sense as we currently observe it,
And if the laws of physics apply uniformly as is generally agreed by the scientific community,
That the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam cannot exist in our universe in the expected form, or in any universe with entropy and a finite value of the speed of light, c.
There are a few things to get straight first.
The Universe is actually a harder term than one might think to define, as science fiction and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics has conditioned many people to have no problem with the idea of "alternate universes", rendering the traditional definition of the Universe as, well, basically everything not sufficiently clear for our terms. We will therefore assume that the Universe we are discussing is our Universe, i.e. all that can be observed with current or conceivable technology.  The reason this is important -- well, God has to exist somewhere, in a universe of its own or within ours.
Omniscience is pretty straightforward, but it's hard to comprehend what it really means. We'll take the the most fundamentalist of the Abrahamic faiths at face value, though, and assume that God literally knows everything, from the broad arrangement of the galaxies down to the current position and velocity of the electrons from a breath you exhaled at 10:42 this morning. This implies, however, that God not only has perfect recall of every single event in the history of the universe on any scale at all, but every possible future event along every conceivable decision tree. (If there are no trees but a single invariant time stream, it simplifies the problem but reduces the universe to an extremely strict form of Calvinism. This is probably unacceptable from a scientific standpoint, especially when chaos theory comes into play.)
Omnipotence is rather complex. Can an omnipotent being create a four-sided triangle, or a circle on a Euclidean surface with a non-pi circumference ratio? A mountain He cannot move? We can safely assume that not even God can create a logical contradiction. But beyond that, is it simply enough to be able to manipulate local effects on an arbitrary scale (like the Q), or must omnipotence allow one to do more, perhaps while contravening the physical laws of the universe?
I would argue that it must. Being able to do anything at all at any time necessarily implies being able to do everything possible all at once.
Where is God?
Start with this: the Abrahamic God must be outside our universe, but able to interact with it at will, on an arbitrary scale. To those who consider God to be by nature unknowable, this is a death sentence for that position -- if a "supernatural" entity interacts in any way at all with our reality, it is, in some sense, part of it, and any "miracle" or "divine intervention" is actually a manifestation of physical laws that we have not yet observed.
It's fairly trivial to assume that God has to be somewhere if God exists at all. There's basically two options -- within our spacetime, or outside of it. (Rather trivial one would think, but bear with me.)
Deities have rules too
Now let's assume God exists in an alternate universe. With a lack of any direct evidence of how the laws of physics can be different, let's assume that God's universe perhaps has different constants than ours (c being the most important for our needs) but basically the same rules (particularly equivalence and conservation of mass and energy and thermodynamics). If mass and energy are equivalent, than it stands to reason that c always has to be finite. It could be a trillion or quadrillion times faster than it is in our universe, but it simply cannot be infinite. So that's one constraint God has to operate under -- it is simply impossible to know everything about everything all at once; even in an ideal computer there will always be latency, and an infinite ideal computer can and occasionally will have infinite latencies. (And keep in mind that an ideal computer -- a massively parallel Turing machine -- can only be approximated in silicon, and biological computers -- i.e. brains -- don't even come close.)
Presumably a zero-energy state is impossible; many though not all of those who have done research on vacuum physics have come to the conclusion that if the vacuum in this universe is unstable, we probably would have seen the evidence by now. This, and some analog of the Pauli exclusion principle, indicates that God cannot be infinitesimal (which would otherwise allow near-instantaneous information exchange in a universe with a finite value of c). And presumably a finite value of c implies that the same effects that make the Schwarzchild radius of a black hole an impassable boundary -- if gravity exists, this universe will have black holes as well, rendering the matter of infinitesimal God-brains highly unlikely if not moot.
We then have the problem of interaction between universes. Even if God is essentially omnipotent under the rules of God's own universe, God still has to interact with this universe. This is just a bit more complicated than playing a game of SimCity -- for one thing, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept of omnipotence is strict enough that absolutely no latency in interaction is allowable. It is not merely enough that God be able to interact with any arbitrary point at any time, but, as stated above, that God be able to interact with every point at all times. Unless God's universe has absolutely no concept of time at all, this is pretty much impossible... unless there's a pause button. We'll deal with that shortly.
