Am I Crazy?

I’ve been having this bizarre email exchange with someone who will remain nameless to protect the guilty, as a result of this much-commented post:

Him: I read your article about “Getting Religion out of Science Classrooms” after following the link from and would like to have an intelligent discussion with you about this. I find your views on what constitutes “scientific” vs. “religious” to be inconsistent. Hopefully we could both benefit from an exchange of emails – but I won’t bother if you would just consider me an know-nothing. Maybe both of us will learn something. If I am wrong in my beliefs, I would like to find out by intelligent correspondence. Something with a little more light, less heat, than occurs on the blogosphere.

Me: I certainly have no reason to think you a know nothing, but I don’t really want to waste my time on a private discussion. I’d be happy to have a public one.

Him: The problem I have with a public discussion is that rarely is something learned. I think you’re sharp enough that I can learn something from you.

Me: I don’t understand why a public discussion will not instruct, but a private one will.

Him: I think I have some really good arguments for intelligent design. I think I have convincing arguments that there must be a God. Such arguments can’t really make it in a public forum because they get too interrupted by chaff. Arguments get better only when tried before true devil’s advocates. I see by your regular contributions that Glenn flags that you have not fallen for the delusion of liberalism.

Me: I don’t know what you mean by “liberalism.” I am a classical liberal (that is, I am not a leftist).

Him: Yet you have a very simplistic, childish view of ID.

Me: Was this supposed to persuade me that I should waste my time engaging in an intelligent private discussion with you? If so, it failed. Completely.

Him: Rand, sorry I offended you. I did learn something.

Me: And if I had told you that your views about evolution were “childish,” you wouldn’t have been offended? Perhaps you need to learn something about yourself.

Him: I don’t know. I have always been one who is so confident about my views that I like debate. I consider when someone calls my views “childish” to be an invitation to debate, not an offense. Sorry, just the way I am. I think in general people who feel they have the minority viewpoint that has not been given a fair shake take any attention, even negative comments, as a positive thing.

Me: If you think that calling someone’s views “childish” is debating at all, let alone doing so “intelligently,” then I have to say that you’re overconfident in your debating ability.

I think now I understand why he prefers to debate privately, though.

[Update mid afternoon]

For those in comments worried that I’m beating up on a kid, if I am, he’s impersonating a professor of physics.

65 thoughts on “Am I Crazy?”

  1. I think I have convincing arguments that there must be a God.

    Dear correspondent with Rand,

    Here are over 660 arguments for the existence of God:

    I hope you find the list enjoyable. Are any of your arguments not listed above? If so, please share! Thanks!

    If you don’t care for the tone of (some of) the above arguments, try here:

    Again, if you have something novel, I hope you’ll post it here.

      1. There are a variety of historic arguments scattered among the sillier ones. I sincerely believe the majority of them regularly show up in a typical usenet/blog conversation, even if they are a bit dressed up when presented by believers.

        Here is the point I wanted to get across to Rand’s correspondent: there have been many many arguments for the existence of God. Some have been argued by humanity’s greatest thinkers. These days, they are all easily accessible on the web (and they’ve been accessible at libraries for centuries, of course.) And of course, there are an even larger number of obvious fallacious arguments , which we see on the internet all the time. It is very rare to come up with an argument for the existence of God which is novel, at least, if you consider the existing arguments in their abstract logical forms.

        If I had been in Rand’s shoes, the red flag for me would have been the focus on arguments for God’s existence, instead of focusing on the presentation of science in the classroom, the intersection of politics & science, or something else more on-topic to the original thread. But I would have encouraged the correspondent to present his argument.

        And if the correspondent didn’t already know that there are many historic proofs for God’s existence (and just as many corresponding disproofs), then I hope he or she enjoys the links.

  2. Reminds me of bob. He claims to like debate, but then never really gets around to discussing the topic. Rather, he spent his time trying to discuss you as a person. Did he provide any wikipedia links or a google search dump while asking why you couldn’t use the internet to find the stuff yourself?

  3. I think now I understand why he prefers to debate privately, though.

    To give your correspondent the benefit of every doubt he might have been using “privately” as a euphemism for “one on one”. He might fear being ganged up on in a public discussion where anyone can jump in.

  4. The problem I have with a public discussion is that rarely is something learned.

    He says he read your article. Ask him if he read the “public discussion” that followed it. If he did, and learned nothing from it, then he has something other than an open mind.

    Or he’s 14.

  5. I don’t have a tortoise in this fight, much less a tower of them, but when people start talking about how intelligent design requires of infinite regress of creators, I imagine a benzene ring.

  6. I think you were a little abrupt with him right out of the gate. The kid (or whoever) was nothing but polite all the way through, and even when he said something unfortunate, he apologized immediately. You took someone who had an earnest, if slightly naive, sentiment, and basically told him to go public or fuck off. And then you publish the conversation publically anyway? Unnecessarily caustic.

  7. To quote that great philosopher, Bugs Bunny: Wotta maroon.

    (Rand, what’s with the “comment too short” stuff? I first tried to use just the last two words of the above comment, to no avail.)

