A suitable gift for Deepak Chopra …

… and for people like him who try to use quantum physics and cosmology to argue for the existence of god.

Actually I would have preferred that the wording “Just because you’re not smart enough to …” be replaced by “Just because you don’t know enough physics to …”, because that would convey the same point without sounding arrogant or condescending.

Neil deGrasse Tyson elaborates nicely on this point in response to Bill O’Reilly’s risible argument that without god we cannot explain why the tides go in and out.

(Poster and video clip via The Godless Heathen.)

Stephen Colbert also had a couple of hilarious segments on this last year.

The second clip begins at the 2:30 mark.

(The first Colbert clip appeared on January 6, 2011 and the second clip on February 3, 2011. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. 'Tis Himself says

    But…but…but…quantum. Are you saying that Deepak “Quantum” Chopra is talking out of his ass when he brings up quantum? Just because you’re a PhD physikalist doesn’t mean Chopra doesn’t know quantum. It’s so…so…so deep and someone named Deepak has to be deep.

    Also quantum! That’s got to be good for something. Or other. Maybe. Who knows?

    I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. -Richard Feynman

    Actually, thinking about it, another Feynman quote might be more apropos:

    I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

    Now that we’ve got that settled, did you know that supply side economics was first described by Karl Marx?

  2. Alverant says

    Oh I don’t know. Since believers “know” things they sound arrogant and condescending when talking about things they can’t prove, I don’t see much harm in returing the favor. It seems like a lot of godly proofs can be boiled down to “I don’t understand it therefore NO ONE can understand it therefore god exists.”

  3. mnb0 says

    Neil deGrasse Tyson gave one of the best explanations why the God of the Gaps sucks I ever, ever heard or read.
    “If you argue that you’re useless, because you have lost your curiosity.”


    Also nice to learn that he was responsible for debunking Pluto.

  4. Arthur says

    Wow, Now denying the fact that there is no arrogance on the part of the atheist and no offensive speech is hard to support in the face of this one. Your edit would only be patronizing and condescending. Many physicists (Stenger, Hawking, Kraus et al) have spent their lives making up sophisticated arguments as to why God does not exist and how there could be a beginning without a first cause. Then you call people stupid who actually accept a obvious solution to the existence of the universe but are not smart enough to craft a clever denial. If I encounter a cake baked just so and tasty to boot, I would not first craft an argument that denies the baker. I would try to figure out some things about the baker and go from there and I would not be stupid for doing so. There was a day when academic discourse rose above the banal speech of street vernacular. Aren’t we tired of the f word yet? Do you have to resort to vulgarity to make a point?

  5. The Lorax says

    Arthur, I’m afraid you’re missing the point.

    No one is saying “quantum mechanics, therefore not-god”, or to use your analogy, “delicious cake, therefore not-baker”. The argument is a counter-argument to those who are saying “quantum mechanics, therefore god”, or again to use your analogy, “delicious cake, therefore tai-bo instructor”.

    Quantum mechanics says nothing about a deity, yet Chopra is claiming that it does; a cake does imply a baker (I’ll ignore the obvious watchman fallacy here, and just stick with analogy) just as quantum mechanics does imply some natural law, but quantum mechanics does not imply something unrelated to quantum mechanics such as a deity, just like a cake does not imply something completely unrelated to a cake, such as a tai-bo instructor. The connection simply does not exist, yet people (like Chopra) continue to assert that it does. The image is a humorous argument against the fallacy.

    And with regards to the vulgarity, if you’re honestly considering a captioned image to be a valid point of argument in a formal debate, then I’m afraid you’re missing the point.

  6. Mano Singham says


    The Lorax has made a good substantive response to your comment.

    As to vulgarity, I do not not use such words myself but it does not bother me when other people use it. I do not reach for my smelling salts when I hear it.

    There are times when the f-word serves well as a point of emphasis and for comedic effect, and this poster was one of those cases, I thought. It could have said “What the hell” instead (something that I say on occasion) but recall that this was considered hugely vulgar at one time too, never used in polite company.

    They are just words.

  7. itzac says

    I had to check three times to find the f-bomb that got Arthur so offended. And this after Mano suggested a more generous rewrite of the caption.

