SUNDAY WRY MATH: Dr. Richard Dawkins and "The Imaginary Number Delusion"

*** UPDATE 1/21 ***

A hearty welcome to the folks coming over from ... I regret I can't comment directly on your thread(s) over there. Suffice to say that those of you critiquing this little "germ" of an idea are, in large part, demonstrably more intellectual in approach than Dr. Dawkins, IMO. Those of you pointing out my ad hominem attacks — I guess, on Mr. Harris — no doubt would discourage Dr. Dawkins from doing the same.

Of course, if he did refrain from ad hominem attacks, he could only write pamphlets and not books.

My argument is not meant to be philosophically water-tight; no. I am but a humble maths/statistics teacher, with an avocation on the side for probability and some number theory (see here and here for examples).

My argument is merely meant to mimic Dr. Dawkins' at its strongest point. Strongest.

As I say below, I prefer my atheists to be much more rigorous in their approach to atheism, especially if they are scientists, as Dr. Dawkins is. A widely-accepted and longly-held thesis requires strong evidence to argue in favor of an alternative hypothesis. So I was taught.

That's all. Plus I like making cartoons but lack a large portion of artistic skill.


*** UPDATE 1/08 ***

I suppose anyone who takes the time to wade through my li'l treatise deserves a moral:

MORAL: I don't necessarily think that all atheists should be dismissed out-of-hand, even ones who think that they are 100% correct and that all persons throughout history of all deist stripes are idiots and wrong. Really.

But I do hold any atheists attempting to argue for their case, or against mine, to a certain philosophical standard of excellence, and I hold allegedly scientific athiests to  higher standard of reason still.

Dawkins, by contrast, may be a very fine evolutionary biologist, or whatever, but his published philosophical underpinnings of his atheist-is-right-and-theists-are-insane-fools beliefs are — literally — childish,  at about the same level as a 6th-grade altar boy of average education.

"Who made God?" or "Only scientific, materialist-based evidence will suffice" or "Natural Selection possesses (essentially) all the characteristics necessary to reasonably replace an omnipotent God" are lines of reasoning on par with "can God make a rock so big that He Himself cannot lift it?"

Good for a larf, but not something you should be tossing around in front of people as proper intellectual fodder.

I guess I should mention that, for me, Isaac Asimov was a fairly interesting atheist. I rate the current Penn Gillette as interesting, but know nothing yet of his philosophical stances — for all I know, he may have just been raised atheist and not know any better. I just find him outlandishly funny, is all.

But Dawkins? Read on, Dear Visitor!

N.B. : Sam Harris is a current, trendy, spokesperson for modern atheism. I can't guess what his shelf-life will be. The three antagonists of Dawkins featured herein (Faraday, Maxwell and Newton) all have something in common besides being Giants of their respective scientific ages. Can you guess?

*** EOF ***

Hot on the heels of his runaway bestseller,

rabid atheist and sometime scientist Dr. Richard Dawkins outlines his new monograph, The Imaginary Number Delusion, in a recent lecture to distinguished scientists and philosophers everywhere!

Dr. Richard Dawkins: Hey, I want to thank you all for coming out tonight... [shuffles papers]... Now that we’ve disposed of that “belief in God” nonsense that plagued Mankind for millennia – thank God [pause for laughter] –

— thank Science, rather, that I finally figured out how to Scientifically show that God cannot exist, and that any rational person cannot simultaneously be rational and believe that God exists,

Sam Harris: Amen, brother!

Now that we’ve disposed of that philosophical minefield, persons of all nonfaiths, genders and races can live more fulfilled and pleasant lives. Religion, the bete noir of Mankind for generations of deluded souls, has been shown the door, and that with a boot to its backside!

~ w00t! ~

But what of mathematics and the study of maths? Mathematics remains one of the last remaining fields of psychological distress left to the cheerful atheist. And why? Well – for one thing – many deluded so-called mathematicians persist in the unnecessary and idiotic belief in non-real numbers, specifically: the Imaginary Numbers!


James Clerk Maxwell, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday: ... ?

As any Man of Science can tell you, the Real Number set, or system, encompasses all of reality, in just the same way the material cosmos encompasses all of everything real.

Example: There is only the material world, hence Science can explain everything and a fairy-tale god explains nothing.

It is entirely reasonable, then, in my view, that there are only REAL numbers, and hence they explain everything and these fairy-tale IMAGINARY numbers explain nothing.

Er —

Quite. I mean, really – what are the Operations of mathematics? You’ve got addition, naturally, and subtraction, and division and multiplication – there’s the Big Four right there…

Actually, if you think about it, there’s only two operations there, because adding and subtracting can be thought of as two sides of the same operational coin, as it were –

STOP INTERRUPTING ME! You damned theists and your damned hoo-doo pseudo "science!" WHAT DID YOU EVER DO TO ADVANCE THE HOLY CAUSE OF SCIENCE?

Well; I don't like to brag.

In one year, he developed the general binomial theorem and the calculus so that he could investigate theories of gravitation and optics.


Er – without the use of computers, calculators, electricity, or even a decent pen and paper.

