Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where does God fit in to the universe as we know it today?

This is somewhat of a rhetorical question, but I am rather serious. Where does God fit in? Is He the Ultimate Creator of the vast universe? Or is He the moral judge and jury of each and every action of each and every person on Earth? If He exists, could He be both? That seems to be a ridiculous concept. Why would an entity who is capable of creating the cosmos itself concern Himself with whether or not an individual actually believes in Him or whether or not an individual is in love with a person of the same sex?

The Bible that we know was written over a period of hundreds of years, many aspects having their origins in verbal traditions and stories handed down for who knows how long. For example, many scholars believe that the story of Noah and the Great Flood in Genesis is based on the Mesopotamian legend of Gilgamesh. It only makes sense that the inhabitants of the ancient world attempted to explain their environment in terms that made sense to them. They had very little science in which to explain their very mysterious surroundings. It is difficult not to notice that the Bible discusses God only as He relates to the inhabitants of the Middle East. God apparently was not very interested in North and South America, Europe and Asia in those days. That was the universe that the authors of the Bible knew, and therefore, that is what they wrote about.

Mankind’s understanding of the universe in which we live has expanded greatly since those days, to say the least. The universe in which the authors of the Bible resided may have covered an area with a radius of perhaps one thousand miles, with the center of the universe being somewhere in present day Israel. The universe that we know today is filled with literally billions of galaxies that are composed of billions of stars, with the distances between those galaxies being too immense to even contemplate. That’s quite a difference. Several thousand years ago, the very mysterious ways of God was a very valid explanation for the unexplainable. A plague of locusts? Twenty five hundred years ago, you must have made God very angry to smite you with such a plague. Today, we know that many factors go into a plague of locusts, such as breeding cycles, available food, weather patterns, and overpopulation and crowding of the locusts themselves. We do not need God to explain such phenomena. The same observation applies to earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, famine, floods, and so on. We do not need to invoke God to explain these natural phenomena.

I have long argued that it is not the purview of science to try to prove or disprove the existence of God. No scientist with integrity should ever try to claim that is what he is doing. Science deals with facts and hypotheses based on those facts, in order to explain the workings of some aspect of the universe. God, by definition, is beyond knowing, beyond description and beyond proof. Besides, even if God was something more tangible, scientists also realize it is practically impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist.

However, the point I am making with this post is that a thinking, inquisitive person can certainly come to his or her own conclusions, based on what science is telling us about the universe we inhabit. That is the point I am making. I am not trying to assert the science can prove that God doesn’t exist. The distinction I am making, I admit, is rather fuzzy and can certainly be willfully misconstrued by someone who is ready to jump on anyone that they believe is trying to undermine their belief system. But that is the entire point of a philosophical discussion, isn’t it? I am not saying that science can be used to prove the non-existence of God. I am giving my personal conclusions using all the data that I have available. I just want to make that plain to anyone who might want to comment on this post.

Where is God and why did He construct the strange and complex universe, through centuries of scientific probing, that we know it to be? If God is so concerned about the day-to-day dealings of a puny little race of puny and imperfect creatures that inhabit portions of an insignificant planet that revolves around a non-descript star in a galaxy filled with hundreds of millions of stars of all descriptions, why did He make the universe so damn big and so very, very strange? Particles that can act as waves when you measure them in the correct way? A universe made up of eleven dimensions? Black holes where time as we know it ceases to exist? What possible reasons might there be for such concepts if mankind is the reason God created the Heaven and the Earth?

If I were God, I believe I would have made the universe the one, infinite plane that people of long ago thought the world to be. That certainly is the simplest model. But we live on a huge ball that is spinning rapidly through a vast ocean of nothingness, warmed by a much larger ball of burning gas that is millions of miles away. We take this concept for granted now, because we have all been taught this model of the universe since we were old enough to learn about such things. But when you really take a step back and think about that, the concept is very odd indeed. I have no problem with understanding how bizarre this must have seemed to the people of Galileo’s era when he proposed it.

I have been accused of a lack of imagination when I have said such things in the past. Perhaps. I have known for some time that I am a very literal person. On the other hand, perhaps those who believe in God do so because God fulfills some basic psychic need, to have the unexplainable explained. Where do we go when we die? Are we just a collection of very complex molecules that happened to converge in a way that results in the person we see every morning when we look in the mirror? Do we have souls? What is a soul? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Is there an afterlife? There must be meaning to life, mustn’t there?

I think those are the questions without answers that believers want answered. My own interpretation of the universe as I see it is that there is no more meaning to it than you can observe. It is what it is. There is, always has been and always will be, pain, suffering an anguish through a person’s life. That person’s individual choices may have a lot do to with his life, but many things are outside of his control. Providence. Luck, or the lack of it, is not fair but that is how things are. Baby zebras may get eaten by lions within days of being born. Young people who have everything to live for and have their entire lives in front of them die from hideous diseases. If you happen to be extremely fortunate, you might be born into a royal family where (if you live long enough) you might eventually become king, pharaoh or chief. If you are less fortunate, you may be born into slavery on a cotton plantation in Alabama in 1835. You may be hit by a car going the wrong way on the freeway, driven by some slob who has had eight drinks in the past two hours. Your town may be leveled by a tornado, where even if you were lucky enough to survive, everything you have owned and worked for your entire life is gone.

