William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Book review (page 1 of 26)

Please email me at matt@wmbriggs.com before sending books to be reviewed.

Classic Posts

A collection of fundamental posts in philosophy, probability & statistics, and global warming & environmentalism.

Subjects: (click to brings you to a list)

My Favorites

  • William M Briggs, Statistician To The Stars, Now A Thought Leader link
  • Damn Straight News: Manly Men More Likely To Be Conservative link
  • The True Meaning Of Statistical Models link
  • Netherlands Temperature Controversy: Or, Yet Again, How Not To Do Time Serieslink
  • Homeopathic Blog Post link


  • Mysticism of Randomness: Philosophy of Probability & Statistics Series link
  • Probability Is Logic: Philosophy of Probability & Statistics Series link
  • The Mathematics Of Santa Claus’ Present Delivery System link
  • Is There Free Will? A Conversation With Dr. Sam Hurtus link
  • Bill Whittle on the Love of Theory link

Philosophy & Culture


  • Genetic. He works for an oil company! link
  • Ad Hominem, My Sweet link
  • The Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy link
  • We Don’t Know Anything link
  • The Science-Is-Self-Correcting Fallacy link
  • Hypocrisy link
  • Wrong side of history link
  • The Apes Do It So It Is Fine For Us Fallacy link
  • The Epidemiologist Fallacy link
  • Mexican Hat link
  • One true religion link
  • The Somebody-Might-Get-Hurt! Fallacy link
  • The So’s-Your-Old-Man Fallacylink


  • The Summary Against Modern Thought, i.e. live blogging Summa Contra Gentiles link
  • Evolution & The Big Bang Are Perfectly Consistent With Christianity (And Catholicism) link
  • Comprehensive List Of Catholic Dogmas Refuted By Science link
  • Richard Carrier’s Argument To Show God’s Existence Unlikely Is Invalid And Unsound link
  • The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism; Or, What The Synod Will Have Wrought link
  • What is faith? link
  • St Anselm and the ontological argument link
  • Swinburne’s P-Inductive and C-Inductive arguments (existence of God) link
  • Lawrence Krauss on nothing link
  • On The Probability God Exists link
  • Bayes Theorem Proves Jesus Existed And Did not Exist link
  • On Intelligence & Religiosity link
  • The Epistemology Of Miracles: Fulton J. Sheen Edition I, II

Diversity & Equality

  • Diversity is the dumbest idea ever I, II, III, IV
  • The tolerance paradox link
  • Variant on a theme link
  • Life Is Not Fair I, II, III
  • Equality is impossible link
  • Equality definitions link
  • Logan’s Run Is A Progressive Utopia link
  • Diversity! link


  • Genetic Engineering To Create New Super Moral Race link
  • The Moral Case Against Designer Babies link
  • We Are All Eugenicists Now. New Test Identifies 3500 Genetic Faults In Fetuses link
  • Killing newborns link
  • Killing Children Legally In Belgium link
  • Evolving past evolution link
  • Nine-month babies racist? link
  • Mark Twain On The Dictatorship Of Health link
  • Dutch Doctors Strange New House Calls link
  • Abortion to create master race link
  • Decisions made Angelina Jolie Should Not Necessarily Be Yours link
  • Health Is Not A Goal link
  • The Return Of Eugenics link
  • Sex Selection and In Vitro Fertilization link
  • Anti-Human Leader says Every Woman Should Have Contraception link
  • Bioethicist Calls Unborn Innocent Aggressors link
  • Bio-engineering humans and climate link
  • Pill to eliminate racism link
  • People Who Believe In Heaven Commit More Crimes link
  • Are There Any Arguments Against Eugenics Left link
  • Ask A Scientific Ethicist I, I

Free Will

  • Unsorted I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
  • A Conversation With Dr. Sam Hurtus (Video) link
  • Free Will Cannot Be An Illusion link
  • Disbelief In Free Will Causes Disbelief In Free Will link
  • Free Will The Result Of ‘Background Noise’? link


  • If We Are What We Sexually Desire, How About These Curious People? link
  • Same-sex “marriage” I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X
  • Let’s Find And Fire Those Who Support Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ link
  • E-Lynching The Politically Incorrect: Mozilla Edition link
  • Woman To Marry Fairground Ride. A New Sexual Orientation link
  • Coming Out Christian link
  • Bake your own damn cake link
  • Is Laverne Cox Still A Man? Or, The Coming Transgender Wars link

