Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Michael Crichton: "Aliens Cause Global Warming"

In 1993 science fiction writer and physician Michael Crichton (who has since passed away) delivered the Michelin Lecture at Caltech. His address, "Aliens Cause Global Warming", has become legendary. It is one of the best discussions of science politics and psychology I've read. It's been widely circulated, and you may well have read it. If you have, it warrants periodic re-reading. If you haven't, you're in for a treat.

An excerpt:

...the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion. 

He takes on a host of shibboleths.  Nuclear winter, second-hand smoke, overpopulation hysteria, and of course global warming.

His essay is a note of sanity very much needed in science today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A bit more on anti-Semitism

Regarding yesterday's post about the JCC murders and anti-Semitism, commentor Michael makes some important points, with my replies:

Egnor, I agree with most of your sentiment, up until here: "...but we as a society need to make it clear that if you spew anti-Semitic swill ("the Jews control..."), you are radioactive and you have no place in our midst." 
This sort of thinking allows for Jews (or by extension any other people) to be held above scrutiny on the grounds that observation of their activities automatically constitutes racism, even in instances where an observation may hold merit.
Judaism is not a race. Race is a biological term, rather ill-defined, but real. Jews are of many different races, and Judaism is not a biological characteristic.

Judaism is first and foremost a religion-- a metaphysical stance. It is also a culture.

The statement "Jews control..." is nonsensical. Certainly it cannot mean that people of a certain race or biology control something. And the individuals cited almost certainly differ strongly on religious issues-- there are many atheists, liberal Jews, and a (very) few conservative and orthodox Jews in the "Jews control..." cohort. So these "Jews" share nothing in common as a religion-- they are as diverse as atheists and Hasidim. They are neither a race nor a religion.

They undoubtedly share some cultural characteristics-- they were probably raised in cultural milieus that had some things in common--  aspects of what we would call Jewish culture, although that probably varies considerably as well.

So the assertion that "Jews control..." doesn't really mean much. It does not describe a homogenous group. At most, it merely attributes some nefarious deeds to people of Jewish ancestry who probably share a few cultural characteristics. It does not describe a race or a religion, and it is a very sloppy term for a culture.

Now a term like "Liberals control..." or "Conservatives control..." or "Atheists control..." or "Evangelicals control..." or even "Orthodox Jews control..." actually means something. Whether it is true is another matter entirely, and varies from instance to instance. But "Jews control..." is just gibberish and refers to nothing meaningful.

Of course, some of the complaints about entities invoked in "Jews control..."-- the financial industry, the entertainment industry, academic, etc-- are fair targets for criticism, even harsh criticism. And I should point out that the "bad Jews" so often invoked-- commies, corrupt bankers, entertainment moguls, etc-- are almost invariably secular irreligious Jews. It is their irreligion that characterizes them, and they are not Jewish in any way that matters. It is their atheism, not their Judaism, that correlates with the evil they do.  Religious Jews are as mortified by corrupt atheists (who happen to have Jewish ethnicity) as Christians are. Many religious Jews are very conservative and very much opposed to the deeds of which the "Jews control..." cohort is accused.

Bottom line: the only thing that the assertion "Jews control..." reliably tells you is that the person saying it is, inevitably, an anti-Semitic asshole.
Should the Russians be exempt from scrutiny on the grounds that tens of millions of them were killed off (i.e. victimhood), or likewise the Chinese?
Why would I blame "Russians" for communism or Stalin? They were as much the victims as the perpetrators, and what do Russians living today have to do with what Bolsheviks did? What do Chinese people have to do with Mao, for goodness sake? Is guilt inherited?
Observations on racial, ethical or ideological grounds do not constitute racism in and of itself; it is only in the application of fostering hatred (e.g. "these people are a plague and should be ousted") where the latter comes into fruition.
"Jews control..." is inevitably an expression of hatred. I have never seen it used as a complement. Given that it means very little specifically, and it is an invariable expression of hate made by anti-Semites, there's not much to recommend it.

This is not to say that I don't believe in conspiracies and cabals. There are lots of conspiracies and lots of cabals. Pro-lifers, pro-choicers, gay activists, anti-gay activist activists, liberals, conservatives, Occupy Wall Streeters, Tea Partyers, Democrats, Republicans, the list goes on. Some of these conspiratorial cabals do control things (Republicans control the House of Representatives, Democrats control the Senate and White House), and it's perfectly proper to point it out.

