Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gambling With Infinite-Sided Dice

In a recent post on religion, I wrote:
I love religious debate of all kinds and think it's the best way to hone your own beliefs. But as soon as you move from "This is what I believe" to "This is what you should believe," you've crossed the line.
And a commenter wrote back, saying:
Religions make claims about what reality actually is. Do you really mean to imply that we shouldn't advocate that people believe likely true things and stop believing likely false things?
But the problem here is that it has a misuse of the concept of probability.  In order to make a prediction on how likely something is, you have to have enough information about it in order to make such a determination. 

For example, if I had a normal six-sided dice and asked you what the likelihood of me rolling a six, you'd know I had a one-in-six chance.  And that's based upon your knowledge of dice.

But...what if I wouldn't let you look at the dice, didn't tell you how many sides it had, didn't tell you if it was "loaded" to spin a specific number, and refused to even let you see it after I rolled, forcing you to accept my word for what it said?  Could you tell me the probability of me getting a six?  Of course not.  Hell, the dice might not even HAVE a six on it, for all you know.  So you simply wouldn't have enough information to make an informed decision. 

Religious Probability

And so it is with religion.  We simply don't have enough information to determine how likely it is that a god exists.  We can't even make an educated guess.  Instead, the best we can do is take a complete stab in the dark, based entirely upon our pre-held beliefs.  And that's what makes debate on this so useless, as a religious person is simply going to have a different set of beliefs than a non-religious person.

It'd be like two people arguing about the probability of a dice rolling six, when one thinks it's a normal six-sided dice, and the other thinks it's an infinite-sided dice.  If either agrees to accept the other's belief, then they can easily come to agreement.  But as long as they hold firm on their beliefs, there can NEVER be agreement.  Their answers can never match.

And again, if someone's willing to discuss religion with you, that's great.  I love religious discussions.  But generally, that will involve you accepting their basis hypothetically, and discussing the specifics of their religion.  Or, you can explain why it's not necessary for there to be a god; assuming they want to have that discussion.  But if your argument focuses on them accepting premises that they simply refuse to accept, then it's a pointless discussion that borders on the offensive.

And of course, my original point wasn't merely regarding a debate on religion, but actually forcing beliefs on to others.  For example, Christians who want to use the government to enforce their own beliefs about abortion on to non-believers is wrong.  Similarly, an atheist who used government to force Christians to have abortions would also be wrong.  And that's really more of what I was referring to.  And as long as religious people aren't forcing me to obey their religion, I fail to see what the problem is.

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