Proof from Design, or the Teleological Proof (5)

Evolution and Chaos

That’s a real problem, because there are a lot of similarities between the math I’ve taught you and evolution.

Flip back to my earlier definition. The copying process is a form of positive feedback. Unchecked, it would lead to exponential growth as the original made copies, and the copies also made copies, and the copies of copies also made copies, and so on.

The limited environment is negative feedback. It’s continually throttling or cutting down self-replicators in a multitude of ways; a lack of food, no more room to grow into, the length of a day, imperfections that kill it off after a time, predators in the environment, and a lack of mates are but a few examples from biology.

The changes to the copy are a nudge value. They’re a real wild card, sometimes increasing negative feedback (such as birth defects in biology), positive feedback (making tail feathers more attractive to the opposite sex), neither (changing eye colour), or even both (boosting metabolism and cancer rates). The rate of change can vary too, unlike the constant in our math.

The simple rules of evolution contain all the components needed for complex behaviour.

You may have noticed that I’ve avoided the word “organism,” and tacked on “in biology” in the examples above. While biologists were the first to stumble onto evolution, the same process works just as well on the non-living.

Musicians learn music by copying what’s come before. Their songs are different, but not because the songs are mixed via sex or tweaked via an error in the copying process; instead, creative exploration is to blame. All these songs, old and new, have to make an impression on other people, otherwise they won’t be played and will wind up forgotten, which is a limitation imposed by their environment.

All the pieces are in place, so it’s no surprise that music shows signs of evolution. When the Motown genre began, it was etched into vinyl records with the volume turned down slightly, just like all records at that time were. By the time this genre had faded in popularity, Motown records were as loud as the vinyl physically allowed. Why? Motown was usually played at loud parties and clubs; the louder it was, the more likely it would be heard and enjoyed, and the more likely it would be bought. Musicians and record producers inadvertently evolved to be louder, as a result.

The principles that drive evolution have been used to build more efficient antennas, stronger concrete reinforcements, robots that can walk, and even create art. I’ve used it myself several times, to find the minimal value in a complicated formula without doing a lot of messy math, and to find ideal exam schedules for a school assignment. It explains why music became louder after portable music players were invented; the environment changed to be louder, and feedback unconsciously shaped our music in response. In theory, anything that can be quantified into a number or imperfectly copied, then measured in some way, could be developed further by using evolution.

Baby Steps to a Light-Sensitive Patch…

Time to return to biology, to explain how eyes developed. Thanks to a mutation, an organism was born with a light-sensitive patch of skin. This patch allowed it to hide in dark corners or locate food better than organisms that didn’t have a patch, so it was more likely to survive and reproduce. A mutation that caused the patch to “cave in” protected it somewhat, so again that organism had an advantage. As the patch sunk deeper, it could sense light direction, and as the top nearly closed over it became a pinhole camera. A clear membrane kept out debris, but also acted like a lens. Muscles formerly used to control skin hair could bend this lens, moving the focus around. Detaching the outer layer of skin allowed it to rotate, and skin muscles went from having a slight effect to being dedicated to providing this rotation.

Each of these intermediate steps has been found in an existing species, so the entire process is very plausible.[132] There’s no intention behind his process, no great plan, and yet the end result is careful design.

The immune system took a similar arch, but with one crucial difference. For the eye, we have a pretty good idea of how it started. While scientists can roughly pin down the dates for when the immune system evolved,[133] and understand the aftermath quite well, they aren’t sure what it evolved from.

Some believers have seized on this. If scientists don’t know how the immune system started, that must mean it was created by a god! The same line of thought has been applied to countless other examples, ranging from the bacterial flagellum[134] to thunder.

Recognize this? I covered the same line of reasoning back in the Cosmological proof. Not knowing what caused something does not prove YHWH or Shiva or whatever agent you’d like did the deed, it does nothing but leave the causer unknown. And if we ever think of any mechanism that also explains how it came about without relying on a god, Ockham swoops in and rules out the supernatural version.

Again we have two theories, design by deity and design by evolution. One requires a god, the other does not, so we could invoke Ockham’s Razor if we wish.

Take A Chance

We can do better, though.

Evolution is a slow, haphazard process, that only improves by small steps. Gods are smarter and more powerful than us, capable of large improvements and planning ahead. We could infer the method of design, then, by looking at the results.

Most land dwellers on this planet are capable of producing Vitamin C. Indeed, by examining our DNA, scientists have found that we too would be capable of it, if not for a disabling mutation. This would have been crippling if not for our varied diet, which consumes enough vitamin C producers to make up the loss. It took the recent invention of long sea voyages to even discover this missing ability; as luck would have it, our best sources of vitamin C tend to rot quickly.

Both designers seem to be on equal footing, until you notice one detail. If our inability to make C was due to the gods, why did they leave a crippled deactivated version of it within us? A designer capable of foresight would have omitted it completely, saving us from accidentally re-activating it up and mucking up the plan. A blind single-step process, on the other hand, could never yank the entire thing out in one go. Instead, we would cart around the damaged copy until mutations and deletions had whittled it down to nothing. This process takes time, so a nearly-intact copy is a sign the change was pretty recent. This squares nicely with the evidence, too.

