A Proof From Probability

Kavis
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A Proof From Probability

I've seen theists claim that the universe could not have arisen by chance, that the odds against something as complex and finely-tuned as the universe could not have "just happened."  I spent much of my shift the other day trying to codify this into a more formal proof, though not necessarily one the theists would like, and I was wondering if anyone would be kind enough to take potshots at it.

1. The probability of an event occurring or an entity existing can be calculated.

2. The more complex an event or entity, the less probable is its occurrance or existence.  Probability is inversely related to complexity.

3. God is commonly defined as an entity without limits: omnipotent (power without limits), omniscient (knowledge without limits), omnibenevolent (goodness without limits), etc.

4. Therefore, an unlimited God also possesses unlimited complexity.

5. Therefore, an infinitely complex God is infinitely improbable.

6. Therefore, God does not exist.


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Kavis wrote:I've seen

Kavis wrote:

I've seen theists claim that the universe could not have arisen by chance, that the odds against something as complex and finely-tuned as the universe could not have "just happened."  I spent much of my shift the other day trying to codify this into a more formal proof, though not necessarily one the theists would like, and I was wondering if anyone would be kind enough to take potshots at it.

1. The probability of an event occurring or an entity existing can be calculated.

2. The more complex an event or entity, the less probable is its occurrance or existence.  Probability is inversely related to complexity.

3. God is commonly defined as an entity without limits: omnipotent (power without limits), omniscient (knowledge without limits), omnibenevolent (goodness without limits), etc.

4. Therefore, an unlimited God also possesses unlimited complexity.

5. Therefore, an infinitely complex God is infinitely improbable.

6. Therefore, God does not exist.

Wow. I haven't heard it before in such a succinct manner, and I like it. It could be a good comeback during a debate when a theist pulls that canard. You could even phrase it in a Socratic dialog:

T: I just can't believe something so complex as the universe could come into existence without a creator.

A: So, you're saying that the more complex something is, the less probable its existence is?

T: Yeah.

A: Is there anything more complex than God?

T: No. Of course not.

A: So by your logic, the most complex thing, God, is the least likely thing to exist, right?

T: Doh!

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That's not bad.  Of course,

That's not bad.  Of course, the theist will respond that god is not infinitely complex.  He is infinitely simple, and therefore infinitely probable.

You'll retort that they must demonstrate that such a thing is logically possible, and then you'll be arguing with a theist about the nature of god.

 

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That's a good point, but it

That's a good point, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a debate about the nature of God.

An infinitely simple entity would be infinitely probable, according to this proof.  However, an infinitely simple entity would have infinitely limited power, knowledge, goodness, etc.  Therefore, an infinitely simple God would be infinitely powerless. Why call that God?

 

Edit: Furthermore, if the theist then tried to argue that God could be both unlimited and infinitely simple, I would conclude that God is infinitely self-contradictory, and doesn't exist.

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What you're saying is

What you're saying is perfectly rational, of course, and also happens to be true.  This doesn't change the response most of the time, unfortunately.  I mean, if someone is proposing a god that is "supernatural" or "outside of nature," they have already accepted a concept that is incoherent, so why would you expect them to shy away from a contradictory concept, such as an infinitely simple being with infinite power?  It's seductively easy to believe.  The "simplicity" is that there is no limit to god's power.

 

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You're right. At that point,

You're right. At that point, the rational discussion breaks down.  I've seen it happen in any number of debates I've participated in and witnessed. I think, all a rationalist can really hope to accomplish with this kind of argumentation isn't proving God's existence or non-existence, but proving that the theist accepts God's existence on non-rational grounds.  

This is, in fact, where I become disillusioned with atheism and rational thought. Once we're solidly in the waters of emotional beliefs, all the reasoning in the world is useless.

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A follow-up

7. The universe, though vastly complex, is finite.

8. Therefore though the probability against the existence of the universe is vast, it is only finitely improbable.

9. The improbability of the universe is rendered infinite if the existence of the universe requires an infinitely complex outside agent to create it.

10. The existence of the universe is supported by observational data.

11. Therefore, the universe exists.

12. Therefore, the improbability of the existence of the universe cannot be infinite.

13. Therefore, God did not create the universe.

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Kavis wrote:7. The universe,

Kavis wrote:

7. The universe, though vastly complex, is finite.

8. Therefore though the probability against the existence of the universe is vast, it is only finitely improbable.

9. The improbability of the universe is rendered infinite if the existence of the universe requires an infinitely complex outside agent to create it.

