A God-substitute is any fictional person, group, invention, or other device of modern mythology (including science fiction) that has powers beyond the normal knowledge and experience of mankind by several orders of magnitude. If such a person or thing existed, humanity would regard him, her, or it as God-like. Usually a God-substitute is a force for good, which in turn might mean either:
- Keeping world peace,
- Enforcing human law, or
- Simple wish fulfillment.
Perhaps the oldest God-substitute in the mythology of the post-classical world is Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in the third century AD. This person did exist, and in fact took part in the Council of Nicaea. But the widespread conception of him as an immortal master toymaker with a delivery system that any merchant would envy, does not do justice to that man's memory, and would probably mortify him with embarrassment.
The God-substitute is a frequent device of science fiction. Its usual form is of either an extraterrestrial immigrant having God-like powers, or a human being who is either born with such powers or gains them as a result of a failed life-sciences experiment, typically one seeking a possible military application. The God-substitute might also be an invention, usually a weapons system, sometimes a work of man but more often extraterrestrial, that grants its possessor with such powers or simply makes the possessor someone to be feared.
A God-substitute might also be a subject of speculation in conventional scientific circles, specifically as an undefined force, or an extraterrestrial nation-state, that might have performed the act of Creation in the place of the God of the Bible. The chief fuel for such speculation is the growing realization that the universe must have had a beginning, and that beginning must have set aside all the physical laws under which the universe operates today.