As it happens, most of the events upon which this book was based either happened in my recent lifetime, or are matters of well known historical events, such as Chamberlin meeting Hitler. Thus, I do have a perspective on these issues. All in all, this is a hard book to summarize. In part because it is basically clinical psychology, which is a soft science at the best of times.
The book wraps its arguments around several well known cases and/or events. It opens and closes with Sandra Bland, the young black woman who was pulled over in Texas (she drove down from Chicago) for "failing to signal", ended up being manhandled out of the car, cuffed and arrested, and then hung herself in the jail.
The first case described in detail was about a high ranking CIA official who turned out to be a Cuban spy. The second was about Chamberlin meeting Hitler. The basic message is that we suck at spotting liars. Ample evidence is provided that shows that a computer evaluating parole issues from raw data scores much better results than a judge who can look the perp in eye and judge their demeanor. This does not surprise me one bit. As a life long poker player, I have determined that I suck at it too, and I would be better off simply following the odds.
We rely way to much on our ability to tell when we are being lied to. And once we make the decision to trust, we are easier marks because we will defend the indefensible far too long. We are too trusting, and we "default to the truth". I think a philosopher would call this the Principle of Charity. It is, as the book acknowledges, both a very risky thing to do; and very necessary as it is the grease that keeps society alive.
In this vein, we tend to think of others as simple and ourselves as nuanced. E.g.: A cop might see a nuanced response to stimulus from you as proof you prevaricating. This is exactly what happened to the Amanda Knox (another case study in the book). She reacted in a way the prosecutors saw as irrational, and therefore she was guilty despite the fact the physical evidence pointed elsewhere. This went all the way to the Italian Supreme Court before it finally got tossed for the rubbish it was. What reaction set the cops off? Basically, she was cool, clam, collected and quite. If she had cried like a girl, or some such, she would have walked.
The book calls these encounters as two "mismatched" people. We might say "talking or acting at cross purposes".
Another case with which I was very familiar was Harry Markopolus and his take down of Bernie Madoff. The SEC "defaulted to truth" and believed Madoff. Markopolis is unusual in that he does not "default to truth", but he has paid price: paranoia.
"Transparency is a myth." This line is repeated and emphasized and I agree with it. Transparency is the idea that if we can see what is going on on the outside, we can tell what is going on on the inside. On TV, we see people say and do things, and their faces and their words match exactly. This is called emoting. In real life it is rare. We do not wear ourselves on our sleeves. We are not transparent. But we tend to think others are.
Another interesting point is that the facial expressions and other tells that we think we universal, are not. A smile is not just a smile. It depends on the culture you are in.
The book examines the Sandusky pedophile case; a well know fraternity sexual assault involving loads of alcohol; the KSM Guantanamo Bay torture story and several others. It also delves into policing a fair bit. The bottom line of the policing analysis is that cops are incredibly reluctant to give up their supposed god-like ability to see into men's souls and pick the good guys and the bad guys. When science gets involved, and it shows them incapable of doing what they think they can do, then and only then, do they-ever-so-slowly recognize the truth.
Which leads into the study of the opening story about Sandra Bland.
I read this book to the end because it did keep my interest. My overall feeling is that it is far to broad, and overly simplistic in its analysis. I am always skeptical when people are broken down into groups that too broad to useful. The book does not really give advice on what to do about it.
Chamberlain was played by Hitler, who was really good at it. For some people, lying is their first option, and they do so with remarkable ease. Hitler, Bernie Madoff and my ex wife have these traits in common. I "defaulted to truth" with her as I do with most people. But I am skeptic and would love to know how I can tell if me and my listener are "mismatched".
Other cases are also explainable without appealing the "mismatched" perspective of the book. Bernie's success turned on greed and he was an expert con man. And Sandra Bland can be explained by bad policing policy (pull over everyone you can, give out as many tickets as you can, dig for a reason to doubt "them", abuse your authority), and bigoted, poorly trained cops. IMHO, Bland was pulled over for being black. When she got uppity, the cop lost his sense of perspective, she died, and, thankfully, the asshole cop was fired.
The ideas in this book are useful, but I see very little in the way of practical advice other than the skeptics mantra: Doubt is the handmaiden of truth, and above all else, doubt yourself and your ability to detect lies.
Chamberlain had the facts… he was just a pussy who did not doubt his ability to read people.
George HW Bush made the same mistake with Putin (remember "I looked in his eyes?") and Donald Trump, the stupidest person to ever occupy the White House, is doing it again.
The pages of this book are small and the leading loose, so this book is fast read and I read it. Perhaps this is my disdain for clinical psychology (which has done a lot of damage over the years), but I cannot recommend this book unless you are a student of the subject.
When pondering on disaster relief, it is helpful to know what natural disasters we should prepare for.
War is hardly natural, and we seem to always be on the brink of it somewhere in the world, so I ignore it.
There are two major issues to deal with: How big might it be, and what are the chances of it happening. A crude break down of “how big” is Local vs Global.
