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# The Perplexing Monty Hall Problem and How It Undercuts Christianity

In keeping with the Bayes Theorem dose of probability theory last week, here’s a very approachable probability problem.

I first came across the fascinating Monty Hall Problem 20 years ago:

Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door No. 2?”

Most people think that it doesn’t matter and that there’s no benefit to switching. They’re wrong, but more on that in a moment.

Humans have a hard time with probability problems like this one. You’d think that we’d be fairly comfortable with basic probability, but apparently not.

Here’s another popular probability problem: how many people must you have in a group before it becomes more likely than not that any two of them have the same birthday?

The surprising answer is 23. In other words, imagine two football teams on the field (11 per team) and then throw in a referee, and it’s more than likely that you’ll find a shared birthday. If your mind balks at this, test it at your next large gathering.

Now, back to the Monty Hall Problem. A good way to understand problems like this is to push them to an extreme. Imagine, for example, that there are not three doors but 300. There’s still just one good prize, with the rest being goats (the bad prize).

So you pick a door—say number #274. There’s a 1/300 chance you’re right. This needs to be emphasized: you’re almost certainly wrong. Then the game show host opens 298 of the remaining doors: 1, 2, 3, and so on. He skips door #59 and your door, #274. Every open door shows a goat.

Now: should you switch? Of course you should—your initial pick is still almost surely wrong. The probabilities are 1/300 for #274 and 299/300 for #59.

Another way to look at the problem: do you want to stick with your initial door or do you want all the other doors? Switching is simply choosing all the other doors, because (thanks to the open doors) you know the only door within that set that could be the winner.

One lesson from this is that our innate understanding of probability is poor, and a corollary is that there’s a big difference between confidence and accuracy. That is, just because one’s confidence in a belief is high doesn’t mean that the belief is accurate. This little puzzle does a great job of illustrating this.

Perhaps you’ve already anticipated the connection with choosing a religion. Imagine you’ve picked your religion—religion #274, let’s say. For most people, their adoption of a religion is like picking a door in this game show. In the game show, you don’t weigh evidence before selecting your door; you pick it randomly. And most people adopt the dominant religion of their upbringing. As with the game show, the religion in which you grew up is also assigned to you at random.

Now imagine an analogous game, the Game of Religion, with Truth as host. Out of 300 doors (behind each of which is a religion), the believer picks door #274. Truth flings open door after door and we see nothing but goats. Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Mormonism—all goats. As you suspected, they’re just amalgams of legend, myth, tradition, and wishful thinking.

Few of us seriously consider or even understand the religions Winti, Candomblé, Mandaeism, or the ancient religions of Central America, for example. Luckily for the believer, Truth gets around to those doors too and opens them to reveal goats.

Here’s where the analogy between the two games fails. First, Truth opens all the other doors. Only the believer’s pick, door #274, is still closed. Second, there was never a guarantee that any door contained a true religion! Since the believer likely came to his beliefs randomly, why imagine that his choice is any more likely than the others to hold anything of value?

Every believer plays the Game of Religion, and every believer believes that his religion is the one true religion, with goats behind all the hundreds of other doors. But maybe there’s a goat behind every door. And given that the lesson from the 300-door Monty Hall game is that the door you randomly picked at first is almost certainly wrong, why imagine that yours is the only religion that’s not mythology?

For reason is not just a debater’s tool
for idly refracting arguments into premises,
but a lens for bringing into focus the features of human flourishing.
— “What Is Marriage?” by Girgis, George, and Anderson

This is a modified version of a post originally published 11/28/11.

• Greg

I know someone who claims to be a devout Christian. This person will do disrespectful things, and usually will deny they did, but on rare occasions they will ask for forgiveness. Sure, I say the first time, but then the person returns to the old behavior. The second, and third time going through this I start to question how sincere this person is. I call this the forgiveness game. The problem I have with forgiveness is there is no negative consequences for the negative or disrespectful behavior. I usually give someone the benefit of the doubt the first time, but the second time I have to make negative consequences for their negative behavior. This particular person is no longer in my life, and my life is much better because of it.

• Stephen

Bob,

I’ve tried using a similar argument on some christians before and some of them have given me the response that viewing all religions as either right or wrong is the incorrect way to view them, that all religions tend to have elements of truth in them, and some religions have more elements of such truth compared to others. What’s the best way to respond to that?

• ZenDruid

I’m not Bob, but….
Ask them in return what one specific element of “truth”* is common to most religions and philosophies, and it’s a safe bet that the golden rule will be mentioned. I’m inclined to say that anything beyond that is culture-specific packaging.

• Beth

First of all, no, every believer does not believe their religion is the One True Religion. I do not, nor do most of the religious people I work with every day.

And yes, the Golden Rule is one of the common truths to most religions. So is the need to acknowledge there is something bigger (and basically unknowable) than us, the call seek out some for of enlightenment or self examination or conversion or repentance, and even in most religions, a call turn your back on (or at least question) the values of “the world.” For a more (but not completely) secular version of this, see the 12 Step movement.

For me, the best way to access and work with those truths is Christianity, and yes, that is because of where and how I was raised. In my mind this does not invalidate Christianity, just as my Christianity does not invalidate any other religion. Rather it makes room for the fact that for most believers, religion is not a logic-based thought experiment, but rich mix of belief, tradition, family, personal taste, culture and experience.

• Bob Seidensticker

Beth:

my Christianity does not invalidate any other religion.

Would you say that this is a common belief within Christianity? I don’t think it is.

• Bob Seidensticker

Stephen:

This pantheism (“all roads lead to god”) is not at all Christian. But then, I imagine that many “Christians” have created an amalgam religion–maybe adding reincarnation or other features from other religions.

I heard a recent survey in France. Of all the Catholics, half didn’t believe in God! That’s a pretty odd definition of “Catholic.”

• Beth

As a Christian educator, I would like to point out the notion that “all roads lead to God” is not antithetical to Christianity. Some individual Christians may threatened by that concept, but most mainline Christian organizations are not.

• Bob Seidensticker

Beth:

Looks like you’ve answered my earlier question.

Your answer surprises me. If you’re saying that a Lutheran will acknowledge that a Baptist is pretty close and will likely get into heaven, we’re on the same page. But will a Baptist acknowledge that Scientology or Islam or Shinto is almost as good a path to heaven? I doubt it.

• BethC

I don’t know about Baptists in general, but yes, some will. The Congregationalist church I attend has that attitude about other religions.

I have encountered Christians who apply the “all roads lead to God” concept to other religions like Hinduism, Shinto, Islam etc. My experience is that the idea is sometimes invoked to sidestep the problem of whether all people from all other religions automatically go to hell/are automatically ungodly even if they’ve never had the chance to convert to Christianity.

• Bob Seidensticker

Beth:

Jesus said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). I’m sure there are lots of other passages that argue that Jesus is the only way.

IMO, the “all paths lead to God” is very much a minority view within Christianity.

• Kodie

All religions do have some sense of structure and community and a morality aspect, which can be constructive if it’s not totally superstitious. It’s not a requirement to believe in a supernatural deity or deities in order to fit in. For example, Jesus (as I learned about him working on the musical Godspell for a community theater over a decade ago) has a few wise words. They are mixed in with superstition, however. I believe a lot of people “prove” Christianity is true to themselves by testing some of this wisdom in their lives and binding it to the supernatural powers of Jesus. If something has been observed to be philosophically helpful, such as patience, generosity, and being slow to anger, that isn’t magical, though, if you work this into your life. Other religions have made similar observations that helps one lead a calm and centered life, if one is able to maintain these reactions sincerely and isn’t just putting up a facade (like to show off at church). From what I understand, Buddhism has a lot of the same stuff. I’m not an expert on world religions, so my list ends there, but I don’t doubt many religions exist upon a core “how to be a better person and live well” set of lessons. This is the bit where all roads lead to god.

Strangely, to incorporate these behaviors is to behave rationally, but to associate the outcomes with magic is reversion. It opens up the gate to the really incoherent practices, and that’s where all these religions diverge in practice and worship. If someone wants you to join their religion and you’re skeptical, they will probably ask you to demonstrate something really easy with a predictable outcome (that a CBT therapist might also suggest), and then when you’re amazed with this parlor trick, you might be open to their other suggestions like what you should eat and which of your DVDs need to be discarded and how you have to dress and where you’ll be once a week for 90 minutes – the cult stuff.

• SparklingMoon

all religions tend to have elements of truth in them, and some religions have more elements of such truth compared to others. What’s the best way to respond to that?

All religions, whatever their name or doctrines, wherever they be found and to whichever age they belong, have the right to claim the possession of some Divine truth but the most important to see in a religion is either it,still, has the ability to fulfil some very fundamental needs f a religion

” In the first place, one must see what is the teaching of a religion concerning God. That is to say, what does a religion state with regard to the Unity, power, knowledge, perfection, greatness, punishment, mercy and other attributes of the Divine…..

Secondly, it is necessary that a seeker after truth should inquire what does a religion teach with regard to his own self and with regard to human conduct. Is there anything in its teaching which would disrupt human relationships, or would draw a person into courses which are inconsistent with modesty and honour, or would be contrary to the law of nature, or would be impossible to conform to or carry out, or make it dangerous to do so. It would also be necessary to see whether some important teaching needed to control disorderliness has been left out. It would also be necessary to discover whether a religion presents God as a Great Benefactor with Whom a relationship of personal love should be established and whether it lays down commandments which lead from darkness into light and from heedlessness to remembrance.

Thirdly, it is necessary for a seeker after truth to satisfy himself that the god presented by a religion should not be one who is believed in on the basis of tales and stories and resembles a dead being. To believe in a god who resembles a dead being, belief in whom is not by virtue of his having manifested himself but is due to one’s own good faith, would be to put him under an obligation. It is
useless to believe in a god whose powers are not felt and who does not himself make manifest the signs of his own existence and life.” [Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 19, pp. 373-374]

• Vision_From_Afar

A delightful analogy, but one that only works within a primacy-monotheist mindset. Polytheists are pretty sure (esp. the omnists and hard polytheists) that every door has the “car”, just maybe not the brand, style, or color you want.

• Bob Seidensticker

Right–if you’re determined to believe, you can find ways to continue doing so, regardless of new information.

Still, I think that most evangelicals will reject the all-roads-lead-to-God thinking, so I think this argument should be relevant to them.

