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Feb 27 2012

Holy christ, but the Discovery Institute is full of morons

They’ve jumped on a bandwagon and written an opinion piece so stupid I thought my eyes might bleed. They are just tickled that Richard Dawkins said he was agnostic. Why, I don’t know, except that it illustrates how utterly unaware of atheist thought they are.

In an informal dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Dawkins surprised his audience by disclaiming the title of “atheist” — as in World’s Most Famous Atheist, as he’s been universally known up till now — in favor of “agnostic.” This prompted one Christian email correspondent of ours to speculate longingly on whether Dawkins could emerge as a sort of latter-day St. Paul, eventually seeing the light and embracing religious belief.

Nonsense. It’s exactly the same thing he wrote in The God Delusion. Really. I’ll show you in a moment.

Don’t hold your breath on that one, though Dawkins’s listeners were undestandably startled at his backing away from “atheism” in favor of the more modest descriptor, “agnosticism.” He explained that he can’t know with certainty that God doesn’t exist but on a scale of 1 to 7, (with a nervous laugh) he rates himself a 6.9.

Well, that would work out to 98.57 percent confidence.

No, it doesn’t. It’s a landmark on a continuous spectrum of belief, not a statement about the probabilities of certain outcomes. Cancer staging is a series from I to IV, with increasing severity; it is not a statement that cancers spend 25% of their time in stage IV, or if you’re in stage I that there is a 75% chance your cancer doesn’t exist. It’s complete misuse and misunderstanding of the metric.

And then the stupid goes mile high.

I happen to have a ten-sided dice handy — used in a game I play with my 10-year-old son — with which, by rolling twice, you can conveniently generate random numbers between 1 and 100. Let’s see how long it takes me to beat the odds against God.

You are witnessing a real-time scientific trial. (And they say intelligent-design advocates don’t do those!) Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

That took 9 attempts and about 30 seconds. Dawkins said, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.” Yet even at 98.57 percent, the odds were not that bad. I would be somewhat reluctant to bet a hundred bucks on that basis. If I were Richard Dawkins it sure does seem like, rather than continue a campaign of mockery against religion, the better-advised course would be to continue on my course of enhanced modesty and just be quiet.

That was an awesomely idiotic bit of rhetoric. He’s trying to get one of two results out of 100 possibilities: on average, if he were reporting it honestly, it would have taken 50 tries to hit the desired values, and his paragraph would have swollen to pointless tedium. He got it in 9 tries. That could have happened by chance, but more likely…he wasn’t reporting the run honestly. Given that it is an intelligent design creationist, I’d say it’s pretty damned likely.

But again, the 7-point scale is not a measure of the probability of existence of a god, and you can translate it into a 1.43% chance that god exists. It’s amazing that they think they can make a serious point with that claim.

Even worse is the faux-astonishment that Dawkins said he was agnostic, or that this represents some softening of his position. It’s what he has said consistently all along.

Here’s what he wrote in The God Delusion.

Let us, then, take the idea of a spectrum of probabilities seriously, and place human judgements about the existence of God along it, between two extremes of opposite certainty. The spectrum is continuous, but it can be represented by the following seven milestones along the way.

1 Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

2 Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

3 Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. ‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’

4 Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. ‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’

5 Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. ‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’

6 Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’

7 Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated. It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang). Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 – I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

I have no illusions that posting the facts will sway those batbuggering deranged goons at the Discovery Institute one way or another. But you rational people will at least be able to see how inane they are, and can now point and laugh at them.


Dawkins has his own account of the debate that prompted this silliness.

120 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    How come every Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and accommodationist knows that TGD is the most facile and trite polemic ever written, that its arguments can be demolished by William Lane Craig and a crusty sock on a Wednesday afternoon coffee break, and yet nobody but atheists appears to have read it?

    It truly is like the Bible, then.

  2. 2
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    In other news: Pope Catholic! Water Wet!

    However, this:

    …reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.

    is technically not true, because logical contradictions get you there quite handily. Married bachelors and square circles and four sided triangles and all that. This allows us to rule out the omnimax and the plain omnipotent with one simple little jocular line: “can God make a rock so heavy he can’t move it?”

  3. 3
    Glen Davidson

    That God is detectable in this world at present is, I’d estimate, 0.0000000001% at most.

    That’s all that really matters.

    I think that Dawkins scares them because he’s, you know, like a scientist, not a dogmatist like themselves. They want him to be denying that there’s any chance that “God exists,” when that’s not even what matters.

    They’re claiming that God exists without any meaningful evidence and want Dawkins to be the opposite of themselves, but he’s not. So they have to attack him for the only sensible conclusion because, well, it’s just Pascal’s idiotic wager once again.

    Glen Davidson

  4. 4
    Sastra

    Oh, please. The eagerness to interpret Dawkins’ acknowledgement that he’s an agnostic as a change of mind points to a deep insecurity on their part. He’s an agnostic epistemically: he’s an atheist metaphysically. There’s no contradiction in being both. It depends on what question is being asked.

    The DI appears to be rolling out the impoverished ‘Pascal’s Wager’ argument, too. The air of desperation is palpable. They’ll apparently clutch at anything. Anything, that is, which doesn’t involve any deep thought or actual work.

  5. 5
    Randomfactor

    So it only took him nine universes to find one with a god in it?

    The rest of us have only the one to play with, and zero evidence for any gods therein.

  6. 6
    zxcier

    Yeah after continuously accusing atheists of having a closed mind and having faith that there is no god. Point out that well of course there’s a tiny chance that evidence may be produced and we’d honestly take a look, and they swarm like bees. In their world it’s either certainty or you’re a heretic, and damned either way.

    If RD or any of us gave two shits what they think.

  7. 7
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Actually I see the 7 Atheist (100% sure) as being as irrational as the 1 strong Theist. In both cases they are taking a stand that cannot be wholly supported by evidence. You cannot prove the non existance of God unless you define it out of existance by allowing the hypothesis that super intelligent hyperdimensional beings could be god. (ie, god is meaningless). Therefore, the only rational position (which I keep pointing out to my theist acquantances) to take, is that there is no evidence for the existance of god. The difference between “I believe there is no god” and “I don’t believe there is a god” is large and crucial to understanding a rational point of view.

    I prefer the opposite of pascal’s wager. If god actually did exist, then what could possess me to want to actually worship it?

  8. 8
    Sastra

    Next up:
    The DI crows with victory over atheist professor PZ Myers caught calling on “Holy Christ” whilst writing on his blog Pharyngula.

    The startled comments section was observed to maintain an uncomfortable silence regarding his off-guard admission.

    Till now.

  9. 9
    Lars

    The eagerness to interpret Dawkins’ acknowledgement that he’s an agnostic as a change of mind points to a deep insecurity on their part.

    Not only do we know that they’re liars. They know it as well. (And they know that we know, of course, as we are being open about it.)

