Tuesday, January 24, 2006

THE SHORTEST LEAP

November 11, 2002

Christians often attempt to defend their belief in the unproven claims of the Bible by arguing that since atheists haven't proved their god doesn't exist, atheists take just as big a leap of faith as they have. Here's a simple thought experiment you can to which demonstrates why it takes LESS of a leap to reject an unproven claim than to accept it.

Imagine that I have a cardboard box, 1' x 1' x 1' in size. And you guess that it contains a live baby chipmunk. How could we determine the ODDS that your guess is correct?

To start, we'd need to compile a list of all the things that can fit inside 1' cube cardboard boxes.

We could leave out anything that you KNOW isn't in there (for example, the shirt that you are wearing). We could also leave out anything that we know to be non-existent, like the real Luke Skywalker's actual lightsabre.

Even cutting as many corners as possible, it's going to be an extremely long list. And we're not even counting all the things in the universe that might fit, but we've never even heard of.

For sake of argument, let's say it has 1 million entries on it (though if you think about it, there are very likely MORE than a million different things that can fit in a 1' space). But let's say a million.

Now how many of those million things are live baby chipmunks? The answer is: one in a million. And so that is the odds that your guess is correct: one in a million. So it's clear that in this thought experiment it takes much more of a leap to believe your guess than it does to reject it.

Is the question of God's existence similar enough to the question "what's in the box" to make this thought experiment apt? The answer is yes.

Christian theologians try to improve their odds by dishonestly trimming down the list of alternatives, or by dishonestly re-defining the Christian god so that he won't get trimmed from anybody else's list.

Generally speaking, conservative theologians brush off the god claims of all other religions as if they were irrelevant (despite the fact that nobody ever proved that Osiris, Thor, Kuan-Yin, Allah, etc. don't exist, either), while liberal theologians claim that "all gods are the same god". The goal shared is to trim the choices down to TWO: "he either exists or he doesn't", so that they can claim at least a 50/50 change of being right.

The other thing they BOTH do is incrementally deprive their god of characteristics which earlier Christians attributed to him, but which now no longer fit. Christians used to believe that God lived in a Heaven that was in the sky within our own universe, but now (due to the evidence gathered by telescopes) they've moved him off into another plane of existence. This would be like a person who claimed that the box contained a bowling ball - and then when the box is weighed and found to be too light, they claim they meant it was a styrofoam bowling ball all along. Changing your guess while claiming it's still the same guess (the way that Christians claim they're still talking about the same god, even though they've changed so many of the details of his description) is CHEATING.

In fact, the Christian god is only one entry on a long list of creator gods of all the religions that ever existed (hundreds, if not thousands), not to mention alternatives such as "the universe was created by intelligent aliens", "the universe is an illusion", several competing formulations of Big Bang cosmology, and an indeterminate number of other possibilities that nobody ever thought of yet.

The only fair and honest way to figure out these mysteries is to give each possibility a fair hearing, and then if it turns out to violate the evidence - or to have no evidence in its favor in the first place - you strike it from the list. What's left is worthy of serious consideration. This process is called science, and this is why the Big Bang theory trumps Creationism. It's not that it's impossible that the Big Bang might be wrong. It's that the Big Bang still deserves its place on the list of possibilities worth considering.

2 Comments:

At 12:04 PM, Blogger shortestleap said...

What evidence do you have that God should give you irrefutable evidence for His existence? You are basically saying that if God exists, He should give you 100% proof of His existence, such that it would be impossible for you to deny His existence. The consequence of this is that you would be stripped of your free will to choose or not choose Him. (Christians believe that God doesn't force us to believe in Him because to do so would mean we come to Him out of obligation rather than real love.) So, the only type of God you'd believe in is a God that is a puppeteer who makes you His puppet. And if you think that having 100% certain evidence of God's existence wouldn't strip you of your free will (which you are free to believe even though it's quite illogical!), you are basing this assumption on not a single shred of evidence either. You have no more proof for atheism than theists have for theism. You are basing your entire view of reality on an assumption (that only things that we can detect using science really exist), and this view of reality is your religion. You try to disguise it as "secularism" or "science" but it's just another religious view of the world. And you are basing your eternal destiny on this unprovable assumption. Very scary!

There are many good books by intellectually honest and scientific people that support the view of there being a God. Please take a good look at the evidence in God's favor before you dismiss it entirely just because you don't want to believe in God. It could be a huge mistake in the long run to cling to your secular religion.

