How Big is God?


“Space is big. Really big.”

When I started blogging here, one of the first bloggers I followed was Robin, of Witless Dating After Fifty. Over the years, she’s several times mentioned a great question her dad often posed when discussing religion with someone: “How big is your god?”

Last week my buddy and I were having our weekly beer- and gab-fest and our (typically very meandering) conversation came to touch on the problems with young Earth creationism — the Christian fundamentalist idea that the universe is only thousands of years old.

In fact, there’s a pair of real whopper problems involved!

And “whopper” (as in “big lie,” not as in “burger”) is a good word. The fundamental problem with this type of creationism (there are other types that agree with the apparent age of the universe) is that it requires a trickster god. It assumes god set up a giant lie to fool us or — as some claim — to test us.

God Monty Python

Ha! Ha! Fooled you!

My bottom line is that I wouldn’t follow a god like that even if he were proven to exist. My other bottom line is that my god — and I do have spiritual suspicions that allow for a god — is a lot bigger than some joker who created a vast April Fools on all of humanity.

I always looked at young Earth creationism from a science point of view.

Our technology demonstrates that science clearly works. Technology is the application of science, so if the science is wrong, the technology doesn’t work.

And yet it does. Our cell phones obviously work. Telescopes and microscopes work. Refrigerators and cars work. Computers and GPS work. They all work every time! (When they don’t, we can find and correct their problems.)

Science works. It got us to the Moon. It put robots on Mars and sent spaceships to all the other planets — even cold distant Pluto (the planet).

Curiosity selfie


Science works on Earth, and it works in nearby space. We’re pretty sure it works throughout the universe.

So here’s the problem:

We think we understand how stars work, especially the closest one, Sol, our Sun. The tests we make all confirm our understanding. Science seems to have a clear understanding about the Sun.

That science says the Sun is (about 4.5) billions of years old. For the Sun to be only thousands of years old, either science lies or the Sun lies.

Speaking of stars, another problem is the light from distant stars that has traveled far longer than tens of thousands of years. The light from distant galaxies takes millions of years to get here.

Again, we seem to have a very good understanding of how light works. Its behavior here on Earth agrees 100% with that knowledge, and we use that knowledge to build technology that always works as designed. Our tests in space confirm light works the way we expect in the neighborhood of Earth.

Small Magellanic Cloud

“It’s full of stars!”

So the light from distant stars is apparently another lie.

Radioactivity is yet another science we understand. We use it to build reactors and bombs, and those work. All our tests give us a single, consistent picture — a picture that says the Earth is billions of years old.

And I haven’t even touched on the fossil record. Or the geological record.

An answer to all of this is that god might have created an old universe the way furniture, photos, and clothing, can be newly made to appear old. This means the universe is a kind of forgery, a trick, and I’m just not down with a trickster god.

My buddy pointed out another way to look at it, and this ties back to Robin’s dad’s question about how big god is.

Considering the universe, how much of it was created to establish the Big Lie? In particular, how much of its vastness compared to us down here on Earth?

Ptolemaic system

The universe per Ptolemy.

In very ancient times, it was possible to believe the “universe” was the local neighborhood we could explore on our own. But as we explored, it became apparent we lived on a giant ball (the ancients knew the Earth was round).

For a while it was possible to believe the “universe” was just the Earth and the sky was a backdrop of sorts that played out heavenly events. Then our reality expanded to include the planets of the solar system (although it took a bit longer to realize we all circled the Sun together).

Next we realized that the stars were other suns, and the “universe” expanded to include the Milky Way galaxy. For a long time we thought our galaxy was the only one.

But better telescopes showed that some nebula were separate galaxies, and eventually the universe grew to include billions of other galaxies.

So now we live in a very, very large — very, very old — universe.

you are here

Right next to a Starbucks!

That’s an incredible amount of work for a teeny, tiny speck floating in the midst of all that. Either the appearance of a vast and ancient universe is a trick, or it was all brought into being for just us.

Is it possible god has a major case of OCD? He started creating stuff and just couldn’t stop until all this?

I’ve long joked that, once we get ourselves out beyond Pluto (the planet), we’ll find a huge spherical backdrop that pretends to be the universe. The solar system is real, but the universe is a movie.

[The extended joke, the Pioneer anomaly: When those two spacecraft reached the backdrop, they were replaced with radio transmitters that faked their signal. Problem is that they got the Doppler shift just a tiny bit wrong, hence the anomaly. They’ve recently resolved the issue, so the joke doesn’t work anymore. Or it just means the transmitters faking the signal got it exactly right!]

