Will Scott Adams never learn?

We went round and round on this well over a year ago. Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, wrote a shallow and ignorant argument that sort of shilly-shallied over a pro-creationist argument; I pointed out how stupid his reasoning was. The response was insane; criticize Adams, and his horde of Dilbert fans will descend on you like a cloud of pea-brained locusts. Adams took a stab at the subject again, proposing that at least we ought to teach it as an alternative to evolution, an old and tiresome argument that I thoroughly despise. Basically, Adams just outed himself as a feeble hack making tepid arguments that only a creationist could believe.

Oh, and the most common lame defense: Scott Adams shouldn’t ever be taken seriously, because he’s always just joking to get a rise out of people. That would be acceptable, if ever he’d said anything intelligent on the subject, if his whole argument wasn’t based on common creationist canards, and if his fanbase weren’t taking his every word so damned seriously, as if he’d given them some deep insight.

That’s the history. I hadn’t read the Dilbert blog in ages, so I don’t know if Adams has since continued his wishy-washy creationism. Now I see on OmniBrain that yes, Scott Adams has written another post on intelligent design, and yes, if anything, Scott Adams has become even more stupid in the intervening months Here’s his key argument for assigning intelligence to the universe.

I take the practical approach — that something is intelligent if it unambiguously performs tasks that require intelligence. Writing Moby Dick required intelligence. The Big Bang wrote Moby Dick. Therefore, the Big Bang is intelligent, and you and I are created by that same intelligence. Therefore, we are created by an intelligent entity.

It’s a wee bit circular, don’t you think? He’s defining intelligence by assuming that the only process that can create intelligence is driven by intelligence; I’d simply rebut him by challenging his assumption, and say that the process that created the being who wrote Moby Dick did not require intelligent guidance (as we already know—the processes that drive evolution do not require active intervention by any intelligent agent), therefore there is no reason to call a prior process like the Big Bang “intelligent”. He’s also managed to put together an argument for an intelligent designer that requires us to conclude that everything in the universe is intelligent: phosphorylation is intelligent, sperm are intelligent, carrots are intelligent, bacteria are intelligent, interstellar dust is intelligent. I suspect that there’s a self-serving motive involved—he had to really reach to come up with a definition that would allow him to claim that Scott Adams is intelligent.

It’s nice to see that one constant on the internet is that Scott Adams is still a babbling idiot. If any of his defenders want to claim that “hey, he’s just being funny!” that’s fine, as long as you’re willing to admit that his chosen style of humor is to pretend to be a colossal boob…and that he’s suckered many of his readers into thinking that his intentionally absurd ideas are brilliant.

So predictable…

Here’s a lesson for you: criticize Scott Adams, and you will receive a deluge of Dilbonian hate mail. Virtually all of it is saying exactly the same thing: “You failed the humor test”; “Adams was being ironic”; “Adams isn’t a creationist, he’s pulling your chain”. Part of it is taking a different, overtly creationist tack: “The Big Bang didn’t happen, so you ought to be able to tell it’s a joke”; “You professors don’t understand anything”; and then there are the long-winded discourses on why Adams is exactly right, and that he has seen the mind of God, and his argument is irrefutable.

Listen, Dilbonians: you can stop telling me I have no sense of humor. I know it already. I also know that Scott Adams has a piss-poor sense of humor, too. I’d be more inclined to believe that he was mocking creationist thinking if a) everything he has written on evolution, creation, and science hadn’t had exactly the same tone and advanced the same point of view, which seems to be, basically, that Scott Adams knows better than every scientist on the planet, and b) his fans were a little less enthusiastic in supporting every turd of faux-wisdom that drips from his mouth. Read the comments; his readers aren’t treating this as a hilarious send-up of religious thinking. Maybe Adams is a true cynic who has purposely cultivated a collection of acolytes who are stupid enough to believe the amazingly stupid things he writes, but I don’t think that is an accomplishment that would insulate him from criticism.

