Thursday, September 6, 2012

Assuming Too Much

“That is probably the worst case for God I've ever seen. At least when a creationist first cause argument shoots itself in the foot, it only does it once. Plus this argument begs the question when it claims that our world is such a state of affairs that is evident of goodness and benevolence when there is absolutely no proof of that nor what goodness and badness precisely are. We only have our human-centered valuing system. As Xenophanes said: if horses had gods, they would look like horses. Classic egotistical rhetorical fluff.”

Various criticisms I have received recently have made it clear to me that the number and presentation of the assumptions made in my speculations on the nature and probability of evolved Gods are off-putting to some readers. The criticism above is a colorful illustration of this fact. In my initial presentations, I left out many justifications of my assumptions for the sake of brevity. Now, I am attempting to evaluate just how many times I really have shot myself in the foot. I may need help to do this, but to begin I will state my foundational assumptions and attempt to compare them with all alternative assumptions. If my assumptions are implausible, this implies that there are more plausible assumptions. As you will see, there are cases where I think there are equally plausible assumptions which I reject for aesthetic reasons, but fail to see how the alternatives are more provable or rational. I would particularly welcome comments explaining alternative assumptions that I have overlooked, and explanations of why they are preferable to the assumptions I have made.

Here is a summary of several objections to my speculations:

  1. There is no scientific evidence of a benevolent, personal, intervening God that cannot be explained by reference to observable natural law, therefore, the simplest explanation which explains all observable data is that no such God exists. It is important to note here that these atheists are not making the claim that no God exists. They are making the claim, however, that atheism is the most reasonable conclusion given the known data.
  2. The claim that a benevolent, intervening God created our universe is an extraordinary claim and requires extraordinary proof.
  3. My views involve so many assumptions that are unlikely that they aren't worth the time to think about. With so many ifs, one is bound to be false, and it has long been known that after accepting one wrong assumption you can prove anything to be true.
  4. Life is meaningful without believing there is anything outside of this observable life.

To the first two objections, my response is that these claims actually imply a number of assumptions about the nature of existence that have not been carefully articulated. I attempt to highlight some of them below. To the third objection, I can only ask for patience if you are truly interested in understanding my viewpoint. To the fourth objection, I can only concede. Life is meaningful. I know it may be egocentric, but I hope for a uniqueness and lastingness to the meaning of my life that is not satisfied by more limited forms of meaning, and unique, eternal significance is what I consider truly significant. Everything else is fleeting or not meaningful by virtue of being common or inevitable.

The first point to understand is not an assumption. It is a mathematical property of infinite and/or growing systems. To state it simply, one infinite thing can be so much bigger than another infinite thing that, for all practical purposes, only the bigger thing exists. Below is a more formal statement of the principle:

  1. If two processes converge to infinity, and a random observer observes a single result from one of these processes, if the observation is made approaching infinity, the probability is 1 that the observer will see the result of the process that converges to infinity at a higher rate.
This is not an assumption. It is not really a string of ifs. It is a statement of mathematical fact that must be understood to rationally discuss many of my assumptions. Take the time to convince yourself of this before criticizing subsequent assumptions.
My first assumptions deal with the physical limits of existence. Is the observable universe all there is? This seems unlikely given the history of the expansion of human knowledge. What are the consequences of assuming that existence is finite, infinite, or a combination of the two?

