Saturday, 25 February 2012

On belief in God

When I was younger, it was either Year 4 or Year 6 (I'm in Year 11 now,) I remember that we were having a lesson on probability. It was given a name with less syllables I'm sure, but what I remember about that lesson is that there was a line going from the things that "definitely could happen", and the things that "absolutely definitely couldn't happen". I don't think Santa Claus was on there given our ages, but I remember aliens being one given example. What I also remember thinking is something like "But they could exist!" Because we just don't know for absolutely damn cert. And thus, I come to God.

We were having a discussion about the (in)famous atheist Richard Dawkins on a Facebook group, and someone said this "No way Dawkins becomes a Christian... he's not open minded enough". This comment really annoyed me, because it was such an arrogant assumption, that God so definitely exists that anyone claiming otherwise is closed-minded. That's not the way proof works. You don't bring a conclusion to the table and say "If you don't believe in this, you're an ignoramus," if there's a great deal of reputable opposition to the concept.

Come to a discussion and tell us "The world is actually flat and you're all idiots for believing the lies," and you will be laughed at, because there are all of about sixty people in the world who would agree with you. Tell us "God is real and you're all idiots for believing otherwise," and we will point you to the limitless wealth of resources illustrating why God is incompatible with the commonly accepted model of the world, why his qualities as described in the Bible are paradoxical, how historians theorise he was innovated as a means of social control, etc. In a world with increasing atheism, you simply can't expect us to take your word for it.

But the thing that really bothered me about the quote was the unrestrained self-certainty in it. It's the mark of a person who will flat out refuse to step back and say "There is a chance that what I believe is wrong." All it serves to do is illustrate how the person making the claim is the closed-minded one. The interesting thing was, the original discussion was based on an article titled "Richard Dawkins: I can't be sure God doesn't exist." The guy who posted it accompanied it with the words "A crack in the dike!!!!" This is an example of intellectual honesty, of saying that "I don't know for absolute certain that God does not exist, but that there is an extremely low probability of his existence, in my opinion."

This is a very useful skill to have, to be able to admit a lack of absolute certainty, because in the end, that's all anyone has. Especially in Science: there is in reality no proof, just demonstration to a high probability. Sure, every time we've observed something dropping and falling to the ground, that doesn't mean it will do so every time. It might sound ridiculous, but it's an idea that started with the philosopher David Hume's criticism of the scientific method of induction, wherein you say "The majority of x appear to be y, therefore all x are y." I'll give you an example. All the swans that I have ever seen in my life are white. Therefore, all swans are white. It might sound good, but this reasoning is poor because, well, not all swans are white. The conclusion is therefore false. We can extrapolate this and use it to show that we can't even know for sure if the Sun will rise. Just because it rose yesterday, and the day before that, and every measurable day in history, it doesn't guarantee that it will rise tomorrow, it just gives us a high probability.

So I can't say that God definitely doesn't exist. I can say that I don't believe God exists. I can say that it's highly improbable that he exists. I can say that he conflicts with every viable measure of understanding the world as we know it. But to say that there can be absolutely no doubt as to the non-existence of God would be a mistake.

He still goes reasonably near the "absolutely definitely couldn't happen" though.

~Love Leonidas

P.S. This post was inspired by a friend of mind, whose post on religion I made a contribution to. Check out Elliot's three-part post on religion here!

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