Friday, August 28, 2015

We Escaped from Adventure Room!

For my older son's 21st birthday, four of us went to Adventure Rooms in Kitchener. (There's also one in Niagara Falls.) This is a game for 2 to 7 players where you're locked in a room and have to use the clues present to escape within one hour.

You have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I can't say much about it, other than it reminded me a little of one of the very few modern computer games I've played, "Myst". There were lots of red herrings and false paths to follow, more than I would have expected.

If you enjoy problem-solving, you might enjoy this; if you enjoy computer games (I don't, particularly), probably even more. Only about 20% of all teams competing manage to escape. We got out with about 1 minute and 50 seconds to spare. Everybody contributed significantly to the solution; we would not have gotten out if any one of us had not been there, but we also had a bit of luck.

This was a lot of fun, and our team size of four was close to optimal. Fewer, and you just don't have enough bodies to follow all the possible routes. Larger, and the number of people make it hard to coordinate and put together disparate clues.

If I had one suggestion to the owners, it would be to discard the very chintzy little reward you get for solving the puzzle, and replace it with something like a $5 gift card good for one of their alternate adventures.

No Moose in My Bike Lanes

The main problem with living in Kitchener, Ontario, is that this never happens.

Yield for Pedestrians...and Moose!

We're not the only ones using the bike lanes sometimes...

Posted by The Alaska Life on Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Good Fences" - A Math Puzzle App by Craig Kaplan

My colleague Craig Kaplan (who also designed the cover of one of my books) has released a new app called "Good Fences" on the Apple store. It's a geometric puzzle game based on tiling by shapes. Given a shape, you have to drag copies of it to completely surround it. There are also some variations.

It looks like fun! Give it a try.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Rafee Kamouna Owes Me $500 Today - But Will He Pay?

Rafee Kamouna, who has been claiming for years that he has proved something important about the P versus NP problem, bet me two years ago that his marvelous work would appear in the Journal of the ACM by today.

Needless to say, it hasn't.

By the terms of our bet, I was to pay him $1000 if it appeared, whereas he only has to pay me $500 because it hasn't.

Rafee, I'm prepared to accept my money now. You can contact me for payment instructions.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Chan Lawsuit Illustrates Why Canadian Libel Law Needs Reform

The sight of a Canadian politician suing a Canadian newspaper and a Canadian professor for libel should cause anyone who favors lively debate on current issues to think something is terribly, terribly wrong.

And Michael Chan, MPP for Markham-Unionville and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade, isn't the first politician to use libel to try to shut down criticism. Brian Mulroney famously threatened a suit against the Canadian government itself. Unbelievably, he actually got the government to back down and pay him a $2 million settlement.

The US has the right approach here. The bar for public figures like Chan and Mulroney should be set extremely high. Otherwise, we get what we have in Canada: libel chill makes investigative journalists too scared to take on powerful figures.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How Atheists Find Meaning

Read this excellent Buzzfeed article about how various atheists find meaning in their lives without a god.

Then read this this comment by Barry Arrington on the article. Arrington does nothing but sneer, saying the atheists in the article exhibit "gobsmacking stupidity", have a "lack of intellectual honesty" and "[spout] self-contradicting pseudo-profundities".

But he doesn't give a single example of what he thinks is wrong!

On a more personal note, who would you rather have lunch with? Arrington, or the genuine humans depicted in Buzzfeed, full of modesty, joy, sorrow, intellectual curiosity, and love?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

J. P. Moreland Thinks He Understands the Brain

I absolutely love this video by J. P. Moreland, a fourth-rate philosopher and ID advocate who teaches at a fifth-rate Bible college (Biola University, which gets its name from "Bible Institute of Los Angeles", the more honest name they used for many years).

I can't think of a better example of the intellectual bankruptcy of the kind of "Christian thought" that gave us both intelligent design and the "evolutionary argument against naturalism". Biola also hosted the conference that resulted in Mere Creation, a volume that included one of the most laughable mathematical articles ever, written by (you guessed it) David Berlinski.

As you watch the video, keep in mind that "Biola holds to the key doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, the idea that the original writings of the Bible were without error with regard to both theological and non-theological matters. As a final guarantee of strict adherence to its theological worldview, the university requires every faculty member, when first hired and again upon application for tenure, to submit their understanding of and complete agreement with each item of the doctrinal and teaching statements to the Talbot School of Theology for evaluation." [wikipedia]

Moreland seems to think that philosophy, and specifically Christian philosophy, holds the key to understanding the mind.

