Monday, March 07, 2005

Of evolution, God, aliens, and the weak anthropic principle

During a recent short session of Zen mind relaxation exercises (I recommend "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" which while interspersed with the inevitable counterfactual mysticism also has some very practical advice), it occurred to me the cosmological weak anthropic principle is also highly applicable to human evolution: just as the universe obviously must exist in a way that allows intelligent humans to arise in order for us to be here asking questions about it, so too human evolution must produce intelligence or we couldn't be here intelligently discussing that (this does NOT mean human evolution to intelligence was inevitable, just that in our observed state of being it is necessary). As in the case of the cosmological application, no necessary coincidence is too great for evolution to handle, because it had to happen for us to be here noticing the coincidences. Given our current understanding of the universe as physically infinite in extent, there are no troublesome Drake equations to overcome either, at least in terms of our own existence: if something could happen and must have in order to explain on our current reality, then it did happen.

Also, this morning I happened to hear a Mancow interview with some of the alien people. They come across as fairly reasonable people who do not wear tinfoil on their heads, esp Dr. Michio Kaku, and visiting their site I found they brought up some very interesting and thoughtworthy points, such as the idea that UFOs could be from civilization(s) a million years ahead of us. Just think how different our lives are compared to humans of 100 years ago; given our current rate of technological advance it's unknowable what life will be like for humans in another 100 years let alone a thousand or a million. Charles Stross hypothesized a posthuman causality-protecting entity called the Eschaton, essentially benign but acting ruthlessly to prevent any events that might unmake its existence through human-induced causality violations.

The common thread here of course is causality. Could an alien civilization that advanced have the computational capability and/or physical understanding to somehow overcome quantum uncertainty and predict the effects of various interventions with at least relative certainty? That might make covering things up far easier, a la Asimov's Minimum Necessary Change from "End of Eternity." That made me wonder about the unprovability of UFOs and the apparent disinterest in serious investigation of some interesting incidents involving multiple people who ought to be credible witnesses, such as the missile silo shutdown. It doesn't seem likely the gov't knows much more than it's telling; I have little faith in their ability to keep things secret. On the other hand, I have great faith in the gov't's ability to be incompetently unaware of events (I mean come on: they missed the fall of the Soviet Union and insisted finding WMD in Iraq was a "slam-dunk."). It wouldn't take much intervention to keep them ignorant.

I've run the SETI@home software for years now (circa 1400 units completed so far), although I do not think we will find any alien broadcasts out there. To me, the main question I have about the possibility of any advanced race monitoring, contacting, or influencing us is: why would they bother? It seems unlikely we would have anything they want, so what are their motivations in doing any of those things? This in turn got me to wondering how aliens perceive God, if they exist and have such beliefs. In religious terms, I consider myself to be a nondenominational Christian sympathizer -- I tend to believe (based on the empirical evidence available) that while all religions have some insight into the nature of God, Christianity is probably the most correct perception of God currently available, though almost certainly not the completely correct version. But what about these aliens? How would they perceive God? Did God send them a Savior as he did us, a deity in the flesh who showed them a better way to treat each other?

Well, that's my semi-random rambling for today. I hope you found it pleasantly disjointed, wandersome, and perhaps even accidentally insightful.


Blogger Fargus... said...

Just someone who says that you don't think Christianity is completely correct, what makes you believe that it's more correct than other religions? Is it a feeling you get from it?

5:14 AM  
Blogger Jeff Thompson said...

Most apologists would argue that feelings have nothing to do with the "correctness" of Christianity. Some apologists would argue for the historical evidence for the resurrection.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Fargus... said...

Interesting argument, since so far as I know, there's not even really compelling firsthand evidence for the existence of Jesus. I'm not saying I doubt he existed, but the accounts of his life were lay down some time after his life ended, and actual historical or archaeological evidence has been scarce if not nonexistence.

9:55 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...


Well, in general I think one either has to say "my religion is 100% correct and all the others are 100% wrong" which seems both parochial and very difficult to support, or admit that religions probably fall along a continuum of correctness about the nature of God. Given that contiuum, it seems unlikely Christianity would get it 100% right in all respects.

To answer your question, I think religions can be ranked based on the empirical evidence of the success of their ideas in practical application and their general adherence to universal moralities (some people might debate whether such universal moralities exist, but you can give the lie to that pretty easily by their reaction when relative moralities are applied to them personally). I would tend to put horrors like the Aztec/Olmec abominations of mass human murder/torture/sacrifice near the bottom, pre-Enlightenment Christianity toward the middle, and the various modern sects of Christianity near the top.

12:19 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...


Separate from whether or not one accepts the historical accounts of Jesus Christ's life and resurrection, I think one can argue whether Christianity in practice and precept appears to be correct. Not a matter of feelings, but empirical evidence and applied reason.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Fargus... said...

Where would you place the silence during the holocaust, on that sliding scale of correctness? Or the open discrimination against homosexuals?

3:26 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

I would put those on the negative; as I said, Christianity is probably not 100% on the mark. But remember, this is a relative scale: you have to weigh those sins against what other religions have allowed or done.

And of course you have to consider the immense good that was done by Christianity, such as ending infanticide in Europe or human sacrifice in South America, or giving birth to the Renaissance and the incredible lift in the human condition that followed it.

4:38 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

As examples, there is the Hindu endorsement of the caste system, the Buddhists' mute acceptance of the murder of 65 million under Mao and other Communists, the Shinto cheerleading of Japanese aggression and concomitant atrocities... I could go on, but my point here is not to bash non-Christian religions, just to judge all religions on equal footing for the good and ill they have wrought.

It's surprisingly hard to find pro-Christian information; very few people know, for instance, that infanticide was fairly common in pre-Christian Northern Europe and was actually a point of contention between early Christian priests and their new converts (female infanticide also remained relatively widespread in many cultures until very recently). Academia tends to paint history as one long saga of Western oppression.

4:52 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Something else that often goes unremarked: Hitler was equal-opportunity evil: the Holocaust was not solely a Jewish atrocity. Ten million Christian Poles and Slavs also died in much the same horrible fashion as the five million Jews, working in Nazi slave labor camps. The Jews just happened to be a particularly rich trough from which to seize wealth.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Fargus... said...

Very true. Good points all. It's also so much more notable that so many Jews were killed because it was such a sizable percentage of the total Jewish population of the world. 25% as compared to 1%, even if the numbers are greater on one side, has a way of skewing the balance.

4:24 AM  
Blogger Fargus... said...

Very true. Good points all. It's also so much more notable that so many Jews were killed because it was such a sizable percentage of the total Jewish population of the world. 25% as compared to 1%, even if the numbers are greater on one side, has a way of skewing the balance.

4:25 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Yes, that certainly made it a larger tragedy. Sadly for the Jews of that time, they were a vulnerable and wealthy populace under a truly evil regime.

7:20 AM  

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