Fred Hutchison, Renaissance fool

Please forgive me: you’ve probably all forgotten Fred Hutchison, the incredibly delusional right-wing paragon of hubris, but I’ve got to bring him up again. He wrote one of the more painful diatribes against evolution on Alan Keyes “Renew America” site (yeah, that Alan Keyes; you know we’re deep in crazytown already) which I ripped up a while back. This is a guy who gets everything wrong, and wraps it all up in the most astonishingly pretentious, arrogant tone. Hutchison himself is a CPA. He thinks he has demonstrated that Darwin and Einstein were all wrong.

That’s right. He thinks he is a master of both biology and physics, and thinks Einstein was all wet. He also doesn’t believe in global warming, is upset about gay marriage and gay adoptions, fought in the war for Christmas, and is certain Terri Schiavo was conscious because “Consciousness must subsist in the incorporeal spirit”. He’s also against abortion because he’s come up with metaphysics superior to that of Descartes and Aristotle.

They are awful to read. Hutchison’s usual style is to throw out great gusty piles of false history and pseudo-philosophy to back up his dissent from basic ideas in science, and then he expects to collapse in the face of his simple denial. For instance, after noodling around about water and carbon and nitrogen cycles, he claims CO2 simply can’t contribute to warming the earth, because there is “no understandable mechanism or process that explains how CO2 gas in the atmosphere increases heat on earth”. He’s not just arguing against the role of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in global warming—he’s denying that gases contribute to the temperature of the earth, period. I guess this brilliant polymath never heard of John Tyndall, who presented empirical evidence that it happens…in the 1860s.

He’s a forgettable fool, distinctive only for his blissfully ignorant incompetence. However, he has now gone beyond the usual noise to arrogant strutting in a new article, “A dilettante debates the scientists”. He recounts how he debated two scientists in e-mail, and trounced them thoroughly—he doesn’t actually quote any of these guys, but instead goes on and on with a lot of garbled ideas about Einstein and global warming, and declares himself the victor. I suggest you get a pot ready to puke in, because here’s how he summarizes the results:

How was I, a science dilettante and hobbyist, able to pull off this tour-de-force of debate with certified experts? As an autodidact, polymath, and armchair philosopher, science for me is a sideline and a hobby. My scientific knowledge is really nothing special. A bright, nerdy college student majoring in science who reads science magazines could probably match my knowledge of contemporary science. My edge on the nerd is that I have experience with the critical analysis of technical and philosophical concepts, plus a pretty fair knowledge of scientific controversies, the philosophy of science, and the history of science.

I read his articles on evolution and intelligent design, and they were appallingly bad, full of historical inaccuracies and completely misunderstood science. The man is a pompous twit who knows nothing about those fields he’s bragging about.

I had to write to him and mention my critique of his ideas about biology, and suggest that since he was so happy to mop the floor with physicists and climatologists in an email debate, that maybe he’d be willing to take on a mere biologist. We’ll see if he has the guts to do so; I suspect he will run away, since he won’t be able to get away with publishing just his side of the argument, but you never know—I think his competence to arrogance ratio is indistinguishable from zero, so he might just try it.

I’ll let you all know if the fish bites.

The fish has bitten.

Also, Uncertain Principles has taken on Hutchison’s claims about Einstein, and Stoat has addressed his absurdities about global warming. It’s all right here on Scienceblogs!


  1. Rocky says

    Good for you PZ, but after reading his dribble, it’s obvious you’ll be debating his self serving faith, not facts. As you and many others on this site have noted, no matter how many times you correct them………..

  2. lt.kizhe says

    Oh thank you very much for that, you owe me a new keyboard (I’ll admit it: reading Freddie is like rubbernecking at freeway pile-ups. You know you shouldn’t, but somehow you can’t help it).

    I skimmed until he blows it with the Twins Paradox — the pons asinorum of relativity theory — then quit reading. It’s vastly amusing to see someone babbling Big Science Words like “inertial frames” when he has no idea what they mean. He understands just barely enough to make an utter fool of himself.

    Hutchison is a worthy succesor to Harry Rimmer: in The Harmony of Science & Scripture (published 1936 IIRC), he boasts about all the learned professors of science he has trounced in debate. Of course, we’ve only got Rimmer’s side of the story — and judging by the howlers that make it into the text, one suspects that his opponents were rendered speechless by laughter.

