“There Must Be a God, Because I Don’t Know How Things Work” (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 28, 2011 in Funny,Video

Earlier, I posted a clip of Stephen Colbert mocking Bill O’Reilly for giving a stupid (but extremely popular) argument for God’s existence: “There must be a God, because I don’t know how things work.”

An audience member questioned Bill’s reasoning, and Bill replied… by asserting the exact same argument:

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward January 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Fantastic.

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MattC January 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

It’s not the same, it’s just a poorly articulated fine-tuning argument. He’s not expressing ignorance with how things work, but rather is expressing the vast unlikelihood that they would just so happen to work as they do – that is, in a way that is life-permitting. It’s still not good, but it’s not the same.

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Scott January 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm

He’s not exactly expressing a stupid argument – he’s expressing a common argument in a stupid way (I don’t think those are the same, right?). It’s the fine-tuning argument, as told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

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Rob January 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Fine tuning is an argument from ignorance, just with finer details. It’s the same damn “god did it” argument as Billo’s tide argument.

“I don’t understand X, therefore god did it.”

X = fine tuned constants
X = morality
X = consciousness
X= laws of logic
And so on.

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Kevin January 28, 2011 at 8:51 pm

He also references the Leibniz Cosmological Argument. He points out that even if we know that the moon causes the tides, we can always ask what the cause of X is ( or more clumsily said, “How did it get there?”), which leads to an infinite regress that shows the need for a necessary cause.

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Jugglable January 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm

As a believer, and being a Catholic like Bill, I am pretty embarrassed here. Really embarrassed. Catholics need to be better catechized than this. This video actually seems like a parody that a non-religious person made of religion. Sad thing is, it’s actually real, from a prominent public figure.

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darren January 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

he’s a fucktarded idiot relying on answering questions with questions that have answers . . . and when those are answered he’ll ask another question until you get into an infinite regress of stupidity.

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Shane Steinhauser January 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

He also references the Leibniz Cosmological Argument. He points out that even if we know that the moon causes the tides, we can always ask what the cause of X is ( or more clumsily said, “How did it get there?”), which leads to an infinite regress that shows the need for a necessary cause.  (Quote)

What exactly is so bad about an infinite regress?

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mopey January 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I don’t think that Bill is saying “I don’t know how things work, so God did it”. I think he is saying implicitly that observed effects/proximate causes are exactly as effects and proximate causes would be like if they were part of God’s method.

How anyone would even hope to know such things, I have no idea. But I think that Bill is saying that he does know, not that he doesn’t.

So, proximate causation explains nothing really, except to the extent that some part of God’s glorious method is discovered.

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Rob January 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm

he is saying implicitly that observed effects/proximate causes are exactly as effects and proximate causes would be like if they were part of God’s method.

This is from Stephen Law:

Suppose a flower grows from a seed. Ted says a fairy made it happen. Bert explains everything about the growth of the flower by natural means, pointing to the way in which cells divide, etc. etc.

Ted says, yeah, but that’s how the fairy made it happen!

Bert is justified being highly sceptical about Ted’s fairy account.

And Ted is a twit.

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Aerion January 29, 2011 at 3:36 am

What exactly is so bad about an infinite regress?  

Agreed. Even with a god you’ll always end up with either an infinite regress or a circle.

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Derrida January 29, 2011 at 4:21 am

Question: Does Bill O’Reilly know that other planets in our solar system, including Mars, have moons?

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BenSix January 29, 2011 at 5:32 am

Bill O’Reilly is, in fact, proof of God.

p1 – Bill O’Reilly is absolutely stupid.
p2 – If there is absolute stupidity there must be absolute intelligence.
p3 – God is absolutely intelligent.

Thus, God exists.

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MKR January 29, 2011 at 7:16 am

What makes the kind of argument that O’Reilly is using effective with persons of theistic inclination is that for the non-theist, questions like “How did the moon get there?” are real questions, while for O’Reilly and company they are not real questions, because the answer is known a priori. This gives O’Reilly an insuperable advantage in the eyes of his audience.

It requires a lot of scientific work, not necessarily on the part of the person answering the question but done over hundreds of years by generations of contributors, to explain how the moon got there, why Venus hasn’t got a moon, and so on. Real questions require real answers, and such answers cannot be found by pulling things out of one’s arse. By contrast, lowbrow theists like O’Reilly have ready answers to these questions that require no work whatever, since the answer was given long ago and is always the same: “God did it.”

Further, while scientific answers–that is, real answers–to these questions are subject to uncertainty in various degrees, the answer “God did it” is given once for all time and is independent of all possible evidence. In the rhetorical contest that O’Reilly creates, uncertainty is weakness and failure. If you are trying to give scientific answers to his cosmological questions, then at some point, if you are honest and well-informed, you will have to say, “I don’t know,” “I am not certain,” “It is probable that . . . ,” or something of the sort. O’Reilly never has to make any of these concessions.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 29, 2011 at 8:19 am

Rob,

Exactly.

