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Oct 03 2011

A stupid argument for God

There’s this guy, see, and he was talking to his friend who was a physicist, and he got A decent argument for God, so he published it in a newspaper. Where I read it. I hope he’s misrepresenting his physicist friend, because it turned out to be so stupid that he ought to be booted out of the science club if he actually made it.

It started out badly enough.

After reading that astronomers had updated the estimated number of stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, to around 400 billion, Matt started thinking about the total number of stars in the known universe. The estimate now is about 70 sextillion stars. That’s 7 with 22 zeroes after it.

This is the boring old argument from complexity. It doesn’t work. Natural processes are really, really good at generating complexity: intelligence is good at honing and refining. We generally don’t regard piling up excess and superfluous complexity as a hallmark of intelligence in a design process.

But no, his argument is even worse. He babbles about the Drake equation and the Fermi paradox, and then makes his ultimate argument, which is what makes me hope this gomer isn’t actually a scientist.

He smiled and said that was why he had started to doubt his atheism.

“Either scenario,” he said, “leads me to believe that this isn’t all random. In the first case, you have a universe filled with amazing, varied species that all have somehow evolved to the common point where they can speculate, wonder and create. That is really a pretty decent argument for God.

“But in the second case, you have an even stronger case for God. If we are alone in the universe, then our solitude has so overwhelmingly defied statistics that you almost have to believe something supernatural has occurred to bring our very existence about.”

So if there are more than one intelligent species in the universe, god exists; if there is only one species, god exists. I think any semi-competent scientist or philosopher should be able to tell you that he has just shown that counting the number of intelligent species in the universe offers no power to distinguish between the the two alternative hypotheses presented, not that it demonstrates the truth of one hypothesis.

Maybe he meant that a “decent argument for god” is any argument that supports his prior belief, no matter what the observations.

116 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    See, if you evolve to the point that you can create the figment of a God in your brain, surely God exists.

    Everyone knows that!

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    Monado, FCD

    And then again—which god? “The universe exists: hence, Quetzalcoatl” makes just as much sense. Even more sense: The Milky Way exists; hence, there is a Goddess spewing milk from her divine breasts” makes even more theological sense–look! It says Milk right in the name!

    We will never know whether there is life in other galaxies. We have no way of knowing what’s going on in the spiral arm on the other side of our galaxy’s hub.

    We have intelligent life right here: birds that can understand abstract concepts and give each other names, whales that learn and sing songs. I just found out on weekend that common crows can decide that their food is too dry and fetch water in a cup to improve the texture. How’s that for imagination, ideation, planning, and manipulation?

    PZ, never stop pressing these people on their pitiful excuse for logic.

  3. 3
    Tabby Lavalamp

    We generally don’t regard piling up excess and superfluous complexity as a hallmark of intelligence in a design process.

    Try convincing Facebook of that…

  4. 4
    Zinc Avenger

    And if there is no intelligent life in the universe then the argument for Teh God is even strongerer than that because there won’t be any of those eevil atheists disproving Him!

  5. 5
    jamessweet

    If we are alone in the universe, then our solitude has so overwhelmingly defied statistics that you almost have to believe something supernatural has occurred to bring our very existence about.

    Also, because if the entire universe was created so that a bunch of hairless apes could fling shit at each other on one tiny little speck… well, that’s so fucking stupid that there must have been a conscious entity behind it!

  6. 6
    SteveV

    Shorter ‘decent argument for God,’

    Heads, I win.
    Tails, you lose.

  7. 7
    pHred

    Ugh – unfortunately I know a “science educator” that makes even worse arguments for the existence of god. She also talks about believing in spiritual evil and keeps trying to use that idea to convince me that someone is gay. Pretty sure that someone can be a total jerk a) without being or not being gay and b) with or without the existence of god being involved someone. Wish there were some way to boot them out of the club (and the institution).

  8. 8
    Acronym Jim

    Multitudes of intelligent species throughout the universe = goddidit
    Alternatively, a single intelligent species alone in the universe = goddidit.

    So he’s basically arguing you’re damned if he did and you’re damned if he didn’t.

  9. 9
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    If chocolate it the best possible food in the universe, God must exist because how else such perfection could have been achieved.

    If there are other things just as good as chocolate, some divine being must have created them because so many tasty things couldn’t come to existence randomly.

    Swap for anything you wish. Therefore God.

  10. 10
    Ewan R

    Too much excel time prompted the following

    =iferror(if(and([Intelligent species]>0, [Intelligent species]=1)=true,”GOD”,”God”),”God”)

    Seems to sum it up. (I added the iferror statement incase there is a non real number of intelligent species (which would certainly be indicative of god!), and the calculation also accounts for their being no intelligent species (therefore god, because how else would one account for the illusion of intelligence!)

    I’m convinced.

    Now, as other posters point out, I just need to figure out which god it is. I figure that might aswell be done by a =randbetween(Yahweh, Yahweh) to follow from the intrinsic grace and logic of the original statement.

  11. 11
    kantalope

    I think that should be: some made up story with imaginary scientists in it that convinces me, since I made it all up, argument for god.

    All this whole universe for just little ole us? Talk about waste of resources. And you want to call that ‘intelligent’ design?

    He smiled about questioning atheism…dead give away that this is made up. Everyone knows atheists only smile about barbequed babies.

    and well: “a universe filled with amazing, varied species that all have somehow evolved to the common point where they can speculate, wonder and create. That is really a pretty decent argument for God.” Worst. Scientist. Ever.

  12. 12
    AJ Milne

    Also, because if the entire universe was created so that a bunch of hairless apes could fling shit at each other on one tiny little speck… well, that’s so fucking stupid that there must have been a conscious entity behind it!

