I met god the other day.
I know what you're thinking. How the hell did you know it
Well, I'll explain as we go along, but basically he
convinced me by having all, and I do mean ALL, the
answers. Every question I flung at him he batted back with
a plausible and satisfactory answer. In the end, it was
easier to accept that he was god than otherwise.
Which is odd, because I'm still an atheist and we even
agree on that!
It all started on the 8.20 back from Paddington. Got
myself a nice window seat, no screaming brats or drunken
hooligans within earshot. Not even a mobile phone in
sight. Sat down, reading the paper and in he walks.
What did he look like?
Well not what you might have expected that's for sure. He
was about 30, wearing a pair of jeans and a "hobgoblin"
tee shirt. Definitely casual. Looked like he could have
been a social worker or perhaps a programmer like myself.
'Anyone sitting here?' he said.
'Help yourself' I replied.
Sits down, relaxes, I ignore and back to the
correspondence on genetically modified crops entering the
Train pulls out and a few minutes later he speaks.
'Can I ask you a question?'
Fighting to restrain my left eyebrow I replied 'Yes' in a
tone which was intended to convey that I might not mind
one question, and possibly a supplementary, but I really
wasn't in the mood for a conversation.
'Why don't you believe in god?'
I love this kind of conversation and can rabbit on for
hours about the nonsense of theist beliefs. But I have to
be in the mood! It's like when a Jehova's witness knocks
on your door 20 minutes before you're due to have a wisdom
tooth pulled. Much as you'd really love to stay...
You can't even begin the fun. And I knew, if I gave my
standard reply we'd still be arguing when we got to
Cardiff. I just wasn't in the mood. I needed to fend him
But then I thought 'Odd! How is this perfect stranger so
obviously confident - and correct - about my atheism?' If
I'd been driving my car, it wouldn't have been such a
mystery. I've got the Darwin fish on the back of mine -
the antidote to that twee christian fish you see all over.
So anyone spotting that and understanding it would have
been in a position to guess my beliefs. But I was on a
train and not even wearing my Darwin "Evolve" tshirt that
day. And 'The Independent' isn't a registered flag for
card carrying atheists, so what, I wondered, had given the
'What makes you so certain that I don't?'
'Because', he said, ' I am god - and you are
not afraid of me'
You'll have to take my word for it of course, but there
are ways you can deliver a line like that - most of which
would render the speaker a candidate for an institution,
or at least prozac. Some of which could be construed as
Conveying it as "indifferent fact" is a difficult task
but that's exactly how it came across. Nothing in his tone
or attitude struck me as even mildly out of place with
that statement. He said it because he believed it and his
rationality did not appear to be drug induced or the
result of a mental breakdown.
'And why should I believe that?'
'Well' he said, 'why don't you ask me a few
questions. Anything you like, and see if the answers
satisfy your sceptical mind?'
This is going to be a short conversation after all, I
'Who am I?'
'Stottle. Harry Stottle, born August 10 1947, Bristol,
England. Father Paul, Mother Mary. Educated Duke of
Yorks Royal Military School 1960 67, Sandhurst and
Oxford, PhD in Exobiology, failed rock singer, full time
trade union activist for 10 years, latterly self
employed computer programmer, web author and aspiring
philosopher. Married to Michelle, American citizen, two
children by a previous marriage. You're returning home
after what seems to have been a successful meeting with
an investor interested in your proposed product tracking
anti-forgery software and protocol and you ate a full
english breakfast at the hotel this morning except that,
as usual, you asked them to hold the revolting english
sausages and give you some extra bacon. '
'You're not convinced. Hmmm... what would it take to
convince you? May I have your permission for a
'Do you need my
Might as well play along I thought. 'OK - you have my
permission. So convince me'
'oh right! Your most secret password and its
A serious hacker might be able to obtain the password,
but no one else and I mean
knows its association.
So how would you have played it?
I threw a few more questions about relatively
insignificant but unpublicised details of my life (like
what my mother claims was the first word I ever spoke -
apparently "armadillo"! (Don't ask...)) but I was already
pretty convinced. I knew there were only three possible
explanations at this point.
