God's Number Is Up
In his 1916 poem "A Coat," William Butler
Yeats rhymed: "I made my song a coat/Covered with embroideries/Out of old
mythologies/From heel to throat."
Read "religion" for "song," and "science"
for "coat," and we have a close approximation of the deepest flaw in the
science and religion movement, as revealed in Yeats's denouement: "But the
fools caught it,/Wore it in the world's eyes/As though they'd wrought
it./Song, let them take it/For there's more enterprise/In walking naked."
Naked faith is what religious enterprise
was always about, until science became the preeminent system of natural
verisimilitude, tempting the faithful to employ its wares in the practice
of preternatural belief. Although most efforts in this genre offer little
more than scientistic cant and religious blather, a few require a response
from the magisterium of science, if for no other reason than to protect
that of religion; if faith is tethered to science, what happens when the
science changes? One of the most innovative works in this genre is The
Probability of God (Crown Forum, 2003), by Stephen D. Unwin, a risk
management consultant in Ohio, whose early physics work on quantum gravity
showed him that the universe is probabilistic and whose later research in
risk analysis led him to this ultimate computation.
If faith is tethered to science,
what happens when the science changes?
Unwin rejects most scientific attempts to
prove the divine--such as the anthropic principle and intelligent
design--concluding that this "is not the sort of evidence that points in
either direction, for or against." Instead he employs Bayesian
probabilities, a statistical method devised by 18th-century Presbyterian
minister and mathematician Reverend Thomas Bayes. Unwin begins with a 50
percent probability that God exists (because 50–50 represents "maximum
ignorance"), then applies a modified Bayesian theorem:
The probability of God's existence after
the evidence is considered is a function of the probability before times D
("Divine Indicator Scale"): 10 indicates the evidence is 10 times as likely
to be produced if God exists, 2 is two times as likely if God exists, 1 is
neutral, 0.5 is moderately more likely if God does not exist, and 0.1 is
much more likely if God does not exist. Unwin offers the following figures
for six lines of evidence: recognition of goodness (D = 10), existence of
moral evil (D = 0.5), existence of natural evil (D = 0.1), intranatural
miracles (prayers) (D = 2), extranatural miracles (resurrection) (D = 1),
and religious experiences (D = 2).
Plugging these figures into the above
formula (in sequence, where the Pafter figure for the first
computation is used for the Pbefore figure in the second
computation, and so on for all six Ds), Unwin concludes: "The probability
that God exists is 67%." Remarkably, he then confesses: "This number has a
subjective element since it reflects my assessment of the evidence.
It isn't as if we have calculated the value of pi for the first time."
Indeed, based on my own theory of the
evolutionary origins of morality and the sociocultural foundation of
religious beliefs and faith, I would begin (as Unwin does) with a 50
percent probability of God's existence and plug in these figures:
recognition of goodness (D = 0.5), existence of moral evil (D = 0.1),
existence of natural evil (D = 0.1), intranatural miracles (D = 1),
extranatural miracles (D = 0.5), and religious experiences (D = 0.1). I
estimate the probability that God exists is 0.02, or 2 percent.
Regardless, the subjective component in
the formula relegates its use to an entertaining exercise in thinking--on
par with mathematical puzzles--but little more. In my opinion, the question
of God's existence is a scientifically insoluble one. Thus, all such
scientistic theologies are compelling only to those who already believe.
Religious faith depends on a host of social, psychological and emotional
factors that have little or nothing to do with probabilities, evidence and
logic. This is faith's inescapable weakness. It is also, undeniably, its