    Oh no. We can’t assume it was about the shit-flinging at all. This, too, may have been a side effect, remember…

    I mean, speaking for myself, were I deity, I think I might well have gone with the whole 7×10^22-sun universe thing purely because of my omniscient awareness that as a result of my having done so, eventually, on a small planet in a somewhat sparse arm of a spiral galaxy, in a place called Kansas City, there would arise a hominid called Waller who would make exactly so risible an argument for my existence as he just did.

    … yes, I know, it seems it’s a lot of trouble to go to, just for lulz…

    But keep in mind: we’re talking some awfully big lulz, here.

    (/Hell, I expect I’d have been laughing hard all these 13 billion-odd years, just knowing this silliness was coming.)

  13. 13
    Worldtraveller

    I’m betting the ‘physicist’ is a friend who took physics in college once, although it could be entirely made up. It wouldn’t be first, and certainly won’t be the last, time a jebusbot as made up shit for a fake argument from authority. It’s what they do when they know they have a bad argument and 1) don’t have any background themselves, but want to argue it anyway, and 2) it allows them to deflect criticism to the fake/imaginary person.

    Come to think of it, it’s a lot like religion in general…..

  14. 14
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    We generally don’t regard piling up excess and superfluous complexity as a hallmark of intelligence in a design process.

    Maybe I had better think my bathroom renovation entirely. What a shame. The moat was nearly finished and the buttresses were scheduled to go up on thursday.

  15. 15
    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    Ewan –

    I added the iferror statement incase there is a non real number of intelligent species

    Well there are certainly of imaginary intelligent species around (for an appropriate definition of ‘around’), such as elves, dwarves, fairies, angels, politicians, etc etc. So being able to cater for a wider range of numbers than merely ‘real’ is an excellent bit of engineering. Bonus points!

    And that 7×10^22 is really suspicious; why, if we multiply it by just the right magic number that we can find in the biblemake up it is actually Avagadro’s number! Godditit!

  16. 16
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Hell, there are plenty of species on this planet whose average member could do better than that argument.

  17. 17
    Insightful Ape

    If there are other sentient beings in the universe, then that means improbable things can happen in a next-to-infinite (if not infinite) universe. That is a good argument for randomness and agains the existence of an intelligent being supervising the whole thing.
    If there are none, it means this creator made up the huge, incredibly large universe, supposedly for the benefit of intelligent beings-and yet, it made not a millionth, or even a billionth of it suitable for their inhabitation? A 5 year old would have done better.
    Modern astronomy is no friend of religion. See “Stephen Hawking”.

  18. 18
    Roger

    Shorter ‘decent argument for God,’

    Heads, I win.
    Tails, you lose.

    The poet William Empson;s version:

    Heads, I win.
    Tails, I burn you alive.

  19. 19
    Ewan R

    Their….

    I guess I also fail on the being part of an intelligent (or at least literate…) grouping.

    I must remember that mocking other folks intelligence tends to bite me in the ass if I ramble on for any more than a few lines. Quite often much sooner.

  20. 20
    Sastra

    What these fine tuning arguments really come down to is our stupefied wonder and admiration for the glory that is ourselves. We are filled with awe over the specialness of our existence. We are just too GREAT to be here by chance. God-like beings exist, therefore God must exist. QED.

  21. 21
    Gaebolga

    Hey, now; cut the dude some slack.

    I’m in total agreement with guy-who-has-a-physics-guy-as-a-friend-who-totally-told-him-exactly-what-he’s-telling-us:

    That’s about as good an argument for god as I’ve ever seen….

  22. 22
    Jacob Schmidt

    After hearing argument after argument for the existence of a god/gods/the one true god, it would seem to me that “stupid” is a redundant adjective for arguments for the existence of god.

  23. 23
    bobtmarley

    Interesting, because in my field (software engineering) complexity is often a sign of a lack of intelligence. Someone didn’t think it through enough to simplify. While I’m not a biologist I can think of several parallels in biology where excess complexity would show no intelligence in the design, such as the recurrent laryngeal nerve. I think the same would also apply to astronomy (or whatever is the correct field) as well. If God created the Universe for intelligent beings (one or many species), why is there so much wasted space and matter? Hell, 70 percent of the Earth is covered in water, 1/8 planets in our solar system supports life (as far as we know), we’re light years away from other planets that could sustain life (and thus can’t get to them).

    If the goal was to provide a space for intelligent beings, God was a terrible architect.

  24. 24
    Kevin

    Ah, sophistry.

    This smells faintly — well, more than faintly — of the sort of ‘conversations’ that evangelicals like Ravi Zacharais purport to have with ‘scientists’.

    Meaning, it’s all made-up bullshit.

  25. 25
    Larry

    There’s this guy, see, and he was talking to his friend who was a physicist, …

    Why, that’s the very same argument used by Crazy-eyes Bachmann for proving HPV vaccines cause mental retardation in 12-year old girls.

    That’s too complex for it to happen twice. Therefore… God!

  26. 26
    Gregory Greenwood

    A fantastic expression of the argument that:-

    “*insert anything at all*, therefore god.”

    If there are other species of intelligent life in the universe, goddidit!

    If there is no other intelligent life in the universe, goddidit!

    If I have pizza next Saturday, goddidit!

    If I do not have pizza next Saturday, goddidit!

    Its odd that this chap is supposedly a physicist, because he seems to have trouble with little things like evidence, logic and the proper formulation of hypotheses.

    I seem to remember hearing somewhere that this kind of stuff is actually quite a big deal for scientists.

    Something about rigorous scientific method…

    Never mind. I’m sure it can’t be all that important…

  27. 27
    Glodson

    Shorter ‘decent argument for God,’

    Heads, I win.
    Tails, you lose.

    I’ll bet he’s even got something for when the coin lands perfectly balanced on the edge as well.

    A well thought out and completely unfalsifiable argument. Part of that last fragment was sarcastic.

  28. 28
    Anubis Bloodsin III

    Theist flavoured brain fart…

    That morphed into a wishful jeebus drool.