Morality & Ethics

  • The Scientific Ethicist link
  • Atheism And Its Problem Of Evil link
  • If You Disagree You Are Full Of Hate, You Bigot link
  • Dogmatism link
  • Animal rights entail animal responsibilities link
  • Is violence decreasing link
  • Health & responsibility link
  • More fat people link
  • Sandra Fluke Mows The Lawn. A Play In One Act link
  • Abortion link
  • Deciding morality by vote link
  • Academic Philosopher Finds New Way To Dehumanize People link
  • The Slow Death Of Perversion link
  • New Poll Says Forty Percent Don’t Believe In Evolution. So What. link
  • Herd Immunity And Christianity link
  • Prime Minister Kenny Abortion Bill Would Save One Life A Year link
  • Sam Harris Asks if Science Can Answer Moral Questions link
  • A New Row Over Pregnancy Caused by Rape link
  • Germany To Ban Sex With Animals link
  • Women Do Not Have A Right To Do Whatever They Want With Their Bodies link
  • Voting (And Wisdom Of The Crowds) I, II
  • Resolved: Companies Should NOT Be Forced To Fund Employees’ Birth Control link
  • Theories And Predictions: Sociology Version link
  • Animals Suing People, People Suing Animals: Lawyers Rejoice link


  • Malthus’ Proof That Welfare Leads To Increasing Need For Welfare link
  • From Paganism To Christianity To Deism To Malleism link
  • Educators Disease Reaching Epidemic Levels, Experts link
  • The Dismal Economics of Utopia: Lesson One link
  • 8 Great Philosophical Questions That We Will Never Solve Solved! link
  • Language and Truth I, II, III
  • The Consensus In Philosophy link
  • Ways of speaking about truth I, II
  • Scientific Truths Are Not Better Truths Than Just-Plain Truths link
  • The Imperfectibility of Politics. Voting And Unhappiness I
  • Give Children The Vote I
  • On Defeating The NSA: Privacy In A Time Of Government Overreach I

The University

  • Universities? Nuke ‘em From Orbit. It’s The Only Way To Be Sure. link
  • University Professors Teach Too Much I, II, III, IV, V
  • It Is Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University link
  • Teaching Comes First. But Only If You Bring In Grants. And Publish link

Essential Book Reviews


  • Edward Feser. The Last Superstition I, II, III, Interlude, IV, V VI, VII
  • Peter Kreeft. Summa Philosophica I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X
  • David Stove. What’s Wrong With Benevolence? link, Annotated Stove bibliography
  • Steven Goldberg. Fads and Fallacies in the Social SciencesI, II, III, IV
  • Jonah Goldberg. Liberal Fascism I, II, III
  • David Bentley Hart. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Being I, II, III, IV
  • Charles Murray. Real Education link
  • Essential (Philosophical) Conservative Book List link
  • Michael Gazzaniga. Who’s In Charge? I, II
  • Our Brains Are Not Us. Review of Brainwashed link
  • My Genes Made Me Vote For Obama: Predisposed Reviewed link
  • Making Gay Okay, Robert R. Reilly, Reviewed. link

Probability & Statistics

Statistics philosophy

  • Machine Learning Big Data Deep Learning Data Mining Statistics Decision & Risk Analysis Probability Fuzzy Logic FAQ link
  • The Cult of the Parameter! link
  • I Was Wrong About Axioms: Day One Teaching link
  • The Mysticism Of Simulations: Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Sampling, And Their Alternatives link
  • Selling Fear Is A Risky Business Part I, II, III
  • Why You Should Care About The Philosophy Of Probability & Statistics link
  • The Applicability Of Experiments link
  • Nothing Is Distributed: So-Called Random Variables Do Not Follow Distributions link
  • Confidence Interval Interpretation link
  • What Statistics Really Is I, Paradox digression, II, III
  • All Of Statistics I, II,III
  • Statistics Is Not Math link
  • Statistics 101 Class 0, I, II, III, IV, V, no VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
  • What Is A True Model? What Makes A Good One? I, II, III, IV,V, VI
  • Probability leakage link
  • What Does The Regression Equation Mean? Causality? link
  • Regression Isn’t What You Think link
  • Occam’s razor link
  • Bayes vs. Frequentism: The Lady Tasting Tea; or The Final Battle I, II, III, IV
  • Another reason to abandon p-values (another way to cheat) link
  • Correlation Implies Causation link
  • All Models Are Not Wrong I, II
  • True value of parameter? link
  • Frequentists Are Closet Bayesians: Confidence Interval Edition link
  • The difference between a confidence and credible interval link
  • On The Evidence From Experiments I, II, III, IV
  • Objective Bayes Vs. Logical Probability (Vs. Frequentism) link
  • Direct And Inverse Probability: The Bayesian Way link
  • Jumping The Infinity Shark: An Answer To Senn I, II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Subjective Versus Objective Bayes (Versus Frequentism) I, II, III, IV, V

