Wednesday, January 18, 2017

In the News

If you've never quite grasped what "irony" means then the following must take the biscuit; but be sure to lock down your irony meter first:

I think the happy looking chappy on the right, yes the right, well knows that he can undercut the rather expensive looking business man on the left. 

In the 1980s the (pseudo) Marxists had to go back to the drawing board.  Now its the turn of the (pseudo) libertarians to do the same.  Of course, ideologues on both sides will claim that neither of the above is a true representative of the ideal pinnacle of their respective philosophies. But then that sort of claim is only human: Having moved among and studied Christians of many flavours for years I can say that a very similar pretentious idealism can be found especially among those Christians of a partisan temperament and sectarian world-view: Each sectarian will claim that no one else does justice to the real deal. For these idealists a new dawn is always just over the horizon and that they themselves are the best representatives of that new dawn !  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Simulation, Purpose and Declarative Computation.

The Simulation argument: Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so!

Although I don't see eye to eye with the North American de-facto Intelligent Design movement on many of their ID specifics or identify with their anti-academic establishment ethos, I nevertheless keep up with one of their web sites, Uncommon Descent. In particular Canadian ID reporter Denise O'Leary often has something interesting for me to chew over, although as per the de-facto IDists in general she loathes the publicly funded academic community; after all, they've rejected ID, certainly in the form that Uncommon Descent promotes it. If and when academia does promote ID it surfaces in a very different form to de-facto ID as we shall see below.

Denise O'leary does make herself useful though; like the good press bloodhound that she is, she sniffs around the boundaries of established academia looking for deconstruction material. Inevitably, like any work in progress, establishment disciplines have those loose ends where things don't quite add up; that's only to be expected of any discipline worth its salt where the learning curve is never complete. Such disciplines are necessarily in a state of flux as ideas are probed and tested to be eventually selected, rejected or put into at least a temporary limbo. Thanks to Denise O'leary I don't have to go looking for these academic wild cards myself - I wait for her to find them for me! In this connection I have two posts by O'leary of interest and I will talk about these here.

The first post is titled: "Quantum like model of partially directed evolution?" and it quotes the abstract of a recent paper which explores what it calls "The partial directivity of evolution". The paper is pay-walled and so isn't readily accessible. However, in another academic universe that reference to "partial directivity" might go under the term teleology! If so, then I'm glad to see that this subject is being honestly aired as I'm doing so myself in my Meloncolia I project.  But as O'leary states this paper is moving into controversial territory; mainstream evolutionists tend to give the slightest hint of teleology a wide berth; after all, how does teleology reduce to the familiar and tractable mathematics of law and disorder? For if the universe is the cosmic equivalent of a goal seeking complex adaptive system then there are grave doubts as to whether its operation could ultimately be reduced to equations; as John Holland, in his first lecture at the Santa Fe institute, indicated the very rationale for a complex adaptive system is that reality doesn't readily reduce to tractable equations!

Denise O'leary's reaction to the thought of "directivity" is as follows:

 The thought seems information must already be present in the system before sustainable evolutionary strategies can develop. Here, that’s called evolutionary informatics, but it is a dangerous topic to consider.

True, as we've seen in this blog conventional evolution would require the needed information to reside in the conjectured spongeam, But I think it unlikely that the spongeam actually exists; conventional physics, I would hazard, doesn't carry the requisite information. Instead physics has the character of a constrained exponential search that creates information rather than has information built-in from the start. It is quantum mechanics, I conjecture, which gives nature's search its exponential power. It is this exponential character which means that information is created at a linear rate rather than at an imperceptible logarithmic rate. This search, I tender, is part of a declarative rather than imperative computational paradigm and is therefore purposeful. But herein lies the rub: The teleological information needed to select what the search turns up need not reside in the system in any apparent and simple mathematical way. Purposeful information may reside outside the search processes and only become apparent as information gets fixed by purposeful selection. This, unfortunately, is likely to present an intractable epistemic problem for science and this is not going to endear teleology to the conventional science practitioner.  

O'leary's second post conveniently follows on in this teleological vein and is titled "Could evolution have a higher purpose?". This post quotes New York Times science writer Robert Wright who in turn references the establishment figures Nick Bostrom  and Neil deGrasse-Tyson, figures who have dared to moot the idea of reality-as-a-computer-simulation, a theory which, as many point out has obvious resemblances to theism. See also my rather tongue-in-cheek comments on simulation theory here.

O'Leary quotes the following gem from Wright:

The New Yorker reported earlier this year that “two tech billionaires” — it didn’t say whether Musk is one of them — “have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.

I don't think it is possible to "break out" of a simulation  without destroying one self, although it may in principle be possible for us to at become aware we are created simulated beings. Perhaps that is what the Originator of the simulation is looking for; like the Monolith creators of Arthur C Clarke's 2001 Space Odyssey this Originator is waiting for us to become technically advanced enough to become aware of the simulation before he/she/it makes a move! As you can see with simulation theory the distinction between science and science fiction starts to become blurred!

For right wingers like O'leary the academic establishment is perceived as a major player in the "liberal" conspiracy against them and theism. Therefore that teleological concepts tantamount to ID are being mooted by establishment figures is surprising. It is very likely, however, that teleology will remain unpopular with establishment scientists who will continue to plod along with their procedural paradigm of physics. This paradigm is expressed in the imperative algorithms of law and disorder mathematics rather than the goal seeking declarative paradigm which is liable to compromise epistemic tractability. 

Summing up O'Leary says: 

So the obvious answer is yes, evolution can have a higher purpose but then it must originate in an intelligence capable of purpose.

