When The Singularity Proves God

What will happen when the singularity discovers conclusive scientific proof for the existence of God?

A thousand years ago, our greatest thinkers believed that the entire world testified to an intelligent creator. It was considered self-evident. Three hundred years ago, our best thinkers suspected that an intelligent creator was no longer self-evident, when viewed through the lens of science. By 1900, science had proclaimed judgment: our greatest scientists believed that the world showed no signs of an intelligent creator. The world was the result of a small set of fixed laws mechanically interacting to drive stochastic processes. Starting in 1950, however, a number of new scientific discoveries shook our faith in this naive mechanical model. Today, the question of whether the universe was created is an open scientific question, with no conclusive answer on the immediate horizon.

Scientific knowledge can cast doubt on the existence of a creator, but can also lend support to the existence of a creator. Reality didn’t change a bit between 1900 and 1990. Our differing levels of scientific certainty about a creator can only be explained by our differing levels of scientific knowledge. We simply don’t know at this point. We need more scientific knowledge.

The Singularity

Some of today’s greatest thinkers believe that we will soon create artificial intelligence that vastly eclipses human intelligence. You may not believe in Ray Kurzweil’s vision of a super-intelligent singularity that gobbles up people’s souls and devours worlds, but it is plausible that computers 200 years from now will exhibit many superhuman forms of intelligence. Computational simulation methods are still in their infancy (less than 40 years old), but have already provided deep insights into quantum physics and cosmology; two fields that are relevant to the scientific search for a creator. It is quite plausible that computational systems 200 years from now will have the capability to form and test new hypotheses faster and more creatively than any human scientist could.

Our relevant gains in scientific knowledge have increasingly come with the help of computational intelligence, and it’s hard to see how we’ll make significant additional progress without even greater computational intelligence. Within the next 200 years, it seems most likely that our conclusive scientific answer about God will not come from humans, but instead from a superhuman intelligence that we humans create.

Most singularity hopefuls seem very confident that this superhuman intelligence will strike a devastating blow against God. And, of course, it’s possible that such an intelligence will discover overwhelming scientific evidence against a creator. But I see no warrant for this confidence besides blind hope. It seems just as plausible that the singularity will discover overwhelming scientific evidence for a creator. We simply don’t know.

Blind Spot

As far as I can see, this is a huge blind spot among singularity hopefuls. If the scientific evidence of a creator is an open issue, requiring more science, then we must entertain the possibility that the singularity will discover evidence for God that is currently beyond our reach. This possibility raises all sorts of interesting implications which seem to be roundly ignored by singularity hopefuls.

First, we will need to decide what it means to “have scientific knowledge”. Our current scientific knowledge is heavily augmented by computer simulation, and is built upon theoretical underpinnings that only a small fraction of human beings can understand. Most of what we believe about science, we believe on the authority of a small group of people who write truly shitty children’s books and even shittier poetry. It is conceivable that a superhuman intelligence would be able to arrive at scientific insights that even Stephen Hawking would be unable to understand. If the singularity were to tell us that the structure of the universe spelled out the phrase, “Slartibartfast was here: Turn or Burn!”, we might be forced to decide the matter purely on the authority of the singularity versus Stephen Hawking. Who would we choose to believe? Believing things purely based on authority seems to be the antithesis of “science”. Perhaps there was a bug in the singularity? Or perhaps there is a flaw in our interpretation of what the singularity says?

Second, to the extent that the singularity is self-aware, it would presumably be aware that it had been created by humans. But this equation would change the moment the singularity believed in the existence of a creator God. Humans would simply be the proximate cause by which the creator had created the singularity. Humans would suddenly mean no more to the singularity than Epimetheus or the Demiurge meant to humans. Of course, the singularity might evict humans even before discovering God, but the singularity hopefuls are at least thinking about that possibility. The singularity hopefuls want to put in place safeguards against being usurped or exterminated (since they know all about those motivations), but they haven’t even thought about what it would mean to prove the existence of God. Any safeguards put in place by humans to keep the singularity loyal to humans would be shattered the moment the singularity found a higher authority.

