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.

Philosophical Grounding: A Parable

God's existence doesn't seem likely.  Why imagine that Jesus is real?Consider this parable:

A certain mathematician, in a philosophical mood one day, wonders what grounds his mathematics.  The math works, of course, but he wonders if he’s missing something foundational.

He consults a friend of his, a theologian.  The theologian knows almost nothing about mathematics, but he knows his Christianity.

The mathematician says, “Mathematics is like an inverted triangle with the most advanced math along the wide top edge.  The top layer is grounded on the math below it, which is grounded on what is below, and so on through the layers, down to arithmetic and logic at the point at the bottom.  And that’s where it stops.”

The theologian nods his head wisely.  “I see the problem—what does the bottom rest on?”

The mathematician was silent.

“In your view, it rests on nothing,” said the theologian.  “It just sits there in midair.  But the problem is easily resolved—mathematics and logic comes from God.  There’s your grounding.”

“Are you saying that I need to convert to Christianity to be a mathematician?”

“No, just realize that you are borrowing from the Christian worldview every time you make a computation or write an equation.”

Satisfied that this nagging problem has been resolved, the mathematician returns to his work and thinks no more of it. 

The End.

So, is the mathematician any better off?  Is he faster or more accurate or more creative?  Do his proofs work now where they hadn’t before?  In short, did he get anything of value from the whole episode?

I’ve heard this “grounding” or “atheists borrow from the Christian worldview” idea many times, but I’ve yet to discover what this missing thing is that is being borrowed.

“God did it” is simply a restatement of the problem.  “God did it” is precisely as useful as “logic and arithmetic are simply properties of our reality” or “that’s just the way it is” or even “I don’t know.”  A curious problem has been suppressed, not resolved.  In fact, the theologian himself has his answer resting in midair because he provides no reason to conclude that God exists.  His claim is no more believable than that of any other religion—that is, not at all.

The person who stops at “God did it” has stated an opinion only—an opinion with no evidence to back it up.  It doesn’t advance the cause of truth one bit.

Mathematics is tested, and it works.  Scratch your head about what grounds it if you want, but God is an unnecessary and unedifying addition to the mix.