Re: Invisible, Incomprehensible Gods (was: Time and Minds)

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Sep 23 2001 - 12:44:16 MDT

I'll disobey my usual rule about not quoting complete messages, and even
the rule about not including the replied-to message afterwards, so that I
can note that this particular post is an example (though not the only
example) of a post that is acceptable on SL4.

Mitch Howe wrote:
> There are still plenty of religiously-minded individuals who avoid
> totally disregarding common sense and rational thought, clinging as it
> were to a few rocky isles that remain in a rapidly rising sea of general
> knowledge. How? There are a limited number of God concepts that, while
> impossible to prove, are not completely discredited by the use of logic
> and scientific observation. But these concepts have the fundamental
> weakness of being quite useless to humanity; They offer no answer to the
> question of "how should a man live?", no method or even hope of invoking
> divine intervention, and no explanations for anything that happens at
> scales we can comprehend. A couple of these concepts, by my
> reckoning, are as follows:
> Tinker God:
> --He created the universe in the sense that he was responsible for
> the Big Bang, perhaps with some broad, unknown purpose in mind, and
> confines himself to passively observing the mess he made. It could even
> be an experiment of some kind. This harks back to the "Great
> Clockmaker" idea dating back at least as far as the Renaissance, and it
> may be familiar to some readers of Arthur C. Clarke.
> Pool-Shark God:
> --A variation on the above deity who also confines himself to
> passive observation, but can be said to have an active role because all
> of his actions were omnisciently planned for in his chosen method of
> activating the Big Bang itself. Like a skilled break at the start
> of a billiards game, by knowing exactly where every energy particle
> would be and where it would be headed, he set initial conditions to
> cause every little thing to work out exactly the way he intended it to
> -- whatever that was. (This idea may well be weakened by the seemingly
> arbitrary randomness "observed" at the grainiest levels of reality yet
> studied.)
> Both of these god concepts do not reveal the purpose of creation and
> thus fall short of providing any answers to recently evolved
> intelligences in the far corner of just one of millions of galaxies.
> They do allow for some extension into intriguing other possibilities
> however, such as Gods who reveal themselves, for good or ill, only
> to post-singularity superintelligences:
> Gardener God:
> --God as pragmatic tender of a universal garden. No gardener would
> fret about a single bacteria (humanity now?) living on the mite living
> on the aphid living on the tomato plant, but might take the time to
> trim or weed that has grown out of control, or harvest the succulent
> fruit of a vine. Whether the product of a human singularity would be so
> significant as a plant in the scale of the universe is unknowable -- but
> it can be chilling to speculate on what the "trimming" would be like
> should the result be more weed than fruit vine. This concept provides a
> possible explanation for why we see no evidence of a Sysop or nano-tech
> capable civilization despite the mathematical probability that such a
> civilization has existed previously and would likely have left its mark
> here already.
> Prime-Directive Star God:
> This is the beaten horse carcass that says greater intelligence does
> exist, has left its mark across our corner of the universe, but has its
> own reasons for saving the introductions until a certain level of
> technological or mental savvy has been achieved and self-annihilation
> avoided. The "glad you could make it, join the club" kind of god
> concept. This is another possible explanation for why we seem to be
> alone in spite of all the odds.
> Both these god concepts share the same Purpose Unknown weakness as the
> others above, but with the additional weakness of a seemingly perverse
> and deliberate disregard for individual suffering despite interest in
> civilizations at the superintelligence/galaxy-spanning level. Such a
> god would not merely be incomprehensible, but reprehensible as well, at
> least to human ways of thinking.
> So, in any case, it seems likely that either there is no god or that at
> least no god will ever be shown to exist to pre-singularity humanity.
> Singularity increases the possibility that some god would manifest
> itself -- perhaps it will be something of our own creation. Therefore
> (this a crude and pretentious jump of logic I'm making), those truly
> interested in finding and knowing God ought to be seriously interested
> in fostering singularity. Sure, it could mean that some cosmic pruning
> scissors blast humanity back to the stone age or wipe it out entirely,
> but these bleak futures await us anyway if we never climb off this
> global island, if singularity never occurs. Why not take the only truly
> promising shot at something genuinely better? The engineers of Babel
> knew what they were doing -- Moore's Law just hadn't furnished any
> useful hardware yet.
> --Mitch Howe

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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