Unifying Intelligence and Morality

In Chapter 2 of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Hofstadter writes that the primary purpose of his book is to explore answers to the question "Do words and thoughts follow formal rules, or do they not?" I believe an alternate way to ask the same question is "do our thoughts follow the laws of physics?"1

The answer to this question means that we have to understand what intelligence is. In chapter 1 of GEB, Hofstadter presents the "M-I-U system" which is simple set of rules for transforming certain strings which contain only the letters M, I, and U in well-defined ways. The four transformation rules are:
  1. xI xIU
  2. Mx Mxx
  3. xIIIy xUy
  4. xUUy xy
The first rule says that a sequence of characters that end in I can be lengthened by appending U. The second rule says that any string starting with M can be lengthened by appending all of the characters following the M. The third rule says that any three consecutive I's can be replaced with one U. The fourth rule says that any two consecutive U's can be deleted.

Hofstadter then asks: given the string MI can application of the rules result in the string MU? We can attempt to answer the question by applying the rules the to initial string MI and searching for MU. A very incomplete graph is:

If the production rules only lengthened the string, as rules one and two do, then we could generate all strings with the length of the target string and stop once the string was found or there were no more strings of that length. The same is true if the rules always shortened the string. Because the rules lengthen and shorten strings, we don't know if MU exists in the "universe" of producible strings. We could search a long time and find it, or search forever and never find it. The application of the rules does not guarantee that we will discover the answer to the question.

But if we step outside the rules, we observe that I's are produced in powers of two: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 etc... We also observe that I's are transformed to U three at a time. To get one U we would need a combination of three I's: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15... Because a power of two is not evenly divisible by three, these rules cannot produce MU from MI. We know something about the MIU system that cannot be proven from inside the MIU system. This is a simple example of
Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem.

The key observation is that one of the components of intelligence is the ability to step outside one set of rules into another. Of course the devil is in the details, but this a core principle of human level intelligence.

Hofstadter described this aspect of intelligence in 1979. John McCarthy said the same thing, but in a different way, twenty-one years earlier in his landmark paper
Programs with Common Sense. McCarthy presented five requirements for human equivalent intelligence:
  1. All behaviors must be representable in the system. Therefore, the system should either be able to construct arbitrary automata or to program in some general-purpose programming language.
  2. Interesting changes in behavior must be expressible in a simple way.
  3. All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.
  4. The machine must have or evolve concepts of partial success because on difficult problems decisive successes or failures come too infrequently.
  5. The system must be able to create subroutines which can be included in procedures in units...
In The Mechanism of Morality I wrote: "If these requirements correctly describe aspects of human behavior, then number three means that humans are goal-seeking creatures with no fixed goal. Not only do we not have a fixed goal, but the requirement that everything be improvable means that we have a built-in tendency to be dissatisfied with existing goal states!"

This is one reason why computers don't typically exhibit intelligent behavior. Computers are well known for their inflexibility; humans for their flexibility. Artificial intelligence is the attempt to make a flexible system from a set of rules. Those rules will need to include rules for changing certain rules.

Intelligence: step outside the system
Morality: step outside the system in a "constructive" direction

Bad Arguments Against Materialism and Atheism, It isn't about evidence assume that our thoughts follow the laws of physics.
[2] This is one reason why the programming language LISP is so powerful -- code is data and data is code.

On Trusting God

What is God really like? How do we know?

One view of God is that "He" is omniscient, omnipotent, and immutable. An
Open Theist would disagree, claiming that God does not necessarily know the future and would cite Jeremiah 32:35 as one example where it "did not enter" God's mind that man would do certain things. Furthermore, if God did infallibly know the future, He could not change it, therefore the argument is that He is not omnipotent. God is mutable, as shown by passages such as Exodus 32:14: "And the LORD changed His mind about the disaster he had planned to bring upon His people." This can be contrasted with Malachi 3:6, "For I the LORD do not change..." and James 1:17 "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

The purpose here is not to decide which view of God is correct but rather to think about thinking about God.

A certain open theist
was asked, "How are we supposed to trust a God who doesn’t know the future?" His answer was, "Presumably the same way we trust people who don't know the future. Is a Creator who doesn't know the future any less worthy of worship than one who does? It's still His Game, His Rules, regardless of whether He knows the outcome and/or every last twist and turn of the game or not."

