The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Penn & Teller's Bulls***!: Part 2

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Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller are atheists and evolutionists who also happen to be talented magicians. While taking on any number of liberal iconic beliefs, most recently environmental hysteria, they also have attacked the Bible, Creationism, and Intelligent Design, describing them as “impossibilities.” As stage magicians schooled in the art of illusion and diversion who are in the debunking business, Penn & Teller know something about impossibilities. That’s why if someone were to ask them if there is anything supernatural about their performances, like Houdini before them, they would say, without equivocation, absolutely not. In fact, they would probably excoriate the questioner for even considering such a thing.

Everything they do is a manipulative trick, and they will be the first to tell you the truth about their business except how the trick is done. The operating assumption of anyone who attends a “magic” show must always be “I know I’m being fooled, even though I don’t know how.” This reminds me of a scene from the film My Cousin Vinny (1992)[1] where Bill (Ralph Macchio), is describing to his cellmate Stan the ability of his cousin Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) to uncover the truth no matter how cleverly disguised:

Bill: At my cousin Ruthie’s wedding, the groom’s brother was that guy Alakazam. You know who I’m talking about?
Stan: The magician with the ponytail?
Bill: Right. Well, he did his act, and every time he made something disappear, Vinny jumped on him. I mean, he nailed him! It was like, “it’s in his pocket,” or “he’s palming it,” you know? Or, “there’s a mirror under the table.” I mean, he was like, he was like, “wait a second, wait a second, it’s joined in the middle, and there’s a spring around it, it pops it open when it’s inside the tube.” It was like Alakazam’s worst nightmare. Vinny was just being Vinny. He was just being the quintessential Gambini.

Penn & Teller make their living being quintessential Gambinis, and they want us to do the same when it comes to claims of the supernatural. Animals, coins, balls, cards, and whatever else, don’t appear out of thin air when a magician performs. Tricks are designed, prepped, and executed using natural methods and materials. Nothing is transformed, restored, teleported, levitated, cut in half, or stabbed. Nothing ever vanishes.

Most magicians will never tell how they perform their tricks. Their livelihoods depend on secrecy. (Of course, there are exceptions. Money is also involved.) It’s the illusion that enthralls an audience. “It is argued that once the secret of a trick is revealed to a person, that one can no longer fully enjoy subsequent performances of that magic, as the amazement is missing. Sometimes the secret is so simple that the audience feels let down, and feels disappointed it was taken in so easily.” The movie The Prestige (2006) is a testament to this effect.

So what does this brief introduction have to do with Penn & Teller and their belief in evolution over Creation and/or Intelligent Design? As magicians who would never claim that they can make life appear on stage from non-life, as adherents of evolution, they must believe that matter appeared out of nothing and life came from non-life. Penn & Teller would never claim that they could make a bird appear out of thin air, but they must believe that a bird and every other living thing came to life out of a superheated, ultimately sterile chemical soup. Penn & Teller could stand on stage and shake a jar of these origin chemicals for 20 billion years, and the stuff inside would never come to life. Of course, there is the more fundamental problem of accounting for the stuff in the jar, but we’ll given them that much. What they so cleverly debunk using their illusionist principles, they have not applied to the evolutionary worldview that makes fantastic claims that in any skeptic’s dictionary would be defined as magical. Consider the following on “Probability and the Origin of Life” by Robert E. Kofahl:

For roughly fifty years secular scientists who have faith in the power of dumb atoms to do anything have been carrying on scientific research aimed at finding out how the dumb atoms could have initiated life without any outside help. Since they believe that this really happened, they believe that it was inevitable that the properties of atoms, the laws of physics, and the earth’s early environment should bring forth life. More sober minds, however, have realized the immense improbability of the spontaneous origin of life (called “abiogenesis”). Some have made careful investigations and mathematical calculations to estimate what the probability is for abiogenesis to occur. Their calculations show that life’s probability is extremely small, essentially zero.[2]

As magicians, Penn & Teller know that their tricks are designed, either by them or someone else. They also know that those who design the equipment to make certain tricks function use existing material. Those who develop tricks don’t create their apparatuses out of nothing, and Penn & Teller wouldn’t expect it to be any other way. In fact, if some seller of magic tricks came to them and claimed that he could teach them how to make a rabbit really appear out of thin air, they would dismiss him as a kook. But they have no problem believing that the cosmos and life as we know it did appear out of thin air with no intelligence behind the process.

Penn & Teller’s well scripted magic performances do not happen by chance. A great deal of planning and design goes into every act. And yet they believe in a theory that debunks design, embraces chance, and goes against the operating premise that life does not come from non-life. Information theorist Hubert Yockey has argued that chemical evolutionary research faces the following problem: “Research on the origin of life seems to be unique in that the conclusion has already been authoritatively accepted. . . . What remains to be done is to find the scenarios which describe the detailed mechanisms and processes by which this happened. One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.”[3]

In a book he wrote in 1992, Yockey argued that the idea of abiogenesis—life from non-living matter—resulting from a non-directed, mindless primordial soup is a failed hypothesis: “Although at the beginning the paradigm was worth consideration, now the entire effort in the primeval soup paradigm is self-deception on the ideology of its champions.…”[4] Then there is the information problem[5] inherent in the evolutionary hypothesis. How do evolutionists account for the information necessary to make matter work? To begin with chemicals and end with humans (let alone everything in between) requires changes that increase the genetic information up the evolutionary ladder. This would be like claiming 2 plus 2 equals 5000 without ever accounting for where the origin of immaterial entities 2 and 5000.

Kofahl and Yockey are being quintessential Gambinis when it comes to exposing the fraud of evolutionary origins. It’s time for Penn & Teller to train their perceptive and unique talents on a theory that is contrary to everything they claim to believe. As members of the atheistic group called “The Brights,” Penn & Teller ought to apply its “code” to the theory of evolution: “We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny—or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic—and life after death.”[6] They don’t believe in the Easter Bunny or that a rabbit can appear out of thin air, but they do believe a rabbit has evolved through innumerable and imperceptible steps from a primordial soup of chemicals of which they can’t explain its origin. Evolution is a true form of black magic that ought to be the ultimate stage act for these talented magicians and debunkers of the absurd.

It’s a shame that My Cousin Vinny has so much foul language in it. It’s a clever movie. If you decide to watch it, make sure it’s on a channel that edits language.
[2] Robert E. Kofahl, “Probability and the Origin of Life”:
[3] Hubert Yockey, “A calculation of the probability of spontaneous biogenesis by information theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology (1977), 67:377–398, quotes from pages 379, 396.
Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1992), 336.
[5] Werner Gitt, In the Beginning was Information: A Scientist Explains the Incredible Design in Nature, trans. Jaap Kies (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006).
[6] Daniel C. Dennett, “The Bright Stuff,” New York Times (July 12, 2003).

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