Murderous people serving ‘peace-loving’ religions

Some of you may have heard about the ‘World Trade Center cross‘. Extracted from the wreckage of the WTC buildings were two steel girders in the form of a cross. Girders are usually welded at right angles to each other so discovering wreckage in this shape was not surprising but for a nation that is remarkably good at seeing Jesus even in pieces of toast, this was taken as some sort of miraculous sign from god, though it beats me what possible positive message could be extracted from the carnage. Maybe it is supposed to be like the rainbow after Noah’s flood which symbolized god saying, “Hey, my bad” after he killed almost every living thing of the planet.

Some religious people have elevated this piece of wreckage into a religious icon, blessing it, praying around it, worshipping it, doing the usual things that religious people do, and they now want to make it part of the official 9/11 memorial. Since the memorial is a public institution funded by the government, American Atheists have sued to stop it, arguing that inserting something that has been made into a religious symbol violates the separation of church and state.

Fox News had a segment about this in which a spokesperson for American Atheists and a first responder at 9/11 debated the merits of the case.

Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

Notice the program host badgering the atheist spokesperson but that is not unusual for a network that has an overt Christian ideology. What was interesting was that the news program’s bulletin board was flooded with over 8,000 messages, many urging that the atheist spokesperson, and indeed all atheists, should be killed! Although the moderators are trying to remove these posts as fast as they come in, screen shots give a fascinating glimpse into the minds of religious people.

So let’s take stock. A bunch of Muslims decided that killing nearly 3,000 people is what their god would approve of while a bunch of Christians call for the killing of all atheists as something they think their god would approve of. They see no contradiction between their religion and what they advocate.

And we are repeatedly told that religions advocate peace.

The Wrongulator

I never unquestioningly accept the results produced by machines and as much as possible try to find independent ways to check if they make sense. The following story may explain why.

When I was in graduate school, my doctoral thesis involved a lot of detailed calculations that required using a computer. This was in the days prior to the personal computer and we used massive mainframes, entering the programs and data using punch cards and later advancing to remote terminals. Because the computer programs I had written were so complicated and there were so many opportunities for making errors, as much as possible I would check its output in special, simplified cases where I could also do the calculations using just a pocket calculator.

There was one occasion where I simply could not get the two results to agree. After days and days of work trying to find the source of disagreement, going to the extent of doing elaborate calculations without even the calculator, I found the source of the problem. It turned out that my hand calculator had this bug that if you had a number in the display that had the digit 8 in the fourth decimal place, and stored this number in the memory, when you recalled this number, the 8 would have been replaced with a zero. It was a very specialized error, occurring only with the digit 8 and only in the fourth decimal place. Everything else was fine. When I told my thesis advisor what had caused the problem he was shocked and said, “If you can’t trust your own calculator, what can you trust?”

It was the kind of bug that could escape detection for a long time because the chances of it making a noticeable difference in a calculation was extremely small but it shook me up so much that after more than three decades I still remember the details of that story.

I was reminded of this when I came across this item about a ‘Wrongulator‘, a gag calculator that always gives you the wrong answer.

I am not sure how it works. I would think that a calculator that is invariably wrong would be easy to detect unless you are totally innumerate. It also depends on how wrong it is. To fool someone, the error would have to be subtle, like my own experience. If the wrongulator said that 4×6=543, that would be easily detectable, whereas one that returned the answer of 26 may fool some.

I actually don’t like gag gifts like this. They could have very serious negative consequences in the hands of innumerate people who accept unquestioningly whatever machines tell them.

Keeping track of the government’s checking account

For those who like to know the details of how much money the US government takes in (and from where) and how much it spends (and on what), the US Treasury publishes a wealth of figures.

In particular you can see the activity in its ‘checking account’ on a daily basis. Thursday, July 28th is the last day for which the figures are available and we are told that the government started the day with about $74 billion, took in $112 billion and spent $132 billion, leaving it at the end of the day with $54 billion.

You can see what is causing concern if you look at the last column that gives the fiscal-year-to-date figures. (Note that in the US, the fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year.) It shows that the government started the fiscal year with $310 billion, and for the year so far had receipts of $9,108 billion and expenditures of $9,364 billion. So we have had a drop of $256 billion in just ten months, an average burn rate of $26 billion per month, which is why we are so close to emptying the account.

But the monthly figures can fluctuate wildly so the average rate is not a good predictor of what will happen in the short term. (Caution: When reading the monthly table, note that for some reason monthly deficits are entered as positive numbers and surpluses as negative.)

The Norwegian government’s reaction to the mass murder

Following the mass killings in Norway that, on a per capita basis, inflicted a death toll that was greater than that of 9/11, the government is treating it as a criminal matter and prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said that “I hope and also believe that the Norway we will see after will be more open, a more tolerant society than what we had before.”

Yes, his response is to want to make the country more open and tolerant.

Oh, those silly Norwegians. Don’t they know that that the proper response to a mass murder is to declare it to be a terrorist act, proclaim a war on terror that involves bombing and invading countries whose populations have the same religion as the killer, harass your own population by subjecting them to all manner of intrusive surveillance to make sure they are not up to no good, suspend constitutional rights by detaining people indefinitely without trial on the flimsiest of suspicions, create kangaroo courts to guarantee convictions and secret prisons overseas, and torture and kill those in custody?