    In fact, Arthur, you appear to be the testiest person here. Relax a little; you’ll live longer.

  8. arthur says

    I will admit that I am testy on this point. Saying that one never uses a word but posting it on one’s web site seems to be stretching the meaning of never. Rather you should say “I never verbalize the word but use it in writing for emphasis.” Not that much better in my view. If they are just words then any word is acceptable? Can I use any pejorative then without a concern? Of course they are words and blogs are words or are they just words without meaning? Are you then saying words have no meaning and we should say whatever?

    BTW the watchmaker fallacy is not fallacious unless you assume that it is fallacious as part of an initial premise. No designer can exist therefore positing a designer is fallacious. Design in nature of course is never contested. You cannot sit in a biology lecture without someone invoking design for this or that. The question of design is not at issue simply who designed what or what designed who. Since our knowledge of the origin of life is so sketchy e.g. non-existent we have to invoke the science-of-the-gaps to say it started by chance. Or to quote Richard Dawkins “It must have happened once because we are here”. This has no explanatory power whatsoever and again to paraphrase Richard Dawkins from the American Atheist meeting a few years ago ‘if life only exist on earth then the explanation from chemistry must so unbelievable that we are totally wasting our time to pursue it because we would not believe it when if we found it.’ So how is it fallacious to posit a baker when the cake is right in front of us?

  9. Kevin says

    I had quite an extended online exchange with someone about this issue.

    He claimed that quantum mechanics allowed for the possibility of — I kid you not — fairies, unicorns, and Santa Claus (21st Century model).

    No matter how I framed it, he could not get it through his head that quantum mechanics deals only with the natural world. The stuff that makes up the stuff that’s in our universe.

    Oh sure, that stuff sometimes acts weirdly (double slit experiment and all that).

    That doesn’t then allow you to insert supernatural phenomenon “A” into your lack of understanding.

  10. Mano Singham says

    I did not say I never use it but that I do not use it gratuitously. But there are times when it can be used to good effect and this poster seems to me to be such case.

    The word ‘design’ as used in science by no means implies a designer. It is used synonymously with functionality. If a system seems to serve a function, then we say it was ‘designed’ for that but that is evolved by natural selection to do so.

    The burden of proof always lies on the person postulating the existence of an entity. When we say that we don’t know how life originally began, it is a statement about our ignorance and people are working to dispel that vacuum in our knowledge. When you say that god did it, then you are making a statement of knowledge and then you have to provide evidence for the appropriate response “How do you know?” A gap in knowledge cannot be filled with anything one likes.

    If I say that I don’t know how a car works, then that’s it. But if I say that a car runs because little gremlins are pedaling inside the hood, then people will expect me to provide evidence for it. The same applies to the origin of life or the universe. God or gremlins or fairies or extraterrestrials and any number of infinite possibilities can be postulated to fill the gap. What makes one evidence-free assertion better than any other?

  11. The Lorax says

    Because we have evidence for cakes and watches; we have seen bakers collect ingredients and produce cakes, just like we have seen watchmakers make watches. This is evidence for bakers and watchmakers. However, if you come upon a flabberheit on the sidewalk, would you immediately invoke a flabberheit-maker? That some creature, in some factory, assembled this odd thing, which to your eyes appears designed, and placed it in your path, then ran off, never to be seen again? Of course not; you don’t know what a flabberheit is, you don’t understand its nature, so you cannot possibly jump to the conclusion that someone created it. Of course, you also cannot jump to the conclusion that it spontaneously appeared. And yet… these two conclusions are not equal. If someone created the flabberheit, it begs the question, who created the flabberheit-creator? It’s an endless recursion which can only end with, “the flabberheit-maker-maker-maker-maker… was always there” or “the flabberheit-maker-maker-maker-maker… spontaneously appeared”, which, as you can see, is the other conclusion. Eventually, something was either “always there” or “spontaneously appeared”. And we can further this by applying Occam’s Razor: why consider “the universe plus universe-creator” when “the universe” is the simpler solution, and thus more likely to be correct?

