How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?


Back when I was a teacher, in a distant, previous life, there were kids who couldn’t grasp the concept that multiplying a number by zero always results in zero. No matter how often I told them, ‘it doesn’t matter how much nothing you have, it’s still nothing,’ some of them just couldn’t see it.

Those who did understand regarded it as almost magical – they were young children – and would challenge each other with the likes of, ‘What’s 47 trillion, 56 billion, 95 million, 34 thousand, 8 hundred and 22 multiplied by zero?… Zero!’

I imagine these smart kids now say things like, ‘What’s Superstition multiplied by New Testament scholarship, theology and the intellectualised analysis of doctrine?… Superstition!’

It is immaterial how rigorous the scrutiny of the non-existent is, the non-existent will only ever be non-existent.

No matter how much nothing you have, it’s still nothing.

7 thoughts on “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

  1. Those concepts are not quite natural. I’ve been teaching math to my two little ones. Shouldn’t 2×0 equal two? They thought so. I have 2 things (not numbers) and I multiply them by nothing, I still have 2 things. Might as well not even do the problem. Conceptually they are right, but we’re talking numbers. I love your analogy. How much ontology can change a superstition into an eloquently philosophized fact? Great post Neil. Hope you are doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Theologians, evangelical ‘scholars’, preachers and the like assume that intellectualising their supernaturalism makes it fact. I find the smugness, the name dropping (‘as fellow nutjob ably shows in his seven volume discourse on the nature of substitutionary atonement’) and the ‘you’re not well-read enough’ mantra intolerable.

      We have an expression over here that really sums it up (though I hestitate to repeat it in polite company): ‘it doesn’t matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd.’

      I’m fine thanks, Jim, and hope you are too. I enjoy your blog, partcularly your recent thoughts on the concept of zero.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. Yours too. I enjoyed the zero, especially towards the end of the comments with Isabella. She’s sharp for a believer.


  2. The problem is getting the delusional rabid religious to see it is nothing. I watched another interview with that Matt Powell guy. He claimed the bible was historically accurate, and nothing anyone else said mattered. He continued to say he believed it, the bible said it, and so it was true. This is the same independent Baptist preacher who seen a picture advertising a play which showed confederate soldiers standing over a Pterodactyl and he thinks that they were around during the civil war and were being shot out of the sky. I have seen people try to budge him from his preconceived notions and he wont budge. So how do you show someone like him that his gods are nothing and do not exist. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is Scottie. I guess we just chip away a little bit at a time. We probably won’t have much effect on the majority of Jesus’ friends, but I feel compelled to push back regardless!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s similar to the analogy of the “courtier’s response”: No matter how expert the Emperor’s staff is in fine hats, expensive shirts, or high-quality leather boots, it doesn’t change the fact that the Emperor is naked. They can pull out advanced degrees showing their years of study of the royal wardrobe, and that won’t do a thing to change how naked the Emperor is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely. My other favourite analogy is that theology is like the debate about whether the tooth fairy wears a pink dress or a blue one. I’ve used it quite a bit already so avoided it here.

      Liked by 1 person

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