Gussying up creationism with math doesn’t make it valid

I’m trying to read this article, “Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems” by Thorvaldsen and Hössjer, and wondering why I even bother, and why the Journal of Theoretical Biology bothered to publish it, because a) it undermines its own premise in the introduction, b) it’s loaded with irrelevant math, c) it contains no observations or experiments, and d) at the end it devolves into the usual circle jerk of references to the usual suspects in the Intelligent Design community. I had to throw up my hands and give up. It’s just mathematicians juggling assumptions and numbers to come to the conclusion they want.

The one interesting aspect is that unlike the Discovery Institute gang, they do give clear explanations of what they mean by “design” and “fine tuning” — it’s just that, once you read them, you feel like telling them that their work is done, further noodling about is pointless. Maybe that’s why the Intelligent Design creationists try harder to fog over the meaning of the words they use?

Anyway, here’s the only interesting stuff in the whole thing.

The term fine-tuning is used to characterize sensitive dependences of functions or properties on the values of certain parameters (cf. Friederich, 2018). While technological devices are fine-tuned products of actual engineers and manufacturers who designed and built them, only sensitivity with respect to the values of certain parameters or initial conditions are considered sufficient in the present paper. We define fine-tuning as an object with two properties: it must a) be unlikely to have occurred by chance, under the relevant probability distribution (i.e. complex), and b) conform to an independent or detached specification (i.e. specific).

To which I would reply that a) unlikely events happen all the time, so mere measures of probability, especially after the fact, are of little consequence, and b) groovy, so does this mean you are going to provide an independent or detached specification for a specific evolutionary event? [Answer: No, they are not.] If your definition requires addressing two parameters, and at the very outset of your project you have to admit that you don’t have the second one and that playing mathematical games cannot provide it, then aren’t we done? That was the second paragraph of the whole article, which makes for a quick read, too.

But no, sorry, they go on.

The notion of design is also widely used within both historic and contemporary science (Thorvaldsen and Øhrstrøm, 2013). The concept will need a description for its use in our setting. A design is a specification or plan for the construction of an object or system, or the result of that specification or plan in the form of a product.

Yes, yes. I’ve been saying this for years. If you want to claim there was a design for an organism, show me the blueprint from which it was built, and I’ll believe you. If you go to Mars and find a set of billion year old program specifications for Project Mouse, laid out by the Martian designers, with a couple of thousand manuals that lay out the details of the biochemistry, physiology, and morphology of Mus musculus, then I’ll have to admit that you’ve got solid evidence that mice are the product of design. You’ve said it right there in your definition, that you have to have a specification or plan the precedes the product.

Except then they immediately waffle. All you need is the product itself, and then you get to infer the specification or plan. That makes no sense. I can find a pebble in my yard which is unique in all of its particulars, where every scrape and mark and fracture sets it apart from otherwise similar pebbles. The probability of that specific pebble having its specific constellation of attributes is minuscule. Are you going to try and tell me that therefore there is somewhere on file in the Great Designer’s filing cabinet a project laid out for Pebble, Minnesota, 21st Century, Myers yard, grey, roughly ovoid? You might believe that’s the case, but I’d like to see it.

Instead, we get a lesson in etymology. I had to laugh, this is so ridiculously irrelevant.

The very term design is from the Medieval Latin word “designare” (denoting “mark out, point out, choose”); from “de” (out) and “signum” (identifying mark, sign). Hence, a public notice that advertises something or gives information.

Great. So where’s the public notice? Somewhere in the main Megabrantis office which is open on Tuesdays, between 1 and 1:15pm, standard Vogsphere time?

The design usually has to satisfy certain goals and constraints. It is also expected to interact with a certain environment, and thus be realized in the physical world. Humans have a powerful intuitive understanding of design that precedes modern science. Our common intuitions invariably begin with recognizing a pattern as a mark of design. The problem has been that our intuitions about design have been unrefined and pre-theoretical. For this reason, it is relevant to ask ourselves whether it is possible to turn the tables on this disparity and place those rough and pre-theoretical intuitions on a firm scientific foundation.

Just once, please consider that our intuitions can be wrong, rather than struggling to find some mathematical justification for them.

Unfortunately, the paper is primarily about fine tuning, allowing them to ignore this problem, and they’re going to move on.

Fine-tuning and design are related entities. Fine-tuning is a bottom-up method, while design is more like a top-down approach. Hence, we focus on the topic of fine-tuning in the present paper and address the following questions: Is it possible to recognize fine-tuning in biological systems at the levels of functional proteins, protein groups and cellular networks? Can fine-tuning in molecular biology be formulated using state of the art statistical methods, or are the arguments just “in the eyes of the beholder”?