Here is the list off the top of my head (Disaster; Size, Probability):
Only “Pandemic” stands out. It has the potential to go global; AND since it has happened in the past (Spanish Flu, Swine Flu, SARS), and, due largely to air travel, is more likely to happen in the future… the probability is high.
Covid 19 was not unlucky, it was inevitable. A moments thought, which is about as much as I put into this piece, will convince anyone that the smart money should go to prevention of pandemics.
Therefore, ergo, ipso facto, and thus, Donald Trump disbanded the pandemic teams, cut the budget for the CDC and tried to build a wall to keep out Mexicans. He has turned recklessness into an art form. Of course, he did not create C19, but he has, and is, making it much worse.
I always want to end on a happy thought. This can be fixed.
1) Reduce the number of people on the planet by 3 billion at least;
2) Reduce the number of Donald Trumps by one (ideally, remove the whole family tree); and
3) Stop treating every square inch of the planet as a tourist destination.
The following paper was written by my friend Dale Beyerstein for the journal Humanist Perspectives ( https://www.humanistperspectives.org/issue211/index.html ) .
People who debunk false or nonsensical claims sometimes tend to specialise – e.g., concentrating on pseudohistorical claims such as the 9/11 conspiracy, paranormal claims such as those involving extraterrestrial UFOs, alternative health claims such as the canard that MMR vaccine causes autism, or the claims of particular religions. This is understandable, because the one thing that unites modern day critics of these intellectual travesties is their commitment to thoroughness in researching and analysing claims before accepting them or debunking them. Of course, this is not to say that skeptics have always is lived up this ideal. But when one skeptic does not, fellow skeptics are generally just as critical of that lapse as they are towards any paranormalist.
But despite this tendency towards depth of knowledge, many skeptics also show a wide breadth. Many are quite well versed in what’s wrong with many different pseudosciences – from different versions of alternative or complementary medicine to astrology to UFOs. In addition, some are well versed in other areas as well, such as religion, politics, or anything you may wish to discuss around the watercooler. As well as being able to discuss these topics, they also can give a coherent account of scientific reasoning and critical thinking. Is this because these people are polymaths? Well, some are, but I think that the main reason has to with their curiosity.
This is not the way many people view skeptics. Many people see skeptics as, in the words of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew, “nattering nabobs of negativism.” This is because skeptics reject quite a few popularly held beliefs. But skeptics hold a number of beliefs, albeit provisionally. Sit down with a group of people that includes at least one skeptic, and you will find a genuine interest in ideas. But more important, you will hear a lot of “Why is that?”, “What’s the evidence for that?”, or “But what about…”. And they are curious, but they practise a special type of curiosity, which I shall call what I shall call guided curiosity.
What am I on about here? Well, everyone holds that curiosity is a good thing; but if you think about it, unbridled curiosity can actually inhibit understanding. Take conspiracy theorists, for example. Being curious about how every girder split from its mountings in the World Trade Center on 9/11 wouldn’t seem to be a bad thing. However, when you think about it, it’s obvious that such detailed knowledge about an event such as this just isn’t going to be available. Who would be wandering around the buildings as they were collapsing to gather it? And if anyone did, would they have survived long enough to tell us? And it begs the question about a conspiracy to assume that anyone was figuring these things out in advance in order to plan the attack. It’s obvious that flying a plane into an iconic building will cause chaos; the perpetrators didn’t need to know exactly how much or exactly how it would happen. So why should we be worried that we lack that information? But this lack of information is what starts some conspiracy theorists down the rabbit hole. Why don’t we have it? Who is hiding it? Why? Religious believers fall into the same trap. What happened before the Big Bang? Obviously, since we have no answer at present, we must conclude that there must have been a God to cause it. Asking questions that admit of no answers, or improperly formulating them in a way that prevents a sensible answer to be given, is a surefire method for generating false, and sometimes ridiculous beliefs. So there needs to be limits on our curiosity.
I’m not suggesting limiting the range of one’s curiosity to what is ‘practical’, or of immediate interest, or to easily answerable questions. Rather, the point of limiting curiosity is this: The wider one draws the curiosity net, the more information one receives, everything else being equal. But on the other hand, one will pick up more flotsam and jetsam as well. So the point is to maximise knowledge, or at least justified beliefs while minimising the amount of nonsense or outright falsehood.
The method which does the most to achieve this is best stated by the eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume: “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence” (Hume 1955). Let’s refer to this as Hume’s Rule. Sexism aside, the rule is stating that the stronger the evidence, the more confidence one should have in one’s belief, and the opposite holds as well. Less evidence should result in a weaker belief. And a corollary of this principle is that one should not have a belief at all until one has examined the evidence. Following Hume’s Rule is the basis of guided curiosity. In what follows I shall give some examples from religion and paranormal belief to show how guided curiosity keeps us from falling for nonsense.