  3. says

    Ouch, the physics arguments he makes are painful, at the level of the worst cranks on newsgroups ten years ago. Suffice it to say, regardless of whether Einstein’s philosophies were religious or mechanistic, his physics theories are well-tested, and so far work fine. More importantly, as best I know, they are, for classical (rather than quantum) phenomena, entirely self-consistent. That is to say, they may be incorrect even in the classical limit, but cannot be proven so by thought experiment, since such gedanken problems are only consistency checks, not physical experiments. To disprove the theory, you calculate some value it predicts, and then run an actual measurement.

    BTW, as a general rule, never take anyone who disbelieves the twin-in-the-rocket problem seriously. I’ve explained it to my dad, and he gets it just fine (he’s a lawyer). Yes, both twins can argue the other went away and then came back, but only one pulled many g’s when his rocket accelerated, and accelerated frames are not equal in status in special relativity to inertial frames, where one does not feel several g’s of acceleration. It should be fairly obvious to most of us that even with our eyes closed, we can tell whether we are in a rocket or not, if you think about it…if you feel very heavy, and then extremely nauseated, it might be the former.

  4. G says

    Aah! Head exploding! His egregious misunderstanding of relativity and basic physics borders on the criminal. On one hand, I want to apologize to Mr Hutchison, as he was clearly short-changed in high-school science class. With the other hand, I want to beat his high-school teacher for loosing this menace upon an innocent world.

  5. Great White Wonder says

    Hutchison is a worthy succesor to Harry Rimmer:


  6. Mike says

    Is this the same guy who’s been attacking James Dobson for his support of the Colorado Benefits Bill (allowing visitation rights etc. to people other than close relatives) as support for gay rights?

    It’s nice to see that Alan Keyes has managed to find a friend with the same warped outlook on life. :) I still feel sorry for his lesbian daughter–the one Keyes kicked out on the street even after she’d supported his Senate election efforts last year.

    Fine bunch of human beings.

  7. says

    This poor deluded fellow gives dilettantes a bad name, so I deeply resent his pretensions. I am unaccountably reminded of our much beloved late vice president Spiro Agnew, who once unleashed a diatribe against radical liberals, academics, and “pseudo-intellectuals”. The great humorist Art Buchwald (who will soon be among the departed) promptly wrote a column in which he pretended to interview a spokesperson for the nation’s pseudo-intellectuals, who decried the veep’s callous attack. After all, pseudo-intellectuals have feelings, too.

    And today they can post disproofs of Einstein on the Web. Oh, happy day.

  8. Mike says

    Just read the Einstein article. Bizarre. He doesn’t even understand the twins paradox, let alone understand that scientists have already proved it beyond all reasonable doubt.

  9. Torbjorn Larsson says

    Hutchinson is a prime example of so much incompetence he doesn’t grasp it.

    He doesn’t understand the simple and basic concept of inertial frames, so he can’t connect to the theories of special or generaö relativity at all. He believes general relativity implies conical section orbits, while a great success of the theory was to explain the deviation found for the precession of Mercury. He doesn’t understand approximations, for example that GR may be often be approximated by Newtonian gravity. He end up in big style with denying the theory on the grounds that he doesn’t understand it.

    The scary thing isn’t that he “did research” or the non sequitur “that scriptural truth is the essential foundation for wisdom and knowledge and an indispensable antidote to self-deception”.

    The scary thing is that he thinks his opponents are the ones in “snug ivory towers”. He gives a new depth to the concept of self-deception.

  10. says

    I was reading the Hutchison articles, and what curious, all the things he wrote was based on faith, nor evidences of scientific weight.

    Don’t pay attention on his words. He’s just another “Crusader” of the illness of religions. Yurgghh!

  11. Torbjorn Larsson says

    I must compliment jfaberuiuc for a much more simple argument about GR’s self-consistency, which I had completely forgotten about.

    I can’t however compliment her/him on the complicated tag…

  12. says

    I just got an email from a scientist (Dr. M in Hutchison’s, um, essay) pointing out this stuff to me. Hutchison is so wrong on such a basic level with his physics that it’s hard to know where to start. Far from baffling a physicist, his loud crowing basically italicizes his own fundamental (har!) ignorance of incredibly basic science. His long diatribe about the Twin Paradox shows he doesn’t have an inkling about the difference between Special and General Relativity. Shocker, given the other foolish things he has said.

