William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 4 of 627

It Is Irrational to Believe in Science

These guys must be out of their minds.

These guys must be out of their minds.

This article only begins the subject; it does not end it. Atheists, beware the So’s-Your-Old-Man Fallacy.

Belief in the absence of evidence is irrational. There is no evidence for believing in science; yet many do believe in science. Therefore, belief in science is irrational and many people ought to find new hobbies.

The form of this argument is valid. The adornment to it with the true observation that many do believe in science, and the appendage of the moral judgement that it is better not to be irrational if one can help it are unnecessary to the central point and can be removed, though they do no harm. The argument passes the test for logical correctness: people should not have a slavish devotion to science. Is the argument sound? That depends on the premises.

Let’s agree, as atheists would, that the first premise is true: belief without evidence is irrational. There are niceties here, but let them pass for the moment. The conclusion surely follows from the two premises: it is irrational to believe in science given that belief in the absence of evidence is irrational and that there is no evidence for believing in science. So we only have to examine the minor premise: is it true? Yes, absolutely: but it depends on what we mean by evidence and science. (All arguments are conditional on the definitions of the terms they use, so it is no surprise that this should be so here.)

Science, everybody agrees, uses math: 1 + 1 = 2, and all that. Only there is no evidence that 1 + 1 = 2 or for any mathematical statement. Science, since it relies on mathematics, is therefore irrational. The belief that 1 + 1 = 2 starts with the belief, in the absence of evidence, that 0 is a natural number. It proceeds to the belief that for every natural number x, x = x; and from there to the belief that for all natural numbers x and y, if x = y, then y = x; and from there to the idea that for all natural numbers x, y and z, if x = y and y = z, then x = z; and from there to belief that the successor of every natural number is itself a natural number. None of these beliefs have evidence to support them. This list is only an introductory set which, taken with their unstated cousins, eventually lead us to the proposition 1 + 1 = 2. But there is much more to it: We also have to admit the belief that our process of reasoning from these axioms—for that is what these beliefs are called—to the proposition, and this belief in our powers is also sans evidence. What do I mean by this?

This article started with a logical argument in a familiar form. There is no evidence here that our powers of recognizing this form and applying it have been done correctly. We just have to believe that we’re doing it right, or we have to believe the form itself always leads to validity, but even that belief is unfounded. The same powers of reasoning in which we place our trust are also in use as you read these words, of course, so we’d better hope they work here, too.

I’ve been dancing around the word evidence. Time to make it concrete. Now in real life if you take one banana, you notice that because you have one banana, you conclude you really do indeed have one banana. If you had two, you’d reason you have two. And so on. From that humble observation, and many similar ones, arises the belief that for every natural number x, x = x. This is impossible to check for all numbers. You must take it on faith. Or if you don’t like putting it that way, you must believe based on the evidence of your bananas and the reasoning provided to you by induction. The induction moves from the specific instances of bananas and other objects to the general idea that numbers (and not necessarily objects) have certain properties. There is empirical observation, sense data, to start the idea going, but it is induction that carries us to the goal; there is no complete empirical observation that will ever prove our belief. And this applies to all the axioms of mathematics and logic.

Incidentally, although we use objects to form our ideas of numbers, that numbers are not objects should be obvious because objects do not always behave like numbers. Adding one electron with one positron does not result in two objects but in a burst of light, just as one man uniting in holy matrimony with one woman does not produce two persons but one flesh. Nevertheless, and no matter what, 1 + 1 = 2.

Since mathematics and logic and the other powers of our reasoning are based on induction, which provide statements of universal generality that can never be checked and will therefore never have complete empirical evidence for their belief, our belief in science, which uses all these things, is irrational. Unless we’re willing to say evidence is not merely empirical, error-free observation, and that instead evidence is partly measurement and partly the sorts of thing that takes place in our intellects. via induction. Now this is not to say how these inductions swim into our view, and it says nothing about the nature and types of the different kinds of induction (there are at least five). That topic is huge and beyond this short article. The only point relevant here is that empiricism as a basis for science, must be wrong—though, again, we have to be careful to define empiricism.

One definition is that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. This isn’t incompatible with the canvas I painted above if we’re liberal about the word derived, so that it includes induction. But strict empiricists are dogmatic and say only observation (or measurement) counts. That view is clearly false, unless we’re willing to toss out all mathematics and logic.