    Totally fictitious of course just like this anecdotal wank feast he invented to comfort himself.

    Total bollox…as inventive as their delusion and just as dreary.

  29. 29
    shane

    “Even more sense: The Milky Way exists; hence, there is a Goddess spewing milk from her divine breasts” makes even more theological sense–look! It says Milk right in the name!”

    To be fair, any religion involving a goddess and stories about breasts will totally get my support over the cranky old guy with a beard.

    …though I do find the phrase “divine breasts” a bit redundant.

  30. 30
    feralboy12

    Pretty standard stuff. Posit two scenarios, one of which is directly contradicted by clear evidence (no, the universe is not “filled” with amazing species), and another that would require proving a negative at this point in time, and argue that either scenario proves god.
    Of course, there’s a third scenario: we are not alone, but intelligent life is a rare phenomenon in a mind-bogglingly huge universe, separated by so much empty space that those living beings cannot communicate in any fashion.
    Then again I suppose that would prove god as well; who else would concoct such a mysterious plan?

  31. 31
    unbound

    Kind of surprised no one has pointed out the false dilemma in the 2nd block quote. Either the universe is filled with lots of creatures fairly similar to us (i.e. all have evolved to our equivalent state of being)…or the universe is empty outside of us. Apparently, there are no other possibilities involved.

    How sad that the person sent this to the Kansas City paper thinking he was actually being smart…

  32. 32
    rob

    my sister’s best friend’s uncle’s dogwalker has a cousin who lives next door to a woman whose hairdresser borrowed a penknife from a vagrant who read the wikipedia entry on the Fermi Paradox and wrote a similar intelligence numbing stoopid black hole of mind suck.

    it can’t be coincidence: goddidit!

  33. 33
    Anthony K

    You know, if two people race, and one handily beats the other, there’s no dispute as to which of them is the faster one. Both will know it.

    But if two people argue about what the nature of the universe says about the existence of god(s), and one is pig fucking ignorant and prone to logical fallacies…

  34. 34
    fireweaver

    @10 Ewan R says:

    Too much excel time prompted the following

    =iferror(if(and([Intelligent species]>0, [Intelligent species]=1)=true,”GOD”,”God”),”God”)

    Could you express that in C? I don’t do excel.

  35. 35
    raven

    The fact that the universe contains 1 X 10(exp)22 stars or so is rather good evidence that the xian god doesn’t exist.

    According to Genesis, god made the earth for humans. Most of the earth is salt water ocean we can’t drink or use for irrigation. Much of the ground is desert or frozen wastes that we can’t easily live on or from.

    That is the good news.

    The bad news is that the vast majority of the universe is empty space that we can’t live in or on, billions of light years of empty space. And all those stars with potential real estate are a long ways away and unreachable right now.

    If the xian god really existed, the least he could have done is put some directions in the bible for building a Star Trek-like Faster Than Light drive.

    IIRC, it was Sagan who said the stage is too big for the play. Referring to how big the universe is compared to where we are stuck right now.

  36. 36
    Anthony K

    That’s 7 with 22 zeroes after it.

    It’s funny; if you have any familiarity with the universe at all, you’ve seen big numbers. You may not grok them—it’s pretty much impossible for humans to comprehend deep time, for instance—but you’ve seen them.

    But this is such a mind-fuck-the-innumerate-gomers way of putting it.

  37. 37
    Anthony K

    Could you express that in C? I don’t do excel.

    I’m not sure if you’re genuinely unfamiliar with a piece of software that’s pretty standard most everywhere, or just being pretentious.

  38. 38
    Kel

    I’ve been reading Stephen Law’s Believing Bullshit recently, and this was one of the intellectual black holes he mentioned. If every possible outcome fits, then it doesn’t really say much for the belief at all.

  39. 39
    Loqi

    He started to doubt his atheism. And I started to doubt his intelligence. And competence. And his existence. Kind of like god, really.

  40. 40
    Hershele Ostropoler

    I couldn’t even begin to estimate the odds of a universe having humanity in it at some point during its lifespan. Call it an occupational hazard of being a flack attempting to discuss cosmology.

    I’m given to understand, however, that the odds of this universe containing humanity are pretty close to 100%

  41. 41
    Marcus Ranum

    Fermi’s paradox may be taken as good evidence that we’re stuck in relativistic space and there is no “cheat” that allows practical FTL travel.

  42. 42
    rob

    “That’s 7 with 22 zeroes after it.”

    wow! if you take 22 and divide it by 7, what do you get?

    22/7 = 3.142!1!!!!111!!!!!1111!

    that’s PI and is even MORE proof that god created the universe!11!!1!!

  43. 43
    madscientist

    I’m guessing the author is a psychic (the fraudulent type of course – there is no other) and he was interviewing Fred Hoyle’s ghost.

  44. 44
    madscientist

    @Rob#42: Unfortunately I’ve actually seen “22/7″ used as the value of PI in the control system of a university telescope. The mechanics of the telescope were carefully evaluated and people were wondering why the goddamned thing wouldn’t point more precisely. Then an active correction system was put in and something was fighting the active pointer. The culprit turned out to be an engineer who musn’t have got all the best schooling – we were joking that he must have been home-schooled in the Deep South.

  45. 45
    fireweaver

    @37 (Brownian)

    I don’t use excel at all.

  46. 46
    Sean Boyd

    @10 Ewan R says:
    Too much excel time prompted the following
    =iferror(if(and([Intelligent species]>0, [Intelligent species]=1)=true,”GOD”,”God”),”God”)

    Could you express that in C? I don’t do excel.

    #include

    void main() {
    ASSERT(__god);
    }

  47. 47
    otrame

    It’s probably completely made up, but I like Brownian’s implication that he talked to his physicist friend and was too ignorant to understand what the guy was telling him.

