There’s probably no God

probably no god

 

It’s the ‘probably’ that’s a problem.  Now, I’m not making any arguments here, but probably shouldn’t offer the level of comfort many Atheists find in their belief that there’s probably no God.  I’m just thinking of all the other probablys:

  • The ice is probably safe to walk on.
  • The gun is probably not loaded.
  • The snarling dog probably won’t bite.
  • Smoking cigarettes probably won’t give me cancer.

Is probably enough?  Is requiring incontrovertible, incontestable, incorrigible, evidence to believe completely reasonable, but only probably to reject God?

Comments

  1. I always liked the phrase “now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I don’t worry that much and I enjoy life because I know there is a God who loves me and cares for me, and I actually enjoy living out his will in my life. A life without God is a life without meaning or purpose; I can’t see myself enjoying a life like that.

  2. What you are referring to is Pascal’s wager. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager

    But you can’t prove something doesn’t exist. (You can’t prove a negative assertion) I can’t prove Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist. The burden of proof is on the believers, not the non-believers.

    I guess the real question is has religion done more good or bad in the world. If God doesn’t exist and people believe in it anyways and we conclude that religion has been an overall bad on the planet – then that’s the reason to encourage non-belief. If we conclude that religion is an overall good – then maybe we should just let people believe what they want.

  3. “Probably” is all we *ever* have for a claim – any claim. Sun coming up tomorrow? Probably. But the probability is so close to 1 that I would bet my house on it. What alternative would you prefer? “Certainly”? That would be ridiculous and unjustified. What is there left?

    I’d add that, for marketing purposes, it probably wouldn’t be quite as quotable to say something like, “The hypothesis for there being a God is rejected at the 1% confidence level.” :)

    • Brian

      I see your point. But the slogan has a sense that is whimsical in nature. I get the marketing aspect, theyre trying to make it sound flippant.

      I do disagree that we uave to work with probablys everywhere. The example I gave I think is a good one. For the skeptics I interact with here, they say they need unimpeachable, incorrigible evidence for the existence of God in order to believe. However, the standard of evidence for rejecting him is merely ‘probably’. That’s more to what I’m criticizing here.

  4. It seems to me that the bigger question is how does a non believer calculate the probability of God’s existence.

    For example, I live in a climate where it is a big deal to know at what point it is safe to venture onto a frozen lake, as well as what mode of transport is appropriate. It is possible to calculate the probability of the ice being safe for various kinds of traffic pretty easily and accurately. All one really needs is a reasonably accurate thermometer and a calendar to decide when the ice is probably safe. Obviously an ice auger will tell the tale, but the topic is probably.

    But what factors into the calculation of God’s existence? Do most non believers actually take the time to calculate the probability? Do most actually verify the accuracy of the factors they use to make these calculations?

    To be fair, these same questions could and should apply to believers as well.

    As far as the “has religion done more good than bad in the world” question. I’m not sure how you balance lives lost to human sacrifice with lives saved through hospitals and missionaries. Do you count people who acted in the name of religion, but were not acting according to the actual tenets of the religion they claimed to represent for or against? Do you put all of the deaths directly attributed to Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Castro etc, in the atheism column?

    I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a worthwhile question, just that there is quite a bit of clarification/defining of terms that probably needs to happen before it becomes meaningful.

  5. @Atticus

    Christianity is a sure thing. The “proof” and the “seeing” of God is the real question.

  6. Atticus,

    But you can’t prove something doesn’t exist.

    Easily the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard this week. We can prove, for example, the non-existence of Eskimos in the United States Senate. We can prove, for example, the non-existence of Polar Bears in a Manhattan Starbucks, et cetera…

    I don’t know why atheists say things like this all the time. They must think it’s an astute observation, but in reality it merely a symptom of cognitive dissonance.

  7. “””they say they need unimpeachable, incorrigible evidence for the existence of God in order to believe. However, the standard of evidence for rejecting him is merely ‘probably’.”””

    In other way to see it is that the prior probability is so low for God (i.e. extraordinary claim, all other Gods demonstrated to not exist/not be needed, etc…) that you need a very high likelihood (i.e. evidence explainable *only* by the existence of God) in order to raise the posterior probability even to the point of just “probably” (in the colloquial sense).

    “Do most non believers actually take the time to calculate the probability?” Numerically, probably not, but I think one can deal with approximations here as we do in nearly all other cases. There have been attempts to do this numerically, but personally I find them lacking – mostly because the term “God” is not properly defined, and thus makes moot any attempt at numerical calculation. In other words, I have to wait until I see some event claimed, and a specific, useful, definition of God to explain it.

