Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 4, 2010

Stephen Hawking, God, and Design, and the Universe


Introduction

I know I haven’t written for awhile, and unfortunately, you can expect more of the same sporadic posts probably for the next several months. I apologize. Just keep this in your RSS reader and you’ll get ’em when they come out. Blog’s not dead, just me. 🙂

Anyway, if you had to pick one topic this week that’s in the news other than politics, it would probably be Stephen Hawking and the conjecture that the universe does not need a god to have come about or be as it is. I know folks are probably tired about this, but I thought I would give a few brief observations, hopefully ones that aren’t actually in most news outlets.

My Thoughts

First, I agree. I do not think there’s any hard, scientific evidence that you need a god to create the universe or to have it turn out as it is. You’ll note I wrote “think,” not “believe.” This particular word choice is one that I’ll hopefully address in another short, future post.

Anyway, what really brought on this post was I was yet again listening to an episode of Coast to Coast AM where the host, George Noory, brought on a theologian to react. Only, in a very C2C twist, this particular theologian, Dr. Barry Downing, thinks that the Bible is the inspired word of space aliens who talked to Moses through maybe some sort of hologram of the burning bush.

Moving on … George stated effectively, “I don’t see how you can look at the universe and all that it contains and think that there wasn’t some sort of designer or planner or plan.”

That got me thinking: Well, what would a universe look like if it hadn’t been planned? How would we know? What would the difference(s) be?

I think what George and many people forget is that we have a sample size of 1. If you think the universe did not have a creator nor planner nor plan, then this is what it looks like without one and hence we don’t need one to explain it. If you believe that the universe did have a creator or planner or plan, then this is what it looks like with one and hence we do need one to explain it.

Very circular reasoning here. Perhaps an argument from ignorance, perhaps a tautology. Or begging the question / unstated major premise. So many logical fallacies to choose from!

Final Thoughts

I the end, I think this debate is a bit silly. I think the reactions of condemnation from world religious leaders was a “necessary” response to a statement by someone as famous as Stephen Hawking. And Hawking does have a book he’s trying to sell.

I think this is a fairly futile argument because neither side is going to be able to convince the other for the simple reasons I stated above: Those who believe this universe’s form could only arise from a guiding hand or noodly appendage are always going to cling to that design argument. Those who think this arises from random chance or underlying physical laws that we do not yet know will continue to think that.

But it does make for headlines and gives people something to talk about other than the latest Paris Hilton snafu.

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November 27, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Circular Reasoning, AKA the Tautology


Introduction

In my continuing series on logical fallacies, today we’re going to explore circular reasoning, more formally known as a “tautology” or a “tautological argument.”

What is a Tautology?

Throughout this post, I’m probably going to mainly use the term “tautology” rather than “circular reasoning” because it’s less to type. Circular reasoning is, like most fallacies, just what it sounds like: Making a circular argument, or when each stage of an argument refers back to the previous stage, or uses the previous stage as justification for that one. You just go around in circles.

Another way in which a tautological argument is used is to simply state the same thing twice, but in different ways. Like saying, “This is a brand-new never-before seen product!” is considered a tautology because “brand-new” and “never-before seen” mean the same thing.

The Example of Biblical Authority

This isn’t directly related to astronomy, but it underlies almost all young-Earth creationist claims and so I’ll put it in here. It would seem that the idea of biblical authority would be better-relegated to my upcoming post on the Argument from Authority, but it actually is a tautological argument as well.

If you ask a young-Earth creationist (YEC), or probably any person who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, why the Bible is true, you will get a tautology as illustrated in the diagram below:

Let’s have a hypothetical conversation:

Me: Why is the Bible true?
YEC: Because the Bible is infallible.
Me: Why is it infallible?
YEC: Because the Bible is the word of God.
Me: How do you know it’s the word of God?
YEC: Because the bible says it is the word of God.
Me: But how do you know that it’s telling you the truth?
YEC: Because the Bible is infallible.

We have entered the tautology. The YEC has not brought in outside information into the argument to back up the claim, they simply continue to go in circles.

Example from Family Life

An example of a tautology that’s closer to the second use I explained above is often found in every-day parlance, especially between parents and their children:

Parent: “It’s bed time, go to bed.”
Child: “Why?”
Parent: “Because I said so.”

Final Thoughts

Circular arguments and/or tautologies are yet another illogical way to argue because they do not bring any new information into the discussion. Rather, they argue what has already been (correctly or incorrectly) stated, and do not back it up with something else.

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