On Arguments for God

by Chris_Leong1 min read14th Nov 202019 comments

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This post is about God, but of course, it isn't really about God, but about a particular pattern in general.

We're pretty much all in agreement that God doesn't exist.

This is correct or at least let's say it is for the purposes of this post. However, this also poses a trap. 

Suppose there are forty arguments for God. Even if we know definitely for a fact that God doesn't exist, it doesn't mean that all of these forty arguments are wrong.

It would if all of these arguments claimed to definitely prove that he exists, but not if some of these arguments only claim he is more likely to exist than not or that he isn't as unlikely as we might think.

In fact, it'd actually be suspicious if all forty of these arguments came out against God. Surely we should expect the advantage to belong to the deists in at least one or two?

But since we have very good reasons to believe God doesn't exist and someone presents us with those arguments, surely we'll assume that they have to be wrong. And so we'll search very hard, until we find something that is plausibly an error or at least more plausible than God and talk ourselves into believing it. 

And once we've introduced that first error, we've opened up the door for more.

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In fact, it'd actually be suspicious if all forty of these arguments came out against God. Surely we should expect the advantage to belong to the deists in at least one or two?

Good strong arguments are exactly the arguments you shouldn't expect to see for a position that is false. 

You can construct arguments that would technically be large baysian updates, if you ignored the cherry picking. You pray for heads and toss a coin 200 times. If you just focus on the 100 times it lands heads, you have an evidence factor of nearly 2^100:1  in favour of a god that grants prayers about coin-flips over randomness. Of course, you aren't allowed to select a subset of the evidence to update on, and ignore the rest. 

Once you realize why these sort of arguments fail, the only arguments left for god are ones that make some sort of mistake. 

Reality is very different from notions of god. There are good reasons not to expect any fully decent arguments for god to exist, and no reason half decent arguments must exist.

If we are in a simulation, it has a creator(s), who is almost god-like. But simulation hypothesis is more popular than idea of God in rationalist circles, which looks like a contradiction: P(simulation) = P(creator of simulation exists).

I would think that almost anyone who accepts the possibility of both a Big World and high-level transhuman (or similarly high level nonhuman) entities would assign high probability to the existence of god-like beings, even if only outside their own past light cone.

But I think "arguments for God" are different in the sense that anyone presenting such arguments usually has a goal involving higher simulacra levels than object level reality, and need to be treated as such. They may want to persuade you, or to sneak in implications that there exists some specific god they have in mind, or alter your behavior.

I do not think this was true, in general, of many founders of religions, or other founders of mystic traditions. I imagine most of them really believed they had found a profound truth.

There could be authorless simulations. One could argue that animals having a field of vision is a kind of simulation of their environment and that is not handy to think in terms of authors.

Better examples of authorless simulation are Boltzmann brains or dust theory. 

There's a vast difference between being "almost god-like" and being God, and as long as you don't equate the two then there's no contradiction.

This vast difference is only philosophical, but there is no practical difference: both (if they exist) are able to create miracles, install rules, promise paradise, immortality or hell after death. The only difference is the relation to the ontology of the Universe: the real God exists forever, and the simulation creator has evolved from the dead matter. But this difference doesn't create any observables. 

The important difference is that theists have a lot of specific assumptions about what the god(s) do(es). In particular, in the simulation hypothesis, there is no strong reason to assume the gods are in any way benevolent or care about any human-centric concepts.

It is hard from inside to the simulation to deduce what physical laws are in effect outside the simulation (for example that it is a materic universe).

Bingo.  If my MMO toon became self-aware and developed the scientific method, he would discover scientific laws involving hit points, character classes, etc.  He would discover the laws of <i>his</i> world, which do not always correspond to anything outside the simulation.

No, not everyone knows! https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/BNfL58ijGawgpkh9b/everybody-knows

I’m all for discussions about god, but I think you have to at least try to narrow down your definition somewhat. Although maybe that’s not what this post is about, but rather general uncertainty about things?

"This post is about God, but of course, it isn't really about God, but about a particular pattern in general"

But it's not so much about uncertainty, but about how our desire to support our pre-existing beliefs can distort our perspective, even those beliefs are true.

If you do not use 0 as a probablity you should always have doubts.

If we know a proof arrives at an erroreneous position then we know there must be a mistake in it. Reductio ad absurdum is a valid form of argumentation as is modus tollens.

A proof about being likely needs to be relative to a state of evidence. That is you can prove that someone is framed without thinking that he did the crime.

Proofs for god don't come from a neutral source, there is no inclination to think it must be balanced outcomes. Dice don't care about you, they dole out all outcomes. However getting rock in rock,paper, scissors when the opponent has seen first that you are playing scissors is not suprising and there is less reason to ever expect paper.

That is if you have 99 invalid forms of reasoning and 1 valid form of reasoning it doesn't make the remaining standing reasoning less valid. You need to take into account the clever arguers stamp claim.

If one were to be very hardcore it would be a good policy to be evenhanded about proof-lengths. However at the point that the claim checks out to the cut-off length one needs to remain in "plausible undecided" stance. Then claims like "nobody has ever put forth a proof for X" become claims like "It has never been practical for me to follow throught a proof of X". It has flipsides of "open until explained but unconvinced until explained" and that you need to track shadows of doubts for "good" results. Good scientists wait for replication and don't jump on first postive indicator and retain uncertainties even in textbook-printed numbers.

I'm confused by the point of this post. What do you want to say in the end? Is it a post with no overarching point, just here to start a conversation (but then, about what)?

The pattern you're talking about reminds me of Jaynes' explanation of reasoning about supernatural phenomenon (which is probably just the standard Bayesian explanation), where your prior against such a thing is so high that you put more probability on almost any alternative. Similarly, an argument for why you can't convince a Bayesian (which believes somewhat that simplicity matters) of the existence of God is that most proposals of God are hypothesis of infinite, or at least maximal complexity, and by Occam's Razor these are the last one that will be considered.

But in your post, you cast that reasoning as... wrong? I'm not even sure of that. I want to read the word "error" in your last sentence as the error made by "us" (the reasoners that don't believe in God) , but grammatically it makes more sense as the the error of the argument for the existence of God.

"But in your post, you cast that reasoning as... wrong?" - I didn't say that at all.

The point of this post is identifying a particular pattern.

The claim is that just because X is false doesn't mean that there aren't some pretty strong arguments for X that are correct, so long as there are even stronger arguments against X.

I'm curious what made this post confusing. I've reread it a few times and I can't see which part is unclear, but then again this is always hard as the author of the post.

But since we have very good reasons to believe God doesn’t exist and someone presents us with those arguments, surely we’ll assume that they have to be wrong. And so we’ll search very hard, until we find something that is plausibly an error or at least more plausible than God and talk ourselves into believing it.

Any valid argument can easily be rejected by doubting its premises. But that works both ways. You can nitpick the theists' arguments by pointing out that their premises aren't necessarily true, but they can do the same to you. For instance, atheists often assume that God must be highly complex (which is essentially the assumption that God must be natural) or that God must be visible to the senses, and so on. Theologians don't define God that way, so they see those arguments as irrelevant.

For instance, atheists often assume that God must be highly complex (which is essentially the assumption that God must be natural)

What do you mean by natural? In order for God to be simple, his emotions must be denied or explained. For example, there could be some physics exploit by which an ancient human could become omnipotent. Another simple specification of God could be through an equation describing some goal-directed agent. Emotions might fall out of agency via game theory, except that game theory doesn't really apply when you're omnipotent. And what would be the goal? Our world doesn't look like a simple goal is being maximized by a God.

Assuming that God is an anthropomorphic being with emotions is another way of assuming that God is natural. Some theists do think that way, but they are the easy target. The strongman versions of theism dont see God as a superhuman.

So Rationalists aren't following their own rules about strongmanning, and are only addressing Judeo Christian conceits of God, and are only addressing unsophisticated, fundamentalist ideas, and are allowing other god-like entities, such as omegas and matrix lords, in by the back door.

I can't agree with arguments for God using Bayesian updates, e.g. the universe is fine-tuned for life. Why is the argument focused on life in the first place? Why not focus on something that doesn't exist and conclude the universe is not designed?

This argument only seems right because it looks like a self-analysis. We, humans, are life. So paying attention to it seems natural. But wouldn't the existence of oneself be a prerequisite of self-analysis? From our perspective, finding the universe compatible with our existence is guaranteed. Just like I am guaranteed to find myself exist. The fact that any tiny fluctuation in history would be causing me not to be born does not mean my existence is chosen by god.