User Tag List

123 Last

Results 1 to 10 of 27

  1. #1
    Senior Member reason's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    MBTI
    ESFJ
    Posts
    1,211

    Default The Probability of God

    There is an often repeated claim that the existence of God is improbable. The purpose of this thread is to discuss and criticise this claim. The view to be presented here is that the claim is nonsense. However, this should not be taken to imply that the existence of God is probable, as that would also be nonsense, something that will hopefully become clear. There are two arguments associated with the claim that the existence of God is improbable and a common error between the two regarding the use of probability, each to be addressed separately.

    The first argument takes its inspiration from an old argument against any theory that life originated by something other than design. In short, the probability that life could have come into existence by chance is miniscule, not unlike the probability that a tornado passing through a scrap yard would assemble a fully functional Boeing 747. The argument claims that the arrangement of living organisms is too complex to have been the product of chance, but -- like Paley’s watch -- instead betrays the work of a designer. Therefore, the existence of life would be almost inexplicable without the existence of a God.

    There are numerous errors here, not least the remarkable leap from the existence of a designer to the existence of a God, never mind the God of Abraham. The equivocation is all too obvious. However, even if this assumption is granted then the existence of life need not be as improbable as the argument suggests. The process of mutation and selection radically increases the chance that complex life might emerge, and it is curious to happen upon the argument from design in a post-Darwin world*, especially given the sheer enormity of the universe.

    In an ironic twist, this argument has been turned on its head by atheists such as Richard Dawkins and employed to argue that the existence of God is improbable. There is a dramatic quality which may not be unintentional. In short, God is a incredibly complex entity, more so than any organism that has ever existed, and so the probability that God would come into existence except by design is miniscule (and God did not evolve), even smaller than the probability that a tornado passing through a scrap yard would assemble a fully functional Boeing 747. Therefore, the existence of God is improbable.

    There are three flaws to this argument to be offered here. First, for the majority of theists God is assumed to have existed before laying down the laws from which it would follow that some event or other is probable or improbable. In other words, the probability that a complex entity might come into existence is a function of the laws which govern the universe, but since God is the definer, creator, and mover of those laws the same probability estimates need not apply to God himself, no more than the laws of gravity or electromagnetism.

    Second, there seems to be some confusion on the part of some authors about how rational argument is conducted. The argument is often presented like an attempt to catch theists in an error of reasoning. In short, if a theist employs the premise: 'the probability of complex life emerging without a designer is miniscule', then they are expected to actually believe that it is true and accept its consequences. The error here is in the assumption that a person must believe the premises which he employs in a critical argument, when he need not. In fact, critical arguments are characterised by having contradictory premises i.e. taking one or more propositions -- perhaps the beliefs of an opponent in debate -- and demonstrating them to be inconsistent**.

    Third, even if the existence of God is improbable in the sense explained above, that does not mean that God does not exist. For example, consider the proverbial tornado that swept through a scrap yard to leave in its wake a fully functional Boeing 747. The apparent improbability of this event arises in absence of any initial conditions, and the improbability may decrease as we begin to specify the shape and content of the scrap yard and tornado. There could even be some configuration from which it is all but inevitable that Boeing 747 is constructed, and the alternative configurations may be inconsistent with the evidence. In other words, the abstract probability that God exists is irrelevant to someone who believes that the world is such that such an improbable event actually occurred, as they irregularly do.

    For truth-seekers an improbable truth is always preferable to a probable falsehood.

    To be continued...

    * Take the following string of ten numbers between zero and ten.

    6379100581

    The probability of obtaining this string from a random set of ten numbers between zero and ten is 1/100,000,000,000. However, if we introduce a selection procedure which preserves matches from one guess to the next, then the chance that we will get a match in fewer attempts is more likely. In fact, since there is a 1/10 probability of guessing the first number correctly and there are ten numbers, we might expect to get at least one match on the first guess.

    7492025489
    6379100581

    Here the ninth number in each string matches and is now locked. The probability of obtaining matching strings from the next guess is 1/10,000,000,000. That is still very unlikely, but since there is a 1/10 probability of guessing the first number correctly and there are nine numbers, we might expect to get at least one more match after the next two guesses.

