The essay that follows is from a collection of writings I’ve been working on since the summer of 2021. The collection is entitled Schrodinger’s God and nearly all the essays deal with paradoxes, contradictions, inconsistencies, and just plain old absurdities with regard to concepts of God or gods that I have come across. Like the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment that was conceived to illustrate what Erwin Schrodinger felt was an untenable implication of the superposition principle, Schrodinger’s God is my attempt to illustrate untenable implications of certain claims, beliefs, tenets, and principles concerning god concepts, particularly omni-god concepts.
There is a scene in the 2015 movie Avengers: Age of Ultron in which Tony Stark in his Iron Man armor is chasing after Ultron after the fight on the ship that Ulysses Klaue was using to store his weapons and vibranium stock. Finally cornering Ultron against one of the ships, Ultron says, “Ah, the vibranium is getting away.” Stark responds, “And you’re not going anywhere!” To which Ultron quips, “Of course not. I’m already there. You’ll catch on.”
I particularly like that brief exchange because it illustrates, for me, that even in worlds with overt gods, people with incredible powers, and highly intelligent robots, humans – even supposedly really smart humans – tend to think very linearly and temporally. I am particularly impressed that the Avengers writers came up with that nugget because for the most part our understanding and depictions of how other entities must operate and behave tends to be informed by, and limited by, our own abilities within the world. As such, when we imagine other entities – elves, vulcans, cylons, terminators, predators, xenomorphs, androids, and yes, even gods – they tend to have an awful lot of similarities to us humans. In many cases, they look like us except for some minor physical distinguishing characteristic: ridges on their foreheads, a single eye, pointy ears, furry feet, a dog-like muzzle, slight height advantage, and so forth. Part of this, of course, is that in visual media such as television and movies, it’s easier and cheaper to have your “others” look human-ish because it’s a heck of lot more expensive using high-end technological special effects rather than human actors with rubber foreheads. But even back in ancient times before TV and movies, this was how most people thought of non-human heroes, enemies, and gods, right? Look at the depictions of Zeus, Athena, Anubis, Poseidon, Buddha, Vishnu, Izanagi, and so forth. All are very human in appearance and they all are depicted in writings as having rather human-esque physical and mental limitations. Sure, they are described as being able to do some pretty amazing things relative to humans, but they are all still relatable in terms of their actions, perspectives, and most of all, appearance. None of them come across as alien or incomprehensible in any sense. I submit, they are all reflections of a very human perspective and a desire for gods and creators that are, on most levels, relatable and comprehensible and above all, human-centric. Even depictions of the Christian God reflect this treatment. Check out the paintings by Jacob Herreyns, Fra Bartollomeo, Pietre De Grebber, and the somewhat more famous Michelangelo and his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
It makes sense that most folk throughout history would envision gods and other powerful beings in mostly familiar human forms. The fact is, most stories and depictions of such entities were created for the expressed purpose of a) telling stories about humans, and thus present the gods and other such entities as a human-focused supporting cast, b) providing people a sense of importance and, specifically, demonstrating that humans were closer in design and authority to gods than to the other animals and other aspects of creation, and c) to provide powerful and iconic, but relatable and comprehensible, fictionalized characters for humans to elevate heroic, tragic, dramatic, and magical stories above the mundane elements of human existence that would then better highlight morals, ideals, and lessons the authors wished to get across.
For the most part this is ok if your gods are simply super-humans with super abilities for specific jobs. I mean, if you’re going to present a story about the virtues of war culture and warriors, having a God of War who exhibits all the qualities of what was considered the finest combat prowess, who looks like a big human, and who is depicted curb stomping those considered your enemies, well that’s just a pretty good rallying idea. It’s very relatable and inspiring. Going for the abstract has a tendency cause your audience’s eyes to glaze over. If you’re trying to depict the concept of love and fertility among your followers, having something called “the Goddess of Love” depicted as a beautiful young human female makes sense. If the Goddess of Love were depicted to look like a squid or catbrier, people might be a little turned off. So yes, having your super-human entities look human makes sense.