By the way, if God exists, He is much more than a baby chipmunk and the analogy is poor. Once you determine that your assumption that there is no God is as much a leap of faith as the belief there is a god or gods, then you can use rational evidence rooted in science, archaeology, history, and other fields to determine what kind of God or gods He, she or they are. Our understanding of God is catching up to the Bible – just because humans change their opinions of where God lives doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

"What evidence do you have that God should give you irrefutable evidence for His existence?"

None, of course - because I have no evidence that your god exists in the first place. And neither do you.

"You are basically saying that if God exists, He should give you 100% proof..."

My blog entry, to which you are responding, says nothing of the kind - nor does the argument it makes require such an assertion.

"The consequence of this is that you would be stripped of your free will to choose or not choose Him."

This is a very common excuse offered by believers, and like most of the excuses you people make, it's absolutely moronic. I'd be justified in ignoring it, since free will has nothing to do with the blog entry you're criticising. But it's *so* common and *so* stupid, I feel ethically bound to refute it - for the sake of humanity. So here we go:

The fact that the Earth is (roughly) round, rather than flat, has been established with 100% certainty. According to your "reasoning", it should be IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to deny the Earth's roundness.

But in fact, there ARE some people who deny that the Earth is round. They even have a web site:

http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/

These people remain free to reject the Round Earth Theory, despite the fact that the evidence is 100% certain. Ergo, 100% certain evidence is NOT an impediment to free will - and never has been. You can be excused for making this argument out of ignorance. But now that you KNOW it isn't true, you will be a LIAR if you ever say it again.

"You have no more proof for atheism than theists have for theism."

Actually, I do. For example, I have the thought experiment described in the very blog entry you're criticising - which demonstrates that it is more sensible to reject claims devoid of evidence than to accept them. Strangely, rather than refute the actual thought experiment, you've gone off on this bizarre and irrelevant (not to mention idiotic) tangent about free will.

"You are basing your entire view of reality on an assumption (that only things that we can detect using science really exist)..."

No I'm not. I have no problem with the idea that some things may exist which science cannot detect. The problem I *do* have is that you believers have yet to provide any reliable and independently verifiable means of detecting such things. Ergo, all such things are "unknown", even IF they happen to actually exist. That is nearly the point of my post - the post you're supposedly criticising, but which you've yet to actually address.

"You try to disguise it as "secularism" or "science" but it's just another religious view of the world."

That all depends on how you define "religion". But whatever the definition, science can actually *prove* the things that it claims. Whereas *your* way of doing things, which we BOTH agree is definitely a religion, cannot. Isn't that what really pisses you off?

"There are many good books by intellectually honest and scientific people that support the view of there being a God."

Yes, there are. But not one of those books manages to actually prove that he exists.

"It could be a huge mistake in the long run to cling to your secular religion."

If you're referring to your religion's "Hell", I must remind you that nobody ever proved that IT exists, either. Trying to scare people with a threat of eternal torment *that you cannot even prove* is one of the more despicable things that you believers do.

"By the way, if God exists, He is much more than a baby chipmunk and the analogy is poor."

FINALLY, three paragraphs in, you get around to saying something directly about the thought experiment my post described.

Unfortunately, it just demonstrates that you don't understand what I was saying. I'm *not* comparing your god to a baby chipmunk.

The box is a metaphor for the mystery of the universe's existence. All of the things that might be in the box are metaphors for all of the things that "might" answer that mystery. The baby chipmunk is only one of a million or more things that might be in the box, and your god is only one of the million or more things that might account for the universe's existence. Without evidence, there is no reason to "believe" that the chipmunk IS in the box, and there is no reason to believe that your god IS the answer to the universe's existence. Get it?

"Once you determine that your assumption that there is no God is as much a leap of faith as the belief there is a god or gods..."

What's going to get me to that determination? My thought experiment demonstrates it is LESS of a leap of faith to refrain from belief in one unproven claim among many, than to believe it.

"...just because humans change their opinions of where God lives doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist."

It's not the clincher, but it *is* evidence that believers are full of shit when they claim that "faith" or "revelation" provides evidence of the existence of supernatural things the way science does about natural things. Because if personal faith or diving revelation WORKS, then how the heck do you explain how wildly wrong the beliefs of the earliest believers were?

-Jeff Dee

 

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