    7395633480
    6379100581

    Here the second number in each string matches and is now locked. The probability of obtaining matching strings from the next guess has now been eroded to 1/1,000,000,000. That is once more very unlikely, but perhaps the it is now clear what this process achieves: a radical increase in the probability of matching the two strings. There simply needs to be some procedure by which mutations can arise (random guesses) and adaptive mutations can be retained (correct matches). However, the illustration presented here should not be taken as a description of precisely how evolution by natural selection occurs.


    ** The fallacy of the fallacy of the stolen concept, perhaps.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  2. #2
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    18,540

    Default Civilization and Religion

    Quote Originally Posted by reason View Post
    There is an often repeated claim that the existence of God is improbable. The purpose of this thread is to discuss and criticise this claim. The view to be presented here is that the claim is nonsense. However, this should not be taken to imply that the existence of God is probable, as that would also be nonsense, something that will hopefully become clear. There are two arguments associated with the claim that the existence of God is improbable and a common error between the two regarding the use of probability, each to be addressed separately.

    The first argument takes its inspiration from an old argument against any theory that life originated by something other than design. In short, the probability that life could have come into existence by chance is miniscule, not unlike the probability that a tornado passing through a scrap yard would assemble a fully functional Boeing 747. The argument claims that the arrangement of living organisms is too complex to have been the product of chance, but -- like Paley’s watch -- instead betrays the work of a designer. Therefore, the existence of life would be almost inexplicable without the existence of a God.

    There are numerous errors here, not least the remarkable leap from the existence of a designer to the existence of a God, never mind the God of Abraham. The equivocation is all too obvious. However, even if this assumption is granted then the existence of life need not be as improbable as the argument suggests. The process of mutation and selection radically increases the chance that complex life might emerge, and it is curious to happen upon the argument from design in a post-Darwin world*, especially given the sheer enormity of the universe.

    In an ironic twist, this argument has been turned on its head by atheists such as Richard Dawkins and employed to argue that the existence of God is improbable. There is a dramatic quality which may not be unintentional. In short, God is a incredibly complex entity, more so than any organism that has ever existed, and so the probability that God would come into existence except by design is miniscule (and God did not evolve), even smaller than the probability that a tornado passing through a scrap yard would assemble a fully functional Boeing 747. Therefore, the existence of God is improbable.

    There are three flaws to this argument to be offered here. First, for the majority of theists God is assumed to have existed before laying down the laws from which it would follow that some event or other is probable or improbable. In other words, the probability that a complex entity might come into existence is a function of the laws which govern the universe, but since God is the definer, creator, and mover of those laws the same probability estimates need not apply to God himself, no more than the laws of gravity or electromagnetism.

    Second, there seems to be some confusion on the part of some authors about how rational argument is conducted. The argument is often presented like an attempt to catch theists in an error of reasoning. In short, if a theist employs the premise: 'the probability of complex life emerging without a designer is miniscule', then they are expected to actually believe that it is true and accept its consequences. The error here is in the assumption that a person must believe the premises which he employs in a critical argument, when he need not. In fact, critical arguments are characterised by having contradictory premises i.e. taking one or more propositions -- perhaps the beliefs of an opponent in debate -- and demonstrating them to be inconsistent**.

    Third, even if the existence of God is improbable in the sense explained above, that does not mean that God does not exist. For example, consider the proverbial tornado that swept through a scrap yard to leave in its wake a fully functional Boeing 747. The apparent improbability of this event arises in absence of any initial conditions, and the improbability may decrease as we begin to specify the shape and content of the scrap yard and tornado. There could even be some configuration from which it is all but inevitable that Boeing 747 is constructed, and the alternative configurations may be inconsistent with the evidence. In other words, the abstract probability that God exists is irrelevant to someone who believes that the world is such that such an improbable event actually occurred, as they irregularly do.

    For truth-seekers an improbable truth is always preferable to a probable falsehood.

    To be continued...