    That’s why they can never tak an honest look at anything: They live by their lies, they live their lies, and one grain of honest inquiry would knock down their card house in a heartbeat.

  10. 10
    JohnnieCanuck

    you can translate it into a 1.43% chance

    This would make more sense to me if it said -can’t-

  11. 11
    feralboy12

    Someone should tell him that he only had a 1% chance of rolling that 68 on the first try.
    It’s God!
    Although my recollection of my D&D and Call of Cthulu days was that, if trying to hit odds of 1%, you would have to roll an 01. Normally, you roll the designated percentage or under.
    But it’s a fair bet that this dumb jerk would have counted either 01 or 99 as success, depending on which one he rolled first.

  12. 12
    victimainvictus

    Small note, if you’re trying to get one of 2 results out of 100 possibilities, it would actually take 35 tries before it became more probable than not that you would succeed.
    But yes, the Discovery Institute is bonkers.

  13. 13
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Married bachelors and square circles and four sided triangles and all that.

    I have a bachelor degree & I am married, could that count? ;-)

  14. 14
    kp71

    batbuggering deranged goons at the Discovery Institute

    …and that, friends, is giving them all the respect they have earned (=none). Yeah, I’m talking to you, Luskin.

  15. 15
    humanape

    7 Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

    I’m in category 7. It’s ridiculous to say “god = very low probability”.

    God = Magic. Would Mr. Dawkins say magic has a very low probability? I hope not. It would be like saying there’s a very low probability Harry Potter is real.

    Bible thumpers and terrorists love atheists who say a magic god fairy is not completely impossible.

  16. 16
    mitchbenn

    The thing is that the only G

  17. 17
    Lars

    Actually I see the 7 Atheist (100% sure) as being as irrational as the 1 strong Theist. In both cases they are taking a stand that cannot be wholly supported by evidence.

    Yeah, in the same way that throwing salt over your shoulder after you sneeze is exactly as irrational as killing yourself in order to ride the Hale-Bopp comet.

  18. 18
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    There are lies, damned lies, and these statistics (BD)

    You can make statistics say anything you want as long as you look at the data and define your interpretation and set up the experiment to fit the observed phenomenon. Thus, first roll:68… “Hey guys! I got 68 on the first roll! That’s amazing! I only had a 1% chance of getting that! God must be at work. 68 must be his mysterious number!

    I see a whole knew religion developing around the number 68.

    What if he had rolled 42 first? Doesn’t bear thinking about.

  19. 19
    Zeno

    He got it in 9 tries. That could have happened by chance, but more likely…he wasn’t reporting the run honestly.

    I would not be surprised if the experiment was run “honestly,” in that special sense that the Disco Institute understands honesty. PZ, I suspect the first run of the experiment actually required 40 trials and a couple of tedious minutes. Unwilling to use such a dull result, he ran the experiment again. It took a few tries, but eventually he got a run of luck and hit it in only 9 trials. Hurray! And that’s the experiment he reported. See? Honest!

    Only a guess on my part, of course, but certainly as scientific as anything they do at the DI.

  20. 20
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Yeah, in the same way that throwing salt over your shoulder after you sneeze is exactly as irrational as killing yourself in order to ride the Hale-Bopp comet.

    Both are equally irrational from the perspective that there is no evidence to support either idea, however the consequences of the irrationality are significantly different. In the first, the person behind you gets salt in their eyes & punches you, a brawl ensues with arrests & lengthy prison terms…(ahem)

    Whilst the other ends with the average human intelligence increasing by several points

  21. 21
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    When are people going to realise that ‘agnostic’ is not the fence between ‘theist’ and ‘atheist’ upon which you can claim to sit and thereby smugly avoid conflict and/or pass judgement?

    Oh, and – pedant alert – if there’s only one, it’s not a dice, it’s a die. And aren’t the 10-sided variety inherently evil, given their use in D&D and other Satanic pursuits?

  22. 22
    ChasCPeterson

    Would Mr. Dawkins say magic has a very low probability?

    Yep. Because he understands epistemology.

  23. 23
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    “Any technology sufficiently advanced….”

  24. 24
    Heliantus

    @ victimainvictus

    Small note, if you’re trying to get one of 2 results out of 100 possibilities, it would actually take 35 tries before it became more probable than not that you would succeed.

    Actually, only if you get different results each time you try (like blindly picking-up lottery balls, or loose many-colored socks from a drawer).

    With dice, your previous results don’t matter a iota. Each roll, you always have the same chance of a specific number showing up.
    By example, having just rolled a ’1′ doesn’t mean you can not roll another ’1′ next time. Trust me on this. A player of mine once rolled six of them. ’1′ after ’1′.

  25. 25
    AlanMac

    …how utterly unaware of atheist thought they are.

    Ya, they just don’t get sophisticated Atheology.

  26. 26
    Randomfactor

    catnip67, and any sufficiently-advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

    =====

    OK, so in nine tries he got a universe which had a god in it. Now, how many tries to hit that universe, FOLLOWED by the one-in-what?-ten-thousand? slice that has the Christian god in it? Guess he’d need five dice to simulate THAT percentage. Let’s designate that one as 00003, to indicate the Trinity. (The Hebrew god gets number 00001, natch).

    And if you don’t hit that one IMMEDIATELY after the god selection, it doesn’t count–you’re stuck with whatever god came up on the dice, from Zeus to the FSM. Don’t like it? Tough. Find yourself another universe.

  27. 27
    J Bowen

    As an agnostic I said, “Sure there, could be a god”, and stopped altogether thinking about it. Now as an atheist I say, “I doubt it”.

  28. 28
    Ingdigo Jump

    For the most common western definition of God taking as close to 7 as possible is as rational as taking as close to 7 as possible for Q.

  29. 29
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    catnip67, and any sufficiently-advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice

    Nice!

  30. 30
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.

    I’ll start forming a judgment just as soon as they provide a coherent and empirically meaningful definition of whatever it is they believe exists.

  31. 31
    Randomfactor

    Catnip, Not my original, I hasten to add.

  32. 32
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    For every known (by me) religion, I am firmly a 7 (particularly so for the abrahamic ones)

    For the possibility of extra dimensional hyper intelligent beings that are indistinguishable from what we might define as “God”, we can’t disprove the hypothesis (however unlikely) so I’ll go with Richard Dawkins on this.

  33. 33
    Halfdan

    I consider myself a 6.9 or above on the scale with respect to every imaginable god except one. That would be the god that created the universe then lost interest in the first Planck unit of time and has since been busy elsewhere outside of time and space, never giving the universe a second thought. In that case I would be a definite 4 on the scale.

    If that makes me an agnostic, then so be it.

  34. 34
    echidna

    Is it possible that something we might recognise as having god-like properties (magic) exists? Sure, put me down for a 6.