Yes, I would go along with that: The concept of purpose is meaningless unless one assumes that intelligence is a fundamental, a-priori and irreducible aspect of reality. But did O'leary just say that evolution can have a higher purpose? That sounds just like the theistic evolutionists of Biologos, a Christian academic establishment group which O'leary despises!  A criticism  of theistic evolution by de-facto IDists is that theistic evolution places theism beyond scientific testing in contrast to de-facto ID's God-of-the-gaps interpretation.  The latter makes ID testable by looking for a gap in science and then applying misguided ID's epistemic filter

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Faith Big on Divine Wrath, Judgment, Punishment and Death

Answers in Genesis Ark promotion film: This still from the film shows a mother and child just before their execution by a huge tsunami which can be seen through the window bearing down on them ; no problems to Ken Ham: It's all about well deserved judgment!

In this post entitled "Odious Christianity" abrasive evangelical atheist PZ Myers publishes some tweets he had seen from fundamentalist Ken Ham. In the light of AiG's Ark promotion film (See screen capture above) the content of these tweets is true to type:

Taken from PZ Myers blog: Ken Ham's take on sin and physical death *

As we know Ken Ham's version of the Christian faith majors in the subjects of divine vengeance, wrath, judgement, mega death and the condemnation of Christian "heretics" (= those who don't agree with Ham). I have plenty of examples of that: See, here, here, hereherehere and here. In Ken's mind a person's salvation is at best  questionable and at worst invalidated if that person doesn't accept the divine authority of Ken's opinions (which, of course, he claims are from the Bible - as the Jehovah's witnesses claim about their opinions). As far as Ham is concerned that "good news" he speaks of above, the good news of the gospel, is in danger of being null and void if you don't believe what he claims the Bible teaches about the age of the cosmos.  

Here's PZ's reaction to the above, with my comments interleaved:

Hate is a strong word, but not strong enough for my feelings. Ken Ham might be a decent human being if he weren’t so thoroughly poisoned by this toxic faith he professes, and insists on infecting others. Christianity is the rot that corrupts minds.

MY COMMENT:  Whether or not Christianity is the rot that corrupts minds seems to be a function of the minds that receive it: The Bible has been abused to justify all sorts of atrocities, from the burning of heretics, through the persecution of homosexuals, to the oppression of reasonable evangelicals. But then look at the way evolutionary theory has been abused to justify social Darwinism. A lot seems to depend on the personalities (and their world view) who are doing the interpretation, whether it's of Christianity or atheism. 

 I reject his notion of sin — the idea that there is some kind of divine law against which we can transgress — but humanists do not deny that we can do wrong and we can do harm. We think we should do better, not to appease some vengeful deity, but because it improves our lives and helps make those around us happier and better able to live up to their potential. 

MY COMMENT: I can't disagree with that! But it sounds to me as if Myers actually does accept the "notion of sin" in its most general sense; that is, if it is simply understood as wrong doing and failure to make all due allowance for the feelings of those around us (which for Christians presumably includes God).  I know it's an old fashioned word with bad puritanical connotations but as I frequently say "Sin is the word with the 'I' in middle" and that quip sums up much (but not all) about the human predicament that is problematical. Hell is a place where the 'I' rules and has taken over completely 

Clearly PZ is getting the impression  from Ken Ham's Christian Witness that God is some vengeful deity who majors in the punishment of human beings for inscrutable and arbitrary reasons. I can hardly blame PZ for that impression given Ken's wrath centred Christian Witness. Thank you very much Ken you're obviously doing a grand job of it. 

We certainly do accept that death is inevitable, but not because we are wicked — the wicked often seem to flourish while the good may die young. Are we to measure the virtue of human beings by their longevity? Charles Manson is 82, and surely destined to join the saints in heaven, while every infant death must open a chute directly to hell for its wicked soul.

What enrages me most is the implicit condemnation of every human being who had the effrontery to die, which by the Christian doctrine so clearly stated by Ham is every goddamned human being ever.

So my father, a good man, died quietly in his sleep on Christmas years ago — of heart disease. But in Ken Ham’s filthy mind, his death was the bite of an angry god against whom he’d transgressed.

My sister, a good woman, died suffering in a hospital bed of a massive systemic infection, leaving behind two young children. To Ken Ham, she deserved her death because she’d transgressed in some unknowing way against his mighty, vengeful god.

We all have people we’ve loved and lost to accident, to disease, to old age. To a Christian, their god willed this loss, and to Christians like Ken Ham, those deaths were a punishment for “sin”.

Some day, Ken Ham will die, and remember — it will be because he is struck down by his capricious god for his wickedness, and every moment of his dying, if it be long and agonizing, will be deserved. At least, that’s what he should believe.

MY COMMENT: Well I can't speak for Ken Ham's "filthy mind"; he'll have to speak for himself. But Perhaps Myers ought to read Denis Alexander's book "Evolution or Creation; Do we have ti choose?". Now, I don't expect Myers to have anything other than contempt for Alexander's Christian faith and theology. but what the book would tell him is that for people like Alexander belief in Christianity doesn't necessarily imply a belief that death is a punishment for sin; In his book Alexander sketches out his idea that there are two kinds of death, spiritual death as well as physical death, where Alexander sees physical death as part of the natural order of things and intimately bound up with evolution as a means of creation.  I'm not going to comment here on whether Alexander's views are right or wrong - that would take a lot of consideration as Alexander is a sophisticated thinker (I wish to God that Ken Ham was as well!). Suffice to say here that it follows that Ham's views about physical death and sin (Except in Ham's mind, of course) aren't a necessary interpretation of Christianity; others, like Alexander, think differently. 


