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Old 8th April 2012, 06:11 PM   #1
HansMustermann
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Why a hiding God is statistically a losing proposition

You know, I keep hearing various arguments that boil down to "no no no, God is not revealing himself, because X". E.g., some variant of X = "testing your faith" seems to be particularly popular. You know it's mainstream when it's even lampooned in stuff like the Babelfish episode from the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, because people would understand exactly what the gag is about. Or X = "knowing for sure that God exists would mess with your free will" is also very popular.

Just to be clear, it's not even a new argument. Some early form of it can be traced all the way back to Origen, but it's probably even earlier than that. It being important to be a mystery was the bread and butter of mystery cults long before not just Origen was born, but before even the supposed historical Jesus was born.

At any rate, before I get started, let's make it very clear what the proposition is. Because if I'm wrong about what people are trying to tell me with it, then the rest of my reasoning is irrelevant, right?

So, way I understand it, the proposition is that God is hiding himself from us (or let's say "not revealing himself" as something that doesn't sound as bad,) because it's somehow important to God that we don't have hard evidence he's there. That, for example, God couldn't just appear to everyone or write on the Moon "Made By Yahweh" or arrange the stars to say that in Aramaic, because that would give us too strong a hint and somehow interfere with something else that God really wants. Like us having free will, or seeing who has faith, or whatever.

The way I understand it, the proposition is basically:

1. God doesn't want us to have hard evidence that he's there.

Did I understand that proposition correctly? Is that the argument being made?

And I'd add a second premise there, which follows naturally from most Christian doctrines:

2. God, as an omnipotent being, is good at getting anything he wants. If he wants to stay unrevealed (by anything else but faith,) he'll stay unrevealed.

I mean, if you're a believer, we can agree that God is omnipotent, or at least incredibly more powerful than a human, right? I'm not talking paradoxes like whether God can make a stone so heavy he can't lift it, but just a basic, hey, he's God. He's smart and powerful enough to hide from me, if he wants to.

Can we agree on that one too? Or did I get it wrong?

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Old 8th April 2012, 06:12 PM   #2
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Well, if I got that right, then what I'm proposing is that prayer to such a God is a losing proposition.

Why? Because we have statistics, that's why. We're at a point of having incredible numbers of statistics about just about everything. And on any population you can imagine. We have statistics from ecological study level, to cohort study level, to individual case studies.

If God were to heal more of group X (e.g., those prayed for) than he heals group Y (e.g., those nobody prays for), that kind of thing would show up in some statistics. It's the kind of thing that by now should be possible to demonstrate, if some church wants Randi's million.

And that would throw out the whole "not revealing himself" and "he wants you to have faith" thing right out the window. We'd effectively have a God who does very much reveal himself through statistics.

So

1. in the best case scenarion we're in a position where God can't answer your prayers for grandma having glioblastoma (nasty brain cancer) surgery, without tipping his hand. If he did, we'd see that in that hospital more local protestants recover than, say, Hindu Indians, Pakistani Muslims, etc. In fact in some places (e.g., England, Germany, etc) they have by now a significant Muslim population so we could rule out flukes because of too small samples.

Worse yet, we'd see it in other places that have no reason to favour the Christians too, e.g., in Singapore.

Or he can't intervene for your granddad's surgery as a reward for his being a God-fearing Christian who led a Christian life and kept all the commandments and bashed everyone who God hated in the OT and everything, as opposed to that gay transvestite liberal in the next room. Because then we'd see in statistics stuff like, damn, homophobes recover from brain surgery better than gays and lesbians do.

2. but there actually is an even scarier possibility there: God (being so smart and omnipotent) is actually fudging statistics to keep us from catching onto him. I mean, if he's omnipotent and omniscient (or at least incredibly more powerful and smarter than us humans), he'd know exactly what the numbers are and what we'd see in them, and he fudges the numbers juuust right so we don't catch on.

I say this is scarier because for every guy who gets a positive divine intervention from group X, someone else from the same group has to have a negative and harmful divine intervention. For every God-fearing fundie family's kid God saves from a surgery he would have died in, God has to kill another God-fearing fundie family's kid in a surgery he would have otherwise survived. You know, to keep the numbers in the statistics the same as for other groups of kids.

