Stephen Hawking Thinks Too Much Of Us; More

These people are reading.
These people are reading.

Autumn of the Modern Ages

What!? You haven’t headed over to Mike Flynn’s place and read his series The Autumn of the Modern Ages? Sometimes I don’t understand you people at all.

The decline of the book goes hand in hand with the decline of the bourgeois. Considered reflection requires time, silence, logic, and thinking in depth. But post-modern media — we cannot call them books any longer — are oriented to “brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety, and feelings.” This would be very dangerous to democracy, but in a future dominated by extended adolescence, we might not miss that too much. We will always have the sputtering fuse.

The only remaining god in the West will be the symbiotic Me-State beast.

Update Proof of that last claim. Louisiana State University introduces new LGBT minor, from which “Krebsbach, who identifies as a cisgender lesbian…” Identifies.

Hawking Says Not God

The man never tires of doing bad philosophy, and has reiterated his disbelief in God. We postmoderns say, Whatever.

“Religion believes in miracles, but these aren’t compatible with science.” Proof, please? Nah. Just bluster.

Skip it. The thing that caught my eye was this: “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.” So speaks a research professor who never had to teach statistics classes to people who did not want to take statistics.

Any experience with actual human beings is enough to prove that there is much beyond the reach of the human mind. We can, for instance, never know the mind of God. We can never know what infinity is like. We can never know everything, even collectively. We can never know how things which are necessarily true are necessarily true (Hawking, disdaining philosophy, does not know this). And so on.

Again, perhaps this is the postmodern in us which no longer sees the sky as the limit. That destination now seems much closer to the ground.

16-year-old Voters

They did it in Scotland, so why not here? Why not everywhere? So argues Jason Brennan, “assistant professor of strategy, economics, ethics and public policy at Georgetown University.” His thrusts backwards:

The trouble is that the main reason most people cite for barring 16- and 17-year-olds from voting looks like an equally good reason to stop most American adults from voting, too.

Amen, brother. But the cuts the other way, too, and says that we ought to pare back voting privileges. The closer we get to a true Demos, where everybody votes on everything, the closer we get to madness because the collective mind is shockingly easy to sway in the short term.

Proof? This headline: “Poll: 51% of Democrats support criminalizing hate speech” The implications are so obvious, I will not insult you by stating them.

Bad Medicine

This link no longer works. Sorry.

. Labos doesn’t come to the full realization, but he gets many things right. See especially the part on Exaggerated Risks.

Gerd Speaks

I like this Gerd Gigerenzer guy, and he has things to learn in his essay “Scientific Inference Via Statistical Rituals.

Sir Ronald Fisher, to whom it has been wrongly attributed, in fact wrote that no researcher should use the same level of significance from experiment to experiment, while the eminent statisticians Jerzy Neyman & Egon Pearson would roll over in their graves if they knew about its current use. Bayesians too have always detested p-values.

Detestation is right. But the real kicker is here:

I do not mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater and get rid of statistics, which offers a highly useful toolbox for researchers. But it is time to get rid of statistical rituals that nurture automatic and mindless inferences.

Scientists should study rituals, not perform rituals themselves.


Dover Beach

You might have seen his comments from time to time. He has a new bookmarkable site The Ordeal of Consciousness, with articles like “Scruton and Taylor on the Secular and the Sacred”, “Mathematics and the Order of the World” (did you buy a copy of Franklin’s book? It’s outrageously expensive!).

C.S. Lewis’s Epistemology

Brandon Vogt has a video of a lecture by “Union University philosophy professor Justin Barnard, who makes two relatively bold claims: first that Lewis was probably not the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century, as many Protestants and Catholics believe, and yet he probably was the greatest Christian epistemologist of the twentieth century.”


Boing Boing has a fun article: Making better use of dice in games, about a game developer who takes the “randomness” out of dice games.


I got bit by one on the tip of my right ear. I want sympathy. Hasn’t stopped itching in hours.


  1. Gary

    Briggs, your enemies lurk. The link under Bad Medicine is recursive.

