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A Telegraph poll of remarkable inanity

A better poll question would be, “Is the Telegraph always this horribly and incompetently written?” We could also ask, “Are Christians always this stupid?”

There was recently a public discussion between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Look what surprised the audience and the article’s author:

There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”

He’s a scientist. We’re never absolutely certain of anything, and one thing you’ll hear over and over from any competent scientist is that all knowledge is provisional, subject to revision if better evidence is brought to bear on it. What Dawkins said was not novel — and if anyone had actually read The God Delusion, they’d know that this explanation was right in there.

And what kind of philosopher is unaware that you can be both agnostic and atheist at the same time? I don’t have knowledge of any gods, but my knowledge of the universe and the absence of evidence from proponents of god-belief, as well as their inability to provide an adequate epistemology of belief, has convinced me that the existence of such beings is so vanishingly unlikely that I reject all gods. I will continue to do so until the believers bring out reasonable, compelling evidence for a clearly stated hypothesis. What’s so hard about that?

Unfortunately, here’s the flamingly stupid question the Telegraph chose to run instead.

Does God “clutter up” explanations of how the universe began?

Yes, there is no place for religion in science 26.69%
No, a theory of creation is compatible with the Big Bang 73.31%

I don’t give a flying fart whether a fairy tale is “compatible” with a scientific theory; that usually just means the fairy tale says nothing about the phenomenon. What matters is whether the story provides any testable evidence, and no, the Bible does not, therefore it is irrelevant.

Comments

  1. jupiter says

    If you include enough digits to the right of the decimal point I am agnostic. However, for practical purposes it’s not reasonable to include all of those digits and I am an atheist.

  2. drivenb4u says

    The whole atheist/agnostic misconception out there annoys the crap out of me. I’ve practically given up correcting people on it.

  3. jaybee says

    I have a feeling I’m about to step in it, but …

    A few months back PZ said there was no evidence that could ever make him believe in a God. Should someone show up saying, “Peek-a-boo! God here. Let me prove it!” and started giving amputees back their arms and levitating and converting rocks to frogs with the wave of his hand, PZ would still no believe.

    That is a defensible position, for sure, but I was then surprised to read PZ just say, “I will continue to do so until the believers bring out reasonable, compelling evidence for a clearly stated hypothesis. ”

    Color me confused.

  4. octopod says

    jaybee@#7, it’s the “clearly stated hypothesis” part in the second that makes those two statements mutually consistent. :)

  5. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    There is a handy Return to the poll link in he results that is obviously in use by someone who thinks that the supernatural is essential… I have managed to add 100 votes but they are keeping ahead!

    I need more people on Yes, there is no place for religion in science!

  6. Gregory Greenwood says

    What Dawkins said was not novel — and if anyone had actually read The God Delusion, they’d know that this explanation was right in there.

    Come now PZ; reading something for comprehension before incompetently scrawling an angry screed about it? That simply isn’t the fundie way…

  7. says

    Richard Dawkins: “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.

    I wonder if Mr. Dawkins would say “I think the probability of an Easter Bunny existing is very very low.”

    A god creature with unlimited magical powers hiding somewhere in the universe and the Easter Bunny fantasy are equally impossible. Their probability is not “very very low”. Their probability is zero.

    He’s a scientist. We’re never absolutely certain of anything, and one thing you’ll hear over and over from any competent scientist is that all knowledge is provisional, subject to revision if better evidence is brought to bear on it.

    Are scientists never absolutely certain about our planet orbiting our star?

    I suggest nothing could make the world’s terrorists and Bible thumpers more happy than Mr. Dawkins saying “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.

  8. jaybee says

    humanape — you are mistaken. *everything* is provisional. scientists were as certain that newtonian mechanics were perfect as I am about the earth orbiting the sun, yet newtonian mechanics were shown to be incomplete.

    For instance, there is the mind-bending “holographic universe” idea which really does cause brain cramps to think what it really means.

  9. otrame says

    There is precisely nothing new about this. He, like most atheists, agree that they can not be absolutely positive that there is no god. He’s said so many times. Why are they making a big deal—

    (rechecks source) Oh, yeah.

  10. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    Oops. Not 100, ten! Though it isn’t taking multiples so I have really only managed to vote twice, once by turning private browsing on.

    That means that there is a way round it or there really are lots lots of people voting no:

    Yes, there is no place for religion in science 30.98% (5,395 votes)
    No, a theory of creation is compatible with the Big Bang 69.02% (12,020 votes)

  11. marcuspittman says

    He’s a scientist. We’re never absolutely certain of anything, 

    Are you certain of that?

    In that case are you certain you’re reasoning ability is reasonable?

  12. Gregory Greenwood says

    humanape @ 14;

    I wonder if Mr. Dawkins would say “I think the probability of an Easter Bunny existing is very very low.”

    A god creature with unlimited magical powers hiding somewhere in the universe and the Easter Bunny fantasy are equally impossible. Their probability is not “very very low”. Their probability is zero.

    Professor Dawkins is a trained scientist, and part of that training is the acknowledgement that all conclusions are provisional pending the discovery of new evidence. As jaybee points out @ 15, we have been absolutely certain of things before only to be wrong in some detail or other. So yes, the odds against the existence of god are ridiculously long, to the point where provisional non-belief in any deity is the only intellectually consistent position, but this is emphatically not the same thing as saying that we can be 100% certain that god (or any other phenomenon for that matter, even anthropomorphic bunnies with a chocolate egg fetish), cannot now and can never exist, because our understanding of the universe just is not great enough to make such absolute statements yet.

    I suggest nothing could make the world’s terrorists and Bible thumpers more happy than Mr. Dawkins saying “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.“

    I think you are completely wrong here. Leaving aside the fact the vast majority of theistic terrorists probably don’t care very much what Dawkins believes beyond the fact that he is not one of their particular sect and therefore defaults to the ‘evil, subhuman infidel’ position in their minds, the argument that rationalists cannot express doubt because ‘ZOMG terrorists!’ is not very persuasive. Certainly, fundies will quote mine this, and some of those fundies may be violent – that is nothing new. However, rationalists and scientists cannot allow the fundamentalists to deliniate the boundariers of debate, discussion and intellectual endeavour. The very fact that scientists reject all dogmatic, reflexive assumptions – including those that may be based upon prior scientific findings – without evidence is a great strength of the scientific method, not a weakness. It ensures that science is always brought back to following the credible evidence wherever it leads, rather than sinking into an intellectual mire of comfortable orthodoxy.

    If this were not the case, then the interminable accusations that sceince is ‘just another religion’ might actually have some merit.

  13. Dick the Damned says

    I’m disappointed with Prof Dawkins. Quoting from the article, “Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs.”

    I find that wishy-washy. He thinks there’s more than a 1.4% chance that there is a god. Really? That’s what I’d call a fighting chance. Mind you, no one seems to have defined this god. Is it supposed to be a deistic or theistic god?