Probability philosophy

  • The Problem Of Grue Isn’t; Or, A Gruesome Non-Paradox About Induction link
  • Truth, Knowledge, Belief, & Gettier Problems link
  • Probability logic & induction I, II
  • Nine Counter-Arguments To Frequentism link
  • Comments On Dawid’s Prequential Probability link
  • Probabilities Aren’t Decisions link
  • There Is No Such Thing As Intrinsic Probability link
  • Failed Counterexamples To The Principle Of Indifference link
  • Physical Probability Doesn’t Exist link
  • What are the chances of that? link
  • The Humble Tautology And Probability link
  • Bayesian Probability Is Not Subjective (It Only Seems Like It Is) link
  • Symmetry Priors Logical Probability Infinities and Needless Paradoxes link
  • Intuitionist Math & Probability: Riemann Hypothesis Example link
  • What Is And What We Know Of It link
  • Why Falsifiability Is Alluring I, II
  • Most Probabilities Aren’t Quantifiable link
  • “Probably Fine” Isn’t A Number link
  • There Is No Such Thing As Unconditional Probability link
  • Russian Roulette And Certainty link
  • The Probability Of A Bottle Broken Into N Pieces When Struck By A Hammer link
  • It Makes No Sense To Say You’re More Likely To Die Of Bee Sting Than Shark Bite link

Statistics practice

  • Statistical Follies and Epidemiology video
  • Please Don’t Smooth Your (Social Media) Data! link
  • The Coming Cancer Panic link
  • Why Do Statisticians Answer Silly Questions That No One Ever Asks? link
  • What Regression Really Is I, II, III
  • The Biggest Error In Regression link
  • A Statistician’s Lament link
  • On Scientific Polls link
  • How Presidential Polls Work: D+7 or R-3 And All That link
  • What is a Dutch Book? link
  • The Great Bayesian Switch! link
  • How to fool yourself with Statistics I, II, III, IV
  • WEIRD people link
  • Johnson’s Revised Standards For Statistical Evidence link
  • Logical Probability Data Analysis Measurement Error Example I, II
  • The Alternative To P-Values link
  • Everything Wrong With P-Values Under One Roof link
  • How To Mislead With P-values: Logistic Regression Example link
  • What Regression Really Is link
  • Unsignificant Statistics: Or Die P-Value Die Die Die link
  • Regression To The Mean (And Performance Curses) Simply Explained link
  • What’s The Difference Between Polls And Models? link
  • A Peculiar Prevalence Of P Values Just Below .05 link
  • Drug Companies Tweaking Results To Produce Publishable P-values? link
  • How To Present Anything As Significant link
  • All Forecasts Predictions & Prophecies Are Contingent link
  • The Hot Hand: Statistical Fluke Or Genuine Article? link

Predictive Statistics

  • Explanation Vs Prediction link
  • There Is No Difference Between A Forecast, A Scenario, or A Projection link
  • GPA Case Study I, II
  • Definitions link
  • What A Prediction Is And What It Is Not I, II, III, IV
  • Risk Analysis And Over Certainty link


  • Randomized Trials Are Not Needed link
  • Randomness is a Matter of Information I, II, III, IV
  • What Random Means In Random Number Generation link
  • Never Say “Caused By Chance” link
  • On Truly Random Numbers link

Asinine uses of statistics

  • List of asinine papers link
  • Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors Of Political Ideology? link
  • Sex With 21 (Not 20) Women Lowers Risk Of Prostate Cancer. It’s Science! link
  • Exposure To Fracking Reduces Low-Birth-Weight Babies link
  • That Conservatives Smell Different Than Progressives Study Stinks link
  • Judgments About Fact And Fiction By Confused Researchers link
  • Casual Sex Is Good for You, Says New Biased Study link
  • Conservatives suffer from Dark Triad personalities link
  • Exposure to the American flag turns one into a Republican link
  • Exposure to 4th of July parade turns one into a Republican link
  • fMRIs can tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
  • Newberg again link
  • Low IQ & Liberal Beliefs Linked To Poor Research? link
  • Weapons Make the Man Larger: New Scientific Growth Formula link
  • Brain Atrophy Responsible For Religious Belief? link
  • Do Conservatives Distrust Science More Than Liberals? link
  • Women Spot Snakes Faster Before Their Periods link
  • Wearing A White Coat Makes You More Careful link
  • Autism caused by highways link
  • Do Heat Waves Cause Birth Defects? link
  • Scientists: GOP Women More Feminine Than Dems link
  • Spanking Kids Causes Cancer. Also Asthma and Cardiac Disease link
  • Researchers Invent Exciting New Disease: Poverty Blindness link
  • Racism Eats Telomeres link
  • On The Role Of Genetics In Politics link
  • Do Dogs Poop In Alignment With The Earths Magnetic Field? link
  • Exposure to Fast Food Impedes Happiness link
  • Women With Large Posteriors Live Longer? link
  • Blinks As Lie Detectors link
  • Analysing Perceptions Of Cute Videos Of Threatened Species link
  • fMRI Discovers Freud Distribution Plushies Lurking In Brain link
  • Tweet Hate Map: Awful Really Awful Use Of Statistics link
  • Coal-Fired Power Plants Fuel Suicide—Or Maybe Sanguinity link
  • Scientists Discover Men Don’t Understand Women link
  • Poor Statistics Undermine The Reliability Of Neuroscience link
  • Thinking About Dying Or Just Saw Bad Art? Pop A Tylenol link
  • Science Can Tell If You’re A Racist Just By Looking At You link
  • Yet Another Study Proves Liberal-Conservative Brain Differences link
  • Statistics Proves Men And Women Are The Same link
  • Lightning May Cause Headaches Moon May Cause Domestic Intranquility link
  • Males Play More Sports Than Non-Males link
  • Political Neuroscience Shows Obama Voters Are Different Than Romney Voters link
  • GOP Women More Feminine Than Dems link
  • Stressed Men Prefer Chubby Chicks link
  • Personality Predicted By Pedal Extremity Wrappings? link
  • Believers Less Vindictive Than Godless Atheists: New Research link
  • Atheists More Motivated By Compassion Than The Faithful? link
  • Conservatives Produced By “Low Effort” Thinking link
  • Brain Atrophy Responsible For Religious Belief? link
  • Do Conservatives Distrust Science More Than Liberals? link
  • That Lefties-Drink-More-Than-Conservatives Study link
  • Scientists Discover Men Enjoy Looking At Women’s Breasts. link
  • Female-Named Hurricanes Deadlier Than Males. Implicit Sexism Kills! link
  • Can A Disgusting Smell Turn You Conservative And Against Gay “Marriage”? link

