My last post generated what may be the most comments I've ever gotten on a topic that didn't involve pictures of my cats. John Brown, a fellow SF author, whose Dark God trilogy is being published by Tor soon, has heroicly been refuting my critiques of Biblical based theology. I felt like his last post was interesting enough that I didn't want to take the risk that it might get overlooked by folks who didn't want to dig down through multiple levels of comments. So, here's John's argument on why it's not difficult to imagine there's a God:
I find it interesting that any lover of science and science fiction has a hard time imagining a God. I can see how it might be difficult to accept some of the specific Gods offered up over the centuries, but the idea of a God in general?
We can imagine man terraforming planets, we can imagine immortality, genetic manipulation, technological singularity, even FTL travel, but we cannot imagine that there's a being out there who has already learned all this stuff?
I find this as geo-centric a view as any astronomy that suggests the universe was created solely for the inhabitants of this earth. Is it not possible that somewhere else in this vast universe life exists and progressed long before humans ever arrived on this earth?
If so, then why is it so hard to imagine that they have progressed far enough to do what we say God has done? Build a world. Terraform it. Do things people not of his technological level find hard to explain.
It seems to me that it's difficult for science and SF not to lead the mind to a belief in supreme beings. Maybe not the specific beings described by any given creed, but certainly supreme beings. And if this is a possibility, then why is it so hard to imagine that they just might be involved with us?
Of course, then we find it hard to imagine anyone without human failings. Anyone with that much power just pulls out a Death Star and begins to blow up worlds. Again, why do we limit ourselves to such a homo-centric view? In all the vast universe, nothing arose more benevolent than men?
Are you truly saying that you find the idea that life has arisen elsewhere and progressed past the intelligence found here on earth fantastically remote?
John, these are some interesting arguments. But I think they are arguments for atheism, not for theism.
I don't in the least find it implausible that intelligence greater than our own could have arisen elsewhere in the universe. Of course, the evidence of our own world would argue that intelligence sufficient to produce beings capable of such basic technology as writing is exceedingly rare. Still, I can definitely imagine hundreds or thousands of worlds with intelligent beings that might know more than us. Unfortunately, even if there were ten thousand such races, they would be scattered randomly among the 70 sextillion stars currently visible using modern telescopes. They would exist at such vast distances that our odds of actually discovering and interacting with them is exceedingly low.
But, let's say that the odds are improved greatly if a highly involved intelligence on a nearby star decided to make our world a test lab. They spot our world forming billions of years ago, do some math and figure out it's going to be in the sweet spot in our solar system where liquid water is going to be possible, and decide to seed the world with genetic material. Then, since they are very patient aliens, they just wait four billion years for intelligent life to arise. From time to time, they send messages to the intelligent species to nudge along their development into good neighbors. They are benevolent, kind hearted aliens who want mankind to evolve out of its more animalistic tendencies toward war and violence and self destruction until, eventually, they can be full partners in the galactic community. But, it's important that they don't just drop in and give mankind all the answers to everything. They want to make sure man figures out the toughest problems on his own. It's the only way he will ever become a mature, intergalactic being.
I can definitely imagine this. (Although Eric von Daniken and Charles Forte beat me to it by several decades.) It seems plausible. I could write a SF novel on this premise and sell it, and folks who would read it would willingly accept the premise.
But here's the key point: The fact that I've imagined it doesn't make it real. In fact, I am able to recognize it as specifically unreal, an artifact of human imagination, since I was present as it was being imagined. When I write my books, I create worlds that feel real to me as I write them. The characters seem to come to life... I have plans for them as an author, but then the characters somehow defy me and create their own actions and dialogue. I wind up talking about Bitterwood and Jandra and Burke as if they are real people. I have readers who get emotionally invested with the characters as if they are real people.
They are not real people.
Given how easy it is for me to imagine worlds and peoples and new gods and new religions, it seems highly likely to me that all such religions are the product of human imagination. Some just happen to hit the right mix of gut level plausibility that they become wide spread, at which point tradition and culture start reinforcing the plausibility of the imaginary God, taking it as real and regarding those who think God unreal as kooks for disbelieving what everyone knows to be true. Religions also evolve to reflect the dominant mores of society; today's Christianity has no problem with rich people getting into heaven, for instance, and we revere the Ten Commandments even though, if asked what they were, most folks could probably name about four before getting stumped.
Just because a majority of people believe in something isn't evidence of reality. A recent survey found that 58% of Britons thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. And why not? We know a lot of facts about his biography; we know who his friends were, we know approximate dates of important events in his life, we even know where he lived and you can visit that very address on a tour of London. There are photographs and drawings of him. I'm betting somewhere there's a building where you can go and look at his pipe and hat.
My problem isn't that I find God difficult to imagine. My problem is that I find God very easy to imagine. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are easy to imagine when you're a child. But part of growing up is learning to separate what's imagined from what's real. I think the fact that it's so easy to construct a plausible God purely from imagination is an argument against his reality, not an argument for it.
The fact that other people believe in imaginary things doesn't bother me in most circumstances. If a person believes in bigfoot or ghosts or King Arthur, it does me no harm. Where things get tricky, though, is when people take the advice of their imaginary friends and try to make other people live by this advice. An imagined God said a few discouraging words about men sleeping together a few thousand years ago, and suddenly this becomes a factor in picking our presidents. Or some guy wanders in from the desert in the seventh century and claims to have been talking to God, and today people are willing to blow up busses based on their interpretation of this wisdom.
Hopefully, one day, we'll get better at sorting out imagination from reality. At least, I can imagine such a day... even if there's not a lot of evidence for it.