    Wow. I may write this guy up on my own blog.

  13. Marlon says

    Lotsa luck, PZ. Don’t forget:

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”
    Jonathan Swift (supposedly)

  14. KeithB says

    And at this point, anyone who does not refute Einstein with at least a formula with a tensor in it and/or solid experimental results deserves to be ignored.

  15. says

    It’s curious how coherent his prose is, despite a complete lack of understanding of the actual issues he’s discussing. The account he gives of his discussion of relativity theory is a complete hoot– from the grotesque misunderstanding of the twins to the final lordly dismissal of the equivalence of GR and Newtonian predictions for weak gravitational fields as somehow ‘irrelevant’ to whether GR explains the falling of an apple. And a good laugh always makes be feel good. But I would feel even better if it were a parody and not a sincere avowal of impervious wingnut convictions, safely wrapped up in wild-eyed conspiracy theories and relentless, determined ignorance. I wonder how he would respond to the famous test of STR using atomic clocks flown around the world (not to mention the observed half-lives of particles in accelerators)… but then I guess we already know (in outline anyway).

  16. The Scorpion! says

    Two things to note about this guy:

    1) 99% of the human populace is not able to tell if he is just making this shit up or he knows something about science. Einsteinian physics is just over their heads (though common sense should inform that what’s the likelihood that some untutored blowhard will have seen through Einstein’s “obvious blunders” when 50 years of hardcore physicists haven’t).

    2) How can someone be smart enough to write passably, sustain a long not-completely-schizotypic diatribe on intellectual matters, organize it as a webpage, and yet have this glaring intellectual deadleg of unfounded beliefs and idiotic cocksurety? What a good example of what my friend calls “localized retardation”.

  17. says

    “How can someone be smart enough to write passably…and yet have this glaring intellectual deadleg of unfounded beliefs and idiotic cocksurety?”

    I’ll tell you how. It reminds me of the story in the Star Tribune about the problem of parental cheating on students’ homework assignments: during a parent-teacher conference, a teacher realized that the mother was so vociferously contesting the poor grade given for her daughter’s crappy paper precisely because the mother herself had written the paper for her daughter!

    Ultimately, the stitched-together Frankenstein monster that someone like Hutchison calls God is really himself worshipping himself–and if you attack “God,” well, of course it’s personal, because it’s him.

    “I suspect he will run away…”

    If running away means, after the creationist initially showing interest in an exchange, that person never replying to an e-mail that spells out the precise terms for the exchange, then I’ve apparently experienced a Dembski dodge regarding my bet.

    Wow, that was, uh, easy. Dembski even gave me a helpful suggestion for not screwing myself over (wasn’t that nice of him?), and then he disappeared. I’m giving him the proverbial three days to reply. For pity’s sake, I still count on my fingers sometimes, and the greatest mathematical mind since Isaac Newton reads my demands and can’t even reply to me to say, “No way”?

  18. says

    When I was a freshman in college, the dean of the college spoke to us youngsters about a particular student who seemed intellectually challenged. “It wasn’t that he was stupid. It was that he didn’t even suspect,” were the dean’s words.

    This guy falls into that second category. I suspect my 10th grade Conceptual Physics students could run rings around his arguments.

    In fact, I might even copy his diatribe and see if they can find the fallacies. Hmm.

  19. RobertDII says

    I agree with Kristine.
    “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves.” – Robert Heinein.
    A very accurate statement based on what I’ve observed in my travels (Bible Belt to Baghdad). Also seems that it would nicely fit into the concept of psychological projection. Not sure on this one, though. Never studied Jung or Freud.
    I’m not even a scientist, just an engineer from a public school in the midwest. (Go Blue!)

  20. says

    Hutchison doesn’t write all that well. He writes in the style of a high school nerd bullshitting a report on a book he didn’t read. He knows some big words but has no topical knowledge and no desire or ability to write concisely.

