Saturday, December 08, 2012

The God Of Loaded Dice

I commented just recently that my own experiences predispose me to ignore the broad continuum of theism, especially moderate faith-beliefs. But by doing so, I'm not giving proper respect to the endless inventiveness of humanity. For example, I may not have ever thought of this moderate variation: The God Of Loaded Dice.

This god has the singular advantage of an atypical relationship with reality. It affects reality in every way that a corresponding religion requires, yet its effects on reality are never distinguishable unambiguously from the chain of causation without those effects. In other words, it accomplishes everything necessary but only through ingenious techniques which don't leave any perceptible trace. Everything it does is like a perfect crime. Its influence is deep despite the absence of a smoking gun. No matter its level of involvement, none of us saw nothin' and none of us can prove nothin'.

But anyone with minimal curiosity cannot avoid wondering how this sly god can be covertly omnipotent. Deflecting the chain of causation via massive actions is far too observable, so it must be acting via tiny pushes on extremely precise targets. Then the pivotal targets interact with other things, and later the eventual result "appears" to be unguided. Essentially, it proceeds as if loading the dice. It operates like a cheat who modifies dice to change the odds without arousing suspicion from spectators or players. The appearance and behavior of "loaded" dice strongly resemble fair dice, regardless of the overall statistical outcome, which is engineered to differ. Similarly, The God Of Loaded Dice adjusts reality by relatively subtle shifts, and the consequences don't indicate the original shifts in a conclusive manner.

However, the transparent problem with this notion of a god is immunity from proof or disproof. By design, all data is quite irrelevant to it. Someone who wants to believe can connect the dots of their experiences however they wish. When they ponder an unlikely event of personal importance, they quickly assume that the god must have loaded the dice somehow. It doesn't matter to them if mysterious explanations fail to convince unbiased onlookers, who they already know aren't willing to see The Truth.

Fortunately, the inherent weakness of the faith-belief is easier to appreciate after considering its equivalent in a topic other than religion. What if someone described a wonderful new medicinal substance...a substance that doesn't make any difference to health. What if someone determined that persistent engine trouble is symptomatic of a single defect...a defect that is impossible to detect by any tool (and repair). What if someone blamed their misplaced items on a mischievous prankster...a prankster who is far too crafty to ever be seen or heard. What if someone attributed their business success to a single personal habit...a personal habit that's also part of the daily routine of hundreds of unsuccessful contenders.

In summation, The God Of Loaded Dice can hardly be taken seriously by a committed pragmatist ("You're a real god? How can I tell?"). The moderates who claim it are thereby able to dodge extraordinary claims of unconfirmed miracles. Nevertheless they cling to an alternative claim that's extraordinary in a different way: the claim that the events of reality have unconfirmed godly causes that somehow interact secretly with the apparent (proximate and calculable) causes. For them reality is a play, and their god is the hard-working backstage crew that makes occasional minor adjustments without drawing attention. I understand that moderates feel pressure to reduce a supposedly omnipotent being into a role that fits the most current data, but isn't it more straightforward to drop the idea altogether? If we seem to exist in a physical and impersonal universe which operates according to patterns that don't "care" about our species (or biology in general), then we should infer the absence of a god rather than infer the over-complicated presence of a coy god.

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