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How likely is God?


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Initial post: 29 Mar 2012 10:09:36 BDT
To answer that sort of question you have to first work out what you mean by "God". What are the minimum conditions that an object would have to meet to be accurately labelled God?
For the purposes of the below I will be using the following minimal conditions
1) Sentience/Intelligence/Wilfulness - For something to be a god it has to in some sense think and have intentions
2) Some control over the creation of/running of the universe - If an object is involved neither in the creation of the universe nor the running of the universe then I doubt it could be called a god.
3) Not a product of physical interactions within the universe - if it is a product of the universe then that excludes it from the title, as it would just be, effectively, an advanced species.

Given that the more complex something is the less likely it is, e.g.;

My neighbour has a red 2010 Porsche 911 with a flat tyre in the garage next door
is less likely than
My neighbour has a red 2010 Porsche 911 in the garage next door
is less likely than
My neighbour has a red 2010 Porsche 911
is less likely than
My neighbour has a red Porsche 911
is less likely than
My neighbour has a Porsche 911
is less likely than
My neighbour has a Porsche
is less likely than
My neighbour has a car
is less likely than
At least one of my neighbours has a car

And given that intelligence and wilfulness are complex properties e.g.;
Intelligence requires multiple independently changing parts. Whether immaterial intelligence is possible or not the ability to contain information, process information and create information necessary for wilful intelligence involves the interaction of differing processes.

Moreover, given that potency over such things as the birth of the universe requires some complexity;
In order to exert control you must be able to act in at least one way. For any meaningful level of control, you must be able to act in more than one way. None of these ways is directly related to the processes for will and intelligence and so are more complexity.

It seems to me that prior to the evidence, God is an inherently unlikely concept.
As a result, there would need to be significant evidence in favour of its existence before one could assent to believe in it. Without discussing the evidence itself, does anyone think I have been unfair in my assessment?

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 19:58:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 20:01:52 BDT
X_the_Shadow says:
No, I don't think you've been unfair at all. Some people don't seem to be able to get past the fact there is something rather than nothing; they think this is proof that there is a God. But, as you say, God would have to be a very, very complex being -- one that possesses unfathomable intelligence. Now, complex beings (even single-celled ones, for that matter) are improbable enough as it is; but one that is able to create a universe containing all these different species of complex life forms (not to forget all of the stars that create the different elements that make them up, etc.) is many orders of magnitude more improbable!

The origin of matter and energy is a huge problem or, to put it a different way, an exciting challenge for us. Sure, God is one explanation for the universe, though it seems like a pretty darn unlikely one to me, because -- as mentioned -- God would have to be a very complex entity indeed. Now, it may be very, very difficult to make sense of how a universe could just spring from nothing; but one evidently exists.

The idea of matter or energy coming from nowhere, or having existed forever, is a more parsimonious notion to me than that of a supremely intelligent and powerful creator God that possesses consciousness outside of a physical body. And when you go a step further by giving that God a specific (as well as being contradictory and petty) will, as set out in the Bible, (other holy books are available) it becomes even harder to believe. I'm gonna have to invoke Occam's razor for this one...

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 20:28:58 BDT
C. A. Small says:
Very fair.

I doubt any real evidence will be forthcoming. It will be the usual-
(a) millions of people believe in one so it must be true. This will ignore the fact that millions of people believe in *different* gods.
(b) something happened to me which convinced me there is a god. The only thing that might be counted as evidence is seeing Debbie Harry in 1977.
(c) religion has made some people do good things so there must be a god.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 21:58:24 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 22:03:36 BDT
H W says:
[complex beings (even single-celled ones, for that matter) are improbable enough as it is;]

Planet Earth?

Single celled organisms are not actually "complex". They can become complex upon entering the stage "multi-cellular".

Also, read Stephen Hawkins books, he is utterly convinced by life elsewhere.

Dawkins also thinks it's probable.

If you get a chance, look up the Goldilocks zones; should a planet be at the right distance from its Sun, then the chances of life developing grow to a colossal amount.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/03/science/space/scientists-are-hot-on-trail-of-exoplanets-suitable-for-life.html?pagewanted=all

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 22:19:11 BDT
X_the_Shadow says:
I wasn't actually saying that single-celled organisms are complex, just that they are pretty improbable. Of course it's all relative: compared to a hydrogen atom, a single-celled life from is very complex indeed!!