  2. Briggs


    Try it now.

  3. Sheri

    Briggs: Oh poor boy, a mosquito bite. Perhaps you should search the medicine cabinet for an effective anti-itch medicine or run out to a nearby retailer and purchase some. (Or you could just Google treatments for mosquito bites and amuse yourself by reading all the nutty ideas out there. Guaranteed to take your mind off the itch!) I trust you made sure the offender would not repeat his offense?

  4. Sander van der Wal

    Hawking is being modest. The human mind he’s talking about is his own.

    But he’s not the first. The first human who said that humans are intelligent was talking about himself too.

  5. Mariner


    re: “no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind”. It’s an intriguing convergence between Hawkings the physicist and Lonergan the Thomist theologian/philosopher. Lonergan deals with your counter-examples by recourse to the notion of “inverse insight”, the insight that there can’t be an insight. It’s hard to explain in a blog comment; I’m just mentioning it here to flag Lonergan’s book “Insight” as one which you might perhaps add to your reading list in the future.

    And you have my sympathy.

  6. Gary

    Briggs, they’re winning. Now it links to a login page. Not clear how to find Labos.

  7. Ken

    “You Can’t Say That!: The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws,” was published in 2003–and what, then, was raising the hackles of some will appear rather tame compared to what’s happening today.


    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So noted Edmund Burke as the Colonies were grumbling toward revolution.

    “You Can’t Say That!” is worth a read, or at least perusal, to put things & trends in perspective.

    What the past couple of decades seem to show in the U.S. is that not only have good men done nothing, or nowhere near enough, the evil [and those with ostensibly good intentions whose actions worked out otherwise] have been–and continue to be–unceasingly persistent. The “squeaky wheel gets the grease” is the saying for good reason.

    I’d wager that most that put up a note on this blog about the above essay’s topic have not (probably ever) expended similar effort to provide thoughtful feedback to their elected representatives. Such feedback does add up & have an effect. So can other initiatives. If you’re one of the “silent majority” that hasn’t made even token effort to stay engaged with your lawmakers & provide feedback–start doing so. Start squeaking back in forms & forums that can make a real difference. It’s really not that hard; most representatives have websites for collecting just such input (concise is most effective).

    The “other side” will not, ever, be satisfied and will never stop squeaking their squawk. It’s their nature.

  8. Sheri

    Ken: I have sent many letters to my representatives. Two are doing pretty well right now. The other is up for election and I’m afraid he will be re-elected. He loves global warming—pays for his kid to research carbon sequestration. The best I can do in his case is vote against him and hopefully destroy his belief that he’s entitled to the seat forever once he’s elected (he actually implied that when a Republican had the audacity to attempt a run against him). I also write letters to the editor and write the governor. Sometimes it helps. You, of course, have to present a rational, well-thoughout argument and not just call names and attack people. The better the argument, the more likely the person will listen.

  9. DAV

    16-year-old Voters

    That would create an interesting problem in places like California and New York where the age of consent for marriage, thus sexual consent, is 18. In those states (and others), a 16-year-old voter-child would be incapable of making choices surrounding their sexuality implying incompetence in governing themselves but would be permitted to have a say in how the rest of us are governed. That might not be seen as a contradiction in CA but what about NY?

    OTOH many places already do the same wrt to consumption of alcohol. No wonder the world is going to Hell.

  10. DAV


    FWI: I use a hydrocortisone cream. It’s available in most drug stores. Works for me but if the mosquito was from Jersey (I heard it’s the state bird there), it might have been a carrier of the 17-year itch that Ben Santer caught according to Anthony and the cream won’t help.

  11. mysterian

    Mosquito II

    I find Benadryl cream works quite well and very quickly. It is also useful on just about any bug bite…

  12. swordfishtrombone

    I’d like to know what the ‘proof’ is that miracles are compatible with science because they clearly are not. Religion and science are just incompatible. Get over it. The article you link to contains just a few quick quotes from Hawking anyway, it’s silly to pretend that he would be able to make a convincing philosophical argument in a three-line interview using a speech synthesizer. The article also contains this really stupid line from the author:

    “But some look at, for example, the human eye and wonder how that exciting ball of jelly could have come about scientifically.”

