William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Fun (page 1 of 127)

Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

A Coincidence: Coyne Zinged Me Before I Him — Or, The Coyne Fallacy Redux

Ain’t I pretty?

After posting yesterday’s article, Jerry Coyne Doesn’t Have Free Will (poor fellow), I immediately saw hits coming to my place from Coyne’s. It turned out that, unbeknownst to me, the afternoon before, Coyne had published his own article “I am honored by theologians: there’s now a ‘Coyne Fallacy’!!!“, in which Coyne promotes me to the level of theologian. A fun coincidence and unexpected accolade.

Coyne was interested in his own encomium, the Coyne Fallacy, a neologism which appeared in my review of David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God.

Let’s get one popular fallacy out of the way. This is the most-people-believe-what’s-false-therefore-it’s-false fallacy, or the Coyne fallacy, named after its most frequent user, Jerry Coyne. This fallacy is used to reject a proposition because most people misunderstand or hold false beliefs about that proposition. So that if the average church or temple goer has a definition of God that suffers certain inconsistencies, therefore God doesn’t exist. If you accept that then you’d have to believe that since the average citizen has mistaken ideas about evolution (holding to Intelligent Design, say), therefore evolution is false. Truth is not a vote.

Straightforward, yes? An obvious fallacy, is it not? Embarrassing to be caught using it, wouldn’t you say?

Suppose an individual proposes God is made of pressed farina and egg. (Well, people do say these kinds of things.) Would that curious proposal therefore prove, or even hint, that God does not exist? God as defined in careful and deliberate prose by Hart as the ground of being itself, the necessary being; the God of Aquinas, as laid out in this series. I mean, wouldn’t it be farcical if somebody in earnest said, “Because some people hold that God is made of pasta, therefore the God of Aquinas etc. does not exist”?

Coyne takes pains to show a list from some poll which says, among other things, that some 57% of Americans believe “Jesus was born of a virgin.” The most one could draw from that would be observations like 43% of Americans have some reading to catch up on, or we’re not doing a good job conveying dogma, and so on.

The Coyne fallacy would be committed if one were to try use the errors of Americans to hint or to attempt to prove that God does exist. Right? Here is Coyne’s answer to the Coyne Fallacy. He first quotes me, then says this:

That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The fallacy, ascribed to me, is to claim that because a group misunderstands the nature of something, that thing doesn’t exist. So it’s just as false to say God doesn’t exist because some Christians (or atheists) have a “false” notion of who He is as it is to say that evolution doesn’t exist because many people misunderstand it.

If what I said was the “dumbest” thing he’s ever read, then it proves Coyne doesn’t get out much. The rest of that paragraph is a restatement of the fallacy. He then says:

And yes, many people do misunderstand evolution. But there’s a difference between evolution and God. Do I need to point out that we have evidence for evolution but not for any kind of god, from Demiurge to the Ground of Being? That’s a big difference. So we can correct misunderstandings about evolution because, as evolutionary biologists, we know how it works. David Bentley Hart has only a knowledge of what other theologians said and whatever revelations strike him when contemplating the Numinous.

Clever readers will have noticed old Jerry (may I call you Jerry, Jerry?) never answered the charge. He instead claims that scientists have no business using mathematics because—wait for it…wait for it—there is no empirical evidence for mathematics! Ha ha! Ain’t that rich.

Sorry, Jerry, old son. It won’t do. First, you stand guilty as charged. You have used the Coyne Fallacy before, and you use it in your attempt to claim innocence of its use. That so many Americans do believe in a Demiurge (Hart explains this term at length; see the review), or something like it, and have false notions of God, does not hint at nor does it disprove God Himself exists.

Second, as for your strange ideas about empiricism you—what’s that? You didn’t say anything about mathematics? Oh. How silly of me.

There is no empirical proof of mathematics, nor of logic, yet I’d wager Coyne (and other atheists) are happy to use, rely on, and trust both. (If you disagree, email me the infinite subsequence of an infinite sequence; any sequence will do; be sure your email client allows large files.) Logical positivism, and the extreme empiricism which accompanied it formed, as the late great David Stove said, an episode of “black comedy in philosophy.” Somehow the word about the failures of positivism did not get back to scientists. Well, these things take time. Been about a century now. Still. Grants proposals and such can distract one so.

Anyway, arguments about the nature of God are necessarily metaphysical, philosophical, and, yes, theological. About the first two, like in mathematics, empirical proof will forever be lacking, but about the last, why, there is loads of empirical evidence! The resurrection of Jesus alone, an empirically verified event, i.e. a whopping piece of observational evidence, has kept authors busy for two thousand years. So, please, no more carping about “lack of evidence.”

About me

In his post, Coyne pointed to my “Who is WMB?” page, which excited many of his readers. Many were in awe of my status as Thought Leader (Slogan: “Have your thoughts led by me”). I recall well the press release announcing this lofty post:


It can now be revealed that my recent secret trip was to secure a reverse MBAectomy, a painful operation which has frappéd my cranial capacity a statistically significant 342.7%. I am now qualified to be, and do hereby accept the title of, Thought Leader…

Coyne’s readers were, to say the least, impressed by my achievement. One, overcome by the discovery, wrote, “Thought leader? —omfg.” (That woman gets a discount when she wants her thoughts led.)

Several commenters, examining closely the picture Coyne used of me, thought that I was attempting to spin so as to fly, like a helicopter. These people were wrong. There was one night experimenting with some Irish homeopathists with achieving lift off, but I can report no success. Above, the photographer caught me demonstrating the Fourth Position in ballet. Ballet beats the skintight pants off of yoga. Besides, I look wonderful in a tutu.