I haven’t said much about science itself. And won’t—not here. But induction comes to play even here. Gravitational attraction is determined, we say, by these certain equations to any reasonable degree of measurement fineness. Very well. We try out these determinative equations and find they work here, and that they work there. But do they work over there? I mean, way, way over there in outer-outer space, in the areas hidden from us by (say) dark matter? We can take no measurements, directly or indirectly, yet we suppose, since there is no reason to think otherwise, that gravity is the same everywhere. It’s not necessarily the same everywhen, as aficionados of inflation theory will tell you. We believe, with no direct empirical evidence, that things work the same everywhere. There are plenty of indirect measurements; namely, that gravity works in all the spots we’ve so far examined. However, just like with the math example, we can’t check everywhere.

Anyway, it’s not only gravity, and it’s not only widely separated places in time and space. Right here on Gaia herself, we take it for granted that trees make a noise when they fall and when a government-grant wielding scientist isn’t there with his microphones to document it (indeed, under the sway of scientism, we’re unlikely to believe anything that wasn’t peer reviewed). This is a kind of faith—or another kind of induction. It is, by definition, not based on any direct observation or measurement. Though it could, if we’re careful, be based on indirect measurement. The absence, say, of the operation of the electroweak force in some remote patch of the Brazilian jungle (that’s right: jungle) might become apparent if we knew to look out for it and have deduced the consequences of its absence. But suppose instead, in the ranges of the Sahara where no man or beast roams, an extra neutrino or two appears behind some small dune, in direct opposition to every theory and explanation we have about particle physics. We take for granted that such things do not happen. Induction again. Of course, if it did happen and it was noticed and written about, the discoverer would find himself…in a heap of trouble—if the theory he contested was beloved by the powers that be. That’s only because science is run by scientists, which is to say, people, and, we say under the sway of induction, all people behave like people.

Stop Teaching Frequentism; More On That “Altruism” Study; Etc.

This is not a person.

This is not a person.

Freq Out

Reader ECM points us to “The Great Statistical Schism“, by a fellow named Brendon Brewer who “is a senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics in Auckland.”

Brewer says, as I say, sort of, that it’s time to “teach Bayes first” and not frequentism. He also says, “Frequentist confidence intervals and p-values should still be taught to some extent”, with which I also agree, up to a point. His reasoning for that opinion is good, though “so much research is based on [p-values and confidence intervals], our students need to know what they are.”

P-values and confidence intervals should be taught in the same way phlogiston or communism are taught, as failed, unfortunate ideas which caused nothing but grief.

Brewer appears to be a subjective-objective Bayesian, which is the most common type. They agree probability is subjective, but go about assigning probabilities in an objectivish way.

Of course, probability is not subjective. Given there are two persons in the room, a male and a female, and one will walk out the door, the probability is 1/2 (deduced via something called a statistical syllogism) that it’s the male. But a subjectivist can say, “The probability it’s the male is 0.13424”, or any other number that strikes his fancy.

Yes. That’s what subjectivism implies: unfounded probabilities. But this tendency is but a minor foible next to hypothesis testing, which should be purged with extreme prejudice from science forthwith.

Not Altruism

Reader Tahir Nasser (who is a public personality) writes:

Great fun reading your blog. Always enjoy it and I learn something new each time. I wrote a piece too (published on Huffington Post blogs) re.: “are religiously educated up children less altruistic” study. I thought you might be interested to take a look/read:

“Why the Latest Study Showing ‘Religious’ Children are Less Moral is Just Bad Science”.

Do let me know your thoughts, particularly regarding the characterisation of probability modelling as a method to determine “correlation”. That’s how I understand r values in the context of probability models.

In his piece, Nasser shows some of the weaknesses of the “altruism” study. But he also writes:

Firstly, the conclusion is totally unsupported by the evidence. The study shows a correlation (not causation!) of -0.173 between religiosity and altruism. Correlation is measured on a scale of -1 to +1 with 0 meaning no correlation. To draw the authors’ conclusion from this meagre result is laughable. This small correlation indicates that other unaccounted factors are at work. What could they be?

I like the spirit and agree with the conclusion, but I don’t agree with the way it was reached for a technical reason. Probability models say nothing about cause. Even if the correlation was large, which it wasn’t, we could not say “altruism” caused stickers to be stuck in envelopes.

Of course altruistic kids would, ceteris paribus, share more stickers than non-altruistic kids. Why? Because they’re altruistic! We do not need a study to show this, because it’s something that everybody, except some scientists, already knows. But would “religious” kids share more? That’s a bigger mystery, because there are no such things as “religious” kids. There are only kids who have this-and-such beliefs. And the study did not, in any way, measure the beliefs of any kids.

Instead, the researchers developed some stupid pseudo-quantification of “religiosity.” What a farce.

