Probability of the Existence of God

This red herring is inappropriate and your comments here are disappointing. I guess it’s possible that you didn’t understand anything I wrote, which was about plausibility of gods and which didn’t even hint at the bizarre claims about probability that you typed here.

My advice to you is that you be more careful when you type pronouncements about what Christians should believe and do, especially when you type them as flat assertions about how things are (which is what you did). If I knew that a loved one believed the things you typed, I would worry about their well-being and would find a way to talk to them about it. A person who is a Christian and who actually believes that they “will not question or second-guess God and his decisions” is a person whose very personhood is at risk. I speak from painful personal experience.

1 Like

G’day Bill

I think it is, and I think it’s what most of us implicitly do anyway: decide where to invest our belief (and belief can be thought of as ‘disposition to act’) on the basis of the evidence available to us.

Interested in if you want to take that thought further, given I agree with the overall concept.

One thing that did occur to me is that, if a business you are investigating in the process of a decision whether or not to invest deliberately hides materially important information, that is considered a serious breach…

I think it’s respectful to engage with others in the manner they seek to engage. If it is put forward as an argument it is respectful to treat it as an argument, rather than to reject it or label it as something else.

OK, say we accept that. In establishing plausibility, where do we begin? What do we consider? And how do we challenge ourselves to think on a larger scale than the taken-for-granted beliefs of where and when we grew up?

Not challenges, genuine queries. My concern with plausibility is that it ends the conversation, with others but perhaps also with ourselves. If it ‘just is’ our own personal attitude, not susceptible to any change of evidence or experience… what more is there to say?

But the plausibility of, to take an unusual example, miscegenation (interracial marriage) laws was a taken-for-granted in certain places and times. Does that mean they should never have been challenged from any direction?

But yes, I agree (and noted in the OP), failing to first specify quite carefully which God we’re talking about basically sets any discussion up on a treacherous foundation.

1 Like

Peaceful coexistence is about the best one can hope for.

1 Like

I understand your concern but I don’t see that in my life or in the conversations I value. Asking whether belief in my god was reasonable, which is a pretty clear way to say ‘plausible,’ happened far later in my life than it should have. Maybe I just didn’t/couldn’t do it until I was ready. But that question began an epic process. “Ending the conversation,” most especially “for ourselves,” is completely the opposite of what happened in my life. I can speak for many former believers (admittedly those I know and not a robust sampling) in saying that opening the forbidden box labeled “is this even reasonable” can be a potent beginning to a life of personal integrity and self-respect.

I sense that you are exploring ways to engage others on their claims about their gods. I respect that. But I think you are very wrong about the importance and value of plausibility when considering gods. That, my friend, is the beginning of wisdom, and not the end.

That’s a very different use of the word ‘plausibility’ than the one I am using. If the intent is to explore the defensibility of these gods and their writings, you will find me a willing conversation partner, but that should be a different thread.

As for whether things should be “challenged from any direction,” I’m confused about why you are asking me that. Again, I think you have something different in mind when you say ‘plausible’.

1 Like

This is indeed a show stopper. We watch the integrity of the leadership very carefully. I had this type of experience with a president our restaurant group hired. In the first review I had with him I could tell he was not honestly representing the numbers. He was terminated in fairly short order.

1 Like

Thanks for your thoughts, and I think we’re on the same page in terms of understanding one another’s perspectives.

It goes right back to the OP: the point that ‘plausibility’ (and I think ‘reasonableness’ is a different concept because it brings in reason) is entirely subjective.

If someone says “I find the chemtrail conspiracy theory plausible”, and I start making an argument against it, arguably they can simply repeat “Well I find it plausible”. At that point, what I can do is say “I don’t (and here’s why)”, but I can’t say “You don’t”. I don’t have access to their internal mental state that determines what they find plausible.


I totally agree, and have thought about writing on the forum about what it means to be “skeptical” of this or that. Same topic, and I think your point here is very important. When a person says “I don’t believe X” the key word is “I” and the rest is immaterial. That statement is about the person and not about X. And so when a person says “I think the existence of the Morrigan is plausible” they are talking about themselves and not about the Morrigan.

