Friday, March 26, 2010

A Simple Case for the Nonexistence of God

Just thought I'd write a brief essay explaining in simple terms why God does not exist. For the sake of this essay, I will be assuming that no argument proves that God necessarily exists or has an extremely high probability of existing. I don't believe any argument has been successful in providing anything more than very weak support for the existence of God, nevertheless, if someone reading this believed that moderate support for God's existence was proven by a few arguments, he should still agree with me since I believe that my arguments would outweigh any case for God that did not prove it to 100% certainty (or to 99.99999999% certainty before taking my arguments into account, and I mean that literally).

In philosophy every hypothesis is judged on two levels: a priori and a posteriori. A priori reasoning determines whether something is possible/impossible, likely or unlikely through abstract logic and backround knowledge (what we know from cases we have observed other than the one at hand). A posteriori reasoning deals with the facts that are specific to the case at hand.

Here's a quick example of a priori reasoning: If Bob's wife Sue turns up missing, and we know from statistical studies that 99% of married women who go missing are murdered by their husbands, then we can infer that the a priori probability that Bob murdered Sue is 99%.

Here's an example of a posteriori reasoning: Let's say that during the investigation of the missing woman Sue, we find evidence that Sue bought a plane ticket and went to Russia. Investigators go to Russia and find Sue there. We conclude that Bob did not kill Sue because of the a posteriori evidence (the evidence specific to this case).

I think I can show that the existence of God is incredibly unlikely on both a priori and a posteriori grounds, therefore making the case against God as airtight as possible.

I argue that a being like God has an extremely low a priori probability on the following grounds:

First, God is usually concieved of as a super-intelligent, conscious, creative mind. I argue that such a mind existing uncaused is highly improbable. Furthermore, the usual attempts to get away from this (like saying that God is necessary and therefore not improbable) fail because they do not take into account the fact that the hypothesis of being like God being necessary is just as unlikely as the original problem. Think about it: How likely is that, out of all the possible minds that exist, God's mind, and only God's mind, is necessary (if any mind exists necessarily)? A few philosophers have arguments to back up their assertion that God is necessary, but I believe that they fail-- miserably. See my book Atheism and Naturalism.

The classic argument from design points to living things, and suggests that design will explain the fact that so many living things have organs and organ systems made of many parts, all specified and tailored to perform some function. In Darwin's Dangerous Idea philosopher Daniel Dennett uses a metaphor for thought called "The Library of Mendel". This imaginary library contains all possible genomes (genetic codes). I suppose someone trying to make the design argument might ask us to think about this library, and would then ask us how many of these genomes could produce a viable animal. After all, even tiny changes in the genomes of living things will leave them unviable. If you think about it, very few genomes in Mendel's library would code for an organism of apparent design. But we see apparent design all around us. So the codes could not have been created by randomness, that would be terribly unlikely. William Paley, had he known about the genetic code, would have undoubtedly thought that the codes were determined by a master designer. We know better; we know that they were determined by natural selection.

I say that to introduce another metaphor: The library of Broca. The library of Broca is the set of all possible minds. Now, theists postulate that there is a necessary mind (God's mind). The hypothesis that there is one and only one necessary mind (rather than none or two-infinity) and that it is God's mind is an extremely specific and obviously improbable hypothesis. Why couldn't the necessary mind be an idiot mind, or the mind of an Asian Tiger, or any other mind from the practically infinite set contained in Broca's library? Unless some argument can be given to support the hypothesis that the mind of God is necessary, we must apply the principle of indifference and assume that all possible hypotheses are equally probable (I have defended this practice here). And there are billions and billions of hypotheses. There might not be any necessary minds. There might be ten necessary minds (which would be polytheism, not monotheism!). And so on.

Second, I'd like to follow a line of argument suggested by Geoffrey Berg in The Six Ways of Atheism : God is a being who is omnipotent, the creator of the universe, supremely good, and so on. But it must be statistically improbable for the creator of the universe to also possess attributes like supreme goodness which must occur in very few (if any) beings. To see this argument with more clarity, try thinking about it this way: suppose that tomorrow one person will win the lottery and one person will be struck by lightning. What are the odds that the lottery winner will be one and the same as the person who gets struck by lightning? Obviously, the odds are incredibly low that two improbable occurances will happen to the same person. Likewise, the odds that a rare (or perhaps even non-existent) attribute like supreme goodness will happen to exist in the unique being who created the universe is also improbable.

Now for the a posteriori argument: The hypothesis that there is a completely good, all knowing, and all powerful being predicts that the world will contain little or no evil. A good being always removes as much evil as it can (that it knows about). An all powerful being could remove all evil. An all knowing being would know about all evils. Therefore, an all good, all powerful and all knowing being would remove all evil if it existed. But evil exists. Therefore, the being does not exist.

Various responses have been made to this argument: God does not remove all evil because he must allow some evil which we humans do with our free will (and free will is supposedly such a great good that God is willing to allow some evil in order for us to have it).

