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« God and Morality | Every Idea Has Consequences | Main | Charles Babbage – Father of the Computer »

April 23, 2015

Comments

Good points. I usually take the simplest route. If someone asserts that religion is *just* a product of culture and geography and not truth, I ask them what reason we have to think that.

Usually they have nothing to say in response. It's just a narrative they've adopted without any evidence.

Well, no one is claiming that there is an omnipotent supernatural force promoting secularism, so the fact that its distribution is culturally and geographically based is quite expected.

On the other hand, it's an empirical fact that religion (and the specific versions of religion) are also culturally and geographically based, so the amount of evidence that that provides for or against a religion depends on the likelihood ratio of the omnipotent supernatural being that a given religion describes deciding to use geographic and cultural criteria to distribute belief in the religion (given that the being is omnipotent and can cause the actual distribution to come out any way he wants), versus such a geographical and cultural distribution arising in the absence of the described supernatural being.

The probability of the latter is very high (it is completely expected, as in the case of secularism). The probability of the former is unknown, but almost certainly less than the probability of the latter, so it is reasonable to see the geographic and cultural distribution of religion as providing providing some evidence against religion (or any specific form of it).

"The probability of the latter is very high (it is completely expected, as in the case of secularism)."

So probability, before taking specific theistic considerations into account, is also very high.

And we don't know how those theistic considerations apply. Because we don't know what God knows. We may have an idea of what Adam would do if Adam were omnipotent. But that has no relevance whatsoever, since Adam is not omniscient. The theistic considerations may increase the probability of the geographic distribution we see.They may decrease the probability, or they may have no effect at all.

If anything, we have some evidence that they have no effect at all, because the natural order is decreed by God. Barring special revelation, the book of nature is the best book to read to discover the will of God.

Now, if you can find some evidence, Adam, that a specific candidate revelation predicts a different distribution of beliefs than what we should naturally expect, then you may have an argument against that particular revelation. Otherwise not.

The fact that the distribution of beliefs is as we observe it to be given an omnipotent being similar to what is described by Christianity, Judaism, or Islam (for example) is more surprising, than if the distribution of beliefs that we observe arose in the absence of such a being. It is more surprising, it gives us more information (as you noted, it gives us non-trivial information about the will of God that we may not be able to deduce in other ways), and its probability is lower. These are all equivalent ways of thinking about the information content of the idea that the belief distribution that we observe exists in the context of an omnipotent god as described.

If your goal is to explore what states of affairs are logically consistent with an omnipotent god as described by a major religion, then the empirical distribution of beliefs is not interesting, since it is certainly logically consistent with that being. But if your goal is to update your beliefs in accordance with the evidence you have, then it is definitely relevant. Of course, it may be that this specific piece of evidence is evidence against the existence of such a being, but on balance there is a lot of other evidence that overcomes that and points to the existence of such a being.

It is more surprising, than if the distribution of beliefs that we observe arose in the absence of such a being.
I think it is better to say that it is more surprising absent the assumption that there is such a being.

I'm not sure what the basis even of this surprise.

I don't think we should expect too much difference between a world governed by uniform discoverable natural laws that we assume are legislated and enforced by God and a world governed by uniform discoverable natural laws that we assume are 'brute facts'. There may be some difference. Enough to expect different distributions of belief? I find that doubtful.

(Of course, without God, I don't hold out much hope for the uniformity or discoverability of natural law. Without God, I expect chaos.)

My grammar has been atrocious in this thread...

I'm not sure what the basis even of this surprise.

Good Lord!

I not know what mean.

Try this instead:

I'm not sure what the basis is even of this surprise.

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