• Vision_From_Afar

True enough in relation to evangelicals. I’m not actually arguing “all roads lead to god” pantheism, but rather “all gods are gods” hard polytheism. The “all roads” mindset wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the individual doors once they’d been opened.

As for “determined to believe”, I (personally) find that my religion fits quite nicely where science has not yet tread, and it’s very much allowed to change and adapt to new science. The difference between me and the evangelicals is I don’t care if anyone else agrees with me.

• Bob Seidensticker

So what is your religion? Is it guaranteed never to clash with science, in a god-of-the-gaps fashion?

• Vision_From_Afar

Gods. I’m Pagan if you’re being general, Heathen if you want specific (Norse). Considering the extremely limited amount of religious text that made it through the Medieval Christian purges, there’s not much left to conflict (and most of the stuff that did make it through still has obvious Christian overtones and modifications).

Besides, without knowing the direction science can, and will, go to in the future, how can I guarantee no future conflict? What I can guarantee is that my religion has no dogmatic or fundamental conflict with knowledge (quite the opposite) and it’s pursuit. New things learned are to be learned, absorbed, and adapted to. Quite refreshing, actually.

• Bob Seidensticker

VFA:

Besides, without knowing the direction science can, and will, go to in the future, how can I guarantee no future conflict?

Understood. Of course you could take the path many fundamentalist Christians take, which is to hold fast to their dogma in the face of anything science throws at them. They’ll cobble together a defense as best they can and believe it (or believe that there will be a compelling justification for their position in heaven, though there may not be one now).

Quite refreshing, actually.

I can imagine. I wish fundamentalists would take your cue.

• Andrew G.

One small detail you missed out from the original description of the Monty Hall problem: in addition to Monty knowing what’s behind each door, you have to add two more conditions: first that Monty will always open a door, distinct from the contestant’s choice, revealing a goat; and secondly that if he has a choice of doors, he chooses randomly.

The gory details about why these assumptions are needed are explained in Jason Rosenhouse’s book “The Monty Hall Problem” and in most of the usual standard references.

• Bob Seidensticker

I wanted to give the problem from an authority and so used the Wikipedia description, but those are helpful clarifications. You want to eliminate the possibility that Monty only opens a door when you’ve picked correctly (in other words, Monty tempting you with a choice in that case is evidence that you’re already correct).

But even if we imagine a variant where Monty doesn’t know what’s behind the doors, if he opens (by luck) a goat-door and gives you the opportunity to switch, you shoul still do so, by the same reasoning.

• Andrew G.

If Monty doesn’t know what is behind the doors and opens one, distinct from yours, at random, then you neither gain nor lose by switching when Monty reveals a goat.

This is an interesting exercise in applying Bayes’ theorem – you should try it.

• Bob Seidensticker

If Monty opens one of the two closed doors at random, there’s a 1-in-3 chance that he’ll show the prize. Game over.

In the other two situations, it’s still better to switch. Say you picked door 1 and Monty opens 2 and shows a goat. His opportunity to switch means you can have either 1 or {2, 3}. The chances of success are 1/3 and 2/3.

• Andrew G.

If you’ve studied the Monty Hall problem at all, you should know how dangerous it is to assume that you know the result based on some convincing-sounding argument.

Let Cn be the probability of the car being behind door n. Let Mn be the probability that Monty opens door n. We assume without loss of generality that we pick door 1 and Monty happened to open door 2.

We therefore wish to determine P(C3 | M2 & ~C2), that is to say, the probability of the car being behind door 3 given that Monty opened door 2 and did not reveal the car.

By Bayes’ theorem this is P(M2 & ~C2 | C3)P(C3) / P(M2 & ~C2)

However, M2 is independent of Cx since we specified that Monty doesn’t know where the car is, and ~C2 is automatically true if C3 is true, so the above reduces to:

P(M2)P(C3) / P(M2)P(~C2) = P(C3)/P(~C2) = (1/3)/(2/3) = 1/2

Therefore, under the conditions specified, the chance of winning is 1/2 if you switch, and therefore also 1/2 if you stick.

Another way of looking at it is: you had a 1/3 chance of the car being behind door 1, in which case you lose by switching. You have a 1/3 chance of the car being behind door 2, in which case Monty terminated the game early. You have a 1/3 chance of the car being behind door 3, in which case you win by switching. Of the three cases, you only get to make the choice in two of them, and you have an even chance of winning or losing at the time you choose.

It’s also extremely easy to run simulations of this kind of thing, and I personally always take the precaution of running one before making any kind of statement on the Monty Hall problem, because I have no desire to join the legions of supposedly smart people who have disgraced themselves in public by giving the wrong answer authoritatively.

For completeness here’s the slightly different approach that Rosenhouse uses; his definition of Mx (which I’ll call Gx) is that Monty reveals a goat behind door x, which means that we are looking for

P(C3 | G2) = P(G2 | C3) P(C3) / P(G2).

By the law of alternatives,

P(G2) = P(G2 | C1)P(C1) + P(G2 | C2)P(C2) + P(G2 | C3)P(C3)

and by the problem specification,

P(G2 | C1) = 1/2
P(G2 | C2) = 0 (since this reveals the car, not a goat)
P(G2 | C3) = 1/2

So filling in,

P(C3 | G2) = (1/2)(1/3) / ( (1/2)(1/3) + (1/2)(1/3) ) = 1/2

(sorry if the formatting gets all messed up, I tried to keep it as clear as I could)

• Bob Seidensticker

OK, thanks.

• Andrew G.

Second example: suppose Monty does know what is behind the doors, but doesn’t open them at random when he has a choice – instead, he opens the lowest numbered door that’s neither yours nor the prize. You chose door 1 and Monty has opened door 2.

In this scenario you also have nothing to gain or lose from switching. (But if you’d picked door 1 and Monty had opened door 3, then switching would guarantee a prize.)

• Bob Seidensticker

So you’re saying that your odds were 1:3 initially, and then Monty opens a door that tells you nothing. So now your odds have jumped to 1:2? I don’t see how that works.

• Andrew G.

Best way to tackle this one (besides simulation, which as I said above I always use in these cases) is the method I quoted above taken from Rosenhouse’s book (again, we’re assuming you pick door 1 and Monty opened door 2):

P(C3 | G2) = P(G2 | C3) P(C3) / P(G2).

P(G2) = P(G2 | C1)P(C1) + P(G2 | C2)P(C2) + P(G2 | C3)P(C3)

P(G2 | C2) is obviously 0 since there is no goat to reveal

If we establish that Monty never opens your door or the prize door, then if C3 is true, the only door Monty can open is door 2, so P(G2 | C3) = 1

So we’re left with:

P(C3 | G2) = P(C3) / ( P(G2 | C1)P(C1) + P(C3) )

And since all Cx = 1/3, we can cancel those out leaving:

P(C3 | G2) = 1 / ( P(G2 | C1) + 1 )

Notice that this result is expressed in terms of how probable it is that Monty will reveal the goat behind door 2 if the car was behind door 1 (and therefore Monty has a choice of doors). In the standard problem, we require that Monty choose uniformly randomly if he has a choice, giving us P(G2 | C1) = 1/2 and therefore P(C3 | G2) = 2/3.

But if we instead specify that Monty always opens the lowest available door, then P(G2 | C1) = 1, and therefore P(C3 | G2) = 1/2.

• Andrew G.

It’s important to note in this specific case that if you play a long series of games with the strategy “pick door 1 and then switch”, you still win 2/3rds of the time because when the car is behind door 2, you win with probability 1, whereas when it’s behind door 1 or 3 you win with probability 1/2.

• http://northernheimsocal.blogspot.com Signy Ragnvaldsdottir

I can just see myself running down the hall, opening doors and yelling, “A goat! That’s what I wanted! Another goat! Awesome! A car! Oh well, I suppose I can sell it and buy a nice shed to shelter all these marvelous goats!”

• Bob Seidensticker

a nice cutting of the Gordian Knot!

• DrewL

Three critical problems here:

1. You’ve got a classic Bob fallacy in here:

And most people adopt the dominant religion of their upbringing. As with the game show, the religion in which you grew up is also assigned to you at random.

You’re positing: IF one’s current beliefs match what one was taught in one’s upbringing, THEN one’s current beliefs are just a product of random chance, and thereby false. On another thread I pointed out to a commenter celebrating his strong parent-endorsed atheist upbringing that, according to the Bob-upbringing fallacy, his current atheism is then false. I think at that point we found out a convenient exception of the Bob-upbringing fallacy: Bob’s fallacy only applies to beliefs he doesn’t agree with. Some beliefs happen to be exempted from this condition; “some beliefs” happens to correspond perfectly with any beliefs Bob holds.

2. The question you failed to ask–probably because you take the answer on “faith” and thereby unquestioned–is whether atheist belief itself is one of the possible doors to choose. One knee-jerk response–one that demonstrates a deeply-indoctrinated commitment to particular unquestionable beliefs–is: are you kidding me? Atheism as a door among the other religions? Hell no, atheists know they are right; they aren’t simply choosing a door. We get to be “Truth,” the Grim Reaper-like gameshow host who issues a final judgment on everyone else’s foolish beliefs! I hate to interrupt this little schoolboy fantasy, but let’s look at what you’ve done in that case: you’ve shielded your own beliefs within an envelope of self-infallibility and self-omniscience and have removed the possibility that you could be wrong. Only others could be revealed to be wrong, not you. If this is the case, you have a great deal in common with Muslim fundamentalists who also know they aren’t wrong. You guys could probably be friends.

However, if we think about someone like Dawkins, who says he “doesn’t absolutely know” there is no God, then atheists have chosen a door as well. Are they confident in their door? Absolutely. Are religious people confident in their door in the same manner? Yep.

3. This should in fact help illustrate the sheer futility of thinking about beliefs like a probability problem. So let’s imagine that atheists choose door 273, and let’s say door 272 is scientology. Let’s say someone unearths a staggering amount of evidence that scientology is a scam (not sure how much more we would need, but let’s say even Church of Scientology leadership come out and admit the whole thing is a scam). So you know door 272 is a goat, does this make you re-evaluate door 273? Hmm…not particularly. Nothing you built your confidence on in selecting door 273 was at all affected by finding a goat behind door 272. Yes, the laws of probability might suggest you take a fresh new look at some local African tribal religions, but I really don’t see that happening, do you?

