Sunday, July 31, 2011

One Hundred Trillion

I just can't get the enormity of this number out of my head.


One hundred trillion.

In my previous posts about "Maps of Certainty" (here and here) I came up with the number as a way to characterize the likelihood that someone had credible evidence that they'd seen god.

I keep asking myself: "Why, in the tens of billions of lives that have passed since prehistoric times, living an average of ten thousand days each, has there not been one god sighting that was worthy of verification by a second person?" Why didn't anyone, upon seeing god, go immediately next door to his neighbor's house and shout "Bill, come over immediately - I think I see god!". Bill comes out, verifies that god is indeed there, and says "Hank, I see him too. Let's call the authorities - this could be big!"

Why hasn't that ever happened?

Hundred(s) of trillions of person-days without one credible report THAT COULD EVEN BE INVESTIGATED!

Nothing to shut the non-believers up ... or at least keep them busy trying to debunk. Not a sniff. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Bupkis.

If god had ever been seen - and that evidence had been suppressed - it would indicate that there is a conspiracy of monumental proportions going on. Millennia long. Involving tens of billions of people. All working in concert to suppress the evidence that god had been sighted.

We should look into this!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Knowing what we don't know

Ignorance about a topic is an inadequate reason to then assert magic as an explanation. We don't know any more about magic than we do about the unexplained topic. Claiming magic is no different than saying "I don't know". Adding a second unexplained concept to a first doesn't make the first somehow more explained.

You've seen this before ... the principle of parsimony, aka Occam's razor, stating that we should prefer the simpler of two theories unless accepting the more complicated one provides added explanatory power. Since the absence of an explanation, compounded by a concept that also lacks an explanation, doesn't explain either, you can reject magic as an explanation outright.

In our quest for a balanced and realistic world view, we should probably 1) look for explanations when and where they can be found, 2) defer the search for explanations when the cost in time and effort is too high, 3) have the patience, maturity, courage and serenity to accept not knowing, 4) persistently pursue knowledge over a lifetime so that less of the meaningful and interesting questions are left unanswered; 5) never accept magic as an answer, as two unexplained things are always less plausible than one unexplained thing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Argument from Twinkies

Compare the two statements:

1) "you can't explain how the universe came into being, therefore it must have been created by god"
2) "you can't explain how the universe came into being, therefore it must have been created by Twinkies"

Which has greater truth value?

Statement 1) asserts that because A can't be explained, that B must be true. This is a false dichotomy, among other things. Nothing limits the range of possible answers - it may be true that the person who "can't explain A" is not knowledgeable about A, or that the topic A is in the midst of being researched and there is no universally agreed upon theory, or that the question can't be answered. Statement 1) also has the problem of introducing an imaginary concept in the "therefore" clause.

Statement 2) suffers from all of Statement 1)'s problems, except that it does not introduce an imaginary concept. Twinkies are real. They can be observed.

I submit that it is more likely that the universe was created by Twinkies than by god, because the existence of Twinkies can be proven, thus getting me closer to making a true statement in 2) than Statement 1).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Certainty - afterwords

My previous post - Maps of Certainty - juxtaposes the physical evidence of a recurring sunrise against the existence of a god. Using the 99.997% certainty figure that I assigned to my expectation that the sun will rise tomorrow, just the inverse can be assigned to the existence of god. I have never seen, heard, felt, tasted or smelled him; I have never met anyone who has; I have never heard of anyone who has evidence to even imply that this is a subject that bears serious research. But I can play Pascal's Wager and say ... "there is a chance". However small, someday during my lifetime, someone may present an awestruck world with evidence that god is here, and he wants us all to have ponies. So I'll assign a certainty of 1 in 36,525 or 00.003%. That's pretty optimistic, given that among tens of billions of people over ten thousand days each, there has never been one credible shred of evidence of god. That value, like its inverse that I use to adjudge the certainty of sunrise occurring, has some meaning to me in real life terms. It fact, maybe I ought to be using a one-in-tens-of-billions-times-ten-thousand figure to represent the evidence that in 100 trillion person-days, there has never been a credible god encounter - of the third kind - or the second kind - or of the first kind.

Maybe the more accurate number to assign to my god certainty is 0.00000000000001%.

The physical (lack of) evidence indicates that there is no god. Not any representation of god ... no Ahura Mazda, no Zeus, no Odin, no Yahweh, no Allah, no Vishnu. This absence of evidence, as they say, is not evidence of absence, but it is an indication that god - any god - is a remote, remote, remote concept. A one-in-100-trillion-person-days-and-counting kind of remote. He/She/It may appear at 1:15PM GMT tomorrow, but it would defy the odds. I can say with 99 trillion, 999 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand and 999 out of 100 trillion certainty that god will not appear at 1:15PM GMT tomorrow.

I believe, given those odds, that god, any god, does not exist.

Maps of Certainty

John Wilkins has an excellent exposition on belief at Evolving Thoughts
... it's woven into a multipart series, the relevant post here is Atheism, agnosticism and theism 2: What it is to have a belief

If beliefs are "maps by which we steer" ( Frank Ramsey ) - then I find it useful to assign a level of confidence to each map (or belief) that I steer by. For instance, I believe the sun will come up tomorrow. I'm sure, in fact, that the sun will come up every day of my life. Assuming that I will live for 100 years (just because it's easy to calculate, not because it's reasonable) - I expect that every one of those 36,525 days there will be a sunrise. So, I might say that I'm 36525/36525ths sure. Assuming - like a reasonable person, that something might go wrong and the sun doesn't come up one day, how do I express that in terms of a whole lifetime? .99997 happens to be the number - once in 36,525 days - or 99.997% of the time I expect the sun to come up. Now, I don't actually expect that to ever happen, but as a measure of certainty, 99.997% is a figure that I can relate to - something real in this life.

There are some affirming facts, and some independent non-scientific confirmations to attest to at least this level of certainty. First, the Earth revolves on its axis at the rate of 365.25 times per year. Second, the Earth has enough mass to continue at this speed with negligible degradation for thousands (millions!) of years; third, the mass of the Earth, the mass of the Sun, and the orbital speed of the Earth around the Sun indicate that the Earth-Sun relationship will remain relatively constant for thousands (millions) of years; fourth, there are no imminent significant physical threats that would alter the first three facts.

As for anecdotal confirmation - approximately seven billion people can attest to a sunrise occurring this morning. Going back through the history of man, there may be 50-100 billion folks that we consider human, all of whom can attest to the consistently occurring sunrise, without a single credible exception. These personal attestations are not the core of the argument - but they are consistent to a degree not usually found in other areas of belief - billions of people, tens of thousands of days each, without exception.

What are the chances that there is something supernatural in the world - or, getting to the point - that there is a "god" that is the creator, supervisor, omniscient, omnipotent intervener in the lives of only certain people and not others?

First, look at the evidence.

Second, assign a certainty.