Subject: Re: Who's running your business?
Date: Wed, 31 May 2000 17:54:58 -0400

Ian Lance Taylor wrote:
>    Actually the original statement is reasonably accurate, and proof by
>    contradiction is not a contradiction.  It is generally much harder to
>    prove false statements than it is true ones - whatever proof
>    technique you use.  The only common exception is when one so strongly
>    expects the answer to be one thing that you are willing to accept a
>    "proof" that actually isn't.  Most proof's of God's existence are in
>    this category.  So likewise are many demonstrations that one's
>    preferred style of politics/government/economics/etc is really The
>    Right Way.
> I dunno, I think there are several proofs of the existence of God that
> are logically flawless.  We today do not believe them because we feel
> that their assumptions are incorrect.  But once you step outside the
> realms of pure mathematics and logic, there are always assumptions
> beneath everything.  Even programming has assumptions, namely the
> correctness and general availability of the system on which the
> program will run.


Could we change topics?  Forget I used that example?  etc?

But since you are on the topic, here are the quick impressions of an
atheist.  There are several categories of proofs of God.  One class is
perfectly logical, you just have to make an assumption that is
equivalent to assuming that God exists.  Another class is also logical
- you just define God in such a way that God trivially exists.
Whether said deity is particularly *meaningful* becomes another kettle
of fish.  Then there are the proofs that attempt to convince - but
whether they are convincing depends on your prior assumptions (so they
convince religious people but not atheists).  And finally there are
the "proofs" that are quite simply wrong.

There is a whole spectrum.

What it all comes down to is that if your assumptions lend themselves
to believing, you will believe.  If they do not, you will not.  And
attempting to convince people one way or the other quickly becomes a
pointless (and loud) exercise.

(Which I would rather avoid.)

> For example, consider Berkeley's proof of the existence of God, which
> was the source for the old saw about whether a tree falling in the
> forest makes a sound.  To brutally summarize his argument to the point
> where it makes almost no sense anyhow, he said that a sound without a
> hearer is a meaningless concept, but to think that a tree would fall
> without a sound defies common sense, therefore there must be a God--
> namely the entity or class of entities who hears every tree fall.  You
> can quibble with his definition of a sound without a hearer, or his
> definition of common sense, but it's not particularly easy to
> discredit his proof as such.  And remember, we have just as many
> underlying assumptions in life as Berkeley did.  We happen to think
> that ours are more correct, but there is no meaningful way for us to
> prove that they are, at least not without making other, different,
> assumptions (e.g., Occam's Razor, consilience).

Ah yes, the same Bishop George Berkeley who UC Berkeley is named after
and who is infamous for _The Analyst_ in which he did an excellent
hatchet job on Newton's fluxions.  (Contrary to popular reports, he
both understood the Calculus of his day very well, and he was
favourably disposed towards infinitesmals.)

Let me just say that anyone who has learned quantum mechanics is
likely to be immediately suspicious of "common sense" assumptions.


> (Nobody believed Berkeley even in his own day, but what they did not
> believe was not so much his proof of god, but his further claim that
> we are, in essence, merely ideas in the mind of God.)

What was it about that period and ideas?  Leibniz had his theory of
monads in which everything had minds and ideas, even if rocks were
unlikely to think much that was profound...