First, a quick status note: the blog has been really slow lately because I
fell behind schedule on my book, and I've been putting all of my free time
into catching up. I'm finally pretty much caught up, so I should have time to
get back to the Chaos theory posts. I need a few days of study time to get
myself back up to speed, and then some actual good contentful posts should
start showing up.
In the meantime, for your entertainment, I've been looking at a really
silly website that was sent to me by a reader with entirely too much free time
on his hands. It's another one of those supposed proofs of the existence of
God and the correctness of fundamentalist Christianity. In a typically humble
(and ungrammatical) fashion, the site is called "4 Step Perfect Proof for God
of the Bible, above all other claims on the uncreated creator". And to give
the author a miniscule amount of credit, it's not an argument that
I recall seeing before. It's a crappy argument that I haven't seen
before, but at least it's a sort-of novel crappy argument that
I haven't seen before.
The basic idea of it? The fact that we are not perfect means that we must have been created by a perfect God. Is it me, or is there something a bit weird about that argument?
Before getting to what I'll generously call the content of the page, let
me take a moment to talk a tiny bit about structure. Anyone who's taken a
writing class knows that the standard structure rule that most people are
taught about writing an argumentative piece is: "Tell them what you're going
to tell them; Tell them; and then Tell them that you told them." That's
generally a pretty good rule. You introduce your topic by explaining what
you're going to say, and why the reader should care. Then you present your
argument. And you close by summarizing what they should take from what you
said. What that rule emphatically does not say is "repeat
Our intrepid author clearly needs clarification on that last point.
Because he presents he two nearly verbatim copies of the same
argument. First, he presents what he calls the "shorter" version of the
"proof". It is shorter, but not by much. The "short" version is about 3100
words. The long version is about 4600 words. And the long version includes its
own introduction and conclusion, which overlap with the introduction and
conclusion to the entire page, and which aren't part of the proof. Care to
guess how long the introduction and conclusion of the "long" version are?
About 1500 words.
The main difference between the two versions in terms of content is that
the "long" version includes three graphs which supposedly illustrate his
arguments. The graphs are particularly pathetic examples of what I call
obfuscatory math - which is the use of mathematical terms, formula, or
images in order to make it look like there's some kind of
deep mathematical content to an argument.
Oh, and the long version is subtitled "All known queries, hundreds in fact,
are answered in the details herein". This guy is certainly not lacking in the
So... What is this wonderful proof? He claims that it's got
four steps. Now, when math people talk about a four step proof, what
we assume is that you've got some set of axioms, and then using four
inferences, you arrive at your conclusion. But typical of arrogant
ignorant twits, this guy clearly has absolutely no concept of what
a proof even is. Here are his four steps:
- Exponential progression of conscience disallows an eternity of the past of
cause and effects.
- Everything in nature has a cause so the universe can't cause itself.
- Don't misrepresent the god of the bible.
- Exponential progression of conscience disallows an eternity of the past outside
the natural realm.
Therefore, God exists.
Seriously. That's his proof. Our brilliant friend clearly isn't familiar
with what mathematicians and logicians mean by "proof". But let's ignore
that for the moment, and look at the actual statements. They're really quite
Statement one: "Exponential progression of conscience disallows an
eternity of the past of cause and effects."
What in hell does that mean?
The "exponential progression of conscience" means, according to him, that
we are engaged in a continual process of self-improvement. If that's true, and
we've existed for an infinite amount of time, then according to our author,
that means that we would have reached perfection by now. Since we're clearly
not perfect, that means that we haven't existed forever.
To attempt to restate that mathematically: the measure of goodness of the
moral state of humanity is in a process of monotonic exponential increase.
Therefore, if humanity had existed forever, the measure of goodness of human
morality would be infinitely large. It isn't, therefore we haven't existed
There are just so many things wrong with that statement that I have a hard time
choosing one to knock first.
- Does anyone, anywhere, claim that humanity has existed forever?
I've never heard anyone, theist, atheist, agnostic, solipsist, or even lunatic,
who seriously claimed that humanity had existed forever. Even if the Universe had
existed forever, we haven't. And if we haven't, then the whole "you had
an eternity to become perfect" schtick falls apart. (This is actually an example
of one of the most common, and most irritating traits of idiots: they equate
humanity with the universe. By their arguments, the limits of human existence
are the limits of the universe. The limits of human imagination are the limits
of the universe. And so on. It's a remarkably shallow view of existence.)