    I’ve seen them make stuff up all the time. When I first arrived in San Antonio, I turned on the TV to see who the local megachurch guy was because I like to keep an eye on those people (this was in 1988, so easy access via internet wasn’t possible). Thus I ran into that pile of truly deep evil that is John Hagee. The very first time I watched him was shortly before Halloween, and he was ranting on about Satanists and all the evil they do and that Halloween is their holiest holiday and “One million babies and children are kidnapped in this country every year and sacrificed to Satan on Halloween.”

    One million. Every year. The audience sat there and nodded their heads gravely.

    Another time he told a bizzarre story about a man who committed a crime and was sent to prison, where he became a Christian, and his loving wife, who had been a believer all along, would go and leave laundry detergent and such in the middle of the night in the fields where they had to work every day so her husband could find it and use it to wash clothes for the other inmates, thus earning money which he gave to the prison ministry.

    I am not making that up. He really said that.

    It’s not really him that bothers me. It’s the people who BELIEVE that insane shit that bother me. There are apparently a lot of them.

    I have to say it is a struggle sometimes to maintain a belief that we haven’t already lost this fight we are in. Coming here every day is not the only way I reassure myself, but it is an important one.

  48. 48
    otrame

    * bizarre

    damn it

  49. 49
    Sean Boyd

    Oops…there should have been #include assert dot h in my code. No wonder I can’t get god to compile…

  50. 50
    reasonisbeauty

    The universe is really complicated, therefore god?

    There goes two wasted minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

  51. 51
    AJ Milne

    No wonder I can’t get god to compile…

    ‘Course you can’t compile god…

    … it’s just as his local representatives are always telling us: he has to be interpreted.

    (/Gets coat.)

  52. 52
    Lars

    Javascript is easier for simple stuff like this.

    var x = Boolean.parseBoolean(Math.random());
    if (x || !x) {
        return god();
    } else {
        return noGod();
    };

  53. 53
    Jamie

    When I saw the first blockquote I thought this was going to be an argument from numerology: “It’s seven, the magic number!” (Although, from what I’ve read though, it only seems seven is significant because there were seven objects in the sky [sun, moon, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn].)

  54. 54
    Sean Boyd

    AJ Milne #51,

    ‘Course you can’t compile god…

    … it’s just as his local representatives are always telling us: he has to be interpreted.

    When I stop laughing, I may find time to come up with a coherent response. Damn, but that made my day!

  55. 55
    Gregory Greenwood

    Marcus Ranum @ 41;

    Fermi’s paradox may be taken as good evidence that we’re stuck in relativistic space and there is no “cheat” that allows practical FTL travel.

    It is not even really good evidence for that. All that we can really say about the Fermi paradox is that we have not been able to detect any other sentient life in the galaxy as of yet.

    We don’t even really know what we are looking for. Our anthropomorphic bias means that we may not recognise evidence even if we found it.

    It may be that massively advanced species somewhere in the universe may be able to travel interstellar distances rapidly. How? I have no idea, but it strikes me that any sentient alien race out there would be so utterly alien that it would most likely prove difficult to predict much of anything about their behaviour or technology, except that humanoids with minor cheek, ear and forehead prosthetics (as seen in the vast majority of sci-fi) are somewhat unlikely.

    As of right now, our understanding of physics simply isn’t complete enough to make definitive statements as to what may or may not be possible for a hypothetical species that possesses a technology base thousands or even millions of years more advanced than our own – if we assume that any such species even exists.

  56. 56
    rob

    @madscientist #44: that is a hoot!

    i like to remember the approximate number of seconds in a year as Pi times 10^7. i used that in class once, and one of my students raised his had and asked why that is true. i told him because the earth’s orbit is round.

    i try to keep a straight face as long as possible.

  57. 57
    AJ Milne

    #54/Sean:

    (Bows…)

    It’s all in a good cause. I figure by the end of this thread we should easily be able to replace every divinity school everywhere with a very small shell script.

    (/sed ‘s/./goddidit/g’ $1)

  58. 58
    Joffan

    Oh, come on, Excellers. Let’s code the argument as given.
    The argument is:
    =IF(OR(Intelligent_species>1,Intelligent_species=1),”GOD”,”Who are you?”)
    although admittedly the “else” result is implicit.

    AJ Milne #51 – wins the thread.

  59. 59
    otrame

    AJ at 51

    Damn, I was going to save this internet, but…. you earned it.

    *hands it over

  60. 60
    Sean Boyd

    AJ Milne, #57,

    I figure by the end of this thread we should easily be able to replace every divinity school everywhere with a very small shell script.

    (/sed ‘s/./goddidit/g’ $1)

    Much more efficient than looking for answers in a dusty old buybull.

  61. 61
    frankensteinmonster

    Technically, finding more life than should be there, given the baseline probability of its evolution might be evidence for an external intervention. So a lonely living planet in an universe in which abiogenesis is all but impossible, or an universe teeming with life, which should be almost lifeless, or an universe with parameters exactly optimal for the given type of life, could be an argument for some type of external intervention. ( a very weak one, due to uncertainties inherent in speculating about things external to the universe w/o any other corroborating evidence, but nonetheless, a still a valid argument ) But, even to start, you would have to compute the expected density of intelligent life given the properties of the universe. And this is a task we know that creationists really are incapable of. And even the real scientists won’t be able to come with any definite number yet anywhere soon. And you would also need to know the actual density of intelligent life in the universe… so maybe in several tens of thousands of years we might be able to discuss arguments like this, but right now, it is moot.
    And also, even if successful, it does not prove anything like a benevolent deity because the external influence might be just anything. bacteria accidentally falling through a wormhole, seedships from another universe, a hyper-dimensional undergrad student poking with his finger in a petri dish with a fresh, sterile universe, ruining his classmate’s experiment, poop of a hyperspace creature, time travelers, it could be literally almost anything.

  62. 62
    Crissa

    PS, Excel is crap. It’s not more common than C.