    Well, I suppose some religious people would wonder that.

  13. Briggs


    Oh very well, prove to us (besides the argumentum ad blusterum) that science and religion are incompatible. Take all the space you need.

  14. Yawrate

    There are things that you don’t know that you don’t know.

  15. Milton Hathaway

    “Mosquitoes think and act 100 times faster than you can”:

    In a discussion when I was young, I said something to the effect that if you are old enough to die in a war, you should be old enough to drink. The reply was “the same thing that makes an eighteen-year-old a good soldier makes him a lousy drunk”.

    There does seem to be a lot of evidence supporting evolution. On the other hand, I notice that much of the theory of evolution is not disprovable by evidence. I have heard some people lament that not teaching evolution as gospel in public schools does a great disservice to science. I’m not sure why, though. Is there really a practical difference in attributing an interesting biological observation to an all-powerful creator versus the all-powerful hand of evolution? Will one belief tend to lead one towards a cure or a treatment that the other belief would tend to lead one away from?

    Someday there may be a testable model, even a computer model, that actually explains how the details of evolution work, and if I’m still alive and smart enough to understand it, I’ll reconsider.

  16. Smoking Scot

    16 Year old vote.

    Nothing more than a ploy to push up the number of “registered voters” and, following years of careful nurturing, to see that 71% of them voted in favour of independence.

    On the flip, this quite excellent analysis of the referendum shows that with the following age group, namely 18 to 24, the number voting against independence was 52%.

    The way things work in Scotland is the young adults will be barred from voting at the next Scottish parliamentary elections, when it reverts to 18 years of age. However the ruling party, the SNP, may have hoped that in 2016, when the next election takes place, that all those youngsters will be 2 years older and yes they’ll be able to vote – presumably for the SNP.

    Maybe they will, however my water tells me that when the reality of finding good, well paid and rewarding work dawns on them, they’ll most likely do as their peers… vote for anyone but them.

  17. swordfishtrombone

    “Oh very well, prove to us (besides the argumentum ad blusterum) that science and religion are incompatible. Take all the space you need.”

    Your ‘argument’ against Hawking was to say “Nah” then acuse him of bluster(!) Now you’re doing the same thing with me. Shouldn’t it be up to you to explain why you reject his position rather than asking me to back it up?

    I would say that religion and science are incompatible because science rejects supernatural explanations but religion requires them.

  18. swordfishtrombone

    About the voting age issue: You can only vote when we’re 18 if there’s an election. In the UK they’re now held every five years. That means that on average, you’ll have to wait until you’re 20.5 to vote and in a ‘worst-case’, nearly 23.

    If the voting age was lowered to 16, the average age of first-time voters would still be over 18.

  19. Sheri

    Science rejects explanations that it currently cannot explain (what you call supernatural). Religion accepts some of the things science calls supernatural (such as miracles–which are not actually supernatural in the context of a creator God). Other than miracles (so called in science, but not in religion), religion does not require supernatural explanations (unless by supernatural you mean the explanation comes only from the earth and then you’d have to explain why that is a requirement). After all, some consider the idea of a big bang to be “supernatural” due to its “something from nothing” characteristics. It all hinges on your definition of “supernatural”, which if you phrase it to deliberately exclude religion becomes a circular argument.

  20. swordfishtrombone


    I don’t accept your suggestion that ‘supernatural’ means “things science currently cannot explain”. I would say that ‘supernatural’ means ‘beyond’ natural, in other words not explicable ever, even in principle. Science doesn’t bother trying to explain miracles because they would never be explainable and there’s no point in even trying because they don’t happen anyway.

    The big bang wasn’t ‘supernatural’, trivially because it ‘s a scientific theory but more substantially because it generally doesn’t explain what happened ‘before’ itself, much like evolution doesn’t explain how the first lifeform came into existence. In any case, ‘something from nothing’ happens continually when pairs of ‘virtual’ particles flash in and out of existence.