The consequences for religious belief of Hume’s Rule are readily apparent. Very few religious believers, when pressed, will hold that the evidence for religious belief is very strong. This is where the argument typically takes a turn: to hold that there is, after all, an exception to Hume’s Rule, which applies only to religion. Religious belief is grounded on faith, not reason or evidence; and Hume’s Rule applies only to beliefs based on evidence. Faith is, of course, precisely belief in the absence of evidence, and is, according to the religionist, a virtue which not only elevates the religionist who possesses it, but shows the simple-mindedness and shallowness of thought and character of the atheist or agnostic who lacks it, and instead asks for evidence.
By the time the atheist has defended her character from the above charge, there probably won’t be much time left to return to the question why faith is only appropriate for religious claims. After all, faith has a companion in mundane affairs, gullibility – which is also belief in the absence of evidence – which is decidedly not considered a virtue in those who invested in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. But if you do find the time to pursue this point with the religionist, it’s very unlikely that you will receive an informed answer. Instead you will probably be told that this comparison is insulting, and the debate will end there. Perhaps it is; but the fact that a person may be insulted by being told that he has a long nose doesn’t by itself prove that the claim is wrong.
Hume’s Rule has another important implication for religion, atheism and agnosticism. To see it, let’s introduce just a bit of probability theory. Since evidence is what makes a belief probable, it follows that evidence which establishes the probability of a claim to be less than .5 (or 50%) should be disbelieved. This is because the probability of belief p and the belief in the denial of p (Not-p) must add up to 1. The sentence “It will either rain or not rain on my house today” has a probability of 1, or, in other words, expresses a certainty (the Law of the Excluded Middle in logic). According to the app on my phone, the probability that it will rain here today is 40%, or .4. When a belief p has a probability of .4, its denial, Not-p has a probability of .6 (1 minus .4). So I should believe that it won’t rain today – but, applying Hume’s Rule, my belief shouldn’t be very strong, and I should be prepared to change it. Ditto my belief in a god, except that I assign the probability of there being a god to be much lower.
A claim with a probability of exactly .5 should be neither believed nor disbelieved. Thus, agnostics must be holding that the evidence for belief in a god is just as compelling as that for disbelief, or, in other words, a probability of .5 for each. A probability of less than .5 is grounds for atheism, for the reason just given. But most people who call themselves agnostics do not really believe that the probabilities are equal. They concede that the probability that there is a god is less than that of the belief that there isn’t one, but they stick to the claim that we cannot be sure that a god doesn’t exist. But this is just to miss the point of one of the basic axioms of probability theory given above. It is important to remember that the denial of the existence of something does not require evidence that the probability of its existence is 0. Most agnostics have no difficulty in dismissing the existence of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, despite not having checked every claim of where Christmas presents or quarters under the pillow came from, and therefore not being in the position to say that the probability of their existence is 0.
It might be thought that the agnostic has an answer to this. Given that God is supposed to be transcendent, completely outside the realm of human experience, no evidence is possible for belief or disbelief, because there is no evidence at all. With no evidence leading us in either direction, suspension of belief (agnosticism) seems to be the only reasonable position. But this rebuttal isn’t conclusive.
The best reason for suspending belief is that we are awaiting further evidence that might require us to change our minds. Now let’s return to the agnostic’s strong point that we are considering the transcendent; for which no empirical evidence can be found. If this is so, then there would be no reason to suspend belief pending further evidence – the supposition is just that this won’t be any. Now, add this to another corollary of Hume’s Law: The onus of proof is always on the person who puts the idea forward. When the claim is presented without any evidence to support it, Hume’s wise person would disbelieve it. This is because there are always more ways of getting something wrong than of getting it right. Take for example, guessing the day of the week on which a total stranger was born. If you guess Thursday, you have one chance in seven of getting it right, and the smart money will be on you getting it wrong. So in the debate between the atheist and agnostic where both agree that there is no evidence available about the transcendent (literally the world for which no empirical evidence possible), the onus of proof is on the believer, and the believer has none. Therefore, the claim should be disbelieved, and the atheist wins by default. In addition, remember that the theist claims to believe in some god or another; one with certain properties (even if she admits that there is no empirical evidence for those properties. But now go to a second theist, who believes in another god, with somewhat different properties). Both of these theists will be implicitly recognising the onus of proof, since they apply it to each other: the first will deny the second’s god on the grounds that the evidence is insufficient, and vice versa. Repeat this a few thousands of times, and we have the point made so well by Richard Dawkins (2006): “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
Pseudoscientific claims fudge the onus of proof too. In fact, they do so with such regularity that we might consider this error as one of the defining characteristics of pseudoscience. Take conspiracy theories for example. Why is all the evidence about how “they” killed Kennedy, or placed the explosives in the World Trade Center towers to supplement the work of the airplanes, completely hidden? That it is missing is just the evidence that skeptics are supposedly too dense to see; its absence shows how clever and powerful “they” are that “they” can hide it so well. You can diagnose the informal fallacy involved here as failing to respect the onus of proof; or you can equally well call it begging the question (appealing to the very fact you are attempting to prove as evidence for the very fact that you are attempting to prove). Or you can call it the argument from ignorance, which involves saying that because you cannot disprove my claim, I must be right – whether or not I have presented any evidence. But the main point is that they have managed the impossible feat of creating something out of nothing. This, by the way, is the thing about informal fallacies: They are like cockroaches, in that if you spot one you can be assured that there are a bunch more lurking where you can’t see them.
