William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 3 of 706

Miracles And Knowledge Of Cause


Jesus turned barrels of water into wine, and good wine at that. Not a drop or two, but large pots, and in only a moment. The details might be important.

Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine…

Evidently, Jesus never touched the jars. As soon as they were filled, the water in them turned to wine (though it’s possible the water turned to wine in the ladles). The time this took must have been short. A moment or two, tops.

This happened, so it had to happen some how. The question is how? If we have any physicists or chemists in the audience, perhaps they might take a guess. (If you say it didn’t happen, then suppose it did arguendo. Do not go on about how it didn’t.)

One answer, and a right answer, is “Jesus is God, and God made the world, so using these same sorts of powers, God turned the water to wine.” While this is a right answer, it does not answer how.

Knowledge of the “standard model” used in physics suggests tremendous amounts of energy are required to transform elements, and that mass and energy are in some sense equivalent, so that if any of the mass of water and trace elements in the jars was transformed into the chemicals (including ethanol and water) which made wine, more generated power available in the whole of the world at the time would have been required.

Perhaps a “spherical cow“-type analysis can provide insight, not for the quantification per se, but to gauge the size of the problem. Even if that is forthcoming—knowledge of the size of the energy required—a mechanism still has to be posited. Some kind of map that says “push these water molecules together, supply them with such-and-such momentum, etc. etc. etc.” And then you’d have to figure how some ancient peoples who had not yet harnessed electricity carried the thing out. No easy job, that.

At the other end of it, we know that such a thing must be possible because, of course, it happened. Transforming water into wine is therefore doable. But because it is doable, and because we might figure out how it can be done, at least theoretically, that does not mean that Jesus did not do it, because of course he did.

Knowledge of how an event might be caused is therefore no bar to the event being miraculous, if we accept (loosely) as “miraculous” a direct intervention by God on the secondary causes of the world. But knowledge of how an event might be caused is not equivalent to knowledge of how it was caused, though the two might overlap. There is more than one way to make wine.

Suppose we have a physical model and a means for the wine creation. It is clear, based on all evidence, that the means was not present 2,000 years ago if the means were some sort of electronic apparatus. Of course, it could be that some machine could exist that could be made of parts and know-how available then but that we in our day will never dream of. And that this apparatus could have been used. Point is, just because we (or you) cannot think of how a thing can be done, does not logically imply that the thing cannot be done—especially in the face of the thing having been done.

To summarize: the water-into-wine is a miracle for two reasons. One, Jesus did it. Two, we think it impossible, given our cumulative knowledge, that such a thing could have been done without God in that time and place and circumstance.

All this is in contrast to mysterious medical cures, which are often put forward as God-caused miracles (which I assume many are). A physician writing in the New York Times said she “examined the files of more than 1,400 miracle investigations — at least one from every canonization between 1588 and 1999…stories of recovery from illness or injury, detailing treatment and testimony from baffled physicians.”

The difficulty, which is clear, is that bafflement is epistemological. As medicine advances, bafflement recedes, and so do miracles, if all that is required for a miracle is knowledge of a possible how (explanation). What was taken as a miracle last year, and certified as such, could be uncertified once it is learnt that, say, enzyme X was present when it was not known earlier that enzyme X was the cure.

This is why the miraculous cannot be based solely on science and must require faith.

Modern Artists Are Evil Or Borderline Bedlamites


Are all artists evil? No, not all of them. But some are, and it’s a good bet that they are among those touted by prize committees such as the cultural Marxists at the Turner Prize.

Proof? How’s this:

Anthea Hamilton is nominated for work focusing on fetishism including an enormous sculpture of a man’s buttocks.

That sentence is true. The “sculpture” is of a man’s enormous bootocks (using my old colleague Seargeant Gatewood’s preferred pronunciation) prised apart by giant disembodied hands. Since this is a family blog, and since I cannot advocate the radial dieting the image provokes, I will not show it.

The Turner Prize is given to image-makers (let’s not call them artists) under 50 years old. The prize itself is handed out by celebrities, who are defined as people above us all. Wikipedia says Yoko Ono, who is famous for being famous, gave away the forty-thousand British smackers in 2006, and in 2016 the dishonor went to actor Jude Law, who has (Wiki says) been in films.

