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ETpro's avatar

What's wrong with Pascal's Wager?

Asked by ETpro (34490points) May 7th, 2010

French philosopher and thinker Blaise Pascal freely admitted there was no evidence for the existence of God. But he insisted one would be wise to bet on God’s existence anyway, and be a Christian. His reason was that if you place such a wager and win, you win everlasting life. If it turns out there really is no god, you lose nothing.

Now, on the other hand should you bet on Atheism and win, you win nothing but if you turn out to be wrong, you suffer eternal damnation for your mistake.

So, Pascal’s logic was it is a wager in which you have everything to win and nothing to lose. Now forget for the moment whether Jesus would accept you as a true disciple simply because you coldly chose to hedge your bets. Let us, for sake of discussion, allow that it is a given that Pascal’s Wager will work. What then is the logical error in his thought? Or is he absolutely right?

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199 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Isn’t that pretend belief? And God would know the difference, no?

ETpro's avatar

@jaytkay Yes, it is. And at that, it assumes you actually can pretend to believe things. I can’t do that. I believe what I believe. I can’t decide to believe something I see no reason to believe. But I exempted that challenge in the question. I said let’s assume for purpose of discussion that his wager will work.

ragingloli's avatar

The big massive error in his thought was that he assumed that if there is a god, it must be the abrahamic one. He completely ignored the fact that there are thousands of equally likely gods worshipped throughout history all over the world.

Sarcasm's avatar

Pascal’s Wager deals with a binary value. Belief: Yes or no.
The problem is when you choose to factor in a specific religion.
It’s not a 50/50 of you being right about Christianity. Because you have to factor in Judaism, and Islam, and Hinduism, Buddhism, Wiccanism, so on and so forth.
And then you have to factor in all of the denominations of those. The Christian ideas of a Presbyterian will be different from the Christian ideas of Wesboro Baptist Church.

So it’s not 50/50. It’s more like 1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/1/........ etc.

ETpro's avatar

@ragingloli Great. Makes sense.

@Sarcasm Makes even more sense.

netgrrl's avatar

If there is a God, and only those who are “morally good” will enter, than an atheist has just as much chance as a Christian, being no more or less morally good.

I’d rather have the strength of my convictions and be wrong than go through life paying lip service to a god who can surely see through my actions. What good will that do me?

Ivan's avatar

1. It assumes that you can force yourself to believe something.
2. It assumes that living a Christian life costs you nothing, when in fact it requires many sacrifices.
3. The same can be applied to every other deity. If I told you that believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn would bring you eternal happiness, wouldn’t it be safer to just accept her?

whitenoise's avatar

@saracasm “1/1/1/1/1/1/.... etc” still is 1/1 or 100%. Not sure whether that’s what you meant, though

whitenoise's avatar

It fails in two ways:
1) As described above the chances are not equal for chosing the right belief versus atheism.
2) Believeing is not a no-cost option. For instance: if it is a false choice, it shields you from truly understanding the meaning of your life and if that’s the the only life you have, then that is a hefty cost. Religion comes with all kinds of rules, guidelines and dogmas that also form a cost and may very well negatively impact the only life you have. (Ask the religion-driven suicide bomber.)

Sarcasm's avatar

@whitenoise Oh. All I meant was, instead of being 50/50, you know 50% chance that there’s no god, 50% there is a god…
It’s 1% that there’s no god, 1% chance that Islam is right, 1% chance that Hinduism is right, 1% chance for Theravada Buddhism, 1% chance for Mahayana Buddhism, 1% chance for Catholic, 1% WBC Christian, 1% Presbyterian, 1% Wiccan, so on and so forth.

But even to divide it to 1% each, would be to say there are a total of 100 possibilities, which is a gross over simplification of the variety of spiritualities of Humans.

jerv's avatar

I am with @Sarcasm here; it’s an either/or proposition that doesn’t take other options into account. For instance, what if God exists but is different than you thought and feels that the way you worshiped Him was worthy of an express ticket to the land of brimstone? Pascal didn’t take that possibility onto account!

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

God appears to pretty picky about his branding. Call him by the wrong name and use the wrong set of literature and presto! you get packed off to the same place as the atheists when it comes time for the afterlife.

Fyrius's avatar

A lot of excellent replies have been given already. :)

I have another thought to add: you can apply this “logic” to a whole lot of other ideas. My favourite is tinfoil hat conspiracies.

You can wear a tinfoil hat, or not. There might exist a conspiracy of people who can interface with your brain from a distance by means of radiation unknown to science that can be blocked by tinfoil, or not.
If you wear a tinfoil hat, you either avert a grand danger, or you look silly. If you don’t, you either look non-silly, or people will read your mind and manipulate your thoughts.

So why aren’t you wearing one, then?

Actually, all those gods are different specifications of “believe”, so if you say “believe/don’t believe” is 50/50 (which it isn’t, of course, but let’s say it is), then there’s 50% probability of no god, and there’s 50% probability of some god, of which 1% probability of Jehovah, 1% of Allah, 1% of Vishnu, 1% of Zeus, 1% of Odin… assuming there are only 50 possible gods.

On that subject, since gods are made of incomprehensible magic anyway, there are infinitely many possible gods, which means the probability of any particular of them is one over infinity. Edit: I see you already hinted at this, more or less.

Those possible gods include gods who will punish you for not believing in them, but also gods who will punish you for believing in them. Or for anything else, such as lying, being a capitalist, pronouncing the word “whip” funny, having a name that starts with a Z, breathing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, or never having tied a knot into a live rattle snake.

You can’t base decisions on hypothetical beings who might punish you for picking option X, and then ignore the hypothetical beings who might punish you for not picking option X.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Pascal didn’t take into account the fact that an omniscient deity would see right through his ploy and condemn him anyway. He’s also not allowing for what particular creed this deity prefers; what if God is a Rastafarian and hates all other flavors of worship?

What all-powerful being would feel insecure enough to demand worship from the likes of us? Do we demand that ants worship us?

wonderingwhy's avatar

Yes, yes, it’s all fine and dandy until you actually lay your bet and realize your still just guessing in the dark.

….............God Exists…......God Doesn’t Exist

Faith…......assumption…...... assumption of your
.................of god’s will…...... life and its meaning

No Faith….assumption…...... assumption of your
.................of god’s will…...... life and its meaning

(There must be a better way to make tables???)

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius That infinity problem is the ultimate downfall of Pascal’s proof by prejudice. His prejudice was that the Christian God is “obviously” the only possible God, or only one worthy of any serious consideration. But clearly, that has no basis in fact, and more than Zeus or Odin or Jupiter or Allah does. And while there could be an infinite number of Gods that don’t care a hoot what you call them, there can also be an infinite number who care intensely and will damn all to eternal suffering who ever mispronounce their name.

That said, he slips the tinfoil hat back on. Can’t bee too careful, you know. Eh? Lead foil hat? Oh my GOd! How many materials must I consider for shielding?

filmfann's avatar

Pascal’s wager doesn’t work. You must believe with your heart. God knows the difference between real faith and just going thru the steps.

Silhouette's avatar

I believe God would be less likely to smite your ass if you had the courage of your convictions and lived an honest religious free life opposed to a chickenshit, hedge your bets cowardly, life. I know I would forgive the honest mistake a hell of a lot faster than I would the weasley lie.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro You forgot the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn ;)

Rarebear's avatar

In the words of my rabbi—“What does God care whether you believe in him or not?”

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius The problem with your example is that you can’t ascribe a value of negative infinity to brain control from aliens. Thus, as long as I feel the probability of alien mind control is small enough, I won’t wear one since I don’t want to look silly.

Aside from the other good answers here, especially about false belief and the fact that Pascal only considered two options, I’d point out one more. Pascal uses a decision making metric called “maximize expected utility” (MEU). (In fact, I’ve heard that it was apparently invented in Pascal’s wager, but I don’t know if thats true). What it says is that if you have to decide between choices A and B, you say calculate the expected utility of each choice and pick the better one. So lets say you were to choose A. If you choose A, one of three things could happen (X, Y and Z) with probabilities of u, v and w. So:
EU(A) = u * X + v * Y + w * Z

And similarly for EU(B). If EU(A) > EU(B) choose A, else choose B. (If they are equal, flip a coin or whatever).

One huge problem with MEU is that it has trouble with very low probability outcomes that have very big (positive or negative) utilities. E.g. say you have to decide between one of two games:

Game 1: You get $1.00
Game 2: You have a .000001% chance of getting $100,000,000.00

MEU considers these two games to be the same, but clearly they are not.

In Pascal’s wager, he is doing this in the ultimate sense, at least if you think the probability of god existing is vanishingly small, which I think many atheists would.

talljasperman's avatar

“If it turns out there really is no god, you lose nothing”
....I would choose to belive what I belive in because to belive otherwise would be living a lie… and you would be in your own personal hell.

ETpro's avatar

@Silhouette My attitude exactly. I am placing my wager on living the most moral life I can and marveling at the granduer and wonder of the universe. If there is a God, I hope that is sufficiently pleasing to the diety. If not, I will have made the most out of the one life I was given to live.

@roundsquare Great additional consideration. Thanks so much. You are quite right. Now again, what metal foil works best to protect me from those pesky Sententia rays? It is so hard to tell, because they cannot be detected by any means known to science. And which looks silly helps not at all. All my foil hats look about equally silly.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

It’s a cowardly way to live.

Nullo's avatar

That’s the hollow kind of Christianity, and it’s not worth much.

The other problem, one that I would have thought that Pascal would have caught, is that the wager doesn’t account for the various religions: how do you know which one to fake?

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo Yes, quite true. But that was set aside as a consideration in the question.

zophu's avatar

It’s only a good bet if you’ve already lost faith in Humanity. Do you think the whole damnation/salvation idea would have ever caught on in a community that wasn’t’ desperate to begin with? (Or made desperate while the idea was being introduced?) You really have to have no respect for the value and strength that human life represents to even begin to accept the idea of all of us being subject to an omnipotent intelligence.

This belief exists only because it has been encouraged and maintained by rulers who benefit from the subservient behavior it sets as a standard in society. Nature alone would not permit a community that gave up its strength and dropped to its knees to somehow prove it’s worthiness of not being condemned.

So my point is, if one is psychologically capable of believing in an omnipotent intelligence, faith in human intelligence must have already been forsaken. And that is the most dangerous unhealth for a population, for if you’ve given up yourselves collectively, eventually your rulers will be done with you and you’ll face nature directly. Poof! Rapture.

Seek's avatar

It’s just too damned confusing trying to figure out whether I should follow “Thou shalt not kill” or “Sacrifice the virgin to me, or the sun will fall from the sky”.

ETpro's avatar

@zophu Well said.

@Seek_Kolinahr Which horse to bet on.

bea2345's avatar

A close relative has just died and I sincerely believe he was a born again Christian. He did not speak in tongues, etc. but his life was a model to follow. (He was Anglican). From severe and dreadful suffering he emerged the kind of person you would expect Christ to be. My point being? he lived his life as if God was a real presence to him. If there is no objective being, omnipotent, omnipresent, then to whom was my cousin praying? And why did this worship change his life so fundamentally?

Rarebear's avatar

As a corollary to the question, you can ask “If you’re an atheist, will you be locked out of Heaven if you’re wrong?”

As an atheist, I say that if I am wrong, and in order for me to go to party I have to be in the club before I die, then that’s a club I want nothing to do with.

Nullo's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr At no point does God accept human sacrifice.
@Rarebear The Christian enters by the door. The non-Christian tries to find a door in the wall. The atheist doesn’t even bother.
John Bunyan did a much better job outlining the business. You can read it here.

ETpro's avatar

@bea2345 First my sincere condolences at the loss of your friend. If that is the case, I honestly hope there is a God and a heaven and that your friend’s exemplary life has secured his place therein. But the claim that prayer and a changed life demonstrates the truth of the God you are praying to is patently absurd. If it were so, then this partial list of dieties that are the ALL the one true God: Osiris, Zeus, Jupiter, Yazata, Bhagwan, Chukotka, Yuanshi Tianzun, Lingbao Tianzun, Daode Tianzun, Waheguru, Yahweh, God, Allah, Bahá, Shangdi, Shen and Tian because people prayed to each of them and changed the way they behaved in accordance with their requirements.

However none of them are exactly the same as any other one. Each requires that you only pray to them, and each requires a somewhat different prayer and life.

zophu's avatar

@bea2345 When you think about your close relative, do you first consider how he now exists in heaven and what he did in life to get there; or do you think about the things he did in life that made a difference to others besides himself? Obviously, you think of both; but do you see the difference in value between the two? Do you equate them with eachother?

jerv's avatar

@Nullo That is a matter of interpretation. Religion aside, you have to admit that there are some crazy, fucked up people out there who believe all sorts of stuff.
Also, it could be argued that by locking Atheists out that either God is not all-loving in which case, you must wonder what else Christianity is wrong about or that God is such an ass-hat that you really don’t want to be in Heaven.
My feelings are that we don’t and can’t really know enough about the nature of any form of higher power anyways so just believe whatever gets you through the day and we’ll see who (if anyone) is right in the end.