I know of Christians who, although they believe the cosmos to be 6000 years old, haven't, unlike Ken Ham, turned the question into a faith quality test and therefore they don't get uptight with those Christians who disagree with them. Alas, the polarization of the creation question, particularly in North America, does not encourage this kind of respectful disagreement. If fundamentalists like Ken Ham and John Mackay succeed in exporting their epistemic arrogance to the UK where the question is not such a divisive contention, it won't be long before Christians here will be at one another throats - as some professing Christians are in the States; e.g. Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.**


* To be fair on Ham it is just possible to interpret his meanings more along the lines that death is less a punishment for sin than it is a ramification of sin: e.g. If someone is killed in a terrorist attack such a death is caused by sin (of the terrorist) but it is not as such a punishment for the murdered person's own sin. However, as I find Ken Ham's authoritarian behavior generally unacceptable I'm in no mood to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

** The August 2016 edition of Premier Christianity magazine carries a news item on page 13 entitled "Trump has made a commitment to Christ, says Dr James Dobson". The article reports that Dobson  claims televangelist Paula White had 'personally led him (Trump) to Christ'. Dobson is a right-wing Christian who, according to the article, sits on Trump's evangelical advisory board. Let us now turn to the November 2016 edition of Premier Christianity magazine. This edition contains an interview with Tony Campolo a "red-letter" evangelical who supports Hilary Clinton. and says "She (Clinton) wanted to use politics to do what her Christian faith had led her to do". Campolo, as an evangelical who accepts gay marriage, would likely be considered as at best a very substandard Christian by the Christian right who have more tolerance towards Trump's sleaziness than they do to the conscientious acceptance of gays. As a rule the Christian conservative right is far less accepting of the authenticity of  the faith of the 'Christian left' (such as Campolo) than vice versa. 

However the point under scrutiny here, as I've implied in the main text, is that both Clinton and Trump identify as Christians. In short the Trump vs. Clinton presidential campaigns were effectively a Christian-on-Christian celebrity 'death match'. The Christian conservative right are likely to attempt to solve the paradox that this introduces by claiming that Clinton isn't a Christian - they may even claim she's demonically inspired! (See video below).

The Fundamentalist Response to Myers' Post

Below I publish Ken Ham's Facebook response to PZ Myers' blog post on "Odious Christianity". Actually the response is largely that of Ken's friend and fellow fundamentalist, Ray Comfort, whom Ken publishes. As we read this response we bear in mind that Myers is reacting to the version of Christianity as presented by Ham and Comfort; after all, PZ certainly wouldn't claim to know God and therefore what he knows of the God of Christianity is by and large via the likes of Ham and Comfort.  So when Ham claims that Myers' post is a  "hateful rant against God" we remember that this is the God as perceived by Ham which Myers is ranting against. 

Comfort, as is the wont of fundamentalists, claims to know what is really going on inside Myers mind, namely "enmity against God", "hatred of the law of God", "anger primarily at God", "loves the darkness hates the light". The epistemic certainty of Fundamentalists means that they believe they have authoritative scriptural insight into the minds of detractors. As I have often remarked fundamentalists take it for granted that those who disagree with them, Christian and atheist alike, do so with malign motives and in bad conscience - I've seen that in action many times among fundamentalists. Hence this character defamation of PZ Myers by Comfort is no surprise to me. But I take it with a pinch of salt; whatever, the motives of Myers (and we don't  know those, of course), the fact is that the behavior of Ham and Comfort is not exactly an attractive feature and could well explain Myers abrasive reaction.  But of course Ham and Comfort are likely to read a slight against themselves as a slight against the Almighty and therefore worthy of the utmost censor. 

Ken Ham shared Ray Comfort's post.
Ray Comfort from Living Waters -- a great personal friend and friend of the ministry -- posted a response to PZ Myers' recent hateful rant against God:

Professor PZ Myers hates Christianity. Nor is he a big fan of my good friend, Ken Ham.
In writing about his hatred, PZ unwittingly showed his hand when he said,
"I reject his notion of sin — the idea that there is some kind of divine law against which we can transgress — but humanists do not deny that we can do wrong and we can do harm. We think we should do better, not to appease some vengeful deity, but because it improves our lives and helps make those around us happier and better able to live up to their potential. We certainly do accept that death is inevitable, but not because we are wicked — the wicked often seem to flourish while the good may die young. Are we to measure the virtue of human beings by their longevity? Charles Manson is 82, and surely destined to join the saints in heaven, while every infant death must open a chute directly to hell for its wicked soul."
His hatred is perfectly in line with the Bible:
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
PZ is unashamedly godless (a state the Bible refers to as "carnal"), and so his mind is at "enmity" against God. That means he is in a continual state of hostility towards his Creator. That certainly is true. Even though he doesn't believe that He exists, but he contemptuously hates the very thought of "a god."
But look at the pinpoint accuracy of the Scriptures:
"...for it [our carnal mind] is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
His hatred is directed at the "law of God,"--the moral Law (the Ten Commandments).
PZ is like a criminal who hates the police, not because of who they are individually, but because of what they represent. They stand for the law--that which is right and good, and that is offensive to someone who loves and lives for crime.
PZ's railings about his loved ones dying is tragic, but peripheral. They are not the main reason why he is angry.
His anger is primarily at God and His Law, because he doesn't like being told what to do. Like you and I before we came to Christ, he loves his sin, and he who loves the darkness hates the light.
I'm not sure why PZ called Charles Manson "wicked," when his atheistic worldview doesn't allow for anyone to be "wicked."
Or could it simply be that Manson transgressed the moral Law, which says "You shall not kill," and PZ intuitively knows that, because of his God-given knowledge of right and wrong (see Romans 2:15).
It's actually heartening to see him using his moral compass. If he would put down his weapons and study how God's moral compass is infinitely higher, he may rethink his rejection of "The soul who sins, shall die."
This is because every death is sobering evidence of the truth of that verse.
You can see PZ in action in our movie "Evolution vs God" (over 2 million views) at
P.S. PZ hates the movie. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Ham Fisted Pathological "Science"

