by miriam berg
September, 2013

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 anything.