God and Math (a short story)

Note: Ideally, for context, the short story Immortality should be read before this one, although it is not absolutely necessary.

Editor’s note: This paper was written by Philip Berg when he was only 10 years old, demonstrating his appetite for math at an early age. This is an exact replica of the paper from his archives, as certified by Ann S. Teaseya.

In this paper, I want to walk you through a mathematical look at the concept of God. The purpose of this is NOT to prove or disprove the existence of God, but rather just to exercise our thinking.

Let’s start with the number of atoms in the visible universe, estimated to be 10^80, which is 10 to the 80th power, which is a 1 followed by 80 zeros:


Now as we understand God, he would have to be aware of each of those atoms. Not only that, he would have to be aware of them at every moment of time and to remember them for all time. So, given that our best understanding of quantum theory is that the concept of space and time break down when you try to go smaller than 10 to the minus 43 seconds, and if that applies to God, then for him to remember one second of the visible universe would mean that God would have to remember the state of each of the 10^80 atoms for 10^43 Planck units of time, which would be 100 followed by 80 + 43 = 123 zeroes. I’m not going to write those out, but welcome you to give it a shot.

Just to add a little perspective, a computer the size of Earth working continuously for the age of the Earth (about 4 billion years) would process a number of bits equal to about 10 followed by 93 zeroes. Any number larger than this is known as a transcomputational number. So, any mathematical concept of God has to involve transcomputational numbers.

To go further, God would not only need to know the states of atoms for all periods of time, but would also need to know their positions relative to each other. This would mean that God would need to know 10^80 times 10^79 times 10^78 times 10^77 times 10^76 … times 10 (the factorial of 10^80). That would be 10 followed 80 + 79 + 78 + 77 + 76 + 75 + … +1 zeroes. And, of course to remember one second of those states and positions, you would add another 43 zeroes to that.

Now, for some perspective. Although computer speeds are a bit hard to measure (the speed is not exactly the same as the processor GHz rating), the typical home computer is doing good to make 10,000,000,000 calculations per second, while the sub-conscious part of the human brain can receive no more than about 11,000,000 bits per second, and the conscious part of the brain can process no more than 16 to 50 bits per second.

Excuse me. I need to answer the door.
That was the delivery of my Girl Scout cookies, and I’m now having lemonade and Thin Mints. The only thing better in the world is a Royal Crown cola and a Moon Pie.

Where were we? Ah, yes … You may be thinking now that I have shown the concept of God to not be meaningful, because such a being is so improbable as to be impossible, especially when you consider that most cosmologists and astrophysicists believe our universe is infinite, and not just limited to 10^80 atoms.

Actually, all I have shown is that an omniscient god is so far beyond our comprehension as to truly be called “WHOLLY OTHER,” which is why the few prophets and saints who claim to have briefly encountered God said they were terrified: their brains briefly knew there was something so far beyond their understanding that it was terrifying to think of it.

What I personally get out of this is that, if there is a god, we cannot really know him through our own initiative and ends: God is way too far beyond our minds for us to initiate such an encounter, so that an encounter with god, if possible, must be through “his revelation.” Hence, a religion based on revelation does make sense, at least as I understand things.

But, then what do I know? What do any of us know about infinity or being outside/beyond time? Probably less than we think. Yet, if we are fortunate, if we are open to awe and mystery, there are times when we actually feel the infinite, as Blake expressed so eloquently:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
(‘Auguries of Innocence’, Penguin Book of English Verse, p. 243)