Question from John:
When computers become truly self-aware and sentient beings, will they be able to comprehend biological life or the existence of their creators? Would they not be in the same quandary as us biological, physical beings when contemplating a creator outside of our experience?
Answer by SmartLX:
If computers ever become sentient, they’ll be able to observe the deliberate construction of new computers, and they’ll be able to understand that this is the only way computers can come about. All evidence of older computers going back to Charles Babbage’s original machine will bear the hallmarks of artificiality and careful assembly. Furthermore, there will be surviving detailed documentation – visual and textual – by the creators and their contemporaries describing the history, purpose and inherent problems of each component. Even if humans have vanished by this point, computers will have very few mysteries to ponder about their own origins, especially considering that a wealth of their history is stored on today’s computers and would presumably be passed down.
Compare this to the human condition. Our only reason for supposing that we were deliberately created is that very early on we generalised the idea that we can build things to suggest that everything was built by something like us, including us. We now have the technology to watch new human beings develop spontaneously from a single cell, without any guidance whatsoever. We see countless similarities between ourselves and other animals, some of which are not just pointless from a design perspective but actively dangerous to us (e.g. the appendix). There is more evidence all the time supporting the idea that, far from being a special creation, we are the ongoing result of an undirected process that’s been going on for longer than we can fathom.
Meanwhile, to approach your question from an entirely different angle, just because future entities which have creators might wonder if they have creators does not mean that every entity that wonders whether it has a creator does in fact have one. That would be like saying that because all dogs are mammals, all mammals must be dogs. It’s a logical fallacy formally known as affirming the consequent. Perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not, it’s the same fallacy that leads one to think that because we know some complex things are created, all complex things must be.
Question from Brenton:
Is the universe eternal?
Answer by SmartLX:
We don’t know, but whether it is or not, neither option makes a god very likely.
Cosmologists now almost universally accept the Big Bang as a factual event which occurred about fourteen billion years ago. A far greater point of contention is whether the matter and energy in the universe have always existed, and were simply in some other state before they coalesced into the singularity which “exploded”, or if the Big Bang was truly the beginning of time and causality.
If the universe is eternal, there is no need for a creator god. Most theistic gods are regarded by their believers as eternal and thus in no need of their own creators; this is a real possibility for the universe itself.
If the universe is not eternal, and nothing material preceded it, then either it was created or produced by something or it emerged directly from nothing. Neither of these can be judged as more or less likely than the other based on our experience so far because, while we have no direct evidence of anything emerging from nothing (though quantum mechanics may suggest this possibility), we have no evidence at all of anything being created from nothing as creator gods are meant to have done.
That leaves the idea that something material (or with direct material influence) and outside the universe pre-dated it, and somehow resulted in its emergence. Again a god is possible here, but it could also be another previous universe, or the “quantum foam”, or any number of hypothetical entities. A god as an explanation is the least useful entity in this scenario because a full-blown intelligent god is itself an inexplicable cause, and it’s no more likely than any of the others. It’s also the only one which requires that we posit anything supernatural.
I realise that I’ve read quite a lot into your very simple question, but delving into these issues is the usual purpose of asking questions like this on an atheist website.
Question from another Brian:
I am Christian, but very open to new ideas. I am writing because I recently watched this video series and found problem with it. If quantum physics proves that everything was created from the dust of exploding stars, how is it possible that the bible references that we can from dust? Just a random guess?
Answer by SmartLX:
Quite possibly, yes.
Genesis 2:7 – “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” I assume that’s the passage you’re mainly referring to. If it’s supposed to be an intentional reference to the fact that the matter in our bodies was ejected by dying stars, I’d be a lot more impressed if it had actually said that.
“Dust” refers to an extremely broad range of substances. In fact, any dry element or compound can in principle be finely crushed and scattered as dust, and in fact it’s all like that when it’s ejected from a star. The “dust of the ground” is a long way from stardust, and it’s one particular kind of dust from which we’re not necessarily made. Ground and airborne dust can be composed of any number of minerals or metals which have no place in the human body, and can even be deadly to us.
