“… wearying God with petition”, Iris Murdoch, Bruno’s Dream.
In the pub, I find myself sitting next to God. We’re talking about the weather.
“I just love those puffy cloud formations you get at this time of year”, I said.
“Hmmm, yes. The huge variety of cloud types came as quite as surprise to me”, He replied. “Didn’t foresee much of fluid dynamics. Same with those spiral arms in galaxies. Still stumps me about how those come into being.”
“Blimey”, I said.
“I don’t think you mean that”, said God. “You know that’s short for ‘God blind me!’? I’m not going to do that.”
“Don’t you know the commandment ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’?’, He asked.
“Oh My G….”, I said.
“There you go again”, he said, and laughed. “Anyway, I didn’t create those rules.”
“No. The people created those rules to control each other. The funny part is all that bloody praying that they do.”
“Well, they start off with flattery. ‘Blessed art thou oh Lord Our God King Of The Universe blether blether blether.’ Like that would influence a being who was any of those things. And they go on to ask me to intercede in their lives in ways that are clearly impossible.”
“But you’re God”, I said. “You can do anything.”
“You don’t really believe that?”, asked God. “How could I intervene in the ways that people ask me to? A lady prays to me to protect her son from danger. How the hell am I supposed to do that? I’d have to change the laws of nature all over the place. The consequences of even a minor change would be catastrophic, even assuming it were possible. I mean, just take the danger from snakes. I didn’t make the snakes. I have no idea how they work. How am I supposed to change their behaviour?”
“So you’re saying that the snakes evolved in ways that you don’t understand?”
“Precisely. Evolution followed the laws of nature, which are simple, but there was so much going on that I just couldn’t follow it. That started almost immediately after I created the universe.”
“Let me get this straight. How the world works comes as a surprise to you, and you have no influence over what happens in it?”, I asked.
“That’s roughly true. I had an influence when I created this universe. You know, Maxwell’s equations, Schrödinger’s equation, that sort of stuff. Set off the Big Bang, and that was it. The rest is just a watching brief. Waiting to see what happens. Some of the other universes I have created have slightly different rules, and the results are so different from what’s here that there are no words that could express them, in English or any other language in this universe.
“So, imagine a game of chess. You can be me, so you get to set the rules. Two Grand Masters are playing a game. The mother of Grand Master A prays to you to let her son win. What are you going to do? The game is under way, and the only influence you have is the rules. You could march up to the board with a new set of rules that you’ve suddenly invented to favour A. And thereby destroy the meaning of the the game. It would be futile.”
“I think I understand. Does it follow that all forms of communication with you are futile?”
“No, not at all. For instance, I could ask if you want another beer, and you could say yes. And I could go over to the bar and get you one, without violating any laws of physics.”
“Oh, OK, I’m drinking Bombardier”, I said.
God, looking a bit disgruntled, shuffled off to the bar.