    Don’t forget that literally everything was once thought to be ‘supernatural’ in origin, ruled by gods, demons, forest spirits or whatever. If some people didn’t bother looking more deeply than ‘miracle’ for answers, we’d still be living in caves and dying at forty.

  21. Sheri

    You can reject my definition if you like. Merriam-Webster online uses this as the second definition: departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature. I choose to go with Merriam, you go with whatever works for you.
    Interesting comment on miracles. If you don’t believe in something, it doesn’t exist? How very convenient—we’ll just consult you in the future if we need to know if something is real.
    Being a scientific theory does not make it true. In fact, the big bang and evolution that can never ever be “proven” unless we master time travel and even then, I’m not sure we can actually see the beginning of the universe. It is a useful theory, but not a provable one.
    Again, comparing quatum to macro is invalid science. If we go with your example, then we can say telekensis could really be possible since “spooky motion” happens in quantum physics. Are you saying telekensis is possible if at an atomic level, a very similar thing happens?
    Yes, I know everything was thought to be supernatural. There’s no reason to believe that we’d be living in caves and dying at forty, however. I see no evidence that the label “supernatural” ever stopped many people from trying to explain things. It still doesn’t. Miracles are examined over and over and over. Very few things ever really qualify, even though many events are called miracles by people. (Oh, I forgot, they don’t exist according to you. My bad.)

  22. swordfishtrombone

    There’s nothing in the Merriam-Webster definition referring to your “currently cannot explain” phrase which is the part I was objecting to. If a ‘miracle’ turns out to be explainable scientifically, then it’s not ‘supernatural’.

    If you take something “currently unknown” by science, such as exactly how the first living organism came to be, most scientists wouldn’t use the term ‘supernatural’ to label it. They would assume that it was down to natural processes which could be uncovered (in principle) by scientific investigation. Angels and ESP? Not so much.

    With regards to evolution and the big bang being ‘unprovable’, I agree – but a theory must be disprovable to qualify as scientific, not provable. It isn’t strictly possible to prove any scientific theory, even something well-known and uncontroversial like the theory of gravity. No matter how much evidence is accumulated in favour of it, it’s always possible that a single piece of evidence will disprove it.

    I’m not sure you quite got my point about us “living in caves and dying at forty”. I’m not referring to specifically religious miracles. In the past, if the rains failed, it would be put down to the rain god being displeased so some virgins would be sacrificed to apease him/her. Were it not for people noticing that that response didn’t actually work (in other words, looking at the evidence) and saying so, we’d still be doing that now. Us pesky atheists have always been around to spoil the virgin-sacrificing fun!

  23. Sheri

    If we look at disease, before there was knowledge of bacteria, viruses and genetics, disease was attributed to the “Gods”, etc. When science advanced, then the attribution stopped (except in the case of Christian Scientists, who think sin is why people get sick). As for Angels and ESP, I don’t know of any studies on Angels, but there are scientific studies all the time on ESP–all coming out negative at this point. The CIA even gave a run at using remote viewing.

    I noted that the big bang theory was useful. I know all scientific theories are not provable and most are just probable. In the case of evolution and the big bang, unlike say, the existence of Bigfoot, there is no way to prove OR disprove the theory. We can only adjust any new data. Which makes these different from other theories. We also have no proof that God did make the universe nor that he did, and we can neither prove nor disprove this. As long as religion is not in direct conflict with known science, as far as I can see, all theories for how the earth started are pretty much on the same level–they can neither be proven nor disproven. Whether they are “scientific” or not.

    Actually, I did get your point on “living in caves”. It’s not always atheists that question things. Many religious people start looking at what their church teaches and start to ask if it really makes sense. That’s one reason why we have so many different religions. Questioning why a god would want you to do something should be part of religion, and if it is not, there is a problem with that religion. It’s kind of silly to believe that God made bright, intelligent people and then wouldn’t let them use those qualities, don’t you think?

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