Indelible Information and the Soul
Science and Theology
This may surprise some. There is a very interesting connection between current hard science and Christian Theology. It is an accepted principle of hard science that information cannot be destroyed. No, not as in the sense of document destruction by misguided humans, that is common, but information about physical events in the universe is recorded indelibly in the very fabric of the universe. The universe, it turns out, contains a vast recording of everything that has happened before, in the tiniest detail. The wing-beat of the legendary butterfly in the Amazon Jungle that influences a hurricane in the Atlantic is recorded forever. At any given time, with sufficient information on the state of the universe at that time, one can, in principle, back-calculate the state of the entire universe at any preceding time in as much detail as one might wish. This is accepted by the hard sciences as a fact. However, we cannot foresee the future because randomness, chaos, and the impact of our free-will, will introduce unforeseeable events of the future. But what happened in the past is “writ in stone” and available in detail.
The implications of this fact are stunning. They tell us that everyone’s and everything’s existence, the information describing in every detail of what happened to the person or object, is stored forever in the memory of the universe. The similarity of this understanding of the permanent preservation of physical information in the universe to the theological concept of a similarly indelible (immortal) Soul, is worth examining. One could say that from the universe’s information point of view, everyone and everything is born (formed) with a “Soul.” This Soul builds a record of its physical activities through its “life” and this information is stored in the archive of the physical universe. In theological postulates these same activities, and more, of an immortal human Soul, its physical as well as its spiritual life, are noted in some heavenly archive and then weighed as to their worth. It seems to me that in examining these concepts both the sciences and theology are seeking the answer to the same question: “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
Theology differs from the science because it also proposes a judgement of the Soul, but who is the judge? Science does not, need not, provide an answer for the physical realities but it does give a hint for theologians to consider. If all the universe that exists is real, whence did it originate? The Big Bang was an event, we are told, but it took place because there was something preceding it — and that something Banged. We have no scientific answer as to the cause of this. Theology proposes that God created the universe and just leaves it at that. A scientist-theologian might say that God must have had access to something outside the realities we understand and He set it off in a Big Bang. Hard science at this time knows nothing of any such preceding reality. But hard science has not made its last discovery. Some of its recent progress boggles the mind in terms of its incomprehensibility. Theology, in turn, has traditionally plumbed the “great unknown,” its theorising deals with incomprehensible ideas too.
Now, if God created the universe, as a theologian would maintain, why did He do it? Here, current theology fails to provide an answer. What was God’s plan for the universe He created? More than that, if He is all-knowing, why did He want to do it? He knew what would happen. Let me set you to thinking “out of the box” by proposing an answer.
Theology assumes that the God that created the universe is all-powerful and all-knowing. But what if He is immeasurably wiser, better informed and powerful than we can imagine but despite that, He is not all-everything. What if He too is seeking more knowledge and/or power at another level of reality? What if the universe He created is an experiment that He devised in order to achieve something we are trying to understand? He is doing this in pursuit of gaining further capabilities and understanding of something we cannot even conceive? The experiment is not a one-shot undertaking, it is a whole long-term program with many activities involved.
This line of thinking may seem heretical, but it is not. The theologically accepted concept of free-will indicates that God lets chips fall where they may. I think that the concept of a free-will is one of the most important items in theology. The idea that God knows every outcome before it happens leads to a belief in predestination and makes our lives and our efforts futile, even our very existence is made meaningless. “Que sera, sera.” Even God would gain nothing new from such a universe. He knew it all before. The idea that He created the world and us so we could praise Him is too simplistic to accept. Theologians have struggled with this dilemma but Christians in general reject predestination. I am not for that either, and would prefer to believe that God is a creator who seeks to investigate something more than He currently knows. Perhaps it is as simple as how intelligent beings will employ free-will to better themselves.
As God seeks to improve His understanding, He finds that some of His experiments do not lead to what He is seeking and He adjusts His investigation accordingly. Hence the progress of evolution here on Earth and the concept of a judgment; either a given experiment leads Him to greater understanding and some goal or it presents a dead end. The experiments that promote His purposes are noted (judged) and followed up in some way.
This line of thinking leads to the idea that all things have an everlasting Soul, in that their physical existence is on record in the universe and surely must also be in God’s notebooks. But theologians identify humans as having a special kind of Soul. And they are right. Although all of nature is involved in leaving behind information records of their physical activities, we are the only ones who create records of our mental activity, our dreams and ambitions, how we wish to use our free-will and superior intellectual capabilities. We have a free-will which makes us think so that the outcome of our activities is unknowable a priori. We do not simply act on the dictates of causality, or pre-programmed natural responses, we have an immortal Soul. That is surely why Christian theology states that we have been “created in the image of God.” We too are experimentalists. Other beings may be experimentalists to a limited extent but none we know equal our capabilities.
Theology and science can take us far if we can find a way to reconcile the two studies. I want to examine how the two lines of investigation can be combined to improve our societies and hence our lives. Clearly hard science can increase our comforts and powers. However, we are well behind the curve in improving our societies beyond the creature comforts made possible by technology. We need to introduce more of the ways of technology and theology into the design of our social structures.
