The Improbability of God

The Improbability of God

5.0 1
by Michael Martin

A growing number of powerful arguments have been formulated by philosophers and logicians in recent years demonstrating that the existence of God is improbable. These arguments assume that God's existence is possible but argue that the weight of the empirical evidence is against God's actual existence.
This unique anthology collects most of the important


A growing number of powerful arguments have been formulated by philosophers and logicians in recent years demonstrating that the existence of God is improbable. These arguments assume that God's existence is possible but argue that the weight of the empirical evidence is against God's actual existence.
This unique anthology collects most of the important arguments for the improbability of God that have been published since the mid-1900s. The editors make each argument clear and accessible by providing a helpful summary. In addition, they arrange this diverse collection of arguments for the improbability of God into four thematic groups: Part 1 contains cosmological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the origin of the universe; Part 2 presents teleological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the order in the universe; Part 3 deals with inductive evil arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread and horrendous evil in the world; and Part 4 contains nonbelief arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread nonbelief or the reasonable nonbelief in the world.
The list of distinguished authors includes William Rowe, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Victor Stenger, J. L. Schellenberg, and Michael Martin, among others. With this new anthology as a companion to their earlier anthology, The Impossibility of God (2003), Martin and Monnier have created an indispensable resource in the philosophy of religion.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The book is very interesting and is especially distinctive in that it includes very recent essays about the improbability of God. The book includes many of the most significant philosophers who have recently published articles or books on the improbability of God's existence.... This makes the book stand out from the majority of books on the philosophy of religion or atheism, which tend to contain in large part the well-known essays by prominent figures in the history of philosophy or often reprinted articles originally published prior to the 1990s....This book is necessary reading for any philosopher who wishes to keep abreast of the most recent developments in the philosophy of religion and atheism."
Quentin Smith, Professor of Philosophy
Western Michigan University
Library Journal
Many books have argued for the existence of God, but relatively few do so for his nonexistence. This title, actually a companion to an earlier work, The Impossibility of God, also edited by Martin (philosophy, emeritus, Boston Univ.; Atheism: A Philosophical Justification) and Monnier (director, the Disproof Atheism Soc.), anthologizes papers and selections from books that provide a sampling of the best arguments for the improbability of God's existence. The first two sections address arguments of a cosmological and teleological nature, and the latter two speak to those based on widespread evil and unbelief. This work is helpful in that it pays serious attention to arguments from the theistic side, but perhaps it would have been even stronger if the editors had included a few contributors representing those theistic arguments. With writings from such well-regarded scholars as William Rowe, Theodore Drange, and Quentin Smith, this welcome addition to the literature on the philosophy of religion is recommended for all academic libraries.-John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Prometheus Books
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the improbability of GOD

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2006 Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59102-381-4

Chapter One



Presented here is an argument based on modern physics and cosmology against the existence of a God who created the universe. It can be summarized as follows:

1. Hypothesize a God who is the highly intelligent and powerful supernatural creator of the physical universe.

2. We can reasonably expect that empirical evidence should exist for a purposeful and supernatural creation of this cosmos, such as the observed violation of one or more laws of physics.

3. No empirical evidence for a purposeful and supernatural creation of the cosmos can be found. No universal laws of physics were violated at the origin of the universe in which we reside.

4. Modern cosmology indicates that the initial state of our universe was one of maximum chaos so that it contains no memory of a creator.

5. Scientists can provide plausible, purely natural scenarios based in well-established cosmological theories that show how our universe may have arisen out of an initial state of nothingness.

6. We can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that aGod who is the highly intelligent and powerful supernatural creator of the physical universe does not exist.

From a modern scientific perspective, what are the empirical and theoretical implications of a supernatural creation? We need to seek evidence that (1) the universe had an origin and (2) that origin cannot have happened naturally. One sign of a supernatural creation would be a direct empirical confirmation that a miracle was necessary in order to bring the universe into existence. That is, cosmological data should either show evidence for one or more violations of well-established laws of nature or the theories that successfully describe those data should require some causal ingredient that cannot be understood in purely material or natural terms.

Now, as philosopher David Hume pointed out centuries ago, many problems exist with the whole notion of miracles. Three types of possible miracles can be identified: (1) violations of established laws of nature, (2) inexplicable events, and (3) highly unlikely coincidences.

If a violation of an established law of nature is observed, then we might more reasonably surmise that the law was wrong rather than conclude that an occurrence of divine intervention has taken place. If we simply define a miracle as an inexplicable occurrence, then how can we be sure that an explanation will not someday be found? If we view some highly unlikely coincidence as a miracle, how can we know it still was not a random accident? These pose serious questions for anyone arguing from miracles to the existence of God.

However, that is not the task I have undertaken.

Theologian Richard Swinburne, who has undertaken that task, suggests that we define a miracle as a nonrepeatable exception to a law of nature. Of course, we can always redefine the law to include the exception, but that would be somewhat arbitrary. Laws are meant to describe repeatable events. So we will seek evidence for violations of well-established laws that do not repeat themselves in any lawful pattern.