  21. Ben M says

    Hello, I’m the “Dr. M.” mentioned in the article. Hutchinson and I exchanged four or five emails last fall. For your further edification/entertainment, let me quote a few favorite lines from some of his emails:

    “Dr. Ben, See my responses to your interesting critique in red below. I thought
    I would be stumped by your erudition but after a few minutes of quiet
    recollection, i knew exactly how to answer.”

    His insistence that GR somehow makes everything “spiral” was probably what kept drawing me back into these emails. It was just too strange to let go:

    ” … there is such a thing as orbital decay, resulting in formerly orbiting objects
    crashing into earth- whithout the help of retro rockets. Orbital decay
    resembles a whirlpool motion – and the particular mathematics involved in
    measuring them is irrelevent to the question I raise. Your only hope to prove
    that objects fall straight down through relativity, is to start with the
    assumption that GR orbits can decay. I am beginning to think I conceptually
    understand relativity better than you do – even though you are better at the
    math. Time for you to return to the blackboard and work on the math for
    decaying orbits based on general relativity. Then, you will begin to
    understand my doubt that relativity can cause an object to fall straight down.”

    He was really quite certain about these spirals.

    Orbital decay occurs on planets without an atmosphere. That is why the moon is
    pockmarked with meterorite craters. The meteors do not follow an eternally
    elliptical orbit. There are only two ways an orbiting metorite can hit the moon
    – a whirlpool or a decaying elipse.

    And sometimes he got all excited.

    Wow, this is heady! I get to explain relativity to an Einstein defender. By the
    way, the paradox of the twins is widely written about in the scientific
    literature. My only distinction is to debunk a rather silly but common
    solution to the well-known twins paradox.

    Most of the discussion consisted of Hutchinson’s repeated claims that the usual Twin Paradox was wrong, and that GR can’t explain why apples fall downwards. But of course he occasionally chipped in some of his usual schtick. Get a load of this:

    I am extemely worried about the naive, general,
    uncritical celebration of einstein’s model. Einstein’s blackboard excercises
    were an attempt to construct Spinoza’s pantheistic interconnected universe
    using mathematics. This made me suspicious. I took a second look at all the
    popular GR ideas – which I have always suspected are not quite right, and
    discovered that at some points Einstein does not stand up to logic. But no, I
    have not proven that Einstein to be wrong. Far from it. I have only kicked a
    few small holes in his model, purely with logic.

    Spinoza’s pantheistic interconnected universe?!?

  22. Gav says

    Vortices & whirlpools was Decartes, wasn’t it? The fellow seems to like his history, even if he doesn’t quite get it. It’ll be Dr John Dee next, no doubt.

  23. James says

    His argument always seems to be some variation of “I’m always right because I’m cleverer than you, and I can prove that I’m cleverer than you because I’m always right.”

    I suspect that he is the work of a brilliant satirist.

  24. says

    Someone needs to punk Renew America, à la Sokal.

    If Hutchison had only written the one article, I’d have said that’s what he was doing. The more of this stuff I read, the more I have difficulty telling the true parodies from the truly deluded. Yow!

  25. Torbjorn Larsson says

    “There are only two ways an orbiting metorite can hit the moon
    – a whirlpool or a decaying elipse.”

    Oy, that was bad! I guess we have to ask him in his infinitesimal wisdom if his whirls goes clockwise on the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise on the southern – or vice versa. Maybe he can relate that to quantum spin, and presto! He has his own theory of quantum gravity. After all, all quacks should have one.

  26. says

    Is it me, or I detect a slight anti-semitism in Hutchison’s references to Spinoza and Einstein. And, BTW, when have Jews ever excommunicated anyone?

    As for Spinoza’s philosophy, I much prefer Spicoli’s.

  27. Sean Foley says

    And, BTW, when have Jews ever excommunicated anyone?

    As I understand it, “excommunication” may not be the right word, as it suggests a centralized religious strucuture like that of the Catholic Church revoking the formal privileges conferred by membership in a given religious community. A better word might be “expulsion,” as I believe Spinoza was simply booted from his local synagogue rather than being formally “de-Jewed” (for want of a less stupid word).

  28. Bored Huge Krill says

    oh my God….

    This appears to be the scientific equivalent of Vogon poetry. I was physically squirming in my seat reading it.

    Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen some of the stuff here. Definitely getting some deja vu (sorry, I still don’t know how to do accents…). Some of the exact same canards, in fact. The bit about “he just did stuff on the blackboard, and left it to other people to do experimental verification” and the complete failure to understand the twins paradox.

