The New God Argument Begins
by Lincoln Cannon on 9 August 2008 (updated 6 July 2015)
This is a transcript of the original presentation of the New God Argument by Chris Bradford, Joseph West, and Lincoln Cannon at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City on 9 August 2008.
“I want to ask this congregation, every man, woman and child, to answer the question in their own hearts, what kind of a being God is? Ask yourselves; turn your thoughts into your hearts, and say if any of you have seen, heard, or communed with Him? This is a question that may occupy your attention for a long time. I again repeat the question—What kind of a being is God? Does any man or woman know? Have any of you seen Him, heard Him, or communed with Him? Here is the question that will, peradventure, from this time henceforth occupy your attention.” (TPJS 343)
Before we present The New God Argument, I’d like to make some brief introductory comments. I will first try to place this argument relative to historical arguments for the existence of God. I will then briefly describe the argument before we dive in.
Historically and even presently, arguments for the existence of God aim at justifying a traditional Christian perspective. Those arguments are made within a particular context, and that very context assumes particular values inherent to this traditional perspective. From our perspective as Mormons, to place oneself within this traditional context is to betray the new revelation and admit failure before the task has begun. This is because some of these values which are assumed the moment you place yourself within the traditional context are the very dogmatisms from which the Prophet Joseph was trying to free us by bringing forth new revelation. We will therefore follow Joseph and diverge from this traditional context. We are not concerned with omnipotent ex nihilo creators and uncaused causes. In fact, some would probably say that we are as atheistic as Richard Dawkins in this regard. This argument justifies emergent Gods that organize worlds according to existing laws. This argument justifies the Mormon God.
We feel to identify with Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who fiercely argued that gentile converts need not first become Jews before becoming Christians. Similarly, we feel that we need not justify ourselves by the standards of the theological tradition from which our new faith tradition emerged. Along with the revelations of our Prophet came a new tradition, a new context. It is only within this context that we seek to justify our faith.
When Lincoln and I and others first started formulating this argument, the intended audience was the secularists who profess atheism. We wanted to show them that the logical implications of assumptions widely shared among them, point to the importance of trust in the existence of beings which may qualify as Gods according to the theology of many faith traditions, including Mormonism. Accordingly, you will note that the argument will be presented almost entirely free of religious language. I say “almost” because as you have already seen, the title of the argument is most certainly religious. Furthermore, the argument as a whole is composed of six parts, all of which are given religious titles. This way of presenting the argument is intentional. The religious terminology is used only as the title or symbol of what lies beneath. Only in this introduction and in the conclusion will we discuss the connections to Mormon theology. The argument stands on its own, regardless of whether or not one is willing to recognize the theological implications.
Take note that the argument is not linear. It may be a bit difficult to follow, which is why we’ve provided some notes, which include the formalized version of the argument as well as a diagram, which should help people follow along.
It is important to understand that we’re not trying to say that this argument necessarily compels everyone to believe in God. All we’re trying to show is that logically, a combination of a certain set of assumptions necessarily implies our conclusion, which is that we should trust that an advanced civilization more benevolent than ours probably created our world. We will explicitly acknowledge our assumptions and seek to justify each of them to the extent time allows. Many of the assumptions are probabilistic and therefore the conclusion of the argument is probabilistic.
So you may be thinking, well, if the intended audience is the secular atheists, why present it here at Sunstone. According to Mormon philosopher Sterling McMurrin, “The primary task of theology is the reconciliation of the revelation to the culture, to make what is taken on faith as the word of God meaningful in the light of accepted science and philosophy.” This argument is important to a Mormon audience because it can ground our faith rationally and therefore inform the practical decisions we make as we go forward as a religious people. It can also inform and even improve our interaction with the secular world – perhaps even providing a means for persuasion to the religious perspective. To that end, we present to you, The New God Argument.
Lincoln will present the first three parts of the argument, The Faith Position, The Angel Argument and The Creation Argument. I will then present the three charity arguments in order of strength. Lincoln will conclude, after which we will open the discussion for questions and criticisms from the audience.
The Faith Position
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man …” (TPJS 345)
The New God Argument begins with the assumption that we, our human civilization here on Earth, probably will not go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization. This is the faith position, and we’ll refer back to it a few times as we proceed with the argument.
