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Only An Agnostic Part 3

The Mechanics

In the first two posts in this short series(1,2) I looked over agnosticism in relation to its academic definitions, history and philosophical position within society. In this post I’m going to play with what I’m going to call the mechanics of agnosticism.

I think we(humanity) inherently understand probability. We live in a universe where comprehending probability really matters, so our brains, which I’ve always assumed to be electro-bio-chemical probability engines, have developed with the ability to properly interpret physical reality from our, more or less, accurate model of the physical world. A model which is based on a hundred thousand years of witnessing what happens if a human does X, Y or Z’s
In the hostile environment of 50,000 years ago, if you didn’t have some understanding of probability, you wouldn’t have survived long enough to have children. I’m not saying primitive peoples or even most modern humans had a schooled grasp of probability calculations (I certainly don’t) but rather that by having the ability to properly assess the probable outcomes of a dangerous situation that situation can be survived; an innate biological comprehension of probability is necessary for survival. We have traditionally termed this ability ‘common sense’.
A creature, never-seen-before, eats a village's goats in the night.
Next morning the 1st person to approach the ‘lion’, to shoo it away, gets eaten.
2nd person now knows there's a probability of getting eaten and approaches from a different direction.
3rd person realises there’s a high probability of getting eaten, so collects the tribe together with weapons and all chase the lion away from the settlement.

I feel this inherent understanding of probability is why our entire genetic databank tells us “a fall from below height ‘A’ does not result in death, falling from above height ‘A’ does”. But we also know that if we add in other factors this simple rule becomes ‘bendy’; a fall onto a bunch of cardboard boxes, into trees, deep snow and countless other factors change our assessment of what the safe, ‘probably survivable’ height of “A” would be; all factors inform and transform the bio-physical probability equation.
However, we are only willing to suspend disbelief for so long; set height “A” as “Summit of Everest” and most people would say… “Splat is highly likely, no matter what array of comfy cushions you land on!”

So, as with all good paradigms (I don’t know if that’s true but it sounds great), let’s crank it up a notch…
Would you consider someone surviving, say, 42 consecutive falls from the summit of Mount Everest, to be more or less probable than surviving one?

I think we’d all say less probable - would many bet on it?

Now consider "a god": The Universal Overlord in question, the Judeo-Christian Big Papa, is supposed to be the most powerful, complex and beneficent being ever and is supposed to have popped into existence first(3), before even the simplest atom, so, taking into account that one could, with equal evidentiary validity, claim the universe(s) was created by a super intelligent armadillo after it invented an infinite improbability engine and deliberately selected ‘maximum random un-likeliness’, is the existence of a god more probable than someone surviving that series of Everest falls?
I think any reasonable person would have to consider an answer of “Yes, god’s existence is more probable than someone surviving 42 consecutive falls from the summit of mount Everest”, as merely the responder’s hope; a wish for god’s existence to be more probable.

Now, as falling from Everest and surviving even once is improbable, falling and surviving 42 times is, obviously, 42 times as improbable, which is an order of magnitude of improbability which would bring the answer of “No” to the question “is this series of fall survivable?” And, I suggest, most would agree the Judeo-Christian god’s reputed attributes are, by a much greater order of magnitude*, way more improbable still.
* To set an order of magnitude for the ‘probability of god’, I’d suggest an initial figure somewhere in the region of SCND to 1 against any god existing.
SCND = Stars in the universe multiplied by Cells in human body multiplied by Neurons in human brain multiplied by number of letters in human DNA.
That is, if I've got my sums right,... 300 septendicillion to 1
Which I think is 3 X 1056 to 1
Or 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1
(It’s as good a guess as any - as is this one - The God of Insufficient Statistics?)

So, if an answer of ‘Yes, surviving a series of Everest falls is obviously negligible’ is perceived as the ‘right’ answer by ‘all’ and thereby ‘easy’ for any human to state then why is there a disconnect from saying ‘No; a ‘god’ is just too improbable’? Why is that such a difficult statement to make?
I think there maybe something of the answer in Only An Agnostic Part 2
To any rational assessor, the probability engine which quantifies the world’s implications for us, keeping us safe and helping us to survive, is delivering the supremely improbable answer of ‘a god’ into the ‘things that are likely to exist’ ball-park, so what is fouling up the mechanism? Why do agnostics feel that in this single, virtually exclusive instance, ‘negligible’ does not warrant a ‘No’?
How does the agnostic manage to feel that they are making an honest statement in “I don’t know?”; is it really honest to claim agnosticism?
I reckon there are probably almost as many answers as there are true agnostics; a complex mix of lack of knowledge or perspective, not caring either way, Pascal’s wager, an inherent fear of death and the ever present religious oppression, which makes it clear that unbelievers will be at best ostracised from family & community and at worst persecuted to death.
The most confusing is honesty; it feels inherently dishonest to say ‘there is no chance whatever of a person surviving 42 falls’ because our probability engine tells us there is ‘always’ an outside chance, however negligible, that a single faller will survive the series. We may consider it a ‘sure thing’ that if you ran the series of falls a trillion times, 999,999,999.9 of them would end in splat. (I added the .9 because if anyone did survive 42 falls from Everest they’d probably be mashed up and in a coma for the rest of their life). That is 99.99999999% sure, almost a sure as one can be, but further, on hearing that someone was going to run the trillion series, we would likely state with confidence “You should probably buy a trillion coffins.” We ‘know’ how unbelievably improbable surviving the fall series would be; there’d likely be protests against such folly, people would write to their Member of Parliament to get it stopped etc but for the honest person, a single survivor, can’t be ‘ruled out’. And, for the unsure believer, the purely philosophical proposal that is ‘a god’, even though it is such a low probability, fits the bill of ‘outside chance’.
Unfortunately the dishonest religious grasp the outside-chance straw and deliberately misinterpret the honest description of 'negligibly probable' as a vote for the existence of their personal 'Ming the Merciless'.
But if an agnostic was told by her friend “I’m going to attempt 42 consecutive falls from Everest”, would the agnostic say “I’ll get my video camera coz there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll survive”? I think not because however honest the actual answer may be, the useful answer is “Don’t! You’ll likely die before you’ve finished the first fall”.

For me ‘a god’ remains merely an unsubstantiated philosophical muse; unless there is evidence to reassess that position, one may only legitimately accept the facts as they stand and conclude, there is nothing to be agnostic about.

1 Only An Agnostic Part 1
2 Only An Agnostic Part 2
3 The Impossible Six
This is one of the Too Many Questions
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