The Three Laws of Imaginary Gods

This has been rattling around in my head for a while, so I thought I’d write it down. It’s the Three Laws of Imaginary Gods. I’ll put the laws below the fold, but what’s interesting about them is that all gods obey them. You can believe that one or more of these gods might be real, and you can imagine all sorts of perfectly logical reasons why they might want to obey the Three Laws voluntarily, but the fact remains that you will never see any of these gods disobey any of these laws. And that’s interesting, don’t you think?

The Three Laws of Imaginary Gods are as follows.

The First Law: Your god(s) can do anything you can imagine, in the stories, legends, rumors, and hearsay that believers share about Him/Her/It/Them, whether or not it is consistent with anything else you imagine concerning your god(s).

The Second Law: You can give your god(s) credit/responsibility for any real-world event or phenomenon, or not, however you see fit, whether or not it is consistent with anything else you say about your god(s).

The Third Law: Your god(s) cannot do anything in the real world that cannot be accomplished by imagination alone, apart from the efforts and assistance of real persons.

The fundamental nature of real things is that they are consistent with reality, which means first and foremost that they are consistent with themselves. Imaginary gods, however, are not real, and are thus under no obligation to be consistent with anything, not even with themselves. This is what gives rise to the First and Second Laws: they are under no constraints to be consistent with anything, and therefore you can imagine anything you like about them, and can give them credit for any real-world event you like, whether or not it’s consistent with anything else you believe about the character, motives, or methods of your god(s).

The one limitation of imaginary gods, of course, is that they are the product of human imagination, and thus their abilities are limited to what human imagination can produce. You can imagine a god so powerful he can move mountains with a single word, and in your imagination and in the stories you share about him, he really can move mountains. But in the real world, you cannot move mountains by imagination alone, and therefore your god’s mountain-moving power won’t work in the real world. In fact, your god couldn’t pick up a dollar bill lying on the sidewalk in the real world. He only exists in your imagination, and he can only act on things in your imagination. You can wait for something natural to happen to the mountain, and then use the Second Law to give your god credit for what happened, but until it does happen, your god has no power against it at all.

Or to use another example, you can imagine a god so wise and wonderful that he knows how to cure every form of cancer there is. In your imagination, he can possess all knowledge and wisdom, and know exactly how to fix everything that’s wrong with the world. But you cannot, by imagination alone, discover what any of those solutions really would be, and therefore your god cannot tell you how to cure cancer. You can imagine him having all kinds of interesting reasons why he does not want to share the secret of curing cancer (in obedience to the First Law), but he can never break the Third Law by revealing to you anything more than you can imagine. Or again, you can work and study and experiment until you figure out a workable answer, and then give your god credit, because that’s consistent with the Second Law. But he cannot break the Third Law, because he’s only an imaginary god, and he has no power or information that you did not give to him by your imagination.

So like I said, what’s interesting about these laws is that all gods obey them. No matter how real you think any god might be, he/she/it/they are always going to obey the Three Laws. You can attribute this to the inscrutability of divine wisdom, or to some wonderful, secret plan, or whatever you like, as permitted by the First Law. But the fact remains that all gods obey the same Three Laws, and we need to make our plans accordingly.


    • Deacon Duncan says

      That’s a true law, but the problem with saying “All gods are imaginary” is that people can simply deny that your law is correct, turning it into your word against theirs. By saying “these are the laws that apply to imaginary gods, and all gods obey these laws,” you turn it into an empirical question, because believers routinely make excuses for their gods to prevent them from being put to the test, and thereby bring them under the Three Laws. Any time they object that we’re not allowed to test their god(s), they’re agreeing that their god(s) necessarily obey the Three Laws.

  1. blf says

    I was trying to work out which law(s) precluded magic sky faerie(s) from provably “manifesting” her/his/their/itself, i.e., showing up as something that can be verifiably seen, touched, measured, et al. (that pesky thing called “evidence”), and realized I had trouble parsing the third law (which seems to be the most applicable to my “test”). Hence, a nitpick… I’m not too keen on the phrasing of the third law, as it involves a double-negative and is thus a bit difficult to parse. May I suggest a re-phrasing something like If you must assist your god(s) in doing something in the real world, then your god(s) did not do it. That would seem to preclude / explain the noticeable lack of evidence of existence?