    The god concept clearly evolved out of more primitive animist beliefs. It requires another ontologically distinct substance in addition to matter, i.e. “spirit”, for which there isn’t a shred of evidence. And there’s no evidence for the actions of a theistic god.

    If I were pressed to give odds for a god, I’d have to put a theistic god as being as close to impossible as makes no difference, & a deistic god as having large but unknowable odds against it. But what exactly is a deistic god? Certainly nothing to concern ourselves about, unless & until its existence is posited by a ‘theory of everything’.

  14. jimmy60 says

    I’ve always told the believers that I’m as sure there isn’t a god as they are sure there is.

  15. peterh says

    It doesn’t matter one whit how others describe Dawkins; in no way is he bound by their perceptions or expectations. If he chooses to refer to himself as agnostic, so be it.

  16. NitricAcid says

    I tell believers that there is a possibility that God exists, but that I consider the possibility to be so small as to be not worth worrying about.

  17. rtp10 says

    When I saw the post’s title, I thought “what did that old school telephone poll do to PZ, cut out his internet?”

  18. wcorvi says

    There _ARE_ testable pieces of evidence from the bible, they just fail to be borne out. The moon is a lesser light (to the sun) to rule the night, for example. But moonlight is reflected sunlight, not a light of its own. And sometimes it is up in the day.

  19. TonyJ says

    A few months back PZ said there was no evidence that could ever make him believe in a God.

    I’ve always wondered what would kind of evidence would convince me that a god existed, and I can’t really think of any. All god-like powers I can think of could also be attributed to a really technologically advanced race.

  20. says

    I have said there’s no evidence to persuade me of the existence of “god” because no one has given me a clear predictive hypothesis of what a god is. Define it first, then we can talk about what would constitute evidence for it.

  21. kermit. says

    I am of course agnostic on the subject of the existence of gods. But I am, as are scientists, not 100% certain about any statement about the universe. I do not consider this subject either more philosophically important nor conceptually interesting than hundreds of others, so I see no reason to bring up negligible uncertainty only when discussing gods.

    “India has more citizens than Canada.”
    “Mars is farther from the sun that is Venus.”
    “There are no gods.”
    “Rome used to be the center of a great empire.”

    I am possibly wrong on all of these, but that should be understood by any educated person. For the others, they don’t accept a difference between feeling highly confident and being correct without a possibility of being wrong.

  22. Synfandel says

    Professor Dawkins is an agnostic atheist in the same way as Bertrand Russel was an agnostic ateapotist.

    Russel didn’t believe that a cosmic teapot orbited the Sun somewhere between the orbits of Earth and Mars, because he had no evidence indicating it, but he also didn’t have the practical means to disprove it.

    Professor Dawkins doesn’t believe that gods exist, because he has no supportable evidence indicating it (and has a heap of evidence suggesting the contrary), but he also doesn’t have the means to disprove it absolutely, because the existence of gods is intrinsically non-falsifiable.

  23. madscientist says

    I don’t agree at all with Dawkins on the issue of “we can’t definitively rule out a god”. The evidence is stacked against the existence of any and all of the claimed gods and the fantasy of creation defies the facts which we have so far established about the universe. Dawkins also makes his position clear in his writing – anyone who would be surprised by his statement has never read “The God Delusion”.

  24. kermit. says

    PZ: I have said there’s no evidence to persuade me of the existence of “god” because no one has given me a clear predictive hypothesis of what a god is. Define it first, then we can talk about what would constitute evidence for it.

    I’ve always just used a term like “anything which most people would accept as a god” as a first approximation.

  25. kermit. says

    TonyJ: “All god-like powers I can think of could also be attributed to a really technologically advanced race.”

    Or even a species only a generation or so more advanced than we are. Will we soon be able to code for virtual realities with self-aware sub-routines? Perhaps we are in a game played by the Great Norbert (or so says the Holy Log File), who has the power to wipe out galaxies with the click of a mouse, but who can’t figure out how to get a job.

    There are easier explanations indeed than “infinitely strong magic” for even very high quality special effects.

  26. says

    I’ve always just used a term like “anything which most people would accept as a god” as a first approximation.

    I do accept the existence of the sun.

  27. catnip67 says

    Even if a “god” fitting the description of any of the theist or deist fantasies could be demonstrated, they will still be explicable with a super-intelligent alien life form hypothesis, even hyper intelligent, pan dimensional beings (thank you Douglas Adams). Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. (thank you Arthur C Clarke).

    Even if god could be proved to exist, that’s only stage one of the problem. Stage two is explaining why we should be obligated to worship said hyper intelligent pan dimensional being, rather than study it.

    Therefore, I have no use for that hypothesis. (thank you, Pierre-Simon Laplace. )

  28. dianne says

    I call myself an atheist though, like Dawkins, I understand that I can’t absolutely disprove the existence of god or gods on the same level as I can’t disprove the existence of an invisible, massless, incorporal tea pot orbiting the moon. It’s so ridiculously improbable as to not be worth worrying about.

    I’m an anti-Pascal. I think Pascal came to the exact wrong conclusion with his wager. I look at it this way: Either there’s no god/afterlife, in which case spending time worshiping a nonexistent god wastes what little time you have and leaves you with nothing. Alternately, there is a god/afterlife. Either the god is a hopeless jerk who will condemn you for not worshiping him or he’s not. If he’s not, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t worship him. If he is, then either you worshiped the right god or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you’re screwed and going to hell or whatever punishment the god deems appropriate AND you’ve wasted your one chance at pleasure and doing good (aka life). Final alternative, you worshiped the right god and it matters to him. But you only worshiped him to get something, ie a nice afterlife. If he’s petty and vindictive enough to punish people for not worshiping him, then he’ll likely be petty and vindictive enough to punish you for not worshiping him for the right reason (his self proclaimed innate awesomeness) AND you’ve wasted your one chance at pleasure and doing good AND it will be your “fault” for having bad motives.

    In short, forget it. Spending time worshiping a god to get a good afterlife is a loosing proposition.

  29. Matt Penfold says

    I just emailed the Telepgraph:

    Ref: John Bingham’s “Richard Dawkins: I can’t be sure God exists”.

    Why did you allow Bingham to write an article when he clearly has not read “The God Delusion”. Had he done so he would already know that Dawkins accepts he cannot be certain God does not exist.

    What next ? Will you ask Bingham to write on the surprising news the Pope is Catholic ? Or maybe on ursine scatological habits in forested areas ?

    In what way was this news ? I know you do you really bother with journalistic standards, as you proved with an earlier article that seemed to suggest Dawkins was somehow morally delinquent for having ancestors who owned slaved. In that case the journalist was so ignorant of basic genetics I am surprised even you were not embarrassed.

    Is it Telegraph policy to give the impression your journalists are ignorant cretins ? If not, why let them show that they are ignorant cretins ?

    I doubt it will do any good.

