Saturday, 10 December 2011

The ontological argument for the non-existence of God

Most ontological claims that can be made are false. That is to say, there are more things that can be imagined than really exist. This can be demonstrated quite easily by postulating an animal with 1 eye, 2 eyes, 3 eyes...n eyes. Even if we ignore known physical constraints, we can say that the probability that there exists an animal with 1030 +1 eyes is rather low.

This can seen in the practice of science: There are more postulated entities than discovered entities. If a scientist proposes phenomenon x to explain some feature of a larger phenomenon (example: proposing that convection currents explain some feature of thunderstorms), they need to do work to show both that phenomenon x actually exists and that phenomenon x explains what is observed.

Why is evidence needed? Evidence increases the probability of something being true. This means that before evidence is found, the ontological claim that x exists is improbable. x exists in the sea of all possible ontological claims. Evidence raises claims out of this sea. The sea of all possible ontological claims is essentially infinite in size*

Because of this feature, when a scientist proposes x, the correct response is disbelief in x until evidence is brought forward to raise it out of the sea. The probability of plucking something out of the sea and being right is low - there are an infinite number of untrue ontological claims and only a finite number of true ontological claims. This position, where disbelief is the default position, is normally referred to as 'skepticism'.

Religious folk will make ontological claims as explanations for observed phenomena. Theists often argue that god exists and is an explanation for things such as

  • Morality
  • Love
  • Religious experiences
And theologians have done a lot of work trying to show how God would explain the above. I disagree that they have succeeded, I've yet to see how there is a causal link from God to any of those thing - how the mechanics of the explanation is proposed to work exactly and how it directly leads to the observation. Worse than that though, is that there is famously no evidence for the proposed entity, God. As such God, no matter how good an explanation you might think it is, remains adrift in the infinitely deep sea of all possible ontological claims. The probability that it is one of the true ones remains therefore negligible.
* It might be worth noting that applying known phsyical constraints and the assumption that we know our constraints may serve to prevent this being infinite in practice. Even so, the number is still high enough to warrant skepticism for any unevidenced claim. Of course, if we're even allowing gods and other supernatural/spiritual/magical beings to be considered 'possible' in our sea of possible ontological claims, I think examination will reveal that we're making the pool infinite in size again. After all, whose to say there is not a magical invisible pink unicorn with 1030 +1 eyes, right?

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