Just this week, Christoph Benzmuller and Bruno Woltzenlogel of Berlin’s Free University made the astounding claim that computer science has proved God’s existence (there seems to be a lot of that going around in science lately).
The very next question could of course be – which one? There’s Wotan, Zeus, Jehovah, Odin, Freya and countless more. A bit of deeper digging, however, shows that their proof actually encircles a certain supposition made by the elite logician Kurt Godel decades ago. Although the famed mathematician passed in 1978, the theorem he posited regarding proof of God’s existence is shrouded in the mathematical intricacies of modal logic and as highly-regarded today as it was then.
To understand the accomplishment of Benzmuller and Woltzenlogel, we need a short descent into Godel’s logic. His proof of God’s existence rests on the general axiom that a higher being has to exist; because by definition, God is that for which no greater idea or thing can be conceived. Now here’s where it gets a little tricky, and may seem like sleight-of-hand to some: since we can conceive of God in theory as this perfect being, then He must exist in fact because this conception would be greater than the theoretical construct. Thus, He must exist. If you accept that God is, indeed, a being for which none greater can be conceived, then Godel’s proof follows inevitably.
Tantalizing headlines aside, what the computer scientists actually did was use a simple MacBook Air to mathematically prove that Godel’s proof was correct insofar as mathematics is concerned. They effectively showed that what used to take pages and pages of complex mathematics performed by dedicated logicians can be rendered by computer after programming in a few axioms. Benzmuller concurs.
“It’s totally amazing that from this argument led by Godel, all this stuff can be proven in just a few seconds or less on a standard notebook.”
Of course, since proof is the antithesis of faith, it would be difficult to expect this to change much in the realm of theology. But in logic, mathematics and computer science, it shows just how powerful computers really are – and how they may change the landscape of laborious proofs.