First, note the change from "trust" to "worship." Whether or not God is trustworthy depends on God's nature. Whether or not God is worthy of worship depends on our value system. That is, what we value should conform to whatever God is. If God isn't trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, but perhaps we shouldn't value trust. If God is trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, and we perhaps should value trust. God should be worshipped due to His position as unique creator, but this doesn't inform us of His actual nature.

Second, trusting God in the same way that we trust people is problematic. We know people who aren't generally trustworthy who have a change of heart at the end and earn our trust. There are likewise people who are generally trustworthy who end up betraying us. This open theist likes to use the analogy of God as Game Designer where our reality is His simulation. Now, I can appreciate this analogy, since it is in some ways similar to the "God as Author" analogy that I've used. But this little, hopefully fictional, exchange illustrates one problem with trusting God in the way we trust people.

   "Jehovah? Jehovah! I told you to get to bed an hour ago. You have a big day tomorrow. It's your 'eight day' ceremony and you have to be rested for it."
   "Aw, Mom. Just a few more minutes? My simulation is about to finish. I want to see if the initial conditions I programmed into it turn out like I expect. The anti-Christ fellow is about to make his appearance!"
   "Jehovah, I find it inconsistent that you told your creatures to 'Honor your father and your mother' but me you ignore."
   "But you know that those rules only apply to them. They don't apply to me."
   "Well, in my house, you have to obey my rules. Turn your computer off and get to bed. Now. You can always start another one when you have more time."
   "Yes, Mom."


   Fade to black.

This story isn't consistent with Scripture. But how do we know that Scripture reveals what really is? God says that there is no one like Him, much less greater than Him. How do we know? Because He said so. How do we know His knowledge is complete in this area? Because He said so. How do we know God will not lie to us? Because He said so. But what if He was lying to us?

So we have a bootstrap problem. As the source of all creation, God exists in a different relation to us than other people. We find that in order to trust God we first have to trust God. If we must start with trusting God, when would there be a warrant to stop trusting Him? Would it be if God did something we didn't expect? That would require that we know the fullness of God's purpose. But "His ways are not our ways" (Isa. 55:8-9) and "time and chance happen to all men" (Eccl. 9:11). I believe that this shows that we must unconditionally trust God, regardless of whether or not His revealed nature is His true nature.

I wonder if there is a symmetry between the necessity for unconditional trust and unconditional election?

[1] See
Modeling Morality and Modeling Morality: The End of Time.


Atheism: It isn't about evidence

[Updated 5/7/2011, 10:49:05 PM; then 5/13/2011, 8:03:53PM. 7/18/2019 changed "otherwise" to "others"]

On the first of the year I wrote "
Cybertheology" to begin the long process of using science, particularly computer science, evolutionary biology, and game theory to give evidence for and provide understanding of God. After all, I believe that the God who reveals Himself in the spoken and written Word also speaks through nature -- and that the message must be the same in both. In 2009 I wrote "Evidence for God" which gave my reaction to one atheist's claim of the lack of evidence for God. Over at John Wright's blog, another atheist commenter recently claimed again that there is no convincing evidence for God.

I have now come to the conclusion that a consistent rational atheist cannot claim that evidence, or the lack thereof, is the issue at all. The proof is really very simple and builds upon ideas in the earlier post "
Bad Arguments Against Materialism."

Every argument should have well-defined terms. Defining "God" is surprisingly hard. Traditionally, Christianity has said that God is immutable and omniscient; however, an
Open Theist would disagree with these characteristics. Some argue that God is inherently good; others would say that the existence of evil disproves this notion (and this latter group is wrong, but that's not the topic of this post). The notion of "creator" is sufficient for now. Materialism has to conclude that matter in motion is the source of the idea of God -- "god" is an emergent property -- just like the number i is an emergent property (to the best of my limited knowledge of physics, one can't point to the square root of -1 apples or protons). Theism holds that matter is an emergent property of God and, therefore, God must be immaterial. One side holds that God is the product of man's imagination; the other says that man's imagination is the product of God.

Tangentially related to this is the question of how to recognize the existence of and the reason for singular events, such as Creation or the Resurrection. As will be shown, this reduces to differences in brain wiring.

If a creator God does not exist, then nature must consist solely of matter in motion. In particular, our thoughts arise from the movement of matter in certain patterns and our thoughts must obey the laws of physics. The laws of physics themselves are simply descriptions of how matter moves in relation to other matter. A description is just matter in a different dynamic relationship to other matter. Some theists may reject this idea and state that there is a supernatural aspect to thought, but the atheist has no such recourse. Computers, goldfish, and human minds work via electrons in a silicon, or carbon, matrix. The complexity of thought depends on the arrangement of atoms in the brain (or CPU).

