What’s God REALLY Like? You might be surprised…

The God of the Bible could have rivals
Science writer Timothy Ferris has fantasized about an atlas of the entire Milky Way Galaxy. What would it look like? If each star system—with all of its planets—were summarized in just one page, he points out that this atlas…

“…would run to more than ten million volumes of ten thousand pages each. It would take a library the size of Harvard’s to house the atlas, and merely to flip through it, at the rate of a page per second, would require over ten thousand years…it becomes clear that we are never going to learn more than a tiny fraction of the story of our galaxy alone—and there are a hundred million more galaxies.” (Coming of Age in the Milky Way, p. 383)

This may make us feel insignificant, but we also must come to terms with our profound isolation from everything that may be going on “out there.” Ferris quotes physician Lewis Thomas: “The greatest of all the accomplishments of twentieth century science has been the discovery of human ignorance.”

This ignorance extends to origins as well: How did it all get started?

The ancient mythographers used their imaginations, but these days we have cosmologists equipped with the tools of astronomy and physics—they’re on the hunt, trying to figure it out. But the mythographers are still lurking about. “God did it” is good enough for them—and they might be sweating a little as the cosmologists keep digging and probing, driven by curiosity and skepticism, trying to find out what really happened.

Cosmologists know that “God did it” is a non-answer, because it explains nothing. Hypotheses, theories, conclusions must be based on data, evidence. God-did-it is based on no evidence whatever. It’s an ancient hunch that got hammered into doctrine.

What If

But, to humor the theists, let’s do a thought experiment: Suppose that the cosmologists actually identify the Force that ignited the Cosmos. Yes, a Creator. Not just blind energy, but a Creator that is self-aware and acts with purpose.

So, theists breathe a huge sigh of relief; they were right all along, God did it. So they run to their Bibles with renewed confidence that the ancient mythographers got it right.

But not so fast. The cosmologists found no evidence whatever that any ancient religion got the details about God right. They nailed down only three things: there is a creative Force that is self-aware and acts with purpose. The data yielded nothing at all about revelation; all the grand sweep of Biblical history, a chosen people, a messiah—that is all guesswork offered by the folks who created the Bible. There is no evidence they got this story from a god.

So, putting the Bible aside, as we survey our planet and the unfolding of human history, what might we infer about the nature of the creator God—based on what we see and experience in the external world, as opposed to the internal world of imagination and meditation? Theists are fond of inferring the goodness of the Creator, but does the evidence really push us in that direction?

An Evil God Is a Major Contender

Theologians, apologists, preachers and priests could save themselves a lot of time and anguish—trying to make excuses for a good god—by just fessing up that the Creator God is evil. They can have a god alright, just not the one they’ve counted on. And—what a surprise—Christians are halfway there: They already believe in Satan, who is a god, though they shrink from admitting it. They can’t warn people that Satan has such awesome power to do awful things—and decline to rank him as a god. After all, he has enough power to stand up to their Bible god.

Actually, maybe Satan is the head god—with the Jesus-god an underling—which would explain a lot. As part of his creation scheme, to cause as much suffering as possible, he opted for evolution, knowing full well that its glitches would generate thousands of genetic diseases. Evolution also embedded aggression and territoriality in the human brain, guaranteeing warfare for millennia—until we snuff ourselves out. Animal suffering is incalculable. Why would a good god have set things up this way?

This scheme also favored microbes, which turned out to be the dominant species on the planet; every second of every day our bodies wage war again the bad microbes. We may win a lot of battles, but we always lose the war, and after we’re dead, the microbes eat us. No, humans are not the dominant species. Maybe the Evil God experimented with evolution on thousands of other planets, and knew how much suffering it would bring to Earth.

The evil God also bluffed us with a “holy book”—and we fell for it. Threw us off the scent of evolution so that we would willingly take the blame for bad stuff. Adam and Eve committed the first sins and all the subsequent suffering is our own fault.

And, really, who needed that holy book? Instead of giving us a thousand pages of folklore and fantasies about a redeemer, the book we really needed would have explained why we get sick, i.e., microbes, not demons and sin. Humans could have been told, way back then, about microscopes and telescopes, radio, electricity and refrigeration, Novocain and aspirin, best practices in agriculture and nutrition. But that’s not the book that the evil God gave us. He left us to figure out all these things on our own—and probably is pissed off that we did.

A God Who Doesn’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Going back to that big piece of evidence for inferring an evil God, i.e., all the suffering on the planet—maybe we’ve got that all wrong. The Creator God isn’t evil at all. Maybe it doesn’t even know what’s happening in our complex biosphere, including all the trauma of human history. Galaxies are huge, after all. Solar systems are as well, some no doubt with dozens or hundred of planets and moons; all that matter swirling on such massive scales requires all his attention. He could be unaware that chemicals, mixing over aeons, have produced complex life-forms on many of those planets.

Just as humans pay scant attention to mold or pond scum, this God may simply have no interest in creatures that thrive in billions of biospheres—and would have even less interest in being worshipped by them. This God of the galaxies doesn’t have a way of communicating with planet creatures. Hence a Creator God who is self-aware and acts with purpose—but who is oblivious to all human hopes and agonizes—well, that accounts for the evils we endure. And he didn’t invent evolution; it just happened, chemical mixing with chemicals and sunlight. No evil God needed at all.

God the Creator Solves Nothing, Adds Nothing

“Just look at the world around you! Where did it all come from if there is no God? It didn’t get here by itself.” I suppose this is one of the most common reactions to atheism. Believers still want to get millage out of William Paley’s 1802 analogy of a pocket watch found while walking in the country: We all know that it had a maker, indeed, a master craftsman. So too the natural world. How silly can we be…to delete God from the equation? God just has to be. And, with that settled, believers assume that they are home free.

They just don’t get it. In fact, Paley’s analogy is devastating: someone had lost the watch. Its maker no longer knew about it or cared about it. A self-aware creator-god who acts with purpose, who manages the grand sweep of the Cosmos, with billions of planets scattered across the light-years, may not even be aware of Earth, and certainly doesn’t love humans, hear prayers—or crave worship. All of these concepts have been added by theologians over the centuries, layer after layer of speculation, guesswork, wishful thinking—based on no data whatever.

The worship-thing above all should be a big tip-off that humans invented the whole business. We have devised elaborate pecking orders, idolizing royalty, rock and film stars, sports heroes. We just love to do that. And—what else?—the most elaborate forms of fandom and worship have been reserved for our imagined gods. It is so utterly unlikely that a creator god of cosmic proportions gets his kicks by hearing songs of praise from a few billion hominid mammals. We “give glory to God.” He needs that? This has to be one of the silliest contributions of religion to human folly.

Believers have yet to show us where we can find reliable, verifiable data demonstrating that the speculations of ancient mythographers can be trusted. All that stuff in the Bible requires leap of faith after leap of faith, reinforced relentlessly by family and church bureaucrats. Actually, Christians might want to hedge their bets. One of the risks of Pascal’s Wager is that you’re backing the wrong god. What if the Big Evil Guy is the one in charge? Christians might want to switch to worshipping him—you know, try to soften him up and go for a better deal.

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published in 2016 by Tellectual Press.