I don’t know who Ken Phelps is, but clearly this fellow knows me well:

I am once again unable to resist the image of a small boy, dressed in his father’s shoes and fedora, overcoat trailing on the ground behind him, clomping about the house, waving a felt marker about as if it were a cigar, and he a tycoon.

It is human nature, I suppose, to ape those we are not. But really, inventing fallacies? Perhaps in the future you should check to make sure the cap is on the marker, Mr. Briggs, your lips lips are bright yellow.

I’m not old enough for real cigars: I substitute lemon lollipops instead. This explains the lip color.

Someone calling himself infiniteimprobabilit asks the important question, “‘Statistician to the Stars’ — wtf? Why would the stars need a statistician?” Because, of course, the Stars would never be caught dead discussing their own wee p-values.

Ed Kroc, perhaps an investigative journalist, finds it “extremely suspicious” that Cornell does not list me among its Adjunct Faculty. Well, Ed, now that you’ve read me, would you admit to knowing me? (About my book, perhaps “skimming” isn’t helping you; try reading. Your brother-in-ink Jeremy Pereira might try the same: I have an entire Chapter on the different kinds of Induction which he missed.)

Finally, Bruce Lyon suspects I might be a “climate change denier”. Let me set your mind at ease, Brian. I have never denied the climate has changed.

Predictions For 2017—Register Yours Today!

Once more unto the breach!

We did well last year, but we had the advantage of a neat unambiguous set of predictions all could make, i.e. the United States primaries and election. This year lacks something of such seeming international importance.

We could ask, What of war with China? Or of China and Japan? Or of Russia and anybody? Will a thermonuclear device be detonated in anger in 2017? Of equal apocalyptic shock, will a major Western university renounce its Diversity initiatives? Will we end the year with the same Pope as we began? Will the world still exist?

Stretch your minds. Remember that forecasts which are not perceived by “average” man as difficult receive little weight. Saying there will be a murder in Chicago, says this fictional mean man, is all but certain. And thus receives little weight in the standings.

Here are mine. What are yours?

1) China comes to blows with somebody, openly and overtly. Their provocative chip-on-the-shoulder sailing around the Pacific will lead to at least one shot being fired, either by or at them.

2) Despite the stupefied mouth-breathing from the State media, President Trump will not be impeached. To impeach is to indict, and to indict means to charge with a crime. There will be no crime with which to charge him.

3) What can you say about Germany that isn’t easy? Take this report: “Merkel asserted that the terror attacks committed by Islamist migrants in Wurzburg, Ansbach, and recently at a Christmas market in Berlin were not attacks on Western civilisation but an attack on ‘refugees’ and Germany’s willkommenskultur (‘welcome culture’).” That statement, and many others like them, is the result of either willful or actual stupidity. Not to be ghoulish, but maybe the thing to forecast is the number of Germans slaughtered by “migrants.” Say, between 50 and 100.

4) Insider baseball. The in camera caritatis offered to Pope Francis by inter alia Cardinal Burke will happen and will be leaked in corrupted form by pro-Bergoglio insiders. This leaking will force the actual details to be leaked, albeit piecemeal. Those in the Church who want to emulate Anglicans will cast the affair as a personal attack on Francis. These people are easy to identify because they refuse to answer the simple dubia. Francis will still be Pope at the end of 2017, because (this prediction goes) he will ignore the correction as he ignored the dubia, and he will issue no concrete statement one way or the other on the matters at heart. No charge of heresy will thus be possible. Will this be the year of the official push for the Modern Church, i.e. a formal split, i.e. schism? In one sense, no, because without the charge of heresy the hierarchy remains as it is. In another sense, like what happened 500 years ago and what is happening to the mainline Protesting Christians now, yes. (This topic will be expanded later.) Look for a tumultuous year!

5) Report: “A CHRISTIAN woman was stabbed by an asylum seeker after he heard her reading from the bible. The 50-year-old woman was only saved by her winter coat when she was attacked with a knife in the accommodation in Timelkam in Voecklamarkt in Upper Austria.” There’s a joke here about being stabbed in the accommodation which we pass by. In Europe, in at least one town, there will be an open battle between natives and “migrants”. The natives will not be police or other official authority, but citizens tired of being told they are the problem. It is too easy a guess to say which side the press and politicos will condemn.

6) Obamacare will not, as it deserves to be, eliminated. It will be attacked piecemeal, but Republicans, even after learning the Lesson of Trump, have no stomach to be called names by the State Media. Great chunks of Obamacare will remain, however much wee tweaks are celebrated as “decimating” it.

7) As I predicted before the election, no wall. I’d lay good money that certain portions of existing structures will be shored and and extended in some press-release worthy way. But no wall.

8) Has the Cathedral, sputtering and teetering as it is, juiced enough fools so that there is a public assassination attempt on Trump? I put this at sixty percentum, but with most of the chance coming early on.

9) Scoffers will scoff, but with so much of the world in retreat from Tradition, Reality, and Being Itself, and the spiritual at no distance from the physical, with the former corrupting the latter, I give you the same warning Scotty gave us at the end of The Thing From Another World: Watch the skies. Let the reader understand.

Only predictions made over the next two weeks will count. And please, please number them and point to the source (if necessary) that can verify them.

Happy New Year!

Predictions for 2017 and how we did in 2016 will commence tomorrow. For now, lie to us and tell us of your resolutions.

Merry Federally Recognized Holiday of 2016!

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