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The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth (Anglais) Broché – 26 octobre 2004


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Stephen D. Unwin, Ph.D., received his doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of Manchester for his research in the field of quantum gravity. Dr. Unwin has written for New Scientist, among other influential scientific journals. Formerly the technical attaché to the United States Department of Energy for the British government, he is president of his own consulting firm, specializing in risk management for various Fortune 100 clients. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.


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23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting probabilistic approach to the existence of God 10 octobre 2005
Par Kevin M. Iga - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
There are many books that purport to prove the existence of God, or prove the non-existence of God. This is a book that purports to calculate the probability of God existing.

More accurately, it formulates the existence of God as something that we may not be entirely certain of, and therefore depends on vague estimates of probabilities, which are subjective measures of one's predilections to believe arguments of one type or another. Thus, this book acknowledges the subjective character of the question, and instead of focusing too much on the AUTHOR'S probability of the existence of God, it provides the reader with the tools to calculate the READER'S probabiliity of the existence of God.

This is a perfect example of a situation where the usual notion of probability often taught (when you flip the coin a thousand times it comes up heads as often as it comes up tails, for instance) comes up short. This notion makes no sense when it comes to matters of fact, which cannot be repeated in experiment. For this, Unwin describes the Bayesian interpretation of probability, pioneered in the early 1900s, where probabilities measure rational belief.

Unwin's work here applies the Bayesian notion of probability to five classical arguments used in the debate over the existence of God. As such, he has added something new and interesting to the debate.

In execution, however, there are problems and fallacious arguments--a feature that can be beneficial in a classroom where these deficiencies can be debated and discussed. First, Unwin's choice of five arguments determines the resulting probability more than he would like to admit. If some arguments had been subdivided into subarguments, the probability would change, giving that argument more weight. Similarly, there are fairly abstract philosophical arguments that were not brought in at all, which may be good for most people who are suspicious of such abstract arguments (perhaps with good reason) but it is important to recognize that not all arguments for or against the existence of God are considered.

Furthermore, the most difficult issue of all problems with the bayesian approach to probability, the initial a priori probability, he skips over facilely by declaring it to be 1/2. This may perhaps be better defended than any other number, but the explanation here is lacking.

Unwin also has a rating system to deal with the effect of each evidence area on the overall probability of the existence of God, that is very coarse, as it must be in such situations (can you imagine anyone arguing that the existence of evil in the world, given that God exists, is 23% as opposed to 24%, for instance?) The representative percent probabilities (1/11, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 10/11) he gets is fairly influential over the resulting answer, more than Unwin would like to admit. He certanly doesn't get two decimal places of accuracy, as he claims.

Now there is structure to bayesian analysis that Unwin does not discuss. In a chain of evidence, evidence that favors a hypothesis cancels evidence that works against that hypothesis in a very precise way, so that given his choices of probabilities, he is bound to get fairly moderate numbers (especially since he made sure to have arguments that favor the existence of God and arguments against).

Now, beyond the math, I should also mention a few other criticisms:

1. Philosophers and theologians have brought a great deal of nuance to these arguments that Unwin does not acknowledge. To take one example, the problem of evil in the world is not necessarily stacked against a traditional theist as it at first appears, depending on to what extent you accept various explanations offered by theists.

2. As in any philosophical work, there are arguments Unwin makes that would not work for everyone. For instance, his use of the anthropic principle to explain the fruitfulness of our universe depends on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which from a scientific methodological viewpoint, is as metaphysical and unmotivated as the existence of God in the first place. Still, the fact that Unwin does not focus on the ANSWER but on the PROCESS the reader can use to find his or her own answer, ameliorates this consideration considerably, as long as the reader goes through this exercise.

3. Unwin compares two positions: the traditional monotheist position of the Abrahamic faiths against the materialistic version of modern atheism. Comparing many positions at once would make this story much more complicated, so it's easy to see why he didn't bother. But for many people, the competing theories are of a different kind.

5. The most compelling reasons for belief, for many people, often involve issues beyond rationality, such as personal encounters with the divine, or the influence of a community of belief. And it is not at all clear that these reasons are "bad" reasons that should be shunned in these considerations. But they are excluded from the start in Unwin's work.

Still, the fact that Unwin seeks to provide tools, not answer questions, makes this book valuable as a *beginning* of a conversation.

His description of faith as the extra-rational piece that goes beyond reason falls short of traditional understandings of faith. Faith is not the magical extra extent to which one believes something that one would not believe otherwise. It is a trust that one chooses to make when reason is there: "faith is a leap into the light, not a leap into darkness". Even if this were the case, it is hardly acceptable to posit faith and rationality as adding together--as if a particularly gullible individual who has very good reason to believe something could end up with a probability of higher than 100%! Yet this is the model he argues for, somewhat unconvincingly.