On a more serious note, I’ve written about the apparently high odds that we’re living in a simulated virtual reality. If that were true, it’s possible the universe we see is a fake generated by the simulation.

Sim Universe?

Sim Universe?

It’s not at all unreasonable to consider that such a simulation might ask the question: If an intelligent species with a certain set of characteristics covers a planet, what will they do?

In fact, if you wanted to study the behavior of an intelligent species, why would you bother to create a vast universe? You wouldn’t. You’d just create a reality that looks like it exists in such.

But a simulated reality probably isn’t what these creationists had in mind. Unless god is an experimental scientist testing an idea.

Which is actually what a lot of religions suggest. Even a belief in reincarnation posits life as a test. Fail, and you come back as something lesser. Succeed, and you come back as something better.

For Christians, Heaven and Hell are the pass-fail marks on a life lived. In general, religions have this in common: the idea that how you live your life matters, that life matters.

wheel of life

Wheel of Jeopardy!

Atheists suggest we should move on from what they consider superstition and into a science-based framework. I’m not sure humankind is ready for that; I’m not sure we’ll ever be ready for that.

(Secularism doesn’t seem to be doing much for us currently, and humanism really hasn’t caught on.)

Medicine was once also filled with superstition and guesswork. But we recognized its value to society and updated it to align with our growing knowledge about how the world actually works.

Perhaps that’s what we should be doing with religion.

Not rejecting it, but updating it.

There are modern views of god, and I’ve long espoused the idea that spirituality and science are Yin and Yang of the complete picture.

Humans religions are small because people are small. We create small, often petty, gods. Perhaps what we really need to reach for is a larger modern, more inclusive, one.

star maker

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

46 responses to “How Big is God?

  • reocochran

    Thank you, thank you for feeling I may have said something that left an impact on your life, my dear friend! I am sometimes not sure if examples of what others have said to me, really make a difference and sometimes, I even feel like they may seem ‘self-serving’ or ‘self-centered.’ So glad you also mentioned how important and VALID science is!

    What is a simple thought to me is why if God created our brains and felt we were created in His image, as many Christians believe, would we not be allowed to express our thoughts, opinions and knowledge from ‘said brain?’

    I am smiling at the idea of the universe being made up like a sphere hanging out beyond our galaxy. Also, chuckling at the idea of God being OCD. He definitely is one who, if someone believes in Him, can do anything. I loved Morgan Freeman as God, along with George Burns in the movies. This post made me so very happy, W.S. You wrote a fantastic post with a lot of depth and thinking along with showing your witty sense of humor. Hugs, Robin

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks; I’m glad you enjoyed it, Robin! I always pay attention to what my friends say — like it says in Desiderata, “listen to others” because everyone has their story.

      I totally agree about our brains. Why give us such an incredible tool if we’re not meant to use it fully? My god is definitely big enough to take any questions or investigations I can possibly make. And I like to think he has a really good sense of humor, too.

      Yeah, Burns and Freeman totally rocked as god avatars! I really liked Alanis Morissette as god in Kevin Smith’s Dogma (which is my favorite Kevin Smith movie to boot).

      • reocochran

        I need to see, “Dogma,” sometime soon. I felt Alanis Morissette did well in a movie where she played a ‘crooner’ from the days of speak easies. I will have to look this up to let you know the name. I want to say it was a biographical movie about Bobby Darren, but somehow the only name that comes filtering through my brain, is “Under the Sea,” which is in the movie, “The Little Mermaid.” Back in a minute…

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve never seen it, but for [movie with Bobby Darin] Google suggests: Beyond the Sea. So you were really close!

      • reocochran

        It was the movie, “De-Lovely” which was a biographical fiction movie about Cole Porter. I did not have this totally right, but she is like Lady Gaga, can sing the classics effortlessly. I have a pile of movies, set for this weekend, so must try to remember to see if “Dogma” is available to add to my list. Thanks for leading me this direction. I probably saw it awhile back, sounds faintly familiar. Take it easy and enjoy the weekend, W.S.! Although you relax all the days and nights, now that you are retired, my friend.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, weekends aren’t anything special to me other than more people out and about enjoying their weekends!