A corollary of Hume’s Rule is the requirement that we search for not only the evidence that supports our belief, but for that which goes against it. Looking only for the supporting evidence is confirmation bias. The religious, conspiracy theory and the paranormal believer on the other hand are notorious for this cherry picking. The Christian apologist, searching for miracles, concentrates on the one little baby that survives the plane crash, but ignores the 200 others who perish. The believer in her own telepathic powers zeroes in on the few times she ‘knows’ what her friend will say next, while remaining blindly oblivious to the many more times she guesses wrong. The 9/11 conspiracy theorist pays attention to any problem, no matter how insignificant, in the received account of how the towers collapsed, while not being troubled at all by the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever of anyone planting any explosives in the buildings beforehand. The believer in any sort of complementary or alternative medicine will keep track of every cold that cures itself after taking echinacea while ignoring the ones that cure themselves without taking it. The graphologist (handwriting analyst) keeps track of every case where a handwriting sample shows large loops on the descenders of fs, gs, js, ps, qs and zs and its writer has a better than average libido, and ignores those with large libidos but wih handwriting characteristics that cannot be described this way, as well as those whose handwriting has thin or small descenders but who are nevertheless quite libidinous. (If you think I’m making this up, check Paterson, (1980:11), and don’t ask how she measured libidinousness.)
Let us look at one more rule of guided curiosity. It’s not only important to pick up new information; it’s also essential to compare that new information with what you already have. Is the new information consistent with what you already believe? If not, you have work to do to reconcile these beliefs. Perhaps you will have to reject the new information; perhaps you will have to modify it to a certain degree. Or maybe you will have to do one or both of these things to your present beliefs to achieve a fit. This shuffling process will always be with us, as long as we are gaining new information. (For a better account of this process, see Quine and Ullian (1978).) If the new observation is consistent with our old beliefs, then you can ask how it enhances your understanding of what you already know. What implications are there from the new belief to other hitherto unsuspected claims? Do these implications suggest further claims which can be tested? An example will show what I mean. Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a healing modality which involves practitioners manipulating the “energy field” which surrounds our body without actually touching the body itself. (This has led me to describe TT as “neither therapy nor touch.”} One shape of the field is healthy, others are making us sick. The crucial thing to note about TT theory is that practitioners work on just this energy field, not on the body underneath it. So, let’s take these claims at face value. If the healers can manipulate the field, they must be able to discern its presence somehow without simply inferring it from the presence of a body. But if we can perceive its presence through sight, smell, touch or hearing (probably taste isn’t an option here), then everyone should be aware of it. But we are not. Only TT practitioners are. Well, that must be because there’s another sensory mechanism which not all of us have – only those who would be good therapeutic touch practitioners have it. The inference from the claim that the energy field can be worked with to the claim that practitioners must be able to recognise its presence is not one that is often made by TT believers. But it was made by a nine-year-old from Loveland, Colorado, Emily Rosa. And though no TT practitioner had thought of doing this, the young Ms Rosa thought about how to test this claim. For her science project she set up a solid barrier dividing a table in half. The barrier left enough room for a TT practitioner to pass her hand underneath, just high enough for the experimenter to have her hand underneath it, or not. Whether it was or was not was determined by a randomizer. So, if the TT practitioner could do better than chance, on a test designed to rule out the other sensory modalities, this would be evidence of the energy field that some gifted people could detect. Needless to say, Ms Rosa’s experiment did not confirm this hypothesis, but it did lead to her being the youngest person ever to be published in a top rank medical journal (Rosa , et al, 1998).
There is another important implication of Hume’s Rule. He tells us that belief should be based on the preponderance of evidence, or on the probability that evidence confers on the belief. But the evidence for or against the belief is continually shifting as more of it becomes available. Along with this, the probabilities will fluctuate. Remembering this is how the skeptic following guided curiosity avoids dogmatism even when she has a fairly strongly held belief. She is always ready to modify her beliefs, and in some cases switch from belief to disbelief or vice versa as the new evidence comes in. And it is also why a skeptic should not only state her beliefs, but state them along with the degree of confidence – her estimate of the likelihood that more evidence will require her to revise or abandon those beliefs. Or better yet, always be prepared to state the belief along with the evidence for it. With these qualifications, there is no harm in provisionally stating a belief with a probability not much higher than .5, or disbelief even when the probability is a bit less than .5. Taking a belief seriously confers the benefit that, once a belief is stated along with the evidence for it, it can be examined, and implications drawn from it, which in turn can lead to new understanding. However, dismissing it because the probability is not much above .5 forgoes this possibility. The important thing to remember about dogmatism is that what is wrong with it is not the forceful stating of the belief, but concentrating on the belief rather than the evidence for it, or the unwillingness to budge from it when new evidence comes to light.
