God and the Laws of Probability

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Peairtach, Dec 13, 2010.

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  1. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    What role do the laws of probability have in an argument for the existence of God?

    We sometimes hear secularists and atheists appeal to chance and fate as being behind everything - or if chance and fate aren't mentioned it is implied that they are enough - and then swinging in the other direction and implying that science will find an as yet undiscoverd answer, making chance and fate redundant.

    It is often overlooked that all things in this world are governed by the laws of probability.

    Is it possible to argue that the laws of probability are evidence of God's existence? I.e. in a truly random chance universe would the laws of probability would be regularly and arbitrarily broken?

    In the creation v. evolution debate, re micro-evolution, is it possible or useful to point to the regularity of the laws of probability as pointing to God's hand in mico evolution, and in there being a limit to what is possible through evolution.

    Obviously some of the claims of evolutionists seem more highly improbable than others depending on how well the evidence is presented. But evolutionists are quite happy to put the scientific laws of probability to one side, and make claims which conflict with this area of science without providing a scientific resolution, and when something seems unlikely the appeal is to chance not probability. They surely keep needing to be reminded of the laws of probability.

    Maybe someone can tease this out for me or unpack it or deconstruct it, as I'm no expert on the laws of probability or any other maths.
  2. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    The laws of probability are merely descriptors of ignorance--for God, who knows all and ordains all, there is no "probability", only certainty. We, who don't have His omniscience, improvise by saying that something is possible (or probable). The probability of an event changes depending on how much we know about that event. For example, if we know that a coin is to be flipped, we say that there is a 50-50 chance it will come up heads. Well, when we learn that it's weighted to come up heads more than 50% of the time, the probability changes. When the coin is actually flipped, and it comes up tails, we recognize that the "probability" of it coming up heads was actually zero because God ordained it to come up tails.
  3. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor


    But if we have a normal coin, we would expect there to be a pattern of heads and tails that would conform to the laws of probability. We couldn't predict each toss of the coin individually, but there should be a certain pattern over time.

    We who are Christians believe that all scientific law is God's way of ruling the universe. The presuppositionalists use the laws of science as an argument for God. In a hypothetical, for-argument's-sake, atheist universe, could there be laws of probability?
  4. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    ?? "The best, the only, the absolutely certain proof of the truth of Christianity is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no proof of anything." Cornelius Van Til

    This apologetic, taken with Mr. Van Til's creature/creator distinction enables one to freely explore science and the laws of logic, mathematics, and science. But no one can ever get outside of all that is, observe it, and from that vantage point prove or disprove anything. Special revelation tells us what general revelation (which includes science) cannot.
  5. EverReforming

    EverReforming Puritan Board Freshman

    I read a book once using statistics/probability as the premise for an apologetical proof of God. I can't remember the specifics of the book, but it was an easy read, written in an approachable manner so that you didn't have to have a background in statistics/probability in order to understand what he was talking about.

    It was called "The Probability of God" by Stephen Unwin. It's been several years since I've read the book, so I can't comment much on the book or or the theology of the author, as its not fresh in my memory. But nevertheless, it's out there, and so probability is something that at least one person has used in proving the existence of God.
  6. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    Chance and probability are not forces, they are a means of predicting forces. An excellent example is given by Spoul in his apologetic primer, the title of which I now forget. However, suppose that you're flipping a coin. Assuming all things are constant, you have a 50% change of it landing on heads and 50% chance of it landing on tails. If it lands on heads 50% of the time, did chance cause that to happen? No. A vareity of factors caused it to happen including the force with which you flipped it, its rotation speed, gravity, wind resistance, how far it has to fall, etc., etc.

    When atheists, humanists, or other naturalists appeal to chance as the driving force behind the Universe's creation, they're being illogical. As illustrated above, chance is not a force, it's a means by which we predict how natural forces will behave. If you can nail down enough factors, you can get a pretty accurate prediction too. However, chance did not cause the Universe to occur. They have to appeal to some force; one they have failed to produce for some time. The easiest thing to say for them then has become "Oh, well... chance did it. Over time, it will just happen because chances are it will." Wrong. Something has to do it-something they have yet to explain despite all of their wailing and accusations.
  7. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    Actually, in order to argue for a "Law of Probability" one must assume infinity. The 50/50 coin toss probability requires/assumes an infinite number of coin tosses.
  8. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    The laws of science argument is a variation on the one you cited. Unless the truth of Christianity is presupposed, there is no basis for the laws of science.
  9. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes. Maybe I'm not very good at articulating some of these points, but presuppositionalists set out to show that e.g. the uniformity of nature/the laws of science are unintelligible without presupposing the God of the Bible, and that the atheist scientist presupposes the God of the Bible in doing science, whether or not he knows about the Bible. I'm just asking how this would work out with respect to the laws of probability.

