The idea that that we live in a designed and created world died today. That is it died in my pretty little head. Don't get me wrong, I have never been a true adherent to the notion of the Genesis account of 6 days of creative fury by the big man. I have been happy to be an agnostic whilst adhering to the idea of evolution but at the same time having a little sympathy or understanding for those who believe in the ultimate creator. This morning however, it occurred to me in an idea that creation by its very nature disproves creation. That is that something that already exists cannot create something new.
Unlike the Four Horsemen of New Atheism who base a lot of their views on their biological backgrounds, my idea is based in the notion of Computers after reading a very brief over view of Alan Turing and John Searles' philosophy in A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton.
Alan Turing was most famous for his work in Bletchley during the Second World War in his creating code breakers against the enigma machine. He was also fascinated by the idea that computers may one day think intelligently. His test, very briefly, was this. Someone is sat at a screen and is typing in questions. The answers on a screen appear in front of this person who is unaware as to whether the answers are coming from a person in another room or from the computer itself. Turing said that if the person fails to tell the difference, then it suggests that the computer is able to think intelligently.
John Searle refuted this with a test that involved a person sat in a room receiving cards through a letter box with Chinese symbols on them. That person then has to match the symbols on the card with a symbol in a book and then find the card in another pack that matches the symbol in the book. They then have to post that card back through another letter box. What the person doesn't know is that, within this card system, there are questions and answers which are being asked and replied to without the use of intellect from the person receiving the questions and delivering the answers. This was Searles' way of saying that computers can still provide intelligent answers to questions without having intellect. Warburton highlights the difference between syntax (the rules regarding the order that symbols are processed) and semantics (the meaning behind the symbols).
Now what Searle was trying to prove was that computers would not be able to think intelligently; but it gave me a thought which is reflected briefly by Warburton in the very same chapter. What if this test is not a reflection of computers but more a reflection of us? What if we are merely advanced computers? Indeed this is something that Turing debated. But consider this. What if meaning or semantics are only important to us because they are an inbuilt motivation for processing information.
The sense of meaning is vitally important to every human. Recognition that we exist, why we exist, what we are meant to be doing, what we are doing, what we say, all of these things are fired by the craving for meaning. I would like you to try a moderately scary exercise. Try and think about what "meaning" consists of. What is it about meaning that excites us and makes us carry on with life? Why does it bring us so much pleasure? Even in the depths of torture and suffering, some people are content because of their sense of meaning. I would argue that if we really break it down there is very little that makes any sense about meaning. Certainly there is no purpose behind it other than it being an experience in itself which sustains us. So in light of this; what if meaning is merely a process which motivates us to process the syntax (language, numbers, actions, beliefs, assumptions etc) in the right order. What if our sense of meaning is just vital software that makes us work as advanced computers? Perhaps a good way to think about it is looking at the way sugar is processed in our body.
Sugar (glucose) is something that our bodies need within out cells to burn oxygen and therefore make the energy that helps us carry on. Now for that sugar to get into our cells a special process called the lock and key mechanism needs to happen. On the cell wall is a locked door through which the sugar wishes to pass. The only way it can do so is if there is a key. That key is called insulin which attaches to the lock on the cell door and allows sugar to pass through. Similarly therefore, could it be possible that without a sense of meaning, we would not process information in the right order? We just wouldn't be motivated to do so. Arguably this is something we see in those who suffer from bipolar disorder. So meaning, we realise, is the key to the lock that inspires us to pass this vast web of information around for whatever reason that is above our knowledge?
Now it is at this point that we come to why I think creationism and design by a "God" is dead. At least this is why I think our current thinking about it is dead. The building of computers is obviously a move to make our lives easier but what we love about them is the way they imitate us. Building a computer that can apparently think is merely trying to see if we can imitate or build ourselves. It is a move to understand ourselves more but also because, like the need for meaning, we have an intrinsic desire to imitate and be imitated. This is something called mimetics (think miming) which is something the thinker Rene Girard writes about. So this brings us to the issues that have occupied me.
Building a computer is merely imitation. It is to manufacture something that already exists, to work with a template we already have. We may consider that the electrical impulses in a computer work very similarly to those in our own brains. So actually to say we have "created" a computer is wrong. Even if a very advanced computer was built for the very first time, it has not been "created" because it has been built based on a template or idea that already exists in us. Plato suggested that we already know all things, we merely need reminding. Both ideas follow the same track.
So what if we were to redirect our view from the computers we have made and point it outwards towards this supposed God of the monotheistic religions? If we base Gods building of us on the model we have about building computers, we have a problem. We no longer have an all powerful, all knowing, all present God. By virtue of the idea that God builds "us" in "His" image, we cannot have been created i.e. a completely original idea, nature or existing being. We are merely built from a template or idea that already exists. That is if God has created us in His image, He has merely made us from a template that preceded His own thinking and ability to design. God has merely imitated. God in this case is merely a more advanced version of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Therefore, the God that has been presented to us over thousands of years of Western thinking does not exist. This God has merely served as a syntax with a profound semantic that is rapidly failing.
The only way out of this, if one prefers to keep their religious faith, is to realise this: If we have been truly created, we have come from something so vastly different in nature and existence to ourselves which cannot be reflected truly in our thoughts or definitions or worship or theology. So vast would be the difference with the God proposed by monotheism that it would make no difference whether you were a Christian or an Atheist because neither definition are adequate to reflect the truth.
Ultimately the important realisation behind this idea is that of our limitations. Whatever view you choose to apply to your reality may well work for you but we have to be prepared to accept that its purpose may only be to make you function for the sake of functioning. If your syntax has a religious semantic, then that is fine if it works. Equally if your syntax is fired by a scientific semantic then that is equally good. Ultimately there may be cross over and so we see some scientists who are very religious i.e. Dr Robert Winston.
When two syntaxes begin to clash violently as we see today amongst factions of Islam, between Christians and the New Atheists, between pro life and abortionists then we have a responsibility to lay both under the microscope of critical scrutiny. That can be done with either respect for the other or by one gaining victory over the other either violently or gradually as we are beginning to see between the religious and the secular.
For some people, syntaxes die on a personal level when the semantics fail. This occurred personally today. I am today, a little less agnostic as I was when I woke up. My choice now is whether to deny it and dress my previous semantic with fool hardy arguments or I can celebrate it and hope that today I will function a little more efficiently than yesterday.
Follow Matt Hicks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/matthuselah