Damien Black

Old Nick's Letters

Welcome to Old Nick's Letters, a series of blogs and occasional videos compiled by the writer whenever he feels the constellations are propitious.

Are we just ants in the eye of the Creator?

My father died a decade ago today. So I’m sitting here, feeling very low, and wondering what it’s all about.

Cosmology tells us the universe which we inhabit is vast beyond reckoning – according to recent findings it would take us 700,000 years travelling through space at the top speeds we can currently attain just to reach the next planets outside our solar system capable of sustaining life. It is almost immeasurably old too – some 13.7 billion years according to one reckoning.

If there is a ‘god’ – a sentient creative entity responsible for the Big Bang and whatever chain of events caused that – what must ‘it’ (no adequate pronoun exists in human language) make of us? How many thousands or millions of life-sustaining planets like our own are scattered across its estimated 200 billion galaxies? For a hint at this number, bear in mind that astrobiologists reckon there are at least 50 billion other earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone.

If our planet were destroyed tomorrow, would God really care? More to the question, could He really care? If you are out walking and you accidentally kick over an ants’ nest, destroying the habitation they have so carefully constructed and crushing many of the nest in the process, are you as a homo sapien really capable of spending more than a few minutes (if that) regretting it? Can you empathise with the minuscule creatures you have just decimated?

I think it fair to say that among our 7 billion folk, only the most devout Buddhist (possibly one or two Jains) would spend any time grieving.

So to really be capable of caring about us, God would need to have the compassion of a devout Buddhist. All the evidence shows that He (or she or it or [unnameable]) doesn’t. Otherwise why make homo sapiens so incapable of using their free will benignly, as many of us apparently seem to be? Why allow to be created parasitic species that contribute nothing to the ecosystem and only thrive off the destruction of others? Why, indeed, cancer (which killed my father as it has done billions of others)?

God by His very nature cannot be compassionate in the way even a human being can. He is, to paraphrase Nietzsche, quite simply beyond Good and Evil. He creates life knowing it will ultimately destroy itself: hence the Hindu avatar Shiva the destroyer, who kills to create. Some die that others might live; the many suffer in order that the few may prosper.

Hard, cruel, unfair, fragile and finite: and therefore to all intents and purposes pointless. This is God. This is the eternal cycle of life and death. For all our desperate searching after evidence to the contrary, He is by any reckoning of science or nature neutral and dispassionate. When one of us dies, the Universe will not care. When all of us die, the Universe will not care.

Perhaps the horror writer HP Lovecraft had it down most accurately with his fictional creation Azathoth, the mindless demon sultan who sits in the midst of the universe he has created, incapable of caring for its hapless inhabitants.

My father left me ten years ago because he is a finite being. The universal father left us 13.7 billion years ago because he is an infinite one.