  2. says

    I like the idea, but if we’re going for three laws, I’d like them to be shorter and more analogous to the three laws of robotics. How about:

    1. A god may not affect the real world, except through the actions of its followers.
    2. A god can do anything in stories about itself, including actions that conflict with the First Law.
    3. A god can take the credit for any real world event, even if doing so appears to conflict with the First or Second Laws.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Wow, that’s awesome, I like your formulation a lot better than mine. Can I steal that? I think I would phrase it a bit differently, but I do like the overall brevity and logical flow.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        Only, hmm, the more I think about it, your version of the Three Laws shifts the emphasis from “the powers inherent in imagination” to “the powers inherent in gods,” if I can put it in those terms. I think it’s important to retain the emphasis on imagination as the source and scope of divine power: gods can do anything we imagine, within the context and limitations of imagination. Thus the First Law (“gods can do anything you can imagine, within the realms of imagination”) and the Third Law (“gods cannot affect the real world in any way that exceeds what can be accomplished by imagination alone”). The Second Law then ties the First and Third together by describing how people can imagine connections between imaginary gods and real-world events.

        I’m going to think some more and see if I can come up with a phrasing that is as elegantly concise as yours, while still retaining the centrality of imagination as the defining characteristic of divine power. Suggestions and criticisms are most welcome!

      • thebookofdave says

        You can have the brevity and conciseness of Paul Durrant’s revision and emphasize a god’s limitation to a believer’s imagination, Deacon, but sometimes the solution requires inside the book thinking. Paul’s only failure is his stubborn refusal to part with active voice. Try substituting passive verbs in their place.

        2. A god can be described as doing anything…
        3. A god can be awarded credit…

  3. danielag1 says

    That 3rd law should be re=phrased for clarity but it’s a big one: No event’s explanation actually requires an imaginary god . Except for some imaginary events. Gods were primitive attempts to account for mysterious or unpredictable events. Rain was due to the whims of weather gods. Disease by demons.People feel that a story in which an event is caused by a conscious intelligence is an explanation.

  4. Peter B says

    Each of the Deacon’s Three Laws is part of his major thesis: god(s) do not show up in the real world because they are imaginary.

    (blf @2) As stated the double “cannot” in law 3 is a double negative. I would remove a few words stating law 3 as “Your god(s) cannot do anything in the real world, apart from the efforts and assistance of real persons.”

    With assistance of real persons law 2 applies.

  5. says

    I’ll give it a shot:

    First Law: Within stories, legends, and realms of the imagination, imaginary gods may do anything and have any properties, including things that conflict with laws of logic, physics, or any other laws.

    Second Law: Outside of stories, legends, and realms of the imagination, imaginary gods never affect the real world except via the agency of real persons or natural processes, nor communicate information unavailable to and unimaginable by real persons.

    Third Law: Real persons may give imaginary gods credit for anything occurring in the real world, even when such involvement would conflict with the Second Law.

    For whatever reason, every god worshipped anywhere in the world obeys these three laws of imaginary gods.

    • Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

      I’ll add:

      imaginary gods may do anything and have any properties, including things that conflict with laws of logic, physics, any other properties or any other laws.

      So if a god is invisible, it can also be seen. If it is super strong, then it can’t fight Iron Chariots, etc.


      Law 2.5: When the imaginary gods interact with real persons, there is never any corroborating evidence or reliable eyewitnesses to the event. Imaginary gods only interact with real persons via dreams, visions, (internal) voices or “feelings”.

  6. thebookofdave says

    My favorite response to apologists’ boasts of the powers and knowledge attributed to their god is to produce a bible (or ask for one of theirs), silently read a random verse, close it and set it down. My counterpart may pray for god to open the book to the page I just read, or pray for a revelation of the answer, but will instead probably offer a post hoc rationalization to explain how god’s inability to accomplish such a simple task is not a failure. I hope to try it out again, assisted by an amateur apologist, as a simple demonstration of your three laws of imaginary gods.

  7. Lesbian Catnip says

    Can I just say the commentator’s exercise in language and logic is highly amusing given the context of this blog post? 😛

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