Fyrius's avatar

“At no point does God accept human sacrifice.”
Well, that’s just it. As you already mentioned yourself, how can we know? There have been plenty of postulated gods that do accept human sacrifice. How can we tell true gods and false gods apart?
And as a matter of fact, even the canonical Jehovah has accepted one human sacrifice.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Certainly that can be seen as an exception, no? After all, as Christians would have it, Jesus was sent down expressly for that purpose.

Seek's avatar


Which god?

Quezalcoatl specifically demanded the blood and hearts of slaves taken in battle.
Baal demanded human sacrifice.
The Celtic peoples sacrificed humans when the crops failed.

Rarebear's avatar

@Nullo Exodus 4:23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’”

bea2345's avatar

@ETpro demonstrates the truth of the God you are praying to… is patently absurd- Well, that is true, But my cousin was neither deluded nor hallucinating. I have to believe that he had something that I don’t, and may never have: an assurance that God exists, loves all men and has a plan for everybody. How one is born again I have not the slightest idea, but I have seen it in my cousin’s life and conduct. I have read about it happening to other people – C.S. Lewis, for example. There is no way I could agree with the proposition, “There is no God” just because there is no objective proof of his/its/her existence. My position is that of the disciple who said, “Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief.”

@zophu – good question. I mostly dwell on the things he did. Ordinary things, like driving his elderly parents to church every Sunday, being active in services, mostly voluntary, for troubled men – he worked with a charity that counsels deportees, former convicts, – people whose lives are awry. He knew his own limitations and never promised something he could not deliver. His voluntary work took up nearly all his spare time – he was a government employee – but he could find time for socialising with family and friends. The thing is, he was ordinary in one way – he was a man, with the likes and weaknesses of all men. But in another was he was extraordinary – the way he could listen to clients with understanding and sympathy; he gave advice only when asked and he was always on point. What can I say? in every sense of that much used phrase, he was a “good man.” If there is a Heaven, that is where he is.

ETpro's avatar

@bea2345 Those who prayed to the long but rather truncated list of other Gods I provided felt that same sense of relief. Pick a god, any god. One seems to work as well as the next. If there really is a god, and if that god wishes to be prayed to in only a certain name, and in olny a certain way, then most of humanity has experienced the peace brought by prayer only as a placebo effect. They have been deluded, and prayed to a false god. If there is no god, or if there is one that doesn’t care how we pray or what name we appeal to, then all of us are fine so long as we live a moral life, and those who sin will not be saved by their prayers.

bea2345's avatar

@ETpro – the truth is more complicated than that. My own thinking is that the born again phenomenon is extremely rare. I am not impressed by the speaking in tongues or the fits experienced at revivals. What impresses me about born again people is the complete turnaround of their lives, whether they were Hindu, Muslim, Christian, animist, or just plain nothing. There must be something out there, no matter what name you give it.

ETpro's avatar

@bea2345 I do not accept that “there must be something out there.” I think it is fair to conclude that there must be something going on, but are we seeing the magical, transformative power of God or the perfectly natural transformative power of the human mind driven by an overpowering belief?

We see the same sort of transformation occur in people that join cults like Scientology, and I am fairly confident that, despite his many interesting abilities, L. Ron Hubbard was not God Almighty. I am also sure he is now dead, but the snake oil he concocted still has its intended placebo effect without his even being around to magically make it happen.

Rarebear's avatar

@bea2345 You wrote: “There is no way I could agree with the proposition, “There is no God” just because there is no objective proof of his/its/her existence.”

That’s funny, because that’s PRECISELY why I don’t believe in God.

roundsquare's avatar

@Rarebear But a lack of evidence isn’t proof that something doesn’t exist. (Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns, etc…, blah).

Given the lack of evidence either way, all we can do is say “I don’t know” and either keep searching or drop it. (Personally, I’m going to keep searching).

Rarebear's avatar

@roundsquare OK. There’s no evidence that there’s not really a tooth fairy, ghosts, elves, or fairies either. To me God is of the same level of evidence.

roundsquare's avatar

@Rarebear Hey, the invisible, undetectable massless dragon in my garage disagrees.

In any event, I agree with you. I misread your statement as “thats why I believe there is no god” as opposed to “thats why I believe there is a god.” Note to self: Caffeine first, Fluther second.

Rarebear's avatar

@roundsquare You have a dragon too?
To be clear, I am an atheist. I believe in nothing that has no evidence. There is no empirical evidence for God, so I don’t believe in God.

roundsquare's avatar

@Rarebear Yeah, he likes hip hop and pizza.
Sorry, but I’m about to get pedantic here. Do you:
A) Believe there is definitely not a god?
B) Believe we just don’t have proof of a good?

I know atheist usually means A, but I want to confirm. Because to believe A, you need some proof.

We don’t have proof that there are aliens flying around Alpha Centuri, but we don’t have proof that they aren’t either. So, if someone asked me for my opinion I’d say something like “it seems unlikely but I can’t be sure.” The, “it seems unlikely part is based on what I know about physics and biology. Its unlikely for life to have evolved to a point where they can fly around planets and have done so in a place/time that such that they can get to Alpha Centuri (given that one can’t travel faster thant he speed of light).

As for the existence of god, I don’t have any really relevant knowledge to say its likely or unlikely.

So, if you believe in A, I ask you, why. A lack of evidence isn’t sufficient reason, you need evidence against the existence of god. I.e. “if god existed, things wouldn’t be like this (or unlikely to be like this), but they are.”

Rarebear's avatar

I assume in B) you meant “god” not “good.”

I’m a B. (Richard Dawkins is a “B” too, by the way)
I agree with everything you wrote.

I would rephrase your B) to say: I believe that if there is a god, then that god should be a scientifically provable phenomenon. Until I see that proof I will be an atheist. That’s more akin to my position.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear I believe exactly what you do, but self identify as an agnostic because the dictionary definition of atheist is:
...Pronunciation: \ˈā-thē-ist\
...Function: noun
...Date: 1551 who believes that there is no deity

Seek's avatar

For the record, would call myself an “AB”, because I do not claim the existence of a deity or deities, but would be willing to alter my position if empirical evidence to the contrary were presented. I think most atheists would agree. One does not have to stare at evidence and say “nope, still don’t buy it” to be an atheist.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro I self identify as an atheist because like I said I don’t believe in anything that has no evidence. I don’t believe in trolls, goblins, or unicorns either. COULD they exist? Maybe. But until I see evidence, I lack belief.

roundsquare's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I feel that A and B are mutually exclusive.

Here’s another example. Someone was murdered. You have no evidence about the killer. Someone says, for no good reason, maybe it was roundsquare. Do you:
A) Believe it wasn’t roundsquare because there is no evidence that it was him.
B) Say it wasn’t roundsquare.

As for your last type of person, someone who sees evidence but still doesn’t believe it, I’d create a new type:
C) Someone who ignores evidence.

As per @ETpro‘s definitions, I’d say an atheist is always an A. They can still claim that they might be swayed by evidence, but at the moment, they say “there is no deity.”

Also, @ETpro – what you are saying is not being an agnostic. An agnostic is someone who says “we can’t know.” You can be a theist-agnostic, or an atheist agnostic. But being an agnostic has nothing to do with your religious beliefs, it has to do with what you think can actually be known.

roundsquare's avatar

@Rarebear I’d say your more an open-minded A than a B.

I’m a B. If someone asked me, “Is there a god?” I’d just shrug.

Fyrius's avatar

At the risk of out-pedanting you, and with the knowledge that I’m stating the obvious, I’d like to interject here that there’s also the option to “believe there is probably no god”. I suppose this is more or less what you meant by B, but I think it deserved to be made a bit more explicit. It also seems to be what @Rarebear was thinking of.
With that said, this option – lets call it option C for convenience – represents a broad continuum of probabilities, whereas option A represents one point infinitely close to but just outside that continuum on one end. Probably can refer to a probability of 0,500001, or of 0,999999, or anything in between; definitely can only refer to 1.

In my case, then, I believe there is probably no god, where probably refers to an estimated probability of roughly 0,95. A number I just made up, that refers only to my subjective feeling of certainty.
That assessment is based on lack of evidence, but also on how complex even the simplest possible version of the idea must be never mind the canonical versions, and the fact that it’s fundamentally at odds with some well-supported aspects of our understanding the universe.

Another note, on not believing things without evidence:
If there is no evidence for an assertion, I believe the estimated probability should be below 0,5, and the exact number should correspond to how complex the assertion is; for example, without any proof, the probability that there’s someone walking past the front door of this building as I write this is higher than the probability that there’s a man with a hat walking past the front door as I write this, because that would be more specific.
Similarly the probability of aliens at Alpha Centauri can’t be the same as the probability of a god existing. Neither of them is certainly true nor certainly false, but that’s the only thing they have in common, and it doesn’t count for all that much.

roundsquare's avatar

tl;dr version: I’m pedantic. No evidence either way must leave us at 50/50. Occam’s Razor may not be appropriate in this case.

@Fyrius No one can out pedantic me!

Yes, what you are saying is true. Usually though, I don’t think people are in the vague zones. As in, “I guess there’s a 25% chance of god existing.” Thats why I tend not to go into that. But…

I’d say I’m squarely at 50/50. Why? Lets go to the Alpha Centuri dragon example:
I’d say here that the probability is very low. Despite not being a cosmologies, astrophysicist or evolutionary biologist, I know a bit about each topic. Also, I know that dragons are creatures humans imagined. As a result, I’d say its very unlikely that there is a create like what we imagined on a start that just happens to be the one closest to us. If it were there, it’d have to either have come about in that vicinity (unlikely) or from elsewhere (probably near another star, which will be far away) and flown there (unlikely given the distance between star and the limit of traveling less than the speed of light). So, based on what I know, I’d say the probability is close to 0. Not technically 0, but 10^-100 (or so).

The point is that I know relevant information.

Now lets turn to god. Briefly, I’ll define god as an intelligence (perhaps somehow embodied in something) that created the universe. Lets toss out all the other stuff about love, etc… I think what I’ve said is close to a very basic definition of god.

So, I know the universe exists. And I know it follows some rules, or appears to at any rate. Also, I know various other facts about people, math, etc… but most of these don’t seem to have any relevance on the question “is there an intelligence who created the universe?” I can try to argue that rules wouldn’t have come about without an intelligence, but in reality, we don’t know anything about anything “outside” our universe (if that statement makes any sense) and so I really don’t know. I can easy imagine an intelligence who created the universe and now stands back, one who farted out the universe and doesn’t realize or that the universe came about randomly. Maybe even 10303034309309390334093 years the universe resets to some new set of rules. I don’t know. Also, I don’t trust my instincts because our instincts evolved for survival on earth. Even on the question “how far away is the third nearest star” I wouldn’t trust my instincts, so I certainly won’t trust it on things even more far removed from our daily lives.

So, how can I deviate from 50/50? I don’t get it…

To some degree, I think being an atheist (lets saying believing Pr(god) < 10%) is something of a social response. You see people believing in various specific gods for no rational reason and therefore people go the opposite way and say “there is no god.” You and the other people here might well have a good reason to be an atheist, but this is just a general observation.


To your other note.

There’s two different things in your statement so I’m getting a bit confused. With the guy walking past your door, you are correct that the hat guy walking past is less likely than any guy walking past. This is because (here I’m using a—> b to mean “if a than b”):
hat guy walking past—> guy walking past
But its not true that:
guy walking past—> hat guy walking past

a—> b means Pr(a) <= Pr(b) (Note: <= is “less than or equal to”).

So I don’t see how this logic works with aliens and god. Neither of these are true:
god—> aliens
alines—> god

So you can’t apply the logic directly.

You mentioned complexity. Is this an appeal to Occam’s Razor? If so, normally I love Occam’s Razor, but again, its based on our experience, so I don’t know that I trust it in this case.

Seek's avatar


I see. I will admit, in my own mind, I omitted the word “just” from (B).

If we don’t have a god, then there will be no proof of a god. If there is a god, there should be proof, as it is illogical to assert the existence of something created in the mind of man without hard evidence – much the same way that I don’t believe the Valar sang the world into existence, even though I’ve read Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”. The sheer number of people who delude themselves into believing words written on a page does not count toward the validity of the assertion.

Thus, since I have no proof, there is no god. If proof were presented, then I would logically change my position to fit the new data.

Fyrius's avatar

Long epistemological treatise approaching. Brace for impact.