    Is it possible that the self-contradictory god of the bible exists? The all-powerful/not-all-powerful one? No, not just improbable, that God is impossible. Put me down for a 7.

    http://www.evilbible.com/Biblical%20Contradictions.htm

  35. 35
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Random,

    Still nice & a nice addition to Arthur C Clarkes original that I half quoted

  36. 36
    omnicrom

    I absolutely LOVE when stupid Theists do shit like this because it demonstrates how bad things are when it comes to thinking at places like DI.

    The whole reason they’re busting their nuts over Richard Dawkins is because they utterly misunderstand Atheism. They project the lie of Atheism being just another religion and Richard Dawkins they see as the “pope” of Atheism. Thus in this misunderstood view of the “religion” of Atheism if Richard Dawkins is not the perfect epitome of the Atheist “religion” this somehow invalidates the entire philosophy because the “pope” is fallible and his “Holy Book”, The God Delusion is therefore not sacrosanct.

    But of course the only ones they’re harming with this argument is themselves. By attacking Atheism as though it were a religion it reveals the weaknesses in religion itself. By claiming that a religion rests on the character or purity of the leader of that religion they are tacitly admitting religion has no factual grounds to stand on. And if religion really can be invalidated by the shit their leaders do why hasn’t Catholicism crumbled yet?

    I mean I know they’re lying but could they at least lie in a way that actually aggrandizes themselves?

  37. 37
    Anthony K

    That would be the god that created the universe then lost interest in the first Planck unit of time and has since been busy elsewhere outside of time and space, never giving the universe a second thought. In that case I would be a definite 4 on the scale.

    I’ve been that god, if by ‘lost interest’ you mean ‘went to spark up a doob and forgot’ and by ‘universe’ you mean ‘the pot of frozen pyrogies on the stove slowly boiling dry’.

    No need to worship me, though. Being me is reward enough. Feel free to be whoever you gotta be.

  38. 38
    Christoph Burschka

    on whether Dawkins could emerge as a sort of latter-day St. Paul, eventually seeing the light and embracing religious belief.

    I tried to read further but got distracted by my incoherent laughter.

  39. 39
    Christoph Burschka

    You are witnessing a real-time scientific trial. (And they say intelligent-design advocates don’t do those!) Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

    … okay, laughter replaced by crying.

  40. 40
    J Bowen

    Brownian,

    I just got in the line.

  41. 41
    chrisv

    I am a 7 – and most of you are too, if you care to admit it.

  42. 42
    joed

    well, we can’t “prove” the universe was not created by a “god” or anything like that.
    so, seems we are all agnostics in that sense.
    but i wont entertain any beliefs in a creator or god or whatever without the proper evidence. seems i can consider me self atheist in that sense.

  43. 43
    LykeX

    That would be the god that created the universe then lost interest in the first Planck unit of time and has since been busy elsewhere outside of time and space, never giving the universe a second thought

    But in that case, who cares? For all practical purposes, that’s identical with no god at all. No miracles, no salvation, no granted prayers, no revelation, no sign whatsoever that the god existed and no reason to believe in it or worship it in any way.

  44. 44
    ChristineRose

    A latter day St. Paul? I hope if Dawkins has an epileptic seizure on the road to somewhere and a vision of Jesus berating him that he goes to a doctor and gets a brain scan. Miracles are treatable nowadays, thank science.

  45. 45
    myeck waters

    chrisv #41

    I am a 7 – and most of you are too, if you care to admit it.

    Fuck you, you don’t speak for me. A 7.0 would be equivalent to blind dogmatism. You wanna say you’re dogmatic, go ahead.

  46. 46
    seditiosus

    Like some of the other people here I’m a 6 for the possiblity of some hyper-advanced being we could maybe describe as a “god”, but a very firm 7 for God as described in the BuyBull.

  47. 47
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I am a 7 – and most of you are too, if you care to admit it.

    Yeah, right, you get to tell us all what we think. Woah, you must be a god for that to be true. And yet you don’t believe! How does your head not asplode?

    OK, back to reality. So you’re a 7, you say. But with respect to which god? Without specifying, that’s just nonsense. Yahweh? Zeus? X? Prince Phillip? Flooglesnap? Augustus Caesar?

  48. 48
    J Bowen

    As soon as science hits 7, I will too.

  49. 49
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    Discovery Institute “rolls” God into existence, proving once and for all that there is a God!

    Atheists the world over have been flabberghasted by pictures of two 10-sided dice which rolled “9″ and “9″, coming together to read “99″. The chances of that happening are literally one in a hundred.

    Richard Dawkins threw his arms up in the air at that, admitting defeat at this masterful demonstration of the stupidity of atheism, and noted atheist PZ Myers was last seen heading towards the sea, muttering something we think sounded like “dismantle army of squid”. Who knows what this means?

    The only thing we can be certain of now is that there is a God, and He’s the Christian God.

    We take you back now, live, to the studio, where a team of theo-technicians will attempt to determine the existence or non-existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster using a handful of wet noodles.

  50. 50
    mnb0

    When it comes to the Flying Spaghetti Monster I’m a firm 1, with one slight modification: “I do not believe, I know it’s a joke.”

  51. 51
    Randomfactor

    OK, I’m going to seriously damage my geek cred here, but is there really such a thing as a ten-sided die? Twelve, yes. Twenty, sure.

    What would a regular, ten-sided polyhedron look like? Or am I just supposed to take it on faith?

    OK, the Holy Scriptures tell me there is such a thing after all.

  52. 52
    Glen Davidson

    Ten-sided die

    Google really does supply answers.

    Glen Davidson

  53. 53
    Glen Davidson

    No idea why the link didn’t, you know, link.

    A variety of dice, including 10-sided, about halfway down.

    Glen Davidson

  54. 54
    Worldtraveller

    So…the Discotute doesn’t understand sophisticated atheology simple concepts.

    Color me surprised.

  55. 55
    garydargan

    Re the “batbuggering” disco-tutors: Since bats carry rabies this practice offers a scientific explanation for their deranged comments.

  56. 56
    peterh

    @ #49: When you are fortunate enough to have A dice, I guess the odds are with you, even if brains are not.

    catnip67 said, “I have a bachelor degree & I am married, could that count? ;-)”

    I happen also to have B.A. but have been married twice; perhaps that counts even more?

    And the near-swoon over at DI caused, apparently, by PZ’s exclamatory heading shows clearly the fundies have no concept of idiom.

  57. 57
    madscientist

    “… on average, if he were reporting it honestly, it would have taken 50 tries to hit the desired values …”

    Uh, that’s not quite the case either. Damn statistics, nothing is ‘obvious’ or ‘intuitive’. I can have my laughs imagining those guys to be throwing dice often enough to get accurate statistics on the average number of throws it would take to get those desired values – oh, I wish.

  58. 58
    'Tis Himself

    Wowbagger #21

    Oh, and – pedant alert – if there’s only one, it’s not a dice, it’s a die.