That should help illustrate how flawed your probability analogy is. If anyone is interested in a better understanding of religious belief–an understanding that doesn’t commit these types of fallacies Bob makes–a very prominent atheist wrote a book that should be helpful. Check out Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflection on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton.

• Bob Seidensticker

drewl:

1. You’ve got a classic Bob fallacy in here:

Ah, my little ray of bitter sunshine! I’m eager to bask in some Christian love.

You’re positing: IF one’s current beliefs match what one was taught in one’s upbringing, THEN one’s current beliefs are just a product of random chance, and thereby false.

Wrong again. I won’t bother correcting you because you don’t have any interest in what I said, just what you wish I’d said.

Some beliefs happen to be exempted from this condition; “some beliefs” happens to correspond perfectly with any beliefs Bob holds.

You need a smiley face to show that this is just a lampoon. Otherwise people will scratch their heads wondering if you’re serious.

You tell me: Why are most people in Saudi Arabia Muslim? Is it because Islam is the truth? Or did they become Muslim for some other reason?

For extra credit: What is the lesson here?

2. The question you failed to ask–probably because you take the answer on “faith” and thereby unquestioned–is whether atheist belief itself is one of the possible doors to choose.

Yeah–that, or that the game is explicitly the Game of Religion.

Atheism is the null hypothesis. If all the doors are flung open to see just goats, we don’t scramble to find new religions but conclude that this religion hypothesis was wrong.

Hell no, atheists know they are right

Who says that? Just a wild-eyed fanatic in your imagination.

Atheists conclude atheism in the same way that most people (feel free to make an exception for yourself) conclude that leprechauns don’t exist. (1) They’ve evaluated the evidence and (2) there is a bin labeled “Superstition and Nonsense” brimming with things like leprechauns. Religion hasn’t supported its burden of proof; therefore, atheists prudently (and tentatively) reject religion. With some evidence that’s actually good, they’ll reconsider it.

you’ve shielded your own beliefs within an envelope of self-infallibility and self-omniscience and have removed the possibility that you could be wrong.

Wrong again.

Only others could be revealed to be wrong, not you. If this is the case, you have a great deal in common with Muslim fundamentalists who also know they aren’t wrong. You guys could probably be friends.

Golly! You got me there, bro! Boy–talk about being hoist by your own petard!

Or not.

atheists have chosen a door as well.

This is the Game of Religion. Y’know, like supernatural beliefs and such? Those things that atheists don’t have by definition?

I don’t assume atheism is correct and ignore any contrary evidence, but the atheism vs. religion question is not addressed here.

Are they confident in their door? Absolutely. Are religious people confident in their door in the same manner? Yep.

Well … there’s that whole faith thing. That kind of muddies the comparison.

• DrewL

A word of advice: Own your fallacies, bro! Let’s see what you have here:

You tell me: Why are most people in Saudi Arabia Muslim? Is it because Islam is the truth? Or did they become Muslim for some other reason? For extra credit: What is the lesson here?

Why are most people in Western culture adherents to germ theory? Is it because germ theory is truth? Or did they adhere to germ theory for some other reason?

The Bob upbringing-fallacy says: beliefs that match one’s environmental upbringing are merely a product of one’s environment and thereby not true. So germ theory? Well you haven’t spent much of your life seeking alternative explanations: you’ve just been mindlessly washing your hands because that’s what your parents and culture told you to do! Must not be a true theory then.

Sounds absurd? Good. The alternative to the Bob upbringing-fallacy is correspondence between one’s belief and one’s environmental upbringing means absolutely nothing regarding whether said beliefs are true. That’s a much more scientific approach to truth.

Atheism is the null hypothesis. If all the doors are flung open to see just goats, we don’t scramble to find new religions but conclude that this religion hypothesis was wrong.

I think you’re presuming materialism is a null hypothesis, as well as logical positivism. Neither are: they both require asserting positive presuppositions, some of which–as we’ve discussed and you’ve affirmed in the past–are not scientifically verifiable. You have said in the past that you take them on trust. Sounds like the beliefs that you put your trust (cough *faith* cough) in just get an automatic exemption from your analogy, while the beliefs you dont happen to hold (but 6 Billion other people do hold) get thrown into the “superstition and nonsense” bin. That’s one way to avoid having your own beliefs questioned: simply claiming you don’t have any beliefs! Well of course, may we all aspire to reach that point.

there’s that whole faith thing

Remember that time I asked you five times to cite why you think religious’ people’s trust in their beliefs is any different from your trust in your beliefs? Let’s make it six. Still waiting for a citation. Your definition of “faith” for religious people still seems to be largely a product of your imagination, like if I imagined all atheists tie their shoes in a particular way and then got all indignant about it.

• Bob Seidensticker

drewl:

Why are most people in Western culture adherents to germ theory?

For the same reason most people in the West adopt any scientific consensus—because there’s only one, and because science delivers.

Why? Was this supposed to be analogous to religion? As I’m sure you could summarize as well as I, it’s not. The scientific alternative to germ theory is … nothing. But if you are a Muslim and want to hop to another lily pad in the pond of religion? No problem! You’ve got thousands of options. Or—make your own! It’s easy to do, and lots have done it before you.

The alternative to the Bob upbringing-fallacy is correspondence between one’s belief and one’s environmental upbringing means absolutely nothing regarding whether said beliefs are true.

So you’re saying that the fact that most people in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan are Muslims is simply a coincidence. This correlation is just one more puzzle in God’s glorious creation. You’d never argue that Muslims are products of their environment but that their religion has a decent shot at being true, just like yours?

You’re welcome to that path, but it’s not one that I follow.

Sounds like the beliefs that you put your trust (cough *faith* cough) in just get an automatic exemption from your analogy

Wrong again.

I reject religion just like most sensible people reject claims about leprechauns. No automatic anything here.

(but 6 Billion other people do hold)

Whaaaa … ? I don’t care what flavor of Christianity you have, there are not 6 billion of you.

And, of course, this 6-billion-person unity that you imagine is nothing of the kind. Most supernatural believers think that you’re wrong.

Remember that time I asked you five times to cite why you think religious’ people’s trust in their beliefs is any different from your trust in your beliefs? Let’s make it six. Still waiting for a citation.

Citation? Got none. I’ve tried an explanation, but you reject it. It’d be a waste to try again.

Your definition of “faith” for religious people still seems to be largely a product of your imagination

Tell me what it is, then. As an aside, I’m mulling over a faith vs. trust post (or two), and I’d be interested in your definition.

• smrnda

I think that though Bob makes a case that people tend to just become part of the religion they were brought up in, I’m sure he would agree (even if it wasn’t phrased so well in this case) that though in general people simply absorb the religion they are exposed to, that it’s not necessarily true that all who do that are equally mindless in their adherence.

I guess my take is that most religions I’ve been exposed to look clearly manufactured by people, and there’s no real way of empirically testing their truth value, so in this case, I’d look at the “Monty Hall Religion Game” as a waste of my time. It’s like playing a game where, instead of winning money, you get a lottery ticket that you can play later.

On atheism in general, the default stance most atheists I know go with is that they only believe things that produce evidence. Religion only produces ‘evidence’ which is mostly subjective and which can’t really be testing in any reliable fashion, and so they just dismiss the area entirely. They may be unsure that there is no god or gods, but just that no amount of exploration will yield actual reliable information, so the thing isn’t worth looking into.

• Bob Seidensticker

smrnda:

though in general people simply absorb the religion they are exposed to, that it’s not necessarily true that all who do that are equally mindless in their adherence.

Right. And of course there are some contrarians–someone brought up in a sea of Christianity who becomes a Muslim or Buddhist or Scientologist, for example. I’m talking about a correlation between environment and belief.

I guess my take is that most religions I’ve been exposed to look clearly manufactured by people

There are 42,000 denominations of Christianity (source: Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion). Religion is like a life form that adapts to its changing environment, always looking for new niches to expand into.

I’m sure most Christians would agree with you about religion being (mostly) manufactured. What’s surprising is how they can shake their heads at other believers’ gullibility but hold onto their own nutty, evidence-less beliefs.

I’d look at the “Monty Hall Religion Game” as a waste of my time.

You don’t see it as a useful thought experiment for believers?

On atheism in general, the default stance most atheists I know go with is that they only believe things that produce evidence.

And that they have no use for that faith thing.

• DrewL

the default stance most atheists I know go with is that they only believe things that produce evidence.

Interesting points smrnda. The issue that philosophy for the last hundred years has wrestled with is there is no “neutral” or “objective” way to determine what counts as evidence. Science itself has particular beliefs required for its functioning that we unfortunately have no scientific “evidence” for. (Even Bob has affirmed this in the past when pressed). Yet most atheists profess a belief in science without the evidence for the presuppositions of science–that’s where things get really complicated.

• Bob Seidensticker

drewl:

Science itself has particular beliefs required for its functioning that we unfortunately have no scientific “evidence” for.

And the evidence that, when tested, they prove reliable again and again doesn’t do it for you?

• DrewL

Didn’t do it for Hume.

• Bob Seidensticker

Go make your argument to Hume then.

• DrewL

You’re the one disagreeing with him, not me.

• Kodie

So?

• Bob Seidensticker

drewl:

You’re the one disagreeing with him, not me.

No, I’m pretty sure you brought up Hume, not me.

I presume this is because you have nothing else to say on this point. That suits me.

• smrnda

Science provides conclusions which can be tested using experiments. If Newton’s Laws make some claims about how objects will behave, I can see objects in State 1 and see if they reach State 2 according to Newton’s Laws. There’s nothing better than that. Perhaps DrewL you could tell me why I shouldn’t trust the scientific method, without just denouncing it using some “ism” accusation. You have something better?

Now, someone could argue that my perceptions of these experiments, even when augmented by devices that improve my sensory abilities could be faulty, but to me this is as big of a waste of time as wondering ‘what if we’re all in the Matrix?’

• SparklingMoon

Every believer plays the Game of Religion, and every believer believes that his religion is the one true religion, with goats behind all the hundreds of other doors.
———————————————————————————————————-
All religions, whatever their name or doctrines, wherever they be found and to whichever age they belong, have the right to claim the possession of some Divine truth. Also, one has to admit that, despite the differences in their doctrines and teachings, religions are most likely to have a common origin. The same Divine authority, which gave birth to any religion in one area of the world, must also have looked after the religious and spiritual needs of other human beings in other parts of the world and belonging to different ages.

