Sunday, December 05, 2010

An Atheist discovers God

[NOTE: This was posted by Don. But I think he's on the right track track -- ed.]

For thousands of years, people have observed the world, and concluded that God must have created humans. One of the strongest arguments -- quite rightly -- is that you can't get the complexity of a human being just by random chance. As Hoyle said,
The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.
That intuition is exactly right. And you don't solve it just by saying "it takes a lot of time". Yes, millions or billions of years is a far longer time than most people can comfortably think about ... but just having lots and lots of tornadoes still doesn't get you a 747 from the junkyard.

You need something, besides just random chance, to get the complexity of modern life. And it's traditional to call that something, "God". As Yudkowsky has noted, many of the characteristics traditionally ascribed to God are in fact true:

The Shaper of Life is not itself a creature. [It] is bodiless [...]. Omnipresent in Nature, immanent in the fall of every leaf. Vast as a planet's surface. Billions of years old. Itself unmade, arising naturally from the structure of physics.

Of course, some guesses (or wishes and hopes and dreams) about the nature of God turned out not to be true. Man was not made in God's image. The universe was not made "for" humans. Humans are not the purpose of God's creation. In fact, God doesn't really have a "purpose", as such. Most important, God doesn't care about humans, and God is not benevolent.

But make no mistake: God is there. A powerful force, designing all life that we see around us. After thousands of years of searching, God was found. Darwin found it. Alas, most religious folks were unable to -- or refused to -- recognize God when it was found.


Mike said...

...nah. Not buying that.

God being omnipresent, vast, old, unmade etc was never really the point, IMO. There are any number of religions where those aren't the case. God is an artifact of applying our Theory of Mind to a complex, threatening and unpredictable universe; the important thing psychologically was that he/she/it/they could be modelled as a creature, bargained with, interceded with, begged, threatened, placated, whatever.

This sort of "but what if I said God was XXXX?" line pops up sooner or later in any argument about {a}theism, and I've never seen it lead anywhere interesting.

Miles said...

Comparing evolution to tornadoes making 747s, wtf?

Don Geddis said...

Miles, I think you missed the point. First, the 747 analogy is a famous one. Secondly, it is a good analogy -- for half of evolution. It describes "random mutation".

The point is, that the anti-evolution objectors are actually correct, that you can't get the complexity of life just through randomness.

What they miss is that the theory of evolution has a second half: natural selection. Mutation and selection together, result in evolution, and the complexity of life.

But mere randomness by itself, mutation alone, would not result in complex life. It is worth taking a step further than just saying the analogy is silly. The question is, why is it silly? What critical observation have they missed?

That's the key to understanding evolution. There's (much) more there than just randomness. There really is an optimization process driving everything.

Ron said...

> There really is an optimization process driving everything.

And it's not intelligent (as far as we know). But it's powerful enough to *create* intelligence.