Some skeptics will be disappointed that I have gone all this way without mentioning one of the cardinal principles of skepticism, that there are times – quite a lot of them, actually – when you shouldn’t express a belief at all; you should straightforwardly admit that you do not know. There are two advantages to this admission. The first is that it serves as a stimulus to curiosity: having admitted that you don’t already know gives you a good reason to try to find out. Second, it prevents you from misleading others (and yourself). When they think you know and you don’t, they might follow you when they shouldn’t.
There are two situations where one should say that one doesn’t know. The first is when this expression is simply a substitute for “I don’t care.” This expression is tantamount to admitting that you have very little evidence and you are not prepared to gather any more. For example, just by reading the headlines and deciding that I have no interest in the articles they head, I couldn’t help finding out that Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his wife, Kate Middleton, recently had a son, whom they named “Archie”. But his birthweight? I don’t know; meaning …. After all, one cannot expect to have time to look into everything; one must prioritise.
The second situation is where the evidence you have at present is about equally compelling for belief and disbelief, and it is possible to get more. In this situation it makes sense to suspend belief and wait for further evidence. But there’s an important exception here: sometimes waiting isn’t a viable option; circumstances require an immediate response. Fortunately, these special cases are quite rare; so withholding judgement while awaiting more evidence is an available option, and a good one.
Otto von Neurath (1921) compared our belief system to a leaky ship at sea. We are continually replacing rotten planks with fresh ones, but never are we able to replace the whole bottom at once, given that we wish to remain afloat. Thus we will never have a perfect set of beliefs; there will always be some false ones in there that we haven’t found yet. The best we can hope for is a gradual improvement. To continue with his metaphor, when we find a particularly strong plank on the boat which doesn’t fit very well with the old ones already in place, going to the all the work to make it fit may result in a much less leaky boat overall. Similarly, encountering a new belief that is inconsistent with some old ones, but with a lot of evidence backing it up may require the modification of several of the old beliefs at once. But the result may be a more coherent belief system overall. But not a perfect one. Non-skeptics may find this disconcerting. They are like the sailors who aren’t in it for the pleasure, but just want to get somewhere – anywhere -- and who just want to go along for the ride. But the true skeptic enjoys the sailing for its own sake.
Dawkins, Richard 2006: The God Delusion.Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company.
Hume, David: “Of Miracles”, in Hume 1955, Indianapolis, The Bobbs-Merill Company Inc., An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Paterson, Jane 1980: Know Yourself Through Your Handwriting. Montreal, Readers Digest Assn.
Quine, W.v.O. Quine and J.S. Ullian, 1978: The Web of Belief. New York, Random House.
Rosa, L., E. Rosa, L. Sarner, S. Barrett 1998: "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch". Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol 279(13):1005–1010.
Von Neurath, Otto 1921: Anti-Spengler. Munich, G.D.W. Callwey
A few things you should know before reading this email from my aunt:
This is the story of me becoming an atheist.
In the evening our mother told us stories written by H.C. Andersen.
Among them was the story (The Tinderbox) about the soldier, a tinderbox and three big dogs. And on Sundays, I went to the Sunday school and heard stories about Jesus and his disciples.
And then, in school one day, the teacher rolled down a big map of Palestine and he said: This is where Jesus was walking with his disciples.
I was shocked.
Like I would be, if the teacher had taken us to a tree with a big hole in it and declared that:
Here was the tree, where soldier killed the witch, and got the tinderbox.
But I was living in the 1930’s, and opposite to now, people went to church, so I kept my opinion to myself, until one day I openly declared myself as a nonbeliever, no longer a member of the church (I saved taxes), and none of my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are members.
Churches in Denmark are empty mostly – only a few old people mostly women are sitting there, and some churches are used for other kinds of social events.
And I need no medicine
And remember: No herring on white bread! (no white food at all).
recently met my old friend Daniel Friedmann at a high school reunion. We were not close during high school, but certainly friendly. At the reunion, I discovered that Dan is Jewish, has written a book, and is, well… really Jewish in that he seems to buy every word of the first chapter of the bible. (Aside: I will refer to him as Dan because I know him. I mean do disrespect when I do so.) I did not finish the book, but I saw no acknowledgement of the fact that there are lots of origin stories -- indeed, there are thousands -- nor of the fact that they all make the same claim and cannot all be right. For Dan, the Jewish world view is correct.
It is interesting to me that Dan and I have both written books that are nearly exact opposites of each others. The guts of my book states that the guts of his describe reflect a world view that I, and all atheists, find illogical and repugnant.
In the preface, he says that the bible (or rather the Torah et al) "effectively" describes the world. I would disagree. The meaning of word "effectively" as he used it is a bit unclear. I would take it to mean that it "works", which is nonsense.