”It is an attractive principle that promotes peace and lays down the foundations of good accord and helps moral conditions that we should accept as true all the Prophets, whether they appeared in India or Persia or China or in any other country, and God established their honour and greatness in millions of hearts and made firm the roots of their religions and let them flourish for centuries. This is the principle that the Qur’an has taught us and according to this principle, we honour the founder of every religion, which has become well established, whether of the Hindus or of the Persians or of the Chinese or of the Jews or of the Christians.” [Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 12, pp. 259]

• Bob Seidensticker

Moon:

All religions … have the right to claim the possession of some Divine truth.

Why? Show me that a Divine Truth™ exists.

• SparklingMoon

Why? Show me that a Divine Truth™ exists.
———————————————————————————
God is not a physical one that His existence can be shown to others. His attributes working in this world prove His existence. All events of this world are not determined entirely by the laws known to human beings as the laws of nature. Besides these laws, there are special laws through which God manifests His might, interest, and purpose. It is these special laws which constitute evidence of the Will and Power and Love of God. These Laws of God are laws through which God helps His chosen ones, those whom He loves.

If there were no God and no such laws of God , could the weak Moses have triumphed over a cruel and mighty Pharaoh? Could Moses succeed and Pharaoh fail while Moses was weak and Pharaoh strong? If there are God and no His special laws other than the laws of nature, how could the Prophet of Islam have triumphed against an Arabia determined to put an end to him and his mission? In every encounter God helped the Prophet of Islam and made him triumph over his enemies. Every attack the enemies made ended in failure, and at last,with ten thousand saints,he reentered the valley out of which,ten years before, he had had to move for his life in the company of only one self-sacrificing friend. Can laws of nature account for such events? Can they permit such things? Laws of nature only guarantee the success of the strong against the weak; and the failure of the weak against the strong.

• Bob Seidensticker

Moon:

God is not a physical one that His existence can be shown to others.

Got evidence that you can share of any kind? I mean, besides personal experiences or claims in a book?

His attributes working in this world prove His existence.

Uh, no. The success of science in explaining nature is strong evidence that there is no supernatural.

You’re just blathering on with your theology. It’s not convincing. I want evidence (I guess that’s how God made me!).

If there were no God and no such laws of God , could the weak Moses have triumphed over a cruel and mighty Pharaoh?

If there were no Oz, why would Dorothy think that she landed there? It’s a story!

• SparklingMoon

The success of science in explaining nature is strong evidence that there is no supernatural.
——————————————————————————————
God Almighty has divided His wonderful universe into three parts. First, the world which is manifest and can be felt through the eyes and the ears and other physical senses and through ordinary instruments. Secondly, the world which is hidden and which can be understood through reason and conjecture. Thirdly, the world which is hidden beyond hidden, which is so imperceptible that few are aware of it. That world is entirely unseen, cannot be reached by reason and is pure conjecture. It is disclosed only through visions and revelation and inspiration and not by any other means. As is well established, it is the way of God that for the discovery of the first two worlds He has bestowed upon man different types of faculties and powers. In the same way He has appointed a means for man for the discovery of the third world and that means is revelation, inspiration and visions which are not wholly suspended at any time. Indeed, those who comply with the conditions for achieving them have, throughout, been their recipients and will continue to be such. As man has been created for unlimited progress and God Almighty is free from every deficiency, miserliness and holding-back, it would be an unworthy thought that He put into the heart of man the eagerness to learn the secrets of all the three worlds and yet has deprived him wholly of the knowledge of the means of acquiring knowledge of the third world. This impels wise people to believe in the permanent need of inspiration and visions and they do not confine revelation and believing in the absolute bounty of God Almighty, deem the door of inspiration ever open and do not confine it to any country or religion. It is true, however, that it is limited to the straight path by treading along which these blessings can be achieved, inasmuch as it is necessary for the achievement of everything to follow the rules and methods conformity to which is necessary for its achievement. People do not deny the wonders of the world of visions. They have to admit that the absolute Benefactor, Who has bestowed upon man faculties and powers for the discovery of every little matter in the first world, would not deprive man of the means of discovering the grand affairs of the third world through which a true and perfect relationship with God Almighty can be established, and true and certain understanding having been achieved the lights of heaven become manifest in this very world. This method is also open, like the methods of discovering the other two worlds, and true people adopt it forcefully and follow it and obtain its fruits. The wonders of the third world are numberless and in comparison with the other two worlds are like the sun in comparison with a grain of poppyseed. To insist that the mysteries of that world should be wholly revealed through reason would be like shutting one’s eyes and insisting that visible things should become perceptible through the sense of smell. ( Ruhani Khazain by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed- Volume 2 pp. 127-133).

• SparklingMoon

The success of science in explaining nature is strong evidence that there is no supernatural.
——————————————————————————————
Science gives the knowledge of this physical universe. There exists also an other world more spiritual and more ethereal working inside or beneath this physical world that transforms the attributes of God in different forms in this world through the Laws (angels) of God. As you can not taste through eyes as scientist can not peep into that spiritual realm except the method God Himself has devised.God has appointed different sources to find different things and a person has to adopt that source if his quest is true.

”God Almighty has divided His wonderful universe into three parts. First, the world which is manifest and can be felt through the eyes and the ears and other physical senses and through ordinary instruments. Secondly, the world which is hidden and which can be understood through reason and conjecture. Thirdly, the world which is hidden beyond hidden, which is so imperceptible that few are aware of it. That world is entirely unseen, cannot be reached by reason and is pure conjecture. It is disclosed only through visions and revelation and inspiration and not by any other means. As is well established, it is the way of God that for the discovery of the first two worlds He has bestowed upon man different types of faculties and powers. In the same way He has appointed a means for man for the discovery of the third world and that means is revelation, inspiration and visions which are not wholly suspended at any time. Indeed, those who comply with the conditions for achieving them have, throughout, been their recipients and will continue to be such. As man has been created for unlimited progress and God Almighty is free from every deficiency, miserliness and holding-back, it would be an unworthy thought that He put into the heart of man the eagerness to learn the secrets of all the three worlds and yet has deprived him wholly of the knowledge of the means of acquiring knowledge of the third world. This impels wise people to believe in the permanent need of inspiration and visions and they do not confine revelation and believing in the absolute bounty of God Almighty, deem the door of inspiration ever open and do not confine it to any country or religion. It is true, however, that it is limited to the straight path by treading along which these blessings can be achieved, inasmuch as it is necessary for the achievement of everything to follow the rules and methods conformity to which is necessary for its achievement. People do not deny the wonders of the world of visions. They have to admit that the absolute Benefactor, Who has bestowed upon man faculties and powers for the discovery of every little matter in the first world, would not deprive man of the means of discovering the grand affairs of the third world through which a true and perfect relationship with God Almighty can be established, and true and certain understanding having been achieved the lights of heaven become manifest in this very world. This method is also open, like the methods of discovering the other two worlds, and true people adopt it forcefully and follow it and obtain its fruits. The wonders of the third world are numberless and in comparison with the other two worlds are like the sun in comparison with a grain of poppyseed. To insist that the mysteries of that world should be wholly revealed through reason would be like shutting one’s eyes and insisting that visible things should become perceptible through the sense of smell. ( Ruhani Khazain by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed- Volume 2 P: 127-128).

This interests me. But the example is rationally reduced to level that makes little sense in a world where “faith” is decreasingly equated with “belief” and increasingly treated more as a relationship and process. I think there are a good number of those who’ve chosen “doors” who haven’t quite followed the “rules” of the scenario that’s described. To come closer to the process for many, imagine that the contestant steps back from the “door” they’ve selected by default through upbringing and takes a hard look at the other doors, and in confusion, asks for guidance to the door they will choose. And the game show host subtly but unmistakably seems to indicate a door. And having nothing better to go on, they make their choice, and then experience confirmation (of some sort – the story doesn’t make clear how this might happen) in their choice. And gradually, they grow better at reading the game show host’s signals and choosing paths they might not have gravitated toward on their own…

• jose

You’re right that a way to understand better a problem is to push it to the extreme, so the flaws or merits become more apparent. I don’t know why you use this to say we’re bad at statistics, when this is a general issue that concerns all topics. An image with low contrast is harder to appreciate; if you want to notice little details, it’s good to pump up the contrast. Same for music, that’s what equalizers exist for, to enhance certain parts of the sound.

Also works for moral questions. Is it bad to keep animals in farms? What if we put every single animal on the planet in farms, is that bad? If not, why not, are the wild ones better than the tamed ones somehow? A more extreme scenario helps identify the problem, whatever problem.

• Bob Seidensticker

jose:

I don’t know why you use this to say we’re bad at statistics, when this is a general issue that concerns all topics.

I think I said that we’re bad at probability. Our intuitions are (generally) terrible without formal education.

But yes, pushing an example to extremes does help clarify. On the flip side, however, it sometimes leads to ridiculous examples that we might (erroneously) apply too broadly.

• wkdkween

leprechauns aren’t real??? How do you know???

• Bob Seidensticker

(Nobody tell W about that Santa thing, OK … ?)

• arkenaten

I have read quite a few of Drewl’s comments and I cannot fathom his reasoning at all.
Is he truly unable to figure out why people in Muslim countries are followers of Islam?
Surely he understands that Islam, just like Christianity is a religion initially based on conquest.
If he were prepared to take the time to study the expansion of Islam he would see this clearly.
I cannot understand what he is struggling to come to grips with.
If one’s ‘masters’ ( be they parents or kings or government) are of one particular faith that is fostered upon the populace at large along with all the cultural accouterments chances are that one will become a member of that faith until such time as one is prepared to question.

• Bob Seidensticker

Great pharoah arkenaten:

I agree. Of course, growing up in an environment of religion X is no guarantee that you’ll stay with that religion as an adult, but it’s a good indicator.

Drewl likes to take an argument that he doesn’t like and dial it up to make it more cartoonish. He’d like to imagine something more definite on my part. But I take nothing more than the facts that are plain to us: the correlation between upbringing and adult religion. That makes religion look like simply a custom, not a truth statement.

