Spectrum of Theistic Probability

Recently on my FB page, I mentioned that I guess I'm an agnostic atheist. I really don't like the term though, but out of that short scale, it's the best fit for me. I was then told about Richard Dawkin's Spectrum of Theistic Probability which I had never heard of, since I haven't read The God Delusion yet.

This scale is really interesting so I thought I'd share it with you in case you live under a rock like I do. Dawkins says that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis. Is it? I thought a hypothesis was an idea that could be tested. How can we test for a god? Anyway, here is a spectrum of probabilities between two extremes of certainty which are represented by seven milestones along the way.

Here are the seven milestones.

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."

  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."

  3. Agnostic leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."

  4. Completely impartial agnostic. Exactly 50 per cent.  "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."

  5. Agnostic leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."

  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero.  "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."

  7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung 'knows' there is one."

I think, like Dawkins, if you are an atheist who values evidence, you would avoid labeling yourself a 7. Dawkins considers himself to be a 6 and I am comfortable with calling myself a De facto atheist as well.

Because, after all, I am an atheist based on lack of evidence of gods. If there were verifiable, repeatable evidence from a god (and I could prove it wasn't hallucinations, delusions, insanity, etc), and everyone saw God, well, it would have to be pretty substantial, but if there were extraordinary evidence that was repeatable and verifiable, then I guess I'd have to change my mind.

Where do you fall on the scale? Why? And what would it take for you to change your mind?


  1. Clean 7 and here's why: Yes, as an atheist who values evidence, I am somewhere around the 6.99 mark. Dawkins places himself around 6.9 as well. So, if I am going to be forced to choose between 6 and 7, being 6.99 it makes no sense to choose 6.

    On the other note, how long do we intend to use the word "agnostic" as a word which has something to do with belief and believing? The word means "without knowledge".

  2. I'm a six. Anyone who claims to know there is no god (100%) doesn't understand the limits of what we can know.

  3. I didn't know I could be 6.9. That's what I am then. :)

  4. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" (Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four)

    What Conan Doyle does is what I like to call ‘reversed science’. Due to the complete lack of evidence for the existance of God, I want to be honest and thus I’m inclined to be a 7 (or a 6,99999). It is perhaps true that 6 might be a safer position, but I would like to argue against it (saying position 7 is the preferred and most honest stance).

    The first mistake most people make is to assume that 'the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. In many cases this is very true (is the life on other planets, which is indeed probable, but not confirmed), but in many more cases it is not. There is a subtle difference one must observe. This is best illustrated by an example. Consider the hypothesis: “There lives a elephant in my back yard.” Since direct visual evidence is lacking, I must prove the elephant is actually there. Once you provide, describe en investigate the context, the absence of evidence becomes evidence, speaking against the proposed claim. Still, quantum theory leaves room (indeed an incredible small chance) for an elephant to live there, but it remains very very improbable. To sum it up: we have no quantifiable evidence to support the claim and have only a vague description of what might happen in very specific circumstances. We have tested the hypothesis from two directions: evidence and exclusion. Compare this how medicine is tested. If it works for 99,9% of the test subjects and its test pool is large enough (enough context!!), it is proven to work.

    But I could also argue that: “There lives NO elephant in my back yard”, in which I look for evidence to confirm my claim. Due to the context, I have many facts supporting my claims (no big footsteps, no elephant poo, no elephant sounds, etc. etc.). Again, one could argue some form of exclusion in this case, but your only position would be that the question is not a scientific question (I believe an elephant to be there). Also, arguing exclusion based on the case ”you have not reviewed all the evidence” just does not stick, since I have context. Context that can be thoroughly examined. Over and over again. By anyone.

    Conclusively, it very much depends on the hypothesis you want to test. For the God thesis, after defining the concept properly, I could argue there is no God (as I can argue that no elephant lives in my back yard). When you sum it up, the no-god thesis is pretty strong, while the yes-god thesis just is very very weak scientifically (and to avoid playing semantics, that means there is no qualitative and quantitative scientific evidence). The safe position (and only remaining position) would be that the god question is not a scientific question (again, defining belief). That means God is out of this world, out of our reality and out of our perception. And that pretty much sums up the case.

    @Andrew: what you say about the limits is very true, but it is not a correct argument to choose6 over 7 (it's a fallacy ad baculum). We do not draw hastly conclusions when investigating the "no-god" thesis. It disrespects what we DO know and what we discover every day. For me, especially the word 'assumption' on level 6 bothers me dearly.

    @Everyone: If you ask why I choose 6,99999 my answer would be quantum / string theory. Patience, patience :)

  5. I see the TEAPOT is still safely floating up there in the sky.

  6. Oh boy.

    I am absolutely certain that I am never going to have evidence. Does that make me a 7?

    And if that seems confusing given my recent comments ... then welcome to my life. ;-)

  7. Oh boy indeed. Yes, I'm really confused, Tomato!

  8. Well, yes, of course it is! :D

  9. Interesting, Joblin. Thanks for this. :)

  10. I'm a strong theist, as I am absolutely convinced that the ruler of North Korea exists.
    I might perhaps change my mind if for some reason one were to rule out the god of the Juche religion, but then there are plenty of others.