Design by deity has problems with the nerve connecting our voice box and brain, too. This pathway runs down our neck, into our chest, around the major arteries and veins by our heart, and back up our neck. There’s no benefit to this long route, yet we spend precious resources to create it. It’s a stupid design, and any competent designer would have gotten rid of it long ago.

So why hasn’t evolution trashed it too? Perhaps re-routing the nerve would require too big a change to happen by chance. Evolution only deals with small random tweaks, after all, so if any “repairs” need large co-ordinated adjustments, they’ll never be made.

Thanks to genome sequencing, we’ve been able to confirm this; multiple simultaneous mutations are needed to reroute that nerve, and the odds of that happening by chance are basically zero.

If there’s no reason for it now, evolution tells us that there must have been a reason in the past; otherwise, such a crazy combination never would have survived in the first place! As the changes mounted over time, this original “purpose”[135] was lost.

We can’t rewind the clock and track down our ancestor,[136] but we can look to our cousins instead. While every organism has been evolving for the same amount of time, they live in quite different environments that may have changed dramatically over the aeons. Since evolution is directed by the environment, if we can find a species that has always lived in an environment similar to our distant ancestors we might get a clue to the original “reason” for this layout.

It’s a long shot, and our first searches don’t lend us much hope. Chimpanzees, who must be very close to us by their anatomy, have the same detour. Dissecting other apes shows they have it too. Desperate, we start analyzing lemurs, sloths, squirrels, dogs, horses, mice, kangaroos… each time finding that blasted detour. Even giraffes have it, a ridiculous 5 metre long nerve to connect two bits of anatomy 10cm apart! Every animal with legs and a spine has that silly detour; insects and spiders don’t have it, but their insides look nothing like ours, and plants and fungi don’t have any nerves at all. Dejected, we turn to the sea, hoping to learn something from whales.

Instead, we’re shocked when we cut open our first fish.

They have air bladders and gills instead of lungs, of course, but they do have muscles, stomachs, spines, rib cages, and a lot more anatomy that looks similar to ours. Most importantly, they have vocal cords, a heart and a brain too…

… and the heart is in a direct line between the other two!

We keep dissecting fish, and each time we find the same brain-heart-vocal cord pattern. Our quest for a reason is over; that nerve heads for the heart because that once helped it to the voice box. As our bodies changed, and moved the vocal cord and brain into the head while leaving the heart lower down, single-step random mutations weren’t able to change this nerve’s path and thus it was forced into an odd detour.

Quests are known for granting important knowledge to the people that undertake them, and this one lives up to that ideal. To start, we now know we must have evolved from a fish-like creature. Not only that, but every land animal with a spine must have done the same.

It’s possible that large numbers of land animals originally made their home in the ocean, but over time all of them packed up and moved ashore. Since it would be highly unlikely for all of them to trace their ancestry back to the same style of sea organism, we should expect a wide variety of body plans. Instead, all of them conform to a four-limb spine-and-ribcage layout, have their internal organs in eerily similar spots, and develop in very similar ways.

From all this similarity, we’re forced to instead conclude that it’s far more likely that all land animals, including humans, evolved from a single creature that lived in water.

Insects and the like may not have, but our findings are suggestive: if creatures as diverse as elephants and snakes share a common ancestor, perhaps every living thing evolved from one organism.

The evidence from our basic building blocks all but confirms it. Every protein used by your body is encoded in a gene. There’s no need for every organism to use the same code for the same protein, and yet the overwhelming majority do. The protein that is used to exchange energy within our bodies, ATP,[137] is put to the same use in every multicellular organism we’ve found, and even a few single-celled ones. And most convincing of all, Douglas Theobald of Brandeis University ran a computer simulation that tested a variety of possible origins for life on a widely diverse set of life’s genomes. The odds of life having multiple ancestors, as opposed to sharing a single one, were 1 in 103,489. The odds of human beings spontaneously popping into existence, with no ancestors whatsoever, were a mind-shattering 1 in 106000.[138]

This is a problem for design by deity. Any intelligent designer would not hesitate to toss out useless code. Even if it did let evolution take over at some point, the net result would look like multiple ancestors for all modern life. Since we don’t find that, no deity could have designed any species save the first one. We’re forced into a biological sort of deism, at best, where a deity kick-starts a chemical chain-reaction then leaves it alone.

Is evolution the only designer? By no means; remember, all it took to generate complexity from simplicity were two conflicting feedback systems. With the bar set so low other examples should be easy to spot, and are. From the formation of ice crystals to the existence of stars, it’s clear that the laws of nature can create design without a supernatural designer.

[132]  Land, M. F. and Fernald, R. D, “The Evolution of Eyes.” Annual Review of Neuroscience, vol. 15, 1992.

[133]  Did you know you have two immune systems? The “innate” system appeared a billion years ago, while the “adaptive” popped up about 450 million years ago. Over time these two systems have integrated… mostly. I’d share more details, but quite frankly I don’t understand them!

[134]  Never heard of it? Then why did you skip past the introduction?!

[135]  There’s no intelligence driving evolution, as I’ve shown, so don’t take “purpose” and “reason” literally.

[136]  Sort of. Since mutations are small and random, you can reconstruct an earlier genome (and thus an earlier animal) by overlapping thousands or millions of sequences, and looking for the most common version of each gene. Without a womb, though, you’d never be able to convert this into a living animal.