- Are we really on a monotonically increasing path of improvement? I don't think
that there is any way you can claim that. Human history has been
a roller coaster. The overall pattern has been, roughly, that civilizations rise,
and when they do things usually get better; civilizations collapse,
and things usually get worse. The dark ages in Europe certainly weren't part
of any process of improvement on the past. The collapse of the Emirate in Africa and
Eurasia certainly wasn't a process of improvement. The rise of the Nazis in Europe
during the 20th century wasn't part of a process of improvement. The rise of
the Mao revolution in China wasn't a part of a process of improvement. The main
difference between today and the past is technology - we've become a hell of lot
more capable of doing big things - whether those things are good or bad is
irrelevant: when we do good, we can do more good than people did before. But when
we do bad, we can do a hell of a lot more bad that people did before.
- Even if we were on a monotonically increasing path, and we'd existed
forever, does that mean that we'd be perfect? Think of a mathematical
curve, with "degree of perfection" on the y axis, and time on the x axis.
Where is perfection? Is it a specific value of y? Personally, I don't
think so; I'd rate it more like positive infinity. If my idea of
perfection is right, then you can never reach it. But let's give
our brilliant friend the benefit of the doubt. Suppose that perfection is
a specific finite value. Does that mean that a monotonically increasing
curve must eventually reach it? No. Nope. No way. But our friend does
weasel around that. Because he doesn't just say that our degree of
perfection is increasing monotonically. He says it's increasing
exponentially. So given infinite time, the curve would reach his
"perfection" value. But if our goodness is increasing exponentially, then
considering the horrible things going on in the world today, imagine what
we must have been like in the past. The past has to have been
exponentially worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao
combined. Do we see anything like that in history?
Nope. There are some incredibly barbarous events in the history of
mankind. But is there anything worse than the Holocaust? Or the
genocide of the native americans? Or the great famines under Mao in China?
The extermination of 1/5th of the entire population of Cambodia by Pol Pot?
Ok, so point one is full of holes. And it's one of his axioms! The whole
proof just collapses on that alone. But let's keep going. Number 2:
"Everything in nature has a cause, so the universe can't cause itself". This
is, basically, another axiom. It's also, by itself, a very common version of a
proof of God. But it's silly. Why?
First, cause and effect are something that we observe inside the
universe. How can we assume that it must exist outside the universe?
This is part of a common misunderstanding of just what we really mean when we
say "the universe". The universe is everything. Time isn't something
outside of the universe; it's something that exists as part
of the universe. The time before the creation of the universe is a
meaningless phrase. It's a typical example of an invalid
Gödelian self-referential statement. It cannot be given a valid
meaning: it's an internally inconsistent statement.
While trying to make that argument, our brilliant friend even tries to use
thermodynamics to make his argument: "The 1st law of thermodynamics is
violated if ``nothing'' outside the universe can somehow transform into the
universe. Nothing always derives from nothing." But that's still the same
problem as the time thing: thermodynamics is a law of how things behave
inside the universe. In fact, it's a law of how things behave
as time passes inside the universe. It's just a restatement
of the inconsistent meta-circularity as the time argument.
But let's ignore that. Suppose that what we call the universe is
actually a small bubble of space-time, and there's actually some sort of
meta-time, so that you can talk about "before" the universe. How did the
universe come into being? You could say that God did it. But that's not
a particularly useful statement: all it does is push back the question. If
God did it, then where did God come from? If God could come into being
without a creator, then why couldn't the Universe? The moment you allow
one uncreated thing, then you can't argue that nothing uncreated
can possibly exist. And if something uncreated can exist, then why can't
it be the universe?
Step three isn't in any meaningful sense a part of the proof. In fact,
it's an incredibly strange thing to include as a "step" in a proof. It's a
cautionary order to the reader; a "don't you dare argue with me" that he
embedded, because... um... because... well, I don't really know. It doesn't
make any sense. We'll just write it off for now.
Step four is, basically just a restatement of step one. It's really not
any different, and it doesn't in any way, shape, or form follow from any other
statement in the "proof". It's another version of the "we're not perfect yet,
therefore the universe hasn't been around forever, therefore God".
Now... If I wanted to be really annoying, I'd copy the entire post so
far, add a new introduction, and call it the mocking of the longer proof.
But I'm not that obnoxious.