For example, why is the earthly bounty here if God is interested in our activities in particular? “Concerned” people want to equate our “value” to that of every other part of nature, diminishing our value to that of every other thing on Earth. That is wrong. Nature is here to make things possible for us humans to exist; it feeds us, amuses us, houses us, it keeps us warm, and so on. The Christian bible tells us that God intended Earth’s nature to be our resource: And His universe makes the Earth and its resources possible.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the Earth.”
The resources of the Earth are there for our use. We have a free-will to use them wisely, in ways that foster our goals. It could not be clearer than this. God has created the resources we need because He wants us to be able to do something for Him while we prosper on the resources available. It is a distortion which hinders social development to treat all of nature as being of equal value. So, what is it that God wants?
Well, let us go back to consider some pertinent physical realities we have before us. Modern technology cannot keep up with the recording capabilities of the universe but we do well enough as is. We presently record so much of what we do and have done that we are drowning in information stored in existing huge data storage facilities. We started this with writing books and building libraries but have progressed to massive information storage in digital form. We are at the beginning of the age of what a skeptic might call “infomania.”
This serves us well in that we can readily recall previous achievements and use them to further progress. We judge the value of our past achievements, promote the use of those which hold value for creating further progress, and reject those that failed or did harm. We judge all we do or have done.
The universe and God also keep a record of what we do using our resources and free-will, God then judges what we do. God expects us to use our free-will to do things that are novel, things He did not anticipate, and thereby be a help in His experiment. In fact, that is what the Christian bible teaches, that is why we have our free-will but how we exercise it is important.
Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth in me, hath everlasting life.
If we take “believeth in” to mean “worketh with” it becomes clear that helping God with His works will be rewarded, but all we do will be judged. However, at this time, most Christian prayers ask God for help and seldom attempt to offer help. We are beggars counting on freebies from God. It would be a significant improvement in our theological premises and our life’s work if we asked to find out how we can help Him with His plans. The clergy and monastics do that routinely but not so the masses of the faithful. Emphasis on this in common prayer would represent real progress in Christian Theology. We should ask for inspiration from God as to how we can better understand His intentions. Moreover, we should learn to use our free-will to our common advantage.
At times He may supply helpful information via saints and prophets or “miraculous” hints. It would be better for all if we aspired to understand what may be God’s plans. We have to believe that God’s plans wish us good and that God is just, thoughtful and benevolent and not a malign user of His power with no consideration of our fate. Some among us already seek such enlightenment but there is not enough of that going on among “the faithful,” and the leaders of our societies are usually hostile to such attempts.
Does any of this say that God does not care for individuals? Not at all. God’s database is accessible to Him at all times in infinite detail, more detail than the library of the universe since He can also record our thoughts and aspirations. He is constantly monitoring His experiment with detailed knowledge of the activities of each item in the experiment, each of us is under His personal observation. He can adjust experimental conditions at any time by manipulating probabilities. Such capabilities are not beyond our envisioning of a God who created the universe nor do they conflict with the use of our free-will or the chaos which can result due to our actions based on inadequate information.
So, why do terrible things happen? They happen because God wants to know how we will deal with the unforeseen using our intelligence and free-will. To interfere with an experiment is a no-no to scientists. He does not micromanage our existence, else what would we be but helpless dependents? What would be out contribution to His work? In that view the one unknown that is present in God’s creation is the result of actions we take not because of physical needs but because we exercise our free-will. The results are for Him to judge. Individuals caught in misfortunes will not be judged for their fate, they will be judged on their merit.
Most of the universe operates on the basis of causality. Not humans — we have free-will which allows us to submit to causality or to go against it depending on our perceptions, our preferences, and our capabilities. Our technology has increased the opportunities of using our free-will and to manage the probabilities of possible outcomes. Some of our actions can therefore unexpectedly burden individuals and/or bring calamity or benefit to nations. These events may be the unknowns that God seeks to understand; how do we handle the choices before us? and why do we make the choices we make. Are our choices the ones He would approve of?
For example, we can note that the vector of our progress with time is undeniably pointing up in the progress of our technological capabilities. We have been making wise choices in advancing our knowledge and technology. We have abandoned erroneous theories of the past and are seeking a rational understanding of reality. Our free-will has led us to make remarkable progress in the hard sciences. Why has similar progress failed to emerge in our social structures?
Here is God’s dilemma, and perhaps an issue He is trying to understand. Free-will fosters the search for knowledge but inhibits the formation of rational societies. Whereas hard science and technology thrive on ingenuity and “out of the box” thinking, societies fail when these same characteristics are applied in forming social structures. A “catch 22” if ever there was one! Is there a solution?