Oh, and those of you complaining that Adams is not a creationist: look up David Berlinski. There is a lot in common there: the same supercilious and inflated sense of intellectual self-worth, the same mocking tone, the same knee-jerk rejection of anyone else’s expertise, as if the fact that some people know much more in some discipline than he does is a personal insult. He’s an anti-science hack who probably also rejects authorities on the creationist side because they do not defer to his superior intelligence, either.

Dihydrogen monoxide kills — and they knew it!

I thought this sad case of a woman dying of water intoxication was the result of mere ignorance, but it turns out it was an act of willful, criminal stupidity.

In an online recording of the show, the DJs can be heard making comments joking about people dying from water intoxication, even discussing a case in Northern California two years ago in which student Matthew Carrington, 21, died after drinking too much water during a fraternity pledge.

One of the DJs even admitted they maybe should have done some research before the contest.

One female caller, who identified herself as Eva, also phoned in to warn the radio station that drinking too much water can kill.

That certainly puts a different complexion on the whole case, doesn’t it?

How normal is Kearny?

Maybe it’s a bad, bad idea for a community to have an open-access electronic bulletin board, because it sure is a great tool for exposing the ugly underbelly of the group. Kearny, NJ has had its moment of fame, with the story of the history teacher babbling nonsense to his class, and
Jim Lippard has found some troubling stuff on the Kearny bulletin board. Paul LaClair, the father of the young man who recorded his teacher’s rambling BS, posted a
review and complaint about the community’s failure to support good teaching, and what’s bothersome are the replies. A few are supportive, but some are still defending the history teacher’s poor instruction, and worse, there are some comments that verge on being death threats.

It’s depressing to read if you have any optimism about people at all: the stupidity on display is shocking. Maybe we just have to hope that Kearny, NJ is some kind of magic dumb-magnet that sucks in mobs of the mindless, leaving the rest of the country much smarter. I fear, though, that it might actually be representative.

Atheists are now officially in the majority!

Thanks to Hilzoy, I’ve learned that our dearly beloved president has enunciated an important principle.

Bush said that despite declarations of piety from Muslim radicals now fighting the United States, he doubted that they believed in God.

“‘Terrorists’ can’t be God-believing people,'” Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, quoted Bush as saying.

Before you run off and dismiss this as the ravings of an incompetent, deluded boob, think it through. It means that if someone does something wicked, we get to declare that they must not really believe in God — true faith only belongs to saints. All those angry people in the Middle East? Atheists. People who push buttons to launch cruise missiles? Atheists. People who order people to launch cruise missiles? Atheists. People who set policies that drag us into wars that require people to order other people to kill people? Atheists. Personally, I think people who extort the elderly into mailing them substantial portions of their social security checks are also atheists. People who are wicked enough to try and teach creationism must also be atheists. Only an atheist can do bad things.

Since saints are a negligible minority, it’s now safe to say that America is an atheist country.

Now comes the hard part, though. We have to get all those atheists in America to stop lying and calling themselves Christian, and we have to get all those atheists in the Middle East to stop lying and calling themselves Moslems. I’m not sure how we’re going to get them to confess.

Torture, maybe?

It’s never going to end

Deepak Chopra is still blathering on. I’m afraid that while he can’t shut up, I can ignore him, and this will be my last response to his drivel; it’s also the last time I’ll be linking to the Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington’s exercise in indiscriminate narcissism is not the direction I want to see liberals taking, and while my voice isn’t a significant one, I can at least deny the kook wing of the Left my tiny bit of support.

This time the obsessive small-minded mystic is still whining against science and reason, still railing against his own idiotic imaginings.

But how can anyone seriously defend science as a panacea when it gave us the atomic bomb?

First of all, no one defends science as a panacea. It’s not leading us to utopia, it’s taking us towards a better understanding of the real world…which, contrary to the quacks who claim reality is what you imagine it to be, is often going to expose uncomfortable truths. There is no paradise. There is no perfection. There’s just a world where we have to struggle and compromise, and in the end we all die.

Secondly, the people who whimper about science bringing us bombs (and we’ve also got a few trolls wandering around scienceblogs damning scientists for that) have got it all wrong. Nuclear reactions are a property of the natural world—they go on in stars, they take place beneath our feet. Science did not invent fission and fusion, it only exposed the nature of the event, explained how it worked, and made this knowledge available to human beings. People chose what to do with it. We don’t have any choice in what science reveals. What would you have had 20th century scientists do, intentionally suppress all knowledge of a fundamental property of matter, and all of the unpredictable consequences of that knowledge? And just how would you propose to do that, short of destroying the scientific enterprise all together?

Reason isn’t the savior of the future. That role belongs to wisdom. With all the threats to human survival that we now face, I resort to a phrase coined by Jonas Salk: the survival of the wisest. Although a great researcher in medicine, Salk had the vision to look beyond materialism. He saw that evolution, as it applies to modern human beings, isn’t Darwinian. We no longer live in a state of nature.

Good grief, the inanity, it burns.

No, reason isn’t the savior of the future. It’s just the absolute bare minimum of what we ought to expect from the people to whom we entrust our futures—it’s the foundation of everything we ought to do. I don’t care what other wonderful virtues Chopra wants to tout, if they are built on irrationality and unreason, they are destructive.

I also don’t know what Chopra means by this fuzzy word “wisdom” he’s throwing out in his little essay, but he writes as if he thinks it is something completely orthogonal to reason, but of course it isn’t—unreasoning people can’t be wise, although they may pretend to it, and other irrational people may believe them. He’s using the word in an utterly meaningless way, the same way his kind of people use the words “spirituality” or “vibrations” or “quantum”, as subliminal tokens for indefinable emotions they might have; it’s shorthand for empty pseudo-profundity. It’s the hook the con artist uses to persuade his mark to fork over his respect, but it’s all a lie.

The rest I have no patience for. Chopra doesn’t know what “evolution” or “Darwinian” means, so trying to dissect the meaning he is reading into them as pointless: he’s just reciting buzz words, stringing them together like pretty beads on a string. It’s all noise from a fool.


Socializing them right into the hate camp

Ah, the pleasures of living in a small town in Red America: the high schools are fertile fields for fostering hate, and now it’s facilitated by technology, like Facebook, that allows them to sow it far and wide. My daughter is on a rampage right now, upset because her erstwhile peers at the high school have been putting their bigotry proudly on display. There is currently some ferocious babble going on in a Morris Area High School facebook site, and here’s one of the more outrageous comments:

Okay this is really random but it has to deal with the comment about homosexuality issue that Sibley brought up. Honestly why must our country keep discussing this issue. We all know it’s wrong and that it just shouldn’t be that way. If you want to go with the same sex move somewhere else. Please before we ship yah off. Honestly just get rid of them and then we won’t have this issue. Just ship them to Canada. But yah homosexuality is just wrong so just say no and get over it. It’s never gonna be right so yah!!

There’s more there—way too much more—and there are lots of kids who are blindly supporting that kind of statement. They say “it’s wrong” and that’s enough: their brains shut down, they’ve got nothing to back it up, and they just repeat the “just wrong” mantra over and over again, spicing it up with eliminationist calls to get rid of them. “So yah!!” sums up their reasoning perfectly.

Where do these kids pick up this kind of bigotry? From their parents and churches, of course, but also, the schools out here have been collaborators in a conspiracy of silence. A year ago last Spring, we had a perfect example: the university put on a play about tolerance and diversity, and regional schools boycotted the event, and the reaction to the Vagina Monologues has been similarly backwards. There are no processes in place to teach kids something more than their tradition-based dogmatic ignorance: the schools have given up, some of the churches encourage it, and whole families wallow in this level of stupidity.

And the kid who says we should ship all the gays to Canada? He’s student body president at the high school. He’s a member of the popular clique.

If there were a god, he’d make Deepak Chopra shut up

This has been really tiresome. Deepak Chopra’s endless string of ignorance is simply wearing me down, but he has declared that he has made his last post on The God Delusion. I’m sure, though, that he’ll find other things to babble about.

In this one, he claims he’s going to deal with objections that people have brought up to his previous inanity; he doesn’t, really, and the few things he does choose to highlight expose the fact that he hasn’t been listening to the criticisms. He only makes four rather incoherent points.

