William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 152 of 645

Is This Sign Hate Speech?


A “controversial” sign sets the words, “If you think there is no God you’d better be right!” over small picture of flames.

News reports say the sign was in front of the Attleborough Baptist Church in south Norfolk, England. The very sensitive, and undoubtedly precious, civilian Robert Gladwin, 20, saw the sign and “decided to contact the police after comparing the message to other forms of hate speech.”

The police, duty bound, treated the “incident” as hate speech and got the church to agree to remove the sign.

Gladwin said, “I was just astounded really. We live in the 21st century and they have put that message – that non-Christians will burn in hell – up to try and scare people into joining their mentality.”

In other words, Gladwin reacted emotionally to the sign while wondering how anybody in these Enlightened times could react emotionally to the sign.

The question before us is not Gladwin’s obvious feminine nature—who are we to judge? Instead, we must decide whether the sign is indeed “hate speech,” i.e. a thoughtcrime.

Now either the message of the sign tells of real or of fantastical things. The sign could be relating a truth: repent and be saved or be cast outside the gates where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If the sign’s objurgation holds, hellfire is a danger. It therefore cannot be hateful to tell somebody of this, especially in the form of an impersonal sign on private property.

The sign could be relating an approximate truth. Hell could be real but it is not meant for people, as many modern theologians insist. But then there is nothing to worry about and the sign is merely metaphorical, as the entire Bible then is.

The sign could be fantastic. There is no God, no Hell, life holds no meaning, the time we have here is everything there is. In this sad case, the sign also cannot be hate speech. It would be the equivalent of threatening to stab somebody with a unicorn’s horn, or to whack them on the skull with Thor’s hammer. The threat is entirely empty, and known to be so. Telling somebody you will sprinkle them with Pixie dust will not cause them to tremble if they believe Pixie’s do not exist.

Threats only have force if the message or circumstance is believed to be real. Gladwin must then, in his heart of hearts, believe the threat to be real. This is probably why he is quoted as saying, “It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature.

“The message being displayed outside of the church could not be further from the often uttered phrase ‘love thy neighbour’.”

Ignore the incoherence and instead notice instead how odd it is that folks outside the Church have such a passion for preaching to those inside it. Here is what your Church really teaches. What’s happening here is that Gladwin wants to be reassured he himself is under no danger of eternal punishment. It can’t be that he already believes he is not or he could not have seen the sign as “hate” speech.

If Gladwin really did not believe in Hell, then he could not have seen as hateful a warning that he risks going there, any more than he could have seen as hateful a warning that he risks being sentenced to eternally quarry stones in Bedrock next to Fred Flintsone. That he secretly knows the truth means there is hope for Gladwin, as there is hope for all of us.

Readers, incidentally, might be curious to learn that the Catholic Church has never consigned anybody to the flames. No person in all of history was ever officially said to be in Hell, not even Judas or Ted Kennedy. The reason for this is simple enough: there is no proof any individual is. There is, however, plentiful evidence some people are, we just don’t know who. Just make sure it isn’t you.

Update Don’t forget to answer the question. If you leave the answer blank, we’ll assume you do NOT think the sign is a thoughtcrime.

Summary Against Modern Thought: Things Which Block Truth

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide.

Chapter 4

(1) WHILE then the truth of the intelligible things of God is twofold, one to which the inquiry of reason can attain, the other which surpasses the whole range of human reason, both are fittingly proposed by God to man as an object of belief.i

We must first show this with regard to that truth which is attainable by the inquiry of reason, lest it appears to some, that since it can be attained by reason, it was useless to make it an object of faith by supernatural inspiration.ii

(2) Now three disadvantages would result if this truth were left solely to the inquiry of reason.

(3) One is that few men would have knowledge of God: because very many are hindered from gathering the fruit of diligent inquiry, which is the discovery of truth, for three reasons.

Some indeed on account of an indisposition of temperament, by reason of which many are naturally indisposed to knowledge: so that no efforts of theirs would enable them to reach to the attainment of the highest degree of human knowledge, which consists in knowing God.

Some are hindered by the needs of household affairs. For there must needs be among men some that devote themselves to the conduct of temporal affairs, who would be unable to devote so much time to the leisure of contemplative research as to reach the summit of human inquiry, namely the knowledge of God.