Not because the second family is actually deserving their kid killed -- I mean, clearly they deserve it less than someone from another group serving as control, and who aren't as good God-fearing fundies -- but just because God has to fudge the numbers just right. Someone deserving life has to get death, just so the numbers end up balancing each other.

This is a scarier proposition because, effectively, then in that group you have to compete with other believers worthy of a reward, for who's getting a punishment instead. For every guy who did move God to do a miracle for him, your chances of surviving the same operation just went a little more below average.

Meanwhile non-believers have no reason to compete for each other for God's favour. If your group can be defined as something like "the gay militant atheists", God can't kill more of your kind or he'd again tip his hand in statistics, and has no reason to help some of you over others. There's no reason for God to go, "oooh, I hate that guy's guts and wish he were dead, but I whish the other guy dead even more, so let's do a miraculous recovery for the first guy." You're just not worthy of God's help, and that's that. But on the flip side, if he doesn't help anyone, he doesn't have to kill anyone to fudge statistics either. If you're a guy God totally hates, your chances of surviving the same operation are just average.

3. But ok, maybe God is so good and gracious that he doesn't fudge statistics by killing good people, he fudges them by doing a miracle for some bad person too. Just to keep the statistics equal for both groups.

But here we actually have the same problem anyway.

Now let's say surviving an operation would be 75% without any help from God, but God helps another 5% of the people, so medical statistics show 80% surviving it. But God obviously has to do that for all groups we can make a statistic about, so effectively, for all we know, that operation has an 80% success rate.

But now the problem is the same. The believers who do move God to make a miracle have a 100% recovery, while everyone else gets 75% instead of 80%. They still have to compete for getting a miracle OR a chance of survival below that 80% average.

Meanwhile other groups unworthy of God's help still have to show 80% chances of recovery, or God would reveal himself in that statistic. If nobody there is really worthy of special intervention, and God just heals a random gay atheist for each fundie whose prayer he answered, then effectively everyone in that group has an 80% chance of survival. That 5% chance is applied just randomly to everyone.

Meanwhile in the praying fundie group, if you're not the best, you get only 75%.

Do you understand what I'm saying? A God who actually favour some people, and simultaneously fudges statistics so you can't detect him, has to favour some of his favoured people less than he favours those he hates.

Now not only some gay atheist gets to be a freeloader and get a chance at divine intervention for every devout fundie prayer answered, but he gets a better chance at it than most of those devout fundies do. Because that's what you get, IF God is actively fudging statistics to stay hidden.

Option number 1, namely God not answering any prayers and it being pointless for you to pray for any intervention at all, is actually the least bad option there.

...

No wonder Augustine thought that mathematicians work for the devil. His God must have foreseen this
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Old 8th April 2012, 06:23 PM   #3
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I love it Hans. Look from any perspective it's pretty clear that you have to ignore reality to believe in some kind of christian like god. Atheists will nod their head and theists will just say "he works in mysterious ways". But good try old boy.
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Old 8th April 2012, 06:51 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Well, if I got that right, then what I'm proposing is that prayer to such a God is a losing proposition.

Why? Because we have statistics, that's why. We're at a point of having incredible numbers of statistics about just about everything. And on any population you can imagine. We have statistics from ecological study level, to cohort study level, to individual case studies.
Does this not contradict your second premise? You said god could hide from us if he wanted as a premise, but now you are saying that he could not do so.

Is god powerful enough to fool us by acting whilst making sure that we can not detect those actions in any way?

Quote:
2. but there actually is an even scarier possibility there: God (being so smart and omnipotent) is actually fudging statistics to keep us from catching onto him. I mean, if he's omnipotent and omniscient (or at least incredibly more powerful and smarter than us humans), he'd know exactly what the numbers are and what we'd see in them, and he fudges the numbers juuust right so we don't catch on.
Exactly.

