Petaflops, Qubits and God

This morning I did some brain training over breakfast. I didn’t mean to, I was quietly munching through my bowl of muesli and browsing through David’s BBC Focus science magazine left open on the kitchen table.

So now I know what a petaflop is. I even have a rough idea about a Qubit which is not bad going for an arts graduate with limited mathematical ability. If the BBC has dumbed it down for the likes of me, then what follows is the ”blue peter’ version:

A petaflop is a measure of speed for computers. One petaflop is equivalent to a thousand trillion operations per second.The fastest computer in the world can perform 1.759 petaflops a second. That’s fast! Here is a computer that could probably give you the answer about half an hour before you thought of the question!

But that’s nothing. because the current fastest computer in the world is not a quantum computer which are apparently being developed somewhere out there at the extreme boundaries of science. Here is a comparison between a quantum computer and today’s supercomputer:

‘It would take our best computer today 10 million years to perform the factorisation done in seconds by quantum computing’

Even given that I don’t know what ‘factorisation’ means, I’m impressed!

Quantum computers use Qubits. Ordinary computers use ‘bits’ of data, a bit is either a ‘zero’ or a ‘one’. A qubit can be a ‘zero’ and a ‘one’ at the same time. To which the only possible response is ‘Taaa Da!’

That’s a neat trick!

Feeling throughly entertained I pressed on into the next article all about the cosmos. I learnt that according to ‘string theory’ there are 10 dimensions in our universe, maybe even 26! Then I finished my muesli and as things were starting to feel seriously weird I gave up (you’ll have to write your own ‘child’s guide to particle physics’).

What has all this got to do with God? Recently I was reading for a college assignment about the anthropic principle (the idea that the cosmos seems to have been ‘finely tuned’ to bring about life on earth) and I came across a quote from Richard Dawkins (who wrote The God Delusion):

‘I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable – but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect…. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed’.

Astonishing! Here is the world’s most famous atheist admitting that the idea of God would be ‘a worthy idea’. Why then can’t he allow himself to believe in the possibility? Firstly, because he can’t imagine a God big enough or incomprehensible enough. This is a very weak argument because if God were comprehensible he would be no where near big enough. What Dawkins is basically saying is ‘I can’t imagine him, therefore he doesn’t exist’. But the world is full of unimaginably fantastic creatures, most of which I could never have imagined, that doesn’t mean to say they don’t exist. His second argument doesn’t stand much scrutiny either: he has never heard of such a God from any theologian. Well, if you’ve ever read any Dawkins you will know he argues from a position of very little knowledge of the Bible or Christianity, dismissing it all as myth without examination, so he clearly hasn’t listened to any theologians. How can you hear what you’re not listening to (‘those that have ears to hear, let them hear’ Jesus). Very short-sighted. He really hasn’t done the cause of atheism any favours.

So going back to petaflops and qubits and other mind boggling stuff, I’m not suggesting that God is some kind of ‘quantum computer’. But if we, ‘mere humans’, can conceive and create something that can be two things at the same time and perform trillions of functions a second, doesn’t that make it just a tiny bit easier to believe that an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent deity might be possible?

(For more info on this see June’s edition of BBC Focus or for more about the anthropic principle Paul Davies’ book The Goldilocks Enigma. Paul Davies is highly respected scientist, not a Christian as far as I know but making the point that the universe appears to have been created uniquely in order for us to exist).

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