    What I’ve never understood is people saying “the die is cast” when a die is actually cut.

  59. 59
    01jack

    Uh, I always heard “cast” like in “thrown” …
    Or am I missing the joke?

  60. 60
    joed

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=cast&searchmode=none

    cast (v.)
    early 13c., from O.N. kasta “to throw,” of uncertain origin. The noun sense of “a throw” (mid-13c.) carried an idea of “the form the thing takes after it has been thrown,” which led to varied meanings, such as “group of actors in a play” (1630s). OED finds 42 distinct noun meaning and 83 verbal ones, with many sub-definitions. A cast in the eye preserves the older sense of “warp, turn,” in which it replaced O.E. weorpan (see warp), and is itself largely superseded now by throw, though cast still is used of fishing lines and glances.

  61. 61
    joed

    @58 ‘Tis Himself, OM

    “the die is cast”, saying made famous by Julius Caesar from the book, The Civil War by Julius Caesar

  62. 62
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    and for those of us who took Latin as a reminder,

    alea iacta est

    not

    alea iacta sunt

  63. 63
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    I always heard the phrase “the die is cast” in engineering terms. Die being a tool used to form shapes in other materials (injection moulding die, forging die etc) & casting as a process of transorming a liquid into a solid within a die to give it a particular shape (cast iron, for example). Die is cast then means that the shape is already there & it’s too late to change it, all you can do is wait for the metal to solidify.

    Interestingly “Die is cast” meaning small cube with numbers on it has been thrown has the same meaning. You’ve thrown then die, all you can do is wait for the number to come up. Your influence has ceased.

    Perhaps thats just telling you way too much about what I do for a living….

  64. 64
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    (and Wiktionary says it’s actually from Ancient Greek and was more like a subjunctive construction “let the die be cast”, a more literal translation would have been alea iacta esto)

  65. 65
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    and yes, the Latin iacere means “throw”. My Ancient Greek is not really existent so I can’t tell if Ἀνερρίφθω is from a verb which means “throw”, but I trust Suetonius to at least get the verb right even if he mistranslated the mood.

  66. 66
    Randomfactor

    on whether Dawkins could emerge as a sort of latter-day St. Paul, eventually seeing the light and embracing religious belief.

    Great! Like Saul of Tarsus he could completely ignore the original religion’s message and completely recast it as a syncretic bastard-child.

  67. 67
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Great! Like Saul of Tarsus he could completely ignore the original religion’s message and completely recast it as a syncretic bastard-child

    well, isn’t that what Joseph Smith did when he started the mormon sect?

  68. 68
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Actually, I misread PZ’s post title incorrectly the first time (& my sub concious keeps doing it in spite of me telling it not to ) as “Holy Christ, but the discovery Institute is full of Mormons

    PZ’s actual title is more inclusive than my mis-interpretation of it, but they mean the same thing.

  69. 69
    Kagato

    You are witnessing a real-time scientific trial. (And they say intelligent-design advocates don’t do those!) Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

    For some reason this immediately brought to mind the following…

    The instant this random number generator reaches zero, you’ll be executed.
    Ten. Three. Twelve. Three again.
    Fifteen. Negative eight.

  70. 70
    nemryn

    Heliantus @ 24: Actually, the Gambler’s Fallacy doesn’t apply here, because we’re not talking about the chances that the next single die roll will hit. What victimainvictus is saying is, if you roll 35 hundred-sided dice, there’s a 50% chance that at least one of them is successful.

  71. 71
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I happen to have a ten-sided dice

    A. Dice. I think we’re done here.

    But I wonder what the critical chart is like if he were to roll 1d20 instead of 2d10 percentile. Or the fumble chart for that matter. “There is no god! And you decapitated Ken Ham!”

  72. 72
    kylermcelroy

    Not, technically, related, but I always like to trot this out when theists start talking about God and probability. A quick proof regarding the probability of God:
    1) The existence of any entity or phenomenon is inversely related to its complexity (the probability that you will find, say, a given atom in a set amount of space is related to how hard it is to make that atom).
    2) God is commonly defined as an entity possessing one or more infinite attributes(i.e., infinite power, wisdom, goodness, etc.).
    3) Infinite attributes are necessarily infinitely complex (there’s always one more thing an infinitely powerful God could do, one more thing an infinitely wise God could know, etc.).
    4) Therefore, any God possessing one or more infinite attributes is infinitely complex.
    5) An infinitely complex God is infinitely unlikely (see 1).

    The rest of this goes on to argue that our universe, complex as it is, is only finitely so; therefore, our universe without God is infinitely more likely than our universe with God.

  73. 73
    brian

    I think you’re missing a golden opportunity here. Instead of pointing out the folly of DI’s logic, you should just say that you think there is a 1 in 100 trillion chance that there is a god, get them to repeat the dice experiment, and none of us will ever hear from them again.

  74. 74
    drew

    I’m as sick of all the theist dreck around me as anyone else. Does nobody else see that the Dawkins quote is also using nonsense, though? Percentages of belief in something (and yes, I’m intentionally misreading that so don’t bother correcting me on that point)? Not only does that seem crude but I’m pretty sure that cognitive psychologists can tell us it doesn’t really work that way.

    Not to mention that percentages are generally “lie statistics” (my words). In my world, they’re things bosses like to see rather than real data. Or things politicians like to use rather than facts. It’s worse than 9/10 dentists . . . 90% of dentists agree!

    And then for the theist doubting Dawkins to roll dice to find a percentage . . . well, that seems like it’s actually finding fault with percentages, too. Or he’s just being very naive. Or perhaps, naively, both. What’s the real problem there, I wonder? Theism or innumeracy?

    Anyway, to talk about probability to the layman without explaining it would seem to invite this. I’ve braced myself. I’ve made my peace with my no gods. Tell me how wrong I am, people.

  75. 75
    ck

    Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

    Wait a sec… Something doesn’t look right here. Let’s apply some highly sophisticated numerology here. He rolled a 96. Let’s throw away the 6, and 99. So, that’s three 9s. Or upside down, that’s 666. He just rolled the devil’s number, proving that Satan has a firm grip on his soul. Just goes to show that dice are Lucifer’s playthings, and anyone who plays “games” using them are putting their immortal soul at risk.

  76. 76
    McCthulhu, now with -25% less fat.

    I always have to laugh at the simplistic reasoning of people that don’t quite grok what the process of scientific method is supposed to allow. Without implementing the foundations of this understanding in one’s argument it inevitably leads to the kind of bullshit we just witnessed from the Discovery Institute.

    Allowing for the ridiculously remote possibility that there could be some sort of conscious entity powerful enough to have skills to manipulate some, or even all, of the universe does NOT equate to proof of such an entity, and it definitely does not equate to it being ANY of those described in Earthly tomes, or even in terms we would have words to describe. I can’t remember if it was Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov (or with my luck it was Heinlein) who said that there could be things in the universe stranger than we imagine, or even stranger than we can imagine. This is an example of that possibility.

