Sunday, March 29, 2009

Proving God

Some of you may be familiar with philosophers' attempts to prove God's existence.  The simplest is put forth by Descartes, who in doubting reality, realized the only thing he could be sure of was that he doubted.  Here's my paraphrase:

I doubt, therefore I think.
I think, therefore I exist.
I doubt, therefore I am imperfect.
I am imperfect, therefore imperfection exists.
Imperfection exists, therefore perfection exists.
God, by definition, is perfection, therefore God exists.
God is perfect, therefore God is good.
God is good, therefore God would not deceive us.
God would not deceive us, therefore the world and my experiences in it are real.

This proof actually shares the same fatal flaw as the other God proof I've heard:

Something can exist either in thought or in reality.
I can think of God, therefore God exists in thought.
It is more powerful to exist in reality than in thought.
God is, by definition, the most powerful, therefore God exists in reality.

The flaw, of course, is that we are asked to accept that because something is conceptualized, it must exist in accordance to its intrinsic characteristics.  Yet if I believe that God is, by definition, a delicious jelly donut sitting on my desk, there is still no jelly donut on my desk.  Those of us not well schooled in metaphysics may not be able to articulate exactly why we know these proofs are bogus, but we do know it.

(Note: I am not a philosopher, so if you're outraged at how much I screwed up my summary of these ideas, I apologize.)

However, in some of my musings this year, I have come across my own conditional proof that God exists.  Conditional in that it does not prove God, but makes God a necessary derivative of another belief.  Here it is:

If we have free will, God exists.

Maybe some of you are nodding your heads and saying "good point," or shaking your heads and saying "nope."  You have probably already jumped ahead through everything else I'm about to say.  If, however, you're going "huh?" then you can benefit from reading my explanation.

It started in Mexico.  I have no real explanation for why it started in Mexico, except perhaps that I (like Descartes, it would seem) had a lot of free time on my hands.  It was then that I began doubting free will.

It seems, scientifically, that to believe in free will, you must at some point stop your understanding of physical science.  Scientifically speaking, our brains are very complex systems of electrical signals and chemical reactions that form what we experience as thought.  Like everything in nature, these systems react to stimuli in the environment, chug through some insanely complex equations, and churn out an answer.  It's conceptually no different from the reaction you get when you mix baking soda and vinegar, or when you charge a battery, or when you plant a seed.  There are variables (how much vinegar you used, how long the battery is charging, nutrients in the soil, and so forth) that, depending on the complexity and our ability to measure them, we may or may not be aware of.  But if we were to know all of these variables, we could predict the outcome.  Chaos theory says that we cannot--that the universe is far too complex for us to predict outcomes like that.  But if we were omniscient about the present, we would be able to predict the future.

Are you buying this?  Let me ask you something: if you flip a coin, what are the chances that it will land heads?  Fifty percent?  Fifty-one percent?  Say you flip a coin and it lands on heads.  Given the exact physical circumstances of that toss--air currents in the room, your pulse, everything--what were the odds that it was going to be heads?  I claim 100%.  If you built a time machine, went back in time, and observed that coin toss again without changing anything (forget Heisenberg for a second), it would land on heads.  Every time.

Apply the same concept to a choice.  What will I eat for breakfast?  Cereal or eggs?  I think I'm choosing, but I'm actually just running an equation in my brain based on my hunger, how long it's been since I last ate eggs, how much time I have before I have to be in class, and so forth.  I may choose to make eggs.  If I go back in time and watch that play out again, I will once again choose to make eggs, because that was the outcome of that equation (note: for this reason I don't believe in alternate realities--at least not according to the "we create one with every choice" theory).

The end result is predetermination.  Given the exact same circumstances, we will make the exact same choices, just like the same math equation will always yield the same result (and don't give me any plus-or-minus crap or start talking about the number i).

There's a whole concept in philosophy that assumes all this, and goes on to explain our experiences and sense of self: epiphenominalism.  "In the Philosophy of Mind, a dualist theory of mind-body interaction which maintains all mental events are causally dependent upon physical events (i.e., brain states). According to this theory brain events cause mental events, but not vice versa" (Maricopa).  Essentially, our experience of making a choice is actually a side-effect of our body making that choice.  It's an illusion, unintended by the brain--a "ghost in the machine."

You may disagree, but I think all of this makes perfect sense.

So where does free will come in to play?  Do we have free will?  I believe I make choices all the time.  I believe I have free will.  Maybe I'm just suffering from the delusion of mental existence, but maybe I'm right, and there actually is free will.  But here's the thing:

To the best of my scientific and philosophical understanding, free will is impossible.  Therefore, free will can only exist by divine miracle.

Divine miracle means God.

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