I've not read Hawkins, yet, but I have learned a little about astronomy and cosmology, so I know that life is very, very, VERY likely to exist on many other planets in the universe (an idea that many religious people have a problem with!) And, funnily enough, I've actually just been re-reading the section in "The God Delusion" where Dawkins mentions the anthropic principle and the likelihood of life existing on exoplanets.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 22:37:38 BDT
H W says:
Ah brilliant :)

The God Delusion is not a bad read actually. He get's muddled on certain philosophies, but he's a brilliant biologist.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 23:02:34 BDT
Drew Jones says:
Which philosophies are those? I hear that claim regularly and am ready to accept it, I just never hear the details being filled in. I have also been referred to people like Ruse and assured he has made the claim too (which I have heard direct from the man himself and accept), but again that is not what I'm asking for, when Ruse is pressed on the details he goes into an ad homiem of style and approach rather than the why's and how's it's wrong.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 23:30:04 BDT
mim says:
I've read and re-read your post about 30 times now and for the life of me cant understand what exactly your assessment is , that alone whether it's fair or un-fair.

Are you saying God is unlikely because God would be too complex to be likely ?.

Without discussing the evidence how is it you can determine the complexity or the likelhood of there being a God or not.

What , in your mind would be significant evidence ?.

Your criteria for an accrurate description of God , or your minimal conditions for there being a God seem to have been fulfilled.
Intention and thought ?.
I'd say God did think and did what he intended.

Control over the creation of the universe.
I'd say creating an universe would warrant total control.

Not a product of the universe.
God couldn't have created himself , so to some extent he would be outside the universe.

Am I missing something here?
You seem to be saying God would need to be extremely complex but because of this complexity there can be no God.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 23:59:55 BDT
David Rudd says:
How likely a coincidence is this? Once upon a time some words from an old hymn just popped into my mind: 'In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian Sea the gracious calling of our Lord, let us like them without a word rise up and follow thee.' Immediately I felt a sense that God was going to call me to follow him; then just as quickly doubt seized my happy thought. Then, just as quickly again, I almost heard (it wasn't literally audible, but it was a clear voice), 'I'm going to call you to follow me'. I then went to find a Bible to see if any further light could be shed on the matter. I opened it and my eyes fell on the words of Jesus, 'Follow me' (Matthew 9:9). Does that make God any more likely? Perhaps not to anyone else out there, but it does to me.

Posted on 30 Mar 2012 07:58:47 BDT
C. A. Small says:
Drdr- this is what we call the usual evidence- the "god talks to me but not to you therefore he exists". He couple of coincidences guided by your previous indoctination. You then suspend reason and coherant thought and believe in a sky fairy.

Some time ago I was putting some fencing on a field we rented, and going through my mind was the wonderful track "battle for evermore", by Led Zeppelin, I then heard the sound of a mandolin playing the very same track, Steve a chum of mine had made the mandolin and was walking around the back of his workshop (he makes harp guitars normally- very skilled chap) playing his favourite track for mandolin. Evidence that Jimmy Page is god? No- a coincidence, nothing more, but a very pleasant one. A talented artisan and musician bringing joy to a day marked so far with blisters, sweat, and lugging wood and wire around.

Coincidences happen all the time. Proves nothing.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 08:11:45 BDT
I hadn't heard of harp guitars. Just looked them up. Very cool.

8am and I've already learnt something.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 08:14:14 BDT
C. A. Small says:
Morning Sam, very tricky to play properly I believe, but a beatiful sound when it is.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 08:16:20 BDT
Does the guitar bit sound like a guitar and the harp bit like a harp, or is the sound different?

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 08:45:52 BDT
Pendragon says:
Hi X

You say you "know that life is very, very, VERY likely to exist on many other planets in the universe". That's an encouraging thought, although I think few will claim to know this.

Then you say this is "an idea that many religious people have a problem with". Well no Muslim has a problem with it. The Quran 42:29 states "Among His [Allah's] signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered over both ... ".

Posted on 30 Mar 2012 08:55:17 BDT
C. A. Small says:
Sam- you tube has a few to watch- this is as good as any.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5AK7TOeSoI&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLC21A28FFAC43659A

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 09:23:31 BDT
H W says:
Hi Drew.