10. The existence of the universe is supported by observational data.

11. Therefore, the universe exists.

12. Therefore, the improbability of the existence of the universe cannot be infinite.

13. Therefore, God did not create the universe.

Also good.

Of course, as Hamby pointed out, theists will resort to irrationality. But I think this is a good line of attack for quickly bringing out the theist's irrationality and displaying it for them. If nothing else, it might cause some cognitive dissonance, and in any case will be a good show for the audience.

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Agreed

I agree with what you're saying, and even throw in a pat on the back for a very well thought, rational, and creative argument.

But I don't think the problem is showing god is irrational. We already have volumes upon volumes that show just that. Most theists just don't give a damn what's logical or they wouldn't be theists in the first place.

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That's the million-dollar

That's the million-dollar question, then, isn't it? How does a skeptic convince a believer to favor truth and rational thought over emotional irrationalism? I think what we're trying to do, as a social group, is throw arguments at the question, hoping one of them will stick, hoping to discover the silver bullet.

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Good points ya all. I say

Good points ya all.

I say math probability better proves no god thingy creator. I have fun asking theists "what isn't gawed?"

I also like asking everyone, "when is love not the answer?" However, I don't recall asking this to a rational atheist group  ..... 

     

    


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Keep at it

Keep trying for the silver bullet. I like the direction you're going and the way you think.

 

Still, it is probably true that no logic will overcome the psychological pay-offs that simple "belief" offers to people who aren't actually interested in the truth. I mean, I may be psychobabbling but it seems to me that there is a real possibility that the whole purpose of clinging to religion is to avoid deeper truths - deep fears, randomness, chaos, meaninglessness.

"My life has special meaning", "I'm saved", "I'm going to heaven", "Something loves me even if I fear people around me don't", "I'm on the winning (insert religious brand here) team", "I'm not alone", "The horrible things that happen are by design, some higher purpose", "I don't have to feel the full weight of grief over a death because my parent/sibling/spouse is going to a better place" etc., etc....all such seductive thoughts.

 

It seems that many would rather die or kill than give up these thoughts and no amount of logic is going to cure them until the truth and the search for truth somehow become more intrinsically valuable to them than the security blanket that god belief offers.

 

Atheism is a hard sell. Maybe there should be more focus on what non-belief offers instead of how illogical and irrational belief is? (I'm talking to myself here, more than anything else)

 

(edited to fix garbled paragraphing 7/25 8:40am CST)


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Yeah there's the

Yeah there's the problem.....the more I think about it, the more I see it as an impossible task. The truth seems quite obvious to me, but I've learned from most of my experience with people in general that they can't really grasp things the same way I can. There are even atheists I don't like referring to as atheists because although they lack the false beliefs, I don't think they actually used reason to reach that conclusion. I think what we're here to fight isn't just religion but human irrationality in general. But the more I think about it the less rational I believe humans to be as a species.

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pyrokidd wrote:Yeah there's

pyrokidd wrote:

Yeah there's the problem.....the more I think about it, the more I see it as an impossible task. The truth seems quite obvious to me, but I've learned from most of my experience with people in general that they can't really grasp things the same way I can. There are even atheists I don't like referring to as atheists because although they lack the false beliefs, I don't think they actually used reason to reach that conclusion. I think what we're here to fight isn't just religion but human irrationality in general. But the more I think about it the less rational I believe humans to be as a species.

Atheism and its cousins (Secular Humanism, Agnosticism, etc) are the fastest-growing minorities in the United States.  Irreligion is widespread in many nations around the globe. I don't have any figures right at hand, but I've been hearing stats around something like 80-90% of the population in Denmark and Japan, for example.  There is reason to believe that humans aren't necessarily shackled to religion.

America has shifted a great deal towards being dominated by theistic, especially Protestant, world-views over the last century. I find this very understandable, as this corresponds to the period of history where humanity as a species has been closest to destroying itself.  Unprecedented numbers of people are being born and killed, we have the technology to wipe life from the face of the planet, and the influence of the United States is steadily waning in the aftermath of the Cold War.  All the more reason to do what we can to make sure the future of our species lies in rational hands.

