Actually, the probability is that there IS a God


While Cathnews is reporting the story that “Organisers of The Atheist Bus Campaign in New Zealand are considering taking legal action after their ads were rejected by the national bus company”, the A2 in yesterday’s Saturday Age was running a story on Richard Dawkins “Keeping the Faith” using a picture of the walking edition of the Atheist Manifesto with just such a bus in question. (not online).

In her article, Stephanie Bunbury writes:

What is beyond doubt, at least for me, is that you would think twice about starting any kind of argument with “Darwin’s rottweiler”, a man of gimlet eye, rapier tongue adan armoury of intelectual weaponry, no matter how much evidence you thought you had.

Well, we have given a couple examples on this blog, that more than one (ie. at least two) interviewers have had no such fear, one being Hugh Hewitt and the other Andrew Denton, in which Dawkins had his “rapier tongue” rather tied…

In any case, back to that bus ad campaign. It is questionable at just about every level. Pascal, author of the idea now known simply as “Pascal’s wager”, would say: How can you be so sure that “there’s probably no God” in the first place and secondly, are you willing to bet your eternal life on it? Apart from any Christian claim (and, in my book, the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ rather weights the probability toward the opposite conclusion), from the perspective of pure logic, can one ever say that there “probably isn’t” something? Evidence can point to the fact that something “probably” exists, and clear evidence can also point to the fact that something “probably” does not exist, but lack of evidence cannot justifiably lead one to conclude that there “probaby isn’t” something. The best example of this fallacy can be seen if we were to ask a 17th Century Englishman if there is any such thing as a “black swan”. The lack of evidence – ie. no Englishman before that date had ever seen a black swan – would not have been grounds for concluding that black swans “probably” don’t exist – for even in the 17th Century, black swans really did exist here in Australia. In other words, black swans not only “probably” but “really” existed, despite the lack of any positive evidence available to 17th Century Englishmen.

On the other hand, even if this statement were true – that God “probably” does not exist – Pascal’s logic would answer that even if there is only a remote possibility that God did exist, it would be worth living “as if God existed” because of the outcome of such a belief not only for the afterlife but for this life also.

That is the guts of what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said the day before Pope John Paul II died:

The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man’s ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life “veluti si Deus daretur,” as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Actually, the probability is that there IS a God

  1. matthias

    And apparently Dawkins has ruffled some feathers on his own web site andnused rather verbose language in the process. here is the link

    http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/?p=24232

  2. matthias

    so sorry .on further examination it seems that a contributor got rather verbose with the decision to change the Richard Dawkins forum. the web site Ship of fools has an amusing take on it

  3. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Who’s the sheila? Can she come to the pizza party?

  4. Tom

    I still love the fact that Dawkins thinks he has adequately refuted Aquinas’ arguments about Gods existence in less than 20 pages. Whatever else Dawkins is, he is still a scientist, and therefore, an academic. SURELY he has access to some library e-journal (JSTOR, EBSCO or the like) website where he can plug in ‘five ways’ or ‘aquinas proof of god’ and get a plethora of academic articles that come up. How does he honestly think he has done justice to the academia if he tries to deal with the whole spectrum of arguments in that short a period? It is honestly delirious.

    • Paul

      I agree Tom, Prof Dawkins may be a first rate biologist, but he is a lightweight philosopher. I read “The God Delusion”, and in my opinion his treatment of the proofs for the existence of God is very superficial. Interestingly, St Thomas expresses the case for atheism more rigorously and convincingly than Dawkins. The article in the Summa Theologica on the existence of God (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm#article3) is a good read. I think the two objections to the existence of God that St Thomas quotes are, roughly said, the existance of evil and Occam’s razor (although Occam was born after Thomas died). These are still the two arguments atheists use, apart from the meaningless claim that “religion is the cause of all social evil” which we will no doubt hear repeatedly in Melbourne in a couple of weeks.

      I see that Prof Dawkins is appearing on the ABC shoe Q & A on Monday 8th March, along with Sister? Veronica Brady, Tony Burke, Julie Bishop and Patrick McGorry, the Australian of the year. Prepare to not be dazzled by the level of philophical debate there.

  5. An Liaig

    Dawkins is NOT a first rate biologist. His book “The Selfish Gene” got the process of evolution completely wrong. His extreme reductionist view would be rejected by most biologists who can see the an organisem is more than its chemical composition and will behave in ways not predicatable from that composition. Even further, ecosystems are more than the organisems that make them up and also behave in complex ways. Dawkins is the Marget Thatcher (there is no such thing as society..) of biology.