But that, to me, is the beginning of the conversation. Because I can tell you why I find the existence of any version of the Christian god to be implausible, and I will refer to the Morrigan and to Professor McGonagall while I do it. I will talk about my life as a believer, my understanding of what is good and what is not, and my vision of what a human life should be. Along the way, my conversation partners would learn more about me, and they will be able to (even if they choose otherwise) ask themselves whether their experience, or their vision of a god or of life or of good, is anything like mine. All of these things can change us, and affect what we think is plausible, or to borrow the words of an occasionally wise ancient writer, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.”


Both Christians and Muslims believe in the existence of a necessary, simple, Creator Being they both call “God”, even as there are stark disagreements on many other things regarding God, including the inner life of God known as the Trinity.

You regard Jesus as God the Son and the Holy Spirit as God the Spirit, Muslims reject this (and even the Jews). You regard Jesus as the Son of God and that is a requirement to get everlasting life, but Muslims reject this. This makes your God and their’s different. Why is this hard for you to affirm?

That is all what I meant to say. In the context of that specific argument, the necessity of God (if He exists) is what we are talking about.

I get your point, but we can’t have two or more distinct, necessary Gods saying different things.

The truth or falsity of a religion doesn’t necessarily mean that they worship completely different gods.

I can’t believe you said. The Bible clearly indicates in many passages that if you don’t worship the God it provides, then you are worshipping the wrong God, hence, you are in the wrong religion. The Koran makes this claim too, so how do we tell which book is right or which God is true?

(For example, I think several dogmas of Roman Catholicism are wrong; does that mean that you and I worship different gods also?)

I have met some evangelical Christians who answered yes to your question and I think they are right. The Bible mentioned apostasy would rise within Christianity, implying some Christians will have true doctrines and others false teachings. Unfortunately, there is no good way of telling apart apostate from true Christianity.

There’s enough commonality between Christianity and Islam (compared to Christianity and atheism, for example) that an argument against atheism could improve both the odds of Islam being true and the odds of Christianity being true

It works both ways you know. An argument for atheism could worsen the odds of Islam and Christianity being true. In addition, I think you are forgetting the most important similarity between Christianity and atheism with regards to Islam: both sides believe Islam is false, so a non-theistic argument against Islam improves the odds of atheism.

There are also good arguments in favor of the Islamic interpretation of God. Arguments are the best all religions have to offer when it comes to choosing the right one.

My bad. Thanks.

I never claimed Elijah doubted the supremacy of Yahweh. I said he would have never have known if Baal was real or powerful, since he only communed with Yahweh. Thus, to show others and himself that Baal was not real, he called for the duel with the prophets of Baal. This empirical approach would generate evidence to drastically lower the posterior probability of Baal’s existence.

I never claimed he promises anything of the sort. I instead faulted his penchant to refuse answering the petitions of his worshippers at certain crucial points in their life.

But some Christians get into a situation similar to his at different times in their lives. They may be suffering from a painful disease or be living in abject poverty and God does nothing to help them. Since there is nothing stopping God from helping them now and still giving eternal life later on, its vexing that he leaves their prayers unanswered.

True, but he needed to convince others of the power of Yahweh. Baal’s inaction gave them a rationale to murder the prophets of Baal after Elijah gave the order.

But it was an experiment set-up by God through Elijah to convince the Jews of his supremacy. Again I never claimed that Elijah doubted the existence of Yahweh, but he certainly doubted the existence of Baal.

So why didn’t Elijah conclude this about Baal’s existence despite his inaction?

Although I didn’t argue that Yahweh’s inaction means he doesn’t exist, Elijah thought Baal’s inaction was solid evidence for his “complete nonexistence” and had his prophets murdered, why?

I think its relevant, but let’s ignore it.

This sort of argument no longer makes sense to me, because when I read the Bible, God’s thoughts appear to be no different than ours. Could you cite a Bible verse demonstrating (not merely stating) the superiority of God’s thoughts over ours.

I bet moral philosophers would disagree with you. If your ultimate standard of goodness could punish the Jews just because David ordered a census, then you need to rethink your choice of ultimate goodness.

Typing on a mobile is tough Dan, so I may not respond in depth to any future arguments you may make.