Other nominees for this year’s money is a person who stacked yard rubbish into a not-so-neat pile with the title “aesthetically-overlooked materials” (pictured above), a person who evidently went to a Hobby Lobby dumpster and glued the remains together to create “poetic, pictorial puzzles”, and a person who displayed a store-bought choo-choo train.

Now it is a cliché, but still a truth, to say Hamilton and the other image-makers are talentless immature tiresome frauds with no sense of propriety, proportion, or prudence. The real question is whether they are also lost souls bamboozled into thinking they have contributed something positive to society, instead of ushering it closer to its doom. Or are they brazen hacks looking to become minor celebrities and make a buck out of slimy speculators who buy their works hoping to resell them to dumber dupes down the line?

If the answer is that these intellectually challenged image makers have been duped, then we should have nothing but pity for them. Pity does not mean that these sad people should be encouraged, though. Obviously, they should be discouraged by all means short of physical restraint. Go ahead and hurt their feelings by telling them their work is sad crap that looks worse than an open, suppurating sore.

If it is the latter, if in fact these image-makers know what they are doing, and there is sufficient evidence to assume it is true of at least some of the image-makers, then since their toddler-like tinkerings do positive harm to any that see them, these image-makers are evil.

Evil too are those that do nothing more than purchase autographs hoping thereby to gain a profit. For the creations by these image-makers are little more than a form of pornography, a pornography of corruption, hate, and ugliness, and making a profit from pornography is evil.

There are, of course, grades of evil. Not everything is evil to equal degree. The oil paintings of sad clowns and fuzzy flowers put up for sale in gas stations and flea markets are the mildest form of artistic evil, akin to wearing t-shirts with goofy messages in public. Both inflict faint ugliness on unwary citizens.

The images described above, and those like them, are far worse. Why? Because they are touted as good and worthy by self-appointed elites. The money awash in the system commands respect, too. That is unfortunate, because money has the weakest correlation with the good. But in a culture which has such a strong grip on materialism, money has undue weight

One elite is Will Gompertz at the BBC. Knowing that the works peddled by the prize are being called out, Gompertz had to defend them in “What defines a good work of art?” Gompertz correctly—I say correctly—identifies the central flaw in modern art:

You can appreciate pretty much anything if you intellectualise it – even those really dire videos you try to sit through in galleries. But not every work touches your emotions and makes you feel something.

Gompertz had “fun” looking at the bootocks, which he could not (or did not) “intellectualise”. Yet I felt the desire to smack some sense into Hamilton. According to Gompertz’s theory, my emotional response turned the bootocks into art.

Though it pains me to type this conclusion, which ought to be clear to the meanest intellect, if emotions define art, then because everything causes some reaction, everything is art—and therefore nothing is art.



This is it! I am taking an e-holiday. Except for work-related mop-up operations, no Internet, no Twitter, no email, no TV, no cell phone, no blog, no nothing.

I have posts scheduled for the blog for next couple of weeks, so readers will not go hungry for the scintillating intellectual content they have come to know and love. If something amazing, shocking, world-shaking, stupendous occurs during my sojourn I might log back on to write about it, but it would have to be at the alien-invasion level. I might be on for the next and last debate. Meanwhile, I have engaged an Editor to handle the day-to-day mechanics.

Emails, of course, will be stuffed in the Inbox and I’ll see them in time. I am currently about six months—and maybe even more—behind answering all the wonderful story ideas readers send in. Two more weeks (or maybe three if I get really excited about it) won’t make much difference.

There is a stack of books as high as boo times two that I need to read, there is a book I am working on, and articles that deserve more attention than I have been giving them. And I too often let the Internet become a distraction—and an excuse for not working.

Same thing was true when I had a “smart” phone, which I discovered was making me dumber. I gave it up two years ago and returned to a flip phone that can’t even store pictures. Not only is this far cheaper—being a philosopher of probability and statistics pays far less than you would have guessed—but the gained freedom is refreshing. I usually don’t bother carrying it with me and so have rediscovered what I already knew the first thirty years of my life: you don’t need a phone everywhere you go.