Picture from:
The fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis is a gold mine for those who, like myself, have an interest in fundamentalist thought forms*.  Fundamentalists will sometimes use the cliche "Different world view, different interpretation of the facts" to justify their belief that the cosmos is  only 6000 years old. In someways I agree with this cliche, but what I don't accept is that their world view is an unambiguous function of an authoritative "plain" Bible reading. For inside the embattled, marginalized, paranoiac, laughing-stock fundamentalist communities, we find fundamentalists joining the data dots of evidence in such a perverse fashion that it undermines the integrity of the signals we receive from both the Bible and the world in which it is embedded. See here and here for example**

The following post has recently appeared on the blog of AiG theme park supremo, Ken Ham. In this post Ham provides us with the main reason why, in my opinion, he can be identified as an anti-science influence; this is down to his habitual division of science into observational science and historical science. I have, of course, criticized this abuse of the word "science" by Ham several times before on this blog, but the passage below is such an excellent specimen of Ham's misconceptions that it must be exhibited. We remember that he is passing this particular abuse of science on to those who have little aptitude or willingness to delve into the nature of science. Moreover, we can't rely on any of Ham's tame scholars like Danny Faulkner to correct him; they have found a social-standing niche inside fundamentalist communities and therefore unless they are prepared to restart their careers we can't expect much from them. In this connection let's also not forget that fundamentalist astrophysicist, Jason Lisle, produced his perverse cosmology under the auspices of AiG. 

I reproduce Ham's article below for inspection; I've underlined the parts of the passage relevant to this post. I've also linked to the many articles I've written on the subject of Ham's anti-science. 

Exposing Ken Ham’s Faulty Belief About Science
By Ken Ham on December 30, 2016
What is science? Well, there’s a lot of misuse of the word by secularists and the popular media. The word itself simply means “knowledge” and refers to the process by which we use the scientific method to learn more about the natural world around us.

Now, secularists often misuse the word science when they use it to refer to their molecules-to-man evolution belief, and then also misapply it to refer to technology, which is operational science (observation and repeatable testing). There’s a big difference between knowledge about the past (origins beliefs) and knowledge for building technology! You can’t observe, test, or repeat the past, so historical (or origins) science isn’t the same thing as observational science that can be directly observed, tested, and repeated in the present.

Faulty Claims
The media also misuse the word science to claim that creationists are against science. We aren’t against science—AiG loves science, and we have staff with PhDs in various science fields! What the media really mean is that they accept secular beliefs—which they’ve labeled science—and reject creation beliefs. Since we don’t agree with their secular beliefs, they believe we must be against science.
But we aren’t against science. We’re against an evolutionary, naturalistic interpretation of the evidence that contradicts God’s Word.
Secularists need to admit their faulty beliefs. But they don’t want to acknowledge they have any beliefs! They believe life somehow arose by natural processes, and they also believe in an unobservable process of molecules-to-man evolution. Secularists have a religion. They have beliefs about how the universe and life arose, and these beliefs affect how they interpret evidence in the present.
Creationists are more than willing to distinguish between beliefs about origins and observable science that builds our technology. But secularists refuse to admit what are obviously beliefs—they just keep claiming their beliefs are “science.” They make these claims to attempt to brainwash people into believing that molecules-to-man evolution can be proven—which it is most definitely can’t!
You can learn more in “Two kinds of Science”  (See

What seems to be beyond this man's comprehension is that time isn't the overriding category marker which justifies him dichotomizing and lobotomizing science in this fashion: What makes some objects less amenable to science than other objects is not down to this simple minded dichotomy but a much more general, graded and subtle phenomenon; namely epistemic distance. Take for example an object like a socio-economic system; such a system is a present-tense-continuous object and one might therefore think its study doesn't classify as "historical science". But that hardly makes it readily observable: its logical complexity and epistemic inaccessibility makes it difficult to data-sample this object with any level of comprehensiveness. One might also argue similarly about string theory. In both cases epistemic distance, brought about by complexity and/or inaccessibility is a factor which has an important bearing on our ability to know with certainty. Moreover, this complexity and inaccessibility forces the study of such objects to become a study of history in that documentary records compiled over long spaces of time (i.e. historical documents) are very relevant to the construction of theoretical narratives which attempt to make sense of these objects.  In many ways some simple historical questions like where I went on holiday last year are far more observable and evidence based than complex human social systems and strings. Because all data about the objects we study arrives at out senses as signals after some kind of journey - that is, we never "see" the object-in-itself - then the thoroughgoing skepticism and nihilism of postmodernism is liable to render our world as completely unknowable. But for those of us who trust in the epistemic integrity of the cosmic signals, the slow scientific reconstruction of our world piece by piece becomes possible. The irony, as we have seen so often in this blog, is that fundamentalism undermines this cosmic integrity!

Ham frequently uses the cliche  "...observable science that builds our technology". Complex pieces of machinery, when tested, often have erratic unrepeatable problems and therefore locating those problems  very much depends on the records of machine testers,  or test-bed outputs (like in flight recorders). That is,  vital historical data helps build our technology! 

