Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ten Reasons Not to Vote for Huckabee

The picture that has recently emerged of former governor Mike Huckabee is that of an intellectually incurious, greedy, and corrupt fundamentalist Christian.

So here are just some of the many reasons not to vote for him.

1. He thinks that scientists believe the earth is "six billion" years old. He also thinks we "just don't know" how old the earth is.

2. He covered up an incident where his son hanged a stray dog.

3. He lied about having a theology degree.

4. He claims ‘‘The Holy Bible . . . has truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.’’

5. In 1992, he wanted to quarantine people with AIDS, even though it was well-known then that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.

6. He improperly claimed furniture given to the governor's office as a personal gift and then didn't list it on an inventory of office items.

7. He freed criminals who committed heinous offenses if they said they had become born-again.

8. He wants a regressive national sales tax in place of a progressive income tax.

9. In 1998, he signed a statement saying that "A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband".

10. He doesn't accept the theory of evolution.

Updated: an even better list by John Hunt is available here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Does Creationism Lead to Violence?

From Australia comes this very sad story of an argument between a creationist and two scientists that led to the death of one of the scientists after being stabbed by the creationist.

Creationists are constantly telling us how acceptance of the theory of evolution has undesirable consequences: for example, the National Association for Objectivity in Science claims that believe in evolution "can have a devastating impact on the student, leading him or her to devalue human life and possibly engage in drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, or violence, or even commit suicide."

Perhaps the opposite is true. Creationism, a form of religious dogma, can lead to violence because the creationist, having no evidence in support of his view, will become frustrated when challenged with evidence. The creationist typically believes that a supernatural being created him and that disbelief is evil. He is convinced of his moral superiority to the non-believer. Indeed, non-believers are threats, because they could spread their non-belief to others, contrary to his god's wishes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Let's Have a Presidential Debate on Science and Technology

Politicians aren't scientists, but it's reasonable for the next President of the United States to be knowledgeable about basic issues in science and technology.

Today we're confronted by many threats and politicial choices for which a knowledge of science is useful. An understanding of the biological theory of evolution is helpful for dealing with the crisis of AIDS in Africa, the over-prescription of antibiotics, and the rise of resistance in tuberculosis and staphylococcus infections. A general understanding of biology more generally would be helpful in dealing with bioterrorism and stem-cell research. An understanding of physics would be useful in evaluating our priorities in outer space and the possibility of a dirty bomb attack. An understanding of chemistry and environmental science would assist our lawmakers in dealing with global climate change and ozone depletion. An understanding of astronomy would be helpful for evaluating the threat posed by meteoritic impacts. More generally, an understanding of how science works and the scientific method would help leaders to evaluate competing scientific claims and to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

Unfortunately, many of the presidential candidates seem more interested in establishing their religious bona fides then they are in dealing with science and technology. Some candidates seem positively anti-science: Mike Huckabee, for example, has shamelessly repeats an old canard about bumblebees being unable to fly by the laws of physics and seems to believe he is not a primate or descended from primates.

Today I join scientists and other science bloggers in calling for a national debate among presidential candidates on science and technology. Let's have a chance for the scientists and the public to ask the questions and hear the answers of those who would lead.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Paul Davies: "Too Busy" Writing Crappy Op-Eds to Justify Claims

Paul Davies, the British physicist and popularizer of science, wrote an astonishingly silly op-ed in the New York Times recently, in which he equates science and religion because both are based on "faith". It was a pleasure to see Davies' ideas completely shredded by Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, and P. Z. Myers.

This isn't the first time Davies has said silly things. In The Fifth Miracle, for example, he attributes the ideas of algorithmic information theory to Gregory Chaitin, despite the fact that the Soviet probabilist Andrei Kolmogorov came up with them earlier (and despite the fact that nearly everyone calls the field "Kolmogorov complexity"). He also demonstrates his misunderstanding of Kolmogorov complexity when he says "Ordinary laws just transform input data into output data. They can shuffle information about but they can't create it." Of course, this is false. Take, for example, the transformation that maps a string x to the string xx. Then it is an elementary exercise in algorithmic information theory that the information (in the Kolmogorov sense) of xx is greater than that in x infinitely often. So, in fact, it is quite possible for "ordinary laws" to create information, in the Kolmogorov sense.

Also in the The Fifth Miracle, Davies makes the claim that quantum algorithms can make the solution of the traveling salesman problem "tractable" - a misconception so common that Scott Aaronson has resorted to debunking it in the masthead of his blog. It seems that when Davies pontificates about issues involving computational complexity and information theory, he cannot be relied upon.

Several years ago, Davies told me he would correct these mistakes (to his credit). But he's also been quoted as claiming, in Larry Witham's book By Design, that "Dembski's attempt to quantify design, or provide mathematical criteria for design, is extremely useful. I'm concerned that the suspicion of a hidden agenda is going to prevent that sort of work from receiving the recognition it deserves. Strictly speaking, you see, science should be judged purely on the science and not on the scientist." No surprise, Dembski flogs this quote whenever possible.

Two years ago, I asked Davies to justify his claims about Dembski. How, precisely, are Dembski's bogus claims "extremely useful"? Where have they been used? What about all the mathematical criticism of Dembski's work? Davies refused to justify his remarks, saying he was "too busy" to address them.

Now I see why he's "too busy". He's too busy writing silly op-eds for the New York Times.