Surely there is relevant information we have that bears on the existence of “an intelligence that created the universe”. For starters, we know a great deal about intelligences. One of the things we know about intelligence is that in the known universe, only humans have it and all inanimate things don’t. We know intelligences don’t grow on trees, so to speak. We know intelligence requires a physical brain or equivalent, and either a long evolutionary history or – in theory – another intelligence to write it. We still have people working hard on artificial intelligence. As far as I know, nobody has managed yet.
More on this below.

“So, how can I deviate from 50/50? I don’t get it…”
Good question. The tl;dr version of the answer is: burden of proof.

If I flip a coin and don’t tell you the outcome, then without evidence the probability of heads is 50–50 or 0,5 to you. What sets that example apart from most other cases is that there are only two possibilities – heads and tails, where not-heads = tails and not-tails = heads – and that neither of those requires more conditions to be met than the other. Both scenarios are equally complex. Neither option deserves the burden of proof more than the other.

But in our case, we’re talking about “it was a god” versus “it was anything other than a god”.
For starters, “it was a god” and “it was a Big Bang” are not mutually exclusive. In fact, if our standards are loose enough to include a god as an option – a being that defies our understanding, whose nature and abilities are not constrained by any rules we know of – then those standards would allow literally anything, and therefore anything is what the god hypothesis has to compete with. This includes “it was a committee of tap-dancing snakes” and “it just happened, for no reason at all”.
So, disregarding complexity as a factor, if all options were equally valid then the probability of “it was a god” would be one divided by infinity.
Including complexity as a factor rules out a lot of possible explanations more complicated than “it was a god”, but as I already hinted at, “it was a god” is still hardly the simplest explanation we could have come up with. It sounds simple, because everyone is already familiar with the notion “god”. But remember we’re talking about an intelligence, which is allegedly not the product of any physical system, that just “was there” apparently without any history of coming into existence, that has the power to create universes, that has the intelligence to create universes, and that had the intention to create a universe.
Every detail decreases the probability of the explanation.
More on this below.

So, all taken together, the probability that a god did it is quite a bit lower than 0,5.
In fact it’s lower than 0,05. My 0,95 probability estimation that there are no gods is only that low in order to modestly accomodate for the possibility that I made an error in my reasoning. Assuming I didn’t, it would be over 0,99.

“To some degree, I think being an atheist (lets saying believing Pr(god) < 10%) is something of a social response. You see people believing in various specific gods for no rational reason and therefore people go the opposite way and say “there is no god.” You and the other people here might well have a good reason to be an atheist, but this is just a general observation.”
To some degree, I think you’re right. The popularity of atheism is definitely influenced by social factors.
But in this thread, let’s stick to the theoretical business and leave out the politics.

Continued in the next post.

Fyrius's avatar

I’m posting this as a new post because I think it’s something more people should consider, who would otherwise tl;dr the whole thing.

“To your other note.”
Well, the “if-then” connection is a good point I hadn’t even thought of yet, but you’re missing a generalisation that can be made. “Guy with hat passes” is less likely than “someone passes” not only because “guy with hat passes” -> “someone passes”, but also because it’s more specific in its own right.

An intuitive explanation of Ockham’s Razor:

Let’s compare these two examples instead.

1. There is a woman walking past the front door of this building.

2. There is a man with brown hair and brown eyes whose name starts with an S walking past the front door of this building.

In these cases, 2 does not imply 1, but still it’s easy to see that 2 is less probable than 1, simply because 2 is more specific. There are more requirements that have to be met in order for 1 to be true.
1 can be broken down into “a person passes” and “the person is a woman”. 2 can be broken down into “a person passes” and “the person is a man” and “the person has brown hair” and “the person has brown eyes” and “the person’s name starts with an S”.
The point is that every single one of these parts has to be true in order for 2 to be true; if even one of them is false, 2 is false, even if Zacharias did pass at exactly the right moment and his hair and eyes are as brown as you’ll ever find any. 1 has less parts than 2, therefore the truth conditions for 1 are more permissive than those for 2, therefore 1 is more likely to be true than 2.

Further reading: Burdensome Details

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear There is a subtle difference between the dictionary definition of an atheist, “one who believes that there is no diety” and your self description “one who doesn’t believe that there is a diety”.

@roundsquare The reason I so often post dictionary definitions is that words get sloppy and clear communication becomes difficult when each of us start ignoring the dictionary and telling others what we “think” the word means. That’s why I posted the definition I was using for atheist in discussing it with @Rarebear. Now let’s look at what the dictionary says agnostic means:
....Main Entry: 1ag·nos·tic
....Pronunciation: \ag-ˈnäs-tik, əg-\
....Function: noun
....Etymology: Greek agnōstos unknown, unknowable, from a- + gnōstos known, ....from gignōskein to know — more at know
....Date: 1869
....1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
....2 : a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something <political agnostics>
— ag·nos·ti·cism \-tə-ˌsi-zəm\ noun

The definition regarding theism is number one, and that is what I am using. I see no reason that I need abandon that definition for myself, as it describes my position quite well. I do not at all agree that there is any credible evidence there is no deity. I’d welcome a discussion of that, because if there is and I am unaware of it, I do want to know. I suspect you are drawing on the connotation of the 2nd meaning, which generally applies to beliefs outside theistic circles.

And by the way, I fully agree that despite the definitions and the fact that very few atheists really satisfy the definition of the word when you press on the specifics of their belief. And I would guess the reason to be exactly as you suggest—it’s a reaction to the many people who believe outrageous, self contradictory things about god and hold steadfastly to those beliefs even though there is no evidence to support them and they have had the contradictions called to their attention.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius I look at the conundrum of creation in a more simplistic way. None of the present explanations make any sense to me. All are equally preposterous.

1—God created the universe. Immediately my mind jumps to who created God, or lacking a creator, how could he have existed infinitely long. Why has this God not openly revealed herself to us.

2—The Big bang created the universe. That explains nothing. First there was nothing, and then it exploded? What would cause emptiness to suddenly explode with inconceivable force and produce 100 times the matter/antimatter there is today, but in just the right balance so that when all the antimatter was consumed in annihilating matter, what we have left still remained?

3—First there was a singularity containing 100 times the current mass of the entire universe in a space smaller than a single hydrogen atom, and then it exploded. Same questions as above. Where did all that stuff come from? What wrote the rules of its explosion?

4—Nothing created the universe. It has existed forever. Need I even begin to mention how illogical this is to a finite mind?

roundsquare's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr @Fyrius @ETpro

Lots to think about. I maybe convinced. I’ll respond in full, but still organizing my thoughts.

Just one point on Artificial Intelligence:
“We still have people working hard on artificial intelligence. As far as I know, nobody has managed yet.”

AI gets a lot of mucking up in popular conversation. There is no such thing as someone succeeding in this in the way you think. Its not like there’s something that is intelligence and something that isn’t. Currently AI researchers are making more and more “intelligent” machines in the sense that they can certain things better and learn in more effective ways. These usually happen in limited domains, but that seems to be a limit of techniques as opposed to something fundamental. (Note: I don’t define intelligence, as some people do, as requiring something to think/learn like a human does. Any kind of thinking/learning counts to me. It has to, otherwise aliens that think differently won’t count).

ETpro's avatar

@roundsquare I have no doubt AI will happen. The high-end machines are currently using something in the order of 100 billion neural connections. The human brain contains 100 trillion. We’ll get there. And while I agree that we do not know of any way for intelligence to develop except through biological processes, we also do not know that it can’t. It is even possible that the quantum entanglement of particles in the universe acts as a sort of neural switch, and that the universe itself is intelligent beyond our wildest imagination.

zophu's avatar

People only feel they need to justify their past when they’re lost in the present. That tells you something significant about people who need to hold on to absolute beliefs about humanity’s physical origins.

ETpro's avatar

@zophu We are all lost in the present. Some of us just hold on to absolute beliefs about the past to make themselves feel they aren’t lost in the present. When you push the past back to 13.7 billion years ago and beyond, none of us actually know hat happened.

zophu's avatar

@ETpro Not everyone is lost. There are individuals who have their moments; most have their moments. Civilization is as lost as it’s probably ever been, though, you’re right. And we’re all trapped on top of this new volcano, so I guess there’s no where to go that isn’t lost or soon to be lost. But there’s a little hope somewhere, maybe.

The past is for understanding the present and the future, not for justifying them. The present is justified by the future and the future justifies itself. That’s what’s coming out of my tired brain tonight anyway. What was the topic again? whatever, good night.

ETpro's avatar

@zophu Sorry, you lost me. My brain is tired too. I’m going to let a future of a night’s sleep justify itself.

roundsquare's avatar

@ETpro By AI do you mean consciousness or sentience?

Fyrius's avatar

I don’t like the word “unknowable”.
I think practically everything is knowable to some extent, at least in probabilistic terms. If you think of knowledge not as “certainly yes” or “certainly no” but as a sliding scale of “probablies”, then (relative) knowledge means assigning any probability other than 0.5 to a possibility.
Or when you’re considering several options, any probability distribution where not all possibilities are equally probable.

In this sense I do think the absence of evidence should be considered evidence of absence. It’s not definite proof, but it’s a valid reason to lower the probability of the option that fails to prove itself.

“None of the present explanations make any sense to me. All are equally preposterous.”
I wouldn’t say preposterous. Counter-intuitive, rather, and perhaps illogical, but it seems that for this sort of subject, conventional earth logic does not apply. You can’t talk about the beginning of all time as something that suddenly happened, for example, and there was no emptiness that would later “explode”, when there was no such thing as space.

But I’m not going to pretend I understand this any more than you do. I don’t, not really.
Maybe we should leave it to the theoretical astrophysicists.

“AI gets a lot of mucking up in popular conversation. There is no such thing as someone succeeding in this in the way you think. Its not like there’s something that is intelligence and something that isn’t. Currently AI researchers are making more and more “intelligent” machines in the sense that they can certain things better and learn in more effective ways.”
Duly noted. I stand corrected.

ETpro's avatar

@roundsquare Real AI to me is achieved when a machine becomes fully self aware. That means that it realizes it exists, it begins to consider itself (beoomes self referential), is able to form analogies relating to itself, realizes that it is executing a program, and begins to consider how it might like to reprogram itself.

@Fyrius I fully agree that the absence of evidence is evidence. No feedback is feedback. However, our problem with the origin of the universe is we are completely lacking in evidence. I challenge you to posit a true origin of the universe that doesn’t raise logical impossibilities. A Big Bang just begs the question of what caused it.

No matter how we proceed back in time or what theoretical path we follow toward the origin, we stagger over the required uncaused cause at some point. We can say that God or infinite existence of the universe or a magical something from nothing caused it, but none of those make any sense to a human mind.

It is even likely that so long as our minds are bound up in finite thought, we cannot comprehend the infinite. We know intellectually that infinity must exist, but it is simply too big for us to wrap our thoughts around. Even Albert Einstein found his head exploded when he tried.

Seek's avatar


The Big Bang theory isn’t in any way the be all and end all of the origins of the universe, and it knows that. The Big Bang takes us to the point where our current knowledge and instrumentation prevents further exploration. That’s why it’s still a theory. At the end, we just have to say “This is what we have, and this is what it appears to mean. That’s as far back as our current data takes us.”

Simply not knowing what caused the Big Bang is in no way a reason to jump to “Biblegod did it”.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr My point exactly. The Big Bang certainly appears from available evidence to explain how space-time got here. But it explains absolutely nothing about how the singularity that exploded got here. We have no evidence whatsoever of what created the rules that that singularity played by, or what created it. So claiming there is no evidence for a deity is not evidence there is no deity. There is no evidence for any explanation other than a deity either. We are simply in total darkness about the origin.

Seek's avatar

So claiming there is no evidence for a deity is not evidence there is no deity

That doesn’t even make sense.

We have no evidence to support the existence of a deity, other than the fact that large groups of people over the last several thousand years seem to think that there is one.

It’s not simply a claim that there is no evidence. There is no evidence. We’re begging the believers – please, supply us with evidence. Let us know why you think there is a god. We’d love to know. We still have nothing. We do have evidence that Biblegod doesn’t exist, as when one puts Biblical verses to the test, nothing happens. But then, Biblegod is jealous and irrational, and maybe he just doesn’t like the scientific method.

Since there’s not a single shred of evidence for the deity, there is no logical way you could put the “possible” existence of a deity on the same level of probability as “there may have been a universe prior to ours that collapsed upon itself, and left the mass that became the Big Bang”. One is a hypothesis based on observation and theory, the other is a guess based on hope that many generations of ancestors weren’t wrong.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr It makes perfect sense. We do not rule in or out any possibility when we are utterly lacking in evidence to support any conclusion about something. Before we knew that germs caused disease, we had no evidence that they did. That was certainly no reason to rule germs out. It just meant we should not claim that we ought to rule microbes, or any other explanation in or out. It meant we did not know what caused disease. Only by admitting we don’t know are we likely to keep looking for answers.

