Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tolstoy on church “hypnotism”

In his last book, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), Leo Tolstoy insists that Jesus taught nonviolence, and argues that only nonviolent responses to evil can remedy evil. Gandhi said that the book was one of the three most important influences on his life.

More germane to this blog is Tolstoy’s description of how churches manipulate “so-called believers.” In the following excerpt, I’ve added emphasis to a passage that speaks volumes to what we see constantly in the ID movement — conflicted, frightened Christians foisting on children the lie that there is no conflict between Biblical literalism and scientific realism.

A man of the present day need only buy a Gospel for three copecks and read through the plain words, admitting of no misinterpretation, that Christ said to the Samaritan woman "that the Father seeketh not worshipers at Jerusalem, nor in this mountain nor in that, but worshipers in spirit and in truth," or the saying that "the Christian must not pray like the heathen, nor for show, but secretly, that is, in his closet," or that Christ's follower must call no man master or father — he need only read these words to be thoroughly convinced that the Church pastors, who call themselves teachers in opposition to Christ's precept, and dispute among themselves, constitute no kind of authority, and that what the Churchmen teach us is not Christianity. Less even than that is necessary. Even if a man nowadays did continue to believe in miracles and did not read the Gospel, mere association with people of different forms of religion and faith, which happens so easily in these days, compels him to doubt of the truth of his own faith. It was all very well when a man did not see men of any other form of religion than his own; he believed that his form of religion was the one true one. But a thinking man has only to come into contact — as constantly happens in these days — with people, equally good and bad, of different denominations, who condemn each other’s beliefs, to doubt of the truth of the belief he professes himself. In these days only a man who is absolutely ignorant or absolutely indifferent to the vital questions with which religion deals, can remain in the faith of the Church.

What deceptions and what strenuous efforts the churches must employ to continue, in spite of all these tendencies subversive of the faith, to build churches, to perform masses, to preach, to teach, to convert, and, most of all, to receive for it all immense emoluments, as do all these priests, pastors, incumbents, superintendents, abbots, archdeacons, bishops, and archbishops. They need special supernatural efforts. And the churches do, with ever-increasing intensity and zeal, make such efforts. With us in Russia, besides other means, they employ, simple brute force, as there the temporal power is willing to obey the Church. Men who refuse an external assent to the faith, and say so openly, are either directly punished or deprived of their rights; men who strictly keep the external forms of religion are rewarded and given privileges.

That is how the Orthodox clergy proceed; but indeed all churches without exception avail themselves of every means for the purpose — one of the most important of which is what is now called hypnotism.

Every art, from architecture to poetry, is brought into requisition to work its effect on men's souls and to reduce them to a state of stupefaction, and this effect is constantly produced. This use of hypnotizing influence on men to bring them to a state of stupefaction is especially apparent in the proceedings of the Salvation Army, who employ new practices to which we are unaccustomed: trumpets, drums, songs, flags, costumes, marching, dancing, tears, and dramatic performances.

But this only displeases us because these are new practices. Were not the old practices in churches essentially the same, with their special lighting, gold, splendor, candles, choirs, organ, bells, vestments, intoning, etc.?

But however powerful this hypnotic influence may be, it is not the chief nor the most pernicious activity of the Church. The chief and most pernicious work of the Church is that which is directed to the deception of children — these very children of whom Christ said: "Woe to him that offendeth one of these little ones." From the very first awakening of the consciousness of the child they begin to deceive him, to instill into him with the utmost solemnity what they do not themselves believe in, and they continue to instill it into him till the deception has by habit grown into the child's nature. They studiously deceive the child on the most important subject in life, and when the deception has so grown into his life that it would be difficult to uproot it, then they reveal to him the whole world of science and reality, which cannot by any means be reconciled with the beliefs that have been instilled into him, leaving it to him to find his way as best he can out of these contradictions.

If one set oneself the task of trying to confuse a man so that he could not think clearly nor free himself from the perplexity of two opposing theories of life which had been instilled into him from childhood, one could not invent any means more effectual than the treatment of every young man educated in our so-called Christian society.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed—the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ's teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ's teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so-called believers.

The “intelligent design” creationists are hardly focused on the Sermon on the Mount.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The worst in statistical reasoning, from Climategate scientist Phil Jones

According to the BBC News, Phil Jones declared global warming since 1995 statistically insignificant last year, and statistically significant this year. Why? Last year, the probability that “ordinary” variation of global temperatures yielded warming as extreme as that observed was .1, and this year it is .05.

I clearly recall the day my statistics professor railed against categorical response to the 95% confidence level as “statistically significant.” It is hard to believe that Jones, who is younger than I, did not hear something similar in school. Suppose that when next year’s data are processed, the confidence level goes down to 94%. Will Jones revert to saying that the observed warming is not statistically significant?