The key insight is that evidence is simply atoms that are external to the brain; different brains process the same data differently. There is a reason why we don't discuss theology with goldfish, golden retrievers, or computers: their brains don't have enough particles in the right configuration. The same principle applies to the atheist and the agnostic. When they say, "the evidence isn't convincing," what they really mean is "the atoms in my brain don't process the external data the way yours does."

The observation that brain states can be changed due to external factors (memory is "simply" state changes in the brain) doesn't help. Either the brain actively causes brain states to change based on how the brain processes the data, or there is some effect where the brain is passively changed. In the first case, the brain's wiring affects the brain's wiring, so the data is irrelevant, because different brains process the same data differently. The external data just shows how the brain is wired. In the second case, the external data changes the brain. The brain isn't evaluating evidence in the sense of the claim that the "evidence isn't convincing." Instead, the correct view is "my brain is/is not capable of being changed by the external world in the same way as other brains."

Since the external evidence is the same for both theist and atheist, the difference is in the way brains process that data. Given the way most human brains work (cf.
The Mechanism of Morality), we ask "which arrangement of atoms is better?"

The rational atheist must answer, "that which results in reproductive advantage." The problem for the atheist at this point is that theists have more children than atheists. Even though atheism appears to be on the rise, population in general is on the rise. In relative numbers, the atheists are losing ground. Writing in "
The Source of Evangelism" (atheist evangelism), Vox Day said, "... their own children are converting to religion faster than religious children are converting out of it."

We have evolved to think in teleological terms. As
this study showed, people with Asperger's typically don't ascribe intention or purpose behind the events in their lives. Atheists, on the other hand, can reason teleologically, but they reject those explanations. It isn't evidence -- it's wiring. The atheist can't come out and say that their brains are wired better than the theists, for at least two reasons. First, it isn't supported by the demographics. Again quoting Vox Day, "But the demographic disadvantage means that the atheist community has to keep all of their children within the godless fold and de-convert one out of every three religious children just to keep pace with the growth of the religious community." Second, it isn't supported by reason. After all, materialism is a strict subset of theism. The theist can think everything the atheist can -- and more. The theist has a bigger "universe" in which to think.

One explanation for this demographic disparity may be found in the difference between brains wired to recognize the existence of a creator God and those that are not. In the Abrahamic religions, the creator God is strongly identified with life. For example, the Jews were told by God, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live..." [De 30:19]; Jesus said, "... have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Christianity asserts that death is an "enemy" -- the last enemy to be overcome [1 Cor 15:26]. Certainly, one doesn't have to reject the idea of a Creator God to reject life; but in my limited experience it sure seems that social battles of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, are drawn with a line generally between secular and religious. The side that places a premium on reproduction will outproduce those that do not.

If the atheist can't say that their brains are wired better than theists, they also won't say that their wiring is worse. That would totally defeat their arguments. Therefore, they adapt a form of protective coloration wherein they deflect the issue to be external to themselves -- the evidence -- when it clearly isn't. Adopting protective coloration against one's own species may be another reason for the reproductive disadvantage of atheists. After all, this is a form of defection against the larger group and, as Axelrod has shown, an evolutionary strategy to maximize reproductive success is to defect in turn.

It appears that the atheist cannot win. If God does exist, they are wrong. If God exists only in man's imagination, evolution has wired man so that the idea of God gives a direction toward reproductive success. The attempt to remove God from society will result in demographic weakness.
Shiny secular utopias simply don't exist.2

[1] After posting this in the morning, in the evening I started re-reading
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. Via seemingly different paths we have come to similar conclusions. On P-4 he writes:
  As I see it, the only way of overcoming this magical view of what "I" and consciousness are is to keep reminding oneself, unpleasant though it may seem, that the "teetering bulb of dread and dream" that nestles safely inside one's own cranium is a purely physical object made up of completely sterile and an inanimate components, all of which obey exactly the same laws as those that govern all the rest of the universe, such as pieces of text, or CD-ROMs, or computers. Only if one keeps on bashing up against this disturbing fact can one slowly begin to develop a feel for the way out of the mystery of consciousness: that the key is not the stuff out of which brains are made, but the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of a brain.
  This is a liberating shift, because it allows one to move to a different level of considering what brains are: as
media that support complex patterns that mirror, albeit far from perfectly, the world...
[2] On 5/12, CNN.com posted the article "Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims". In this article, Oxford University professor Roger Trigg, is quoted as saying "The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless."