[137] Adenosine-5′-triphosphate. Interesting fact: a typical Homo Sapiens Sapiens contains roughly ¼ of a kilogram of the stuff, yet uses enough in a day to duplicate its body weight.

[138]   Theobald, Douglas, “A formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry.” Nature, Volume 465, May 13 2010.

But Everything Worked Out, Right?

The right person won in the recent France election, but the outcome worries me. The polls badly underestimated his win.

The average poll conducted in the final two weeks of the campaign gave Macron a far smaller lead (22 percentage points) than he ended up winning by (32 points), for a 10-point miss. In the eight previous presidential election runoffs, dating back to 1969, the average poll missed the margin between the first- and second-place finishers by only 3.9 points.

That should be a warning flag to the French to take less stock in their polls and weight unlikely outcomes as more likely. It’s doubtful they will, though, because everything turned out all right. That’s no slam against the French, it’s just human nature. Take the 2012 US election:

Four years ago, an average of survey results the week before the election had Obama winning by 1.2 percentage points. He actually beat Mitt Romney by 3.9 points.

If that 2.7-point error doesn’t sound like very much to you, well, it’s very close to what Donald Trump needs to overtake Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. She leads by 3.3 points in our polls-only forecast.

That was Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight four days before the 2016 US election, four days before Clinton fell victim to a smaller polling error. Americans should have done back in 2012 what the French should do now, but they didn’t. Even the betting markets figured Clinton would sweep, an eerie mirror of their French counterparts.

Overall, there are a higher number of bets on Ms Le Pen coming out on top, than Brexit or Donald Trump – even though the odds are much lower, according to the betting experts.

The moral of the story: don’t let a win go to your head. You might miss a critical bit of data if you do.

Intelligence and Race, in sub-populations

I’ve read a fair number of papers covering race and genes. In fact, before I go farther, here’s a bibliography:

In this article, the authors argue that the overwhelming portion of the literature on intelligence, race, and genetics is based on folk taxonomies rather than scientific analysis. They suggest that because theorists of intelligence disagree as to what it is, any consideration of its relationships to other constructs must be tentative at best. They further argue that race is a social construction with no scientific definition. Thus, studies of the relationship between race and other constructs may serve social ends but cannot serve scientific ends. No gene has yet been conclusively linked to intelligence, so attempts to provide a compelling genetic link of race to intelligence are not feasible at this time. The authors also show that heritability, a behavior-genetic concept, is inadequate in regard to providing such a link.

Sternberg, Robert J., Elena L. Grigorenko, and Kenneth K. Kidd. “Intelligence, race, and genetics.” American Psychologist 60.1 (2005): 46.

The literature on candidate gene associations is full of reports that have not stood up to rigorous replication. This is the case both for straightforward main effects and for candidate gene-by-environment interactions (Duncan and Keller 2011). As a result, the psychiatric and behavior genetics literature has become confusing and it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge. The reasons for this are complex, but include the likelihood that effect sizes of individual polymorphisms are small, that studies have therefore been underpowered, and that multiple hypotheses and methods of analysis have been explored; these conditions will result in an unacceptably high proportion of false findings (Ioannidis 2005).

Hewitt, John K. “Editorial Policy on Candidate Gene Association and Candidate Gene-by-Environment Interaction Studies of Complex Traits.” Behavior Genetics 42, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 1–2. doi:10.1007/s10519-011-9504-z.

[Read more…]

Unhealthy Acts

If there’s one thing Canadian can agree on, it’s that our health care system is better than the one in the USA. It’s a chronic talking point.

“Canadians have a genuine fear of ‘American-style’ health care, and any discussion of private partnership in health is quickly quelled for this reason,” the [Ontario Chamber of Commerce] wrote. “But this ignores both the considerable share of health care already delivered by the private sector as well as the robust and equitable role of industry in other single-payer models such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service or Australia’s Medicare.”

I think it’s actually a problem, as we should be comparing our system to the superior ones in Britain and France rather than being thankful we don’t have it worse. But just when I think the narrative will shift, things like this keep popping up.

The MacArthur-Meadows amendment to the AHCA, proposed by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, would allow states to waive the current ban that prevents insurance companies from charging premium rates to customers based on their health history. This essentially allows pre-Obamacare discriminatory practices to once again be legalized. […]

If the MacArthur-Meadows amendment allows this type of discrimination to come back under the AHCA, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence would face an extremely difficult decision: seek treatment and be forced to potentially pay more for health insurance, or refuse to go to the doctor and remain untreated for horrific injuries they have endured both mentally and physically. […]

Other largely gender-specific conditions, like postpartum depression and C-sections, would also be considered preexisting conditions under the new health care plan.

Cesarian sections? Sexual assault?! Oh, but it gets worse.