With all these disagreements aside, I recommend the book, not as a source of answers, but a way to start thinking about these questions for yourself, perhaps leading you to write another book that reflects your perspective on this question. After reading this book, I was upset at the problems I mentioned above, but decided to organize a group of students to read this together, not in spite of the problems, but perhaps because of them. It is a positive thing for discussions to be deeper, especially when one does not agree with the other side.

Beyond all of this, Unwin is a very clear writer, and explains concepts of probability, risk, and Bayesian analysis so that anyone can understand it. He is also chatty and pleasant to read, with a sense of dry wit that can be delightful or annoying, depending on your personal taste in humor.

Overall, I recommend this book highly, as a beginning, not an end, to discussion.
17 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating read 16 décembre 2003
Par M. Leonard - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
It's rare indeed when the tools of the scientific community are useful in contemplating fundamental concepts of faith in God. However, Dr. Unwin has accomplished just that by applying an established theorem of probability to grope with life's most basic question: "does God exist?" His proposed approach reaches out to those of us who feel the need to rationalize or substantiate our belief in a living and benevolent supernatural being.
Amazingly, the author achieves this feat without burdening the reader with heavy theology and abstract mathematics. Nor does he reduce man's search for the Divine to trivial arithmetic. Rather, he proposes an intriguing way to view the subject. It's also a thoroughly enjoyable read because he presents his case in an informal, conversational style and with a sense of humor that balances the gravity of the subject.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of the book is that it's basic ideas stay with you long after you've finished reading. For example, Dr. Unwin presents six "evidentiary areas" for estimating the probability that God truly exists; for example: the universal notion of good and evil, and life-saving events that defy physical explanation (miracles). He uses these concepts as a basis for developing a probabilistic argument that God exists; that is, the evidence suggests it's more likely he exists than he doesn't. Soon after finishing the book, I found myself playing with the numbers and applying them to my own ideas of evidence for and against the proposition that God exists. This is the stuff that stimulates great discussion around the dinner table or (God forbid) at happy hour.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Recommended Read 27 janvier 2004
Par "science__1" - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Recently I wrote a review of the book `The Probability of God' for a skeptical magazine. Looking over the reviews here on Amazon I was surprised to find that one or two people had used negative excepts from my review to sandbag the author and his work, awarding him only one star. This will not do. The Probability of God is an outstanding and thought provoking book, one with which you can disagree and still appreciate what it has to offer. I award the book four stars.
Do I regard the authors core argument for belief in a God as flawed for the reasons you have read? Yes. I do. But in the interest of restoring balance allow me to highlight the strengths of this book.
First, Dr. Unwin has presented a new and innovative way to look at belief in God. In an area where the standard arguments for theistic belief have become calcified and tedious, the author delivers a breath of fresh air through Bayesian probabilities. The mathematical framework of Bayesian probabilities also provides a badly needed field of commonality on which both sides can meet to debate the merits of the issues. The math is easy and accessible due to the effortless way the authors has with words.
Second, the provocative 67% probability figure has energized the debate and provoked a lot of interest in the issues, as evidenced not just by the flurry of reviews here on Amazon, but by the guest appearance of the author on NPR, as well as by all of the human-interest news items generated in the press. Most theistic books never manage a blip on the public radar, while the authors work is seismographic in comparison.
Third, the supporting material is worth the price of the book. The author challenges currently popular evidences for God, and his discussions on what it means to `exist', on quantum behaviors, and the bigotry of `Scaleism' are delightful!
In conclusion, The Probability of God is vibrant. It sparkles with wit and thought provoking arguments. Weather you are a believer in God or not, you will find something in this book the challenge you and engage your mind. If you don't agree with the author, run your own numbers. Cast your own criteria and see where the calculations lead. Dr. Unwin will show you how.
In spite of the fact that I am agnostic and have no particular belief in gods, I find myself in the unusual position of recommending that people buy this book which argues for the existence of God. That is how special this book is. I call this book is a recommended read.
18 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Really Unique 24 septembre 2003
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book is pretty unique, and a lot different than I expected. It's funny but deep and authoritative at the same time. It seems pretty bold to calculate the probability that God exists, but the author does it anyway. What's interesting is that he doesn't rely on the usual old arguments of intelligent design of the universe as the case in favor of God. In fact, he completely blows away that sort of argument. His cases for and against God seem balanced, so his conclusions seem convincing. This is definitely worth a read.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Douglas Adams for the Theists? 14 janvier 2004
Par "claremcg14" - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
When I finished the book I felt like I'd gotten a free lunch. I came out knowing a lot about everyone from Pascal to Heisenberg, and yet I'd felt no pain. In fact, the book was a page-turner. I read Salmon of Doubt recently and I find Unwin's humor a little reminiscent of Douglas Adams. Also, quite apart from the whole God thing, this book is a great introduction to Bayes theorem of probability. Maybe I even feel confident enough to produce my own probability of God number ... well, probably ...
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