Something has been bothering me for years - since I heard the news of a billboard proclaiming, "There is probably no god". "What's with this 'probably'?", I thought. "Of course there is no God. The idea of God is just silly." Why do they believe they need a caveat, "probably"?

As I understand it, the "uncertainty" about God stems from a philosophical proposition - one cannot PROVE the non-existence of [something]. One can only state for certain that evidence has not yet been unearthed which supports the existence of [something].

Similarly no evidence has yet been discovered to support the existence of an anti-gravity material. However the scientific literature discussing gravity does not include a universal disclaimer, "as of this writing this material contained herein assumes that there is probably no such thing as anti-gravity". Why, then, is such a disclaimer deemed necessary when discussing something considerably less likely to exist - namely God.

Were I to hold a pen in front of me supported by nothing (but the buoyancy of the atmosphere), I feel comfortable in stating that, if I release my grip, the pen will fall. Despite the "possibility" that some heretofore undiscovered force may intervene, or that a comet which has escaped the notice of all astronomers arrives in that instant and it disrupts Earth's gravitational field causing the pen to hit the ceiling, I need not say, the pen will probably fall. If making a simple assertion about a fact (the pen will fall) requires that I take into account every infinitesimal chance of any possibility - no matter how remote, then one simply cannot make ANY statement about ANYTHING (without employing silly word games). What then is the point of communication.

I am as certain about (the non-existence of) God as I am that the pen will fall. Why shouldn't I be?

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Tom Sarbeck: Mike, is saying you capitalized a certain three-letter word a silly word game?

No, but it could turn into one. A silly word game would be, "how do you define the word 'fall' - perhaps, by some archane definition of the word, the pen doesn't actually 'fall'".

I made a choice to capitalize "God" to make it easier to read (grammatically correct) and to avoid silly words games like, "what is a god?, "which god?" etc. Perhaps I SHOULD have said "any gods", but, in my opinion, the vast majority of our readership understands what the word means - a personal entity - whether or not they accept His existence.

People have never had to explain anti-gravity material. We are "cause and effect" animals. Gods are the fallback causes to explain whatever needs explaining. It's getting easier to claim non-existence every day, but for the majority we are not there yet.

Are you saying that, philosophical correctness aside, you retain some lingering doubt about the existence of God?

Not me personally, but our species is clearly not ready to give up the gods.

There may be kickers similar to the discovery of a day that aliens are discovered, or life is created in the lab. Barring something of that magnitude, we will still have an accelerating discovery rate that chips at the gods of the gaps and at some point the old religions will just seem ridiculous.

Giving up the human soul and eternity would be the next step and maybe even harder than giving up on god. It was the hardest part for me.

Comparing the certainty that something doesn't exist with the certainty that the rules of physics are constant (this pen will fall if I let go) is not the best way to demonstrate your point. You are comparing a negative certainty (the consistent absence of any evidence that something exists) with a fact (a theory so repeatedly confirmed by testing that it becomes accepted truth). These are very different kinds of statements. Also, the two are two different categories. One is the existence of an object (or transcendent object). The second is a reliable pattern of cause and effect.

A better example would be: I am as certain that there is no god as I am certain that there are no dancing Tyrannosaurus Rexes on the moon. They are the same kind of statements and in the same category. Also they are both very unlikely to be much so that we might as well say that they don't exist. However, we can never claim either of these statements with absolute certainty.

I think it isn't so unwise for them to have used the phrase "there probably isn't a God" in their advertisement. For one thing their message could get bogged down in pedantic arguments like "oh yeah...prove to me that he absolutely doesn't exist" while it's more difficult to attack the argument that "God probably doesn't exist" and one might be more willing to listen to the rest of the message before getting angry and completely tuning out. Dawkins probably did it better by saying "there almost certainly is no God". In any case...making a negative claim with 100% absolute certainty is a mistake (on many levels...not just philosophically). 

OK, dancing T-Rexs then - or orbiting teapots. That's not the point. My complaint is:

we can never claim either of these statements with absolute certainty.

I contend that "absolute certainty" comes out of this discussion with no meaning. Where does "probably" stand? 60% certain? 70% certain. What is the statistical probability of the existence of dancing Tyrannosaurus Rexes on the moon? I know it is zero point a WHOLE lotta zeros before the first non-zero digit. How is that "probably"?

I agree the word "probably" is problematic in terms of statistical probability. This is why I prefer Dawkins's "The almost certainly isn't". It's what I personally say everytime. I never say "there is no god". There almost certainly isn't a god. (99.99999999999999999999999%)

I think this disclaimer is important if we want to be honest to the principles of reason and critical thinking (tools we used to come to our position in the first place).

Perhaps it would help me if someone were to give me an example of something that IS absolutely certain. 100% - not nauseum.

This billboard is not making any claim that the existence of something IS absolutely certain. Nor have we talked about the certain existence of anything in this post.

The billboard is talking about something NOT existing. And some users have claimed with certainty that god does NOT exist. Very different thing. The positive claim (and any certainty about it) is irrelevant in this conversation.

No one can demonstrate with absolute certainty that any particular thing doesn't exist. The only one I can think of is a very pedantic phrase "the existence of some phenomena somehow somewhere"  (which is a very silly abstract metaphysical concept).

This kind of negative certainty is impossible...and this isn't just a trivial philosophical matter. In my opinion the only way to deal with this annoying disclaimer that we should put before every "does not exist" is an ignostic approach:

I won't even treat concepts like god seriously unless you define it and the terms of it's existence and demonstrate any evidence that is even slightly promising (not ever done in the history of theology). Until that happens any discussion of its existence or not is irrelevant. In other words: It is absurd to even talk about the existence of god let alone say if he exists or not.

Not an easy thing to do on a billboard.

Very different thing.

No, a very similar thing - though, admitedly, not exactly the same. The point is making a statement about the REAL state of the universe (positive or negative - doesn't really matter). Can we make ANY statement with absolute certainty - specifically a statement regarding the non-existence of dancing T-Rexs, unicorns on the dark side of the moon, orbiting teapots, or God - doesn't much matter. It is my contention that I should be able to assert the non-existence of any of those things (and a myriad of other man-made fantasies) WITHOUT caveats as easily as I can assert "the pen WILL drop".

Not an easy thing to do on a billboard.

Exactly. Much easier, more effective, and, for ALL practable purposes, equally true to simply state, "There Is No God".

No, a very similar thing

Mike they are very very extra super mega different kinds of statements.

1. There is a table in my livingroom.

2. There are no 14 legged mammals anywhere in the universe.

Ontologically these two statements could not possibly be any different. You can demonstrate the first statement. We can devise a simple criteria that is easy to agree on as to what confirms the statement. For the second there are no amount of observations that we could possibly make (or even conceivably make) that would ever "confirm" the second statement. Remember the phrase: "there are no black swans" ... no ... of course not ... until we discovered a black swan in the Antipodes.

about the REAL state of the universe 

What does that mean?

Exactly. Much easier, more effective, and, for ALL practable purposes, equally true to simply state, "There Is No God".

No. Claiming that there is no point talking about God is not at all the same as claiming that there is no god with certainty. They are two very different mentalities. One is a case of avoiding time wasting. The second is claim of supreme (over)confidence of the non-existence of something in the entire universe.

"about the REAL state of the universe "

What does that mean?

THIS is an example of silly word games.


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