I totally agree there isn’t a single shred of evidence for the deity. But I must also note that there isn’t a single shred of evidence for a universe with no beginning and no cause.

The only intellectually honest answer to the “Life, the Universe and Everything.” question is, “We do not know.” We have no evidence whatsoever for or against any theory. Till we do, 42 is as good an answer as any other, and so is God, or an infinitely existing universe or whatever else someone wants to postulate then investigate. We should look into all possible answers, but adopt none, because we do not know which, if any we have proposed, is correct.

We are whores for explanations, we humans. We face an imponderable like “Life, the Universe and everything” and we are staggered by it. It doesn’t feel good to not know. And so we propose another imponderable, be it God or an infinite universe with no beginning, no end, no cause; and we say, “Aha! I have disposed of that nasty imponderable.” We are conveniently forgetting that we used just as nasty an imponderable as our disposal tool.

Seek's avatar


You’re right. From now on, I completely and irrevocably believe the universe is a great, galactic hairball coughed from the Rhinocerous-Skinned Cat Beast of D’daaah. You can’t prove that it’s not.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Ha!> Touche, except that someday, I just might disprove that. You can’t prove that I can’t. :-)

Fyrius's avatar

“I challenge you to posit a true origin of the universe that doesn’t raise logical impossibilities. A Big Bang just begs the question of what caused it.”
I feel honoured to think you consider me up to the task, or up enough to consider this a challenge and not just an insurmountable wall to run into face-first.

Well, it seems clear to me that “what caused it” may be a question you can ask of any earthly phenomenon we ever have to deal with, but not one you could ask of the entirety of existence.
We can tell from the expansion of the universe that it (or at least that part of it that we can see) has most probably not just always existed, but had a beginning. The astrophysicists think that beginning was about fourteen billion years ago. The Big Bang theory seems fairly well-established as an explanation of perhaps not the origin of the universe, but at least of what happened at the beginning.
But as for what triggered this: I’m not sure if the question itself is well-formed to begin with. There was no time before the Big Bang; or in better words, there is simply no such thing as “before” the Big Bang. As such there can’t have been anything that caused it. Well, perhaps there was, but then the same applies to whatever did first start causing stuff.
Is that impossible? I’m not convinced it is.
Again, the law that everything must has a cause is one we only posited because that’s how stuff goes down here and now. But it’s not inconceivable that the very first thing that ever happened, just happened, with no cause. Indeed, in this universe it seems inevitable.

You mention that no existing explanation of the origins of existence makes sense to a human mind. Quite right. I’d like to interject here, though, that the foundations of the human mind are adapted to a hunter-gatherer world where understanding metaphysics counted for bugger all. It’s hardly difficult to explain why the logical systems our evolutionary past provides us with can’t deal with things our ancestors never had to deal with.

I’m not saying the origin of existence is unknowable, but in order to think about it in the right way one would need to drastically rethink logic. Like the field of quantum physics has apparently already started doing.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius I believe you are quite right, but see no inconsistency in what you have stated and in what I have stated. I accept your premise that it is possible that there was no before. However, it seems to me equally possible that there was an everlasting before or that there was a being of pure thought/energy that created all that is. The issue remains that there is not a shred of evidence proving any one of these propositions more likely than the other, or even that those are the only propositions that might apply.

Fyrius's avatar

Good, so we agree about that. That’s nice.
But we don’t about the following.

“However, it seems to me equally possible that there was an everlasting before”
Not in this universe. Perhaps there was a beginning-less proto-universe whose dying breath caused the Big Bang, but there’s scientific confirmation that the universe as we know it had a beginning.
Just sayin’.

“or that there was a being of pure thought/energy that created all that is.”
Ow… I might agree to that if you’d say “also possible” instead of “equally possible”.
Yes, the probability is above 0; no, it’s not far enough above it to include it as a reasonable option, let alone one equal to the other ones you mentioned. If this is what you meant, then we can’t agree yet.

I’ve already written long posts in this thread about my reasons for this assessment. But I’m going to recap the most pertinent ones anyway.
I do believe there is evidence against anything like this, and it’s not just the fact that there’s no evidence for it. We know that intelligence can’t exist without a physical brain (and “pure energy” is a meaningless combination of words). We also know that sentient beings without a history can’t exist. And by “know”, I’m talking about a probability over 0.9. All intelligence in the known history of the entire known universe has always relied on a physical system and had a history. Not to mention it wouldn’t make sense for any intelligence not to. How could it work, and how could something that complex just start existing?
There’s no more reason to think intelligence can exist without these things than there is to think there could exist sound in a vacuum and without anything to produce it. All evidence points to the contrary. And the closest thing to a non-physical historyless alien intelligence that we could reasonably consider possible to exist would be completely unlike anything we know. It would all but certainly [>0.999] not behave anything like what we call “intelligence” now.

You could be the first astronaut exploring an alien planet and stumble upon a naturally grown computer consisting of sand, and find out it has all the software compatibility required to smoothly run Half-Life 2 on it, and you’d have discovered something significantly less surprising than what you just said.
Its origins would be more plausible, its internal workings easier to explain, its similarities to what we use less precise.

ETpro's avatar

@Fryus Let’s set spohistry aside. I am not talking about just this universe. I am talking about how everything that is got to be. A priori that requires talking about whatever you wish to use for “before” this universe. No, we can’t use this universe’s time to talk about that. We have to conceptualize it.

Regarding a deity, I say equally possible only because right now, I have no knowledge of any one of the possible explanations for creation or the lack thereof being more probable than any other explanation. You can dislike the God proposition on the grounds of your personal bias, but not on the merits of the evidence, since there is no evidence. It just happens to be one possible explanation among a bunch, none of which are backed by any evidence at all, and none of which seem to make any sense to a finite mind.

We decidely do not know that intelligence can not exist without the presence of a physical brain. We are no more certain of that than we are that life must be carbon based. All we can say with certainty is that all the intelligence we have encountered is physically based and all the life we have encountered is carbon based. Again, humans are whores for explanations. We must constantly guard against projecting what we have learned into explanations of things we know nothing about. Failing that, we are just as likely to ere as the ancients did when they “knew” that the Sun is a flaming chariot driven across the sky each day by the Sun God

Fyrius's avatar

“You can dislike the God proposition on the grounds of your personal bias, but not on the merits of the evidence, since there is no evidence.”
At this point I’m going to stop reading for today. I might give it a try again tomorrow.

Did you read anything I just wrote?

Rarebear's avatar

Okay, just in skimming the replies, I’m more akin to @Fyrius point of view. So at the risk of a “me too” post, me too. Last night I started thinking about probabilities, and was going to write a long post on statistical probabilities of God, but @Fyrius not only beat me to it but did a better job.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius Yes, I did read what you wrote. I should tell you that after writing that response, I thought better of the word choice. I wish I had not written sophistry but it was past the editing cycle by the time I clicked back to change it.

@Rarebear I do not see how there is any evidence strong enough to base a prediction of probability on. I am open to being shown there is. It’s a matter I have given a great deal of thought to over many years, and always with the purpose of resolving it. So I am not frozen in any positin by belief. But I do need to see a logical reason to accept any argument, whether theistic or atheistic.

Fyrius's avatar

Why, thank you.

All right then, new day. I’m going to try again.

Let me start with a note on logical etiquette.

“I say equally possible only because right now, I have no knowledge of any one of the possible explanations for creation or the lack thereof being more probable than any other explanation. (...) not on the merits of the evidence, since there is no evidence. (...) none of which are backed by any evidence at all”
“I do not see how there is any evidence strong enough to base a prediction of probability on. I am open to being shown there is.”
This is just insulting.

I just wrote a long reply to show you evidence to decrease the probability of a non-corporeal intelligence existing at the beginning of the universe. If you’re not convinced, you can try to refute them one by one, but until you have successfully done so, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t flat-out pretend I never posted anything. It takes time and effort to share these ideas with you.

All right, on to the content.

“We decidely do not know that intelligence can not exist without the presence of a physical brain.”
I beg to differ. Probabilistically speaking, we do know so. The probability that all intelligence requires a physical computational system is, given what we know at this moment, significantly higher than 0.5 to us.
I’m going to concede here that the number of physical brain-based intelligences we know doesn’t count for much, since these are all genetically related to each other. Let me then move on to my other argument: our understanding of intelligence predicts intelligence needs a physical system.
Consider the possibility of a planet shaped like a pyramid. We may not have seen every planet in existence, but it would defy everything we know about gravity if we’d find a planet that’s not round(ish). We thus have not only frequentist evidence, but also a well-established model predicting all planets are round(ish), and that lowers the probability of other shapes. This is probabilistic evidence against other shapes.

At least non-carbon-based life is conceivable. Biological systems could in principle be made of other stuff. But an intelligence that requires no physical computational operations, that’s freaking magic to our understanding of the universe.
For another simile, it would be like encountering an opaque box, and guessing that there is a beating heart in there, inspired by the legends about Davy Jones. You have no evidence of what’s inside the box, but you do have evidence from centuries of biology that no heart can continue beating for a long time after being disembodied. You could go on to postulate it’s a different kind of heart, one that can beat on its own, with no central nervous system and no nutrients, but this guess would NOT be as probable as any other. The guess that there’s an apple inside would blow it out of the water in terms of probability, solely because we know apples exist and we don’t know if disembodied beating hearts do.

Not to even mention that theism raises privileging the hypothesis to an art form. Of all conceivable random guesses, why intelligence? What’s so important about intelligence?
The fact that we’re even talking about intelligence as an origin of the universe already means a huge concession to that hypothesis. We have a theoretically infinite number of conceivable hypotheses on par with intelligence, and we single out intelligence as one of the options we’re going to talk about. Why?
I’ll tell you why. Religion. But that, of course, is not a good reason.

As a side note, we haven’t even made it yet to what this hypothesis would actually be good for: intelligence on itself would explain diddly squat about the origins of the universe. Even if there would have been a disembodied historiless intelligence there at the beginning of it all, then what? Would it think the universe into existence?

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius I think you’ve convinced me. I need to think about your argument about intelligence some more though. For now though… I tip my hat to you.

Seek's avatar


I particularly like the disembodied heart/apple analogy. Perfect.

Fyrius's avatar

Thanks, guys.

zophu's avatar

Using logic to analyze the universe instead of applying it to our decaying society, is like using a hammer to knock rainclouds out of the sky instead of building a house.

But then, maybe our society needs a more logical view of what’s “beyond” to get their heads out of the clouds. I don’t know. Your view is interesting eitherway, @Fyrius.

Seek's avatar

I don’t think there’s any wrong time to be logical in our thought processes. If we never approach our past delusion analytically, how can we ever learn?

Fyrius's avatar

I think it’s more like using the hammer to break rocks because you want to know what they look like on the inside, while you could be building a house with it. In itself it’s a perfectly legitimate goal to a curious person.

Would you rather we apply logic to our allegedly decaying society, then? Do you figure that people talking about society on the internet, to the complete exclusion of any talk about the origins of the universe, is going to make the world a better place?

zophu's avatar

@Fyrius No, there isn’t anything wrong with your exploration. Maybe your world is a happier place where one can maintain a passion for the unexplored for the sake exploration alone and not worry about the rainclouds.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius I will need some time to look at all you have written plus the lengthy discourses in the two links and think it through. However, if you are going to feel insulted by my not agreeing with your premises, I would rather just drop the discussion. I feel no need to be right here, and thought I was addressing and rebutting the weaknesses I saw in the arguments presented. I read part of Richard Dawkins’ article last night, and what I read focused only on the political reasons for insisting on the God explanation being unacceptable, not logical reasons it couldn’t be true.

Seek's avatar

Logical reason it can’t be true: There’s no logical reason for it to be true. End of story.

Anyone else feel like they’re talking to a wall? a wall that is pointedly ignoring EVERYTHING you’re saying, and echoing the same pointless argument over and over?

should this be in dpworkin’s thread? oh, I don’t care.

Rarebear's avatar

I will add to the above discussion of whether a being of pure energy exists. We know from our own scientific observation that any intelligence comes from life, and life requires evolution. I see no mechanism by which a being of pure energy can evolve.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear Now I feel that I am talking to a wall. We do not know that intelligence only comes from life. We only know that we haven’t ever observed it coming from anything other than life. That is hardly a proof that intelligence only comes from life.

Before we discovered the fumaroles on the ocean floor teeming with bizarre life forms, we often claimed that certain temperatures, the presence of sunlight to provide energy, and the absence of certain poisons like sulfuric acid were necessary for life. That was only because we had never observed life in other contexts, not because life couldn’t exist in superheated sulfuric acid with no sunlight.

Rarebear's avatar

@etpro Please don’t be insulting to me. I haven’t been to you. I’m not a wall. I also was not directing my comment directly to you, but to the discussion group as a whole. In fact, I don’t know of anywhere in my interactions with you over the past few months where I haven’t been both polite and cordial. I don’t deserve this.