The faith position does not require any particular perspective regarding the amount of time it might take for us to become an advanced civilization. It could happen within coming decades or across the span of eons. Either possibility, or any of the infinite possibilities between them, is sufficient for the faith position. Moreover, from the outset, the faith position does not require any particular understanding of what we must do to be considered an advanced civilization. Perhaps we’ll cure cancer or end hunger. Maybe we’ll voyage to the stars. Any of these possibilities or any set of many other possibilities is sufficient for the faith position. As we go along, we’ll introduce some assumptions about what we probably would do as an advanced civilization, but your imagination is the best starting point. Consider the future of our civilization as you think it should be. Imagine a future worthy of your trust. Assume we can and probably will eventually become such a civilization, no matter how long it takes, so long as we work at it. That is the faith position.
Of course, while embracing the probability of desirable futures, we should not ignore the possibility of undesirable futures. Complacency may prove quite as dangerous as hopelessness, and both are risks we should seek to mitigate. Thus, we intend our formulation of the faith position, that we probably will not go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization, to convey an optimal balance between trust in desirable futures and recognition of attending risks. Consider, for example, the attitude we should take if we were to discover that a large asteroid is headed directly at Earth and will destroy all life on the planet when it hits us in five years. While some of us may languish in despair and others may passively await a chance or supernatural remedy, most of us would naturally take up the faith position and begin planning for and building a means of destroying or displacing the asteroid, even while feeling anxious or simultaneously hoping for a lucky break or supernatural assistance.
Remark that the faith position is valuable beyond the scope of the argument we’re presenting. There is a kind of truth that depends on intentional creation. For example, it may not be true that the materials at your dock are organized into the form of a ship, but with some trust in and work toward such a possibility, you just might make it true. Most of us have a similar perspective regarding the future of our civilization. Maybe it will be horrible, but we’ll trust in and work toward a wonderful future because we think it could make the difference. Some will argue that the optimism of the faith position is not realistic, as demonstrated by the many occasions when our experience differs from our preference. To the extent we lack power, unassisted optimism may not be realistic. However, to the extent we have power, optimism certainly is realistic, as we use our power to create the experience we prefer. Moreover, since we don’t infallibly know the full extent of our power, even cautious optimism beyond our certain knowledge is wise. For example, you may or may not have what it takes to persuade someone to love you, but you have a better chance if you’re optimistic enough to make the phone call.
The Angel Argument
The stars, as we look at and listen to them, present many of us with a paradox. On the one hand, the universe should be old and large enough to have produced many Earthlike planets. It’s almost fourteen billion years old, and the visible portion alone contains over 100 billion galaxies. If our galaxy, containing over 400 billion stars, is typical then there are over forty sextillion stars in the visible universe (that’s forty billion billions or forty followed by 21 zeros). We’re orbiting one of those stars on a planet that is four and a half billion years old. Unless Earth is extremely improbable, there’s been time and space enough for many other planets like ours. On the other hand, we lack sufficient evidence for the existence of advanced civilizations. The SETI program, an internationally funded search for extraterrestrial intelligence, reports no reproducible messages from Alpha Centauri or anywhere else outside our atmosphere. Claims of UFO sightings and encounters with ET are open to broad interpretation, leaving most of us skeptical. While we cannot say with infallibility that advanced civilizations have not contacted or visited us, we should acknowledge that we lack objective reason to conclude they have. Despite all that time and all those stars, despite our careful looking and listening, we lack evidence for advanced civilizations.
There must be a reason for our lack of evidence of advanced civilizations. One possibility is that they are extremely rare (if they exist at all) because civilizations like ours almost always go extinct before becoming advanced; maybe we’re likely to destroy ourselves with super-weapons or irreversibly exploit our environmental resources. Another possibility is that advanced civilizations are extremely rare because civilizations like ours are already extremely rare; it may be that the initial formation of life, and the subsequent development of complex species and civilizations, is likely to occur on only one in a septillion planets. If advanced civilizations are improbable then candidate civilizations, such as ours, must almost never appear or, if they commonly appear, they must almost never move on to become advanced civilizations before going extinct. In other words, if we are not already extraordinarily lucky and have benefited from very low probability events in our past development, then very high probability events in our future development will almost certainly stop us from becoming an advanced civilization. In the vastness of time and space, across innumerable Earthlike worlds, somewhere along the evolutionary path from inorganic matter to advanced civilizations, something is filtering the many possibilities down to improbabilities. That filter is either in our past or in our future. The only alternative is that advanced civilizations are not as rare as we might suppose. This is the great filter argument, that one of the following propositions must be true: either basic life forms are improbable or we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or advanced civilizations are probable.