(The American Health Care Act could once again allow insurers to charge people more with these “preexisting conditions” ) * Breast cancer * Uterine cancer * Pregnancy or expectant parent * A Cesarean delivery * Being a survivor of domestic violence * Medical treatment for sexual assault * Mental disorders (severe, e.g., bipolar, eating disorder) * AIDS/HIV * Lupus * Alcohol abuse/drug abuse with recent treatment * Alzheimer’s/dementia * Multiple sclerosis * Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease * Muscular dystrophy * Any cancer within some period of time (e.g., 10 years, often other than basal skin cancer) * Obesity, severe * Cerebral palsy * Organ transplant * Congestive heart failure * Paraplegia * Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery * Paralysis * Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis * Parkinson’s disease * Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema * Pending surgery or hospitalization * Diabetes mellitus * Pneumocystic pneumonia * Epilepsy * Hemophilia * Sleep apnea * Hepatitis (hep C) * Stroke * Kidney disease, renal failure * Transsexualism (Other conditions insurers could use to increase the cost of insurance ) * Urinary tract infections * Menstrual irregularities * Migraine headaches * Acne * Allergies * Anxiety * Asthma * Basal cell skin cancer * Depression * Ear infections * Fractures * High cholesterol * Hypertension * Incontinence * Joint injuries * Kidney stones * Overweight * Restless leg syndrome * Tonsillitis * Varicose veins * Vertigo

Having hemophilia, allergies, or menstrual irregularities are grounds to charge you more for medical care?! Jesus, America, you really need to get your shit together. Some day I wish I’ll be able to say “if only the Canadian health-care system was as good as the one in the US.”

Proof from Design, or the Teleological Proof (3)

While the visual version is pretty intuitive to understand, it isn’t very quick or precise. There’s a more math-y way that fixes both problems, but it destroys some of the simplicity. I’ll skim through the basics, but feel free to skip ahead if you need to.

A more formal way to write our little algorithm is

A formal description for our math.

Now we add the second dimension by introducing “complex” numbers. The name is a bit misleading, as we just need to make two simple changes: we introduce a special variable, i, and declare that multiplying it by itself results in -1.[130] In all other ways, we’re following elementary algebra. The second number of the pair, or the vertical part, is automatically multiplied by i, like
Breaking apart two complex numbers.

And with that, we can start working out the details.

Condensing the complex number math down into a more conventional algorithm.Translating back into English, we have:

  1. Write two numbers at the top of a piece of paper.
  2. Multiply the leftmost of them by itself, subtract from that the rightmost number multiplied by itself, add the leftmost one back on, then write that result below the leftmost number.
  3. Now multiply the left and right numbers together, double that, then add the rightmost number; write this new number below the rightmost one.
  4. From now on, only consider the pair of numbers at the bottom of the column.
  5. Multiply the leftmost of that pair by itself, subtract the rightmost one multiplied by itself, add the leftmost number at the top of the column to the result, and write the eventual number below the left one in the bottom pair.
  6. Multiply that bottom pair together, double the result, and add the rightmost number in that pair. Complete a new bottom pair by writing this result to the right of the number you wrote down last step.
  7. Go to step four, until satisfied or bored.

Here’s a few examples of the two-dimensional version in action. Note that when the second number is zero, the first behaves exactly as it would if you were using the one-number method, which proves that we did our math correctly.

(0.250000, 0.100000)

0.250000 x 0.250000 0.100000 x 0.100000 + 0.250000 =

(0.302500, 0.150000)

= 0.250000 x 0.100000 x 2 + 0.100000

0.302500 x 0.302500 0.150000 x 0.150000 + 0.250000 =

(0.319006, 0.190750)

= 0.302500 x 0.150000 x 2 + 0.100000

0.319006 x 0.319006 0.190750 x 0.190750 + 0.250000 =

(0.315379, 0.221700)

= 0.319006 x 0.190750 x 2 + 0.100000.

0.315379 x 0.315379 0.221700 x 0.221700 + 0.250000 =

(0.300313, 0.239839)

= 0.315379 x 0.221700 x 2 + 0.100000

0.300313 x 0.300313 0.239839 x 0.239839 + 0.250000 =




(0.282665, 0.244053)




= 0.300313 x 0.239839 x 2 + 0.100000



(-1.750000, 0.000000)

(1.312500, 0.000000)

(-0.027343, 0.000000)

(-1.749252, 0.000000)

(1.309882, 0.000000)

(-0.034209, 0.000000)

(-1.748829, 0.000000)

(1.308402, 0.000000)

(-0.038084, 0.000000)

(-1.748549, 0.000000)

(1.307423, 0.000000)




(-0.500000, -0.500000)

(-0.500000, 0.000000)

(-0.250000, -0.500000)

(-0.687500, -0.250000)

(-0.089843, -0.156250)

(-0.516342, -0.471924)

(-0.456103, -0.012651)

(-0.292130, -0.488459)

(-0.653252, -0.214612)

(-0.119320, -0.219608)

(-0.533990, -0.447592)




(0.000000, 0.750000)

(-0.562500, 0.750000)

(-0.246093, -0.093750)

(0.051772, 0.796142)

(-0.631161, 0.832435)

(-0.294583, -0.300801)

(-0.003702, 0.927221)

(-0.859725, 0.743134)

(0.186878, -0.527781)

(-0.243629, 0.552738)

(-0.246164, 0.480673)




[130]  That has to be handled pair-wise, so i times i times i is the same as -1 times i, so it equals -i and not -1.

Where Bigotry Thrives

All of us strive to be rational. We believe that reality does not contradict itself, that something cannot exist and not exist at the same time. So when we encounter a contradiction we believe in, we discard it to align ourselves closer to reality. But there’s another, more human reason to weed out contradictions in our views.