  63. 63
    Crissa

    Rob, the number of seconds in the year isn’t Pi times 10^7 because seconds are based upon the earth’s rotation around its axis and years are based upon the earth’s rotation around the sun. Yes, it’s round, but there’s no reason Pi times ten to the anything should be it because the base speeds of those two rotations have no reason to be in sync.

  64. 64
    Aquaria

    I couldn’t even begin to estimate the odds of a universe having humanity in it at some point during its lifespan.

    The odds are 1 in 1, because the universe already has humanity in it, so it’s useless to speculate about it. The time to speculate about a weak, bipedal, social species with opposable thumbs and super-powerful brains that compensated for their puniness was before we and the chimps split off from the gorillas.

    I always tell them the chances of hitting last night’s lotto numbers might have been 120,000,000 to 1 or whatever it is before they popped out, but it’s the day after they did, so it’s now 1:1 that those numbers hit. Because they did. Same thing.

  65. 65
    Aquaria

    When I first arrived in San Antonio, I turned on the TV to see who the local megachurch guy was because I like to keep an eye on those people (this was in 1988, so easy access via internet wasn’t possible). Thus I ran into that pile of truly deep evil that is John Hagee.

    The most important thing to know about Hagee when you live in San Antonio, is that you understand why a maitre d’ or hostess is warning you that Hagee is in the restaurant. It’s to tell you, we would love your business but a corpulent pig and his pig family with no manners is feeding at the trough and will gross you out so bad you can’t stomach your food.

    Literally, they eat like pigs, talking with their mouths full, snuffling, food dribbling everywhere–it’s disgusting the way those scumbags eat.

  66. 66
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Sniff, I still detect the foul odor of presupposition. Intelligent arguments for god would start with the null hypothesis of non-existence, and go from there. I don’t see that here. More of trying to find a rational explanation for a presupposition of existence.

  67. 67
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Anybody remember FORTRAN?

    God is real unless explicitly declared integer.

  68. 68
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Anybody remember FORTRAN?

    Learned it in college back in the dark ages.

  69. 69
    NotAProphet

    One cannot actually “doubt one’s atheism”. If one is truly capable of doubt, then one cannot be anything BUT an atheist.

  70. 70
    Ichthyic

    Anybody remember FORTRAN?

    God is real unless explicitly declared integer.

    exactly why FORTRAN was abandoned.

    poor, inefficient, logic.

  71. 71
    passerby

    I should stop getting my hopes up when I see ‘decent/great/irrefutable proof of God’ articles, hoping to find some new and inventive discovery that we can analyze in hopes of uncovering more about this grand universe of ours.

    Because every time I read them, it’s the same argument from complexity/morality/Gaps arguments that freethinkers have been beating since before the enlightenment.

    Then again, these people don’t get viewership for their daring ideas or their inventive research.

  72. 72
    CardinalSmurf

    @ AJ Milne:

    But keep in mind: we’re talking some awfully big lulz, here.

    (/Hell, I expect I’d have been laughing hard all these 13 billion-odd years, just knowing this silliness was coming.)

    I have you pictured in my mind, a deity looking over his vst creation, minutes before the post in Kansas City, muttering to yourself: “Wait for it…..waaaaait for iiiiiiit….geeeeee”

  73. 73
    claimthehighground

    Yes Virginia, there is a god. How can you doubt it when this guy that I know who knows this other really smart guy says that there is a 7 with 22 zeros behind it, and thats just the stars. That does it for me, yes siree. And because there is now a god (see previous proof), then jebus died for YOUR sins and you will sit with him in heaven because the first woman screwed up with the talking snake, but the jebus guy came to kiss it and make it all better. OK got it? Good, then vote for Rick Perry, or if he flames out, then bale out to Mrs. Bachmann. Feel better?

  74. 74
    chigau (違う)

    I think there were punch-cards involved when last I saw FORTRAN.
    Maybe even paper tape.
    —–
    crissakentavr
    Oh you are a funny wee thing!!!

  75. 75
    Kel

    The odds are 1 in 1, because the universe already has humanity in it, so it’s useless to speculate about it.

    It’s like saying that a lottery winner had the odds of winning as 1 in 1 because they already won. It’s not really useless to speculate about a priori probabilities, nor are a posterori probabilities enough to render any a priori probability as useless. The pitfalls of any probability argument aren’t in the exercise, but in the assumptions and applications they use it for.

  76. 76
    Ben

    @ Rob #56

    That reminds me of a story that my Complex Analysis professor once told me. Apparently, he convinced a large group of freshmen algebra students that the Binomial Theorem was named after its discoverer, the Italian mathematician Binomi.

    @ Criss #63

    With that dense of an irony meter, you are a hopeless case to distinguish between a Poe and the real thing.

  77. 77
    Old Rockin' Dave

    There is only one number of intelligent species in the Universe that will convince me that the whole thing was designed: 42.

  78. 78
    frankb

    If there were only 100 billion stars in our galaxy, well, that’s not awsome enough. But 400 billion, wow, there must be a god.

  79. 79
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    Fortran

    Eeeuw… on “timeshare” mainframes. Now I remember – now I can haz nightmares.

    “But in the second case, you have an even stronger case for God. If we are alone in the universe, then our solitude has so overwhelmingly defied statistics that you almost have to believe something supernatural has occurred to bring our very existence about.”

    Agreed, there is a stronger case for god. There are likely many planets that can support life. But yaahwe has gone out of his manly way to kill everything everywhere except on this planet. (Makes sense if you extrapolate from all teh smiting in teh babble.)

  80. 80
    Patrick Smythe, Calm No More

    NASTRAN, Abaqus, ANSYS, DYNA and most other (I believe) finite element solvers run in FORTRAN.

    In other words – nowadays no car, aircraft, ship, bridge or military vehicle can be developed without using FORTRAN.

