Wednesday, May 07, 2003

In Fred We Trust-Steven Den Beste has a good post on not being able to disprove the existence of God. Note that this doesn't prove God exists, but it's always very hard to prove something doesn't exist.
The basic idea goes like this: God, whom I tend to refer to as Fred in the discussion of this theory, used His powers to cause the Big Bang. Since then, he's been watching the universe as it has developed because He wanted to see what would happen (because He didn't know). But Fred does not interfere in the universe, and Fred did not design the outcome. For instance, Fred did not try to manipulate the initial conditions so as to cause humans as a species to appear; it's just one of the many things He has observed while the experiment continues. Too, humans have no souls and when they die they're dead; they're just part of the universe which resulted from Fred's one action in setting the whole thing off. Fred does not listen to prayer; Fred does not interfere. Fred just watches, and He's just as surprised by what's happening as we are. He is not part of the universe and is not subject to its laws, and is capable of watching it in a way which does not affect it, quantum mechanics notwithstanding. If it pleases you to do so, think of Fred as running the universe as a gigantic computer simulation, where He can see what's going on by getting printouts every once in a while or by watching some sort of massive graphics display. Or perhaps He's feeling the lumps underneath the curves of space induced by all mass, Braille-style.
Den Beste points out that Fred's essentially the god of Deism that was popular in the late 1700s; I was thinking that before I scrolled down to the point where he said it. If we can't tell a Fred universe from a godless one, how can we tell whether Fred's merely a passive actor or not? Does Fred just let his copy of SimUniverse run unaltered, or does he change the parameters from time to time? If Fred were to make some stochastic quantum activity change, would the resulting change in the mechanistic universe look like a "miracle" or just serendipity? If all the worlds a simulation, and we are merely subroutines, how do we know if the Great Programmer isn't changing the code or hitting the Recalculate button from time to time if he doesn't like the answer. Taken to the original Fred extreme, the participants have no outside input from Fred and are "free agents." How could we detect an intervention from a supernatural realm outside the mechanistic universe? If the changes were subtle, it would pass itself off as either dumb luck or common psychological changes. Faith could merely be a psychological factor that has largely positive side effects. "Miracles" can be chalked up as mere happenstance. We've only started to see some scientific study of an indirect evidence of God, or at lest in the power of prayer. This study is older than I thought, but showed a significant improvement in cardiac patients who had been prayed for off-site as opposed to a control group who hadn't been singled out for prayer. The off-site part is important, so as to control for any placebo effect of prayer. Other studies didn't show such an effect. If further study points to a positive power of prayer, then there is either something mechanistic but currently unknown going on or we have indirect evidence of the supernatural at work. I can't come up with a great study to prove God's existence, for God doesn't behave like a good guinea pig. However, Den Beste is correct in pointing out that you can't disprove him.

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