Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yet Another Christian Fake Quote

From recent e-mail from a fundamentalist:

"Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ."
-James Madison, America's Providential History, p. 93.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Madison should be very suspicious of this quote. Madison was not a traditional Christian, and said things like "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect." (letter by Madison to William Bradford, April 1, 1774).

Second, as Chris Rodda has shown, America's Providential History is thoroughly unreliable when it comes to quotations.

Third, this quotation is attributed in Popular Science, February 1887, to John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton University, not Madison. I haven't found it in Witherspoon's writings, but it sounds much more like Witherspoon than Madison. Confusingly, it has also been attributed to Jonathan Dickinson, another of Princeton's presidents. It sounds consistent with him, too.

So I am calling bogus on this quote. Not surprisingly, it is found on many Christian websites, with attributions to Madison. We see here a good example of the fundamentalist devotion to truth.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

So Much Stupidity, So Little Time

I wish I had a little more time to discuss all the stoopid that's been in the news lately! But I don't, so here's a few links:

What to do if you're a glorified librarian who can't get his book on Alfred Russel Wallace published with a real publisher? Why, get the Discovery Institute's own vanity press to publish it for you! (It helps if you have friends claim the story has been "embarrassing Darwinians ... for almost a century and a half".)

What to do if you're a moron hockey coach? Why, refuse to play one of your players because he's Jewish.

What to do if you're a faux science journalist who spends most of her time denying evolution? Why, incoherently praise a creationist book and wonder why "so few career Darwinists have brayed against it." (Hint: real biologists have better things to do with their time than to read every vanity press book that comes along.)

What to do if you're a religious crackpot? Why, file a lawsuit claiming that evolution is a religion and so can't be legally taught in US schools.

What to do if you're a math professor who gets in a fight with a colleague? Why, go piss on his door, of course! I always thought there was something odd about algebraic geometers.

What to do if you're a Discovery Institute flunkey who can't answer our criticisms of intelligent design? Why, simply object that we didn't mention articles that appeared after our publication.

What to do if you're a philosopher who doesn't know a damn thing about mathematics? Why, publish a piece in the Times Higher Education claiming"But there is only an infinity of mathematical objects, not a super-infinite (transfinite) totality.

So how has it happened that for a hundred years, the mathematical establishment has swallowed the idea of transfinite sets? Georg Cantor produced an argument that seemed to point to transfinite immensities, but that was before we realised that mathematics was incompletable. In effect Cantor's argument showed that the set of real numbers was incompletable. It did not (could not) show that there were more mathematical objects than an ordinary infinity...

Once installed, blind faith ensured that the transfinite would continue to thrill and amaze generations of students - in spite of the inconvenient fact of its mathematical impossibility."

Yup, he really seems to be claiming that the real numbers are a "mathematical impossibility". That's ok with me, I never liked real analysis very much anyway.

So much stoopid, so little time!

Now, as a relief from all that stoopid, look at this: the earth (and moon - wait for it) from 31 million miles away:

Ahh, now that's a relief.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Net Neutrality = Fairness Doctrine?

Here is a commentary with equal parts smugness, lies, and ignorance, delivered by Andrew Klavan:

It's truly fascinating how moronic it is, and how un-self-aware. One minute he's saying that liberals are evil because they call the far-right "fascist" or "worse than Hitler"; the next minute he's displaying the term "net neutrality" written in pseudo-cyrillic script, with the clear implication that somehow it is Communist.

He also makes the claim that bailing out banks and big corporations is a "radical attempt to destroy our free-market system". I wonder what a real attempt to destroy it would look like?

There are good arguments both for and against net neutrality (and the Fairness Doctrine, for that matter). But they're not even remotely related. One is about a national public resource with very limited access and bandwidth, controlled largely by corporate interests. The other is about a global network and peer-to-peer communication with near-universal access in North America, and essentially unlimited bandwidth. There's simply no way that net neutrality could "force conservatives to shut up online as well".

Klavan claims "leftism has failed everywhere". Yet in the European social democracies, such as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, people live longer, healthier lives, and they have less crime. Furthermore, "leftist" policies like the minimum wage and Medicare haven't failed -- they have become standard practice in democracies.

I wonder if Klavan is more or less stupid than his audience? Is he a moron, or actively dishonest?

Local Creationist Stupidity

Check out this letter in our local paper, the Waterloo Region Record.

It's got all the usual stupidities: "scientists have not been able to find even one provable fact to back up the theory of “goo-to-you” evolution" -- as if the letter writer spends all his spare time reading the evolutionary biology literature.

"Yes, we have evolution within kinds, as God programmed." -- the usual creationist invention of terms -- "kinds" - that no actual biologist uses. I suppose we can be grateful he didn't say "baramin".

"There were probably two dogs on Noah’s Ark" -- as if Noah's ark were an actual historical event.

"there is any evidence to show that any of them changed into a cat or a small horse or any other animal" -- as if dogs changing into cats or horses is a prediction of evolution.

"My definition of the word “theory” is “imagination.”" -- Well, he'd better get a better dictionary!

And this guy is a financial planner at a local "wealth management" company!

Back in 2003, I sent this guy a list of examples of speciation, but here he is again, 8 years later, repeating the same falsehoods.

Thankfully our residents with connected brain cells have already responded to this nonsense here and here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Strangest Moose-Related Lawsuit of the Millennium

This is fun.

Two men in Newfoundland who experienced car collisions with moose are suing the provincial government, arguing their collisions were the government's fault because the introduced moose to the province 100 years ago.