Last week, a NASA robot verified the presence of water on Mars, and some speculate that we may soon discover primitive life there. In response to such speculation, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom recently wrote: “I hope that our Mars probes discover nothing. It would be good news if we find Mars to be sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirit.” He wrote this from the perspective of someone that understands the force of the great filter argument, but also from the perspective of someone who has assumed that the lack of evidence for advanced civilizations implies a probable lack of existence. If a robot discovers primitive life on Mars, or if we otherwise determine that basic life forms are probable, Bostrom would confront the troubling conclusion that we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization. I wonder how he would live with such a specter overshadowing him. Perhaps it would be sufficient to move him to question his assumption that advanced civilizations are improbable. I don’t know how he would react, but I know how he should react.
If basic life forms are probable then, according to the great filter argument, either we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or advanced civilizations are probable. Faced with such options, our moral responsibility is to invoke the faith position, reaffirm that we probably will not go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization, and embrace the consequence: trust that advanced civilizations are probable.
We need not sacrifice rationality to embrace trust that advanced civilizations are probable. We know too little to entertain confidence in our ability to discern them. It is not merely modern UFO and ET claims that contend for recognition as subjective experience of advanced civilizations, but also the ancient and persistent weight of religious tradition, and its purported interactions between the human and the divine. While some find religious claims absurd, appeals to absurdity do not disprove subjective experience. If advanced civilizations exist, why should we suppose they would interact with us in ways that are only slightly more advanced than our current capacities? Why not suppose that their interactions with us would be indiscernible from magic? Why should we suppose that we even have the anatomical capacity to comprehend them fully? One need not embrace a religious tradition to acknowledge the possibility that advanced civilizations are among the causes of experiences that some of us have interpreted into religious traditions.
While we lack evidence for advanced civilizations, a lack of evidence is not evidence to the contrary. In some cases, lack of evidence to the contrary is of little or no practical consequence, but in this case, given the assumption that basic life forms are probable, our probable future correlates with the probable existence of advanced civilizations. In this case, a lack of evidence enables reasonable hope.
The Creation Argument
A common task to which computers are applied today is that of simulation. Flight and automobile simulators have been available both to the military and for entertainment for many years. Financial simulators have become important for investors, as medical simulators have improved our ability to train surgeons. Many persons enjoy playing games such as SimCity that simulate urban planning. Entire worlds are simulated, for both scientific and entertainment purposes, such as the popular virtual worlds, World of Warcraft and Second Life, in which persons buy and sell real estate, hold meetings, even dance, and generally engage in a virtual life through the proxy of their avatars. Over time, the quality of simulations has greatly improved. Users of early flight simulators saw only bumpy black and white outlines of abstract geometric features representing terrain above an equally coarse rendition of a cockpit. Today, full-color, three-dimensional geographies and other aircraft can be wrapped around a user inside a machine that moves to provide for realistic physical sensations.
As the computing power available to us continues to advance exponentially, it seems reasonable to suppose that one of the things we might do is run increasingly detailed simulations of our world and worlds like it. As the level of detail increases and the user interface improves, it would become ever more difficult to discern any difference between our world and the simulated worlds, to the point that, for all practical purposes, “simulation” or “virtual” would no longer accurately describe those worlds or the apparently sentient persons in them. Furthermore, if an advanced civilization simulates many such worlds, indistinguishable in degree of detail from its own world, then the advanced civilization itself is much more likely to be one of many simulated worlds than it is to be the only hypothetical non-simulated world. In other words, an advanced civilization that simulates many worlds like those in its past is almost certainly not the first or only to do so, and thus is probably simulated itself. This is the simulation argument, that at least one of these three propositions must be true: either we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or any advanced civilization probably does not simulate many worlds like those in its past or an advanced civilization probably simulated our world.
We can generalize the simulation argument. Its form remains valid regardless of the particular creative process to which it’s applied. For example, for the same reasons that the simulation argument is valid, terraforming or cosmoforming arguments would be valid: either we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or any civilization probably does not terraform or cosmoform many worlds like those in its past or an advanced civilization probably terraformed or cosmoformed our world. Extrapolating from these examples, we formulate a generalized argument: either we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or any advanced civilization probably does not create many worlds like those in its past or an advanced civilization probably created our world.
Notice that the generalized argument in no way contradicts evolution theory, either logically or empirically. To the contrary, although the generalized argument remains valid across all the particular creative processes to which it might be applied, it may prove infeasible in many variations. In particular, variations of the generalized argument that contradict empirical evidence should be discarded, despite their logical validity.
It seems reasonable to suppose that any advanced civilization actually does create many worlds like those in its past. As mentioned previously, our civilization has already implemented innumerable simulations of worlds like our own with rapidly increasing detail. We’re also hard at work researching processes for space colonization, and even studying the processes by which our universe was formed. Given the diverse ways in which an advanced civilization might prove capable of creating many worlds like those in its past, it’s hard to imagine that any advanced civilization would prove incapable of doing so. Moreover, if capable, it’s even harder to imagine that they would uniformly choose not to do so. So choose your favorite creative process, whatever appeals most to your sense of feasibility. If you expect our civilization, assuming we do not go extinct first, will somehow prove capable of creating many worlds like our own then we may proceed together to the consequence of our expectation.
If any advanced civilization probably creates many worlds like those in its past then, according to the simulation argument, either we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization or an advanced civilization probably created our world. Given the faith position, we choose to deny the probability that we will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization, and so should trust that an advanced civilization probably created our world.
If ever we create many worlds like our own, we almost certainly would not be the first or only civilization to do so. Our perspective regarding our origin should account for our expectation regarding our creative potential. It would be remarkably inconsistent and extremely improbable to assert that we will eventually create many worlds like our own without also acknowledging that an advanced civilization probably created our world.
The Charity Argument from Angels
“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with Himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.” (TPJS 354)
At least one of the following is true: EITHER advanced civilizations are improbable OR any advanced civilization probably cannot stop the advance of any less advanced civilization in reach OR the extent of our advance probably indicates the minimum benevolence of any advanced civilization in reach.
This argument essentially demonstrates a minimum level of benevolence of advanced civilizations. This is the weakest of the charity arguments. The basic idea here is that if there are any advanced civilizations that are out there, they haven’t stopped our advance to the point we find ourselves because either they can’t, or they choose not to.
Assumption: any advanced civilization probably can stop the advance of any less advanced civilization in reach
We are simply assuming here that part of what it means to be an advanced civilization is the ability to stop the advance of any less advanced civilization in reach. To illustrate, imagine you discover an anthill in your back yard. You could go out there and destroy that anthill or otherwise stop the advance of the anthill at any time. Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that an advanced civilization could stop the advance of a less advanced civilization in reach if they so desired.
As Lincoln explained with The Angel Argument, we should trust that advanced civilizations are probable.
The extent of our advance probably indicates the minimum benevolence of any advanced civilization in reach. The probable advanced civilizations within reach of our world are at least benevolent enough to allow us to continue to advance to the point we find our civilization today.
The Charity Argument from Faith
At least one of the following is true: EITHER any advanced civilization probably has increased in defensive capacity at a rate greater than or equal to the rate at which it has increased in destructive capacity OR any advanced civilization probably is more benevolent than us OR we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization
The basic idea behind this argument is that probably only civilizations that advance in benevolence survive long enough to become an advanced civilization. Advanced benevolence is probably a necessary, but not sufficient condition for survival.
It may be the case that no civilizations ever become advanced before becoming extinct. But what would it mean if they did? First of all, it would mean that the civilization is lucky enough not to have been struck by an asteroid or run out of resources or destroyed in some other way beyond the control of the civilization. But aside from that, and importantly for our argument here, it would imply one of three possibilities. One, they may not increase in destructive capacity. Two, they may increase in defensive capacity at a rate greater than or equal to the rate at which they increase in destructive capacity. Or three, they increase in benevolence.
A key assumption in this argument is that any advanced civilization probably has not increased in defensive capacity at a rate greater than or equal to the rate at which it has increased in destructive capacity.
