Can a computer be conscious?

I recently watched the film Ex Machina, which explores questions surrounding the nature of consciousness.  I will comment briefly on some of the philosophical issues it raises, but I won’t describe the entire plot.  Nonetheless, if you’re worried about “spoilers”, now’s the time to stop reading, and I hope you’ll come back here after you see the film.

The premise of the film is that there is a robot (Ava), and its creator (Nathan) wants to know whether it is conscious or not, but doesn’t know how to test this proposition.  He invites a young programmer (Caleb) who is somewhat knowledgeable about such questions to participate in an experiment.  It isn’t, we are told, the classic Turing Test, Continue reading “Can a computer be conscious?”

Is it wrong to doubt?

In this post I am finishing up a three-part series on dealing with doubts. The first post asked whether Christianity’s claims depend on evidence and can be falsified, and answered in the affirmative. The second post went through one recent example of how unfavorable new evidence can come to light and, if one processes it honestly, “move the needle” adversely in terms of one’s faith. Here I will share some further thoughts Continue reading “Is it wrong to doubt?”

Does man make God in his own image?

Genesis 1:27 proclaims that God created man in His own image.  For reasons discussed in other posts on this blog (such as this one), I don’t automatically assume any statement is true just because it appears in Genesis, but in this case I think the text alludes to a great truth.

My purpose with this post, however, is not to dig into the text of Genesis specifically.  Rather, I wish to discuss the question of whether God made man in His image, or vice versa, without presupposing Continue reading “Does man make God in his own image?”

How can you be so sure that you’re right?

This is a question that gets tossed around a lot in debates about religion.

Sometimes a Christian asks an atheist this, with the implication being that in order to reject Christianity and put one’s immortal soul at risk for eternity, one ought to be very sure that it is false.  I always cringe when I hear it in this context, for two reasons.  First, my understanding of hell and who goes where differs from the conventional view; issues of salvation and the afterlife are simply not as clear-cut as many Christians present them to be in arguments or tracts.  I often wonder whether Continue reading “How can you be so sure that you’re right?”

Why won’t God heal amputees?

This question has become a popular one for dedicated nonbelievers to ask, rhetorically of course, because it challenges the Christian conception of God on several fronts simultaneously. Christians believe that God exists, that God is good, that God hears and answers prayers, that God loves us, and that God enjoys healing people. Continue reading “Why won’t God heal amputees?”

Why doesn’t God just reveal Himself to everyone?

Time and again, we’re told that God wants us to believe in Him.  Yet it must be admitted that God does not make Himself obvious to all of us.  In response, it can be said that God is not a physical being and therefore does not exist at a particular location and is therefore not naturally visible to our eyes or audible to our ears.  However, that is inconsistent with the claim that if God so chooses (for example, on this occasion), He is capable of revealing Himself visibly and audibly, as one would expect from an omnipotent being.

Furthermore, focusing on eyes and ears just Continue reading “Why doesn’t God just reveal Himself to everyone?”

If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?

This is among the most difficult questions to answer, and I don’t have any particularly innovative solution to offer that hasn’t already been proposed before.  A short listing of the most notable answers can be found here.  They provide some food for thought, and may help explain why a world with some suffering in it could be preferable to a world with none at all. For a vivid illustration of this, I’d recommend the Twilight Zone episode A Nice Place to Visit.

Nonetheless, I would agree that if God is good, the quantity and intensity of suffering we observe in this world Continue reading “If God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Does Pascal’s Wager make sense?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist. He invented a mechanical calculator, and a modern computer programming language is named after him. His contributions had long-lasting impact in the fields of gambling theory, economics, and actuarial science. He was also a deeply religious man. His Pensées, an ambitious work meant to provide a thorough defense of Christianity, were unfinished at the time of his death. The most famous idea to emerge from his draft has been called Pascal’s Wager.

The basic idea is that either God exists, or He does not, and the matter cannot be proven one way or the other. If He does exist, you have everything to gain by believing that He does, and living your life accordingly, and everything to lose by rejecting or ignoring Him. If He does not exist, you have nothing to lose either way. Regardless of what probability you assign to his existence, the rational “wager” is to live as if He does exist.

Critics of Pascal’s Wager attack not the mathematics of it but the various underlying assumptions.  Continue reading “Does Pascal’s Wager make sense?”

What evidence is there that God exists?

It’s common to think of “evidence” as something that can be analyzed using scientific means, like DNA evidence found at a crime scene.  In a broader sense, however, evidence is simply whatever observations are used to demonstrate that something is true.

Some of the arguments that have been circulated for God’s existence have struck me as weak (but your mileage may vary).  For example, some derive evidence for God’s existence from methods of philosophy, such as in the ontological argument.  Philosophy is couched in a technical language of sophistication and logic.  To the extent this encourages careful reasoning, that’s fine, but Continue reading “What evidence is there that God exists?”

If God created the universe, who or what created Him?

To our minds, the entire problem of the “first cause” is a paradox. The spontaneous existence of the universe, without God, makes no sense, yet we also can’t make sense of God’s own origins either.

At first glance, it appears to be a stalemate between the theistic (belief in God) and atheistic viewpoints.  However, let’s look more closely.  If we assume that God created the universe, then we leave open the possibility that God, being infinitely wiser than ourselves, can possibly understand His own origins and resolve the paradox for us.

If we assume the universe just exists on its own, then we run into a more serious difficulty, because we cannot, ourselves, explain our origins.  This limitation is not based on the current state of science or technology.  Whatever we do to explain the origins of the universe (for example, finding some physical cause to the Big Bang) within the framework of human knowledge simply pushes back the causal chain one more link.

It’s like a detective looking at a complicated crime scene, or Continue reading “If God created the universe, who or what created Him?”