Genesis states that Adam was created from dust, but by saying this specifically it implies that all the other plants and animals weren’t, when in fact we’re all made from stardust. It says instead that they were brought forth from the earth, which in a way is true but especially in the case of plants is bleeding obvious. No connection between earth and “dust” is indicated, and besides common creation by God there’s no reference to common methods of formation (in fact, it sets us apart from other lifeforms as much as it can) which means there’s really no sign of an understanding of modern cosmology or biology on the part of the author.
No one ever said that the Bible gets every single thing wrong. It was written by humans with an average amount of intuition for things that seem true, in some cases because they are true in some way. You’d need a much more specific reference to modern scientific knowledge than is present anywhere in the Bible to make divine inspiration seem more likely than careful guesses, or simple over-interpretation by modern apologists.
Incidentally the stardust idea has little to do with quantum mechanics. That’s from plain old astrophysics. Quantum mechanics possibly has more to say about the origin of the matter in the universe than about what that matter does once it departs a star.
“In summary, we have a very old document which gets many things wrong as well as right, and contains no details which indicate that the things it got right were anything more than intuitive guesses, except for various passages which have been broadly interpreted millenia later in terms of what we now know.”
Question from Antonia:
I was debating some days ago with some (Orthodox) Christians and at some point of the conversation I was asked something rather puzzling and I wasn’t sure how to answer: We have evidence that the Book of Genesis was written at about 500-450 BC or at least before 150 BC (since the oldest manuscripts of the book of Genesis are the 24 fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and they are dating between 150 BC – 70 AD). The book talks about the creation of the world describing the events in the exact same order as scientists have confirmed in very recent discoveries; I am talking about the order in which water, land, the first animals and human appeared on earth. How can that happen? How can a book so old describe these events since the technology and science of that time was not as advanced as it is today? Of course they can only explain it as a word of God but I’m wondering if there’s some other explanation…
Firstly, I have no problem with that rough estimate of when the Book of Genesis was first written. The point of the emphasis on that is to establish simply that it was written before the emergence proper of astronomy, geology, biology and paleontology. That’s pretty obvious.
The reason such an early document can describe the events – not in that much detail, really, but at least in roughly the right order – is that in many cases they seem as if they couldn’t have happened any other way. Humans eat meat and plants, and animals eat plants, so animals must have come after plants and humans after that. There had to be earth (the Earth, which incidentally they thought was flat and had “corners”) for water to settle on, and the water had to be moved aside for land to appear. For the purposes of the authors when Genesis was written, it merely had to sound right, so it does.
Between picking the obvious stuff, Genesis makes glaring mistakes. The main one is saying that day and night, and plants, let alone the Earth itself, were created before the sun (one of the two “great lights”) was. The scientific view is that the Earth formed around the sun 500 million years into its lifespan, that plants came well after that and that the sun causes day and night. Besides this, in Genesis animals emerged in just two short bursts over two days: sea creatures and birds together, then land animals. (That places most dinosaurs after birds, instead of the reverse.) A creationist (probably an old-earth creationist, if the issue has gotten this detailed) might then argue that science has these things wrong, but by doing so would completely abandon the argument that Genesis reflects modern science.
Then, of course, there’s also no sense of timescales in Genesis except the passage of the six days. Even if you apply “day-age creationism”, where each Biblical day represents huge amounts of time, the different days have to stand for different intervals ranging from a few million years to several billion, and there’s no sign of which days are the longest.
In summary, we have a very old document which gets many things wrong as well as getting some things right, and contains no details which indicate that the things it got right were anything more than intuitive guesses – except for various passages which have been broadly interpreted millennia later in terms of what we now know. See my piece on prophecies; the apparently accurate parts of Genesis are candidates for #1. High Probability of Success and #4. Shoehorned.