Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Proofs of the existence of God!

I have two problems with "proofs" of God's existence.  The first is that if such a proof existed then it would severely dent my faith and the second that they don't prove it - at least not for me and so almost certainly not for anyone who doesn't already believe in God!

The reason that any such proof would dent my faith is twofold.  The simplest is that for me God is so incomprehensible (apophatic in the trade) and we could only prove the existence of something comprehensible - therefore we have proven the existence of something less than God!

The second reason is that for me free will is required in faith.  If there were incontrovertible proof of God then we would have no choice (who am I kidding?) but to believe in Him - although of course believing in Him and choosing to love and follow Him are perhaps two different things.  Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, said this in his Easter Sermon:
For many people believing in God, having a faith, is impossibly difficult. They want proof or tangible signs of his existence. Yet when you think about it most things we do in life have an element of trust, of faith. Crossing the road, catching a plane, being in love, assume faith and trust. Love cannot be proved but we each know what it is, how it makes us feel.
My faith is based instead on a relationship with God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I cannot prove this, I can barely explain it, but I have experienced it and having done so have been changed by it.

These thoughts were in part stimulated by the discussion going on mainly on this blog post, which also included a link to this mathematical proof for the existence of God (which I see as a probabilistic argument - see below).

Proofs for the existence of God and my problem with them (!) below the fold.

There are a number of different proofs given for the existence of God:
  1. Ontological argument - God is a being greater than which nothing can be imagined and as existence trumps non existence He also exists.  Objections are covered in the link - but for me it is that God is more than I can imagine - so if I can imagine it then it isn't God!
  2. First Cause argument - Everything is caused by something else - God is the first, uncaused, cause.  Even if I accept the argument (not bothered to worry whether I do or not) that doesn't prove that the first mover is God - just that it exists.
  3. Teleological argument - If you found a watch you would deduce a watchmaker.  The natural world implies a creator.  Again I am not happy with this, although evolution does not rule out a creator, as it might prove a creator, but not the God of Christianity.
  4. God is more probable - Given the universe that we inhabit then God is a more likely explanation than anything else.  Stephen Unwin even quantifies this!  The problem is that with only one universe all are equally likely so we might just be lucky!  It is a bit like the idea of carrying a bomb onto an aeroplane (no longer recommended J) on the grounds that the probability that there are two bombs on the plane are very small.
  5. The occurrence of a Miracle - However, I suspect that most people who do not want to believe would find an alternative explanation.


  1. Hi Alan,

    I agree the proofs are all bogus.

    "The first is that if such a proof existed then it would severely dent my faith" - But if they did prove it, then you wouldn't need faith.

    Proof by deduction requires a valid logical argument and true premises to make a sound argument - i.e. one of which we can be certain the conclusion is true. At the limits of our knowledge about the universe and it's origins, or the absolute nature of reality (if there is such a thing), or God (if there is such a thing), all our premises are presuppositions, guesses, and so we can't know they are true. Therefore it doesn't matter how convincing your argument is, how valid it is, you will not have a sound argument. Proof by deduction is nonsense in this context, at these extremes of knowing.

    As fallible humans, with fallible minds and senses, all we can possibly do is collect data, compare it, test it, knock the hell out of it in order to make sense of what we experience - i.e. do science. This relies on deduction, which is to gather particular examples and make general conclusions. But the conclusions may be wrong, and there's nothing we can do to be absolutely sure that they are right. That's why science consists of gathering support for ideas, and using them as if they are true, until something better comes along. Despite what many religious people say, science is all we have. Any other stab in the dark is speculation.

  2. Just a point on probability.

    I have a bag with 10 balls, 5 black, 5 white. What is the probability of picking a black ball? It's 0.5, or 50%, or 50/50, or evens.

    Now, I have a bag so big we can't tell how big it is. It might be infinite, it might just be big and finite. I don't know the proportion of white balls to black balls. I don't know if there are any black balls. I don't even know if there are any balls in it. So, what's the probability of picking a black ball?

    That's right, you haven't the foggiest idea, so the correct answer is "I don't know". If someone told you that they have faith that there are some black balls in there, would that influence your stab at the odds? How about if they told you they had an ancient book that was written by humans but inspired by the one and only, monotheistic, black ball in the bag that there is in fact a black ball in the bag, and you only have to beleive that for it to be so. What do you think of the odds now?

    If someone thinks dumb estimates of probability are going to help, well, they'll believe anything.

  3. As I posted on Lesleys Blog in response to you:
    There is a slightly trite saying that science tells you about how and religion about why - if you are trying to use religion to answer how questions then it won't be convincing.

    So of course science is all we have to answer the "how"s. However you can't use science to answer the whys either - it isn't designed to do that.

  4. The probability argument is based on the number of constants that exist in the universe and how little they could vary without not creating life. For example the link about proteins. So I don't think that your critique is right. However, I don't think it is a good argument either - after all this universe is as likely as any other.

  5. It's the same problem. For the fine tuning argument, instead of trying to estimate the probability of God with no experience about the data involved, i.e. large bag of balls, these cosmological probabilities rely on other assumptions that we can't be sure are right. Assuming that our physical laws are so universal that they are the only way of creating universes like ours is too great an assumption. So, the usual terminology is that we have an N of 1 - i.e. we have one sample from an unknown number of other universes. Again, big bag of universes, and we don't know if there's one or very many, and we only know the physical details of the one, ours. We can be pretty sure the bag isn't empty, depending on your philosophical position on whether this universe actually exists or not. You just can't produce probabilities that are meaningful.

    And, from Unwin specifically: He begins with a 50 percent probability that God exists (arguing that 50–50 represents "maximum ignorance").

    This is quite wrong. 50-50 is not maximum ignorance at all. It's a clear statement that the odds are 50-50, that you know the chance is evens, when in fact it is a complete unknown; the whole point is that you can't state the odds. This is atrocious use of probability.

  6. Ah - apologies Ron - I didn't understand your critique - but yes, with multiple universes then I understand your point about probability telling us nothing.
    When it comes to Unwins argument then my recollection of Bayesian theory is that the starting % doesn't have a massive impact on the outcome - but right now I can't be fagged to do the sums - and am prepared to be proven wrong!



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