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This question came up with a chat with one of the members here. In his Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit argument, Dawkins states that one cannot use the improbability of life to state that God must have caused it. By his logic, God is even more improbable.

The trouble I’m having understanding is this: If God had a beginning, this might make sense. It seems more implausible for God to just come into existence randomly than life. But if God is posited to be eternal, how is He improbable? He always existed.

A common response to this is that if God can always exist, so can the universe. But here is the issue I’m having with this: if the universe always existed, that by itself doesn’t explain the existence of life. You not only need a universe capable of creating life, but you also need the sequence of events leading up to and including life to happen, which may be very improbable. In the case of God, since He wants life to happen, He just has to exist. Once He exists, life is guaranteed.

Given this, isn’t it still possible that an eternal universe that eventually results in life might still be more improbable than an All Powerful God who wanted life to always exist?

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    I think at least Dawkins' arguments can be taken for a good reason to doubt the cogency of probabilistic arguments about a being as supposedly all-important as God. It seems silly that our knowledge of a perfect being would depend on the luck of which probabilities we'd properly weighed. Sep 8, 2023 at 4:43
  • Still, there does seem to be something that he is trying to get at. When we use a designer as an explanation for X, we often don’t inquire about the designer’s need for explanation. If we don’t inquire this, why do we inquire for an explanation for X in the first place? Or does this logic not work because God is eternal? This is confusing the hell out of me
    – user62907
    Sep 8, 2023 at 4:47
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    IMO it is hard to imagine that we can compute the probability of God's existence... Dawkins' approach amounts simply to the well-know anecdote (maybe apocryphal) involving Laplace and Napoleon and concerning the existence of God: as soon as science will be able to produce a reasonable explanation about the origins of life, "God hypothesis" will become useless. Sep 8, 2023 at 5:44
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    Another request for an opinion disguised as a philosophy question. Sep 10, 2023 at 18:17
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    @Futilitarian Well the argument goes (atleast by Dawkins) that there is a deep reason why God can never be an explanation for an improbability such as life. His argument is that God is even more complex hence even more improbable. The question in the OP questions that assumption: it makes sense to state that life is improbable given that it began. But in what sense would God be improbable if He never had a beginning?
    – user62907
    Sep 11, 2023 at 15:48

9 Answers 9

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Dawkins is evidently a subjectivist Bayesian and is merely stating his a-priori belief and his justification for that belief.

The trouble I’m having understanding is this: If God had a beginning, this might make sense. It seems more implausible for God to just come into existence randomly than life. But if God is posited to be eternal, how is He improbable? He always existed.

This seems to be shifting the discussion onto your a-priori beliefs and their justification.

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The "God hypothesis" needs to be formulated precisely before it can be assessed. If we are talking of a giant old guy with a white beard living in the sky, it's quite improbable.

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The probability of intelligent life on a planet filled with intelligent life discussing the probability of intelligent life is ONE.

There is nothing remarkable going on until you make an accurate analysis that shows the probability of intelligent life anywhere in billions of star systems in any of billions of galaxies during any lengthy amount in billions of years is so low that it is unlikely to ever happen. And then we'd first have to check our analysis, because a very low estimated probability for intelligent life anywhere at any time, when we are obviously there, means there is a good chance that the estimate is faulty.

Now the probablity that God are "a God" exists is impossible to estimate, so we can't make any statement at all about what is more likely.

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You not only need a universe capable of creating life, but you also need the sequence of events leading up to and including life to happen, which may be very improbable.

True but how likely that all is, is debatable. Consulting a heuristic like the Drake Equation, many of the variables one needs a definitive value for are currently unknown. We are getting a picture that terrestrial planets orbiting at the right distances from their host stars seems quite probable, but other key variables are unknown. It's too early to say how unlikely it is for life like ourselves to emerge in our universe.

Now, there is the issue of our universe being capable of having life whatsoever—how probable was that? Again, until we have empirical data regarding this (i.e., either observing other universes or having a "Theory of Everything" that either allows us to understand why our universe is the way it is, or that certain features are inexplicable in our universe) it's too early to tell.

The problem is in statistics, independent variables and dependent variables are calculated very differently. Until we know more about the universe, we cannot even begin to create the right formula needed to answer your question.

This isn't an issue logical analysis will resolve on its own. One either needs more empirical work done, or that elusive synthetic a priori Kant was focused on. Until we have either one, we are unable to perform the comparison you wish for.

I've neglected trying to calculate the probability of God, since your desired comparison cannot be done without the above being done. So, figuring out the probability that God exists and created this universe is academic, relative to your question (unless one can show the likelihood that God exists is 100%, but then looking at our universe as you wish wouldn't be necessary).

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We have to think how we determine what is more or less probable. We can like Hokon relegate precise probability calculations on more complete empirical knowledge. However, to the contrary I believe there are analytic approaches to answer the question without resort to the probability question which tends to be subjective, empirically demanding and even philosophically questionable.

