Wednesday, July 13, 2005

God, random chance, and programming

In 1837, Charles Babbage, who invented a programmable mechanical computer, wrote an essay called The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. In general he wanted to show that "the power and knowledge of the great Creator of matter and mind are unlimited." It was also his determination to combat a recurring prejudice, that "the pursuits of science are unfavorable to religion," a prejudice which he believed "to have been long eradicated from every cultivated mind."

More specifically, he wanted to show that the computer has certain characteristics that might effectively be exploited in constructing a new and most powerful proof of the existence of a Creator. To use the modern terminology, Babbage described the Creator as an infinitely skilled programmer, "whose mind, intimately cognizant of the remotest consequences of the present as welll as of all other laws, decreed existence to that one alone, which should comprehend within its grasp the completion of its destiny - which should require no future intervention to meet events unanticipated by its author, in whose omniscient mind we can conceive no infrimity of purpose - no change of intention!" It was in that perspective that Babbage defended such cardinal points in natural theology as the possibility and reality of miracles, of providence, or freedom of will, of future punishments and rewards.

Babbage's machine was in fact the embodiment of hierarchically ordered instructions or laws. As such, Babbage argued, it was but a modest replica of nature... it constituted a most telling analogy. By studying its sturcture and mode of operation, one could form, as Babbage emphasized, "a faint estimate of the magnitude of that lowest step in the chain of reasoning, which leads us to Nature's God."
[excerpted from Jaki's Brain, Mind, and Computers 43-45, quoting Babbage's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise]

Yes, and we have gotten quite a bit (hee hee) further into this since Babbage. Or we could, except for the problems Cardinal Newman discussed at length in The Idea of a University, of the wars between the various departments when one is excluded...

In 1828 Wöhler synthesized urea from inorganic chemicals - over time, this led to the birth of biochemistry as a branch uniting chemistry and biology. Now is the time for computing and biology to also unite...

But without the assistance (the consolation?) of philosophy, this unity will be dangerous.

That is why a new department ought to be founded at Catholic universities, which (as Cardinal Newman hinted!) would unite computing, philosophy, and biology...


At 13 July, 2005 17:28, Blogger Newvictorian said...

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