By Vexen Crabtree 2002
A Scientific Rationale for Belief in God
Revised: February, 2002
I present here a concise rationale for the existence of God. The work of Ray Kurzweil and other artificial intelligence researchers is critical to my thesis. An entity (computers or humans, it not mattering which) will eventually become all-knowing. How much time passes before what is likely to be a rapid convergence to all-knowing is not important. All-knowing is all-powerful, including time travel. The methods by which knowledge grows require "seed" facts to begin working. The seed facts can easily be, and are likely to be, the sum of all human knowledge. This suggests that the entity will also be all-loving of His "ancestors"--God, coming at the end, but traveling to the beginning. Implications of human self-esteem are seen to imply a minimally intrusive God. The typical objections to the existence of God are countered with plausible alternative interpretations within the model.
"An honest man's the noblest work of God."--Alexander Pope
ArgumentsI argue that:
You can skip to my arguments here:
One of the footnotes contained a proof from Descartes; I have also written some notes on this!
Scientists are predisposed to be atheists because one of the most fundamental methodological precepts of science is that "consistency with data" is required for acceptance of theory. Most atheists would argue that looking around the world, one does not see a lot of evidence of the existence of the posited All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and All-Loving God.
Moreover, in contrast to typical non-scientists, scientists also know that no theory is ever "proven." All theories are "tentatively held," pending the development of better theory (e.g. Quantum mechanics replacing Newtonian mechanics, chemistry replacing alchemy, neuropsychiatry increasingly replacing psychotherapy, etc.). At any point in this on-going process, we never know we are right. And, scientists have always been correct in observing that we did not really know very much at any point in this historical process, compared to what we will know, with on-going scientific advance, in the future. From a scientist's perspective (indeed their very methodology) all of our tentatively held hypotheses about how the world works, are just that--tentatively held, until something better comes along.
I find this to be a pleasing and accurate summary of scientific fact.
I present here what I think is a plausible model that predicts the existence of God, bringing together threads from diverse sources. As far as I know, nothing like this has yet been presented in quite this way. I think there has been movement in the direction of the hypothesis I am proposing, and of course all scientists build on the work of everyone who has gone before. I do not "know" any of this for the usual scientific reasons; this hypothesis (hereafter "the thesis") is like all hypotheses, only tentatively held, but I find it convincing.(1) Moreover, the thesis seems convincing, as a tentatively acceptable hypothesis, in a way that I think may appeal to many scientists.
I will first explain the thesis, with some basic implications, in Section II. In Section III, I will take up some of the objections to the existence of God that have been advanced. These are seen, in the context of the thesis, to be readily countered. Section IV provides a closing summary.
II. The Thesis
The thesis starts with the work of Ray Kurzweil, the much lauded (nine honorary Ph.D.s in addition to his earned credentials) artificial intelligence guru at M.I.T. The full implications of his The Age of Spiritual Machines (1998) are critical to the model. Professor Kurzweil recognized that the evolution of computers has powerful, not widely known, implications. He believes that a computer will exist, perhaps within two or three decades, that will have all of the capacity of the human brain, plus, of course, on-going advances in the calculating abilities computers already employed to defeat, for example, the world's best chess player.(2) In perhaps another ten years beyond that, he argues that a single machine will have the capacity of the combined mental power of the entire human race. None of the timing issues are the least bit critical to the thesis presented here--it does not matter to the thesis when these events occur, as long as they do eventually.
|Kurzweil's beliefs flow from the logical extension of work already underway. He argues convincingly that computers will learn to truly "think," employing a variety of methods. Computers will employ recursive search methods (computers are great number crunchers), utilize self-organizing neural nets (analogs to how the brain functions, particularly in pattern recognition), and sort through evolutionary algorithms (taking a large range of trial "strategies" and simulating the impact of on some goal, dropping algorithms that do poorly and adding potential competitors).||I believe we'll get to this stage too.|
But, even a wonderful automobile does not (yet) drive itself. Kurzweil saw that the computer would need to be "seeded" with knowledge. A thinking machine would need to have data from which to draw inferences and make testable predictions. There is no reason that the intelligent entities of the future cannot have all of mankind's cumulated knowledge as input to be understood at lightning speed.
