yet another super scholar

I read this profile of Christopher Langan with genuine curiosity – allegedly having the highest IQ in the US, if not the world. Imagine my surprise to find that he claims he can prove the existence of God:

Some of these projects relate to a book I’ve been writing on mathematically proving the existence of God. Surprising as it may seem, this can certainly be done. In fact, save for a few crucial ingredients, it was nearly accomplished by (e.g.) Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century AD. (Sadly, neither Anselm nor his various followers and modern analysts were able to pin down all of the logic and ontology required to fill out and support his essential argument.)

Some people, reasoning from past failures, regard such a proof as impossible. But then again, many people had considered it impossible to solve the venerable chicken-or-egg problem, for which I presented a concise case-by-case solution around a decade ago. The chicken-or-egg problem and the existence of God both relate to the general issue of circular dependency, a connection to be explored in the book.

He also asserted in an interview in 2014 that he can solve the P vs. NP problem, and has his own “cognitive-theoretic model of the universe.” I reproduce the abstract below:

Inasmuch as science is observational or perceptual in nature, the goal of providing a scientific model and mechanism for the evolution of complex systems ultimately requires a supporting theory of reality of which perception itself is the model (or theory-to-universe mapping). Where information is the abstract currency of perception, such a theory must incorporate the theory of information while extending the information concept to incorporate reflexive self-processing in order to achieve an intrinsic (self-contained) description of reality. This extension is associated with a limiting formulation of model theory identifying mental and physical reality, resulting in a reflexively self-generating, self-modeling theory of reality identical to its universe on the syntactic level. By the nature of its derivation, this theory, the Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe or CTMU, can be regarded as a supertautological reality-theoretic extension of logic. Uniting the theory of reality with an advanced form of computational language theory, the CTMU describes reality as a Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language or SCSPL, a reflexive intrinsic language characterized not only by self-reference and recursive self-definition, but full self-configuration and self- execution (reflexive read-write functionality). SCSPL reality embodies a dual-aspect monism consisting of infocognition, self-transducing information residing in self-recognizing SCSPL elements called syntactic operators. The CTMU identifies itself with the structure of these operators and thus with the distributive syntax of its self-modeling SCSPL universe, including the reflexive grammar by which the universe refines itself from unbound telesis or UBT, a primordial realm of infocognitive potential free of informational constraint. Under the guidance of a limiting (intrinsic) form of anthropic principle called the Telic Principle, SCSPL evolves by telic recursion, jointly configuring syntax and state while maximizing a generalized self- selection parameter and adjusting on the fly to freely-changing internal conditions. SCSPL relates space, time and object by means of conspansive duality and conspansion, an SCSPL-grammatical process featuring an alternation between dual phases of existence associated with design and actualization and related to the familiar wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics. By distributing the design phase of reality over the actualization phase, conspansive spacetime also provides a distributed mechanism for Intelligent Design, adjoining to the restrictive principle of natural selection a basic means of generating information and complexity. Addressing physical evolution on not only the biological but cosmic level, the CTMU addresses the most evident deficiencies and paradoxes associated with conventional discrete and continuum models of reality, including temporal directionality and accelerating cosmic expansion, while preserving virtually all of the major benefits of current scientific and mathematical paradigms.

Mr. Langan has critiques of academia. Not the usual ones, that higher degrees are being commoditized, that there is self-selection in peer review for positive results at the expense of null results, p-value hackery, the social disruption of adjunct positions, and the fundamental tension of the paid journal business model vs the need for unfettered creative access to other researchers’ work. No, his critique is that high school sucked for really smart kids, and kids like himself who fell asleep in class and who didn’t pay attention to the teachers were unfairly excluded from college by small-minded administrators. Fair enough.

I propose Z’s Law: anyone claiming to be able to prove the existence of God is not as smart as they say they are.

pondering the omnipotence paradox

Consder the classic omnipotence paradox, expressed as a logical conundrum thus:

Posit an omnipotent God who created the Universe. Can God create a stone He cannot lift?