    Remember not so long ago a post about the Twin Cities Creation Science Association, and their “science fair” for homeschooled indoctrinees? Whilst reading that site, I found this:

    Electricity and Physics for the 2003-2004 Homeschool Year

    God has created two forms of energy:

    1. Raw Energy in the form of waves, like light, ultraviolet, infrared,
    electrical, radio, and many other types of waves.

    2. Refined Energy. God gave the raw energy a positive and negative charge so that it could bind together into spinning rings of energy to form matter. This is called the Spinning Ring Model of the Atom. Developed by Dr. Lucas and Dave Bergman. This year’s lessons will be based upon Russ’s best selling book, Design v. Chaos, A New Model of the Atom Based on Classical Science and a Biblical World View. Russ’s book is written in 6th grade language so that all levels can understand this amazing atom that God has created for the basis of the physical universe. If you understand magnetism you can understand the new model of the atom.

    Once I’d retrieved my jaw from my desk and reattached it, I did some googling to find exactly where they were getting this nonsense. Eventually, I ended up here:

    Read through the “papers” (if you can afford the loss in IQ points). More Vogon poetry for physicists…

    If you don’t want to go through the papers, the short version is that quantum physics and relativity are all horseshit. Photons don’t exist. Neither do stupid stuff like neutrinos and quarks. It’s all a big conspiracy and/or all physicists are morons (I couldn’t quite figure out which).

    There’s definitely a theme here; the level of consistency is particularly striking. Expect to see more of this. Apparently, it’s not just biology any more.

  29. Bruce says

    Scorpion: “localized retardation” LOL
    There is quite a lot of that in nearby cubicles. Thanks for giving it a memorable name.

  30. Bored Huge Krill says

    thanks, Skemono. Of course, it also requires me to be bothered to look it up at the time ;-)

  31. says

    If you don’t want to go through the papers, the short version is that quantum physics and relativity are all horseshit.

    Oh, and don’t forget atoms. “Atomism”, as they say, goes against their religion. (No, I am not making that up – search their page for “atomism”.) Truly bizarre.

  32. Bored Huge Krill says

    oh yes, “atomism”. Oy…

    The key thing is that these things do appear to be connected. I’ve seen the same phrases and identical bogus arguments multiple times in different places. I don’t think Fred Hutchison came up with that stuff on his own, and I think that the “common sense science” site is where it all originates.

    Question is, is this just an isolated band of kooks, or is this going to get some traction with a wider audience?

  33. Ben M says

    I don’t think Mr. Hutchinson *has* a wider audience. Although there are people who would be *inclined* to agree with his science, politics, and religion, I don’t think many of them have the patience to wade through his long anti-Enlightenment philosopical screeds.

  34. John says

    …I coudn’t even get through the first few sentences of the Einstein bit…… I skipped down and tried again…..

    Perhaps my knowledge of the English language is failing me, but I really think there are no words that can truthfully describe my utter disgust at his writings and his complete ignorance of the entire scientific process.

  35. Bored Huge Krill says

    I don’t think Mr. Hutchinson *has* a wider audience.

    Oh no, neither do I. That wasn’t what I was thinking.

    What I was thinking is that his position isn’t original – I’ve seen the exact same arguments presented in other places. The concern I have is that if the whole thing gains critical mass amongst religious kooks, it creates a self-perpetuating and gradually enlarging echo chamber.

  36. Chris says

    Well, if photons don’t exist where they live, that certainly explains why they haven’t read much (any) of the relevant scientific literature.

    On a more serious note, though, it *is* a bit alarming to see faith-based physics. How long before they have their own “engineering” schools where you don’t flunk out for that kind of thing? Would you want to drive over one of their bridges?

    Ignorance can kill, and not necessarily only the ignorant.

  37. says

    It appears to me, through an awfully thick filter, that the scientists in this “debate” were giving examples supported by evidence, and Hutchison was outright denying the evidence. So, PZ, if he does “debate” you he will use the same “logic” he uses in this one. He knows what is right even though he hasn’t studied the subject.

    However, when I was taking math courses, I didn’t realize there was more than one kind of mathematics. Byzantine Mathematics — who knew?