        I’ve never seen De-Lovely, either, but I do have some movies to watch this weekend, too — mostly some obscure stuff I’ve never heard of, but which seem like they might be worth a shot.

        I watched Million Dollar Arm, which is based on a true story about the first baseball pitchers from India. It was pretty good. I definitely recommend it.

  • dianasschwenk

    You already know where I stand on this Smitty (I think they can both exist together, science and religion that is) As far as God goes, he is limited to us by our (humanity’s) understanding, not by his own understanding. Another very thoughtful post Smitty!
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks (and we stand together on science and religion, mos def). I think you’re exactly right. Anything that could have created all this is so far beyond anything we might understand that, when we try to create god, we just end up re-creating ourselves.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I don’t normally comment with quotes, but this one seems particularly relevant to your point about updating religion.

    “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”
    Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Indeed! (I hope you don’t mind that bit of re-formatting. It’s a good quote, and it deserved to be highlighted.)

      Answering that is a long discussion, and it would obviously just be my take on it… Briefly, a lot of religion is about power, and power often requires the status quo to keep that power. I think that’s actually a strategic mistake, but people think small a lot of the time.

      And that’s another aspect: we think small. We like the idea of a personal, vengeful god and rewards in heaven for a “proper” life here and ultimate punishment for evil-doers. (I’ve sometimes wondered if Heaven and Hell might be that last instant as you die wherein all lies and self-deception fall away and you face, not your life rushing before you, but your true self and what kind of life you’ve lived. You die celebrating, or condemning, yourself.)

      And, of course, people hate change. It’s challenging and often scary. New ideas, especially, can be hard if you don’t have a mind trained to explore and appreciate change and new ideas. (One reason I love science fiction is that I think it does that kind of mental training.)

      All that said, there are those who explore modern ideas of spirituality (me, for one). There are modern Christians who see the Bible as mainly allegorical and take Christ’s words, not quite a literal truth, but as excellent moral parable. (The Sermon on the Mount, religion aside, is a wonderful treatise on moral behavior.)

      I like to think that, when-if we meet aliens, as did the aliens in Sagan’s Contact, they’ll have spiritual beliefs as well.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        No worries on the reformatting.

        I totally agree about science fiction and new concepts. I’ve sometimes wondered what kind of person I would have been if I hadn’t discovered science fiction at an early age, particularly science fiction involving radically different societies.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I have a long-standing internal nature-nurture debate with myself regarding science fiction. I originally leaned strongly on the nurture side, but in the last decade or so I’ve been wondering if nature might not play a much bigger role than I’d imagined.

        I have no doubt that avid readers of science fiction are shaped and grown by it, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that it takes a certain kind of mind to appreciate it in the first place.

        I’ve tried — many, many times — to turn adults on to SF and failed most of those times. Either there’s a greater likelihood of becoming a fan when ones mind is young, or it’s something some just can’t wrap their minds around. I’ve been giving the latter idea a lot more credence these days than I used to.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve wondered the same thing. I have a cousin that I’m very close with. As boys, we both became interested in science fiction, but his interest was never as deep as mine. As we’ve gotten older, his interested in SF has remained superficial, restricted to movies and TV shows. He never got into the literature. He’s also far more politically conservative than I am (or I’m far more liberal from his point of view). Given that we pretty much grew up together, it sure feels like innate differences.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I have similar stories, so I know exactly what you mean. Star Wars muddied the waters a bit in making science fiction so mainstream. There’s a large segment of the population who “like science fiction” without actually knowing what it really is or having experienced any of it.

        Travel to other cultures can have a similar broadening effect. Even just working with world news in an honest way makes one aware of a greater world. I’ve thought that may account for the liberal bias in media (and I do agree there is one). But there seems a similar nature-nurture issue. Are people with open curious minds drawn to professions that supports that outlook, or does working in those professions change ones outlook? (Probably both.)

        I think it may have something to do with a tendency towards self-reflection and analysis, plus a willingness to entertain new ideas and viewpoints. Or perhaps it’s just a strong sense of monkey curiosity. (Speaking for myself, a primary defining trait is my curiosity about everything — even things I don’t like!)

        [In the back of my mind I’ve been pondering the question: Why did I respond positively to Sunshine (for all its flaws) and react to negatively to Europa Report (despite those elements you’ve pointed out and with which I agree)? Writing the above comment the answer popped into my head: You can remove the SF elements of Europa Report and still have basically the same movie. A team is exploring an unknown cave, or underwater caves, or any unexplored territory, and they encounter monsters (and in fact such movies exist). The Europa mission is grafted on to what is basically a monster movie (and one which only teases the monsters).