There is no grand plan. No one is any more or less deserving of their fortune (or lack thereof) than the next person. And most certainly, God is not sitting in a Golden Throne, looking down upon every single human being with a critical eye, waiting to bestow great misfortune upon them. Human beings are born, they live their lives and they die. There is no afterlife. There is no soul. There is no heavenly reward waiting for you because you were a) a very kind and caring person or b) managed to kill a couple of infidels by blowing yourself up along with them. There is no inherent meaning to your life. None.

My theory about religion is that most humans cannot accept answers like these. They provide a view of the universe that is too bleak for most people. All this pain and suffering must have a reason, must ultimately be rewarded, shouldn’t it? I saw this in action a number of years ago on a website where a number of posters got to know each other, as much as you can over the internet. One very nice lady who I liked a lot and corresponded with had an aunt, I believe, who was dying of cancer. She believed in God and was talking about how her aunt would be soon in a better place. Some other slob of a poster who really needed some interpersonal skills counseling, barged in to this emotional situation and said that there is no God and it was useless to think about her aunt in Heaven, or something to that effect. My friend got extremely upset. If this were an face-to-face discussion, I am certain she would have been shouting. She was saying, “Are you telling me that I should just tell my aunt there is no God? That all this means nothing? That she is enduring all this pain for nothing? Is that what you want me to tell my aunt?” Essentially, yes, that is what this poster was saying and my friend could not even countenance that idea. She was so incensed by the fact that anyone would even suggest such a thing about a loved one who was in the last stages of her life, she literally became unglued. I am sure that the thought of her aunt, who was very dear to her, was about to die was already very upsetting to her. But more upsetting was the very thought that there is not an afterlife, there is not a Heaven to which a suffering person may soon retire and find bliss.

I felt very sorry for her, in a very unhappy and undefined way.

I cannot help but think that my beliefs and attitudes could very easily be interpreted as looking down on those whose belief system is not the same as mine. That is not truly my intent, as I am just basing what I am saying on my observations of the universe and the facts that we know about it. I am certainly not trying to say that I am better than any other person who does not believe that science takes precedent over faith. However, to be perfectly honest about it, I will readily admit that I do not understand the mindset of the believers of the Judeo-Christian religions when there is so much evidence that points to the contrary. However, there is obviously something I am missing, as a large majority of the population of the United States professes a belief in God of one flavor or another. Why do I not feel the same way? Why do I not feel a need to have these questions resolved by very comforting answers? Am I that cynical? Is it, as my friend said, that I am that unimaginative? Or am I too in love with science, such that it has become my own personal God that I have placed upon a pedestal, never to be questioned?

I have my own answers to these questions, such that I am at peace with myself in that regard. I can go to my deathbed and not concern myself with throwing myself on the mercies of God before I pass on. I am not worried about spending the rest of eternity in the Hell envisioned by Hieronymus Bosch. I believe that I understand and accept the limitations of science and what it can and cannot tell us about the universe we inhabit. But I also feel that I inhabit an almost completely different plane of existence than do Christians. There can never be any understanding between us. We may arrive at a mutual understanding to not question each other’s beliefs or become too snobby or insulting. But there is no understanding, because our view of the universe is in complete opposition to the others. There is no ultimate truth, because each of us looks upon the other with complete and utter non-comprehension.

A final thought: How could God make a universe that is so grand and mysterious and make such an utter hash on the job that He did on Mankind?


TRUTH 101 said...

I have no answers Zeppo. I just know as a father, the time comes when you hand your kids the car keys and say it's your responsibility. Then you have to step aside and let them make their own way. Sometimes they screw up and wreck the car.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you've managed to crystalize into words my views on religion. I fully understand what you mean in regards to never understanding Christians, personally I'd LOVE to be able to dispense with reality and believe in god, it must be incredible to always 'feel' that somebody was looking after you, but there's just no way my brain will accept it. I guess, as you say, there's just something fundamentually different between the two camps.

As you rightly point out, WHY does the bible only concern itself with a few thousand miles of a small insignificant rock. This shows the bible to really be a collection of old short stories written by local folk. It's easy to understand that they THOUGHT they were the center of the Universe; then other parts of Earth were discovered and people decided the Earth MUST be the centre of the universe. Then Gallileo et al came along and showed that not only are we NOT the center of the universe, we're not even slight significant in the whole scheme of things. In the end, if god did exist, why on earth would he bother about a few evolved apes thrashing about in an insignificant pale blue dot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pale_Blue_Dot.png)

On the subject of death, I too think that some people can't accept we just get switched off. I understand as thinking humans it's not a nice thought that we'll just cease to exist, but that doesn't mean to say we need to invent some nice happy ending. Have you ever fainted? I assume death is pretty much like that, you just switch off; although with a slightly more terminal outcome.

zeppo said...

Thanks for the long, thoughtful comment, anon. I appreciate people who have the same questions as I do dropping by and contributing.

rickard108 said...

Who wrote this crap? Tell us you real name "Zeppo".

rickard108 said...

Wow! This is an old blog.