  1. The size of existence
    1. Time, space, matter, and energy are finite in every sense
      1. There is no eternal significance to existence, since existence is not eternal in any sense (there can still be local significance).
    2. Time, space, matter, and energy are infinite in some sense(s) but finite in their possible combinations (this could be infinite in time but finite in the others, finite in the spacial boundaries of each universe, but with infinite branching of universes within universes, or other combinations I haven't thought of)
      1. Every possible combination of these things can and will be attempted by random motions within the laws of existence. If there are a finite number of fundamental particles, there are a finite number of arrangements of these particles, and infinite time and/or space will attempt all of them. So:
        1. Every type of God and no God will exist
        2. Every possible set of physical laws will exist
        3. Every possible choice I could make will be made by someone exactly like me in every regard—none of us are even remotely unique on a cosmic scale because we are copied exactly down to electron spins in infinitely many copies throughout existence.
      2. There is no eternal significance to any particular part of existence because nothing is unique or undetermined, and everything arises from random chance that repeats itself at random, but globally predictable, intervals. (Again, local significance is possible, but it is necessarily only perceived significance, which could be all that matters.)
    3. Time, space, matter, and energy are infinite, and their possible number of combinations converges to infinity at exactly the same rate
      1. This is possible, but is the least likely scenario. If someone can justify its further consideration, I will do so, but the numerical improbability of this scenario compared to the other three is astronomical.
    4. Time, space, matter, and energy are infinite
      1. The possible combinations of matter and energy are finite on any possible scale of the influence of intelligent beings.
        1. This leads to the same conclusions as point 2.2.
      2. The possible number of combinations of time, space, matter, and energy converges to infinity at a greater rate than the infinities of time, space, matter, and energy.
        1. This is the scenario in which my argument is made. This is the first assumption that must be addressed before dismissing my arguments.
    5. I believe 1-4 cover all imaginable naturalistic existences. There is a good chance my imagination is too limited, so I welcome the discussion of other proposals.

Scenario 2.1 I reject based on the apparently eternal nature of matter and energy—if I accept the first law thermodynamics, I can't believe that matter and energy cease to exist, so existence must be infinite in at least some senses. I could reject the first law of thermodynamics, but I doubt this is an objection of any naturalist who may read my arguments.

Scenarios 2.2 and 2.4.1 seem the most defensible based on current scientific observations and theories. One of them might be reality, and I may have to accept it if I really value truth. So far I am unconvinced. I reject these scenarios for two reasons. The first is that I can see no reason why our universe exists as it does, with the laws that it has and the universal constants that it has. If it came about this way based on random events, why couldn't a universe with intelligent life exist with a gravitational constant that differed from ours by 0.001%? Sure, other constants might have to be adjusted, also, but what reason do we have to believe they couldn't be? And if existence is infinite enough, we should expect that the gravitational constant will be different, somewhere and/or somewhen. And if the constants can be adjusted continuously, even over a finite range of values, then there are infinitely many universes with intelligent life possible, each of which is strictly unique. And that assumes that we maintain our current set of natural laws and make only quantitative changes, not qualitative ones. This last statement is again a mathematical reality, the only assumption being continuous adjustability of physical constants.

The second reason I reject scenarios 2.2 and 2.4.1 is aesthetic—the search for eternal meaning. In these scenarios, everything will happen—infinitely many times. Existence is one eternal round of computers being programmed to run every combination of ones and zeros that their processors can handle. A few of them will be cool, and some may be self-propagating, giving some eternal continuity, but only local existential significance. This is a typical context for discussion of Gods, or the lack thereof, and leads to a variety of possible conclusions. None preserve the uniqueness that appeals to me or fits with my concept of eternal significance. If this is reality, those who claim we should look for significance only in the microcosm are probably right. Fortunately, it is clear that meaning and hope can be found in this microcosm. Many transhumanists think within this context and still believe in a form of eternal significance. It is just an eternal significance that is shared exactly, in every regard, by infinitely many beings exactly like us—all the way down to our quantum particles. If this is your view, and you are unwilling to think outside of it, then now is a good time to again dismiss my speculations, although you may not yet have established their implausibility or irrationality, just your aesthetic preferences.

Scenario 2.3 I reject because of its mathematical improbability. I haven't even considered the fine points of this scenario.

