One normally expects Catholics to be jusssssst a little more chill about Biblical literalism than the average frothy-mouthed fundagelical, but today we snerk at a Catholic who’s making exactly the same mistakes as his pals across the aisle. We’re going to look at Angelo Stagnaro, who wrote a post for a big Catholic site about how his god totally created the universe. It’s called “A Universe Made Just For Us,” and I thought y’all would enjoy it today because oh, I know how much we love us some quantum-woo apologetics!
Everyone, Meet Angelo Stagnaro.
Angelo Stagnaro is a very, very logical Christian. Why, he’s even totally written books about his super-logical take on Christianity. The bee buzzing around in his bonnet happens to be that weird Catholic hot-mess version of Creationism–and, um, stage magic.
Remember that weird 1980s trend of Christians trying to combine puppetry or clowning with their religion to create puppet ministries and clown ministries? Well, once an idea makes it into the ideology of a broken system, IT. NEVER. LEAVES. EVER. So this is Catholic stage-magic, and its First Apostle has written books about magic, but also about using “simple tricks for teaching Catholicism to kids.”
He’s also a hardline Catholic, so he’s got the usual tiresome culture-war books–like one regurgitating all the usual forced-birther nonsense regarding abortion. And a Lent cookbook. Oh, and the Vatican apparently gave him seals of approval for a lot of these books.
I don’t quite know why, but this guy reminds me very powerfully of Tony Anthony of Taming the Tiger.
Do You Wanna Build a
Watching Christian apologists try to merge their religious twaddle with real science is like watching a bunch of third-string comic-book villains trying to build a treehouse–just everyone falling over everything and tons of noise and sawdust against a boingy soundtrack, and everyone running around aimlessly in bright costumes, and parts and tools and laser guns laying everywhere in the grass.
We know in advance that we’re going to see desperate last-second trips to the hardware store because all kinds of calculations are totally wrong, and probably be at least one ER-worthy serious injury involving a power tool and/or a rake. We know, too, that the final end result will be a wacky, lopsided, precarious structure that could transmit tetanus through visual stimulus.
(And we can also guess that at some point, someone’s going to sneak off to call up some contractors to come in and get it all working properly.)
It’s amazing to me that anybody takes apologetics seriously at all. That said, apologists are good at some stuff. Constructing fallacy-riddled arguments, for one. Bamboozling people with rhetorical tricks. Grandiose posturing. But real science is the enemy of apologetics. Apologists only reach for science when they want to warp it, negate it, or defang it.
And you’d seriously think that Catholics, a group that reveres Augustine of Hippo like burning, would know better. Their hero wrote over a thousand years ago about the exact errors that Anthony Stagnaro is committing:
Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
Papa Gus was cautioning his flocks against making untrue claims not because it’s just bad to make untrue claims, but rather because doing so might affect Catholicism’s sales. And he was right! Even so, hardline Catholics–like Angelo Stagnaro–just can’t resist trying on the haute couture that is the trappings of science, even if they rip it and can’t fit into it.
What makes science-aping apologists even more endlessly hilarious is that while they’re warping, misunderstanding, and misapplying real science to their fallacy-riddled arguments, they act the whole time like incredibly smug gits as they insult those who don’t accept their claims.
See, apologists’ smugness, like their work generally, is not aimed at non-Christians. Their smugness is, instead, a kind of virtue-signaling. Stagnaro is telling his tribe that they are right and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. He’s instructing them to look down on their ideological enemies, modeling the desired behavior for them, reinforcing their cultural misunderstanding of both science and those who embrace it, and trying to make them feel more certain about their indoctrinations.
Communicating about actual science is purely secondary to the real goal of his post.
Did You Order Another Fine-Tuning Metaphysics Twit? I Sure Didn’t.
Stagnaro’s main argument in this post of his is that the universe was custom-designed for humanity, which means that his god did it because seriously who else could have, and that physicists totally know this and agree with it–except they don’t want to admit it out loud cuz they’re mean ole atheists who don’t want to admit that any gods exist or that Christians are totes right about everything. HAW HAW!
I’m mocking him, yeah, but I’m not kidding or exaggerating.
Stagnaro dabbles in both the weak and strong anthropic principles and thinks they are PROOF YES PROOF that his goddidit. He writes, regarding his opinion that the universe is “made specifically, perfectly, for humanity:”
This doesn’t prove God’s existence but it overwhelmingly implies that a benevolent Creator is a logical explanation for why there is something rather than nothing.
