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Bayes

# Bayes

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09/02/2010

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GOD AND REV. BAYES
VICTOR J. STENGER
For
Reality Check
in June, 2007
Skeptical Briefs
.Draft of Monday, April 16, 2007 12:20 PM for comments only. Do not quote, copy or distribute.Bayes' theorem (Thomas Bayes, d. 1761) provides a means for directly calculating the probability for a statement being true based on the available evidence. In a 2003 book
The Probability of God
(New York: Three Rivers Press), Stephen Unwin attempted tocalculate the probability that God exists. Unwin's result: 67 %. Physicist Larry Ford(private communication) has examined Unwin's calculation and made his own estimateusing the same formula. Ford's result: 10
-17
. In what follows I present Ford's nicelyconcise analysis, slightly modified.Here's how the Bayesian method works. Let
P
(
G
) be the
prior
probability that a proposition
G
is true. Now, suppose we have some new evidence
E.
Let
P
(
G|E
) be the probability that
G
is true in light of the evidence
E
. Let
P
(
E
|
G
) be the probability that
E
istrue if
G
is true and
P
(
E|G*
) be the probability that
E
is true if
G
is false. Then is it easyto prove that

P
(
G
|
E
)
=
P
(
G
)
P
(
E
|
G
)
P
(
G
)
P
(
E
|
G
)
+
1
P
(
G
)
P
(
E
|
G
*)
(1)This is Bayes' Theorem.Let
G
be the proposition that God exists. Unwin rewrites (1) as

P
after
=
P
before
D P
before
D
+
1
before
(2)where

D
=
P
(
E
|
G
)
P
(
E
|
G
*)
(3)he calls the "divine indicator," which represents how more likely the evidence
E
would beif God exists compared to him not existing.Unwin then puts in some numbers. He takes the prior probability of God existing,that is, the probability before any evidence is submitted, to be
P
before
= 0.5. Then heintroduces a series of six observations and estimates the divine indicator
D
for each. Ateach step he calculates a
P
after
and equates that to
P
before
for the following step.1) The evidence for goodness, such as altruism:
D
= 10

P
after
= 0.91.2) The evidence for moral evil, done by humans:
D
= 0.5

P
after
= 0.83.3) The evidence for natural evil (natural disasters):
D
= 0.1

P
after
= 0.33.4) The evidence for "intra-natural" miracles (successful prayers, etc.):
D
= 2

P
after
=0.5.5) The evidence for "extra-natural" miracles (direct intervention by God in nature):
D
= 1

P
after
= 0.5.6) The evidence for religious experience (feeling of awe, etc.):
D
= 2

P
after
= 0.67.Unwin then adds a boost based on faith raising the final probability of God to0.95. Now let's look at Ford's alternate estimate of these numbers. First he notes,"propositions that postulate
existence
have a far less than 50% chance of being correct."

Another way to say this is that absence of any evidence or other reason for us to believesome entity such as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster exists, it is highly unlikely that itdoes. So the prior probability of God should be more like one in a million or less. So let'stake
P
before
= 10
-6
.With respect to the divine indicator,
D
, we must evaluate it for each kind of evidence. Taking miracles for example,
P
(
E
|
G
) is the probability of the observedevidence of miracles given God exists. We see no evidence of miracles and since Godshould be producing them if he existed, this probability is small. On the other hand theabsence of evidence for miracles is just what we expect if there is no God, so
P
(
E
|
G*
) isnear one. Consequently, the divine indicator based on the absence of evidence for miracles is
D
<< 1. Let us go though the various indicators.Unwin exhibits the typical theistic fallacy that goodness can only come from Godand assigns a high divine indicator
D
= 10 for this. Ford points out that we should see alot more goodness in the world than we do see, if God exists. So he assumes
D
= 0.1.Ford notes that the existence of both moral and natural evil in the world isevidence against Gods existence. Unwin seems to agree by assigning
D
-values less thanone, but not sufficiently low to describe the true situation in which millions die or suffer needlessly each year from the evils of both humanity and nature. Ford's values of
D
=0.01 and
D
= 0.001 for moral and natural evil respectively are far more reasonable.Unwin thinks that miracles such as prayers being answered have been observedand so assigns a diving indicator
D
= 2

to what he calls intra-natural miracles. However,the scientific fact is that the best, controlled experiments on intercessory prayer show no

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