5 August 2012

John Lennox, his aunt Matilda (and her pies), and Creationism

There are religious folk, like George Pell, who was my previous post's subject, who are decent enough to suggest (or appear to be doing so) that one cannot approach religion through science, that it is beyond it, something else, etc., although they fail to suggest what this something else is. Bill Hick, of Revelation TV is such a decent chap. He has all kinds of crazy beliefs, but he doesn't say that they are the result of a scientific process.

There are others, however, like John Lennox, Oxford Professor in Mathematics (Algebra), who are trying hard to justify religion through Science. In doing so, they use their scientific hat to appear that their arguments come straight from the centres of their prestigious scientific academic establishments. It is easy: most laymen have no idea what's going on in the Oxford Mathematics Department, neither do they know whether Lennox knows Quantum Mechanics or General Relativity. All that Lennox has to do is to pretend that his religious argument comes straight from his "academic works". People will buy that, even if he will never explicitly say so.

I have been in two talks by Lennox (one was a monologue, and the other a debate with Christopher Hitchens), both in Edinburgh. On both occasions he used the following argument, a version of the Pie Argument, as anadder calls it:
My aunt Matilda bakes a wonderful pie. I have two friends, a physicist and a chemist. I ask the chemist to analyse the pie and he tells me, very precisely, of the chemical composition of every part of it. I ask the physicist, who reveals to me all kinds of scientific facts about the pie. But then I ask both of them: "why did aunt Matilda bake the pie?" None of the two can answer the question. No matter how hard they try to analyse the pie, scientifically, they will never be able to answer the question.
(Ergo, god exists; but Lennox, being smart enough, leaves this conclusion to the audience.)

Bravo Lennox! What a wonderful argument. Even a child can come up with a better one.

Again, however, what Lennox's fallacy is, is that he is trying to attach a purpose to the baking of the pie, a purpose which is contained within the pie itself! For better analysis of this stupidity, read anadder.

Let me add that Lennox has declared himself not a creationist, not an intelligent designer. He does not, he appears to be saying, sympathize with these fundamentalists. And yet, this year, Lennox accepted the Phillip Johnson award. Philip Johnson is one of the most despicable creationists. His achievements include: he rejects evolution; he thinks that god can be explained scientifically; he is an AIDS denialist; he fires people who don't agree with him; he suffers from islamophobia; he is, in fact, one of the founders of the intelligent design movement--a creationist spin-off; he is advisor and co-founder of the discovery institute (also known as dishonesty institute); he supports teaching of creationism in public schools. More on Phillip Johnson, here.

Now, how can one reconcile (i) accepting an award that bears the name of one of the most vicious creationists and (ii) claim that you do not support creationism? I'd be really ashamed.

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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