The Kodachi (Part 3 of 5) -- Atheism, Theism, and Artificial Intelligence

[Note: for Part 2 of this auxiliary series, click here.]

There are two mutually exclusive branches to all possible metaphysics: atheism, and not-atheism.

Assuming, of course, I refuse to accept the reality of contradictions. (And assuming I have already been dealing with proposals of multiple Independent Facts, such as I do in this main SttH chapter.)

But I refuse to accept contradictions as being real; because otherwise my own thinking would be totally unreliable on any subject--including the subject of real contradictions. (If contradictions are possibly real, then 'are' may also mean 'are not', and so the statement becomes meaningless, either as a proposal or as a conclusion.)

So: atheism, or not-atheism.

There are numerous types of not-atheism; and there are numerous types of atheism. Philosophical discussions today tend to focus on one or another type of atheism.

But I think it makes more sense to start with the basic category first. Is atheism possible? If it is, then we may continue with discussions about the merits of non-reductive indeterminism vs. eliminative materialism vs. quantum short-chain physicalism, etc.

If atheism, as a basic philosophical option, is not possible, then there is no significant reason to discuss various types of impossibility.

An atheist could easily be annoyed by this!

But I am playing fair. I am not contrasting atheism with my own brand of not-atheism (nor even with my own brand of Christian theism). And I would agree that this is a legitimate line of attack for an atheist himself to try--in principle.

The question, for him or for me, is whether we can carry out the principle in practice.

In practical practice: what is the distinction between atheism and not-atheism?

It is not whether there is one level of reality or more than one level. This is the distinction between naturalism and supernaturalism. But a pantheist (one type of not-atheist) would say only Nature exists (no supernature); and an atheist can propose, without contradiction, that a supernature exists (although most atheists are also naturalists).

The atheist says, however, that the Final Fact--the Fact that produces (or perhaps is) all other facts--does not think.

'Thinking', I admit, is a bit slippery as a term. 'Processing' 'information' may be considered thinking; but computers 'process' 'information', and there is a great debate over whether this means they can think.

Rather than enter into the details of that debate, I prefer to begin by noticing there is a debate.

And the atheists in this debate wish to use the effective processes of computers, to demonstrate that we don't need God to explain our own ability to think. (I don't mean that only atheists think computers can think and only not-atheists think computers cannot think. There is a variety of opinion on both sides, including among atheists--as I will demonstrate shortly.)

Now, this is very odd. Because there is one fact that everyone agrees with, in this debate--usually explicitly (when persons want to take personal credit for the work), and always implicitly.

Those computers were produced by thinking persons.

And yet, the atheists never claim that the existence of 'effective process' computers, demonstrates God (as a thinking Person) can create us (as 'thinking' and/or 'effective process' persons).

No, they claim this somehow bolsters atheism.


Why is it, when I talk to atheists, they often want to know whether I'll be thrown out of whack when-if-ever we succeed in creating 'true' Artificial Intelligences?

I already think Artificial Intelligences already exist!

I think they have existed for at least 10,000 years. I think the atheist himself is one such artificial intelligence: I think a Person designed and created him.

Yet the atheist does not think he himself is an artificial intelligence.

More precisely, he does not think 'intelligence' is originally artificial. Well, neither do I: I am a theist, and I think the Uncreated (not-artificial) Final Fact is 'intelligent'. But obviously the atheist doesn't mean that, either.

The atheist would still be an atheist, even if he thought he himself personally (or the human species as a group) was artificially designed and created by a person or persons. Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA, was an atheist; and he proposed that we, as a species, had been designed and created by intelligent aliens. Another atheist (like Richard Dawkins) can criticise this proposal on several grounds; but not (strictly) on the ground that Crick was being a not-atheist.

An author can sit down and write a story, about how thinking creatures from the future acted in the distant past to create their own thinking species. The author may decide she is flirting with time-travel contradictions; but she will not decide she is (in this way) flirting with not-atheism--not even if those creatures acted in the past to create species other than themselves.

Why is this?

There is a common thread running under atheistic proposals, whether science or science-fiction, concerning the development of our own thinking.

And we can discover this thread by looking at the evident characteristics of basic computers (out of which we design and build more advanced computers).

Computers are basically reactive.

Everyone admits this. Especially the atheists appealing to artificial intelligence as being somehow in favor of atheism.

They may claim the advanced computers are now (or will one day be) active rather than only reactive. Or they may claim the advanced computers have significant and special properties despite being still only reactive.

But they admit, and insist, what is indisputably evident to everyone who studies the subject.

Computers are basically reactive.

This is why they think AI studies are so important from the standpoint of atheism.

A viable computer 'AI' would demonstrate (they think), either that actions can come from reactions; or else that we don't need anything other than reactions to explain the existence and properties of 'thinking'.

Either demonstration attempt would have a serious hole in it; but I will cover that later. For the moment, my point is this:

Atheists believe (in essence) that the Final Fact is entirely, totally, originally reactive. Our behaviors (and all other aspects of our existence) were produced, and are maintained, ultimately by reactions and only reactions.

An atheist who proposes that our field of Nature is produced by a Supernature, is still an atheist--because that Supernature only reacts.

An atheist who proposes that aliens created us, is still an atheist: because those thinking aliens would themselves still be produced by an ultimately reactive Reality.

An atheist who proposes that one thinking entity (we humans) created another thinking entity (computers), is still an atheist: because he thinks we, as thinking entities (and thus the computers, ultimately), were ourselves produced by an ultimately reactive Reality.

An atheist who proposes that our behaviors are produced by short-chain quantum behavior, is still an atheist: because those short-chain behaviors are still only reactive.

Atheism, by practical definition, means a reactive Final Fact.

Not-atheism means an active Final Fact.

This is the critical difference in proposals.

And the atheistic proposal, is the one I think reduces to absurdity.

As I will discuss next.

[Next up, the main argument: I Am A I]


Jason Pratt said…
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