Charles Murray, in his interview with Sam Harris, was grilled a bit on universal basic income.

[1:53:17] HARRIS: I’ve heard you talk about it and this is a surprise because, in “Coming Apart” you are fairly critical of the welfare state in all its guises and you- you just said something that at least implied disparagement of the welfare state in Europe, as we know it, so tell me why you are an advocate for universal basic income.

[1:53:40] MURRAY: Well, I first wrote [a] book back in two thousand five or six, called “In Our Hands,” but I did it initially for the same reason that Milton Friedman was in favor of a negative income tax, the idea is that you replace the current system with the universal basic income and, that, you leave people alone to make their decisions about how to use it.

And yet, back in 1984, Murray was singing a different tune.

In Losing Ground, Charles Murray shows that the great proliferation of social programs and policies of the mid-’60s made it profitable for the poor to behave in the short term in ways that were destructive in the long term.

Murray comprehensively documents and analyzes the disturbing course of Great Society social programs. Challenging popular notions that Great Society programs marked the beginning of improvement in the situation of the poor, Murray shows substantial declines in poverty prior to 1964-but slower growth, no growth, and retreat from progress as public assistance programs skyrocketed.

If we truly want to improve the lot of the poor, Murray declares, we should look to equality of opportunity and to education and eliminate the transfer programs that benefit neither recipient nor donor.

Murray was influential in Reagan’s war on the poor, which argued poor people would unwisely spend their government assistance cheques, yet now he’s arguing that the poor should be given government assistance without strings attached?! He never acknowledges his about-face, but I think this part of the interview is telling.

[2:00:11] MURRAY: There will be work disincentives, but we are already at a point, Sam, where something more than 20 percent of working-age males with high school diplomas, and no more [education than that], are out of the labor force. So we already have a whole lot of guys, sitting at home, in front of a TV set or a gameboy, probably stoned on meth, or- or opioids, doing nothing. We got a problem already and I see a lot of ways in which the moral agency that an income would give could make the problem less.

[2:00:46] HARRIS: Did the dysfunction you, you see in white and largely rural America now, is it analogous to the dysfunction that we were seeing in the in the black inner-city starting a few decades ago? Are there important differences, or- or how do you how do you view that?

[2:01:05] MURRAY: In some ways it followed pretty much the same trajectory. Way back in nineteen ninety two, or three it was, I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called “Becoming a White Underclass,” and I was simply tracking the growth in a non-marital births among white working-class people, and I said to myself, along with Pat Moynihan who said it better and first, that if you have communities in which large numbers of young men are growing to adulthood without a male figure, you asked for and get chaos. And I assume that what had happened in the black community when non-marital births, uh, kept on going up is going to happen in the white community. So in that sense they follow pretty much a predictable trajectory.

In the 1980’s, the face of poverty was black and addicted to drugs. Now, it’s white and addicted to drugs. Changing the race of those impoverished may have changed Murray’s views of poverty.

We dug into a contradiction Murray held, and found bigotry hiding underneath. This is no coincidence, persistent contradictions in your worldview are fertile ground for bigotry. All the atheists in the crowd know this.

To evade the charge of bigotry, you need to do more than say that you sincerely believe that the Bible is against gay marriage. You need to explain why you take the clobber verses as something important and relevant to today, while the statements like “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none,” aren’t.

There are arguments against taking the missional verses and the poverty verses and trying them to apply them today. Of course, many of those arguments could be turned against the clobber verses as well. Can it be shown that there is a consistent means of interpretation that would lead to the clobber verses being taken literally while the charity verses should be basically ignored?

Or think of it this way: would the hypothetical “man from Mars” who was innocent of Christianity and the culture wars really look at the Bible and come away saying, “Wow, we’ve really got to do something to stop gay marriage”?

Think about how this looks from the outside. The parts of the Bible that you believe apply today are the ones that require other people to make sacrifices. The parts of the Bible that would require YOU to make big sacrifices are not considered relevant. Look at it this way, and you’ll see why “bigot” is one of the nicer things you could be called.

Contradictions allow you to pick and choose which rules you follow, allowing you to benefit while others fall into harm. It also provides a great shield against criticism.

[59:06] MURRAY: Dick and I, our- our crime in the book was to have a single, solitary paragraph that said – after talking about the patterns that I’m about to describe – “if we’ve convinced you that either the environmental or the genetic explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we haven’t done a good enough job presenting the evidence for one side of the other. It seems to us highly likely that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences.” And we went no farther than that. There is an asymmetry between saying “probably genes have some involvement” and the assertion that it’s entirely environmental and that’s what the, that’s the assertion that is being made. If you’re going to be upset at “The Bell Curve,” you are obligated to defend the proposition that the black/white difference in IQ scores is 100% environmental, and that’s a very tough measure.

Hit Murray with the charge that he’s promoting genetic determinism, and he’ll point to that paragraph in “The Bell Curve” and say you’re straw-personing his views. Argue that intelligence is primarily driven by environment and he’ll either point to the hundreds of pages and dozens of charts that he says demonstrates a genetic link that’s much stronger than environment, or he’ll equivocate between “primarily driven by environment” and “100% environmental.” Nor is this an isolated incident. Remember his bit about “large numbers of young men are growing to adulthood without a male figure, you asked for and get chaos?”

