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Toward a taxonomy of God

Last week I spent an evening pubbing with Samizdata reader ‘Spacer’ who writes for the Wall Street Journal now and again. As you can see, he was fully prepared for the Arctic conditions of the Upper West Side.

Photo: Copyright Dale Amon, all rights reserved

At the second pub we stumbled upon a group of his friends and next thing I was deep into a Cambridge style philosophical discussion on the existence of God. I am sure most readers know I am not the least bit religious in a fundamentalist way. I usually deflect the topic by declaring myself a “nonpracticing atheist”. This unusual label typically confuses the opposition sufficiently to allow me to make good my escape.

A correct explication of my beliefs requires far more explanation and odd looks than I typically care for when my pub intent is to be chillin’. In truth I am more agnostic than atheist. I do not believe I can prove one way or the other that there is a higher being. In and of itself that is not an unusual belief set. The difficulty comes when I attempt description of the God of whose existence I am unsure.

I do not believe in the supernatural God of scripture; nor in a God of the First Cause. No God created itself and the initial Universe, but the Universe may quite possibly have created a God or God’s, any one of which would be utterly indistinguishable from the all powerful God of earthly religions.

You may ask yourself, “What the hell is he talking about?”.

So I will tell you.

A Taxonomy of Physically Possible Gods

We can describe different levels of Godness:

  • An entity with a command of all which physical law allows but which exists in a localized region of space and time.
  • An entity which in addition is able to control space and time.
  • An entity which exists at the end of space and time and can operate on any point in that continuum.

There are a number of paths by which entities may reach a state which we would call God.

  • God of the Simulation. If, as David Deutsch suggests in some of his writings, there is one reality (a multiverse) and untold numbers of simulated realities, then the initiator of a simulation is an all powerful God, limited only by the rules and initial conditions it chooses to follow.
  • God of the Universal Mind. If Strong Nanotechnology really is possible, then any technological species will eventually gain the ability to build anything physical law allows. It will take control of its own shape, its own mind, its own destiny. Sentience may become a property of matter and the adage “God is Everywhere” become literally true.
  • God of the Singularity. If we gain control of space and time, it may be possible to create an entire space-time universe bubble to specification. The creators may or may not be able to ever again interact with their creation, but they have set the parameters which define its evolution. The creator of such a bubble is a Creator, but not the Self-Creator of religious texts.

There are a number of different origins for these entities. Some origins do not apply to some God-types:

  • The entity could be ‘ourselves’ from a future time, or from the ‘end’ of time if our space-time is closed.
  • The entity could be a progenitor from pre-existing space-time.
  • The entity could be an alien civilization that developed past some threshold before we did.
  • The entity could be some combination of any of the above, for instance, a mass mind existing at the end of time made up of all sentient species which passed the threshold for membership.

The type of Universe also may affect the possible types of God.

  • If there is a final big crunch, then the amounts of available energy per unit time and space increase exponentially as does the ability to compute. [This is from Deutsch].
  • In a Freeman Dyson open universe scenario, a civilization has exponentially less available energy per unit time and space, but adjusts by exponentially slowing down the speed of its own thoughts. It has forever to play with, so why rush?
  • Entities which come to a full understanding of Space-Time may simply end-run all of this and move their thoughts to a new bubble universe.

All or none of these or any combination may be true. They are as beyond our ability to test as is the existence of the Biblical God.

The only thing they are not beyond is our imagination.

27 comments to Toward a taxonomy of God

  • zmollusc

    Testing for God is easy and probably most people do it.
    1. Die.
    2. Listen for someone saying “Hey you, Jackass,! Why didn’t you go to church?”

  • Dale Amon

    Which applies to the religious type ‘God’ but not necessarily to any of the ‘God’s I discussed in the article.

  • mike

    Hmm… for some time now I’ve considered myself an atheist meaning that I do not believe in the existence of any God whatsoever – but not meaning that I deny or can claim to prove the non-existence of any God. It has occured to me before that it would be more appropriate to describe myself as an agnostic – yet surely the lack of a ‘positive’ belief (that G exists) does not entail a ‘negative’ belief (that G does not exist). After all I may not believe that my flatmate happens to have some brie in her fridge, but that does not entail the belief that she does not have brie in her fridge.

    So the contrast is between an atheist who explicitly denies the existence of God (i.e. claims a ‘negative’ belief), and an atheist who simply does not believe that there exists a God (i.e. lacks a ‘positive’ belief). I’m wondering about definition (dictionary.com does not resolve the issue) and whether I’d be more accurate describing myself as an agnostic, or – if I can really call myself an atheist – whether the term agnostic is not redundant?

  • Sean

    Pointless drivel deleted by Samizdata Admin.

  • Dale Amon

    You can lead an idjit to rhetoric but you can’t make him think.

  • Sean_something

    Get lost, loser.

  • Barnabus

    Hopefully it didn’t take more than a few drinks to realize that it doesn’t make a difference one way or the other!

  • I was there, and I think it was an elaborate attempt byDale to chat up the absolutely stunning ex fashion model that sat next to me.