• DrewL

I don’t even know what you’re arguing: religion of conquest? Let’s see, there are 300 million more Christians in Africa than there were 100 years ago. According to your explanation, that means a significant chunk of Africa came under Christian conquest in the 20th century–I must have missed that one. And how about 70 million Christians in China that weren’t there even 60 years ago. I did I miss the Christian Right’s conquest of the People’s Republic of China during the Reagan administration?

Might want to try reading real historians rather than books written by biologists and journalists pretending to know history.

I take it you’re enlisting to be another adherent to the Bob-upbringing fallacy. I tried to pitch a a more scientific approach to knowledge earlier (correspondence between one’s belief and one’s environmental upbringing is irrelevant to whether said beliefs are true) but it doesn’t seem like scientific approaches can beat out personal prejudices against religion around here. The rule of thumb seems to be: we’re all for science unless it interferes with our ability to say religious people are stupid.

• Kodie

A lot of people can’t be that stupid? Is that the logical fallacy you’re going with today, Drewl?

• DrewL

Nope. Try again.

• Kodie

I don’t really feel like pulling all the teeth out of your head one at a time. Why don’t you try making a point – any point.

• Bob Seidensticker

drewl:

correspondence between one’s belief and one’s environmental upbringing is irrelevant to whether said beliefs are true

Agreed, but this bypasses this issue.

we’re all for science unless it interferes with our ability to say religious people are stupid.

Sounds like someone has a persecution complex.

• arkenaten

@Drewl
If you are going to be so pedantic then any worthwhile discussion is rather silly.
However, if you glance at my first comment you will note the words “… initially based on conquest.”
The word, initially is the clue here.
Perhaps the term: Foot in the Door would be easier for you to grasp, yes?
Carry on….

• DrewL

My mistake, I thought you were addressing the issue at hand. Apparently you were discussing irrelevant history instead.

• arkenaten

Ah, the asinine theological two-step. Always a good go to line when the going gets beyond the reach of reason and common sense, n’est pas?

Silly person.

• http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

Makes me wonder if you believe yourself to be a simulated consciousness. The logic is as follows:

1. A sufficiently advanced species will generate simulated consciousnesses (a more than reasonable assertion based on facts in evidence).
2. In such an advanced species, the number of simulated consciousnesses exceeds the number of non-simulated consciousnesses (Again, a more than reasonable assertion).
3. As such, it is statistically more likely that a given consciousness is simulated.
4. You are a given consciousness.

Not saying that this argument is valid, but then, I also don’t think the Monty Hall example is valid either. In Monty Hall, the choosing party has no information going into the experiment. If, however, he already knew that door 3 had a goat behind it, he would have chosen 1 or 2 at 50% probability each. When it is revealed that door 3 does, in fact, have a goat behind it, that actually does not change the probability (it was always 50-50). It becomes a two envelope problem.

• Bob Seidensticker

IT:

I don’t believe that we’re a simulation, having no evidence for that over something else, but I’ve heard that argument before and it certainly is intriguing.

As for the Monty Hall problem, I disagree with your analysis. The first choice is always 1/3 likely to be a good one, with it 2/3 likely that the prize lies behind one of the doors you didn’t pick. Monty opening a door and giving you the chance to switch is equivalent to saying, “You’ve picked one door, but would you like to switch to the other two doors?”

Switching is always a smart move.

• trj

The key thing to notice is that Monty opens a door after you made your initial choice, meaning his choice depended on yours. He can choose between two doors, and he specifically chooses one with a goat behind it, so his choice was never random but instead determined by your initial choice.

Initially, the winning chance of each door was independent of each other (1/3 chance for each), but after Monty opens his door this is no longer true. Because he didn’t choose randomly, the two remaining doors don’t have a 1/2 chance each, but instead a 1/3 and a 2/3 chance. And so you should always switch.

And if the math doesn’t convince you, and if you have programming skills, you can always create a simulation of the game. I did, and after playing a million rounds the result is pretty conclusive.

• Bob Seidensticker

I agree with your analysis except that I don’t see the significance of Monty knowing what’s behind the doors. If he didn’t know and opened the door for the car (1/3 chance of that happening), presumably, he’d just say, “Damn!” and disqualify the game and start over. And if he opened a goat door, we’re back to your example above.

• Kodie

I think I figured out why people are bad at statistics. You can talk and talk about this all day but it’s hard to get your mind around what’s really a good demonstration of the problem and what’s an illusion of a satisfactory explanation. I think I had said before a while ago about an illusionist volunteering me to come up on stage, while I don’t know if he knew I worked for the theater the first time he called me up, he had to remember me the next night, but I think this was the trick only with envelopes. I think it kind of ruins the illusion if the audience thinks I am in cahoots to pick the correct envelope, so I don’t think he asked me what “I did” the second night.

He puts whatever he wants in the envelopes each night to prepare for his show. Part of the illusion may be what color envelope people are more likely to pick. I was pretty nervous the second night that I’d ruin it for him, but it didn’t work out that way. Maybe he’s too skilled to let that happen. At this point, it’s about 10 years out so I don’t remember if this was like the Monty Hall problem, and I can’t remember if I picked the same color envelope the second night out of fear of ruining his act. He tells the audience at the beginning NOT to believe what they hear, and most of his act that I could figure out centered on remembering that. When he covers his eyelids at the end with coins, blindfolds himself first with a strap, then with a cloth, and swears he can’t see, for example, remember not to believe what people say because something else can be true. I wanted to tell people so badly that he could see. In the envelopes illusion, I picked an envelope and it wasn’t the one with money in it, twice. I think he never opened up all the envelopes at the end of it, and there was no money. I don’t really remember being given a choice to change my mind, but I might have been asked my second choice, which was no longer available.

If Hall knows what’s behind all the curtains and one of them is definitely a car, let’s say you pick #3. The way knowing ahead makes the difference is the other choices are either a car and a goat or two goats. He will always show a goat.

The remaining curtain is either a car or a goat. Your curtain is either a car or a goat. Obviously taking 1/3 of the options away changes the odds.

If Hall doesn’t know what’s behind any of the curtains, you pick #3. Before he gives you the option of changing your mind, he will show you a curtain. Curtain #1 has a car or a goat, Curtain #2 has a car or a goat, Curtain #3 has a car or a goat. That was true when you started and you pick #3. That leaves 2 goats or 1 goat and 1 car. Hall guesses to reveal Curtain #2. He can’t pick #3 which could be a car or a goat, so what are his chances of a car that are different from having all 3 curtains to choose from? They are the same as choosing simultaneously: 1/3.

If you have a sack with 7 white marbles (get nothing), 2 red marbles (goat), and 1 black marble (car), that is a 10% chance of winning a car. You have 9 people and 10 marbles. The first way you do this experiment is everyone is assigned a number of the order they may choose a marble, but keep their marbles hidden from themselves and everyone else until the end when they are called by number. Essentially, they are choosing from identical boxes. If you are assigned #9, you have just as much chance of getting the black marble as person #1. By the time #9 chooses a marble, there are only 2 marbles left in the bag. Is there a greater chance the black marble has already been taken out just because 8 marbles are no longer in the bag? Nobody reveals their marbles until all marbles have been picked.

Do it a second way: how do you assign numbers randomly in the first place? First, people have to pick numbers. Everyone assumes this is fair and square because it is. Person A picks a number 1-9 so there are 8 numbers left and has chosen #6. It only feels like lucky 1st choice is the best but it doesn’t matter, all the numbers have no value. Even in this trick, everyone has a 10% shot at winning the car by choosing the black marble. Even though there are only 9 participants, the probability depends on the assortment and quantity of marbles. Only one is black out of 10. So once the numbers 1-9 are assigned to participants A-I, there is no difference between being assigned #1 or #9 before the game starts. But this time, they have to show everyone which marble they got. So now everyone knows which marbles are no longer in the sack. #1 has a 10% chance and chooses the black marble. Game over. Ok, let’s play that 1-7 have picked white marbles all. Chances get better once more white marbles are out of the bag. #7 had a 25% chance of getting the black marble, up from 10%, but also a 25% chance of choosing a white marble, can you believe it?

Left in the sack are 2 red marbles and 1 black marble. #8 is given a choice to let #9 go ahead of her. Simultaneously, they both have a 1/3 chance of getting a car. What is the point of switching places? None, just like at the beginning. As more white marbles left the bag, the odds get better, but the odds were increasingly better that each following person in line could take the black marble and end the game. The person holding the sack takes all 3 marbles out and removes one of the red ones, replacing 1 each red and black marble, shakes it, and then asks #8 if she wants to go in order or let #9 ahead. It doesn’t matter. Why switch? I don’t get it.

If you have chosen Curtain #3 with 1/3 chance, your chances that you have picked a car go up once another curtain is revealed to have a goat. After the first trial after everyone has chosen their marble blindly, and then by number asked to reveal their marble, the marble in your own hand has different odds than it did when you picked it. You had a 1/3 chance of choosing a car, so you give that up to get a 1/2 chance of picking a car? I think that’s how it’s supposed to work. 50% is better than 33%, yes?

If participants 1-7 reveal in order, 7 white marbles, your 10% initial chance is drastically increased if you are participant 8 or 9. 8 and 9 both have a 1/3 chance of holding a black marble. 100 gamblers prior to the game have a chance of betting \$1 each, choosing to bet on which participant gets the black marble. People who have bet on either #8 or #9 are feeling pretty good about their chances now that the white marbles are out. There is still 1/3 chance that nobody gets a share of the pot. Before the game started, there was a 1/10 chance that nobody gets a share of the pot. If we go back to before when #1 picked a black marble and showed everyone, everyone else’s chances go back to 0%, and the gamblers who picked #1 get a share of the pot.

Another idea is if the gamblers are given a second shot at their bet. If their first bet loses, they can pick a second one remaining, so they have to rank their choices in numerical order. Should anyone pick participant #1? If they lose by picking #1, who should their next bet be placed on, #2-9? What if you win more money if your choice wins than your 2nd choice? Is it then a great idea to choose #9 or hedge it by picking #9 as your second choice? If they don’t have to rank their choices in numerical order, #9 seems an obvious first choice to me, but I don’t know anymore. If the participants are revealing their marbles as they choose them, it doesn’t change the odds of the first bet, but only after #1 reveals a white marble are gamblers on #1 allowed to make their second bet on the remaining participants. Those are the rules I made up for it. Their odds are greater so they get less of a share of the pot for choosing #9 than someone whose first choice was already 9, if 9 wins the car. The odds are greater still if we’ve reached the gamblers whose first choice was #5 and #5 reveals the 5th white marble. They have a 1/5 chance where bets on #1 have a 1/9 chance of a second choice coming in.