People Who Need People

Reader Loras Holmberg writes (ellipses original):

Appearance on Joe Pags Radio Show…you made the comment that people concerned about population growth “don’t like people”. Disagree. I want a world for future generations that has room for ample wildlife and wild lands. I am 57…have seen changes with my own eyes that bring such a future into doubt. More people generally means less of each. Don’t consider myself extreme…on global warming or climate change, I say “maybe”. Don’t know. As you mentioned, once you scratch the surface, the physics are extremely complex.

Nah, more people do not mean less wildlife. You should see the deer problem my parents have. People don’t hunt as much as they used to, since meat appears like magic wrapped in see-through packaging.

Now you say you don’t not like people, but then you imply you’d rather have less of them in preference for more poisonous snakes, leeches, and cockroaches (well, I filled in the blanks on the kinds of animals). That sounds like not liking people overly much to me.

Yes, the physics on global warming are extremely complex. This is probably why they still can’t make good forecasts, and that they can’t make good forecasts is why we should not believe threats of doom.

Stream: Threat Of Global Warming Causes Terrorism

A citizen's patrol out to find the missing global warming.

A citizen’s patrol out to find the missing global warming.

Today’s post is at The Stream: Our Leaders Have Spoken: Global Warming Causes Terrorism.

So global warming caused ISIS to dispatch a team of bloodthirsty satanic malevolent maniacs to Paris to slaughter as many non-Muslims, and to gain as much publicity, as possible. Bernie Sanders said so.

Who remembers when members of ISIS placed a man in the path of a tank, ran the tank over the man popping him like a balloon, and then ISIS posted videos bragging of it? Global warming made them do it. Hillary Clinton says so.

Hey: how about when ISIS corralled a group of Christian women living in Syria and then raped a goodly proportion of them to death and shot a few others for fun? Global warming again. And don’t let’s forget the many times orange-clad men were led to a beach to have their heads shaved off by ISIS. Allahu Akbar? No! Global Warming!

This isn’t me saying it. It’s Barack Obama. He said global warming is biggest threat we face. But Mr Obama was only echoing his betters who will gather in two weeks in Paris to decide the pre-determined conclusion that global warming is a security threat of such magnitude that we are forced to sign over control of significant portions of our economies to the United Nations.

What a sight it will be! Angela Merkel, Barrack Obama, David Cameron, even Francois Hollande himself, will march somberly through blood-stained streets, file past the many coffins from the Paris attack, proceed to the UN’s padded conference room, and there from on high they will announce to the world that the horrors they have witnessed were caused by global warming. And that if we don’t act now, global warming will cause more men to suddenly wake of a morning and say to themselves, “I will kill in the name of Allah.”

Go there to read the rest. Especially about how it’s not global warming itself that causes havoc, since there hasn’t been any global warming, but the mere thought of it’s possibility is what kills.

Summary Against Modern Thought: Moral Virtues & God

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 of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Thomas doesn’t make a point of it, but starting in paragraph [9] is a large hint why we are social creatures; why we need each other. This is long, but it’s fairly easy, and well worth spending the time to read all of it.

Chapter 93 That in God there are the moral virtues which are about actions. (alternate translation)

[1] Now there are some virtues which regulate man’s active life, and are concerned not with passions but with actions, such as truth, justice, liberality, magnificence, prudence, and art.

[2] Now since virtue derives its species from its object or matter, while the actions that are the matter or object of these virtues are not inconsistent with the divine perfection; neither is there in these virtues according to their proper species, any thing for which they should be excluded from the divine perfection.

Notes Hence cleanliness is next to Godliness. (Sorry.)

[3] Again. These virtues are perfections of the will and intellect, which are principles of operation without passion. Now in God there are will and intellect wherein there is no lack of perfection. Therefore these virtues cannot be lacking in God.

Notes Thinking about passions (animal instincts) gives rise to the quip, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” (Sorry again.)

[4] Moreover. The proper reason about all things that take their being from God exists in the divine intellect, as we have proved above. Now the reason in the craftsman’s mind about the thing to be made, is art: wherefore the Philosopher says (6 Ethic.) that art is right reason about things to be made. Therefore art is properly in God: and for this reason it is said (Wis. vii. 21): Wisdom, the Artificer of all things, taught me.

Notes This passages use art in a sense too old to be recognized. Aquinas did not mean by it thing created by a celebrity which can be bought and sold on speculation.

[5] Again. God’s will, in things other than Himself, is determined to one particular thing by His knowledge, as was shown above. Now knowledge, directing the will to operation, is prudence, since prudence, according to the Philosopher (6 Ethic.) is right reason about things to be done. Therefore prudence is in God: and this is what is said (Job xxvi.)[7]: With Him is prudence and strength.

Notes It is not then an accident the (feminine) name Prudence is dying out. (Enough with the jokes!)