    If following scientific method, one has to allow for even the most vanishingly tiny chance for even the most unlikely occurence. However, the fact remains that anyone engaging in an honest empirical survey of facts and observations will find no evidence that the universe is acting in ways other than physical laws and normal random probability allow. The DI takes advantage of the specious and disingenuous, and this is one of those opportunities.

    Dawkins really did himself, and his current raison d’etre, a great disservice by not making these points crystal clear and as salient as possible, as any overly simplistic description is immediately pounced upon as an ‘Aha! Gotcha!’ moment by these weak thinkers, and for certain the DI people are not great thinkers, or have yet to arrive at becoming great thinkers. Treat them like eight-year-olds every time and don’t leave these little doors of opportunity open for them to use. Explain the whole point every time or you lose opportunity to expand minds due to some juvenile game of semantics.

  77. 77
    michaelconnor

    I think there is a serious problem with his die. He claims that they roll [1,100], but is that possible? Imagine a dice with ten sides labeled [0,9], so that 2 of them side by side could make [00,99]. Now imagine a dice with sides [1,10], so that 2 of them make [11,1010].

    To me, this was the obvious sign that the whole thing is fake. His intervals are off, because he didn’t even bother to look at real die.

  78. 78
    rorschach

    I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The matter of nonbelief in gods is not one that may be usefully assessed with the tools of epistemology or philosophy, but rather is one of common sense. We’re all technically 6.9 because there is no absolute certainty in anything, but common sense dictates that we may dismiss the existence of gods, hobgoblins and pixies based on their current absence, and based on the fact that it can be argued that if anything unexplainable should manifest in our natural world, it will by definition not be “supernatural” anymore anyway.

  79. 79
    Shpitzig Shtrengkind

    on average, if he were reporting it honestly, it would have taken 50 tries to hit the desired values

    Oy! Statistics: not for biologists. There’s actually an approximately 16.6% chance to get a “good” result after 9 tries, so I wouldn’t bet (very much) against this being a real result either. Statistics: now bigger and better and even more real (statistically speaking) than god.

  80. 80
    agp

    I agree with everyone here about the DI’s inanity in claiming this shows a change of mind for Dawkins!

    However, as someone who does most of his science (molecular evolution) in the framework of Bayesian inference I am slightly saddened to sense some degree of hostility towards the whole idea of using probabilities as a way to quantify uncertainty? For those that are unaware of this elegant body of theory I warmly recommend checking it out (Google “Bayesian Probability” for instance”). Briefly the idea is to use probabilities as a way of quantifying you uncertainty about certain propositions (for instance about the possible values of a parameter in a model), and one can think of it as a logic where there are many shades of grey instead of just the True and False of Boolean logic. One starts out with a prior probability (possibly subjective) about aspects of the system one is investigating, and then uses Bayes Theorem to update ones knowledge about the system after observing data. It has many advantages over the classic framework (in my slightly biased opinion) where probabilities are interpreted as frequencies.

    Of course, under this interpretation I’d have to say that Dawkin’s probabilities are a bit poorly calibrated, and he most likely is at 6.9999999. Try rolling the dice for that.

  81. 81
    McCthulhu, now with -25% less fat.

    @agp: That’s what I was getting at in my post. I really doubt that Dawkins’ allowance for such a probability is as easy as a 6.9/7. Well, maybe I can see it being that easy if you allow for the mandatory British schoolboy religious lessons and thrashings. After a few beatings by a sadistic closet-dweller pretending at headmaster you may default to certain compromised arguments without even realizing it. Hey! A new defense for ElevatorGate!

  82. 82
    Kel

    I can expect this from the DI. What’s surprising is Anthony Kenny got it wrong, given how much of a careful and well-read scholar he is – especially too that he had reviewed Dawkins book. How could it have come as a surprise, really?

  83. 83
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Oooh look, a frequentist and a Bayesian in the thread!

    FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

    *makes popcorn*

  84. 84
    siaran

    Whenever this thing about how likely one finds it that God exists comes up, I always end up thinking ‘well, for me, that I guess that’d depend on how you define this ‘God’ thing’.

    I mean, that seems kind of important in order to decide how likely its existance is.

  85. 85
    raven

    Dawkins has said many times that the likelihood of god being real is about the same as having real fairies in your garden.

    The Dishonesty Institute is just a propaganda organization. They have to lie for their paychecks and this is just another one.

  86. 86
    ricardodivali having sniffles over stiffles

    Since people talking about “god” are always talking about their pet god, it is perfectly possible to be a 7 since no one would actually care about the “got bored and wandered off” god. He is a philosophical god only.

    Either a god is impossible, or irrelevent. From a practical point, that is a 7. This means I will never change my mind, no matter how many times people come to my door and question my need for their god.

  87. 87
    Kel

    However, as someone who does most of his science (molecular evolution) in the framework of Bayesian inference I am slightly saddened to sense some degree of hostility towards the whole idea of using probabilities as a way to quantify uncertainty?

    There’s really nothing wrong with using Bayesian reasoning, but how do you apply it to an incoherent inexplicable notion like the supernatural? Ideas must first be distinct before reason can act upon them, and we have no means to quantify something like God.

  88. 88
    John Morales

    ricardodivali:

    Either a god is impossible, or irrelevent. From a practical point, that is a 7.

    That’s such a poor claim, it’s like unto a goddist-level argument.

    You’ve claimed a disjunction, but don’t provide one (rather, you provide a non sequitur). Tsk.

    A correct disjunction would be either (ahem)
    [Impossible(god) ∨ Possible(god)]
    or
    [Relevant(god) ∨ Irrelevant(god)].

  89. 89
    imnotandrei

    I have to agree with the 6.9[n-more-9s] set for a particular reason.

    I’ve gotten involved (starting from here, in fact, a while ago) in arguing with presuppositionalists. I know, it’s futile in terms of convincing them, but it amuses me to see how their thinking works — or, well, doesn’t.

    One of the things that comes up over and over again in these discussions is a question of certainty — “How can you be certain”. And their claim, repeated ad nauseam, is that since induction can’t reach 100% certainty, it can’t be “justified” or “accounted for”.

    But the only way to get to 100% certainty, or 1 or 7 in the above scale, is to use a *deductive* system; whereupon you are presuming the 100% correctness of your axioms. Making it possible that one can be 100% certain, and utterly wrong — without any chance of recovering, since the weakness is not in your logic, but your axioms.

    I’d challenge any 7 to demonstrate their certainty — because remember, even the faintest possibility of an explanation undoes your claim. (I regularly challenge 1s to do the same; I’m an equal-opportunity challenger. ;))

    For me, I’m quite content to rely on inductive principles with illions of tests behind them, and push my .9999s out to the horizon. ;)

  90. 90
    Conor Sans Pantaloons

    “For every known (by me) religion, I am firmly a 7.”