Now there's a difficulty we haven't yet considered -- entropy. There is simply no way to create, in our universe, a perfectly efficient system; there must always be energy input. There is no reason to assume that this would change in any other universe; God cannot be immortal, though we can always assume that God would be "immortal enough" in our terms (i.e. lifespan on the order of tens of billions of years). But there's more to it -- chaos. As a system increases in complexity, it develops more failure points. Some failure points can create minor deviations, though even those build up over time without external interference. The complexity necessary for YHWH is in fact substantially greater than the universe itself, and unless it's an extremely ordered sort of brain (akin to a gigantic memory chip), it risks catastrophic failure every time something goes wrong, small or large.
So where does that leave us in terms of a description?
Well, the first thing is that a truly omniscient God must, in the best possible case, be at least the complexity of our universe, meaning that God is solely short-term memory with a one-to-one correspondence between storage cells of whatever sort and events and objects within the universe, and must exist in a universe where the tipping point into entropy is low enough and the value of c is high enough that such a thing is possible.
To be truly omnipotent, God must be able to interact with our universe in a rather peculiar manner that doesn't exist even in the most highly paralellized computer architectures -- God must be able to instantaneously touch literally every single particle. Even allowing an extra spatial dimension allowing God to touch our universe from the outside, this is another matter of extreme complexity.
To be sure, YHWH is not impossible. A being this complex could exist in conditions that we don't understand yet. But the evidence for such a being's existence and interaction with us in this universe is sparse at best, and not especially trustworthy, at least not to a degree where it can be taken seriously by a scientist. In other words, we've left horses and donkeys, and even zebras, well behind and are currently looking for a herd of flying unicorns. The burden of proof is that damn high.
Why can't we just call it a miracle?
We have no reason to. The rationalist view is that everything can be explained eventually -- calling it a miracle or unknowable is just giving up. That's why science supersedes religion -- scientists need proof that something is off-limits (like faster-than-light travel) and can't accept an arbitrary line in the sand.
Anyway, back to the story.
What about other situations?
Well, it's entirely possible. The pause button for example -- it's easy to get around latency issues set by the speed of light by stopping the simulation and rearranging whatever you wish. It's not exactly omnipotence, but for the residents of the universe being paused, it's close enough. That leads to some interesting issues though -- if God can't process the contents of the entire universe in real time, God can theoretically be far less complex than our universe, but actually immensely longer-lived, potentially in the hundreds of billions or even trillions of years. (This is not a problem to those who believe God to be immortal, but it's important to remember.)
A God who simply set up the simulation and lets it run -- the god of Deism -- is not particularly unthinkable, and was the choice of many of the Founding Fathers of the US as well as people of the Enlightenment around the world. But the Deist god is not YHWH.
A God who exists in some form within our universe avoids the many-worlds issue, but is subject to the rules of our universe. Barring confirmation of wormhole travel or some other exotic method of travel, this is unacceptable, since God can't be effective as a deity outside the local area of Earth. Such a God can be agreed to be no God at all.
A God who exists outside any concept of time at all is incomprehensible and indescribable in scientific terms, and discussion of such a thing would be fruitless, falling largely into the category of Deism.
A God who does not have instant recall and foreknowledge of every event and object in the universe is perfectly acceptable as a god, but not as a candidate for YHWH.
An unconscious or insane god (i.e. Charles Fort's God or H.P. Lovecraft's Azathoth), if it interacts with the universe, is subject to many of the same restrictions on acting, but does solve the omniscience problem by making it irrelevant. (The problem of evil doesn't arise here, since the god in question is indifferent or actively destructive, but that's another story.)
So now what?
You tell me. You're the seeker. (Remember to show your work.)
References and notes
- This is not a very clear definition of "universe", but until someone proves or disproves many-worlds, it'll have to do.
- Presumably God can receive an exemption from Heisenberg for the purposes of our argument.
- Though if you've read some Conservapedia material on mathematics, it's a pretty safe bet that there are theists who will argue otherwise.
- This may not in fact be the case, but it seems unlikely that, for example, any universe exists where over-unity power generation is possible, or absolutely no entropy.
- If you're too lazy to look it up, the Schwarzchild radius is the point at which the escape velocity of a body exceeds the speed of light. If the object is smaller than this diameter, it is a black hole.