Yes. We are quite confident that biological organisms have been fine tuned by natural selection. Is that what you mean?

There’s no point in worrying about it, though, because after I read the following sentence I threw my hard copy of the paper in the trash.

The chances that the universe should be life permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable.

But…but…if they’re incalculable, then how did you determine that they are infinitesimal? Jesus. Creationist mathematicians.

Cultivating a British flavor of narrow-mindedness

Trying to figure out why so many TERFs are British, I think this answer hits the nail on the head.

The answer lies in part to the coalescence of a certain set of ideas in a very specific circle of voices in the early 21st century — voices that later went on to hold high profile positions in much of the U.K.’s print and broadcast media.

I’m referring here to the U.K. Skeptics movement of the early 2000s. Despite the fact that it was basically a loose network of people who were far too impressed with themselves for not believing in astrology and homeopathy, they have an outsized legacy. The movement consisted largely of groups meeting in pubs and organising talks promoting a specific brand of scientific skepticism and concerned primarily with the “debunking” of alternative medicine and pseudoscience. So far, so niche, but there is compelling evidence that suggests that both the ideological basis and some of the specific proponents of U.K. skepticism in the noughties are implicated in the spread of transphobic thinking into the mainstream media in this country.

While claiming to be the country’s foremost critical thinkers, the group was riddled with anti-humanities bias and a fetish for a certain kind of “science” that it held to reveal a set of immutable principles upon which the world was built with almost no regard whatsoever for interpretative analysis based on social or historical factors. Part of this mode of thinking was an especially reductivist biologism: the idea that there are immutable realities to be found in our DNA, and if we just paid enough attention to Science and stopped trying to split hairs and discover meaning over in the superfluous disciplines of the humanities, then everything would be much simpler. It’s precisely this kind of biological essentialism — which skirts dangerously close to eugenics — that leads people to think they can “debunk” a person’s claim to their gender identity, or that it should be subjected to rigorous testing by someone in a lab coat before we can believe the subject is who they say they are.

I saw the same thing in US skeptics, of course. But there was something fundamental going on that is also reflected in the British school of evolutionary biology, represented by Maynard Smith and Dawkins, that totally embraced reductive explanations and adaptationism, vs. the American subset led by Lewontin and Gould, who fiercely opposed eugenics and detested the arrogance of thinking biology could be reduced to a catalog of alleles. My experience may also be colored by the fact that there were several prominent UK skeptics (at least, I was told over and over that they were big names) who I had to ban here because they were persistently obnoxious and insistent that there are only two sexes/genders because “biology”.

Then there’s the outcome of all this activity by bigots claiming the mantle of science — some people actually believed them.

Tracey King, a skeptic activist who credits herself with establishing American-style organized skepticism in the U.K., has pointed out that the movement collapsed in the last decade. She attributes this to some good reasons (turns out it was full of sexists, which the rise of social justice concerns helped bring to light.) But these voices did not go away; many of the figures who made up the movement are now prominent voices at one level or another. Helen Lewis, for example, is the deputy editor of the center-left political magazine the New Statesman, and has promoted a barrage of anti-trans articles. Julie Bindel at the Guardian and elsewhere has a well-documented history of transphobia.

Then there’s Graham Linehan, a formerly beloved high-profile comedy writer who has recently been given a warning by police for directly harassing trans women online. Imagine if Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld suddenly started a social media hate campaign against a particular group of people that took up most of their time and you had to accept that was just part of your reality now. It feels a bit like that.

I met Linehan — he came to one of my talks in Dublin. Then, I was quite pleased to see him, but now…oh god what kind of wanker was I inspiring/being inspired by?

By the way, Seinfeld has been a loud voice whining about PC culture on college campuses — if I were him, I’d be wondering why smart young people no longer find him funny, rather than blaming it on a contrived slogan like “political correctness” — but at least he hasn’t carried his obsession as far as Linehan has.

Confessions of a has-been atheist

I gave up on creationist debates when I realized I was being taken advantage of — I’ve always been willing to do these engagements as an opportunity for science communication, so I wouldn’t charge anything except for travel expenses. Then I did one event where, after getting there, I learned that there was a banquet planned for their honored creationist speaker, to which I was not invited. Then I discovered that he was put up in a suite in the big hotel in town, but I was told that surely I’d be able to find a motel somewhere nearby. That’s the kind of respect you get from creationists.

Atheists aren’t much better.