It’s more even than this: God is claimed to be a God who answers prayers in the affirmative, at least sometimes, else why petition at all? If He did answer in the affirmative, at least sometimes, there would be a statistically meaningful difference between outcomes for those who prayed for the outcome and those who didn’t. And there just isn’t.

To me, that means that, while a God or gods may exist, the specific one who sometimes answers intercessory prayer in the affirmative has a lower probability of existing.

Now, maybe that was always just a human misdescription of God, and that was never something He promised or intended to do. I think there are Biblical grounds for thinking that’s not the case, but maybe the Bible writers were themselves misdescribing God.

That means the non-answering of prayer does not change the probability that a non-prayer answering God exists. It is relevant only to judging the probability that a prayer-answering God exists.


Exactly. I used to be intrigued by stories of spontaneously remitted cancer, as they seemed mysterious and inexplicable by science.

That impression is quickly changing as scientific research is unearthing the mysteries behind it. For example, oncologists now know that spontaneous remissions are more frequently observed in some types of cancer than the others. This is what you would expect if unknown natural mechanisms are running behind the scenes. In fact, medical researchers can now give estimates of spontaneous remission, so it is a statistical certainty that some patients will experience it (regardless of your religion).

This is likely, but I doubt many Christian would even think of it this way.

I don’t think the logic of your argument is solid here. It assumes this gods can only be in two mutually exclusive categories, prayer-answering and non-prayer answering. I don’t think such gods are known. AFAIK, all gods can choose to answer or not answer requests.

We can just say that inaction by a god for no good reason and a long time (even till death) reduces the probability of its existence in a Bayesian sense.

1 Like

I was quite careful, though, to say ‘reduces the probability of existence’ of such a God (in a Bayesian sense), rather than ‘debunks the existence of’.

And the bigger point is beyond “God answers Yes, No, Maybe or Wait” as I’ve heard Christians put it. The point is that, if the probability of a prayed-for outcome is indistinguishable from chance, that implies that God never says Yes. Because even, say, a 20% rate of Yes would mean the experimental group differed systematically from the control group. With a big enough sample, even a 1% rate would…

(I realise I’m playing across multiple forms of statistics, but I’m really using them as metaphors rather than trying to conduct a rigorous statistical analyis.)


A very sound attitude. I wish more people would apply that as well to our political leaders. Just saying.


Yeah. We agree.

You are correct. This is what was observed in that intercessory prayer trial. In fact, that trial was a recapitulation of the Elijah-Baal scenario in a modern setting. Since Elijah took Baal’s silence as evidence for his impotency and/or nonexistence, the trial showed unambiguously that the existence or potency of “prayer-answering” gods had little probability. If you can’t answer prayers, of what good are you to the world? and if God answers prayer, in what ways can we distinguish his acts from random events?

I understand, but there is no harm in discussing it though. We can do this with regards to other topics like homeopathy. If we cannot see a significant statistical and clinical difference in the improvement of subjects given a homeopathic remedy compared to placebo and/or another approved standard treatment, then we can say with a high degree of confidence that it is extremely improbable that it is effective for a given medical condition.


I don’t actually know the performance of the various gods on this test. It may be that relatively few people are petitioning the Real God, and so most or nearly all of the failures are not real attempts. That’s just one card that the defenders of this particular god can play. As already discussed, they can also hedge on timing (all prayers answered in the afterlife! problem solved!).

But I think the exercise is valuable for a person who is struggling with belief/unbelief, because the exercise is doing something that requires courage and a measure of self-respect: it is holding a god accountable. If a god doesn’t answer petitions, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, as you have made clear. But it means they don’t answer petitions, and if they said that they do (or more accurately, if their defenders say this), then there’s a problem. When such a questioning soul gets answers like “oh well he never really promised that” and/or “oh well he will do that in the hereafter” or “oh that’s your fault cuz you didn’t ask right” then they have at least gotten some information about the god and her/his apologists.

I know the next step can be scary and vast, but it’s crucial: the questioning soul must then decide whether it matters that the god doesn’t do what was advertised. In other words, the questioning soul has to be willing to be wrong about whether the god is good, or truthful, or even capable of answering any petition at all.