So a more fundamental concern is not probably of any life origin theory, but the intuitive incredulity of complex organisms arsing from simple particles. For argument's sake let's make an assumption extremely in favor of the probabilistic atheist and imagine all planets were populated by living organisms. In this case life out of matter would be a 100% probability. But we could still ask why matter evolves the way it does into complex forms? Why is there natural selection? Why did the laws in general (whether of physics or biology) just turned out the way they did? Why does matter evolve like that even if it is 100% of times?

These questions are justified by their intuitive force not because of life appearing out of nothing is more or less probable than God, but because the scenario runs contrary to our fundamental intuitions that suggest processes directed towards richer forms require conscious direction as in human daily life. That is, with human life we tend to bump into a discontinuity in nature. Fulfilling productive/useful ends in human life requires conscious direction but appearance of biological ends apparently don't. Moreover, under atheistic evolution, consciousness has appeared ex nihilo in universe among living things which is not just counter-intuitive but logically absurd.

Beside all this, there are ontological and metaphysical forms of argumentation that can potentially prove a God-like entity as a logical necessity. However, the arguments recognized so far in the modern West do not exhaust all arguments in this category. People may consult a recent answer of mine for an interesting example from the Middle East.

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  • Interesting answer. I question the value of ordinary experience to make judgments on things. For starter’s, we don’t observe eternal things. We don’t observe purely immaterial things causing physical effects. We don’t observe the notion of an entity being “outside of” time. We don’t observe the notion of a mind existing without a physical/biological process. And so on and so forth. If all of these notions are unintuitive and yet are possible in a being such as god, why are other seemingly unintuitive things not possible in the scientific laws existing as brute fact for example?
    – user62907
    Sep 8, 2023 at 8:20
  • @thinkingman Whether we observe something or not is not definite ground for acceptance/denial. Logical inference is also a source of insight into reality. As for your particular examples, I interpret them as a reflection of poverty of mainstream Western modern thinking. It can be shown that we do observe immaterial things, and everyday: ourselves. A related answer of mine may help see how.
    – infatuated
    Sep 8, 2023 at 11:38
  • We are composed of physical things. We also have plenty of evidence that the immaterial ceases to exist when we die. Do you really think a pile of bones is conscious?
    – user62907
    Sep 8, 2023 at 11:50
  • I along with many NDEs researchers believe that the idea of mind existing without bodies have now been established beyond doubt by NDE phenomenology that falsifies physicalist account of mind-brain relations. The evidence is there for anyone willing to study the cases. This paper argues for even more than that: survival of bodily death based on case phenomenology that can't be explained under physicalism.
    – infatuated
    Sep 8, 2023 at 11:53
  • It’s called NDE for a reason. They didn’t die.
    – user62907
    Sep 8, 2023 at 11:57
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As a matter of principle I never downvote posts, but let me point out that any reference to such a concept as "God" with the implicit assumption that everyone knows what it signifies, followed by an attemp to prove its existence, is bound to introduce elements of circularity.

One could also ask: Why would you need to prove a "proven fact"?

However, as an element in desicion analysis, weighing uncertainties, your method is generally OK.

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You can't meaningfully associate a probability with the existence of god, so Dawkins' argument is fatuous and your question doesn't have a direct answer.

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Is God even more improbable than the origin of life?

This is a math problem not a philosopy question. Any answer to this question that does not offer any calculations is an opinion.

Set up the problem and do the math. If you have difficulties doing the math, post your questions to a math site.

If you are interested in kicking up the BS meter to 11, then repost your question with different wording:

Is God even more implausible than the origin of life?

Edit: Here's a math approach to your ridiculous question:

  1. How many God's have existed?

There are over 300 God's listed on Wikipedia and if the God's from all cultures over all of human history, that number is easily greater than 1000.

  1. How many times has life "originated"?

As far as I know, the answer is 1.

So. God is at least 300 times more probable than the origin of life. Who cares??

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  • Dealing with uncertainties which can be modeled by probability is a philosophy question
    – user62907
    Sep 11, 2023 at 15:50
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    According to who? I'm not interested in your opinions. Have you made any attempt to actually calculate the probabilities of God or the probabilities for life? If you did, you would have compared the two and have an answer without the need to post. I have no evidence that you know anything about statistics or the calculations required. So your question is simply asking for opinions. Sep 11, 2023 at 15:57
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This has to be understood in terms of Dawkins' larger project, which is to establish Darwinian evolution as the foundational organizing principle of the universe, capable of displacing God.

Dawkins' core argument can be glossed as follows:

  1. The only legitimate reason for believing in God is because of the complexity of life.
  2. Darwinian evolution suffices to explain the complexity of life.
  3. Therefore there is no legitimate reason for believing in God.

The language he uses about probability gives this a scientific feel, but as you've noted, it doesn't hold up to deeper scrutiny. There's no way to assign actual numerical probabilities to the things he's talking about, which means he's assigning probabilities by gut instinct. It yields rhetoric with the look and style of science, but without the rigor.

That doesn't mean the argument itself is a bad one. It is valid structurally. I, and many other people, however, would characterize it as "non-cogent" based on deficiencies in the premises.

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