    And when applied to the universe, we actually have evidence for spontaneous generation: relativity shows us that space-time warps in the presence of a gravitational field. With sufficient mass, the universe could theoretically collapse into a singularity, which would warp space-time to the point where it is infinitesimally small, or in other words, does not exist. Now, it’s important to remind you, space-time consists of both space and time. If space-time doesn’t exist, neither does time. Thus, according to the Big Bang model, time actually began with the Big Bang; that means there was no first cause; just like you cannot go north of the North Pole, you cannot go back in time to before time began. This is not just a supposition; this is an extension of a theory which is based upon observation.

    In fewer words, the conclusion of a designer is based upon “I think it looks designed”, whereas the conclusion of spontaneous generation (ie, Big Bang) is derived from heavily tested, evidence-based theory.

    The watchmaker fallacy is so because it presumes there is a watchmaker, and the only evidence for such is a perceived complexity; it intentionally disregards the observation that perceived complexity can arise from less perceived complexity. And so, just because a flabberheit may appear complex, it does not imply a flabberheit-maker. Thus, it is a logical fallacy; it presumes a designer, because it presumes design. Unless design is proven to exist, a designer cannot be invoked. Oh sure, you could potentially show that something is highly complex, perhaps by comparing it to a great many other things… but complexity does not, and never will, imply design .

    And a note on words: I agree with George Carlin whole-heartedly.

  12. Mano Singham says

    I will be posting a piece on the nature of quantum fluctuations when I have the time. It relates to your discussion.

  13. Skip White says

    I’m in the midst of reading “Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and I’m finding him to have been quite the witty guy.

  14. slc1 says

    Mr. Arthur is totally misrepresenting the position of folks like Hawking, Krauss, Stenger, and Dawkins for that matter. Their position is that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of god and that therefore, in the absence of such evidence, they have tentative concluded that god does not exist. The claim that science doesn’t understand something is evidence for the existence of god, as Dr. Tyson explains in the first video, is a god of the gaps argument which becomes weaker every time a gap is filled.

    Issac Newton used his inverse square law of gravity to explain why the planets move in elliptical orbits around the sun. However, he was unable to calculate the effect of the interplanetary forces which he feared would cause the solar system to become unstable over time, thence attributing the apparent stability to the intercession of god. some 100 years later, Laplace used perturbation theory to actually compute the interplanetary forces and demonstrated that the solar system was stable over long periods of time, thus filling one such gap.

    Famously, he provided a copy of his treatise on the subject to Napoleon who, after skimming through it asked what part god played. Laplace’s response, which resonates still today was that, “I have no need of that hypothesis”.

  15. says

    Their position is that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of god and that therefore, in the absence of such evidence, they have tentative concluded that god does not exist.

    Stenger’s willing to argue a stronger view. He points out that if the dominant theories of god were true, there would be things we’d expect to observe – which we don’t. So it’s not merely an argument that there’s insufficient proof of the existence of any given god, but that there’s evidence against the god-theories. That evidence is not a disproof of the existence of god (of course!) but it’s often a disproof of the stated attributes of god. For example, the idea that there is a god that responds to prayer is has actual evidence against it in the form of Las Vegas (in general) or no unusual measurements in physics labs or odd probability distributions in statistical samples. We could argue that the observation that mortality generally seems to be agnostic across populations is evidence that prayer for improved health does not work, etc. After all, if any one religion had a god that responded even intermittently to prayers on behalf/from its adherents, it would be measurable across large populations. We might find that scandinavians who still worship odin have unusually low cancer rates, high spontaneous remission rates, better stock-market picks, win the lottery more often, or are less frequently convicted of crimes (based on Ray Wylie Hubbard’s prayer: “Oh lord if you get me out of this, I swear I’ll never do it again!”) etc. Taken all together we can view these observations as a set of experiments contradicting many parts of the god-theory, leaving a remainder that’s unobservable and unmeasurable – that you have no way of “knowing” exists at all.

  16. says

    Here’s another response to the watchmaker argument: consider a galaxy, a nice spiral one like Andromeda that we can image pretty clearly. Its form and structure is completely governed by (relatively) straightforward physics; there is no “galaxy-er” that causes galaxies to organize themselves into that pretty shape – a pretty shape that is more complex than the human mind can comprehend, because it is entirely based on the properties of the atoms from which it is composed. To make a galaxy, with the swirling complexity, black holes, stars forming and fusing, planets, and astronomers, you just need a few laws of physics and an assload of atoms in motion and you’ll get a galaxy. You can’t cause it to happen, and you can’t stop it, either. There’s no need for a galaxy-er.