    • Paul

      I was trying to be charitable, An Liaig, but you are probably right. Also, his theory of “memes” is just a piece of hokey folk “science” which some people treat much more seriously than it deserves.

      • Tom

        Ahahah, did you hear that apparently people want to start studying ‘memetics’

        Honestly, I’m not sure if the person who told me that was trying to make a joke, or was being serious.

  6. Peter

    Terry Pratchett satirized Pascal’s Wager in Hogfather, his novel about the nature of belief. A philosopher claimed, “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When the philosopher died, “he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, ‘We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…'”

    • You gotta love Terry Pratchett! Was it you who said you wondered how far from conversion to Catholicism he might be? Actually, and this is very sad, I hear that poor chap is suffering the early onset of dementia…

  7. Peregrinus

    Whether Dawkins is or is not a first-rate scientist is really beside the point. He’s certainly a better scientist than I am, and I am quite happy to concede that he may well be the greatest scientist of this or any other generation. But that, if true, would not give his view on the existence of God any particular weight, any more than would his being a first-rate banker, or an outstanding athlete, or a superlative cabinetmaker.

    If anything, his commitment to science may be something of a handicap to him when it comes to considering matters of religion. So far as I can see, he treats the question of God’s existence essentially as a scientific proposition, which I think rather misses the point. He assumes that if he can refute that “God exists” as a scientific proposition, he has disproved the existence of God or, at least, established that there is no reason to accept the existence of God. God is not a scientific proposition, and we have no reason to think that the apparatus and techniques of science are at all well-adapted for the study of God, or of God-questions.

    There is, incidentally, an interesting ambiguity in the phrase “there is probably no God”. “Probable” could be used here in its colloquial sense of “more likely than not, though we can’t absolutely exclude the possibility”. But it could be used in the alternative (and I think older) philosophical sense of “provable, demonstrable”, i.e. it can be proven that there is no God. But I think the campaign organisers intend the common meaning.

    The fine thing in the picture above, Terry, is a great deal more than a pretty face and an eye-catching shirt. She’s Ariane Sherine, a British writer and journalist who came up with the “Atheist bus campaign” idea in 2008, and found people – including Richard Dawkins – willing to fund it. She’s the one who insisted on “probably”, over the objections of Dawkins who preferred “almost certainly”. She argued that the campaign had to be above all honest, and that it is impossible to disprove the existence of God. I take my hat off to anybody who can prevail over Dawkin’s ego and opinions and still extract something like five thousand pounds out of him.

  8. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Holy living crap, Perry! This might be better than bringing Catherine! “Ariane” I believe is a variant of Ariadne, and hell, if her namesake could best the Minotaur what’s a bleeding biologist?

    I don’t think however I would be mistaken for Theseus. I’d better go for Dionysus, since I hic et ubique acknowledge the philosopher of Dionysus Friedrich Nietzsche as the only philosopher worth reading.

    Now if only Der Schuetzmeister can find a restaurant named Naxos we could have a veritable Ariane auf Naxos. Gott hilf mit seitlich! And she’s published in The Guardian, exactly where I first read his hero NT Wright. Deus vult!! Maybe it could be a double date, as in two dates, and Catherine can still come too. Oh the mind reels, I fall down the stairs!

  9. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Free falling Judas if r isn’t right next to t — it’s mir not mit.

    I can handle my typos in English, but I ausgefreak to the max when it happens during my German lapses, even though I am not a real German (we Angles left Angeln a LONG time ago) but only play one on the Internet and in LCMS, having been inculturated beginning in Minnesota and culminating in the most holy and venerable SOBs, I mean OSBs, with roots going back to Kloster Metten for God’s sake. hell I think Godfrey knew old Gamelbert.

  10. Peregrinus

    Your name is Maher, and you call yourself an Angle? Shame on you!

    As for Ariane, the name may be from the Greek, but the woman herself is a Parsee. Thus to her established qualities of being both easy on the eye and quick on the uptake we can add the exotic allure of the mysterious Orient. What’s not to like?

  11. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    It ain’t my fault. I got adopted. It was Clutterham to start with, Douglas John to be exact.

    Parsee? Why that’s Zoroaster stuff that is, Zarathustra selbst! And also as in Also sprach by the only philosopher worth reading (though he himself declared Heraclitus such) the disciple of Dionysus. Why the hand of God is all over this thing sure as hell.