Would you believe I still get tentative invitations to speak at atheist conferences? (For the past 6 months, those have all been online events, of course.) I hardly believe it myself, since I consider myself persona non grata in atheist circles, but apparently some people have good memories of events I’ve done in the past, and they call or email me. “Hey, we’re in the planning stages SuperAtheistCon, and your name has been suggested as a potential speaker. Are you interested?” And I’d say, sure, if I’m free that day. They’d ask for the usual headshot and bio, and sometimes they’d ask for an abstract for the talk, and sometimes they’d even ask for a complete outline of my topic, which was usually something science-related. I’d provide what they’d ask for, and let it lie. Then, usually, silence. I’d never hear from them again.

I’d just figure, “wow, my idea must have been really boring,” which may well have been the case, and that’s OK.

A few times, I’d get a regretful call back. They decided not to go with me, after all, because one of their board members objected that I was a feminist or an SJW (unspoken: the rest of the board went along with what they thought was a legitimate complaint), and also they landed some Hitchens-loving islamophobic misogynist speaker who was more popular than me, and now they’re out of money. Fair call.

One event even got to the point where I had all the slides done for a talk when they pulled the plug. It’s sinking in that I’m not ever going to speak at an atheist conference ever again, and that atheist conferences have achieved a kind of uniformly vaguely right-wing ambience that means they don’t want me, and that I don’t want them.

That’s all fine, I do not expect to be given a platform. However, please stop pestering me with tentative requests that you and I both know will get squelched by the dominant right-wingers in your organization, especially if that request is accompanied by a demand that I do the work of providing a justification for myself. It’s getting old and really hardening me in my cynicism.

P.S. I have zero sympathy for those professional atheists who whine about getting stiffed by conference organizers like Pangburn Philosophy. Sorry, guys, I’ve always done it for the cause and not for the money, so your petty bourgeois demands leave me cold. You’re doing it for the cash, and you got robbed by capitalist parasites, but still you defend the status quo? Boo hoo.

P.P.S. Maybe another reason I get disinvited from conferences is that they know I might sneer at their headliners.

The archaeologists are getting alarmed

I think they’ve been alarmed for a long time, but now Science is reporting on it.

He and others are alarmed by the rising popularity of pseudoarchaeological ideas. According to the annual Survey of American Fears by Chapman University in Orange, California, which catalogs paranormal beliefs, in 2018, 41% of Americans believed that aliens visited Earth in the ancient past, and 57% believed that Atlantis or other advanced ancient civilizations existed. Those numbers are up from 2016, when the survey found that 27% of Americans believed in ancient aliens and 40% believed in Atlantis.

“I look at these numbers and say … something has gone massively wrong,” Anderson says. He can’t say exactly what is driving the rise in such ideas, but cable TV shows like Ancient Aliens (which has run for 13 seasons) propagate them, as does the internet.

Oh, hi, History Channel. What a betrayal of their initial promise they’ve been.

We can also blame the synergy with the popularity of modern racism.

These beliefs may seem harmless or even amusing, says Jason Colavito, an author in Albany who covers pseudoarchaeology in books and on his blog. But they have “a dark side,” he says. Almost all such claims assume that ancient non-European societies weren’t capable of inventing sophisticated architecture, calendars, math, and sciences like astronomy on their own. “It’s racist at its core,” says Kenneth Feder, an archaeologist at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, who is slated to present at the SAA session and began to write about the dangers of these ideas long before most other scholars paid attention to them.

Another twist: dare to criticize this nonsense in public, and guess what happens?

This isn’t easy work, especially online. All the women interviewed for this article have been harassed online after tackling pseudoarchaeological interpretations. Mulder recently fielded replies that included a knife emoji after she tweeted about research showing that people of diverse ancestries, rather than only Western Europeans, lived in Roman Britain. Colavito reports receiving death threats after a host of Ancient Aliens urged his fans to send Colavito hate mail.

No one is surprised anymore that bad racist ideas are accompanied by threats of violence against people who challenge their cherished myths. That it’s driven in part by misogyny also isn’t novel.

Emesis alert

Ugh. “Spirituality”. Another excuse to grift. This white doofus claims to “channel” the spirit of George Floyd, and that he’s telling everyone to stop fighting for civil liberties, and all lives matter.

You won’t be able to watch it now, though: she shut it down in the face of all the criticism that was pouring in. But if you want a taste anyway, here’s one of her videos. She claims to “channel” a group of powerful supernatural beings call the Entity James, which means she just talks at a camera and pretends to have authority from beyond. You don’t need to watch more than a minute or two to get a mouthful of bullshit.

What. A. Phony.