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Wow, a lot of atheist

Wow, a lot of atheist pessimism here. I think you guys are ignoring the fact that many many people *have* had their positions changed by rational argumentation. This is not an 'impossibility' as one of you opined. Sure, not everyone responds. And sometimes it's not the person you're arguing with that is affected, but the audience.

Having quick, snappy arguments and counterarguments, that are not only correct but make sense to people, is one of the best ways to induce cognitive dissonance, and thus to get people to think a bit harder than they are used to.

You guys should check out people like The Infidel Guy, for example. He's got hundreds of shows, and has developed a repertoire of arguments, angles, retorts, and so on. It's effective. There are lots of deconversion stories out there. I think in recent months, we haven't had too many theists on RRS, and perhaps we're losing touch with the theist audience, but back in the day there were some good deconversions on RRS as well.

Again, it's often not the person you're arguing with that is affected. They have their position to defend, after all. It's often the silent audience that is made to think and ponder the arguments. The cleaner, simpler, snappier arguments are more effective, IMO, because they will be comprehended quicker and by more people.

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Not sure...

natural wrote:

Wow, a lot of atheist pessimism here. I think you guys are ignoring the fact that many many people *have* had their positions changed by rational argumentation. This is not an 'impossibility' as one of you opined. Sure, not everyone responds. And sometimes it's not the person you're arguing with that is affected, but the audience.

Having quick, snappy arguments and counterarguments, that are not only correct but make sense to people, is one of the best ways to induce cognitive dissonance, and thus to get people to think a bit harder than they are used to.

You guys should check out people like The Infidel Guy, for example. He's got hundreds of shows, and has developed a repertoire of arguments, angles, retorts, and so on. It's effective. There are lots of deconversion stories out there. I think in recent months, we haven't had too many theists on RRS, and perhaps we're losing touch with the theist audience, but back in the day there were some good deconversions on RRS as well.

Again, it's often not the person you're arguing with that is affected. They have their position to defend, after all. It's often the silent audience that is made to think and ponder the arguments. The cleaner, simpler, snappier arguments are more effective, IMO, because they will be comprehended quicker and by more people.

 

Not sure if I am one of the pessimists you refer to...

I'm all for logic and conversion by rationale. I'm extremely interested in this. That is why I am here.

 

However, when I think of people like my sister I realize that none of this is ever going to have an effect on her. She became a christian literally overnight at the deathbed of a loved one. She was essentially an atheist up to that point. She was upset and crying and the dying person, who died that night alone with my sister, was comforting her, telling her that everything was going to be OK, that she was going to a better place, that she looked forward to meeting Jesus. She encouraged my sister to accept Jesus into her heart.

So,Voila! Under duress my sister becomes a christian. She was given an easy way out of her grief, fear and guilt. She took it. It was emotional.

Now she has built her whole life around christianity and is busily spreading the joyous word.

She is never going to listen to any arguments or overhear an arguments or visit a website like this. When I have asked her some questions about her belief it is clear to me that she doesn't think. It is all about pain, fear and guilt avoidance as far as I can tell.

So, although I'm all for the rational and logical proof approach, I am just here thinking out loud that it will probably never have any effect on a lot of people. They simply shut down any avenues of thought that could lead to a non-belief conclusion.  They are emotionally, financially and socially heavily invested in their belief  and aren't about to change  just because their belief doesn't make sense. Some relish the fact that it doesn't make sense. It is all part of the "mystery of god".

Anyway, so, in addition to logical arguments I am more and more coming to the conclusion that I need to work on un-demonizing atheism and somehow showing that it does not make us into totally detached unfeeling people and that we are actually generally happier and have rich lives which are just as, if not more, filled with awe and mystery as theirs.

 

I had more to say but gotta get back to work! Sheesh! Smiling


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Will things change?

 

I am also a bit pessimistic about Theists understanding the truth. I think the human race is still very young. Very primitive. It’s like taking away a 5 year olds invisible friend. The human race is slowly growing up and starting to become a bit more independent. I realize that everyone here has nothing but the best intentions, but so do theists. For the wrong reasons, but many have good intentions. I’m not saying that’s good, but fact. There are more atheists now than ever before. Since Dawkins and Hitchens and others have spoken out, (I don’t want to leave out the Rational Response Squad, you guys are great!), a lot of people who were on the fence, now have another option, other than theism. Theists will always be a part of our society (the world) as long as they indoctrinate children in their theistic ways.  Youtube  and Google Video, and the others, have been a great way to get atheistic views out to kids. The adults who now “believe” and have all their life, are going to be the hardest to convince. If we continue to educate children, their elders will eventually pass away, leaving a more rational society. We’re not going to see this within our lifetime, but I have hope for my children.

