Scott Adams goes off the deep end.

I’m beginning to think all that time spent by Scott Adams trying to think the same way stupid people do so he can turn it into a funny comic strip is starting to take its toll on him, and I say that as a Dilbert fan myself. Scott and PZ Myers got into an argument not too long ago over Scott’s rather sad attempt to justify the teaching of Intelligent Design as an “alternative” theory to evolution. I read Scott’s writings on the topic and I could at least follow where he was coming from even though it was, as PZ pointed out, a pretty piss-poor argument.

Well today Scott took it upon himself to tackle the weighty subject of intelligence and how you determine what is and isn’t intelligent and through an amazingly silly turn of thinking he comes to the conclusion that the Big Bang itself was intelligent:

Consider the simple act of picking up a pencil. It requires your brain and your muscles, but it also requires you to exist in the first place. And that means that your mother and father are part of the process, as well as their parents, etc. Once you existed, and within your body, there was a vast sequence of cause and effect between your brain and your muscles to make it all happen. You might say that “you” picked up the pencil, but I look at the big picture and say the Big Bang picked up that pencil – with or without the existence of free will – because without the Big Bang, none of it would happen.

Got that? Because there had to be a Big Bang before there could be a you then the Big Bang is responsible for everything that happened after the Big Bang and seeing as you picking up a pencil occurred after the Big Bang then by Scott’s style of logic the Big Bang actually picked up the pencil and is therefor intelligent. It’s almost stunning in its simplemindedness.

To begin with the Big Bang is an event, not a thing. It’s a label we apply to something that happened. The universe exists as a result of the Big Bang, but the universe isn’t the Big Bang. Not being a thing it can’t be said to possess any traits such as intelligence.

It’d almost be funny if it weren’t apparent that Scott is serious about this. He continues with the following…

If you reject the Big Bang as being intelligent – after acknowledging that it created so many books and other works of art, it leaves you with no test for intelligence.

If we accept Scott’s line of reasoning we still don’t have a test for intelligence because the logical conclusion to be drawn from his argument is that everything is intelligent. Here’s the clincher in his argument:

I take the practical approach – that something is intelligent if it unambiguously performs tasks that require intelligence. Writing Moby Dick required intelligence. The Big Bang wrote Moby Dick. Therefore, the Big Bang is intelligent, and you and I are created by that same intelligence. Therefore, we are created by an intelligent entity.

Wow, just wow. That ridiculously huge jump from “writing Moby Dick required intelligence” to “the Big Bang wrote Moby Dick” is just amazing, isn’t it? Clearly it takes a special sort of intellect to cover such huge leaps in logic in a single bound like that.

He finishes up with…

I don’t see how an atheist can think otherwise.

Apparently because you’re a moron, Mr. Adams, who thinks the Big Bang is an intelligent entity that is actually pumping out your comic strip for you.

Scott, in all seriousness for a moment, you’re a funny guy who has a very successful and amusing comic strip, but you suck as a philosopher or big thinker or whatever the hell it is you’re trying to accomplish with nonsense like the above. Be happy with what you’re good at and the rest of us will be happy for you.

Link via Pharyngula.

49 thoughts on “Scott Adams goes off the deep end.

  1. I think the attempted fisking is a bit flat, but I agree with your ultimate assessment. The reason I think that the fisking is flat is because it attributes to Mr. Adams the straw man that he has set up as the atheist’s position.  The line of reasoning that you are fisking is one that he wants to attribute to atheists and then ridicule.

    He does not believe that the Big Bang created Dilbert.  He wants to say atheists believe that.  Reread this portion:

    And let’s say it composes some music, designs some evening gowns, and paints some lovely pictures too. Now do you conclude that the blob is intelligent?

    It’s a trick question because atheists believe that the Big Bang did all of those things and more.

    It seems to me that what Mr. Adams wants to do a bit of table turning.  Maybe I’m giving him more credit than he deserves, but it appears that he wants to apply a similar line of reasoning that we (human beings) are but vehicles for DNA survival (See Dawkins) and that DNA is responsible for much of our behaviors, to the Big Bang.  That is, extend that line of thinking that says we can break down what we are and back it up a bit further from DNA to the chemical compounds of which DNA is made.  Then extend it further from the chemical compounds back to the Big Bang.  Then attribute this line of reasoning to atheists.

    He does not say that specifically, and his writing is horribly muddled so I could be wrong.  Nevertheless, I think its fair to say that is what he wanted to do.  He failed, but that seems to be the road he wanted to travel. 

    I like the thought, but the execution sucks.

  2. I’ve never been a big Dilbert fan myself, perhaps because the only office I ever worked in was the Berkeley Barb, so I can’t really get behind the office mindset.  That aside, whatever respect I had for Scott Adams went out the window when I followed the debate with PZ Myers that Les mentioned above.

    Now, PZ can be pretty caustic, but he was quite civil at first over on Adams’ blog.  But Adams dismissed him loftily and snarkily, along with everyone else who disagreed with him.  He sounds like a conceited kid with a lot of money.  And as far as his powers of reasoning go…

    I take the practical approach – that something is fascist if it unambiguously performs tasks that require fascism. Writing Mein Kampf required fascism. The Big Bang wrote Mein Kampf. Therefore, the Big Bang is a Nazi, and you and I are created by that same Nazi. Therefore, we are created by an Nazi entity.

    Sounds logical to me…

  3. I do not think Adam was serious there. He must have wrote that peace to get a debate started. Because the holes in his logic are too big.

    On the other hand, when he is serious, it is a very disturbing bit of philosophy.

  4. But Adams dismissed him loftily and snarkily, along with everyone else who disagreed with him.  He sounds like a conceited kid with a lot of money.

    Adams and PZ are both into lofty and snarky – that’s their schtick.  PZ could have been completely gracious on their second encounter, wouldn’t have mattered after the nasty things he’s said about Adams in the past.  They are both entertaining to read but I wouldn’t care to be stuck in an elevator with either one.

  5. Adams and PZ are both into lofty and snarky – that’s their schtick.

    True enough, DoF- PZ can be quite repellent, and I’ve given up reading him regularly.  The difference between them, though, is that PZ knows a lot of interesting stuff, and has a knack for explaining it understandably and entertainingly to non-experts. 

    Whether Dilbert is funny or not is a matter of taste.  And after going back and reading some of Adams’ musings at his blog, I suspect that he’s either just trying to be “provocative” or “funny”. But I personally don’t find him funny, informative, or logical, while PZ is, much of the time.

    So if I had to choose which one to get stuck in an elevator with, it would be PZ hands down.  If I’m going to be snarked down, I’d rather it come from someone I can learn something from.

  6. (zilch) PZ can be quite repellent, and I’ve given up reading him regularly.

    I stopped reading him completely. The “appeaser blogosphere war” was the last straw… Adams and Dilbert I don’t care for.

    Consi’s assessment is likely to be right on the money, so to speak, and all the more reason not to feed the troll.

  7. The “appeaser blogosphere war” was the last straw…

    Yep.  Being an atheist is obviously no guarantee against being dogmatic and divisive, something we atheists would do well to ponder…

    Consi’s assessment is likely to be right on the money, so to speak, and all the more reason not to feed the troll.

    Yes, “muddled” is a good word for Adams’ musings.  Btw, elwed- where’d you get your tag?  I like it, and my brother, who is a lot smarter than I, made me dictate it over the phone to him.

  8. Les: Clearly it takes a special sort of intellect to cover such huge leaps in logic in a single bound like that.

    Maybe we’re beyond schtick, and are in the presence of a previously unknown super power?

    zilch: I take the practical approach – that something is fascist if it unambiguously performs tasks that require fascism. Writing Mein Kampf required fascism. The Big Bang wrote Mein Kampf. Therefore, the Big Bang is a Nazi, and you and I are created by that same Nazi. Therefore, we are created by an Nazi entity.

    Sounds good to me, though I think this is closer to true:

    I take the practical approach – that something is stupid if it unambiguously performs tasks that require stupidity. Claiming the Big Bang is responsible for everything is stupid. Scott Adams claims the Big Bang is responsible for everything. Therefore, Scott Adams is stupid, and you and I are left off pretty much where we were before, except that we know about one more ninnyhammer.

  9. PZ can be quite repellent, and I’ve given up reading him regularly.

    I’m more than a little surprised zilch. 

    I’ve also stopped reading him.  It is a shame, as the loss is mine I’m sure.  PZ has so much to offer.  It’s just buried to deep beneath the vitriol.

  10. By the way, I kept meaning to blog about the “appeaser wars”, but then I figured it wasn’t worth getting any more annoyed than I already was. I just about said what I wanted to say over at DOF’s blog, anyway.

  11. It’s like my father always said (referring to how Adams is good at comedy writing, but obviously not philosophizing), “If there’s one thing teachers are good at, it is teaching.”

    Adams needs to stick to what he does best.

  12. I honestly hope he was just yanking chains because it’s difficult to imagine he’s buying into such nonsense.

  13. I like dilbert for it’s cynical nature
    The idea of events being pre-decided has the problem of the heisenburg uncertainty principle, that the more is know about momentum the less is known about position, there is always some unknown aspect. The uncertainty principle affects the position of electrons in atoms/molecules/ions an hence affects their shape, so when these things collide the surfaces may be different shapes on two different attempts where conditions were identical, this could have altered distribution of stuff and caused some of the asymetries we see in the universe – the universe is not the smooth sphere with density dependant only on radius and spread thinly – if the universe was completely symetrical, bodies of matter wouldn’t form because gravity would be acting cancelling out in all directions other than the centre.

    The uncertainty principle is primarily a measurement consequence that you give something movement energy when you try to measure it’s speed by shining light / electrons on it. However what I couldn’t have predicted is that it also seems to be a law of existence – it means it’s impossible to observe something to be completely still, it has to have momentum, and this agrees with particle in a box theory saying that the 0th harmonic has 0 amplitude so nothing exists at 0 energy, in addition the wave-particle duality suggests that everything has both particle and wave properties and is between the two – if something was 100% particle and you took a snapshot of it in time it would have certain position but you would know nothing of how fast it was moving, whereas 100% wave is the reverse – you can’t describe the central point of an infinitely long wave yet you can say exactly where it is – things have to be somewhere between the two to obey uncertainty, otherwise you violate the rule, this is proven by the studies on the electron which is the most intermediate thing of all. Light also has particle properties. Larger physical objects are more particle like but still has a wavelength, so theoretically I could diffract you by passing you through a slit of similar width to your wavelength – unfortunately that wavelength is going to incredibly small, probably many times smaller than an atom, so sterics may make squeezing through that gap difficult.

    Big bang theory has the problem that the matter at the start would have been many times the density needed to form a black hole – it shouldn’t have exploded, just form a black hole of finite size. However what is possible is that just outside the black hole, to increase entropy (and this is observed), the nothing just outside the event horizon defining the boundry of the black hole, splits into particles and antiparticles, sending antiparticles into the black hole to cancel out some matter whilst sending out particles into space, thus the big bang may have been less of a bang and more of a constant streem.

  14. Wow, the intro for the Dilbert cartoon show is now funnier with that cracked statement putting it in perspective.



  15. I wonder if he is just putting up some Aunt Sally’s, or just musing out loud.  I am a Dilbert Fan (Dilbert is like The Office- non office workers say “That can’t happen- they would be Brent would be fired, and us paper pushers think if only you knew…), but I have wondered why SA diverges into badly argued philosophy.  However I then found this.

    Atheists in Jail
    Have you ever wondered what percentage of prison inmates are atheists? It must be a lot, given that non-believers have no moral center and spend most of their days robbing, and killing, and sodomizing farm animals. That’s what you do when you have no morality.

    According to Adherents.com, 16% of the world’s 6.25 billion people are non-religious. That includes atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists. That’s just over 1 billion godless (and Budahless) infidels.

    According to http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf, there are 8.75 million people in jail in the entire world. And that includes people who haven’t been convicted. Hmm. That seems too low by about, um, a billion infidels that should be behind bars.

    But let’s add to the people in jail the ones who have already served their time, and the ones who simply haven’t yet been caught. Excuse me while I take off my pants and yank that number out of my ass.

    Okay, got it.

    That’s a total of 25 million evil-doers in the world.

    Wait, I feel another number in my ass. I think it’s the percentage of people in jail who ARE religious. It’s at least two-thirds, wouldn’t you agree? So that means that the other one-third of the 25 million evil-doers is non-religious. That’s a bit over 8 million non-religious people doing evil, worldwide.

    In other words, only 8 million of the 1 BILLION non-believers who damned well SHOULD be in prison are actually there. There is only one conclusion that I can draw from this rigorous scientific analysis: Atheists are lazy.

    As a non-believer[my emphasis], I can tell you that the only reason I don’t kill people is the difficulty in disposing the bodies. First you have to clean up the blood. Then you have to drag the victim to a carpet and roll him up. Then you have to drag it to the car late at night. Then you have to drive the body and the carpet to the mountains and bury it. Then you have to buy a new carpet. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And that assumes you already HAVE a shovel.

    I think I speak for all non-believers when I say that the only reason we limit our sex to human beings is that animals run too fast. Have you ever tried to tap a caribou? I don’t care how hot they are with their little furry behinds – it’s not worth all of the running. That’s why most one-legged women are married to atheists.

