HOW OLD IS GOD?
by miriam berg
How old is God?
A strange question! but it's certainly English. In order to
answer it, and answer it meaningfully, we must understand who or
what God is, and when, if at all, it or she or he came into
existence. All very mind-boggling questions, but if we are to use
the word God at all, we owe it to ourselves and to philosophical
certainty or uncertainty to find some answers.
WHAT IS GOD
Who or what is God? Some of us believe in God as a being
overseeing the universe, or at least the earth, and probably with
it the solar system. But some of us believe that there is no such
being, for many reasons: there is no evidence of such a being; it's
impossible for there to be such a being over the whole universe or
even the solar system, to say nothing of the Earth; and that
everything that has happened in the fifteen billion years that the
Universe as we know it has existed was either the natural result of
physical laws or was a random occurrence, but still consistent with
those same physical laws.
So again, what is God? or what do we believe it to be? We might
agree that if there is such a thing, it must have consciousness
whatever that is; and it must have some limits in space and time
since otherwise if there are no such limits then we would seem to be
simply talking about the universe as a whole, the totality of all the
matter and energy we can observe and describe. It seems impossible
that there exists something invisible and eternal that no one has
ever found any evidence for.
But then, what is consciousness? We are (or seem to be)
conscious beings, by which we mean we have some inner picture of the
world outside ourselves, even if we have only minute control over
the reality behind that inner picture. By itself, "consciousness"
does not imply control over what we are conscious of; we cannot
control weather, or the sun rising and setting, or the behavior of
people who are not in our presence, or who ARE in our presence but
have their own consciousness and tendency or need or desire to exert
their own control over THEIR inner picture, including us.
WHERE IS GOD
Can we assert that the solar system occupying such a vast
expanse of space as it does (billions and billions of cubic miles)
can or must have a consciousness, of itself if nothing else? Or can
we assert that to be true even of our own planet, with its billions
of square miles, or billions and billions of cubic miles contained
within itself? Ho, ho, it is to lawf!
Other life forms must have some form of consciousness in order
to interact successfully with their environment, even if that
awareness and interaction is far less extensive than our own. We
could even assert that humanity as a whole, with its books and
communication systems and increasing commonality of experience is
therefore "conscious" of itself. But is this God, or is it what we
mean by God?
It seems clear from the scientific discoveries of the last
several centuries, which have never turned up the slightest
evidence of any being or consciousness larger than ourselves, force
us to abandon the notion of a Superbeing over all of
humanity, or even over all of earth, which seems to obey clear
and continuous natural laws, both physical and biological. We
conjecture that those same laws would apply on any other planet
as well, so that most people today probably admit the existence
of life forms on those other planets, though how different from
us we cannot tell. But that remains a conjecture, until such
time as we actually discover such life forms.
Modern philosophers and theologians, in their desire to find
something that they can attach the word "God" to, have decided
or seem to have decided that "God" must be everything, or all life
or the energies that configure atoms and matter, or something
all-embracing. Can energy have consciousness? can all life
together have a single consciousness? Can you have consciousness
without personality? Does God have personality? These questions
seem to get more and more far-reaching and unanswerable, or
instead, perhaps, less meaningful.
IS GOD MORAL
Now let's ask, is God moral? or perhaps, is God morality? This
is another poorly defined concept, but our best understanding is
that it is or would be for each being to treat each other being
fairly and considerately, at least members of its own species. But
if we are to believe the Old Testament, the God therein depicted
named Jehovah was certainly intolerant of other gods or worship of
any other thing whatever. Is that moral or ethical? Maybe divine
ethics and morality are different from human or animal ethics and
morality. But we do not even know what "divine" means, if we don't
know what God is, or where it is, or how it came into existence, or
how long it's been around. And if we don't know anything about a
thing, how big it is, what it is made of, what it does or what's its
function, then we don't even know where to look for it. Maybe it
doesn't exist anymore, as the Mill family insisted.
WHERE DID GOD COME FROM
But this raises yet another question, how did God come into
existence, and by what process? My grandson, when he was told
that the universe was made by God, asked at once, Well, who made
HIM? and if you find the thing that made God, who made THAT thing?
That's a youthful reprise of the argument between George Bernard
Shaw and a Jesuit priest, who said blandly, The universe exists;
somebody must have made it. Shaw answered, If that somebody exists
somebody must have made him. The Jesuit priest granted that there
was a maker of God, and a maker of the maker of God, and so on; but
it had to come to an end sometime. Shaw countered, It's as easy
for me to believe that the universe made itself, as it is to believe
that some maker made it. And even if we insist that the thing we
call God is like an aura or invisible, an impalpable mist or field
around the so-called universe, who can point to any evidence for the
existence of such an aura or spirit?
The simplest and most probable explanation for the origin of
the notion of God or a god is as follows. Our remotest
ancestors, already human or at least humanoid, learning to
recognize things and put names on things, occasionally saw something
unusual happen, with no visible agency causing it:
thunder, lightning, wind, earthquake, birth, death. They saw
these things happened, in the same way that they had made a pot, or
killed an animal, or built a fire; and they assumed, and the species
came to believe that all these things were caused by some Being
or Superbeing more powerful than themselves, that they couldn't
see because it was invisible, but everyone else could see those
same events because it was everywhere. This must have been the
origin of the myth of God.
WHAT DOES GOD WANT
Finally, let us ask, What does God want of us? The immediate
question is, How do we KNOW that God "wants" anything of anything?
Wanting, desiring, seeking, seem to be a characteristic of living
creatures, or life, as far as we can tell. And it sounds like mere
anthropomorphic projection for us to say that this thing which we
don't know what it is has any characteristics at all. It comforts us
as conscious beings to tell ourselves and others, I did that thing
because God wanted me to; and they accepted that (or didn't accept it)
because they all believed in the same God. But that assertion by
itself doesn't prove anything.
But we have not answered our first question, How old is God?
If the answer is some number less than fifteen billion years, the
age of the known universe, how much less? Did God come into
existence at the time of the formation of the solar system, or of
Earth specifically? And how did it come into existence? Was it
around when the only living creatures were protozoa or something even
simpler? But in the face of our not knowing WHAT God is, or WHERE it
is, or anything else about God, we might as well admit that we don't
know how old God, whatever it is, is. To paraphrase Aristotle: You
tell me that there is a God, because God is; but I say, there is not
a God, because God is not. That that is, is; that that is not, is not;
that that is is not that that is not, and that that is not is not that
that is. Is not that that?
However, if you want to believe in a God, believe in one; but
i'm not like Pascal, who said it was better to believe that God
exists than not to believe, because then when you die, if you're
right, all will be well, and if you're wrong, you haven't lost