Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dis/proving God: Logic, Anecdotes and Water

A man lives in the desert. He hears a story about some substance called water. He is told every living thing needs it.

"Well," says he. "I see no water here, but I do see cactus. And cactus is a living thing, clearly getting by without water so water must not be real."

A man from New Orleans, Louisiana claims  he as seen water. Furthermore, he knows from personal experience that water boils when it reaches a temperature of 212 degrees F (100 C). Another man from Alma, Colorado claims he has seen water and furthermore knows that water boils at 193 F (89 C).

Each accuses the other of having "false water", contaminated water or "not the real water". Our desert dweller hears of this and declares it further proof that water isn't real, and that these two gentleman are just a couple of crazies, making things up.

The above is more parable than anecdote, so don't try to analyze it too deeply. It is meant to be as absurd as it sounds.

Given the relative improbability of proving or disproving the existence of God through hard evidence, we fall back to anecdote. But as you can see, this is very problematic, and the conclusions are likely wrong due limited information, personal bias, or any number of other factors.

The debate between New Orleans and  Alma, for instance isn't about one being right  and the other wrong. They have simply failed to understand one characteristic of water, namely the boiling point varies with altitude. At sea level water boils at 212 Farenheit in New Orleans. Alma Colorado is not at Sea level, it is 10,000 feet above sea level. And at that altitude, water boils at 193 degrees Farenheit.

And this is the problem with claiming God does or does not exist based on anecdote.

"Bad things happen to good people therefore there is no God"

"I witnessed a miracle therefore this is a God"

"One person is miraculously saved from death by God, and a child is killed senselessly, therefore either God is the biggest jerk ever, or he doesn't exist."

"Religious people have done violent things, and caused terrible wars, therefore there is no God."

"I prayed and felt something special therefore there is a God." or more specifically, "I prayed and felt something special about a specific religion, or leader, therefore there is a God, and this is his one and only truth."

"People of lots of different faiths claim to have had spiritual experiences letting them know their respective faith is the one and true faith. Clearly they can't all be the one true faith, therefore there is no God."

These conclusions are all various forms of logical fallacy. None of these anecdotes individually or together definitively, conclusively, scientifically justify a logical conclusion that deity does or does not exist.

They may be sufficient to disprove certain claims regarding the nature, character or motive of deity. But that is all. So, from a perspective of logic, rather than attempting to discredit deity or claim absolutely the existing of deity, it seems a rational person seeking to apply scientific principles would do better to consider the alternatives, rule out the impossibilities, identify the improbabilities, accept the uncertainties and consider the possibilities.

Women in the military, and re-addressing heroes.

I've been seeing lots of posts and likes and kudos and news acclamation for two women who just successfully graduated rangers school.

Perhaps I am in the wrong to feel so, but the news saddens me a bit. In my - perhaps sexist -  mind women were still somehow above that.

That sounds like am either dissing women, or dissing our military - I don't mean to. I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who choose to serve in the role of protector, defender. Some of my favorite people and stories include Captain Moroni.

and the 2000 Sons of the people of Ammon.

War and conflict are an unfortunate part of human existence. But while it is one thing to  have to defend life, liberty, family and freedom, it is quite another to seek for blood. For some reason - right or wrong - in my mind, the graduation of these two women and consequent talk of the changing role of women in the front lines of military - viewed by the media as a step forward for women... to me feels more like a loss. Men have, it seems, already in large part embraced a baser nature, a nihilistic bloodthirstiness, but... now women succumb to it as well?

This lead me to think about a comment I had seen and replied to quite some time ago, on a video about Esther, and some other women who were being compared to her - her quality of courage specifically...

The individual's comment expressed disdain for the video, implying a sexist quality, as  the "courageous women" were shown putting on pretty clothes, make-up and jewelry. If the video had been about a man or men, they would have been shown strapping on swords and armor. Getting ready for battle, the poster noted.

I responded by saying "I think the idea was to have each one mirroring Esther, and in her case, that was her preparation. It wasn't about going to battle, it was about putting her best foot forward,in spite of hopeless circumstances. Preparing by dressing in their best, is symbolic of expecting success. (Honestly, I think these women display greater courage in facing unseen, untouchable dangers, versus than taking up arms against a mortal foe)."