[40:23] MURRAY: … the thing about the non-shared environment is it’s not susceptible to systematic manipulation. It’s … idiosyncratic. It’s non-systematic … there are no obvious ways that you can deal with the non-shared environment, in the way that you could say “Oh, we can improve the schools, we can teach better parenting practices, we can provide more money for – …” [those] all fall into the category of manipulating the shared environment and when it comes to personality, as you just indicated, it’s 50/50 [for genes and environment] but almost all that 50 is non-shared.

[41:02] HARRIS: Yeah, which seems to leave parents impressively off the hook for … how their kids turn out.

[41:10] MURRAY: Although it is true that parents – and I’m a father of four – uh, we resist that. … and with the non-shared environment and the small role left for parenting, I will say it flat out: I read [the research of Judith Rich Harris] with *the* most skeptical possible eye. I was looking for holes in it, assiduously. …

[41:57] MURRAY: … the book was very sound, it was very rigorously done, and … at this point I don’t know of anybody who’s familiar with literature, who thinks there’s that much of a role left of the kind of parents thought they had in shaping their children.

[42:15] HARRIS: Right, well I’m not gonna stop trying, I think, it’s [a] very hard illusion to cut through… as I read Harry Potter tonight to my eldest daughter.

[42:23] MURRAY: … You know that, but I think that it’s good to reflect on that: reading Harry Potter to your eldest daughter is a good in itself.

[42:32] HARRIS: Yeah.

[42:35] MURRAY: And the fact that she behaves differently 20 years from now is not the point.

[42:38] HARRIS: No, exactly, and it is an intrinsic good, and it’s for my own pleasure that I do it largely at this point.

Murray also thinks that nothing a parent will do will change their child’s development. His ability to flip between both sides of a contradiction is Olympic.

[43:12] HARRIS: That’s the one thing that it just occurred to me people should also understand is that, in addition to the fact that IQ doesn’t explain everything about a person’s success in life and … their intellectual abilities, the fact that a trait is genetically transmitted in individuals does not mean that all the differences between groups, or really even any of the differences between groups in that trait, are also genetic in origin, right?

[43:41] MURRAY: Critically important, critically important point.

[43:42] HARRIS: Yeah, so the jury can still be out on this topic, and we’ll talk about that, but to give a clear example: so if you have a population of people that is being systematically malnourished – now they might have genes to be as tall as the Dutch, but they won’t be because they’re not getting enough nourishment. And, in the case that they don’t become as tall as the Dutch, it will be entirely due to their environment and yet we know that height is among the most heritable things we’ve got – it’s also like 60 to 80 percent predicted by a person’s genes.

[44:15] MURRAY: Right. Uh, the comparison we use in the book … is that, you take a handful of genetically identical seed-corn, and divide it into two parts, and plant one of those parts in Iowa and the other part in the Mojave Desert, you’re going to get way different results. Has nothing whatsoever to do with the genetic content of the corn.

It’s no wonder that when Harris asks him if anything discovered since publication has changed his claims, his response was no. As he inhabits both side of a contradiction, nothing could falsify his views.

Contradictions are also a way to change your views without acknowledging you did. Consider this small bit of trivia Murray throws out (emphasis mine):

[1:40:53] HARRIS: If my life depended on it, I could not find another person [besides Christopher Hitchens] who smoked cigarettes in my contact list, you know, and let’s say there’s a thousand people in there, right?

[1:41:04] MURRAY:  Hmm mm-hmm.

[1:41:05] HARRIS: That’s an amazing fact in a society where something like 30% of people smoke cigarettes.

[1:41:12] MURRAY: That’s a wonderful illustration of how isolated [we are within our classes]… because, in my case, I do know people who smoke cigarettes but that’s only because I go play poker at Charleston West Virginia casino and there, about 30% of the guys I played poker with smoked. But that’s ok. In terms of [the] American Enterprise Institute, where I work, [I] don’t know anybody who smokes there, I don’t… social circles, no.

If you had a long memory, that small tidbit packs quite a punch.

Let’s begin by referring to the basic objectives of the program:

  1. To show that the basic social cost changes are bad economics.
  2. To illustrate how smoking benefits society and its members.
  3. To show that anti-smoking groups, who are promoting the social cost issue, have self-serving ends, and are not representative of the general society.

In short, we took as our goals a defense which would undermine the concepts of the social cost issue, and an offense which would stress the social benefits of smoking and freedom to smoke.

In 1980, the American Enterprise Institute was preparing reports and training videos that argued smoking is a net benefit to society. Among other things, worker productivity was better when people took regular smoke breaks, and restrictions on cigarettes harm personal liberty.

In 2017, the number of smokers at the American Enterprise Institute is far less than in the general population. If you value being free of contradictions, a reversal like this should cause you some tough introspection about who you allow into your think-tank. If you don’t, no introspection is necessary. There’s no need to criticize yourself, no need to submit yourself to annoying audits, you can just carry on being awesome.

Like Sam Harris. Emphasis mine.

