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God indistinguishable from advanced space aliens, skeptic claims

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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

At ABC Science, professional skeptic Michael Shermer lays it out for us in “God or ET? You decide” (June 29, 2011), an excerpt from his recent The Believing Brain :

Computer scientists calculate that there have been thirty-two doublings since World War II and that as early as 2030 we may encounter the singularity — the point at which total computational power will rise to levels that are so far beyond anything we can imagine that they will appear nearly infinite and thus, relatively speaking, be indistinguishable from omniscience. When this happens the world will change more in a decade than it did in the previous thousand decades.Deduction 2: Extrapolate these trend lines out tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years — mere eye blinks on an evolutionary time scale — and we arrive at a realistic estimate of how far advanced an ETI will be.

/Byrd Williams

Consider something as relatively simple as DNA. We can already engineer genes after only fifty years of genetic science. An ETI that was fifty thousand years ahead of us would surely be able to construct entire genomes, cells, multicellular life, and complex ecosystems.

The design of life, is after all, just a technical problem in molecular manipulation. To our not-so-distant descendants, or to an ETI we might encounter, the ability to create life will be simple a matter of technological skill.

That’s the afternoon project; the universes was the morning project. Shermer’s point is that we would call ET God?

Would we? Thoughts?

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I especially like Barb's and uoflcard's responses above. First, Barb is quite right. There is a big difference between practically omniscient and omniscient (like the difference between "mostly dead and all dead" for you Princess Bride aficionados). In fact, the difference between practically omniscient and omniscient is how much? That's right, its infinity. And that is exactly what we are talking about when we say that God is omniscient. uoflcard is quite right when he says that computation and intelligence are not the same thing. Shermer may be quite right about the exponential growth in computing power. However, the progress of genuine artificial intelligence has not been quite so sanguine, according to my understanding. A good read on this topic is Hubert L. Dreyfus' "What Computers Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason" It's a bit dated, but I feel his point is still valid: computing power and speed are not turning out to be the same thing as intelligence. A second problem that Shermer and others have not raised is that the simple multiplication of computing (or even thinking) power does not touch the area of morals. Our technology has indeed exploded in the last 100+ years, yet so has our capacity of heinous evil. Every time we invent some new technology, we find a way to twist it for selfish and destructive purposes. I don't know if we want to compare a supercomputer or a super-advanced alien to God on the moral level. Shermer is all smiles and flowers and sunshine about the future when it comes to computing technology, but he needs to stop and take a sober look at the dark side. moonmips
BA77 quoting Francis Collins: "We are so woefully ignorant about how biology really works. We still don’t understand how a particular DNA sequence—when we just stare at it—codes for a protein that has a particular function. ..." Moreover, we do know that there is no chemical necessity -- that is, no necessity in physics -- for *this* DNA sequence to code for *that* amino acid. That's why it's no longer called "the universal genetic code," but rather "the canonical genetic code." Ilion
"Computer scientists calculate that there have been thirty-two doublings since World War II and that as early as 2030 we may encounter the singularity — the point at which total computational power will rise to levels that are so far beyond anything we can imagine that they will appear nearly infinite and thus, relatively speaking, be indistinguishable from omniscience." Computation is not 'knowledge' (nor is it 'wisdom'). Computation is a mechanized analogy to counting. What these fools are asserting is that if we build enough machines which can "count" (intentional scare-quotes) fast enough, then those machines, in sum, will be "omniscient." Absurd, mush? Ilion
Shermer apparently doesn't realize that practically omniscient doesn't equate to actually omniscient. Barb
(i) computers are getting smarter and smarter, so sooner or later they’ll leave us in the dust because they’ll be practically omniscient;
Presumably they are getting smarter and smarter because they are becoming capable of executing more instructions per unit time. Of course, the one does not follow from the other. Mung
Hi everyone, There are two separable parts to Shermer's argument: (i) computers are getting smarter and smarter, so sooner or later they'll leave us in the dust because they'll be practically omniscient; (ii) any sufficiently advanced technology - say, that of an E.T. one million years ahead of us in its development - is indistinguishable from magic (Arthur C. Clarke's third law), and hence indistinguishable from God. Concerning (i), I think Neil Rickert's retort that a zillion times zero is still zero is apposite. Concerning (ii), I'd have a very simple question for the alien: "Tell me what I'm thinking now." That alone should be enough, if my thoughts have a propositional content which does not relate to anything in my vicinity (as opposed to "That food looks tasty", which an intelligent being could easily pick up, just by tracking my eye movements and observing my nose twitching). On top of that, there's challenge number two: can you create, instantaneously, the thing that I'm now thinking of (e.g. a cat)? Any being that didn't know the propositional content of my thoughts and that couldn't cross the being/non-being barrier by creating ex nihilo could not possibly be God. vjtorley