    Quote from Andrew
    Yes. He wrote a book called "Not a Chance" in which he showed and argued that chance was a word we use for things we don't understand. Nothing happens by chance. There's always a cause behind it, and the ultimate cause is God.

    So - for-argument's-sake - since the laws of probability are laws that reflect God's orderly rule of the Universe, in a hypothetical atheist universe, we could expect to flip a normal coin one hundred times and it may well come tails up one hundred times. Another time it may be 50/50. Another time it may be heads up one hundred times. Whatever.

    And when it comes to the theory of evolution, and the naturalistic view of how the Universe, Solar System and Earth developed, it would seem that some of the atheists would hope for a suspension of the laws of probability at many critical points in the process. Either that, or they don't want to be reminded that the laws of probability - not their erroneous,slight-of-hand appeal to ''chance'' - apply in all times and places, and they don't want their hearers to be reminded of them. They don't want to be reminded that natural selection, where it does occur, is governed by the laws of probability. The mathematical and hence scientific laws of probability must be and are set aside by atheists when it comes to evolution, because anything must be more probable than God. (?)

    I'm just "throwing out" these rather inchoate thoughts for further enlightenment.

    Thanks for the suggestion, George. I may get round to getting it.
  10. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Ah! Now we're on the same page. I thought you were saying that the laws of physics could be somehow used to deduce that God exists.
  11. Bradwardine

    Bradwardine Puritan Board Freshman

    To be pedantic about coin tossing not being an exact 50/50 chance, see the following 31 page paper:

    The abstract states:
    We analyze the natural process of flipping a coin which is caught in the hand. We
    prove that vigorously-flipped coins are biased to come up the same way they started.
    The amount of bias depends on a single parameter, the angle between the normal to
    the coin and the angular momentum vector. Measurements of this parameter based
    on high-speed photography are reported. For natural flips, the chance of coming up as
    started is about .51.
  12. Zenas

    Zenas Snow Miser

    Wow. I can't believe people spent time doing that.

    To those researchers, I dedicate the following:

  13. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Actually this nerd thinks that project sounds pretty cool! But that's probably because I have a final exam in Probability and Statistics tomorrow and for now, I need to enjoy it in order to stay sane.

    Is that from Billy Madison? :D
  14. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    As far as I understand it the argument from science goes like this. The problem of induction is an old problem to philosophy. It is like this. If I were to observe 2,000 black geese around the world than I might conclude that geese are black, but all it takes to disprove this is to present one non-black colored geese. The issue here is moving from a finite number of observations to a general premise about things (like all geese are black). This is a problem for philosophers of science because it implies that what we call the laws of science are these finite observations and expereirments and they are subject to the same problem if you will. The problem here is what reason do we have to trust, or have faith, that the laws of science will not change for some unknown reason?

    We as beleivers believe in the Creator who created and regulates the universe, as He sees fit. This provides us with a good account of why we trust science, we trust science because we trust God. The unbeilever has many, failing, attempts to account for science without God. The most populer view today is essentially the naturalistic view. This view has evolved into essentially attempting a Darwinian account of natural laws. They basically argue that the same logic employed by Darwin in biology may be able to be applyed to physics as well. This is to say that when the chaos of the big bang began to cool down the atomic particles in our universe formed and behaved in reguler ways and now we the laws of science. This argument is flawed in the sense that the whole issue is why we assume the uniformity of nature, which implies static laws of science, but this explination implies that the laws of science can evolve at anytime and anyplace, so much for uniformity. This makes the naturalists beleif in the laws of science a blinder faith than they could ever accuse us of.

    The laws of probability would be affected by these two different views because in a Christian worldview there would be reason to refer to them as laws, in the naturalistic worldview they have no reason to call them laws at all. I think that the issue of specifically an argument from the laws of probability would make more sense in the general argument from science. I think I see your point because without said laws there would be no science of probability at all, and since the naturalist, in this case, cannot account for regularity at all they have no reason to give for why any law exists.

    As far as evolution goes I do have to say that however inprobable their claims may be the laws of probability do at least guarentee their possibility, however unlikley (we can't say on probability alone that this theory is actually unlikely). That is how Dawkins responds to the improbability argument, he basically says "so what it only had to happen once". That is not to say that the improbability argument is not useful or good evidence against evolution, only that it has limitations. If I understand your thought proccess here you are trying to reshape the improbability argument into a presupossitional form and apply it to the imprbabilities of evolution, do I get your general scheme here?
  15. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes I think so. i'm exploring probability as a presuppositional argument for God, and also looking at the subject of probability in relation to evolution. So I'm really exploring at least two areas. Or three areas.

    (a)Thinking about at a presuppositional argument for God from probability.

    (b) Thinking about how - even if evolution was accepted for the sake of argument - that probability would rule all evolution and natural selection, not some spurious, radical God-free "chance".