You’re using a classic fallacy of negative premise in your argument.

We have reams and reams of evidence that intelligence comes from life. We have NO evidence that intelligence does not come from life. To say so is just philosophical speculation in no basis in fact or reality.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear I am sorry if you thought that wall comment referred to you. It was directed at @Seek_Kolinahr who had suggested that I had the comprehension of a wall. I thought that you would see that but either you didn’t read her post or forgot the reference. I should have prefaced that part as being directed to her.

I may be hard to convince, but I am not the least ideologically inspired on this question. I have not dealt out insults to those who do not walk in lock-step with me. I am getting them, though, and I don’t care for debate conducted in that manner.

You asked me to refute your assertions. I believe that pointing to our discovery of life at extreme depths, thriving in conditions previously unthinkable for life, does so. We had mountains of observed evidence suggesting life could not exist in such conditions until we discovered that it thrived there. Before that discovery, life had been going on just fine down in the ocean trenches for millions of years. Our not knowing it, having no evidence, did nothing to prevent its existence. As far as I can see, you have not refuted that, and it does refute the assertion that masses of evidence regarding one context rules out different things occurring in some other context. Here are some additional examples.

We once had mountains of observed data showing that Newtonian physics explains the motion of everything in the universe, till we were able to observe more accurately and discovered that in the presence of enormous mass and its gravity, and at the particle level, things behave in different manners than Newton predicted.

We once had mountains of observed evidence showing that atoms were the smallest units of matter. Then we discovered particles and we are still discovering more.

The fact that we have a mountain of evidence that things work in a particular manner within a given context should be interpreted to mean that within the context of observation, things do act in that manner. It should never be seen as proof there are not other possible contexts having different rules.

Rarebear's avatar

The discovery of life at depths does not prove your point. That’s the fallacy I was referring to. Just because it was hypothesized that life cannot exist at depth and temperature, and then that hypothesis was found out to be wrong does NOT by extension make the argument that you are making.

You can’t say, “We were wrong about the life at depth and therefore we are wrong that all intelligence must be evolved.” We have evidence that there if life at depth and temperature. We have no evidence that there is non-evolved intellligence. If you can produce verifiable, scientific evidence of a non-evolved intelligence then I will change my tune.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear I am not saying therefore we are wrong. I am saying therefore our mountain of evidence about one context can’t be interpreted to apply to other contexts. I am not saying we must rule everything in we can’t rule out. I am saying we should not rule things out till we actually have evidence they are out. Till then, we should just admit we don’t know of any such occurrences.

If you disagree with that, we should just agree to disagree, as we will have hit an impasse.

Seek's avatar

Proving a Negative From the Dictionary of Logical Fallacies.

(The Objectivist Newsletter, April 1963) “Proving the non-existence of that for which no evidence of any kind exists. Proof, logic, reason, thinking, knowledge pertain to and deal only with that which exists. They cannot be applied to that which does not exist. Nothing can be relevant or applicable to the non-existent. The non-existent is nothing. A positive statement, based on facts that have been erroneously interpreted, can be refuted – by means of exposing the errors in the interpretation of the facts. Such refutation is the disproving of a positive, not the proving of a negative…. Rational demonstration is necessary to support even the claim that a thing is possible. It is a breach of logic to assert that that which has not been proven to be impossible is, therefore, possible. An absence does not constitute proof of anything. Nothing can be derived from nothing.” If I say, “Anything is possible” I must admit the possibility that the statement I just made is false. (See Self Exclusion) Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things which cannot properly be doubted.

Fyrius's avatar

“I will need some time to look at all you have written plus the lengthy discourses in the two links and think it through.”
Take your time. I can see you’re busy.

“However, if you are going to feel insulted by my not agreeing with your premises, I would rather just drop the discussion.”
Obviously that’s not what I felt insulted about. I explicitly pointed out what I felt insulted about. And it was something else.
Here’s a hint: if we’re taking turns in feeling we’re talking to a wall here, my turn was before @Seek_Kolinahr.

Rarebear's avatar

@ETpro “I am saying we should not rule things out till we actually have evidence they are out. ”. Okay, then by your logic we can’t rule out the existence of fairies, Bigfoot, and aliens at Area 51.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr My point about the absolute origin of the universe is that we have no evidence whatsopever of anything before the possible Big Bang. So all we can say about that with any certainty is, we do not know. I am certainly not trying to prove the non-existence of anything.

Consider the recommendation of the Objectivist. ”Doubt must always be specific, and can only exist in contrast to things which cannot properly be doubted.” If you agree with that, how can you start assigning probabilities, however loosely, to what caused the universe that we now observe, or to the possibility it is uncaused (has existed eternally, or time is circular, or whatever)?

@Rarebear No, I think we have a rather substantial amount of contrary evidence for all the above. I would say that for each, there may be some tiny possibility of their being true, but they are extremely unlikely. I can list my reasons for doubting those claims. When we start discussing what caused the universe to exist, we do not have substantial evidence. We do not have any evidence. I can not list reasons to doubt postulates that sound like they might be possible. Till evidence comes along, if it ever does, all I can apply to that question is thought about what seems plausible to me and what does not. The flying spaghetti monster doesn’t hit me as a highly likely story. Some guesses seem more reasonable than others. But all is just guesswork.

ETpro's avatar

@Rarebear Getting back to your comments, I see nothing like a fallacy of negative premise in saying we do not know and we have no evidence to guide us in guessing what caused the Universe to come into existence. To commit such an error, one much build a claim of fact on one or more negatives. To quote your reference, “It is a fallacy because any valid forms of categorical syllogism that assert a negative premise must have a negative conclusion.” A negative conclusion is exactly what I arrive at.

@Seek_Kolinahr‘s The issue of what may have caused the Universe to come into existence arose in our discussion way up the thread. I have not maintained I believe in any explanation of it, only that I have no evidence. I am not seeking to prove anything except that I do not know the answer to that question. If if is a logical fallacy to say “I don’t know.” then there is dome illogical logic running around.

Seek's avatar

So you never said:

“So claiming there is no evidence for a deity is not evidence there is no deity.”?

Of course, you also said:

I fully agree that the absence of evidence is evidence.

So… does the lack of evidence for God prove God exists or not? At least keep a firm grasp on your own position.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr This is subtle. The absence of evidence is evidence when compared to the presence of evidence. But it is not useful in the complete lack of evidence about a thing. We have no evidence about what caused the Universe to spring into existence 13.7 billion years ago. The Big Bang is an effect, not a cause.

Perhaps the confusion here is that you and @Rarebear seem to be begging the question, Why do you think God caused the Universe? I do not. This whole debate began when I declared I am an agnostic. @roundsquare claimed I can’t be an agnostic, and supplied a definition for the word inconsistent with that given in the dictionary. Somehow, in defending my right to say “I do not know.” regarding the creation puzzle and my ambivalence about the possibility of a creator, I have stirred up a hornets nest of those who are just a little bit surer than I am that there is no God, some other explanation must be applied.

Seek's avatar

I think we’re just trying to figure out exactly why you think the idea of a bodiless intelligent force creating the universe has merit, when you’re obviously intelligent enough to realize the complete lack of evidence pointing to that “theory”. You’re not saying “I don’t know what did it”, you’re saying “I don’t know ____ didn’t do it”. Those are two very different positions.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Thanks. Now we are zeroing in on the heart of the issue. I actually agree that the idea of a creator being the explanation of existence boggles my mind. Of course, I cannpt get inside your head, but I probably find it just as strange as you and @Rarebear do, or as Ricky Dawkins does, for that matter. Unfortunately, every other explanation I can think of seems equally implausible.

No evidence is profound evidence in regards to questions like the truth of the Bigfoot legend. We have mountains of evidence regarding the telltale signs such a large animal should leave of their existence. We know, for instance, that large primate-like creatures such as Bigfoot is described to be leave skeletal remains, droppings, nesting areas and other evidence of their existence. Finding no such evidence, not even anything in the fossil records to indicate such a species ever evolved, it is safe to bet Bigfoot is a hoax and the footprints we find are of human origin.

But when it comes to the cause of the Universe, there is no evidence of any kind, so lack of evidence is stacked against every reasonable explanation we dream up. We simply have no idea how we got here. We just know we did.

Seek's avatar

Key word: reasonable.

There is no sense putting merit in things that are unreasonable, do we agree? We, for example, are reasonably certain the world was indeed not coughed up on a Saturday morning from the aforementioned Great Rhinoceros-skinned Cat-Beast of D’daaah. There is simply no reason to believe that occurred. We try to filter that theory through the sound logical processes of our mind and realise we’re putting square pegs into round holes.

My 1½ year old plays with a wooden box that has shapes cut out of every side. The wooden shapes match up. He can eventually put every shape into its corresponding hole – but his giant legos – they don’t fit. Of course it’s frustrating to him, but no matter how hard he tries, that lego is not going to fit in the octagon.

That’s how I, personally, view the “God did it” concept. There isn’t a shape in which it fits.

Let’s define “reasonable”, since you’re so fond of pedantry.

Reasonable: 1 a : being in accordance with reason <a reasonable theory> b : not extreme or excessive <reasonable requests> c : moderate, fair <a reasonable chance> <a reasonable price> d : inexpensive
2 a : having the faculty of reason b : possessing sound judgment <a reasonable man>

1 a : a statement offered in explanation or justification <gave reasons that were quite satisfactory> b : a rational ground or motive <a good reason to act soon> c : a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially : something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact <the reasons behind her client’s action> d : the thing that makes some fact intelligible : cause <the reason for earthquakes> <the real reason why he wanted me to stay — Graham Greene>
2 a (1) : the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways : intelligence (2) : proper exercise of the mind (3) : sanity b : the sum of the intellectual powers

1 a (1) : a science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration : the science of the formal principles of reasoning (2) : a branch or variety of logic <modal logic> <Boolean logic> (3) : a branch of semiotic; especially : syntactics (4) : the formal principles of a branch of knowledge b (1) : a particular mode of reasoning viewed as valid or faulty (2) : relevance, propriety c : interrelation or sequence of facts or events when seen as inevitable or predictable d : the arrangement of circuit elements (as in a computer) needed for computation; also : the circuits themselves
2 : something that forces a decision apart from or in opposition to reason <the logic of war>

1 : to derive as a conclusion from facts or premises <we see smoke and infer fire — L. A. White> — compare imply
2 : guess, surmise <your letter…allows me to infer that you are as well as ever — O. W. Holmes †1935>
3 a : to involve as a normal outcome of thought b : to point out : indicate <this doth infer the zeal I had to see him — Shakespeare> <another survey…infers that two-thirds of all present computer installations are not paying for themselves — H. R. Chellman>

According to the dictionary definitions provided, one must have observable data in order to make a reasonable inference. Since there is nothing to observe in reference to an intelligent bodiless creator of any kind, there is no way to make a reasonable assumption that such a theory holds water.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Very well, what are the reasonable explanations for the Big Bang?

Seek's avatar


I’ve already told you that I’m not an expert in the Big Bang Theory, but I do know that it is based entirely on observable evidence, including the fact that we can see that the universe is expanding from a single point.

What are the reasonable explanations for the bodiless intelligent creator?

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr One more time around the wall. My defense of agnosticism was not based on acceptance or rejectin of the Big Bang theory. Atheism, agnosticism, theism, etc. all are aimed not at how come the Big Bang occurred, what triggered it, what preceded it. I am asking you what you find to be a reasonable explanation of that. In that topic, you have every bit as much knowledge as does the most brilliant cosmologist on Earth.

Seek's avatar

You’re implying argument where none exists.

No one knows where the Big Bang came from, and the only people who are claiming to know are Theists, who have no evidence of their belief. Burden of proof still rests on the believer.

I, personally, find no need of a reasonable explanation of where the singularity “came from”, as I don’t feel the answer will affect my life in any way. I have enough evidence against any Earth-deity to be reasonably certain none of them exist, and I am completely capable of applying that knowledge to any other unproven deity on any other inhabited planet in the universe.

mattbrowne's avatar

There is no error in his logic.

The only thing that could be wrong are superstitious forms of theism contradicting scientific findings.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Thank you.

@Seek_Kolinahr The initial question was whether I could be an agnostic or not. Whether I do or do not believe in a God is what decides that question. To answer it, I must then consider something outside the current Universe. I must at least think about what caused the Big Bang. How might I approach the initial question without looking before the Big Bang?

Burden of proof still rests on the believer. I do not know how many ways I can say this. I am not a believer. I am an Agnostic. Not the new meaning of the word that some philosophers have concocted, the dictionary meaning.

Seek's avatar

You believe the idea of a bodiless intelligent creator is plausible, possible, or otherwise not-deserving-of-ridicule. We want to know why. That is what is meant by “believer”.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I admit finding God as implausible as do you. However, what plausible explanations seem to make a great deal more sense? Here are the alternatives I have heard.