    Major parts of the modern economy would collapse if FORTRAN was turned off – it’s that important…

  81. 81
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao


    if (NumberIntelligentBeings > 0){
    print = "GOD"}
    else{
    print = "GOD"}

    Little PHP script there.

  82. 82
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    @80:

    “And now you know.”
    “And knowing is half the battle!”
    “GI JOOOOOE!”

    (Childhood memories, aw yea)

  83. 83
    Moggie

    The success of PHP pretty much disproves the existence of God.

  84. 84
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Kel:

    The pitfalls of any probability argument aren’t in the exercise, but in the assumptions and applications they use it for.

    And thus are born the AGW denialists, the truthers, the birthers, and the anti-VAXers (who hate DEC computers, I assume).

  85. 85
    Ewan R

    Thanks to all those who actually work with code for refining my original….

    on the commonality of excel or C… that I suppose depends on ones competence in coding stuff, amongst those of us thought by our peers to be amazingly competent but who are infact mere pretenders I think it is a given that we’ll be using excel to make it do stuff that ordinary mortals stand in awe of (like a vlookup… people without a background in computing are easily impressed – I had someone astonished the other day that they could calculate a string of Tuesdays by putting the date of last tuesday in cell (A1) and then putting A1+7 in A2 and filling down) and ordinary IT folk snicker at behind our backs (or in our faces, using terminology we don’t actually understand thus making it unclear whether or not we’re being mocked)

  86. 86
    Pierce R. Butler

    madscientist @ # 44: Unfortunately I’ve actually seen “22/7″ used as the value of PI …

    Back in the old days, when whacking chunks of flint together was high tech and people calculated figures in their heads, that was the formula taught to firefighters who had to calculate hose diameters to get water to certain elevations very very quickly.

    In some situations, quick ‘n’ dirty works well enough, (all together now) therefore GAWD!

  87. 87
    rob

    benweaver @ 76: complex analysis is only fun until someone loses an i.

  88. 88
    MH

    I think the physicist “friend” may have (in the unlikely case that he existed at all) having a little fun with his dumber, more gullible friend.

    The argument he’s proposing is just:
    1. Since the universe is very, very big, it is overwhelmingly likely that there are a large number of different life forms out there.
    2. The existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely that it would constitute evidence for a god.
    3. So there is good evidence for the existence of God.

    I should note that, technically speaking, this is an entirely valid argument.

  89. 89
    Joshua Zelinsky

    Ugh. I was sort of expecting that he’d use the argument simply on the assumption that we were the only intelligent life. But this is even more asinine.

    The question of why we seem to be alone is a very deep one. And there’s a worrying possibility that there’s some sort of Great Filter in front of us (although I think the vast majority of filtration issues lie in our past).

    What this individual is doing is actually very similar to arguments one saw in the 19th century concerning a plurality of worlds. Some argued that there had to be life on other planets and that this abundance of life showed that Christianity had to be correct. Others argued that there was life but that this was a reason to doubt Christianity (in particular how would such others be saved if Jesus was God’s only begotten sun). Still others argued that life on Earth was unique and was an argument for Christianity. And others argued that there was no life elsewhere and that this was an argument against Christianity. So, one had pretty much every possible permutation of the arguments floating around.

    There’s a good book on this subject is Michael Crowe’s “The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900″.

  90. 90
    GravityIsJustATheory

    The estimate now is about 70 sextillion stars. That’s 7 with 22 zeroes after it.

    And that’s terrible.

  91. 91
    John Morales

    MH:

    The argument he’s proposing is just:
    1. Since the universe is very, very big, it is overwhelmingly likely that there are a large number of different life forms out there.
    2. The existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely that it would constitute evidence for a god.
    3. So there is good evidence for the existence of God.

    I should note that, technically speaking, this is an entirely valid argument.

    Technically speaking, I find it a shitty syllogism, since it can be boiled down to a single sentence without losing anything whatsoever; i.e. it’s a proposition disguised as an argument.

    ‘The existence of a very, very big universe is so staggeringly unlikely that it is good evidence for the existence of God.’

    (The good old argument from incredulity)

  92. 92
    MH

    Nope – the argument from incredulity is not a valid argument, whereas the one I wrote out actually is.

  93. 93
    John Morales

    MH, it’s exactly the same “argument”; I grant it’s valid in the most trivial sense, that is, in the sense that a proposition is “valid”. And, indeed, he argument from incredulity isn’t really an argument at all! :)

    Your version:
    1. A → B
    2. B → C
    3. C → D

    The boiled down version:
    A → D

    This is merited because (2) is clearly superfluous: if the existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely, and the existence of a vast number of different life forms is overwhelmingly likely given that the universe is very, very big, then the universe being very, very big is itself staggeringly unlikely.

  94. 94
    John Morales

    Erratum:

    3. C → D should read 3. C

    A → D should read A → C

  95. 95
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I should note that, technically speaking, this is an entirely valid argument.

    Sorry, the only valid argument is conclusive physical evidence, like an eternally burning bush. All else is presupposition and mental wanking.

  96. 96
    Ichthyic

    2. The existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely that it would constitute evidence for a god.
    3. So there is good evidence for the existence of God.

    logic fail at step 3.

    3 does not follow from 2.

  97. 97
    Anteprepro

    I believe John Morales touched on this, but quickly:

    1. Since the universe is very, very big, it is overwhelmingly likely that there are a large number of different life forms out there.
    2. The existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely that it would constitute evidence for a god.

    1 contradicts 2. It cannot be both “overwhelmingly likely that there are a large number of different life forms” while still being the case that “the existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely”. In addition, there is no good reason to assume that a large number of different life forms constitutes evidence for god (and it should really be it’s own distinct premise, 3). Even if we grant premise 1, premise 2 undermines it. And premise 3 (formerly part of premise 2) has little to no logical support and does not follow logically. Goddists have continued a highly over-esteemed tradition of pretending that attaching “therefore God” onto the end of anything is logically valid, because God is whatever they want God to be, but to those who aren’t wearing Jesus-colored glasses, “It is improbable, therefore God did it” is clearly not a valid argument.

