After getting the winter off to a dry start, we got a lot of snow in Logan last night. It's supposed to snow for most of this week and get very cold. I'm not a fan, but it will help with the drought. And at least we'll get a few more seconds of sunlight every day. January is an endurance test.
I'd like to pass along a couple of articles that I read after someone else passed along this week. First, from Scientific American, Can God Be Proved Mathematically? I almost didn't bother to read it because I care a lot less about whether God exists than I used to. I reached the conclusion a while ago that the universe probably does depend on a higher power that most of us call God for its existence, but I see little evidence that this power is intervening in my life or in world affairs, so whether it merely ignores my prayers or doesn't exist at all makes little difference to me. I still pray every night, but mostly just as a cathartic ritual to talk about my life. I rarely waste my breath asking for things anymore. So I'm far more concerned about what happens after I die, and I know that if consciousness continues, it isn't magic. It follows laws just like the rest of the universe. So if the universe doesn't need God in order to exist, neither does eternal life or reincarnation or whatever. Spoiler alert for the article: some mathematical arguments create a rational foundation for smart people to believe in God, but they don't definitively prove his existence to the satisfaction of other smart people. You probably could have guessed that.
The person who passed these articles along was a Mormon. I didn't argue with him because he wasn't being a jackass, and I try not to argue with people just for the sake of tearing down their beliefs if they're not being jackasses. But here in my own space I'd just like to mention that the God postulated by philosophy and mathematics is not the deity that Mormons believe in. It's not an exalted man with a wife (or wives) whom we're not supposed to talk about or pray to. It's not an object among all the other objects in the universe, located in one physical place. It's an entirely different class of entity, one that contains the cause of its own existence and which, therefore, is uniquely capable of being the cause for everything else's existence. And it's everywhere, not just in the sense that Mormons say God's knowledge and influence are everywhere, but literally everywhere in equal measures at all times. The same arguments that make this God's existence plausible have the opposite effect on the Mormon God, and most Mormons probably don't recognize that because they just say "God" without worrying about the significant differences between how they and other theists define that term.
Half of that article is devoted to Kurt Gödel's mathematical proof, the most recent and sophisticated, and then the whole other article is about him. From aeon, We'll Meet Again discusses the arguments that Gödel laid out for his private belief in an afterlife in four letters to his mother. Here he became more philosophical than mathematical. He argued, in summary, that if the world is rationally organized, as we have reason to believe it is for the simple reason that science works, then our existence must continue after death to rectify the irrationality of our miserable lives and wasted potential. He cited the human capacity for learning as the purpose of this afterlife. "In particular," he wrote, "one must imagine that the ‘learning’ occurs in great part first in the next world, namely, in that we remember our experiences from this world and come to understand them really for the first time, so that our this-worldly experiences are - so to speak - only the raw material for learning." That certainly resonates with Mormon beliefs in broad strokes, though Gödel didn't say anything about making spirit babies with multiple wives for eternity. Again, this argument won't convince a determined skeptic, but Gödel's intellect and education ought to have humbled the guy in the comments section who assumed that he'd somehow never considered entropy in his calculations.
I only want to touch on one comment from a reader who, after agreeing with Gödel's arguments elsewhere that pure materialism doesn't hold up under logical scrutiny, added, "OTOH, his arguments about intrinsic meaningfulness and purpose sound downright medieval. Darwin showed clearly enough that everything we know as purpose can arise from blind evolution. And we’ve had a century to get used to the idea that our senses of meaning and purpose are not invalidated by their emergent nature. There is no need to posit a cosmic source to validate our feeling them." When I read the word "medieval" I flashed back to what David Bently Hart wrote in The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. He said that different philosophical worldviews never become outdated, just unfashionable. (Some would say that's why philosophy is useless.) Aristotle taught about four different kinds of causes: material (what is it made of), formal (what is its form), efficient (what makes it happen), and final (what is its purpose). These kinds are not exclusive. In the Aristotelian worldview, there's no reason why Darwinian evolution and a cosmic source can't both be causes of our sense of meaning and purpose. I think the former would be the efficient cause and the latter would be the final cause. This view hasn't been disproven, nor can it be; it just isn't fashionable right now because people embrace pure materialism instead.
As I read this article, I got a warm, peaceful feeling. According to my Mormon indoctrination, that was the Holy Ghost testifying that Gödel's beliefs were true. But now I know that it was just me testifying that I want them to be true. It's very difficult to keep personal biases out of such things when most of us are deeply programmed to not want our consciousness to be annihilated. But on the other hand, my pessimistic fear that existence is entirely meaningless, unfair, and temporary after all is a bias that might be just as powerful in the opposite direction. I'm pretty confident that there's an afterlife. I'll never again say that I know because I won't know until I'm dead, and then if I'm wrong, I still won't. But my months of existential terror are over for now, I think.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.