1—Before the beginning, there was nothing. Then it exploded. Nothing caused it to explode and nothing gave it the rules it functions by.
2—There was no beginning. The Universe has cycled on and off eternally. Nothing caused it and nothing gave it the rules it cycles and functions by.
3—Your favorite alternative here.

The problem, again, is that we have no evidence to support any of these hunches, and the area is so far from observable phenomena that we could be wildly wrong in any hunch we put forward. So I come up to the answer, agnosticism. I do not know. The strength of that position is that at least I know that I do not know. There are a bunch of dogmatic theists and atheists that know no more than me, but don’t yet know they don’t know.

Fyrius's avatar

Explosions are a lot more common and less complex than intelligence. An uncaused explosion would still blow an uncaused intelligence out of the water. Just sayin’.
Not that the Big Bang was an explosion.

My position on this would also be agnosticism – with the side note that “a god did it” is a pathetic excuse for an explanation that’s not even worth considering. Likewise for the corpse of a primordial giant or a committee of tap-dancing snakes.

Now, if you guys don’t mind, I’m going to drop out of this thread. I’ve said what I had to say.
I’m sure we’ll talk about this again some time.

Seek's avatar

On the contrary, I’ve done nothing but say “I don’t know”. What I’m not doing is making up theories based on nothing, or arguing the possible existence of millennia-old fairy tales.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius Fair enough. Why are any of our hunches any more silly than a dog and a chambered nautilus discussing creation myths? Fare the well.

@Seek_Kolinahr One more time. This discussion started when I was told I cannot self identify as an agnostic. The dividing line between theism, agnosticism and atheism calls for thinking about things we have no real evidence about. I have definitely, decidedly, emphatically not claimed any special credence for any explanation of how the Universe began. I have said I don’t know. That is why I self identify as an agnostic, for that is what the dictionary tells me agnostic means. If there is some better word for my thoughts on the matter, I am open to changing my self identification.

Since the original question was one regarding Pascal’s Wager, which assumes there may be either the Christian God or 1 equally probable other explanation for the beginning, I trust we have beat the dead horse of that false assumption to a few more deaths. :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

@ETpro – I do not know how many ways I can say this. The search for a scientific proof for the existence of God is futile. I wonder when educated believers, agnostics and nonbelievers finally get this. It’s as futile as the search for Noah’s Ark left behind because of a historical event.

ragingloli's avatar

You can not really compare seaching for proof of god to searching for proof of noah’s ark.
The search for noah’s ark is futile because we know that the entire story is a ripoff of earlier stories, that it would have been physically impossible to load 2/7 of each animal species onto the ship and because we know the global flood never happened.
All we have for the futitility of the search for proof of god is some unfounded claim that god is somehow outside the natural world.
Here is how we could search for evidence of the existence of god:
If M-Theory is correct, and we are living in a 4 dimensional brane floating in hyperspace, and god exists in this hyperspace, then we can use gravitons, which are the only strings with the ability to leave our brane (which is why gravity is so weak compared to the other 3 forces) to effectively scan the hyperspace for god.

Fyrius's avatar

Assuming that, when we get to that point of technological sophistication, people still take the theists seriously.

P.S. I lied, I didn’t leave the thread. Just lurkin’.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne I am not conducting a personal search to verify God’s existence or for that matter any of the possible explanations of the origin of the Universe. That said, I do not accept that the origin is unknowable. It may be, but I don’t have the foggiest idea how we would prove that. If, some day, we do probe back before (or in M-Theory’s case, beyond) the Big Bang and discover the actual origin of the Universe we now inhabit, that may indeed either disprove or prove the creator explanation.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I agree, that the type of futility is different between the two searches. But this still means they are both futile. And of course it depends on the conceptions of God. If people think @ChazMaz is God, then we got proof that God exists. My conception of God is different, though. Your conception above looks a bit like pantheism. Again, my conception is different.

@ETpro – We might some day go beyond the big bang and our universe using scientific method. This would be great, but it doesn’t solve the ultimate question. The explanation of the multiverse. Or the explanation of a multi-multiverse, hyperverse or even beyond that.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne We don’t know whether it does solve the Genesis question or not till we go there. It is not possible to predict beforehand what we will and will not learn from a journey to a place unlike anything in the record of human experience.

ragingloli's avatar

You see that is the problem. You take your own conception of “god”, declare it unprovable and then proceed to generalise that all conceptions of “god” are unprovable, even though the fact is, there is a chance that your unprovable version of “god” is wrong and instead one of the scientifically provable versions of “god” is true, which means that your general statement that the search for proof of god is futile is wrong.

Seek's avatar

I think henceforth, we need to demand a personal explanation of God from each contender.

That way the answers that say just “The unprovable, untestable thing that created the earth” can be dismissed immediately, and the ones that say “BIBLEGOD!” can be tested and then dismissed.

Fyrius's avatar

I wouldn’t even say the search for Noah’s Ark was futile. Not finding evidence is also a form of data. It should change the probability of the hypothesis all the same, in this case by lowering it.

Concreteness is not bad. There is no fallacy involved in actually believing your hypothesis is literally true in the real world and that a test will confirm it. To stick out your neck and risk having to abandon your belief if it turns out to be false.
This is certainly not less sensible than taking into account in advance that your belief might be proven false and formulating it vaguely enough that you can continue believing it in either case.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I didn’t generalize that all conceptions of “god” are unprovable. Some are. Some are not.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – My conception of God strongly resembles that of deism, but in a combination with a modern form of the Christian religion. To me divine revelation is a form of spiritual truth, not scientific truth. Deism as such is pretty empty. No purpose, no meaning, no vision, no community, no symbols, no rituals, no prayer, no code of conduct.

ragingloli's avatar

You said “The search for a scientific proof for the existence of God is futile.” and not “The search for a scientific proof for the existence of my conception of God is futile.”
The only way your statement would be true is if you either generalise all conceptions of “god” or ignore all other conceptions but your own (the latter of which Pascal did, incidentally).

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – The search for Noah’s Ark in the real physical world is as futile as using Google maps to search for the paradise where Adam and Eve spent some time before they had to leave. Of course there will be old planks here and there from boats that sunk because of storms and floods. But they are not the ark from the myth.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – Alright. The search for a scientific proof for the existence of my conception of God is futile.

ragingloli's avatar

Good :) Now that this is cleared up, let us have a tea.

Fyrius's avatar

That too is only futile if you already had conclusive reasons to believe it never really happened. But for a researcher who actually believes what it says in the bible, not finding physical evidence is a worthwhile result. It might even let them change their mind about scripture, achievement of achievements.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Well, even the SETI scientists know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Fyrius's avatar

And now I’m going to have to post this again.
Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It’s just not conclusive evidence, but that doesn’t make it entirely meaningless.

Tl;dr: Even if the hypothesis that X exists can explain the absence of evidence for X, the null hypothesis that X does not exist can explain it better. You’re more likely not to find evidence of X if there is in fact no X, than you are if X does exist.
That means the null hypothesis gains a bit more credibility for every bit of predicted evidence that fails to show up.

The SETI crew get away with it because their hypothesis that there’s life out there would still assign a low probability to us finding evidence of life out there, since space is really big. That means the absence of hardly-predicted evidence is only a tiny bit of evidence of absence. Meanwhile there are good arguments for the existence of extraterrestrial life that make up for the small influence of absence of evidence.

The power of absent evidence to disprove a hypothesis depends on how strongly that hypothesis predicts the evidence. If you expect there will definitely be a book on your table, and there isn’t any, you’re clearly completely wrong. If you expect there might perhaps be a book and there’s none, it doesn’t mean all that much.

Fyrius's avatar

Thank you. (bows)

roundsquare's avatar

Negative evidence can give evidence, it just tends to do it more slowly. Positive evidence immediately proves something, negative evidence takes time to build up.

Lets say you are wondering if its possible for a planet made of pure gold can exist. You get into your super-awesome spaceship and you jump to a random planet. You find its not made of pure gold, but its not a big deal. You wouldn’t expect the first planet you jump to to be made of pure gold even if it is possible. So you jump again, and again, and again, etc… and after jumping to <huge number> of planets, you find none of them made out of pure gold.

After your first failure, you don’t give up. That would be silly. But after <huge number> failures, you give. The evidence builds up against the possibility of a gold planet a little bit each time. Sure, its not impossible, but its very unlikely.

Of course, if you do stumble upon a gold planet, that instantly proves it can exist.

So if you want to use the absence of evidence, you need to get a lot of it.


@Fyrius If I can come up with a “reasonable” way for an intelligence without a physical brain to suddenly exist, will you buy me a cookie?

Fyrius's avatar

Hey, I said “physical computational system”. I know AI can exist without a brain. No easy cookies.

But if you can find a plausible way for a sophisticated intelligence to exist without a physical computational system and without a developmental history, I’ll have a bag of Dutch stroopwafels shipped to you. And I’ll even admit I was wrong and the agnostics were right after all.
You might get a nobel prize out of it, too.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Mmmm… cookies and making someone admit they were wrong.

Well, we can share the nobel prize if we can make this work.

I’m trying to think about intelligence via energy. I.e. different types/levels of energy being an intelligence. As other energies interact with it, it reacts intelligently. And, it can create matter (perhaps because E = mc^2). Not sure exactly how this would work, but it was a random thought.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Yes, it’s not meaningless. SETI already proved that the possibility of Vulcans out there within a radius of 100 light years is extremely low.

ragingloli's avatar

Slight Correction: “the possibility of Vulcans out there that use primitive radio broadcasting technology within a radius of 100 light years is extremely low.”
The whole SETI programme rests on the assumption that technologically advanced civilisations use radio technology that either broadcasts spherically into all directions, which is an extremely inefficent and primitive way of communication as the signal strength and cohesion weakens just like the influence of gravity with increasing distance, or that a narrowly focused radio transmission is directly aimed at us.
There could be a flurry of advanced civilisations out there using narrowly focused radio or laser transmissions, aimed precisely at their destination, completely bypassing our unimportant solar system, space around us could be filled with alien chatter and SETI would never detect it and then erroneously conclude that there is nothing there.
Not to mention that Vulcans use subspace communication, that we can not detect with radio telescopes anyway.

roundsquare's avatar

@ragingloli The probability of Vulcans within 100 light years is extremely low. The probability of Vulcans who that use primitive radio broadcasting technology within a radius of 100 years is even lower still.

My point is that SETI, though cool, is just beginning to search the Universe around us. Sadly for them, they are limited by the speed of light.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, one big question remains: do all civilizations that are more advanced than us have to go through the radio wave communication phase? If yes, if we check stars with various distances at some point some civilization should be in this phase.

ragingloli's avatar

Even if they do, the problem is still distance and signal degradation, especially with unfocused 360 degree spherical broadcasts. If they are far away the signals will be indistinguishable from background noise, if they are close to medium range then the chance that we catch one of them right in their phase of radio communication is minimal and once they focus their signals or switch to more sophisticated methods, like laser pulses or signals sent through artificial microwormholes, our chances of detection are practically zero.
Then there is the matter that a civilisation’s radio phase will be limited. We ourself have used radio communication for less than a century and we are already in the process of developing and switching to other technologies, like fibre optics and lasers. The probability that we as a civilisation have arrived at this technology just in time to detect arriving signals from another civilisation within our local neighbourhood (again, signal degradation and background noise pollution) that had a similarly short radio phase is extremely small.

roundsquare's avatar

Wow… how this thread has drifted. Its not a bad thing, I love it, but its interesting.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I think a SETI 2.0 project should make use of the sun as a gravitational lens to amplify the potential signals. But this requires the deployment of a spacecraft carrying the receivers.

ragingloli's avatar

But that requires money that no one wants to pay, especially not on “crackpots listening for aliens”.

Fyrius's avatar

“I’m trying to think about intelligence via energy. I.e. different types/levels of energy being an intelligence. As other energies interact with it, it reacts intelligently. And, it can create matter (perhaps because E = mc^2). Not sure exactly how this would work, but it was a random thought.”
You’re going to have to be a whole lot more specific about what sort of “energy” you’re talking about, before you can evaluate its applications for intelligence and earn your stroopwafels.
Electricity? Light? Heat? Momentum? Tension? Pressure? Could you build an AI out of any of those things?

By the way, even if you could, isn’t a computational system made of energy still a physical system? Isn’t energy a physical thing all the same?

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Oh yeah, I realize that what I typed could be meaningless gibberish. I have no idea what kind of energy, etc..

Actually, this might work with heat. If the different levels of heat in different areas of space represented different thoughts… than it might be possible to have heat be intelligent. E.g. each 1×1 x 1 cm cube has a different amount of heat. These are arranges in a way similar to neurons and the amount of heat in each cube is the amount of electic potential in each corresponding neuron. (Needs work, I know, but I’m shooting from the hip here).