No doubt God, if he exists, is capable of repeating miracles if he so desires. However, repeatable events provide more information that may lead to an eventual natural explanation, while an unexplained, unrepeated event is likely to remain unexplained. Let us give the God hypothesis every benefit of the doubt and keep open the possibility of a miraculous origin for inexplicable events and unlikely coincidences, examining any such occurrences on an individual basis. If even with the loosest definition of a miracle none is observed to occur, then we will have obtained strong support for the case against the existence of a God who directs miraculous events.

Let us proceed to look for evidence of a miraculous creation in our observations of the cosmos.


The universe currently contains a large amount of matter that is characterized by the physical quantity we define as mass. Prior to the twentieth century, it was believed that matter could neither be created nor destroyed, just changed from one type to another. So the very existence of matter seemed to be a miracle, a violation of the assumed law of conservation of mass that occurred just once-at the creation.

However, in his special theory of relativity published in 1905, Albert Einstein showed that matter can be created out of energy and can disappear into energy. His famous formula E = [mc.sup.2] relates the mass m of a body to an equivalent rest energy, E, where c is a universal constant, the speed of light in a vacuum. That is, for all practical purposes, mass and rest energy are equivalent, with a body at rest still containing energy.

When a body is moving, it carries an additional energy of motion called kinetic energy. In chemical and nuclear interactions, kinetic energy can be converted into rest energy, which is equivalent to generating mass. Also, the reverse happens; mass or rest energy can be converted into kinetic energy. In that way, chemical and nuclear interactions can generate kinetic energy, which then can be used to run engines or blow things up.

So the existence of mass in the universe violates no law of nature. It can come from energy. But where does the energy come from? One of the most important principles of physics is the law of conservation of energy, also known as the first law of thermodynamics, which requires that energy come from somewhere. In principle, the creation hypothesis could be confirmed by the direct observation or theoretical requirement that conservation of energy was violated 13.7 billion years ago at the start of the big bang.

However, neither observations nor theory indicate this to have been the case. The first law allows energy to convert from one type to another as long as the total for a closed system remains fixed. Remarkably, the sum of the measured sums of the rest and kinetic energies of the bodies in the universe seems to be exactly canceled by the negative potential energy that results from their mutual gravitational interactions. Within small measurement errors and quantum uncertainties, the mean energy density of the universe is exactly what it should be for a universe that appeared from an initial state of zero energy, within a small quantum uncertainty.

Furthermore, a close balance between positive and negative energy is predicted by the modern version of the big bang theory called the inflationary big bang, according to which the universe underwent a period of rapid, exponential inflation during a tiny fraction of its first second. The inflationary theory has recently undergone a number of stringent observational tests that would have been sufficient to prove it false. So far, it has passed these tests with flying colors.

In short, the existence of matter in the universe did not require the violation of energy conservation at the assumed creation. In fact, the data strongly support the hypothesis that no such miracle occurred. If we regard such a miracle as predicted by the creator hypothesis, then that prediction is not confirmed.


Another prediction of the creator hypothesis also fails to be confirmed by the data. If the universe were created, then it should have possessed some degree of order at the creation-the design that was inserted at that point by the Grand Designer. This expectation of order is usually expressed in terms of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy or disorder of a closed system must remain constant or increase with time. It would seem to follow that, if the universe today is a closed system, it could not always have been so. At some point in the past, order must have been imparted from the outside.

Prior to 1929, this was a strong argument for a creation. However, in that year, astronomer Edwin Hubble reported that the galaxies are moving away from one another at speeds approximately proportional to their distance, indicating that the universe is expanding. This formed the earliest evidence for the big bang. For example, an expanding universe can have started in total chaos and still form localized order consistent with the second law.

The simplest way to see this is with a (literally) homey example. Suppose that whenever you clean your house, you empty the collected rubbish by tossing it out the window into your yard. Eventually the yard would be filled with rubbish. However, you can continue doing this with a simple expedient. Just keep buying up the land around your house and you will always have more room to toss the rubbish. You are able to maintain localized order-in your house-at the expense of increased disorder in the rest of the universe.

Similarly, parts of the universe can become more orderly as the rubbish, or entropy, produced during the ordering process (think of it as disorder being removed from the system being ordered) is tossed out into the larger, ever-expanding surrounding space. The total entropy of the universe increases as the universe expands, as required by the second law. However, the maximum possible entropy increases even faster, leaving increasingly more room for order to form. The reason for this is that the maximum entropy of a sphere of a certain radius (we are thinking of the universe as a sphere) is that of a black hole of that radius. The expanding universe is not a black hole and so has less than maximum entropy. Thus, while becoming more disorderly on the whole as time goes by, our expanding universe is not maximally disordered. But once it was.

