Some thoughts on a deist god and the universe he createsThe notion that God does not exist because he is not visible in the universe is ridiculous. God is not bound to be immanent. Indeed, many Christians have believed, and still believe, that God is wholly transcendent. Gnostics in particular tended to believe that God could not personally create the world because he is not immanent, and needed a demiurge to do the actual work. Some believed that Satan was the creator of the world (and has dominion over it). This is clearly the belief behind the temptation of Christ, where he is offered dominion over the Earth and rejects it because he will not surrender a greater spiritual award.
Some believe that Jesus is God Immanent, that he mediates between us and God precisely because becoming incarnate allowed God to exist in a way he did not as a transcendent God. Of course, when I went to Sunday school, we were taught that God was everywhere, because a hazy panentheism is quite standard for Anglicans and nonconformists both.
My understanding, although I'm sketchy on Muslim theology, is that Islam believes Allah to be transcendent, not capable of immanence, although he encompasses all things, and has had a longstanding philosophical problem with explaining how the world came into being.
I find the idea of immanence difficult anyway, because I think it leads inexorably to panentheism, because if God is anywhere, he has to be everywhere (Muslims are surely correct that Allah cannot be encompassed, because this would imply he has limits, which he does not). This leads in turn to difficulties in believing that God has any meaning. If he is everything, then he is nothing because he is not separable. He can have a will, and he can direct what he chooses, of course, but he is always and everywhere
I am content though that God can exist if he is transcendent. I'm yet to be convinced by the arguments, no matter how strident, and man, they can be strident, that are set forward against his existence (particularly those of Richard Carrier, who argues from a multiverse without ever seeming to allow that a multiverse is not a physical reality but an interpretation of mathematics, a human invention), although I'd agree that the theist Christian God is impossible and entirely indefensible on various grounds. In this post, I am discussing a deist God.
How do I think it is possible?
An idea some have of the form of the universe is that it is a three-dimensional projection of a two-dimensional reality. In fact, it is a four-dimensional projection because of course it changes over time. However, time as we understand it is an artefact of perception--nothing says that the projection changes at the rate apparent to us, quite the opposite; time is a dimension of spacetime, not something spaces moves through. It should be true to say that the 2D image that is projected is projected into four dimensions, one of which we interpret as a change in the other three. I couldn't say what this means spacetime is "really" like because we can only conceive of it in terms of what we can perceive. We look at it through the tools available to us: directly, our senses; indirectly, mathematics.
In this conception of the universe, it should be apparent that things that are far apart in the projection need not be in the projected reality. However hard it is to imagine what spacetime is "really" like in the projection, it's infinitely harder to imagine what the projected reality is like. Perhaps it is something simply impossible for us to conceive.
But I do think a 2D universe makes a lot of sense if God is to be transcendent. It seems clear to me that to a deity that is outside space and time, the universe must exist as a block--in fact, I don't think a 4D universe makes sense unless it is conceivable as a block. By this I mean all events, past, present and future coexist. Perhaps in the 2D reality, everything is inscribed?
The projection of a 4D reality from two dimensions does not require a projector, of course. We are not suggesting here that anything illuminates it. It is holographic in a sense, not necessarily in the same way a 3D holograph is.
But isn't it conceptually attractive that God should have created a 2D reality that projects into four dimensions? It makes transcendence readily understandable. I think that it becomes clear that in this case, God creates every event at once, as it has always seemed to me that a transcendent God must. (Surely this anyway is the notion that Muslims have, that everything is willed by Allah, and cannot be resisted?) It clearly makes a lot of sense to believe this for a transcendent deity, and it makes close to none to believe in a deity that is at once transcendent and interventionist.
Of course, one must suppose it is senseless to pray to this god. From his point of view, the events you are praying for him to make happen have "already" happened. They are already written in accordance in his will, because from his point of view, there is no difference between what will come and what has been. It is not that he could not alter events if he chose. It is simply that it is meaningless to ask him to. I think that it is hard for Christians to understand that this is an outcome of being transcendent. They want God to be hobbled by time. But whereas we must perceive time as a flow, our universe as a stream of 3D states that move from one to the other, he surely does not. He sees the universe as it really is (whether it is 4D really or 2D really). They believe their god comprehends the universe. He did not create something without knowing what he had made. That belief notwithstanding, it's perfectly reasonable that he might have programmed something whose outcome he did not know: he is not any less a god if he surprises himself, as some believe he does. As an aside, doesn't this god fit quite well with those in the East who believe that God dances the universe into being: couldn't the 2D reality simply be the impression of his being on a canvas, moving in a way we cannot understand or imagine? Perhaps that god is uninterested that there will be beings who will interpret the patterns his feet make in the dust in one way or another, but simply enjoys dancing, whatever "enjoy" means for a being on that scale?
This god, I think, is the deist god. My understanding of deists is that they believe in a god that created the universe and set it in motion, but is not part of it, and does not interfere in it. He is apparent in his creation, but cannot be approached. It should go without saying that the god I am discussing cannot be approached because approaching involves not being near, then being near. From his point of view, the nearness and farness occur together, there is no transition between them.
You could worship this god if you chose to, but it wouldn't make any difference. It seems to me to make sense to be thankful, if you feel thankful (and understanding that in any case, he made your thankfulness just as he did everything else) but not much use singing hymns at him, except that it's enjoyable to gather and sing.
Can this god love you? The problem I have with ascribing anything like our emotions to him is that we are cosmically tiny. We believed, in our infancy, that humans were central to the universe because we are humans, and we did not know how insignificant a thing that is. Once you know that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, there really isn't much way to defend the notion that we are special creations (although you can take comfort, if you like, that we believe all parts of the universe to be equally its centre, and I suppose there is no reason God could not have created special beings and put them anywhere he chose).
Does it make sense to say he has a plan for you? Yes, it does. If we distinguish a god who controlled the process of creation from one who simply danced, then yes, he may have a plan (plan is of course not the right word, because it implies a notion of change, motion from the time of planning to the time planned, that is not appropriate; however, it's readily understandable what we mean by it here). But how could you begin to comprehend it? How can the "plan" of a deity who has created a 2D universe that you perceive in four dimensions be comprehensible to you when you are yourself part of the projection, entirely unable to perceive "reality"? When you tell me what you plan, I understand what you are planning because I might make a plan like yours, or at least, it is the product of a mind like mine. I cannot understand what a being that made a 2D universe wanted. It's hard to believe that he has any notion of process, of motion, of achievement, of anything bound, anything limited.
What I am saying is that here we have been thinking about what and to a lesser extent how. Why is entirely unapproachable? You can no more approach that than you can know what it's like to be a bat.
Does this God exist? Here's the thing. He's entirely outside the universe. It looks the same whether he does it doesn't. (I mean, on one level that's the case; on another, he necessarily exists because there can be no universe without he created because he created it, but that's immaterial--the universe looks the same in case he does and in case he doesn't exist.) If I haven't lost you in a maze of bad philosophy, it should be apparent that it doesn't matter. Believe he exists, nothing changes. You are almost at Chinese odds of being right because we have two identical states from our point of view and you could equally choose either with nothing affected.
You might ask, why would I believe in a pointless god? And I'd answer, simply, why wouldn't you?