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.
"The fact that we are not perfect means that we must have been created by a perfect God."
Okay... let's cross that with Paley's "watchmaker" argument. I have on my wrist a watch. It isn't perfect; in fact right now it's about a minute slow. So that means it must have been created by a perfect watchmaker, right? (That would be the Timex Corporation, for what it's worth.)
That's always bugged me.
If there were a god, and he/she/it were perfect, then by their perfectness, anything they would create would also be perfect. Unless, for some reason, they chose to not make it perfect, say laziness or just plain old curiosity. But, if they're an all-perfect god, they can't choose either of those options (because they are flawed), so the only possibility left is that they just aren't perfect (they have some type of flaw).
And (if seems to be the case), that somewhat less than half of their creations managed to get passed the basic quality testing process of life, then it seems as if they are far far less than perfect than one would expect from a divine, all seeing, supreme sort of being.
As such, while that means they may have been "more perfect" than us, they are not themselves the absolute model of perfection, which implies that they too were created by something (assuming that the chain only ends in total perfection, of course). But of course, since the lessor god is imperfect, doesn't that again imply that the greater one is too?
Does this sound too much like Godel? :-)
First, cause and effect are something that we observe inside the universe.
Well, really, there's not even any such thing. The whole Cause & Effect model assumes a sort of "directionality" for physical events that isn't really there. To wit, does the sun's gravity actually pull the Earth toward it or does the Earth simply "want" to move toward the sun? How would you ever find out?
The folks over at Cosmic Variance had a cool post about it a while back.
Oh, NO! Not this guy! I've seen this stuff before, at www.FSTDT.com (Fundies Say The Darndest Things).
This guy watches the Internet for any mention of his name, apparently, and shows up to argue in favor of his so-called "perfect proof" --- and he has both the stubbornness and the stamina to post hundreds of comments to that end, never admitting either error or defeat. "Not lacking in the ego department" is putting it very mildly.
Argument 1 also bothered me because, and I admit this is somewhat of a personal nitpick -- I've always imagined that if perfection WAS a point on a graph, it would be a horizontal asymptote that humanity approaches but never quite reaches (as you said in your post). An exponential increase suggests (in my mind) a vertical asymptote.
If perfection is a function of time, and since time progresses more or less uniformly (we can at least all agree on THAT right?) there would be some point when humanity PASSES perfection, which shouldn't be possible.
And even more importantly -- why even bother CALLING it exponential if you're dealing with time scales of the infinite variety? Given infinite time and a positive trajectory, humanity will be infinitely positive whether it is exponential or linear. (Granted, as Cantor said, some infinities are bigger than others....) My guess is that he's using "exponential" because he really means "really big" or "really fast".
You really had never seen this argument before? It's basically yet another rehash of Aquinas's Quinquae Viae. Heck, I think even Dawkins tackled it in TGD.
I am glad that you have enough patience to read this crap. After years for it I can't do much better than a few paragraphs before my head starts to hurt.
You've got the basic idea, but there are many mathematical inaccuracies in your post, which I feel obligated to correct:
- While I agree with you completely on humanity approaching a horizontal asymptote which lies on perfection (though this is a philosophical statement and not a mathematical one), what you said about exponential growth implying the existence of a vertical asymptote is wrong.
A vertical asymptote is created when a function approaches infinity (or negative infinity) at a certain (specific, finite!) point. For example, the function 1/x has a vertical asymptote at x=0, since it approaches infinity from the right and negative infinity from the left at that point.
An exponential function, say 2^x for example, has no points in which it approaches infinity (in fact, it is continuous and even smooth on the whole real line). It does, however, approach infinity as x tends to infinity.
It does that extremely fast (much faster than any polynomial), but that still doesn't give you a vertical asymptote.
- You're right, there's no need to prove that the rate of growth is exponential in this case. A linear or even logarithmic rate would be enough.
However, rates of growth have NOTHING to do with Cantor's idea about different "sizes" of infinity. In fact, Cantor's use of the word "infinity" has not much more than a vague, intuitive connection to Newton's use of the same word.
- Your guess about why he's using this term might be right, since he's demonstrated how little he understands mathematics, physics, logic or even common sense.
