When I was taking Wilfred Griggs and Alan Keele’s history of civilization class (The Pen and the Sword, for anyone else who might have taken it), I thought about the idea of formal arguments to prove the existence of God for the first time in my life. I tried, for a while, to construct a proof for myself based on Lehi’s sermon about opposition in all things. It didn’t hold up. I looked at a couple other arguments and found that they failed. I came to a conclusion. Each one included inductive leaps that couldn’t be rigorously proven. I suspected all the remainder did as well, or there would be one argument out there that all believers advertized everywhere to show how rational we are and how irrational unbelievers are.

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Audio recording of this post:

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A few years ago I read Lincoln Cannon’s New God Argument. (Yes, we are related through George Cannon–not George Q. All part of our irredeemably Mormon family, to appropriate Lincoln’s self-descriptor.) It did nothing to change my prejudice. You can’t prove God logically. In fact, the New God Argument reinforced my belief in this impossibility, because the New God Argument doesn’t try to prove that God exists. It gives you several other alternatives, even if you agree with every piece of the argument. It doesn’t prove God, but concludes that trust in a benevolent God is the logical alternative to resigning oneself to ultimate nihilism. It admits it could be wrong, and clearly identifies the assumptions where anyone could disagree. Just clearly state your reasons. It also allows that some forms of that nihilism could be quite fulfilling. You can live a full and moral life even if you think it all ends at death, just recognize you believe in an end. I liked the argument, but I’ll let Lincoln summarize it from the New God Argument website:

If we will not go extinct before becoming posthumans then, given assumptions consistent with contemporary science and technological trends, posthumans probably already exist, are more benevolent than us and created our world. If prehumans are probable then posthumans probably already exist. If posthumans probably increased faster in destructive than defensive capacity then posthumans probably are more benevolent than us. If posthumans probably create many worlds like those in their past then posthumans probably created our world. The only alternative is that we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans.

Now Let me translate.

Posthuman = God, or a being with some characteristics of Gods

Prehuman = Neanderthals, or apes, or mammals, or protomammals, or any other stage of life that predates the kind of self-reflective intelligence possessed by humans–even if that intelligent life looks nothing like us.

There are good reasons to use the more ambiguous pre- and post-human terms, because these terms carry with them less baggage. The New God Argument only requires that Gods have very minimal characteristics–they need to exist, be benevolent, and have power to create worlds. That’s it. Now let’s go over the pieces of the argument in a little more detail. Let’s start by looking at the “Life Cycle” of Gods to give you a sense of the overall picture before digging in to the formal argument.

NewGodArgumentCycle

Imagine at some point in the eternal past (or maybe just 14 billion years ago) a universe came into being by chance. The universe passed through all of the steps resulting in intelligent life that gains some power to shape evolution rather than just react to it. This species–we’ll call them humans, but they wouldn’t have to be–has a couple of broad choices. They can believe in a creative, dynamic, flourishing future and contribute to making it a reality, or they can not care or even cultivate competition or malice and lead themselves to extinction as discussed in the previous post on benevolence and compassion. Should humanity choose the former course, it may lead to a state of flourishing existence where we have the power to preserve ourselves and likely the power to at least simulate, and possibly create new universes. If this future humanity lacks interest in creating more life like itself–life with power to create and progress in amazing ways–then it won’t create lots of worlds and the civilization will stagnate. If they only care about making slaves, they will either return to earlier destructive ways, or they will limit their growth because slaves won’t accomplish as much as creative children will. Again, you get either stagnation (relatively speaking) or destruction. Creative future humanity will make more universes and will invent or continue a creative cycle that amplifies their numbers. It amplifies the numbers because the creators can modify the Great Filter life has to pass through in order for creative intelligence to emerge. The creators can set up universes with the best conditions they know of to make more creators. Each cycle the numbers of creators and created universes grows far beyond the numbers of chance universes or universes created by intelligent beings with limited compassion.

Now lets look at the formal argument (with my tweaks and commentary):

Faith Assumption

[F1 assumption]
we will not go extinct before becoming posthumans

This one is pretty simple. If you assume we will go extinct, or cease to exist in some other way, then none of this really matters. If you hope humanity will survive, either individually or as a race, then you are already willing to make this first assumption.

Angel Argument

[A1 from the great filter argument]
EITHER prehumans are improbable
OR we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans
OR posthumans probably already exist

You might want to review this post if you are having a hard time with these options.

[A2 observation]
prehumans existed

I changed this from an assumption since we know with certainty prehumans existed. That leaves us with only two options from A1, and F1 leads us to discount extinction, thus:

[A3 from A1, A2, and F1]
posthumans probably already exist

This really isn’t that hard to swallow. Either we will become something greater than we are now, or we will go extinct. Staying the same isn’t much of an option. Regressing is an option, but one that will ultimately lead to extinction. If we will become posthumans, and prehumans have existed in our or other universes, then some of them probably became posthumans, too. The chances that we are the first ones in all of the eternities is pretty slim. Somebody else is already out there in this vast multiverse doing things we’ve hardly even dreamed of. Pretty exciting, except for all the movies about evil, greedy alien races that decide to wipe out humanity. What’s to keep them from doing it? If it’s so likely posthumans exist, why haven’t they already wiped us out or enslaved us?