    1. Yes, Rand, I think you are crazy. It is crazy to get email from a physics professor who says he has “some really good arguments for intelligent design” and also has “convincing arguments that there must be a God”, and not even ask to hear the arguments. A sufficiently advanced lack of curiosity is indistinguishable from crazy.

          1. “the conservative aspect of your politics might cause your lack of curiosity”

            This is plainly insane.

          2. And certainly one’s tendency to support socialism, with its history of failure, would indicate an abundance of curiosity.

            About everything but history.

          3. Amusingly wrong. As one irritated liberal psychologist discovered in his experiments on studetns, conservatives can correctly predict and replicate liberal arguments because they can know how and what liberals think (and many used to be liberals, but the reverse was not true. Liberal students couldn’t frame conservative arguments because they lack the additional layers of required mental complexity in their understanding of human nature, society, and the world.

            In short, bright-eyed liberal physicists fresh out of college keep pushig their idea for a perfect flying machine built out of unobtanium that will move through an idealized, frictionless atmosphere powered by a heat engine that’s 100% efficient, and the conservative aerospace engineers in the fields of aerodynamics, propulsion, and structures just shake their heads and hope the board of directors are smart enough not to bankrupt the company on an insanely stupid idea that could never possibly work.

          4. conservatives can correctly predict and replicate liberal arguments because they can know how and what liberals think

            Or not think. Frequently thinking isn’t involved, it’s feeling. And predicting that is even easier. At least in the absence of certain as-yet not fully understood pathologies.

          5. conservatives can correctly predict and replicate liberal arguments because they can know how and what liberals think

            Also, Leftist arguments are incredibly simplistic — in a debate, you can always out-flank someone on the Left by being even more radically egalitarian.

        1. Bayesian probability. The odds that the random nutter accosting you actually contains some unique philosophical breakthrough are equal to that of spontaneously teleporting to the Moon.

          1. Titus, I agree with you, except that

            a) it is a physics prof, not a completely random nutter (but if you had said “a random physics prof”, you’d still be basically right),

            and more importantly

            b) physics profs tend to go for the Anthropic argument which has the virtue of teaching people about physics even while making a dubious philosophical arguments. If I had been Rand, I would have hoped it was an opportunity to learn more about physics.

          2. Nutty is as nutty does: pestering Rand to “listen” to him in e-mail instead of just sending a link to his paper or something. If his paper was incomplete, he’d turn to a colleague instead of a random aerospace engineer.

          3. physics profs tend to go for the Anthropic argument

            The ones who learned their craft at West Nevada State Teachers College maybe. A “physics prof” who has an advanced degree in… Physics, no.

          1. IE9 here, but my previous comment was accompanied by [b][/b][em][/em][i][/i], etc, and another [b][/b] on another line, so I’d surmise that non-printable markup counts as text to the blog software.

  8. God is easy to demolish. Now try to explain to your “spiritual” friends that there’s no evidence for the supernatural at all. They start talking about their subjective experiences as evidence for the divine, so you have to explain what “evidence” is and why how they feel isn’t.

    1. I’ve done something similar with people who were laughing at religious folks for believing in things for which there’s no evidence. For amusement, I turned the tables on them and asked if they believe there’s other intelligent life in the universe, or even just life. Of course they insisted that it was a certainty that there is intelligent life other than ours out there, and predictably tried to bolster their argument with various flavors of the Drake equation, which is vacuous.

      I pointed out that there is zero evidence of alien life, and that positing actual numbers on a completely unmeasured and unobserved quantity was like a monk arguing that there must be a Heaven to hold all those thousands or billions of angels he knows must exist. That arguing that since we exist, others must also exist, is like a priest who argues that since there is a body, and a body can’t be all there is, there must also be a soul.

      For planets harboring life, we have a sample size of one, and no statstical inferences can be drawn. A sample size of two would of course be another matter, but right now we have nothing.

      They of course continued to argue that given the trilions of galaxies containing billions of stars, there must be someone else out there. I said something like, “Congratulations. Like the religious folk you’ve been making fun of, you sincerely and intensely believe in the existence of something for which there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Some people really believe that angels, archangels, seraphim, and cherubs exist, with names like Ariel, Gabriel, and Lucifer. You believe that somewhere in the universe are aliens like Andorians, Rigelians, and Breen, probably with names like T’ealc, Nelix, and Chewbacca, and you believe that their existence is a certainty. Just because your fantasy universe is different than theirs, doesn’t mean you don’t also ardently believe in a fantasy universe populated with imaginary beings that sprang purely from our imagination.”

      1. Clever!

        But if I was standing next to you in the room, I would turn to the people you just talked to and say “You’ve seen The Matrix right?”

        I’ll spare you the intermediate steps, but for anyone who said there must be someone else out there and that alien life was a certainty, I bet you I could get them to admit that they weren’t even sure there was an outside universe at all.

        And thus, I would turn them away from the darkness of faith, and I would guide them toward the bright light of skepticism. And the Force would be with them.