Suppose the universe consisted of two broad groups of things: 1) The atoms needed to build our solar system, including the earth and all life upon it (except for humans). 2) The parts required to build a series of optimal computers and all necessary networking, power supplies, etc. and that the sum total of all of the atoms of both groups was roughly comparable to all of the matter which actually exists in our universe. Ie everything in the universe which is not a part of our local environment is part of a mega mega supercomputer carefully designed to accurately model it; The computers need not just be tape and reader arrangements, they could be massively parallel affairs resembling suped-up mammalian brains (or better). Finally, the whole shebang is gravitationally stable and capable of running for billions of years: a) How long would it take these computers, properly programmed, to model the formation of our solar system? b) To model all of the chemical processes needed to generate fully functioning cells, discovering all of the necessary islands of functionality within them along the way? c) To model how the cells would interact within communities of other cells? d) To model how multi-cellular plants, animals and funghi would operate at all levels, both individually and within a wider context? In all cases how many calculations would need to be done, to within say 50 orders of mangitude, to acheive these aims -- using any or all of the Intelligent design methods at our disposal. Feel free to chip in further complications - up to but not including the first humans which arguably are linked to external minds and souls assumed to beyond computational analysis of any kind. steve_h
michael shermer is a clown. Apologies for being so blunt, but he is. I've seen his act live and it's even more pathetic in person. He is an embarrassment to anyone with even the pretense of any kind of intellectual integrity. (Which wouldn't be me, of course...) tgpeeler
as early as 2030 we may encounter the singularity — the point at which total computational power will rise to levels that are so far beyond anything we can imagine that they will appear nearly infinite and thus, relatively speaking, be indistinguishable from omniscience.
He is using computation and intelligence interchangeably here, which is ridiculous. Omniscience would include knowng what every possible combination of billions or trillions of codons would result in biologically, but we know the limits of random searches in the observable cosmos, and they are completely inadequate to suggest even remote probability of discvering a functional sequence of even a few hundred codons, much less entire genomes and ecosystems. How would a single computer, no matter how powerful, be "indistinguishable from omniscience"? It seems people like him assume there is a spectrum with nothing on one end and omniscience on the other, and computers and human intelligence are somewhere in between, with humans being closer to omniscience than modern computers. So then, obviously, if you increase computing power enough, you will pass human intelligence and eventually reach a level so high it would be indistinguishable from omniscience, at least from our humble vantage point. The problem is that intelligence and computation are not on the same spectrum. Nothing we have ever observed would suggest otherwise uoflcard
When they come up with a computer that is a zillion times as fast as a contemporary computer, they will have a system with a zillion times the knowledge and intelligence of a contemporary computer. A zillion times zero is still zero. I guess I don't understand why some people expect a mind to emerge from the mere mechanical manipulation of meaningless marks by a high speed dumb device. Neil Rickert
And if Shermer really wants to take the computer analogy to its limit: The Wit of Dr. Craig - Part 4 "You're calling it 'God', genius" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCUE10dY3Rc&NR=1 ================= The 'advanced alien' argument is also reminiscent of the argument laid out by Barrow and Tippler in "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle', as seen at the 6:49 minute mark of this video: The Anthropic Principle - Fine Tuning Of The Universe - Michael Strauss PhD. - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4323661/ ,,, but alas for evolutionists and their dissatisfaction with the way humans are, for something tells me that being made in the image of God is the pinnacle that any life-form in this universe could wish for!!! bornagain77
Shermer's entire schtick is a vindication of ID and of design detection. Keep talking Shermer. Upright BiPed
Yeah, and while he's at it, maybe he can answer the question "what is the sound of purple?" Some questions can't be answered because they are meaningless to begin with. JesseJoe
Perhaps Shermer would care to answer the question that God put to Job?; Job 38:19-20 'Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?' bornagain77