If the answer is yes, then there exists a stone that God cannot lift, hence God is not omnipotent. If the answer is no, then God cannot do something, and hence God is not omnipotent.

Now, this is a bit of a problem for some as far as God’s existence is concerned (of course you can have degrees of omnipotence, but as far as the major religions go omnipotence is part of the job description).

However, the question itself is logically flawed, akin to asking “What color are the eyes of the King of the United States?” The reason for the flaw is because we are trying to shoehorn certain biased meanings into the words “stone”, “lift” and “cannot”.

Consider first the stone. The paradox doesn’t invoke more thorny creations like an equal to God (now, that would be a philosophical head-scratcher). It’s just about a stone. So, what is a stone? It’s a physical object, comprised of N ordinary bosons, and of radius R. Nothing more complex than that (though presumably at some very large radius R it would collapse under it’s own weight and become a neutron star). But let’s be really generous and rephrase the question, “Can God create a black hole He cannot lift?”

No, let’s turn our attention to lifting. For us to lift a black hole is sort of meaningless, but if you consider that to lift something is merely to manipulate it, then we can generalize further to “Can God create a black hole he cannot manipulate?”

Now by this point the Dawkins acolyte will accuse me of having moved the goalposts. “Surely your omniscient God could create a big stone, immune to gravitational forces which would cause its collapse but not immune to an external gravitational field which exists solely to provide something against which to literally lift it?” I suppose if you insist that this is different from what I described in my reformulation above, we can agree to disagree, because frankly creating a supermassive black hole (and just how masive, I am about to explore further) in an instant and then shoving it around seems pretty much just as miraculous to me. Then again, as a believer in a religious faith, I’mnot exactly addressing the paradox with an open mind, now, am I?

So let us continue. The last hurdle is the word, “cannot”. For a black hole to be so massive as to essentially be impossible to manipulate, it must be so large as to not provide any room for it to be manipulated. The physical manipulation of an object in N-dimensional space involves rotation about and translation along the N physical axes. Since God created the Universe of radius U, and the black hole is radius R, then the only way the black ole cannot be manipulated is if R = U – in essence, if the universe itself contains only the black hole (or the stone, if you insist) and nothing else.

Now, the question has reduced down to, Can God create the Universe? To which we already know the answer is yes, by virtue of the Posit above.

Alternatively, we could just be talking about a normal piece of rock, say the size of a softball, weighing less than a pound, and unremarkable in every way except that it has also been assigned a property that nothing (including God himself) can move it. This too is a meaningless paradox, though for a different reason than the one above. In essence, what does it mean to say that god cannot move it? God can choose not to move it, but since God is omnipotent, the definition of that power is that God can do whatever God wants to do. Defining omnipotence as “the ability to not do something” is not omnipotence but limitation.

To put it plainly, anything God creates, God can uncreate. Perhaps God can relinquish that power if God so desired; the ability to relinquish it would fall within omnipotence, but once relinquished, God would no longer be omnipotent. That doesn’t mean God wasn’t omnipotent before choosing to do so, though. In a sense, thats what this Interpretation 2 is asking: Can God choose to abdicate being God? The answer is probably yes, but that’s an affirmation of God’s present omnipotence, not a denial of it. Creating a stone He could not lift? No, he “can’t” do that, anymore than he can’t not be omnipotent while He is omnipotent.

That said, if you think that faith can be discussed with logic, then you’re kind of missing the point. But Douglas Adams said it best, which is rather ironic given how fierce an atheist he was.

This is what I do sometimes when I am procrastinating on doing something else much more important.

Douglas Adams and God

What is especially striking about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to eth Galaxy is how insightful it can be on matters of religion, given that DNA was(inhis own words) a militant atheist.

I had the privelege of asking Douglas Adams a question about religion directly, at his own blog some years ago. The full exchange went:

Continue reading “Douglas Adams and God”