  30. KG says

    I’ve always wondered what would kind of evidence would convince me that a god existed, and I can’t really think of any. – TonyJ

    Really? Suppose the digits of pi, starting from the quadrillionth (currently only the first 10 trillion and 50 are known), turned out to spell out the Quran in classical Arabic, under some simple substitution of letters for pairs of digits?

  31. says

    That poll is clearly missing some key choices. As far as Dawkins goes, it seems that theists will always hear what they want to hear from him. If he misstates anything, they jump all over him. If he gives a reasonable answer, like the one that you write about, they will try to manipulate it into something else. I suppose that is what happens when so many theists, particularly Christians are 100% sure that god exists on only subjective “evidence”. I guess they would expect an atheist scientist to also come to conclusions without any empirical evidence? This dichotomy of thought is really the foundation of the whole debate. They just refuse to understand the concepts of empirical evidence.

  32. jackrawlinson says

    It seems the Torygraph is determined not to be outdone by The Guardian when it comes to religious accommodationism and apologism. And that’s quite a feat, these days.

  33. David Marjanović says

    I’m with comments 29 and 31. Anyone who disagrees hasn’t watched the Bronowski series (it’s on YouTube).

    Yes, there is no place for religion in science 32.55% (7,066 votes)

    No, a theory of creation is compatible with the Big Bang 67.45% (14,642 votes)

    Total Votes: 21,708

    Also, 3,758 comments.

    Really? Suppose the digits of pi, starting from the quadrillionth (currently only the first 10 trillion and 50 are known), turned out to spell out the Quran in classical Arabic, under some simple substitution of letters for pairs of digits?

    I don’t know about the quadrillionth digit, but remember that pi has infinitely many digits – therefore, everything is in there somewhere.

    Literally everything that can be expressed in 10 or fewer different digits is in there somewhere

    infinitely many times.

  34. Matt Penfold says

    It seems the Torygraph is determined not to be outdone by The Guardian when it comes to religious accommodationism and apologism. And that’s quite a feat, these days.

    Don’t confuse the Guardian’s Comment is Free with the content at the Telegraph site which is what is to be found in the print edition.

  35. Matt Penfold says

    Literally everything that can be expressed in 10 or fewer different digits is in there somewhere…

    You do not even need that qualification. Since there are an infinite number of decimal places in Pi, there is scope for a coding system that uses an infinite number of digits.

  36. Lyn M: Just Lyn M. says

    @ David Marjanović #43

    Good point. So somewhere in there is code for “Dawkins is right” and “Dawkins is wrong”, or any other combination you care to consider. It is so easy to forget how big infinity is and therefore how much it must encompass.

    Seems some people conflate that sort of thing with a deity. I await the Church of Special Digits of Pi.

  37. Matt Penfold says

    Good point. So somewhere in there is code for “Dawkins is right” and “Dawkins is wrong”, or any other combination you care to consider. It is so easy to forget how big infinity is and therefore how much it must encompass.

    Not only are those in there, but they are in there an infinite number of times.

  38. burntorange says

    PZ: Let me see if I can explain some of the problem. This is as much a linguistic issue as philosophical/scientific. In my experience (yes, not scientific, but please bear with me) most theists use the term “atheist” to mean someone who positively denies the possibility of the existence of a creator. To these folks, “agnostic” and “atheist” are, in fact, mutually exclusive. Again, this is linguistics not philosophy. Now, we can certainly argue that our definition of these words is as valid as theirs; however, let’s get real: who’s in the majority here? The fact is that language is defined by how it’s used, not by how it was used nor how it’s defined by some august body of experts (pace L’Académie française)

    In short, can we please just get over this “atheist” vs. “agnostic” issue? The theists, by sheer numbers, have won this battle. Let’s not spend our U.N. efforts arguing about the height of flag poles and get down to issues of substance. For our own benefit, let’s just adopt their terminology, so long as it is not in serious conflict with substantial issues. Of course, this will not resolve all problems magically, but will take away one artificial barrier.

  39. hamburger says

    I doubt it will do any good.

    The Torygraph is on a jihad against Dawkins. They’ll print any bullshit about him they can come up with.

    I have no particular idea why, but I’ve seen similar petty antagonistic behavior by egotistical stupid people who’ve been demonstrated to be stupid to the world. They can never forgive the person who exposes them.

  40. Matt Penfold says

    PZ: Let me see if I can explain some of the problem. This is as much a linguistic issue as philosophical/scientific. In my experience (yes, not scientific, but please bear with me) most theists use the term “atheist” to mean someone who positively denies the possibility of the existence of a creator. To these folks, “agnostic” and “atheist” are, in fact, mutually exclusive. Again, this is linguistics not philosophy. Now, we can certainly argue that our definition of these words is as valid as theirs; however, let’s get real: who’s in the majority here? The fact is that language is defined by how it’s used, not by how it was used nor how it’s defined by some august body of experts (pace L’Académie française)

    You might have a valid point had Dawkins not already made his position quite clear in “The God Delusion”. No one who has read, and who is honest, can come away thinking he is categorical that god does not exist. Which means either Bingham has not read the book, in which case he should not be writing on the subject, or he is not honest.

  41. burntorange says

    Matt Penfold:

    either Bingham has not read the book, in which case he should not be writing on the subject, or he is not honest

    Or he did not read with sufficient care — which would be no surprise from a theist, though not dishonest. Just normal human fallibility.

  42. Matt Penfold says

    Or he did not read with sufficient care — which would be no surprise from a theist, though not dishonest. Just normal human fallibility.

    Not normal human fallibility, since it is a key point of the book. Kind of like reading the Bible but not picking up on who Jesus is. That kind of fallibility takes real effort.

  43. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    . . . turned out to spell out the Quran in classical Arabic, under some simple substitution of letters for pairs of digits?

    Well, pi is irrational, after all.

  44. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    You know, it will probably be named the Church of the TRUE digits of Pi.

    They search for the final digit without knowing that it is 2 (second to last is 4, Douglas knew this).

  45. Lyn M: Just Lyn M. says

    Serendipitydawg @ 55

    I thought such a church would look for those digits that contained the truth, “Dawkins is right” and try to prune those digits that are false. Only the true digits contain a true message.

    As for the last digits, on an infinite number, there is no last digit, so the number is both even and odd. Perhaps 42 is the Ultimate digit and can be used to eliminate the false ones. Factoring as the path to enlightenment, for example.

    *Checks coffee. Is this stuff too strong?*

  46. says

    “All knowledge is provisional, subject to revision if better evidence is brought to bear on it.”

    This being the case, Dawkins should feel no more need to qualify his knowledge about God than he does about the knowledge of his shoe size. In other words, he is actually doing a disservice to the Atheists of the world, allowing himself to get caught up in this “agnostic/atheist” hooey. He should take his own advice, concerning facts and certainty, and recognize that ‘proving’ things one way or the other is NOT the issue. Instead he relies on the fact that he cannot prove there is not a God to say he can’t be absolutely certain there is no God.

