My interest in Richard Dawkins has long been kind of on-again, off-again.  Don't get me wrong, I think he's brilliant, and most of his ideas about religion and its value (or lack thereof) are quite sensible.  However, he sometimes strikes me as a bit naive about religion, at least as it is practiced by many people in everyday life. In other words, in interviews I've seen, he adopts an attitude of being completely unable to understand how any sensible person can believe in a god, any more than they can believe in fairies or an invisible pink unicorn (those are examples I've heard Dawkins himself mention). I always think, "Well, c'mon, he must have known intelligent religious people in his life...people he respected, but with whom he strongly disagrees." But I've been reading about his "Scale of Theistic Probability," which makes me think he understands gradations of belief much better than he sometimes lets on. The scale (as Wikipedia presents it) is as follows:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."
  5. Leaning towards Atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."
  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."

Dawkins has said in interviews that he is a 6 on this scale, or perhaps closer to a 6.9.  These days I find myself somewhere in the vicinity of a 6 as well, although I can tell you that, over the past decade or so, I've gone back and forth between 2 and 6 a lot.  (Today, for some reason, I feel like I'm closer to a 5. Don't ask me why...)

Apparently, an American chemical engineer named Libb Thims expanded the scale out to a 10-point version, as he believed that the 7-point version didn't adequately describe all the gradations of belief. The problem with the Thims version is that he only adds descriptions above the 7 level: 8 is "beyond atheism," 9 is "beyond 110% sure there is no God," and 10 is "Goetheanist," which apparently refers to someone who simply doesn't understand the point of debate.  Levels 8, 9, and 10 seem to me to be different ways of stating the same thing: "I have no need of that hypothesis" essentially means the person is so sure (110%, whatever that means), that they think the debate is meaningless.  Therefore, Thims's 8, 9 and 10 are useless. So I think Dawkins's scale with 7 points will do just fine.

Views: 284

Tags: atheism, of, probability, scale, theistic

Comment by Dr. Bob on February 12, 2014 at 2:26pm

I think the biggest problem with this scale is that it really doesn't have any meaning on the theist side.  None of us theists really spend any time on the "does God exist?" question.  That's just not central to our day to day life as theists, and nobody ever became a theist because they were convinced by an existence proof of God.  

These conversations really only happen when we encounter atheists, who seem obsessed by the notion.  Within that context, if it has meaning for you, super, but I don't think it captures anything meaningful about theists.

Comment by kris feenstra on February 12, 2014 at 7:33pm

Such scales have very limited use. They generally serve to establish that there is some form of gradient, but the actual number of divisions is not so important. Dawkins' version could have been five points to establish the strong, weak and neutral positions.

For those not deeply concerned with the matter, the scale may have little relevance. For those who have given it a lot of consideration, the numbers may not suffice no matter how many there are. If Dawkins calls himself a 6.9, isn't that a 61 point scale then? That 6.9 may very well be rhetorical, but the point is even he doesn't seem to use the scale as a firm classification. It's a generalized break down. 

If Thims wanted to expand the scale that way -- not sure why it would be necessary --, he'd have been better off making it a grid or introducing more axes as he's evaluating at least three different things: level of certainty, level of significance, and level of meaningfulness. 

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on February 12, 2014 at 9:31pm

I think the biggest problem with this scale is that it really doesn't have any meaning on the theist side. None of us theists really spend any time on the "does God exist?" question. That's just not central to our day to day life as theists, and nobody ever became a theist because they were convinced by an existence proof of God. These conversations really only happen when we encounter atheists, who seem obsessed by the notion. Within that context, if it has meaning for you, super, but I don't think it captures anything meaningful about theists.

Thus, speaking for himself (and all theists) Bob verbosely illustrates an insidious score of "1".

Belief: devoid of thought and without question.

Comment by Dr. Bob on February 12, 2014 at 10:04pm

Actually, @Gallup, if I had to respond within this framework, I would be a "2" I suppose.  The scale just doesn't have any real meaning/validity for me, and I doubt it would pass muster as a valid instrument for any sociologist.

Comment by David Smith on February 12, 2014 at 10:10pm
None of us theists really spend any time on the "does God exist?" question.  
and nobody ever became a theist because they were convinced by an existence proof of God

Speak for everyone else much?

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on February 12, 2014 at 11:27pm

Actually, @Gallup, if I had to respond within this framework, I would be a "2" I suppose. The scale just doesn't have any real meaning/validity for me,

That's interesting, Bob. So you find the Dawkins' scale devoid of meaning and validity. Okay, sure. How are you rating yourself with a tool you find completely incomprehensible?

and I doubt it would pass muster as a valid instrument for any sociologist.

Sure you doubt it, Bob. It's just not a valid instrument. Not only for you, but for any sociologist studying human behavior. There's no prejudice involved, either against the inventor of the tool (an atheist) or those you think most likely to use it (atheists).

But then...

Consider the Kinsey Reports; three-quarters of a million copies sold, translated into thirteen languages, and one of the most successful and influential scientific books in the last century.

Tell me, Bob. Do you see the resemblance between the Dawkins' Scale and the Kinsey Scale, which passed sociological muster as a famous tool used to study and teach 'sexual orientation as a spectrum' for over 65 years?

Nah. Of course you don't.

The Kinsey Scale

Comment by Dr. Bob on February 13, 2014 at 11:11am

@Gallup, why would you believe that a scale used for sexual identification (one that appears rather unidimensional and simplistic) would have any relevance for a completely different field?  That's not rational.  We design different instruments to measure different things in the sciences.

This is not a discussion, though, so we should let others comment on the blog post.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on February 13, 2014 at 11:51am

@Gallup, why would you believe that a scale used for sexual identification (one that appears rather unidimensional and simplistic) would have any relevance for a completely different field?

Because it's not a completely different field, Bob. Psychometrics is psychometrics, whether the examined behavior is religiosity or sexuality, and simple scales are common instruments used for quantitative measurements.

That's not rational. We design different instruments to measure different things in the sciences.

It's perfectly rational, Bob. You're trying to talk down to me because you've made a fool of yourself by attacking a standard psychometric tool as utterly worthless...

This is not a discussion, though, so we should let others comment on the blog post.

...and now you'd rather drop it.

Comment by David Smith on February 13, 2014 at 5:08pm

and I doubt it would pass muster as a valid instrument for any sociologist.

The use of scales in sociology is common and accepted as a tool.

I respect the view that " it really doesn't have any meaning on the theist side." in that it doesn't have any relation to what kind of theist people are.  But thats not really the point of it, its a scale, not a map.

Comment by scv on February 13, 2014 at 5:51pm

It comes to mind when you mention Richard Dawkins' naivete, that he is naive not so much because he can't understand why a smart person would honestly believe in supernatural phenomenon, but because he doesn't show that he understands that a smart person could make the rational decision to lie about basic reality, in order to gain benefits from a group. I'm a committed atheist, and I'm none spiritual, but I often maintain to people that if my life or comforts where sufficiently threatened, I would lie in favor of the existence of god or spirit, and I would lie about the fact that I was lying. 

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