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← Does science make belief in God obsolete?

ThoughtsonCommonToad's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by ThoughtsonCommonToad

This is where Shermer gets it right and Dawkins gets it wrong

On the matter of God's existence, the answer to the question slides toward a yes, depending on how far we extend the sphere of science into the space of theology. If we apply the methods of science to understanding all of nature, where would God be and how would we detect Him or His actions? That's the rub. God is described by most Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent, the creator of all things visible and invisible, an Intelligent Designer capable of constructing the universe, Earth, life, and us. If scientists go in search of such a being�"as Intelligent Design (ID) creationists claim to be doing�"how could we possibly distinguish an omnipotent and omniscient God from an extremely powerful and really smart Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (ETI)? I call this problem Shermer's Last Law (pace Arthur C. Clarke): any sufficiently advanced Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence would be indistinguishable from God.

Here is how the problem breaks down. Biological evolution is glacially slow compared to cultural evolution. Because of this, and the fact that the cosmos is very big and the space between the stars is vast, the probability of making contact with an ETI that is technologically equal to or only slightly more advanced than us is virtually nil. If we ever do encounter the representatives of an ETI, they will be so far ahead of us technologically that they will appear as gods to us. Consider something as relatively simple as DNA. We can already engineer genes after only 50 years of genetic science. An ETI that was, say, only 50,000 years ahead of us would surely be able to construct entire genomes, cells, multi-cellular life, and complex ecosystems. The design of life is, after all, just a technical problem in molecular manipulation. To our bronze-age ancestors who created the great monotheistic religions, the ability to create life was God-like. To our not-so-distant descendents, or to an ETI we might encounter, the ability to create life will be simply a matter of technological skill.

By pursuing a course of scientific inquiry to its natural extension of examining the nature of God, what we will find, if we find anything, is an alien being capable of engineering cells, complex organisms, planets, stars, galaxies, and perhaps even universes. If today we can engineer genes, clone mammals, and manipulate stem cells with science and technologies developed in only the last half century, think of what an ETI could do with 100,000 years of equivalent powers of progress in science and technology. For an ETI who is a million years more advanced than we are, engineering the creation of planets and stars may be entirely possible. And if universes are created out of collapsing black holes�"which some cosmologists think is probable�"it is not inconceivable that a sufficiently advanced ETI could even create a universe.

What would we call an intelligent being capable of engineering a universe, stars, planets, and life? If we knew the underlying science and technology used to do the engineering, we would call it Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence; if we did not know the underlying science and technology, we would call it God.


Dawkins Gods and Earthlings argument does not obviate God in a sense that would effect a religious person's belief in God in any way.

Sun, 27 Apr 2008 08:15:00 UTC | #161543