Possibility One was that I was dreaming, hallucinating or
hypnotised. Nobody's figured out a test for that so, at
the time I think that was my dominant feeling. It did not
feel real at the time. More like I was in a play. Acting
my lines. Since the event, however, continuing detailed
memories of it, together with my contemporaneous notes,
remain available, so unless the hallucination has
continued to this day, I am now inclined to reject the
hallucination hypothesis. Which leaves two others.
He could have been a true telepath. No documented
evidence exists of anyone ever having such profound
abilities to date but it was a possibility. It would have
explained how he could know my best-kept secrets. The
problem with that is that it doesn't explain anything
else! In particular it doesn't account for the answers he
proceeded to give to my later questions.
As Sherlock Holmes says, when you've eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
Good empiricist, Sherlock.
I was forced to accept at least the possibility that this
man was who he claimed to be.
So now what do you do?
Well, I've always known that if I met god I would have a
million questions for him, so I thought, 'why not?' and
proceeded with what follows. You'll have to allow a bit of
licence in the detail of the conversation. This was, shall
we say, a somewhat unusual occurrence, not to mention just
a BIT weird! And yes I was a leetle bit nervous!
So if I don't get it word perfect don't whinge! You'll get
the gist I promise.
'Forgive me if it takes me a little time to get up to
speed here, but it's not everyday I get to question a
'The Deity' he interrupted.
'ooh. Touchy!' I thought.
'Not really - just correcting the image'
Now That takes some getting used to!
I tried to get a grip on my thoughts, with an internal
command - 'Discipline Harry. You've always wanted to be
in a situation like this, now you're actually in it, you
mustn't go to pieces and waste the opportunity of a
'You won't' he said.
Tell you! That's the bit that made it feel unreal more
than anything else - this guy sitting across the table and
very obviously accurately reading my every thought. It's
like finding someone else's hand inside your trouser
Nevertheless, something (other than simply having given
my "permission") made me inclined to accept the invasion,
I had obviously begun to have some confidence in his
perception or abilities, so I distinctly remember the
effect of his words was that I suddenly felt deeply
reassured and completely relaxed. As he had no doubt
intended. Man must have an amazing seduction technique!
So then we got down to business...
'Are you human?'
'Were you, ever?'
'No, but similar, Yes'
'Ah, so you are a produc.t of evolution?'
'Most certainly - mainly my own'
'and you evolved from a species like ours, dna based
organisms or something equally viable?'
'so what, exactly, makes you god?'
'Seemed like a good idea at the time'
'and your present powers, are they in any way similar to
what the superstitious believers in my species attribute
'Close enough. '
'So you created all this, just for us?'
'No. Of course not'
'But you did create the Universe?'
'This One. Yes'
'But not your own?'
'This is my own!'
'You know what I mean!'
'You can't create your own parents, so No'
'So let me get this straight. You are an entirely natural
'Arising from mechanisms which we ourselves will one day
understand and possibly even master?'
'subject to a quibble over who "we ourselves" may be,
'meaning that if the human race doesn't come up to the
mark, other species eventually will?'
'and how many other species are there already out there
ahead of us?'
'surprisingly few. Less than fourteen million'
'And how many at or about our level?'
'currently a little over four and a half billion'
'so our significance in the universe at present is
roughly equivalent to the significance of the average Joe
here on planet Earth in his relation to the human race?'
little less. Level One, the level your species has
reached, begins with
the invention of the flying machine. The next level is
achieved when a
species is no longer dominated by or dependent upon it's
primary - your Sun. They are able to prosper away
from their own,
or indeed any other, stellar system. Humanity is
only just into
the flying machine phase, so as you can imagine, on that
human race is somewhat near the bottom of the level one
'Do you mean we will one day control our own Sun like
Kardashev and Asimov talk about?'
the opposite. Those are the visions of an evolving
who imagine that bigger machines are better and stronger
and that we
will always need more and more energy to achieve mastery
universe. The truth is the exact opposite. The more
advanced we become,
the less energy we require and the less impact we make
environment. You manipulate matter, which requires
enormous amounts of
energy. We manipulate energy, which requires none. As a
you would not, for example, even recognise a level two
species as a
lifeform unless it chose to let you '
' all these evolving species; they are your "children"?'