Yes, you’re right, energy is physical in that sense.

Okay, if we want to go really non-physical, how about information? Its usually stored/represented physically, but thats not a necessity. So we can define a system based with rules that react intelligently to <some sort of stimulus or something, no idea yet.>

The above is 100% speculative.

ragingloli's avatar

information is always stored/represented physically. be it as neural activity in the brain, soundwaves, light, on paper, electronically, as intrinsic properties of objects, etc. Without a physical medium, information can not do anything, it does not even exist and it certainly will not be able to interact with other information and create intelligence or any kind of system.

ETpro's avatar

@roundsquare & @Fyrius Further to an intelligence not derived from a physical brain and evolution, AI wouldn’t count as it would derive from the designer’s brain. But how about intelligence arising spontaneously from quantum states of quantum entangled particles? Could intelligence exist inside a black hole? Black hole do seem to do things from time to time, emitting incredible bursts of energy in columnar beams.

@mattbrowne SETI actually did briefly record what appeared to be a radio data stream once. But repeated searches of the same area of space turned up nothing since then.

ragingloli's avatar

Yeah. My guess is that it was a ship inside our solar system that then left.

Fyrius's avatar

“Its usually stored/represented physically, but thats not a necessity.”
Isn’t it? But that’s the whole issue, no? Can information exist without being physically encoded?
I think if you have a way to do that, you’re more than halfway to the stroopwafels already.
Sorry if I’m shooting down your ideas. Do brainstorm on.

“But how about intelligence arising spontaneously from quantum states of quantum entangled particles?”
How about it? It needs a buttload more specificity before I’m even going to evaluate it. What you’ve sketched here is not much more than
1. Quantum states of quantum entangled particles.
2. ???
3. Intelligence!
which I hope you will understand does not make a whole lot of sense unless you’re a bit more explicit about step 2. It’s a fake explanation.
How would it work? How would intelligence spontaneously arise from quantum states of quantum entangled particles?
And once you’ve answered that, we can move on to the real questions, such as: why intelligence, and not something simpler that also has the relevant properties?

“Could intelligence exist inside a black hole? Black hole do seem to do things from time to time, emitting incredible bursts of energy in columnar beams.”
Are you serious?
That’s like coming across a mailbox and wondering if there could be a fully functional light sabre in it. Mailboxes do seem to have stuff in them from time to time, right?

And far-fetchedness aside: again, how would a black hole develop intelligence? Is there any mechanism that could give intelligence to a black hole?
And wouldn’t it be a bit curious if stars can go directly from inanimate cloud of plasma to intelligence just by collapsing into a singularity, while life had to go from inanimate organic matter to simple automata through billions of years and billions of deaths before the natural selection filter could lead to something intelligent, and even then only one species?
If intelligence were that simple, why did it take so much to develop?

I’m becoming impatient. Bad Fyrius.
In your case too, if you’re just brainstorming, sorry for shattering your ideas with the hammer of common sense. Do try again.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius Just brainstorming. I do not propose such things are true, just tossing out two possibilities where something roughly akin to human neural networks exist (or in the case of black holes, may exist) in numbers exceeding the 100 trillion connections in a human brain.

Our best understanding of intelligence to date is that it is an emergent property of a sufficiently large number of neural connections having the ability to sense surroundings. Evolutionary psychology appears to play a role, with the drive to survive and to reproduce being enhanced as intelligence progresses.

Again, I am not seriously proposing this as haging any foundation in fact, just pie-in-the-sky wondering.

ragingloli's avatar

Intelligence requires order. Quantum events are probabilistic. I doubt this would work.

ETpro's avatar

@ragingloli Or are they? Would not the firing of individual neurons in the human brain appear to be stochastic if observed independent of any knowledge connecting them to thought or to sensory input?

Fyrius's avatar

All right, all right.

But loli is on to something; intelligence requires order. Intelligence does not just appear whenever enough neurons get together. The brain is not a homogeneous blob of neurons. It’s not a tabula rasa. It’s a highly organised system with interdependent parts that are meticulously attuned to each other.
Intelligence is an “emergent” property of a sufficiently large number of neural connections that are connected in exactly the right ways.
The basics of the human mind are encoded in our DNA, that is to say, innate. Our brains are specialised for the task of forming a mind.

If intelligence would just appear from thin air the moment a network of information-exchanging connections crosses a size threshold, AI building wouldn’t be a profession. It would just be a matter of having a large enough computer, programming neuron-like connections, and then sitting back and watching the intelligence create itself.
But intelligence does not grow on trees, nor in homogeneous neural networks. Intelligence is not that simple.

ETpro's avatar

@Fyrius Fair enough. And I cannot fathom how quarks and gluons would get together in anything approaching such a structured way without evolving to it.

roundsquare's avatar

So lets start with this: it is possible, at least in theory, to simulate a human brain in a computer. By that I mean its possible to have a program that encodes every neuron, how they are connected, how they react to inputs, how they output (i.e. what they body does) etc… I know its not possible now given the fact that we don’t know that much about the brain and computational limitations, but thats not the the point. Such a program could exist.

Its a well known fact of computer science/math that every program can be represented as a singe number. One way to see this is by realizing that every program can be stored on a computer with sufficient memory. When its stored that, its stored as 0’s and 1’s. If you take that sequence of 0’s and 1’s, you can read it as a number in binary. (Binary numbers are regular numbers, just written differently, in the same way that roman numerals and “regular” numbers are the same thing just written differently).

So, can we say that the number that represents my brain is a non-physical intelligence (at least to the degree that I’m intelligent)? This is a real question… I don’t know what I think about this.

Fyrius's avatar

Hm. That’s an interesting thought.

Let me reply to that with a counter-question.
Say I die, and I get my head cryogenically preserved. The information that constitutes my brain, and my identity, that’s all still in there. But until people find a way to bring that brain back to life, if they ever do, I’m just dead, like everyone else who has died.
At this moment, while my brain is frozen, is this dead brain an intelligence? To get to the point: can there be intelligence in an inactive, static system?
Or is intelligence the activity in a brain? Is intelligence a constant state of change, as one thought leads to another, a stimulus brings about a reaction, an association triggers a cascade of feelings?

This is relevant because a static system can be encoded as a number, but a dynamic system that changes form and adapts all the time cannot, unless the changes are predetermined in advance. And in that case I would say that’s not an intelligence, that’s just an automaton.

It’s also debatable whether even just a number can exist without itself relying on a physical computational system, but for now I think this will suffice.

ETpro's avatar

@roundsquare Great effort.

@Fyrius Very interesting question. From what I have read of how our brains work, my best guess is that it is a dynamic system and that if frozen, the state of each neuron would be lost. If so, there are a lot of people paying good money for cryogenic preservation, but when technology progresses to the point that medicine can cure what killed them and the effects of freezing, they will defrost to be nothing more than melted meat Popsicles.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Still thinking.

@ETpro Thanks. Also, I think, for @Fyrius‘s point, its best to pretend we have some other way of “freezing” the brain that keeps the state of each neuron and everything else necessary in a static state. If cryogenic’s isn’t the way to go, we can pretend there is such a technology.

Fyrius's avatar

Indeed. For my point it’s not very important at all whether a frozen brain can ever work again. It’s more of a matter of definitions I’m talking about.
Let’s hypothetically pretend cryogenics are made of magic (or applied phlebotinum, if you prefer) and your brain will function perfectly again when you’re unfrozen. In the years between freezing and unfreezing, is there any intelligence in the frozen brain?
The actual point is this: if there are no changes going on in a mind, is it really a mind?

If we could indeed encode @roundsquare‘s brain as a number, and we would write that number down in a book, in permanent ink that can’t ever be changed, would that be intelligence?

Such a book wouldn’t be a computational system – it can’t carry out any computations – so that would prove me wrong, technically. But I also think the fact that nothing is ever computed disqualifies its contents from being called “intelligence”.

And more pertinently, to get back on-topic, I think we can agree that a number cannot create universes.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Well, maybe my brain isn’t the best representation of intelligence :P

One thing I’ll point out, there are many ways to represent my brain as a number. Going back to the programming method I mentioned, if I use a different programming language I’d get a different number (note: I’m making some assumptions with the way we encode this). The number alone is not enough, you need the number and the method for converting it into my brain. So that goes against my theory.

Fyrius's avatar

“Well, maybe my brain isn’t the best representation of intelligence :P”
Oh, but judging from what I’ve seen of your intelligence so far, I think it’s a great example. ;)
And it’s the one you picked, so I’m just going to go with it. :)

The other part of your post is a good point I hadn’t thought of yet – you need a language for the code to be written in. Still, a language too consists only of information, so I don’t think that topples your idea. It wouldn’t make it any more tangible, would it?

What I continue to think is more of a problem is that the brain-number would need to be represented inside a system that can carry out operations on that information. You can store a program on an unplugged hard drive, but in order to execute it, it has to be connected to a CPU.
I would suggest looking for a conceivable non-physical system that can carry out operations on information.

Seek's avatar

Kinda off topic, but I just had a grocery-store-parking lot debate with two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they actually admitted that they believe the sky is a solid dome holding up an ocean, because that’s what the Bible says. I couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the conversation.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius I guess my problem is that even if you claim the language is information, you need a meta language to describe that, and so on in an infinite regress. I’m not sure if there is a way for information to exist/be described etc… without other information.

Does this take us back to a first mover type of argument? You know, every effect has a cause, which must itself have a cause, etc… and the first cause is god? So every information needs other information, which needs other information, etc… God is the first piece of information. (God is the first type a bit was wet to 1?)

On your other point, I admit I have no idea how to make my brain number do anything without something else physical. I think we have two open questions here:

1) Is the brain number an intelligence
2) If it is, can it do something without some physical encoding/computation system.

I’m kinda stymied on this one…

@Seek_Kolinahr See, what you gotta realize is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are really big baseball fans. They just want to see a mega-homerun that hits the dome.

Fyrius's avatar

Well, how does this work for actual information?
What I’ve written here is encoded in English, which is interpreted by your language faculty that translates the words and the syntax into the logical language of your brain, but it seems the logical language of your brain does not need another interpretation language in order for you to understand it – the logical language of your brain, it seems, is your understanding. Or perhaps there’s another level in between, or several, but at some point it’s done.
In that sense, we are the first mover. So is whoever interprets the information.

Is information fundamentally a subjective thing, that requires a mind to interpret it? If so, can the abstract number that represents your brain (in code X) really exist outside our minds?

This is becoming a confusing subject.

I’m not going anywhere with this. Just thinking aloud.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Numbers seem very fundamental. They don’t seem to need anything physical to exist. If they did, numbers would stop at the number of <pick your most fundamental building block> in the universe (unless there are infinitely many of them). But as we’ve agreed, the number itself isn’t a single piece of information. In fact, if I want to encode a piece of information as a number, I can come up with a scheme to map that piece of information to any number. (E.g. say my scheme, f, maps some information, X, to the number, n. Then, if I want to map X to n + m, I just use a scheme f + m).

Maybe the human brain does represent a first mover in this? The only “language” I can think of for the human brain is the laws of physics. But scientists have shown that other laws of physics are “possible” in the sense of not being logically contradictory, so even physics isn’t a great starting point. What comes before that? (Some people would say god).

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Separate post because I want to jump back to an earlier point. Earlier we were discussing probability and you made some great points that based on what we know, the probability of a non-physical intelligence existing is low. But we’ve forgotten something. Even if you can assign a probability based on what you know, you also need to consider your confidence in that probability.

Example: If someone asked me “how likely is it that my neighbor will be married before the age of 35” and I might say “Based on statistics, about 75%.” Now if they say “I live in India (where marriage happens at a younger age on average)” I would say “Oh, about 85%” but also be more confident in the probability because I have more (useful) information.

If you admit not knowing a lot about the universe, as we have to based on the fact that our intuitions about the universe at large are horribly incorrect and science is just starting to pierce this veil, then how can you be confident in your probability? We humans barely understand anything about the universe or intelligence… and we’re just theorizing about the multi-verse concept (I think Hawking considered it valid). So we know there is a lot we don’t understand.

This is actually what I was trying to get at earlier, but I had forgotten to separate the two concepts. So, my question is, how confident are you about that probability?

Fyrius's avatar

“Numbers seem very fundamental.”
I don’t think that counts for much. How many ancient civilisations have built entire religions on the misguided assumption that human emotions were fundamental? (Answer: All of them.)
They didn’t have the luxury of knowing enough about meteorology to be able to figure out thunder isn’t an angry god, just like I think you and I don’t have the luxury of knowing where numbers really come from. The only way not to make that mistake in both cases is to be Very Careful about what we call fundamental, and not to let the limits of our imagination fool us.