But many people will pick #4 or #6 because that falls near the middle which we’re conditioned to “feel” random, and avoids #5 which we’re conditioned to think of as a non-random number. Are the odds greater at the beginning? No. But if #4 or #6 does reveal the black marble, the shares of the pot will be smaller – so is that a good bet? It’s better than nothing, as they say. A bet on #1 feels risky, but there is no reason to suppose #9 will even get to pick a marble. Choosing #1 of anything random never “feels” as random as the other choices, and once it’s out of the way, all those other random-feeling numbers are obviously more probable. Works on everything from Let’s Make a Deal to Powerball to that thing where Kelly Ripa asks the trivia challenge winner to pick an audience member by their seat number.

I think people need a lot more study on statistics than they have. I try to tell people that 1 in a million chance of something happening to you means that it happens to about 6500 people (I don’t know the earth’s population 6.5 billionish? is what I’m working with). They could all be in one place so it seems rather common, or they could be spread out all over the earth so where they are, it is certainly rare. 6500 people is 6500 people. That’s still not a lot of people compared to an amount in the billions, but it’s enough people to say “a lot”. It could be me or you or both of us or nobody you know or everyone you know and a lot of people you don’t.

If you roll a die 100 times, each time is a brand new 1/6 chance of getting a 3. If you are playing the lottery and you win one week with your favorite numbers, the very next time the balls are in the hopper is completely the same. I cannot quite wrap my head around the larger the choices like that. Someone tried to explain it to me that you could win every single week with the same numbers. You could pick out a year in the future and suggest that 52 times in a row, the same numbers could come up. It’s easier to see with a coin, even though past a streak of about 5 tails seems due for heads. It’s not but it still gets to you. If that really happened in a lottery ball situation, people would think it was rigged after twice in a row, but not merely twice in 10 years, albeit rigging the game twice in 10 years but not consecutively would be the best way to rig it because nobody can see the pattern.

• Bob Seidensticker

Kodie: I think you’re asking what the odds are for switching.

With your initial pick, your odds are 1 in 3. Obviously, the odds of the other two togther (if you could pick 2 doors) would be 2 in 3. But that’s the point of Monty opening the door. When he lets you switch, you do get to (in effect) pick the other two doors. That’s why the odds of success with switching are 2 in 3.

• Kodie

Nope, I still don’t understand it! And I try to understand statistics and probabilities a lot more than a lot of people. I think it is key to figure out how these things mathematically work before you pick any curtain or religious belief. I think it’s a good analogy that you probably feel the strong possibility once you have chosen your curtain your odds seem better that you don’t have a goat after you see another curtain revealing a goat. Not understanding how it’s an illusion, like gambling streaks and how some numbers themselves seem less random than others seems to correlate with being duped into believing anything else.

• trj

Monty knows which is the winning door, and so he deliberately never chooses that one. That is in fact exactly what rigs the game and makes the odds uneven.

If you as the contestant initially chose the winning door, then Monty is free to open any of the remaining two doors to show you the goat behind it. But, as happens in averagely 2 out of 3 cases, you chose a door with a goat, then Monty is left with no choice. There’s only one door left with a goat behind it, which is the one he must open. So in 2 out of 3 cases he’s playing favorites.

Had he not known which of the doors was the winning door then he couldn’t favor one over another and the probabilities would be even. Then it wouldn’t matter if you switched or not – the odds would be 50/50 for the two remaining doors. It’d also mean that 1/3 of the games would be over once Monty opened his door, of course.

• Kodie

He also knows if you have the winning curtain though.

X X O – for some reason when I think of this problem, I always choose curtain 3.

So he deliberately knows that 1 is a goat, and if the contestant picks 1, he still has another curtain to choose. He knows where the goats are so picks one and offers you to stick or switch. Seeing the curtains like Monty does, you know if the contestant picked the car or not also. That’s why I don’t get it. He could have one goat or two goats, so deliberately picks A goat. It may be the only goat left, or it may not be the only goat left. I still don’t know why you switch. If I didn’t pick a curtain in the first place and he shows me a goat, then I can choose.

Or I’m in the audience. The outcome doesn’t help me but it’s what the audience does. The contestant picks 1, I pick 3 (for fun) and Monty knows where a goat is and reveals the goat behind curtain 2. He asks the contestant if he wants to switch. I have seen the deliberately revealed goat behind curtain #2 and imagine I am playing the game with the contestant. Of course I urge them to switch to my choice but I do not switch because I have a good feeling about my choice.

Shouldn’t we both get better results from switching but only one of us does. It doesn’t matter that the goat is revealed behind one of the other curtains. I just don’t understand this at all.

• Bob Seidensticker

Kodie:

I still don’t know why you switch.

That it’s best to switch is much easier seen if you imagine the 300-door situation.

You (randomly) pick door #27, which is pretty much guaranteed to be wrong. Then Monty opens 298 doors of goats, leaving only your door and door #171 still unopened. Should you switch? Of course you should! Your first pick was almost certain to be wrong!

By picking door #171, you’re in effect picking 299 doors, and your odds are 299:300 of success.

• trj

Kodie, you can think of it this way:

In 1 of 3 games you – the contestant – will initially have chosen the prize, and in 2 of 3 games you will initially have chosen a goat. Let’s call this game type A and B. Depending on whether the game is of type A or B it plays out differently.

In (A) Monty is free to open any of the two remaining doors. In this particular case you actually have a 50/50 chance, whether you stick with your initial door or switch. Because even though Monty knows the winning door in advance his choice cannot effect the outcome. Effectively, the choices you and Monty make in (A) are independent of each other, and therefore the probabilities are unaffected. The odds would be the same if Monty had eliminated the door before the game even began, leaving you with just two doors to initially choose from.

In (B) Monty has to open a particular door, however. This works to your advantage.

When a game starts we have one set of doors, containing all three doors. You choose some door, whereupon we have two sets of doors. The set with one door (the one you chose) has a 1/3 chance of containing the winning door, while the other set of course has a 2/3 chance. This is true for both (A) and (B) type games.

Monty now eliminates one of the doors from the two-door set. Remember, in 2 out of 3 games (type B games) the two-door set contains the prize. And Monty just eliminated the losing door from that set. So in 2 out of 3 games the remaining door in the former two-door set will have the prize.

IOW, there’s a 2/3 chance Monty’s remaining door has the prize, because there’s a 2/3 chance you’re playing a type B game. Therefore the best strategy is to switch doors.

——–

If all this confuses you you can simply look at it this way: If you’re playing a type B game then Monty’s remaining door is guaranteed to hold the prize. Since there’s a 2/3 chance you’re playing a type B game the odds say you should switch to Monty’s door.

• Kodie

It is more obvious in 300 curtains if you pick one and Monty conspicuously skips over a different one. It makes a big difference to me if he goes in order to reveal goats, even if he knows which one never to show by the time he’s done opening all the other curtains.

I don’t know why. My general take on bargaining is caution anyway. I’d have a different feeling either way something was up. That’s why the confusion works on most people, they just give into it, while I try to be aware that the confusion might be intentional and I step away. I guess switching is the better bet, even though that’s confusing to me, it has been explained by people who have nothing to win from trying to talk me out of sticking with my first choice.

• Kodie

I meant goesout of order revealing the 298 other curtains. With only 2 out of 3 curtains left, he also picks in a random order, either of the other 2, but in one example, he goes in order and skips one conspicuously that wouldn’t be as apparent to the contestant if he randomly picks out of order 298 curtains with goats. You know he knows which one to leave hidden so that is left when they get to the part where you can still change to that curtain. I know it doesn’t matter what order he goes in but to a contestant, skipping over one in order is conspicuous compared to picking each curtain what looks like at random (and is) if he still knows which one never to call.

• Eclectic

A very interesting argument! It definitely leads to thinking.

Unfortuntately, I think it fails as a rigorous argument on the “initial choice is random” assumption, which precludes the possibility that the non-uniform distribution of religions in the world has something to do with their truth.

To pick an extreme example, what if the question is “what is 1+1?”, and you pick door number 2, because that’s what you learned in childhood. The host opens 998 other doors, skipping #57.

Is it still good odds to switch?

• Bob Seidensticker

Eclectic:

You’re right–it is conceivable that the edge Christianity seems to have (at the moment at least) might be evidence of divine action. Still, it looks so natural (some religion has to be #1, right?) that positing God’s hand behind this is pretty tenuous.

To pick an extreme example, what if the question is “what is 1+1?”, and you pick door number 2, because that’s what you learned in childhood. The host opens 998 other doors, skipping #57.

Sorry–I’m not following. I understand that you’re saying that your religion isn’t exactly like a random pick (door #237). But then I’ve lost you.

• Bob Drury

Probability is the fractional concentration of a logical element in a logical set, where the IDs of the elements are purely nominal. Consequently, the relationships of probability cannot be corrected by material observations. Material outcomes may emulate the principles of probability only in reference to the size of sets and their composition. Such are not due to any characteristics typically associated with the IDs of the elements. The probability relationships of a set of unique faiths of size n are identical to the probability relationships of a set of unique scientific facts of size n as well as the probability relationships of the set of n unique integers.

Random groups of integers of size 23 based on a set 365 unique integers will contain a minimum of 1 matched pair at a probability of 0.5005. If randomness and probability were characteristic of birthdays and characteristic of the sampling of groups of people, then we would determine this value of probability regarding matched birthdays by observation (a posteriori) rather by calculation (a priori). The calculated value would be subject to correction based on observation.

In the example of doors, goats and a car, if door 274 has a probability of a car of 1/300 so does door 59. Similarly if door 59 has a probability of a car of 1/2, so then does door 274. Opening the doors simply changes the size of the set upon which the probability of a car is based. For a deck of 52 cards the probability of randomly selecting the ace of spades in 1 selection is 1/52. In selecting 2 cards the probability is 1/26. However, the probability of selecting the ace of spades in the second selection, if the first selection is not the ace of spades, is 1/51. If there are 2 cards left and the ace of spades has not been turned over, the probability that either card is the ace of spades is 1/2. Having randomly numbered the cards as 1 to 52 has no bearing on the probabilities, just as numbering the 300 doors is totally irrelevant. Turning over cards that are not the ace of spades, redefines the fractional concentration of the ace of spades in the set remaining. Comparing the 299 doors including door 59, to door 274, as proposed, is comparing the probability of selecting 299 doors to the probability of selecting 1 door, but those probabilities in reference to a set of 300 doors have no relevance when there are only 2 doors left in the set subject to random selection. Probability is the fractional concentration of a logical element in a logical set.