He then immediately asks the reader to put aside their personal beliefs and notice the alignment of biblical events and events in the development of the world from sciences point of view. But every argument he makes, including the alignment, depends on you believing him, the bible, and Kabbalism. Kabbalism (sometimes spelled with a "C") is where the "code" in the title comes from. Per the book, Hebrew letters are numbers too (who knew?) , and when properly understood, the numbers add up to something (I have no idea what).
Dan has a masters in Engineering Physics and rose to the top of Canada's premier space technology company MDA. He is very smart. In the opening passages of the book, he describes his inner conflict, during his fourth year at university, when he realized that science and the Jewish religion are not very compatible (this seems like a late revelation to me). So he set out to reconcile them.
This is a book is a quick, light read. I did not read it all. There is only so much of this stuff I can stand. Dan does some math and comes up with this: A Creation Day is 2.54 billion years; or 7,000 Divine Years. Obvious really. Using these and other figures, he creates a religious interpretation of the major development events of the universe. I did find one review of the book on line, and in it the author mentions that by Dan's numbers, Adam would have spent millions of years "naming things", a chore god gave him early on. I am not sure how he manages to name things that have yet to evolve or develop. Dan spends a little time explaining how Adam was not a man, but became one later?
Dan does quote one paleontologist, Stephen J Gould. Gould is a good source. Gould wrote a book about the overlap of science and religion (overlapping magisteria) that, as I recall, was not well received by his contemporaries. Gould is Jewish.
The stand-out debate of religion vs. science is the origin of mankind (Scopes etc). Dan describes both viewpoints, and then ignores the discord entirely. He sort of claims victory by saying that his biblical version of reality and the scientific version align after 6,000 years ago. This avoidance practice coupled with expectation bias and over-zealous pattern matching (see my book) seem pervasive in his book.
Dan generally gets his basic science right but often oversimplifies. For example, his calculations contain the time unit of days. But the day has not always been twenty four hours, a fact he overlooks. He leaves out completely why science is right. The whole history of intellectual and scientific philosophy, and the arduous centuries-long abandonment of religious "absolute truth", is absent. I think it is not relevant from his perspective… that of a fundamentalist.
I have never understood people who, like Dan, will bend themselves into logical pretzels rather than admit that what they were force-fed as a child might not be true. When numbers get involved, my skeptical hackles go up. Numerology is hokum. I am reminded of the BS that was spread about the pyramids. Take the height, divide by the base circumference, but take back two cubits for Mary, and you get pi! So aliens built the pyramids, and god wrote "codes" into literally every word he claims he wrote. It is amazing the things you can deduce when you start with the conclusion, and then reverse engineer the premises needed to make it so.
Dan even spends a little time talking about the "power" in the names of god… real power from what I can gather, but not enough to do work. Work is a concept that I know Dan understands.
I admire people who stick by their beliefs.
I admire even more those people who are brave enough to drop or modify a long-held or cherished belief when the evidence turns against it.
Dan seems also to miss one of the absolute corner stones of science: prediction. It seems to me that if any of what Dan believes is true, then hard predictions should flow from them. There have been innumerable times in history when the latest messiah claims that the rapture will be on such and such a date, and the believers sell all they have in anticipation. All those predictions failed.
Dan might argue that the alignments he has discovered with his math is a prediction or sorts. No… it is not.
The basic problems with Dan's conclusions are summed up neatly in a computing maxim: GIGO.
This was a very disappointing book. As a skeptic, all I could do was wonder at the tenacity of the journalists who were trying to find "Maria Duval", a legendary psychic who's name was used all over a large number of direct mail campaigns to suckers (old people and such) to elicit funds from them for "blessings" and stuff. Apparently, their research resulted in a CNN expose in 2016.
This is a serious issue, of course. My mother got taken for a few dollars simply because her memory was dodgy. We were lucky and stopped it early. One anecdote in the book speaks of an elderly woman who mailed her "application" in with her credit card paper-clipped to it. She attached a note to the effect of "Please: you fill it out and send me back the card".
They found Maria Duval, a little old lady who had sold her name off years ago and was now, for the most part, a typical victim of the scams she started, rather than the perp.
News flash: Scammers are adept at hiding their tracks, and there is a world-wide market place for "sucker lists" that they use to bleed the vulnerable dry. Knock me over with a feather!
The only good thing I can say about this book is that it is a fast read. No index. Few notes.
If you are curious about creationism and ID from a science perspective, this is a light quick read that will bring you up to date. Hafer reminds me of me. The odd bad joke; a serious load of contempt for IDers and their ilk; copious diagrams and white space use; several fun anecdotes; all make for a fast easy read.
This is a book about ID (Intelligent Design), the stupid idea that we, and everything else, was designed by a designer. Generally a god, and generally a Christian god (that is the stupid part). The basic premise of the book is this: If there is a designer, he or she should not quite their day jobs. If creationism is a pig, ID is a pig with lipstick. The "evidence" for design is called "irreducible complexity". The idea is that certain structures (like the eye) are irreducibly complex… if you take any part out, the whole structure fails. This, in turn creates probability arguments against evolution. This is not true… see below.