As I thought about that, it occurred to me that we generally have a very narrow perception of courage, of heroism. And it does revolve and mortal, physical combat. We honor those who "Sacrifice their lives to the cause", but we forget the quiet heroes who give their lives TO the cause: the Mother Theresa's, the Gandhi's, The Jonas Corona's and Ethan King's

So maybe we spend too much time worshiping the wrong qualities... Or maybe I'm just an old fashioned, sexist pig.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dis/proving God: Math, Science and a Checkerboard

Imagine you live on a checkerboard, and that this "world of yours is completely sealed in by four walls and a low ceiling.

Two other people share this checkerboard with you.

One claims there is a helium atom somewhere in your checkerboard world.

The other claims there is not.

Who is right? How do we determine it?

Let's assume you have a helium detector, which can detect a single atom of helium within one checkerboard square.

You could wander around checking a few squares at random. A traditional checkerboard consists of 8x8, or 64 squares, so in each square, you have a 1 in 64 (1.6%) chance of finding the helium atom - if it in fact exists. If there are two helium atoms, your odds are even better. Twice as good in fact.

Now if the helium atom is stationary, by the time you have checked 32 squares you have a 50% chance of finding the atom. But until you have checked EVERY square, you can't be certain that there is no helium. In other words, it is actually slightly easier to prove it does exist than to prove that it doesn't. To prove it exists, you need only search until you have found one instance. To prove that none exist, you must search every square.

But just testing each square is not sufficient either. Unless the helium atom is stationary. Let's say we set up the following pattern to check every square, by traversing side to side as we move forward across the board. It would be very easy for a moving helium atom to slip past on the left side of the board while we are over on the right side.

There are a few ways I can overcome this:

1) With enough people and sensors, You can place one sensor in each row, side by side, and they can move down the rows in unison, effectively creating a net to ensure the helium doesn't slip past.

2) You  could use a net that stretches from one end to the other, and drag it across the board until I have left a single row, then I can traverse that row with my sensor.

3) You could design a sensor which will test an entire row at one time, then move across the rows from one end to the other.

4) You could design a sensor or sensor web which tests every square at once.

Now, what if instead of a 2 dimension checkerboard we are talking about a three dimension cube? Now instead of 8x8=64 squares to test, you have 8x8x8=512. Probability of finding the atom in one cube is 0.2%.

To apply the strategy in 1 you would need enough people and sensors for each row and column, you have gone from needing 8 of each to 64 of each.

To apply strategy 2, you would first need to drop a net from the ceiling to reduce the search area to an 8x8x1 space, then drag the end-to-end net across to get to the single 8x1x1 column necessary.

Strategy 3 would require the same 64 sensors as strategy 1

And strategy 4 would require 512 sensors.

What of the cube is significantly bigger? 1000 x 1000 x 1000? That would be 1 billion cubes!
What if it is much, much bigger? Say 91 billion light years across(the distance across the observable universe)? There aren't enough people, enough sensors capable of creating the necessary web, nor sensors capable of spanning that mind-mindbogglingly huge distance.

And if you have never actually seen a helium atom - know nothing of it's physical makeup - how can you be certain your helium detector actually detects helium?

The same logic applies to god(/s) detection. We have an enormous space, and insufficient resources to scan said space, for a being (or beings) of unknown composition.  In fact, one could argue it is even worse, as we would also need to consider the space outside of observable space. Or the possibility that said being(/s) exist in an as yet undefined, unobserved dimension (yes, I know it sounds pretty sci-fi, but then so did spaceships and robots and glow in the dark sheep once upon a time).

Therefore, anyone who declares that there is a deity or deities, is doing so based on personal belief, and not by scientific analysis.

Any anyone who declares that there is no god is doing so based on personal belief and not by scientific analysis.

We simply do not have the means to prove or disprove the existence of deity through pure scientific, mathematical process.

What is left then is speculation based on observation and interpretation of available evidence.

More on that later.