Mythicist Milwaukee is back, and I can smell the stench all over the midwest

Last year at around this time, Mythicist Milwaukee was putting together a con called “Minds IRL”, to be held somewhere near Philadelphia. They were cagey about precisely where; everyone knows that the Mythicist crew is a gang of racists and frauds, so there were protests planned, and the Top Secret Location was only revealed by email at the last minute. It was finally held in a casino. If you wanted to revel in the presence of Sargon of Akkad, Count Dankula, Tim Pool, and Andy Ngo, this was the place to be. If you couldn’t make it, Talia Levin committed a photo journalism and took pictures of all the white people chortling over the N word. It looked to be exactly as bad as you would have predicted it to be.

Well, shucks, guess what? The same org is planning another right-wing confab this year in August. It has another name change to Better Discourse, ironically enough. It’ll be in Milwaukee, somewhere — once again, they’re playing peek-a-boo with the exact venue — and they’ve dug deeper into various rat holes to pull up some even bigger rats! Carl Benjamin AKA Sargon of Akkad will be there again, because he was such a beacon of hate the first time around, but now they’ve found an even shittier star…Milo Yiannopoulos! And you thought his 15 minutes of fame were over months ago.

Also on the roster: Peter Boghossian. He’s going to have Impossible Conversations with various racists which will probably be nothing but mutual circle jerks. Fun!

They got Jack Posobiec III! He’s the pizzagate loon, now a “serious” journalist for OAN, who will be on a panel to evaluate “President Trump first four years in review”. You can guess how that’s going to go.

David Silverman is showing up, in case you wondered what slum he’d fallen into lately. There are various other ne’er-do-wells scrounged up to populate the event and take up space and get media attention.

It’s weirdly organized. There are only five sessions, all panel conversations, in a one-day con: the aforementioned Trump fluff, the minority celebrities get a panel to talk about how to overcome racial inequalities (sounds good from the title, but featuring a rap artist fresh from appearances on Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, and Ben Shapiro, and a comedian whose schtick is funny middle-eastern accents, it’s less promising than you think), White People Explaining Why Immigration is Bad, Free Speech Warriors scheming to cancel “Cancel Culture”, and a spirited defense of racial slurs. That’s it. That’s all of it. All for the low, low, low price of $350, you can bask in the welcoming atmosphere of more conspiracy theorists and racists and pseudo-intellectuals than you can shake a stick at in a clandestine hide-away in Milwaukee, and party with them afterwards. When it’s all over, you get the big prize of going home with a nice viral load, since this is an in-person con, and you know most of the attendees believe face masks impinge on their civil liberties.

It’s being put on by an atheist organization. Remember the good old days when everyone was howling at Skepticon because it wasn’t a “true” skeptic/atheist conference, because it included all that crap about humanism and diversity and social justice? “Mission creep,” they whined, “you’re stretching the meaning of the words beyond all reasonable interpretation!” Keep in mind what they really meant, that reason can only bend in one direction, towards right-wing zealotry and conspiracy theories and racism.

And “Cancel Culture”? Really? If “Cancel Culture” were a real thing, Milo Yiannopoulos wouldn’t be your headliner.

Fuck. If I had a time machine, I’d go back 20 years to tell myself to avoid getting involved in this up-and-coming atheist movement. It’s just bad.

Catholic rabbit holes are the creepiest

Did you know that leftists are teaming up with witches to attack America?

Thus, the left has used the occasion to bring together ecologists, socialists, feminists, LGBT activists, pro-abortion advocates, and others to push their false class struggle narratives upon the American public. Less known, however, is the involvement of darker forces. Satanists and witches were invoking evil powers to aid those participating in the violence.

The witches do not hide their involvement in the violent protests. Mashable reports that witches’ covens are actively engaged in hexing police, whom they accuse of brutality. They especially target those who are risking their lives to stop the riots. The witches also cast spells asking for protection for protesters that confront the police. Witch activists used their dark arts as cutting-edge weapons for those who want to engage in a more spiritual class warfare.

The article is right about one thing: secular leftists don’t seem to care. That is correct. Having a contingent on your side that also thinks sending “thoughts and prayers” (and curses and magic spells) is a waste of time and effort, but sure, if it makes you happy, wave your hands in the air, burn a little incense, do some chanting. What’s ironic is who is complaining: Catholics. How can a good conservative Catholic complain about magical thinking?

The author of that article is John Horvat II, who runs a site called The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property. Just the name of the organization has me making the sign of the cross and looking for my holy water (I actually have some somewhere in my office!). But then I discovered their neat list of things they hate, which is a real blast.