• Bob Seidensticker

Bob D: I don’t think we’re on the same page.

In the example of doors, goats and a car, if door 274 has a probability of a car of 1/300 so does door 59.

Initially, with the doors all closed, yes. But the probability of the car being in the set of all doors except 274 is (at the beginning 299/300). And, after 298 doors are opened, that fact remains true.

Do you want to take that set that has the probability of 299/300? At the end you can–switch to #59.

If there are 2 cards left and the ace of spades has not been turned over, the probability that either card is the ace of spades is 1/2.

True, but this is not a parallel to the jumbo Monty Hall problem that we’re talking about.

To simulate that, you first pick a card and set it aside, without looking at it. Then I take the 51 remaining cards and, one by one, turn face up non-ace-of-spades cards until I only have one card left that’s still hidden. Do you want to switch?

• Bob Drury

You are right Bob. I was on a completely different page from you. I was still viewing the set of the 2 remaining doors from the perspective of mathematical probability, as if the opening of the 298 doors was done randomly. Your Monty Hall analogy implies that they were opened with full knowledge of which door the car was behind.

When the set is reduced to 2 doors in the Monty Hall analogy, the concept of mathematical probability no longer applies. One door should be viewed as included in the set of 2 on the basis of human ignorance, while the other door is viewed as included on the basis of human knowledge. The door included in the set on the basis of human knowledge could be chosen with the comment, “This door is probably the one with the car behind it.” In this context ‘probably’ does not refer to mathematical probability. Rather, it merely indicates a degree of certitude with which one holds to the truth of his personal opinion, his switched choice. The switch is based on acceptance of the authoritative knowledge of Monty Hall and not on mathematical probability.

Sorry, I was so anxious to present my point of view, that I missed your point entirely.

• Bob Seidensticker

Bob:

Your Monty Hall analogy implies that they were opened with full knowledge of which door the car was behind.

Right, although I think the same would apply if the doors were opened randomly, Russian roulette style, and then you were in the very unlikely situation after 298 goat doors were opened in succession. The zillions of failed attempts beforehand (“Now let’s open door #75! … The car?! Damn! OK, let’s try it again.”) would just be misfires after which you’d just have to try again.

Knowing what’s behind the doors simply allows 300-Door Monty to take us efficiently to the point of having only 2 doors still closed.

• Patrick

In my view a more appropriate application of the door game analogy to the assessment of religions (and atheism) looks as follows:

Door # 1 Naturalism (There is no reality beyond the natural world.)
Door # 2 Idealism (There is a reality beyond the natural world, but there are no gods or other supernatural beings.)
Door # 3 Pantheism (God exists but He is not personal.)
Door # 4 Polytheism (There are many gods.)
Door # 5 Dualism (There are two gods, a good one and an evil one.)
Door # 6 Monotheism (There is just one God.)

As far as I can see these concepts cover all the existing religions and worldviews including atheism. From this arrangement one can see that prima facie the probability of naturalism is not higher than the respective probabilities of all the other concepts; it’s 1/6. Admittedly, it is higher than any religion, as every religious concept (# 2-6) comprises more than one religion.

• smrnda

There’s probably a mistake in saying that all of these have a 1/6 chance of being true (though I think your points cover most belief systems.) It’s like someone saying “There are 2 possible outcomes to the lottery, I win or I lose, so the odds of winning are 1/2.” Or “A bear can be a white, brown or black. Therefore, if I see a bear, it is 1/3 likely to be white” (this would be untrue outside of the arctic since the distribution of bears isn’t uniform, even if they are restricted to 3 colors.)

• Bob Seidensticker

Patrick:

I agree with smrnda’s point that assigning probabilities here doesn’t make sense. (Reminds me of a cartoon where the kid in a classroom thinks to himself, “I put down 7 as the answer. It could either be right or wrong. That’s 50/50. Not bad odds when it was just a guess in the first place!”

Similarly, we don’t have two doors, evolution and Creationism, and figure that each has a 50/50 chance of being right.

• Patrick

However, a closer examination may show that some of these concepts or religions they comprise are more probable than others. As for such an examination, philosopher Edward Feser has provided an outline of it:

“I would say that as a preliminary to arguing for Christianity, one has to establish first, through independent and purely philosophical arguments:

1. The existence of God
2. Such attributes as the unity, simplicity, power, intellect, and will of God
3. God’s conservation of the world in being and providence
4. The immortality of the soul
5. The possibility of miracles

These are just the sorts of topics one finds treated in old-fashioned manuals of natural theology written in the Scholastic tradition. And once one has established this much, religions like Buddhism, Taoism, most forms of Hinduism, etc. are ruled out already. Only some form of monotheism can be true IF any form is true at all.

The next step is to show that IF any allegedly revealed religion is true, it has to be backed by miracles in the strict sense — events that could not in principle happen naturally and that could only have had a divine cause. There is no other way one could have rational grounds for confirming the claim that some message really came from God.

That much pretty much rules out Islam. Muhammad never even claimed any miracle other than the Koran itself. But the Koran is clearly not miraculous in principle even if one believed that it was so extraordinary that Muhammad could not have written it. By contrast, everyone agrees that Christ’s resurrection would be impossible by purely natural causes, IF it really occurred.

The next step is to defend the historicity of Christ’s resurrection itself. In my view, it is foolish to do this until one has already independently established points 1-5 above. For only in light of 1-5 is the evidence for the resurrection going to have its full power. Apart from 1-5 a skeptic could always say “Who knows what really happened, but we know it couldn’t have been a miracle” etc. That won’t wash if one has already established 1-5, though.

If one establishes that too, though, and if one grants (what I think there is no reasonable doubt about) that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be divine, then the fact that He was resurrected, that only God could have resurrected Him, and that this happened despite His saying something which would (if false) be blasphemous in the extreme, all would confirm that it was not false. In other words, it would show that there is a divine “seal of approval” on what He said and that what He said is therefore true. But if He is divine, and yet He is a different Person from the Father and Holy Spirit, etc., then we’ve got the essence of the doctrine of the Trinity. And then from there a Thomistic theologian works out the rest by inferring from what natural theology tells us together with what Christ’s revelation tells us. And that takes us beyond natural or philosophical theology and into sacred theology.”

• Bob Seidensticker

Patrick: I guess I’m responding to Edward Feser and not you, but perhaps you can respond.

And once one has established this much, religions like Buddhism, Taoism, most forms of Hinduism, etc. are ruled out already

OK, but that’s an enormous leap you’ve taken. I see negligible evidence of God.

There is no other way one could have rational grounds for confirming the claim that some message really came from God.

Are you saying that faith is always a mandatory part of religion?

Muhammad never even claimed any miracle other than the Koran itself.

Didn’t Mo ride to heaven on a winged horse?

But the Koran is clearly not miraculous in principle

Why focus on miracles? The Koran posits a supernatural creator. That puts it clearly in the extraordinary claims category.

In my view, it is foolish to do this until one has already independently established points 1-5 above.

That works for me, though some theologians (John Warwick Montgomery, for example) deliberately take the opposite approach.

And note that I’m still stuck on point 1: I see no meaningful evidence of God.

if one grants (what I think there is no reasonable doubt about) that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be divine

We have a story about Jesus claiming to be divine. Moving from that to history is an enormous jump that no one has succeeded in making.

• Patrick

As for evidence for Christianity in the following threads I provided some of it under the name “patrick.sele”:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/09/is-there-any-evidence-for-christianity.html

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/03/is-evidence-for-resurrection-of-jesus.html

A shorter version can be found in the following link, where I sent my commentaries under the name “Patrick”:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/01/what-good-evidence-for-the-supernatural-would-look-like/

• Bob Seidensticker

Patrick: I’m afraid that i’m no more impressed by your supporting points than the other commenters were at DebunkingChristianity.

But if you want to give your best evidence for Christianity, I’d be happy to consider it and respond.

• Patrick

smrnda: “There’s probably a mistake in saying that all of these have a 1/6 chance of being true (though I think your points cover most belief systems.) It’s like someone saying “There are 2 possible outcomes to the lottery, I win or I lose, so the odds of winning are 1/2.” Or “A bear can be a white, brown or black. Therefore, if I see a bear, it is 1/3 likely to be white” (this would be untrue outside of the arctic since the distribution of bears isn’t uniform, even if they are restricted to 3 colors.)“

Bob Seidensticker: “I agree with smrnda’s point that assigning probabilities here doesn’t make sense. (Reminds me of a cartoon where the kid in a classroom thinks to himself, “I put down 7 as the answer. It could either be right or wrong. That’s 50/50. Not bad odds when it was just a guess in the first place!”
Similarly, we don’t have two doors, evolution and Creationism, and figure that each has a 50/50 chance of being right.“

In my second comment I took your objections into account. Moreover, in my first comment I pointed out that the respective probabilities are PRIMA FACIE, i.e. before having a closer look at them, the same.

• Patrick

Bob Seidensticker: “Imagine you’ve picked your religion—religion #274, let’s say. For most people, their adoption of a religion is like picking a door in this game show. In the game show, you don’t weigh evidence before selecting your door; you pick it randomly. And most people adopt the dominant religion of their upbringing. As with the game show, the religion in which you grew up is also assigned to you at random.”

What about naturalists? Interestingly, in the following contribution Quentin Smith, atheist and philosopher of religion, states that in his view most naturalists haven’t adopted their worldview after carefully examining the alternative worldview theism:

“If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist … the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true.”

If this assessment is true one can say that most naturalists have picked their worldview “at random”, just as (supposedly) most religious people have done with respect to their religion.

Bob Seidensticker: “Patrick: I guess I’m responding to Edward Feser and not you, but perhaps you can respond.”

By pointing to Edward Feser I just wanted to make plain that it is possible to argue rationally for a religion; it is not necessarily a random choice. If you are interested in Feser’s case for monotheism the following book is very informative:

Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, Oxford 2009.

