The Mover Out of Time

It does not take much to demonstrate the impossibility of many gods.  The bigger a god is, the more of the universe its devotees claim is within its sway, the more improbable its powers have to be to make what we do know about the universe compatible with its existence.  A river spirit or trickster that hides your socks when no one is looking has a small effect on reality, and can hide in the statistical noise that keeps our world de facto unpredictable.  A huge god, though, needs to be simultaneously of massive import, so that its influence permeates many facets and phenomena in the world, and utterly minuscule, so that it has an excuse for when it inevitably doesn’t show.  Thus, we get gods defined as controlling the weather, the course of wars, and whether anyone lives or dies, but whose influence is indistinguishable from the sum of the hundred and one worldly factors in and causes of all of these events; gods who can be expelled from their controlling niche by humans having the temerity to document and measure, as if God were mere quantum uncertainty; gods who use mortal movers as their proxies, merely shifting the problem one layer of agents upward with theological sleight of hand.

Christianity, between its native Abrahamic grandiosity and its wholesale lifting of neo-Platonic idealism, offers some of the largest gods.  Many versions of Christianity have gods so massive that they not only inflict weather events on people totally unrelated to whatever ostensibly displeased them, but they also, the soothsayers tell us, transcend time and space.  This god, even Jewish dreamers like to claim, exists outside of and independent of time, such that past, present, and future are all the same to it.  Events at any point in the universe’s progress are like the pages in a book this creature is reading, and flipping backward or forward is as easy for it as the analogy implies.  It created the universe and now sits outside it, a cosmic voyeur that may or may not ever interfere with unfolding events, depending on the version.

It will not surprise my readers, I am sure, to learn that this god is incoherent with both logic and the facts of our universe.

Time is a property of our universe, intimately entangled with the laws and particles that define space and movement.  Different locations and objects can experience time differently, such that a fast enough particle can literally experience fewer seconds than the stationary particle it is rushing to meet.  Atomic clocks, the most precise and accurate timekeeping devices in human history, arrive from spaceflights out of sync with their earthbound fellows.  The gravity of huge objects in space can influence both space and timein their vicinity.  All signs point toward the universe itself being about 15 billion years old, and to its start being, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of time.

It’s that last part in particular that creates problems for those who posit timeless creator beings.  A creator deity necessarily exists outside the universe it created, or else it becomes part of a logically impossible self-creation scheme.  Now that modern physics has demonstrated that time is a property of the universe and not an external phenomenon in which the universe participates, that means the deity is outside of time as well as space.  That means that absolutely nothing that requires time—making decisions, acting on decisions, interacting with the created universe in absolutely any conceivable way—is possible for it.  If the deity can interact with its created universe in any way, that means it is not timeless, and therefore it is not outside the universe, and therefore it cannot possibly be the creator of a universe that has the property of time.  The Prime Mover can be the mother of the universe or a participant in it, not both.

But the problem goes deeper than that.  The very act of creation requires both a decision—to create—and an act—creating.  Whether these are simultaneous or in sequence, they both entail the universe not existing and then existing as a response to the creator’s actions: a sequence in time.  When time itself is a property of the universe being created and, as far as science has been able to demonstrate, has a firm endpoint in the past before which it is incoherent to even speak of before and after, that is a problem.  A creator deity requires that time be a phenomenon external to the universe, a property of a primordial Void from which it precipitates our universe of rock, flame, and life.

The Pokémon creation trio of Palkia (who controls space), Giratina (who controls antimatter), and Dialga (who controls time).
But that is not our history.  We have no evidence of a primordial Void of the sort posited by Christian creation accounts and the cosmology of the Pokémon universe alike.  Time is as much a part of our universe as space and matter, and is something that a deity-based creation scheme has to explain, not assume.  The only creation stories that can elude this requirement are those that posit a creator that precipitated our universe (or whatever part thereof is assigned to it) from inside another pre-existing reality, such as the Haida story of Raven and the First Men.  By definition, however, these stories do not address the origin of the universe, and they more often claim only to address the arrival in the world of particular landmasses, terrain features, and/or tribes.  They evade the grandiose problems of the timeless gods by being too small to have them, not by solving them.

The believer has only two recourses at this stage.  They can propose and insist that their preferred timeless deity can do logically impossible things like be simultaneously timeless and a participant in time, but once one reaches that point, this becomes a VERY different conversation.  Or they can equate their deity’s act of creation with the Big Bang or another physics theory’s analogous event, abandoning their deity’s interventionist possibilities to preserve its existence and simply writing it into a scientific account that neither requires nor benefits from the addition.  This account reduces the deity to a cosmic judge, utterly incapable of doing even the worldly actions specifically assigned to it in holy texts.  But it lets the deity persist, hidden in the interstices much as it also hides within theistic evolution, as the master of cosmic dimensions of punishment and reward, keeping its creative and moralizing roles by sacrificing literally everything else.  This god is, to modern physics, invisible, not distinguishable in any conceivable way from non-personified natural forces.

The workings of time, then are one more among the litany of places where the Abrahamic god, pushed through the lens of ever-advancing physics and biology, becomes an impersonal force of nature rather than an entity, much as the impossibility of a separate “soul” or “life-force” did a generation earlier.

The atheist asks, what meaning is added when one calls this force a god at all?
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