And some are hindered by laziness. For in order to acquire the knowledge of God in those things which reason is able to investigate, it is necessary to have a previous knowledge of many things: since almost the entire consideration of philosophy is directed to the knowledge of God: for which reason metaphysics, which is about divine things, is the last of the parts of philosophy to be studied.iii

Wherefore it is not possible to arrive at the inquiry about the aforesaid truth except after a most laborious study: and few are willing to take upon themselves this labour for the love of a knowledge, the natural desire for which has nevertheless been instilled into the mind of man by God.iv

(4) The second disadvantage is that those who would arrive at the discovery of the aforesaid truth would scarcely succeed in doing so after a long time. First, because this truth is so profound, that it is only after long practice that the human intellect is enabled to grasp it by means of reason. Secondly, because many things are required beforehand, as stated above. Thirdly, because at the time of youth, the mind, when tossed about by the various movements of the passions, is not fit for the knowledge of so sublime a truth, whereas calm gives prudence and knowledge, as stated in 7 Phys.[1] Hence mankind would remain in the deepest darkness of ignorance, if the path of reason were the only available way to the knowledge of God: because the knowledge of God which especially makes men perfect and good, would be acquired only by the few, and by these only after a long time.v

(5) The third disadvantage is that much falsehood is mingled with the investigations of human reason, on account of the weakness of our intellect in forming its judgments, and by reason of the admixture of phantasms. Consequently many would remain in doubt about those things even which are most truly demonstrated, through ignoring the force of the demonstration: especially when they perceive that different things are taught by the various men who are called wise. Moreover among the many demonstrated truths, there is sometimes a mixture of falsehood that is not demonstrated, but assumed for some probable or sophistical reason which at times is mistaken for a demonstration. Therefore it was necessary that definite certainty and pure truth about divine things should be offered to man by the way of faith.vi

(6) Accordingly the divine clemency has made this salutary commandment, that even some things which reason is able to investigate must be held by faith: so that all may share in the knowledge of God easily, and without doubt or error.vii

(7) Hence it is written (Eph. iv. 17, 18): That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened: and (Isa. liv. 13): All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.


iFrom last time, there are some things we can work out for ourselves, but others which we must take on revelation, i.e. on faith.

iiDon’t panic. We’re starting with that which we can prove by reason. The juiciest arguments will be concrete, scientific, and oh so rational.

iiiTo his great shame, Yours Truly fits into category three. How about you, dear reader? I’ll flatter both of us that, because you regularly stop by here, that you at most suffer as I do, but that you’ll be capable of and have the time to understand the arguments to come.

ivDavid Stove, one of my favorite anti-modern modern philosophers said learning requires two things, libraries and leisure. The library of the internet is practically free, but leisure is harder to come by, particularly as we invent more and more labor-saving devices. Most Westerners now on purpose carry with them everywhere Thinking Suppression Devices so that not even by accident will they philosophize.

vIt is shocking that so many would try to figure out the greatest questions we could possibly ask on their own, without study. Would you try to figure quantum mechanics, the calculus, grammar from scratch on your own without consulting the relevant authorities? No, sir, you would not. So why are you so keen on consulting only your untutored thoughts on, say, whether God exists?

viOnce you are presented with an argument with true premises, a valid conclusion, and which is sound, you have no choice, if you are rational, other than to accept it. Likewise, if an argument you cherish is shown to have false premises, an invalid conclusion, or is shown unsound, you must, if you are rational, you must reject it. Thirdly, many of the arguments on which we rely are not well considered, but carried along habitually or because they are deeply pleasing to us. I used to be an atheist, too, so I know what it’s like. Time for some intense scrutiny.

Update Apropos quotation from Peter Kreeft (start 10:30) on why academics have turned traditionally Catholic colleges and universities away from the Truth. “Smart people are very good at just about everything intellectual, including fooling themselves. Ordinary people aren’t smart enough to fool themselves. They have no place to hide. But academics can create all sorts of excuses and places to hide from themselves.”

viiLike I said, this won’t be our path. We’re going to prove everything.

[1] iii. 7.

Foreclosures Causing Suicides?


Remember our discussion of the Spurious Correlations website, nicely paired with the Regression Isn’t What You Think post?

The two keys points of both are the (a) “statistically significant” correlations, even nonsensical ones, are free for the asking, and (b) people are always assuming statistical models are causal.

If people see a “significant” correlation that they can tell a story about, they accept it as real and causal. If their imagination is not fecund enough to tell a believable tale, the correlation is dismissed as spurious. All that business of wee p-values and technical talk of model innards is secondary and incidental, though necessary to get the tale past peer review.

From reader Kent Clizbe comes this Washington Post story “Foreclosures may be driving the rise in suicides”, with the picture given at the top of this post. The correlation is clear, as the percentage of loans in foreclosure increase, so do suicides.

