Saturday, 21 February 2015

Misconceptions about what science can prove.

One of my best friends shared this very interesting and thought provoking video on Facebook recently.  He didn't share the video directly from YouTube, but instead shared this link, containing the video.  The title on that page is "Science Has Finally Proven That Atheism Defies Any Logic and Reason."

For about the past ten years or so I've grown to realize how bad I was at knowing whether I really had enough evidence for what I believed, or whether I was just looking for evidence which wasn't actually there.  In an attempt to improve my objectivity, I've read many books on critical thinking and the scientific method.  It's really eye opening doing so, and something I'd recommend for everyone.

Anyway, the reason for this post is to point out why the title given to the video is very misleading.  Primarily, because the scientific method, possibly one of humanity's greatest inventions, doesn't actually prove anything.  The scientific method goes something like this:  define a question, gather information, formulate a hypothesis, do tests to try and disprove the hypothesis and publish your findings so that other people can try to disprove the hypothesis.  As you can see, a scientist is always trying to do whatever he can to disprove something.  If he and his peers have done everything they can to disprove the hypothesis, they can sometimes say that the evidence shows that the hypothesis is beyond reasonable doubt.  This however does not prove the hypothesis.  It's a bit like saying that I know beyond reasonable doubt that I do not live in the Matrix, but I cannot prove it, because there could always be an unknown factor that I'm not taking into account.

It is quite normal for people to try to find evidence to back up what they already believe, for example, a Muslim might watch this video and decide that this is proof for Allah.  An atheist might watch the video and decide that it is proof that there were at least 2 to the power of 10 quintillion big bangs.  A scientist, however, would try to be objective, figure out the premises that support the argument and try to disprove them, or find alternative explanations.

So, lets try to examine the video and see objectively what this man is saying:

He is actually creating an argument based on four premises, which are quite hard to define, but I think it's something like this (feel free to suggest improvements):

1. The odds of a randomly generated big bang (or big bang attempt), generating a universe capable of supporting life are much less than 1/n, where n is approximately 2 to the power of 10 quintillion.
2. The number of big bangs (or big bang attempts) that ever have existed is much less than n.
3. If a universe (or big bang) is not randomly generated, then it can be only have come about through the intelligence of an incredibly intelligent super being.
4. Life exists.

So, in order for this man's argument to be proven, all of these have to be proven to be 100% true.

The fourth one is definitely true, however, lets take a look at the other three:

1. Figuring out what the odds of a big bang generating a universe capable of supporting life is an incredibly hard thing to do.  You basically have to be a super genius, knowing every single possible way that life can be formed and supported.  For example, the notion of Jupiter protecting Earth from all the asteroids is a fascinating one, but a much simpler way for a planet to be protected from asteroids is not to place any asteroids there in the first place.  Another supposed requirement, might, for example, be water, however can we prove that consciousness always requires water?  Do we even have a clue about what consciousness is made of?

2. The assumption is that the number of big bangs, (or big bang attempts) is one, or less than 2 to the power of 10 quintillion.  We can prove that the number of universes is at least one, but I don't think that there's any way to prove that the number of big bangs is any less than 2 to the power of googolplex.

3. Can we assume that a deity-like creator's intelligence is the only possible way for a structured universe to exist?  Firstly there's the problem of the intelligent creator's prior existence:  We could ask the question, "What are the odds of fundamental rules existing that are capable of supporting a creator?"  Do we know the fundamental rules that generated the rules for the generating the universe?  Perhaps consciousness (or life) is simply fundamental, and the fundamental rules governing everything simply require life to exist.

But let us, for argument's sake assume that all three premises are more or less reasonable, e.g. 75% likely to be true.

That would mean that the argument would be 75% X 75% X 75% likely to be true.  In other words:  42% likely to be true... slightly less than the flip of a coin.  One would then, however, also need to take into consideration all other arguments for and against the existence of an intelligent creator to get a more accurate probability.

My conclusion is simply this:  Science cannot prove the existence of an intelligent creator.  Religions, such as Christianity and Islam, require the concept of faith, which is not scientific at all.  Faith, according to can be described as "belief that is not based on proof."  If your deity of choice appeared to you visibly, and spoke to you, showing evidence beyond reasonable doubt that he exists, then your belief would no longer be based on faith.  If faith was based on evidence that could be comprehended, then the smartest and most objective scientists in the world would be in the right religion, and the less intelligent, less objective & scientific people would not.  As it is, faith is more likely to be based on the faith of a person's parents and the person's geographical location than anything else.