  38. lt.kizhe says

    I believe Spinoza was simply booted from his local synagogue rather than being formally “de-Jewed” (for want of a less stupid word).
    FWIW, my recollection of Durant’s account is that Spinoza was ritually declared “dead”, and was to be shunned by all Jews (From Wikipedia, I gather there is a penalty called “cherem”, but it doesn’t make clear whether this was the actual sentence pronounced on him.) I don’t know how integrated the synagogue system was, ie. whether edicts issued by one would be respected elsewhere — but AFAIK, he had little or no Jewish contact after that.

  39. says

    That man is bizarre to say the least; does he deny that nuclear explosions exist? Tunnel diodes?

    What does he say about experiments with clocks and motion?

    Utterly and completely bizarre.

  40. Kristjan Wager says

    This appears to be the scientific equivalent of Vogon poetry. I was physically squirming in my seat reading it.

    I think I need to give nerd credit points for comments to posts here. And if I started doing that, this would be ranking pretty high.

  41. lt.kizhe says

    Great White Wonder replies to me:
    ….Harry Rimmer:

    Ah, I take it you’re familiar with the opus of that worthy gentleman, and agree with me? ;-)

  42. Madam Pomfrey says

    The Hutchison types can contribute a lot to the science of psychiatry…as subjects.

  43. Torbjorn Larsson says

    “On a more serious note, though, it *is* a bit alarming to see faith-based physics.”

    Yes, but some of it may be easier to refute, at least until they redefine it. Atoms are relatively easy to observe now, with table top AFMs, ion light traps, and what not.

    There are photos on the web of a single ion made to blink in a light trap. Even if they redefine it to ‘very small dust’ it is relatively easy to go from there to spectroscopic identification, molecules, gases, Avogadro’s number, and presto! They have to explain why the ‘very small dust’ can’t be subdivided, yet makes up the chemical components of matter. Just like an atom, BTW…

  44. Ollie says

    In regards to the twin paradox and special vs general relativity.

    As someone who’s been tested on this material, I felt an imperitive need to point something out. You do not need general relativity — the theory that deals with acceleration and gravity — to explain the twin paradox. The difference in ages can occur because one twin changes reference frames, NOT (specifically) because of any effects of gravity or acceleration.

    Here’s a slightly more mathematical explaination; if you want the real deal, Taylor/Wheeler “Spacetime Physics” will answer your questions. The time measured by one’s age is called “proper” time. Proper time (squared) in special relativity is calculated by the square of the DIFFERENCE of the change in time and location (as measured in any reference frame). Not that in Euclidian geometry, it’s the square of the sums. Since the “younger” twin leaves (event 1), turns around (event 2), and then arrives back (event 3), his proper time needs to be calculated for each leg (1 to 2 and 2 to 3). Meanwhile, the “older” twin only measures between 1 and 3 directly. Not how special relativity is not involved in any way.

  45. Torbjorn Larsson says

    Come to think of it, isn’t the more easy way to show physics at work, one of the resons why ID starts with biology? The answer ought to be in the Wedge document.

  46. Ben M says

    Ollie, that’s right, although I think your last sentence was meant to read “general” relativity. In the end, I directed Hutchinson to the Wikipedia “twin paradox” article, where there’s a nice spacetime diagram showing how the outbound and inbound frames have different ideas of simulteneity.

    If you want to illustrate the problem with no accelerations at all, you can (e.g.) have the outgoing spaceship pass by—and report clock readings to—an ingoing spaceship, which just happens to be cruising by the turnaround point at the appropriate speed. When it arrives at Earth, the inbound spaceship reports the *sum* of its own clock-reading and the clock-reading it learned from the outbound one. This sum is equivalent to “the traveller’s age” in the usual setup.

    However, you *can* state the problem with a windowless, accelerating spaceship, whose occupant can figure things out solely by consulting an onboard accelerometer. In that setup, the accelerations do “matter”—the traveller has various ways to predict the passage of time on Earth, including some in which the acceleration itself causes distant clocks to run faster.

  47. Sean Foley says

    FWIW, my recollection of Durant’s account is that Spinoza was ritually declared “dead”, and was to be shunned by all Jews

    Poking around on the internet, I found a site at Tel Aviv University that contains the text of the proclamation of Spinoza’s excommunication, which uses phrases like, “the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel… By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation… And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law.”

