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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Odds and God and...What music is playing at YOUR funeral???

Walking around us every day are people who are unsure of the existence of God. Others have the faith to believe in God, while still others have convinced themselves either that God does not exist or that they consider the matter irrelevant.

My wife is a believer, albeit like her husband kind of an odd one. She has asked me to play "In My Time Of Dying" by Led Zeppelin (from the Physical Graffiti album) at her funeral. But I say that I will croak before her.....but she can play it at mine, if she likes. I suppose either one of us would have a tussle on our hands with the more conservative elements of our church/funeral home concerning our musical choices. But you know what, if my wonderful wife has the bad taste to leave before me, I will fight tooth and nail to give her the sendoff she desired! Fuddy-duddies will simply have to squirm.

"In My Time Of Dying" - bonham/jones/page/plant

In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home

Well, well, well, so I can die easy [X2]

Jesus, gonna make up my dyin' bed.
Meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air
If my wings should fail me, Lord. Please meet me with another pair

Well, well, well, so I can die easy [X2]

Jesus, gonna make up.. somebody, somebody...
Jesus gonna make up... Jesus gonna make you my dyin' bed

Oh, Saint Peter, at the gates of heaven... Won't you let me in
I never did no harm. I never did no wrong

Oh, Gabriel, let me blow your horn. Let me blow your horn
Oh, I never did, did no harm.

I've only been this young once. I never thought I'd do anybody no wrong
No, not once.

Oh, I did somebody some good. Somebody some good...
Oh, did somebody some good. I must have did somebody some good...

And I see them in the streets
And I see them in the field
And I hear them shouting under my feet
And I know it's got to be real
Oh, Lord, deliver me
All the wrong I've done
You can deliver me, Lord
I only wanted to have some fun.

Hear the angels marchin', hear the' marchin', hear them marchin',
hear them marchin', the' marchin'

Oh my Jesus... [repeat]

Oh, don't you make it my dyin', dyin', dyin'..."

([Studio Chatter:] "That's gonna be the one, isn't it? "
"Come have a listen, then. "
Oh yes, thank you.")

But I would also play "Unchain" by White Heart were I in charge of my own funeral. Needless to say, at that particular time I will no longer care what is happening at my own funeral since I will certainly not be there!

Unchain by Whiteheart (acoustic version)
written by Mark Gershmell and Bill Smiley

Tears are falling on my story book
Colors running, I don't want to look
There's a cloud on my looking glass
Full of questions I'm afraid to ask
Afraid to love, such a chance to take
If I love and lose, my fragile heart will break.

No dotted line, there's no guarantee
For the story's end you may never see
Unchain me from my poverty
Release my soul

Unchain my life
Let the doubt and the darkness fall from my eyes
Unchain my dreams
Let the heavens of love open up in me
Unchain my life

Drop the chains from my heart and hands
Don't want to be just a halfway man
Got a world of love I feel deep inside
But then I go hit a wall of pride
For if you stop, take a look at me
I want you seeing what I want you to see.

No storybook, there's no guarantee
Still a voice of love is calling you and me
Unchain me from this poverty
Release my soul

Unchain my life
Let the doubt and the darkness fall from my eyes
Unchain my dreams
Let the heavens of love open up in me
Unchain my heart
There's no better time than now to start
Unchain my dreams

{piano solo over Em}

Unchain my life
Let the doubt and the darkness fall from my eyes
Unchain my dreams
Let the heavens of love open up in me
Unchain my heart
There's no better time than now to start
Unchain my dreams

There I go wandering away from the subject.

What are the odds for or against God????

This post has some general arguments concerning the existence of God:

Arguments for the Existence of God

Philosophers have tried to provide rational proofs of God's existence that go beyond dogmatic assertion or appeal to ancient scripture. The major proofs, with their corresponding objections, are as follows:

1. Ontological:

It is possible to imagine a perfect being. Such a being could not be perfect unless its essence included existence. Therefore a perfect being must exist.

Objection: You cannot define or imagine a thing into existence.

