Bill Maher’s Errata

FYI: this post has been moved here.


  1. Thanks, Mariano. This was a great post!

  2. Show you right!


  3. Mariano wrote:
    > Bill Maher is equating a person who possesses a certain bit of information with a superiority complex and infers that they look down upon a person who does not possess that bit of information as being inferior. This is certainly a fallacious inference due to the following options:
    > 1. A person who possesses a certain bit of information may very well hoard it with good reason and rightly look down on others who do not possess it as inferior.


    The problem is that, for quite a long time, the most fervent of Christians have tended to be among the least knowledgeable, least educated members of society.

    The problem is not that no one should feel superior to others. For example, my knowledge of physics and cosmology vastly exceeds your knowledge (for details, see below), and, in that respect, I feel superior to you. Nothing surprising there: Stanford gave me that Ph.D. in physics because, presumably, I do know more about such things than most people.

    No, the problem is that Christians claim to have superior knowledge when there is overwhelming reason to think they have nothing of the sort. People who have never heard of Codex Vaticanus or Codex Sinaiticus or the Johannine comma consider themselves experts on the infallibility of the Bible.

    That is indeed ludicrous.

    You also wrote:
    > As much as I know that Bill Maher has built a career based on bombast, belittling and vile displays of prejudice…

    That’s his shtick: are you old enough to remember Don Rickles? Expecting Maher to be a nice guy is like expecting G. W. Bush to act intelligently or Michael Jackson to act sanely.

    Yes, Maher’s a jerk: he’s a professional jerk; that’s his career.

    You also wrote:
    > Moreover, consider other things that we are supposed to believe in the 21st century:
    >That the universe came into being when an eternal uncaused dot of matter exploded.

    I’m a Ph.D. physicist, Mariano: that is not what we scientists claim.

    I doubt you can find any competent scientist who claims there was an “eternal” uncaused dot of matter that caused the Big Bang. Indeed, if it had existed eternally, it would have exploded a long time before!

    The best theory nowadays is so-called “inflationary cosmology” (not to be confused with the accelerating expansion of the universe, which is a different issue).

    Current cosmologists do not think the Big Bang was the beginning, and indeed it may be that inflation has been going on forever, so called “eternal inflation" (yes, I know the argument against an infinite sequence of events – scientifically, that argument is simply silly: it is the easiest thing in the world to write down mathematically an infinite series of pre-existing causes).

    I’ve had to explain this to Christian after Christian, even though inflationary cosmology is about three decades old: I knew the fellow who developed it, Alan Guth, when I was a doctoral student at Stanford.

    Google it, or, better yet, read Alan’s book.

    Christians seem to be very, very, very slow to learn modern science! But I keep trying to help them.

    Of course, people who are really good at learning science tend to stop being Christians.


  4. Mariano,

    It occurred to me that I should explain why the supposed impossibility of an infinity of past events seems trivially false to any competent physicist.

    There is a deep theorem in physics, the PCT theorem, fairly plausible if you think about it, that the “tape can always be run backwards.” Any set of events that is physically possible would also be possible if run in reverse (technically, one must also perform charge and parity conjugation, but this does not change the main point).

    The distinction of physical cause vs. physical effect is not built into the universe: it’s just a matter of which direction you choose to view as “positive” for the time coordinate. Run the tape backwards, and cause becomes effect and effect becomes cause.

    Now, it seems pretty obvious to most people that it is at least conceivable that the universe has an infinite future ahead of it with an infinite number of events to occur in the future – this may or may not actually be the case, but it is at least logically possible.

    But, by the tape-reversal principle (PCT theorem), the possibility of an infinite future also implies the possibility of an infinite past. Just reverse the tape, and voila! -- your infinite future becomes a perfectly possible infinite past.

    If anyone is skeptical of this, I can provide standard references, though they require a fairly high knowledge of physics and math.


  5. I have an observation to make.

    Maher tells us to be good for the sake of being good--not because God tells us to, or anything like that; just be good, he says.

    I personally think that the Christian system is superior in that it provides motivation for moral behavior; if you behave badly, you will suffer the consequences.

    What is Bill Maher going to say to someone who is presented with the opportunity to do evil to the persons he hates most while never having to worry about being caught or punished? Be good just for its own sake? Clearly a Christian can say: you might never get caught here on earth, but there is someone who sees what you do in secret, and you're going to have to give an account to him some day.

    If (let's say) our goal is to have persons behave morally, then Christianity taken thus is clearly more pragmatic than Maher's ethical theory.