Leaving aside the fact that this is a mere possiblity (we don't know with any precision whether or not free will is more valuable than the abuse that the gift of free will will lead to), the defense is a poor one. The actions of human beings are determined by what they can do, their knowledge of the options available to them, and by their desires (humans choose the option that they believe will best fulfill their desires). If that view is correct, then God could have created humans with pure desires, thereby determining that their choices would always be good and evil would not exist. I've written more on this here.


Addendum: On the possibility of arguments for God.

Gregory Dawes' book Theism and Explanation, which I have reviewed here, shows that any inference to the best explanation to God must be weak, at best.

6 comments:

James said...

I think a posteriori knowledge can help us come to tentative conclusions, such as whether there is compelling evidence for the existence of a god or gods (so far, none that I’ve heard of). But I question the use of probability to decide a priori what kind of reality we live in, before any investigation has taken place. If reality (the set of all things that exist, natural or supernatural) is uncaused, then I don’t see how we can use logic to predict or explain the existence of reality itself, or of its fundamental attributes.

It’s not that the probability of a very smart god is low; there is no basis for a calculation. It’s like dividing by zero. The same goes for a god of middling intelligence, or a stupid god. I also don’t think we can do an a priori calculation of the probability of finding ourselves in a reality which has no gods. Tentative conclusions can only be drawn once you are inside reality and start looking around.

yuzem said...

Hello, I was reading your answers in the other post, you asked me to read this, so I will respond to this one first.

You made two arguments against the necessity of God:
1. The odds against God being the only necessary being.
2. Natural selection.

Note that to refute an argument for the existence of God is not an argument for his non-existence. Of course you know this I just wanted to point it out.

You also made one a priori argument:
3. The odds against God having two rare attributes.
...and one a posteriori argument:
4. The existence of evil.

I will try to be as brief as possible.

1. How likely is that, out of all the possible minds that exist, God's mind, and only God's mind, is necessary (if any mind exists necessarily)?
Anyone who is necessary is necessary for something.
It is most important to answer the question: Necessary for what?
If it is for the creation of the Universe:
It is observable that for any design there is usually "one" mind responsible: in architecture, literature, arts in general but also in designing exercises, etc.
Even in the cases where there are more than one mind involved, only one mind gives the initial impulse for any creation.

2. We know better; we know that they were determined by natural selection.
Take this video as a response.

3. But it must be statistically improbable for the creator of the universe to also possess attributes like supreme goodness which must occur in very few (if any) beings. To see this argument with more clarity, try thinking about it this way: suppose that tomorrow one person will win the lottery and one person will be struck by lightning. What are the odds that the lottery winner will be one and the same as the person who gets struck by lightning? Obviously, the odds are incredibly low that two improbable occurances will happen to the same person. Likewise, the odds that a rare (or perhaps even non-existent) attribute like supreme goodness will happen to exist in the unique being who created the universe is also improbable.
The problem here is that in the case of God, one attribute is deduced from the other.
For example:
The odds of being a genius are very low.
The odds for someone to discover the cure for cancer also are very low.
But if someone discovers the cure it will be probably a genius.

The case of God:
If God has created all things it follows that he is all powerful, in this sense: that he is able to do anything since he did everything.
Anything form the group of things that we know are possible (anything that exist) as he did anything that exist.

If he has created the universe it follows that he is the wiser being because who knows more about something than his creator?

If he is the wiser being it follows that he is the most benevolent being as wisdom is related to benevolence and delusion to evil.

4. Now for the a posteriori argument: The hypothesis that there is a completely good, all knowing, and all powerful being predicts that the world will contain little or no evil. A good being always removes as much evil as it can (that it knows about). An all powerful being could remove all evil. An all knowing being would know about all evils. Therefore, an all good, all powerful and all knowing being would remove all evil if it existed. But evil exists. Therefore, the being does not exist.
Please take this debate as a response.

AIGBusted said...

"You made two arguments against the necessity of God:
1. The odds against God being the only necessary being.
2. Natural selection."

Natural Selection is not an argument against God (or his necessity) and I did not intend it as such. I'm not sure where you got that from.


"Note that to refute an argument for the existence of God is not an argument for his non-existence. Of course you know this I just wanted to point it out."

I agree.


"Anyone who is necessary is necessary for something.
It is most important to answer the question: Necessary for what?"

I'm not sure you've understood me. When I refer to God existing necessarily, I don't mean that God is necessary to explain something. What I mean is the position that God MUST exist. He cannot NOT exist (pardon the double negative).


"Take this video as a response."

Unfortunately the computer I am right now does not have sound. However, I clicked the video to see what it was and saw that it was William Craig. I've heard Craig make this point before in a debate with Paul Draper, and I'm afraid he is incredibly wrong. It is instances like this which show that Craig can, at times, be very incompetent. Some of the examples I heard him present with Draper are refuted here:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/addendaB.html

And Michael Behe has been thoroughly debunked. In my book "Atheism and Naturalism" I provide ample arguments which show that he is wrong.