Suppose we extrapolate the expansion back 13.7 billion years to the earliest definable moment when the universe was confined to the smallest possible region of space that can be operationally defined, a Planck sphere that has a radius equal to the Planck length, 1.6 x [10.sup.-35] meter. As expected from the second law, the universe at that time had lower entropy than it has now. However, that entropy was also as high as it possibly could have been for an object that small because a sphere of Planck dimensions is equivalent to a black hole.

This may require further elaboration. We seem to be saying that the entropy of the universe was maximal when the universe began, yet it has been increasing ever since. Indeed, that's exactly what we are saying. When the universe began, its entropy was the highest it could be for an object of that size because the universe was equivalent to a black hole from which no information can be extracted. Currently, the entropy is higher, but not maximal, that is, not as high as it could be for an object of the universe's current size. The universe is no longer a black hole.

When, at the beginning of the big bang, the entropy was maximal, the disorder was complete and no structure was present. So the universe began with no structure but has structure today because its entropy is no longer maximal.

In short, according to our best current cosmological understanding, our universe began with no structure or organization, designed or otherwise. It was a state of chaos.

We are thus forced to conclude that the order we now observe could not have been the result of any initial design built into the universe at the so-called creation. The universe preserves no record of what went on before the big bang. The creator, if he existed, left no imprint.


The empirical fact of the big bang has led some theists to argue that this, in itself, demonstrates the existence of a creator. In 1951, Pope Pius XII told the Pontifical Academy, "Creation took place in time, therefore there is a Creator, therefore God exists." The astronomer/priest Georges-Henri Lemaître, who first proposed the idea of a big bang, wisely advised the pope not to make this statement "infallible."

Christian apologist William Lane Craig has made a number of sophisticated arguments that he claims show that the universe must have had a beginning and that beginning implies a personal creator. One argument is based on general relativity, the modern theory of gravity that was published by Einstein in 1916 and that has, since then, passed many stringent empirical tests.

In 1970, cosmologist Stephen Hawking and mathematician Roger Penrose, using a theorem derived earlier by Penrose, proposed that a singularity exists at the beginning of the big bang. Extrapolating general relativity back to zero time, the universe gets smaller and smaller while the density of the universe and the gravitational field increases. As the size of the universe goes to zero, the density and gravitational field, at least according to the mathematics of general relativity, become infinite. At that point, Craig claims, time must stop, and, therefore, no prior time can exist.

However, Hawking has repudiated his own earlier proof. In his best-seller A Brief History of Time, he avers, "There was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe." This revised conclusion, concurred to by Penrose, follows from quantum mechanics, the theory of atomic processes that was developed in the years following the introduction of Einstein's theories of relativity. Quantum mechanics, which also is now confirmed to great precision, tells us that general relativity, at least as currently formulated, must break down at times less than the Planck time, 6.4 x 10-44 second, and distances smaller than the Planck length, mentioned earlier. It follows that general relativity cannot be used to imply that a singularity occurred prior to the Planck time, and Craig's use of the singularity theorem for a beginning of time is invalid.

Craig and other theists also make another related argument that the universe had to have had a beginning at some point because, if it were infinitely old, it would have taken an infinite time to reach the present. However, as philosopher Keith Parsons has pointed out, "To say the universe is infinitely old is to say that it had no beginning-not a beginning that was infinitely long ago."

Infinity is an abstract mathematical concept that was precisely formulated in the work of mathematician Georg Cantor in the late nineteenth century. However, the symbol '[infinity]] is used in physics simply as a shorthand for "a very big number." Physics is counting. In physics, time is simply the count of ticks on a clock. You can count backward as well as forward. Counting forward you can get a very big but never mathematically infinite positive number, and time "never ends." Counting backward you can get a very big but never mathematically infinite negative number, and time "never begins." Just as we never reach positive infinity, we never reach negative infinity. Even if the universe does not have a mathematically infinite number of events in the future, it still need not have an end. Similarly, even if the universe does not have a mathematically infinite number of events in the past, it still need not have a beginning. We can always have one event follow another, and we can always have one event precede another.

Craig claims that, if it can be shown that the universe had a beginning, this is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a personal creator. He casts this in terms of the kalâm cosmological argument, which is drawn from Islamic theology. The argument is posed as a syllogism:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The kalâm argument has been severely challenged by philosophers on logical grounds, which need not be repeated here since we are focusing on the science. In his writings, Craig takes the first premise to be self-evident, with no justification other than common, everyday experience. That's the type of experience that tells us the world is flat.


Excerpted from the improbability of GOD Copyright © 2006 by Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Michael Martin is professor emeritus of philosophy at Boston University and author of numerous books, including Atheism: A Philosophical Justification; Atheism, Morality, and Meaning; and The Big Domino in the Sky and Other Atheistic Tales.
Ricki Monnier (Ph.D. in mathematical logic) is director of The Disproof Atheism Society.

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