"Jews" is such an imprecise term that it is meaningless to attribute "control" to them, just as it is meaningless to attribute control to "non-Jews" or "people born in November".
As Christians, we are called to be witnesses to the truth and part of that responsibility is not to allow ourselves to be ignorant of reality.
As Christians, we worship a Jew.  The Lord lived every second of His life on earth as a Jew. He's the only Jew I know who "controls" anything, and we are blessed that He does.

"Jews control..." is rhetorical and logical nonsense. Given its recent provenance, it should set off alarms, and people who assert it should be called out for the assholes and anti-Semites that they are.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Never again

As you know a neo-Nazi killed three innocent people at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement community in Kansas a couple of days ago. The two people killed at the JCC were a grandfather and his 14 year old grandson.

This homicidal monster had a lifelong history of KKK-Nazi-White Supremacist agitation, and he had spent several years in prison for plotting to kill the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

What a horror. Please pray for these innocents and their families, and for the safety of Jews and their friends everywhere (the grandfather and grandson weren't Jewish-- the boy was an accomplished vocalist, and they were at the JCC to audition for a show).

It's sobering to realize that in one country in the mid-20th century people just like this bastard who murdered these people weren't fringe lunatics-- they actually ran the country and committed the most horrendous crimes against humanity.

Violent anti-Semitism is a powerful force in the world today-- it is at the core of the Mideast conflict, and flares up in all sorts of places. It is most certainly on the rise in Europe.

Anti-Semitism is alive, thriving, and deadly, incredibly, more than 60 years after we promised "never again".

I blogged a few days ago about how I believe that blacklists can be good things. This murderous bastard had quite a bit of media exposure-- he had been interviewed on television and radio shows. It's not clear that a blacklist against this guy's anti-Semitic tripe would have made any difference here, but we as a society need to make it clear that if you spew anti-Semitic swill ("the Jews control..."), you are radioactive and you have no place in our midst.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What to do when you just hope that hundreds of thousands of people will die...

From the locked psych ward of global-warming activism:
Communication Dilemmas #1: Wishing Death on People Without Losing Them

Part of being a science communicator is hoping a natural disaster kills as many members of the audience as possible, as soon as possible, with as much media exposure as possible. As a communicator myself, I’d like nothing better than for thousands of middle-class white people to die in an extreme weather event—preferably one with global warming’s fingerprints on it—live on cable news. Tomorrow. 
The hardest thing about communicating the deadliness of the climate problem is that it isn’t killing anyone. And just between us, let’s be honest: the average member of the public is a bit (how can I put it politely?) of a moron. It’s all well and good for the science to tell us global warming is a bigger threat than Fascism was, but Joe Q. Flyover doesn’t understand science. He wants evidence. 
So we’ve probably reached the limits of what science communication can achieve. At this point only nature herself can close the consensus gap—or the fear gap
Cognitive scientist C. R. R. Kampen thinks the annihilation of a city of 150,000 people might just provide the teaching moment we need
You see, consensus is so often only reached after a painful confrontation with evidence. 
Knowing this, I hope against knowledge of her expected track that Cyclone Ita will wipe Cairns off the map. Because the sooner the lesson is learnt by early confrontation, the better one more population will be suited to anticipate and mitigate the vast weather and climate (+ related) disasters that lie in the immediate future and to lose all distractions on the way. 
(Let me dispel, right up front, a common and perhaps forgivable misinterpretation of this family of argument: no, Dr Kampen doesn’t mean to suggest the destruction of a single city would be sufficient. That’s just a silly strawman. As a scientist himself, Kampen is acutely aware that a single data point, such as the deletion of Cairns, would not even be attributable to man-made global warming with any confidence—let alone would it prove the planet was worse off, taking all metrics into account, under BAU. What we’re talking about here is a possibility which, with luck, would start a conversation on climate action, not end one.) 
One thing science communicators have learned the hard way is that simply blurting out the truths you know isn’t good enough. Some ideas need to be framed more carefully than others. (Dan Kahan might say “scientifically.”)
Hey, you have to admit that a conversation started by the deaths of a hundred and fifty thousand people sure would be a stroke of "luck".

