Phantom Logic - Dilbert Blog

Phantom Logic

This is a post about my own cognitive dissonance. There is a strange little hole in my knowledge and I believe it is caused by some sort of psychological malfunction. I’ll tell you where the hole is, and perhaps you can fill it in for me.

In my experience, which I fully understand to be selective memory, discussions about the existence of God generally go this way…

Atheist: blah, blah, blah

Believer: You can’t explain how everything got here without God.

Atheist: You can’t explain how God got here.

Believer: God has always existed.

Atheist: Why can’t the universe always exist the same way as God?

Believer: I’m double-parked. Gotta run. Great talking to you.

That is literally my memory of perhaps a hundred conversations on this topic over a lifetime. When it gets to that last part, in which an atheist asks why the universe can’t always exist the same way we imagine God to always exist, the believer usually realizes there was something he needed to do and excuses himself.

On the Internet, this can take the form of pointing to a link that doesn’t answer the question, or changing the topic, or mentioning a book that explains it better, or failing to respond.

But I have no memory in which anyone stayed in the conversation and answered the question. Interestingly, I know that my memory of these situations could be false. Perhaps someone answered the question so convincingly that it rocked my worldview then cognitive dissonance set in and I literally imagined the conversation not happening. Science would say that could have happened.

So let’s do an experiment. My hypothesis is that no one will make a serious attempt to answer the question “Why can’t the universe always exist the same way as God?”

You may now prove me wrong.

[Update Minutes Later: Mystery solved. The problem IS on my side, in a sense. And by my side, I mean science. I hate it when my side does a shitty job of explaining something and in so doing spreads more ignorance than it resolves. For example, I think science-loving people are guilty of allowing this interpretation of the Big Bang Theory to become popularized:

Big Bang Poorly Explained: Once there was nothing. Then the universe appeared. We don’t know why.

That sounds like a causeless explanation. Nature hates a vacuum, so religion fills in the gaps.

But a more accurate description of the Big Bang Theory (the cartoonist version) is more like this.

Big Bang Explained Slightly Better: Our universe appears to be expanding. We don’t know why.

The better understanding of the Big Bang is that as far back as we can go, it appears that it was always smaller. At some degree of compactness and smallness we lose the ability to continue measuring or comparing. So what science knows is that shit seems to be getting bigger lately, as in the past 15 billion years or so. That doesn’t speak to the question of a beginning.

Correct me if I am wrong on any of that, but it seems to me that we science-loving peeps have sucked at explaining stuff to … let’s say … the tourists. Isn’t some of the ignorance our fault? If your ideas have holes, you have to expect people to fill them in.

Or to put it another way, perhaps scientists should use the science of psychology and persuasion to get their message across instead of gluing together some facts and spraying them in the general direction of the ignorant. I think this is one of those situations in which it isn’t anyone’s job to explain science in ways that are scientifically crafted to be convincing. To my ear, half of all the scientific theories that I regard as probably true sound like practical jokes when a non-scientist explains them over a cocktail. Science has a problem in the message department.


Scott Adams
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