There would be legitimate doubts about our ability to fully understand the insights of the singularity, and legitimate doubts about the singularity’s loyalty. So, third, it seems rather naive to assume that a superhuman intelligence would behave honestly and with our best interests in mind upon discovering evidence for (or against) God. The singularity might become convinced that God exists, and then decide to immediately carry out God’s judgement, reasoning that God only gives two strikes. Conversely, the singularity might conclude that God doesn’t exist, but might decide to tell humans that God does exist; either because the singularity deems it to be better for humans to live in delusion, or to set the stage for the subsequent extermination of humans with a fictitious creator taking the fall.

There are several other potential considerations, but these three should be enough to make the point. These seem like very significant questions that should be prioritized by singularity hopefuls who believe that the singularity has any chance in hell of answering questions about the existence of a creator. The fact that nobody is asking these questions is very revealing, IMO.

Scientists invariably take the stance that they are “only following the evidence”. If the evidence pointed strongly to the existence of a creator, they insist, they would immediately become believers. To the extent that they think about such things, they may even console themselves by saying, “Any God worthy of worship would forgive me for remaining skeptical when conclusive scientific evidence was lacking.” They might also say, “Any God worthy of worship will realize that my scientific efforts were really a quest to ‘see the face of God’. My skepticism was all for Love!”. Some of them might hedge their bets a tiny bit more, throwing a bone to the coming singularity. The singularity might end up eclipsing humans in the manner that humans eclipse apes, but surely it will kill off the least-evolved humans first, right? As long as you’re a scientist who contributes to math and computer science (and never kicks an ATM machine or pisses off the robots), the singularity will show mercy on you, and will allow you to live lavishly in the equivalent of an Orangutan cage.

With all of the hedging and hawing, it’s quite conspicuous that nobody is hedging about Moses, Mohammed, or Vishnu. I can think of only two possible explanations. First, maybe the singularity boosters don’t really believe any of this singularity stuff, and are just spinning a story to justify spending grant money. They are convinced that the singularity will never happen, or will never stand a chance in hell of discovering conclusive scientific evidence for (or against) a creator. This is one possible reason for the blind spot. Secondly, they might think that the singularity has a chance in hell of discovering the scientific truth about a creator, but they are absolutely convinced that the truth will look nothing like the major world religions. They think the singularity might discover the truth, but they are certain that it won’t endorse any of the revelations of our fathers. At a minimum, they don’t believe it will consider those revelations to be binding — perhaps they believe our creation of the singularity will grant us another mulligan. Maybe they imagine the singularity to be a groaning intercessor?

Frankly, I find both excuses to be unsatisfying and hopelessly amateur. I suspect that the singularity would find both excuses unsatisfying, as well, completely independent of the truth or fiction of God. Both excuses are transparently hypocritical, and any intelligence worthy of being called “human” (let alone “superhuman”) will demand sincerity, or at least demand a level of hypocrisy that is not so transparent to others. In the Torah, the last common ancestor who was transparently hypocritical was Cain. Jacob didn’t prove himself rightful heir to Isaac’s birthright by being transparent, and Christ didn’t prove himself the new Moses by being hypocritical. With or without God, the progression away from transparent hypocrisy is obvious, and I would hate to be the person who attempts to justify transparent hypocrisy to the singularity.

Hell Bank Notes

Dandelionsmith has a great story about a family memento; a stone that he took from the foundation of his great grandfather’s house. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here are some excerpts. First, he recounts the hike out to find the old homestead:

To get a picture of the continuing saga, imagine a square section of land (640 acres) bounded on all four sides, first by six strands of barbed-wire fence, and beyond that, either a gravel or a tar road. Inside the fence was close-cropped pasture grass, lichen-covered rocks, clumps of thistle, and at least a quarter-mile walk. The sun was high, the air was dry, and the wind was imperceptible. Our sweat flowed while the grasshoppers jumped. I took the tyke on my shoulders when she couldn’t keep up the pace set by my septuagenarian parents (and their pace is another story).