It is impossible to decide absolutely whether human activity is causing global warming. Scientists in general, and climate scientists in particular, should explain that their research leads to degrees of belief.

Furthermore, what policymakers need is Bayesian processing of climate data, not the Fisherian silliness of Phil Jones. That is, the possibility of anthropogenic global warming calls for sophisticated risk management rather than a true-false decision. We are gambling on the future of the world, and the only reasonable response, given present information, is to hedge our bets.

[Thanks to jivlain for his comment. I'm presently having to use an outdated browser, and cannot enter a comment of my own. So I'll respond here. From the infamous BBC Q&A with Jones in February 2010:
B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.
Jones should have known to respond that the trend was statistically significant at the p% confidence level.]

[Bob O'H, it's great to see a statistician call for such a straightforward interpretation. But you're apparently looking at different numbers than Jones is:
C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.
I'll hazard a guess that your data have been adjusted to take radiative forcing into account — as they should be. Total solar irradiance (TSI, plotted here) contributes substantially to global temperatures, and cycles up and down with a quasi-period of about 11 years. The most recent downswing in TSI began in 2002, was more pronounced than usual, and lasted longer than usual (until 2009). The BBC question is utterly ill-posed, because it calls for analysis of cherry-picked data.]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revised ID thesis describes plagiarism in originally accepted version

The response at Baylor University to my report of plagiarism has been extraordinary, though not entirely perfect. The thesis of [student], [title], now includes a preamble that, while somewhat evasive, describes what was wrong with the originally accepted version.

Before going into the details, I want to emphasize again that I am not reveling in the academic misconduct of a young master’s student. The villains are the members of the thesis committee, who have not, to my knowledge, had to acknowledge their misconduct publicly. I hope that Baylor administrators censured Gregory J. Hamerly, the assistant professor of computer science who served as thesis chairperson despite the fact that Robert J. Marks II directed and contributed to the research, for negligence in oversight. And I hope that they put Marks on a short leash for approving plagiarism of his own publications with William A. Dembski. In particular, Marks, who is an electrical engineer, should not be allowed to direct the research of graduate students in computer science.

Here is the preamble, with my responses interspersed.

This thesis is a replacement of a previous version. The replacement is necessary because of a number of serious challenges. Some of the contents of the first version were taken from previously published work of the author. As was done in the original version, copyright notices are included at the end of the thesis. Although using previously published work in a thesis is common practice, the document itself did not make clear that this was the case.
The replacement is necessary because of defects, not challenges. You did not indicate in any way that William A. Dembski was a coauthor of text you copied into your thesis. You excluded his name from the copyright release forms, and those forms are unchanged in the revised thesis. Are you showing us the forms you actually submitted to the IEEE Press?
Additionally, and more seriously, the introduction was constructed by drawing passages from previous papers including some which the author of thesis was not a coauthor. This was clearly an inappropriate usage.
You copied more than half of the introduction from publications by William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II.
The work for this thesis was done in collaboration with others in Dr. Marks’ research group. All of content in the thesis including the sections from the introduction were produced by members of the research group including Dr. Marks who was a member of the thesis committee.
Dembski and Marks wrote the papers you plagiarized before you joined the group. You contributed in no way to that effort. And you seem not to understand that it is scandalous for a thesis committee member to condone plagiarism of his own work. As for the chapters which you generated collaboratively, I doubt highly that you can explain all of the math (e.g., Markov chain analyses). What sort of thesis defense is it in which the committee agrees not to question the candidate on certain parts of the document?
Within the group, we use tools such as LaTeX and Dropbox which make collaboration very easy. Unfortunately this also made it easy to reuse existing text in an inappropriate manner. This is not an attempt to excuse the content of the original thesis, but rather to explain how the mistake was made.
The technology is a red herring. You did not collaborate in the preparation of the papers by Dembski and Marks, so why should you possess the LaTeX source for them? People have mentioned on this blog that they stapled together photocopies or reprints of published papers to generate theses. Obviously, complete lists of authors appeared in their documents. You went out of your way to avoid mention of Dembski, and continue to do so even here.
In future all members of the lab, especially the author of this thesis, will be careful about the reuse of collaborative work.
It is hardly your place to offer a guarantee that Marks will behave appropriately in the future. He should step forward and acknowledge his own misconduct.
This version of the thesis remedies these problems. The introduction has been rewritten by the author and those sections drawn from previous work of the author have been appropriately cited in the thesis body.
The revisions are indeed appropriate.

Grumblings about the preamble aside, I have to say that it is remarkable to see any admission of wrongdoing at all. My hat is off to Baylor for dealing with the thesis as judiciously as it has. I can only hope that my report to EthicsPoint also triggered an investigation of Marks.