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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 8 March 2004

Topic: Science

DEEP THOUGHTS: God in the Spreadsheet

Kevin Drum over at CalPundit.com led me to this.

Odds on that God exists, says scientist
Stewart Maclean, Catherine Bolsover and Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), Monday March 8, 2004

Yeah, on this site I linked to a lot of things and made fun of Mel Gibson's movie quite a bit. But now it seems the odds are I will roast in hell for it. Mel gets to heaven, probably, and I don't. Why?
A scientist has calculated that there is a 67% chance that God exists.

Dr Stephen Unwin has used a 200-year-old formula to calculate the probability of the existence of an omnipotent being. Bayes' Theory is usually used to work out the likelihood of events, such as nuclear power failure, by balancing the various factors that could affect a situation.

The Manchester University graduate, who now works as a risk assessor in Ohio, said the theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing, and then factors in the evidence both for and against the notion of a higher being.
Ohio? Really?

And what does this Brit in Ohio use to work out his assessment?
Factors that were considered included recognition of goodness, which Dr Unwin said makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil - including earthquakes and cancer.
Wait a minute, Steve! "Goodness" makes the existence of God more likely?

Let's think about that. Remember the Crusades? Remember the Inquisition? Remember the Thirty Years War? Yeah, well, looking at it the other way, smiting the godless, torturing people and mass slaughters may be a form of goodness to some. I suppose that depends on your perspective. Making sure "bad folks" die in excrutiating pain has, as a very good thing, many adherents.

Goodness is, though, a slippery term. Ask Martha "It's a good thing" Stewart. Hell, some people (like me) think anchovies are "good."

I remember when first encountering Dickens or Shakespeare my English students would whine, "But that's boring." And I would then patiently explain that they were bored, which wasn't at all the same thing as Macbeth or Great Expectations being intrinsically and inherently boring, or not. No written work was boring as such. There was no such inherent quality. But there was one's reaction - "This bores me" - that is quite valid. Of course.

I suspect this Unwin fellow is confusing reaction to something with its inherent qualities. Perhaps he should read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" where Robert Pirsig chats about such things, bringing in the Pheadrus dialogs of Plato.

That seems unlikely. This fellow would have us use Excel spreadsheets.
The unusual workings - which even take into account the existence of miracles - are set out in his new book, which includes a spreadsheet of the data used so that anyone can make the calculation themselves should they doubt its validity. The book, The Probability of God: A simple calculation that proves the ultimate truth, will be published later this month.
Why am I reminded of Douglas Adams and the question at the core of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where, of course, the answer the meaning of everything turns out to be... forty-two?

Unwin says he's interested in bridging the gap between science and religion. And he argues that rather than being a theological issue, the question of God's existence is simply a matter of statistics.
"On arriving in America I was exposed to certain religious outlooks that were somewhat of an assault upon my sensibilities - outlooks in which religion actually competes with science as an explanation of the world," he said.

"While I could not be sure, having slept through most of the cathedral services I had attended during secondary school, this did not seem like the version of faith I had remembered. In many ways, this project was for me a journey home - a reconciliation of my faith and education."
Yeah, well, Unwin, we all have our issues.

So the probability that God exists is sixty-six percent, and Unwin maintains that he is personally around ninety-five percent certain that God exists. Good for him.

Two in three chances God is out there. For this guy a nineteen in twenty chance.

Fine. Suppose we grant this, even without downloading the spreadsheet Unwin has devised.

Does this not then beg the question, if there is a God, probably, what is God doing these days? What is this business with war and death and all the rest? God's messing with us? He, or she, or it has an odd sense of humor or Mel Gibson understands fully? Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 16:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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