2. Causal:

Everything must have a cause. It is impossible to continue backwards to infinity with causes, therefore there must have been a first cause which was not conditioned by any other cause. That cause must be God.

Objections: If you allow one thing to exist without cause, you contradict your own premise. And if you do, there is no reason why the universe should not be the one thing that exists or originates without cause.

3. Design:

Animals, plants and planets show clear signs of being designed for specific ends, therefore there must have been a designer.

Objection: The principles of self-organization and evolution provide complete explanations for apparent design.

3a. Modern design argument:

the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. This is the strongest card in the theist hand. The laws of the universe seem to have been framed in such a way that stars and planets will form and life can emerge. Many constants of nature appear to be very finely tuned for this, and the odds against this happening by chance are astronomical.

Objections: The odds against all possible universes are equally astronomical, yet one of them must be the actual universe. Moreover, if there are very many universes, then some of these will contain the possibility of life. Even if valid, the anthropic cosmological principle guarantees only that stars and planets and life will emerge - not intelligent life. In its weak form, the anthropic cosmological principle merely states that if we are here to observe the universe, it follows that the universe must have properties that permit intelligent life to emerge.

4. Experiential:

A very large number of people claim to have personal religious experiences of God.

Objections: We cannot assume that everything imagined in mental experiences (which include dreams, hallucinations etc) actually exists. Such experiences cannot be repeated, tested or publicly verified. Mystical and other personal experiences can be explained by other causes.

5. Pragmatic:

Human societies require ethics to survive. Ethics are more effectively enforced if people fear God and Hell and hope for Heaven (cf. the origin of ethical systems).

Objections: The usefulness of a belief does not prove its truth. In any case, many societies have thrived without these beliefs, while crime has thrived in theistic societies believing in heaven and hell.

Readers, you no doubt have considered some or all of these points and have settled which side you are on? I found an interesting source which I have not yet read that I wanted to point out. This is a gentleman who claims to have calculated the Odds concerning God!

The Probability of God
A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth
Written by Dr. Stephen D. Unwin

Does God exist?

This is probably the most debated question in the history of mankind. Scholars, scientists, and philosophers have spent their lifetimes trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to have their theories crucified by other scholars, scientists, and philosophers. Where the debate breaks down is in the ambiguities and colloquialisms of language. But, by using a universal, unambiguous language—namely, mathematics—can this question finally be answered definitively? That’s what Dr. Stephen Unwin attempts to do in this riveting, accessible, and thoughtful book, The Probability of God.

At its core, this groundbreaking book reveals how a math equation developed more than 200 years ago by noted European philosopher Thomas Bayes can be used to calculate the probability that God exists. The equation itself is much more complicated than a simple coin toss. Yet Dr. Unwin writes with a clarity that makes his mathematical proof easy for even the nonmathematician to understand. Leading you carefully through each step in his argument, he demonstrates in the end that God does indeed exist.

A provocative, enlightening, and engaging book for inter-disciplinary considerations.

"Stephen Unwin has pulled off the seemingly impossible—a profound and instructive discussion of God delivered in an entertaining, witty and no-nonsense style. His quirky prose conceals a wealth of information about science, religion and the grounds for rational belief. He bypasses the indulgent obscurantism so characteristic of contemporary theological writing and goes straight to the heart of the matter: Is belief in God a reasonable deduction given the evidence? That Unwin can achieve this with minimal mathematics is a testimony to his incisive mind and impressive writing skills."

Paul Davies, Templeton Prize winner and author of The Mind of God and The Cosmic Blueprint

Blogcritics comments on the book:

"Unwin starts with the proposition that he is neutral on God's existence. In other words the starting point is 50/50 on God's existence. This is the a priori probability from a neutral perspective but he goes further. To inform his formula Unwin uses six evidentiary areas that affect the probability that God exists. They are:

1. The recognition of goodness.
2. The existence of moral evil.
3. The existence of natural evil.
4. Intra-natural miracles.
5. Extra-natural miracles.
6. Religious experiences.

