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A Miscellany 112
A question of probability

by Michael Fitzpatrick

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This is a reply to an email that was sent to me.


The main purpose, I believe, is to show that the world is immoral, hopeless, and pointless without an eternal, good, and perfect God who directs our purposes.

You agree that this succeeds.

If your argument is correct, then the question becomes empirical. What is more likely? From what you have observed from the sunset, from loving Sabrina, from fighting war, from thinking and feeling, from all the examination of all of your imperfect knowledge, which is more likely, that reality has ultimate purpose, morality, and beauty, or is it meaningless, brute, and amoral?

Either takes faith.


Which is more likely? Well, likeliness is a question of probability. Asking what is likely is the same as asking what is probable. And probabilities work off of comparison, using odds based on past experience to determine the likeliness of a current experience. For example, a thousand coin tosses will most likely (or most probably) yield a result of 50% heads, 50% tails. So the likeliness of the next toss will 50% in favor of either result. Another example of likeliness is determining whether the remains of a burnt house reveal a deliberate, man-caused fire, or an unintended, natural fire. The investigator looks at the remains and compares it to other proven fires to see if there are any similarities between the current fire and say another fire that was shown to be arson. If certain evidence shows him that past experience says it is more likely to be arson, then he determines his investigation henceforth to be criminal. So when you ask me which is more likely regarding the state of the universe, my guess is, like the fire detective, you want me to determine if the evidence shows the cause to be more likely natural and unintended, or supernatural and intended. Yet I have to ask: what is it that you’ve been comparing this universe too? Have you experience with other worlds, the acts of other gods, seen other amoral universes from which it can be determined the likelihood of this world being created or meaningless? Unlike all other situations in which inductive logic is invoked, I do not see what it is that you compare this world too, other than elements within it, and that begs the question of how can something’s parts prove its whole (Fallacy of Composition: reasoning fallaciously from the attributes of the parts of a whole to the attributes of the whole itself). How can arson be deduced if we are looking at the first burnt house we’ve ever seen? We might detect gasoline, and determine arson, but that is because we know only a human can use gasoline, not nature, in a fire. What in this world says that only God could make it, and not something else or something meaningless, when we’ve no past experience of what only God is capable of? We say that the difference between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and a monkey typing nonsense on a typewriter is intentional cognitive abstract meaning, because we compare the two, and find significance and pattern in one, and asinine writing in the other. So what do you compare the perceived artistry of this world to when you say that it is beautiful and created?

I admit this leaves a naturalist in the same position, for what can he compare the world to in saying there is no creation, that this earth is a random thing? Both the naturalist and the theist are inducing meaning based on what they perceive, and both I think are falsely drawing “probable” conclusions.