      2. When scientists and/or engineers, in my presence, get too huffy and pretentious about how rational they are, and how irrational religious people are, I like to remind them that everything they reason out is all based upon Faith; the faith of some Aristotelian axioms that , if they ever knew them, they have forgotten about, and which they take as natural law even though there’s no reason to:

        the law of identity,

        A is A;

        the law of contradiction,

        A cannot be both A and not A;
        – something cannot be true and false at the same time

        and the law of the excluded middle,

        A must be either A or not A.
        Every statement has to be one or the other. That’s why it’s called the law of excluded middle, because it excludes a middle ground between truth and falsity. So while the law of non-contradiction tells us that no statement can be both true and false, the law of excluded middle tells us that they must all be one or the other.

        They all assume this stuff to be true – they take these starting points on faith……but they are only axioms.

          1. Don’t have to take it any further….they understood.

            As for #237…..

            Sheesh have you never heard of a Syllogistic Fallacy?

            As for #276, the whole thing breaks down at number 1:

            (1) You have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, don’t you?

            The answer is No.

            So all the rest is trash.

            It’s not faith that it will rise tomorrow, it’s called playing the odds, and what the hell could I do about it if it didn’t?

            You don’t buy anything from that list do you? No wonder your mind is a mess…..

          2. First, the page is comedic send-up of other people’s bad arguments (arguments that were actually seriously argued on the internet in most cases). Like all comedy, it is going to seem funnier to some people than to others.

            About the sun rising: I thought you would like this point! Titus certainly does – he’s been pushing David Hume’s observations regarding induction. The idea here is that just as rational engineers and scientists have “faith” (or whatever you want to call it) in basic axioms about logic, even when they don’t think about it, they also must have “faith” (or whatever you want to call it) regarding induction, and as you point out, it is difficult to get anything done if you don’t give in to induction. See and, more generally,

            Anyway, I thought you were making a perfectly nice point about faith, but unexamined “faith” in basic logical axioms doesn’t seem like the same kind of faith that religious people have. Unexamined belief/faith regarding logic commits one to much less belief about the rest of the world than religious faith does.

          3. The sun doesn’t actually rise, you uneducated, primitive throwbacks. The Earth rotates about it’s own axis as it slowly orbits around the sun, perhaps making it appear to that the sun rises and travels across the sky to those using an Earth-centered non-rotating reference frame, but this is in fact not what happens.

            I suppose I should provide some links for Bob-1 that back up my position, but I’m a little too burned out from a long-running argument with some orphan girl in another thread who inisists that the sun “will come out tomorrow.” I’ve been trying to explain to her that what actually happens is that clouds in the trophosphere that were blocking the sun’s rays move aside or break up, revealing the view of the sun, but she apparently went to public school or perhaps got whatever passed for an orphanage education.

          4. Taken to it’s logical extreme, you get to my position. It is true if it is helpful for it to be true – I call it the “Engineers Position”. If it makes you happy to believe in God, then believe in God. If it improves your life, do it!

            Similarly, if faith in the foundations of logic make it easier to get through life, have faith in them.

            I thought we were engineers, not math majors – who cares what you can prove, the question is what is useful!

        1. Greg,

          A is the proposition that a particular person is smart.
          ~A would be the proposition that the particular person is not smart.

          A = ~A, always.


    2. “God is easy to demolish.”

      Is he now? Because nothing exists which we cannot taste, hear, see, smell, touch, or reason out by inference? That would make US Gods, and this leads to a contradiction.

  9. Bob writes:

    “First, the page is comedic send-up of other people’s bad arguments (arguments that were actually seriously argued on the internet in most cases). Like all comedy, it is going to seem funnier to some people than to others.”

    Well you certainly presented it as if I was supposed to be awed by the “logic” involved:

    “Note argument #237 from
    And maybe argument #276″

    1. I actually thought you might be tempted to take the next step and make one of those arguments yourself. Obviously, you weren’t tempted at all!

      But in all seriousness, after you point out that the huffy and pretentious scientists believe certain axioms , what comes next? What interesting things have people done with non-Aristotelian logic?

        1. I am not surprised that Bob would be interested in non-logic to look it up Google and find it exists. Most people not interested in logic would just search for pron.

      1. No I was not tempted at all – I have better things to do – like build this router table I’ve had in mind for about 4 weeks as well as the pantry doors.

        By the way, you also said this earlier:

        “There are a variety of historic arguments scattered among the sillier ones”

        And there was no way I could know whether the ones you suggested I read were considered, by you, as silly or not.

        What comes next (after I point out their faith-based thinking) is that I go get another drink.

  10. I just hate how people on both sides are absolutely certain of things nobody can possibly know. Humans wrap themselves in layers of protective ersatz certainty in order to avoid confronting the terror of the unknown.

    “You should never, never doubt something that no one is sure of” – Willy Wonka

  11. Am I crazy?

    Yes Obiwan, you are our only hope. I still think we should clone you. That would be the clone war I would support.

    As for religion… It was developed by Satan to keep people from seeing the truth.

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