Benevolence Argument (Compassion Argument)

I introduced this argument here.

[CO1 assumption]
EITHER posthumans have increased faster in creative capacity than destructive capacity
OR posthumans probably are more benevolent than us
OR we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans

[CO2 extrapolation]
posthumans probably have increased faster in destructive than creative capacity

[CO3 from CO1, CO2, and F1]
posthumans probably are more benevolent than us

Whew! That was close. It’s easier to destroy than to create or even coexist, so destructive races are going to wipe themselves out, most likely, or at least not save themselves from the destructive forces of nature. This limits us to choosing between highly benevolent posthumans and going extinct. We don’t want to go extinct, so we are led to a logical trust in the benevolence of posthumanity. Now, “the only fear is to fear ourselves,” I think someone famously said. Something like that, anyway.

Creation Argument

I had fun with these arguments a couple of months ago.

[CR1 from the simulation argument]
EITHER we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans
OR posthumans probably do not compute many worlds like those in their past
OR posthumans probably computed our world

[CR2 generalization of CR1]
EITHER we probably will go extinct before becoming posthumans
OR posthumans probably do not create many worlds like those in their past
OR posthumans probably created our world

[CR3 deduction from CR2, CO3, and F1]
posthumans probably created our world

This deduction is possibly less obvious than some of the others. Once again the Faith assumption is reason to believe we won’t go extinct. We are still left deciding whether or not posthumanity will create (or simulate) many worlds, and whether they will be like ours. Based on our lived experience we know that many people simulate the past, present, and future. We do this for entertainment, for economic gain, and for science. As simulations become real to the point of being new, independent universes, or as they begin to contain intelligent life (even if it is artificial) humanity has many options for how to treat this life. We could continue to exploit it for entertainment, economic gain, or scientific knowledge. These scenarios allow for all sorts of possible, but horrific, outcomes for the created intelligences. I’ll let you imagine the possibilities for a minute. Stop and do that if you wish. We could create beings who have no agency, who die horrible deaths after years of suffering, who always have to fear the power being shut off and suddenly ceasing to exist, or who have no hope. Only we could stop ourselves from imposing these terrible scenarios on the created intelligent beings who we are responsible for bringing into existence. In addition, we might only bring into existence worlds unlike those in our past in that they generate no possibility for anything to progress to the stage of being ‘Creative Life’.

The only thing to prevent horrible outcomes in universe creation is the compassion of posthumanity. This compassion that allows for posthumanity’s own survival will cause them to desire the greatest potential for any created intelligent life. They will empathize with their creation, and its pain will be their own. Only this kind of posthumanity will create many worlds, because only this kind of posthumanity will survive long enough to do so. Any other kind will compete, destroy, or not care, and will self-limit the numbers of worlds they create. There really isn’t a significant option between “not creat[ing] many worlds like those in their past” (in that the worlds contain potential new creators) and “posthumans probably creat[ing] our world”. There is still the possibility that we are in one of the rare universes that aren’t covered by these options, but that chance is vanishingly small. In addition (although this maybe should be a new discussion), the Faith Assumption leads us to desire to become compassionate creators whether or not we were created by them, so it doesn’t really matter if we are in one of the rare, uncreated universes or not. I want to create worlds and to see my children, present and future, grow up to do greater things than I’ve ever conceived of. It’s nice to think it’s possible, and that there are beings out there trying to do the same thing.

God Conclusion

[G1 from A3, CO3 and CR3]
posthumans probably already exist
AND posthumans probably are more benevolent than us
AND posthumans probably created our world

That’s it. If you 1. hope to continue to exist and improve, 2. believe there are more beings in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by the telescopes of SETI, 3. believe it is easier to destroy than to create, and  4. think creation of universes might be possible, then there probably is a God out there. It’s not irrational to doubt the existence of other intelligent beings. It’s not irrational to doubt that science will ever create universes. It’s not irrational to doubt that destructive power will always surpass creative power. It’s just likely that extinction is the alternative you are choosing to believe in if you doubt these things. (Counterintuitive with the last one, though. If creative power increases faster than destructive power, then we probably won’t become benevolent Gods, and most Gods probably aren’t compassionate. Kind of crazy.) For me, it all turns on that first Faith Assumption.

It is rational to believe in God if you hope to live forever–on this world or some other. You don’t really have to believe it’s possible even, you just have to want it to be possible. That’s why it’s called the faith assumption. The New God Argument is simply a reason to believe. I want to believe.

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Jonathan lives in rural Georgia with his wife and three boys, teaching Chemistry and enjoying the good people of his community. He studied Molecular Biology at Brigham Young University, and Biophysics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Jonathan is passionate about fatherhood, teaching and learning, Mormonism, and dance (he’s much better at the first three), and dabbles in home repairs, various crafts, poetry, music, gardening, and Transhumanism. He has enjoyed many years working in Primary, with Young Adults and Ward Missions in various capacities. He currently enjoys serving in his ward and community however he is able. He posts on whatever interests him at the moment at http://jonathan.metacannon.net/

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