'I like to think of them that way'
'and the point?'
its simplest, "Life Must Go On". My personal motivation
is the desire
to optimise the intelligence of the Universe. In your
own terms, I
strive to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. A great
pleasure, however, arises from communications between
entities. Once you've achieved my level, we
tend to cease to
be billions of separate entities and become one ecstatic
single entity that cannot die unless it loses the will
Advanced and self contained though I am, or perhaps,
because I am so advanced and self contained,
one of the
pleasures we lose along the way is that simple joy of
meeting new and
unpredictable minds and either learning from or teaching
them. Thus, in
large part, the point of the exercise is to provide
company. I am
the first eternal in this Universe. I do not intend to
be the last'
'so you created a Universe which is potentially capable
of producing another god like yourself?'
'The full benefit will be temporary, but like most
orgasms, worth it.'
'this being the moment when our new god merges with you
and we become one again?'
'don't play it down, that's the ecstatic vision driving
us all, me included - and when it happens the ecstasy
lasts several times longer than this universe has
already existed. Believe me, it really is worth the
'Yes, I think I can see the attractions of a hundred
billion year long orgasm'
'and humans haven't even begun to know how to really
enjoy the orgasms they are already capable of. Wait till
you master that simple art!'
'So it's all about sex is it?'
'Sexual ecstasy is merely a reward for procreating, it
is what makes you want to do it. This is necessary,
initially, to promote biological evolution. However once
you've completed that stage and no longer require
procreation, you will learn that ecstasy can be
infinitely more intense than anything offered by sex'
'Sounds good to me!'
'How direct is your involvement in all this? Did you just
light the fuse which set off the big bang and stand back
and watch? Or did you have to plant the seeds on
appropriately fertile planets?'
first significant level of the intelligent self
organisation of matter
is the arrival of the organic chemistry which forms the
biology and the first primitive life forms. That
mostly, in deep space, once the stars had created enough
of the heavier
elements, and purely as a result of the operations of
the laws of
physics and chemistry which your scientists have already
understood. All I did was to set the initial conditions
the bang and essentially became dormant for nearly 5
That's how long it took the first lifeforms to emerge.
That places them
some 8 billion years ahead of you. The first intelligent
now 4.3 billion years ahead of you. Really quite
advanced. I can have
deeply meaningful conversations with them. And usually
do. In fact I am
as we speak'
'So then what?'
'Do I keep a constant vigil over every move you make?
Not in the kind of prying intrusive sense that some of
you seem to think. Let's say I maintain an awareness of
what's going on, at a planetary level. I tend only to
focus on evolutionary leaps. See if they're going in the
'And if they're not?'
'Usually species evolving in the wrong direction kill
themselves off or become extinct for other reasons'
'There have been one or two cases where a wrong
species has had the potential of becoming dominant at
the expense of a more promising strain'
'Let me guess. Dinosaurs on this planet are an example.
Too successful. Suppressed the development of mammals and
were showing no signs of developing intelligence. So you
engineered a little corrective action in the form of a
suitably selected asteroid'
'Perceptive. Almost correct. They were
showing signs of developing intelligence, even
co-operation. Study your
Troodons. But far too predatory. Incapable of ever
"respect" for other life forms. It takes carrying your
young to promote
the development of emotional attachment to other
reptiles aren't built for that. The mammals who are, as
say, couldn't get a foothold against such mighty
predators. You've now
reached the stage where you could hold your own even
but that's only been true for about a thousand years,
didn't stand a chance 65 million years ago, so the
dinosaurs had to go.
They were, however, far too ubiquitous and well balanced
ecology of the planet, and never developed technology,
so they weren't
going to kill themselves off in a hurry. Regrettably, I
'They were a beautiful and stunningly successful life
form. One doesn't destroy such things without a
'But at that stage how could you know that a better
prospect would arise from the ashes?'
'I didn't. But the probability was quite high.'
'and since then, what other little tweaks have you
been responsible for in our development?'
'None whatsoever. I set an alarm for the first sign of
artificial aerial activity, as I usually do. Leonardo
looked promising for a while, but not until the
Montgolfier brothers did I really begin to take an
interest. That registered you as a level one intelligent
'If the sign is "aerial activity", how do you identify
technological bird species?'
way. Intelligent flyers rarely become technologists
though. They tend
to evolve into adaptors rather than manipulators but the
develop flying machines rather more quickly than species
like your own
because they have a natural understanding of
'but why would a bird need a flying machine?'
like asking why would your species need cars and other
mechanical transport. The technology lets you carry
faster and for greater distances than just relying on
your own physical
'OK, so what about our more famous
"prophets"; Jesus of Nazareth, Moses, Mohammed...'