The tale?

Fear first: the writer says the “foreclosure crisis” is a “public health crisis.” Never let a good crisis go to waste. Then she expands the correlation: “The Washington Post’s Dina elBoghdaddy wrote that it even appears foreclosures may raise the blood pressure of neighbors who simply live near these repossessed homes.” Maybe “For Sale” signs send out occult hypertension rays? Better look into that.

Here’s the meat:

Researchers Jason Houle at Dartmouth and Michael Light at Purdue looked at state-level suicide rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alongside proprietary foreclosure data from RealtyTrac in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 2005 and 2010. Their analysis compared the two datasets within each state across time, and across each state at fixed moments, controlling for variables captured in data from the American Community Survey (including demographics, unemployment and poverty rates, divorce rates and population density).

The tell tale phrase is “controlling for”, which means we’re dealing with regression. This is a model of the central parameters of a normal distribution which quantifies our uncertainty in suicide rates (per state). That model had a bunch of modifiers of the central parameter, i.e. those things “controlled for”, plus the foreclosure rate (per state). That is, the uncertainty in the suicide rate itself is characterized with a normal distribution, and that parameter of that normal which describes the center is shifted rightwards in the presence of all those things “controlled for” and in the presence of higher foreclosure rates.

The p-value which confirms this wasn’t as wee as usual. The authors admit “Net of other factors, an increase in the within-state total foreclosure rate was associated with a within-state increase in the crude suicide rates (b = 0.04; P < .1)”. Not 0.05, you see. Well, let’s hope that the authors were not too bereft over the lack of traditional weeness. And, indeed, they probably were not, as we shall soon see.

Now it is certainly plausible, and probably even true in some individual cases, that foreclosing a home pushes people to commit that awful unpardonable sin. The model, however, says nothing about individuals, only about rates within states. The model is silent on the causes of each individual suicide.

Indeed, it is not known whether any of the folks in this database who committed suicide even had a home which was foreclosed.

That’s because the authors relied on the epidemiologist fallacy for their results. And since their p-value was not traditionally wee, they dug further into the data, doing sub-analyses, and discovered suicide rates were largest “among the middle-aged”, which is “46–64 years”. The p-value in this subset was comfortably wee.

The Post writer asked, “Why the significant effect for adults in between those groups, and for those age 46 to 64 in particular?” And the authors answer, plausibly, “Middle-aged adults have the highest proportion of homeowners relative to other age groups and have a higher risk of home foreclosure than do other age groups.”

On the other hand, which group of folks has the highest suicide rate, independent of all? According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,

In 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate (17.6) occurred in those 85 years and older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2010, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.5.

So middle-age is where all the action is anyway. It’s still possible, of course, that a foreclosures can be the last straw for somebody. But it does not appear likely that the increase in foreclosures it causing a public health “crisis.”



I am outraged! It’s true. I am so outraged that I have created my own hashtag: #IAmOutraged. Use it to join me in my outrage. Let us unite in our outrage!

I started being mildly irked, but that went nowhere. I soon shifted to annoyed and then chafed, which was the right direction, but neither provided enough oomph. Descending the emotional chromatic scale led me to miffed, riled, and sorely vexed. No success.

Just plain angry sputtered and died. Then came indignant, which is a sort of foaming irate inner wrath. This gave comfort to immediate neighbors, but it still wasn’t powerful enough. I thus announced I was incensed, but had to gave it up since recent college graduates didn’t know what that word meant.

Finally, guided by the temperament of our great Democracy, I became outraged. Here I stay.

Being outraged is in. All the best people are outraged, and I want to be among the best. No lesser emotion will do. If you want attention, you must be outraged.

The casus belli matters not. Learn that your city is going to test the soil for radiation? An outrage. Somebody take too long in the coffee line, delaying even you? An outrage. Your local school wants to implement a fee for bathroom breaks to teach kids the value of money? An outrage.

Your favorite game show preempted by a politician’s speech? An outrage. You read with a sympathetic eye an article on the Internet about the contretemps of some stranger? Full-bore outrage.

All these pale next to the utterly intolerable. We discover that something, in this great nation of ours, has gone wrong at the top. Nothing but repeatedly expressed outrage from our leaders is sufficient to tackle this problem. What matters more than anything is your intent and depth of your caring, and nothing, and I mean nothing, can demonstrate that better than being outraged.

So I ask you once again. Join me in being outraged. Spread the hashtag #IAmOutraged to prove your fealty to this sentiment.

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