 


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Hambydammit wrote: I mean,

Hambydammit wrote:
I mean, if someone is proposing a god that is "supernatural" or "outside of nature," they have already accepted a concept that is incoherent, so why would you expect them to shy away from a contradictory concept, such as an infinitely simple being with infinite power?  It's seductively easy to believe.

Yes, it's soooo easy for believers of any religious faith to accept the ideas of their god being; "outside of nature", outside of time", "outside of reason", "outside of contradiction", etc

Kavis wrote:
This is, in fact, where I become disillusioned with atheism and rational thought. Once we're solidly in the waters of emotional beliefs, all the reasoning in the world is useless.

And this is where I would encourage you not to give up hope. Even atheists have emotions and can, from time to time, become disenchanted with the atheist and rational cause. Certainly, some of our reasoning is working. But it's on an individual basis more than ever so yes, on many peopleas you said, all the reasoning in the world is useless. Have you noticed lately, though, the fundie natives appear more restless than ever. We must continue fighting the good fight. Judging by your posts you are doing very, very well.

Kavis wrote:
That's the million-dollar question, then, isn't it? How does a skeptic convince a believer to favor truth and rational thought over emotional irrationalism?

Well, for starters, we have to make certain they fully understand that they aren't giving up all their emotions. I would leave it to others, more qualified than myself, to tackle this first step.

pyrokidd wrote:
Yeah there's the problem.....the more I think about it, the more I see it as an impossible task.

It's the stoic, unflinching types of believers themselves that are nearly impossible to convince using rational thought and knowledge, not the task itself, IMO. But we must reach each believer one by one anyway.... many will listen, others will take a long time to reach even that point, and others may never listen. We should take great pride in knowing we are helping many.

 


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Just to be clear, I have

Just to be clear, I have hardly given up hope.  Hell, I wouldn't be here if I had.  There are many people for whom I have very little hope, but I do hope that I can make the overall situation better, which means that some individuals will deconvert, and that maybe theism will lose some (or a lot) of its political power.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Hambydammit wrote:You'll

Hambydammit wrote:

You'll retort that they must demonstrate that such a thing is logically possible, and then you'll be arguing with a theist about the nature of god.

 

Then you'll learn their imaginary friend is whatever they want him to be.

 

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I always liked the deck of

I always liked the deck of cards demonstration to counter the probability arguments.  Give the theist a deck of cards and ask him\her to shuffle them to satisfaction, then lay out the top ten cards in order on a table.

me: You expect me to believe that the cards just so happened to come out in that sequence?!!!!!!  The odds of that are 113322807477944064000 to 1!!!!!! (assuming you started with 52 cards)  Hopefully that will demostrate that argueing odds after the fact is irrelevent.

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hazindu    Xlint , what

hazindu

    Xlint , what ever the numbers !  


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T: I just can't believe

T: I just can't believe something so complex as the universe could come into existence without a creator.

A: So, you're saying that the more complex something is, the less probable its existence is?

T: Yeah.

A: Is there anything more complex than God?

T: No. Of course not.

This Socratic method will force a theist to say that God is simple (most "New Age" and modern coffeshop theologians will say this).

Can we think of another angle that will force that same theist to say that God is complex? Because at that point they will have to say that God is both simple and complex. Ask for clarification on this apparent contradiction. Then you simply turn to the audience and say, "do you accept that incoherent explanation?"

This is all not proper logic, but great fodder for any public debaters out there.


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Hambydammit wrote:Just to be

Hambydammit wrote:

Just to be clear, I have hardly given up hope.  Hell, I wouldn't be here if I had.  There are many people for whom I have very little hope, but I do hope that I can make the overall situation better, which means that some individuals will deconvert, and that maybe theism will lose some (or a lot) of its political power.

 

Hey Hamby, my comments were directed at Kavis on that part.

My apologies, though, if I have misinterpreted the direction of your answer.