    By the way, watches are a product of evolution.

    If you take assloads of atoms and physical law and give them long enough, sometimes they will form suns and planets and watchmakers, that will make watches. They will also form god-makers, who create gods in their imaginations.

    So, yes, for every watch, there is a watch-maker and for every god there is a god-maker. Religious people just get the order of things a little backwards (the universe started 13-whatever billion years ago and gods were invented relatively recently, probably in the last 100,000 years or so)

  17. mnb0 says

    Actually Einstein said QM, therefor no god: ” God doesn’t play dice”. Indeed I don’t see how Heisenberg’s Uncertainty can be combined with a causal god.

  18. schmeer says

    I thought Einstein denied QM with that quote. His god was that of Spinoza; pantheistic. He did not deny “god” though he did deny “God”. Einstein had quite a difficult time accepting QM.

  19. Arthur says

    You may have me on the astrophysics thought experiments side but to say that biological complexity is “perceived complexity” is really not a good approach. Look inside a cell and the “perceived complexity” becomes astronomical complexity. This “perceived complexity” is why Francis Crick proposed the theory of panspermia. Francis Crick was a devoted materialist and found himself using terms like miracle. Now I guess we know more than when he was alive?

    I maintain that this physical world with its bakers and watchmakers is a pattern so that we in 3 dimensional space can understand. The “perceived complexity” is actually specified high order complexity and no theoretical gymnastics can avoid that. Read the blind watchmaker. Dawkins does not contest design, he calls it the appearance of design. So I have to have an Oxford degree in order to avoid the obvious conclusion and understand that the high level of complexity happened by chance although all the physical laws of the universe work against such complexity.

    Saying that you can propose a creature that does not exist does not have the necessary logical strength to deny the existence of God. It just says you can propose a creature that does not exist.

    How does the existence of Las Vegas disprove the existence of God? No theist contends God is a genie to be carried around in our pocket to tell us when the cards are right or to get the dice to roll in out favor. That is hardly even worth mentioning.

  20. Mano Singham says


    You said above:

    “So I have to have an Oxford degree in order to avoid the obvious conclusion and understand that the high level of complexity happened by chance although all the physical laws of the universe work against such complexity.”

    There are two problems here. The first is that evolution is a combination of chance AND the powerful driving mechanism of natural selection, which is anything but chance. The second is the idea that the “laws of the universe work against such complexity”.

    How complexity evolves in both physical and biological systems has been quite well understood for quite some time, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. There really is no dumbfounding mystery about the evolution of universe and life. There are still a few difficult hurdles to overcome, such as how the first self-replicating molecule came to be and the need for a theory of quantum gravity to understand what happened within the first 10-40 seconds of our universe. But even here, we are making progress.

    Science has not, indeed cannot, prove that there is no god who acts in indiscernible ways. What science has shown is that there is no need for a god.

  21. Arthur says

    Chance is the only driver from the material to the living. You can not evoke a very complex mechanism as a driver(like natural selection) for a process before the driver actually existed. You have to over come the reaction energy to get the process to move to a place you suggest with chance alone. A self replicating molecule is a huge hurdle by its self but a self replicating molecule that gets translated into an intelligible information set is an even greater hurdle. We can talk about stacking ions and the like or polymerization of monomers all you like but what makes a happy molecule move to making other happy molecules through the agency of a couple of other sets of happy molecules? Really you over simplify. Five citations on the progress toward the discovery of the self-replicating molecule please or 5 citations on the progress toward self-replicating molecules making other molecules. By citations I mean peer reviewed published papers and not the speculations of philosophical materialists please. When you have those then we will have something to talk about. Until then these “few difficult hurdles” stand about as high as the breadth of the universe and that I should think is pretty high.

  22. Mano Singham says

    Five citations to publications in peer reviewed journals? Just five? You must know that abiogenesis is a HUGE field of research all over the world and people publish tons of stuff.

