What’s God REALLY Like? You Might be Surprised

What’s God REALLY Like? You Might be Surprised May 21, 2018

Editor’s Note:  For those who say they believe in God – which god?  There are many to choose from, which this biblical scholar/Clergy Project member knows all about. Repostedwith permission from Debunking Christianity. //Linda LaScola

                                                           =============================

By David Madison

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.

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 eons, 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.

====================

Bio: David Madison,a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.

>>>>Photo Credits: “Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg; by Andrea Reese ;

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Gutenberg_Bible.jpg

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TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tony D’Arcy

    As I was going down the stair,
    I met a God who wasn’t there.
    He wasn’t there again today.
    I wish to hell he’d go away.

  • Mike Panic

    I have been told I am gay because some woman had ab abortion. Gawd is punishing me for the sin of someone else. Sounds like a great idea to me. Go out and sin as much as possible so gawd will punish more and more kristers for MY sins.

  • Brian Westley

    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.”

    Well, this explains “Mostly harmless”.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    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.

    Properties 2 and 3 seem outside the realm of cosmology. What is needed to explain the Big Bang is some physical force or phenomonon. Awareness and purpose don’t even seem to be in the right ball park.
    When it is convenient for the argument, apologists (I’m looking at you, Alvin Plantinga) assure us that “God is simple.” Let’s compare to another physical force that cosmologists have to deal with: gravity. Have you ever heard someone, apologist or otherwise, suggest that gravity is the source of all morality? I never have.

    • Machintelligence

      In one of his lectures, Daniel Dennett tells of being interviewed by a theist who asked him why he didn’t believe in a force that ordered the universe and controlled what happens in it; to which Dennett replied that he did, in fact believe in such a force. He really truly did believe in it: it was called gravity.

      • alwayspuzzled

        Since there are four fundamental forces, did Dennett say why he singled out gravity as worthy of belief, but not the other three?

        • Anat

          My guess would be that it’s because everyone is familiar with the idea of gravity, and it sounds better than ‘the weak nuclear force’ and less New-Agey than ‘the strong nuclear force’. Though electromagnetism might have left the theist more stumped.

        • Ray Harvey

          1/ Gravity as a force can be seen in action across the entire spectrum of the observable universe. It also interacts with the phenomena we refer to as Dark-Matter.
          2/ Gravity and it’s effects can be traced back to the inhomogeneous distribution of the primordial universe…as seen in the 2deg Field of the Cosmic Background.
          3/ The cosmic background is the oldest structure that we can see and explain with classical physics.
          4/ Gravity is the dominant force in Black Holes, where time and space have been rendered impotent…while gravity reigns supreme.

          That, is why he singled out gravity.

  • Mark Rutledge

    Religions are cultural linguistic traditions. It is no longer the purpose of religion to explain the universe — that is the domain of science. A few
    of the many purposes of religion are: to provide wisdom for how to live; to shape personal identity, transcend
    narcissistic individualism, and form communities of justice and love; to provide ways to express our deepest human
    values and longings; to challenge domination systems; To foster ethics, a world view, and “difficult
    explanations of the meaning of life.” Secular
    humanism also embodies many of these. Like most human social constructions
    religions have been historical sources of both good and evil.

    • mason

      “Religions are cultural linguistic traditions. It is no longer the purpose of religion to explain the universe — that is the domain of science.” So evidently the Evangelicals and fundamentalists of all ilks didn’t get the memo. 🙂

      • Mark Rutledge

        Christianities are very diverse today just as they were in the its early centuries. I speak from within a progressive tradition. I do not get into arguments with fundamentalists and waste my time. As my old grand-daddy said to me–never get into a pissing match with a skunk. As I posted earlier: theists take God too literally; atheists take theists too seriously.

  • carolyntclark

    Good piece, David. …..”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. ” Yep, the world behaves exactly as it would if there were no God.

  • I have never understood, even when I was a Christian, how anyone coukd read the Old testament and believe the idea that the Jewish or Christian god is good or loves us. He may have liked a few favorites here and there but for the most part he woukd smite this group or that group at will. And in the NT Jesus seemed like a good guy, but still not much could be said for god.

    • mason

      Jesus and OT God Jehovah are the same deity and both of them (remember the same guy deity) are nasty totalitarian https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6085278f8cd932b30abb0b598b5679d20de1af7eaecfe2f96d722481b37460c8.jpg genocidal bastards. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. -Jesus character, Matthew 10:34

    • Ray Harvey

      The world’s oldest “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine.

  • skl

    “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?”

    The “Big Evil Guy” is the one in charge,
    but he’s also the same as the Big Good Guy.

    He’s the god of extremes (e.g. heaven and hell). I think the bible makes this clear.

    • mason

      If there was anything but pure BS to all of the “God” stuff, I’d choose to be on the side of Lucifer, a much more moral, intellectual, and decent creature. I’m sure we could unite and overthrow Jehovah & Son, as any God that’s impotent against iron chariots is vulnerable from many possibilities https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/21463891ab0ec5a76c708cf53f0cf3aefc84b3f441bca4305e83238256564d24.jpg 🙂

      • ElizabetB.

        Bible trivia… I just learned that “Lucifer” as a name for Satan or the devil comes from Jerome’s Vulgate (Latin) translation of Isaiah 14:12, which speaks metaphorically of the king of Babylon as the morning star, prideful, but who will fall. For “morning star,” Jerome used the Latin word for Venus when seen in the morning — “Lucifer.” Gradually, various metaphorical references to “falling from heaven” that are scattered across the bible coalesced around an anti-god figure, and this Venus-in-the-morning name — “Lucifer” — became one of the names. Or — have others heard other sources of “Lucifer”?

        • ctcss

          Which just goes to show that people often get carried away with what they perceive as glitzy special effects and imagery and completely overlook anything deeper that might have been intended by the speaker or author. Which is also probably why Jesus, in his teachings, spoke in parables which were memorable, but took a bit more reflection to begin to start to grasp the deeper meaning of. That way, nothing is lost because the story still exists, it simply requires each person to approach the subject with deeper thinking when they are finally ready to go there.

          • ElizabetB.

            As Daniel Maguire puts it succinctly, “Miss the poetry and you miss the message” : )
            [169]

  • ctcss

    Believers have yet to show us where we can find reliable, verifiable
    data demonstrating that the speculations of ancient mythographers can be
    trusted.

    And once again David, you seem to be missing the point. This subject area is not about blindly believing scriptural passages, it is about being intrigued enough by ideas about God that a person decides to explore this area of thought that is not about the everyday.

    IOW, it is up to each individual to decide whether or not they wish to explore this topic in the effort to learn more, just as no one is forced to accept, in marriage, a companion that they do not wish to be joined with. Rather, the individual is allowed to decide of their own free will if they wish to embark on the journey of discovery with that other person which only yields up heretofore undiscovered information as one proceeds along the pathway.

    No one is forcing you or anyone else to join in.

    To each their own.

  • I’m an instrumentalist, not a rote empiricist. As such, I find realism as an umbrella theory of meaning to be helpful, but ultimately, limited.

    I don’t have to prove something before I can use it.

    We didn’t have to prove quantum wells before we began using them to make laser diodes to play crappy 90s music through bad CD players either.

    in fact, we had an entire stovepipe theory around how it worked.

    stovepipe perhaps, but useful enough at the time.

    so when you say reliable, verifiable data, what do you mean?

    allegorically, MLK Jr’s legacy “proved” Isaiah 53, especially by being shot.

    i can show you how to *use* the texts.

    but they aren’t a historical document. if they were they wouldn’t be very *useful*