        On the other hand, Sunshine, a movie about a mission to re-ignite the Sun, has the SF elements at the core of the story. Take that away and all you have is a very generic theme of ‘team on a vital mission.’ (Lord of the Rings has a similar core.) All of humanity is at stake (likewise in LotR), and it may be true that you need SF to raise the stakes that high.

        There’s also the aspect that, while I’ve seen a lot of monster movies, stories about a journey to the Sun are few and far between. (One that’s a lot less flawed is David Brin’s Sundiver.) So I think that’s why I can be forgiving about movies like Sunshine (or even Moon). The SF part is more integral to the story.]

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who do muddy the waters. Most people’s SF fandom is limited to those franchises or similar material. Still, for many people, they end up serving as “gateway drugs” to the more rigorous stuff.

        My attitude about media liberal bias is that it’s definitely there at MSNBC, but that most of the rest is conservative siege mentality. (And, or course, Fox News has a conservative bias.) But, being a liberal, I *would* say that.

        I think I liked Europa Report for purely geeky reasons. It shows how a mission to Europa might actually work, which is rare for media SF. The monster part I just saw as a vehicle they used to do that. If the science had been garbage, I probably wouldn’t have like it. I also might have felt differently if it wasn’t a found-video movie, where we new from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be a happy ending.

        I think I struggled with Sunshine because 1) it takes itself very seriously 2) it’s obvious in the first few minutes that it’s going to dip heavily into the astronauts going mad trope, and 3) artificial gravity without spinning told me it wasn’t going to be very scientifically accurate. 2) and 3) were too incongruous with 1) for me. Of course, that’s in the first few minutes, and I realize my judgment might have been hasty.

        I’ve never read Sundiver, but I’ve heard good things about it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That might be an interesting study: How many people who started with Star Wars went on to really explore science fiction?

        One thing that differentiates Star Wars from the other two you mentioned is that those two remained firmly in geek territory until Star Wars made SF mainstream. (The new Doctor Who has certainly benefited from that.)

        I agree MSNBC is a shill for the left and Fox News is a shill for the right. (CNN is pretty much just plain useless.) But by “media” I ment the entire gamut of film, TV, and other art forms. Openly gay people have long been a fixture in those fields because no one there really cares. And art really is about new ideas and breaking traditions.

        I do appreciate the reasons you liked Europa Report. For me, the found-footage aspect of it was a huge count against the film. When I dinged it for poor story-telling, part of what I meant was the use of dramatic flashbacks in a found-footage story that is supposedly a report. No report would use flashbacks, plus the “monster” would be the primary topic of the report. The storytelling technique and execution were such a fail for me that I just couldn’t like the film.

        I suppose Sunshine might be better imagined as a fantasy with hard SF trappings. It has some mystical elements that feed into that. The whole premise of the Sun going out, and that we can restart it with a big bomb, is pretty silly scientifically. If you do see it again, try it as fantasy. Maybe the story will grab you.

        Out of curiosity, have you seen, and if so what did you think of, Event Horizon and Supernova? They’re both space horror movies that I panned the first time I saw them, but which seemed more enjoyable on re-watching.

        For me a huge part of stories, and of SF stories especially, is: Take me someplace new and interesting. Europa Report just didn’t do that, but Sunshine, Moon, Event Horizon, and Supernova all did. (Supernova is probably the most pedestrian on the list, but the cast was pretty cool: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Robin Tunney, and a couple other familiar faces.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On Star Wars, I suspect it’s a small percentage of the SW fans, but a pretty significant percentage of hard SF fans.

        On the broader media, I can see that. Conservatism is generally a preference for cultural traditions. Anything that explores or celebrates things outside those traditions will often be viewed with suspicion.

        I’m afraid I’m not much of a horror fan. I don’t mind stories with horrific elements, but the horror genre, where everyone is gradually knocked off one by one, I usually find tedious, unless there’s something else in the story to interest me (such as scientific accuracy). I think I have seen Event Horizon and Supernova, although it’s been a while. I recall good visuals, but basically stories in the horror template.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No, I’m not a horror genre fan, either. I find the “slasher” genre especially tedious (although the parodies, such as Scream and the Scary Movie series have been fun). I quite enjoy most of the Alien series, and I consider Predator one of the better ‘Ah-nold’ movies (kinda meh on the AVP mash-ups, though).