    If you take a look at just the bibliography of just one book Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins by Robert Hazen (a scientist who works and publishes in this area), you will find hundreds of papers. His book has four parts:

    1. Emergence and the Origins of Life
    2. The Emergence of Biomolecules
    3. The Emergence of Macromolecules
    4. The Emergence of Self-Replicating Systems

    Each part links to the papers published in these areas.

    You can also look at the citations in just the Wikipedia article on abiogenesis which has nearly 150 citations, though not all of them are to peer-reviewed articles.

    If you want a nice summary of the state of the field of abiogenesis by the Nobel-prize winning scientist Jack Szostak, you can read The Origin of Life on Earth: Fresh clues hint at how the first living organisms arose from inanimate matter by Alonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak in the September 2009 issue of Scientific American.

    If history teaches us anything, it is that people who take bets that science cannot explain something and hence that god must have done it always lose.

  23. arthur says

    Sorry for the tardy response. Unlikely anyone will read this buried so deep in your archives but you just did some hoo hoo in your response to me by throwing out these articles, citattions and books. The Scientific American article is the greatest bit of hoo hoo of the bunch. If it is the best explanation of the state of origins research then all I can say is uh oh. I spent quite a bit of time going through that several years ago and to pull out just a few quotes as follows:

    “Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium, teems with molecular contraptions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist.”

    I am going to make a big leap here and replace “nanotechnologist” with designer since that clearly is the sense here. So your contention that science never uses design motifs or analogies or metaphores is pretty weak. Of course there are designs that have to be explained.

    Now witness this:

    “Recent experiments suggest it would have been possible for genetic molecules similar to DNA or to its close relative RNA to form spontaneously. And because these molecules can curl up in different shapes and act as rudimentary catalysts,
    they may have become able to copy themselves—to reproduce—without the need for proteins”

    I understand that this is not a scientific paper but an attempt to piece together a bunch of wild-ass guesses as to how this hugely complex process started. When they quote “recent experiments” as having suggested something maybe we could see the reference to figure out what these experiments actually showed. I doubt the experiment was sufficient to support such a grand conclusion.

    Here’s another good one:

    “If we assume for the moment that the gaps in
    our understanding of the chemistry of life’s
    origin will someday be filled, we can begin to
    consider how molecules might have interacted to assemble into the first cell-like structures, or “protocells.”

    One wild assed guess leads to another but we have to assume or presuppose by faith that these gaps will be filled and then kumbaya. So lets assume and skip merrily along as Steve Gould used say “with cocktail party supposition”

    Now this is free form speculation at its best. Would have been possible . . . thay may have become able . . . These are giant leaps based on a faith system and not on experimental data. Science is powerful but moves along in small steps of experimental conformation and not giant leaps of supposition.

    Let’s look at another of the iron clad conclusions from this article:

    “Unfortunately, success in the experiments required the presence of preexisting RNA pieces that were far too long
    and complex to have accumulated spontaneously. Still, the results suggest that RNA has the raw
    catalytic power to catalyze its own replication”

    So they say “still” in the face of the fact that the pre-existing conditions required for the ribosomes to “evolve” could not possibly have been present by spontaneous accumulation. It seems to me that they are holding to a conclusion (based on a previous assumption) in spite of the experimental evidence.

    The raw catalytic power of RNA here “still” does not explain how a single isomeric form of the nucleotide is incorportated into this supposed RNA when a racemic mixture would have to be present in a random or spontaneous mixture of nucleotides. Further it does not “still” explain how the RNA then backward codes information in a DNA chain that then specifies amino acid information through several RNA intermediates.

    This is just a lot of stuff and nonsense. You also must know from the Wikipedia article that you sent me that RNA world is just one of the dozens of putative (speculative) mechanisms by which this hugely complicated process got its start so this is just an imaginary journey down one of the rabbit trails.

    Now I am surprised at the superficiality of your response to my request for references. You might just as well have sent me this article from Sci Am and told me to read it. You even quote the book noted at the end of the article as a reference for my study.

    I will get back to you on some of the “peer reviewed” articles that you sent via the authorative Wikipedia, many of which are review articles or editorials that gloss over the sorry state of origins research as it stands today.

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