    This is how I put my lack of theism forward as well. I wouldn’t be opposed to some evidence presented for the Great Green Arkleseizure, though.

  91. 91
    ChristineRose

    To me, it’s an epistemological problem. You can never prove that the universe is not micromanaged by an infinitely powerful being that chose to create a universe to appear exactly as it would have been had no such being ever existed. It’s practically the Maxwell’s Demon/Matrix problem all over again. It’s also very convoluted and not a very productive way to live your life. If God does exist, He isn’t giving us much guidance on what He wants us to do.

  92. 92
    esmith4102

    Most of us shakily preside over a chaos of  vestigial prejudices and pieties, of semi-subliminal inhibitions, taboos, and herd instincts, some of them ancient, some of them spryly contemporary…Martin Amis.
    Is it any wonder so few religionists have read Dawkins’ TGD?  The certainty of their “faith” make it unnecessary.  The absorption of biblical truth through short sound bites and osmosis also makes it unnecessary to thoroughly read the bible.

  93. 93
    Ichthyic

    I’d challenge any 7 to demonstrate their certainty — because remember, even the faintest possibility of an explanation undoes your claim.

    then, you already fail, since “the faintest possibility of an explanation” isn’t evidence.

    you obviously don’t understand what it is you’re even asking.

  94. 94
    Ichthyic

    For me, I’m quite content to rely on inductive principles with illions of tests behind them, and push my .9999s out to the horizon. ;)

    at what decimal place do you round up then?

    you’ve essentially said you are a 7, given that there is only one significant digit in the scale.

  95. 95
    McCthulhu, now with -25% less fat.

    Christinelaing @91:

    She…what SHE wants us to do. Or It. Or They…god could be a consortium of Japanese businessmen. Or Null – The Great God That Was Not There!!! Since we can’t know, there’s only people that want you to ‘know’ because of their own goofy dreams and fears, why worry about it? I would rather spend my god-ponderin’ time watching Dr. Who, drinking Dr. Pepper and playing Dr. afterwards.

  96. 96
    Ichthyic

    There’s really nothing wrong with using Bayesian reasoning

    …when there is actually something to base that reasoning ON.

    this is why the entire idea of a sliding scale is stupid, and Dawkins should simply stop using it.

  97. 97
    imnotandrei

    then, you already fail, since “the faintest possibility of an explanation” isn’t evidence.

    you obviously don’t understand what it is you’re even asking.

    OK, you know what; you’re right — that was poorly stated.

    Any possibility that cannot be ruled out undercuts certainty at the level the presuppositionalists talk about — because they are trying to hold up an otherwise unevidenced existence. Certainty from the atheist side is, as far as I can tell, equally threatened by the traditional “brain in a jar” model — “How can you tell that you’re not just in a perfect simulation.” The answer that an atheist is usually perfectly comfortable giving is “I don’t — and it doesn’t matter, if the simulation is perfect.” This, needless to say, is not an acceptable answer to most religious types. ;)

  98. 98
    Ichthyic

    I am slightly saddened to sense some degree of hostility towards the whole idea of using probabilities as a way to quantify uncertainty?

    can you put a probability value on how certain you are that there is a degree of hostility towards using probabilities? What value would you apply to the term “some degree”?

    exactly how slightly saddened are you, on a scale of 1-10?

    I’m surprised, as someone who values the application of probability, that you didn’t put exact values for your suppositions!

  99. 99
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @michaelconnor:

    Easily answered.

    00 = 100.

    In fact, most dice-making companies that sell sets of dice for playing tabletop RPGs sell 1 4-sided die, 1 6-sided die, 1 8-sided die, 1 10-sided die with 0-9, 1 10-sided die with 00-90, 1 12-sided die, and 1 20-sided die.

    So in that case, a 00-1 on the 2d10 would be a 1, but a 00-0 would be 100. Slightly confusing, but it works.

  100. 100
    Ichthyic

    Any possibility that cannot be ruled out undercuts certainty at the level the presuppositionalists talk about

    bullshit.

    with that reasoning, any imaginary construct one presupposes at any given time MUST be granted the possibility of existence.

    Thus, the monkeys that fly out of my butt indeed created the universe, and continue to modify it to my will continuously.

    YOU CAN’T RULE THAT OUT!

    Well, yes, you can, unless you want to be philosophically inane.

  101. 101
    imnotandrei

    with that reasoning, any imaginary construct one presupposes at any given time MUST be granted the possibility of existence.

    That’s the point I’m trying to make to them, more or less; they establish a ludicrously high standard of “knowledge”, and then assert that only their God lets them possess it.

    To any sane person, the well-nigh (but not quite infinite) certitude of, oh, I don’t know, the very concept of inductive reasoning would be sufficient to declare yourself “certain” of something. But not for these folks.

    Well, yes, you can, unless you want to be philosophically inane.

    Forgive me for not taking this seriously, but I now cannot get the image of Schrödinger’s Butt Monkeys, who may or may not be creating the universe, and we won’t know until we see one, out of my head. ;)

    Of course, we also have to ascribe these monkeys immateriality and a bunch of other characteristics not beholden to normal monkeys, because, well, otherwise we could falsify them.

  102. 102
    No One

    *flap*flap*flap*

    “Pick a number”

    *flap*flap*flap*

    “Pick a color”

    *reads*

    “Gee you’re stupid”

    For fucks sake. 1-7? No evidence for the supernatural. Period.

  103. 103
    David Marjanović

    Comment 1 wins the thread, I can go back to work.

  104. 104
    dragon davemckee

    By my reckoning there’s a 12.7% chance that, if his ‘experiment’ was true, he’d arrive at a number greater than .985 within 9 attempts. That implies that believing he rolled the dice is not unreasonable, especially when you consider the ‘multiple creationists’ hypothesis where eight creationists come up with this concept, but seven don’t get results that are worth printing :P

  105. 105
    sundiver

    McCthulhu, IIRC it was JBS Haldane who said ” The universe is not only queered than we imagine, it’s queerer than we CAN imagine”. Arthur C Clarke was quite fond of that quote and repeated frequently.

  106. 106
    agp

    @ imnotandrei:

    For me, I’m quite content to rely on inductive principles with illions of tests behind them, and push my .9999s out to the horizon. ;)

    Exactly – induction and empirical evidence! Yay!

    @ Ichthyic:

    exactly how slightly saddened are you, on a scale of 1-10?

    ;-) On a scale of 1-10, I am 9.3 happy that we agree on the importance of quantification!