But what about Ultimate Creator gods? What about monotheistic omni-gods? As noted, there are depictions of the Christian God as an old, white-haired, human king type person, but does this depiction make sense?
First, let’s tackle what I mean by “omni-god”. A little history is in order to appreciate the concept. That history starts with the recognition that the Earth can be a pretty scary place at times. Back in ancient times when humans huddled together in small nomadic bands and tribal groups and didn’t have much understanding about the properties and characteristics of things like wind, fire, water, electricity, storms, the sun, earthquakes, volcanoes, snow, seasons, and all manner of other phenomena, people in those groups tried their best to make sense of the phenomena and come up with explanations for them. Those people’s imaginations ran wild and they came up with all sorts of concepts: wind being the breath of ancestors or demons or the result of the flapping of wings of giant invisible bird-like creatures; earthquakes being the stomping of giant beasts or the sound of fights between giant humans; the sun being carried across the sky by a great human herald in a boat, and so forth. In other words, to make sense of these strange activities, the people tried to relate them to activities they did understand. In many cases, the activities these people most related to were human activities, so a lot of explanations for the unknown were associated with human actions. And since the explanations were associated with human actions, in many cases the beings they imagined as the actors in those explanations were imagined to be similar to humans in appearance and behavior. Over time, the human-like entities and spirits that were used to explain specific activities and events were expanded in scope into beings responsible for a wider range of activities. So, the gods and spirits of the fields or the rivers became gods of all flora and gods of all the waters. Later, these entities and their stories were reimagined and revamped again, with the god of all flora becoming the god of all life and the god of all waters becoming the god of all elements. And the more responsibility these gods and entities were given, the more powers they were given and more powerful in general they became. Of interest, as they gained more power and became more powerful, they were also depicted as larger in size and physical strength. Some of the names of the Hebrew gods of the Old Testament such Ail, Shaddai (the plural of Shad), and Elohim all include “mighty” and “powerful” as part of their meaning. Eventually folks started bundling the various god concepts or simply absorbing the characteristics of other cultures’ entities into few very powerful, multitasking entities. These depictions ultimately gave rise to the monotheistic omni-god concepts of Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Judaism.
So what do I mean by “omni-god”? Well, an omni-god is a god with omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. In other words, an omni-god is a god that is all powerful, is or can be everywhere at once, and knows or is aware of everything and anything that can be known.
Here’s the thing though: although adherents have a tendency to treat their omni-gods as pretty much superpowered specialized human-esque entities, the conditions and characteristics that would be inherent in the “omni” aspect of omni-gods would include or at least imply consequential parameters and boundaries in terms of the entities’ manifestations and their ability to relate to and interact with the world and the universe in general. And I submit that such entities not only would not look at all human, but could not even remotely resemble anything living we could relate to. An omni-entity that could create a universe – the universe we can see and experience to some limited extent – likely could not have a physical form at all and certainly could not exist, in any physical sense, within that universe It created. An entity that could create the universe we can experience would have to be completely beyond human comprehension. As a very weak analogy, it would like a person who creates a massive, football field sized HO scale railroad model and accompanying towns and other details trying to live in that model. That person just could not do so based on physical (and likely mental and emotional and all sorts of other) constraints. From a logical standpoint, an omni-god existing within its own creation is simply an inconsistency. More so, trying to imagine such an entity in a relatable physical form creates an inherent contradiction; a conceptually All Powerful, limitless entity cannot have physical form because, by definition, “physical form” is a definitive limit.
This, of course, is very specifically what I mean by the term “Schrodinger’s God”. Concepts of God or gods that include these types of inconsistencies and inherent contradictions are concepts I cannot accept as valid. The essays to follow go into more details on some of contradictions, paradoxes, and inconsistencies I’ve come across and why I find them untenable.