Deism vs Atheism (very high level question)

For context, I am a former moderate Catholic turned non-believer. However, while it has been comparatively easy to reject religion I am finding it more difficult to reject a deity (or see the necessity to do so) as part of becoming a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. So my question: I would like to know is how can an atheist assign an extremely low probability to there being a god?

My thought process is this: That the existence of a deity is not a scientific question is an understatement, I can not even conceive of a scientific test that could be performed to prove a deity exists. PLEASE correct me if I am wrong here. Even in the case of the flying spaghetti monster, you can conceive an experiment where every micron of the universe is observed simultaneously, actually disproving it by evidence of absence. Similarly, string theory could be proven or otherwise if we could just make small enough measurements. The orbiting teacup, well you just need to mount a big space expedition don’t you? But there is no mentally conceivable test for a deity because by definition it lies outside of the natural universe. So it seems like the only reasonable position to take is that it is impossible to comment on whether a god actually exists or not.

So when I see “proper” atheists talk about it being “extremely improbable” that a god exists, I wonder how they assign their probabilities because I don’t see where their numbers could possibly come from?

Posted: July 5th 2012

George Locke

A god is a highly specified hypothesis, and, as we all know, there is no evidence that any god exists. Even the deist’s god is quite specific: it is an intentional agent with powers enabling it to design and create an entire universe. We can reasonably predict that this god is unlikely to exist because it involves an astounding convergence of factors: this being must exist outside the universe, be super-intelligent, unbelievably powerful, and motivated to create (add in motivation to create us particularly and you’re really in a pickle). Without reason to believe that this coincidence really happened, we can only conclude that it is improbable.

Can I properly generalize from my own experience to conclude that this really is an astounding coincidence? Mightn’t there be conditions outside our universe making such beings bound to crop up? Sure it’s possible, but we have no reason to believe that those conditions are true. Our experience is limited, severely so when imagining what might exist beyond physical reality, but this does not provide anyone license to demand respect for his specific proposals of what should exist out there. We cannot disprove the existence invisible pink unicorns, but that is no reason to believe in them. Substitute “god” for invisible unicorn, and there’s your answer.

You can’t believe in something just because science can’t disprove it; lack of contradictory evidence is not enough. I’m not an atheist because I have perfect knowledge that gods cannot possibly exist. I have no reason to believe in God, so I don’t believe in God. That’s all atheism is about.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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donsevers www

>you can conceive an experiment where every micron of the universe is observed simultaneously

This is impossible. Where would the information gained be stored? We can never have all the information about the universe because information must be stored physically. We can only have information about parts of the universe, stored in other parts of it, at any given time.

>actually disproving it by evidence of absence.

There are no flying pigs in Yellowstone. This is not provable, but it is reasonable and useful, even though it could be wrong. This is called fallibilism. If a flying pig shows up in Yellowstone, we’ll update our view. In the meantime, the burden of proof is on flyingpigists.

>Similarly, string theory could be proven or otherwise if we could just make small enough measurements.

This is impossible. Probing small things requires higher wavelengths. Higher wavelengths have greater energy. Proving string theory requires probing sizes so small that we would create a black hole before we got to a small enough size to make our measurements.

?The orbiting teacup, well you just need to mount a big space expedition don’t you?

No, for the same reasons. You could complete your assay, but then you’d have to repeat it to rule out any teacups that may have arisen since your last assay. Still, a teacup could be smaller than the resolution of your instruments. Below a certain size, we can’t probe without creating black holes.

>But there is no mentally conceivable test for a deity because by definition it lies outside of the natural universe.

Precisely. To be conversable, we must propose god concepts that are amenable to investigation. Anyone can propose anything. Say I said, “You can’t be sure green ideas don’t sleep furiously”. You would be under no obligation to reply unless I could make sense of my proposal. Many well-formed English sentences are nonetheless incoherent, and thus dismissable without comment.

>So it seems like the only reasonable position to take is that it is impossible to comment on whether a god actually exists or not.

It depends on the particular god concept. Give me a coherent god concept and we’ll talk. When good god concepts are put forth, many of them can be ruled out logically or evidentially. It is possible to concoct a god concept, like the deist one, that is coherent and fits the facts, but then it means very little to believe it. The deist god is hardly worthy of the word 'god’.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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Galen Rose www

I like Richard Dawkins take on your question. He wrote (paraphrasing) that every complex thing we see in the universe started out as a simple thing, or is made up of simpler components. It’s obviously the way the universe works: complex things evolve from simpler things. Now, if the universe was created by a god, then it must have been even more complex than the universe itself. How did it get that way? It’s extremely improbable that the first thing to exist (a god) was the most complex thing in existence, without any way of becoming complex.

I might add a troubling question along these lines. If there is a creator god, then is he one undifferentiated entity, or does he have parts? If he is one undifferentiated entity, then how could he think – thought being a necessary precondition to creating a universe. In order for humans, or any other animal to think, we need billions of cells communicating with one another. An undifferentiated (without parts) thing is like a one-celled animal. How could it possibly think?

Conversely, if god is made of many parts, so he/she/it could think, then those parts must have existed before god, and who or what put those parts together? You see, it becomes one conundrum after another, or, if you like, turtles all the way down.

For these (and other) reasons, I think the existence of a god is extremely improbable.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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Blaise www

I think you’ll find that most rationalists reject the idea of a creator based on logical principles, rather than quantitative ones. I agree that it is certainly not possible to absolutely disprove the existence of a god, but if you define it vaguely enough to fit this unconfirmable status, you really have no definition at all.

If there truly is a “first cause” that exists outside the universe, what could we possibly know about it? How can you propose to know if it’s intelligent? How can you propose to know what it’s intentions might have been? If it isn’t in here with us, it is, to all intents and purposes, nonexistent.

Once you’ve taken away any qualitative knowledge of what this cause might be, all you are left with is “something created the universe.”, which we knew already. If calling it “God” makes you feel better, knock yourself out. Einstein himself, a noted non-believer, used the term 'god’ all the time, to describe the underlying laws of the universe.

The “extremely improbable” part comes when you try to ascribe any qualities to this cause. Since it is entirely unknowable, each quality you posit could have a potentially infinite number of possible values, each as likely as the next, of which you have chosen one. If you do the math, one divided by practically infinity is effectively zero, so your chances of being right about that quality are extremely small.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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It’s not clear to me what sort of god you are positing, and since you say, “deism”, that makes it doubly unclear.

If you are are using the classical definition of deism – a god that creates the universe but does not interact with it after creation, then I don’t think you could tell the difference between such a universe and an atheistic one. In that case I think Ockam wins out; there’s no reason to posit a deity in such a case.

If you are going towards non-theistic concepts of god, then the majority of them posit a god that interacts with the universe, and therefore such a god is amenable to scientific investigation.

As for the probability of gods, my opinion is that the theists have had years and years to come up with evidence towards gods, and have been unable to come up with anything compelling. If anything, the years have made the evidence less convincing.

As for evidence, I think you have things backwards. I can think of a few things that I would label as “godlike”; water into wine, walkingon water, parting the red sea, that sort of thing. Those would be significant evidence.

Conversely, there isn’t any evidence you can provide that would disprove a god, which means that the theory “god exists” is not falsifiable.

Which is bad, because you can’t figure out if you are wrong.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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SmartLX www

My personal reasons for thinking a god unlikely don’t all apply to a deistic god, because the position I explicitly rejected was that of theism. Some are applicable, however.

- All theistic gods ever worshipped supposedly want people to believe in them. A powerful enough god has far more reason to provide unambiguous evidence for its own existence than to hide itself. Because there is no unambiguous evidence available, I think it more likely that there is no such god than that the real god has some tortured reasoning keeping it from revealing itself.

- Any creator god (including a deistic god), would have its fingerprints and even signature all over its creation. If the universe was deliberately created to be a certain way (which most deists also believe) then it’s more likely that it would look like something that was designed with a specific purpose (e.g. intelligent life), instead of indistinguishable from a universe that has arisen naturally (and just happens to support life in one out of every zillion star systems). Therefore, it’s more likely that there was no creator god.

- If you need an eternal god to explain the existence of the universe at all, why not cut out one step and suppose that the universe itself is eternal in some form? A god is itself so completely inexplicable that it complicates, rather than simplifies, any explanation of the origins of the universe.

Aside from actually arguing against deism, it’s worth considering that the existence of a deistic god is most likely moot as far as we’re concerned. A god which has not intervened in the workings of the universe since creating it is not likely to have any interest in the fallout from a biological freak occurrence on one of the countless planets. It’s safe enough to behave as if that kind of a god does not exist, whether or not it does.

Posted: July 12th 2012

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