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Proving God?

Listener David Driscoll from Atlanta thought this video of Frank Tipler explaining his “proof” for the existence of God would make a good Name that Logical Fallacy. I agree. Tipler is a crank, plain and simple. That he is a professor at Tulane University must be somewhat of an embarrassment for Tulane.

Others have already dissected Tipler’s nonsense, such as this article in the Skeptical Inquirer. I want to focus on the core fallacy of Tipler’s logic.

He says that the math and the physics lead directly to the conclusion that God exists. In the ridiculous local news video, where we are assured the reporter asked the “tough questions” (cough, cough), they even show some mathematical-looking equations on a blackboard leading to the final conclusion – “God exists.”

Tipler’s main logical error is that he is confusing explanation for proof. He believes that since he can concoct a highly speculative explanation for God or for specific miracles in the Bible (amounting to nothing more than special pleading) that God and the miracles are proven.

For example, he argues that because physics can explain the conversion of matter to energy and back gain, this “proves” the Biblical account that Jesus vanished in the tomb and then later reappeared before the disciples.

His proof of God is too complex for him to summarize it in any meaningful way (according to him) so you better buy his book. But it distills down to some fanciful descriptions of cosmology leading to the dubious conclusion that the universe will end in a singularity without an event horizon requiring infinite information. This singularity (which Tipler dubbed the Omega Point) is God.

Concocting an obtuse scientific argument laden with jargon but not quite adding up logically, all to come to the absolute conviction that you have proven something that sounds like it should be outside the realm of science, is the hallmark of a supreme crank.

Similarly, Tipler “proves” the virgin birth by offering the explanation of parthogenesis (some species can fertilize their own eggs), and that Jesus walked on water by offering the explanation that he shot neutrino beams out of the bottom of his feet.

Similarly I can prove that the world of Star Trek is an accurate description of the future (obviously sent back in time to prepare the way) by offering sci-fi explanations for everything that happens. Trek fans, in fact, make a habit of this – in the form of Trek apologetics, weaving special-pleading type explanations for every apparent scientific gaffe in the series.

This is not proof before the ability to offer an explanation for something does not prove it is actually true. Just like the ability of Astrologers to explain events that have already happened does not lend any credibility to Astrology.

Proof, rather, derives from the ability to make predictions that later come true. These predictions have to be for knowledge that we do not already have. (I love it when cranks say their theory “predicts” something we already know.)

So what successful predictions flow from Tipler’s fanciful notions? Silence….crickets….

Tipler has been a crank for decades, and is apparently unredeemable. He falls into the category of those who desperately want to prove their faith, or at least reconcile their faith, with science. He claims the science led him to faith, but I suspect the true relationship is more complex.

That all of this was deemed newsworthy by 46News of Atlanta also says something about the sorry state of TV journalism these days.

22 comments to Proving God?

  • IPVlazy

    The only thing worse than a crank that tries to prove religion using illogical mathematic ideas is when a news reporter puts him on the air and supports his claims.

  • Paul Ganssle

    I agree. When someone stomps on a baby’s head it is not nearly as bad as a crank trying to prove religion with math.

  • GHcool

    I think Dr. Novella’s definition of “proof” might be too narrow. I can prove that I am an American citizen, however this proof does not give anybody the ability to predict anything. It is just evidence for a truth claim. Proof for the existence of God is also a truth claim. I have not seen any air-tight evidence for that truth claim, but if evidence were available, I doubt it would give us the ability to predict anything.

  • Proving “God’s” existence says nothing about his worthiness of worship or deviation. Prove “God” and one still must prove: they are the same as described in a(ny) holy text; how the deity is understood correct; etc.

    This all said, the search to prove “God” seems more for the physiological benefit of the searcher than any social revelation; not even selfish “I’m better than you are” but to prove to themselves their reality is valid.

  • GHcool – I think you missed my point. What he is offering is not any kind of evidence. It’s just shoe-horning in a completely fanciful explanation for a contrived interpretation of biblical passages. It’s retrofitting. That may be a way of generating a hypothesis, but it is not evidence.

  • mat alford

    S.N. – ‘What he is offering is not any kind of evidence. It’s just shoe-horning in a completely fanciful explanation for a contrived interpretation of biblical passages. It’s retrofitting.’

    Isn’t that just all of theology?

  • Tenorino

    This is a minor point, but if Jesus had been conceived by parthenogenesis, wouldn’t he have been a woman?

  • Jim Shaver

    Steve – I don’t think GHcool is defending Tipler’s rantings as anything close to compelling evidence. I think he’s saying, and I agree with this statement, that if there were any compelling evidence for the existence of a god, it would still likely fall short of your strict definition of “proof”. This point is, of course, moot in the reality that there is no compelling evidence whatsoever.

    mat alford – Amen, Brother.