As you can see from the titles, these are common areas of disagreement but oft-sited vindication for the existence, or lack thereof, of God. Unwin goes through each evidentiary area and assigns it a numeric factor or scale that he can then plug into his formula. The more a area increases the probability that God exists the higher the factor. The factors are limited to 10 (much more likely), 2 (moderately more likely), 1 (neutral), 1/2 (moderately more unlikely), and 1/10 (much more unlikely). Again, I don't want to spoil the meat of the book so I won't outline Unwin's math but what is useful is his honesty. He straightforwardly and pragmatically outlines his thoughts on these subjects. You might not agree with him but you can follow his arguments and his math. In fact, as an appendix Unwin provides a simple way to plug the formula into a spreadsheet so you can do the math yourself, experimenting with the scale according to your own beliefs."

An interview with Unwin is here, very interesting read...

What led you to tackle such a huge subject - the probability of God's existence - for your first book?

I had a relatively religious upbringing and at the same time I was educated in the sciences; physics in particular. And while I was going through that educational process it never occurred to me that there could be any conflict between a religious description of the world and the naturalistic description I had been learning in science. And yet many years later when I came to the US with my job I became gradually aware of an ongoing debate that apparently put science and religion in conflict with one another, which seemed very counter-intuitive to me. So in many ways this project was to kind of help me think through, at least to my own satisfaction, why I had this perception that there was no conflict between the two.

It seemed to me that one of the characteristics of this debate was that both sides of the debate were extremely certain in their position. It occurred to me that really the legitimate position to take was one of uncertainty, in terms of the existence of God. So I kind of started from that point and I sort of hypothesized from the point that we were all really uncertain about whether God exits - and all my professional life I had worked in the mathematics of uncertainty so it was a natural route to addressing the uncertainty to apply those sort of mathematical concepts. So the idea of calculating the probability of God in my mind was always a first step of that process, of understanding the role that uncertainty plays in the way we believe about God, and the way we talk about faith, and such things like that.

Was this an explanation of your thoughts or an experiment for you too?

Well, it was an experiment. I hadn't really thought through the way I thought about it. I mean these were things I had basically taken for granted in terms of the absence of any conflict between my religious world outlook and my scientific world outlook. I was really forcing myself to think through an issue that I never had in the past, at least not in a systematic way. It was kind of putting my self on the spot in a way, to see how far the rational evidence would take me along the belief curve as far as God's existence. Would it take me only a small part of the way, would it take me almost 100% of the way, or somewhere in between? I went in to this exercise with an honest - with no bias as to where I was going to come out at the end. When the numbers were actually produced it wasn't some predetermined number I was trying to get to, it was legitimate outcome from that thought process.

I am ordering this book so I can read it for myself. I have heard that at the end of it all Unwin shows that the math indicates that there is a 67% likelihood of the existence of God and therefore he himself is 95% certain of it himself. Once I have read the book I will confirm those numbers if correct. If any commenters have already read the book????

By the way, I am still waiting for more opinions as to points of agreement concerning the odds against biogenesis. I am trying to avoid putting it all in place and then have people take potshots at the starting assumptions. Help me set the standards at the start and we can consider the premise on its merits without arguing over the presumed constants of the equations.


Jake said...

When you say "biogenesis" you mean "abiogenesis".

Biogenesis == life from life
Abiogenesis == life from non-life.

If you have children, you know that the odds of biogenesis are pretty damned good.

radar said...

Yes, Jake, I should have said abiogenesis.

creeper said...


Still stalling on the equation and assumptions behind your mined Huxley's horse quote?

Jake said...

As far as I can tell, he's still stalling on my question about the odds of the existence of God. There wasn't anything substantive in this post except a declaration of an intention to read a book and get back to us. Given his track record on getting back to us, I'm not holding my breath.

cranky old fart said...

The stall watch 5?

radar said...

Yep, the stall is in your court, Cranky. But if you or a cohort don't give me an answer, I'll use my own number. Cheers!