William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Scientists Pretend They Can Answer Why Some Are More Religious

The old man on the left is intuitive, while the priest on the right is reflective. It's Science!

The old man on the left is intuitive, while the priest on the right is reflective. It’s Science!

One thing that nearly always accompanies scientism is historical cluelessness. When somebody adopts the Way Of Science, they fall spell to the idea that only that which is most recent counts, because that which is most recent is where progress happens. History, then, is of no real interest, except to show the past is the place we have—at last!—escaped from.

Hence scidolatry, the worship of science. Hence scientism, the name of the religion, is yet another form of progressivism. Which should come as no surprise, really.

This coupling of scientism with immediacy is what partly explains Time‘s latest headline, and the motivation of those who did the work that inspired it. Here it is: “Here’s Why Some People Are More Religious Than Others.

Throughout all of human history, before scientism came along, nobody would have thought to make such an asinine statement—or conduct such a foolish study (described below). And that’s because the word religious didn’t mean what it means now, in the face of scientism. Religious was always used in a context where the hearer knew of what specific religion was meant. For instance, in the Catholic Church we still speak of “women religious”, meaning sisters and the like. The question “What makes her religious?” has an answer, all right, but a mundane one.

Religious in scientism (which permeates our culture) now means somebody who is spiritual, but in a way that is unfriendly to Science. People are allowed, even encouraged, to be spiritual, of course, which is different, because spiritualness (and not spirituality) acknowledges the True Boss, which is Science.

Before getting to the article, here’s what Time said:

It may have little to do with education; psychologists now believe that religiosity is linked to whether you solve problems intuitively or deliberatively.

When it comes to predicting the kind of people most likely to be religious, brainiac scientists used to be everyone’s last guess. The more educated a person was, the thinking went, the more likely they were to question the supernatural.

But the supposed divide between science and religion—in which religion was seen as the less-educated person’s “science” of choice—has ironically been subject to little scientific debate, until recently.

Several years before Pope Francis became pope of the Catholic Church in 2013, psychologists began to debunk the idea that being more educated meant a person was less likely to be religious…

How far back do History go? Several years afore 2013.

First, did you catch the jibe, encased in scare-quotes, about religion being a person’s science of choice? This tells us were dealing with scidolators.

Second, notice that these priests of scientism called psychologists treat those holding beliefs about the supernatural (supernaturalists) as in need of scientific explanation, because in scientism all is Science. It is axiomatic in scientism that the material is all there is, thus the supernatural cannot exist. And any evidence which shows that it does, in the forms of miracles, revelations, the presence of religious, and so on, must therefore be aberrations of one kind or another, usually mental. Scidolators are committed to this belief—committed, get it? get it?

Very well, a supernaturalist must be suffering from a misperception or a physical or psychological malady. Misperceptions are mostly out as an explanation for why people converted to or why they live out a religion, except in circumstances like this), so scidolators usually turn to malady.

Now we’ve seen fMRIs and the like used to explain supposed physical differences in brains of supernaturalists and scientismists (folks who accept scientism who might not also be scidolators), and indeed this is a growing industry of medicalizing belief. But these efforts are vastly outnumbered by psychological investigations, at the least because these are cheaper and easier than medical tests.

Science demands numbers, and psychologist oblige by creating questionnaires with answers to which numbers are assigned, and then they pretend these numbers accurately gauge hideously complex human emotions, like whether people are “people are either deliberative or intuitive”. Such bizarre actions can only be explained by scientism.

Anyway, that’s what we find in the peer-reviewed paper “Divine Intuition: Cognitive Style Influences Belief in God” by Amitai Shenhav, David G. Rand, and Joshua D. Greene. From the Abstract (here and below I strip out the references):

Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one’s more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection. Three studies support this hypothesis…

Byproduct. The supernatural is not considered seriously, because if it were, then there would be no need to make up questions about “intuition versus reflection”. But make them up they did. In one of their efforts, the authors admitted participants “completed a three-item Cognitive Reflection Test, which we used to assess cognitive style.”

