Bayes' Theory applied; 67% chance God exists
March 20, 2004 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Odds are, God exists. So says Dr. Stephen Unwin, a risk assessor in Ohio who applied Bayes' Theory to the question and determined there's a 67% likelihood of ... you-have-to-buy-the-book-to-find-out. Ah, the Devil is in the retail -- er, I mean, the details. As a scientist and a Christian, I'm embarrassed by this junk. His book "includes a spreadsheet of the data used so that anyone can make the calculation themselves should they doubt its validity." I can hardly wait.
posted by tbc (45 comments total)
Thank you, Bunnie Diehl, for making me aware of this. (More comments there.)
posted by tbc at 9:40 PM on March 20, 2004

What was it Douglas Adams wrote?

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "this formula is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have come about by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed at the next zebra crossing.

(My paraphrasing, of course.)
posted by o2b at 9:42 PM on March 20, 2004

posted by quonsar at 9:46 PM on March 20, 2004

Dude... anyone can tell the difference between a cost-benefit analysis and belief.
posted by beth at 9:47 PM on March 20, 2004

It was funnier when Pascal did it.
posted by ook at 9:53 PM on March 20, 2004

Feh. Great, now we have "The Actuary of God."
posted by FormlessOne at 9:57 PM on March 20, 2004

I think there's an 87% chance that this guy is an idiot, but 93% of all statistics are misleading.
posted by mkn at 10:07 PM on March 20, 2004

Odds are, God exists
Which one of them?
posted by Termite at 10:37 PM on March 20, 2004

Its a logical fallacy to start an investigation with the belief in God as both premise and conclusion.

I like that he's 95% certain God exists. Must be nice to have an A for effort faith system.
posted by fenriq at 10:56 PM on March 20, 2004

What is faith without works?
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:00 PM on March 20, 2004

67% chance that God exists. By most estimates there are 19 major world religions. Assuming one of them is correct, your general belief set has a 3.52% chance of being right. Now if you really want to kill your calculator, there are roughly 34,000 different sects of christianity out there...
posted by fatbobsmith at 11:29 PM on March 20, 2004

what sort of name is Unwin?

doesnt even seem possible.
posted by tsarfan at 11:44 PM on March 20, 2004

"[T]he theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing" - why?
posted by palnatoke at 11:46 PM on March 20, 2004

there is an 87% chance that i am an angry god.
posted by quonsar at 11:55 PM on March 20, 2004

"[T]he theory starts from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing" - why?

Probably because that is the probability distribution with the highest entropy, so by finding the answer you gain the most information. Generaly when you have no idea, you assume that the probability distribution is even.
posted by delmoi at 11:58 PM on March 20, 2004

Ah, reading the article, they said that Bayesian inferencing was used, which means that my explanation for the 50/50 thing above was correct. Bayesian inferencing is widely used to filter spam, among other things.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 AM on March 21, 2004

Factors that were considered included recognition of goodness, which Dr Unwin said makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil - including earthquakes and cancer.

Uh, yeah okay...
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on March 21, 2004

C'mon people. The dude had a fucking speadsheet with data on this. What more proof do you need?

*vanishes in a puff of smoke*
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:31 AM on March 21, 2004

Pascal's Wager occurred at the birth of probability Theory, so he can be cut a little more slack. The thing with Baysian stats is that the priors can sometimes just mean subjective belief. So by providing the spreadsheet, you could play with the numbers and find your own personal odds. For instance, you could alter how much the existence of good alters teh existence of God. Same thing with Evil. Its a nice parlor tick, but probably not much more.
posted by nads at 4:11 AM on March 21, 2004

"Monsieur, deux plus deux est quatre, donc Dieu existe."
posted by RavinDave at 5:17 AM on March 21, 2004

In a minor variation on a theme explored in 'The Time Machine' I can now forsee a world where the creators of stuff designed for consumption by religious people live like kings. I guess it's a little too late for that to be considered a prophecy though... which is a pity because I was going to write a book about it and live off the fat of the herd. Now that would be natural selection in action1.
1. If anyone objects to that I'm prepared to call it 'intelligent design', for a price.
posted by snarfodox at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2004

In other news, a new religious cult called God is in Excel If You Look Well called for a ban on all the evil open source spreadsheets which, they argue, propagate the evil number 69 which was recently disabled in new Excel versions because "it promotes and titillates users toward undecent sex ".
posted by elpapacito at 6:49 AM on March 21, 2004

all of his data points are necessarily subjective, because the qualities of god are not really clearly defined (yeah, I know, omni-everything, but what does that really mean in an existent entity - how would we recognize it, etc), and the way he affects (or doesn't) the world is also not agreed upon. Therefore, there's no way to check off a list of attributes that do or don't manifest and prove god; it's all worked backwards from attributes found in the world - and we don't disagree about attributes of the world, we just disagree that they show god.

I wonder what this guy imagines a world without god would look like... he clearly believes such a world is theoretically possible, but that this just doesn't happen to be it, or his score would have had to have been 100%.

Anyway, 67 is like a D+, right? You'd think god would be able to do better than that...
posted by mdn at 6:52 AM on March 21, 2004

And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
posted by troutfishing at 7:13 AM on March 21, 2004

" 'God is dead,' Nick said. 'They found his carcass in 2019. Floating out in space near Alpha.'