... ohwellanyway — there’s the Big Four, and then there’s powers of numbers, and roots and those logarithm-thingies, I’m glad they never come up much in biological studies, I can tell you!

Yeee-eaahhh! FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTERS! [sips from whisky flask]

All of these operations can be applied to numbers – the Real Numbers, with a few simple rules. For example, one can’t take the square root of a negative real number, and one can’t try and calculate a logarithm of a non-positive number. These simple constraints make math-time easily understandable and downright fun!



About those rules of yours – ?


One can take the square root of a negative number, if one simply posits the existence –

[chuckles deprecatingly] Ohhh… and what number, multiplied by itself, has a product equal to -1? Mr. Smarty Pants?

Here it comes! YEAGH!! BABY!! STAR GODS!! [tips flask back, whisky running down chin now]

One times one? No! One times one is equal to 1!

But —

Negative one times negative one?! Wrong again! Two negatives make a positive, and the product is equal to positive one!


It can’t be done! Every rational person knows it! Friend, there is no such thing as the square root of a negative number!


I’ve run rings around you logically!

But, you see, just suppose the square root of –1 exists! Just suppose it! Let's pick a handy symbol as equal to this given imaginary unit, “i" ...

It turns out, surprisingly, that those "imaginary" numbers aren't really figments! We can use them, along with the Real Numbers, to form a larger system, you see, called the Complex Numbers. In this system, one can take roots of negative numbers and so on. But the system is closed under all of the above operations you listed. Self-contained, if you will. And, it’s mathematically very powerful and intriguing! The modelling of electronic and magnetic phenomena —

Oh har-dee-har-har! That’s your idea of Science, man? Just define something into existence? You see the illogic of the situation? The unreasonableness? The Real Number system is all there is, because that is all there is. I have therefore proved that Imaginary Numbers don’t exist!

One can’t see “imaginary” or “complex” numbers, because they aren’t there, and if you can see them you, Sir, are a nutter – but hardly a Scientist! You would be insane to believe in the existence of Imaginary Numbers!

Well. We respectfully —

Ooooooo! Shut ‘em down, Richy! FLYI-I-ING SPAGHETTI NUMBERS!! [throws up on shoes]

Well there goes my work on electromagnetism, then.

Welcome, brother, to Reality as I know it!

[whispering to Maxwell and Newton] Who is that clown?

* Thanks to reviewers David Robertson and Robert Stewart, who manfully read The God Delusion, so I wouldn’t have to!

** h/tip to the ever-lovin' Wuzzadem, as usual, for the stylistic elements!

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.
Page: 1 of 1
  • 7 Jan 2008, 10:44 AM Mrs. R. wrote:
    LOL, Wrymouth,

    You have 'summed up' Richard Dawkins consistently flawed output with, of all things, mathematics.

    How this guy manages (and continues) to sell books is, in itself, proof that inexplicable forces are at work in the universe.
    Reply to this
    1. 7 Jan 2008, 10:06 PM WryMouth wrote:
      Mrs. R:

      I'm... overjoyed.

      Mostly, I am gladdened you enjoyed it, rather.  My co-author, Cogito Ergo Dem, and I, are fans of the Wuzzadem "illustrated dialog" style of commentary.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Reply to this
  • 8 Jan 2008, 3:22 PM Allen wrote:
    Somebody better tell people that Rayleigh was wrong also. Wait they can't hear as well as they used to.

    LOL! Loved this, great stuff.
    Reply to this
    1. 8 Jan 2008, 11:08 PM WryMouth wrote:
      Thanks. I strive to make the world a happier place. ;o/ Thanks for taking the time to add another layer to the post! Baron Rayleigh info is here.

      Reply to this
  • 9 Jan 2008, 2:59 AM raymurgy wrote:
    This is very funny, as everything you do is.

    I laughed until I stopped. (the only proper review for a piece that employs "I've run circles 'round you, logically.")

    Regarding material numbers, can it be said that any thing beyond natural numbers are intangible?

    Can you count zero cows in a field?

    When a graham cracker breaks off in your glass of milk... isn't it physically -- acrtually -- two distinct pieces that can only be considered as one-half of the original in the theater of the mind?

    Ugh, relying on only what you can see and experince with your five senses is SO BORING! What a sad world in which so many people to choose.
    Reply to this
    1. 9 Jan 2008, 6:45 AM WryMouth wrote:

      Glad you spotted it; the Pythonesque reference was, to me, warranted and appropriate.

      In fact, if a sequel starring Sam Harris is warranted, there's a whole Argument Clinic reference that didn't make the final cut here.

      I'm off to measure the diagonal of a 1x1 square now! Wish me luck!

      Reply to this
  • 23 Feb 2008, 1:51 PM Birdzilla wrote:
    THE DARWIN DELISION these idiots who think were related to apes are acuialy so igorant and it was evolution that lead to the holicast
    Reply to this
    1. 29 Feb 2008, 6:54 AM WryMouth wrote:
      um... "delision"? "acuialy"? "igorant"? "holicast"?

      In times like those, you have to remember to slow down just a little while writing... thanks for the post, Birdzilla!

      Reply to this

Page: 1 of 1
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)

Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.