Yet our science communicator is disapproving of Dr. Kampen's candor:
Unfortunately, Kampen’s writing is almost na├»ve in its candor. One can only hope the forces of anti-science never hear about it, because it’s veritably ripe for their favorite rhetorical tactic: cherry-picking, or ‘quoting.’ 
Heh (*rubs hands*)... Anti-Science Forces are already quoting him...
Let’s pretend, solo ad argumentum, that I’m on the Monckton side of the Subterranean War on Science. Now let me inform you that Dr Kampen once wrote: 
I hope against knowledge of her expected track that Cyclone Ita will wipe Cairns off the map. 
Wow. Taste the difference? By the simple trick of telling people that Kampen hopes they die without saying what he writes next (wherein he clearly explains that it’s for their own good), a rhetorician with no conscience—like a denier—could simultaneously make Kampen look like a sociopath and pander to the false stereotype of the greenie-as-armchair-genocidaire. 
That’s what we call, in science communication, an own goal.
Being a denier with no compunction whatsoever about quoting global warming loons, I'm proceeding to make Kampen and the psycho who wrote this piece look like just like sociopaths and genocidaires. It's sooo easy....

Psycho science communicator:
DON’T
say so 
DO
always return to the real issue: the dangers of the denialist agenda
When you have scientists hoping that hundreds of thousands of people will die so the political debate will swing their way, it's not the "denialist agenda" that presents a danger to the public.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

David Hume and Lawrence Shapiro get it wrong on miracles

I really don't like Hume-- really don't like him. Hume was a closet-atheist-sophist, a triad of my least favorite things. The damage he has done to modern clear logical thought is incalculable.

Philosopher Lawrence Shapiro from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (where else?) picks up Hume's mantle, and repeats Hume's idiot argument about justification for belief in miracles.

Shapiro believes that we never have justification to believe in miracles. From Shapiro's essay, with my rebuttal:

[W]e can all agree that miracles such as Jesus rising from the dead either did, or did not, occur. My claim is that, to date, evidence for such an event — and any other event that is regarded as a miracle — is too weak to justify anyone’s belief in it as fact. 
I claim no great originality for my argument. I’m borrowing from the great Scottish philosopher David Hume, particularly Section 10 of his magnificent Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). If there is any novelty in my presentation, it owes to the marriage of Hume’s ideas with a famous theorem in probability theory proposed by the Reverend Thomas Bayes in ‘An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances’ (1763). The technical details, fortunately, can be put to the side for our purposes.
The argument begins with an assumption that is very favourable to those who believe in miracles. Let's say that the witnesses of miracles are very reliable — far more reliable than ordinary witnesses. This is not to say that miracle witnesses are infallible. If they were, then of course we could trust their reports and there would be nothing more to discuss. But witnesses, we know, are never perfect. Things aren’t always as they seem, our eyes on occasion mislead us, and sometimes we see what we want to see. When a courtroom drama hinges on a witness who turns out to have identified the wrong person, no one doubts that such misidentifications are possible. 
Even so, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that witnesses to miracles almost never err. Of all the reports they make in the course of their lifetime — hundreds, thousands, even 100,000 — they make only one mistake. Should we believe someone who claims to have witnessed a miracle if his or her testimony has a chance of only one in 100,000 of being wrong? 
Now I want to consider a slightly different question, albeit one that will have lessons for how we should answer the question above. Suppose you visit your doctor for a routine check-up. After testing a sample of blood, the doctor grimaces. ‘I have bad news for you,’ he says. Bad indeed. You’ve tested positive for a very lethal form of cancer. Your chance of surviving the next three years is practically zero. A treatment exists, but it carries significant costs (blindness, incontinence, all your hair falling out). Furthermore, your doctor says, the test is very good. In every 1,000 tests, it gives only one false positive – that is, a diagnosis of cancer to someone who doesn’t have the disease. Also, 0.001 per cent of the time it goes wrong the other way, giving a negative result to someone who really does have the disease. Do you opt for the treatment? 
The correct answer is this: before deciding, you need a piece of information that the doctor did not provide. Without information about the base rate of the disease – its frequency in the population at large – any facts about the reliability of test are completely useless. 
To demonstrate this, let’s first suppose that the cancer is not terribly uncommon. Perhaps it affects 0.001 per cent of the population. This means that, for every 1,000 people in the population, one person will have the disease. We also know that the test goes wrong 0.001 per cent of the time. That is, it errs one time in 1,000, and it errs in two ways. If we select 1,000 people at random from a larger population, one person in this group who is actually healthy is likely to test positive for cancer. However, the chances are that this group also contains one sick person, because the base rate of the disease, as we’ve said, is one in 1,000. Yet, because the test fails to detect cancer only one time in 1,000, chances are very good (999/1,000) that the test will correctly identify the sick person in the group. This means that, having tested 1,000 people, our test ends up ‘diagnosing’ two of them with cancer, when in fact only one of them has it. Given the base rate of the disease and the sensitivity of the test, if you’ve tested positive, the chance that you are actually sick is only 50 per cent. 
An obvious but interesting conclusion follows. If we hold the accuracy of the test constant but decrease the base rate of the disease, the trustworthiness of the test result diminishes accordingly. For instance, let’s now suppose that the base rate of the disease is one in 10,000. That extra zero means that, having tested positive, the odds of genuine sickness slip down to 10 to one. With its one-in-1,000 error rate, the test will identify 10 people as having the disease when they do not, and one as having the disease when he or she does. Making the disease rarer still, so that it affects only one in, say, 1 million people, puts the chances of illness at a vanishing 1,000 to one. So, this test of ours turns out to be no good at all when the disease for which it tests is rare.
This reasoning would be appropriate to a medical screening test used for people at random, in which there is no reason to believe that a particular disease is present.