    There is no God. We know it is so, and we can and have proved it, for thousands of years. To feel the need to hedge your bet by getting into epistemological quibbling about what it means ‘to know’ or ‘to prove’ is to mistake biology for philosophy. It is not. There is no math in philosophy.

  47. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    @Lyn,

    *Checks coffee. Is this stuff too strong?*

    As long as it sloshes around when you move the cup, it is still a bit on the weak side!

    π is just like √2, both have a definite value that can’t be expressed exactly by any number. After all, the diagonal length of a unit square has a fixed and definite length and the area of a circle is equally fixed and of definite value.

    The digits of π are sufficiently random that they are used as seed values for the Blowfish cryptographic method and I have used them myself for similar purposes, though it is best to skip the first dozen digits that everyone remembers.

  48. Lyn M: Just Lyn M. says

    serendipity #58

    Totally. I had pi memorised to 72 places and still could see non-random-ness in some of the generated numbers if I got lazy, but it was a good seed.

  49. says

    And what kind of philosopher is unaware that you can be both agnostic and atheist at the same time?

    And, even more germane, he should know enough epistemology to understand that you can know things without being certain of them!

  50. Akira MacKenzie says

    Yahweh is supposed to be omniscient. If he wants me to believe in him, then he will know what will convince me. So far, nothing.

    I wonder why…

  51. garykennedy says

    Does mayonaisse “clutter up” explanations of how the universe began?

    Yes, there is no place for dressings in science 26.69%
    No, a theory of creation is compatible with emulsions 73.31%

  52. gshelley says

    Given that so many of the reviews of the God Delusion were by people who hadn’t read it (and so complained that Dawkins didn’t talk about X, even though he actually gave several paragraphs, or even an entire chapter to X), none of this is a surprise

  53. redwood says

    I did get a good laugh from some of the comments at the Telegraph. They can skewer each other with wit. It was one of the things that first attracted me to reading comments here at Pharyngula, the cleverness. These days, however, the Horde seem to be hoarding their quips. Poking the Serious Trolls with the humor stick may not always be the best way to deal with them but it sure is the most entertaining!

  54. Aquaria says

    Sigh. Not this nonsense. Not again.

    I usually try to point out that agnosticism is not some wishy-washy halfway ground between atheism and theism, like christlime and their enablers try to portray it, but two completely different approaches for dealing with the concept of genocidal scumbags in the sky.

    The way I usually hammer it into their stupid poisoned brains is to point out that the difference between agnostic and atheist is in the words themselves:

    A + GNOSIS = Without knowledge. An agnostic is someone who doesn’t know if a god exists.

    A + THEISM = Without belief. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of genocidal sky fairies.

    I guess the christards are so fucking stupid that they don’t get that knowledge and belief are two different things. This is what Dawkins tried to get them to understand (he naively thought that godbots responded to intelligence and reason–as if!). Did they think he was just blathering like they do when he tried to explain in TGD that there are agnostic theists (most of the theists, truth be told), and agnostic atheists (most of the atheists). The latter don’t know there are gods, and don’t believe. Most of the former don’t know, either, but believe anyway, because they’re morons–er, agnostic theists.

    That’s why Dawkins (or nearly everyone here) can be both an agnostic and an atheist, and why he called himself–DUH–an agnostic atheist! He lacks knowledge that there are imaginary space gods and lacks belief in one.

    This is a difficult concept only for morons.

  55. Randomfactor says

    In that case are you certain you’re reasoning ability is reasonable?

    Wouldn’t matter if I were. Certainty is no guarantee of correctness. In fact, it quite often gets in the way.

    Do I think it’s more likely that the Christian god created the universe, rather than the Easter Bunny having pooped it out? Nah. Of course, I could be wrong. The odds are probably pretty close.

  56. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    @Lyn,

    I had pi memorised to 72 places…

    I am impressed! I had π memorised to 20, though I did have e to 40 places at one time. The years have left me with 8 and 11 places respectively, but that’s what 50 extra years does to a brain.

    By the time I am 70 I will probably take the B. S. Johnson approach and make π = 3 (though I doubt I will be able to make a wheel where this is so). XD

  57. What a Maroon says

    nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks,

    Well, it is, but it gets it wrong.

    To be fair, they did get the first digit right.

  58. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    @What a Maroon,

    To be fair, they did get the first digit right.

    I always thought that they were with BSJ but there does seem to be a bit of controversy on the interwebs… at least when Googled. Of course, it could be the god botherers who are disputing the claim, I really can’t be bothered to find out.

  59. quidam says

    If we do a simple text substitution code, a=1, b=2 etc on the phrase ‘nogod’ we get the number 14157154 – which occurs in Pi at position 142,569,384 counting from the first digit after the decimal point.

    The string and surrounding digits:

    63656076917538934432/14/15/7/15/4/ 44834577823541049417
    /n/o/g/o/d/

    That proves it!

    Kudos to: http://www.angio.net/pi/bigpi.cgi

  60. supernova says

    @#20 Dick the Damned:

    I’m disappointed with Prof Dawkins. Quoting from the article, “Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs.”

    I find that wishy-washy. He thinks there’s more than a 1.4% chance that there is a god. Really? That’s what I’d call a fighting chance.

    Oh that’s not at all what Dawkins scale means, IIRC in the God Delusion he define 6.0 as almost certain God doesn’t exist. Think of it more like the Richter scale, with each step being an order of magnitude stronger than the one before it. 6.9 in this case means 99.9999999999999… certainty God doesn’t exist.

  61. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    Dick the Damned @20,

    I’m disappointed with Prof Dawkins. Quoting from the article, “Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs.”

    If I remember correctly, he was a 6 in The God Delusion, he seems to have acquired another 0.9 of late. In this video he gives 6 and then changes to 6.9 before ultimately describing himself as agnostic, rather than atheist. He is also somewhat light on Rowan Williams when they get onto the origin of the universe, though I suppose asking where a deity comes from is probably something Rowan could handwave away with his sophistimacated theology, but it was ultimately unsatisfying, given that the infinite regression is a topic in TGD.

  62. llewelly says

    It is amusing how often Dawkins’ enemies are horrified to discover he is not quite as radical as they had hoped.

  63. says

    Hi, PZ. Long time no post. Just had to say that before I read this item, I made much the same points to a colleague of mine who is a Christian, who seemed to think that Dr. Dawkins had somehow made some major concession. Having not read the description, I said I would approach that with caution, because the good doctor had expressed similar views in the past, and that in any case the two were not mutually exclusive.

    He seemed a little put out by my skepticism. Everyone wants an enemy that’s easy to caricature, I suppose. Anyway, at least one Christian (sigh) gets this is no big deal. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  64. stevem says

    A + GNOSIS = Without knowledge. An agnostic is someone who doesn’t know if a god exists.

