Issues Magazine

An Open Letter to God

By Robert Thurman

Robert Thurman seeks the ultimate answers on evolution, entropy and other universal matters.

Dear God,

Countless people have been faithful servants to You for most of their life: praying, going to church and helping others. However, many are becoming increasingly disenchanted because things are not going well here on Earth. Terrorists, natural disasters, disease, as well as pain and suffering still take their daily toll, and no amount of aid or compassion on our behalf improves the situation. Some of us don’t understand why You are silent on these issues and have not offered Your help. So I’m writing in hope of learning more about You and specifically asking for Your assistance.

Are You dead?

Maybe You haven’t helped because You are dead. Nietzsche, a 19th-century German philosopher, famously claimed that You were dead. Nietzsche’s statement was metaphorical, not biological, but it raises some interesting points. According to many religions, You existed before anything else existed and are infinite and perfect. Therefore, You exist outside of space and time and prior to the formation of matter. In essence You have no physical entity, exist nowhere (yet everywhere), are ageless (and maybe have existed forever) and are not made of matter. You do not contain DNA or respire, reproduce, take in nutrients, form excreta, grow and so on. If that is true then You cannot die or be dead because You have never been alive and will never be alive.

Did You make us in Your image?

If You are perfect and are made of “something” (but not matter), then surely You could fashion everything in the universe from whatever that “something” is. Or, if You are made of “nothing”, then surely You could create everything in the same way. Instead, You made everything out of matter.

Using matter to create things is rather curious because matter changes due to entropy and creatures undergo evolution. Roughly speaking, entropy is a property of our universe in which things run down, such that uniformity will ultimately prevail. Stars will burn out; mountains will erode; energy will be evenly dispersed.

Matter is unstable and everything made of it constantly changes: electrons jump energy levels; neutrons transform into protons (or vice versa) and fly off during radioactive decay. Only at absolute zero (0°K or –273ºC) is matter stable. An atom of carbon in an elephant is no different to an atom of carbon found anywhere else, and when things decay or erode those atoms become part of something else. The atoms in my body perhaps once belonged to a meteorite or a dinosaur. If You are perfect and create perfect things, then why allow them to change?

Evolution changes creatures because DNA is a poor repository for genetic information. Recent projects like ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) show DNA to be a mess. It is sloppy, error-prone, parasitic and promiscuous. Gene sequences can mutate, cross over, translocate, invert, repeat, go missing, splice in various ways, hop from cell to cell and so on. The fossil record demonstrates how evolution changes species, and after many generations they can be quite different from their predecessors. The fossil record has gaps in it because many organisms do not fossilise well, weathering destroys fossils and scientists have only been seriously looking for and analysing fossils for a few hundred years. To dwell on the gaps in the fossil record is to miss the forest for the trees.

Richard Dawkins, an eminent biologist, estimates that our ancestors split away from the lineage that would become chimpanzees about seven million years ago. That means that the co-ancestors (concestors) of humans and chimpanzees were the same. So, if You made us in Your image, we are left with the notion that You must look like our ancient concestors and fashioned us in that shape and that now, through evolution, we do not look like You. Or, perhaps You created our contestors knowing full well they would eventually evolve into modern humans (and that our current shape is the same as Your image – even though humans will continue to evolve). Or, if we were created in Your image and have evolved and we still look like You, then You are also evolving. However, if You are perfect, then You would not change or evolve, but would remain the same for all of eternity.

At first glance many things appear to be perfect and we use the term loosely – the perfect rose, the perfect gazelle, the perfect amoeba. However, upon more thorough examination we might find that the “perfect” rose has lost some of its fragrance or that thrips are nibbling at the petals or that some of the petals are missing or discoloured. On a smaller scale we might discover viruses lurking inside the rose’s cells or that certain genes have mutated. To be perfect every atom and sub-atomic particle must be exactly where it is supposed to be. However, this is impossible because matter is constantly changing and is therefore not perfect. Because everything in the universe is made of matter, everything is imperfect.

If You created creatures that at some point evolved into humans, then when did that occur? We call ourselves Homo sapiens, wise man, and we are capable of abstract reasoning, language and introspection. It is doubtful that our concestors had these qualities at the moment in time when they broke away from the chimpanzee lineage all those years ago.

Evidence suggests that modern humans evolved only about 200,000 years ago from our six million-year-old contestor. This means that there was a continuum of change running across millions of years when our ancestors first broke away, but before they truly could be called humans. Where along that continuum were/are we meant to look like You? And why would You create such a complicated process to generate humans? Why not merely create humans in their final form and dispense with entropy and evolution?

Why did You wait so long to create humans?

You are omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and all-good, and from the precise moment that You came into existence You would know that You would create humans. There would be no period of time between creating the universe, deciding You needed humans and then creating us. If You have existed forever, then the human lineage should be infinitely old. It is not. You do not sleep or tire. You never run out of the raw materials to make things. Time is fundamental to the structure of the universe and even though You exist outside of time, when You created the universe You also created time.

Measured in human terms the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years. Life began on Earth about 4.4 billion years ago, and the human lineage arose a few million years ago. If humans are so important to You (such that You would create an entire universe for them), why did You wait billions of years between creating the universe and then creating life and finally creating humans? And why create all the other galaxies and stars and planets and dinosaurs and troglobites (animals living in caves without eyes – some use their eyeless sockets to store fat) that humans may never be affected by or know of?