Firearms & Homicide

  • Update On Gun Crime: Downward Bound. Vote Accordingly link
  • World firearms and homicide rates link
  • Mark Twain on firearms link
  • Black vs. White homicides link
  • Homicide Demographics link
  • Mass shootings link
  • Firearm Homicides Dropping link


  • Presidential mandates link
  • Changing Attitudes On Suicide And Euthanasia (GSS) link
  • Support For Abortion by Reason (GSS) link
  • Wishcasting the 2012 Presidential Election link
  • How Long Do Popes Serve? link
  • Abortion Safety: Doctors V. Nurses & Physician Assistants & Midwives I, II
  • The Most Depressing Graphs: Per Capita Federal Spending Rises Alarmingly I, II
  • More Proof Music Is Growing Worse link
  • The Decline And Increase Of Mainstream Religions In The USA link
  • Sexual Immorality, Low Birth Rates, And Religion link
  • Government Per Capita Spending: Up, Up, And Away! Or, Happy Tax Day! link

Probability Puzzles

  • Monty Hall (All Probability is Conditional) link
  • The Probability Of Your Existence link
  • Sleeping Beauty link
  • St Petersburg Paradox link
  • Sorites Paradox link
  • Two-envelope Problem I, II
  • One Son Born Tuesday link
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma link
  • Monkeys Typing Shakespeare link
  • Newcomb’s paradox link
  • Measurement Error Of Colored Balls link
  • Jeffreys-Lindley Paradox link
  • Does 1+2+3+… Really Equal -1/12? link
  • Every Family Has Children Until They Have A Boy link

Global Warming & The Environment

Time series & Data Handling

  • Netherlands Temperature Controversy: Or, Yet Again, How Not To Do Time Serieslink
  • The IPCC’s And McKitrick’s “Hiatus” Time Series Models I
  • There Is No Difference Between A Forecast, A Scenario, or A Projection link
  • How to think about time series (temperature example), I, II, III, IV, V
  • The BEST project I, II, III
  • How To Cheat (Or Fool Yourself) With Time Series link
  • The Data Is The Data (Not The Model) link
  • Do not smooth times series you hockey puck! I, II, III
  • Homogenization of temperature series I, II, III, IV, V
  • Hurricanes have not increased: misuse of running means I, II
  • Proper statistical description of temperature (parameter-based versus predictive statistics) I, II
  • How To Properly Handle Proxy Time Series Reconstructions link
  • (Most) Everything Wrong With Time Series link
  • An Ensemble Of Models Is Completely Meaningful link
  • Does Averaging Incorrect Data Give A Result That Is Less Incorrect? link
  • Time Series And Causality: Global Warming Example link


  • We Know The Climate Is Warming Because It Isn’t link
  • Don’t Say “Natural Variability” link
  • Don’t Say “Hiatus” link
  • Paper Claims Surprisingly Strong Link Between Climate Change And Violence. Nonsense. link
  • On The Kaya Identity link
  • Do You Believe In Global Warming Because Of The Seriousness Of The Charges? link
  • Idiots calling for my arrest I, II, III, IV, V
  • A Citizen’s Guide to Global Warming Evidence link
  • Use And Abuses Of Decision Analysis link
  • What Probably Isn’t: Heat Waves and Nine Feet Tall Men Prelude I, II
  • That 1 in 1.6 Million Heat Wave Chance, I, II
  • What is and isn’t evidence of global warming, Overview, I, II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Anthropogenic Forcing Signals Not Significant? link
  • Climate Model Uncertainty I, II
  • Causation And Correlation link
  • Parliament The Met Office And Statistically Significant Temperature Change link
  • A Common Fallacy In Global Warming Arguments link
  • 1 Billion To Die By 2030: Global Warming’s Deadly Rampage! link
  • End Of The World Approaches—This Time Via A “State Shift” link
  • HANDY Not So Dandy: NASA-Funded Mathematical Model Of Doom link
  • Ivy League Statistician Debunks NASA-Funded ‘Socialism or Extinction’ Study link