    “We can prove, for example, the non-existence of Eskimos in the United States Senate. ” You can demonstrate this only because you are working in an environment which you can completely explore. It’s like, you can demonstrate that a shoebox doesn’t have a mouse in it. Clearly this doesn’t apply to God, or unicorns, or fairies because we cannot completely explore the entire space where they could possibly inhabit.

  8. I just read those “why I’m not a…” post. Arguing against the other religions because of contradictions in their texts is seriously ironic. All of the contradictions that you point out in, say, the Quran are comparable to the ones in the Bible – which the Christians then play the “out of context” card. Not impressed.

    However, since you think you can disprove it, could you please disprove the existence of Zeus for me? I’m not saying that you make Zeus improbable, actually disprove his existence.

    • Brian

      It’s not that the texts merely have contradictions, they’re foundational to the faith systems. The discrepancies are in a totally different class. But you’ve given me an idea for a future post. Perhaps I will disprove the existence of Zeus.

  9. brian,

    My point is that WE CAN PROVE the non-existence of a thing, maybe even God. You can, for example, make a decent argument against God using propositional logic, more commonly known as Evidence of Absence. This wouldn’t grant positive evidence for the non-existence of God, mind you, but in some instances negative evidence is more than enough to support a premise.

    So instead of making blatantly false and illogical statements like Atticus, let’s hear an argument. Because this constant whining about disproving a negative just doesn’t turn the trick. It makes no sense and is in fact utterly false. You can produce an argument against God’s existence based on inductive reasoning, which is perfectly valid assuming the premises are true. So why don’t we ever hear one?

    And if believers are willing to discount your inductive reasoning, then they’re forced to admit that nothing is true. You can’t say the sun will rise tomorrow AND you’re forced to admit the absurd possibility that Elvis, Tupac, and Bigfoot are drinking margaritas on a deserted island in the South Pacific. So, to the extent you can prove anything at all, negatives can be proven using inductive reasoning. You simply cannot discount inductive arguments without reality falling apart.

  10. Inductive reasoning only leads you up to a probability less than 1 or greater than 0. Proof works only with probabilities 0 and 1 exactly. You can’t prove anything with inductive reasoning, although the sun coming up example is probably p=0.99999…

    The reason you can’t disprove God, is that there are always ways of slithering out of the problems with definitional changes, or vagaries. For example, if it is critical for you that God created the world 6000 years ago, then I can demonstrate that this is overwhelmingly unlikely, and contradicts pretty much every field of science. Is it proof? Not in the strict sense. Practically, it is, and people will sloppily use the term proof in these cases. It’s as the late Stephen Gould said: “””In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.” “””

  11. @brianblais
    The problem with your science is that all dating methods are based on unverifiable assumptions that could only be known by witnessing the history of what you’re measuring. Sense scientists have no way of verifying the history, they have to make assumptions on an invented history or base it on written history. The only fact your scientists use in dating methods is the current rate of progress or decline of what they are measuring, which may or may not have always been the same rate. They have no idea what amounts of each element was present at formation nor do they know how much of each element has been gained or lost through other natural processes other than decay. This is why they can easily call dates erroneous when they don’t coincide with the evolutionary timeline or surrounding area. This is why they call foul if a creationist asks for young rock samples (Mt St Helens) to be dated without giving an estimated age because they need an estimated age so they have an idea of how old it should be and use that as a starting point for their assumptions. The funny thing is, you think it’s weird for people to accept as fact a book that is written as if it is legitimate history while accepting as fact what we know is made up history by people we know never ever witnessed the story they’re telling.

  12. brian,

    Inductive reasoning doesn’t grant absolute certainty, that’s true. But honestly, how many things can be proven to an absolute, moral certainty? Few. So, like I said, if you’re going to discount inductive reasoning, then you’ve flipped reality upside down completely. There’s no reason to believe the sun will rise tomorrow; there’s no reason to believe aliens didn’t abduct Elvis, Tupac, and Michael Jackson; and there’s no reason to dispute the story that Big Foot, Sasquatch, and the Lochness Monster are camping in New Mexico right now.

    Furthermore, you can make a solid argument for God’s nonexistence using inductive reasoning, but you haven’t done that. Your Earth-age argument is lacking for two reasons. One, the Genesis account tells that God created the Earth with the appearance of age, hence the full-grown trees and plants. Second, the Bible doesn’t say the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    If you’re able to make an argument based on inductive reasoning that produces a probability of .9999999%, then you’ve effectively, for all intents and purposes, proven that God does not exist. You’ve proven it at least as much as almost anything else. But you haven’t done that, have you? Instead, you complain that believers wiggle out of admitting “the obvious,” totally ignoring the fact that your arguments are lacking, as I’ve shown.

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