Chapter 13 - Scientism is a Really Crappy Religion

[I am writing a book and plan to post chapters as I go, here is Chapter 13. I've already posted the introduction and first four and you can start here to read them. I will update with links to the future chapters when they are done.]

I believe in science. I believe in facts. I don't follow these superstitious religions because those are based on unprovable assertions that often contradict. Only science gives real answers. If it cannot be shown by science, no one should take it too seriously. Science gave us technology. Science gave us medicine. Science has made everyone's life better. Unlike religion. That for thousands of years did nothing. Science and only science should be used to answer life's most important questions.

Statements such as the above are quite commonly stated, more commonly thought, and have become largely the mantra of the political left and the religiously agnostic in the West. But it is complete BS. Science, while certainly a good thing in many ways, has not done most of the things we think it has in society. And science is almost by definition unable to do most of the things we ask it to do. The emperor has no clothes.

 Science is Unable to Answer Life's Biggest Questions 

Science is given so much credit for being the answer to today's big problems but when we think about the biggest problems in life, science fails spectacularly. Let's review two things that most would agree are central to life: a) a basic understanding of right and wrong and b) how to be happy.

Wrong and Right 

I wrote on the failure of atheistic attempts to determine morals in depth in chapter 10 and much of my argument here is just an echo of that so consider this a brief recap. Remember the Is/Ought problem? Just because something is a particular way doesn't mean that something ought to be a particular way. You cannot describe what is (or has been) to get to what ought to be. There is a logical/definitional gap you cannot cross... the two are not the same.

And this is a huge problem for science. Because science is by definition the study of what is (or has been) it can tell you what the human brain looks like when it is angry or sad, happy or peaceful but science cannot tell you how we should be. Science simply takes observations and draws conclusions. It cannot tell you moral lessons. Nazi Germany was quite a bit less moral than the surrounding nations but this was not because they were any less scientific. In fact, one could make the argument that Germany was one of the most scientifically advanced societies in human history at the very moment they were the most evil. We can use science to create killing machines as well as to create good things.

At this point, many will concede that science does not give us morals but that if we start with the idea that science can be used to determine what makes the most people happy then we can use it for that end.Well.... I have bad news for you there as well.

How to be Happy

Science is stupid when it comes to happiness. 

 Social scientists (not real scientists) believe that you can measure happiness like you can measure velocity. They ask people if they are happy and then imagine that they can find ways to make people happier. This is ridiculous in pretty much every way you can imagine.

 Happiness is not a definable or measurable thing. Consider the following: which is better: to be happy all day long (maybe sipping cocktails by the pool with a beautiful woman) or to be knee deep in mud in a jungle with a bunch of stinky men? The answer is not as simple as you would think. Supposing in the second example, you are a soldier and you are fighting for the freedom of your people. Supposing that you are at that moment doing what you think God made you to do. The fact that if a social scientist handed you a survey asking how happy you were (on a zero to ten scale) you would probably be tempted to put a negative number, you would not trade places with the cocktail sipping coward for anything and doing so would make you less happy not more. 

Another thing to consider: You can add up all the happy moments you have and find that a person who had considerably fewer happy moments actually had a happier overall life. Think of the missionary who lives in a mosquito infested nation feeding, clothing, and spreading the gospel with the poorest of the poor. Compare that missionary to the rich spoiled playboy. Who, as they lay down their heads to take their last breath, is happier? And how does a social “scientist” measure that? They do not. They cannot. They should stop saying they can. 

Happiness is not like velocity or mass. It cannot be measured. It cannot even be defined. 

The next time you see a story on what science teaches us about happiness, diligently ignore it, laugh at it, post a comment declaring the author an idiot. But please do not take it seriously. 

Science Cannot Test for God 

As we showed in chapter 10, science cannot test for God because it assumes something about God that Christianity and Judaism deny: that God is not personal. If God is personal (ie he interacts with humanity not as a force but as a being that responds and answers based on our behavior), than we have to ask: is God is the sort of God that allows himself to be tested?

When scientists test humans, they often take steps to prevent the humans from knowing they are being tested (with blind tests or lying to them about the nature of the test). But if there was an all knowing God, he certainly could not be tricked like this. So who says he would allow himself to be tested?