So, what are you planning on doing with the $10K?
Didn't Descartes use the same argument right after his cogito ergo sum (I hope I got my philosophy right.) He claimed that though eveything around us was imperfect, we still knew the idea of perfection, this must be god.
Robert: being imperfect wouldn't prevent one from imagining perfection. Just mentally remove all your imperfections, ans you've got it. Basically, that's how some people build God.
But I'm not sure that this is Descartes' argument. Isn't he rather using a more classic one about how a finite being is unable to picture infinity, and how this idea has to come from outside? (Of course, the work of mathematicians on limits, infinite sets etc refutes this idea)
Even if we'd assume for the sake of argument that we are indeed on some exponential curve, you can't use that to argue that no infinite amount of time could have passed. After all, you can go back in time infinitely far, and at all times will you notice exponential growth. You can also go in the future infinitely far, and still you'd find exponential growth at all times. So just the fact that we see exponential growth can't tell us anything about where on the exponential curve we are.
You got the basic idea of Descartes' argument correct, but that's not what this bozo is arguing.
The Cartesian argument is "We are imperfect, but we have the concept of perfection, so there must be something perfect to create that concept, and that's God". It's a remarkably stupid argument, but that's irrelevant for the moment.
This bozo's argument is "We're continually improving but we're not perfect, therefore we haven't existed forever, therefore there is a god". It makes the Cartesian argument look downright sensible by comparison.
The Cartesian argument has one basic problem: one of its axioms is that in order for us to be able to imagine a concept, there must be some concrete example of that concept. If we can imagine the concept of a circle, there must be a circle somewhere. If we can imagine the concept of perfection, there must be something perfect. I think that that axiom is foolish; I think we can imagine plenty of concepts that don't exist. But if you accept that
axiom, then the proof is valid. The conclusion follows logically from its premises.
The idiots argument is a collection of ridiculous premises, followed by non-sensical non-sequiturs. For example, "We're on a path of exponential improment" is absolutely ridiculous as a premise. "We're not perfect yet, so we haven't existed forever" is a non-sequitur: the "we haven't existed forever" can't be logically derived from the premise. "We haven't existed forever, therefore we must have been created" is, likewise, a non-sequitur. Again, you can't derive that conclusion from that premise. Each and every step of his "proof" is piling non-sequitur on non-sequitur.
Like I said, it's enough to make the Cartesian argument, which I've always hated, look downright brilliant in comparison.
Stuff like this really bothers me. I wish he'd realize he has two audiences:
1) Those who already believe like he does -- While they read it and applaud, he hasn't gained anything from it.
2) Those who don't believe like he does -- Since matters of faith can't, by definition, be "proven", most if not all will not be convinced by a "scientific proof" of a faith based concept. Waste of time and counterproductive.
I allow science to take me as far as it can. At this point that includes the Big Bang theory. I allow my faith to pick up where science leaves off and I don't need proof (which is impossible to get anyway). I do not see any contradictions whatsoever when I view science as the study of natural law and then I view natural laws as a creation. I wish I could reach out to the author of the silly "proof" and help him see the light but it's probably pointless.
Anyway... attempts to prove or disprove matters of faith scientifically are comical. Thanks for the great article!
... and since time progresses more or less uniformly (we can at least all agree on THAT right?)
Actually, I can't. In severe gravitational fields, or accelerating reference frames, "time" passes quite non-uniformly. You may not think it's a big deal, but they are effects that have to be accounted for in order for GPS devices to work correctly.
Michael, I agree that matters of faith cannot be proven or disproven scientifically, but I'd like to ask you a respectful question: If your faith in an idea cannot be disproven by any evidence, how is faith a useful way of finding the truth?
If you're already certain that you've arrived at the truth, no matter what else you might learn in the future, then there's no way of getting any closer to the truth if it happens that you're not there yet.
Again, I mean no disrespect to you by asking this; I'm just curious about religious world views.
Ah, thermodynamics -- is there no phenomenon that you can't explain?
Thermodynamics: a favorite among the pseudo-scientists.
