In some possible world W’, to be distinguished from W, the actual world, there was a god, who was called God. His appearance was that of a pillar of fire and light, and his voice was an impressive baritone, which issued forth to four arbitrarily-chosen points on the surface of the earth that were equidistantly far away.
The citizens of W’ were accustomed to life with God. He bid them good morning at sunrise, and he bid them goodnight at sunset. They thought little of the pillar of fire and light, which flitted from place to place, attending to the business of the day. They made countless requests of God each day, and all of them he answered, though the answer was not always favourable. God made time for anyone who made time for him–there was friendship, there was laughter, and no one suffered for want of anything.
But the citizens of W’ began to wonder: Where had this world come from? Why was there anything at all? The rolling hills, the colours of the trees, the mountains and the sunset, the vivid impressions of the pillar of fire and light, the booming voice–it seemed mad to think that this was all “just here.” It was mad to think that it was even real… and yet it was: With every closing and opening of the eyes, with every sleep and every wake, it remained, and it ground onwards like some vast and complex machine. So it was decided, one day, that a crowd of brave and inquisitive citizens would put these questions to God, who seemed to know the answer to pretty much everything.
“Reality?” said God, somewhat taken aback. “Existence? The universe? That was me. I made it. I do apologize if that wasn’t clear. I just assumed.”
“But how can that be?” said the crowd.
“See for yourself,” said God, and he inspired a number among them to become scientists, and the scientists peered back into the origins of W’, discovering that it had come together through complex processes of biological and cosmological evolution (in fact it was quite similar to W), leading back to a moment when the whole of it was compressed to a point of infinite density, and at which point scientific scrutiny could take them no further.
“And that’s where I started it off,” said God. “Clever, isn’t it? It practically runs itself!”
There was a moment of silence. Those who had remained stared upwards, unmoving.
“Then what about you?” they asked. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”
“I’ve always been here,” said God. There was another silence, lasting much longer than the first silence.
“Can you believe this?” the people said, discussing amongst themselves. “First he tells us that he ‘started it off.’ Then he tells us that he’s just always been here! What are we to make of all that? We know the universe came from the Big Bang, but we don’t know where this fellow comes from.”
“Why do you doubt?” said God, knowing their thoughts. “I exist in and outside of time. I am perfect. I am all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present. I am simple. And I love every one of you. It makes more sense for me to exist, than for me not to exist. At least that much you must admit.”
But they began to grumble amongst themselves. For years they had wondered about the answers. Here they were, this pillar of fire looming above them, tongues of flame swirling about the pulsing light. This, the most salient feature of the world–this thing of vast intelligence and unlimited power–cried out for an explanation, and here it passed itself off as brute fact. It flaunted its ontological independence. It threatened absurdity. And so the crowd began to speculate that perhaps God was withholding the answers from them. Worse, perhaps he did not even know them himself.
“Hey!” said God, becoming perturbed. “When have I ever lied to you? What use has an all-powerful being for lies? If it’s assurance you’re looking for, I can give it to you.” And God filled them with a deep and pervading assurance that he was telling the truth. Then their suspicions were raised even further, for this seemed to be coercion, and a direct infringement upon their free will.
Then they fled, trembling and bewildered, for they were afraid.
Over the years, speculation arose among the philosophers of W’ as to the true nature of reality. Some said that it was all a dream, from which they would one day awaken. Some said that a higher being had created God to look after this particular universe, but had kept him in the dark about everything else (a fact he was too embarrassed to admit). Some said that God was an epiphenomenon, or an emergent property of the universe. Some said he was a freak and ongoing concatenation of profoundly unlikely quantum events and that he should not be taken seriously. Some said that he was a collective, instinctive hallucination that had evolved in human brains to place checks and balances on sex, violence, theft, and so on–but that it was amazing (and remarkably annoying) that this adaptation had survived to present day, since it was no longer necessary in modern civilization.
Disgusted by the spectacle, God left W’.
In the centuries that followed, children asked their parents the fundamental questions: What did it all mean? Where did the universe come from? Why was there something, rather than nothing? They were told, then, that it had all come from God, the all-powerful creator, who left the world long ago due to mankind’s insolence and doubt.
While some treated the story with skepticism, most found it to be a pretty satisfying explanation. And when they looked up into the night sky, they did not wonder about what it all meant, why it was there, or where it came from. They just wondered what it would be like to have God back.