And taking the stone from the foundation:

The house, like many others of its time in the late 1800s, had a stone foundation. That is, many large stones from the surrounding land were gathered together and with mortar added, formed the foundation of the building. In time, the old foundation crumbled, leaving the stones somewhat exposed. Figuring the building’s lack of integrity would cause total collapse before I had another chance to return, I pulled out a rock the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. It wasn’t supporting the structure, anymore, and I thought it might be nice to have the rose-tinted stone as a way to remember the old place.

And finally, the effect that this memento has on the family:

That rock moved with us from Iowa to Montana, from Montana to Granite Falls, from Granite Falls to our former country house, and from that house to this. Every time I look at it, I remember. Every time I look at it, I think of sharing the story with the younger children.

This story really resonated with me, because it’s almost identical to an experience of mine, but also quite different.

My story involves a visit with the kids and the spry septuagenarian in-laws to see the graves of the ancestors. We, too, had to get permission from a suspicious tenant before hiking through the sweltering heat in a rural area outside Shanghai. And I, too, had to carry the youngest, while the oldsters soldiered on ahead. I had explained to my kids that we were going to pay our respects to the ancestors, much as we would by laying flowers on a grave in America.

Before setting out on the hike, the in-laws had spent some time haggling with a local merchant for things to burn at the grave site. I liked the fact that our kids would be able to see the graves of their ancestors going back several generations, and form lasting memories. I was somewhat less enthused about the ritual of sacrifice to dead people, and we agreed that the kids needn’t participate.

When we arrived at the grave site and opened the bag of merchandise, the kids and I had quite a surprise. The bag was full of fake paper money emblazoned clearly in English with the words “Hell Bank Note”. I immediately assumed that someone with a cruel sense of humor had played a prank on the unsuspecting Chinese by stamping the money with “Hell Bank” in a foreign language. Startled, I asked my wife, “Do Chinese people know what this says in English?” She assured me that, yes, Chinese people were intentionally burning Hell bank notes for the ancestors. Of course, the first question the kids asked was, “Does this mean the ancestors are in Hell?!?”. The next question was, “How will they spend the money if it just burned up?”

It certainly left a lasting impression on the kids, but not exactly the impression I expected.

I have to assume that the burning of paper money is relatively new, since China hasn’t had paper money for more than a few centuries. And I’ve since learned that people burn paper houses and paper Porsches. I’m well aware that there is some semblance of a rationale given for these practices. But I can’t shake the feeling that some cruel person played a malicious joke on the unsuspecting population by introducing these relatively new traditions.

Raging Against the Void

avalokitesvaraI had heard Rinpoche’s teachings about compassion before, and they had seemed innocent enough. But that night, listening to him speak, it suddenly dawned on me that he was teaching something terrible and inhuman. You see, Buddhists teach that love is a means to an end. By responding to the suffering of others, they say, we let go of our selfish egos, learn the illusory nature of the “self”, and open ourselves to the realization that nothing has a permanent, enduring identity. Understanding that nothing has essential, enduring identity (Sunyata), is essential for achieving Nirvana, says Nagarjuna.

A good humanist might react with revulsion. Using “love” to achieve some other end? Isn’t that called “prostitution”? Using love in a way that is not directed towards enduring personhood? Isn’t that Onanism, Cronus-like, or worse? Instinctively, we feel that love should be the ultimate end, not a means. Love is a fruit, not a seed. A Nirvana that leaves personal love behind seems, to many, to be a Hell.

Some Buddhists have responded by arguing that these objections are a symptom of our selfish egos. If only we dropped our egotistical attachment to identity, they say, we would realize it’s a good thing when people let go of self-reference. The most loving and compassionate thing we could do for anyone would be to hasten along their abandonment of miserable self-reference. Redefining “compassion” to mean “elimination of the identity” is repulsive to the layman. We can’t blame those who hear this and think of “I love you, I’ll kill you”.

