Sunday, June 26, 2011

Examining Pascal's Wager

Following up on the previous post about Pascal's Wager - should we live and act like there is a god because we have everything to gain, and nothing to lose?

The problem is - which God do we believe in? Which imaginary club built on which misconceptions about the world? According to the World Christian Encyclopedia there are over 10,000 distinct religions in the world today, and over 34,000 different Christian denominations alone. I've seen roughly 2700 proposed as the number of distinct deities recorded throughout written history ... but let's be really cautious and say 1000.

What are the chances that one of these 1000 is THE ONE - the only one you should believe in? Alright, 1 in a thousand. Let's say it's Yahweh. Now, which denomination promotes the "correct" way of understanding, worshiping, and achieving eternal redemption through this god? Your chances are 1 in 34,000 of getting it right. So, we're at 1 in 34,000,000 ... and we haven't even discussed the problems with 1) my probability calculation above; 2) my argument above; 3) the idea that "god" is even a reasonable conception; 4) the idea that, if there is a god, he may be looking for folks who consciously eschew worship of god or participation in religion in favor of those living highly ethical, charitable lives that make the human condition better and the world better in both the near and long term; 5) the idea that god is wholly disinterested in any of this, and your efforts will never result in any attention from him under any circumstances.

Without getting into the criticisms of Pascal's Wager (some mentioned at Wikipedia) - it seems a bad bet to take the wager. The odds are against you.

Skepticali's Wager

Pascal's Wager
is a suggestion posed by the French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal that even if the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a rational person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.
I think the opposite is true ... 'cause it just might be a one shot deal.

We know we are here now.

We don't know what what we don't know.

We can give it our best shot now, or strive for inclusion in an imaginary club built on many millenia of misconceptions about the world.

A rational person should wager as though this life is a one shot deal.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

False Dilemma - Liar, Lunatic or Lord

Continuing with the "logical fallacy" theme that I (unknowingly) started this morning - the False Dilemma is something that you see frequently. Folks like to paint things as "either or" propositions because, frankly, it's simple.

C. S. Lewis asserted that Jesus was either Lunatic, Liar or Lord in his book Mere Christianity. I'd never heard of it until I started reading Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain earlier today - but I get props, because I recognized the False Dilemma of Lewis' assertion immediately, before ever having read the criticism at wikipedia.

The false dilemma is a logical fallacy in which (traditionally) only two choices are considered. It can usually be countered with the assertion that any number of alternatives can be considered ... for instance, instead of a binary "black or white" set of choices, the real set of alternatives may be an infinite number of gradations between the two ... many shades of gray.

Lewis' trilemma presents a variation on this, presenting three dimensions from which he proposes only one choice is possible. I counter that "Lunatic", "Liar" and "Lord" are each distinct choices along distinct axes - the lunatic-to-sane axis, the liar-to-truthteller axis, and the "mundane-to-divine" axis (for lack of a better characterization) - and that each axis has infinite gradations, resulting in quite a set of possibilities. You can imagine that other dimensions could be relevant in making a case for Jesus' son-of-godness. Sticking to just the specified three, he might have been simultaneously divine, liar and lunatic. He may have been neither divine nor mundane, a truthteller, and just slightly crazy. You can see where this could go.

I'd advise apologists to avoid Lewis' Trilemma in debate because it (by itself) makes a crappy argument.

On the bright side, skeptics can tear it apart with little effort.

It's a win-win!

Argument from Ignorance

Our inability to understand and accept physical truths is irrelevant to the universe - it doesn't care what we believe ... so arguing that existence can only be explained by the supernatural is just publicly displaying our lack of knowledge. It is an argument from ignorance.

How do we define "truth" - so that we can discuss the difference between natural and supernatural explanations for phenomena? Without getting into various theories of truth - a good operational definition is that truth is the model that best explains the material patterns that can be examined and confirmed in the physical world.

When we say "gravity is true" or "gravity is real", we assert that a ball will fall to the ground when we release it - every time - throughout all eternity, as long as no counteracting force is applied. Yet we still refer to gravity as a "theory" - first with Newton's theory, then with Einstein's theory of general relativity that ascribes gravity to spacetime curvature.

When you believe in the supernatural, you do so without evidence and rational justification. Attributing existence to a "creator" - an entity onto which you then project the characteristics of eternalness, omnipresence, omniscience, and the ability to interact with you and provide benefits for you and those you care for - or occasionally, disadvantages & retribution for those who you disfavor - this requires abandoning reason and your own senses. Oh ... and did I mention the afterlife? The addition of an afterlife sure makes it more believable.

Where, in this universe, is there credible evidence of anything supernatural? Why would extending this wholly unsupported, irrational conception to a hypothetical ultimate being (god) make sense if the simplest evidence of lesser supernatural conceptions has never been produced - let alone verified? Why, if there is no such thing as ghosts or angels or demons, is the idea of a god worth broaching in social discourse, let alone subjecting to the scrutiny of rational inquiry?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cognitive Hurdles

You have to:
  1. believe in the supernatural
  2. believe that the supernatural includes agents that have intentions and can perform actions in a way that we can perceive them
  3. believe that one agent has enough power and scope to create, supervise, intervene with, and judge the inhabitants of its creation and distribute rewards and punishment
  4. believe that a single collection of books written in the centuries from the late bronze age to the iron age represent words inspired by it
  5. believe that these words are intended for us to organize and guide our lives and beliefs and intentions and actions
There are at least 5 cognitive hurdles that one's mind has to clear in order to believe something like the bible. That doesn't even include the story of Jesus. And hundreds of millions of people have thought to themselves "that sounds right".

What does that tell us about the human race?

Church is cancelled

Via the Onion: Church is Cancelled due to a lack of God

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Is there a god?

Is there a God?

Is that really a sensible question?

When people argue about whether their conception of a creator, supervisor, intervener deity is both plausible and preferable to another conception, their point of departure is hypothetical - that such a thing exists ... even that such a thing is possible.

Isn't the question ... shouldn't the question be: "is wondering about things such as a creator/supervisor/intervener/judger entity sensible?"

The bible starts out with one of the barest assertions ever presented for mankind's consideration: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth". It asserts this thing "god" without defining it, and without providing either evidence for it, or a sound argument that such a thing is necessary, possible, or capable of participating in the rest of the verse, let alone the rest of the chapter, book or bible.

At what point does that narrative become worthy of belief?

Prove what you believe

If you believe that you have a Komodo dragon in your garage, and I ask you to prove it, you can show me the Komodo dragon, and I too, will believe you have a Komodo dragon in your garage.

If you believe that you have an invisible fire-breathing dragon in your garage, and I don't believe you, can you show me so that I will believe too?

I'll wait for an answer.

See this concise summation of the dialog above at John Kieffer's photos