To which one might reasonably reply that nothing about this universe implies that anything benevolent had any hand in its creation. Stagnaro is making a very self-serving leap here on no evidence at all–and using another baseless assertion as his support for it. Also he might not actually know what nothing means. Generally speaking, science-aping Creationists rarely do. I barely do. But I do know that life on Earth is precious precisely because the universe isn’t friendly at all to life!
(It’s so magnificent to think about. Of the whole universe, all of it, from the tiniest little quantum burps to the greatest and most mind-bending superclusters and webs of matter forming the bumpy fabric of our cosmos, only one tiny little insignificant back-alley little speck of dust of it has ever been found to contain anything recognizable as life. The rest of the universe would destroy humans–and any known Earth life, really, even the really wacky kinds that live in the polar ice and the hottest vents in the ocean, the hard-to-classify kinds that continually laugh at our efforts to define limits on just how far life can evolve to survive and even at our puny attempts to categorize it all. Life is tenacious; it will find a way, though it can be fragile too.
And all that teeming life on this one tiny sand-mote could all be destroyed in less than a heartbeat, in less time than it’d take us to widen our eyes and mouth OH, SHI-. Our planet could be destroyed just as easily depending on what hits it: some stray beam zooming into us, an asteroid of sufficient size, or a nearby supernova. YES: “Total protonic reversal…!”
Even on the planet Earth itself, most of the planet is inhospitable to humans, and some of it’s inhospitable to almost all forms of life. People can only live on the surface of the planet–and not on all of the surface, either. Most of the surface is covered in water or ice; much of it’s so mountainous or so hot or so cold that very little can survive there. A lot of Earth’s surface simply doesn’t support humans, and some of it only supports the weirdest life you can possibly imagine–and some you might not even believe is real. It’s all just breathtaking to me.)So I’d super like to know why Stagnaro thinks that this universe is friendly to life. It only takes a few minutes of education to know that the opposite is the case in reality. You’d think someone presenting himself as ultra-rational would be able to find this stuff out very easily.
Neil deGrasse Tyson destroys the fine-tuning argument by pointing out a number of its flaws.
The Multiverse, As a Strawman.
You’d also think a stage magician might know about the dangers of magical thinking.
Stagnaro creates this huge strawman in his post about atheists are creaming their jeans for the multiverse–so he can then knock that strawman down. He writes,
The less rational, more “magic-minded,” atheistic explanation is that our universe is only one of an infinite number of possible universes and we only think this is the only universe because we’re coincidently stuck in this one.
He implies that the options here are: 1) believe as he does in an invisible wizard creating the universe via magic, or 2) believe in the magic multiverse, which is the preference of the mean ole atheists who all deep down totally believe in his magical explanation but don’t want to admit it. It’s actually funny that he thinks he is so much wiser and more evolved than atheists because he totally believes in the magic invisible wizard explanation for the universe’s beginning, and thinks that this is so much more rational than the multiverse (which isn’t really an atheist-Creationist myth anyway, so… apples to oranges?).
He’s wrong though.
A few things about the multiverse are true:
Second, that if there are other universes, then magic had nothing to do with their origin story–just as it had nothing to do with the origin story of this universe.
Third, if we found out tomorrow that the multiverse is a real thing, that wouldn’t be the end of the matter; it’d be a new and really awesome beginning.
It’s a false dilemma to tell people that their only two options are the multiverse or Stagnaro’s ideology, particularly when there are much more pressing problems with Christianity’s claims. It’s like he’s telling people that if they can’t buy into the multiverse, then obviously they’ll be joining his religion!
Stagnaro clings to this false dilemma so he can play Last Ideology Standing–and mock his tribal enemies:
It’s odd that scientists would rather create an infinite number of unverifiable universes in a vain attempt at countering the anthropic principle rather than simply admitting the simplest, easiest and thoroughly satisfying paradigm: God exists.
Translation: Aren’t those mean ole atheists just DUMB compared to us oh-so-evolved religious zealots? HAW HAW!
In reality, nobody has to “simply admit” anything about Stagnaro’s god because he hasn’t yet actually produced any evidence for the claim that a god exists or had anything to do with our universe’s beginning. No Christian ever has. So nobody is denying his claim while believing it in their heart of hearts. That’s just something Christians say to flatter themselves.
But by asserting that atheists are denying Christians’ superiority, Stagnaro reveals his real agenda–and his most-cherished ego defense.
