UCSB Philosophy Blog

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Probability & the Existence of God

Hi all. Just something I've been wondering about...

When someone asks me if I think that God exists, is there anything wrong in responding with a probability? For example, suppose I say, "I think there's about a 15% chance that such a being exists." (Note: Talking here, of course, about the omni-being that philosophers talk about, not any particular religion's conception of God.) I feel much more comfortable and reasonable talking about it this way (at least regarding the debate as a whole), even though I may not be sure exactly why. I mean, I wouldn't want to respond to someone this way about a particular deductive argument concerning God's existence, like the Ontological Argument.


(1) Your probability claim isn't a good statistic or wasn't arrived at via reliable statistical analysis.

Sure, but I'm not claiming that it's good science or stats or anything. I'm just wondering if it's reasonable to respond with a probability. I'm just acknowledging my own epistemic limitations. I'm not making a metaphysical claim that God's existence is probabilistic. All I'm just saying is that, given the evidence I have acquired so far, I think that it's unlikely (or likely, if you respond with a greater probability), but not willing to make the claim that such a being does or does not exist for sure.

(2) That's just agnosticism.

Maybe if I claimed that the probability was 0.5. But even that doesn't strike me as agnosticism, exactly. Maybe it's a kind of jury-still-out agnosticism. I dunno.

(3) Are you saying God's existence is a matter of chance, like a lottery? 'Cause that's hella stupid.

I don't want to be committed to that, but maybe it seems to. As I've said, I just think that some (but not all) talk of God's existence can be taken as probabilistic. For example, many think that the Problem of Evil isn't a knock-down argument against God's existence, but that it renders it unlikely or counts against it to a certain degree. That is, it's an inductive, rather than a deductive argument.

(4) You hate freedom and bald eagles, you America-hating terrorist!

That only works on the O'Reilly Factor... c'mon. (My objectors are always bumbling fools... it makes my argument sound better.)

So, in conclusion, I don't know what I'm pushing for exactly. It's an idea. Comments, please.


  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger Luke Manning said…

    Sounds like you may be thinking of the epistemic probability of the existence claim. Your current evidence doesn't fully determine the answer either way, but more of your evidence (appropriately weighted) is of the sort that renders the claim more (im)probable. This is probably a coherent notion. Does it sound like what you're getting at?

  • At 9:01 PM, Blogger Josh said…

    Yeah, I think that is what I'm getting at. It may be fairly uninteresting once it's said to be a an epistemic rather than a metaphysical claim. But, it seems like it can be a good way to talk about certain aspects of phil religion.

  • At 9:07 AM, Blogger Jason Newman said…

    If it's epistemic probability, it is still the probability that God exists, given what you know or given your evidence. In that case, you still need, it seems--in order support the reasonablness of your probability claim--some prior probability for God's existence, and this does not appear to be easily--or reasonably--arrived at.

  • At 8:56 PM, Blogger the metaphysician said…

    The kind of probability you have in mind, Josh, can't be objective probability. For if that is the notion you're working with, the probability of God's existence can only be either 1 or 0--either God exists (in which case his existence is necessary) or God doesn't (in which case his existence is impossible). But you feel comfortable saying, for example, that the probability that God exists is 15%. So, as Luke pointed out, your probability claim is better understood as being one about epistemic probability.

  • At 1:18 AM, Blogger Vincenze said…

    I don't think it is reasonable to respond with probabilities of the existence of God.

    God either exists or it doesn't. There's no chance here at all, it doesn't matter what statistics/analysis you use (as the metaphysician said)

    It's like trying to predict the probability of Earth having a moon, could it be 50%...no it's either 0 or 1.

    That's my belief anyway... interesting question and I'm going to have to read up a bit on this epistemic probability you speak of.