Scenario 2.4.2 is the required scenario for my arguments, as a whole, to have any weight. If you are willing to consider this scenario, read on. If not, I believe the burden of proof rests with you to defend one of the others. To defend the first, you must reject thermodynamics. To defend the third, you must defend an extreme improbability. To defend the second, you must argue that physical constants can be adjusted neither over an infinite range of finite steps nor continuously over a finite range, and that only a finite set of physical laws (fundamental forces and fundamental particles) govern all possible manifestations of existence. Or you have to establish that what we can currently observe is all there is—a proposition that has a long history of being wrong. I'm not claiming that arbitrary laws are possible, just that there are infinitely many possible. There are likely an even larger infinitely many fundamental forces and particles that are impossible. From my perspective, the extraordinary claims lie with scenarios 1, 2, 3, and 4.1 so these scenarios require extraordinary evidence. It's not a simple, nor undoubtedly correct conclusion, but I think I managed to miss my foot on this one.

If you haven't dismissed my arguments as irrational by this point, then I invite you to explore with me assumptions about how naturalistic Gods might fit into scenario 2.4.2.

  1. How Gods might fit in a naturalistic existence
    1. The possible existence of Gods
      1. The laws of existence do not allow for the existence of anything resembling a God that can create universes.
      2. The laws of existence allow for beings that can create other universes, but they do not interact with their creation
        1. there is no evidence of their having created our universe
        2. there is no evidence of their being benevolent
        3. there is no evidence of their intervening in our universe
      3. There can be universe creators that interact with their creation but do not leave hard evidence of it.
      4. Creator Gods are evident in our universe
  2. Competition among Gods
    1. Intelligent beings able to manipulate their environment (create and/or destroy) will flourish to fill all of the infinities of time and space (at least locally in a way that necessitates competition).
    2. There will always be more time, space, matter, and energy than all the intelligent, manipulative beings that will ever exist can occupy, so competition is unnecessary.

In weaker, more agnostic versions of atheism, it is not typically argued that a being capable of creating a universe could not exist, only that it is unlikely that we live in such a universe. Thus, I will assume that I can rule out scenario 3.1.1, although it may be true. It just seems easy for our imaginations to believe in humans eventually being able to make worlds, and to extrapolate to eventually making universes. I agree this may be wishful thinking, but if you want to stick on this point you will say I'm not a realist, and I will say you lack imagination, and we can live our lives not discussing the topic of God with each other. I will readily concede that 3.1.4 does not describe reality. A comparison of scenarios 3.1.2 and 3.1.3 is what my arguments were originally designed to address, so further discussion must wait until the foundational assumptions have been completed. Scenario 3.2.1 is the most likely scenario if scenario 2.2 holds, and may be possible in 2.4.1. However, in the context of scenario 2.4.2, I would assert that 3.2.2 is at least as likely as 3.2.1. In fact, subsequent (or previous, if you've read my other writings) arguments lead to the conclusion that if creator beings capable of breaking out of scenario 3.2.1 can exist, they will be the most likely to exist.

So what assumptions have I made so far?
  1. Existence is infinite
  2. Possible universes converge to infinity faster than the number of real universes (there are more possible universes than can ever be tried)
  3. Beings capable of creating universes can exist
  4. Competition is not inherent to creation
  5. Beings capable of creating universes sometimes come into existence

Five assumptions. Problematic? Sure. Impossible? I don't think so, but I'm open to proof otherwise. Implausible? That implies that some alternative is more plausible. The remainder of my arguments are an exploration of the nature of Gods that are most likely to exist within this context of existence. They are probabilistic speculations based on what I know and think about reproductive rates and what traits will serve best to propagate a species of Gods. If you place these reproductive rate arguments in a different context of existence than that presented above, some of them do not make sense, but before they can be rationally discussed, some framework regarding the nature of existence must be established. I invite you to show me a better one, and show me why it's better. Otherwise, join my discussion and we can see if there is hope for our eternal significance and uniqueness, hope for benevolent Gods, and the possibility to maintain this hope without rejecting science or reason.

1 comment:

  1. This is not a true response to your post, but it kind of inspired me to create this little flowchart: