Monday, May 15, 2017

Does God Exist? A Mathematical Tower of Babel & The Curse of Narcissus

In his book, God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of God, Robert Nelson argues that a growing amount of evidence is leading to the conclusion that God "very probably" exists. But there are plenty of problems with all of the evidence he provides, not to mention that none of that evidence tells us a single thing about what kind of a "God" Nelson is arguing for, nor does it point to any evidence of monotheism over a whole panoply of possible Gods.

First, let it be clear that the need to QUESTION all those who seek to "prove" God exists, comes from the fact that such people invariably have always tried to prove a very specific kind of God, and then go on to feel they have the right, and indeed the obligation, to dictate that "god's" moral rules about how people should live their lives and give money to "his" church. So before such blatant charlatanism leads to Holy Inquisitions, any such claims to "prove" God should first be subjected to the authority and rigor of rational human inquisition.

So let us consider his assertions before he convinces people to buy into his "beliefs," to do the worst that humans have always done for God. And by doing so, discover that such assertions, in truth, only raise far more questions than anything else.

Nelson, for example, argues in his book, and again in the above article, quote:  

"As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hershmathematics exists independent of physical reality."

But does it? Doesn't this claim simply assert an opinion, however intelligent it may be, as an objective fact?  Isn't this a bit like claiming that understanding exists independent of the mind that is capable of doing the understanding? And by making such a claim, do they not require the reader to accept that there must therefore be a "mind" that, much like their own, must have "intelligently designed" the mathematics that Davis and Hersh are saying "exists independent of physical reality?"

Yet isn't mathematics itself simply a form of human understanding, however more advanced it may be to other languages, and thus simply a way of organizing and interpreting the universe, and everything in it, according to a logical system of thinking that humans alone (as far as we know) have designed for themselves? 

Are not numbers a bit like letters, in this sense, mere symbols that humans alone have created and use as a universal language (universal to humans at least, if nothing else) that surpasses the limits of all other languages, yet still nothing more than a language in the end, created by humans for humans, as far as we know? Indeed, is not suggesting that "mathematics exists independent of physical reality," itself a veiled assertion - a kind of verbal Trojan horse, if you will -  of the necessary existence of an 'independent mathematician' that Nelson wants his readers to "believe" must be the author, and thus must have necessarily preceded the creation of, numbers themselves?

And is not this "independent mathematician," who Nelson wants us to accept must have authored such mathematical laws a priori, a "being" that Nelson wants us to accept must be a conscious, intelligent, and intentional "God?" Even if we accept such claims, claims that only have the effect of elevating human thinking to that of being able to understand the infinite mind of a God, how could we ever know it was not the result of "Gods" - either 2 or an infinite number of Gods - rather than simply a "God?"

Nelson further claims:

 "Indeed, in 2014 the MIT physicist Max Tegmark argues in “Our Mathematical Universe” that mathematics is the fundamental world reality that drives the universe. As I would say, mathematics is operating in a god-like fashion. ... In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible."

Yet again, should we accept that this claim is necessarily true?

 The irony of this claim is alarming, and shocking in many ways. It assumes that the relationship of finite and imperfect human understanding must be symmetrical, at least on some level, to an infinite and perfect "God." But does not such an assumption simply suggest that human understanding is successfully building a "tower of babel" to God?  In short, are we not assuming our knowledge is on par with that of a God?  And, even more boastful, are we not further assuming that our intelligence was intended to put us on par with understanding a God?

To assume that all of the discoveries of Newton and Einstein and others, are all revealing to humanity "proof" of the existence of the mind of a God, itself assumes 1) that our intelligence was designed with the specific ability and even intent to find the God who created our intelligence in the first place, 2) that every discovery we make is intended to lead us only ever closer to discovering such a God, and was intentionally and exclusively designed for such a purpose, and 3) that there must therefore exist a God who wanted us to use our intelligence to discover that he exists to begin with.

All of these conclusions amount to circular reasoning, however. From this perspective, each new discovery seduces us into believing that we finite creatures were necessarily made to decipher the complexities of the universe for the sole purpose of finding an infinitely intelligent God, as if the cosmos were nothing more than God's elaborate game of Clue. Could not every species of animal play this same kind of game, each according to how they alone may understand and interpret the world and the universe over all?

 Is it not the ultimate act of human hubris to assume that both the universe and the human mind were equally and intentionally designed in such ways, and by such an infinite intelligence, that we could use the latter to find God by deciphering the complexities of the former?   And by so suggesting, are we not then equating our own abilities and intelligence to be, at least on some level, on par with that infinite intelligence?

Is this not the curse of Narcissus, veiled in God-like adoration of our own intelligence? Does it not simply smack of a humanity falling ever more in love with its own mind, and by the alchemy of our ideas, do we not create a golden calf we worship in our own image called "God"? In fact, we even define our willingness to fall in love and even drown for those ideas a virtue and an act of martyrdom!   

Before accepting such a claim, should we not first wonder about where mathematics actually comes from, as far as we know?  Looking at the sentence above, one can see how Nelson is clearly trying to get his readers to simply accept that "the mathematical underpinnings of the universe" could only be "comprehensible" to us if "some kind of a god" exists.  But this is clearly a lie, and I am betting he knows it.

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