Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Creationist Crackpots Create Canadian Museum

If there are any Recursivity readers from Alberta, I'd like to hear about their impressions of this new creationist museum that recently opened near Calgary.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Darwinism = Fascism?

You know the intelligent design advocates are losing the game when they have to refer to Darwinists as fascists.

They've been playing this silly game for a while now, and Wesley Elsberry has been collecting these comparisons; see here and this article by Elsberry and Perakh.

Here's the most recent example of this kind of over-the-top rhetoric. Local ignoramus Denyse O'Leary calls Darwinists "brownshirts". With an epithet that strong, you might expect something really awful. Perhaps Larry Moran has been beating up ID advocates in the streets of Toronto? Setting fire to their homes and businesses?

No, the offense in question was that someone in Toronto put up posters about the BBC documentary A War on Science, Evolution vs. Intelligent Design showing at the local theatre, and happened to put a few in a location that Denyse didn't like. How... awful. Why, that's just the same as the Nazi brownshirts!

Of course, O'Leary offers no evidence at all that it was "Darwinists" that carried this dastardly deed. I'd be willing to bet it was someone who works for the theatre.

But maybe I should be kinder towards poor Denyse. In the comments to her article, she reveals that she didn't know the origin of the term "brownshirt" and suggests "blackshirt" instead. What a command of history Denyse has!

That's Denyse, the deep thinker and charitable Christian, for you.

Theist Crackpottery Invades CACM

Communications of the ACM (CACM) used to be an interesting publication. Back when I was a teenager, I remember reading articles such as Ritchie & Thompson's on UNIX, and Aho & Corasick's on string matching using automata. Later, CACM published breakthroughs like RSA, and the Turing award lecture of Kenneth Iverson.

Now, however, I barely find CACM worth reading. True, occasionally the "Inside Risks" column has something interesting to say, but most of the articles seem to be about software systems. For example, the April 2007 issue has articles entitled "Consumer Support Systems", "Designing Data-Intensive Web Applications for Content Accessibility Using Web Marts", and "Managing Risk in Offshore Systems Development". Long gone are the days when one could actually find an algorithm or a proof in CACM.

However, the April 2007 issue did carry one item of interest: a long, rambling, and incoherent letter to the editor from one Tim Croy of Houston, Texas, entitled "Stop Chasing the AI Illusion".

Croy starts by praising the Turing award lecture of Peter Naur, an embarrassingly cranky piece of work. Although Naur won his award for "fundamental contributions to programming language design and the definition of Algol 60, to compiler design, and to the art and practice of computer programming", he chose instead to talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and its perceived inadequacies. Naur has been apparently peddling these ideas for some time, but hasn't been able to get them published in a reputable venue, so he put them in his Turing award lecture.

Next, Croy goes on to say that AI "is based on an article of faith (held by atheistic materialists) that the human person is merely a highly evolved biological machine it is theoretically possible to replicate as an electromechanical machine, or computer". (Note the terminology shared with intelligent design crackpots.) I don't see why this is "an article of faith"; I see it as a working hypothesis that seems to be widely supported by our current knowledge of neuroscience, physics, and computer science.

Croy then goes on to claim that dropping a pencil is proof of the existence of God. (I kid you not.) Here's what he says:
"We have discovered the `what' and the `how' (description) but not the `why' (cause). Forgetting this distinction, when someone asks why the pencil falls to the table, we mistakenly answer `gravity'. In the realm of description (physical science) the experiment is a demonstration and confirmation (proof) of the theories of motion and gravity. But in the realm of causes it is a proof for the existence of God."


Croy concludes that "Naur also aimed much-needed light on the dishonesty, not to say totalitarianism, of the American academic-scientific establishment."

Whenever you hear anyone raving about the "dishonesty" and "totalitarianism" of the "scientific establishment", better get out your crackpot-o-meter. "Dishonesty" here appears to mean "they refuse to publish drivel in their journal".

CACM has really jumped the shark with the publication of this letter.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Towards a Canadian Republic

I'm an American citizen who has lived in Canada for nearly 17 years. People often ask me, why haven't I adopted Canadian citizenship? After all, it's now possible to hold dual citizenship; both my kids, for example, are dual citizens of the USA and Canada.

My answer has always been the same: I'll seriously consider becoming a citizen when Canada removes one citizenship requirement: that I swear allegiance to "Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her Heirs and Successors".

As an American who is proud of the republican tradition (small "r" in "republican", please), the citizenship requirement that one swear allegiance to a person seems unappealingly feudal to me. Paul McCartney famously observed that the current Queen is a pretty nice girl, but that doesn't mean I want to swear allegiance to her. As for her heirs, Prince Charles seems like a sanctimonious git, and he'd be one of the last people I'd swear allegiance to. And who knows what further heirs might be like?

Now a Toronto lawyer, Charles Roach, has brought a class action suit against the requirement. This press release argues that "the government should not force people to swear to things they don’t believe in to gain citizenship".

I entirely agree, although I don't know how strong his legal argument is. Canada's Attorney General, though, is not convinced, and apparently is trying to have the complaint dismissed on the grounds that it is "frivolous".

Canada should follow the lead of Australia and remove this archaic and childish requirement.