However, I won't consider this subject any further here as I have already given the matter undue attention in the following posts on fundamentalist anti-science:


Because fundamentalists by definition believe that "plain" Bible readings provides them with an epistemic short cut to certainty they are correspondingly presumptuous and condemning in their treatment of both atheists and Christians who disagree with them. Fundamentalists are quite sure that their antagonists hide guilty consciences and are therefore deserving of the utmost censor and judgement.  I've come to the opinion that fundamentalism favours personality types of a suspicious and sometimes quasi paranoiac frame mind and also those who readily engage in either side of dominance relations. See my blog post here where we find moderate and reasonable evangelical Hank Hanegraaff taking exception to Ken Ham's censorious tone. (See here for examples of that tone - search for "Ham")

A good model, I believe, for evangelical Christians to follow are the epistemic attitudes and methods of an establishment scientist like Denis Alexander who gives us his theological views in his book Evolution or Creation: Do we have to choose?. Alexander, far from claiming that his interpretations are the final answers sanctioned by divine authority tenders his views as "models" for consideration, study and argument. Now that's what I call good epistemological practice, a practice which contrasts against the spiritual threats and intimidation used by some fundamentalists to bully through their position in order to reach a beyond doubt status, thus giving them license for heresy hunting.

Sometimes fundamentalist ministries like AiG will complain that established scientists don't give all due attention to their "scientific papers" and therefore can't comment on YEC theories. But in my view it is wholly wrong to put the "science" of the Kent Hovinds, the Ken Hams, the John Mackays, the Christian Flat Earthers, the Christian Geocentrists and the Christian conspiracy theorists like Tim LaHaye in the same category as the work of established epistemic institutions.. To be frank most fundamentalist "science" classifies as quack epistemology and unless one is engaged in a specialist study of fundamentalism it is time ill spent for professionals to study exhaustively fundamentalist "science" as if it is real science.

* That interest primarily stems from my own Christian faith. When the views of Christian fundamentalist were pushed in my direction by Christian fundamentalists, such as is found in "The Genesis Flood" I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of quality in their thought. I felt betrayed. At first my faith was at stake and so was the intellectual integrity of God's world of which the Bible is anthoroughly integrated part. Hence fundamentalism became a deep concern of mine.

** Examples of the fundamentalist world view corrupting the Biblical message can be seen in Christian Flat Earthism, Geocentrism and "The Sun is not a star" ideas. In all these cases the Bible simply records the point view of the primitives of the day who, of course, did not have a modern cosmological perspective and who reported the approximations of the day. It is therefore no surprise if the Bible has little or nothing to say about a cosmology involving a spherical Earth revolving around a nuclear power star.  Much of fundamentalism, I would hazard, has its motivations in anti-establishment disaffection. For example consider this likely fundamentalist client who doesn't believe light has a travel time; he clearly has no trust whatever in established science.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Training Video

With the Trumps and Farages striding around on the world stage so confidently, these demagogues, (whether they accept it or not) have helped open up a Pandora's box of nasty sectarian opinions. Opinions that once felt rather reticent about making themselves heard are now, in some quarters, ringing out loud and clear. So let's get used to the new milieu with its freely expressed bigotry. Here's a training video to help initiate us into the new ethos:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thanks to climate change sceptics I'm now a climate change alarmist!

PZ Myers introduces the above video from feminist Rebecca Watson with the following words:

An advisor to Trump and member of the transition team just bare-faced asserted that the Earth is less than 6000 years old. This was after Anthony Scaramucci tried to invalidate modern science by arguing that scientists once argued that the Earth was flat and that the universe rotated about it. Never mind that those ideas preceded modern science and were relatively rapidly dispelled as evidence was acquired

That Scaramucci's brand of thinking is found in high places and is also coupled to a president-elect who may well prove to have fascist leanings doesn't bode well for Western Civilisation.  I wonder where Scaramucci thinks the idea that the Earth isn't flat or the cosmos isn't geocentric came from? It came from centuries of scientific thinking and observation, starting with the Greek period circa 600 BC when it became apparent the Earth is spherical. The Copernican revolution, of course, dates back over four hundred years to the sixteenth century. But if Scaramucci distrusts the academic establishment so much why should he stop at climate change theory? Why not be skeptical of Copernicanism and spherical Earth theory? Or perhaps he should question whether the Sun is really a star or whether Cosmic ages are largely a delusion wrought by God upon man. After all some people are thinking along these lines and they are very likely to be Trump sympathetic fundamentalists. See here:

The kind of material in the foregoing links is hardly a recommendation for the Trump supporting fundamentalist aptitude for science.

The complex questions around climate change are not something I've given a lot of consideration to. To analyse climate change theory properly would require more time and study than I'm able to give it. But what better place to start than the de-facto "Intelligent Design" website "Uncommon Descent", a website whose contributors  are by and large very much in opposition to the academic establishment. What do they say about climate change? Perhaps they can reassure me with some of their nifty science that catastrophic climate change isn't on the way. Below I quote a UD correspondent who Barry Arrington, Uncommon Descent's chief of staff, showcases approvingly in his post here:

The thing that frustrates me is that the alarmist side does not even attempt cost benefit analysis. For example, they claim that droughts can reduce crop yields, while ignoring that CO2 increases crop yields. Crop yields are way up over the last century — there is yet no direct evidence that warming so far has caused any crop yield reduction, although it is possible technology has merely outpaced losses due to warming so far, and will eventually be overwhelmed. 