Atheism, Dark Matter, and Calvinism

In the post Not so much, mate Vox Day opined on the quality of atheistic arguments for the non-existence of God. Off the top of my head, I made a list of the top seven arguments I commonly encounter:
  1. God frowns on me sticking my penis into whatever (not necessarily female, not necessarily willing, not necessarily human) flesh whenever I desire. Therefore, God does not exist.
  2. Unless one believes in Tuesdayism, the universe was not created six or so thousand years ago in 24 hour segments. Therefore, God does not exist.
  3. My peer group does not believe in God. Therefore, God does not exist.
  4. Naturalism explains a lot of things and will, eventually, explain all things. Therefore, God does not exist.
  5. Some religious people are idiots. Therefore, God does not exist.
  6. God does things I don't like. Therefore, God does not exist.
  7. God does not exist. Therefore, God does not exist.
Before someone charges me of constructing a straw man, I used at least six of them before I became a Christian. The very next comment after I posted this list was from “Ngorongoro,” who wrote: “God can't be shown to exist, therefore god probably doesn't exist. There, fixed it for you.”

But this is just an application of #7. As proof, try to show that “God can’t be shown to exist” without first assuming that God does not exist.

The redoubtable
John Quincy Public offered reason #8: “I didn’t get what I wanted. Therefore, God does not exist.” I, too, considered that one, but decided that it was equivalent to #6, since “I don’t like God not giving me what I wanted.” On the other hand, one could argue that #1 is also a variation of #6, yet I included #1 because it’s used so often. I know I did. Taxonomy is hard.

Later in the free for all, someone injected Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Higgs Boson as examples of things that are “blindly” believed by “rational” people. Without getting into issue of whether Christianity, or these supposed physical quantities are based on “blind” belief (they aren’t), John Quincy Public asked me, “Do you hew to a non-belief in the existence of dark matter? Or do you hold with a non-belief that a significant increase in stars will be found? With which Faith do you walk?”

My response was that I am currently agnostic on the existence of dark matter. We observe gravitational lensing and that galaxies rotate without flying apart -- both of which may require more matter than we can account for. On the other hand, at least once scientist things that dark matter and dark energy can be better explained by a
slowing speed of light. Other theories such as MOND are offered. Since I’m not a professional physicist I’m withholding judgment pending more evidence.

And this is the argument that atheists should use: “I am withholding judgement on whether or not God exists pending more evidence.”

Dealing with evidence is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we must attempt to deal fairly with evidence. This means we have to determine the kind of evidence that we can reasonably expect and then honestly evaluate the evidence, knowing that worldview biases how evidence is interpreted. But we also have to know whether or not we’re even capable of seeing the evidence!

I’m reminded that I need to schedule my yearly eye exam. When I wait in the examining room, I always rummage through the drawers by the exam chair. The contents don’t really change from year to year and there are always two books that interest me. One book contains a set of color prints used to test for color blindness. Numerical digits are placed inside circles, with both of various colors. I can see all of the digits so I’m not colorblind. The other book has four three dimensional pictures of a fly. The fly’s wings are supposed to look as if they are above the fly’s body. But I can never see the 3D effect. There is evidence that I just can’t process.

However, a particular historian may require additional evidence for himself before believing if the conclusion is in conflict with his horizon. But the horizon of the historian does not place a greater burden on the shoulders of another unless the criterion of consilience is affected. It is the responsibility of all historians to lay aside their biases and consider the evidence as objectively as possible. It is not the responsibility of the evidence to satisfy the biases of historians. Page 615

On the other hand, the evidence has a “duty,” as it were, to convince us.


Bumbleberry and Dukes Creek Falls

The weather on Saturday was magnificent. We took an afternoon trip and first stopped at Bumbleberry which is a yarn and gift shop in Clarkesville. Becky is holding a sign that we thought appropriate for Rachel.



Beeker was our middle child's Betta fish. Johnny brought him along when he came to visit us for Christmas, and Beeker was entrusted to our care when he went back to school in pursuit of his PhD. Around 10am on Monday, April 25 we left to pick up our daughter from college for the summer and returned home around 8pm Tuesday. Beeker had been in increasingly frail health over the past weeks; he passed away sometime while we were gone.

He was buried with full honors and has left a small void in our lives.

This picture was taken 1/8/11 on the occasion of moving Beeker into his new home.