    I, too, have often argued that atheism and agnosticism are not both on the same linear scale but are more orthogonal axes. But I think A+GNOSIS means that one believes that the existence of God CANNOT be known, not just that one has no knowledge. That agnosticism is actually a statement about reality (that something cannot be known) and not just a personal statement (that one does not know something). A+THEISM is more the personal statement, that one does not have faith, not that faith is impossible or that something is definitely non-existent. So when one claims to be an atheist, he is not saying “God does not exist”, he is saying “I have no faith that God exists”. That is not agnosticism, neither is saying “I don’t know that God exists”.

  65. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Scott Hatfield:

    He seemed a little put out by my skepticism.

    What skepticism? You’re a self-described Christian for goodness’ sake. You may be the “nice guy liberal” Christian, but you sure as shit ain’t skeptical.

  66. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    God understands our prayers even when we can’t find the words to say them. Press Like if you agree! =)

    This is at the top of your Facebook page, Hatfield, and you want people to think you’re “skeptical?” Honestly. You’ve been getting too much of a pass for being a “nice” Christian.

  67. says

    Josh:

    What skepticism? You’re a self-described Christian for goodness’ sake.

    Yes, Scott’s a Christian. He’s also an OM and his ability to be skeptical and express that skepticism had a bit to do with that. He’s not the only well-respected theist around here, either.

  68. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Caine:

    I don’t give a shit if he’s an OM, respected or not. Going around calling one’s self “skeptical” in the same breath as professing to be a Christian is, well, you can see what it is. And this whole “God understands our prayers”. . .

    I’m sorry, it’s too much. Scott may be a very nice person indeed but a thorough-going critical thinker he is not.

  69. datasolution says

    I find this statement of Dawkins and that chapter in his book incredibly stupid.

    He gives in to philosophical wanking to appear scientific, but the only thing he does is obfuscation and confusion. Why the hell did he think that general populace would understand philosophical wanking?

  70. says

    “I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

    On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

    None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

    Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.” – Bertrand Russell

    Is it that hard to understand…

  71. ubjoern says

    I really dislike Dawkins’ numerical scale.
    Assigning a number to certainty or probability without any data is just stupid.
    At least I’m 80% certain that it is.

    The god-hypothesis does not stand and fall on data but on epistemology.
    A slightly more beautiful sunrise, or 50% less anatomical fuckups, do not make the argument from design any more convincing.
    A ontological “proof” with only two distinct logical fallacies is not better than one with three.
    The amount of faith the faithful have doesn’t proof anything either.

    We are atheists, because we rejected every single piece of supposed evidence for the existence of god/gods we came across.
    How can there possibly be a scale.

    A (not convinced)/7

  72. gravityisjustatheory says

    nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks
    24 February 2012 at 9:16 pm

    What a Maroon:

    Oddly, though, pi is not in the bible.

    Well, it is, but it gets it wrong.

    It’s right assuming all measurements are rounded to the nearest whole cubit.

  73. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So what’s YOUR excuse for the philosophical wanking, Datasolution?

    Amen. You’ve been wanking in public for days datasolution. You should do it in private…

  74. anteprepro says

    So, Dawkins is getting flak from datasolution for being too philosophical, wishy-washy and nuanced? I only wish the godbots, who have spent all their time mindlessly frothing with rage over how unsophisticated, militant and unphilosophical Dawkins is would decide to carelessly spout out that same line. It would be fun to watch out for the theists who hate Dawkins, actually pay attention to what other theists say, and give a fuck about consistency and intellectual honesty. Their brains would surely explode. Of course, I think that would be only a grand total of three theists throughout the world, but still…

  75. anteprepro says

    yWe are atheists, because we rejected every single piece of supposed evidence for the existence of god/gods we came across.
    How can there possibly be a scale.

    You’ve made a rather large leap by assuming that all atheists are like yourself. Not every atheist has heard every piece of evidence or every argument, and not every atheist that has is well-versed enough in logic and science to dismiss all of the bullshit with 100% confidence. That’s why the scale exists: Because their is a gradient of confidence that is related to how good you are at calling bullshit on theist claptrap. Though it wouldn’t affect us the slightest, because we know the arguments are flawed, atheists or assorted fence-sitters might actually be swayed by the argument from beauty more if sunsets were more marvelous. There might be people who aren’t versed well enough in logic that might be fooled into thinking that the ontological argument is convincing if it went from three fallacies to two. There are non-believers who might be suckered into thinking that natural evil ain’t such a problem and that design does make some sense if there were less birth defects and miscarriages.

    Everyone reaches their level of confidence by weighing the evidence using their particular forms of logic. Minor changes to the currently existing evidence might not affect us ~7′s so much, but it might change the opinions of those whose logic is a little askew and opinions are already a little shaky. The fact that there are militant accodomationists, godless Randroids, and agnostic evangelists of the Golden Mean Temple should be indication enough that not all atheists deal with evidence the same way, have the same grasp on logic, or have the confidence in their lack of belief. To say nothing of the atheists who just fell ass-backwards into the correct position but who really know fuck-all in regards to why atheism deserves the confidence that they bring to the table and why theism is as wrong as they simply assume it to be (i.e. they’re right for the wrong reasons, and are the most susceptible to having their fragile version of atheism shattered by god-soaked fallacies).

    So, bottom-line: The gradient exists because not all atheists are informed Gnu Atheists.

  76. KG says

    I don’t know about the quadrillionth digit, but remember that pi has infinitely many digits – therefore, everything is in there somewhere. – David Marjonovic

    1) Yes of course I know pi has infinitely many digits. That’s why I specified a specific digit (and such a tiny ordinal as the quadrillionth) as the starting point.

    2) Actually, your “therefore” is wrong: it is not known that “everything is in there somewhere”, and there are infinitely many non-terminating decimals in which everything is not “in there somewhere”. Pi is known to be transcendental – it cannot be expressed as the root of a polynomial over the integers – but it is not known to “normal” – which means that in the limit, every sequence of digits occurs equally often. It is certainly suspected to be so, but no proof is known. If you want an example of a number that is transcendental but not normal, here’s the start of one:
    0.101001000100001000001000000100000001…

  77. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    I am happy with the term atheist, it derives from without god(s) and that is good enough because I live without god(s). This itself leads to a lack of knowledge because it’s somewhat difficult to have knowledge of something that one doesn’t believe in, but I don’t find the need to call myself agnostic. I also avoid the term specifically because it translates in the minds of believers into “doesn’t know, so keeps options open”, whereas atheist always translates as “against god”, which I find preferable if there are going to be misinterpretations.

    Dawkins, in contrast, is being a scientist when he refers to himself as agnostic. He is being a good scientist too, no scientist would ever say something with 100% certainty (trivia are obviously excepted). Since he doesn’t have a deity, I am happy to regard him as an atheist regardless of the label he attaches to himself (and I am happy to omit militant, because that is a noise word for not meekly accepting my viewpoint in the mind of his opponents).

  78. KG says

    Since there are an infinite number of decimal places in Pi, there is scope for a coding system that uses an infinite number of digits. – Matt Penfold

    And that’s why I specified a simple substitution code.

  79. says

    He gives in to philosophical wanking to appear scientific, but the only thing he does is obfuscation and confusion. Why the hell did he think that general populace would understand philosophical wanking?

    sound scientific epistemology = philosophical wanking? lol. that certainly explains a lot about datasolution’s “thinking”

  80. KG says

    Good point. So somewhere in there is code for “Dawkins is right” and “Dawkins is wrong”, or any other combination you care to consider. It is so easy to forget how big infinity is and therefore how much it must encompass. – Lyn M.

    Why does everyone insist on discussing the point I made, while ignoring the specifics I gave, which were added precisely to forestall the objections raised? Just curious.

  81. Dick the Damned says

    supernova & Serendipitydawg @ 74 & 75, thanks for the explanation about the non-linear scale. I didn’t realize that.

  82. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    If you are referring back to your Q’uaran reference back at #40:

    Ultimately, the problem is loosely similar to the problem of a brute force attack on a perfect one time pad. Since these are assumed to be generated perfectly randomly, a brute force attack can only produce all possible texts from the cyphertext, which will include the true plaintext along with every other plaintext that can be taken from the cyphertext.

    This only makes sense when a truly random sequence is used to generate the pad, and the sequence for π is generated by a formula, so it may very well be that you can’t find an arbitrary text in any coding system if π isn’t normal. I think the only thing that is known is that the first few million digits are uniformly distributed, so your assertion is correct.

  83. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Why does everyone insist on discussing the point I made

    Fine, if you don’t want it discussed then I won’t discuss it.

    So, do you think Motherwell will beat Celtic?

  84. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    Damn, where did the @KG go from my #98!

    Sorry, KG.

    I think you would be a cert for a Fields if you could establish a yes no for the normalcy of π(or e, √2 and a host of others).

    XD

  85. mnb0 says

    What is that absurd obsession with percentages good for? As if I care if there is a 70% or a 99,99970% chance. I don’t believe. I don’t have faith. I don’t worship. I don’t run marathons and I don’t collect stamps.

    “I’ve always wondered what would kind of evidence would convince me that a god existed.”
    Well, if someone managed to provide me with evidence like that I stíll would not get converted. Theodicy, you know.
    Kierkegaard anyone?

    @38 Dianne: false dilemma. There is another option: that god only cares if you do your very best to make something of your life, ie grab your only chance. In short, that god is an atheist.

  86. says

    @burntorange- But if we allow theists to use the “common” definitional difference between atheist and agnostic, have they not defined atheists out of existence? I know very few, if any, atheists by their definition. Nope, I think I’ll stick with what I feel is the correct definition.

  87. burntorange says

    @rrpostal

    have they not defined atheists out of existence?

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean: are you saying that the word “atheist” no longer carries a meaning of significance for us? Perhaps. However, I claim that’s irrelevant because the words we use are not nearly so important as the ideas we’re promoting. If we use words that cause confusion between us and theists then we’ve hamstrung ourselves. Better to leave the word “atheist” in our storage shed back home and use some other word tools to help us do our work.

    I think I’ll stick with what I feel is the correct definition.

    Not trying to be rude, but definitions are not determined by what you feel is correct; rather, they are determined by society at large.

  88. vicjane says

    If anyone wants to listen, I tell them I’m an irrelevantist–whether there is a god or not is irrelevant to how I conduct my life. You can call it a dodge, but in about 50 years of using this term, I have never felt uncomfortable with it.

  89. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    I tell the door to door botherers one of two things:

    1) I am an atheist.

    2) I am not a christian.

    The first always results in some sort of discussion which generally ends with them going away thinking I am not very nice (mainly because they don’t like it when you ask how come they know that god χ doesn’t exist), whereas the second seems to make them go away without a murmer… I suppose they don’t want to poach.

  90. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    …Of course, we only get door to door Anglicans. I suspect things would be different if the Mormons made it to our village.

  91. burntorange says

    @vicjane

    I tell them I’m an irrelevantist–whether there is a god or not is irrelevant to how I conduct my life. You can call it a dodge

    I like that a lot! It’s descriptive and probably leads to the wonderful question “what do you mean by that,” which could lead to a nice conversation.

  92. Circe says

    David Marjanovic:

    I don’t know about the quadrillionth digit, but remember that pi has infinitely many digits – therefore, everything is in there somewhere.

    Literally everything that can be expressed in 10 or fewer different digits is in there somewhere…

    infinitely many times.

    This is actually not true, and showing that the decimal representation of π has the property you said would be, I suspect, a very hard mathematical problem which is probably still open.

    What is true is that if you fix a string of digits (let’s call it s) of finite length, and then you produced a infinite sequence digits, choosing each digit at random from {0,1,…9} independent of the previously chosen digits, then with probability 1, this infinite sequence will contain infinitely many copies of s.

    However, because of the weirdness of probability over infinite sets, you cannot deduce from the “probability 1″ statement above that every infinite sequence will have the property that it contains an infinitely many copies of s. For example, one such infinite string is “00000…….”, which can’t contain infinite copies of s if s had a single 1.

    Another closer to real life example of the weirdness of probability over infinite sets is that if you choose a real number “at random” between 0 and 1 (inclusive), then the probability of choosing an integer is 0.

  93. Circe says

    I think you would be a cert for a Fields if you could establish a yes no for the normalcy of π(or e, √2 and a host of others).

    I’m not so sure about the Fields, but it will be a great mathematical achievement indeed. Further, normalcy is only a necessary condition for the issue of every finite string appearing in the description of pi. For example, the rational number 0.o123456789 0123456789 0123456789….. is normal but does not have that property.

  94. Circe says

    Oops, failed blockquote for first paragraph in last post! Sorry for appearing to plagiarize your line, Serendipitydawg.

  95. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    No problem Circe.

    Assuming that an irrational/transcendental number can be shown to have normalcy, I think that would deserve a Fields!

    The question of normalcy for π is central to KG’s assertion. If π isn’t normal it is possible for the Q’uran to appear somewhere in its expansion, say by expanding in binary and coding in UTF-16 to get Arabic characters, but it isn’t a certainty.

    Knowing DDFM, I suspect he has already proved normalcy and is keeping it quiet… kidding, though only slightly; he may be palaeontologist but I wouldn’t discount some late night mathematics.

  96. Circe says

    SerendipityDawg:

    KG’s assertion is not a certainty even if you assume normalcy, as the counterexample I presented shows. Further, you can also have infinite sequences in which every possible finite length string appears, but which are not normal. A simple probabilistic counter-example is to consider a sequence of digits in which you choose each digit randomly and independently of the other digits, but where each single digit is drawn with a bias (say you choose 0 with probability 1/2, and the other 9 digits each with probability 1/18 each). You can then show that a sequence drawn using this process will, with probability 1, have the following two properties:

    1) Every finite length string of digits appears infinitely often in the sequence.