That’s right: three simple questions were all that was needed to plumb the depths of “intuition and reflection.” Other questions were assigned numbers which explained, to a level sufficiently convincing to our authors, about the participants’ “belief in God”. How simple Science is!

You know what followed. Lots of wee p-values and heavy theorizing and no notions about such trivial matters of cause or its direction, and no awareness that the burden put on a few bare questions was too much for them to bear.

Yet the authors were still full of vinegar and said their work “showed that intuitive thinking predicts belief in God.” Why intuition? Because of “reasons related to more general features of human cognition that give rise to tendencies toward dualism, anthropomorphism, and promiscuous teleology.”

Promiscuous teleology! Somebody’s got a sense of humor. The authors have this: “From a dual-process perspective, these processes are hypothesized to produce automatic judgments that can be overridden through the engagement of controlled or reflective processes, with reflective processes enabling or supporting judgments based on less intuitive explanations.”

Those poor intuitive bastards. But at least the authors admit, “it does not follow that reliance on intuition is always irrational or unjustified.” But the implication is that it is in this case.

The last mark—always a true sign—of scientism is the unwarranted boasting of the powers of Science. That present here? You decide. Here’s how the paper wraps up.

[T]he present results are noteworthy because they help explain a profoundly important and elusive social phenomenon in terms of more basic cognitive tendencies, ones with observable effects across a wide range of psychological domains. How people think—or fail to think—about the prices of bats and balls is reflected in their thinking, and ultimately their convictions, about the metaphysical order of the universe.

Some Like It Hot: The Hottest Year Ever Inside A Global Warming “Pause”? The Stream. Updates

I rarely ask this, but I’d like you all to go The Stream and pass my article on to as many as you can. (Don’t link here, but link at The Stream.)

Strange New Climate Change Spin: The Hottest Year Ever Inside a Global Warming ‘Pause’?

I’ve been railing about these mistakes for years—here is a list of articles—but the criticisms never stick. Of course, any sane and correct criticism of global-warming-of-doom doesn’t stick, not in a climate where the government-funded want to criminalize critics’ opinions.

Incidentally, every scientist who signed that “Please, Mr President, Use The RICO Act To Silence Our Opposition” letter ought to have their name engraved on a plaque. I’d like them not to be forgotten. A lasting testament that scientists are not superior human beings and can’t be trusted more than anyone else.

Here’s the start of the article:

There are two stories floating around about the state of the earth’s atmosphere. Both are believed true by government-funded scientists and the environmentally minded. The situation is curious because the stories don’t mesh. Yet, as I said, both are believed. Worse, neither is true.

Story number one is that this year will be the hottest ever. And number two is that the reason it is not hot is because “natural variation” has masked or stalled man-caused global warming.

Which is it? Either it’s hotter than ever or it isn’t. If it is, then (it is implied) man-caused global warming has not “paused.” If it isn’t, if man-caused global warming has “paused,” then it is not growing hotter.

There are two things to keep straight: (1) why these divergent contentions are believed, and (2) why they are incompatible and individually false. The first point is easy. Climatology has become a branch of politics…

Go there to read the rest. And pass it on.

It is not the hottest year ever. “Natural variations” can’t cause a “pause.” And never say “pause” or “hiatus”—it admits global-warming-of-doom is true! Never adopt the language of your enemy.

The Editors at The Stream were particularly patient with me, since this is a long article and my enemies were inserting as many errors as they were removing.

Update So some guy at The Stream commented (all sic; I answer here because I’m not going to sign up for Disqus and be even more tracked all over the web):

You try to draw a distinction between Satellite “measurements” and other temperature measurements on the basis that one of them ( the older ones” ) are “proxies”

Perhaps you dont know that satellites do not measure temperature.

the sensor sits in space. It collects photons….

I want to cry sometimes. Whatever you don’t leave in, somebody points out as a mistake. OF COURSE satellites don’t measure temperature; they estimate it in an inverse problem. Not only do I know that, but I’ve written about it, and provided links in the Stream article to my many, many, many articles on dealing with temperature time series.

Goodness, I had no space to go into the inverse problem.