But the appropriate analogy to a Christian belief in the Resurrection is not a medical screening test. That is, that Christians are not beginning with no reason to believe the Resurrection is true. Belief in the Resurrection, for a Christian, is belief in one aspect of a truth that has many facets and extensive confirmation in myriad aspects of their lives.

The analogy to a Christian belief in miracles is that of a patient who goes to a doctor with fever, unexplained weight loss, spontaneous bleeding, anemia, swelling of lymph nodes, and recurrent infections, who has a blood test that shows acute myelogenous leukemia. While AML is rare (incidence 1/20,000/year) and the diagnostic test probably has an error rate of at least 1/1000, the likelihood that the patient has AML is very high, and the patient would be a fool to believe that because of the incidence of the disease and of the error rate of the test that the positive result is almost certainly an error.

If Shapiro were a doctor, and told his patient not to worry about the test result, he would loose his medical license. Too bad he doesn't have a philosophy license he could lose.

The reason that the diagnosis is almost certainly true is that the prior probability of a serious hematological disorder is quite high given the patient's presenting symptoms (fever, weight loss, spontaneous bleeding, anemia, etc). The test and the frequency of the disease must be considered in context.

The same is true of a Christian's belief in the Resurrection. The Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead is not an isolated belief, as it would be if the Christian believed that Joe Smith rose from the dead 2000 years ago, based on a few old books. The belief in the Resurrection is but one (essential) part of a Christian worldview, predicated on life experiences, study of the Bible and of theology, prayer, etc.

I believe that Christ rose from the dead because I have met Him (in prayer, in bible study, in my daily life, in my work...). Whatever confidence an atheist like Shapiro may place in my experiences, I am most certainly not accepting Christ's Resurrection as screening test: "gee- I wonder how likely the Resurrection of one guy in 100 billion is, based on a few 2000 year-old books?"

Lawrence digs a deeper hole:

The practical lesson is this: knowledge of the rate at which a test errs tells you nothing by itself about whether the test results should be trusted. You need also to consider whether the thing for which you are being tested occurs frequently or seldom. If the disease is rare and you test positive, you should look for another explanation for your result than actual illness. Given a test that errs one time in a 1,000 and a disease that is present in only one person in a million, there is a better explanation. Evidently, the test is sensitive to factors other than disease. Something in your blood, perhaps, triggered the positive outcome. This possibility is far more likely than that the disease was responsible for the positive result. Indeed, it’s 1,000 times more likely.
You also must consider the prior probability that the miracle is true. The prior probability of the Resurrection is determined by a host of life experiences and theological insight and insight gained by prayer. For a Christian, belief in the Resurrection is consistent with massive knowledge about God and His grace. Belief in the Resurrection is not a "screening test" performed without any prior knowledge.

