|An argument for the existence of God|
|The first thing we need is a definition of “God”. This is not an easy task. Are we talking about a Platonic first principle? Or are we talking about the Divine of pantheism, or one of the many gods of polytheism? Or are we, for example, talking about the traditional God of ethical monotheism that includes the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish religions as well as some others? While avoiding the exact definition of God, in general, this essay will argue for a very specific proposition. I will argue that our observations of the universe are consistant with the existance of an infinite choice maker.
In my first essay, http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/knowledge.html
I outline a view of science and knowledge. I take as the defining characteristic of science the idea that all data in science must be either public, or reproducible. This approach can at least in principle reach agreement, because there is an identical starting point with the data. Other forms of evidence, like testimony, may be useful in understanding the world, but they are not science.
However, there may be forms of evidence available to us that are not publicly available, and yet we can all agree upon. Shared personal experiences that we have all had, such as happiness, or the experience of perceiving beauty fall into this category. We can agree that we have had these experiences, even though they are not publicly available. Hence, the data from these experiences can in principle lead to agreement about the world, and at the same time they are non-scientific.
A very important form of shared experience for our purposes here, is the experience of making a choice, or of free will. This has historically been in important idea in Theology as well. For example, Augustine’s “City of God”, sees human free will as the fundamental attribute of man. Agustine’s starting point is not our observations of the natural world, but our own awareness, and our ability to make choices. Freewill is also an important concept for ethics. If we do not have freewill, then there can be no ethics. There can not be a right choice, if there is no choice in the first place.
Both our own freewill and our observations of the natural world seem like reasonable places to begin our understanding of the world. But, what if our examinations of the evidence were to conclude that we seem to have no freewill? What if we found that we were just a collection of random events, and deterministic laws, as modern science suggests? What if we discovered that all of our behavior can be described in terms of physical, chemical, and electrical processes in the brain? Or that our biological inheritance, and our environment completely determine our behavior? Or that Freud’s Id and Superego exist, and the Ego is just an illusionary product of the interaction between the two?
I said in the essay on knowledge, that we had to rely on observation and induction to know about the universe. If this path leads us to believe that we have no choice of any kind, we are then faced with the question of “Which is more basic to the human experience, that we learn things by observation, or that we make choices?” And, even if we accepted that we had no choices, it would be an impossible result to live by. We could not simple wait, to see what we do next. If our freewill is just an illusion then we could ask, “To whom is the illusion being shown to?” And if we name it “illusion”, does it become any less valuable?
I believe we need to add to the standard scientific materialist view, a belief that we make choices, and we need to accept the fact that we make choices as properly basic to our understanding. That is, just as in the scientific materialist view, (described here http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/knowledge.html ) where we must eventually accept some ideas, like the validity of inductive logic, without argument, so too, we should accept the fact that we make choices, without argument.
So, what are our options for reconciling this conflict between our freewill and our observations of the universe? One option is dualism. In traditional monotheism there is a separation between the mind and the body. Much of traditional Western thought is dualistic, in this way. However, this leads to the mind-body problem. If the mind and the body exist in completely separate realms, how do they influence each other? If the mind wills the arm to go up, it does. If the body takes in various chemicals, including alcohol, it effects the mind. Descartes struggled with this problem and located the connection in the pineal gland, which seems somewhat amusing today. However, philosophers have never really solved the problem. So, in fact, most philosophers today are not dualists, although the average person still tends to think in dualistic terms.
Another choice is epistemological idealism, which rejects the reality of the physical world, and accepts only the world of thought as real. Both dualism and idealism have been used to argue for the existence of a God in the past. Ideas like idealism and dualism allow for free will but at the cost of rejecting, in part or in whole, the validity of our observations of the world. The goal here is a reconciliation that stays within the tradition of scientific materialism, adding only the idea of our freewill as properly basic.
One helpful idea here may be systems theory. (Also see http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/systems.html )
Systems theory says that complex systems have emergent properties. Simple physical laws may be enough to exactly describe the workings of the individual pieces in a system. But as the number of pieces increases, the interrelation between the pieces can increases exponentially. Eventually the system can not be modeled from fundamental principles because of the complexity. The whole system may then have properties that can not be predicted from simple fundamental laws. These are known as emergent properties. Human thought in this framework is an emergent property of our complex brains.