The Epidemiologist Fallacy

  • The EPA Dust And The Ecological Fallacy link
  • Criticism of Jerrett et al. CARB PM2.5 And Mortality Report link


  • People’s Climate March: The Face Of True Belief link
  • Zombie attacks might increase due to global warming link
  • Global Warming Increases Disastrous Music link
  • Interview With A Climatologist link
  • Lewandowsky’s Faked Moon Landing link
  • Sharknadoes To Increase Due To Global Warming link
  • The Case of the Missing Global Warming: A 17th Precinct Mini Mystery link
  • Homeopathic Blog Post link
  • Global warming causes prostitution! link
  • IPCC Intensifies Search For Missing Global Warming link

Mini Plays & Stories


  • Dinner with Atheists link
  • Ad Hominem, My Sweet link
  • Climate Change Summer Camp! link
  • All Men Are Mortal: A New, Award Eligible Mini Play link
  • Sandra Fluke Mows The Lawn link
  • A Priest And A Reporter Walk Into A Bar link
  • I Offend Thee! A Christmas Play link
  • Free Mumia! And Tunisia! link
  • Dances Without Feathers link

An Introduction To Uncertainty: Probability, Statistics, and Modeling of All Kinds

Spencer Tracy is trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

Spencer Tracy is trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

This is a teaser, the first part of a 3,200-word narrative outline for the book that I’ve started to shop around. The current title is in the headline. Regular readers know it has undergone many changes, thus it is rational to conclude it might change again.

Why is this rotten thing taking so long? It took me forever to realize what I could leave out—which is a lot. I wanted to introduce to people not used to it to Aristotelian epistemology, and what this fine and true subject meant for the practical understanding and communication of uncertainty. But there’s no way to be complete about this without going on and on, at book length, by which time the reader, anxious to get to the “good stuff”, will have been put to sleep.

So out goes everything except the bare necessities. Besides, if readers are into that sort of thing, there’s plenty of other books to read. What’s left is an explanation of what probability is, what it means to “do” modeling, how to communicate results properly, and how to purge the magical thinking from our midsts.

I sent the outline to one well known publisher, who that very same day wrote back and called my bluff. The editor labeled the proposal “intriguing” and said that it “raises a lot of important points” but then asked me to immediately ship off two chapters. Sure. As if these were ready, and that, even if they were, I could pick the right two.

Finishing these chapters so that they are at least not embarrassing is what I’ll be doing for the next week.

Incidentally, the “Why?” which follows, suitably fleshed out, will become either the Preface or Chapter 1.


Fellow users of probability, statistics, and computer “learning” algorithms; physics and social science modelers; big data handlers; spreadsheet mavens; other respected citizens. We’re doing it wrong.

Not completely wrong: not everywhere: not all the time: but far more pervasively, far more often, and in far more places than you’d imagine.

What are we doing wrong? Probability, induction, statistics, the nature of causality, modeling, communicating results, expressing uncertainty. In short: everything.

Your natural reaction will be (this is a prediction based on observation and induction), “Harumph.” I can’t and shouldn’t put a probability measure to this guess, though. That would lead to over-certainty, which I will prove to you is already at pandemic levels.

You may well say “Harumph”, but consider: there are people who think statistical models are causal, that no probability can known with certainty until at the close of the universe, that probabilities can be read from mood rings, that induction is a “problem”, that randomness is a magical cause, that parameters exist, that computers learn, that models are realer than observations, that model fit is more important than model performance.

And that is only a sampling of the oddities which beset our field. How did we get this way? Best answer is that it is well known that the human race is insane.

More practically, our training lacks a proper foundation, a philosophical grounding. Introductory books plunge the student into data and never look back. The philosophical concepts which are necessarily present aren’t discussed well or openly. This is rectified once, and if, the student progresses to the highest levels, but by that time his interest has been turned either to mathematics or to solving specific problems. And when the student finally and inevitably weighs in on, say, “What models really are”, he lacks depth. Points are missed. Falsity is embraced.

So here is a philosophical introduction to uncertainty and the practice of probability, statistics, and modeling of all kinds. The approach is Aristotelian, even Thomistic. Truth exists, we can know it, and we can sometimes but not always measure its uncertainty, and there are good and bad ways of doing it.