"The problem here is that in the case of God, one attribute is deduced from the other."

Geoffrey Berg covers this objection in his book "The Six Ways of Atheism". Even your example, the example of being a genius and discovering a cure for cancer, isn't really one attribute being deduced from another. Sure, if someone is a genius they may have a greater chance of discovering the cure for cancer. But it doesn't follow that they will, and any one genius may still have a low likelihood of discovering the cure.

Now, if we concieve of God as a creator, then how would that make him all powerful? I've heard William Lane Craig say that a being who can create something out of nothing is all powerful, but I've never been sure how that follows. Couldn't we imagine a being who could create atoms from nothing but couldn't control those atoms after he had made them?

AIGBusted said...

"If he has created the universe it follows that he is the wiser being because who knows more about something than his creator?"

What if the creator has forgotten about his creation since he created? We can't know that the creator had perfect memory, or that he did not accidentally create the universe. Besides, people can create something without knowing everything about it. People often set-up and run programs that simulate evolution by natural selection without knowing in advance how what the results will be. Google "evolutionary algorithms".


"If he is the wiser being it follows that he is the most benevolent being as wisdom is related to benevolence and delusion to evil."

Knowing everything would entail knowing moral truths, I agree. But knowing a moral truth doesn't entail having the proper desires that make one willing to follow moral truths. Someone who is very wicked might be very smart and might understand morality a great deal, but nevertheless might choose not to abide by that morality because he values his own pleasure over the well-being of others.

"Please Take This Debate as a Response."

My time at the library computer is running out. However, I did manage to skim the debate. I agree that we may not be able to be 100% certain that God would never allow evil. However, I do think it is practically certain that a God would not allow evil, and so it is still true that the God hypothesis predicts little or no evil (albeit it might be better to say that the God hypothesis predicts a low probability of evil).

AIGBusted said...

I noticed the link I gave in the comment before last didn't post correctly. Just google:

Richard Carrier, Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept?

yuzem said...

Natural Selection is not an argument against God (or his necessity) and I did not intend it as such. I'm not sure where you got that from.

You said:
The classic argument from design points to living things, and suggests that design will explain the fact that so many living things have organs and organ systems made of many parts, all specified and tailored to perform some function [...] We know better; we know that they were determined by natural selection.
ID would make a designer necessary, natural selection, lets say evolution is against the necessity of a designer for the existence of life.
But it is ok if you didn't intended as such.

I'm not sure you've understood me. When I refer to God existing necessarily, I don't mean that God is necessary to explain something. What I mean is the position that God MUST exist. He cannot NOT exist
Why must he exist? What is the argument? Are you talking about the ontological argument?
Anyway, I still say that someone who is necessary is necessary for something.
Someone who is necessary for nothing is not necessary at all.

Craig can, at times, be very incompetent. Some of the examples I heard him present with Draper are refuted here:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/addendaB.html

Craig quoted Barrow and Tippler book.
The points on the links are valid but even if the calculations are very, very.... very wrong in favour of evolution, it still wouldn't look good for evolution.
But ok, you could argue that the calculations are astronomically wrong and since we can't make the correct calculations we can't find out who is right.

Even your example, the example of being a genius and discovering a cure for cancer, isn't really one attribute being deduced from another
Let me put it this way then: An attribute is deduced from an attributed action.
If someone discovers the cure for cancer, it will be most probably called genius.

Now, if we concieve of God as a creator, then how would that make him all powerful?
My previous argument:
If God has created all things it follows that he is all powerful, in this sense: that he is able to do anything since he did everything.
Anything from the group of things that we know are possible (anything that exist) as he did everything that exist.

Note that the point here is only to show how the attributes are deduced from a single claim: "that God created everything", since your argument was against him having more than one special attribute.

What if the creator has forgotten about his creation since he created? We can't know that the creator had perfect memory
Of course, many things could be but that's not the point, as I said before, the point is to show how the attributes [...]

1. Most creators are the most wiser about their creations.
2. God have created everything.
3. Most provably, God is the wiser about everything.

Knowing everything would entail knowing moral truths, I agree. But knowing a moral truth doesn't entail having the proper desires that make one willing to follow moral truths.
Ok, another argument: A creator can be seeing as the father of his creations.

1. Most fathers want the best for their children.
2. God is the father of everything.
3. Most probably, God wants the best for everything.

If you object the father analogy, it works also for creator since most creators want the best for their creations: If you write a book you would want it to be successful, to be loved and if it wins awards and honours, the better.

I do think it is practically certain that a God would not allow evil, and so it is still true that the God hypothesis predicts little or no evil
The point of the debate is that you must prove that it is logically impossible in order to make it a valid argument against God because if it is possible, if free will can be better than no-evil, then, from that perspective, a good God do predicts the existence of evil.