Quote:
I say this is scarier because for every guy who gets a positive divine intervention from group X, someone else from the same group has to have a negative and harmful divine intervention.
Hmm, this presumes that god would hide himself in this particular manner. What if he hides himself not by balancing the actual events, but by making the statistics not represent reality? By essentially adjusting the data that we collect?

For instance, most statistics are collected on the basis of extrapolating small numbers. God could bias that quite easily by simply adjusting who was counted if he wanted to, could he not?

It would still be hideously dishonest of him, IMO, but there you go.
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Old 8th April 2012, 07:11 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
1. God doesn't want us to have hard evidence that he's there.
Or he just doesn't care if we believe he exists or not. For example, a deistic God who doesn't interfere in human affairs.
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Old 8th April 2012, 07:15 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
Or he just doesn't care if we believe he exists or not. For example, a deistic God who doesn't interfere in human affairs.
And how would anyone objectively demonstrate the difference between a non-interfering god versus no god? If a proposition adds complexity to a situation but absolutely no greater understanding of a situation, then in what way is that proposition useful or even significant? I mean, other than making theists feel better.
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Old 8th April 2012, 07:19 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Tricky View Post
And how would anyone objectively demonstrate the difference between a non-interfering god versus no god?
They couldn't. It's a non-falsifiable proposition.

Originally Posted by Tricky View Post
If a proposition adds complexity to a situation but absolutely no greater understanding of a situation, then in what way is that proposition useful or even significant? I mean, other than making theists feel better.
It's useful for pointless philosophical and theological debates.

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Old 8th April 2012, 07:22 PM   #8
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I've noted that before; that the Deist idea of God is pretty much indistinguishable from no god at all. Certainly wouldn't be worthy of much in the way of worship....
It's just a god to have a god.

Which gets back to motivation; why would a god, with characteristics Christians give to same, create anything? A perfect being, it wouldn't have any needs or desires...
Being both omniscient and omnipotent, it could create anything it could think of, and it could think of essentially anything... And know it's ultimate disposition and fate.

So...What would be the point?
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Old 8th April 2012, 07:54 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
It's useful for pointless philosophical and theological debates.

Well we certainly need a tool for that, by God...

...er... or something.
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Old 8th April 2012, 07:56 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
I've noted that before; that the Deist idea of God is pretty much indistinguishable from no god at all. Certainly wouldn't be worthy of much in the way of worship....
It's just a god to have a god.

Which gets back to motivation; why would a god, with characteristics Christians give to same, create anything? A perfect being, it wouldn't have any needs or desires...
Being both omniscient and omnipotent, it could create anything it could think of, and it could think of essentially anything... And know it's ultimate disposition and fate.

So...What would be the point?
Some even go so far as to suggest that the Deist God didn't even create anything, but was just another artifact of the birth of the universe. The eternal observer, so to speak. Yes, that's a useless concept too, but hey, this is the religion section, right?
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Old 9th April 2012, 02:27 AM   #11
HansMustermann
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Originally Posted by Brian-M View Post
Or he just doesn't care if we believe he exists or not. For example, a deistic God who doesn't interfere in human affairs.
Well, there would be no point in praying to a deistic god anyway, would it? Since that's what I was getting at: there's no point in praying to a God who, for whatever reason, doesn't show up in a statistic.

Deists are easy because they never said their God answers a prayer in the first place, so, ok, we can skip the rest of the reasoning and agree from the start that there's no point in praying for grandma's surgery.

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Old 9th April 2012, 03:01 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Seismosaurus View Post
Hmm, this presumes that god would hide himself in this particular manner. What if he hides himself not by balancing the actual events, but by making the statistics not represent reality? By essentially adjusting the data that we collect?

For instance, most statistics are collected on the basis of extrapolating small numbers. God could bias that quite easily by simply adjusting who was counted if he wanted to, could he not?

It would still be hideously dishonest of him, IMO, but there you go.
I'm ok with that possibility too, but that's a negative divine intervention too. Because we use those statistics to determine what treatment works and what doesn't.

1. At worst, in such rearranging the numbers, God is incidentally also fudging with our learning about whatever we were making that statistic for.

E.g., let's say some genetic combination is more represented in some devout community. It's not that they do incest or anything, but they're a small and relatively closed community, which forms a more or less small and closed genetic pool, and some recessive combinations would show more often there. It actually happens in some rural communities. If God fudges our numbers or samples to hide that he does miracles for those, then effectively he's messing with our only tool to understand it and the effectiveness of treatments.

Worse yet, it would work the other way around too. If that concentrated community is one that God actually hates and routinely punishes, his fudging the data to hide that, could prevent finding a treatment for some people who don't quite deserve God's wrath.

And, hey, he could. I mean Paul does say that God chose to confound the wise in 1 Corinthians first chapter.

But then God is a massive dick. Treatments for the condition could be delayed or even denied, and a lot of people who got that in other places that don't make so good a sample will be denied an effective treatment. It's not just that it's dishonest of him, it's actually harmful for some people who didn't quite deserve it.

2. At best, if God is so careful and caring to not alter the outcome for anything but prayer in those statistics -- although, honestly, does that sound like the God of the Bible to you? -- he's preventing us from learning just that: that praying hard enough works.

Literally billions of people will die painful and unnecessary deaths, just because God chose to interfere with the statistics, and not to let us gather good evidence about whatever would have healed them. Which doesn't quite sound like a good and loving God to me.

And I'm sure that a lot of believers will rationalize that as some form of, "no, dude, those are those who didn't deserve to be healed. They had some sin/fault/evil-stuff that makes them deserve to be left to die in pain, man." Right?

Not quite so. God obviously doesn't do miracles for all believers either. Whatever you believe is the right sect, the ones who worship God just right -- Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics, take your choice -- obviously God doesn't heal ALL of its members. It's not hard to find someone from those who had a relative die of cancer, or whose infant died, or find some news about a minister having some health problems. So if they're right about their belief, and they're the ones who do God's religion just right, those are not people who deserve a punishment from God. Maybe they're not quite top-grade enough in their belief or didn't pray hard enough to deserve a miracle, but they're not quite deserving a divine kick in the pants either.

But if God is preventing us from learning that prayer works, he's also preventing such people from having a reason to pray just a little harder and maybe save their kid or grandma. I mean, if they're already among God's most liked children, they couldn't have been too far under the threshold to start with. Maybe if they prayed just a little harder, or maybe took the kid to the church so everyone can chip in some prayer, it would have worked, right? But God chose to not give them the data that would have saved their kid.

I.e., we have a God that is still hiding a cure even from the people he supposedly wuvs lots.

We're not just talking the general problem of suffering that can be rationalized to only applying to those who deserve it, but denying a cure for that suffering even to those who don't quite deserve it.
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Old 9th April 2012, 03:35 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Worse yet, it would work the other way around too. If that concentrated community is one that God actually hates and routinely punishes, his fudging the data to hide that, could prevent finding a treatment for some people who don't quite deserve God's wrath.
But again, could he not be so creative in his manipulation of statistics as to produce benefit anyway? No matter what consequences you invoke or how you justify that they would happen, we can always say "but god would fake it in such a way that good things happened even though we didn't realise that it was him."

You or I may not see how that could be possible but he is god, after all.

Quote:
But then God is a massive dick.
Oh, this is just one of the many, many ways in which the christian god is a massive dick.
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Old 9th April 2012, 03:58 AM   #14
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Not knowing that good things are from God is kinda the whole premise, yeah.

But wouldn't that run into the free will problem even bigger time than just revealing himself? I mean, the free will argument basically boils down to: God can't reveal X, or can't do Y, because then you'd have some different data to base your decisions on, and thus it would change your decisions, and that is (in some undefined and illogical way) preventing you from exercising your free will.

But here we'd have a God that's doing some truly massive, full time fudging the data that millions of doctors base their decisions on. Because that's what you're proposing as a fundie escape clause, right?

Doesn't that just demolish the whole argument that God can't give you data that would make you take different decisions, because that would nuke your free will?