This is a review on the God Delusion. I'm going to use this because I think it explains what I mean better than I could.

"One of the striking characteristics of the current crop of atheistic pop-culture tomes is the strident moral condemnation of what `religion' has done to society. My point is not that religion hasn't done immoral things, but that this atheism wields the moral hatchet so glibly.

The problem is New Atheism's inability to demonstrate an ontological reality of the morality on which they presumably base such deeply-felt moral outrage. Just because they 'feel' it, doesn't mean its 'real'. Materialistic determinism offers no moral foundation for life, it offers only moral feelings that ultimately assist in the propagation of certain DNA patterns (which we are presumably supposed to correlate with `goodness'). Chapter 5 of this book makes an attempt at accounting for the evolution of a moral sense and behaviours (an idea that I have absolutely no problem with in itself - I do not 'disbelieve' evolution and can tolerate the notion that moral feelings evolve), but moral feelings are no substitute for moral reality. You need only look at the comments in these reviews to find typical atheist statements that confuse the two. To be blunt: what is so 'good' about conserving genes? I'm not saying conserving genes might not be a good thing as a step along the way, but as the definitive ethical objective and as a reason to live its all a bit silly isn't it?

Let me be clear: I have no qualms with atheists being moral (in fact I thoroughly believe them to be so), or that they can make good and bad choices, or that science and psychology can assist in answering moral questions and understanding moral frameworks, or that moral feelings are evolved. But none of that means that morality is a true dimension of reality, any more than fashion sense in individuals and culture, means that there is a true superlative of 'good fashion' towards which humanity can objectively strive. Camus, Pascal, Kierkegaard and Kant were right - there is no way for a lucid atheist to avoid despair. Atheist morality that argues on the grounds of utilitarianism, is akin to fashion that argues for long trousers on the grounds that they are warmer. So you can dump 'morals' (or 'fashion') and end up with the same result. Sorry. Not good enough.

But the worst of it is when this particular atheist worldview (as in this book) clings to ethical concepts which originate in religion, only to throw grenades at the foundations on which they stand. There is a striking intellectual dissonance in a worldview that lacks a credible explanation for an objective moral reality, yet uses moral assertions to attack a different worldview (which DOES explain a real existence of right and wrong).

Even worse: these attacks are supposedly based on a `scientific' worldview. Since when has science been elevated to this bizarre position of arbitrating all exploration of truth? These atheists should try going to court, falling in love, or reading history books to understand that there are other endeavours, often equally intellectual, for exploring truth which have nothing to do with science. Some things simply cannot be verified by the scientific method. That doesn't make them 'untrue'.

It's not as if Dawkins doesn't have ample opportunity to discuss this stuff with brilliant Christian intellectuals - many of whom sit at table with him at Oxford and seek to engage with him. I guess he has another agenda though.

A favourite defence of New Atheism's heavy moralising stance is to point to arguments about the evils of 'absolute morality' which are disingenuously presented as the sine qua non of Christian morality. Biblical Christianity plainly does have both utilitarian and relativistic dimensions - which are discernible to even the passing thinking observer. But to attack Christian morality solely on the basis of its interpretation by previous generations is to go against what Dawkins himself has said in this book on page 302 - we shouldn't simply judge the morality of previous generations on the basis of our own (though interestingly Dawkins was talking about the atheist TH Huxley in defence of his promotion of racism and the eugenics of the early 20th century). Dissonant."

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 09:32:24 BDT
Drew Jones says:
This is exactly what I didn't ask for Harry. When you made the statement that Dawkins get's muddled on certain philosophies I thought you had some in mind youself. The review you posted while interesting in and of itself doesn't actually tell me of the philosophies Dawkins get's muddled on but only elaborates on the problems the writer with explanations for morality.

If you don't feel yourself able to identify the philosophies Dawkins gets lost on then I'm happy to drop this if you are.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 09:48:33 BDT
richard says:
Harry,

who wrote the review?

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 09:55:21 BDT
H W says:
Hi Richard,

A guy called "T Holton".

I was reading through the reviews for the God Delusion on Amazon.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:06:50 BDT
H W says:
Hi Drew,

I didn't say I couldn't identify the philosophies he gets lost on, just that I couldn't explain it. My "big clever words" vocab is still developing.