also of interest is that it takes 'infinite specified information' to create a single photon, thus since material computers, in principle, do not, and cannot, hold infinite information so as to correctly specify the infinite information needed to create a single photon, out of the 'complete' infinite information possible in reality, material computers will never be, in reality, infinite in knowledge, though they may, one day, appear to be almost 'infinite in knowledge' to us; i.e. The computer itself would have to be infinite in size!! Of course Shermer can prove all this wrong by simply creating a single photon with the information output of a computer. notes: Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (photon) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1) http://www.cas.umt.edu/phil/faculty/duwell/DuwellPSA2K.pdf Single photons to soak up data: Excerpt: the orbital angular momentum of a photon can take on an infinite number of values. Since a photon can also exist in a superposition of these states, it could – in principle – be encoded with an infinite amount of information. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/7201 Ultra-Dense Optical Storage - on One Photon Excerpt: Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact. http://www.physorg.com/news88439430.html This following experiment clearly shows information is not an 'emergent property' of any solid material basis as is dogmatically asserted by some materialists: Converting Quantum Bits: Physicists Transfer Information Between Matter and Light Excerpt: A team of physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology has taken a significant step toward the development of quantum communications systems by successfully transferring quantum information from two different groups of atoms onto a single photon. http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/quantumtrans.htm =========== William Lane Craig - Hilbert's Hotel - The Absurdity Of An Infinite Regress Of 'Things' - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994011/ This following video is very interesting for revealing how difficult it was for mathematicians to actually 'prove' that mathematics was true in the first place: Georg Cantor - The Mathematics Of Infinity - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4572335 entire video: BBC-Dangerous Knowledge (Part 1-10) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cw-zNRNcF90 As you can see, somewhat from the preceding video, mathematics cannot be held to be 'true' unless an assumption for a highest transcendent infinity is held to be true. A highest infinity which Cantor, and even Godel, held to be God. Thus this following formal proof, which was referred to at the end of the preceding video, shows that math cannot be held to be consistently true unless the highest infinity of God is held to be consistently true as a starting assumption: THE GOD OF THE MATHEMATICIANS - DAVID P. GOLDMAN - August 2010 Excerpt: we cannot construct an ontology that makes God dispensable. Secularists can dismiss this as a mere exercise within predefined rules of the game of mathematical logic, but that is sour grapes, for it was the secular side that hoped to substitute logic for God in the first place. Gödel's critique of the continuum hypothesis has the same implication as his incompleteness theorems: Mathematics never will create the sort of closed system that sorts reality into neat boxes. http://www.faqs.org/periodicals/201008/2080027241.html bornagain77
...the point at which total computational power will rise to levels that are so far beyond anything we can imagine that they will appear nearly infinite and thus, relatively speaking, be indistinguishable from omniscience.
Does this mean omniscience can be detected by scientific means? You have to love how power to perform a computation, becomes power to perform any computation, given enough entities capable of performing a computation. Well, it just doesn't work that way. Mung
ID proposes an intelligent agent and does not require an omniscient one, or a supernatural agent. Steven Jay Gould was OK with positing life as landing here from outer space. If that's science, you might as well believe it came via someone's spaceship. If you are agnostic/atheist you can just pretend life on Earth is the result of some alien grad student's unsupervised project. scribo
As well Shermer is misleading on this statement: 'We can already engineer genes' This is the caveat that Shermer forgets to mention: Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator - Fazale Rana Excerpt of Review: ‘Another interesting section of Creating Life in the Lab is one on artificial enzymes. Biological enzymes catalyze chemical reactions, often increasing the spontaneous reaction rate by a billion times or more. Scientists have set out to produce artificial enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions not used in biological organisms. Comparing the structure of biological enzymes, scientists used super-computers to calculate the sequences of amino acids in their enzymes that might catalyze the reaction they were interested in. After testing dozens of candidates,, the best ones were chosen and subjected to “in vitro evolution,” which increased the reaction rate up to 200-fold. Despite all this “intelligent design,” the artificial enzymes were 10,000 to 1,000,000,000 times less efficient than their biological counterparts. Dr. Rana asks the question, “is it reasonable to think that undirected evolutionary processes routinely accomplished this task?” http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0801072093 Evolution machine: Genetic engineering on fast forward - June 2011 Excerpt: Yet changing even a handful of genes takes huge amounts of time and money. For instance, a yeast engineered to churn out the antimalarial drug artemisinin has been hailed as one of the great success stories of synthetic biology. However, it took 150 person-years and cost $25 million to add or tweak around a dozen genes - and commercial production has yet to begin. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028181.700-evolution-machine-genetic-engineering-on-fast-forward.html?full=true bornagain77
