Douglas Ell: how an MIT atheist found God through math

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Well, it’s not how I use the word “god” but I can certainly appreciate the way pantheists take…wait, this something else.

[quote]1.) Evidence for the beginning of the universe
2.) The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3.) The specified complexity of life, and the lack of any reasonable explanation for its origin
4.) The futuristic “technological” nature of life
5.) Evidence against Neo-Darwinian evolution
6.) The unique and special nature of Earth
7.) The universal language of Mathematics[/quote]
Yeah, no, the Counting to God intro is all stuff I’ve seen long ago, and all it tells me is that smart people can still make very bad arguments. I will stick with my very well-supported naturalistic evolution over intelligent design, thank you.


Is there anything here besides coming down on the “strong” side of the anthropic principle? Yes, the universe exists in a way that allows observers, but that’s not evidence that the universe was designed, or created in to promote observers.

Given the apparently requisite existence of the multiverse, coincidence seems to provide more than enough of a “force” behind the outcome. And after all (he says, stepping over the boundary to the weak side) what would any observer expect but a universe that permits observation?


So, studying math too hard can cause a psychotic break? Don’t have to warn me twice!


What’s worse is, after making halfbaked arguments for the existence of God, he then makes the completely unsupported jump to the existence of the Christian God specifically.


This reminds me of William Lane Craig’s “Kalam cosmological argument,” which asserts that the universe must have a cause, therefore God exists. The problem is that even if you accept that the universe needs a supernatural cause, you still have to explain why one particular religion out of thousands on one particular planet in the universe has the correct explanation. Why Yahweh and not Zeus? Why not have the universe hatch from a golden egg laid by a magical chicken?

The Intelligent Design people think that these ideas validate their Christian belief, but really they could be applied to any religion. And when you consider the mutual incompatibility of religions – if, say, the Mormons are right, everyone else is wrong – that’s a pretty weak basis for belief.


Yeah that intro makes it sound completely black and white… a number of his “facts” are debatable at best. There’s a lot of unknowns out there, makes it hard to pin down the truth.

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“The hypothesis you refer to as God, though not disprovable by logic alone, is unnecessary for the following reason.

“If you assume that the universe can be quote explained unquote as the creation of an entity known as God, he must obviously be of a higher degree of organization than his product. Thus you have more than doubled the size of the original problem, and have taken the first step on a diverging infinite regress. William of Ockham pointed out as recently as your fourteenth century that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. I cannot therefore understand why this debate continues.”

— Arthur C. Clarke, The Fountains of Paradise.


I know, right? I had nearly the exact same thing happen to me at Cal Tech, but I ended up baking babies in the oven for Baʿal Hammon.


My brother-in-law told the same story, although he wasn’t a brilliant mathematician. He even wrote a series of books disproving evolution. They read like they were written by a non-engineer, which he was.

Fortunately, he abandoned this line of work and went into real estate. Might have had something to do with his church disowning him over some political spat.


Really, if the arguments work (even without having not seen Douglas Ell’s formulation, I’m still laying odds they don’t) all they prove is that there must be an explanation beyond what we currently understand. Um… no shit?

Not a fan of Dawkins, but I think he was the one who gave me the phrase, “The God of the Gaps.” People see something they can’t explain and say, “Well, must be God then.” A decade later science has explained it, so it’s not God after all, but there is an even smaller gap in knowledge that must be God. We could equally explain gaps in knowledge by saying, “Well, there’s something we don’t know” and leaving out the long-bearded man in the clouds.

If there is anything worthy of calling “God” within the universe or outside it, it will have as much to do with our notions of God as the kinetic energy in molecules has to do with our notions of feeling hot or cold, and it would almost certainly more closely resemble Azathoth than Christ.


So how did he pick “which” god to pick out of the many that millions of people believe in?


That link suggests his arguments are going to be insanely stupid. Maybe instead of studying physics he should study some philosophy and find out that everything he is saying has been argued and answered.

Or maybe he should study some psychology and find out that his inclination to believe in God is probably a personality trait he has, and that smart people are super good at justifying their beliefs, whatever those beliefs are.

In particular: “Quantum physics defies materialist reality; it proves there are connections outside of time and space.” Is a very stupid thing to say. You can say the exact same thing without implying something magical is happening: “Quantum physics - like all new fields of science - overturned previous understandings, and suggests that our intuitive understandings of time and space are so wrong as to seem farcical.”

This guy would have pointed to wave-particle duality and said, “Only God could make something that is both a wave and a particle.” if only he were around when it was novel.


I am minded of Douglas Adams’ puddle (via wikiquote):

Speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge, UK, (1998)


From the sample chapter on his website:

After thirty years of thinking, after thirty years of studying philosophy, particle physics, cosmology, evolution, molecular biology, planetary formation, quantum physics, and more, I’ve learned that modern science is consistent with the Bible, with the three faiths of Abraham—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Article linked in the post says, “Plenty of people enjoy treating God like a joke. One of them was Douglas Ell.”

Maybe Daneil Ell no longer treats God as a joke, but when I read that line I quoted from his sample chapter, I literally laughed out loud.


Oh that’s where I went wrong, I didn’t have the psychotic break… back to school I guess.



Science and religion are two epistemologically incompatible ways of understanding what is true. Of the two, only science has objective ways of separating what is true from what merely seems to be true. I’m wondering, but not enough to read his book, if Ell is a young earth Creationist based on his claim that science and the bible are compatible.

As a nice antidote to Ell’s paean to motivated reasoning, I submit the book Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible by evolutionary biology professor Jerry Coyne.


Since everything needs a creator - I conclude there must be an entity that does not need a creator, and I will call that entity “God”.


Why not use Hume’s Guillotine? The observed universe and our construction of mathematics are complex and wonderful (the “are” statement). Therefore an omni-*ent God should exist to explain how all this came to be (the “ought” statement.) What kind of reasoning, and I mean, epistemologically speaking, reasoning, gets him from “eyes are cool” to “Jesus is Lord?” It’s a non-starter, and has been for hundreds of years.


Just being brilliant in one field doesn’t preclude being incredibly stupid in another. Alas some people recognize their brilliance but fail to recognize their stupidity.