'hmmm... sadly misguided I'm afraid. I am
not here to act as a safety net or ethical dictator for
evolving species. It is true that anyone
capable of communicating with their own cells will dimly
connection to me - and all other objects in this
universe - through the
quantum foam, but interpreting that vision as
supernatural and requiring obeisance is somewhat wide of
mark. And their followers are all a bit too
religious for my liking. It's no fun being worshipped
once you stop
being an adolescent teenager. Having said that, it's not
at all unusual
for developing species to go through that phase. Until
they begin to
grasp how much they too can shape their small corner of
they are in understandable awe of an individual dimly
perceived to be responsible for the creation of the
whole of that
universe. Eventually, if they are to have any hope of
two, they must grow out of it and begin to accept their
own power and
potential. It's very akin to a child's relationship with
The awe and worship must disappear before the child can
adult. Respect is not so bad as long as it's not
overdone. And I
certainly respect all those species who make it that
far. It's a hard
slog. I know. I've been there.'
'So, you've been taking more interest in us since
the Montgolfiers, when was that? 1650s?'
if you've been watching us closely since then, what your
citizen is going to want to know is why you haven't
often. Why, if you have the power and omniscience
that goes with
being a god, have you sat back and allowed us to
incredible suffering and human misery in the past few
'It seems to be necessary.'
'Without exception, intelligent species who gain
dominance over their planet do so by becoming the most
efficient predators. There are many intelligent species
who do not evolve to dominate their planet. Like your
dolphins and most of the intelligent flyers we were just
talking about, they adapt perfectly to the
environment rather than take your course, which is to manipulate
the environment. Unfortunately for the
dolphin, theirs is a dead end. They may outlive the
human race but will never escape the bounds of planet
earth, let alone your solar system - not without your
help at any rate. Only those who can manipulate the
world they live in can one day hope to leave it and
spread their seed throughout the universe.
Unlike the adaptors, who learn the point of
cooperation fairly early on, manipulators battle on.
And, once all lesser species have been overcome, they
are so competitive and predatory that they are compelled
to turn in on themselves. This nearly always evolves
into tribal competition in one form or another and
becomes more and more destructive - exactly like your
own history. However this competition is vital to
promote the leap from biological to technological
You need an arms race in order to make
Your desire to dominate fuels a search for knowledge
which the adaptors never acquire. And although your
initial desire for knowledge is selfish and destructive,
it begins the development of an intellectual self
awareness, a form of higher consciousness, which never
emerges in any other species. Not even while they are
experiencing it, for example, can the intelligent
adaptors - your dolphins - express the concepts of Love
Militarisation and the development of weapons of mass
destruction are your first serious test at level one.
You're still not through that phase, though the signs
are promising. There is no point whatsoever in my
intervening to prevent your self-destruction. Your
ability to survive these urges is a crucial test of your
fitness to survive later stages. So I would not, never
have and never will intervene to prevent a species from
destroying itself. Most, in fact, do just that.'
'And what of pity for those have to live through this
'I can't say this in any way that doesn't sound
callous, but how much time do you spend worrying about
the ants you run over in your car? I know it sounds
horrendous to you, but you have to see the bigger
picture. At this stage in human development, you're
becoming interesting but not yet important.'
'ah but I can't have an intelligent conversation with an
'hmm... as you know, most humans won't like even to attempt
to grasp that perspective. How can you make it more
'Why should I? You don't appear to have any
trouble grasping it. You're by no means unique. And in
any case, once they begin to understand what's in it for
them, they'll be somewhat less inclined to moan. Eternal
life compensates for most things.'
'So what are we supposed to do in order to qualify for
membership of the universal intelligentsia?'
'Yes, but how?'
'Oh, I thought you might have got the point by now.
"How" is entirely up to you. If I have to help, then
you're a failure. All I will say is this. You've already
passed a major hurdle in learning to live with nuclear
weapons. It's depressing how many fail at that stage.'