One problem for 'quasi-omniscient' computers that may put a little damper on Shermer's hype; 'NP-complete-ness': notes: "Blue Gene's final product, due in four or five years, will be able to "fold" a protein made of 300 amino acids, but that job will take an entire year of full-time computing." Paul Horn, senior vice president of IBM research, September 21, 2000 http://www.news.com/2100-1001-233954.html Networking a few hundred thousand computers together has reduced the time to a few weeks for simulating the folding of a single protein molecule: A Few Hundred Thousand Computers vs. A Single Protein Molecule - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4018233 As well, despite some very optimistic claims, it seems future 'quantum computers' will not fair much better in finding functional proteins in sequence space than even a idealized 'material' supercomputer of today can do: The Limits of Quantum Computers – March 2008 Excerpt: "Quantum computers would be exceptionally fast at a few specific tasks, but it appears that for most problems they would outclass today’s computers only modestly. This realization may lead to a new fundamental physical principle" http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-limits-of-quantum-computers The Limits of Quantum Computers - Scott Aaronson - 2007 Excerpt: In the popular imagination, quantum computers would be almost magical devices, able to “solve impossible problems in an instant” by trying exponentially many solutions in parallel. In this talk, I’ll describe four results in quantum computing theory that directly challenge this view.,,, Second I’ll show that in the “black box” or “oracle” model that we know how to analyze, quantum computers could not solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time, even with the help of nonuniform “quantum advice states”,,, http://www.springerlink.com/content/0662222330115207/ Here is Scott Aaronson's blog in which refutes recent claims that P=NP (Of note: if P were found to equal NP, then a million dollar prize would be awarded to the mathematician who provided the proof that NP problems could be solved in polynomial time): Shtetl-Optimized Excerpt: Quantum computers are not known to be able to solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time. http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=456 Protein folding is found to be a 'intractable NP-complete problem' by several different methods. Thus protein folding will not be able to take advantage of any advances in speed that quantum computation may offer to any other problems of computation that may be solved in polynomial time: Combinatorial Algorithms for Protein Folding in Lattice Models: A Survey of Mathematical Results – 2009 Excerpt: Protein Folding: Computational Complexity 4.1 NP-completeness: from 10^300 to 2 Amino Acid Types 4.2 NP-completeness: Protein Folding in Ad-Hoc Models 4.3 NP-completeness: Protein Folding in the HP-Model http://www.cs.brown.edu/~sorin/pdfs/pfoldingsurvey.pdf Francis Collins on Making Life Excerpt: 'We are so woefully ignorant about how biology really works. We still don't understand how a particular DNA sequence—when we just stare at it—codes for a protein that has a particular function. We can't even figure out how that protein would fold—into what kind of three-dimensional shape. And I would defy anybody who is going to tell me that they could, from first principles, predict not only the shape of the protein but also what it does.' - Francis Collins - Former Director of the Human Genome Project ========================== Another factor severely complicating man's ability to properly mimic protein folding is that, much contrary to evolutionary thought, many proteins fold differently in different 'molecular' situations: The Gene Myth, Part II - August 2010 Excerpt: the rate at which a protein is synthesized, which depends on factors internal and external to the cell, affects the order in which its different portions fold. So even with the same sequence a given protein can have different shapes and functions. Furthermore, many proteins have no intrinsic shape, taking on different roles in different molecular contexts. So even though genes specify protein sequences they have only a tenuous influence over their functions. http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2010/08/gene-myth-part-ii.html As a sidelight to the complexity found for folding any relatively short amino acid sequence into a 3-D protein, the complexity of computing the actions of even a simple atom, in detail, quickly exceeds the capacity of our most advanced supercomputers of today: Delayed time zero in photoemission: New record in time measurement accuracy - June 2010 Excerpt: Although they could confirm the effect qualitatively using complicated computations, they came up with a time offset of only five attoseconds. The cause of this discrepancy may lie in the complexity of the neon atom, which consists, in addition to the nucleus, of ten electrons. "The computational effort required to model such a many-electron system exceeds the computational capacity of today's supercomputers," explains Yakovlev. http://www.physorg.com/news196606514.html bornagain77

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