    2) The sequence itself is not normal.

  97. Rich Woods says

    @’Tis #99:

    So, do you think Motherwell will beat Celtic?

    Quite unlikely. But, allegiance aside, I’m speaking with a probability of 1.

  98. Circe says

    Rich Woods:

    But, allegiance aside, I’m speaking with a probability of 1.

    And your sample space is?

    \me Runs away before the brickbats come.

  99. says

    I’m pretty happy these days to say I’m a strong atheist. The notion of God is far too incoherent to even warrant some sort of probabilistic belief about it. All the evidence points to humanity inventing gods, that they are a projection of our minds in a primitive attempt to understand the world around them. And when you look at the concept of God in any attempt to try to understand it, God dodges any possible attempt. The only conclusion I can draw is that God is a meaningless concept, and any attempt to talk about God is inevitably trying to sneak Natural properties without any of the Natural costs by calling it Supernatural.

    It’s nonsense, and we should reject it.

  100. says

    Josh:

    I’m afraid that I am not as convenient a target as you might desire.

    #1 In my post, “skepticism” referred to the claim of the other theist, which is that Dawkins had somehow modified his stance on belief in God. I was expressing my skepticism in that regard. As you may be aware, Dawkins has pointed out that all of us are atheists about the existence of most gods. You and I would presumably concur that Thor does not exist, for example. And, even if one believed in Thor, it is certainly possible to express skepticism with regards to claims made about another’s belief in Thor. Many non-believers think that, by virtue of their core commitment to non-belief, that they have cornered the market on thinking consistently and critically about reality. Color me skeptical in that regard, as well.

    #2 Regarding my Facebook page, the post you refer to appears because I have a correspondent (a former high school classmate) who sends me such things, which I happen to find tiresome and trivial. I also have Facebook friends who are Republican, Facebook friends who are trans-gendered and Facebook friends who constantly want me to play “Farmville.” But I am neither Republican, nor trans-gendered or interested in playing FB apps. My relationships with these people are more important to me than whether I have a natural sympathy, interest or agreement with everything that they do. I suspect that you harbor similar relationships. If it might not be too much to ask, perhaps you could think more critically about what such pages might actually represent before you use them as a talking point?

  101. Amphiox says

    Really? Suppose the digits of pi, starting from the quadrillionth (currently only the first 10 trillion and 50 are known), turned out to spell out the Quran in classical Arabic, under some simple substitution of letters for pairs of digits?

    That would be evidence that some superhuman agency had a hand in the composition of the Quran. But it would not in any way be evidence that said agency was supernatural, nor would it be any evidence that said agency should be anything remotely worth considering to be a god.

  102. Amphiox says

    Aside from that 6/7 on the arbitrary scale of certainty about the non-existence of god (the scale is descriptive, it is neither linear, logarithmic, exponential, or whatever), Richard Dawkins also gave his personal definition for what he meant by “god”, which is a supernatural creator agency responsible for the creation of this universe, that has some kind of special interest in humanity.

    So I think that when he talks about not being completely certain about the existence of god, he is referring to this definition of the term, not any specific description of god provided by any specific religion (all of which provide details that are already falsified).

  103. Amphiox says

    scientists were as certain that newtonian mechanics were perfect as I am about the earth orbiting the sun,

    And of course, the earth doesn’t orbit the sun. Both the sun and earth (and everything in the solar system), orbit the center of mass of the solar system, which happens to be located beneath the surface of the sun.

  104. says

    At some point there was a wonderful debate (I think it may have been an IQ^2 event?), in which Dawkins & Grayling were debating a couple Catholics (if I recall correctly), and Dawkins brought up his “scale of theistic belief”, and explained that he might be a 6.9 or something. And then Grayling pointed out that he and Dawkins might differ in that regard, and that he (Grayling) would rate himself a 7 with respect to the god of Abraham. And I have stolen this stance from Grayling completely: I have absolutely no doubt that the god of Abraham is nothing other than the superstitious fantasy of delusional desert dwellers.

    I have recently been called “closed-minded” on two separate occasions, for similarly certain declarations, and I found a wonderful analogy to explain such strong statements. It is rather like the belief that the Earth is (roughly) spherical. We have such strong and conclusive evidence, it is truly impossible to imagine a situation in which evidence could overturn the belief that the Earth is roughly spherical (barring all of reality being a dream or simulation, maybe—though even then, within the simulation the Earth would be roughly spherical).

    Likewise, we have such strong evidence explaining the god of Abraham in terms of human psychology and the ignorance of ancient people, there really is no room for such a god to exist—no more room than for the flying spaghetti monster.

    This was all after I spent several years thinking it was an impossible matter to settle. Because I found the idea so novel, I would like to see it popularized.

  105. says

    I just noticed these things about pi and have to mention, Sagan wrote in Contact an idea about pi containing a message deep in it’s digits, and I read a review later that pointed out it just isn’t possible for anyone—god or otherwise—to manipulate the digits of pi. It is what it is, you simply cannot imagine a being powerful enough to change the ratio of the circumference of a circle to it’s radius, that quantity is precisely defined and to change it would be to violate the definition. It doesn’t matter what kind of geometry the universe is, or what the laws of physics are—it’s an abstract concept that lives in the world of ideas.

    So we’re not going to find god in it (or as others have pointed out, we can find anything in it).

  106. says

    It is what it is, you simply cannot imagine a being powerful enough to change the ratio of the circumference of a circle to it’s radius,

    That reviwer had a shitty imagination then.

  107. says

    At some point there was a wonderful debate (I think it may have been an IQ^2 event?), in which Dawkins & Grayling were debating a couple Catholics (if I recall correctly), and Dawkins brought up his “scale of theistic belief”, and explained that he might be a 6.9 or something. And then Grayling pointed out that he and Dawkins might differ in that regard, and that he (Grayling) would rate himself a 7 with respect to the god of Abraham.

    which was one of Dawkin’s more boneheaded moves for further muddying an issue rather than clarifying.

  108. says

    We Are Ing:

    That reviwer had a shitty imagination then.

    and feralboy12:

    Not to mention no math beyond high school Euclidean geometry.

    Okay, I apologize for not specifying that π is defined as the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle in Euclidean geometry, but the point remains valid. (Also I wrote radius instead of diameter—why didn’t you correct me on that! :p)

    (Note, if you used the actual definition of π, rather than my poor approximation, neither “…shitty imagination” nor “…math beyond high school…” apply.)

  109. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Scott Hatfield:

    Josh:

    I’m afraid that I am not as convenient a target as you might desire.

    Oh, yes you are. Your brand of liberal-nice-guy-”Christian”-UU-love-one-another nonsense is street-common.

    You’re a bullshitter. I hope you wake up one day and realize that the toxic religion you claim membership in is, in fact, toxic, no matter how namby-pamby you are about it. In the meantime I don’t intend to let you off for being a Nice Guy.

    Kisses.