Science Didn't Really Give us Technology

If there is one claim to fame of science it is the idea that science gave us the many wonderful technologies of our modern society. Whenever someone is debating someone perceived (usually wrongly) as anti-science, a typical rant is something along the lines of, 'well, if you will not accept what Science has to say about <insert hot button issue> then you should also stop using your smart phone because science gave you that as well.' This reflects the generally accepted idea that science gave us airplanes, jet engines, computers, medicine, the internet, cars, and pretty much every modern technological convenience you can think of.  

But is this really true? Is it true that modern technologies are the result of the utilization of scientific theories applied to invent new technologies? The answer is that, with a few exceptions, this never happens. In his excellent Antifragile, N. N. Taleb takes on this myth. He recounts a lecture he heard by Phil Scranton, a professor at Rutgers, talking about the creation of the jet engine. "Scranton showed that we have been building and using jet engines in a completely trial and error experimental manner, without anyone truly understanding the theory."(1) He states that it was only after engineers had tinkered and twisted the jet engine into a functioning state that the scientific theories were employed to explain what had already been invented. "The theory came later," Taleb states.(2)

Taleb gives other examples. He states that cybernetics was long attributed to the work of scientist ,Norbert Wiener, in 1948 but that in fact Wiener was simply articulating ideas that had already been in practice in the engineering world. Taleb discusses architecture and how we often attribute our ability to make tall or oddly shaped structures to scientific understanding of motion and stresses. But in fact most of the complex and beautiful buildings have been built using rules of thumb and heuristics developed over years of architectural trial and error. Referring to the remarkable architecture of the ancient Greeks, he writes, citing Guy Beujouan, "almost nobody knew any mathematics." Whether talking about modern sky scrapers or ancient Roman Aqueducts, very few of the ideas used to build them came from scientists. Almost all of the ideas came from practitioners, builders, and from rules of thumb developed over time.

Taleb talks about how medicine likewise has been largely the result of "luck, trial and error, side effects of other medicines, or sometimes poisoning (mustard gas)." (3) His comment about mustard gas refers to the fact that mustard gas (something designed to kill) was found to shrink the tumors of soldiers affected by the gas. This was not a scientific discovery but complete luck and observation followed by years of trial and error to develop the chemotherapy treatments we now have. Another famous no scientific development is Viagra (the pill now sold to change old men's sex lives). It was initially developed as a blood pressure medicine. And we all know the famous story of how Alexander Fleming had completely accidental fungal contamination in some of his lab samples leading to the discovery of the first antibiotics. Even AIDS treatments (wrongly cited by Taleb as one of the few counter examples in which teleological scientific pursuits directly led to a cure) cannot be cited because many of the antiretroviral treatments now used had been previously developed in the 1960s to treat cancer. In fact, it is incredibly hard to cite any true cases where 'science' can be said to be the cause for a significant medical advance.

And the Industrial Revolution, was also not driven by science either. It was driven mostly by industrialists and hobbyists tinkering and testing (often with little or no scientific training) that drove some of the biggest developments. T. Kealy, author of The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, argues that the steam engine emerged from preexisting technology and was created by uneducated men applying common sense (4). The textile industry was revolutionized without any scientific knowledge at all. Mechanized weaving was invented by John Kay. The spinning jenny was invented by James Hargreaves. The spinning frame was developed by Wyatt and Paul. Arkwright developed the water frame. Kealy states, "yet they owned nothing to science; they were empirical developments based on the trial, error, and experimentation of skilled craftsmen who were trying to improve the productivity, and so the profits of their factories." (5)

The technologies that shape our modern world very rarely have development histories that look like this:

Science ------> Invention --------> Technology

Instead they almost all have development histories that look like this:

Tinkering, Trial, and Error -------> Invention -------> Technology ..... with science later explaining the process and science involved in the technology.

Much of What We Call Science is Not Really Science

But it worth stepping back at this point and asking what we are calling science. Science, properly speaking, is a method. It is where we take a hypothesis, test it, draw conclusions, and then revise our hypothesis as needed. That process when used properly can yield some helpful truths about the world. But unfortunately, many things that are not at all about that method and can only loosely claim to even have connections to it are declared to be science by popular culture (and academic departments). Here are a few examples.

Dietetics

Health is an incredibly complicated thing. Heart attacks are one of the largest causes of death in the USA (14%) but what causes a heart attack? Well, no one is sure exactly but there are thought to be a variety of causes. Weight. Genetics. Stress. Smoking. Eating habits. Sleeping habits. Blood pressure. How much time you are sedentary. I could go on. But how do we determine those causes? It is a very hard thing to do when you think about it. Let's say you take a large sample of people (N=500) to study. How do you know what they eat? How do you know how much they sleep? How do you know how stressed they are? How much they sit during the day? You could follow them around with clipboards.... but for how long? If I smoke 10 packs a day for 40 years and then quit right before the study, the observer would not know how much I smoked unless he asked me. So the expensive part (paying someone to follow around a person) would not give you the most important information.

