As I mentioned a while back, I was loaned the Library of Congress discard of George
Shollenberger's book. Since he's made such a big deal about how unfair I've been by
not reading and considering his argument, I've actually forced myself to read it.
(See what I'm willing to do for you, my faithful readers?)
It's worse than I expected. Based on reading George's writing before, I was expecting
something bad, very bad. This is beyond mere badness: this is "please oh please stab my eyes out with a rusty steak-knife so that I don't need to read anymore of it" bad.
After reading this book, I'm convinced that George is
considerably more ill than he lets on: it reads like a text written by someone suffering
from serious brain damage. Much of it is incoherent rambling, which barely resembles actual
English; in many places, the prose isn't even close to grammatical. He doesn't even manage
to get the book title grammatically correct. The full title of the book is "The
First Scientific Proof of God: Reveals God's Intelligent Design and a Modern Creation
Theory". The title on the spine is "The First Scientific Proof of God:". (Yes, with the
Even if his ideas had any merit, it would be hard for anyone to take this seriously,
given the appalling lack of care given to anything so mundane as proofreading or
copyediting the book. I wish I knew the originator of this the quote I'm going to use, but
I don't recall. Years ago, on usenet, I remember seeing someone give a poster on
talk.origins a royal flaming over their dreadfully poor writing. The victim of this flame
of course complained about people nitpicking him for his poor grammar and spelling. The
flamer responded by explaining that writing for the public is like getting up and giving a
speech in front of an audience. Writing with no care for spelling, grammar, or punctuation
is like getting up and giving that speech while wearing a soiled shirt". I thought that was
the most remarkably clear way of describing exactly how I felt about reading horrible
writing. When you don't bother to make sure that your writing meets some minimum level of
basic linguistic correctness, it demonstrates a profound lack of respect for your readers,
and you deserve to be taken less seriously based on that.
Here's a pretty typical quote. I've been extremely careful transcribing this to
make sure that I copy his punctuation, grammar, and spelling precisely. The whole book reads like this excerpt: bizarre assertions with no support, random incoherent jumps, strange (or missing) punctuation, non-sequitur after non-sequitur, all jumbled together.
Historians agree that the Middle Ages ended with the work of Nicholas of Cusa. But, they do not tell us that Cusa developed a new and creation theory. Nicholas describes God as the 'coincidence of all opposites'. Thus, his theory of God is not understood easily by logicians. Logic and its law of contradiction must be used carefully if one expects to unify a theory of God and a theory of creation. But, if one learned how to use logic properly, a person can become a panentheist. A panentheist argues that god is both creator and creature. This duality is the God of Christianity. Nicholas unifies his theory of God and theory of creation with the pair of opposites, identity and difference. All created things this become images of God. I discuss the complex creation theory of Nicholas in detail in Part IIa
After Nicholas' death, Isaac Newton developed a new creation theory. It was the first mechanical theory of creation. A mechanical theory has no active God. Newton's theory of God is Deism. Newton's God must rewind the universe if He decides to create a second universe. In the 17th century, Gottfried Leibniz also develops a new creation theory. His universe has atoms known as monads. I apply his monads in my modern creation theory in Part IV. I call them spritual atoms because they are spirits and form a spiritual-physical universe.
Even in this short passage, it's astonishing how much just plain wierd stuff he manages to throw in.
Just look at the first sentence: "Historians agree that the Middle Ages ended with the work of Nicholas of Cusa". Last I heard, deciding when the Middle Ages ended is a total muddle, with people arguing for everything from the beginning of the Renaissance in Italty in the middle 1400s, to the invention of the printing press, to the fall of Constantinople , to the Protestant Reformation. The only reference I can find that associates Cusa with the end of the Middle Ages in any way is a text on Christian Mysticism, which describes him as the last of the influential Christian Mystics of the Middle Ages - but even that text says that the Protestant Reformation marked the end of the Middle Ages, and clearly describes Cusa as a medieval mystic.
Then there's the skip to Newton (which makes it sound like Newton is a contemporary of Cusa), followed by an unsupported assertion about Newton's "mechanistic" theory and the "rewind" nonsense, then a jump to Leibniz specifying the time period (which makes it sound like Leibniz and Newton weren't contemporaries.) It's just chock full of this kind of
But let's get past the horrid incoherent style of the book, and consider the great, world-changing theory that George Shollenberger has been bragging about, or at least the closest I can come to describing it, given the incoherence of its presentation.
There are two main concepts to George's proof. One of them is a focus on symbols; and the other is a rehash of the classical ontological argument for the existence of a god.
The symbol stuff is based on the idea that language is a poor carrier of
ideas. Language distorts ideas: the basic structure of a language affects the way that it
communicates ideas. Symbols are the pure, perfect ideas which language tries to
communicate. Current human languages are flawed, because they don't communicate symbols
very well. To properly represent George's proof, you need to think in terms of the
symbols, not the imperfect words that he uses to represent the symbols.
The second part is yet another rehash of the Ontological theory. The only difference from the other gazillion ways that this is presented is that George uses his "symbols" idea. So his version of the proof is: there are two symbols, "finite" and "infinite". Finite things - things that are described by the symbol "finite" - cannot be created by other things from the finite symbol. Finite things must be created by something infinite. The infinite is God.
Going a bit further, he also says that for the infinite to create the finite, it must bridge the gap between the symbols "finite" and "infinite": and that this proves that God is specifically the Christian God, because the infinite Christian God took finite form as Jesus, which is the necessary bridging of the finite/infinite gap.
What's the scientific part? Well, that's remarkably sad. George redefines both what "proof" and "science" means in terms of his ideas about symbols. His thing is a "scientific proof" if you accept his definitions of "proof" and "science"; but his definitions of "proof" and "science" bear pretty much no resemblance to what anyone else means by the words (or symbols, to put it George's way) "science" or "proof".
Aside from that, the rest of the book is more incoherent jumps and rambles. Half the time, he claims to be the creator of this proof; half the time, he talks about how other people were doings things based on it. For example, he claims that the founders of the United States founded the nation on the basis of his proof; the people (and he clearly says "people") who assassinated Lincoln were doing it to suppress the understanding that the US was really founded on the concept of God embodied by his proof.
What about all of the argument about how we need to reinvent mathematics? Well, it's
based on a couple of his strange ideas. First, there's his "infinite" symbol. He believes
that "infinite" must be explicitly represented as a concrete value in math,
because since infinite is an essential symbol, it must be explicitly considered as a real
part of the set of mathematical values. Since basic math considers infinity to be a
concept, and not be a specific concrete value, that means that math is
wrong: it omits something essential. He points at the transfinite numbers of
Cantor as the solution to that; transfinite numbers are a symbol of ordinal
numbers like the surreal numbers that have a concept of numbers that are larger than any finite number. (Of course, George really doesn't even get Cantor right... Cantor specifically used the term "transfinite", because they're not the same thing infinity.)
The other part of the "reinventing math" is far less coherent. George has some very strange ideas about logic. He seems to believe in the "Mr. Spock" idea of logic; and he seems think that there is only one logic, which is some form of predicate logic. He also seems to have the impression that "logic" only has "OR" as a way of combining statements. He talked about "either/or" logic, and how math is all screwed up because it only uses "OR" logic and not "AND" logic. As near as I can discern, the root of this is that he thinks that logic defines "AND" in an second-class way, because it defines "A∨¬A" as a tautology, and "A∧¬A" as a nonsensical contradiction. Since his idea of God is both finite and infinite, then "finite=not infinite and God is infinite and Jesus is God and Jesus is finite" reduces to God is infinite and God is not infinite", which is necessarily true, but which is defined as nonsensical by logic.
I don't really know what else to say. This book is beyond bad. The fundamental idea of it - the so-called proof - is not new: it's just the same old ontological argument that we've all seen before. It's not even one of the better formulations of that argument. His version of it can be summed up in three sentences: "There are two distinct symbols, finite and infinite", "Finite things cannot be created by finite things", "Therefore there is an infinite thing that created all the finite things, and that's God". That's it, the heart of George's argument.
The rest of the book is incoherent babbling, where he makes all sorts of strange assertions, usually without a shred of evidence or support.
In the first draft of this review, I ended it by saying that I felt sorry for George, because he seems to be a well-meaning person whose intellectual ability has been damaged by his medical problems. But then, I got a note from a reader earlier today pointing me at the latest on George's blog where he promotes his book. George turns out to be another of
what Orac and PZ have termed "Contemptible Ghouls": George has managed to not just blame the Virginia Tech massacre on people not paying enough attention to his little book, but has also decreed that the problem is that the VT killer was Korean, and that the Korean "mindset" is incompatible with the Christian foundations of America, and the only solution is to kick all of the non-whites out of his wonderful Christian homeland:
So, police departments and criminologists, please do not look any further for the cause of this Virginia event. Instead, work for the USA to develop the true American MINDSET so it will have no criminal potentials. Do this work in the memory of Virginia Tech's lost children. This work would make the American MINDSET even more moral compared to what it is today. This means that US atheists must be asked to convert and foreigners must be asked to build their own nation.
A melting pot of people will never be a happy group of people.
So, he's not a well-meaning old crank. He's a vile, racist, contemptible ghoul.
(George, if you want to comment on this post, I'll allow you to. Your comments currently go into the moderation queue; I'll publish anything you post whenever I check
the queue. As much as I despise you, it's only fair to allow you to respond to a review of your book.)