Creationism is religion. ID is creationism on the down low. In one famous legal case (Dover Area School District), IDers took a creationist text book and edited it, replacing "god" with "intelligent designer" everywhere. But they screwed up (in one case, "creator" became "cintelligent designer"); the judge saw through it; and they lost, bigly.
Figuring prominently in the book is The Discovery Institute, a Washington State group that does no research, has no labs, does no experiments, makes no predictions, states nothing in numbers, has never published a paper (OK… one, but the editor was bribed, and the paper withdrawn), and yet spews pseudoscience like a fire hose. The Discovery Institute wishes to discover nothing. It wishes to inject religion into your life and our society... by stealth. They demand equal time in text books simply because they think they deserve it. They shout about academic freedom where none exists (public schools instructors do not have any "academic freedom" whatsoever). They fight dirty by getting stealth pro-ID people on school boards, and when they get a majority, they pounce, changing curricula. The "institute" created the famous "Wedge" document that ultimately leaked, exposing them for the conniving frauds they are. The "institute" is following in the footsteps of Stalin, the last guy who tried to quash evolution. That resulted in mass starvation.
When the institute and guys like Behe (a big Kahoona in the ID game) invoke science, they get the science wrong… every single time. Flagella in bacteria is an example of ID that Behe likes to promote. He made statements about flagella in bacteria (specifically, he said that IFT or InterFlagella Transport is required, which is false). Ironically, Behe points to malaria as an creation example (where he again gets the science wrong), but malaria is particularly bad today precisely because it has become resistant over time. In other words, malaria has evolved!
The human body is a mess. Back aches, fallen arches, rotten teeth, bad eyes, useless/dangerous organs like the appendix; our gonads are in the middle of a sewer; lost faculties (like the ability to create Vitamin C, something my cat can do); and the list goes on. The map of our nerves and arteries looks like a Jackson Pollack painting. And let us not forget giving birth.
Women have had the shit end of the stick since the dawn of humanity. Child birth and motherhood has huge rewards, but the risks prior to modern medicine were enormous. Assuming she did not die, a mother might get a fistula after a long, hard birth. A fistula is an abnormal "tube" growth connecting the uterus to the bladder or bowel. They can be created by difficult deliveries. A thus stricken mother will leak feces or urine from her vagina forever. This is every bit as unhealthy and awful as it sounds. And a lousy design. One thing about evolution is this: it largely doesn't give a shit about you once you have reproduced.
This is just the beginning of the major flaws in the design of our bodies. And a designer was not involved. It was evolution what done it.
Nothing about our bodies, or anything else in biology makes sense without evolution. But this does not deter the anti-intellectuals at the Discovery Institute.
It is often said by the aforementioned idiots, "What use is half an eye?"
"Nothing" is the answer if you intend to cut a working eye in half. But the actual answer is: "A half-working eye is better than no eye at all". The eye argument has been well addressed. Even a single photo-sensitive "eye" spot on a bacteria is better than no eye at all. What is most amusing about it is that the alternative (a designer) would have us believe that god that designed several different eye types over the millennia, perfected them, and then designed the terrible human eye from scratch, forgetting all he had learned from the past.
The basic issue with the human eye is this: In cuttlefish, the blood vessels and nerves that service the eye lie under the retina; in people, the opposite is true. Those vessels and nerves obstruct light and vision by sitting on top of the retina and, because the still have to get out of the eye, they exit trough a hole we know as our "blind spot". Other kinds of similar issues arise over and over, such as repurposing a spine and hips for upright walking (this is not part of the book, but still applicable).
ID and creationism have been around a long time. The Scopes Monkey Trial was in 1925 (as I recall). Almost 100 years ago... and we are still having the same stupid argument with fanatics without reason. That last sentence can be parsed any way you like.
This is an odd book. It was published, but is now vanity published. The only date on the book reflects the day I ordered it. My attention was drawn to this book by Dale Beyerstein, my philosopher on call. We were discussing religious belief and he mentioned that this book might be of interest.
The subject of the book is Armageddon, and why people buy into it. More specifically, why do they keep on believing, and in many cases, believe even more when the predicted date for the end of days is just followed by, well... more days.
The feeling you get when this happens is called cognitive dissonance, a term Dale Beyerstein thinks may have been coined by the authors. Cognitive dissonance happens when you "know" two contradictory things are true. The contradiction must be resolved. If you know the world will end on Tuesday, then you will experience CD on Wednesday.