  • At 4:27 AM, Blogger Robert said…

    Does God exist or to put it in a non-religious way is there an unseen entity that designed and made/fabricated the universe and everything in it?
    If the answer is yes it raises another question that is what is the nature/profile of God? If you were the parent of a very young child, you would not expect and demand that it admire, worship and genuflect to you because you are superior to it. The only thing you should desire is that it would love you as you loved it. So it clear that if an entity wanted/demanded worship it would have a very unwell mind.
    I do not have beliefs only truths. That is things I know to be absolutely true and percentage probabilities that I am ready to update. I know absolutely that there is an entity that designed and made/fabricated the universe. I do not use the word create as it comes from the Latin and originally meant to begat, bring forth (sexual). Martin Rees (cosmologist) said, “What is remarkable is that atoms have assembled into entities which are somehow able to ponder their origins”. What he should have said is “From all the material that came into existence very soon after the theoretical Big Bang it is impossible for life to start”. “Unintelligent atoms will always be that no matter what combinations they are joined in”. If you assume that I am right and remembering that the unseen entity has total control over its universe and everything in it would it want to hide or reveal itself? And what reason could it have for hiding? To answer that question let us look at the mind/nature/profile of the entity called God. And consider that if I am right it knows what I am writing/saying and can stop me any time it wants to.
    The profile of God is of an eternal entity morally perfect and wise with absolute power to do whatever it/he desires and is the maker of everything. It /he desires/demands to be loved, admired, worshiped, knelt before and obeyed for reasons of the preceding qualities. Consider how puerile this is. If you were the father of a young boy or girl you would not say ‘Because I am wiser than you and can do many things that you can not and was responsible for you being here kneel down and worship me’. If you did so, you would be mad. That is absolutely true of the biblical God. Open your eyes and think. At this point, I should point out that the biblical Satan desires the same as God that is for you to kneel down, worship, and admire him.
    Worship (OE weordhscipe (WORTH, -SHIP)) worthiness, merit, recognition, honour & respect, reverent homage or service paid to God, adoration or devotion, adore as divine etc, etc.
    For the purpose of this discussion let us suppose that an entity (God or whoever..the whoever is very important) designed and made/fabricated the Universe and everything in it. Remembering that he is perfect in every way; would he want or desire to make anything that was flawed? Or being God would not all of his works be perfect as he supposedly is? Consider your body. How extremely fallible it is in so many ways. Your reproductive areas (the penis, vagina etc) are right next to the part of your body that excretes waste matter (faeces). Would you design it like that? If you were living from before 200 years in the past how disgusting it must have been. Even now if society broke down and you had no soap or toilet paper think of how disgusting and smelly you would be. You live on a ball of very hot iron and molten rock with a thin unstable crust. It has a thin atmosphere and is continuously bombarded by radiation from the sun which if it was not for the earth’s magnetic field would destroy all life. This ball (the planet earth) travels at 18 miles each second through the black vacuum of space in a circle round the sun. Consider how bizarre and grotesque this is. Ask yourself; is the mind of God bizarre and grotesque?
    The whole of Gods creation is ugly and flawed, any intelligent person can see that. Consider that it might be deliberate maliciousness on Gods part.
    To be evil, malicious, harmful and a liar means that you are flawed (mad). Would a morally perfect entity (God) make anything that could become so? And even if he did, would he not remove it instantly if it did?
    Putting aside the naïve, puerile fairy story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden consider the free will argument that religious people use to excuse the badness/ugliness of man and consider your position. A person that lies, cheats, or is malicious or amoral HAS NO FREE WILL. A mad flawed person does not have intelligence (understanding) or free will. He/she might be clever (most successful criminals are) but does not have free will. There is no logic in the argument of free will. Does the lion, tiger, leopard, eagle, crocodile, and shark, have free will when they stalk, kill and devour their prey? Does the suicide bomber, the person/soldier killing, raping or torturing, the embezzler, all the ones exploiting others, the thugs and uncaring criminals have free will? No, they do not. They do not have intelligence (understanding) or free will. According to the so-called Holy writing who is responsible? Where does the buck stop? If you are religious, the answer is God. He is supposedly both all-powerful and perfect in righteousness. How and why does this supposedly perfect entity for a microsecond allow all the evil and badness?
    Consider that we are made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27). If we are corruptible and flawed..so is God. If God has perfect wisdom and is all powerful (as we attribute to him) he would have known and understood ALL the possibilities that lay ahead. Could you for one moment turn aside if you had the ability to stop a human being from being tortured? God has allowed thousands of years of lies, suffering, torment, degradation, torture, sadness, murder, slavery. NOTHING in this universe or elsewhere can excuse that. If he exists he is a mad, ugly, a criminal beyond belief.
    Why do you not open your eyes?
    Now you might give the perfect stupid, worthless and puerile reply…God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. You might say..I have faith. Do you have faith that God will stop you from being burgled? Do you have faith that God will stop you from getting cancer and heal you when you do? Do you have faith that you will not be attacked at any time? Do you have faith that the world is good when it obviously is not? Do you have faith that God will guide all your footsteps and protect you? Do you have faith that the meek will inherit the earth..smile? Do you have faith that Allah will take you to paradise after you blow yourself up and everyone else in your vicinity? Do you have faith that all the bad and evil people will get there comeuppance? Do you have faith that a fictional person will give you an eternity in paradise when you die? Do you have faith when you are dieing of hunger that it is Gods good will? Do you have faith that when you are old and alone and your body hardly functions and your memory is almost gone that it is Gods will for you? Do you have faith when your child/husband/wife is taken from you that it is Gods will?
    If you do, you are like Alice living in a fairytale wonderland.
    All of this is only the tip of the Iceberg.
    Robert robert77@fsmail.net

  • At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The third message from heaven...

    If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.


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