We will need a different language to describe properties of these systems at different levels. Thus to describe human action we can talk about our thoughts and desires and making choices. Sociologist and psychologists can break down human behavior, and say that all human behavior is a result of our biological genes, and our learned cultural memes. Or we can say in Freudian terms, the ego does not exist. What we call the ego is just the sum of the superego, and the id. We can also describe human behavior as simple laws of physics and random events at work within the brain. All three of these views are equally valid. They study either the whole system, or they break it down to lower levels. They use a different language to describe events at their level of interest, and the lower level descriptions completely miss emergent properties, but they are all simultaneously true.
However, some properties can not emerge. Freedom can not emerge, if it does not exist in the pieces. That is if everything within a system is completely deterministic, then the resulting system must also be completely deterministic. If we introduce random quantum events, then the resulting system is just randomness, plus deterministic laws. It seems impossible for random chance and deterministic natural laws to form something that has true choice. No matter how complex the system, and no matter how much it can simulate choice, it still can be reduced to random chance, and fundamental laws. But as I’ve said previously, choice is a fundamental human experience. It is impossible to live and say, “I won’t make any choices”. It is as fundamental a starting point for our philosophy as our observations of the universe are.
If we conclude that we make choices, and that we are the result of the complex system called the brain, then we must say that the fundamental “random” quantum events, are really “elemental choices”. That is, we can look at our relationship to our pieces in two ways.
We can say that we are randomness + complexity.
Or, we can say that quantum events are choices – knowledge.
But the first description denies our human experience of choice.
Even if we name our experience an “illusion”, that does not make it any less valuable. And we must ask, “Who is the illusion being shown to?” In this case, we could also be in the amusing situation of claiming that there exists an infinite mind that only thinks its God.
To put it another way, in nature we observe that there are:
A) Deterministic things.
B) Random things
C) Combinations of the above.
Where does "choice" fit? Possibilities:
1) Choice does not exist.
2) Choice is not really any of the above, it is either supernatural or a natural process we have never observed, but it is different than all or the above.
3) Choice is A (by another name)
4) Choice is B
5) Choice is C
#1 denies our human experience, so I reject it.
#2 is pure speculation, and non-evidence based, so it should not be our first choice.
#3 seems to be a logical contradiction, "determined" implies "no choice". How can this also be choice?
#4 and #5 are left.
I now claim that 5,C in some cases (AI, evolution) is not externally different in any observable from an informed choice. Informed choice and combinations of random and deterministic events in some cases look identical. AI systems, evolution and brains are all able to solve problems inductively.
I also claim that 4, B is exactly like uninformed choice. Randomness and uninformed choice are observationally identical. So, I choose to call randomness uninformed choice, and call complex systems informed choice.
Also, see some answers to objections to the above, provided at the end of this essay.
At this point we will also need certain results form modern science, described here:
As I pointed out in the section on quantum mechanics, a quantum event may be influenced by another one that happens simultaneously at a distance. That is, instant action at a distance is possible in the quantum world. However, these other events may also depend on other more distant events. In the end, the result is that any quantum event may be dependent, for its resolution, on an infinite number of other events stretched across infinite space. That is Quantum mechanical events are correlated instantaneously at a distance, even an infinite distance. One aspect of this that is not often emphasized is that, given the principles of special relativity, it is not possible to clearly call one event the cause of the other. (Thus "correlation" at a distance and not "causality" is discussed.) From the perspective of some observers, A took place first, and from the perspective of others event B took place first. The correlation takes place instantaneously in a frame with two co-moving clocks located at points A and B.
Now, there are some ways around this. First we could reject some of the laws of logic, like the excluded middle, that states something can not simultaneously be both “A” and “not A”. Or we could reject “quantum reality”. This is something like saying, "If a tree falls, and no one hears it, it makes no noise." But, assuming we reject those other alternatives, we have a universe that is deeply interconnected. In the local time that we measure with any clock we can build, events are not determined. Quantum events are random, or uncaused, or at least they are not caused by any event that precedes them in the local time frame. Or, from the argument above, they are fundamental choices. However we could speculate that there exists a view that can see all points in space simultaneously. In the hypothetical view, all events are interrelated. The next quantum state of any point in space is determined by every other quantum state in an infinite universe. But, in the local picture, a local quantum event is not determined by any event that preceded it in its time line.
If the universe were not interconnected, in this manner, then we could guarantee that over vast distances of time and space everything would eventually have to repeat. That is the universe would have a finite complexity. However, if the universe is interconnected, as we have described, then there is no guarantee of repetition, and it could have infinite complexity.
In the hypothetical all-seeing view the universe looks very much like an infinite quantum computer, or equivalently, and infinite mind. We can picture every quantum state in the universe, as either unoccupied or occupied, that is either on or off in the computer. And the future state of every part of the universe depends in a complex way on the future state of every other part of the universe. Thus we can say in this hypothetical universal view, every quantum event could be dependent on the mind of an infinite God. Or if we want to say that there is more to a mind than we have demonstrated, we can say an "infinite choice-maker". This is the definition of God that I set out to argue for.
But there are some possible objections here. One objection might be to ask if there is really any choice involved. It seems the universe might be completely determined, in any given moment, by its immediately preceding state. It is possible that if we knew the current state of the entire infinite universe, the local result might in fact be predictable. Alternately we could speculate that there is an additional element of choice involved. This is not likely to be a question we will ever be able to answer with certainty. If everything is deterministic we can think of this as God seen as ALL.This view fits well with ideas of God as a Platonic first principle. Alternately we could view God as not having perfect future knowledge, but making choices in response to developments. In this view there is choice, and that choice effects the next moment. Infinity can expand to become a larger infinity, and it does expand from moment to moment. This God can also be effected by our choices. Such ideas are very much like the God of process philosophy proposed by Whitehead.
Thinking of the universe in terms of information theory adds an interesting result here. At least to a close approximation the amount of information the universe can contain within its current event horizon is equal to the number of computations it could have performed within its event horizon since the big bang.
(see Scientific American Nov. 2004)
In short the universe expands exactly enough to make room for the new information it creates. Or, we could say our proposed infinite mind never forgets, possesses infinite information (if space is infinite), and continues to learn and acquire new information.
Finally, one could object, "What is gained by postulating an infinite mind? What does it explain that I could not explain otherwise? I would counter that a dog, or another human could, at least in principle, be explained in terms of fundamental laws. What more do we explain by seeing them as conscious entities that make choices? We see them as making choices by analogy to ourselves. We know we make choices, and by analogy, so do they.
While this is not a “proof” of God, I believe the God skeptic would have to take one of these positions, they could:
A) Reject scientific materialism. Although the alternatives here have traditionally been used in arguments for God.
B) Reject the results of modern science discussed. Perhaps here they could reject the interpretation of quantum mechanics. But this seems to embrace epistemological idealism, which again has traditionally been used to argue for the existence of God.
C) Reject the notion of our freewill and all of ethics along with it.
D) They might be able to accept the QM interpretation, but still not accept that a view exists where all events in space are resolved at once and could be seen together, since we can only demonstrate local frames of reference. But on the other hand, it is clear that a local event can be based on and infinite number of distant "simultaneous" events. This would be a difficult complex argument.
In summary, the argument goes like this: Given scientific materialism and its results, and given that we take our freewill as properly basic, we are led to the idea that in our local frame individual quantum events must be viewed as uninformed, fundamental units of choice. Secondly, given that local quantum events are uninformed choice in our local frame of reference, then from a view that saw all of space at once, they could be seen as choices made by an infinite mind. Of course, we have not argued for the God of any specific tradition, only for an infinite choice maker and the reasonable possibility of an infinite mind
Objection 1 - I don't think there are any random processes in the brain
First, we need to understand that every event in the universe is the interaction between particles, and this always involves the collapse of a quantum mechanical wave. There is always fundamental uncertainty. However in some systems the events add up in such a way that the outcome is virtually deterministic. In chaotic systems, however, there is great sensitivity to initial conditions, and very small variations can be magnified to produce large effects. Given that the brain is a vastly complex system with molecular sized moving parts and sensitivity to initial conditions, it is highly unlikely that the brain is deterministic.