My Comment: Is this guy accepting that Global Warming is taking place? His logic seems to be predicated on it: direct evidence that warming so far has caused ...".  Given this predicate his contention is that it's effect isn't as great as the "alarmists" make out.   He also admits that crop yield increases don't prove much as we have to factor in enhancements in agricultural science. In other words he doesn't know if, as far as crop yields are concerned, whether the predicated climate warming is potentially detrimental or not. Perhaps he ought to ask himself if he is willing to take the chance!

What evidence is there that any catastrophe will occur? There is no statistically significant trend in drought, no trend in flooding, no trend in tornadoes, and no trend in tropical storms worldwide. The present represents the longest recorded period with no category 3 or greater hurricanes making landfall in North America. All belief that catastrophe will occur is based on computer models, not evidence. Even the EPA’s website says that scientists only have “medium” confidence that storms will be worse with warming.

My Comment: I'll accept (provisionally) this correspondent's claim that major trends haven't been noticed - but of course with so much chaotic background noise in the weather system it's difficult to tell one way or the other. His doubt about computer models echoes somewhat the right-wing Australian senator Malcolm Roberts who is so science illiterate as to be of the opinion that theoretical modeling isn't empirical science: But such models are constructed using theoretical constructs which have their roots in observation. True, given that theories and models can only ever be based on limited sets of data samples and have inherent simplifications they must be used and interpreted with caution. But modelling and testing models are the stuff of empirical science; if science were simply a catalog of empirically compiled data devoid of theoretical modelling it would be all-but useless. In the case of climate change, however, the experimental test bed of our models isn't a well isolated and controlled context in some laboratory but is in fact the whole of the environment on which we depend! Alarming!

The only “catastrophe” with actual evidence to support it is sea level rise affecting coastal regions, but that will occur in such slow motion that it’s not going to kill anyone. And sea level rise has been occurring for the past 12,000 years, including pre AGW, and there is yet no sign of the rate accelerating. It’s unclear what percentage of current sea level rise would have occurred anyway due to the pre-existing natural trend.

My Comment:  He's admitting to a sea level rise with evidence to support it! That sounds potentially catastrophic to me especially if I lived in a low lying area. Once again our UD correspondent isn't able to enlighten us as to the Anthropogenic Global Warming component of this rise. Interestingly, once again he seems to have taken AGW as a predicate! Alarming!

Besides sea level rise, the only observable result that agrees with computer models is an increase in average precipitation levels. It’s hard to say how the warmists can predict both increased precipitation and increased drought. I guess they are saying that drought will increase in some places, and decrease in others. The computer models themselves are at such a coarse resolution that they have no ability to simulate regional variation, so at best claims that certain regions will be worse or better off with warming are completely unfounded speculation. The computer models can’t physically simulate El Nino, oceanic cycles, clouds, storms, etc.

My Comment: So he's admitting that the computer models agree with sea level rise and precipitation increases. That's just a little alarming as it suggests that something is happening out there however crude human modelling of it may be. Our correspondent spots the obvious and likely flaw in any argument which tries to portray predictions of both increased precipitation and increased drought as a contradiction in climate change science.

Let me ask you a question — how do scientists know that the current specific temperature of the planet is optimal for life and humanity? I think we can all agree that colder is infinitely worse, such as during the last ice age when mile thick glacial ice covered the present locations of Chicago and New York. So if you were trying to decide an optimal temperature, we know that there would be a curve where cold is bad, and life gets better with increased temperature up to a certain inflection point, where further warming makes it get worse. How do we know we are at that point?

We know that in the peak of the last interglacial, temperatures were around 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In prehistoric times, it has been 5 degrees warmer or more, with no ice at the poles. None of those previous warm periods resulted in runaway warming, or mass extinctions.

My comment: Yet again he seems to construct his logic based on those much despised "warmist" predicates, in this case the predicate that temperatures will increase. But in his question as to whether or not we need to be "alarmist" over this increase he's settling for "We don't know if we should be alarmed".  That sounds pretty alarming to me. On this logic I conclude that if I'm playing Russian roulette and I don't know if my chamber has a bullet in it, I don't know whether I should alarmed!

Yet scientists are saying we need to limit temperature to 2 degrees above pre-industrial. Maybe they are saying that the warming is going to be “too fast” for the planet to handle. A 2 degree temperature difference is equivalent to moving poleward around 300 miles, or up in elevation around 600 feet. Are we saying that animals won’t be able to move fast enough to adjust to that? How did animal and plant species survive the 7 degree swing in temperature at the end of each interglacial?

These are all questions I would like to ask a climate scientist…

Summing up: Given that Arrington & co are so highly motivated to find fault in the academic establishment the foregoing amounts to a pretty mild attack on climate change science! In fact those questions are fair enough if you're like me and not a climate scientist. But it hardly makes me feel any less alarmed to know that I, and perhaps even climate scientists, don't know the answers. Going on a World War II bombing mission knowing that there's a 1 in 20 chance that my aircraft will be shot down is pretty alarming!  I've often hoped that this stuff about climate disequilibrium is all wrong and that burgeoning human populations aren't in for a rough ride over the next centuries. So wouldn't it be nice if climate change skeptics could come up with their own solid science showing that climate change is nothing to be feared. But from the above alone it seems they can't do this; they are as much in the doubting dark as anyone else; climate change sceptics don't really know. But therein lies the rub; if we don't know we may have to proceed under the rule that it is better to be safe than sorry. Barry Arrington's attempt to pour oil on troubled alarmist waters has simply exposed a sceptic's ignorance of climate science. The irony is that I am now much more of a climate change alarmist than before I started reading Barry Arrington's article. Thank you Barry!

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Trump Victory. Part 1: Folksy Levellers.