[1:39] HARRIS: Human intelligence itself is a taboo topic; people don’t want to hear that intelligence is a real thing, and that some people have more of it than others. They don’t want to hear that IQ tests really measure it. They don’t want to hear that differences in IQ matter because they’re highly predictive of differential success in life, and not just for things like educational attainment and wealth, but for things like out-of-wedlock birth and mortality. People don’t want to hear that a person’s intelligence is in large measure due to his or her genes, and there seems to be very little we can do environmentally to increase a person’s intelligence, even in childhood. It’s not that the environment doesn’t matter, but genes appear to be 50 to 80 percent of the story. People don’t want to hear this, and they certainly don’t want to hear that average IQ differs across races and ethnic groups. Now, for better or worse, these are all facts.

[5:32] HARRIS: Whatever the difference in average IQ is across groups, you know nothing about a person’s intelligence on the basis of his or her skin color. That is just a fact. There is much more variance among individuals in any racial group than there is between groups.

If the mean IQs of people grouped by skin colour are different, then you must know something about a person’s intelligence by knowing their skin colour. Head over to R Psychologist’s illustration of Cohen’s d and keep a close eye on the “probability of superiority.” For instance, when d = 0.1, the fine print tells me “there is a 53 % chance that a person picked at random from the treatment group will have a higher score than a person picked at random from the control group (probability of superiority),” which means that if I encounter someone from group A I can state they have a higher intelligence than someone from group B with odds slightly better than chance. There’s only one situation where knowing someone’s skin colour tells me nothing about their intelligence, and that’s when the mean IQs of both groups are equal.

You could counter “so what, that 53% chance is so small as to be no different than 50/50,” and I’d agree with you. But if Murray demonstrated group differences of the same magnitude, his conclusion should not have been “IQ differs between races,” it should have been “IQ is effectively equal across racial lines.” By taking this counter, you’ve abandoned the ability to say mean IQ varies across groups. “Average IQ differs across races” and “skin colour conveys information about IQ” are equivalent statements, so Sam Harris is contradicting himself.

Contradictions are a chronic problem for him. It should come as no surprise that Sam Harris is always right, and that entire websites are wrong.

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions. […]

Whenever I respond to unscrupulous attacks on my work, I inevitably hear from hundreds of smart, supportive readers who say that I needn’t have bothered. In fact, many write to say that any response is counterproductive, because it only draws more attention to the original attack and sullies me by association. These readers think that I should be above caring about, or even noticing, treatment of this kind. Perhaps. I actually do take this line, sometimes for months or years, if for no other reason than that it allows me to get on with more interesting work. But there are now whole websites—Salon, The Guardian, Alternet, etc.—that seem to have made it a policy to maliciously distort my views.

Disagreement is due to misunderstanding, not genuine error. Ergo, he cannot be a bigot.

This, then, is a strong second reason to examine yourself for contradictions. Don’t just do it to stay in line with reality, do it to help rid yourself of bigotry against your fellow person.

Belling Sam Harris

I wrote off Sam Harris long ago, and currently ignore him as best as I can. Still, this seems worth the exception.

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Charles Murray about the controversy over his book The Bell Curve, the validity and significance of IQ as a measure of intelligence, the problem of social stratification, the rise of Trump, universal basic income, and other topics.

For those unaware, Charles Murray co-wrote The Bell Curve, which carried this explosive claim among others:

There is a mean difference in black and white scores on mental tests, historically about one standard deviation in magnitude on IQ tests (IQ tests are normed so that the mean is 100 points and the standard deviation is 15). This difference is not the result of test bias, but reflects differences in cognitive functioning. The predictive validity of IQ scores for educational and socioeconomic outcomes is about the same for blacks and whites.

Alas, it was written with dubious sources, based on the notion that intelligence is genetically determined (I touch on the general case here), supported by dubious organizations, and even how it was published was designed to frustrate critics.

The Bell Curve was not circulated in galleys before publication. The effect was, first, to increase the allure of the book (There must be something really hot in there!), and second, to ensure that no one inclined to be skeptical would be able to weigh in at the moment of publication. The people who had galley proofs were handpicked by Murray and his publisher. The ordinary routine of neutral reviewers having a month or two to go over the book with care did not occur. Another handpicked group was flown to Washington at the expense of the American Enterprise Institute and given a weekend-long personal briefing on the book’s contents by Murray himself (Herrnstein had died very recently), just before publication. The result was what you’d expect: The first wave of publicity was either credulous or angry, but short on evidence, because nobody had had time to digest and evaluate the book carefully. [..]

The debate on publication day was conducted in the mass media by people with no independent ability to assess the book. Over the next few months, intellectuals took some pretty good shots at it in smaller publications like the New Republic and the New York Review of Books. It wasn’t until late 1995 that the most damaging criticism of The Bell Curve began to appear, in tiny academic journals.

Entire books have been written debunking The Bell Curve.

Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray argued that intelligence largely determined how well people did in life. The rich were rich mostly because they were smart, the poor were poor mostly because they were dumb, and middle Americans were middling mostly because they were of middling intelligence. This had long been so but was becoming even more so as new and inescapable economic forces such as global trade and technological development made intelligence more important than ever before. In a more open economy, people rose or sank to the levels largely fixed by their intelligence. Moreover, because intelligence is essentially innate, this expanding inequality cannot be stopped. It might be slowed by government meddling, but only by also doing injustice to the talented and damaging the national economy. Inequality is in these ways “natural,” inevitable, and probably desirable. [..]