Secondly, humans do inductive thinking. Modern AI systems that can solve problems inductively need an internal randomizer. Evolution, which solves problems inductively has random mutation as a key component.
Without a full working model of the brain, it is reasonable to suppose that its operation is analogous to these other inductive systems. We know by comparing AI to deterministic programs that with the deterministic programs there is no way to learn, or do trial and error, no way to try something new, and escape the old program, no induction, no creativity, no way to increase complexity. A deterministic program is always of fixed finite complexity. AI systems can grow in complexity and AI systems require an internal randomizer. And consider evolution. - Living systems do become more complex with time. Evolution has driven a vast increase in complexity. But the process does not work without random mutation. Without random mutation, you could never have anything new. There is no creativity, and therefore no adaptability. Humans excel at adaptability. A deterministic model of the brain offers no explanation for this.
Third, we don't even fully understand how a single neuron adds up incoming signals. A large number of incoming signals causes the neuron to fire, a few signals do not. But it is unclear how the signals add together in close cases. Here the moving parts are electrons. It seems reasonable that quantum uncertainty will play a role in a few close calls.
Fourth, we know of "awareness neurons" that fire when we are awake. These neurons are not triggered by other neurons, but just fire of their own volition. These could clearly introduce a random element, as signals from these neurons meet and mix with other signals in the brain at that moment.
Fifth, we can demonstrate at least a small dependence on random events. Cell death is often caused by random mutation, which is caused by cosmic rays, caused by quantum events. And, clearly a cell death could influence our choices.
Finally, determinism contradicts the very idea of choice. If the path thought takes in the brain is completely deterministic, there are no branches, no options, no way it could have been any different. There can be no choice if there are no real options, and no possibility of a different outcome.
For more, see:
Objection 2 - I don't think a random process is a choice, even an uninformed one.
Granted in normal language we mean different things by "random" and "choice". But there is no way to be sure something is a "choice" unless you are inside it. We know we make choices, but other things are just these collections of random and deterministic events and we infer that some of them "choose" by analogy with our own experience. We use the language of "choice" for what we do, and also we might use the language of "choice" to talk about anything similar enough to ourselves to allow us to make an analogy work. "Random" is something we use to talk about nonliving things that we view from the outside. I would argue that the real difference between these ideas is an internal vs. and external view.
Science teaches us to view everything from the outside, and when pushed to the logical conclusion, humans are collections of deterministic and random events in a very complex arrangement. This is the view from the outside, or a bottom up approach. But we also know from our own experience that there is an inside view, where we talk about choices. What I am doing is pushing this internal view in the other direction, taking a top down approach to talk about the rest of the universe.
There is no external observable difference between things that make choices, and things that are just complex systems with random components. Humans, animals, AI machines, and evolution can all solve problems inductively. So what would an absolutely uninformed choice look like from the outside? It would look like a random event. What is choice, if not an event with no external cause, that could have been other than it was? That is exactly what science says quantum events are, uncaused events. Granted nothing is ever proved to absolute certainty, but science has proved well beyond reasonable doubt that quantum events can have no cause that precedes them in this universe in their local time frame.
When an entity approaches a potential intersection, if things must go a certain way there is no choice. This is determinism. However, if nothing on the outside of the entity forces it one direction or the other, there is a choice. This is what quantum events do. They behave exactly as we would expect uninformed choice to behave when viewed from the outside.
Now, there is certainly not any kind of close analogy between human choice and this quantum choice, but that is because human choice is based on a great deal of information. Some information is gained from our own experience. Other information our species acquired through evolution, and is stored in our biology. Human choice is informed choice.
All we are doing is changing perspectives. Instead up taking science's bottom up approach that describes the world including us as determinism+randomness, I'm taking a top down approach and describing the universe as determinism+choice. We use two different languages for the same thing, from inside it is choice, from outside it is something with a least a small random component.
But, if you think the words "random" and "choice" are too different to both be simultaneously true, then I would claim there is no such thing as "random" only uninformed "choice".
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