October 31, 2012

III.  Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man

Intro-   This is Part III of the overall argument: God is Possible. I titled this part A Preemptive Reply originally because I wished to make ... a preemptive reply ... to an objection I am likely to receive to the argument in Part II.  But, honestly, which of the two titles conveys more about string theory?  One about Johnny Cash picking on a sideways-turned guitar (...wait for it...), or one using language found in a legal brief?   zzzz

Here are some of Johnny and June's words:

Johnny:  Well, I'm gonna start out walkin' / just you wait and see
June:  Uh-uh guitar picker / you ain't leavin' without me
Johnny:  Oh, you big mouthed woman
June:  You long-legged guitar pickin' man
Both:  Well, we can work this out
Johnny:  Uh-huh, yes ma’am, I think we can

You can find several live performances of the song on the web. Here's one posted by YouTube: PeterRabbit59.

But just so's I don't mislead you by my use of this analogy, no, I do not think of God as being a long-legged guitar pickin' man.  String theory itself is what I think he is closer to being like, or yes, maybe the creator or sustainer of string theory.

Okay, on to Part III.

III.  Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man;  Alternate Title - A Preemptive Reply

To summarize, Professor Oerter analogized God to a Purple Elephant on Pluto, seeking material evidence for that. He bolstered his argument by analogizing to a complicated theory in particle physics called string theory. String theory postulates that the energy of the universe comes in teeny tiny little bits of vibrating activities (energy) which might occupy a variety of different dimensions and may combine in a variety of different ways.

By combining in different ways, these teeny tiny "strings" produce or become the mysterious little particles of particle physics. And those become atoms, molecules, stardust, rocks and humans.

We do not know that string theory works like that. We do not know if string theory works at all. Professor Oerter said that, and I agree with him, and feel comfortable relying on him for that. There is little if any evidence yet to support string theory. So we should not treat string theory as fact. Oerter argues, by analogy, God's existence should also not be treated as any kind of fact.

Analogy is a logical tool. It is a type of inductive logic, rather than deductive logic.

Inductive logic works like this: "Every willow tree I have ever seen has green leaves. I have been to a lot of places all over the planet and have seen a lot of willow trees. Therefore I conclude that all willow trees have green leaves."

Clearly I do not know that all willow trees actually do have green leaves. Maybe there is one out there I missed, and it has red leaves. But based on the evidence I have seen, I infer that they all have green leaves. As we gather more and more information about trees in general and willow trees in particular, we humans can refine, modify or reject my conclusion that all willow trees have green leaves.

See?  Everybody is a logician.  Logic, correctly understood, does seem to be possible. I recently wrote some comments about that, and back in 2008 I wrote a piece about sound judgment.

Moving on.

Deductive logic works differently. It works like this:
"- All willow trees have green leaves.
- This tree is a willow tree.
- Therefore this tree must have green leaves."

Of course you can look at this tree and see that, but humor me. Pretend you are looking at the trunk of the tree and can't see any of the leaves above you. Nonetheless, you deduce that the leaves are in fact green without looking.

Although it is not really relevant here, but as an aside - please note: deductive logic often sounds more conclusive, more accurate somehow, than inductive logic ... because it is usually written in such strong positive terms. But, frankly, deductive logic is often just inductive logic in disguise, as in our example here. The "must have green leaves" clause rests on the primary premise's assertion that "All" willow trees have green leaves. So ... deductive logic can sound more accurate because that primary premise ("All x is y") is stated as if it is true. But as you can see, at least as to our willow tree example, we do not actually know if our primary premise is true or false. Remember, our primary premise was originally derived by inductive logic, which is inherently open to dispute.

Now back to our chain of thought.

Analogy works like this: "An acorn is to an oak tree, as a kitten is to a ... what? Answer: As a kitten is to a cat."

In other words, there is something similar in the relationship between acorns, which grow into oak trees, and kittens, which grow into cats.  We can all see that, even though the concept of growing was not openly referred to anywhere in the analogy.

Okay, so as to Professor Oerter's use of string theory as an analogy, he is saying that, since it is reasonable to not count on string theory as fact in the absence of evidence, it is likewise reasonable to not count on the existence of God when the "existence of God" suffers from a similar absence of evidence. (My quotes).

I agreed with the professor as to this specific use of his analogy as it applies to statements of fact about both God and string theory. I then tried to turn the use of the professor's analogy around.

I tried to do so essentially by expressing this thought: (i) string theory provides a complicated explanation for the operation of the known universe; (ii) God is like string theory in that he, too, provides a complicated explanation for the operation of the known universe; (iii) string theory is possible; (iv) therefore, by analogy, since the theory of God 's existence is like the theory of vibrating strings of energy, God, too, is possible.

I know that bit of logic is not as easy to follow as acorns, kitty cats, and growth of same.  So take a moment, reread it, and tell me what my conclusion depends on? I'm just trying to be scrupulously and intellectually honest here.

Yes ... the conclusion depends on whether "the theory of God 's existence is like the theory of vibrating strings of energy" in sufficiently relevant ways.

I think it is.

But analogy is a form of inductive logic, which, as said earlier, is inherently open to dispute. Perhaps the possible existence of God is nothing like the possible existence of vibrating strings of energy. After all, how do we settle on  what types of existence are possible?

I repeat, that I think the analogy is a good one. But further discussion about that needs to wait for another day.  Or for the comments.

It's Halloween, and children will soon be knocking on the door for candy.

And I'm still tired from watching much of the conclusion last night, live, of the World Series of Poker 2012 at the Rio.

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Ed. Note: Aristotle liked to use acorns and oak trees, as well as horses, and animals (including at least one tiger), in his writings. He is one of the first to work out analogical logic. For those interested, here is a link to an article in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy related to the subject.
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[space reserved here for two pictures to be included in an update]

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- Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man; Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Marshall Grant (author of this song) (1971), later with Carl Perkins (author of Blue Suede Shoes).
- wsop.com
- youtube.com
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at plato.stanford.edu

Shout outs:
- to three Indiana lawyer friends of mine, who helped me in 2009, one of whom who put away his motorcycle before I could properly thank him; and to a fine former worker and friend of mine, who will soon be one of those Indiana lawyers; here's to clear logic and interesting questions of fact

Deep Thoughts and Reflections:
- for all who have been harmed by Hurricane Sandy; death toll now 74 and damages now reaching ....


  1. Finally. Now I got to read all this stuff?

  2. So, does that mean, logically, the statement "anything is possible" is true?

  3. String theory is inferred from testable models of particle physics. An analogy is not an inference just as a zebra is not a horse though it is testable that both have hooves. The disproven argument that there are no black swans by finding black swans in australia does not prove there are no pink swans only that they are not impossible by analogy. It seems to me you are proving that the existence of God is not impossible, but also not testable. This a step farther from testing boson or M theory and saying it satisfies at least proven aspects of known particle models. I may be wrong but by logically proven something is not impossible simply means it is possible no more, no less. The leap of faith to God is still required and is still not a proof.

  4. grit & Tx: Thanks for the comments. It seems one of you suggests I may have proven too much (anything is possible), while the other suggests I may not have shown that God is possible, but only that he is not impossible (and also not testable). Square on. I shall think on these things and reply again sometime in the future.

  5. If string theory and God are both mental constructs about the time before the Big Bang, one thought to consider is what are mental constructs and where do they come from.

  6. Over my head BIG time, mine s a simple faith, like a child. But I did try and muddle through all the words without my eyes glazing over too much.


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