Brexiters see themselves as folksy levellers opposing the establishment intelligensia

About nine years ago on this blog I did a series of posts called “Mathematical Politics” (See March 2007 to July 2007). It was my attempt to grapple with the subjects of politics and economics – not my favourite topics at all, as I don’t find it easy to think outside the mathematical box and these subjects are difficult, if not in principle impossible, to render in formal terms. In fact my series never really got finished; that may be because I felt that the socio-politics of the day was in a relatively stable state, part of the benign environmental furniture among which I lived. Therefore I had no sense of urgency to get to grips with the whys and wherefores of this environment in any more detail. But how times have changed recently! Today in the West the spectre of right-wing dictatorship, although admittedly it still seems a remote prospect, is not an entirely unreal scenario if a little imagination is applied. With people like Trump and Farage rocking the establishment boat in what vaguely resembles the course taken by pre-World War II Germany I’m beginning to feel just a little sea sick and thinking that I ought to stop and take stock of the “new world order”.  But what is this new world order? Does it have any real substance? Here is a small sample of characters who capture something of the new mood which has brought us to this juncture.

Donald Trump
US president elect. Pseudo-libertarian*. Glories in political incorrectness. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Wants to "drain the swamp" of the ruling liberal establishment elite. His campaign played on anxieties generated by social & economic disequilibrium caused by global trading and immigration. Trump attracts the disaffected, the fundamentalists, racists and neo-nazis, all of which brings me to :
Nigel Farage
UK independent party. Friend of Trump. Detests the Euro-elite. Outsider to the liberal establishment elite and the quasi-aristocratic conservative party. Farage played on anxieties over immigration during the Brexit campaign. His party has attracted fundamentalists, racists and the extreme right, although Farage has distanced himself from these extremists (He’s a clever politician – unlike Trump). Anthropogenic climate change sceptic.
Milo Yiannopoulos
British Pundit for the slippery and diffuse Alt-right tendency. Arguably neo-fascist. Pseudo-Libertarian. Social Darwinist. Brexiteer and Trump supporter. Against the liberal establishment elite.  Anti-feminist. Catholic (!). An enemy of academia. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic
Matt Ridley
Libertarian social philosopher, Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Sceptical of the liberal establishment elite. Socio-economic evolutionist. See the following links:
Denise O’Leary
De facto-Intelligent Design pundit, Canadian Trump supporter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Probably Pseudo-libertarian. Anti-political correctness. Against the liberal establishment elite and particularly hates publically funded academia.
Ken Ham
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic. Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia.
Kent Hovind
Christian fundamentalist. Probably a Trump voter. “Sovereign Citizen”. Pseudo-libertarian. Anthropogenic climate change sceptic, Against the liberal establishment elite. Has obvious reasons to particularly hate academia. Extreme fundamentalist Steve Anderson is an ally of Hovind. Likely to be at odds with Ken Ham.

Put these people in a room together and it wouldn’t be long before each person was rowing violently with everyone else (Although Trump and Farage are chums at the moment); such are their differences. And yet these characters are the figureheads of trends which have a common interest in seeing the overthrow of the political and academic establishment. With Brexit followed by the election of Donald Trump as US president, each of them probably feels that the worlds they are striving for are now just a little closer.  It is ironic that the outspoken and arguably crypto-fascist Milo Yiannoploous may in fact express sentiments common to all of the above. This is what Yiannoploous’ Wiki entry says:

As a "cultural libertarian"[5] and "free speech fundamentalist", he is a vocal critic of feminism,[6] Islam, social justice, political correctness, and other movements and ideologies he claims to be authoritarian or belonging to the "regressive left".

That protest against authoritarianism is ironic. Of course, few people will admit to being authoritarian, but it hardly needs pointing out that the neo-fascists, Trump, and Ken Ham are among the most authoritarian personalities out there and I can’t imagine that their societal vision is anything other than repressive. Ken Ham, for instance, has no qualms about trying to intimidate with spiritual threats about divine displeasure being upon who disgaree with him, whether they be professing Christians or otherwise.  

What brings this diverse group together? There are, after-all, huge differences between them about the ultimate nature of reality, but they all have a common antipathy toward the public establishment and in particular the publically funded liberal academic establishment of which they are antagonistic outsiders.  Matt Ridley is by far and away the most intelligent and reasonable among the characters above and I had to think long and hard before including him in the list, but in the final analysis he’s an academic outsider who shares enough of the anti-establishment association complex for him to qualify for my list. Moreover, his concept of evolution as an information-less (= undirected) process which somehow poofs things into existence is not at all unlike that of O’leary’s and Ken Ham’s straw man concept of evolution.  Like the others, Ridley is sceptical about the climate change science of the intellectual establishment. Ridley also has much faith in decentralised libertarianism (a flaky concept in my opinion – see part II) and this is something which the above clients try to make a show of courting one way or another and use as an ideological cudgel with which to hit the much hated political and academic establishment. “Libertarianism” is intended to conjure up a vision of a peaceful decentralised free trading idyll, an idyll untrammelled by the strictures of “big government” which, it is implied, is out to cramp one’s style in favour of its continued existence. The extreme wing of libertarianism is into conspiracy theorism; here government is portrayed as a self-serving conspiracy of the elite. However, knowing human nature I’m sceptical of these aspirational decentralised social idylls: “Libertarianism” is an appellation which is to the right-wing as “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is to the left wing; in fact “Libertarian Marxism” strives for a peaceful post-revolution government-less communist paradise where having done away with the inherent conflicts of interest in capitalism it is believed that an era of peace and cooperation will reign. The extreme right wing and extreme left wing worldviews have a common vision of a cosy decentralised folksy idyll which, given human nature, seems a wholly unlikely scenario. These sorts of vision, when implemented by zealous partisans, have a tendency to descend into autocratic nightmares, as evidenced by some of the religious cults ruled by authoritarian patriarchs.

