Probabilities Quotes

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The Hartle-Hawking derivation of the unconditional probability of the existence of a universe of our sort is inconsistent with classical theism. The unconditional probability is very high, near to 1. For purposes of simplification, we are saying the probability is 99 percent; there is a 99 percent probability that a universe of our sort-I will call it a Hartle-Hawking universe-exists uncaused. The universe exists uncaused since the probability amplitude is determined by a summation or path integral over all possible histories of a finite universe. That is, the probability that a Hartle-Hawking universe exists follows directly from the natural-mathematical properties of possible finite universes; there is no need for a cause, probabilistic or otherwise, for there to be a 99 percent probability that a Hartle-Hawking universe will exist. This is not consistent with classical theism. According to classical theism, if a universe is to have any probability of existing, this probability is dependent on God's dispositions, beliefs, or choices. But the Hartle-Hawking probability is not dependent on any supernatural states or acts; Hartle and Hawking do not sum over anything supernatural in their path integral derivation of the probability amplitude. Furthermore, according to classical theism, the probability that a universe exist without divine causation is 0, and the probability that if a universe exists, it is divinely caused, is 1. Thus, the probabilities that are implied by classical theism are inconsistent with the probabilities implied by the Hartle-Hawking wave function of the universe.

Quentin Smith
A system of justice does not need to pursue retribution. If the purpose of drug sentencing is to prevent harm, all we need to do is decide what to do with people who pose a genuine risk to society or cause tangible harm. There are perfectly rational ways of doing this; in fact, most societies already pursue such policies with respect to alcohol: we leave people free to drink and get inebriated, but set limits on where and when. In general, we prosecute drunk drivers, not inebriated pedestrians. In this sense, the justice system is in many respects a battleground between moral ideas and evidence concerning how to most effectively promote both individual and societal interests, liberty, health, happiness and wellbeing. Severely compromising this system, insofar as it serves to further these ideals, is our vacillation or obsession with moral responsibility, which is, in the broadest sense, an attempt to isolate the subjective element of human choice, an exercise that all too readily deteriorates into blaming and scapegoating without providing effective solutions to the actual problem. The problem with the question of moral responsibility is that it is inherently subjective and involves conjecture about an individuals' state of mind, awareness and ability to act that can rarely if ever be proved. Thus it involves precisely the same type of conjecture that characterizes superstitious notions of possession and the influence of the devil and provides no effective means of managing conduct: the individual convicted for an offence or crime considered morally wrong is convicted based on a series of hypotheses and probabilities and not necessarily because he or she is actually morally wrong. The fairness and effectiveness of a system of justice based on such hypotheses is highly questionable particularly as a basis for preventing or reducing drug use related harm. For example, with respect to drugs, the system quite obviously fails as a deterrent and the system is not organised to 'reform' the offender much less to ensure that he or she has 'learned a lesson'; moreover, the offender does not get an opportunity to make amends or even have a conversation with the alleged victim. In the case of retributive justice, the justice system is effectively mopping up after the fact. In other words, as far as deterrence is concerned, the entire exercise of justice becomes an exercise based on faith, rather than one based on evidence.

Daniel Waterman
4. Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion... shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy and Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine therefore candidly what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis as the earth does, should have stopped, should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time have resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in furee¢... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you... In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it... I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration, as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost... [Letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, advising him in matters of religion, 1787]

Thomas Jefferson
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