Turtles all the way down

Turtles all the way down

Turtles all the way down

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 25 2009 11:11 AM

Turtles all the way down

Despite what a lot of people seem to think, I do not use these pages here to argue for or against the existence of God. As most skeptics will agree, it's not possible to prove God exists, and you certainly can't prove a negative.

However, what I can argue against are some claims on this topic. Do people see God in a pattern of wood grain, or is that just our eyes and brains interpreting random patterns after hundreds of millennia of evolutionary pressure to do so? Does a statue really weep milk, or is it fraud? Does intercessory prayer actually work, or does study after study show it does not?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I hope you see the difference. It's important.

I'll also note that I have but one single commenting policy on this blog: don't be a jerk. It has broad ramifications, of course, but it does really cover the rules I enforce.

So I'll admit that I should delete this comment that was made on my post last week about creationism, since it obviously violates the rule. But sometimes it's important that we see just how breathtakingly inane some arguments are, yet they never seem to die. Here is the comment, in its entirety:

You people are idiots: March 22nd, 2009 at 2:57 am

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Just some quick questions:

How was the Universe created? The Big Bang? Oh. So where did the material that caused the Big Bang come from? Where did the “spark” that ignited the Big Bang come from?

There is the flaw in your theory that it all happened by “accident” and not by design. No matter how you answer, the next question will be: And where did THAT come from? Eventually, you will have to answer: I don’t know.

And God will be there saying: I do.

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Now, ignoring the stunning hypocrisy of someone preaching the word of God and calling us all idiots, there is an obvious, gaping flaw in this commenter's logic, well-known to skeptics for years: if you ask where the Big Bang came from, why can't you ask the same thing of God?

When a person like this is asked who or what created God, the standard answer is that God always existed. But why can't we say the same about the Universe itself? It's entirely possible the Universe is a part of a larger structure, a metaverse, if you will, that always existed and always will. Our understanding of the nature of time is still incomplete, so something like this is not out of the question.

But the details of this aren't terribly important; the key thing here is the pot calling the kettle black. This so-called flaw in the Big Bang theory, if it is a flaw, is also a flaw in the supposition that God always existed as well. As such, it's a terrible argument for the existence of God.

My favorite part of the comment, though, is the statement, "Eventually, you will have to answer: I don’t know." As usual, someone like this has it exactly backwards: we can say that right now we don't know. But the thing is, science learns. The greatest mysteries of today are undergraduate homework problems in 20 years. That's the strength of science.

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Dogma, however, is unswerving, unbending, unyielding, and unable to learn. What the commenter has done is used a fallacy called "the God of the gaps", inserting God into the gaps in your knowledge. But as we learn more, the gaps narrow. And when the gap is filled, what of God? This is the trap of the zealot: when new evidence comes along contradicting their position, they have to either ignore it or lie about it.

New evidence is coming in all the time, too. I hope the commenter keeps up with modern cosmology.

And finally, I will simply ask: if there is evidence of design, where is it? I've seen many claims, but they always fall short. Remember, the claimants come here, so if they want to persuade me then I need to see the evidence on my own terms. And I will not count a book that makes claims from revelation, because that's not evidence.

Look, if you want to believe in God with no evidence, or even despite evidence, that is your right; it's everyone's right. But if you want to persuade others using a scientific basis, or show that our current scientific ideas are wrong, then you'd better have something more than "Because I say so." Obviously, coming into this argument armed only with that... well, there's only one way to win using that.

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