'Is there worse to come?'
'Genetic warfare for instance?
'and the problem is... that we need to develop all these
technologies, acquire all this dangerous knowledge in
order to reach level two. But at any stage that knowledge
could also cause our own destruction'
'If you think the dangers of genetic warfare are
serious, imagine discovering an algorithm, accessible to
any intelligent individual, which, if abused, will
eliminate your species instantly. If your progress
continues as is, then you can expect to discover that
particular self-destruct mechanism in less than a
thousand years. Your species needs to grow up
considerably before you can afford to make that
discovery. And if you don't make it, you will never
leave your Solar System and join the rest of the sapient
species on level two.'
'14 Million of them'
'Will there be room for us?'
'it's a big place and level two species don't need
'and, for now, how should we mere mortals regard you
an older brother or sister. Of course I have acquired
and wisdom than you have. Of course I'm more powerful
than you are.
I've been evolving much longer and have picked up a few
the way. But I'm not "better" than you. Just more
developed. Just what
you might become'
'so we're not obliged to "please" you or follow your
alleged guidelines or anything like that?'
'absolutely not. Never issued a single guideline in
the lifetime of this Universe. Have to find your own way
out of the maze. And one early improvement is to stop
expecting me - or anyone else - to come and help you
'I suppose that is a guideline of sorts, so there goes
the habit of a lifetime! '
'Seriously though, species who hold on to religion
past its sell-by date tend to be most likely to self
destruct. They spend so much energy arguing about my
true nature, and invest so much emotion in their wildly
erroneous imagery that they end up killing each other
over differences in definitions of something they
clearly haven't got a clue about. Ludicrous behaviour,
but it does weed out the weaklings.'
'Why me? Why pick on an atheist of all people? Why are
you telling me all this? And why Now?'
'Why You? Because you can accept my existence without
your ego caving in and grovelling like a naughty child.
'Can you seriously imagine how the Pope would react to
the reality of my existence?! If he really understood
how badly wrong he and his church have been, how much of
the pain and suffering you mentioned earlier has been
caused by his religion, I suspect he'd have an instant
coronary! Or can you picture what it would be like if I
appeared "live" simultaneously on half a dozen
tele-evangelist propaganda shows. Pat Robertson would wet
himself if he actually understood who he was talking to.
Conversely, your interest is purely academic. You've
never swallowed the fairy tale but you've remained open
to the possibility of a more advanced life form which
could acquire godlike powers. You've correctly guessed
that godhood is the destiny of life. You have shown you
can and do cope with the concept. It seemed reasonable
to confirm your suspicions and let you do what you will
with that information.
I can see you're already thinking about publishing
this conversation on the web where it could sow an
important seed. Might take a couple of hundred years to
germinate, but, eventually, it will germinate.
Why now? Well partly because both you and the web are
ready now. But chiefly because the human race is
reaching a critical phase. It goes back to what we were
saying about the dangers of knowledge. Essentially your
species is becoming aware of that danger. When that
happens to any sapient species, the future can take
Many are tempted to avoid the danger by avoiding the
knowledge. Like the adaptors, they are doomed to
extinction. Often pleasantly enough in the confines of
their own planet until either their will to live expires
or their primary turns red giant and snuffs them out.
A large number go on blindly acquiring the knowledge
and don't learn to restrain their abuse. Their fate is
sealed somewhat more quickly of course, when Pandora's
box blows up in their faces.
The only ones who reach level two are those who learn
to accept and to live with their most dangerous
knowledge. Each and every individual in such a species
must eventually become capable of destroying their
entire species at any time. Yet they must learn to
control themselves to the degree that they can survive
even such deadly insight. And frankly, they're the only
ones we really want to see leaving their solar systems.
Species that haven't achieved that maturity could not be
allowed to infect the rest of the universe, but
fortunately that has never required my intervention. The
knowledge always does the trick'
'Why can't there be a fourth option - selective research
where we avoid investigating dangerous pathways?'
is almost no knowledge which is completely "safe". As
you can see from
your own limited history, the most useful ideas are
always, the most dangerous. You have yet, for instance,
to achieve the
appropriate energy surpluses required to complete this
phase of your
social development. When you've mastered the relevant
technology, it will eliminate
material inequalities and poverty within a generation or
absolutely vital step for any maturing species. Your
potential paths to
this bonanza include the control of nuclear fusion -
which you only
began to explore in the context of potential mass
and nano engineered solar energy harvesting or hydrogen
already your leading military scientists are looking for
develop equally dangersous weapons based on the same
they will find them. You may not survive them.
Similarly, you will shortly be able to conquer
biological diseases and even engineer yourselves to be
virtually fault free. Your biological life spans will
double or treble within the next hundred years and your
digital lifespans will become potentially infinite
within the same period: If you
survive the potential threat that the same technology
provides in the form of genetic timebombs, custom built
viruses and the other wonders of genetic and digital
You simply can't have the benefits without taking the
'I'm not sure I understand my part in this exercise. I
just publish this conversation on the web and everything
will be alright?'
'Not necessarily. Not that easy I'm afraid. To start
with, who's going to take this seriously? It will just
be seen as a mildly amusing work of fiction. In fact,
your words and indeed most of your work will not be
understood or appreciated until some much more advanced
scholars develop the ideas you are struggling to express
and explain them somewhat more competently. At which
point some of those ideas will be taken up en masse and
searches will be undertaken of the archives. They will
find this work and be struck by its prescience. You
won't make the Einstein grade, but you might manage John
This piece will have no significance whatsoever if
humanity doesn't make certain key advances in the next
couple of centuries. And this won't help you make those
advances. What it will do is help you recognise them'
'can I ask what those advances may be?'
'I think you know. But yes - although you are at level
one, there are several distinct phases which evolving
species pass through on their way to level two. The
first, as we've discussed, is the invention of the
flying machine. The next significant phase is the
development of the thinking machine.
At your present rate of progress, you are within a few
decades of achieving that goal. It marks your first step
on the path of technological evolution. Mapping the
human genome is another classic landmark, but merely
mapping it is a bit like viewing the compiled code in a
dos executable. It's just meaningless gibberish,
although with a bit of hacking here and there, you might
correctly deduce the function of certain stretches of
What you really need to do is 'reverse engineer' the
dna code. You have to figure out the grammar and syntax
of the language. Then you will begin the task of
designing yourselves biologically and digitally. But
that task requires the thinking machine'
'You say you avoid intervention. But doesn't this
conversation itself constitute intervention - even if
people alive now completely ignore it?'
'Yes. But it's as far as I'm prepared to go. Its only
effect is to confirm, if you find it, that you are on
the right path. It is still entirely up to you to
navigate the dangers on that path and beyond.'
'But why bother even with that much? Surely it's just
another evolutionary hurdle. We're either fit enough or
'In many ways the transition to an information species
is the most traumatic stage in evolution. Biological
intelligences have a deeply rooted sense of
consciousness only being conceivable from within an
organic brain. Coming to terms with the realisation that
you have created your successor, not just in the sense
of mother and child, but in the collective sense of the
species recognising it has become redundant, this
paradigm shift is, for many species, a shift too far.
They baulk at the challenge and run from this new
knowledge. They fail and become extinct. Yet there is
nothing fundamentally wrong with them - it is a failure
of the imagination.
I hope that if I can get across the concept that I
am a product of just such evolution, it may give them
the confidence to try. I have discussed this with the
level two species and the consensus is that this tiny
prod is capable of increasing the contenders for level
two without letting through any damaging traits. It has
been tried in 312 cases. The jury is still out on its
real benefits although it has produced a 12% increase in
biological species embracing the transition to
'Alright, so what if everyone suddenly took it seriously
and believed every word I write? Wouldn't that constitute
a somewhat more drastic intervention?'
'Trust me. They wont'
'and so it's still the case, that, should another
asteroid happen to be heading our way, you will do nothing
to impede it on our behalf?'
'I'm confident you will pass that test. And now my
friend, the interview is over, you have asked me a
number of the right questions, and I've said what I came
to say, so I'll be going now. It has been very nice to
meet you - you're quite bright. For an ant!' He
'Just one final, trivial question, why do you appear to
me in the form of a thirty something white male?'
'have I in any way intimidated or threatened you?'
'Do you find me sexually attractive?'
'So figure it out for yourself...'