To get the most important information you would need to survey your subjects. You need to ask them. How much soda do you drink? How many cigarettes? Is heart disease common in your family? But this leads to a challenge. Most people do not remember their exact diet. Do not remember exactly how much they smoked. Many do not know the health issues of estranged uncles or aunts. Further, there is a moral hazard in that most people know what healthy living is supposed to look like and might exaggerate one way or the other to tell a story ('oh, I smoked a lot... two packs a day). How much can you trust that?

And this is why diet and health advice is notoriously continually changing. When I was a kid, eggs were lethal heart attack poison. Now, eggs are the very picture of healthy food. Low fat was the way to stay healthy back in the 90s. Now almost no one talks about low fat. Vegetarianism used to be considered healthy. Then it was considered unhealthy. Now veganism is making a push to be considered healthy.

There is a lot of scientific talk mixed in all this. A confident scientist has analyzed that egg in a lab and determined that it has way too much cholesterol. He turns to you and explains that when there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. Huh. Wow. That seems like a scientific fact to me. I will quit eggs. But as we know that scientist was wrong. Apparently the cholesterol in eggs is the 'good' kind and it will not build up on your artery walls.It turns out both the food and the human body were more complicated than that scientist thought.

But.... there is another problem. That calculation is a single variable. Modify your egg input and get a result. But what happens if you put salt on your eggs? Or eat them with potatoes? Or maybe put ketchup on them (like a monster). What if I eat eggs while living a active life? What if I sit around all day? How does this incredibly complicated mix of activities and dietary side dishes affect the impact eggs have on my system?

So the scientist imagined that the equation for, "are eggs healthy?" looked like this:

y = f(x)

Where y= health and x = egg intake.

But in reality the equation looks like this contains many non-linear variables. It looks more like this:

y=f(x,z,a,b,c...)

Where y= health and x = egg intake, z=ketchup, a = hours a week exercising, b = potatoes as a side c = genetic ability to deal with cholesterol etc, etc, etc.

So.. the scientist is not playing with one variable but countless variables interacting in countless ways. Actually finding the equation is impossible so instead the scientist needs to use "big data."He takes a huge bunch of data (collected from surveys) on the activities, eating habits, and genetics of people, tries to control for anything else he thinks is important, and then looks for the effects of eggs. For example, he might take people between 55-70 who are fit, have no other health issues, and who eat eggs daily. But does that group all add salt to the eggs? Do they add ketchup?

"Doesn't matter," the scientist says confidently. "I plotted egg intake in that group and showed that egg intake positively correlated with heart attacks and the R-Squared factor was fairly high."

Hmm. I guess that settles it. Right?

No it does not. The reason it does not is two fold:

1) Correlation is not causation.
2) Correlation is rarely actually correlation.

Most people are familiar with the first phrase. You can show that ice cream intake correlates with shark bites but the cause of shark bites is not ice cream but a tertiary cause (warm weather causes both more swimming and more ice cream consumption). Even if eggs and heart attacks had perfect correlation, there might be some tertiary cause.

But the second phrase, most people do not know. Most scientists are bad at stats. Most assume that if you take two variables and determine that there is some relationship between them (say a correlation of 0.5) that you can then draw conclusions from that. But this is not so in many cases. This actually assumes some things that may not be true. It assumes no sub sampling and strict linearity. The best explanation of the problem here that I have found is
Anscombe's Quartet. 

Consider these four graphs (6): 



Four very different sets of data with the same exact mean, standard deviation, and correlation. And yet a quick look at these data and you see that there are clearly different things going on. If this was egg usage versus heart attacks, quadrant I would indeed appear to suggest that egg usage more or less led to more heart attacks. But what about quadrant II? That would appear to suggest that there is a bad range of egg usage somewhere in the middle and that people should either eat no eggs or a lot of eggs. Consider quadrant VI, this would suggest that long as you don't eat 3 eggs a day or 9, you are good. But even these conclusions are faulty because the data may be a subsample of a much large picture that looks quite different. Consider these data:




Based on that... it looks like every egg is damn near one step closer to death.