Stagnaro’s real goal in writing this post is slamming his tribe’s most dread enemies, atheists. He desperately needs those enemies to look dumb and stubborn, like a bunch of scaredy-cats who can’t accept the obvious, so he can come out looking oh-so-evolved and wise and discerning. He writes:
Atheist physicists see the anthropic universe as dependent upon a Creator and thus they would do anything to explain it away.
Citation, please. I’ve never once heard an atheist say that, much less any atheists who were involved in any scientific field. Nobody is troubled by the anthropic universe because it cannot be supported by evidence–not because they’re skeeeeeeeeeeeeered of it. There’s nothing to deny or to run away from. But Christians sure act exactly like that when confronted with evidence contradicting their ideas.
The projection continues when he whines about a physicist who was talking about the universe maybe being infinite:
It’s merely the limitations of our senses and technology that make us shrug our collective shoulders and simply presume the universe goes on forever.
In reality, it’s religious nutters who shrug their collective shoulders and simply assume that their apologetics are correct; science, however, never stops asking questions. It’s religion that says “That’s just how it is; now shut up.”
Further, Christians like Angelo Stagnaro are the ones who prefer false answers to having no definite answers at all. For example, here’s a FAQ from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics that tells us that physicists don’t know for sure if the universe is infinite. Why didn’t Stagnaro take the 30 seconds necessary to type “do physicists think the universe is infinite” into a search engine?
I really don’t know what Christians would do if they had to be strictly honest and scrupulous in their dealings with non-Christians.
Sometimes I just feel so sorry for those brave scientists who’ve decided to engage with religious zealots.
But he’s got what he thinks is a trump card in this game–“a hand-stitched glove,” to be precise.
“A Hand-Stitched Glove.”
Stagnaro is fond of using the phrase “a hand-stitched glove” in describing how he thinks this universe was created for Earth-style life.
But he’s wrong there too. In fact, he’s gotten the matter backwards.
The universe is not “a hand-stitched glove” for us; we are rather “a hand-stitched glove” for this planet and this universe. The universe wasn’t made like this just so we could live in it; that is a worldview that is narcissistic in the extreme. Rather, we evolved in response to the way the universe works.
That single backward misunderstanding informs Stagnaro’s entire worldview. He writes,
These persnickety atheists insist that this particular universe fits us perfectly and that’s why we’re here.
Again, he’s got it bass-ackwards. It is we who fit this particular universe perfectly, not the other way around. And I don’t know anybody who embraces science who thinks that this fit is “why we’re here.” A wealth of evidence across a dozen scientific fields of study tells us that we’re here on this planet because that’s where evolution eventually led. It’s not “persnickety” to refuse to consider magic as an explanation for us being here–especially when real evidence has taken us to a whole other explanation that fits what we see all around us in Reality-Land. If he could credibly support his ideas with valid evidence, then they’d be accepted. But he absolutely can’t do that, so instead he lays the blame for his explanation’s rejection on everyone but himself.
Intellectual dishonesty: perhaps the most Christianly of all Christian virtues.
“There’s no other conclusion you can come to!” RIP, Douglas Adams.
A Last Shot of Schadenfreude.
Stagnaro’s closing is an attempt to mock atheists. It backfires dramatically because he hasn’t credibly supported anything he’s claimed throughout the post. After insisting that even if the multiverse were real then his god would be literally the only being who could have created it (another of his many citation needed moments), he snidely concludes,
We got ’em comin’ and goin’.
No, he doesn’t, though. Not at all. He’s declaring victory when he hasn’t even survived a single encounter with the enemy.
And ya know what?
It’s awesome that he’s acting like this.
Let him keep prancing around acting like he’s all science-y when he isn’t; let him keep making assertions he can’t prove; let him keep trying to smear atheism as being intellectually empty and dishonest when he’s more accurately describing himself. The more out of line he gets, the faster he chases his fellow Catholics out of the fold.
Ultimately, Angelo Stagnaro is more of a danger to his own religion’s future than to atheism’s credibility.
One reason I wanted to talk about Angelo Stagnaro is that I saw him as having taken a lot of shortcuts to gain expertise in a rather high-end form of science–and that’s our topic for next time, so he made a great illustration of the ideas we’ll be talking about. Creating and pursuing shortcuts is just part of being human. But in dysfunctional broken groups, these shortcuts become really counterproductive–and can backfire dramatically. Be thinking about it for next time–See you then!
Man, lately it seems like quantum woo is coming up a lot, doesn’t it?
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