    @Kel:

    There’s really nothing wrong with using Bayesian reasoning, but how do you apply it to an incoherent inexplicable notion like the supernatural? Ideas must first be distinct before reason can act upon them, and we have no means to quantify something like God”

    Well the basic idea would be to compute something like P(god exists | data) from the so-called likelihoods: P(data|god exists) and P(data|god does not exist), while taking into account the prior probability of god existing. This will depend in interesting ways on exactly which god one is talking about, and what one assumes about the god in question (“an omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent, god”, “a god of thunder”, etc. etc.). One could have all kinds of fun with that, but I have a paper to resubmit so I’ll pass on that for now (“It’s always the 3rd goddamn reviewer…!”). Instead it might be fun to mention the following – well known, I think – anecdote about Laplace (who, not incidentally, is probably the main person responsible for developing Bayesian inference):

    Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”) Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses. (“Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.”)

    “A Short Account of the History of Mathematics” (4th edition, 1908) by W. W. Rouse Ball.

  107. 107
    David Marjanović

    I’m in category 7. It’s ridiculous to say “god = very low probability”.

    God = Magic. Would Mr. Dawkins say magic has a very low probability? I hope not. It would be like saying there’s a very low probability Harry Potter is real.

    In fact there is. You can’t even disprove Russell’s teapot, and that one’s a lot more probable than God, magic or Harry Potter.

    Go ahead, prove you’re not the solipsist! Then prove I’m not either!

    Bible thumpers and terrorists love atheists who say a magic god fairy is not completely impossible.

    :-| That’s their problem, not ours.

    “X must be true because if it were true, that would annoy evil people” is quite an embarrassing logical fallacy.

    Google really does supply answers.

    Which proves something, you know.

    I always heard the phrase “the die is cast” in engineering terms. Die being a tool used to form shapes in other materials (injection moulding die, forging die etc) & casting as a process of transorming a liquid into a solid within a die to give it a particular shape (cast iron, for example). Die is cast then means that the shape is already there & it’s too late to change it, all you can do is wait for the metal to solidify.

    …what… the fuck.

    It must come from the story of Caesar deciding whether to cross the river Rubicon and start his civil war. That’s why it exists in other modern languages than English, using words that wouldn’t work for your engineering example.

    Oooh look, a frequentist and a Bayesian in the thread!

    FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!

    We – wanna – see – blood! – We – wanna – see – blood!</grade school>

    Since people talking about “god” are always talking about their pet god, it is perfectly possible to be a 7 since no one would actually care about the “got bored and wandered off” god. He is a philosophical god only.

    Might actually be testable.

    Like… if the universe really were fine-tuned… :-)

    Or They…god could be a consortium of Japanese businessmen.

    Now that’s an interesting idea!

    To any sane person, the well-nigh (but not quite infinite) certitude of, oh, I don’t know, the very concept of inductive reasoning would be sufficient to declare yourself “certain” of something. But not for these folks.

    I agree, except why do you bother with induction? Science is not inductive. You make shit up (by induction or not, it doesn’t matter), deduce stinking predictions from it, and then you test whether the universe really stinks.

  108. 108
    Kel

    Well the basic idea would be to compute something like P(god exists | data) from the so-called likelihoods: P(data|god exists) and P(data|god does not exist), while taking into account the prior probability of god existing.

    But how do you work out those likelihoods? Surely what data is compatible with God and what data is incompatible needs a conception of God coherent enough to know the difference between the two. With the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity you mentioned, what would make a Bayesian approach superior to conceptual analysis of the terms? Do those three properties give sufficient potential data points to be able to distinguish between P(D|GE) and P(D|GDNE)?

    i.e. If we take one data point – the amount of suffering in the world. How is Bayesian analysis a superior approach over the evidential problem of evil?

  109. 109
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Here we go: 68, 10, 27, 40, 64, 36, 77, 96, and…99.

    You know what it means when a creationist inserts ellipses.

  110. 110
    ChristineRose

    They do sell 100-sided dice. They look like golf balls, the numbers are tiny, and they are mostly useful for impressing your friends. Two ten-siders in complementary colors are the way to go.

  111. 111
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    David Marjanović says:

    …what… the fuck.

    It must come from the story of Caesar deciding whether to cross the river Rubicon and start his civil war. That’s why it exists in other modern languages than English, using words that wouldn’t work for your engineering example.

    Apologies, I was never intending to claim that my interpretation was the correct etymology. I was simply highlighting the two different uses of the same words that could lead to the same outcome.

    It also is a good example of how understanding of a concept can vary depending on perspective. I heard the phrase long before I knew of the Caesar/gambling origins & also learned about the engineering terms prior to the Roman story. Not really surprising that I would hypothesize the link & accept it until better information became available.

    Not being a linguist, I have no knowledge of the different meanings in different languages

  112. 112
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    Actually,

    Caesar cited Suetonius, who translated it from Plutarch, and when translating it from Greek into Latin, made an indicative out of the subjunctive…

    So the original meaning was something like: “Let the die be cast” in the sense of the casino “rien ne va plus”. However, Suetonius made “The die is cast” out of it…

  113. 113
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    catnip,

    if you grew up with the Asterix comics, you don’t need to be a linguist, you just know it was Caesar who said it, as he keeps saying it a lot in those comics ;)

  114. 114
    Catnip, Misogynist Troglodyte called Bruce

    Oddly, I did read Asterix comics in early high school. I guess it didn’t stick long enough for me to make the later connection.

  115. 115
    ricardodivali having sniffles over stiffles

    88:

    ricardodivali:

    Either a god is impossible, or irrelevent. From a practical point, that is a 7.

    That’s such a poor claim, it’s like unto a goddist-level argument.

    You’ve claimed a disjunction, but don’t provide one (rather, you provide a non sequitur). Tsk.

    Should I need to roughly push any gods through a logic gate I will be sure to call you.

    Actually the “possible” part is implied (it’s also why there is a comma as well as the “or”), thus allowing the cute alliteration.
    This should then make it an exclusive injunction as given below.

    God = impossible or ( possible and irrelevent )

  116. 116
    John Morales

    ricardodivali, your contention remains problematic, since your claim isn’t symmetric.

    (Also, you have two variables, so you need four possibilities to encompass the possibility space, but you’re only addressing three of those)

    Your amended claim invites the question: Why do you contend that one should with absolute certainty not believe in a possible god merely because it seems irrelevant?

    (Oddly enough, the one possibility you’ve neglected is what I consider with a high degree of probability to be the actuality :) )

  117. 117
    agp

    @Kel:

    (Commenting on the “likelihood” term: P(data|god does not exist):

    But how do you work out those likelihoods? Surely what data is compatible with God and what data is incompatible needs a conception of God coherent enough to know the difference between the two.

    Oh no! Now you got me started on the whole Bayesian thing!