But I pulled that data from these:



Which obviously tells different story - egg intake only matters in that narrow range and does not get worse with increased consumption (it gets better).

So....and none of this takes into account all the other variables.

With these things in mind, we can see why diet science is not the same thing as calculating the motion of the planets or other relatively simple physical science equations. Science that depends on mining data - especially unreliable data drawn from surveys - to get conclusions is almost always quackery. The Oracle of Delphi. Witch doctors.

So... science struggles to tell us how to be happy. It struggles with complex systems that make up life. And as I showed in chapter 10, it is not built for asking questions about God. A short recap of the discussion there:

Psychoanalysis  

I recently listened to the audio book, The Burnout Generation, and it was painful to listen to. It was an entire audio book about young people who never had any real problems reflecting on minor stresses in their lives. In order to reflect on these stresses, they go back and reflect on all their experiences growing up. They talk about their expectations. They obsess over choices they made. On and on. And you cannot blame them. Their parents probably obsessed over them as well. Parents now think that every book their child reads, every sporting event, every school play just might be the thing that makes or breaks their kid. 

It is a weird thing. In the old days, parents just sort of tried to keep their kids alive. Now we all have to keep detailed accounts of everything that happened so that we can understand why we get stressed about getting behind on doing laundry.

I think it might be the influence of Sigmund Freud. Not sure. But it is weird and it won't last.

I hope.

In generations in the past, people had to deal with all sorts of things. For most of history, most men had to engage in hand to hand combat. That means that most men had had someone else try to murder them and they themselves had at some point tried to murder someone else. Most women had lost a brother or father to war. Many women died in child birth. Most kids therefore lost someone they loved during their childhood. And that is not even covering sickness and plague. As the result of disease, most parents lost a child at some point. Everyone walked around with PTSD. Probably. They didn't define it back then. But people went through some real trials in life.

Further, even if you had two living parents and none of your siblings had died, you were probably one of many. The average woman prior to the 20th century had about seven children. Many had more. If your parents were hard working and you were one of six or seven kids, you probably were mostly ignored by your parents. There is no way they could sit you down and read you a story every day. You would be mostly on your own. And all the stuff modern people go through (fighting parents, family dysfunction, etc) people back then went through too.

But you know what they didn't have? A collective societal effort to sort through all those terrible experiences to see how each one of them contributed to their own unhappiness as adults. Sigmund Freud was so successful and his ideas so pervaded society (even though few ideas still are embraced by academia) that we use his language and think his thoughts. Everyone has become their own personal Freud. My mom yelled at me, that is why I get stressed around my female boss. My dad never played catch with me, that is why I can't seem to make friends with the guys at church. Etc etc.

It is like we are all solving a mystery. The mystery of our problems. And the clues are the various crappy things that happened to us.

It is weird.

Peggy Noonan once wrote a column called, "Everyone's been shot." She quotes a scene from 'Blackhawk Down,' in which one injured soldier tells another injured soldier to jump in a truck and drive. The soldier responds, 'But... I have been shot!' The response? 'Everyone has been shot. Drive.'

Everyone has been shot. We all have crap that happened to us. Bad experiences as children. Abuse. Cruelty. Neglect. Poverty. Real and perceived.Everyone has been shot. Everyone in the history of the world. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. 

Stop psychoanalyzing yourself. Psychiatry is not really science. 

Psychology : Intelligence Research

One of the best examples of things we think are science that are not in my mind is the idea of IQ. I remember taking an IQ test when I was a teenager and doing quite well. Despite the fact that other kids often did better in school, were funnier, had more luck getting girls, we better at sports, and generally just superior in every area I wished I was good, I had this IQ test to make me feel...'smart.' It was a number that, I was convinced, meant something. For a good chunk of my early adulthood, this number helped me feel better about myself. Then I made a mistake. In my mid 20s, I bought a IQ test and self administered another test. My number dropped quite a bit. I was shook. I was suddenly much more average! How could this be? Well.... I was not satisfied with this. I read up on how to do well on IQ tests, I prepared, I bought another test, and retested myself. And thank goodness.... I was smart again! 

 Now... of course this is BS. I didn't go from being smart to dumb to smart again. 