In this short video, how many misunderstandings and silly assertions can you find? Here is a brief list:

  1. incoherence and untestability of his definition of "soul": "an immaterial substance that contains consciousness and animates the body"
  2. no definition of "consciousness"
  3. "consciousness actually resides in the brain" (all those sensory organs we have are, I suppose, completely irrelevant to consciousness)
  4. "Darwin admitted when he came up with his theory of evolution that it could not explain the origin of mind" (as if modern evolutionary theory depends on what Darwin thought in the 1800's)
  5. "the problem for the atheist is how you can get mind from matter" (as if computers or brains are not made of matter)
  6. "if I'm just a body and a brain, then probably at the end of the day drugs ... and things of that sort will be the ultimate tools to help change people" (as if, for example, if you want to reprogram a computer, then offering new data to that computer can have no effect at all on that computer's behavior)
  7. "consciousness is immaterial"
  8. "if you start with matter from the Big Bang, and all you do is rearrange it according to the laws of chemistry and physics, you're not going to be able to get a conscious rabbit out of that material hat" (as if bodies and brains are not rearrangements of matter and energy)
At the end, Moreland reveals his real agenda. He's not really interested in understanding the brain at all. What he wants is to "generate ideas that will be useful to the spread of the Gospel and the promotion of the kingdom of god". When that's the real goal, it's not surprising at all that the ideas generated are so completely incoherent and uninformed by science.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

ID Supporters Interviewed; Count the Misrepresentations

Oh, look, a religious group interviews two ID supporters while claiming to examine the biological theory of evolution. No need, of course, to interview a real biologist.

Here are some brief comments:

  1. "evidences": why is it that creationists nearly always use "evidence" in the plural, while almost everyone else considers it a mass noun?
  2. McLatchie: "information uniformly traces its source back to an intelligent cause"; "We know in all realms of experience of cause and effect that information uniformly traces its source back to an intelligent cause"; "specified complexity uniformly comes from an intelligent source". McLatchie shows that he is a good little parrot who is able to read Stephen Meyer and regurgitate him practically word-for-word. Don't let the fact that all these claims are lies deter you, Jonathan!
  3. Bridges: "We know that the Darwinian mechanism are [sic] not capable of building this type of information and the only known source is something like conscious activity." Another lie. In fact, we know that evolutionary algorithms can produce extremely complicated designs. Creationists always sidestep this objection; you can't even find a reference to Sims in any of the major ID books.
  4. McLatchie: "or if you could demonstrate that some mechanism other than intelligent design could explain specified complexity then that again would destroy the design inference. So intelligent design is falsifiable". To the extent that's true, it's been falsified. Of course, "specified complexity" is a charade, as Elsberry and I have shown. But even using the bogus definitions of Dembski, it's easy to generate specified complexity (as we also showed in that paper).
  5. McLatchie: "intelligent design predicts that the ratio of functional to non-functional sequences should be astronomically small", "whereas the neo-Darwinian scenario predicts that it should there should be a relative abundance of stable and functional protein folds within combinatorial space". Of course, this is false. Intelligent design doesn't make any such prediction, because the intelligent designer is not constrained. He could make functional sequences abundant or rare, as he chose.
  6. Bridges: "if 99% of the relevant data set [i.e., the fossil record] is missing how could a theory dealing with that data set purport to give us a literally true story of the type of organisms that lived in the past and their potential genealogical relationships?". Well, Bridges just shows that he knows nothing about science. 99% of most of the relevant data sets in geology, biology, astrophysics, and other fields are not available for us to study directly; yet we still have accurate theories about orogeny, stellar evolution, and so forth. Heck, 99% of the data about my grandparents' emigration to the US is missing, but I can still give you a literally true story of how they got here.
If the interviewer had really wanted to understand evolution, he could have interviewed Jerry Coyne or Richard Dawkins or dozens of other scientists. But, of course, he doesn't. His goal is to prop up the faithful.

Similarly, you're never going to see Jonathan McLatchie or J. T. Bridges being interviewed by an actual science program. The only way they can get airtime is in religious forums like this. So much for the pretense that ID is actually about science.