I mean, the free will argument boils down to situations like: God can't give you data that says church X is right and church Y is wrong, because then you'd have no real choice to make whether to join church X or church Y. Or God can't just send you a note that says, "Dude, if you and your wife have that abortion, I'm seriously burning you in Hell. Love, God." because then you'd not really have much of a real choice whether to do it or not. Then God just made that decision for you. Which is, like, totally not having free will any more, dude.

Basically think of driving down the highway, and your choices are ahead or take the off ramp to some bridge. But if God showed you that the off-ramp or the bridge is broken, then you really didn't have much of a choice to start with. Unless you're looking for a way to commit suicide, then you're only having the choice to keep going ahead. You've been railroaded into only one (sane) course of action, so you didn't get to exercise your free will any more.

But isn't fudging medical data exactly similar to that situation? Some doctor, if he saw the real statistics for MRSA treatments, could decide that treatment A (e.g., prayer) works better than treatment B (e.g., Vancomycin.) But God's fudging the data he sees is making him conclude that not only B works better than A, but actually B is the only one that works at all. In fact, that A isn't even a serious option.

Exactly like in the highway analogy, God is now railroading the doctor -- in fact, millions of doctors -- into having just one sane option. Within the constraints of the data, the procedure that doctor is taught to follow, and the legal restrictions on his profession, the doctor HAS to take option B and God knows it. Taking option A is like taking the off ramp and driving over the bridge that God just showed him as being totally broken, so not only he won't do it, he's not even legally allowed to do it. I.e., it's not having a choice at all.

Doesn't THAT count as messing with the doctors' free will, then?

Last edited by HansMustermann; 9th April 2012 at 04:00 AM.
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Old 9th April 2012, 05:18 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
The way I understand it, the proposition is basically:

1. God doesn't want us to have hard evidence that he's there.
The proposition could be: "God is so ubiquitous that evidence for his existence is everywhere, we just don't notice it." Which seems to me to be pretty much the same thing as Deism.
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Old 9th April 2012, 05:24 AM   #16
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That proposition is used lots too, so you're right about its existience, but it is a very different proposition. I mean honestly,

P1: "God doesn't want to reveal himself to you because it would nuke your free will." (Or because God wants faith, or whatever.)

and

P2: "God more than amply revealed himself and gave you plenty of evidence all around you, you just chose to rebel against God, and deny God in spite of all the evidence."

Not only aren't equivalent, or even variants of each other, they're mutually contradictory and incompatible.

Not that it will stop apologists from trying to have it both ways, mind you. It's another of those things which is older than dirt. Even for Xianity, THE very first Christian apologist we know of, Paul Of Tarsus, already tries to have it both ways on exactly that issue.
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Old 9th April 2012, 05:33 AM   #17
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if we want to live our individual lives, then God has to be at least partially hidden. Individuality is an illusion that is only made possible when the fragile ego-self is sufficiently removed from the powerful center of the psyche (God).

It's just a ride. Like a cosmic roller-coaster. We forget that and then we ride, so that the illusion of reality can grip us and sweep us along screaming. Hard to do that when God is in your face, reminding you. So 'He' has to hang out below the threshold of conscious awareness so that 'He' can ride along with 'us'.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMUiwTubYu0
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Old 9th April 2012, 07:06 AM   #18
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What if God revealed himself in an unambiguous manner? Like.. A morning news show?
Each day, at 8AM, the big guy would come on screen with a list of those who made it to Heaven, those that were condemned, how many days left in Purgatory this or that celebrity had to go....
You know, kind of a Daily News From Heaven. He could have departed celebrities for guests... An occasional report from Down Below to keep the sinners in line....

And an occasional warning. "John Jones, of 3812 Rosemary Avenue in Paducah....Shape up, boy!"
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Old 9th April 2012, 11:57 PM   #19
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Well God is not just hiding from human sight, or even just hiding from scientific detection. But worse than that - all known scientific discoveries, which now includes many billions of things, have turned out to be incompatible with a biblical-type supernatural miracle working creator.

So itís not a just a matter of lacking evidence for God. But far worse - all known evidence is to the contrary of any God.
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Old 10th April 2012, 12:48 AM   #20
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Might be interested in a game theory scenario called "The Revelation Game"

http://www.infidels.org/library/mode...evelation.html
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