And I soon realized the whole thing was BS. The score never meant anything. The evidence that IQ is meaningful is extremely weak. Often people compare IQ to income as their evidence that it is meaningful but the major problem with this is that many of the roadblocks to wealth (getting into top universities, passing various competence exams etc) look a lot like IQ tests (SAT, ACT, GMAT, GREs, LSAT, etc). It should not therefore be surprising that there is correlation and pointing to the correlation is obviously somewhat circular. What is shocking is not that there is a correlation but how absolutely minor it is. R^2 values less than 0.1. That means that another IQ point is terrible at predicting whether that means another dollar for the person. Consider the below chart of IQ vs Income. (7)

 

 In fact, putting a straight line trend on this is silly. Remove the trend line and let your eyes look at the dots. What do you see? I see buck shot. Maybe a slight trend but not something I would do any sort of engineering based on.

My undergraduate is engineering. Before I decided to move in other directions educationally and career wise (moving to business then philosophy) I worked in several transportation markets including Aerospace, Auto, and Heavy Duty. We worked on components that meant life and death. Big impact on people if we got something wrong. A car or plane that fails endangers the safety of everyone on board. We did a lot evaluation of components to determine which component level tests were meaningful. We had to get them right for safety sake. I spent a ton of time in labs and looked at endless data. We would never.... never.... have taken a chart like the above and drawn any sort of significant conclusion from it. We would look for much higher R^2 values. Much less noise. Data like that would cause more questions than anything. Imagine the same chart with miles driven on the x axis and component wear on the y axis. If I showed that data, the first question every engineer would ask is, why does this test show that components with extremely low miles are wearing so much? Why does this test show that components with high miles are not wearing at all? What is wrong with this test? What is the gauge R&R (gauge repeatability and reproducibility)? In other words, how much can we trust the tools we used to collect the data?

But social scientists are not engineers. Few have worked in labs. Most pour over data collected from databases and look for correlations. They get paid to find correlations. Which is a horrible way to do anything. Look at any large amount of data with many variables and you will always find correlations.

Where engineers have to poke holes in meaningless correlations (for safety sake), social scientists have to find correlations. Their funding depends on it. But this does not mean there is less risk in the work of social scientists.  If an engineer creates a bad test, it might lead to a driver getting in an accident, but when a social scientist draws their wrong conclusions, the effects are more hidden but no less harmful.

IQ is perhaps the most harmful of them all. When you tell someone they have a low IQ, you are putting them in a box. You are a 87. You are not very smart. Your have slow cognitive abilities. Your likelihood of success  is low. The chances of you making a high income is lower.  IQ is viewed, by most people, as a trait like height or eye color. Richard Lynn, in IQ and the Wealth of Nations, says, "IQ is highly heritable." In other words, you are born with it. Sucks to be you 87.

This is scientific malpractice. Personally, I would rather get in a car accident than have some scientist convince me that I was an idiot. But this is what IQ proponents do every day. And they do so with data that every automotive engineer would reject every single day of the week. It is a crime. Mean. Cruel. And damaging.

And stupid. It comes from ignorance of how data works. Ignorance of how causality can be determined. It comes from spending too much time looking for correlations in data and not enough time in real life.

Get your head out of the data, and ask a few critical questions and you will see that IQ cannot be meaningful. What does it even mean to be intelligent?...Think about three people you know that are smart. What makes them smart?

  • Ability to do math?
  • Good memory?
  • Eloquence?
  • Erudition?
  • Wit?
  • Creativity?

I am guessing that the smart people in your life fit some of these well and others not at all. I think I am good at math, have an average memory, am not particularly eloquent , am fairly erudite (thanks to reading a lot), am not very witty, and sometimes completely lack creativity. I know other people I consider smart that are weak in many of the places I am strong and strong in many of the places I feel weak.I also know people who I am sure have low IQs (guys that I worked with on construction crews when I was in college and who I spent time working on cars with back in high school) who know a ton more than me about given topics and are smarter in many contexts than I am.

Intelligence is this complicated thing and yet we want to simplify it down to a single number. You are an 87.  Now, what if that 87 speaks 10 languages and is a brain surgeon? It should not matter. But I am guessing that most brain surgeons would be bothered by an IQ score of 87 anyway. Almost no amount of accomplishment could shake our cultural acceptance of IQ as THE way to measure intelligence. But can we all not see how effing ridiculous this is?

