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The God in the Machine

April 30, 2008

I read most of a decent book the other day (I say “most” because several subplots in the book were pretty banal). The primary reason I read this book is because of the concept. A group of scientists in Arizona are using the world’s largest supercollider particle accelerator to recreate the conditions present at the origin of the universe. However, when they activate the machine and bring it up to full speed, something happens that they don’t understand. Something their minds can’t comprehend appears on their computer screens, along with a message: “Greetings.”

Thus is the beginning of Blasphemy, a book by Douglas Preston. As I said, it’s not a great book, fairly predictable, and I found myself skipping ahead to see the conversations that the scientists have with the being they created. The being, as it turns out, is God, but it’s not a new God—it’s as if the scientists just open a forum for discussion with the one and only God.

This I find an interesting choice. Sure, my personal belief is that there’s only one God, but it’s difficult for me to comprehend the idea that God existed before the beginning of existence. So say, just for argument’s sake, that at one point in time (or a millionth of a millisecond before time started), there truly was nothing. My mind can’t wrap itself around that idea, but let’s just work from there. At the moment when the universe began, God also began. Say they went hand in hand—perhaps God is the energy that binds all things, and yet God is also somehow a conscious being.

Let’s just pretend that’s how it happened. So if you recreated the conditions of the big band and started a new universe inside a particle accelerator, what if you created a new God? What would that God do? What would that God say? How would it interact with the previous God?

Another disappointment about the book was that the conversations the scientists had with God weren’t all that interesting. That God had a specific agenda (I won’t spoil it here), and it basically went off on a long speech about it. The beginning of the conversation was pretty interesting, as God proved that it was, at least, omniscient (the God in the book isn’t omnipotent). That’s reasonable—if you found yourself communicating with a being who claimed it was God, you would want proof too.

There are hundreds of books—the Bible included—written about the idea of communicating directly with God. I’m wondering, though, what I would ask, given the opportunity to talk directly with God. I think my first instinct would be to ask directional questions: What should I do next? How should I live my life? Should I do A, or B?

But I suspect that there aren’t real answers for questions like that. If there were, we wouldn’t have free will, and everyone would always do the “right” thing. So I’d just be wasting God’s time with questions like that.

If this God is an omniscient one, I could theoretically ask what I will do. How long I will live. How many kids I will have. How many Popeyes drumsticks I’ll eat in my lifetime. The big questions. But I’m of the opinion that someone revealing the future to you gives you the opportunity to change that future—nothing’s written in stone.

I could ask an existential question, like what’s the color of laughter? But what would I gain from that?

You know, now that I think about it, I think if I were given the opportunity to speak directly with God, there would be some idle chit chat followed by an awkward silence. Maybe I’d try to make a joke, and God would laugh politely. I’d thank God for God’s time, and we’d go our separate ways. Immediately afterwards I’d think of a great question, like is there such thing as a soul mate, but it would be too late. I’d have to wait until I charged up the particle accelerator again.

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