Religious killers

It is interesting how mainstream religions react when one of their followers goes on a murderous rampage because of their religious beliefs. The religions immediately disavow such people because they claim, despite the historical record and the very words in their religious texts, that their religion is one of peace and anyone who commits such atrocities cannot be a true believer.

We have seen this absurd argument advanced repeatedly with members of all religions and the Christian killer in Norway is now being subject to the same shunning by his co-religionists, as The Daily Show illustrates.

It is part of the general pattern of whining as a response to criticisms of your views.

The logic of science-9: Can scientific theories be proven true?

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

In mathematics, the standard method of proving something is to start with the axioms and then apply the rules of logic to arrive at a theorem. In science, the parallel exercise is to start with a basic theory that consists of a set of fundamental entities and the laws or principles that are assumed to apply to them (all of which serve as the scientific analogues of axioms) and then apply the rules of logic and the techniques of mathematics to arrive at conclusions. For example, in physics one might start with the Schrodinger equation and the laws of electrodynamics and a system consisting of a proton and electron having specific properties (mass, electric charge, and so on) and use mathematics to arrive at properties of the hydrogen atom, such as its energy levels, emission and absorption spectra, chemical properties, etc. In biology, one might start with the theory of evolution by natural selection and see how it applies to a given set of entities such as genes, cells, or larger organisms.

The kinds of results obtained in science using these methods are not referred to as theorems but as predictions. In addition to the mathematical ideas of axioms, logic, and proof, in science we are also dealing with the empirical world and this gives us another tool for determining the validity of our conclusions, and that is data. This data usually comes either in the form of observations for those situations where conditions cannot be repeated (as is sometimes the case in astronomy, evolution, and geology) but more commonly is in the form of experimental data that is repeatable under controlled conditions. The comparison of these predictions with experimental data or observations is what enables us to draw conclusions in science.

It is here that we run into problems with the idea of truth in science. While we can compare a specific prediction with experimental data and see if the prediction holds up or not, what we are usually more interested in is the more basic question of whether the underlying theory that was used to arrive at the prediction is true. The real power of science comes from its theories because it is those that determine the framework in which science is practiced. So determining whether a theory is true is of prime importance in science, much more so than the question of whether any specific prediction is borne out. While we may be able to directly measure the properties of the entities that enter into our theory (like the mass and charge of particles), we cannot directly test the laws and theories under which those particles operate and show them to be true. Since we cannot treat the basic theory as an axiom whose truth can be established independently, this means that the predictions we make do not have the status of theorems and so cannot be considered a priori true. All we have are the consequences of applying the theory to a given set of entities, i.e., its predictions, and the comparisons of those predictions with data. The results of these comparisons are the things that constitute evidence in science.

So what can we infer about the truth or falsity of a theory using such evidence? For example, if we find evidence that supports a proposition, does that mean that the proposition is necessarily true? Conversely, if we find evidence that contradicts a proposition, does that mean that the proposition is necessarily false?

To take the first case, if a prediction agrees with the results of an experiment, does that mean that the underlying theory is true? It is not that simple. The logic of science does not permit us to make that kind of strong inference. After all, any reasonably sophisticated theory allows for a large (and usually infinite) number of predictions. Only a few of those may be amenable to direct comparison with experiment. The fact that those few agree does not give us the luxury of inferring that any future experiments will also agree, a well known difficulty known as the problem of induction. So at best, those successful predictions will serve as evidence in support of our theory and suggest that it is not obviously wrong, but that is about it. The greater the preponderance of evidence in support of a theory, the more confident we are about its validity, but we never reach a stage where we can unequivocally assert that a theory has been proven true.

So we arrive at a situation in science that is analogous to that in mathematics with Godel’s theorem, in that the goal of being able to create a system such that we can find the true theories of science turns out to be illusory.

Next: Can we prove a scientific theory to be false?

The Adventures of Dr. Orly Taitz Esquire, Queen of the Nutters

I know everyone has been curious about what Orly Taitz, our favorite lawyer/dentist/performance artist, whose obsession with Obama’s birth certificate has provided many hours of hilarity, has been up to recently.

First up, for some bizarre reason, she now refers to herself as “Dr. Orly Taitz Esquire” everywhere. Maybe she is unaware of the origins and meanings of the word ‘esquire’ and thinks it gives her a certain cachet.

You would have thought that the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate would have ended her quest. You would be wrong. She is nothing if not dogged. She is now demanding the right to personally examine the certificate, no doubt to use her sharp forensic skills to figure out how it was forged.

She also now claims that Obama is using a fake social security number and she is suing the Social Security Administration for, well, something, that will help her prove it.

The problem is that her court filings are so incompetent that she received a thorough dressing down from the judge because she does not seem to understand the simplest of rules. Apparently in cases involving social security numbers, you are required to redact all but the last four digits. Simple enough, no? But even after being repeatedly told this, she keeps filing after redacting only the last four digits. The exasperated judge in his ruling dismissing her claim said that she was “either toying with the court or displaying her own stupidity.”

Her response? To accuse court staff of intentionally sabotaging her case, no doubt as a result of orders from Obama’s Muslim/Kenyan/Socialist/Fascist cabal that is running the country and has managed to get their sleeper agents not only into the White House but also as employees in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

But there’s more! She is writing a book that she has tentatively titled “from the queen of the birthers. Secrets and intrigue behind the crime of the century”.

I can hardly wait. But I think my post title would make a better title for her book.