This isn’t a recipe book. Except for simple (but common: regression, “binomial”) examples, this book does not contain lists of algorithms. Rather, this is a guide on how to create such recipes and lists. It is thus ideal for students and researchers looking for problems upon which to work. The mathematical requirements are modest: this is not a math book.

Do I have everything right? Well, I’m as certain I do as you were that you had everything right before you read this introduction. One thing which is certain is that we’re not done.

The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism; Or, What The Synod Will Have Wrought

And to think that some people disbelieve in the satanic.

And to think that some people disbelieve in the satanic.

Update Comments restored. WordPress is acting strange.

The first part of the title isn’t mine, but belongs to James Hitchcock who wrote a book of the same name, published in 1971 in the wake of Vatican II. Hitchcock was then a self-labeling progressive1 looking back on the predictions made by competing groups during the great Council.

The book reads like it will be written in 2016.

With Synod I: The Blessing Of Remarriage & Homosexuality playing everywhere now (Synod II opens in October 2015) in the secular press to enraptured audiences2, I thought it well we should revisit how the last efforts to “radically” modify the Church were viewed. The lens Hitchcock used was American made, of course.

Progressives before Vatican II were, Hitchcock tells us, dissatisfied. To which the natural reaction is: aren’t they always? Isn’t profound irrational unthinking unrelievable dissatisfaction the definition of a progressive? What the progressive then wanted was change, mainly in the form of leveling. He wanted “renewal”.

He wanted a modernization of the liturgy, to get rid of the beauty, rigor, and awful uniformity and allow use of the vernacular. And puppets. He wanted a putting away of stultifying Thomism. He wanted to align the Church with the political left: perhaps not to the point of Marxism, but aimed in that direction. He “advocated loosening up the curricula of Catholic colleges to allow secular philosophies to be taught non-polemically” (p. 18).

He praised ecumenism, admiring theologians like Baptist Harvey Cox who suggested “monasteries be turned into retreat and conference centers” and Protestant theologian Arthur Crabtree (who then worked at a Catholic university) who asked “in an ecumenical journal whether the pope is Antichrist”, and liberal rabbi Everett Gendler who insisted that Christians must “abandon belief” in Jesus as a “supernatural purger of sin” (all p. 21).

About the liturgy, now often populated by music that would make even the Beatles blush, and by clowns and giant puppets (what the hell is it with progressives and giant puppets?):

In typical hysterical fashion conservative critics charged that if the Church made the least concession, let down the least barricade, the reformers would prove insatiable. Nothing would be treated with respect and sacred awe but would be shunted around at the whim of the liturgist. Conservatives also raised the faith question: If the liberals actually believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, why did they feel a need to reform them? (p. 17)

Conservatives warned “the liberals did not really derive their social principles from Catholic tradition but were actually breathing in the secular humanist air, which they attempted to give a superficial odor” (p. 18). They “charged that reform was really the ‘Protestantizing’ of the Church” (p. 22).

Hitchcock then makes a startling admission (p. 24):

There are many curiosities in the history of the Church in the post-conciliar years, and not the least is the fact that so few progressives have noticed the extent to which the reactionaries’ predictions prior to the Council have been proven correct and that their own expectations have been contradicted. They continue to treat the conservatives as ignorant, prejudiced, and out of touch with reality.

The progressive predicted reform (p. 24):

would lead to a massive resurgence of the flagging Catholic spirit…Liturgy and theology, having been brought to life and made relevant, would be constant sources of inspiration to the faithful. The religious orders, reformed to bring them into line with modernity, would find themselves overwhelmed with candidates who were generous and enthusiastic. The Church would find the number of converts increasingly dramatically…

Yet Hitchcock admits, “In virtually every case the precise opposite of these predictions has come to pass.” Sound familiar?

Although it has recently had a resurgence, in 1971 Hitchcock could say, “Thomism has disappeared almost without a trace, and there is now scarcely a single traditional doctrine of the Church which is not seriously questioned by some prominent theologians, not excluding the ‘existence’ of God” (p. 19). In many places the “Eucharist is regarded as at best a symbolic act…there is no mystical reality present.” (p. 22).

Progressives looked at the Council’s results and wept but “In fact, Vatican II exceeded the hopes of the liberals” as noted by the presence of, say, giant puppet masses. “There is no question, then, that Vatican II initiated almost every reform which American progressives, prior to 1965, generally desired” (p. 26).

In other words, Progressives got what they wanted (except for the “few persons [who] mentioned tentatively the question of remarriage after divorce”), but they felt like failures. Why the contradiction? My guess is that for the progressive no change short of constant revolution is enough. But Hitchcock perhaps more wisely says (p. 30):

By the end of the 1960s, however, many such progressives were forced to realize that their dislike of Scholasticism, their hankering after liturgical reform, their visits to choice monasteries, were really attempts to overcome a gnawing crisis of faith which they either did not recognize, lacking adequate self-knowledge, or did not want to recognized. However uncharitable, their conservative critics were simply right in postulating weakness of fundamental belief as being at the root of many liberals’ dissatisfaction.

Hitchcock says that conservatives “foresaw more clearly than the progressives the realities of change.” Further (pp. 30-31):

The progressives blithely assumed a period of swift, painless reform, in which desirable changes could be accomplished while undesirable ones were restrained. The conservatives realized that no large intricate society like the Catholic Church can be changed without considerable dislocation and outright loss, and they realized also that state programs for reform are never realized as they are set forth and that change tends to generate change, so that those who begin as moderate reformers sometime end as revolutionaries…

Here’s the kicker, as relevant then as now: “In retrospect it is possible to see the preoccupation of the progressives with changes of various kinds as a way of avoiding the ultimate question of their own faith.”

That’s just Chapter 1 folks, an overview. If this is popular, we can look into the book further.

Update Kinda sorta related. Newman “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” mugs.


James Hitchcock, 1971. The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism. Herder and Herder, New York.

1Consider that 1971’s progressive is 2014’s conservative; a conservative or reactionary then is a reactionary now.

2There must be a Nicholas Cage pun lurking in there somewhere.

Making Gay Okay Reviewed. Part I, The Acts

reillyMaking Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything, by Robert R. Reilly (Ignatius Press: sample chapter).

It’s common in medicine to track men who have (or who simulate) sex with men, instead of asking patients whether they are “gay” or “homosexual”. This is abbreviated “MSM.” The letters for women aren’t as common, but let’s write WSW. In fact, let’s write PSP for people who simulate sex with those of the same sex.

Men can only have sexual intercourse with women, so that when two men or two women engage in certain acts, these can only be simulations and not the “real thing.” Also, the words “gay” and “homosexual” are variable, troublesome, and not universally accepted (are men in prison who engage in certain acts with other men “gay”?); thus, PSP is as neutral a word or term as we’re likely to get.

About these simulations: in particular, sodomy (this applies to both man-on-man and the much rarer man-on-woman). Is it moral or immoral? Normal or abnormal? Natural or unnatural? Disgusting or relative? Sinful or virtuous? Praiseworthy or disdainful? Nobody’s business or everybody’s business? If unhealthy, should it be banned? If immoral, should it be unlawful? Given the heated debate of all things PSP, it’s strange that these questions are scarcely ever asked. Reilly asks, and answers.

But first a distinction. Let us take an act, say, helping an old lady across the street. The act is praiseworthy per se, irrespective of the person carrying out the act, a person who may or may not have had good motives for committing the act and who may be at heart an evil or holy person (a person carrying out a per se praiseworthy act for an immoral reason is still acting immorally, just as a person who carries out an immoral act for the good reason is still acting immorally1). That is, we can and must discuss the merits and demerits of this or any act without bringing individuals into the question. It is the act we want to know about, and not the person.

The word natural is ambiguous. In one sense it means whatever is, but in another it means that which acts in accord with its purpose. The yearly murder rate in the USA is about 5 in 100,000, and, though variable, it is somewhat constant in that it was never 0, and nobody expects it ever will be. This rate is natural in the first sense. But we do not say therefore that because murder is natural in the first sense, it is therefore allowable or praiseworthy or moral. Murder is per se wrong because it is an act which is not in accord with the purpose of human beings. It is unknown at what rate old ladies are helped crossing streets, but whatever this “natural” rate is also does not determine the rightness of the act. The act is natural in the second sense, and obviously so.

Pointing to the number of people who engage in an act thus does not give us proof of its rightness or wrongness. We have to look at how the act relates to our purposes or ends. Reilly: “Deeds are considered good or bad, natural or unnatural, in relation to the effect they have on man’s progress toward his end in achieving the good.” The Good, according to Aristotle and many other profound thinkers, is the fulfillment of a thing or being’s essence or nature (a third meaning). Thus was born the Natural Law, which we will discuss later. For now, accept only that one of the ends of which the human body is directed is health, the idea that, in general, it is better to be healthy than ill (there are exceptions, like a man jumping on a grenade to save his comrades, etc.).

Sodomy is not healthy; it is not an act which is directed toward the health of either participant. Reilly reminds us of this quote from Aristotle, from his Ethics: “‘Those who love for the sake of pleasure do so for the sake of what is pleasant to themselves, and not in so far as the other person is loved’ (emphasis in original).” Reilly uses this example, which ties health to the natural end of an thing:

A person stuffing objects into his ears is endangering his hearing, because he could puncture his eardrums or precipitate an infection. Ears are made for hearing, not for the storage of objects. Using them for the latter endangers the former. Any responsible person would advise someone stuffing objects into his ears not to do this because of the harm it could bring.