  98. 98
    MH

    Well yes, that is what’s fun about the argument. That contradiction is what makes the argument valid in the first place, since any argument with contradictory premises is by definition valid. Generally when people say that something is “technically valid” as opposed to just plain “valid” they’re using the normal sense of “technically”, which is to say, “for reasons that don’t actually mean it’s good”.

    That’s also why, of course, the argument from incredulity is both different from what I suggested and not valid.

  99. 99
    Erülóra Maikalambe

    That contradiction is what makes the argument valid in the first place, since any argument with contradictory premises is by definition valid.

    But also by definition unsound.

  100. 100
    MH

    Yes?

    I’m not sure what your point is, there.

  101. 101
    Anteprepro

    MH:

    That contradiction is what makes the argument valid in the first place, since any argument with contradictory premises is by definition valid.

    Yes, that’s true that contradictory premises make something valid when you are using modus tollens, when you are saying “If P, then Q. Not Q, therefore not P”. But you aren’t, you fucking moron. You are saying “If Universe is Big, then aliens likely. Aliens are not likely. Therefore….there is evidence for God”. In other words, “If P, then Q. Not Q, therefore R”. As John says, you are not saying that this is an argument that the universe is not big, because that’s the only way that your argument would be valid, is if that were your conclusion.

    Somehow, you had a brainfart where you said that aliens are very likely to exist. And then, from the idea that aliens exist somewhere out there, you go on to say that this is an unlikely event and this means that there is proof of God. What part of you thinks that this passes as a valid argument? It is trivially easy to make a valid argument, as you acknowledge, because it just needs to make logical sense and doesn’t necessarily need to have premises that are actually true. But, somehow, you manage to fuck even that up.

  102. 102
    Erülóra Maikalambe

    I’m not sure what your point is, there.

    Sorry. Did I use too many words or not enough? You’ve said the word ‘valid’ seven times but have not mentioned soundness once. You do know there’s more to an argument than being trivially valid, right?

  103. 103
    TerranRich

    @SteveV:

    Shorter ‘decent argument for God,’

    Heads, I win.
    Tails, you lose.

    Reasoning: Why so spurious? (Assuming your heads/tails thing was a reference to Two-Face) ;)

  104. 104
    Anteprepro

    Here, I’ll give MH the benefit of the doubt.

    I’ll assume that 1 and 2 are separate arguments. I’ll assume s/he implies that the universe is big at the end of the first argument, and that this means that s/he implies that alien life is likely. Then I’ll assume that s/he uses the assumption of alien life from the previous argument to say that this state of affairs unlikely from a different perspective, and that God exists. No matter how you boil it down, this is a God of the gaps brand argument from incredulity, and it is (as MH concedes arguments from incredulity are) not valid. As wikipedia puts it: “It is obvious that P (or: I cannot imagine how P could possibly be false); therefore P must be true.” Or, in MH’s case: “I cannot imagine how diverse alien life could arise without God, therefore God”. It baffles me to imagine how MH manages to not realize the presence of this in hir argument. I guess I will continue to give MH the benefit of the doubt and assume that s/he is just making a long series of jokes that are flying right over my head. Real knee-slappers. He’s mocking those philosophers and theopologists something hardcore, somehow, in some universe. Keep on keeping on, you magnificent comedic bastard.

  105. 105
    MH

    Oh for crying out loud you morons.

    Any argument with contradictory premises is trivially valid since there is no way in which the premises could be true and the conclusion false. Yes, even if the premises and the conclusion are about entirely unrelated subjects because there is still no way that the premises could be true and the conclusion false.

    Soundness is irrelevant since what I said above was that (1) the argument is based on an obvious contradiction (and a very silly one), and that (2) the person making it (if he existed which I doubted) was more likely to have been having fun with his dumber more gullible friend (because it seems to me that most physicists would have been able to grasp that “life is very unlikely” and “life is very likely” are contradictory).

    Seriously, this is a pretty pathetic showing on your part.

  106. 106
    Anteprepro

    Any argument with contradictory premises is trivially valid since there is no way in which the premises could be true and the conclusion false.

    Yeah, you did a stellar job of showing that was what you were after in your original post:

    1. Since the universe is very, very big (P), it is overwhelmingly likely that there are a large number of different life forms out there (Q).
    2. The existence of a vast number of different life forms is so staggeringly unlikely (Not Q) that it would constitute evidence for a god (R).
    3. So there is good evidence for the existence of God (R)

    You notice the problem here? It’s in your premise (or whatever the fuck you want it to be) 2, where you insert the “evidence for a god” (R) nonsense. You see it, right? Because your little illustration of how you can make a “valid” argument for god via a contradiction loses a bit of its traction there, because you insisted on presenting the ridiculous conclusion that can arise from any contradictory premises as a fucking part of your premises. Like you would do if you were crafting an argument that was actually supposed to make sense(Also, if your only point was that “X & Not X –> Anything”, point P is completely irrelevant to that…though I won’t fault you for that so much because you were attempting to paraphrase Secondhand Physicist’s argument…).

    That’s why I assumed that you weren’t doing something so inane as to say “look, this is valid because everything you say after a contradiction is valid, lol”. Because that little nugget of “therefore god might’ve didit” present in premise two before the official “therefore goddidit” of the conclusion is more consistent with someone actually trying to make a traditional argument, than trying to play around with contradictions. Who do you think would’ve cared about your little illustration of something being “valid” despite the argument also being horseshit? Because, if you are to be believed now, that was your point. And it was a pointless one, horribly communicated, and offered up without the least amount of humor that should be expected from someone who is knowingly presenting an argument that is supposed to be utter crap. Furthermore, look at this response you made to John Morales, the only you made before I brought up contradictions:
    “Nope – the argument from incredulity is not a valid argument, whereas the one I wrote out actually is.”