But why aren’t those Marxists who seek the overthrow of the established status quo and the ultimate dismantling of the state also part of my list?  In their view the state is necessarily an outcome of the social conflicts which have their roots in laissez-faire capitalism and therefore they explicitly stand against the free market evolutionism of the right-wingers listed above. Moreover, Marx did at least bring to bear a worthy critique of capitalism, a critique that has some merit in its own right even if you feel that a Marxist society is utterly untenable. There is some mileage to be had from Marx’s critique of social history if not from his prescriptions which were largely vague wishful thinking. There is also the matter of the respect for Marx among liberal academics which, needless to say, further distances the anti-establishment right-wing from academia who they think of as extreme "lefties".**

There are several ironies in the positions taken by the characters in my list: Denise of O’leary is likely to look favourably upon decentralised free market evolutionism as described by Ridley and yet she cannot accept conventional evolutionary theory as a decentralised process. Ridley is a free market evolutionist and sees centralised human interventions in the market as disrupting and harmful. And yet he is not on the side of those anthropogenic climate change lobbyists who suggest that inadvertent human intervention in the (decentralised) climate system has harmfully disrupted it. Also, it is ironic that Yiannopoulos is a social Darwinist and yet he’s attached himself to a political culture that in the final analysis is likely to be inexorably drawn to promoting the most authoritarian and centralised government system one could imagine.

I would style myself as a “Liberal-left capitalist”,  whiggish in outlook. We have much to be thankful about the way the decentralised market economy encourages innovative entrepreneurial effort and tries to sync production and demand. But Marx was probably right about some of those capitalist ills; the free market is not unlike an old banger of a car that is very useful but liable to breakdowns, breakdowns which are sometimes compounded by ill-judged human attempts at repair. But although I appreciate what the free market has done for us,  my critical take on capitalism and a willingness to accept competent attempts at repair when it breaks down is likely classify me as a “socialist” as far as the extreme right are concerned.

I’ve actually been staring at this public-civic sector vs private sector polarisation for some time without really understanding its socio-political significance:  Over the last tens years as I have considered the intelligent design/creation debate in this blog it has become clear that the de facto IDists and various Christian fundamentalists were very anti-public establishment and in particular hated, above all, publically funded academia. Initially it seemed to me that this attitude was just bound up with their anti-establishment take on the natural sciences.  So, at first it seemed just a strange coincidence that the de facto IDists and fundamentalists were also taking a stand against anthropogenic climate change science – after all, what does climate change have to do with ID? The deeper connection, however, is that libertarianism provides a philosopohical rationale against the spectre of government emissions regulations and taxes that are justified using anthropogenic climate change science. Hence, certain conservatively oriented business interests therefore had common cause with the IDists and fundamentalists against the establishment intelligentsia. Some fundamentalists have also tried to bundle their climate change theory with their Young Earth Creationism which perhaps gives YEC more appeal to some conservative business interests.

Christian fundamentalists voted Trump: they wanted to 
return to the traditional social certainties and securities of 
a time when society could unequivocally be called "Christian"

Since the 1960s Christians have become more and more culturally marginalised. Therefore alternative narratives involving so-called Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism and prophetic conspiracy theorism helped to focus and give rationale to their sense of marginalisation and alienation from the public intelligentsia. Thus, dualist “anti-naturalist” creation accounts and anti-climate change attitudes have been neatly woven into seamless conspiracy narratives that sit well with right-wing Christian alienation from the secular intelligentsia of public and civic life. Popular rank and file disaffection with this elite governing community has also been exacerbated by market instabilities precipitated by globalisation and immigration related xenophobia. Worst of all, however, is that the neo-fascists found themselves in the same boat as the IDists, Christian fundamentalists, libertarians, some conservative business interests and the disaffected white working class who have suffered under global market instabilities.

There are, I believe, some parallels here with the situation in England during the seventeenth century. On more than one occasion during that century the middle class interests represented in parliament found themselves at odds with Royal demands for money needed to finance the King's pet projects (in effect taxes). Coupled with Charles I and James II belief in their absolute soveriegnty this lead to the 1642 civil war against Charles I and the 1688 Bloodless Revolution against James II which ultimately resulted in the installation of a constitutional monarchy. In spite of good intentions Cromwell failed to set up a democratic republic and instead became a dictator; he was repulsed by the untidy constitutional row that any democratic government must ultimately become and so suspended parliament. At the puritan extremes were found the Fifth monarchsists who awaited the eminent return of Christ and even sought the overthrow of Cromwell's puritan dictatorship. Just as today, the political situation yielded neatly to the interpretation of conspiracy theorists and Christian prophetic ministries which saw the government as the instrument of Satan and/or malign forces which seek to dominate the individual believer. There was also an historical adjunct: After the restoration of the (constitutional) monarchy many disillusioned and disenfranchised puritans settled in North America seeking religious freedom from state religion, only to find in time that the Mother country was burdening them with taxes in order to finance the war against France. The American revolution followed, of course. Since those days politics, taxation, religion and the apocalyptic in the US have had a tendency to get bound up with one another.

In the next part I’ll take a closer look at so-called “libertarianism”

Relevant links:

Other links:

* Pseudo-libertarian: This means that they would fail the Chinese or African test question: Viz: Would they be prepared to accept Chinese or African produce without tariffs? Matt Ridley is probably the only genuine libertarian in my list

** Marx and Academia: See here: