26 February 2009

Poe's Law

Yesterday, I saw a comment following a posting about Stoning in Islam that read as follows (copied and pasted verbatim):

Dear ,Brother
the emobreoilded allegation by some ignorants to Islam Quran that ; the stoning the adoltery (Rajum Alzani wa l Zaniyah)in fact these brutial canons do only apply in the jewish and christians manuscripts the Turah & the Gospel ,Providentialy We Muslims simply dont have these canon or what so ever Quranic verses revelation stating to stoning the adoltery, even there is no any Quranic verse stating that our beloved compassionat pious Prophet Moahmed has ever ordered to stone someone to death, we all are aware this is a canon must emerged from the Quranic law, according the Quran , the only canonical verses the issues of the adoltery is (Q, 24.1-4) the woman and man guilty of adultery falog each of them a hundered stripes without any compassion in their case matter prescriped by Allah faith, if you truly believe in Allah and the last day and let some of the believers to witness their punishment . plus according to the Sunnah canon its very strict and almost impossible to prove that, two people are commited adultery by a third part(Q.24-4) so the case dissmiss, dont tell me about the Hadith bring me a prove from the Quran I am sure thats so-called hadith of the jewish Woman been stone to death its completly false Hadith, come on Muslims wake up how come on earth our beloved pious Prophet have his own Canon proceed in a deferent Jewish canons, we all know that the final definitive pious prophet Mohamed peace be upon him, canonical oreders abrogated all the pious prophets that been send before him.

peace & love regards to all
Abdulla Mahir .

I wrote a followup comment:
The last comment provides, quite eloquently, a rational and logical explanation of stoning. I’m afraid that none of us know the scriptures well, neither can we ever know them, for they are, as witnessed from the above, written in arabic. I’m afraid we may have missed several important points, precisely those that have been outlined above for our benefit. In view of this, you may wish to consider rewriting your post.
My fellow blogger Michael of http://anadder.com did not immediately catch the sarcasm of it and explained:
Then again Poe’s Law can make it very hard to pass of mockery of religion as sarcasm (at least on the net)…:)
So I wondered what Poe's Law is because I had not encountered the terminology before. And here is what the Urban Dictionary says:
Poe's Law
Similar to Murphy's Law, Poe's Law concerns internet debates, particularly regarding religion or politics.

"Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing."

In other words, No matter how bizzare, outrageous, or just plain idiotic a parody of a Fundamentalist may seem, there will always be someone who cannot tell that it is a parody, having seen similar REAL ideas from real religious/political Fundamentalists.
The following is an actual Internet post to Biblically defend a flat Earth:

"All I was saying was that either the earth is flat, and the bible is correct, or the earth is round, and the bible is incorect, i'm going to study the issue more and deside for myself which route I want to take. Either Atheist evolutionist, who agrees with all of mainstream sciences, or flat earth litteral bible believer.
I'm leaning toward being an atheist, because if I can't believe the bible to be completly litteraly true, then I can't believe Jesus when he speaks about heaven, etc..
That would make the moon landing a fake, and pretty much all of modern science false..."
Very nice. Indeed, indeed! It is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing! Very true. Sometimes, it is hard not to reply by sarcasm and cynicism to religious fundamentalist claims, to creationist/intelligent design idiocies such as those of Dembski or Lennox and many others. You cannot help it when you want to cry out loud: Stop those childish claims! Enough with your sense of moral superiority! But no! No matter what you say, there is always someone who will take it literally. I once wrote about how beautiful Lennox's argument involving his aunt Matilda was. Read it here if you care to waste 2 minutes. Briefly, Lennox has an aunt, Matilda, who makes nice cakes. His scientist friends can tell him what the cake contains but can never answer to the question why Matilda baked it. I wrote that, obviously, Matilda bakes it because she's a good and caring person and does so because she is a good Christian; and that this sophisticated argument of Lennox is evidence for existence of God. You can't believe how many thanks I received for my comment and how many people thought that it was great of me to extend Lennox's argument in such a nice way.

This is Poe's Law at work, right Michael?

Today, Jeffrey Shallit posted on why he thinks that religion makes smart people stupid. Well, even though I cannot prove that this is a universal law, it seems that Lennox is a prime example of it: he used to be a mathematician but he turned into religion. Instead of trying to work on his subject (Group Theory), he became a priest and an advocate of religion. I've been to two of his talks and, indeed, all I could say is that his arguments are naive. Famous scientists in the past have tried hard to come up with arguments about the existence of god. But Lennox does not belong to this class. He says nothing that has not been said before and does so by abusing science.

19 February 2009

The Edinburgh Creationist Group

They claim:
Edinburgh Creation Group is an active forum where scientifically minded people meet to discuss evidence supporting the biblical account of creation.
Scientifically minded? How can anyone who arbitrarily considers the Bible (Torah, etc) as a scientific document consider themselves scientifically minded? Religious, yes. But not scientific. Creationists argue that the Earth is some 6 thousand years old only. Their proof: It is in the Bible. This is not science.

Here is how creationist Professor Andy C. McIntosh proves that god exists:
"My knowledge of thermodynamics has shown me that all mechanical systems (such as an engine or fridge or aeroplane etc.) require not only energy but ordered machinery in order to work. Thus simply adding energy to a lump of matter will not turn this into a machine which can do useful work. Clausius and other great thermodynamic scientists of the past, demonstrated this in the precise expression of the second law of thermodynamics which states that some of energy for useful work will in any system always be lost irretrievably. It has been argued that with an open system, useful energy can be put back in, but this will only be of use if there is an existing machine! One can never get round the 2nd law even for open systems. Working machinery or coded information (when dealing with digitally controlled machines such as in DNA) is always required before anything works."
Now search however deeply you like in the scientific literature and you'll find no notion of ordered or working machinery in the theory of thermodynamics or statistical physics. Thermodynamics works perfectly well without this concept, apparently invented by McIntosh alone.

Dr Marc Surtees, zoologist, eloquently claims:

"The hormonal control of breeding is an example of a switchable feedback control mechanism. Engineers use feedback control mechanisms in many types of machine. The existence of feedback control systems in nature is one of the many evidence of design that biologists work with all the time."
He is out of his mind! He says: Feedback control exitsts in many natural systems [correct], and this shows that there evidence of design [wrong] and implicitly wants us to conclude that god is the designer [idiotic!]

Chilidish argument like the above is what creationists use to prove that their faith has scientific basis. Instead of acknowledging that they cannot do without irrational belief (some kind of sickness, really), they want to convince others not only that what they believe is right, but also that it is scientific!!!

Most creationists are Christian but there are Muslim too. See here for an earlier posting on how militant the latter can be.

12 February 2009

William Dembski factors 59

Now, this is FUNNY! So I couldn't resist from linking the spoof. Prominent "mathematician" William Dembski factors the number 59 (no, not in any strange algebraic field, but in the usual way, the way you and I learn in elementary school).

William Dembski is also well-known for having disproved Darwin's evolution theory, at least as far as he and his followers are concerned: whereas you, I and Kanzi (the famous ape) share a common ancestor, William Dembski is a totally distinct species. He is alien. Let him stay with aliens then.

Happy Birthday Darwin!

10 February 2009

Teachings from the Old Testament

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

This is what the Torah teaches. Now, both Jews and Christians (and, I think, Muslims, too) accept the Torah (or whatever they call it) as one of their religious texts. Stoning in Judaism has been abandoned. But stoning in Islam is still practiced, but only for adultery. The question that arises, if one thinks rationally, is:

Why do religious texts remain unaltered if their teachings are considered dangerous (stoning, hanging) or obsolete (eating certain foods)? Every Jew and Christian, despite the fact they do not (hopefully) still practice stoning, will tell you that the Torah (almost identical to the so-called Old Testament) shall remain unaltered. Why? How can they explain the numerous stupidities, brutalities, nonsense written in it?

Many will maintain that religion and science can be reconciled (and even certain scientists--see, e.g., John Lennox--will tell you that religion is compatible with science) . Wrong! In science, everything is put to test. A theory is tested with experiment, an experiment gives rise to a new theory and hypothesis. Logic is applied. Science never considers anything settled. It constantly rejuvenates itself. This is not the case with religion, as the example above shows: irrelevant, dangerous and obsolete texts will be held as authoritative forever. No questions asked.

Is religion hard-wired in humans?

In the latest issue of the New Scientist, I read an article dealing with the question whether belief in the supernatural is hard-wired. Several scientists ran experiments and have some interesting but still inconclusive findings. Here are some excerpts:
It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."
So the taboo of religion has not being lifted. It's time it did. One should be allowed to study why people tend to be religious. Something is amiss here.
One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society.
Experiments involving children are particularly interesting:
When Deborah Kelemen of the University of Arizona in Tucson asked 7 and 8-year-old children questions about inanimate objects and animals, she found that most believed they were created for a specific purpose. Pointy rocks are there for animals to scratch themselves on. Birds exist "to make nice music", while rivers exist so boats have something to float on.
And a thought-experiment:
Left to their own devices, children create their own "creole" languages using hard-wired linguistic brain circuits. A similar experiment would provide our best test of the innate religious inclinations of humans. Would a group of children raised in isolation spontaneously create their own religious beliefs? "I think the answer is yes," says Bloom.
Superstitious beliefs seem to be correlated with a lack of sense of control:

Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas in Austin and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, asked people what patterns they could see in arrangements of dots or stock market information. Before asking, Whitson and Galinsky made half their participants feel a lack of control, either by giving them feedback unrelated to their performance or by having them recall experiences where they had lost control of a situation. The results were striking. The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none. "We were surprised that the phenomenon is as widespread as it is," Whitson says. What's going on, she suggests, is that when we feel a lack of control we fall back on superstitious ways of thinking. That would explain why religions enjoy a revival during hard times.

What I also found interesting (and alarming) is the opening paragraph of the article:

While many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance. This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why. It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times.

Let's hope that the current economic crisis will not cause the same phenomenon. But we never know... People want to believe and will believe even if evidence suggests otherwise.

6 February 2009

Four outstanding Greek women guitarists

For classical gutarists around the world, they need no introduction. I just list their names and sites and a few samples:

Antigoni Goni
Un sueño en la floresta (AgustÍn Barrios)
Concerto for Lute in D major (Vivaldi RV 93)

Eleftheria Kotzia
Se ela preguntar (Dilermando Reis)
Guarania (Héctor Ayala)

Elena Papandreou
El marabino (António Lauro)
Tango en skai (Roland Dyens)

Eva Fampas
Sousta (Dimitris Fampas)
Tango (Francisco Tárrega)

Joaquin Malats: Serenata Española

Joaquin Malats (1872-1912) was a Catalan composer and pianist from Barcelona. One of his most melodic pieces is the Serenata Española. It was written for piano but it is its guitar transcription by the great composer and guitarist Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) that is well-known. Often transcriptions surpass the original composition and this one (click here for the score) is so well-made that it really makes the instrument sing. Of course, it was not done by an arbitrary person but by Tárrega, one of the greatest guitarists. He knew the instrument well.

In the video below we can see Julian Bream perform the piece. Notice the nuances, the expressions, the slurs, the colour of its performance. Truly outstanding!

Incidentally, the score linked above is provided by the site of Jean-François Delcamp, a site devoted to classical guitar, containing both music scores and audio files.

5 February 2009

Not for creationists

It has just being discovered that the earliest accepted date for animal life on Earth is tens of millions of years than what was thought to be. Traces of ancient sponges were found in Oman dating some 635 million years ago.

Not very good news for (young Earth) creationists. who believe that the Earth was created within the last ten thousand years, literally as described in an ancient book called Genesis. Creationists are typically not very intelligent people who feel the need (due to their religious belief) to attack science, distort reality and propagate myths. More recently, some creationists, in response to not being intelligent, relabelled themselves as intelligent designers. Assuming this label, they decided to embrace science and use it in order to prove that what creationists believe is true. Unfortunately, every single attempt of intelligent designers to use scientific methods has been discredited. One of their most major proponents of the intelligent design version of creationism is a mathematician called William Dembski. Having failed to produce anything significant in mathematics, he started a career as creationist.

There are many versions of creationism, some more hilarious than others, such as those who think the Earth is flat, the young-Earthe creationists-those who think that the answers are in Genesis, and those who think that...

I read this in the blog of Jason Rosenberg and had a good laugh!

For more fun of the earwax kind, please visit the homepage of the Institute for Creation Research, in Dallas, Texas, specializing in young Earth creationism, rejecting the science of evolutionary biology, abusing the word "research" and "science" and constantly trying to get approval to teach their idiocies in schools.

Closer to home, the Edinburgh creation group, seems to be active in propagating lies such as that Darwin was wrong, that intelligent designers are producing science, and that the (christian) Bible is to be seen as a scientific document! Fortunately, in the UK not many give a damn about such liars, but people like John Lennox are trying to propagate religion through science from a more "sophisticated" point of view, in subtler ways.


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant