Tag Archives: existence

Pascal’s Wager


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ch871223 The mathematician, Blaise Pascal, had a theory on belief in god—he supposed that one was far better to wager on god’s existence than not. His theory is not a wager as to if god exists or not but rather he had a cost benefit analysis whereby he said that if you believe in god you will get more benefit than if you don’t if god actually exists as opposed to if he doesn’t exist than you are in the same place as someone who has spent their whole life as an atheist. So in basic terms if god exists and you believe in him then you get more than you would get than if you were in any other position.

  Theist Atheist
God Exits Paradise Hell
No God Nothing Nothing

 

As you can see Pascal had worked it all out in terms of the best bet to gain the most. Most of you will of course have seen the problems with this kind of argument already. First, one cannot force oneself to believe in god—if you don’t believe in god and pretend to worship by attending services and adapting your morals to suit your religion’s and you end up at the pearly gates where you are greeted by an al-knowing god that knew that you had just been paying lip services to him all your life. You see this just won’t do—if you are unable to believe then you cannot just fain it—to borrow a phrase from a famous theist Martin Luther—‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.

Or suppose that you die and you are confronted by Zeus and he demands to know why you didn’t believe in him? Surely if he is anything like the old testament god that hates false idols you would be better not believing in any gods rather than the wrong one! Then there’s the anti-Pascal wager[1] idea that is if you could bet on god not existing and live a better life now like by not wasting time by worshiping you could bet on him not being there and get more out of the here-and-now.


[1] Dawkins, R., “The God Delusion” (Transworld Publishers, 2006) at p105

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Flying Teapot v. God: The Negative Proof


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800pxTouched_by_His_Noodly_AppendageThe worst argument that‘a believer in god can use is the negative proof i.e. when she says “can you prove god doesn’t exist?”- the answer to this is that the onus is on the one asserting a belief to positively prove that to which they assert. We are familiar with this concept in other areas of our society. If we are unfortunate enough to be charged with a crime how unjust would it be if you were told that the prosecutor was not going to adduce any evidence that you committed the crime but you have to prove that you did not break the law?

If this argument is brought to its natural conclusion it can enter into the realm of absolute absurdity. The mere fact that a proposition cannot be disproved does not render it true. This is known as an argument form ignorance which is a logical fallacy- X cannot be proved false therefore it is true. There are innumerable things that you do not believe in that cannot be shown do not exist. Bertrand Russell deals with this question delightfully in his essay “Is There a God?

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.[1]

There are infinite things that are things that cannot be disproved but we do not therefore accept that they are true. In fact taking this position belies all methodology that has advanced our understanding of our Universe. Russell’s teapot is the foundation for numerous incarnations of gods which have arisen to highlight the lunacy of this logic: Invisible Pink Unicorn, flying spaghetti monster. Religious people also try to use this logical fallacy when they say that “You are assuming god is false because we cannot prove he exists” I am not 100% sure that god doesn’t exist–no one is this is an epistemological problem; can we ever be 100% sure about anything?

By using evidence I can explain with greater quality the nature of our universe. The 14th centaury logician William Ockham provides a method of logical reasoning known as ‘Ockham’s Razor’ in which he states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible. Therefore where evidence explains our universe this implies that where there is no evidence to the contrary this solution is valid.


[1] Russell, B., “The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell” Slater, J. G. and P. Köllner Eds. (McMaster University ed G. Allen & Unwin, 1983)

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Ontological Argument


This is the third argument about god’s existence that I am going to look at. Of the last two arguments this is perhaps one that might be a bit of a head ache. Unlike the last two arguments this is what is called a priori—meaning an argument where the knowledge is gained independently of experience.

Descartes’

Imagine god as being perfect—what are all the qualities of perfection? Would you include existence as one of these qualities? Surly if something is perfect then is exists or else it is not really perfect because, it doesn’t have the quality of existence. It might have all other great qualities like beauty and kindness but, if it doesn’t exist then it is not perfect because things that exist are better than it. If I said to you do you want an imaginary cake or real one which one of them is better?

So the argument goes:

  1. God is perfect;
  2. Existence is a quality of perfection;
  3. Therefore if god is perfect he exists.

Well what is to be said if we say that he doesn’t exist? Well theists will say then what you are thinking of is not god because god is perfect and has to exist because he is perfection. This is called an argument!

Let us then define a thing called a ‘shunicorn’ it is exactly like a unicorn except we also say it is perfect therefore shunicorns exist[1]Shunicorns do not exist they are just made up and defined like this but this is the exact same argument used to ‘prove’ god exisits.

There is also argument about if Desecrates can use existence as a property of something. If I say ‘Mary is nice’ you assume that she exists because if she didn’t she couldn’t be nice—things that do not exist do not have properties. All existing things by nature exist we do not have to give them the property. There is a much more detailed attempt at what I have tried o say in this paragraph in Everitt’s[2]book—I am not going to try and do justice to it here.

Anselms’

Think of a something in which nothing greater can be thought of—now think of that thing existing—that is greater than what you were thinking of before; hence god exists.[3]

Right really not much to say on this one. Gaunilo[4] had a retort to this argument. Think of the greatest tropical island perfect in every way; now think of it existing wouldn’t that be better? Don’t pack your bags just yet!


[1] Everitt, N., “The Non-Existence of God” (Routledge, 2004) at p38

[2] Ibid.

[3 Plantinaga, A., “The Ontological Argument from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers” (Macmillan, 1968)

[4] Everitt, N., “The Non-Existence of God” (Routledge, 2004) at p33

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Teleological

The second argument I am going to deal with on the existence of god is called the teleological argument. Teleology is the philosophical study of design and purpose. For a list of the Arguments of god’s existence see here)

Imagine you were walking along on an alien planet somewhere far away and you stumbled across a pocket watch on the ground—you pick it up and look at how intricate it is and you say to yourself that it must have been made by something intelligent. Now we are more complicated than a watch—we look like we were designed ergo we were designed by a creator. Fred Hoyle’s idea of a whirlwind blowing through a scrap yard and making a Jumbo Jet from the parts he says is a demonstration that complex things need a more complex creator and cannot be created by accident because it is statistically tantamount to impossible. This idea is both wrong and right. Let me explain; we all know that a jumbo jet being created by chance would be more-or-less impossible the same goes for humans as we are more complicated than jets but the fact is this analogy doesn’t apply to our creation because we aren’t suggesting we were created by chance. Anyone that suggests evolution is a process that is similar to a whirlwind in a scrap yard either doesn’t understand evolution or is trying to deceive you.

Evolution does not rely on chance to create complex systems like us. How evolution works is that a simpler organism when reproducing (replicating) will have random mutations if these mutations mean that the new mutated organism is fitter then it spreads its jeans and then the process goes on again. The big difference is that it is not all happening at once no one thinks that a simple organism went to a very complex one all at once like the jumbo jet—what is happening is it is gradually getting more and more complex and it is not just randomly getting like this nature is picking the best one and of the random changes. It is important to see the distinction between random changes and randomly evolving—if five random mutations happen the ones that get passed on to the next generation are not randomly picked—nature picks the best ones. How can nature pick the best ones it’s not alive? Well, by pick I don’t mean consciously choose it is blindly choosing—the ones that aren’t as good at passing their genes around will lose out to the ones that are—so you see it is not a random choice on which ones will get passed on it is the best ones that will get passed on and what is more we don’t need any conscious being to choose the best ones.

This argument is of no real merit now that we can explain how things are they way that they are by using scientific methods and not have to resort to dulling our own intelligence by providing a story of creation as a fact when it has no evidence to support its magic claims.

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I Need a Miracle

Where have all the miracles gone? It seems we were inundated with the stories of all the unearthly things that have been done by the power of god. He can produce rabbits form his hat all day long—we have Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into heaven; he was born of a virgin and turned water into win; healed the sick; multiplied loaves and fishes and so on and on. Now my question is if god saw fit to cater a wedding in Cana why won’t he supply food for the starving in Africa?
There are people that claim latter day miracles but, are unable to supply any verifiable evidence. The annual liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro in Naples is all but impressive—it is pathetic to see hundreds of faithful all staring at a little vile of congealed blood while some old clergy man shakes it with all his power trying to force a small amount of blood to turn to a less solid state. The magician and sceptic James Randi is able to demonstrate the processes involved with this deception and to be honest it is not even that impressive.

Long gone or the resurrections and flying horses—no more are the parting of oceans to let people cross. You see we are no longer fools—if we take a look at less scientifically advanced cultures we can see how the first person to figure out when the eclipse was going to happen might seem like he had the power to do it or when he was able to know when the days were going to get longer or shorter he might have seemed powerful. We don’t need any of this mumbo jumbo anymore because we are able to explain it without resorting to magic spells and incantations.

If god was going to give a vulgar display of power to the people of times-gone-by why didn’t he give them video equipment to make better records than second hand butchered reports in scattered manuscripts? What we need is—to coin a phrase—shock and awe tactics of god—if he was to display he power as he did in times gone by we would have the whole Earth worshiping him—if an angel came into my room at night demonstrating some unexplainable powers of huge proportions then I would be the first to be prostrate on the ground flagellating myself. But, no I am expected to be content that the time of all these impressive miracles are over are over we have to put up with bleeding statues of the virgin Mary. There is the classic story that is told by believers that goes: there was this guy who was working away in a shop and he was very unhappy but then some random person came in off the street and stood on his head in the middle of the shop floor—the shopkeeper rushed over and took the man’s hand and said ‘thank you, thank you—just before you came in I was going to kill myself but before I done it I prayed to god that if he was real to make someone come in off the street and stand on his head’. Now besides the fact that this sound like a my-mother’s-hairdresser’s-aunt’s-husband’s-granny heard that… story it is not very impressive why couldn’t that man say ‘god if you are real fill the bellies of all the starving children’? Surely god’s powers can be put to more impressive tricks than this parlour game—sure I have seen the Hypnosis-Magician Darren Brown make people think that they were dead or make people forget that they had played the piano their whole life. God’s miracles: they don’t impress me much.


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