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Proof that God exists - - There's something about Mary...

May. 28th, 2011 01:01 pm Proof that God exists -

So, a Saturday treat for you: a nice little proof that God exists, apparently ;-)

Ok so there are holes in the argument, but, still...
(I claim no credit for this article - the link to the original source is at the bottom!)
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 Kurt Gödel was best known as a mathematician and secondarily known as an extreme eccentric. After his death, he became known for something else: creating an ontological proof of the existence of God.
While some branches of reasoning are meant to start with observable phenomena, ontological proof doesn't grow out of earthly proof. What heavenly thing could? Sure, things might look bleak on earth, but there could be other worlds where things always go swimmingly. Or perhaps in this world everything is going the only way they could possibly go, under the watchful eye of a loving God, but us humans are too blind to see that. Observation can't prove what is supposedly unprovable. Instead of detective work and evidence, ontological arguments are derived from reason alone. A set of assumptions, or axioms, are combined to prove a larger truth.

Gödel finished the proof in the early 1940s, but the proof was not copied by peers until the 1970s. He didn't let anyone know about it until he believed that he was dying. It wasn't finally published until the 1980s. Let's take a good look at it:

Well this clears everything up, doesn't it?

Gödel based his argument on an early argument of St. Anselm's. St. Anselm defined God as the greatest being in the universe. No greater being could be imagined. However, if God did not exist, then a greater being had to be possible to imagine - one which exists. Since it wasn't possible, by definition, to imagine a greater being than the greatest being imaginable, God had to exist.

Gödel twisted this argument a little. He used modal logic to prove his point. Modal logic distinguishes between certain different states that certain suppositions have. Some suppositions are possible in some worlds, some possible only in a certain world, and some true in all possible worlds. If they are true in all possible worlds, they are considered to be always 'necessary'.

God can either necessarily exist, or necessarily not exist. If God is an all-powerful being, and he exists, he necessarily exists in all possible worlds. If he doesn't exist, he necessarily doesn't exist in any possible worlds. It is not possible to say that God does not exist in any possible world. No matter how slim the chance is, God might exist. That means that God can't necessarily not exist. Since the choices are either God necessarily does exist, or necessarily doesn't, and we have eliminated the possibility that he necessarily doesn't, the only possibility left is that he necessarily does.

Start prayin'.

Or maybe not. There's no doubt that Gödel was a brilliant man - he was a good friend of Albert Einstein's, who admired him greatly. It is also thought that, during his life, he had certain religious and mystical convictions. However, he specifically held the proof back during his lifetime because he didn't wish it to be taken as 'his proof that God exists'. He, in fact, didn't want people to think he believed in God at all. He was clear that the entire proof was simply an exercise in modal logic, derived from a certain set of assumptions. Those assumptions can be questioned. For example, Gödel's definition of God didn't have anything to do with the behavior of a deity, it was just a variation on St. Anselm's 'greatest imaginable being'. In other words, it was an axiom specifically chosen for both a vague sense of religion and the ability to make the rest of the proof work. If someone defined God differently - the being that made the world in seven days, for example - then the proof no longer applies. There have plenty of atheist thinkers knocking down the proof. And plenty of theist thinkers expanding on it.

It's a pretty looking page, though.

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Shamelessly inched from: http://io9.com/5805775/proof-of-the-existence-of-god-set-down-on-paper (the comments there are amusing)

And the article credits Stanford and Philosophy of Religion.

14 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:May 28th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)
Any mathematicians on my friends list want to translate the maths, line by line, for us?
Date:May 28th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
Can I come back to this one?
Date:May 28th, 2011 01:09 pm (UTC)
You can ignore the maths and just read the words, to get the point..... but, maybe *after* your headache is better ;-)

Mary x
Date:May 28th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)
Date:May 28th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
Glad I'm not a mathematician - those formulas make even my wildest Excel formula, Salesforce formula, or SQL statements look like key stage 1 maths.

While I don't understand the notation, I do get what he is describing.

What’s so interesting about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem is that it can also be used to soundly prove that God cannot exist, as easily as it proves God cannot not exist.

For example, in the design this theorem, it makes it clear that any individual system can never contain all the information inherent in that system. (Basically, a formula never finishes that references itself, because the source is changed by the result in constant iterations - like thinking about what you're thinking about).

The argument you are referencing assumes that God must be that outside source. It sounds like a reasonable argument. However, it is internally flawed because once you introduce a deity that can somehow know all, the theorem then must be applied to this God as well. (If you leave God out of the bounds of Godel’s theorem, then you do not accept the theorem).

Therefore, according to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, God can never fully comprehend himself, thus rendering the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient being scientifically impossible.

Of course, with God in as the object of the theorem you are fighting a battle that can't be won either way, which is the point - however it's point made on the extreme's. The theorem works with any statement that has no presentable proofs. You could easily apply it to the lyric "Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow," but that wouldn't get the focus of a faith debate.

And if you really want to screw with your grey cells, apply this statement:

"Reality cannot exist".

On a related note, best argument I've heard in support of the argument that the bible is the gospel truth is this:
"That the universe wasn't created in seven days (168 hours) is beyond doubt... it took millions and billion years for the various elements to come together. However, if God were to exist, he would be billions, even trillions of years old by any measurable standard, so how long would a day be to him?"
Date:May 28th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
Live Journal needs a *like* button.

Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

Mary x
Date:May 28th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
OK, I'll bite. How many meanings are there of the otherwise unqualified term "omnipotent"?
Date:May 30th, 2011 11:09 am (UTC)
[Sorry about the delay in responding - missed the notification of your reply]

This argument might have worked better had you not notably failed to qualify 'exist'. Or 'assume'. Or 'point'... :-)

Semantics apart, I fail to be convinced that Godel was trying to argue that definition is equal to instantiation (except in terms of a concept). My big problem with his "proof" lies in the fact that, like Dawkins more recently, he seems to confuse abstract probability with actuality. This is though a purely personal take and I am happy for wiser minds than mine to feel differently.
Date:May 29th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
As I said, there are holes in the argument ;)

Mostly in the presuppositions.

I find it an interesting starting point for discussion though.

Mary x
Date:May 28th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, read it now. I seem to remember using a similar argment in a balloon debate in school. I came in second. :-) As peter says it seems to be based on a couple of very spurious precepts. Almost as though it's asking the reader to take some things on faith, which is ironic really. :-) ( perhaps the maths makes a difference though - that bit I just can't understand I am afraid)
Date:May 28th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Theologists claim that God must be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
Seems a bit arbitrary to me.
What happens if there is a higher being who is only 2 out of 3?
The definition of omnibenevolent is in question too - who decides what is good and kind? Everyone is going to have different opinions.
Date:May 28th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
You know, that would look cool on a t-shirt.