“Computer Scientists ‘Prove’ God Exists.” That’s the headline of an article from last week on Spiegel Online. The scientists who came up with the idea admit that they were just trying to grab some headlines for their work. According to Spiegel:
In fact, what the researchers in question say they have actually proven is a theorem put forward by renowned Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel — and the real news isn’t about a Supreme Being, but rather what can now be achieved in scientific fields using superior technology.
When Gödel died in 1978, he left behind a tantalizing theory based on principles of modal logic — that a higher being must exist. The details of the mathematics involved in Gödel’s ontological proof are complicated, but in essence the Austrian was arguing that, by definition, God is that for which no greater can be conceived. And while God exists in the understanding of the concept, we could conceive of him as greater if he existed in reality. Therefore, he must exist.
I’m not really a mathematics guy, but I’ve always enjoyed an ontological proof. Each semester I expose my freshmen to Anselm of Canterbury. They keep looking at his argument wondering what they’re missing. I comfort them, saying that it might be the hardest thing they do all semester. Even after they understand it, usually less than half of them think it’s valuable.
I like Anselm’s argument, but I’m going to have to trust that these mathematicians got Gödel’s theorem right. I have no hope of understanding what they’ve done. I’m merely happy to see another ontological argument getting a little bit of credit.