“The only “language” I can think of for the human brain is the laws of physics.”
I was thinking of logic. At least as an intermediate step, if not as the last one.
The field of semantics – and formal linguistics in general – currently uses a model that says that when we interpret language, we translate it into a more abstract level of meaning. The “conceptual-intentional” level of representation.
This is how we can tell an ambiguous sentence like “John said Mary saw him” has two posible interpretations, one where “him” is John and one where it’s someone else. It’s only one sentence, but it can translate into two logical propositions.

Does logic translate to anything else before we can interpret it, or is the logic our interpretation?

Fyrius's avatar

“Even if you can assign a probability based on what you know, you also need to consider your confidence in that probability.”
That’s an excellent point.

It’s a bit funny, though, because probability is itself already a measure of confidence – confidence that this particular scenario is going to happen. Where 0.5 is completely inconfident, and 0 and 1 are completely confident in both directions. Right?
So if you need another number for your confidence in the probability, this can be expressed as another probability, representing your confidence that this confidence is well-placed. That would be more thorough, I suppose, but also more confusing.
And you could also give a probability that the probability that your probability is correct is correct, and so on, in an endless loop.

I think unifying the probabilities into one number is equivalent to giving two numbers and also makes it easier to use.
Say you have some statistics saying 40% of all humans are left-handed, and you also know these particular statisticians are right 95% of the time. You can keep those numbers separated – and say any random person is probably [0.95] possibly [0.4] left-handed – or you could multiply them into one number 0.95 x 0.4 = 0.38, representing your net confidence that random person X is left-handed.

Then again, following that method would give you the same probability if you listen to statistician A who is right 95% of the time and says the probability of left-handedness is 40%, and if you only know of statistician B who is right only 50% of the time and says the probability is 76%.
In either case you’d say for a random person that their probability for left-handedness is 0.38, but is that assessment just as reliable in both cases? Keep in mind that you did compensate for statisticians B’s unreliability.

I don’t know. What an interesting question.

Fyrius's avatar

Hang on, wait, that can’t be right. No, something is awfully wrong about what I’ve been doing there.
Multiplying reliability of a probability assessment with the assessed probability makes sense if that probability is above 0.5, but if you have a very unreliable source giving a very low probability, that method would end you up with a probability further from 0.5, not closer to it.
If you have someone who’s just speculating all the time and who’s wrong just as often as he’s right, and he says the probability that the mayor is a vegetarian is 0.2, then by this method you’d multiply 0.2 x 0.5 = 0.1 and end up even more certain that the mayor is not a vegetarian than the unreliable guy who told you so.

So if you want to compensate for unreliability, you don’t just multiply, but you have to do something that diminishes the influence that this source has on your assessed probability. Hum.

I’m also forgetting about Bayesian probability modification, because when you find evidence you don’t base your assessment entirely on that, but you modify the probability upwards or downwards from a prior probability.

I still think it must be possible to unify the two probabilities somehow. But I don’t know exactly how to do it yet.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius At work, so can’t give a nice long response, but uncertainty would probably be represented as a confidence interval, not as just another number.

Fyrius's avatar

A “confidence interval”? Can you elaborate on that a bit when you get home?

Fyrius's avatar

I’m going to nerd this thread up a bit more. Because this bugs me.

Bayes’ Theorem says: the probability of the hypothesis given the evidence, equals the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis times the prior probability of the hypothesis, divided by the probability of the evidence whether the hypothesis is true or not.

p(H|E) = p(E|H) x p(H) / p(E)
Where p(E) = p(E|H) x p(H) + p(E|~H) x p(~H)
Where | means “given that” and ~ means “not”.

So let’s say the hypothesis that the mayor is a vegetarian has prior probability of 0.4. If the mayor is a vegetarian, the probability that the guesser will say so is 0.3. If he isn’t, that probability is also 0.3. The probability that the guesser will say so is 0.3 either way.

p(H|E) = 0.3 x 0.4 / 0.3 = 0.4

A bit of evidence that you would be just as likely to get whether the hypothesis is true or not has zero influence on the probability. If p(E|H) = p(E), then p(H|E) = p(H). If the probability of getting the evidence if the hypothesis is true equals the probability of getting it either way, then the hypothesis being true or false does not affect the probability of seeing E, which means E tells us bugger all.
That makes sense.

So the reliability of a source is a matter of how much less likely they would be to say H is true if H would in fact be false. For the guesser, there’s no connection between H and their guess that H, so the numbers are equal.
For the statistician who is right 95% of the time, the probability of E given H is 0.95 and that of E given not-H is 0.05. And if p(H) is 0.5, that means p(H|E) = 0.95.

But now I still don’t know how to adjust the influence on the posterior probability to the assessed probability of the source.

roundsquare's avatar

Sure, here’s an example.

Lets say I have a coin, and you don’t know if its fair or not. I define p as the probability it comes up heads. I ask you, “what do you think p is?”

Your best guess is p = 0.5, but you aren’t really confident in that. You know it may not be fair, so for all you know, maybe p = 1, or p = 0.

Now I flip the coin 3 times and get 3 heads. This is your new evidence. Now you know for sure that p != 0. In fact, you can be quite sure that p > 0.1. Why? If p = 0.1, Pr(HHH) = 0.001. Its so unlikely that you’d see HHH that you have to conclude that “p is probably more than 0.1.”

What would you use as your lower limit guess for p? Depends on how conservative you are (as well as how important it is that you get this right). Lets say you want to use 1% as your threshold. So you solve:
p^3 = 0.01—> p = 0.215443469

Anything below that shows the event you say as having a less than 1% probability and thus would be “surprising.”

If I told you p = 1, you wouldn’t be surprised. That fits quite well with the evidence, as does p = 0.9 and p = 0.8. So your confidence interval would be something like 0.215443469 to 1.

Now lets say we get 30 heads. If you do the same thing, your confidence interval shifts to 0.857695899 to 1.

If you get 29 heads and 1 tail, your confidence interval would shift to the left a bit, but would still not contain low values of p.

Of course, its always possible that p = 0.000000001 but its just very unlikely.

Alternatively, lets say after two flips you get HT. Your best guess is still 0.5, but you are more sure of it. Your confidence interval would shrink. (You can work out the math, but its not critical right now). If after 100 flips, you get 50 heads and 50 tails, again your confidence interval would shrink, and your best guess is 0.5.

The point is, with more evidence, the more sure you are of your probability. If after 5000 heads and 5000 tails I told you that p = 0.00000001 you’d probably call me a liar, but if I told you p = 0.500000001 you would probably believe me.

Back to god. Since we don’t know a lot, our evidence is pretty weak for any hypothesis. We just don’t know almost anything about the universe or what intelligence is. We’re learning a lot quickly, but we’ve only scratched the outer shell that protects the surface.

Edit: It’s been a while since I’ve done any mathematical statistics. I’d need to look up definitions and what not again to make sure I got the numbers exactly correct here, so just use the concept.

roundsquare's avatar

I don’t get your question? What is it you say “you don’t know?” (In symbolic form might be helpful for nerds such as myself).

Fyrius's avatar

I see. That sounds like a great way to quantify reliability.
I’d never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing.

“I don’t get your question? What is it you say “you don’t know?” (In symbolic form might be helpful for nerds such as myself).”
I don’t get your question either, right now. :/ What are you replying to, here? My last post?

I meant I still didn’t know how to calculate the posterior probability when I have a prior probability and a source that’s right X% of the time, that says the probability is Y.

In other words: say the probability of rain at any moment is 50%. The weather forecast tells me the probability of rain this afternoon is 60%, but it’s known that the probabilities the weatherman tells us are correct only 75% of the time, so I want to take his number with a proportional grain of salt. What’s the posterior probability?

But I just realised that this is a very contrived situation, because in order to know the probability of the weatherman’s forecasts you’d need someone else who calculates the probabilities perfectly, and if you have such an oracle at your disposal anyway you might as well just ask them.

roundsquare's avatar

Hmm… I’m not sure you can really say that the weatherman is correct 75% of the time if he makes statements like “the chances of rain are 60%.”

If it rains, is he correct, or wrong? Or is he 0.6 correct and 0.4 wrong? Maybe we need to use fuzzy logic… (hmm, new idea).

If he makes statements like “it will rain” or “it won’t rain” and he’s right 75% of the time, I think that once he says “it will rain” your 50% ges modified to 75%....

Anyway, I noticed you avoided my question. ;) How confident are you in your probability about god? Either in numerical form or just qualitatively.

Fyrius's avatar

I put your question on hold, on the grounds that I don’t know how to properly figure out the answer yet.

For an intuitive estimate, in your confidence interval notation, I’d put it between, say, 0.05 and 0.001, or so. Still a rather generous upper estimate, I think.
But let me mention again that I’m just making up these numbers, to represent a subjective feeling of probability. Even if it’s an educated subjective feeling.

There’s something to be said against using feelings to pinpoint very high or very low probabilities; I for one can hardly “feel” the difference between 0.001 and 0.00001. To a human brain those numbers are both just “very very low”, and they’re equally so even if one is a hundred times more likely than the other. Like all estimation, it only works on a scale we can handle. (Try estimating the diameter of the moon just from looking at it.)

Back to your post. If a weatherman who says “the chances of rain are 60%” isn’t somehow wrong if it doesn’t rain, then using probabilities is the ultimate waffling technique that leaves you entirely unfalsifiable. Surely that can’t be right.
It seems correct to me to say that if he puts the probability over 0.5 and it doesn’t happen, he’s relatively wrong, proportional to how far above 0.5 his number was. Same for probabilities under 0.5 if it does happen, of course.

Other than that, yes, it was an overly contrived situation. You can forget about it.

But this still leaves me wondering how you should update your assessed probability of p(H) = 0.6 if someone else tells you p(H) = 0.75. Do you assume a confidence interval from 0.6 to 0.75? But how can that reflect the relative reliability of the person who tells you?
You may not be able to tell that person A is wrong exactly 83% of the time, but you should still distinguish between numbers from a scientific publication and from the science section of a newspaper, right?

Seek's avatar

((Just for the record, a 60% chance of rain means the doppler shows probable rain fall over 60% of the listening area.))

Fyrius's avatar

Is that so? Well, that’s a flat-out lie, then. Surely the actual probability for any listener would be lower than 60% in this situation.
Oh well, at least it would be a pleasant surprise.

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Here is what About says: “Definition: A chance of rain or chance of precipitation are terms used to describe the likelihood of a precipitation event. Technically, the percentages refer to the likelihood of an area receiving a measurable amount of precipitation over a particular time period.”

“There is often great confusion among individuals when a statement is issued by the National Weather Service about a chance of rain. In easy terms, a measurable amount of rain usually refers to 1/100th of an inch (0.01 inches). If an area has a 60% chance of rain, that means that in 6 out of 10 cases where the weather is similar, there will be a measurable amount of precipitation somewhere in the area.”

roundsquare's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr @ETpro Hmmm…. I’ll need to learn more about this. Hope they aren’t essentially misleading us.

@Fyrius Example:
I say there is a 80% chance of team X winning.
You say there is a 90% chance of team X winning.
Team X wins.

Surely you are more correct than me.

This is meant to show that you shouldn’t take 50% as a cutoff unless you just want to use use the words “correct” and “incorrect” in an unprecise (although maybe more clear at times) way.

Fyrius's avatar

Well, yes. We’d both be correct, but not equally so.
But why does that mean 50% is not a good cut-off value? I’d contend that if I’d predict team X winning with 49% and you do with 51%, and team X wins, then you’re essentially right and I’m essentially wrong, even if you’re only a tiny little bit right and I’m only a tiny little bit wrong.
Likewise if we’d both have said 50% then we couldn’t be wrong under any circumstance – we wouldn’t commit ourselves to either outcome.

Are you just arguing against an absolute view on right and wrong? I’m pretty sure I wasn’t using such a view.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius Sorry, I just reread an earlier post. Seems I had misread it before. My bad.

Fyrius's avatar

‘kay. No worries.

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius I was thinking more about these confidence intervals and I think I’m very wrong. The probability isn’t a probability of something happening or some value that follows a probability distribution (in which case you use a confidence interval). No, in this case, we are more discussing how sure we are of something. Please ignore all the silliness above.

Fyrius's avatar

I suppose. Does that mean we can’t use confidence intervals?
How so? Is it reserved for things that happen often?

roundsquare's avatar

@Fyrius The way I’ve always used it is this:

Lets say I’m trying to estimate the average weight of people in the world. I take a random sample of say 60 people. From these people, I take an average. That average is my best guess. But, based on how much the data varies, I may not be very confident.

Instead, I can run a procedure that gets me a 95% confidence interval. It will give an interval that has the average in the middle. 95% of the time, when I use this process, the interval contains the correct average. (For example, during polling for an election, they give a margin of error. That range is a confidence interval, but not sure if its 95% or 99% or what).

The wider the confidence interval, the less sure we are. But, as you said, in the discussion we were having, the probability already measures that.

Fyrius's avatar

I see… I think I understand why that wouldn’t apply, then.

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