    Which goes pretty far beyond my mistaken understanding of it being more along the lines of, “Thanks for coming, Spinoza, and don’t let the synagogue door hit you on the way out.” Thanks for the correction; I’m not sure what I was misremembering to get my initial impression.

  48. says

    Gav: (re: Descartes) Yes, that’s correct. (An interesting example of rigorously reasoning from incorrect premisses, as it happens.)

    Sean Foley, yes, Spinoza was “excommunicated” in the sense he was not allowed to worship as a Jew any longer. (Not so surprising really since the position he advocated was and is quite heretical.)

  49. says

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s ironic for Hutchison to use this quotation at the end of his article?:

    “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Thomas Jefferson

  50. Lookit The Happy Monkey says

    He really sells Star Wars related comic books? And Lucas lets him? That’s well beyond fanfic, he’s (theoretically) getting paid for that. Not sure what copyright laws look like, but I think Lucas may want a word with this silly silly man.

  51. says

    Is this behavior — Fred H’s manic essay-writing and unshakable belief that he is inherently more knowledgeable than experts who study a subject for years — some kind of pathology?

    I am reminded of something a linguistics professor told me years ago about some guy who kept writing him long letters insisting he could prove that Finnish and Japanese (I believe it was) are related languages. And there was some sort of conspiracy to hide the truth.

    Any psychologists out there who can put a name to this condition? Or shall we make one up?

  52. Bored Huge Krill says

    Any psychologists out there who can put a name to this condition? Or shall we make one up?

    I believe the accepted term is “kook”

  53. says

    Well, I did what I said I would. I copied Hutchinson’s “essay” and gave it my physics students to critique. Basically, they ripped him apart. Even with somewhat sketchy knowledge of relativity, their sketchy knowledge was more complete than Hutchinson’s. They are certainly more rational. Makes me wonder what F.H. was like in high school …

    I did not give the students any background info about F.H., other than to say he was a CPA and not a scientist. Here are some unedited extracts for your enjoyment.

    “He could easily fool some people, but in the same way that some people can fool you into trusting them to repay debts. I already have studied or experimented on some of Einstein’s theories, and I believe those aren’t as full of mistakes as the critic’s arguments.” — Dan, 10th grader, Conceptual student. (BTW, we don’t have a particle accelerator at our school. The only experiment remotely related to relativity we have done was to compare inertial and gravitational mass.)

    Dan also noted that F.H. “can’t write for s**t.” [I did edit that one.]

    “Fred seems to be confused and I don’t think he did enough research before he began to write this article. Maybe Fred doesn’t agree with Einstein because he doesn’t understand what it is that Einstein is saying. Sometimes you don’t like things because you don’t understand them. … I think Fred needs to do something better with his life and stop trying to say other people are wrong when he doesn’t have enough evidence to prove anything.” — Starkisha, 10th grader, Conceptual student

    Star, a churchgoer, also noted that F.H. was more interested in religion than science, and that there really nothing wrong with Einstein using Spinoza’s ideas. “A lot of people use other people’s theories and information to find something new.”

    “Overall, I don’t think it’s possible for him to really be wrong, because he doesn’t actually make any point … he just babbles on about religion and random quotations, and makes wild impossible claims, and never actually says anything. It kind of sounds like one of my English papers, to be honest …” — Ariel, 10th grader, Honors class.

    Ari also wrote a letter to F.H. in which, among other complaints, she takes him to task for poor grammar and scientifically incorrect arguments. Her twin paradox explanation was miles better than F.H.’s, though we need to refine it a little before the midsemester test. Ahem.

    Carley, a 12th grade Honors student who has been accepted to U Chicago, had the most erudite argument so far. She notes that F.H.’s argument is two-pronged: Einstein’s theory is entirely invalid, and the theory only has limited applications. “Hutchinson’s conflicting aims significantly minimizes the effectiveness of his argument and leaves the reader curious as to his explicit and implicit aims.”

    She also called the point about parallel lives of Spinoza and Einstein “completely irrelevant.”

    A small sample, to be sure, but a reassuring one. High school students are a lot smarter than many people give them credit to be. I just hope mine end up being on a school board someday …