    I could teach you things like this all day, but frankly I feel a nap coming on.

    See he is an athiest. Therefore lazy. So he gets half formed thoughts in his head and doesn’t have the energy to finish them before posting.

    I was going to write about the stereotype of lazy athiests…but I can’t be bothered.

  16. Excuse me while I take off my pants and yank that number out of my ass

    LOL that’s going to be difficult to erase from my mind

  17. Les:I honestly hope he was just yanking chains because it’s difficult to imagine he’s buying into such nonsense.

    I’m not sure which one it was, either the Dilbert Principle or the Dilbert Future, but Adams in all seriousness explains some of his other beliefs, such as his perspective on luck, wish fulfillment through affirmations and some interesting alternate theories on time/space and gravity.  What bothers me about the whole thing was that he conveyed a sense that he isn’t an authority on the issues and he didn’t want to take the time to do actual research on the issues, just make up crazy theories and then say they had as much validity as actual scientific theories. 

    I’m probably a bit off since it’s been years since I read the book (heck, I don’t even remember which one it was), but I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott Adams came out tomorrow and announced he was a Born Again Christian or something else equally absurd.

  18. elwed- I’ve been racking my brains for a complementary fourth line to your signature, about “politics”, but the best I can come up with is:
    “Politics is answers to questions that have no answers”

  19. Zilch, I know it wasn’t a competition but I like words.

    Politics is never to answer the question.  wink

  20. zilch: elwed- I’ve been racking my brains for a complementary fourth line to your signature, about “politics”, but the best I can come up with is:

    Politics is answers to questions that weren’t asked

  21. I like both LJ’s and dc’s answers, which are accurate in different ways.  What I originally thought up was:
    “Politics is answers to questions that never have answers, but must nevertheless be answered.”

  22. There has been research as to the percentage of prison population that is atheist.

    According to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons, in 1997 only 0.21% of the prison population was atheist.  And I believe that this info was gathered from prisoners entering prison, therefore it isn’t tainted by prisoners “finding god” as a means to get past the parole board.

    Here are the numbers:

    http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

    Of course, also keep in mind that responses of “unknown” or no answer at all were simply excluded from the calculation of percentages, so interpret that as you will.

    Oh, and how about “Politics is answers overridden by image.”

  23. There seem to be several different sets of numbers floating around the ‘net concerning the percentage of atheists in prison.  The odious Vox Day quoted some figures over at Scott Adams’ blog that purported to show that atheists are overrepresented in prison, to the tune of almost three to one.

    I personally suspect (just wild speculation here, take this cum grano salis) that
    1) the percentage of “atheists” any poll produces is highly dependent on the precise wording of the questions, and
    2) since atheists are, on the average, better educated than believers, and better educated people are underrepresented in prison, it would come as no surprise if we found fewer atheists in prison than believers.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that atheism predisposes to less criminal behavior than theism.  It just means that, if you’re better educated, you’re more likely to be atheistic and more likely to be not in prison.

  24. I have given up reading stats on the Internet that don’t report: a)pop and sample size b)mean, median, mode c)have a referenced citation of who actually conducted the study d)and of course the alpha.  Without these items stats don’t mean shit.

    As for believers to nonbelievers in prison.  I would suspect some people who claim to be a certain religion in prison also converted in hopes that God will make their time easier, or for whatever other reason.  I would imagine that both sides are over reported.

  25. I would suspect some people who claim to be a certain religion in prison also converted in hopes that God will make their time easier, or for whatever other reason.

    Since I’m incarcerated on Earth for life, I tried that already, but it didn’t work.  She just keeps poking me with her Horn.

  26. “Politics is answers that lobbyists pay for.”
    (Elwed, I typed this one before I realized there was a page 2 and saw your “Politics is answers to a lobbyists questions.” Weird, huh?)

    “Politics is questions asked by the minority.”

  27. Brock, weirdness is a many-spendored thing.  Speaking of weirdness- I might as well mention this here, since your signature is from Lincoln.  How many of you knew that two of the most important people of the nineteenth century were born on February 12, 1809?  That’s right- Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin share their birthday.  Needless to mention, the 200th anniversary, on 12.2.2009, will be a gala event, if Christ doesn’t show beforehand.  There’s already a silly wikiquarrel about the seemliness of mentioning the coincidence at all in Darwin’s Wiki entry.  Lord, what fools these mortals be…

  28. Not at all, Elwed. smile

    Interesting, Zilch. I wonder if any losers were born on that day.

