Wednesday, 3 October 2012

D'Souza and the Village of Bill


Dinesh D’Souza introduced the village of Bill while participating in The Great Debate together with Ian Hutchinson arguing against the proposal that science has refuted religion, which was defended by Sean Carroll and Michael Shermer.

During the “cross-examination phase”, D’Souza raises the mystery of Bill.  He describes visiting a village (which seems based on figures from a Pew Forum Report) in which there are a hundred people, of whom 95 say they know someone called Bill, three of them say they don’t know the guy and two say that Bill does not exist.  D’Souza then rhetorically asks who you are going to believe.

This is a brilliant argument, but not for D’Souza.

If you had two disbelieving people in a village of 100 who are indistinguishable from any other villager (apart from their position on the existence of Bill) then you could easily check their rationality by asking any of the 95 who say Bill exists to introduce you to Bill.

Say that you approach each of the 95 and ask them about Bill and their responses are something like:

·         Oh Bill’s not physically here, he built the village, created the villagers from dust and left

·         Bill is sort of here, was sort of here in the form of Young Billy and has always been here, and in fact everywhere

·         You can’t see Bill, he’s an immaterial, transcendent, timeless, personal sort of bloke

·         If you just open your eyes and your heart, you can welcome Bill into your life, but until you truly believe in him, you won’t see him or feel his presence

·         When Bill calls you, you will know him

·         You can’t see Bill with earthly senses, you just have to have faith

·         We will meet up with Bill once we die, he’s creating this place where we can be with him and praise him forever

·         To be honest I sometimes doubt that Bill exists too, but then I talk to an officially sanctioned proponent of the existence of Bill and she reassures me

·         I don’t know much about Bill, but everyone else seems to know him and that’s good enough for me

·         Young Billy did some miracles and stuff and was way cool and the people who first believed that Young Billy was the Son of Bill and stuff all agreed that Young Billy was the Son of Bill and some other stuff, not that I’ve actually read what they wrote because it’s all in this like old language and stuff, so of course there is a Bill, oh, look, a butterfly

·         We’ll forgive you this once, being an outsider, but if you question the existence of Bill one more time, we will smite you

·         Bill must exist, because if he didn’t, there would be no basis for our morality

·         Young Billy died for our sins

·         Bill loves us so much that he sent Young Billy or himself or both or a third or perhaps two thirds of himself to Earth to have a really bad weekend for us so that he can forgive us for the fact that he, Bill, made us fitted for (but not with) the ability to sin

·         You don’t believe in Bill?  Don’t you realise that sinners will bask in Hell for an eternity?  Stop denying Bill for the sake of your immortal soul!

·         Lots of smart people through the ages have believed in Bill, even some of your scienteristic types, are you trying to tell me that you are smarter than them?  Even Einstein said “Bill does not play Scrabble” and “The Bill I believe in is a type of Bill who isn’t really Bill as most Billeists think of Bill, but a Bill who interacts with the universe in a similar fashion to luminiferous ether, ie not at all”

·         Don’t you come around here asking about Bill, the onus is on you to prove that Bill doesn’t exist and you can’t

·         Look, it’s obvious that Bill exists, he made the village, and us, and you, just last week.  From nothing!  The evidence is all available to you, so long as you don’t let yourself be misled by standard scientific methodology

·         If you really want to know Bill, you should read this book or come to one of our weekly “Let’s Talk about Bill” sessions.  Oh and by the way, don’t read the book literally, you have interpret it.  Actually, now I think about it, don’t read the book, just let me tell you the central message of the book.  Bill exists!  Isn’t that great!

Also say that you notice that the 95 are grouped into quite distinct groups based on the specifics of Bill: what they think that Bill looks like, what and who Bill likes, what Bill’s intentions are, the approved way of holding “Let’s Talk about Bill” sessions, the correct day for holding “Let’s Talk about Bill” sessions and the response to questions (polite disdain, amazement, declaration of crusade/jihad and so on).

Finally, say that not a single one of the 95 is able to lead you to the house where Bill lives.  They can’t show you a photo of Bill.  A team of forensic scientists are called in and no trace of Bill can be found.  The claims made about Bill are investigated and every single phenomenon that is attributed to Bill can be explained by other means.

Who are you going to believe now?

Are you going to believe the 95, many of whom need weekly meetings to remind themselves of their commitment to believing that Bill exists and many of whom, when questioned, reveal that they don’t really know the officially sanctioned details of Bill but do like the general idea of Bill?  Or are you going to believe the two, whose position is entirely consistent with the facts available – or perhaps the three who remain steadfastly agnostic and supposedly will believe in the existence of Bill if and when he turns up?

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