This assumption has two parts. First, part of what it means to become an advanced civilization is to increase in destructive capacity. This is an assumption we think is merited based simply on observations of past trends in human destructive capacity. Throughout history, humans have increased in destructive capacity. Furthermore, destructive capacity has increased at an exponential rate. Looking at the history of weapons: Anthropologists have suggested that early humans probably first used spears 5 million years ago. 4.5 million years after that, there is evidence of wooden spears made with fire-hardened points. Over 100,000 years after that, humans began making complex blades used as spear points. Roughly 65000 years after that, the bow and arrow emerges. 14,000 years after that is the first confirmed use of gunpowder. And less than a thousand years after that, the first nuclear weapon is used in war. By observing past trends in our own civilizations weapons technology and extrapolating those observations into the future, we conclude that over time, it will continue to grow in destructive capacity. Generalizing that extrapolation, we feel justified in assuming that any advanced civilization probably has more destructive capacity than us.
The second part of this assumption is that as civilizations advance in destructive capacity, they probably do not increase in defensive capacity at a rate greater than or equal to the rate at which they increase in destructive capacity. We look to our own civilizations experience to justify this assumption as well. One obvious example is that of protective armor. Kevlar vests used by the police and the army are only bullet resistant and can realistically only protect certain areas of the body (Batman’s new and improved suit notwithstanding). Furthermore, we have yet to find a way to protect us at all from nuclear explosions and other destructive capabilities we possess. Our defensive capacity lies far behind our destructive capacity and probably will remain so if we become an advanced civilization.
Finally, the moral responsibility imposed upon us by the faith position requires that we eliminate the proposition that we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization.
Imagine a future in which a weapon powerful enough to destroy our entire planet could be produced for the cost of what is today a few dollars. Given present technological trends, that future may not be so far off as one might think. Assuming the present level of benevolence and defensive capacity of individuals within our civilization, such a future would bring with it almost certain doom. Any civilization, including our own, that hopes to survive as it advances, must therefore increase in benevolence. Any advanced civilization probably is more benevolent than our present civilization.
The Charity Argument from Creation
At least one of the following is true: EITHER an advanced civilization probably did not create our world OR any advanced civilization probably does not create many worlds like those in its past OR any advanced civilization that created our world probably acts toward us with the same benevolence it hopes any advanced civilization that created its world acts towards it.
The basic idea here is that if advanced civilizations become creators of worlds similar to those in their past, then they probably know that they are probably living in a created world themselves and are therefore subject to the whims of their creator. Nick Bostrom suggests in the Simulation Argument that an advanced civilization living in such a state would consider the possibility that their behavior in their world may be rewarded or punished based on some moral criteria determined by the creator. Advanced civilizations would therefore probably treat any world that it created at least as benevolently as it hoped to be treated by its creator.
I think that an even more persuasive idea than that suggested by Bostrom is an appeal to our human feelings towards our creations, specifically towards our children. We treat our children with benevolence, perhaps because of a fear of punishment from greater powers. But I think we do so more often because we feel a profound love for our children. So it probably is with the feelings of advanced civilizations towards their creations.
There are two reasons why The Creation Argument is important here. First of all, as explained by Lincoln, part of the creation argument is the assumption that advanced civilizations probably create many worlds similar to their own. Secondly, The Creation Argument concludes that we should trust that an advanced civilization probably created our world.
There are two ways of looking at the conclusion of this argument, analogous to two ways of understanding the behavior of children in relation to their parents. On the one hand, some parents believe they must punish their children to teach them to act morally. Perhaps it is the case that children obey their parents out of a fear of punishment. Similarly, perhaps the creators of our world treat us benevolently out of a fear of punishment from their own creators. That understanding fits into the argument.
On the other hand, perhaps the behavior of the child is more strongly motivated, not by fear of punishment, but by a love for the parents, which love can be reinforced by the nurturing behavior of the parents. Similarly, perhaps the creators of our world treat us benevolently out of a love and an understanding that love is the greatest motivator.
Either way, the point of The Charity Argument from Creation is that the manner in which the creator of our world treats us is probably influenced by its relationship with its creator.
Any advanced civilization that created our world probably acts towards us with at least the same benevolence it hopes any advanced civilization acts towards it.