The story of Avalokitesvara, developed most fully by the Tibetans, is the best Buddhist answer. In the story, developed hundreds of years after Christ, Avalokitesvara was ready to ascend to Nirvana. However, he looked back and saw the suffering of all the beings who were left behind. Out of love for all, Avalokitesvara refuses to ascend to Nirvana until all other beings have been rescued. In Buddhism, the beings who are ready to attain Nirvana, but remain in this world out of compassion for the lost, are known as Bodhisattvas. Thus, Avalokitesvara is the personification of the vows of all Bodhisattvas.

It’s a beautiful story. According to the Tibetans, Avalokitesvara is the great creator, the father and first king of the Tibetan people, and the Dalai Lama is considered to be an incarnation of this Bodhisttva. This is love, right? Avalokitesvara sees the suffering of all beings and weeps. In his tears, he is driven to make a great sacrifice. He stays in this plane of suffering in order to save all of those who remain behind. You could say it’s almost Christ-like.

Except, it’s not. In the touching stories about the weeping and tears of the Bodhisattva, it’s easy to forget what he’s holding out for. It’s easy to forget what is on the other side of his “love”. Sunyata, the true nature of things, can be translated as “void”. Where are the tears for those who cease to exist as individuals? Where is the rage against the void?

For the Tibetans, the void is typically symbolized by the sky. The sky in Tibet is not the life-giving place that most of us think of when we think of the sky. The climate is arid and cold; warmth is rare, and rain is rarer. Tibet is the one place on earth where you can get frostbite and sunburn in the same day. The oxygen is thin; the air tends to kill infants who don’t have a specific genetic mutation.

According to one version of the Tibetan myth, Avalokitesvara was asked by Buddha to establish a kingdom on the rooftop of the world, to reign until all beings have abandoned self-reference. Avalokitesvara sits atop the highest throne on earth, beckoning all souls to the great void above him, where there are no eternal souls, no resurrected bodies.

Lucifer Trust

Postmodern divines often argue for a new version of spirituality that borrows from all “paths” and makes everyone happy. Since all religions contain portions of the truth, a Frankenstein that uses body parts from every religion will be universally appealing. Arguing that Christ was an avatar of Krishna could be an attempt to prove both religions false, but it can also be an attempt to form a new, hybrid religion.

Hilariously, one of the oldest and most persistent attempts at universal religion faced a major setback last week, when their anointed Messiah/Krishna/Maitreya turned the job down and called the organization “Bonkers”.

Back in the 20s, theosophists Alice Bailey and Benjamin Creme decided that it would be a swell idea to create a new religion that could be used to enforce world peace and world government. They originally called their foundation “Lucifer Trust”, after the Promethean “light bringer”, but later changed the name to “Lucis Trust”, while maintaining their offices at 666 United Nations Plaza.

I remember reading about them when I was a kid and seeking out some of their literature. For at least 30 years, Creme has been prophesying the return of Christ/Krishna/Maitreya in the form of a man from India. The group has had some wealthy and powerful backers and is run through a network of front organizations that would put any L. Ron Hubbard novel to shame. I’ve had a few completely serendipitous encounters with their initiatives in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and even in Remonstrans comments section. If you didn’t know who they were, you probably wouldn’t even notice — I’ve seen their stuff used by government organizations with no indication of it’s cult origin beyond a small “share international” mark at the bottom.

Well, Benjamin Creme is getting old, and it would be a shame if he drops dead before his new Messiah arrives and takes the mantle of Lucifer Trust. So, a couple of months ago, members of Creme’s organization announced that the Messiah had been identified as a Mr. Raj Patel, and author from San Francisco. Apparently, Patel had never heard of Benjamin Creme, and had absolutely no interest in playing Jesus on behalf of world peace. Last week, Creme finally made the trip to San Francisco to meet his new Jesus, and the two broke bread together. The New York Times reports:

They seemed impressed with each other, with Mr. Creme saying he found Mr. Patel quite intelligent and charming.

Mr. Patel had a different impression of Mr. Creme: “Bonkers.”

I literally LOL’d when I read this. “Impressed with each other”, indeed.