[6] Again. It was shown above that through willing a particular thing, God wills whatever is required for that thing. Now that which is requisite for a perfection of a thing is due to it. Therefore in God there is justice, which consists in rendering to each one what is his. Wherefore it is said in the psalm: The Lord is just and hath loved justice.

Notes A neat definition of justice, what, what?

[7] Moreover. As shown above, the last end, for the sake of which God wills all things, nowise depends on the things directed to the end, neither as to its being nor as to any perfection. Wherefore He wills to communicate His goodness to a thing not that He may gain thereby, but because the very act of communicating is befitting Him as the source of goodness. Now to give not for a gain expected from the giving, but through goodness and becomingness, is an act of liberality, as the Philosopher teaches (4 Ethic.). Therefore God is most liberal, and as Avicenna says, He alone can properly be called liberal, since every other agent, except God, gains by his action some good which is the end in view. Scripture declares this His liberality when it says in the psalm: When Thou openest Thy hand they shall all be filled with good; and (James i. 5): Who giveth to all men abundantly and upbraideth not.

Notes Where by liberal he means loving.

[8] Again. All that receive being from God must needs bear His likeness, in as much as they are, and are good, and have their proper types in the divine intellect, as we have shown above. Now it belongs to the virtue of truth according to the Philosopher (4 Ethic.) that a man by his words and deeds show himself such as he is. Therefore in God is the virtue of truth. Hence it is said (Rom. iii. 4): Now God is true, and in the psalm; All Thy ways are truth.

[9] But whatever virtues are directed to certain actions of subjects in reference to superiors, are inapplicable to God: for instance, obedience, religion, and the like which are due to a superior.

[10] Again, the aforesaid virtues cannot be ascribed to God in respect of any of their acts that may be imperfect. Thus prudence as to its act of taking good counsel is not befitting God. For since counsel is an inquiry (6 Ethic.), whereas the divine knowledge is not inquisitive, as was proved above, it cannot become it to take counsel. Wherefore we read (Job xxvi. 3): To whom has Thou given counsel? Perhaps to him that hath no wisdom? and (Isa. xl. 14): With whom hath He consulted, and who hath instructed Him? On the other hand, as regards the act of judging of things counselled and the choice of those approved, nothing hinders prudence being ascribed to God. However, counsel is sometimes ascribed to God, either by reason of a likeness in the point of secrecy, for counsels are taken in secret; wherefore the secrets of the divine wisdom are called counsels metaphorically, for instance Isa. xxv. 1, according to another version: May Thy counsel of old be verified; or in the point of satisfying those who seek counsel of Him, for it belongs to one who understands even without discursion, to instruct inquirers.

Notes Seeking advice isn’t godly, but it is human and seen to be a good, which it is. Since we would be nowhere without true education (like art, I do not use this word in its modern-day sense), which is a good, that we are a social animal is built in to us. Now that’s a commonplace observation, but put in context here, it says God means for us to need each other. And that’s something very different. This is clearer after the next paragraph.

[10] Likewise justice as to its act of commutation cannot be ascribed to God: since He receives naught from any one. Hence we read (Rom. xi. 35): Who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? and (Job. xli. 2): Who hath given Me before that I should repay him? However, we are said metaphorically to give certain things to God, in as much as God accepts our gifts. Hence it is befitting Him to have not commutative, but only distributive, justice. Wherefore Dionysius says (Div. Nom. viii.) that God is praised for His justice, because He distributes to all according to their merits: as expressed by those words of Matt. xxv. 15: He gave…to everyone according to his proper ability.

Notes And if He gave to everyone according to his proper ability, it means inequality is built right into the system. A book can be written on this.

[11] It must be noted, however, that the actions about which the aforesaid virtues are concerned do not by their nature depend on human affairs, for to judge of what has to be done, and to give or distribute something, belongs not to man alone but to every intelligent being. But so far as they are confined to human concerns, they, to a certain extent, take their species from them, just as a crooked nose makes a species of ape.

Accordingly the aforesaid virtues, so far as they regulate man’s active life, are directed to these actions as confined to human affairs and taking their species from them. In this way they cannot be ascribed to God. But so far as the aforesaid actions are understood in a general sense, they can be adapted even to things divine. For just as man is a dispenser of human things, such as money or honours, so is God the bestower of all the goods of the universe. Hence the aforesaid virtues in God have a more universal range than in man: for as justice in man relates to the state or the household, so God’s justice extends to the whole universe. Wherefore the divine virtues are called exemplar virtues: because things that are limited and particularized are likenesses of absolute beings, as the light of a candle in comparison with the light of the sun. But other virtues which properly are not applicable to God have no exemplar in the divine nature, but only in the divine Wisdom, which contains the proper types of all beings; as is the case with other corporeal things.

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