These tests can be applied to broader claims/expectations of the gods, such as their influence on their followers (good? bad?), and again the questioning soul must decide what the expectation is (what fraction of a percent of “good” is enough to conclude that the god makes a difference?) and what will happen if the results indicate that the god doesn’t perform as advertised.

I know I’m just rewording what you have nicely written already, but I note that I don’t couch this as a probability that the god is real, because I don’t know anything about that. For me, the numbers and probabilities were about whether the god makes a difference. Whether s/he can be judged to be truthful, or decent. Whether s/he can exert a detectably positive influence on the people that s/he calls followers. The questioning soul need not IMO consider whether the god’s failures mean that s/he isn’t “real.” Maybe all they need to know is that s/he isn’t worthy of being worshiped, or listened to.

My view is that those are the tests the gods should fear. Not the ones that suggest a low probability that they exist. The ones that suggest a low probability that they are good, that they are truthful, that the efficacy of their actions is aligned with their own claims about such actions. For me and many apostates I know, once a god fails a test like that, their existence is not so much disproved as it is rendered pathetically unimportant.

In reading through this thread, I find that a theist with a faith level that puts a quantifiable probability of God’s existence at 99.99% is the same as a non-theist with a quantifiable probability in God’s existence at 0%.

So, I guess my input is that a believer that doubts any part of their faith does not really believe that God exists. The terms plausibility and probability assume that there is some sliding grey area, I see it more as a binary solution…black/white, on/off, yes/no. You are either 100% or you are not 100%, the degree of which you are not 100% does not matter. Maybe the test for probability is how willing someone is to put their life on the line for their belief (or non-belief).

James 1:5-7 - 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

Sidenote: Using answered prayer as a guideline for proof of God’s existence assumes that you know better than God what the outcome should be, and that you can judge God’s righteousness. Good luck with that.


I can’t help wondering to what extent the believer’s estimate of the plausibility of God depends on thinking that their eternal salvation is at stake.

Would people who believe in Gods that do not promise eternal life be open to more doubt about their plausibility?


I don’t think you’ve fully understood the argument. I can understand that perspective if we look at a single situation for a particular person: there may well be some factor unknown to us. But the argument is about large-scale experimental studies of many cases together. It is unlikely that in every case there is some factor that prevents a positive answer. And if there always is, what’s even the point of asking?


Do you have any specific studies in mind, such that we can actually discuss them? Honestly I’m not very familiar with these studies. I just assumed that the effect is probably too small, otherwise we would have heard them discussed more.

Personally, I don’t pray because doing so may necessarily lead to better outcomes in life. Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t. That’s like saying, I have conversations with my wife so she’ll be happy and more amenable to do favors for me. No, I converse with my loved ones because it is a worthwhile and important activity to do in itself - it is an embodiment of what it means to have a personal relationship with each of them.

In my personal journey I’ve found the following quote from Pascal to be helpful regarding prayer:

Why God has established prayer.

  1. To communicate to His creatures the dignity of causality.
  2. To teach us from whom our virtue comes.
  3. To make us deserve other virtues by work

(But to keep His own pre-eminence, He grants prayer to whom He pleases.)

I found the first reason to be the most helpful to me. Imagine there’s two scenarios where I apply for a coveted job. In scenario A, I pray to God earnestly to give me a job that fits me and that reflects His calling for me. In scenario B, I don’t pray to God at all regarding my job search. In both scenarios, after a week I eventually get hired. However, in scenario A I interpret getting the job as a sign from God that He has granted my prayers, and it makes me more drawn towards Him. In scenario B my spiritual life stays the same.

Does this show that my praying in scenario A is a waste of time? I don’t think so. In scenario A, God has given me the “dignity” of being a part of the chain of events that leads me getting the job. Instead of being a merely impersonal process, applying for a job becomes a means of spiritual growth. I think that a scientific study will tend to just focus on the outcome: whether I get a job or not. But the Christian life is much more than that. Prayer is (or should be) part of a holistic life including a relationship with God and other Christians. It’s not just a controllable mechanism to get things that you want. And that is why I pray.

1 Like

Here’s a good place to start: Google Scholar (this link is to a prepared search list, not just to Google Scholar in general! Feel free to vary the search terms)

1 Like