William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Laudato Si: “The Curate’s Egg.” The Excellent Parts I. Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
“True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

Bob Kurland provides us good start to our holiday weekend.

(1) He [the Pope] cannot speak as a private theologian but in his official capacity as vicar of Christ and head of the Church; (2) He must officially define a doctrine relating to faith or morals (unfortunately, the pope is not infallible when it comes to science, politics, weather, and the outcome of sporting events); and (3) The pronouncement must not be directed only to a single individual or particular group of people, but it must be promulgated for the benefit of the entire Church. —Patrick Madrid, The Papacy and Galileo.

Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins. —St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.

There has been much heat and just a little light engendered by Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical, Laudato Si. Unlike many who have either praised or condemned Laudato Si, I have read the whole work, not once but three times. What I propose to do in this post is to list, with minimal comment, the sections that I find laudatory (that’s a pun, son) and then in a second post, the parts that I find questionable or objectionable. The Encyclical is 184 pages, so it will be necessary to focus selectively on the material.

The Excellent Parts

When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities—to offer just a few examples—it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. 117

The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a Thou who addresses himself to another “thou.” 81.

I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”. 213

Pope Francis calls us on us to reject consumerism, not to rely solely on technology, and to focus on that which has human values.

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. 47

“…while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” Quoting the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace (483). 50

Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. 81

The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. 106

It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. 199

Pope Francis calls on us to enter into a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. 236

The Parts That Are Excellent But Apt To Spoil

In the first sections of Laudato Si Pope Francis exhorts us to be one with nature and to realize God in His creation, emulating Saint Francis in his paean to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. There is much beautiful in these sections, and I emphasize with them. I recall the times more than 70 years ago when I lay underneath the big trees in Yosemite (as a summer Forest Service worker), or sat in the Griffith Planetarium marveling at the night sky in other times and other places.

He cites the works of past Popes who have been concerned about the environment, Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and quotes at length the remarks of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:

At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs…” Quoting from Lecture at the Monastery of Ulstein. 9

I can’t quarrel with any of those statements. What concerns me, however, is that they are adopted and corrupted by those who do not believe in a Creating God, but instead worship the creation—Gaia, Mother Earth. We see the farmers in San Joaquin Valley in California struggling to produce food–their water supply has been diverted to the San Francisco Bay to preserve (presumably) a small fish, the snail darter. One extreme faction of the Green worshipers of Mother Earth would have human reproduction minimized or eliminated. Thank God, Pope Francis spoke against that.

Notes On Our War. Never Give Up! Never Surrender! More Updates


We’re in the midst of a spiritual (call it political if you need to) war, one for which ultimate victory is assured, but one for which it is just as certain many battles will be lost. The two sides are (1) those who hold to human nature and (2) those who abhor it. If you have to ask “What does he mean by human nature?” or you say “There is no war” (see pic links), there is better than a good chance you side with the enemy.

Wars ebb and flow, sometimes growing hotter, sometimes cooler. Ours is growing hotter. It is not yet blazing. Wars are characterized by battles, and battles by whether both sides choose to engage or one opts to withdraw. But that is too simple. There may be battles within battles and within any melee there are ruses, delaying actions, feints, and false and true retreats. And there are charges, advances, forced marches, assaults.

We have to figure out where we are and what we’re going to do in the next phase.

No war is won by hiding behind fortifications. As the man said, “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.” Yet this does not imply retreats are forbidden. There is no dishonor from tactically avoiding a vastly superior force. Retreats can be delaying actions. They give, or can give, time to recuperate and gain strength and avoid unnecessary causalities. But if retreats are central to a campaign, they engender atrophy, encourage apathy, and cause overriding fear when offensive measures are proposed. A retreat must always seen as the first phase of an attack elsewhere.

When the skirmishes we face break out into full scale world warfare—the war is already bloody in the Middle East, Nigeria, and other localities—we have to have some plan in place. One plan is ill-defined the “Benedict Option“. A retreat. And, from what I can gather, not a measured withdraw, but a drop-everything race for the hills. To a place where the mountains are high and the emperor far away. Appealing, that. Only, no such place exists any more. Antarctica, maybe. Anywhere else you go, they can find you.

We can’t retreat. Not all of us, not all at once. That would turn into a rout, where the stragglers are moped up and eliminated piecemeal. Never forget our enemy does not give quarter. And even if we all agreed on a retreat, some of us would have to fight a delaying action while others of us fell back to this remote preserve.

Of course, instead of retreating, we could out-and-out capitulate. Bye bye, Episcopalians (who’ll today vote for gmarriage). Sayonara, Bishop Cupich (his reaction to the gmarriage decision was to yell at faithful Catholics).

The other option is to fight like men. That’s also the opinion of our friends John Zmirak and Ed Feser. Zmirak first:

There is nowhere to hide, no ghetto so obscure that the gay totalitarians will leave you alone. Think of all the money that Germany spent persecuting a single homeschooling family. Laws like Germany’s are coming here soon, if we don’t fight them tooth and nail. Remember the thousands of bureaucrats who dutifully audited Tea Party groups for the IRS. Soon thousands more will be scrutinizing your church, its school and every Christian organization in the country. The Left has tasted blood, and intends to feed. Even if you piously decide to turn the other cheek, and congratulate yourself on being persecuted for Christ, you have no right to make that decision for your children or your neighbor.