    * Take the following string of ten numbers between zero and ten.

    6379100581

    The probability of obtaining this string from a random set of ten numbers between zero and ten is 1/100,000,000,000. However, if we introduce a selection procedure which preserves matches from one guess to the next, then the chance that we will get a match in fewer attempts is more likely. In fact, since there is a 1/10 probability of guessing the first number correctly and there are ten numbers, we might expect to get at least one match on the first guess.

    7492025489
    6379100581

    Here the ninth number in each string matches and is now locked. The probability of obtaining matching strings from the next guess is 1/10,000,000,000. That is still very unlikely, but since there is a 1/10 probability of guessing the first number correctly and there are nine numbers, we might expect to get at least one more match after the next two guesses.

    7395633480
    6379100581

    Here the second number in each string matches and is now locked. The probability of obtaining matching strings from the next guess has now been eroded to 1/1,000,000,000. That is once more very unlikely, but perhaps the it is now clear what this process achieves: a radical increase in the probability of matching the two strings. There simply needs to be some procedure by which mutations can arise (random guesses) and adaptive mutations can be retained (correct matches). However, the illustration presented here should not be taken as a description of precisely how evolution by natural selection occurs.


    ** The fallacy of the fallacy of the stolen concept, perhaps.
    I am predisposed towards you simple because of your name, "Reason".

    On the assumption, perhaps mistaken, that at your front door stands the Goddess of Reason, called, "The Statue of Liberty".

    And you are quite right - just because a watch has a watch-maker doesn't mean the Universe has a Universe-Maker.

    Also you and I are able to create complexity on our computers with the iteration of a few simple rules - complexity that transcends these simple rules and can't be explained by them. And indeed a complexity that can't be reverse engineered.

    So I presume complexity itself doesn't establish the probability of the existence of God.

    So I agree with you that the probability or the improbability of the existence of God can't be established.

    So that leaves us with a very interesting question. Why has there never been a civilization not based on a religion?

  3. #3
    Oberon
    Guest

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    Also you and I are able to create complexity on our computers with the iteration of a few simple rules - complexity that transcends these simple rules and can't be explained by them. And indeed a complexity that can't be reverse engineered.

    So I presume complexity itself doesn't establish the probability of the existence of God.
    I'm afraid I must further muddy the waters by pointing out that the complexity you create on your computer is the work of an intelligent agent, specifically you.

    Sorry.

  4. #4
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    18,540

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by oberon View Post
    I'm afraid I must further muddy the waters by pointing out that the complexity you create on your computer is the work of an intelligent agent, specifically you.

    Sorry.
    I would like to agree with you but if that is the case, I am a peculiar intelligent agent. For all I create is few simple iterative rules. The result is beyond my understanding.

    I can see what the result does but I can't reproduce it.

    In fact it is the iteration a few simple rules that makes the complexity.

    So you might say God created a few simple iterative rules and the result is us.

    But you would also have to say that God doesn't understand how we got here. And nor could he reproduce us.

    This might be the case but it would mean God is not all-knowing or omnipotent.

    So if I am a peculiar intelligent agent, then so is God.

    But you won't worship me, so why God?

  5. #5
    Oberon
    Guest

    Default

    I was just addressing the presence of an intelligent agent, Victor. The analogy isn't perfect; you didn't create the computer or program the OS, either. Nevertheless, it's also true that neither the environment in which your simple iterative rules operate nor the rules themselves are by any means the result of random chance.

  6. #6
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    18,540

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by oberon View Post
    I was just addressing the presence of an intelligent agent, Victor. The analogy isn't perfect; you didn't create the computer or program the OS, either. Nevertheless, it's also true that neither the environment in which your simple iterative rules operate nor the rules themselves are by any means the result of random chance.
    Sure, Oberon, and it is rules that iterate.

    And the result is not random. The result is selected.

    But the result is independent of the rules, in the same way your brain is independent of your DNA.

    We can't predict your brain from your DNA. Nor can we discover your DNA by studying your brain. Your brain transcends your DNA.

    In the same way we can't predict a God by studying evolution, nor could we arrive at evolution by studying God.

    God or gods have been studied for 200,000 years without predicting evolution.

    And of course evolution, which may be the iteration of simple rules, does not predict God.

    It was once thought that the study of nature would tell us about the nature of God. But all the study of nature tells us about is nature.

    In fact the more we learn, the more we find the supernatural is natural.

    And so the end point is the demise of God.

    So perhaps God is dead. Or at least sleeping like the dead parrot.

  7. #7
    Oberon
    Guest

    Default

    Now, Victor, if you're going to reason your way to the death of God, you'll have to do a better job than that. You'll have to show your work.

    You write "In fact the more we learn, the more we find the supernatural is natural." The way I see it, the more we learn, the more we come to understand how little we really know. How often is it that a successful experiment in particle physics (for example) answers one question, but raises three others?

    Let us draw a circle describing the set of human knowledge, and say that everything outside of the circle is the set of things we don't know. The circle is expanding... but no matter how large the circle gets, the essence of the arrangement does not change. It has not ever done so, not since the first human taught himself that prying at things with a stick was easier than using his bare hands.

  8. #8
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    18,540

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by oberon View Post
    Now, Victor, if you're going to reason your way to the death of God, you'll have to do a better job than that. You'll have to show your work.

    You write "In fact the more we learn, the more we find the supernatural is natural." The way I see it, the more we learn, the more we come to understand how little we really know. How often is it that a successful experiment in particle physics (for example) answers one question, but raises three others?

    Let us draw a circle describing the set of human knowledge, and say that everything outside of the circle is the set of things we don't know. The circle is expanding... but no matter how large the circle gets, the essence of the arrangement does not change. It has not ever done so, not since the first human taught himself that prying at things with a stick was easier than using his bare hands.
    Sure Oberon, my mathes teacher always told me to show my work. But I would always answer, "What does it matter if my answer is correct?".

    And he would fail me - just like you.

    And this is the nature of enquiry - the more we get to know, the more interesting questions we get to ask.

    And all I can do is to quote your former Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, who spoke of the things we don't know, and the things we know, we don't know and the things we don't know, we don't know.

    And it is there I rest my defence.

  9. #9
    Senor Membrane
    Join Date
    May 2008
    MBTI
    INFP
    Posts
    3,190

    Default

    How about this: There is a possibility that god exists and that it doesn't. That is 50-50. No proof for any direction.

    But, yeah, I'd like to discuss about this but I want you to define god in some way. You are talking about the Christian god right? I think it would be a lot more interesting to define god as something not so ... human-like. There would be better chance for it's existence also. It does not have to be an "incredibly complex entity", it can be something a whole lot simpler. Like, some universal plan or something. There we will be in trouble telling apart god and nature, though.. I dont know. How would you define god in some less ridiculous terms than the Christians?

  10. #10
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    18,540

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by nolla View Post
    How about this: There is a possibility that god exists and that it doesn't. That is 50-50. No proof for any direction.

    But, yeah, I'd like to discuss about this but I want you to define god in some way. You are talking about the Christian god right? I think it would be a lot more interesting to define god as something not so ... human-like. There would be better chance for it's existence also. It does not have to be an "incredibly complex entity", it can be something a whole lot simpler. Like, some universal plan or something. There we will be in trouble telling apart god and nature, though.. I dont know. How would you define god in some less ridiculous terms than the Christians?
    How about Gaia?

Similar Threads

  1. The Story of God Vol I: Genesis (satirical)
    By sabastious in forum The Bonfire
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: 08-22-2009, 04:06 PM
  2. The Race of Gods
    By Mayflow in forum Philosophy and Spirituality
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 03-13-2009, 06:26 PM
  3. Debate on the existence of god
    By nightning in forum Philosophy and Spirituality
    Replies: 149
    Last Post: 12-23-2008, 03:31 PM
  4. The Murder of God
    By Mole in forum Philosophy and Spirituality
    Replies: 44
    Last Post: 12-14-2008, 02:56 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
Single Sign On provided by vBSSO