Bob Seidensticker: “OK, but that’s an enormous leap you’ve taken. I see negligible evidence of God.”

The idea is that if Feser’s case for monotheism is successful several religions can be ruled out. As for evidence for Christianity, in order to avoid your charge that the adoption of a religion cannot be but a random choice, one simply has to show that the evidence for Christianity is better than for any other religion; it doesn’t have to be conclusive.

Bob Seidensticker: “Didn’t Mo ride to heaven on a winged horse?”

From the following Wikipedia article one can draw the conclusion that Muhammad’s ride to heaven on a winged horse is far from well-documented:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isra_and_Mi%27raj

Bob Seidensticker: “Patrick: I’m afraid that i’m no more impressed by your supporting points than the other commenters were at DebunkingChristianity.

But if you want to give your best evidence for Christianity, I’d be happy to consider it and respond.”

I’ve already conceded in Chris Hallquist’s blog pointed to above that the evidence for Christianity may not be such that it convinces every atheist.

• Bob Seidensticker

Patrick:

Yes, some naturalists are that for no better reason than that they were raised that way. I’ve never said that people always are reflections of their culture, just that that tendency to pick up supernatural beliefs from one’s culture says something about the truth value of those beliefs.

If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true.

I see no evidence for the supernatural so I (tentatively) reject it. With good evidence, I’d change my mind.

If this assessment is true one can say that most naturalists have picked their worldview “at random”, just as (supposedly) most religious people have done with respect to their religion.

Evidence drives most people to accept a rational or scientific view, not so religious belief.

By pointing to Edward Feser I just wanted to make plain that it is possible to argue rationally for a religion

And as I pointed out, those arguments aren’t especially compelling. If your point is that an enthusiastic argument can be made in favor of one’s religious beliefs, I certainly agree. I don’t find those arguments compelling, no matter which religion they’re in support of.

it is not necessarily a random choice

If you’re saying that some people critique world religions and do their best to land on one that makes the most sense (or perhaps just seems most comfortable), I agree.

The idea is that if Feser’s case for monotheism is successful several religions can be ruled out.

OK, but Feser’s case is unsuccessful.

your charge that the adoption of a religion cannot be but a random choice

That argues my case too strongly.

one simply has to show that the evidence for Christianity is better than for any other religion

Yeah, good luck with that. As an outsider, I’m afraid that it looks like people arguing why their unsupported supernatural Sky Daddy is better than the other guys. Not much of a meaningful debate.

From the following Wikipedia article one can draw the conclusion that Muhammad’s ride to heaven on a winged horse is far from well-documented

You said that Mohammed “never even claimed any miracle other than the Koran.” I think I showed you a counterexample.

I’ve already conceded in Chris Hallquist’s blog pointed to above that the evidence for Christianity may not be such that it convinces every atheist.

Not much of a concession. Who would think otherwise?

So then you don’t want to advance your best single argument for Christianity?

• smrnda

I don’t ascribe to ‘naturalism’ though I consider myself a materialist. The evidence for the physical universe is overwhelming and requires no leaps of faith. For most of the important points, it requires no specific revelations – we might not know an historical truth unless we read it in a book, but scientific or mathematical knowledge can be independently discovered, even if a particular person or society had been cut off from the existing body of knowledge.

The reason I don’t get into a philosophical defense of this is that I see absolutely zero evidence for anything supernatural. In fact, I’d argue that the supernatural is outside of the realm of systematic inquiry, and is therefore a matter of conjecture rather than knowledge. Any looking into the philosophical underpinnings of these things has just seemed like a waste to me, since I feel it’s pointless to waste much time on matters that can at best be conjectures and cannot be empirically tested.

Whether it’s belief in ghosts or gods, the whole idea is ‘ghosts only appear if you believe in them’ or ‘god only speaks to people with strong faith’ problem – there’s a mechanism in place that makes the conjecture impossible to disprove. When I did not see ghosts in the haunted house it’s because I was prejudiced against the supernatural as a consequence of reading Dawkins when I was young. If god doesn’t speak to me it’s that I don’t have faith. Either seems like a waste of time to me.

• Patrick

To use the door game analogy again, one can argue that with respect to monotheism there are a lot of doors with a “car”. It seems that also outside the Judeo-Christian culture there have been people who have been aware of a divine being with the characteristics of God in the Bible, as the following book (which I haven’t read) seems to show:

Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts: Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World, Ventura 1981.

A good illustration of the view that there has been monotheism outside the Judeo-Christian culture can be found in the following contribution:

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-stoic-and-taoist-limp-into-church.html

• Bob Seidensticker

Patrick:

To use the door game analogy again, one can argue that with respect to monotheism there are a lot of doors with a “car”.

I think the Big Man disagrees. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Your book citation argues for many monotheistic approaches. Sounds like many monotheistic approaches to different gods.

• Patrick

Bob Seidensticker: “OK, but Feser’s case is unsuccessful.”

One of the arguments for God’s existence Feser puts forward is the cosmological argument. In the following contribution Feser explains that claims that this argument has turned out to be unsuccessful can be put down to the fact that people making such a claim usually don’t understand it:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

• Bob Seidensticker

And I’m afraid that an article that verbose won’t be especially successful in making the point.

But I’ve made a note of that article for when I do a more detailed study of that argument. Thanks.

If you want to make a brief summary of why the argument is compelling or what we’ve been missing, that would be welcome.

• Kodie

What I got out of that article was that Feser thinks people are arguing what he said was dumb but he really said some other dumb thing. He’s objecting objections that they understood him incorrectly and their logical objections missed the point of his illogical premises. I.e.:

Premise (F): the moon is black.
Cherry-picked objection (O): it only looks black because the earth is blocking most of the sun’s light from its surface.
F: You can’t say that it’s not black then. You missed my idiotic point entirely, so I win.

• Patrick

What is at issue here is not whether or not people outside the Judeo-Christian culture can be saved, but whether or not they are in a position to have a knowledge about God. As for the latter the New Testament claims that it is possible (Romans 1,18-19).

Bob Seidensticker: “Your book citation argues for many monotheistic approaches. Sounds like many monotheistic approaches to different gods.”

If it’s really true that people in different cultures have arrived at the conclusion that there is one supreme God this would show that, unlike what you are suggesting, this belief can not only be put down to the influence of one’s culture, but that it must have some plausibility.

• Bob Seidensticker

Many different cultures felt that various forms of astrology were accurate. Many cultures have said that nature can show them the future–reading entrails, reading tea leaves, and so on.

That lots of different cultures have nutty beliefs doesn’t make much of a case that these beliefs are actually correct.

• Patrick

The first paragraph in my previous comment is an answer to the following statement: “I think the Big Man disagrees. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.””

• Patrick

Bob Seidensticker: “I see no evidence for the supernatural so I (tentatively) reject it. With good evidence, I’d change my mind.”

As for evidence for Christian miracle claims I recommend the following books:

Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols., Grand Rapids 2011.

Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, Downers Grove 2010.

Don and Jill Vanderhoof, From Strength to Strength: Our Testimony of God’s Healing, Greenville, SC 2002.

• Bob Seidensticker

Are these claims of miracles today or all justification of the Bible’s miracle claims?

Thanks for the bibliography. Do you want to summarize any of the highlights?

• Patrick

From the back cover of Don and Jill Vanderhoof’s book mentioned above:

“Don and Jill Vanderhoof and their two children, Ben and April, are church-planting missionaries in the country of Germany. In August 2000, Don was the human version of Mad Cow Disease. The diagnosis was made based on characteristic patterns of brain degeneration indicated on MRI brain scans and Don’s unmistakable symptoms. The Vanderhoofs were told that this disease is always fatal. This story is their testimony of God’s healing.”

Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter, Assistant Medical Director of the Neurological Teaching Hospital in Düsseldorf (Germany):

“Nach klinischem Erscheinungsbild, Verlauf und Zusatzdiagnostik (…) war das Vorliegen der neuen Variante der Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Erkranung sehr wahrscheinlich, so dass (…) angesichts der aussichtslosen Prognose der zügige Rücktransport in die USA organisiert wurde.(…)

Als Herr Don Vanderhoof sich nach 1 1/2 Jahren gesund in unserer Klinik vorstellte, verbreitete sich die Nachricht von seiner Rückkehr wie ein Lauffeuer unter denen, die ihn zuvor betreut hatten. Alle waren über die nicht für möglich gehaltene Genesung sehr erstaunt.“

Translation:

“According to clinical manifestation, progress and additional diagnostics (…) there was a high probability that we had the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease before us, so that in view of this hopeless prognosis a speedy return journey to the USA was organized. (…)

When after one and a half years Mr Don Vanderhoof introduced himself again in our hospital while being in good health, the news about his return spread like wildfire among those who had taken care of him. Everybody was surprised at such a seemingly impossible recovery.”

• Bob Seidensticker

An interesting story. What do you make of it?

• Patrick

I think what is more interesting is what YOU make of it.

• Bob Seidensticker

At first glance, it looks like thousands of other stories that haven’t been thoroughly vetted by impartial experts.

• Patrick

The biography of the Lutheran pastor and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880) mentioned above contains well-documented miraculous events surrounding Blumhardt’s work. Another description of these events can be found in the following excerpt from another biography of Blumhardt, written by his friend Friedrich Zündel (1827-1891):

http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/a/awakeningEN.pdf

• Patrick

The famous atheist David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) was, as the following quote from Keener’s book mentioned above shows, aware of the miracle accounts surrounding Blumhardt and even though he didn’t believe in the possibility of miracles he had a favourable view of Blumhardt and obviously didn’t regard him as a fraud:

“… David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74) explained early Christian miracle stories as myths depicted as history. Strauss developed the eighteenthcentury emphasis on naturalistic historical explanation, using literary-psychological categories to preserve the value of the text while stripping it of any “unhistorical” supernaturalist elements. …

Interestingly, Strauss did hear of contemporary miracle claims involving Lutheran pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (see ch. 10), and a friend of his found himself cured of inability to walk after visiting Blumhardt. Consistent with his worldview, however, Strauss apparently dismissed the friend’s cure as psychosomatic. Likewise he regarded Blumhardt as a sincere pastor who was simply limited mentally. For his part, Blumhardt, who also had theological training that included exposure to rationalism, did not have a high view of Strauss either.”

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