Did You make everything especially for us?

Some people believe that You created the heavens and the earth and everything in it just for us. The physical constants in our universe are such that life can occur on our Earth. However, data from experiments such as COBE (cosmic background explorer) and WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) indicate that the universe is lumpy and has variations throughout in temperature, density, mass, gravity and perhaps the speed of light. Measurements of a (alpha), the fine-structure constant, indicate that it has increased nearly six parts in a million over the past 6–12 billion years. That increase may seem trivial, but You are God. You can fix the constants and make them remain fixed forever. If You created the universe for us, then one would expect the constants to be fixed specifically for us and not changing.

Some scientists believe that our universe is not special, but is one bubble (universe) in what’s been termed the multiverse. They further suggest that it is possible that other bubbles in the multiverse might have unique sets of attributes and physical constants and might be able to support life, albeit with different biology.

When compared with other galaxies and star systems within our own universe, our Milky Way and our solar system seem ordinary. If our galaxy and solar system are unique, then why will the Andromeda Galaxy collide with the Milky Way in a few billion years? Why will our sun burn out? Why will the Earth’s magnetic poles again reverse? Why does the Earth wobble and tilt? The Earth is not in the centre of the universe, our galaxy or even our solar system, as Copernicus noted.

The basic chemical ingredients for life are not confined to the Earth, but have been identified around distant stars using infrared and sub-millimetre spectroscopy. Given the right conditions and precursors, biological molecules can self-assemble. This is the basis for much of the work currently undertaken by molecular biologists, who routinely chop and change DNA and have created artificial chromosomes and amino acids. They predict that within a few years synthetic life forms will be created in the laboratory and that humans may become immortal. Why would You enable humans to have such God-like powers?

Did You create humans so we would pray to You?

Because You have unlimited powers, You already know who is going to pray: how often, how long, what they will say during their prayers and whether or not they are hedging their bets. Pascal’s Wager, devised by a 17th-century mathematician and philosopher, goes something like this: “If I say I believe in God and there is a God, I’m saved. If I say I believe in God and there is no God, I have lost nothing. Therefore, I should believe in God.” This, of course, is a cop-out and if someone is playing out Pascal’s Wager, You will know that their prayers are fake.

How can You be perfect if You created humans so that they would worship You? A perfect God is self-satisfying and needs no one to laud Him. Are You all-powerful but not all-good and therefore refuse to interfere in human activities and are content to allow us to endure the pain and suffering that You created? Why bunions and herpes, baldness and teratomas, wars and gang rapes? Why tsunamis and starvation, Earth-crossing asteroids and volcanic eruptions? These and all other afflictions should ring bells of wonder and bewilderment among Your followers. Why pray to a vengeful, selfish, lazy or disinterested God who may or may not answer someone’s prayers?

On the other hand, anyone who believes that You are merely letting things temporarily spin out of control (global warming, nuclear arms proliferation, terrorism and so on), and that at some point perhaps You might stir and sweep away crime and injustice, is merely playing out Pascal’s Wager.

Do we have free will?

Some people suggest that You made humans perfect and then allowed them to express free will, and that humans chose to be imperfect. If You are omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and all-good, then You already know what each of us is going to do every nanosecond. If everything that we do and think is known (is pre-determined by You), then we have no free will and our imperfections were created by You. We may think that we have free will, but we do not. Having free will means that we can choose one outcome or another, and that You either have no knowledge of it or no influence over our decision. However, if that is true, then You have limited powers and are not perfect. If that is the case then one can only wonder how limited Your powers are and how extensive Your imperfections are.

Why won’t You solve our problems or at least show us how to do so?

Millions of people die each year due to disease, war, starvation, lack of clean drinking water or from innumerable other causes. Many of us are diligently working to fix these and other concerns, but have made little progress. Perhaps You will guide us to discover the answers for ourselves. However, that also hasn’t yet happened, and during the time it takes one of my colleagues to read this open letter another 1000 or so mothers and fathers and children will have suffered and died needlessly.

This brings us to the topic of miracles. Perhaps in the very next second You will create a miracle and fix the problems that You created. Or perhaps You will not. Spinoza, a 17th-century philosopher, claimed that the belief in miracles does no credit to You, for what need has a God to intervene in events that He originates? Only a self-serving God would create starvation and then solve the problem by creating manna or some other form of relief.

We are working hard to solve our problems, and the scientific method is helping us do that. The scientific method works by making testable (falsifiable) hypotheses that can be tested reliably by observing, gathering, analysing and comparing data. The hypothesis “God exists” is untestable (unfalsifiable) because You exist outside of space and time and are made of nothing. We must either reject that statement or take it on faith.

Science takes nothing on faith. To deviate from the scientific method is to enter the realm of pseudoscience, in which anything can be promoted without reliable verification. Taking that path will ultimately destroy logical thought and lead us away from the truth and solutions to our problems.

Thank You for reading this open letter. If You are an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and all-good God, then please respond in a meaningful way that is easily interpreted and understandable, and show us the way to make things better. We are growing increasingly tired and frustrated and need immediate help.

Sincerely – but impatiently – Yours,
A concerned citizen of Earth