A small e-exception will be radio shows, of which I average some two to three a week. The Stream sets these up, and since they’re part of my job I’ll continue them. The phone will be turned on right before the shows, and turned off right after.

About Twitter: the blog itself automatically tweets the articles when published, so if you see “me” tweeting (besides an alien invasion), it isn’t. On the other hand, given Twitter’s panicked censoring of non-progressive voices, and the subsequent induced dullness of the platform, I might even suspend the service. If you cancel, you have 30 days to reconsider and can restore the account. We’ll see.

Let the freedom begin!

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, buy the book that will change the practice of scientific modeling, probability and statistics forever! Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

Trump As Speed Bump (And Debate Notes)


If Trump wins, his effect on the accelerating downward slide of our culture will be as a speed bump, perhaps a small series of speed bumps. If Hillary wins, she might cast the order “Bomb Putin!”, which will create a much bigger bump. Besides, she has as a list of clients those who donated to the Clinton Foundation to service before the rest of us. Don’t forget her call—and “dream”!—of open borders. Trump will be more receptive. How much?

Not too much. Trump is one man (or one team), and the bureaucracy, Congress, the media, universities, and entertainers will be against him. That’s five against one; it’s not a fair fight, and can’t be. Actually, strike that. It’s more like 0.5 against 5.5, because nobody expects Trump will consistently uphold Tradition and Reality.

A Trump election will only delay the inevitable. Most will say that’s a good thing, because any pause allows time to breathe. A respite will give room for soldiers of Tradition and Reality time to regroup after so many years of defeat.

That’s to one side. To the other is the idea that if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly. Rip the bandage off! The fight (many against the few) is coming, let each declare his allegiance and let’s get on with it. Yet a Trump residency on the people’s throne will give progressives time to regather, too, and given there are so many more of them, they’ll be able to do more. Why not light the fuse now and get it over with?

Ah, all democracies end the same way. There’s good and bad whichever way the election goes. Might as well take what comfort you can.

Debate notes (mostly modified tweets)

Trump can be nervous. Sniff, sniff. Good to know if you play poker with him. Hillary’s tell is her open-mouthed maniacal grin.

Hillary is good at debating. She doesn’t answer, she attacks. That’s the right thing to do in democratic political debates. Not philosophical debates, where presumably there is interest in finding the truth, but certainly in a democracy where the public must be convinced.

Trump, after waffling around for ten minutes, finally came to that idea.

Hillary: “I’m glad Trump isn’t in charge of the law.”

Trump: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Trump lost on the bathroom banter (as he should and as was expected), but beat back the waves by calling out Bill’s rapes and Hillary’s attacks on Bill’s victims. Hillary’s only answer to the emails was (in effect) “It’s all lies.”

Each and every disaster about Obamacare was predicted before it was passed. How much more are you (yes, you) paying?

Radical Islamic terror. Go ahead and said it, you Islamophobe. Or is it Islamaphobe? Spelling counts.

Who’s up for a nuclear holocaust with Russia? Hillary: Me! Me!

Most imaginative charge so far: Hillary’s claim that Trump’s campaign is causing terrorism. Hey. Some people will believe it.

Hillary: Putin and the Kremlin hacked my emails on my unsecured server. Wait’ll I’m president, boy. Release the drones!

Who wins against lowering (Trump) versus raising (Hillary) taxes?

Dr Hillary helped pass a law that allowed for better dosing for children. If you don’t remember anything else tonight, remember that.

Who’s up for a nuclear holocaust with Russia? Hillary: Me! Me! Oh, wait. Did we already do that one? Well, Hillary did it twice, too.

Trump: Syria is fighting ISIS, Russia is fighting ISIS. The implication is “Let’s not have war with Russia.” That’s the right answer. But I say as one of the irredeemable basket of deplorables.

Hillary: When I said Trump’s supporters were irredeemable deplorables, I meant I didn’t like Trump.

Trump: She has tremendous hatred in her. When she said deplorables, she meant it. (And then out came the maniacal grin!)

The audience questions surely helped Trump over Hillary.

Hillary: Did I forget to answer the question about special interests funding my campaign and Clinton Foundation?

And the winner is…Trump on a TKO.

All tied 1 – 1.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