The “made for” is derived from Natural Law, which again we do not discuss today, though in the case of ears being “made for” hearing, few would object. In the same sense, we say the southernmost end of the human alimentary tract is made for the evacuation of waste material. This appears indisputable; nevertheless, it is disputed. But, like sticking sharp pencils into ear canals, objects inserted into the human anus tend to (it is in their nature) to cause damage and bring disease.

Reilly lists many of these damages and diseases, removing most to an appendix because they are not pleasant to contemplate. He also includes damages and diseases occurring to WSW, as many acts in which these people participate differ from regular procreative practices and are thus also dangerous.

This material can be found in the medical literature, where it is a specialty, though it’s unlikely to be familiar to many (e.g. type “MSM” into PubMed). A good survey is provided by Dr John Diggs: “The list of diseases found with extraordinary frequency among male homosexual practitioners as a result of anal intercourse is alarming: Anal Cancer, Chlamydia trachomatis, Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Herpes simplex virus, Human immunodeficiency virus, Human papilloma virus, Isospora belli, Microsporidia, Gonorrhea, Viral hepatitis types B & C, Syphilis” to name a few, including mechanical damages (tears, etc.), much lower life expectancy; there is also that which follows after the act due to uncleanliness and incaution (certain oral-alimentary-tract practices); the frequent appearance of certain drugs. Diggs also relates the departures from health due to other non-procreative activities. All of these maladies and misfortunes occur at rates far, far exceeding man-woman (true) sexual practices. Reilly shows, for example, that there is a 4,000 percent increase in anal cancer rates for those who practice sodomy.

HIV/AIDS is of course its own category, and though it is more known, it is curiouser than you might have imagined.

All rationalizations for sexual misbehavior, no matter of what sort, are allied to and reinforce one another. The rationalization being complete, anything goes, including “bug chasing”—the new craze in which homosexuals actively seek HIV infection because of the added sexual thrill. They call the men who infect them “gift givers”. One bug chaser said, “It’s all about freedom.”

This passage included a footnote to a 2003 Rolling Stone article “Bug Chasers: The Men Who Long to Be HIV+”. I have only been able to discover snippets of that article2. One source has the article beginning by discussing a man named Carlos, who is brought to consider HIV: “His eyes light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be ‘the most erotic thing I can imagine.’ He seems like a typical thirty-two-year-old man, but, in fact, he has a secret life. Carlos is chasing the bug.”

There is a Wikipedia entry on Bug Chasing, and searching in the usual way brings up a wealth of literature. There is even a new book advocating the chase by W. C. Harris who (says Taki magazine’s Christopher Hart) is “a radical gay activist and Professor of Queer Studies and Early American Literature”. The book is Slouching Towards Gaytheism: Christianity and Queer Survival in America. There are many intriguing passages in Hart’s review, but this one stands out:

“Breeding the virus in another man’s body develops new kinships,” explains Harris (rather than, say, new burdens on health services), and they become one more couple in the “bug brotherhood.” The one who does the infecting is called the daddy, the recipient the son, and such incestuous overtones are also very exciting, argues Professor Harris, for they too are transgressive, subversive, and liberating.

What is indisputable is that sodomy in general, and “bug chasing” in particular, are damaging to one’s health, and are even life-threatening. It is also true that these are all avoidable risks, that the risks are based on willful acts. It is also true that people who were always celibate or always monogamous (in the literal interpretation of these words) face disease risks at or near zero (exposure to some diseases through, say, blood transfusions or through “dirty needles” are always possible).

Should physicians be barred from communicating these risks? Should ordinary individuals? Would it be right to call any who communicated these facts a “bigot”? (Facts themselves cannot be bigoted, but their presentation could be.) Is stating, “Sodomy is an enormous health risk” “homophobic”? How about stating, “Sodomy is disgusting”? Should prepubescent children be taught that sodomy is “natural” and “normal”? In the first sense of these words—that it exists—it surely is, but in the second—that it is good or oriented toward health–it surely is not. Or should we let kids come to adulthood before exposing them to their “choices”? Should sodomy be encouraged as an “alternate lifestyle”, even though we know of its harms?

Lastly, dear reader: bug hunting. Good or bad? (It will be interesting to see who avoids this question.)

The reader is cautioned to keep the discussion at a high level. Comments not in accord with gentlemanly or lady-like behavior will be edited or deleted. Let’s also stick to the topic at hand, the act. The history and other cultural consequences we will come to another day. For those tending to apoplexy or who are feeling undue stress over this topic, I recommend this.

Update Somewhat curiously, we seem not to be answering the series of question put to us at the end of this post.


1“It is never acceptable to confuse a ‘subjective’ error about moral good with the ‘objective’ truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.” From Veritatis Splendour.

2Reilly listed in a footnote this URL for a PDF copy of the Rolling Stone article, but I was unable to locate it there.

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