Still another point concerns the issue of justification that I raised earlier. Because a positive test result in the conditions I have described is far more likely to be wrong than right, the result fails to justify the belief that you have the disease. Even if you do have the disease, and even if the test correctly diagnoses you as having the disease, you should not believe this on the basis of the test alone. Forget about the test result. It’s as good as worthless as far as justification goes.
No Christian accepts the truth of the Resurrection "alone". The Resurrection is part of a living relationship with the One Who was resurrected.

Lawrence:

Be that as it may, if Jesus’s resurrection is the ‘disease’ and the witness report is the ‘test’, we can now do the algebra to decide whether to believe in the resurrection. The base rate for the resurrection is (let’s say) one in 1 billion. The witnesses go wrong only one time in 100,000. One billion divided by 100,000 is 10,000. So, even granting the existence of extraordinary witnesses, the chance that they were right about the resurrection is only one in 10,000; hardly the basis for a justified belief. 
No one is justified in believing in Jesus’s resurrection. The numbers simply don’t justify the conclusion. But the resurrection is just one miracle. If we suppose that all miracles are similarly rare, then, by parity of reasoning, belief in any one of them is similarly unjustified. As noted earlier, my conclusion doesn’t deny that miracles have occurred or might occur, just that the available evidence fails to justify a belief that they have occurred. So, if you wish to continue to believe in miracles, you must do so knowing that the evidence is not on your side.
The prerequisite for an intelligent discussion of the warrant for belief in the Resurrection requires a genuine examination of the basis for the belief, which includes examination of the broad religious experiences of Christians. We are not doctors screening random patients for cancer. We know our patient intimately. Our belief in the Resurrection is part of a relationship with Christ, a relationship that we experience daily and that has profound ramifications in our lives.

Shapiro, like his mentor Hume, is blinded by atheism. They presuppose an atheist framework for belief in miracles, a framework stripped of genuine religious experience that serves as a predicate for belief in miracles. 

Presupposing naturalism, Shapiro and Hume infer naturalism. Big surprise.

There is another analogy that is much more appropriate to belief in the Resurrection than Shapiro's woefully inadequate cancer screening analogy. Imagine a man who loves his wife and longs to see her when she returns from a trip. He is waiting at the airport to greet her. As she walks out of the gate, he runs to hug her.

But did he have warrant to believe it was her? After all, as Shapiro/Hume would point out, there are seven billion people in the world, so the "screening" likelihood that that one person at the gate would be her is only one in seven billion. And it is certainly possible that the husband could be mistaken by a face in the crowd-- even if it's only one chance in a million that he would misidentify his wife.

By Lawrence/Hume's logic, the likelihood that the husband would embrace the right person is only one million/seven billion= 1/7000, or 0.014%.

By Lawrence/Hume's logic, the husband has virtually no chance of hugging the right person, his beloved wife.

But that's nonsense. The truth is that the husband knows his bride intimately, as she knows him, and he knows where and when to expect her, and he has faith that she will be there to embrace him at the airport gate. He is sure that he is embracing his beloved.

We Christians have such faith in our Beloved as well.

The Humean rejection of warrant for belief in Christian miracles, which has had enormous influence on our degenerate culture, is moronic junk philosophy.

Romans 1:22. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Student suspended for calling gun-grabbing governor a "f**king snake"

A Connecticut college has suspended a student for agressively questioning a gun-grabber politician:
A Connecticut community college suspended a student veteran for his aggressive questioning of Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy during a public forum, prompting a First Amendment advocacy group to condemn the college for its flagrant disrespect for free speech and due process. 
The student, Nicholas Saucier, tried to get Malloy to answer questions about his support for gun control legislation, which has put Saucier’s ammunition manufacturing business in jeopardy. Saucier followed Malloy to his car after the governor finished speaking at a public forum at Asnuntuck Community College. The exchange took place in October of last year, and was captured on video
Shortly thereafter, Saucier received notice from the administration that he was suspended on grounds that his “continued presence on campus would present a danger to the persons, property and/or academic process of the College.”
The student was officially charged with engaging in harassment and showing disrespect for Malloy, in violation of ACC’s student code. Administrators claimed that Saucier became increasingly hostile, called Malloy a “fucking snake,”...
The comparison is insulting, to be sure. I suspect that the suspension was imposed after the college got hundreds of emails from outraged snakes.