And - since you asked - yes, there have been several other moose-related lawsuits.

I wonder if we could sue the state of Washington for facilitating the existence of Glenn Beck?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creationists Don't Understand Consilience

Of all the commenters at Uncommon Descent, "Kairosfocus/GEM of TKI" (actually Gordon Mullings) is the one with the second largest stupidity-verbosity product.

Here he is citing science "journalist" Richard Milton to argue against radiometric dating. Quoting Milton, he says radioactive dates cannot be falsified, that any scientist debating a date would be regarded as a crackpot, that errors are corrected to the currently accepted value, and only dates conforming to current understanding will get published.

Mullings and Milton don't understand how science works. With radiometric dating, the essential point is that we have multiple, independent analyses all leading to essentially the same estimates for, e.g., the age of the earth. (Read, for example, Dalrymple's book with that title.) It is the consilience of our estimates that give us confidence. The evidence is now so strong that a single discordant result will not cause scientists to throw away all previous results; rather, someone disputing the age of the earth will have to amass evidence that is roughly equal in strength (or stronger) to the case for our current estimate. Not only that, anyone calling the age of the earth into question is going to have to explain what, precisely, has gone wrong with all the evidence we have -- why, precisely, do all those dates obtained by independent investigators match up so well?

And that's the way it should be. Science is not mathematics, where a single counterexample can invalidate a theorem (but even there, not always! -- the message of Lakatos' Proofs and Refutations). In science, a very strong evidentiary case doesn't get overthrown by a few isolated results that suggest another conclusion. There are simply too many possibilities for error in scientific experiments for that.

Let's apply Milton's four objections to, for example, the distance from the earth to Alpha Centauri. Just like radiometric dating, we have no direct experience of this distance; any scientist claiming a substantially different distance from 4.37 light years would be regarded as a crackpot; an experiment giving a substantially different distance would be scrutinized carefully for sources of error; and it is unlikely (unless the evidence case were extremely strong) that another distance would get published.

In fact, we have an example of this from the history of Alpha Centauri itself: James Henderson studied the distance to Alpha Centauri using parallax in 1832-3, but he didn't publish his results because the great distance he obtained made him suspect an error. Only after Bessel determined the distance to 61 Cygni in 1838 did Henderson change his mind. Once again, the consilience of the two independent experiments increased our confidence in the results.

So the Mullins-Milton objections apply to all of science, not just evolution. Were we to accept them as definitive, all of science would disappear.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vetting Insanity

The Manifesto Club has the interesting story of a flower arranger at a church in England who refused to undergo a criminal records check so she could continue with her work. This is just one example of the continuing intrusion of the State into daily life where no reasonable cost-benefit analysis is done.

I had to undergo a costly criminal record check and fingerprinting just to accompany my sons on a school outing canoe trip down a local river, so I'm sympathetic to Annabel Hayter and others standing up to this nonsense.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Everything Was Better With God

Here's a silly letter to the editor from a local theist.

How many examples of bogus reasoning can you find? It's practically a classroom exercise in shoddy thinking.

Responding to the assertion that we can be good without a god, the writer claims "this has been tried in a number of countries with disastrous results". Let's look at homicide rate as a proxy for "goodness". Notice anything? The US's homicide rate (5.0 per 100,000) and Canada's (1.81) are both distinctly higher than many countries that are largely secular, such as the Czech Republic (1.33), Sweden (1.25), and France (1.60). Similarly, religious states such as South Carolina and Florida have high homicide rates, while more secular states such as Oregon and Maine have much lower rates. So belief in a god is not a controlling factor for the goodness of a society.

The writer goes to say "Without biblical guidelines, countries such as Russia descended into moral chaos." Now I'm not going to defend the totalitarian regimes of Stalin et al., but one can hardly say that Christian Russia before communism was a moral paragon. Has the writer never heard of the Massacre of Novgorod? Or the word "pogrom"? And now that Christianity is practiced openly in Russia, has the country's moral tone improved? Hardly.

The next paragraph begins "Just look at has happened in our own schools since they took out prayer and Bible readings and instruction in moral behaviour. There has been an increase in violence, drug problems, teen pregnancy and defiance against authorities". (But evidently a decrease in commas.)

This is a good example of the "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy. There is no evidence that either prayer or Bible readings has much effect on crime. In the US today, for example, the homicide rate is at the rate it was back in 1965, in the good old days envisioned by the letter writer. Yet prayer and Bible readings have not returned. What is responsible for the change?

Crime is a multifactorial problem, and it's not easy to simplistically assign causes. (Read Walker's Sense and Nonsense About Crime if you want pretty much everything you knew about crime to be overturned.) Some changes in the crime rate are due to simple demographics: the change in the number of males aged 15-24 in the population. Others may be due to changes in abortion law. No serious analyst of crime, however, thinks changes in the crime rate are simply linked to policies like prayer in the schools.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

David Warren Exposed

The shoddy journalism of David Warren, Ottawa Citizen columnist and perennial candidate for Canada's Worst Journalist, has finally been exposed.

Thanks to Carol Wainio, the Ontario Press Council has ruled that Warren "failed to meet generally accepted journalistic attribution standards".

Even though the OPC clearly ruled against Warren, the decision has been criticized for not being sufficiently strong.

How has Warren responded? Exactly as you might expect: instead of 'fessing up that he's a crappy member of his profession, he's been whining and portraying himself as a victim.

Three cheers for Carol Wainio! And three raspberries for David Warren and the Citizen.