On the other hand, a True Believer at Twitter (I won’t link to him because links to the coward Greg Laden) claimed “WM Briggs @mattstat thinks dinosaurs read thermometers?” And that made my whole day.

Update “No, Briggs you fool, they said the hottest year on record. Ha!”

I despair sometimes, I really do. Hottest year on record is your argument? On record? Good grief!

I made the point in the article, but it was lost, that a “record” of only 40 to 50 years old is not very exciting. You agree, right? Right? And claims of “records” for the last 120 or so years must be, but are not, accompanied by predictive uncertainty, since anything before satellites is an estimate of disparate sources, places, and methods. Good grief!

And what makes the starting point of 1880, or whatever, so damn special? Only because that’s when the “modern record” begins? Good lord! How egotistical!

And even if considering the last 200 years—see how generous I am!—there was a genuine heat record now, what does that mean? Everybody without warrant assumes that if there was a record now, it must have been caused by man. I want to scream!

If we knew what was causing changes in the atmosphere—and I repeatedly emphasized this point in the article—then we would have made good, skillful predictions. We did not. Therefore we do not know all that is happening. Yes, we know some things. But not all. Sheesh! Not only is there no good evidence that man-caused global-warming-of-doom is so, there is terrific evidence because of model failure that the enhanced feedback of CO2 in the models is false. Why? Because they models can’t make good predictions and that is the most likely culprit for the failure! Why? Because the other physics, like the equations of motion, are found to work fine in, for instance, weather models.

And yesterday, on Twitter, I had an argument with a physicist that said the models predicted ice would melt as well as predicting it would get hotter. I wept!

Buy, say, did you notice something? In yesterday’s drama, nobody (that I noticed) defended that preposterous “natural variability” claim? Interesting, no?

Stay tuned…post coming soon at The Stream

A big one.

Update Due to my causing the editors extra work (it’s a longish piece), it appears it might not go up until late this evening or early tomorrow. Apologies.

The Theology of Water—Is Design Intelligent? Guest Post by Bob Kurland

ice structure

Physicist Bob Kurland gives us a twist on the anthropic principle.

“The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”—Quoted in the Office of Readings (Monday, Week 7 of Easter), from a catechetical instruction by St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

The title of this post, “The Theology of Water”, is taken from a short story by Hilbert Schenck in a collection of science-fiction stories with a religious theme, Perpetual Light.

In this story, after fruitless searches in the rest of the solar system, some middle-aged astronaut scientists explore Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, to find life. Titan is unique amongst solar system satellites in having an atmosphere, albeit a very cold one.

The scientists don’t find life in any form, but they do find a strange type of water: freezing and melting points much lower than “earth” water, but still with the unusual feature of solid water (ice) lighter than liquid at the freezing point, and with other differences in the thermodynamic properties. The different properties are in fact those that would be suitable for life on this cold world, if life existed. In testing the Titan water, the scientists turn it into earth-type water and realize that they are the life for which water is intended.

I dispute the essential scientific point of this story, that water at comparable temperatures and pressures would be different on Titan than on earth. The properties of ice—its relatively high melting point (compared to what one might expect doing a Periodic table comparison), it being lighter than liquid water—and the unusual thermodynamic properties of water can be traced ultimately to fundamental bonding properties, specifically to the properties of the hydrogen bond (see the illustration above), which in turn can be explained (in principle) by fundamental physics–quantum mechanics and electrostatics.

Nevertheless, in telling the story, Schenck makes this important point: the properties of water are tightly linked to the properties of the planet earth in order to provide an environment suitable for life (that is to say, carbon-based life as we know it). Here are those properties (and I quote from the story—all temperatures are in degrees Centigrade—0 degrees Centigrade is the normal freezing point of water):

1) liquid water has a maximum density at 4 degrees. If it didn’t (if the maximum density was at the freezing temperature), the cold water would sink to the bottom of the ocean and earth’s average surface temperature would be more than 20 degrees lower;

2) if the vapor pressure or the unusually high heat of vaporization of water is changed, either too much or not enough cloud would exist, which, in either case, would be a meteorological disaster;