Since the machines will be seeded with mankind's knowledge, Kurzweil inferred that they must be of necessity "spiritual" machines, with the same sorts of feelings expressed by mankind in all its diverse settings. Kurzweil also realized that it does not matter whether this vast computing power resides in a human with marvelous appendages or in a computer. He also saw that whether the evolutionary future is to remain a carbon-based life form or become silicon-based (this may ultimately be a matter of choice) is immaterial. The Kurzweil capstone is that with such capacities, scientific advances will begin to occur at vastly accelerating paces. The Age of Spiritual Machines is a tour du force in Big Thinking.
Generally, continued scientific advance has required increasing specialization because "knowing all about" many different subject areas gets increasingly impossible as complexity grows in the many specialty areas. This specialization, made necessary by the limitations of the human brain, makes "big picture" understanding more difficult to achieve.(3) The present paper is essentially an effort to take the insights of Kurzweil and other artificial intelligence experts to their logical big picture completion.
Whether as appendages to humans or via computer absorption of all of human knowledge as stand alone computers, scientific advance will begin to occur at dizzyingly rapid rates, though how fast this happens isn't really critical to the thesis--thirty years or a thousand will not matter. However, it is likely that the exponential nature of growth in knowledge will result in going from "seeming" to know quite little of the workings of the world and universe to knowing vastly more virtually all at once. This is particularly the case since the exponential growth rate of knowledge is itself increasing.
Eventually, our computer (or we) will become "All-Knowing," possibly quite suddenly. God, under the thesis, is equivalent to the first All-Knowing entity; continued scientific advance should render His ultimate appearance inescapable. This is where the thesis accelerates. If some entity is All Knowing, that means that it will be All-Powerful, at least insofar as knowledge leads to power (e.g. progression from use of first wood, then water, then coal, then oil, then nuclear fission in the production of energy, despite our primitive knowledge base at each stage).(4) But, surely understanding the fourth dimension and anything else necessary for time travel would be a trivial skill for such an entity.
There are some reasons why a being can never know everything.
The time required for such a computer to run its predictions based on such a huge amount of information will also make it perform very slowly. It would need to emulate and simulate such a large number of events that no presently known system, carbon or silicon or quantum, could possibly do it at speed. The problem is with the universe is that to record all of its information you would need to use every piece of energy in the universe; such a God would have to have always been the god of the Pantheists and could not become such a being through the means set forth in the AI argument presented. The time taken to process this information would most likely be in real-time as this is the speed the universe itself works out events: And the Universe knows everything.
Such a omniscient being would be the universe, but could not become the Universe. The advent of the ascension of an extremely intelligent being into an omnipotent being is impossible for these reasons; beyond a certain point knowledge is self limiting. Particles gain mass as they approach the speed of light, and likewise a thinking machine would gain latency the more information and data it had to work with.
[Analytical Aside (not necessary for continuity of reading): It might be argued that time is unidirectional and that there is a fundamental "chicken versus egg" problem--who came first humans or God? But, all scientific models are abstractions from reality and are made up of what are called "endogenous" variables (those determined within the model) and "exogenous" variables (those variables that are outside of the model). Changes in exogenous variables "cause" changes in the equilibrium expected values of the endogenous variables of the system. In the "full model" (reality), as opposed to simplified scientific models of it, everything is endogenous--it is not even a scientifically meaningful question to ask "which came first, the chicken or the egg" for they are jointly determined in the full model. That is, all current scientific models are what are called "partial equilibrium" models in economics, from the perspective of all of reality, including those that in economics are referred to as "general equilibrium"!]
Implication: Under the thesis, if God ever comes to exist, He is here from the beginning as well. It does not matter whether God literally created the world and humans or the world created an all-powerful God who then returns, since an All Knowing, hence All Powerful, entity would be expected to be able to do so. But why would He want to?
No time travel
There is no scope in the thesis to explain how a being would be able to achieve the impossible. The implications of time travel are also very complex and the subject of many books; what would happen if this being changed something in the past? Would it have a cascading affect and cause a paradox? Or would the being have no free will to affect any changes at all in the past? If so, as the thesis states that the being would exist outside of time then the being would also have no control over the future. The being would be a pure observer only; this is far short of the 'omnipotent' label we wish to give god.
