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F**kin’ Magnets—How do They Work?

Does God exist?The hip hop band Insane Clown Posse has created an interesting meme with its 2010 song “Miracles.”

Well, not so much interesting as bizarre. Here’s a bowdlerized version of the verses in question:

Water, fire, air and dirt.
F**kin’ magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist.
Y’all motherf**kers lying and getting me pissed.

You really want to know how magnets work? Here you go:

Does God exist?
These are Maxwell’s equations, the foundation of our understanding of electricity and magnetism. A deep understanding would obviously take some effort, but the point is that this question is no mystery to science.

The song’s not all bad, but it wanders from justifiable wonder at nature (“Oceans spanning beyond my sight / And a million stars way above ’em at night”) to conflating wonder with ignorance.

Saturday Night Live did an excellent parody video. The lyrics in their song “Magical Mysteries” include, “Where does the sun hide at night? / Did people really used to live in black and white?” which isn’t too far from denying our knowledge about magnets.

Maybe Bill O’Reilly is a Juggalo (a fan of Insane Clown Posse) because he has sounded a lot like them. In a 2011 interview with David Silverman, president of American Atheists, O’Reilly said, “I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion. Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.”

(Uh … can you say, “Wikipedia”?)

And were there no consequences for O’Reilly for being this confused about reality? He’s been lampooned for these statements (and a later defense, which was equally ridiculous) by people who weren’t his fans to begin with. But doesn’t his fan base care about reality? Can they possibly cheer on this willful ignorance?

Despite the contrary opinions of O’Reilly and Insane Clown Posse, learning about how things work can make them more amazing. Actually understanding how magnets work doesn’t ruin the magic trick, it turns mysterious into marvelous.

Here’s an experiment: go outside on a clear night. Hold out your hand, arm extended, and look at the nail of your little finger. That fingernail is covering a million galaxies. Not a million stars, a million galaxies. Each galaxy has roughly 100 billion stars. That’s 100,000,000,000,000,000 stars under just one fingernail. Now look at how vast the sky is compared to that one tiny patch.

And how does the Bible treat this inconceivable vastness? “[God] also made the stars” (Gen. 1:16). That’s it.

The god of the Old Testament is little more than an absolute monarch with the wisdom of Solomon, the generalship of Alexander, and the physical strength of Hercules. But science gives you the vastness of the universe, the energy of a supernova, the bizarreness of quantum physics, and the complexity of the human body. The writers of the Bible were constrained by their imagination, and it shows. There is so much out there that they couldn’t begin to imagine. If you want wonder, discard the Bible and open a science book.

And this is not groundless myth, it’s science—the discipline that makes possible your reading this across the Internet, on a computer, powered by electricity (and governed by Maxwell’s equations).

Carl Sagan said, “We are star stuff” to suggest that we are literally made from the remnants of stars. Two adjoining carbon atoms in a molecule in your body might have come from different exploding stars. Science gives us this insight, not religion.

Second-century Christian author Tertullian is credited with the maxim, credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd). In other words, no one could make this stuff up.

If you believe anything either in spite of evidence to the contrary or because of it, science may not for you. But if you want to understand reality to the best of humanity’s ability, rely on science. C’mon in—the water’s fine!

Science does not make it impossible to believe in God,
but it does make it possible to not believe in God.
Steve Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in Physics

Photo credit: mutantMandias

Related posts:

Related links:

  • “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse: video (cued to the magnets verse) and lyrics. Caution: rated PG-13 for language.
  • “F*cking Magnets, How Do They Work?” Know Your Meme.
  • “Bill O’Reilly You Can’t Explain That,” Know Your Meme.
  • Robert Quigley, “Bill O’Reilly’s Tidal Skepticism Launches ‘You Can’t Explain That’ Meme,” Geekosystem, 2/10/11.
  • A succinct summary of how modern technology makes the marvels of Jesus look pathetic is here.

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    Surely by now Bob, you have interacted with enough Christians to know that many are not at the level of Bill O’Reilly. So why do you characterize Christians as if they are all like that? Is it because that is the level of your ideas?

    By the way, the Bible doesn’t stop at God made the stars.

    Psalm 8:3-4
    When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

    In other words, the stars and heavens are so amazing that the psalmist’s mind is boggled that God cares about puny little humans in the midst of this enormous universe (even granted that our understanding of the vastness of the universe is greater now than the psalmist’s was.)

    Now I in no way want to constrain the wonder of science. It truly is amazing what science can tell us about the universe. But to pretend that the Bible is unable to perceive this justifiable wonder and amazement is at best a huge oversight, and at worst a deliberate misrepresentation.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Surely by now Bob, you have interacted with enough Christians to know that many are not at the level of Bill O’Reilly.

      He’s quite popular. I would think he speaks for many Christians.

      our understanding of the vastness of the universe is greater now than the psalmist’s was

      That’s an understatement! And that’s my point.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        And despite our scientific knowledge exceeding that of the psalmist, he has expressed exactly the sentiment that you say science gives us. Yes, he didn’t know all the details we do, but you cannot accuse him of missing the point.

        And incidentally you may be missing an important point, namely that we didn’t need the recent advances in science to have true amazement and wonder at the world around us (and not amazement and wonder based in ignorance – the psalmist is amazed by what he does know about how vast the heavens are) and to think we need the recent advances in science to be amazed is actually a sign that perhaps it is our imagination that has been calloused.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          the psalmist is amazed by what he does know about how vast the heavens are

          And he’d be far more amazed if he actually knew what he was looking at. Science gives us reality, not religion.

  • Bob Calvan

    I think Bill was referring to the uniformity of nature, that God created. The tide comes in and goes out. We have seasons ( which the Bible explains) We have morning and night. Water will boil today and will boil tomorrow. Etc.
    And Science depends on the uniformity of nature ( induction) to do experiments. Other wise there would be no Science.