But I'll try and squish it into coherence.

Essentially, Dawkins struggles with Ontology, "in my opinion".

He wants us to scrap spirituality entirely, and opt for what he calls often "reality". But he doesn't define what reality is without spirituality or without striving for higher consciousness.

He hints at life being defined as the following, "Born, struggle, die". But it's alright for him to say. Born into a wealthy family which made millions in the sugar trade hundreds of years ago.

Most poor people, and some rich people, don't find anything in a material existence than can satisfy them. Through no fault of their own. Even one of the Rothschilds commited suicide due to "depression". We've evolved to a point where we question our thoughts. If this sort of questioning is occuring, then either evolution messed up and we're all left with the question of "why" to which there is no real answer, or there is another purpose.

Dawkins denies another purpose flat out. God is ridiculous etc. So what does he leave you with?

"Although science can't answer the why's now, I have the utmost faith that one day it will be able to"

A vacuum in the pit of your stomach.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:23:45 BDT
C. A. Small says:
"So what does he leave you with?"

Reality. If that isn't good enough for you, then I pity you.

You have a number of years to enjoy life, marvel at what evolution has done, and laugh at what it has done. To revel in the absolute majesty of space and the night sky and realise how totally insignificant we all are.

To wonder at a bumble bee in flight, and a pike in a gravel stream, the incredible swallows building a nest and the young learning to fly with such dexterity as their parents teach them to swoop, half roll and soar up again.

Lambs playing "king of the hill" or "chase", marsh frogs calling in the warm night moonlight, an oak tree swaying in the wind. Waves crashing on a shoreline.

Then all too soon, it is time to leave, your years are done, and you return from whence you came to fertilise the ground and provide the nutriment for more flowers or trees.

If that is not enough for you- you may need therapy.

Incidentally, I was not born rich, and have worked hard all my life since my father died just before my fifth birthday. I relish each day at what I can see out of the window, or a stroll across the land or through a wood, a cycle ride along a lane to a pub and a few decent ales.

I have no need of some invisible friend, or some turgid afterlife in the company of a sky fairy and his grovellers. My alloted span will do me nicely, because it is all I have.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:34:19 BDT
Last edited by the author on 30 Mar 2012 10:36:35 BDT
H W says:
Clive,

You have written a lovely post actually, defining the beauty of nature.

But I'm not after "an invisible friend" or any other such nonsense. I couldn't give a monkey's if the theological God exists or not. Personally, I think something made the universe, and has now buggered off for want of a better phrase.

In terms of Dawkin's reality, I'm asking what he offers the people who do need spirituality? Because billions do, whether we, the forums users, choose to accept it or not.

You see, most people live and let live right? Secularism has been a fighting case recently in the forums.

But Dawkins and the "new atheists" want to eradicate religion entirely. That's dangerous. You must have something to offer in place of it. Or billions of probably self deluded inividuals will think they no longer have purpose... and that isn't good.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:36:05 BDT
richard says:
Hi Harry,

it's another lovely sunny day in London hope the sun is shinning on you wherever you are today.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:37:42 BDT
H W says:
Hi Richard,

it's quite a grim day today here in North Wales, unfortunately I'm in the office :).

I'm glad you're soaking up the sun!

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 10:49:39 BDT
Drew Jones says:
"I didn't say I couldn't identify the philosophies he gets lost on, just that I couldn't explain it. My "big clever words" vocab is still developing."
Big words are all well and good and often aid communication but don't think that peppering an argument with them is what validates a position. Some use big words and terminology to dress up simple thoughts and deep and insightful or mask incoherence as something deep and meaningful.

"Most poor people, and some rich people, don't find anything in a material existence than can satisfy them."
If this is what the problem comes down to then I'd say that it's not really Dawkins inability to deal with philosophy but more his inability (unwillingness) to form a comfort blanket out of reality for those unable to cope with reality.

"Dawkins denies another purpose flat out. God is ridiculous etc. So what does he leave you with?"
A universe that is still as beautiful as it was when you credited a god to it and then probably even more mystfying and fragile, one that now challenges you to explore it on it's own terms.

"A vacuum in the pit of your stomach."
Maybe yours, I don't feel the universe owes me more than it's already provided and promises if only I interact with it.
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