        I really panned Event Horizon when I saw it in the theater. But I stumbled on it channel surfing a few times and found myself sucked in. It has a cheesy audacity that somehow gets past my shields. I’d never call it a great movie, but I’ve found it watchable (much to my initial surprise). It has a premise that, I have to admit, is kind of unique for a space movie (dumb, but unique 🙂 ).

        Supernova I saw listed on cable for a long time and the description didn’t grab me. It’s vaguely Alien-like; space crew stumbles on something very bad. In all honesty it was channeling surfing and stumbling across Robin Tunney’s nude scene that caught my eye. I found myself watching the rest of it and making a mental note to catch the beginning next time I noticed it listed. When I did, I found myself watching the whole thing. It’s the strong cast that sells it for me.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I did enjoy Alien and Predator because they were new and unique at the time. I liked Aliens because it was adventurous. The later sequels didn’t work for me. Strangely enough, I enjoyed Prometheus, even though the science in it was ludicrous. There was enough non-horror elements to the story to make it interesting.

        Have you seen Cabin in the Woods? I caught that one channel surfing and was pleasantly surprised.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Haven’t seen Cabin in the Woods, but am looking forward to it when it comes on cable. I generally like Joss Whedon’s stuff (I thought Firefly was awesome), and I like what I’ve heard about the film.

        This has been an interesting discussion! I’m apparently more forgiving about the science in SF movies. Funny thing is that I thought I wasn’t, but talking about some of these films, I obviously am. On the flip side, I seem somewhat more demanding about story issues and originality (but I’ve always known that 😀 ). It’s intriguing digging into matters of taste… seems almost like no two are ever quite alike!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        For myself, I’d say I’m more forgiving of the story if the science is good (I’d probably feel different if I couldn’t count the number of scientifically competent space movies on my fingers). If the science is junk, my requirements for the story is that it either needs to be fun or thoughtful; horror rarely fits that description for me.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You betcha! (We say that in Minnesota a lot.) Like I said, no two ever quite alike. Makes the world so interesting!

  • Steve Morris

    Religion doesn’t chime with me, for the reasons you listed and many others. The big question for us humans is death, really. If we die, what was it all for? That’s what we need to resolve. Religion gives us a pre-packaged answer to that question. Atheism doesn’t. We have to find an answer for ourselves, and that’s clearly something we need help with. It feels like a vacuum that’s waiting to be filled by some visionary.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Indeed. The problem is the question of meaning and purpose. In a godless, purely material, universe, the only meaning possible is meaning we create ourselves. Atheists say that’s enough for them, and should be enough for everyone, but a lot of people want more than personal meaning they make up.

      In an atheist context, death is just what happens. Even the Sun will “die” someday. It has — can have — no meaning or purpose (other than to clear the way for new things). It’s all just part of a vast machine atheists believe we’re part of.

      As you point out, religion (or even just spirituality) provides the idea of a good life as opposed to an evil one. Granted, many people who espouse their religion don’t actually follow their religion, but those people are hypocrites. Religion does provide a built in moral structure — there is such a thing as a “good Christian” or a “good Muslim” or a “good Hindu” and so on.

      But atheism has no creed. What comprises a “good atheist” — other than being an atheist? If anything, atheists feel not subscribing to a “system of beliefs” is a mark in their favor.

      When you strip away the trappings and reduce religions to their core, there is the idea of meaning and purpose, and there is the idea of being “god’s children.” I believe morality turns on the idea of equality, and — taking away all its man-made trappings and organizational power structure — a spiritual view provides that basis.

      It is important, I think, to distinguish between what is called “the worldly church” (which is a human creation) and the idea of a spiritual life. Gandhi wrote: “In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals.” I think that’s true; there are many paths up the mountain. Or you can chose not to climb it at all.

      If you seek meaning and purpose in an atheist universe, the only place you can look is inwards. You’ll have to decide if that’s enough for you.

      • Steve Morris

        For me, the lack of an afterlife compels us to live the best moral lives we can. If there is nothing after death, all we can hope to do is pass on the baton to the next generation as well as we can. That’s the meaning I choose.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Exactly: the meaning you choose. Lets assume you’re right, and there is no afterlife — this is all you get. Why not choose to maximize your pleasure during this brief span, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the morality?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That’s very selfless of you, but you can see how others might make — in fact, do make — different choices. What really makes their choices any different from yours?