    The problem is Science can not account for the uniformity of nature. Only the Christian worldview can. Science can not answer “How do you know the future will be like he past?” Only the Christian worldview can answer that.
    Even the great atheist David Hume pointed out . That to be consistent we can not expect the future to be like the past.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      O’Reilly’s focus was “you can’t explain that,” and that was what I was pointing out.

      Science can not answer “How do you know the future will be like he past?”

      Science replies: “because we’ve done considerable observation and found that this hypothesis is well supported.” Where’s the problem?

      Only the Christian worldview can answer that.

      If by “answer” you mean “provide groundless faith claims,” then I agree.

      That to be consistent we can not expect the future to be like the past.

      We can’t blindly assume it, but if observation tells us that this is the case, there’s the firm foundation on which to build science.

  • Bob Calvan

    Interesting article:
    Problems with Peer-Review: A Brief Summary
    Casey Luskin February 10, 2012 12:03 PM | PermalinkWe’ve received some very positive feedback about my piece on problems with the peer-review publication system. Admittedly, it’s a slightly long article, so I’d like to provide a short summarized version of the arguments here:

    Point 1. Good science does not have to be published in the peer-reviewed literature.
    Groundbreaking scientific books, like Darwin’s Origin of the Species or Newton’s Principia were not published in peer-reviewed journals. There are many examples of leading journals like Nature and Science having rejected important research, including research that later won the Nobel prize. Even the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1993 case Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. that “Publication (which is but one element of peer review) is not a sine qua non of admissibility; it does not necessarily correlate with reliability, and in some instances well-grounded but innovative theories will not have been published.” It’s a fallacy to claim that a scientific idea is necessarily unreliable if it hasn’t appeared in the peer-reviewed literature.

    Point 2: The peer-review system faces two common criticisms: (1) that the system wrongly rejects scientifically valid papers, and (2) that the system wrongly accepts scientifically flawed papers.
    There are many examples where journals had to retract papers because errors, or even outright fraud, went undetected by the reviewers. Studies have found that peer-review has little effect on improving the quality of articles. Peer-review publication is time-consuming and expensive and often excludes people for no good reason. But the “publish or perish” mindset keeps the system in place.

    Point 3: If you believe that scientific peer-reviewers are like perfectly objective robots, then you believe a myth.
    All scientists are humans, and none are inerrant. Political concerns, economic factors, lab-rivalry, support for one’s friends, and other normal human elements are never completely divorced from the peer-review process. Journals have huge economic interests in preserving the current flawed system, and research scientists gladly play along because peer-reviewed papers are necessary for them to maintain their positions.

    Point 4: Scientific dogmatists increasingly play the “peer-review card” to silence scientific dissent.
    Despite the deficiencies in the peer-review system, “peer-review” serves as a rhetorical weapon, enlisted for the purpose of silencing dissenting, minority scientific viewpoints. In scientific debates, we often hear sneers like “Does your criticism appear in a peer-reviewed journal?” before it will be taken seriously. It’s hypocritical when scientists push their views upon the public through non-peer reviewed venues like the media, but then try to shut down critics for responding in non-peer-reviewed venues.

    Point 5: The peer-review system is often biased against non-majority viewpoints.
    The peer-review system is largely devoted to maintaining the status quo. As a new scientific theory that challenges much conventional wisdom, intelligent design faces political opposition that has nothing to do with the evidence. In one case, pro-ID biochemist Michael Behe submitted an article for publication in a scientific journal but was told it could not be published because “your unorthodox theory would have to displace something that would be extending the current paradigm.” Denyse O’Leary puts it this way: “The overwhelming flaw in the traditional peer review system is that it listed so heavily toward consensus that it showed little tolerance for genuinely new findings and interpretations.”

    Point 6: ID proponents have published a significant body of legitimate peer-reviewed research, but it’s important to understand that being recognized in the peer-reviewed literature is not an absolute requirement to demonstrate an idea’s scientific merit.
    Despite the attempted lockout, ID proponents have published their ideas in peer-reviewed scientific journals. This shows that ID has academic legitimacy whether or not one applies the dubious “peer-review” test of good science.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      It’s a fallacy to claim that a scientific idea is necessarily unreliable if it hasn’t appeared in the peer-reviewed literature.

      Who says it is? But is sure is a red flag!

      the “publish or perish” mindset keeps the system in place.

      Sour grapes, eh? “We can’t get published … so we didn’t want to get published in your poopy magazine anyway! So there!”

      All scientists are humans, and none are inerrant.

      Duh.

      Scientific dogmatists increasingly play the “peer-review card” to silence scientific dissent.

      Y’know, science has done an insanely good job in revealing reality to us. Everyone is aware of the problems of science … and yet it does stumble along, throwing off fabulous bits of knowledge as it goes. There’s room for improvement, but this whining is indeed sour grapes.

      The peer-review system is often biased against non-majority viewpoints.

      Yup–guilty. Who would want it any other way? Take away the inertia of the status quo, and science embraces first this theory and then that one like a hyperactive child playing with one toy and then another.

      Science is hardball. If you’re thin skinned, go back to hug Mommy’s legs. The good news is that ideas that make it through the boot camp of science are probably pretty good.

      being recognized in the peer-reviewed literature is not an absolute requirement to demonstrate an idea’s scientific merit

      But IDers would crow about it if they got peer reviewed exposure.

      The Disco Institute trying its case in the public sphere is an admission of failure. They’re admitting that their ideas can’t stand up to scientific scrutiny (where science actually comes from) and so are trying to win in an irrelevant category–that of public opinion.

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