Time travel denies free will and implies predestination in all causital models of time. In addition time travel itself is certainly should not be an assumed possibility as time itself may not be something that exists outside of abstract mathematics.
Recall that the entity was both programmed and seeded by human knowledge, potentially all of the latter. The entity will have human feelings and will have evolved from humans. It will feel great love for the ancestors that produced it…and sympathy for the pain and suffering humanity has undergone over the eons.
Love for humanity is not implied
Such a being would have no further need for humanity, people, or anything. It may well find itself in a philosophical state of despair as to what it should do with its life. There still has been no adequate answer to the question of 'What should we do with our lives?' and there is indeed the chance that our lives have no purpose or meaning.
Because we were the ones that allowed it to exist does not mean it will "love" us. Perhaps love and all emotion (as the romantic would believe) is based on a futility and a lack of absolute power. How can something that exists without humility, stress, problems, struggle, doubt, insecurity or pride be possibly compared to Human emotions? It would not have the same emotions as us at all; it may feel no love, happiness, joy but be completely pacified, neutral and serene in every emotion. It is not possible for us to make predictions of its behavior based on what emotions it may feel.
Implication: Under the thesis, God would be able to do anything He wanted and He would want to return to humanity to help it along the way, insofar as that is possible, as discussed below. Hence, under the thesis, God is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and All-Loving. He evolves from man, hence man is both the Son of God and the Father of God…man was created in the image of God, because God was the evolutionary extension of man.(5)
III. The Common Objections
The most prominent reason most atheists are that is that they see inconsistencies between what takes place in the world and what God should be willing and able to do (particularly in the Christian tradition, which asserts that God is good). First, there is the Problem of Evil, that we humans experience great misery and premature death. Moreover, this problem is compounded by the suspicion of many that misery and death seem to be distributed randomly among people, apparently unrelated to whether they appear "good" or "bad," according to any religious reckoning. If God loves us, and is All-Powerful, why does He not merely end pain, disease, and death, bringing on the bounty of heaven?
Second, there is a Problem of Multi-Religion Inconsistency or Statistical Unlikelihood. That is, one would expect that a loving God would want to convey an essentially consistent message to all of His people. Yet, there are a large number of religions, each with a different message as to the nature of God's identity (or identities) and preferences.(6) From a purely statistical perspective, it is argued to be unlikely that any particular religion's notion of God would be accurate; indeed, the conflicting views suggest to many that all religions are in important ways "wrong," calling God's existence into question.
The solution to both of the preceding objections to the existence of God (and many others too numerous to detail here), is really quite simple, under the thesis. Under the thesis, God would be expected to want to be minimally intrusive, literally non-discoverable in the data available to humans. Being All-Knowing, He would be unlikely to be concerned about the standard time-space problems (e.g. the possibility that by revealing Himself, the necessary human striving to bring Him into existence might not take place). Rather, the main reason God would want to be minimally intrusive is that, as emphasized by Eric Hoffer (1989, originally 1951), self-esteem is of central importance to human psychological well-being. If we knew God existed, rather than merely having faith in his existence,(7) we would be as mere "pets" of such an entity, or less charitably, slaves…and we would know this. Since God is All-Loving under the thesis, He would not want to destroy our self-esteem, though perhaps He might be irritated when that manifests as arrogance.
The Self Esteem theodicy
That our self esteem can be a limit on what God can do is a limit on his omnipotence.
Also, us knowing that a god exists would not automatically mean we were slaves to it. It would remove our doubt, but it would not remove any of the moral problems and choices we make on a day to day basis. We would not, because we knew god, become able to be morally perfect or share in his omniscience. (Unless he would be so kind as to make us all omniscient?).
I don't find that this Self Esteem Theodicy fully embraces the entire problem of evil; it does not explain why evil exists nor why the existence our self esteem is so important that is warrants death, despair, natural disasters, infant deaths and all the terrible tragedies that beset this world.
The Empathy defence of experience
God could very easily make our perceived journal to God (which we assume other people have made) an artificial memory and experience. From our point of view we could not tell the difference; only God would not that we had not really gone through it. From out point of view we would have completely experienced it as everything else in our lives; we would not know and would never know if an experience was false if God grants us that experience as part of our life.
If your objection is that God cannot falsify this (for some reason -- there doesn't appear to be a moral argument against this if it makes it possible to eradicate all evil), then I should remind the reader that the thesis has already presented us with the Self Esteem Theodicy one of whose premises is this:
According to this aspect of the argument it is correct for God to deny us knowledge for the greater good. So the second reason is not consistent with the first. In addition, both are individually flawed!
It is not stated why God would want us to have experienced the "truth", when for us, any truth or experience is as good and subjective as any other.
Returning to the Problem of Evil from this perspective, it is clear that God can neither eradicate evil nor even be sure to have it properly punished, while rewarding good. For then people would know of God's existence, and we would lose our self-esteem as thinking creatures. This provides an explanation for why so many bad people get rich and why busses crash and kill innocent children.(8)
Even small children know that self-esteem not based on real merit is artificial (e.g. the blue ribbons for all participants, regardless of the quality of the performance, or the meaningless A, when every student gets one). If God gets "discovered" in the data (and statisticians are getting very good at discerning patterns in time series and cross-sectional data), we would inevitably have one or the other of the problems mentioned here. However, it is trivial for an All-Knowing entity to escape detection by humans. To avoid detection, though, requires that God's ever-increasing good be almost completely offset by ever-increasing evil, and that the distribution of both must seem nearly random to human observers.
The preceding relates to the ubiquitous theological discussions of free will versus determinism. We must, as humans with self-esteem, at least have the illusion of free will. Humans cannot ever know the exact mix of free will and determinism, as a corollary of God's desire to be minimally intrusive, the latter stemming ultimately from our own human preferences.
What about the Problem of Multi-Religion Inconsistency? We, mere humans at this time, are all attempting to interpret the various writings that are viewed as inspired (Bible, Koran, Talmud, Bhagavad-Gita, Tao and so on). But we can't understand the writings very clearly because any signal we would receive from God would require interpretation by our low-level human brains and would likely come out wrong, at least in the details.(9)
But, one asks, why would God make it hard for us, if he loves us? Again it is possible that humans might stop striving for knowledge if they really knew God existed, and that might threaten God's survival, since we cause Him to come into existence under the thesis. I doubt that this is a pertinent argument, as already discussed.
More likely is the idea that we must, as part of actual or illusory free will, figure out what is God's will from the mixture of inspired and human inputs into the world's religious writings. God's will is clear, under the thesis, only in that it is in our best interest, because he loves us. We all do things that we think "aren't good for us" (drink too much, get fat or jealous, etc.) and God might agree with our assessment…or might not--He loves us. We often do not know what is in our interest, how best to behave, what God's will is, because even inspired writers of religious treatises are trapped in human bodies. The different religions, arising in different cultures, might well be merely differing responses to similar interventional stimuli.(10)
There are a great many controversies in theological circles. I would guess that most of the beliefs that divide the world's peoples would have to be misinterpretations because, under the thesis, God loves us all. However, being minimally intrusive to give self-esteem as well as an honest history to us all, pretty much guarantees that there will never be a scientifically satisfying "proof" of His existence, in the sense of "consistency with data."
In many respects the argument presented here is very simple, and has found repeated application throughout history. If mankind can conceive of something (flight, unraveling the secrets of DNA, etc.), we can bring it about--as has so frequently happened in the past, as science fiction later became science fact.(11)
The thesis in review: 1) we evolve into an All-Knowing entity, 2) such an entity is All-Powerful, 3) the entity loves mankind, as we love our own ancestors, hence is All-Loving, and 4) being All-Loving implies minimal intrusion to protect human self-esteem. It should be noted that from a traditional scientific perspective the title to this paper is misleading. A truly "scientific" proposition must be at least potentially refutable, with reference to data. But, in the present setting, the proposition itself explains why such data will not be observable by humans. Since becoming All-Knowing is a process and not instantaneous, it is possible that God could perform physical feats (e.g. time travel, miracles) prior to a full understanding of their implications for human well-being. Perhaps after a few blatant miracles early on, God came to realize that it is not in our interests as humans to "know" of the existence of God, but rather we must believe--and continue to strive, preserving our self-esteem.