The American TFP has opposed:
contraception; abortion; euthanasia; human cloning; the social acceptance of homosexual practice; anti-discrimination laws that give homosexuals a privileged status; the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in our military; homosexual adoption; domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex “marriage”; transgenderism; homosexual films, theater plays, events, and pro-homosexual clubs on Catholic college campuses; public blasphemy; nudism; socialist childcare; socialist healthcare; socialist allocation of federal waters; death taxes; self-managing socialism; international communism; President Carter’s human rights policy; the policy of détente with communist regimes pursued by the American and Western governments; progressivism; liberation theology; the Vatican’s policy of Ostpolitik with communist governments; the retroactive lifting of statutes of limitations for civil cases involving sexual abuse; the enactment of State laws forcing clergy to violate the seal of Confession in cases of child abuse; the removal of beauty from and the democratization of the Catholic Church; “frenetic intemperance” in the economy; the ecological movement; pacifism; imprudent nuclear disarmament; and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

No wonder they’re unhappy — they’re all a bunch of tightly puckered sphincters. I approve of all of those things! Well, except for removal of beauty. There’s nothing wrong with beauty. But they seem to have an idiosyncratic notion of what beauty means.

In these times of great trials for the Church, it does good to souls to contemplate the sublime beauty of the Church in all its splendor and hierarchy.

Catholic churches have always seemed over-the-top kitschy to me, but this person seems to think rigid order is a synonym for beauty. Then I found the death cult dogma: The Prophet Daniel and the Beauty of Death. Catholicism seems to revel in a kind of gothic creepiness at times.

It is beautiful, because it proclaims that everything in the sensible world is delicate. It exists only with God’s intervention and through no merit of its own. Placed before the specter of death, man senses everything in him that is small and fragile. Death whispers in his ear: “Don’t you realize that everything in life is dust and ashes?” This is good for man, since he is accustomed to seeing his greatness compared to all other perishable things.

There are two other Old Testament phrases that express this same idea: “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,” (Ecclus. 1:2) and “I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity, and vexation of spirit.” (Ecclus. 1:14)

This voice ascends above these little perishable things, to teach man that even those things that are seemingly great, are nothing. However, there is Someone, Who hovers above all Creation, Who is a true Marvel. He is God, Our Lord in His Eternity, Inaccessibility, Intangibility and Immutability, Who touches all things without being touched.

In this spirit, the angel proclaims: “Go thou thy ways…and thou shalt rest.” In other words: “You, who were great in the eyes of God and man, you too shall go to your end. You too are perishable and your transitory state shall be broken tonight. The law that all material things must end, applies to you, too. Think of this and you will not be misled to measure Divine things by your puny grandeur.

“You must realize that you are small before the things of God, but also that you have an immortal soul. You have something that is not material, but imperishable. Thus, this end you enter tonight is temporary. In you exists the very principle of life, which is nobler than you and it shall remain.

“Moreover, your soul is good, so you will posses the happiness that things of earth cannot give. You will sleep, but afterwards will come the reconciliation between God and man and eventually your resurrection.”

God is so good that in spite of the perishability of flesh, He will resurrect the body so that it can share in the joys or torments of the soul, according to whether the man was good or bad in this life.

At the end of his announcement, the angel states: “stand in thy lot unto the end of the days.” This is a reference to this General Resurrection. One begins to hear angels sounding the trumpets and coronets that will call all men to judgment. The angel tells Daniel to sleep peacefully and wait for that day, for the death of the just is a dream that awaits the resurrection.

That is why one should always keep death before his eyes and order his life accordingly. Then, when death approaches, he can expect a joyful resurrection on Judgment Day. Living in this perspective will prepare him for the moment when Our Lord will appear with Our Lady at His side, to fulfill, perhaps His greatest promise: “I will be your reward exceedingly great.”

So, man will first be judged immediately at death, when his body is still warm. Aided by Our Lady’s mercy, he will be sentenced according to his love for and union with God, not by his position in the eyes of men. Then he shall see God face-to-face.

All right, that is simply a repulsive set of freakish beliefs. I guess I’m just going to have to summon a demon and cast some unholy imprecations on the Catholic Church. It isn’t beautiful at all.

What did Satan do that was so bad?

I saw this meme about Satan, and it made me ask a question. What horrible acts did Satan do in the Bible?

I know about the horrors God is said to have committed — plagues and smitings and genocide and wars of conquest and murdering all but 8 people on Earth — but all this Satan character seems to do is tempt people away from worshipping the psychopathic deity. I’m not sufficiently informed about the Bible to know all the details, so…are there stories about Satan afflicting people with boils? Siccing bears on children? Asking people to murder their neighbors? There’s a notable lack of specific crimes attributed to the so-called bad guy. It’s a book claimed to be written/inspired by God — do we need to introduce Christians to the concept of the unreliable narrator?