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almost.chris January 29, 2011 at 8:25 am

Did Billo really just say Mars doesn’t have a moon?

When I first heard O’Reilly make the argument, I created a long internal monologue on the absurdities of the argument. Then Colbert summed up my thoughts completly with the simple phrase , “There must be a God because I don’t know how things work.” Nail on the head. Brevity is the soul of wit.

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Rob January 29, 2011 at 9:06 am

MKR,

Very well stated.

The attitude that saying “I don’t know” is somehow a weakness is found not only with cretins like Billo, but also with professional philosophers like Trent Dougherty. He blogs on prosblogion. Here is a nice response from the under appreciated blog Rust Belt Philosophy:

“we’re idiots because we don’t regularly react to our ignorance by arbitrarily positing magical entities. This is such a gigantically absurd position to take that it’s hard not to consider his “Metaphysical Shrug” slur a compliment”

http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2010/06/aside-to-trent-dougherty-grow-up.html

No matter how idiotic the lay apologist’s argument is, it’s a good bet some Christian with a Phd is making the same feeble argument somewhere.

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cl January 29, 2011 at 10:42 am

Rob,

Fine tuning is an argument from ignorance

Incorrect. Skepdic.com defines an “argument from ignorance” as,

…a logical fallacy of irrelevance occurring when one claims that something is true only because it hasn’t been proved false, or that something is false only because it has not been proved true.

That is not what Bill did here, nor is it necessary to argue fine-tuning thus. I’m not defending O’Reilly’s trite style of argumentation by any means, but MattC, Scott, and mopey all nailed it: He’s basically just mangling a legitimate argument.

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Steven R. January 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

I was going to post a sarcastic comment stating “Now watch as the Theists in this blog come and justify this silly argument” but they already beat me to it…As MKR pointed out, the person seeking how things work is always at a disadvantage and that’s what makes “God did it” arguments seem so strong; they’re immune to any objection due to their very absurdity.

I’m also surprised people continue to believe arguments like the Fine-Tuning one are good ones, especially when Luke pointed out how easy it is to argue that with his “Superdog” example.

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cl January 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

Steven R.,

…“Superdog” example…

Talk about absurdity!

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Patrick January 29, 2011 at 11:22 am

Fine tuning comes in three categories: Stupid, Dishonest, and Trivial. The Stupid ones don’t use Bayes. The Dishonest ones do use Bayes, but because that leaves them with crap results, they have to be dishonest about it. The Trivial ones use Bayes, acknowledge that the results are Trivial, and go find something else to do.

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Shane Steinhauser January 29, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Agreed. Even with a god you’ll always end up with either an infinite regress or a circle.  (Quote)

The question wasn’t rhetorical. Theists often make the following argument. “X leads to an infinite regress. Therefore X is illogical.” But what exactly is it about an infinite regress that makes it illogical? Theists seem to just assume from the get go that an infinite regress is impossible.

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James Thompson February 1, 2011 at 7:26 am

Calling everyone pinheads does help clinch his arguments.

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Eric February 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm

cl –
Incorrect. Skepdic.com defines an “argument from ignorance” as,

…a logical fallacy of irrelevance occurring when one claims that something is true only because it hasn’t been proved false, or that something is false only because it has not been proved true.

That is not what Bill did here, nor is it necessary to argue fine-tuning thus. I’m not defending O’Reilly’s trite style of argumentation by any means, but MattC, Scott, and mopey all nailed it: He’s basically just mangling a legitimate argument.

This objection to calling Bill OReilly’s statements arguments from ignorance seem trivial. O’Reilly is saying that it is false that these listed phenomenon have natural explanations only because it has not been proved true.

Now the final thought, “therefore God did it” falls under this fallacy:
“I dont know X, Therefore I know X”
or more specifically:
“I don’t know the explanation of this phenomenon (none exists yet), therefore I know the explanation for this phenomenon (insert some arbitrary explanation, eg God).”
Now this can be dressed up more where the fallacy can be hidden, but it is still there. Seeing as how this conclusion follows occurs only if an argument from ignorance occurs, one can proclaim “argument from ignorance” when they hear a proposition like this.

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cl February 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Eric,

O’Reilly is saying that it is false that these listed phenomenon have natural explanations only because it has not been proved true.

Like I said, he’s mangling a legit argument. I believe God created this universe, and I do not hold this belief simply because a “natural” cause has not been proven true. The same holds true for many theists.

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Eric February 12, 2011 at 12:11 am

@cl
He’s not just mangling the argument. He’s not even making that argument. He wouldn’t be asking how the moon got there if he was giving a sophisticated argument. It would have gone similar to how Kevin interpreted, as pointing out you could always continue asking. Then he would have to point out that an infinite regress of explanation cant exist and that the necessary explanation must be God. He never came close to doing any of this. Making the Leibniz argument makes a generalization about the edge of our understanding about contingent things. He made a blatant argument from ignorance, as I explained earlier.

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