  • irishjazz

    Isn’t this just a recasting of the God of the Gaps argument- find the most abstruse scientific construct and point at it as the deity?

    Speaking from personal experience, the flux of neutrinos required to be shot from the feet in order to stay on the surface of the water makes it impractical for any more than a few seconds. There are also tremendous problems of balance, and the beams play havoc with the surface tension.

    It is more likely that Jesus shrank himself down to the size of a water insect, and, like many UFO sightings, was a lot closer than the disciples thought.

  • larry coon

    “Confusing explanation for proof” can also be applied to Anselm’s ontological argument, can’t it? It goes something like:

    1. God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.
    2. A god that exists in reality and the imagination is greater than a god that exists in the imagination only.
    3. Therefore, God must exist in reality.

  • [...] READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT THE “ROGUES GALLERY” Posted in The Rogues Gallery. Tags: God. [...]

  • GHcool

    Yes, Jim Shaver summarized my point accurately. Sorry for the misunderstanding, Steve.

  • A fallacy that is contained in all previous posters’ comments on this page is that they’re commenting out of emmotionalism without knowing what it is that they’re criticizing.

    Prof. Frank J. Tipler was a convinced atheist since his youth who only came to the theist position in latter life because he could not scientifically avoid it.

    Also keep in mind that with Prof. Tipler, whatever one’s feelings about him, we’re quite conservatively talking about the most elite physicist who has ever lived. His Ph.D. is in the field of global general relativity (the same rarefied field that Profs. Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking developed), and additionally he is also an expert in particle physics (i.e., the Standard Model), computer science (e.g., computational complexity theory), and quantum cosmology. Not even Profs. Penrose and Hawking have all those qualifications, let alone Einstein or Newton.

    Tipler is Professor of Mathematics and Physics (joint appointment) at Tulane University. His Omega Point Theory has been published in a number of prestigious peer-reviewed physics and science journals such as Reports on Progress in Physics (one of the world’s leading physics journals), Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (one of the world’s leading astrophysics journals), Physics Letters B, the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, etc.

    Prof. John A. Wheeler (the father of most relativity research in the U.S.) wrote that “Frank Tipler is widely known for important concepts and theorems in general relativity and gravitation physics” on pg. viii in the “Foreword” to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by cosmologist Prof. John D. Barrow and Tipler, which was the first book wherein Tipler’s Omega Point Theory was described. On pg. ix of said book, Prof. Wheeler wrote that Chapter 10 of the book, which concerns the Omega Point Theory, “rivals in thought-provoking power any of the [other chapters].”

    God has been proven to exist based upon the most reserved view of the known laws of physics. For much more on that, see Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

    F. J. Tipler, “The structure of the world from pure numbers,” Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as “Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything,” arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007. http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.3276

    Out of 50 articles, Prof. Tipler’s above paper was selected as one of 12 for the “Highlights of 2005″ accolade as “the very best articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics in 2005 [Vol. 68]. Articles were selected by the Editorial Board for their outstanding reviews of the field. They all received the highest praise from our international referees and a high number of downloads from the journal Website.” (See Richard Palmer, Publisher, “Highlights of 2005,” Reports on Progress in Physics. http://www.iop.org/EJ/journal/-page=extra.highlights/0034-4885 ) Reports on Progress in Physics is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, Britain’s main professional body for physicists.

    Further, Reports on Progress in Physics has a higher impact factor (according to Journal Citation Reports) than Physical Review Letters, which is the most prestigious American physics journal (one, incidently, which Prof. Tipler has been published in more than once). A journal’s impact factor reflects the importance the science community places in that journal in the sense of actually citing its papers in their own papers. (And just to point out, Tipler’s 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper could not have been published in Physical Review Letters since said paper is nearly book-length, and hence not a “letter” as defined by the latter journal.)

    See also the below resources for further information on the Omega Point Theory:

    Theophysics http://geocities.com/theophysics/

    “Omega Point (Tipler),” Wikipedia, April 16, 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Omega_Point_%28Tipler%29&oldid=206077125

    “Frank J. Tipler,” Wikipedia, April 16, 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Frank_J._Tipler&oldid=205920802

    The leading quantum physicist in the world, Prof. David Deutsch (inventor of the quantum computer, being the first person to mathematically describe the workings of such a device, and winner of the Institute of Physics’ 1998 Paul Dirac Medal and Prize for his work), endorses the physics of the Omega Point Theory in his book The Fabric of Reality (1997). For that, see:

    David Deutsch, extracts from Chapter 14: “The Ends of the Universe” of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes