Klinghoffer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, & Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall

Lisa Randall

This involves the interplay of a few different websites, so we’ll try to make it coherent. The Hayden Planetarium recently hosted the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate on the subject “Is the Universe a Simulation?” They have a link to a video of the entire debate, which is two hours long. Neil deGrasse Tyson was the host and moderator, and Lisa Randall was one of the panelists.

Although the topic was a bit esoteric, it attracted some news coverage. For example, the Atlanta Constitution had this headline: Neil deGrasse Tyson believes we could be living in Matrix-like simulation. The newspaper said:

Tyson, who has posited his beliefs about interplanetary life in the past, is open to the simulation possibility and offered a thought experiment. Humans might be the most intelligent life on Earth but the smartest human might only have the brain capacity of a toddler compared to alien life. “That is not a stretch to think about and if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment,” Tyson said. “The day we learn that it is true. I will be the only one in the room who will say, I’m not surprised.”

A wee bit hypothetical. Nonsensical, really, but fun nevertheless. However, it seems to have upset PZ Myers, who posted We have a term for that, Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Intelligent Design”. PZ said:

Neil deGrasse Tyson led a debate on whether the universe is a simulation. He took the affirmative side. He agrees that there’s no way to prove it one way or the other, but he claims that the probability that we may be part of a simulation “may be very high”. Aargh. Facepalm.


I am disappointed to say that Tyson gives the worst argument in favor of the simulation hypothesis. It’s the idea that of course there could be super-intelligent beings, and of course what super-intelligent beings would do is create us.

Okay, PZ is disappointed. Now the fun begins. At the creationist blog of the Discovery Institute, this just appeared: Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Chances of Intelligently Designed Universe “May Be Very High”. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger. We’ll give you a few excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis.

[O]f course he [Tyson] was referring to the odds that the universe is an artificial computer simulation by advanced aliens. And that, as opposed to picturing an intelligent designer in more traditional terms [hee hee!] or (as ID theorists prefer) simply leaving open the question of identifying the designer, makes the hypothesis compatible with science? It seems so.

The panel discussion wasn’t remotely about intelligent design, yet Klinghoffer is criticizing Tyson for being a sloppy thinker about that subject. Amazing, huh? Let’s read on:

Fellow atheist P.Z. Myers is appalled [quote from PZ/s blog]. But no. While a simulated universe would indeed be intelligently designed, by definition, Myers has not correctly identified an ID argument.

Klinghoffer is frustrated because PZ doesn’t understand the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design. He attempts to clarify our thinking:

In simplest terms, the case for ID is twofold, negative and positive. First, all known theories of undirected origins fundamentally fail to makes sense of the scientific evidence. [Hee hee!] Second, a theory of directed origins makes good sense of the evidence, conforming to what we already know about the operation of intelligent causes. Therefore as a provisional matter, we’re justified in inferring design as the best explanation, the best available explanation, of what we see.

The Discoveroids don’t like evolution, so they say Oogity Boogity is the next best explanation. Simple, huh? Here’s more from Klinghoffer:

If Tyson had said: Theories of the universe as non-simulated fail while theories of simulation succeed — then that would be reminiscent of arguments for ID. Of course he would need to suggest some ways his idea could be tested.

But Tyson said nothing like that, because he isn’t crazy. And except for the Discoveroids, everyone knows that their “theory” can’t be tested.

At the end, Klinghoffer actually approves of something PZ said, which may be the first time that has ever happened:

P.Z. congratulates Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, another participant in the debate:

[Klinghoffer quotes from PZ’s blog:] Lisa Randall is the voice of reason who says she thinks the question is only interesting if we have a way to test it. You go, Lisa Randall. That’s how a scientist should think, and she finds the whole argument hilarious.

Randall is always worth quoting. Even Klinghoffer appears to agree with her — but for a bizarre reason. He says:

And she’s right. In the context of ID, despite atheist counterclaims, the fact that the design hypothesis is testable is one thing that makes it of intense scientific interest.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We can imagine Klinghoffer at the panel discussion. When it’s over, he climbs out of the audience and creeps close to Lisa to show his approval — but then, when she realizes who it is, she cringes and quickly moves away.

So there you are. A panel discussion where Tyson’s entertaining remarks were blown out of proportion, and now the Discoveroids are trying to use the thing to legitimize their mystical view of the universe. Well, why not? What else have they got?

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Klinghoffer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, & Lisa Randall

  1. “…makes it of intense scientific interest.” WHERE? TO WHOM?

  2. “…makes it of intense scientific interest.”

    “Intense” is only actually correct for sufficiently large values of zero.

  3. Maybe, someday, the Discoveroid’s will reveal a method to test the “design hypothesis.” Something other than asking a co-worker whether a cell looks complicated to her also.

  4. “Fellow atheist P.Z. Myers…” – Gee, I wonder if they’re part of the same congregation? In other news, Klinghoffer and fellow non-believer in fairies, Vladimir Putin….

  5. Let us recall that a popular description of ID is that there is a better explanation for features of life than naturalistic evolution.
    Did anyone suggest an alternative account for the diversity of life which does not include common descent with modification? No.
    No, not Tyson. Nor did anyone spend any time responding to such an account. And K. didn’t say anything positive or substantive about one.
    What we had was an example of how scientists are capable of wild speculation, but nobody as yet has been able to think of an account which doesn’t involve evolution.

  6. Typical of Myers to get immediately, adolescently incandescent over Tyson’s perfectly reasonable piece of thought experiment.

  7. Isn’t it interesting that the Klinger juxtapositions ID with atheism to suggest that they are diametric. That would be news to a lot of the BioLogos crowd and other evolutionary creationists.

  8. michaelfugate

    Also since the DI claims not to know who the designer is (wink, wink), then atheism is perfectly compatible with ID as in NdGT’s scheme.

  9. Klingy mutters “the fact that the design hypothesis is testable is one thing that makes it of intense scientific interest.” It might be of some scientific interest if any IDer would please specify how you could test whether a sky fairy exists, let alone designed anything. Get your “scientists” busy with that, Klingy, and get back to us when you’ve got a test.

  10. IDers/ creationists are like an astrologer who listens intently to everything an astronomer says and when that astronomer refers to a zodiac constellation, the astrologer runs around, arms flailing, saying: “See! It’s true! Astronomy supports astrology!”

  11. Neil Degrasse Tyson is good looking and all, but Lisa Randall has got him beat in the attractiveness department. I hope that doesn’t sound either sexist or racist.

  12. Astrologists, as far as I know, do not claim that the astronomers are mistaken in a fundamental way, and are not on a campaign to have astrology taught in K-12 science classes. They do not claim that the teaching of astronomy was responsible for various evils. And, as goofy as it is, they have a positive program of what’s going on – they don’t just say that “something, somehow, is wrong with those who disagree with us.”

  13. As noted by Douglas E and Ken Phelps above, the religious beliefs of those opposed to ID are of utmost importance to the Discovery Institute. The religiosity of those at the DI, meanwhile, is inconsequential.

    Klinghoffer and his merry band conflate an understanding of evolution with athiesm but fail to mention (recognize?) that there is strong opposition to Intelligent Design from believers, as well.

  14. @Mark Germano
    I recall a comment from the 19th century Roman Catholic cardinal and English intellectual, John Henry Newman, that he believed in design because he believed in the creator God, not that he believed in God because of design.

  15. PZ is having a fit because people like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Lisa Randall, Brian Cox and even Bill Nye are making science popular with kids and adults who normally wouldn’t give it a second look while he blathers away in the frozen tundra of of western MN.
    It may be unfair, but science needs good looking well spoken people for kids to look up to.

  16. Actually, I recall the Curmudgeon having a link to a paper in his 2012 post, “Dreams of a Designed Universe”, describing how to detect a Matrix-like scenario titled Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation that involved detecting shifts in cosmic radiation. “Observable consequences of the hypothesis that the observed universe is a numerical simulation performed on a cubic space-time lattice or grid are explored…..The numerical simulation scenario could reveal itself in the distributions of the highest energy cosmic rays exhibiting a degree of rotational symmetry breaking that reflects the structure of the underlying lattice.”

    The point being Tyson was referencing science in his comments whereas the Discoveroids were referencing their wistful thinking or attachments to a personal god. Big difference that Klinghoffer seems incapable of grasping.