The principal difficulty is evaluating the ideas that emerge in social “science.” In the hard sciences truth is defined by the repeatability of an experiment and the fit of the result to a broader range of established facts. Confirmation of a fact is based on a statistical measure of the reproducibility of its existence. Scientific facts and postulates can be checked in years or decades. But there is no convenient measure of benefit available in social “science.” In fact, many an idea in that field is vigorously defended on the basis of group-think rather than an attempt at objective measure. More, there is a conscious discrediting or obfuscation or distortion of even semi-objective measures of postulates in the social sciences by contending ideologists. Sophistry is their primary tool. Group-think, sometimes called a “consensus,” is a dominant power in current social science.
To be fair, experiments in social science can take decades or generations to yield reliable results, while the career of a social “scientist” or revolutionary is relatively short. As a result, new ideas in the field tend to be inadequately tested before a consensus or a coup forces their adoption or discarding. The result is shortfall of rational, cumulative progress, and the resultant confusion and social disfunction. Erroneous ideas may linger because their proponents command a consensus and plead that they have not been given a fair chance to have their ideas evaluated. Perhaps. But how long do you want real human beings to suffer before they reject what they see as a harmful social experiment? Sadly, at the same time, good ideas can be discarded because they do not benefit the personal fortunes of our power brokers and their consensus. Moreover, social activists tend to discard and discredit past tenets wholes-bolus. They want to start with a “clean sheet” and often discard good ideas of the past. That results in losses in social progress and failure to accumulate worthwhile ideas.
However, I think God may be steering us toward a solution. God does not steer things a priori but does cull the results to seek the optimal path to a solution and lets us continue to experiment in that direction. And the optimal direction may be the employment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in steering societies. This offers the possibility of introducing objectivity into social “sciences” without having to wait for generations for a clear result of the implementation of a novel social idea. AI can compute the likely results of a policy proposal in a relatively short time, if it is presented with enough and unbiased information. This can be done. We may not have this capability now but it is on our horizon.
If the aid of AI succeeds, we may finally begin to form societies which not only conform with reality but offer an up-tending vector for continuing rational social progress. In the face of reality, we will have to improve the use of our free-will and control our wishful thinking in the application of some of the hypotheses of social sciences and let data and calculations point us in the right direction — just like we do in the face of reality in the hard sciences. If there is any hope of progress in social structures, this is it. Resorting to the tools and methods of hard sciences will help humanity seek the goals God has in mind — or simply for our own good. The difference is that atheists will seek different goals than the deists. That issue will have to be resolved and science will be involved in the solution. Social progress can become more rational and facilitate all manner of improvements we may seek: progress in peace, understanding, science, theology and so on. The important issue is: what are our goals in these various fields?
The above remarks regarding societies are primarily addressed to issues of first and second world countries. Third world countries are in worse shape, no matter what their level of wealth. Many third world governments and social structures are no more advanced today than those of centuries past. Even the slow progress of social development which has led to current democracies has passed them by. Despite their various merits, the deeply flawed but somewhat more advanced principles of current democracies are either completely fake or non-existent in many third world societies. When we consider their dangerous access to military and other modern technology that money can buy, it is clear that their, and our world, is in dire need of better, safer, social structures. As it stands, many of their elites employ modern technology and conveniences for their own personal safety and good, and do little to bring readily available benefits to their citizens. They may even deny them some benefits by edict or subterfuge.
My take on all of this is as follows. We have used our intelligence, our judgment and free-will to develop a fairly good understanding of our physical world. But we have not developed an equivalently honest understanding of ourselves and how to better our societies. The time is coming when we will be able to use the objectivity of inanimate creatures (computers) to help us understand ourselves and the societies we form — none too soon. Using the fruits of hard science and technology we can start to move our societies forward along a rational path to a better future. Millennia of social stagnation would end if technology brings on an era of harmonious progress of science, sociology and theology. There is a promise of a bright future before us, if we adopt the fruits of our technology not only for our physical well-being but also for our social well-being. But before we make any real progress, we have to understand what is our goal. Only we can decide that.
If AI is to have a major influence in governing our societies, what do we become, slaves? dependents? subjects of a benevolent AI dictatorship? I expect that the answer will be that we alone will retain free-will, an ingredient that machines will never obtain. This will make us indispensable in selecting novel ideas for future progress as we pursue our goals. The AI devices will work with us using their irreplaceable capabilities to be objective and to sift the good from the bad that we may want to pursue. I believe that machines will never have human-type Souls and we should not expect them to replace us in the pursuit of our goals. No matter what technological progress we make, we will continue to seek some as yet ill-defined end that we accept as our destination. The machines should never be in charge of our goals.
The bottom line in all of this is: we need to find the answer to the “Alfie” question. This question is beyond the scope of hard science. Science can only help us improve our capabilities. Theology seeks to improve our understanding. Science and theology are approaching a common understanding and should cooperate to further our search. Without a convincing answer to the Alfie question, we have no guidance as to how we should optimize the structure of our societies and our own behavior. This essay proposes that we learn how to make better use the discoveries of hard science to improve our understanding of everything, as we move forward in search of an answer.
P.S. The above considerations do not deny the possibility that other life forms, elsewhere in the universe, are seeking their goals. Are their goals the same as ours?