    The best justification for the existance of God is that such beautiful female humans exist. She is of the Anglo persuasion and lives mostly in London. Lucky London

  • Dale,

    I enjoy the possibilities of God you discuss much more than those I have seen in practice.

    My thoughts on one of those:

    Religion of Peace?(Link)

  • Tim Haas


    I resolve your dilemma by calling myself a nontheist, meaning (shades of Howard Roark) I don’t consider the issue worth thinking about.

    No disrespect meant, of course, to your efforts, Dale.

  • Shawn

    ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but
    against principalities, against powers, against the
    rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual
    hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’

    Eph 6:12-17

    ‘God said that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. ‘

    C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    ‘God became a man, so that meb might learn to become God.’

    Early Christian Proverb

    There is nothing new under the sun.

  • Shawn

    Oops, meb should be men, obviously. Got to learn to use the preview.

  • If there is a god:
    1) Why are shallots so difficult to peel?
    2) How do you account for instant noodles, Polly Toynbee and the Spice Girls?

  • NotScott Adams

    If God’s so smart, why do we fart?

    (The Religion Wars, Scott Adams (of Dilbert Fame))

  • Rudolph

    Weasel, you are presumably adopting the judao-christian view that God is necessarily benign.

    A world in which Robbie Williams is allowed to exist is, to me, a priori evidence that were such an entity to exist, this presumption is just plain wrong.

  • veryretired

    But what about us mebs?

  • speedwell

    OK, Dale, I’m an atheist (in the conventional sense) and my intentions are friendly. Just wanted to share a couple thoughts.

    First thought: You call those things God, and I don’t. I think they’re natural, not supernatural (the quality of being supernatural is a necessary part of my definition of what a God might be).

    Second thought: I don’t have sufficient evidence to believe that any of your God postulates exist. Therefore I do not believe in them–I am an atheist with respect to them.

    Third thought: We may disagree, as is our privilege. Disagreeing over a drink is measurably better, though. 🙂

    What an interesting post, though. I post using my real e-mail (Mailblocks is a good thing) and I’d consider it a treat to discuss this issue with other serious questioners.

  • Rudolph, not necessarily benign, but at least rational.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    After years, years of contemplating this, I’ve come to two conclusions:

    (1) the religious impulse is largely motivated by the occasional feeling of looking around and saying “ain’t this cool!”
    (2) whatever explanation we try to make of it will inevitably be too small.

    With respect to (1), I just have to say “yes!” With respect to (2), I commend Steven Brams’ book on Superior Beings, which makes a fairly strong (IMO) argument for that point.

  • Dan DeLong

    Just in case the thread was getting too serious:

    Comment #1: I believe it was W. Shakespeare who said “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends” Dale appears to have noticed that some ends are more shapely than others.

    Comment #2: When I was a small child, they taught me that “cleanliness is next to Godliness” That’s why I became a vacuum cleaner salesman; for what could be closer to God than a clean vacuum?

  • Shawn

    “2) How do you account for instant noodles, Polly Toynbee and the Spice Girls?”

    Creation is in bondage to powers and principalities at war with God.

    Thats also my explanation for Michael Moore, the band Green Day, the acting “talents” of Michael York, the British taste for mushy peas, reality TV show Extreme House Makeover, and Hollywood liberal activists.

  • mike

    Dan DeLong: I too like to maintain the cleanliness of the end I uphold, though I don’t think I’ll be buying a vacuum cleaner from you..(!) By the way, how is the fare in the elephant house these days?

  • Joel Català

    A malign deity would have made a nonsensical world.

    But reality does make sense; that’s why mathematics work, and ethical behavior is rewarding.

  • Duncan

    Agnosticism seems sort of weak… if you really think in those terms, it could apply to anything and become ridiculous after a while i.e.

    “There is no proof unicorns exist, but I don’t feel qulaified to judge since I can’t prove they don’t… so I’ll just ride the fence and say, maybe so maybe not…”

  • Dale Amon

    It depends on which set of arguments you are discussing. My agnosticism is more of the form:

    There is nothing in physical law which prevents a Unicorn from evolving somewhere and sometime in the universe, or being created by us, or being created inside a reality simulation. I cannot know if this will or ever has been done or if the available level of physical knowledge is enough to decide whether it is indeed possible. Therefore I take no position.

    As I pointed out, I am not a Agnostic about the ‘classical’ God. That one I simply do not believe in.

  • You are lucid to a fault – more the latter.

    I guess us agnostics all have a favourite god not to believe in. Mine is remarkably like an Orangutang, but with green synthetic fur (which is why you dont see him – or her). He has a notice on his back which reads ‘banana flavour’ and eats himself from the toes upwards each morning in an act or perpetual, and quite pointless, reincarnation.

    Iprefer him (or her) to your gods that don’t exist.

  • Joel Català

    Remember G.K. Chesterton’s warning:

    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

    [From: ‘Better answers: The case for Judeo-Christian values’, by Dennis Prager]