    You gotta respect Lincoln; if for no other reason than that he legitimized ugly.

  29. Thriceberg: Pardon me, I am off to practice seppuku.

    Dude – don’t be so hard on yourself.  You can probably do it with no practice at all.  wink

    Brock: You gotta respect Lincoln; if for no other reason than that he legitimized ugly.

    No doubt.  I’ve been meaning to say something about that sig – now that’s funny.

    Brock: Interesting, Zilch. I wonder if any losers were born on that day.

    Hmm … being pre-web losers, would anyone have chronicled them?  I suppose not, and I find it sad that so much loser history might be forever lost.  Things are better now, as the wikiquarrel Zilch provided illustrates.  Ah, Vincent, your name shall live on in the annals of loserdom.

  30. Thrice, I deleted your double comment and your apology. No biggie. It happens to us all from time to time.

    TAFKA Buzz, it was The Dilbert Principle which I only know because it was the one book by Scott Adams outside of Dilbert collections I’ve read and that part of the book convinced me I didn’t need to read the others.

  31. Elwed. Mind if I tack “Politics is answers that lobbyists pay for.” on to my signature?

    Ditto with the hats off, Brock. You nailed it.  smile

  32. If anyone’s still following the sorry spectacle of PZ Myers and Scott Adams ranting at one another, here’s the latest installment: Adams addresses the issue at his blog with the rhetorical question “Am I Serious?.  The salient point: he doesn’t answer his own question, but merely gleefully lists the answers his readers have speculated.  This corroborates what I (and many others at both Pharyngula  and The Dilbert Blog) have been saying:  Adams’ muddled and befuddled musings run the gamut from obvious satire to straightforward speculation about the nature of the universe, all mixed together, so there’s no knowing what he really believes.  And Adams is not telling, so he is a rather unrewarding target for reasoned argument.

  33. Often times (don’t ask me how often – I’m making it up as I go) when there’s serious mixed up with perceived satire the author will have intended serious but is damned glad others have interpreted the possibility of well-hidden satire so he can say it was satire all along if he gets into too big of a black hole with his serious.
    It made sense to me.  wink
    i.e. It started off as dead serious.
    Others couldn’t believe he was so stupid and interpreted satire.
    After trying to slap life into his seriously dead fish he’ll eventually ‘admit’ it was satire all the time.
    But I am blaming the big bang for this comment.  LOL

  34. cool smirk

      This comment is a little late but I just sort of tripped over this site while looking for criticisms of Adams. The thing about this guy is that his political views are generally indefensible so the only thing he can do is play the ” I am a universal cynic” as if that really said anything. IF your cynicism is universal then obviously this attitude should apply to the “cynic” themselves. It’s like the argument used to justify the existence of government by saying that “people are evil and need to be controlled” or whatever. If people are bad then the people at the top are even worse. I agree with some of your commentators that Dilbert is kind of overrated. I liked it at first but the ideas never really get anywhere. It’s all kind of ” I’m above it all so screw all of you “. But if you “don’t care”,etc.,etc., then why bother in the first place?

  35. But if you “don’t care”,etc.,etc., then why bother in the first place?

    If this is meant to apply to Scott Adams, I would say that he makes lots of money on Dilbert, and gets his ego (and maybe other things) stroked by myriads of sycophantic fans who show up at his blog.  He may have other reasons as well, but his impenetrable snarkiness makes it impossible to find out.

    But don’t listen to me- I’m just a cynic too. LOL

  36. The problem with Adams, is the same problem the Freakonomics authors have. They are very intelligent and accurate in their field. Once outside this field, the accuracy and legitimacy declines since people tend to be experts in only one area of interest. But the problem is these people use their sway from the one area to make a point in another area and think they know what they are talking about since they are an expert in that other area. But it turns out they are only an expert in that one area, and should treat information given out in other areas of interest as opinion and not fact.

    If what I said made no sense or if the topic seems interesting check out this book

  37. DOF, you can call someone an “enemy combatant” and they’ll know what you mean. That doesn’t mean that I have to hold the architects of this concept in high regard.

  38. I think “pointy-haired X” is a much more agreed-upon and useful cultural shorthand than “enemy combatant”.  The latter means “terrorist caught by brave troops” to some and “hapless victim of national paranoia gone awry” to others. wink

  39. Sorry if I wasn’t clear in my last sentence. My use of the word “you” was elliptical .. well sort of. I was referring to Adams there.

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