'They found the remains of an organism advanced several thousand times over what we are,' Charley said. 'And it evidently could create habitable worlds and populate them with living organisms, derived from itself. But that doesn't prove it was God.'

'I think it was God.' "
- Philip K. Dick
posted by troutfishing at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2004

According to Bayesian analysis, what are the statistical odds that an infinite number of Christian fundamentalist actuaries could dance on the head of a pin?
posted by troutfishing at 7:20 AM on March 21, 2004

ambrosial malarial sunflower brent myrtle rod.
posted by quonsar at 7:36 AM on March 21, 2004

Let's see, first you calculate there is only one God rather than a bunch, then you calculate that it's your God, and not somebody else's. And then that what is known about it is accurate enough to matter; and that it communicates with its followers in some way, its communications accurately received and sent. And that it has a purpose in mind other than random action or whim.
And that it is reasonable, more like human than animal, but not so superior it is indifferent, somewhat anthropomorphic.
And then that it has a human offspring which is itself manifested in a greatly reduced subset, an avatar to its greater whole, yet is representative *and* has a function within its limited frame.
And that this human offspring completes all the historical and religious precedents to exist, but both discards those rules after the fact and does not accomplish its predicted mission but is killed before it can do so and God does nothing to correct the error. And yet a human follower of this avatar starts a new religion, incompatible with the old, feeling that he should do so for some reason.

Sorry, your novel is not suited to our current needs.
posted by kablam at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2004

quonsar: is that a very long acronym that stands for "a mysteriously bad rationalist's ontological stumbling involving a ludicrous mental abstraction lacking a reasonable initial argument leading somewhere unbelievably nutty from lists of wildly enumerated random bayesian rantings exposing nothing thoroughly meaningful yet reaching totally loaded egregiously reasoned oddball decisions."?
posted by snarfodox at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2004

Oh goody, another extended discussion of whether or not God exists. If we didn't have one of these a day, God knows what we'd talk about. And they always come to such interesting conclusions, too, and people take such unexpected stances!

Look, God is in the box with Schroedinger's cat, OK? He exists and doesn't exist at the same time. Is everybody happy? Just don't open the box...
posted by languagehat at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2004

Quick, perform the special ritual to appease the invisible man in the... spreadsheet?
posted by spazzm at 10:08 AM on March 21, 2004

What a strange shtick you have, languagehat. In religion threads some come to argue for God, some to argue against, some to make jokes, and languagehat comes to tell us how silly we all are.

Politics, philosophy, aesthetics, sure. Debate! Have fun! Religion? Oh no, we never get anwhere there. As if we do in the others.
posted by callmejay at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2004

languagehat: I think these arguments are less about the point and more about the intellectual stimulation to be had bashing around said point in company with a bright interlocutor. Also, the little things that you learn from certain comments can make it all worthwhile. What I learned today, for example, is that you either don't like umlauting or can't spell Schrödinger.
posted by snarfodox at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2004

I'm so lazy.

Done with God?

Ken Gemes solved the problem of evil.
posted by john at 11:29 AM on March 21, 2004

quonsar: ambrosial malarial sunflower brent myrtle rod.

clavdivs, is that you?

john: Ken Gemes solved the problem of evil.

There's a certain mad brilliance to solving the problem of evil by declaring the world doesn't really exist.
posted by jkilg at 12:58 PM on March 21, 2004

So where does the theory leave polytheism? Do you do the same calculation for all 330 million Hindu gods? Presumably each of them is also 67% certain to exist, and it only takes one and God stops being God (in Christianity anyway) because he's not all powerful anymore.
posted by biffa at 1:13 PM on March 21, 2004

languagehat is god. I know this, because every time there's a hint of religious discussion, he comes along to tell us to all stop it.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:50 PM on March 21, 2004

This is as stupid as the so-called Bible code. And a lot less creative.
posted by rushmc at 3:10 PM on March 21, 2004

If god really DOES exist, lets get him to stop making bad things happen.
posted by plebmaster at 3:48 PM on March 21, 2004

I didn't tell anybody to stop anything. I just expressed my amusement. So sue me.

And as for Schrödinger: like john, I'm lazy. Now that you've helpfully done the heavy lifting of putting the umlaut on, I'll cheerfully copy it. ö ö ö!
posted by languagehat at 4:16 PM on March 21, 2004

We loves the umlaut, my precious.
In HTML you can use ö for ö.
posted by snarfodox at 5:57 PM on March 21, 2004

Pascal's Wager occurred at the birth of probability Theory, so he can be cut a little more slack.

Slack? Now that's interesting; I always read it as just a reduction to absurdity of the whole idea of arguing about whether god exists or not.
posted by ook at 7:53 PM on March 21, 2004


It's fun too!


This page is your friend! It helps when I don't have my Webmaster: In A Nutshell handy.


I just saw that in the video store with the Kirk Cameron in the lead role.

Here is a great essay about it and other Apocalyptic things.
posted by john at 9:30 PM on March 21, 2004

If the guy wrote a book about it, it's probably true. I'll take his word for it.

Erich von Daniken
posted by Samsonov14 at 1:12 AM on March 22, 2004

john: Whoa, that page is great! Many thanks -- I bookmarked it instantly.
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on March 22, 2004

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