|Our surprising God?|
Let's find out.
What God Is
The universe as we know it is physical. Therefore, in the absence of any strong reasons to think otherwise, the immediate assumption is that God would be physical as well. It's probably not even meaningful to talk about a spiritual realm: to my knowledge, there's no real definition of what "spiritual" even means. Besides, if God was spiritual, then as I argued in the counterpart to this post, he would have no obvious reason not to make the universe spiritual as well.
If we don't start out by assuming Christianity, we would never in a million years expect God to somehow consist of a "Trinity"—of three "persons" composed of the same divine "substance." This convoluted idea of three entities that are somehow both distinct and unified may not even be coherent, let alone a reasonable prediction based only on our current knowledge. No, without good arguments to the contrary, we would expect God to be a single being—perhaps a very complex one, but certainly not one with some theologically sophisticated split personality.
While we're at it, we might as well dispense with the assumption that God is a "he," or even that "he" has a gender at all. Unless there's more than one of his kind, it would make little sense for him to have an identity as a male or a female. (Regardless, I'll still refer to him as "he" for the sake of clarity and convention.)
What God Wants
What might we expect God's goal to be in creating this universe? Contrary to what most religions of the world believe, we shouldn't necessarily assume that God particularly values humanity—or even life of any kind. If life was the goal, we would expect the universe to be teeming with it in every nook and cranny, yet Earth is the only planet we know of that has any. God seems to love dark matter and black holes more than any living creature, and of the little life that does exist, insects, plants and bacteria seem to be much higher on the divine priority list. Evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane was on the right track when he observed that "the Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other."
As I noted in the other post, we arose through a lengthy and inefficient process of cosmology and evolution. Why would God want to use such a roundabout process? Maybe we should think of him as a cosmic tinkerer, testing out various starting conditions for the formation of the universe—or even as a scientist running simulations. Philosopher Nick Bostrom's simulation argument addresses this directly, and it's probably the best argument for the existence of "God" that I've ever heard. Here's his own summary:
At least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a "post-human" stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.The idea is that if posthuman civilizations run a lot of detailed computer simulations involving sentient beings, it's far more likely than not that we're in one of those simulations. Both David Chalmers and Bostrom himself assign a 20% probability to this idea. While a simulator probably wouldn't meet the classical "omni" definition of God, they would certainly be one in the broad sense of a highly intelligent creator who wields virtually limitless power over their creation. So what would be the motivation of these demigods? Bostrom has some speculation on that as well:
[P]erhaps future historians would create a Matrix that mimicked the history of their own species. They might do this to find out more about their past, or to explore counterfactual historical scenarios. In the world of the Architect(s), Napoleon may have succeeded in conquering Europe, and our world might be a Matrix created to research what would have happened if Napoleon had been defeated. Or perhaps there will be future artists who create Matrices as an art form much like we create movies and operas. Or perhaps the tourist industry will create simulations of interesting historical epochs so that their contemporaries can go on themed holidays to some bygone age by entering into the simulation and interacting with its inhabitants.As fanciful as this conjecture may seem, I think it's far more reasonable and grounded in real-world experience than any of the major religions.
Is God Good?
Given the massive amount of suffering in the world—both in human society and in nature—there's no reason to expect that God desires to minimize that suffering. In fact, philosopher Stephen Law has observed that given what we know about the world, we could argue the propositions "God is perfectly evil" and "God is perfectly good" with roughly equal effectiveness.
There are several setups that are more consistent with the amount of evil we observe. One possibility is ditheism: two gods who are equal in power, one good and one evil, battling for control. Or maybe there exists a single God who experiences wild mood swings, creating humanity on a good day and sending natural disasters to wreak havoc on a bad one. But these ideas seem needlessly complex, as a single God who's merely indifferent to our suffering explains our situation just as well. Another option is that God is in fact good, but lacks either the power or the knowledge needed to set things straight in our world.
The existence of countless conflicting religions can actually be construed as evidence that God is something of a sadist. If he's capable of revealing himself to us, he could easily resolve our disputes and unite the world's belief systems. Since we instead find the opposite, perhaps we can predict that God enjoys creating religions and setting them against each other to cause needless confusion and conflict. Granted, it's not the most parsimonious explanation for the inconsistent faiths of the world, but I think it's certainly more consistent with the data than what theists have come up with.
A Suprising God
So what have we learned about our hypothetical God from our observations of the world? Based only on the known facts, we might predict that God (if he existed) would be...
- Physical, not spiritual
- Unitary, not triune
- Genderless, not male
- Fond of dark matter and lower life forms
- A cosmic experimenter
- Indifferent to our suffering