3) if the density of ice is greater than that of liquid water at the freezing point (for most substances the density of the solid is greater than that of the melt), the ice would sink to the bottom of the oceans and the oceans would be perpetually frozen at the bottom, leading to massive winds at the surface;

4) if the high specific heat of liquid water is reduced, the temperature stabilizing effect of the ocean is lowered, and more storms and lower average temperature results;

5) the properties of water are optimized for the tilt of the earth’s axis (23.5 degrees from the vertical)–if it were 0 degrees tilt, the temperature stabilizing effect would be too large, with complete cloud cover and ice-caps down to 40 degrees latitude

(6) in the story, the properties of water are set for a mean earth temperature that is optimum for metabolism at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (and guess to what temperature that corresponds?)

Our biochemistry crucially involves the chemistry of water and hydrogen bonding. The structure and reactions of proteins, enzymes, and DNA is critically dependent on hydrogen bonding, internally and to other biochemical molecules. Here are some resources about biochemistry and about the role of hydrogen bonding in DNA and proteins.

Biologists interested in alien life have considered biochemistries other than carbon-based/H2O. (See the Wikipedia article on hypothetical types of biochemistry.) Of these, one based on ammonia, NH3, seems most likely. However the hydrogen bonds between ammonia molecules are only half as strong as those between water molecules. Also, the temperature range for liquid ammonia is much lower than that for water, -78 to -33 degrees, so chemical reactions would proceed much more slowly, possibly too slowly for life-sustaining reactions.

So, the chemistry of hydrogen-bonding is one of those “finely-tuned” realities of nature that enable human life to exist. We recall the Anthropic Principle, used to explain the fine-tuning of physical constants and cosmological facts (among which are the age of the universe and the unlikely existence of a large moon for our planet) that enables the existence of intelligent, carbon-based life. I have not invoked the improbability of such fine-tuning, because probability, as a quantitative measure, is not properly applied to a single entity, and there is but one universe—we can know no other despite the speculations of metaphysical cosmologists.

How then do we justify the unlikelihood of such fine tuning, cosmological, physical and chemical? And when I use the term unlikelihood, I’m not referring to the improbability of picking one white ball out of a bag of a zillion black balls. Rather, I’m saying that we can think of all sorts of other universes, with different physical constants and laws, for which our type of life would not be possible. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how any of the operative laws/constants might be nudged just a little bit and still allow for our kind of life.

Such fine tuning for hydrogen-bonding physics and chemistry should not, I believe, be tossed as another ingredient into the Intelligent Design” (ID) stew. As I understand ID, its principal tenet is opposing the Darwinian model for evolution (common descent). Proponents of ID argue that gradual changes in form or biochemistry that might enhance survival (the cornerstone of the Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest program) are not sufficient to achieve the drastic differences in morphology and the “irreducible complexity” of various biochemical schemes.

To my mind this is a “God of the gaps” type argument–to attribute that which we don’t understand to specific divine intervention. Moreover, a God who frames fundamental physics so that variety and complexity grows “naturally” from a unified beginning is much more to be admired and worshiped than a God who assembles, Leggo-like, all the objects of a Young Earth (including evidence for a 4.5 billion year old earth and a 14 billion year old universe). Paul Davies puts it very well:

…the hypothesis of an intelligent designer applied to the laws of nature is far superior than the designer…who violates the laws of nature from time to time by working miracles in evolutionary history. Design-by-laws is incomparably more intelligent than design-by-miracles. (Emphasis added, The Cosmic Jackpot: Why our universe is just right for life, p.200.)

“Design-by-laws” (in Davies’ felicitous phrase) is just how the anthropic principle can be interpreted. Since a full discussion of the anthropic principle would require a much lengthier article, I’ll defer that. But I would like to end with one further comment. My home blog is entitled “Reflections of a Catholic Scientist“. And, as a Catholic scientist, my God is much more than a creator, a demiurge who designed the universe engine and pressed the starter button. My God is a Trinity, a personal God, who intervenes from time to time in history, who sustains the laws of physics that make the universe-engine chug along, and who came to us in the person of His son, verified by historical revelation.

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