@DSimon: Not to put words in Michael's mouth (fingers?) but I think one could argue as follows. Certain questions are essentially metaphysical, which in this context means not admitting of empirical demonstration or (if you take a strong view of these things) logical proof. The nature of the universe is obviously the physical question par excellence, but the origin is nearly as good an archetype of a metaphysical question (as Mark emphasizes). Then the scientific method is useless in the face of such a question. At this point one has (as I see it) three choices. First, one can apply the scientific method anyway, knowing the result has to be and is that neither x nor not-x can be shown. An independence result, in the language of axiomatics. Then one moves on to more interesting questions (is there the Higgs' boson?). The second option, is after arriving at the above independence result, one can make a choice (or judgement, in the Kantian sense) that x. Or not-x. Having made this choice, and possibly built some nice Sunday rituals around it, one goes back to work the other six days of the week (maybe with some continuing psychological dividend to sweeten the deal). Finally, one can take a really strong stand and say not just that neither x nor not-x can be known, but that such questions are meaningless, a mere artifact of the amazing level of 'operator overloading' of natural languages and our twin neural obsessions with pattern and abstraction. Of course, faith is not, in any of these cases, a way of finding truth, but of deciding truth. The psychological importance of faith to many individual people is not to be denied, but if the above is substantially correct, the sociopolitical importance of faith should probably be vastly reduced.
@Dsimon: No disrespect at all. Thank you for the question.
Quote: Michael, I agree that matters of faith cannot be proven or disproven scientifically, but I'd like to ask you a respectful question: If your faith in an idea cannot be disproven by any evidence, how is faith a useful way of finding the truth?
My faith helps me in the present -- questions such as why are we here, morality, etc. In the pursuit of truth that you mentioned, I wholeheartedly embrace any new scientific information I am shown. I just believe that from our vantage point there are certain things we absolutely will not be able to learn or even fathom. Again, this is where faith kicks in.
This is not the place for me to discuss why I believe in anything faith-based but suffice to say I have my reasons. It took me a while to get past all the nonsense out there that suggests I choose sides -- science or religion. They coexist quite nicely when you step back and think logically.
@Hunter: "the sociopolitical importance of faith should probably be vastly reduced." I disagree with the socio- part of this. Faith provides moral guidance and a calling to be better. Faith is vitally important socially.
Politically / legally is another story and on that point we probably agree.
Have you seen Denyse O'Leary's latest post at uncommondescent? Money quote:
"Anyway, I didnât get a chance to say this on the program so I will now: No numbers are evil or unlucky. All numbers are â in my view â created by God to march in a strict series or else a discoverable* series, and that is what makes mathematics possible. And mathematics is evidence for design, not superstition."
We finally got a prediction out of intelligent design! Partially ordered sets do not exist.
Another parable with the moral: beware of glib extrapolation of a model, beyond the range of the data.
I guess I see some entertainment value in fisking crackpots so thoroughly, but I tend to see more value in a dialogue between athiest/agnostics/thiests that involves persons of discernment and precision.
'm just sayin' ;o/
"It took me a while to get past all the nonsense out there that suggests I choose sides -- science or religion. They coexist quite nicely..."
@Michael McGuire -- I hear ya!
I don't think that there's any point in such a dialog.
I'm a religious jew. Most of my friends, and most of my fellow sciencebloggers, are atheists. What is there to gain from such a dialog? I don't think that we're going to find any common ground in terms of what we believe. I'm religious for entirely subjective reasons - which are, justifiably, sneered at by people who haven't had the same experiences, or who don't think that subjective experiences count.
I'm not going to be convinced to ignore my own subjective experiences. And no one else is going to be convinced to believe *my* subjective experiences just because I say so.
On the other hand, we've got a lot of common ground that we already agree on. And the common ground has been well and thoroughly hashed out. We know where we agree, and where we don't agree.
So what's the point? What's to be gained from this dialog?
Just want to point out that both 1 and 4 contradict themselves. If there were an "exponential progression of conscience", wouldn't that imply that, as you go infinitely far back in time, that humans have always existed?
Nobody could convince this new illuminati and it doesnÂ´t matter. I am gratefull for this kind of posts because it gives me weapons to destroy silly arguments from well intentioned people that want to convert infidels like me.