I have shown that it is logically impossible according to the basic rules of science for a being to become all-knowing.
Also I have questioned the assumptions that time travel is possible and that omniscience implies a love for humankind.
I have attacked the thesis' theodicy on the grounds that Human Self Esteem is not outside of God's power to control and is not a strong reason to allow the existence of evil. Also the second minor defence of this theodicy, that we require to go through these experiences to empathize with other people, is not true.
The thesis would need to be altered to allow for the possibility that time travel is impossible, that there may be no point to life and that an omniscience being may not feel love. In short the thesis needs more work on its basic structure and to work through more of the implications of time travel and omniscience.
I believe that the thesis provides a framework offering guidance, if not understanding, for most on-going religious controversies. The discipline of economics is instructive in many respects. One of the central tenets of that discipline is that voluntary exchange in a competitive world maximizes the wealth of nations. That is, the perfectly functioning market system has been shown to give us the most of the things that we care about. But of course economics is mute on what it is that we should care about. On the one hand, God wants us to have what we want, because He loves us, having evolved in the future from us. But even we know that our preferences are often suspect--is it appropriate, for example, to buy another electric toothbrush or pint of high-fat ice cream in a world of poverty and starvation? It would seem, however, that those who believe that God wishes an ascetic "minimalist" life-style would be wrong, for human pleasure must be a good thing, under the thesis.
Hoffer, Eric 1989 The True Believer. Harper (New York)
Kurzweil, Ray 1998 The Age of Spiritual Machines. Viking Penguin (New York)
1 And, this is coming from someone who was an atheist for more than three decades, even dropping the IQ estimates of my few acquaintances who believed in God and organized religions by 10-15 points! Indeed, when I read that about 44% of scientists were atheists at the turn of the century and also quite recently, I viewed that as a quite abysmal failure to achieve "progress" in beliefs.
2 Big Blue (IBM computer) beat Gary Kasparov with recursive search formulas.
3 Moreover, good interdisciplinary work is complicated and is seldom rewarded as highly as publications in top specialty journals by academic departments in the specialty areas. On a lighter note, it is often said that the Specialist knows more and more about less and less until eventually he knows everything about nothing, while the Generalist knows less and less about more and more until eventually he knows nothing about everything. The future will not be so limited!
4 The production functions of economists are really just embedded knowledge, the knowledge of how to convert inputs into outputs.
5 As a former atheist, I always believed it far more likely that we would create God in our image than conversely; it turns out that, under the thesis, this belief does not lead to skepticism!
6As emphasized by Joseph Campbell (1988), however, there are recurring themes in religions that provide interesting historical connections among them.
7"Faith" in something occurs when standard measures of evidence render it unlikely; "belief" in something occurs when standard measures of evidence render it likely, though not certain; hence the title of this paper.
8 The "Devil," under the thesis, is just a necessary dual of God's good. The bad happenings made necessary for God to remain undiscovered in the data are attributed to the Devil, but our need for self-esteem in accomplishment is the ultimate cause of evil on earth, under the thesis.
9 "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is pretty clear and is present in virtually all religions in one form or another. The books considered collectively, though, are likely to have a good bit of the problem that the blind men had in the parable describing the elephant, each from a limited perspective.
10 Even for mundane events like a bank robbery, witnesses often describe the robber very differently because of their backgrounds and presuppositions.
11 In some respects, the text notion that human "thinking" about the existence of something (e.g. the submarines of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) sets in motion acquisition of the knowledge to bring that something into being is related to Rene Descartes' "Proof of God." Descartes sequence of argument is, roughly:
1. I exist (Axiom)
The Great Chain of Being notions of early philosophy, when combined with those of Descartes and those presented here yield, if not a "proof," what I hope to be a rather convincing thesis regarding the existence of God.
|Rene Descartes' Proof Of God by Imagination|
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