Yet decades of social science research, and further research we will present here, dispute the claim that inequality is natural and increasing inequality is fated. Individual intelligence does not satisfactorily explain who ends up in which class; nor does it explain why people in different classes have such disparate standards of living.

So why was Sam Harris resurrecting this dead horse?

[9:35] HARRIS: The purpose of the podcast was to set the record straight, because I find the dishonesty and hypocrisy and moral cowardice of Murray’s critics shocking, and the fact that I was taken in by this defamation of him and effectively became part of a silent mob that was just watching what amounted to a modern witch-burning, that was intolerable to me. So it is with real pleasure (and some trepidation) that I bring you a very controversial conversation, on points about which there is virtually no scientific controversy. […]

[11:30] HARRIS: I’ve- since, in the intervening years, ventured into my own controversial areas as a speaker and writer and experienced many hysterical attacks against me in my work, and so I started thinking about your case a little – again without ever having read you – and I began to suspect that you were one of the canaries in the coal mine that I never recognized as such, and seeing your recent treatment at Middlebury, which many of our listeners will have heard about, where you were prevented from speaking and and your host was was physically attacked – I now believe that you are perhaps the intellectual who was treated most unfairly in my lifetime, and it’s, it’s just an amazing thing to be so slow to realize that. And at first I’d just like to apologize to you for having been so lazy and having been taken in to the degree that I was by the rumors and lies that have surrounded your work for the last 20 years, and so I just want to end- I want to thank you doubly for coming on the podcast to talk about these things.


Tell me, Robert Plomin, is intelligence hereditary?

Genes make a substantial difference, but they are not the whole story. They account for about half of all differences in intelligence among people, so half is not caused by genetic differences, which provides strong support for the importance of environmental factors. This estimate of 50 percent reflects the results of twin, adoption and DNA studies.

It’s deja-vu all over again; there are good reason to think twin studies overstate inheritance, and adoption studies are not as environmentally pure as they’re thought to be. As for DNA studies,

The literature on candidate gene associations is full of reports that have not stood up to rigorous replication. This is the case both for straightforward main effects and for candidate gene-by-environment interactions (Duncan and Keller 2011). As a result, the psychiatric and behavior genetics literature has become confusing and it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge. The reasons for this are complex, but include the likelihood that effect sizes of individual polymorphisms are small, that studies have therefore been underpowered, and that multiple hypotheses and methods of analysis have been explored; these conditions will result in an unacceptably high proportion of false findings (Ioannidis 2005).[1]

Ah yes, the replication crisis. I know it well. Genetic studies can easily have millions of datapoints yet only draw from less than a few hundred volunteers, and are particularly ripe for false correlations. But according to Angry White Men, Sam Harris was ignorant of all of the above.

Harris didn’t bat an eye when Murray accused critics of race realism — or human biodiversity, or whatever the alt-right calls its racist junk science nowadays — of elitism and compared them to modern-day flat Earthers. As Murray put it: “But at this point, Sam, it’s almost as if we are in the opposite position of conventional wisdom versus elite wisdom that we were, say, when Columbus was gonna sail to America. … It’s the elites who are under the impression that, oh, IQ tests only measure what IQ tests measure, and nobody really is able to define intelligence, and this and that, they’re culturally biased, on and on and on and on. And all of these things are the equivalent of saying the Earth is flat.

By now, I’m convinced he doesn’t want to hear the counter-arguments. He’d rather pretend to be rational and scientific, because then he can remain bigoted without fear of challenge.

[1] Hewitt, John K. “Editorial Policy on Candidate Gene Association and Candidate Gene-by-Environment Interaction Studies of Complex Traits.” Behavior Genetics 42, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 1–2. doi:10.1007/s10519-011-9504-z.

The Sinmantyx Posts

It started off somewhere around here.

Richard Dawkins: you’re wrong. Deeply, profoundly, fundamentally wrong. Your understanding of feminism is flawed and misinformed, and further, you keep returning to the same poisonous wells of misinformation. It’s like watching creationists try to rebut evolution by citing Kent Hovind; do you not understand that that is not a trustworthy source? It’s a form of motivated reasoning, in which you keep returning to those who provide the comfortable reassurances that your biases are actually correct, rather than challenging yourself with new perspectives.

Just for your information, Christina Hoff Sommers is an anti-feminist. She’s spent her entire career inventing false distinctions and spinning fairy tales about feminism.

In the span of a month, big names in the atheo-skeptic community like Dawkins, Sam Harris, and DJ Groethe lined up to endorse Christina Hoff Sommers as a feminist. At about the same time, Ayaan Hirsi Ali declared “We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women,” and the same people cheered her on. Acquaintances of mine who should have known better defended Sommers and Ali, and I found myself arguing against brick walls. Enraged that I was surrounded by the blind, I did what I always do in these situations.

I researched. I wrote.

The results were modest and never widely circulated, but it caught the eye of M.A. Melby. She offered me a guest post at her blog, and I promised to append more to what I had written. And append I did.

After that was said and done, Melby left me a set of keys and said I could get comfortable. I was officially a co-blogger. I started pumping out blog posts, and never really looked back. Well, almost; out of all that I wrote over at Sinmantyx, that first Christina Hoff Sommers piece has consistently been the most popular.
I’ll do the same thing here as with my Sinmantyx statistics posts, keep the originals intact and in-place and create an archive over here.