Real-World Probability Books: Metaphysics

Bartholomew, David J. God, Chance and Purpose: Can God Have It Both Ways? Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Even though I'm not a fan of theology, I can recommend this carefully written and serious book to anyone who is interested in the theological implications of chance as seen by a professional statistician. His thesis is "chance is to be seen as within the providence of God rather than outside it" and I'm not competent to comment on the theological arguments. But less than half the book explicitly involves God; much of the book is a descriptive account of where and how scientists see chance involved in the natural and human world. For instance, the chapters on "Chaos out of order" and "Order out of chaos" are nice reminders of the importance of the levels and scales on which we view the world; what looks random on one level may look ordered on another. And the brief and straightforward accounts of many topics (small world networks, random epidemics, game theory, genetic algorithms and a dozen more) are clear and non-technical. So this book is as good or better at surveying the domain of chance as many popular science books written expressly for that purpose; though to my taste, like most other books it is too uncritical of the claimed real-world relevance of such mathematical models.

Also noteworthy is a central chapter giving a cogent technical critique of the attempts by William Debski, a leading advocate of Intelligent Design, to calculate the chance of a particular biological feature (such as the bacterial flagellum) having ``evolved by chance".

Schoenborn, Cardinal Christoph. Chance or Purpose? Creation, evolution and a rational faith. Ignatius Press, 2007.

See my review.

Unwin, Stephen D. The Probability of God. Crown Forum, 2003.

A Bayesian calculation based on assigning numbers (the author picks 0.1) to relative probabilities such as P(natural evil exists | God exists) / P(natural evil exists | God does not exist). It would be easy but uninteresting for a non-Bayesian to use this to poke fun at Bayesians. More interesting for a Bayesian atheist to analyze how this argument differs from arguments they find more convincing. Or to set up the Excel spreadsheet that allows you to insert your own subjective opinion of relative probabilities.

Wright, Wister C. Consciousness and the Probability of Being. Stochastic Books, 2005.

I have not read this book.

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