    (c) Thinking about the fact that we Christians do accept that God put a degree of flexibility into the species He created at the beginning such that a degree of natural selection could operate on them. I.e. we accept a degree of micro-evolution. But even this isn't a radical God-free "chance" area, as we know from the doctrine of providence, and is also shown in maths by the laws of probability.

    The atheists are sometimes positing - if I'm not mistaken - a radical law free area where probability doesn't exist or is conveniently forgotten about for the good of their arguments.

    A major problem here - which I've never heard explained - is of course that we hear sometimes scientists speaking about things like "the evolution of the solar system" but how can natural selection apply to the solar system. Are planets and dust clouds competing with one another for survival? Doesn't this show the wooliness of the naturalistic mind?
  16. Bradwardine

    Bradwardine Puritan Board Freshman

    I suspect they are using 'evolution' to mean 'development' (as it could be used for biological and non-biological systems). For example, we may talk about the evolution of a coastline to mean the way it is shaped and transformed over time by natural forces (water, wind, rain) causing erosion and deposition and therefore shaping its final form. So the solar system changes over time with heating / cooling / collisions etc. - whatever view one takes of its origin, it does change ('evolve').
  17. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    Natural selection applies to the solar system in that stars/planets which are formed in such a way as to guarantee their survival will survive.

    It's called a "truism".
  18. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Quote from Craig
    I know when it comes down to the nitty-gritty the naturalists don't claim natural selection operating in the "evolution" of the Cosmos. But the sloppy use of the word "evolution" in two very different spheres is open to a misunderstanding which may be in the naturalists' interests. There is nothing like natural selection posited by the naturalists to help in the creation of e.g. the Earth.

    Planet Earth and its situation had to come about by physical laws operating by "chance" on what was available, according to them.
  19. Bradwardine

    Bradwardine Puritan Board Freshman

    I think we should be wary, in this instance, of saying that the naturalist is using the word 'evolution' in a 'sloppy' way. Given the second O.E.D. definition is simply 'the gradual development of something' - this can be applied to non/biological systems. We should be careful that we don't narrow the meaning of the word 'evolution' too excessively such that it becomes a shibboleth. Of course in the gradual development of systems there are key questions such as 'Can life develop from non-life?' and 'Can biological systems of increasing complexity develop on their own?' - these are the kind of questions that separate Creationists from Biological Evolutionists.

    ---------- Post added at 06:21 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:02 PM ----------

    On the general subject of mathematics and its relation to apologetics / Christian world-view, Vern Poythress has written the following:

    Poythress Articles by Topic
  20. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    That is a good line of argumentation. In a purely random universe there would beno logical reason for probability at all. In fact chaos theory, which deals directly with so called random events, points to these events having a nonrepetitive order. Or like working out the mathmatical exactness of pi, it goes on forever and never really repeats any pattern (even though it is far from being random). So here I think you are on to something.

    This does strike me as more of a classical type argument. But you could offer this as evidence against evolution,in which case they would have to assume an ordered "random and chaotic" universe, which is a tall order. You could presupossitionally critique their argument. They may try to argue, I don't know how, that evolution is more likley than anything else but you could presuppossitionally argue against that as well. But you could find a way to bring it all together under a presuppossitional tent, remember the use of reason from the right perspective is what Van Til really argued, not the abandonment of evidences.

    Now that is a presupossitional argument, that even if we accept micro-evolution it only strengthens the rationality of the christian belief. Again chaos theory ony gives evidence to the christian position, they can't explain any order in the universe even this.

    It gets kind of tricky here because probability only tells what is most likley to happen not what will actually happen. They seek to ignore the irrationality of their position by getting very excited by their theories. For instance I heard one scientist get over joyed because he said that evolution may finaly be able to solve the pesky problems of the history of ethics. In regards to monogomy he explained in a very excited voice, very passionatly, that it may have evolved because of humans seeking to control optimal mates, thus ensuring their genetic survival. At the end of this show I started laughing very hard and my family asked why? I said that he was hiding the fact, even if subconscously, that he never gave one single reason why you should not commit adultery. That is the ethical question, why do something or not, not a social explinaition of why people think that way. That is my experience on how they respond to sticky issues in their theory.

    Your absolutly right, the aplication of Darwinian theories to cosmology is very problimatic on many levels.
  21. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    Well if there is anything in these "inchoate" thoughts its down to young Reformed (and maybe less Reformed) students, their professors, and those with a good knowledge of maths (or "math" as you say over there) to develop them. Not me.

    There is "chaos theory", as you say, which I know even less about than probability!

    Quote from Craig
    I'll get round to checking this out.
  22. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Well for the record I like your line of thought. It hits the evolutionist where its hurts. Your line of thought is very original, it attempte to destroy any probability for the evolutionist so do not sell yourself short okay!

    ---------- Post added at 07:55 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:54 PM ----------

    What do you mean young, my Mom says your as young as you feel.
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