  1. Chopra has claimed that Dawkins believes in a purely random universe, which is complete nonsense, of course, and certainly Dawkins claims nothing of the kind. Chopra’s response is to say that “Dawkins stoutly maintains that genetic mutations are random”, which is a true, but incomplete statement, and further, Chopra seem to think that suggesting that “atoms and molecules know what they are doing” is a rebuttal, rather than evidence that he is koo-koo for cocoa puffs.

  2. Chopra thinks that when someone says God is an unnecessary hypothesis, that means they are condemning “art, music, truth, beauty, etc.” This is just stupid stereotyping on his part, in which he wrongly assumes that godlessness entails a denial of human values.

  3. His third point will leave you gawping in astonishment. He’s trying to argue that the brain is not the source of the mind, and he makes a banana argument. “I want to eat a banana, and once I do, my brain carries out the necessary action”…he’s simply asserting that the “I” precedes the biological process of the brain that generates an action, rather than considering the possibility that the “I” is also a consequence of the activity of the brain. He’s surprised at this idea: “How in the world do our thoughts manage to move the molecules in our brain?” It’s a classic example of being stumped entirely because you’ve phrased the question in an invalid way.

  4. His final point is the same old excuse of theistic apologists everywhere: that Dawkins is dealing with a crude and stupid version of religion, not the sophisticated, clever, wonderfully enlightened kind of religion he practices. Someday, someone is going to have to tell me about this brilliant version of religion, because I’ve never found it (I’ve looked), and if Chopra’s is the kind of mind that emerges from his faith, I don’t think I want any part of it.

He also asserts that materialistic science is “a model that is quickly crumbling”. He might be right in that, but only because his kind are fostering stupidity and ignorance, two properties that are antithetical to science. He seems to be proud of that, though.

True Confessions Day at Scienceblogs!

Since Orac is confessing to a stupid thing, I thought I’d repeat my own public admission of stupidity.

Public Service Announcement: Things Not to Do

Don’t carry batteries in your pocket.

This evening, I was stretched out on my recliner, enjoying a little light reading, when I smelled something odd—an odor of burning, and a faint chemical reek. I looked around and saw nothing, but the odor was getting stronger. I set my book aside, looked down, and saw something no man likes to see: tendrils of smoke rising from my fly. Then, I felt searing pain from my thigh. I jumped up and danced around (to the amusement of my daughter), and frantically tried to fish all the loose change out of my pocket. The coins were flaming hot. I was caught in the dilemma of letting my leg burn, or burning my hands trying to get these things out. I ended up throwing sizzling bits of money around the room.

I had tossed a couple of spare NiMH AA batteries in my pocket earlier, when I was out doing some photography. A pair of them had apparently jostled into exactly the right configuration to short out against the coins in my pocket, leading to the surprisingly rapid and intense generation of heat.

I don’t think I’ll carry batteries that way anymore. I now have the imprint of a pair of quarters scorched into my palm, and feel a bit like Belzig, the fat sadistic Nazi from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. And my kids are laughing at me for dancing around with my pants on fire.

And now I tell you this cautionary tale, O Gentle Reader, to spare you the humiliation of repeating my error. See how much I care?

Whether I’m admitting this to make Orac feel a little less alone, or whether it’s because I have reason to worry that he might be about to do the same thing and needs a warning, is left to the interpretations of the reader. You may also argue among yourselves which of us is more foolish.

I posted that about two years ago, and I’m pleased to say that I haven’t carried batteries in my pockets since. See? I can still learn! It’s so much more sensible and safer to stick them up your nose.

Watch out, Google

Microsoft has added everything to a search engine that you’ve missed in Google: long load times, half of the screen space dedicated to flash animation and another quarter just empty charcoal grey, results that are shown 3 at a time and displayed in a light gray font on a distracting pale graphic, and most importantly, the most annoying librarian in the universe, Ms. Dewey, who seems to be there to nag you to type faster and mock you if she doesn’t understand your request.

Is there a prize for the most idiotic abuse of web technology? This deserves a nomination. Unless, of course, it’s actually not a search engine, but a psychological experiment in optimizing interface design to maximize frustration and rage. It’s very good at that.