      • Steve Morris

        It would be wrong to assert that my choices are better than others. But I can argue that a world in which people show kindness to others is a better world to live in, and that there is therefore a strong rational basis for moral behaviour.

      • Steve Morris

        But at the same time, I am not a selfless person. I do try to maximise my own pleasure during this life. I find that one of the ways I gain pleasure is by helping others.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Most definitely; so do I. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone. And certainly our evolutionary basis seems strongly biased towards survival and supremacy.

        A problem with kindness as a basis for morality is in defining what kindness means and in how to apply it. Is it a kindness to allow an industry that employs thousands of people — but which tears down pretty mountains — to continue? People need jobs, but we don’t really need mountains. Does kindness apply to animals, or to those who like to eat meat and wear fur coats? And how do we instill kindness in people who don’t buy into the equation?

      • Steve Morris

        If we were sharks, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion (and not simply because you can’t type with fins.) We have evolved to be social creatures, and that greatly affects the way we think we ought to behave.

        As for those other very good questions, what makes you think I have all the answers? 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Don’t look at me; neither do I! XD

        If we were sharks, though, we’d have been around for many millions of years. We clever apes are doing a pretty good job of trying to kill ourselves off in a pretty short time-span geologically speaking. (More than one science fiction author has floated the idea that intelligent species invariably kill themselves off. It would certainly be one answer to the Fermi Paradox.)

        You’re right about our intelligence. We’re the only creature we know that looks at what is and dreams about what ought to be. It just turns out to be really difficult and tricky to get from is to ought. Philosophers of all stripes have been chewing on that one for centuries without finding any definitive answers.

        Religion or spirituality, to take this back to its starting point, at least offers a way to begin. It may even be that, as intelligent social creatures, we need the idea of god, if not the reality. Many people seem to lack the intelligent, rational introspection and self-awareness necessary for building moral values from scratch. Ultimately they end up picking an extant system of values that they like (or were indoctrinated to).

        But that still leaves the issue of defining a realistic and appropriate system plus the need to get people to actually follow it. That social business that makes us so interesting also makes us so vexing! 🙂

  • rung2diotimasladder

    Great post. I like the idea of updating God. Of course, I tend to go in the opposite direction, deep into the past. Aristotle has a conception of God known as the unmoved mover, a kind of logical construction really. That appeals to me. I tend not to like anthropomorphized gods unless these are interpreted in a non-literal way and point to something higher. I like stories taken as stories.

    So here I will relate an anthropomorphized unmoved mover, a story to be taken as such, something my husband came up with a while ago: The unmoved mover is a beautiful woman who walks into a room of men and ignores their advances. Everything these men do is for her—they gawk at her, they try to attract her attention, the brave ones ask her for a date, but she remains forever aloof. Nevertheless, her presence changes the otherwise bored group of men and makes the world move without lifting a finger.

    • Wyrd Smythe


      God 2.0! 🙂 (And you really do have to explore Spinoza! The really short form, as I understand it: God = laws of physics.)

      Your husband’s metaphor for an unmoved mover is good! (It vaguely reminds me of the common metaphor for how the Higgs field works, but that’s — literally — another story.) The idea of reacting to something untouchable that doesn’t react back is a useful image. I suppose we could draw a similar story regarding great art, or even the smitten fans of various excessively popular public figures.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        Ha! God is a rock star? Oh, yes, that’s been done:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha, yes! I loved JCS! The movie has some really interesting new elements (especially the end), but I liked the stage production even more. I took my girlfriend to see it when it came through Los Angeles — it played at the Universal Amphitheatre, which at the time was an outdoor venue, so it was double-plus cool. During that last song (the one from your video clip), they turn on four bigass 10,000 watt lamps that blast the stage from behind with this intense really bright light. Awesome, and definitely my favorite rock opera (although I really do like Tommy).

        Thanks for the memories! I haven’t thought about all that in a long time!

  • Thandazani

    wow that is a good question but i think that god cannot be measured god is unlimited

  • Thandazani

    I don’t really think that we are created in God’s image but we created God in our own image.

  • siriusbizinus

    I don’t know if religion can get updated. There needs to be something else, but I haven’t really found what that is. For me, I don’t want there to be a dogma, or even social pressures used to obtain conformity. Sometimes I think Vulcan logic structures actually isn’t a bad idea at all.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the ideas you express here are awesome. Atheists like myself should spend more time thinking about what meaning there is in an uncaring universe. But right now I’m still finding that I’m having to tear down old constructs. It’s a painful process.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I don’t know if religion can get updated.”

      Do you have reason why not? There are those who are updating it, at least on a personal level. (I know that because I’m one of them!) And there are theologians and other practitioners of “enlightened” religion that doesn’t deny science. There’s also Spinoza’s God, which is a god of physical law, really. And Unitarians seem pretty enlightened and modern, although I don’t know all that much about them (just that I’ve liked what I’ve read and would probably go that way if I ever became formally religious again — although, quite frankly, about the only thing that would make that happen is a serious relationship with a woman who wanted to be formal about — i.e. practicing — religion).

      “I don’t want there to be a dogma, or even social pressures used to obtain conformity.”

      Nor do I. I get the impression may who reject religion are rejecting a traditional and restrictive approach. As you say, dogmatic. And that should be rejected. Such religions are just human-created constructs that operate as much socially as spiritually (and frankly, all too often, not enough of the latter).

      The pity is that many atheists see all religion and spirituality that way, and that is simply incorrect. An honest look at modern religious thinking (especially outside the Catholic church) turns up a whole landscape that’s a lot more interesting and palatable.

      For me atheism is boring and disappointing. I find the idea that there could be something else going on utterly fascinating and worth exploring. But that’s just me.

      “Sometimes I think Vulcan logic structures actually isn’t a bad idea at all.”

      Heh! I can relate. OTOH, quite a few Star Trek episodes make the point that Spock was incomplete. So was McCoy. Only Kirk, with a blend of logic and passion, was complete.

      “But right now I’m still finding that I’m having to tear down old constructs. It’s a painful process.”

      No doubt. I remember when a college nutrition teacher scared me off red meat and white sugar and flour. I went semi-veg for a while (I ate some fish and chicken) until I decided it was stupid. I wasn’t enjoying it, plus I felt run-down. (I did pretty much stay off white sugar and white flour forever, though.)

      My point is there’s a tendency in situations like this to swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme. Atheists who become religious often become extremely religious, and those who see themselves as “escaping” from the bondage of religion usually turn their back on every aspect of it.

      I think those are both mistakes. (But, again, that’s just me.)

      I see atheism as a very small territory, but the idea there is something more is, as I said, a vast landscape of possibility. I don’t like the bondage of mono-conceptual atheism any more than I do the bondage of mono-conceptual religion.

      • siriusbizinus

        Perhaps a more accurate way of saying my thought is, “Religion as I have seen and partaken of myself is unable to be updated.” It’s like building a new house on an old one’s foundation. Is it an updated version of the old house, or is it a new one? Maybe it could be both depending upon how one looks at it.

        To me atheism is acknowledging that there is a blank canvas. People are free to paint whatever they want on it. Some things might be ugly, some things might be beautiful. It doesn’t foreclose on investigation and looking into other paintings.

        Taking it back to the original thought, I do think that some atheists are building the same house on that old foundation; they’re just giving it a new paint job. I see the same bullying that I despised when I was a Christian. In that way, that kind of atheism is no better than any religion which incorporates hate.

        And that goes back to my original problem. Atheism only answers one question. In the grand scheme of things, there are millions of others to fill out. There is wonder enough in searching for the answers to those.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Sure, I’ve seen it work both way with houses. Completely destroy the old and replace with something utterly new, or remodeling and fixing up an existing old house. Even the Catholic church — probably one of the most seriously dogmatic and clearly sociopolitical organizations — is trying to adapt.

        I see the same bullying that I despised when I was a Christian.

        Mike Smith (SelfAwarePatterns) made a similar comment recently. Just goes to show the real problem is people when they have an excuse or agenda.

        Atheism only answers one question. In the grand scheme of things, there are millions of others to fill out. There is wonder enough in searching for the answers to those.

        There is indeed a rich, rich world of science and human experience to explore, no doubt about that. For some, you understand, a merely physical world feels a bit ultimately empty and pointless, and so they hope/wish/believe there is (or could be) something more.

        If I could live in a world that was based on true respect for others, genuine honesty, concern for doing the right thing, and lack of worship for materialism, I wouldn’t much care how we got there. The sad, sick thing is that it often seems like there’s no path to that place. None at all.

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