    Yeah. You insisted on defending the validity of your argument, without ever specifying that it was only “technically valid”, and BECAUSE of a contradiction. And of course you consistently refuse to acknowledge that no-one rightly gives a fuck about validity (and care much more about soundness) for this very reason. Very fucking illuminating of you.

  107. 107
    John Morales

    MH:

    Any argument with contradictory premises is trivially valid since there is no way in which the premises could be true and the conclusion false.

    <Sigh>

    An argument is valid iff all its premises are true, and they entail that the conclusion is true.

    Contradictory premises entail that at least one premise is false; they cannot be all true.

    Soundness is irrelevant since what I said above was that (1) the argument is based on an obvious contradiction

    A contradiction in the premises implies an unsound argument ipso facto.

  108. 108
    John Morales

    [erratum]

    An argument is valid iff when all its premises are assumed true, they entail that the conclusion is true.

    (I just re-read what I posted, and found I had expressed myself poorly)

  109. 109
    Kel

    Of course, deductive arguments have limited value as its nature means that the conclusion is somehow stated in the premises. Their utility is being able to see implications that aren’t immediately obvious, though there’s always the risk of defining whatever it is you’re trying to argue for into the argument.

  110. 110
    Anteprepro

    John Morales:

    An argument is valid iff all its premises are true, and they entail that the conclusion is true.

    No, I am afraid that it is more stupid than that, and MH is right. An argument is valid if, when the premises are true, it doesn’t lead to a false conclusion. Because contradictory premises have to be false, it doesn’t matter whether the conclusion is false or not, and it is still considered “valid”. It never leads to a false conclusion when the premises are true, because the premises are never true.

    Anything and everything logically follows from a contradiction. Why those who ultimately defined logical validity decided to make this the case is beyond me, save to illustrate exactly how little of a fuck people should give about an argument’s validity.

  111. 111
    Anteprepro

    Actually, disregard sentence two of my last post. I managed to just repeat what John Morales actually said. This means that, John Morales, you aren’t actually wrong in your conception of validity, you just were wrong about the profoundly stupid idiosyncrasy of that definition of validity, which entails that contradictory premises with any conclusion are automatically “valid”.

  112. 112
    John Morales

    Anteprepro:

    An argument is valid iff all its premises are true, and they entail that the conclusion is true.

    No, I am afraid that it is more stupid than that, and MH is right. An argument is valid if, when the premises are true, it doesn’t lead to a false conclusion.

    Um, apart from using my uncorrected version (which here doesn’t matter), the two statements are equivalent. ;)

    Because contradictory premises have to be false, it doesn’t matter whether the conclusion is false or not, and it is still considered “valid”.

    But they can never be true, so the argument can never be valid!

    It never leads to a false conclusion when the premises are true, because the premises are never true.

    Again, the premises can never be true, so, using your phrasing, “when the premises are true” can never occur.

    Anything and everything logically follows from a contradiction.

    Of course; it’s even got a name: “The principle of explosion”.

    Why those who ultimately defined logical validity decided to make this the case is beyond me, save to illustrate exactly how little of a fuck people should give about an argument’s validity.

    I’ve just explained why.

  113. 113
    John Morales

    Anteprepro @111, heh. We crossed. :}

  114. 114
    Anteprepro

    John Morales: “But they can never be true, so the argument can never be valid!”

    That’s a bit contrary to the principle of explosion, which you cited, isn’t it? I suppose that I may be the one actually confused here, so here is how I understand the matter:

    Something is valid if it never leads to a false conclusion when its premises are true. It isn’t the case that these premises need to have the possibility of being true in order for it to be valid.
    An argument with contradictory premises never has premises that are true, so it never runs afoul of the “leading to a false conclusion when its premises are true”, so it is considered “valid” for this reason. Therefore, any conclusion following contradictory premises makes a valid argument (which is why the principle of explosion exists).

    Am I missing something more advanced that I have overlooked, given my rudimentary education in logic and Googling?

    Anyway, I apologize again for the mistake of saying you were wrong and then just restating your definition of validity. That was a bit of pratfall!

  115. 115
    John Morales

    Anteprepro, good morning (yawn, I need a cup of tea)

    Something is valid if it never leads to a false conclusion when its premises are true. It isn’t the case that these premises need to have the possibility of being true in order for it to be valid.

    Thus my rephrasing @108. :)

    Am I missing something more advanced that I have overlooked, given my rudimentary education in logic and Googling?

    I don’t think so, I think it’s more that you’re defining validity in a privative sense (that is, if something can’t be shown to be invalid, it must be valid).

    I just took a look at the SEP, and am gratified I seem to agree with it: So, the intuitive idea of logical consequence in terms of counterexamples is then formally rendered as follows: an argument is valid if and only if there is no model according to which the premises are true and the conclusion is not true.

    Though I note it goes on to say: For example, perhaps one ought say that the argument from a contradictory collection of premises to an unrelated conclusion is valid in the sense that in virtue of its form it is not the case that the premises are true an the conclusion untrue (so it is valid in one precise sense) but that nonetheless, in another sense the form of the argument does not ensure that the truth of the premises leads to the truth of the conclusion., and this seems to agree with you.

    At the end of the day, though, to grant truth-status to a contradiction is rather silly, no?

    PS I too only have a rudimentary education in logic.

    Perhaps a real logician will see this and snigger at the both of us. (MH, maybe?)

  116. 116
    Anteprepro

    “At the end of the day, though, to grant truth-status to a contradiction is rather silly, no?”

    Agreed. But validity is only the first step towards gaining truth status, so as silly as it is to grant contradictions that, at least they never get any further :)

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