The book asks why belief seems to grow after an utter failure of prophecy. For this to happen, the book argues that there are 5 necessary conditions to be met:
The book focuses almost exclusively on a bunch of nuts who see the end of days coming pretty much all the time. The head nut was a woman name Kelly who received "spirit writing" about the end of the world. The group was known as the Seekers. The whole movement was wrapped up paranormal powers, Scientology, UFOs (which were in vogue at the time), and the nuts who believe in them, etc. A real mish mash of ideas. I could not handle the narrative about all this. Endless detail, too many crazies and too many crazy ideas.
The books conclusions are interesting and controversial. The controversy comes from embedding people in the group to help better understand them. But to get in, you had to prove you to were a nut… and if you got in fast it was probably because you had a story so compelling that they wanted you in. And the next thing you know, you are the poster boy for the movement, and not a dispassionate reported. And you are corrupting the group (a psychological Schrödinger's cat). The authors were well aware of this problem.
Left and right are perfectly common words, with obvious meanings, right? Wrong.
Look up “left” in the dictionary, and it will say something like: Face north; your left arm is the one to the West. This just displaces the definition from “left” to “north”. Not very helpful. If you are standing next to someone when they ask “Which side is ‘left?”, it is easy. All you need do is point. Or point out that their heart is on the left side of their body. Easy to understand, but flawed because it is referring to shared objects that are familiar to both speaker and listener.
Describing left versus right to someone on the phone is pretty easy. You might say “Look at a clock. Nine o’clock is on the left. But again, you cheated. Effectively, you have just "pointed" again by referring to an object you both understand.
What if there are no shared objects?
Now suppose you are talking to an alien on the other side of the universe. You gave agreed on and defined hundreds of words until you get to “left”. Is it possible to tell that alien which side is “left”? You might say “Sure! I will send a bitmap picture of something and point out that this or that bit of the image is on the left. But how did they get the bit-map? They had to print it out in some sense, and when they do, they have to decide whether to print from the left to right or right to left. If they pick wrong, their “left” and yours will not be the same, and the image they look at will be a mirror image.
It turns out that it cannot be done… at least not by mere mortals like you or I.
Physics and biology are full of left and right hand rules. If you point your right thumb up (north) and curl your fingers, you have just used the right hand rule to determine, for example, the direction of the Earth’s rotation (counter-clockwise), or the direction of a magnet field around a conductor (where thumb points in the direction of the current), or the direction of the spiral in DNA.
Left and right are important. If you only have one hand, and you want a glove, for example. (Fun fact: If you invert a left hand glove, you get a right hand glove.) Simple sugar comes in two versions: a left-handed isomer and right-handed isomer. In our bodies, and all other critter’s bodies, we all use just the one isomer and ignore the other. Once biology made its choice, it was stuck with it.
The labels of left and right are (almost) completely arbitrary. If we were to redefine right as left and vise versa, some interesting things must happen, including relabeling the poles of a magnet (north becomes south), and redefining “clock-wise” too.
If you were to look down on a game of pool, there would be no way to tell if you were looking at the real image, or a mirror image. The balls would ricochet about as usual regardless. A mirror image universe would be almost indistinguishable from our own. Almost…
Physicists often speak of CPT conservation. The C is for charge. Charge is always conserved. The T is for time, and says that the laws of physics are the same regardless of whether you run time forward or backward. The P is for Parity, and it essentially says that laws of physics are the same for a mirror interaction. However, a few decades ago, it was discovered that P is not conserved and that some physical interactions differ from their mirror images!
That is weird.
The universe cares about the difference between left and right. It turns out that Parity is not always conserved ( see the Wu Experiment for more). So, as I said, for us mere mortals, telling an alien race on the other side of the universe what direction left is is not possible.
But if you are a physicist, you could tell the aliens to “go like this, then do that, and you will see such and such, you will find that certain things tend to go one way rather than the other, and that direction is ‘left’ and the opposite ‘right’.” To do the experiments involved, you will need a particle accelerator. When the results were announced that Parity was not always conserved, physicists reviewed older experiment data and discovered that the pattern was there all along, but the result was so unexpected, no one thought to look at it.
Expectation bias strikes again!
Shortly after I got married, my wife and I were walking Granville Street’s “mall”… an area that is largely traffic free and attracts all sorts: drug dealers, buskers and god-squaders.
On one corner, a street preacher had set himself up. He had a car battery, bull horn, and about a dozen shills handing out pamphlets. It was a real challenge for the two of us to wend our way through the crowd to get to the theatre we were aiming for. A woman, about sixty, blocked us, handed us a brochure and said “Have you been born again?” (or some such rubbish… it was a long time ago). Proselytizers annoy me. So I replied and a loud booming voice “Fuck off!”. We were not asked again.
I caught a lot of flak from my wife. She thought I was rude. I though quite the reverse. I also thought it was funny as hell. The look on the woman’s face alone was worth the price of admission. And upon reflection, my position only solidified.
A few days ago, I was watching the always funny, always brilliant, Christopher Hitchens on Youtube. In it, a woman, also about sixty, asked what he would recommend she say when people ask her a similar question. Hitch though for a second and said “I would tell them to Fuck Off!” and then gave a very concise reason as to why.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.