In example: "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?" I am sure more than one won't know how to answer that, and then you can convince well intentioned, rational (but religious) people that you have a point.
To Paul #2:
What you are stating is a version of the Epicurean paradox. You can check it out at Wikipedia. It's interesting, and no one I've ever shared it with has had a good answer.
FACT: If there was an eternity of the past of cause and effects in nature, mankind would have approximated to the eternity of that past (close enough), so man would not still be sinning to the extent he still does along the exponential progression of conscience. Heat death would be greater than it is now in the universe also.
Think about what is being said here. In a billion years along that exponential progression we would be doing far better than we are now in terms of our individual consciences, and a billion years in the backdrop of eternity is nothing. Think about that. That's the perfect math of Step 1 & Step 4 of the 4 Step Perfect Proof for God.
FACT: Even with all the the strongest survive mentality killing by atheists and naturalists in major world wars in the 20th century, the death rate per capita due to wars was less than previous centuries (The population was only 200 million in 0 AD compared to nearly 7 billion today). Previous wars in history would wipe out sometimes half the population of a major global region. Even our worse wars don't come close to that today.
FACT: Don't limit your view to a small sample and fluctuations to render your verdict. You have to see the overall trend and mankind is approaching sinlessness, never quite reching on this exponential trajectory, e.g. throwing your child into the fiery mouth of the god Molech and other human sacrifices across the nations in the ancient world simply no longer happens. All you need do is ask yourself on that basis alone would you prefer that? Of course not. Therefore, you can see the improvement. Many other examples are given in the proof.
I could have said much more by the many mistakes by the reader Mark C. Chu-Carroll, but hopefully these 3 facts will center you on how God proves Himself to you by observing nature. But you must examine honestly, so check yourself and don't argue for argument sake.
Troy Brooks: what you are calling a Â»FACTÂ«, I'd call a conditional statement, of which the proposition is not fulfilled and the conclusion is flawed.
I guess part of the problem with all the arguments of 'perfect' god/creator is that nobody defines what 'perfect' is. All this bullshit can be ended if one were to 'define' God in a self consistent way. I am not sure one can do that. But any reasonable attempt at it would quickly show all the religions to be pure nonsense. As an aside, the older 'cruder' religions of the past with whimsical, petty, cruel Gods probably are more consistent than the present day refined religions. At least they dont tie themselves up trying to reconcile with logic and science.
There is no proposition in these facts. If there was you could show it. Free will comes into play. You are free to think something comes from nothing (that doesn't exist), but most people think that is ridiculous. You are free to think human sacrifices prevalent among the nations in antiquity are better than today, but most people disagree with you. Some things really are wrong. In the Bible, God fulfills your condition of defining God in a self-consistent way so accept reality. If you can't find a naturalistic explanation for the data most skeptical scholars concede, then give into reality: the disciples truly believed they saw Jesus resurrected because they really did see Him resurrected. People don't willingly die for something they know is a lie and group hallucinations according to modern psychology (DM-4) are impossible. All religions are pure nonsense especially the idolatry of atheism "there is no God" or "something can happen by itself" or "universe always existed" cults. I find these past cruel gods quite like atheism and mormonism teaching infinite regress; and justifying 200 million deaths in the 20th century due to naturalistic tendancies and outright atheim by atheist countries and their leaders: Soviet Union, Japan, Vietnman, etc. Your Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, to name a few, are atheists because they eradicated base on the strongest survive. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's probably a duck. God says you guys are going to Hell. I am on Team Jesus Christ.
Troy Brooks sort of mentioned it, but just to make it clear, I've definitely heard Mormons teach that humanity has existed forever.
I thought it was perfectly clear. I am not saying humans existed forevever; this is already clarified in the proof. As to Mormons, they are going to Hell, they are not Christians. Christians beleive God created us from whence we did not exist before. Mormons claim they always existed alongside God. Feel their pride in that obnoxious claim. The Bible says there is nothing before Him nor besides Him before time. That which approximates into the past eternity according to calculus is effectively deemed as as such. Draw this distinction, let go of your mistaken loophole. Therefore, since we would not still be sinning to the extent we still do along the exponential progression of conscience we are clearly on, then the universe could not always have existed. Pretty simple.