“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.” (TPJS 346)
Let’s now review the New God Argument as a whole. It begins with the faith position, a practical assumption that we probably will not go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization. If, for whatever reason, you’re unwilling to embrace this position, we don’t have a shared basis from which to proceed with the argument.
Stemming from the faith position, the angel argument demonstrates that if you expect basic life forms are probable, and particularly if we confirm empirically that they are probable, you should trust that advanced civilizations are also probable. The alternative would be the morally irresponsible option of embracing the conclusion that we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization.
Also stemming from the faith position, the creation argument demonstrates that if you expect we’ll someday create many worlds similar to our own then you should trust that an advanced civilization probably created our world. We almost certainly would not be the first or only civilization to do so, and the only probable alternative is that we will go extinct before creating many worlds like our own.
Building from the angel argument, the charity argument from angels contends that, given the probable existence of advanced civilizations, either they probably are incapable of stopping our advance or the extent of our advance probably indicates their minimum benevolence. If you expect that they could stop us, you should conclude that they probably are demonstrating at least some minimum degree of benevolence, even if entirely passive, toward us.
Building from the faith position, the charity argument from faith demonstrates that if you expect any advanced civilization probably has, like us, increased in destructive capacity faster than defensive capacity then you should also trust it probably is more benevolent than us. The alternative is that we’ll probably end up misusing our increasing destructive capacity and destroy ourselves before becoming an advanced civilization.
Building from the creation argument, the charity argument from creation contends that any advanced civilization that creates many worlds like those in its past would understand the creation argument, know that an advanced civilization probably also created its world, and therefore have incentive to act toward the worlds it creates with the same benevolence it hopes to receive. If you think we’ll eventually create many worlds similar to our own, you should conclude that any advanced civilization that created our world knows the creation argument and would act toward us accordingly.
In summary, if basic life forms are probable then we should trust that advanced civilizations are probable. If any advanced civilization probably has increased in destructive capacity faster than defensive capacity, and if any advanced civilization probably creates many worlds like those in its past, then we should trust that an advanced civilization more benevolent than us probably created our world. The alternative is that we probably will go extinct before becoming an advanced civilization.
Some will not feel inclined to worship the kind of God entailed by this argument. On the one hand, some will feel it’s too cold, too distant, smelling too much of UFOs and tasting too much of ET. On the other hand, some will challenge that nothing in this argument compels us to grovel in self-flagellating adoration. With both sets of persons, I heartily agree. An argument for God never has been and never will be sufficient to replace the esthetic of God in our lives, experienced through individual communion with the divine. Moreover, in my estimation, no God worthy of worship commands groveling; rather, a God worthy of worship is a God worthy of respect, emulation and friendship. The New God Argument does not contend to provide a relationship with God. It contends only to demonstrate that a common world view, informed of contemporary science and technological trends, leads to and is wholly compatible with faith in a particular kind of God.
The God of this argument is a natural material God that became God through natural material means, suggesting how we might do the same. As emphasized in the argument, benevolence, not only power, is among those means and essential to them. This is the God of which I learned from Joseph Smith, who so fully persuaded me of the practical value of faith in such a God that I was ready to assert this faith even if God didn’t exist yet. However, the New God Argument demonstrates the utter improbability of becoming like God unless God already exists.
We’ll conclude by quoting perhaps the most unlikely and unwilling proponent of the New God Argument, the talented evolutionary biologist and leading voice of the new atheist movement, Richard Dawkins, from his book, “The God Delusion”.
“Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century. Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet. As Arthur C Clarke put it, in his Third Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ The miracles wrought by our technology would have seemed to the ancients no less remarkable than the tales of Moses parting the waters, or Jesus walking upon them. The aliens of our SETI signal would be to us like gods …
“In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn’t start that way. Science-fiction authors … have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization. But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere. The laws of probability forbid all notions of their spontaneously appearing without simpler antecedents. They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution …”
“Eternal progression” is what Mormons call that perhaps unfamiliar version of Darwinian evolution. “God” is what Mormons call those god-like extraterrestrials that didn’t start that way. Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably gods. That’s what Richard Dawkins tells us. That’s what Joseph Smith told us. That’s what the New God Argument concludes. Beyond traditional theism and beyond new atheism, Zion, your God reigns.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “New God Argument (Version 1.0).”