    Under all circumstances: you are exactly right. In the statistical context, the word likelihood has the very specific meaning “probability of different possible outcomes (data sets) given the hypothesis”. To be able to specify the exact form of the likelihood function you would have to (1) be very concrete about what your hypothesis is, (2) based on that, use deduction to figure out the consequent probabilities of different possible outcomes (i.e., different possible data sets). If you can’t work out the probabilities in (2), then you haven’t been sufficiently concrete in (1). For instance: if your hypothesis is that a die is fair, then you can deduce that the probability of getting, say, 3 sixes in 3 rolls is P = (1/6)^3.

    In the Bayesian context, the likelihood (the probability of the data given the specific hypothesis) is interesting only because it allows us to compute the much more interesting “inverse” probability: the probability of the hypothesis given the data (this is called the posterior probability of the hypothesis). We are therefore computing P(H|D) from the more easily determined P(D|H). Powerful stuff. I’ll return to the God hypothesis below.

    With the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity you mentioned, what would make a Bayesian approach superior to conceptual analysis of the terms

    I should hasten to point out that in my original post I wasn’t actually claiming that the Bayesian approach would be superior for the “does god exist” analysis – I was merely pointing out that in fact there is a lot of solid science behind the idea of using probabilities as a way of quantifying uncertainty (rather than thinking of probabilities as frequencies of events in repeatable experiments).

    Having said that, I do actually think that the method is very useful in many contexts where one would otherwise use a “conceptual” or “qualitative” approach. In particular, the fact that you have to be able to specify a likelihood function, means that you are forced to think very clearly about exactly what your hypothesis entails. Essentially, you have to come up with a mathematical model that describes the system you are investigating. (Or at least the most important parts of the system; we rarely want a model that completely describes reality – “a one-to-one map is hard to read” as Lewis Carrol says somewhere). This model must have specific parameters for various aspects of the system (for instance: p6=probability of getting a six).

    Seen in this light, a mathematical model of a system is in fact a very stringently phrased hypothesis about that system. Once you have a set of alternative models for a system, you can compute the likelihood under each hypothesis and use statistical methods to see which model (hypothesis) best describes the data. This approach is called “model selection”, and in the Bayesian framework we would use Bayes’ theorem for this, by computing the “posterior probability” of the different possible hypotheses given the data from the probability of the data given the hypothesis, i.e., we compute P(H1|D), P(H2|D), etc., from P(D|H1), P(D|H2),… by way of Bayes’ rule.

    Do those three properties give sufficient potential data points to be able to distinguish between P(D|GE) and P(D|GDNE)? i.e. If we take one data point – the amount of suffering in the world. How is Bayesian analysis a superior approach over the evidential problem of evil?

    Well – this would depend on the data set that one includes in one’s analysis, and how one does it. If we focus on only the part of the question that has to do with independent creation of species vs. evolution, then a relevant data set might include all DNA sequences and the entire fossil record. Here, the scientific field is now in a situation where P(H1=evolution|D) is very close to 1, while P(H2=creation|D) is practically zero. We could include various other aspects of reality in the data set also of course (e.g., the age of the solar system). So, at the very least, this data is telling us that all those god hypotheses that insist on independent creation of species, are unlikely to be true.

    If we want to address the other aspects of the god question, we would need to somehow include (relevant aspects of) human history in the data set, and to come up with models for how a particular god (or different types of gods) might behave in different situations. Again, the whole approach would only be possible if we force the investigator to be very concrete about the hypotheses that he wants to consider. How exactly does an omnibenevolent god act? Perhaps we need to consider different types of omnibenevolence. I notice that there are people out there on the internets that have attacked the problem, with varying degrees of success, but won’t attempt to repeat that here.

    On a technical note it is here relevant to note that Bayesian model comparison automatically embodies Occam’s razor: a model (hypothesis) that has a lot of degrees of freedom, will predict that many different outcomes are possible, but any given data set will therefore have a lower likelihood (the likelihood over all possible data sets have to sum to one). Therefore, if the data set we actually do observe, is predicted by both a more specific and a less specific model, then the more specific model will end up being the most probable. This should take care of the “god moves in mysterious ways”/Omphalos/”last-thursdayism” type cop-out (“well, maybe god just created the earth with the fossils in place so it would look nice…”).

    Under all circumstances, when you think about it, the “problem of evil” is actually a case of thinking like a Bayesian: if your hypothesis is that god is benevolent, and if the observed data includes the data points “holocaust”, “childhood cancer”, and “existence of parasites”, then, regardless of your exact definition of benevolence, surely P(D|H) must be rather low, and consequently, using Bayes theorem, we will end up concluding that the inverse probability – P(H|D), the probability that a benevolent god exists, is very low indeed. Along these lines of reasoning, the following David Attenborough quote, may be a good place for me to (finally!) stop lecturing (so I can get on with preparing my teaching for this afternoon):

    My response is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy’.

  118. 118
    pseudosphere

    Discussion question: I think we all mostly agree that Position #7 “I am absolutely sure there is no god” is irrational. But what about what I’ll call Position #7a “I am absolutely sure that the god of the bible does not exist in any of the forms the major religions describe, because all those forms are contradictory. But, I’m only at position #6 with regards to the vague concept of some sort of higher power.”

  119. 119
    ricardodivali having sniffles over stiffles

    ricardodivali, your contention remains problematic, since your claim isn’t symmetric.
    (Also, you have two variables, so you need four possibilities to encompass the possibility space, but you’re only addressing three of those)

    The “irrelevent” is irrelevent if god is impossible so can be taken out of the sentence to keep it simple. Of course the irony is not lost on me that i’ve just spent 20x as many words defending my flippant bit of alliteration :)

    Your amended claim invites the question: Why do you contend that one should with absolute certainty not believe in a possible god merely because it seems irrelevant?

    If a god is so irrelevent as to have no noticeable effect, then I will treat it as not existing. Because that has the same outcome, yet is simpler for me. For the same reason I don’t litter my programming code with useless variables (just badly named ones ;) that don’t do anything.

    I’ve spent years cleaning up my life-code and i see no reason to complicate it again by linking to functions that don’t do anything, on the off chance that philosophy students might want to read too much into them.

  120. 120
    Kel

    Thanks for the response, agp. I’m not trying to dismiss the power of Bayesian reasoning, only trying to see how it could be useful in this circumstance. You mentioned that Bayesian reasoning embodies Occam’s Razor, though I’m wondering why it is Occam’s Razor isn’t enough already. I mean to say, that we can think like a Bayesian when listing out the problem of evil that way, but weren’t we already doing that without Bayesian reasoning? I just can’t see what Bayesian reasoning would add in this circumstance.

    I’m probably missing something in your posts, and I’ll have another read of them tomorrow to see if I can make sense of the point you’re trying to make. I guess to me, if we are going to apply a new epistemological tool to help us look at issues, I’d really like to see it as being superior to the current tools at our disposal. Now I don’t doubt that Bayesian reasoning could do this in some circumstances (especially in fields with statistical analysis), I’m just a little sceptical when it comes to questions like the supernatural.

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