  110. dogsareandwillbe says

    Wow, Dawkins is sitting on the fence. I could’a told’ja. There is
    no god, so why procrastinate. Cow-towing is reprehensible for a
    person who assumes “god like status” to unbelievers. I am not a
    fan. To each, his or her own. Inside all of us is the answer. Just
    gotta delve deep.

  111. says

    This non-story has been picked up a few of my xian “friends” on Facebook. The usual blather about how atheists claim to know everything but really they’re just guessing. Ugh. I may well get unfriended a few times today.
    .
    dogsareandwillbe: try reading for comprehension next time. Dawkins isn’t sitting on the fence, he’s using the same principle for “God” that he does for any other – all facts are provisional.

  112. Pierce R. Butler says

    Oh my, just yesterday I was wondering whatever became of Scott Hatfield – and today he shows up and gets nibbled by a duck.

    Nice to see ya here again, Scott…

  113. says

    Okay, I apologize for not specifying that π is defined as the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle in Euclidean geometry, but the point remains valid

    Actually, no it’s still invalid and my point stands.

  114. says

    Actually, no it’s still invalid and my point stands.

    We Are Ing, would you mind sharing with us exactly how the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a Euclidean circle could ever be anything but π ≈ 3.14159…? I will gladly concede to a convincing argument.

  115. says

    @Codyreisdorf

    Because it could be 3.15268…

    Why not? If things were different they would be different. The idea that you can’t imagine a God that could set Pi to whatever they wanted is just evident that you lack imagination.

  116. says

    We Are Ing, would you mind sharing with us exactly how the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a Euclidean circle could ever be anything but π ≈ 3.14159…? I will gladly concede to a convincing argument.

    For a start, you could write it in base two, in which most of your symbols would be meaningless.
    And since coding implies using those digits to substitute for some elements of a language, a supernatural being might just intervene in the development of that language in such a manner that some string of numbers in pi translates into the desired message.

    Inside all of us is the answer. Just
    gotta delve deep.

    That must be why everyone, all around the world, has come to such close agreement on the question of god./snark
    I once delved deep when trying to figure out what made the wind blow. Eventually, I found the answer: trees make the wind blow by waving their branches. No need to test against any sort of external reality, right?
    Dumbass.

  117. says

    We Are Ing:

    Because it could be 3.15268…

    Why not? If things were different they would be different. The idea that you can’t imagine a God that could set Pi to whatever they wanted is just evident that you lack imagination.

    That’s the whole point, it can’t be 3.15268… that would no longer describe the ratio of a Euclidean circle’s circumference to it’s diameter, and therefore it would no longer satisfy the definition of π. (Proof by definition.)

    feralboy12:

    For a start, you could write it in base two, in which most of your symbols would be meaningless.

    That doesn’t make any sense—the symbols used are irrelevant to the actual quantity—just like it doesn’t matter whether I write my age in roman numerals, binary, or english numerals, XXIX = 11101 = 29, all are equivalent. (And since it’s irrational, they’re all somewhat inadequate at describing the quantity π accurately, which is why we use the symbol—but it matters not which symbol we use.)

    I will concede that you have a thought provoking point with the idea that the supernatural being could intervene with the development of the language to coincide with existing sequences within π—however, that does not satisfy the problem either, as it is not the quantity π that has been altered but the language of the sentient beings, which is obviously arbitrary.

    To reiterate, the challenge here is to describe how the universe could be changed in such a way as to make π anything but the quantity we currently define it to be, while still satisfying the definition of π, “the ratio of the circumference to diameter of a Euclidean circle.”

  118. says

    That’s the whole point, it can’t be 3.15268… that would no longer describe the ratio of a Euclidean circle’s circumference to it’s diameter, and therefore it would no longer satisfy the definition of π. (Proof by definition.)

    Yes that’s how it is. The question is does it have to be for a being that is infinitely powerful. The answer of course is no. One can imagine that a God could if they want make Pi a rational number. It wouldn’t be Euclidean but Euclidean is just the way things are (sort of). Something that decides how dimensions would could decide they work differently. Not sure what is hard about that.

  119. says

    Yes that’s how it is. The question is does it have to be for a being that is infinitely powerful. The answer of course is no. One can imagine that a God could if they want make Pi a rational number. It wouldn’t be Euclidean but Euclidean is just the way things are (sort of). Something that decides how dimensions would could decide they work differently. Not sure what is hard about that.

    We can imagine a universe so curved everywhere that sentient beings developed hyperbolic geometry first, rather than Euclidean geometry, and as a result they probably wouldn’t think the ratio of a circle’s circumference to diameter were a constant (since it wouldn’t be). But, if the mathematicians of ‘curvopolis’ were to consider the abstract (to them) concept of flat space, they could discover that all circles drawn in such an abstract space had the same constant value for their C/d.

    In math we define a set of axioms and then investigate the “reality” created by those axioms. (In contrast to physics, where we find ourselves in a pre-defined reality and we work to recover the most parsimonious set of axioms that fully explains observations—with the unfortunate catch of having no way to ever know if we’ve found the exact right set or not, or if there even is a precise set.) There are no requirements that mathematics describe reality—we do demand coherency, and for reasons of applicability and accessibility we tend to study systems which have something in common with physical reality.

    It is this fact, that systems of mathematics are independent of reality, which invalidates statements like “…if they want make Pi a rational number.”

  120. KG says

    codyreisdorf,

    The point you raise had of course occurred to me – it is precisely because it appears impossible for any agent to manipulate the digits of pi that I chose it. But suppose such a string of digits actually does occur starting from the quadrillionth place, and furthermore is then found to reoccur starting with the quadrillionth-squared place, the quadrillionth-cubed place, and so on, as we follow pi’s decimal expansion further (but we can’t find any explanation for such repetition, and don’t find any similar phenomenon involving some other sequence). What would you conclude? I would say it would be strong evidence that the text of the Quran is, as Muslims claim, part of the fundamental nature of reality.

    For example, the rational number 0.0123456789 0123456789 0123456789….. is normal

    No, it isn’t. In a normal infinite sequence, every finite subsequence of length n must occur with the same limiting frequency, not just single digits. You can have normal sequences that nonetheless have a simple pattern, such as 0.12345678910111213141516171819202122232425…

  121. says

    KG, I wouldn’t then call the Quran part of the fundamental nature of reality, but it would probably be convincing evidence that some sort of ‘divine’ superhuman guidance had influenced the development of human language.

    As Amphiox said @119:

    That would be evidence that some superhuman agency had a hand in the composition of the Quran. But it would not in any way be evidence that said agency was supernatural, nor would it be any evidence that said agency should be anything remotely worth considering to be a god.

    Thougheven then I would need to see a convincing mathematical argument that such an occurrence (including a patterned repetition like the x^nth position as you suggested) was almost never likely to occur.

    Which I suppose would be related to asking what the likelihood was of comparable works of human literature appearing with similar patterns.

  122. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    You people are making it difficult for us folk who count one, two, three, many.