Feser (for “Matrix theory” swap in “gmarriage”):

Suppose that as you look around, you notice that some of your allies are starting to slink away from the field of battle. One of them says: “Well, you know, we have sometimes been very insulting to believers in the Matrix theory. Who can blame them for being angry at us? Maybe we should focus more on correcting our own attitudes and less on changing their minds.” Another suggests: “Maybe we’ve been talking too much about this debate between the Matrix theory and commonsense realism. We sound like we’re obsessed with it. Maybe we should talk about something else instead, like poverty or the environment.” A third opines: “We can natter on about philosophy all we want, but the bottom line is that scripture says that the world outside our minds is real. The trouble is that we’ve gotten away from the Bible. Maybe we should withdraw into our own faith communities and just try to live our biblically-based belief in external reality the best we can.”

Never apologize for the truth. Show no weakness. It’s like blood in the water to starving sharks.


Update The video here is interesting.

Update Does the word “boycott” mean anything? Disney tells its Christian patrons, “We hate you.”

Update The Episcopal Church approves religious weddings for gay couples after controversial debate. As predicted.

Update Unnatural is the New Normal. From contraception (against human nature) to gmarriage.

Update Christian Preachers Beaten at Gay Pride Festival

Update Mark Steyn.

I started the day on Bill Bennett’s radio show, which is always fun. Jonah Goldberg was on before me, and advanced the proposition, after the Supreme Court’s almighty constitutional bender last week, that it wasn’t so bad; conservatives who just pottered around in their own world and tended to their families would still be able to lead lives largely unbattered by the forces of “progress”. A few minutes later, one of Bill’s listeners, Claudine, came on and said that’s what Germans reckoned in the 1930s: just keep your head down and the storm will pass. How’d that work out?

Satire Update

Update State Silences Bakers Who Refused to Make Cake for Lesbian Couple, Fines Them $135K. As predicted.

In the ruling, Avakian placed an effective gag order on the Kleins, ordering them to “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about not wanting to bake cakes for same-sex weddings based on their Christian beliefs.

“This effectively strips us of all our First Amendment rights,” the Kleins, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which has since closed, wrote on their Facebook page. “According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech.”


Cheating With Polls Down Under. Guest Post by Stephen Dawson


Today’s post is from our friend Stephen Dawson, who writes at hifi-writer.com. I scheduled this in advance, knowing I’d be suffering jet lag.

Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University is one of the two or three most prominent climate scientists in Australia. The other day he lent his expertise to a current controversy in my home town, Canberra. We (lucky us!) are getting light rail. A survey shows the Canberra population leaning against it: 46.3% of Canberra residents are against it, versus 38.8% in support. But Dr Steffen and his colleague came to the rescue. In this oped they turned that opposition around, into 33.2% against, 51.9% in support, a clear majority in support!

He and Professor Barbara Norman (also an environmental scientist) from Canberra University managed this feat by a simple expedient: they excluded conservative voters from the sample (in Australia the Liberal Party is the relatively conservative one):

In our reanalysis, we used all the percentages reported in the Canberra Times article in terms of level of support for light rail according to intended voting patterns. We then removed the intended Liberal voters from the analysis, giving a total of 980 remaining respondents to the poll, comprising the categories Labor, Greens, Others and Undecided in terms of intended voting pattern.

Of course, they had solid statistical reasons for doing so.

The very low 15.9 per cent of intending Liberal voters who support light rail are indicative of an issue that has become excessively polarising along partisan political lines. Such a strong skew also has statistical implications for the poll itself, and can easily generate a misleading impression of what the poll numbers are actually showing. In particular, the overall result of weak support for light rail could be highly skewed by the view of intended Liberal voters, who make up slightly less than one-third of the total number of residents polled.

Got to get rid of those outliers!

We all owe these authors a debt. Normally statistical manipulations with a view to gaining a particular outcome are hidden. It’s rare for them to be laid out so obviously. Australia is in good hands as the good professor:

…is currently a Climate Commissioner with the Australian Government Climate Commission; Chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee, Co-Director of the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures (CURF) initiative and Member of the ACT Climate Change Council.

Editor’s Note: Reader Michael Whelan fills us in on “climate” scientist Will Steffen, the man responsible for the statistics.

Will Steffen (born 1947) is an american chemist. He was the executive director of the Australian National University (ANU) Climate Change Institute and a member of the Australian Climate Commission until its abolishment in September 2013.[1] From 1998 to 2004, he was the executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, a co-ordinating body of national environmental change organisations based in Stockholm.[2]

This is a prime example of cherry picking data to confirm a prejudice, makes you wonder about validity of his climate research.

The Need To Believe In “The Solution” To Global Warming

Travel day, plus I wanted to have this on its own anyway. Speech given at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change, June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC. The video and audio are somewhat sketchy because of my lack of editing prowess.

Reminder: Yours Truly is available for talks and speeches, even classes, of any kind.

Go the THE STREAM to read more!

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