Another thing that we can see when we get our head out of the data and look at real life is how we can test the test. Go talk to your mechanic. He probably is not a college grad. Statistically he is probably lower IQ. But his knowledge of cars is mind-blowing. He can name all the parts. Tell you how to fix various things. He can diagnose as well as any doctor. In short, in his domain, he is smart. He is a smart man who scores low on IQ tests. Similarly, go watch some Youtube clips of George W. Bush. Read his dumb decisions on pretty much every level of government (from staff choices, to legislative efforts, to poorly thought out wars, to gaffs in his speeches). I am sure he is a nice guy if you knew him but the man was clearly dumb. But.... by several accounts he did well on standardized tests and probably has a high IQ. He is a dumb man who scores high on IQ tests.

These are examples of testing the test. They are the sort of results that would make every engineer demand that the test be rethought, rejected, or supplemented.

And thus we should. IQ is ridiculous. I propose that we reject the concept all together. We look at skills, knowledge, and abilities relevant to the fields that we are looking at for schooling and employment rather than some standardized IQ test (of which, I would argue SAT is one).

Economics 

Watching old predictions from economists is always funny. They generate complicated mathematical models based on 'leading indicators' and behavior in various economics 'sectors' and put together forecasts for the next year, 2 years, and sometimes 5 or 10 years. But when you go back in time and watch how well economists predicted the most significant economic events in recent history they did terrible. No one predicted the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. No one predicted the housing crisis of 2008. No one predicted the global COVID19 lockdowns of 2020. Economists understandably were unable to see these unpredictable things coming. They explain that their models are for 'normal' times not for things like wars and natural disasters. But if these freak events are the most important things in economics and if they happen at least once a decade or so, what good are models that do not include these things? 

Further, even in peaceful and 'normal' times, economists are not that good at predicting. Financial Review recently wrote that, "Experts correctly predicted only five of the 153 recessions recorded around the world between 1992 and 2014."(8) Despite countless complicated models and endless facts and figures, economists are not better than the mildly informed businessman in terms of predicting the road ahead. 

And this failing goes beyond pure predictions. Economists are also all over the map on what makes various systems work in the first place. You can go to the top universities in the world and find professors promoting everything from communism to strict libertarianism. Imagine going to a physics department and finding such a lack of agreement on basic elements of a field of study. 

The reason for all of this is simple. Economics is the study of systems with way too many variables to model accurately and also a system that very much depends on human free will. Why do large government programs seem to work okay in Sweden and not so well in Venezuela? The answer to that might be as obscure and impossible to measure as "culture."  

Now... don't get me wrong. I actually like economics. I regularly quote Adam Smith, Thomas Sowell and others. But one thing is interesting when you read Smith and Sowell: the lack of math. They did not pretend to be science. They understand that they are promoting logical ideas to be discussed using reason and rational arguments rather than metrics and 'leading indicators'. Economics, when properly done, is understood as a philosophy not a science. 

Which is fine. There is nothing wrong with philosophy. But the reason many economists would take that as an insult is that our modern culture worships science and does not worship philosophy. No one wants to be called a philosopher. That is the wrong god in today's culture.

Transgenderism 

I talked about the issues with transgenderism in chapter 9 but to briefly recap some of the issues here as it relates to science. The scientific method was based on observations. It was based on making a hypothesis, conducting a controlled experiment, and then evaluating your hypothesis in light of the results. But when you have something like transgenderism where you are not making observations but simply trying to react to the ever changing inner workings of the human mind. Someone is demonstrably a male (penis, male bone structure, etc) and yet then feel uncomfortable or unhappy as a male and what passes for modern science rejects the observed state and declares that the person is a female. This is the farthest thing from science and yet it gets declared science and anyone that questions it gets declared some sort of a bigot or religious zealot. 

Climate Modeling

Before I became the world famous author and podcaster that I am today, I was a lowly engineer. I have business and philosophy master's degrees but my undergraduate was in mechanical engineering. And some of the best lessons I learned about life came from working as an engineer in a test lab. One of the companies I worked for made plastic covers that bolted to aluminum engine components. There was a rubber gasket that would seal between the our component and the aluminum block.

In order to ensure the component would work, we would create a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) in which we would model each of the components (a nylon cover, a viton gasket, an aluminum block) and ensure that everything would work before we prototyped them. Then we would prototype them. Then we would test those prototypes in a thermal chamber (cycling the temperature from -40 to 150 C for 15 weeks). If the test went well, we would then put them on vehicles that would then go through further testing conducted by our customers.

But, in theory, the FEA should have been the end of the whole thing. It was a simple model. Three components with known material properties. Three components that we had experience making and using in production. Three components that were not new to the world or innovative in any way. We should have been able to run the computer model, look at the results, confirm that it would work, and put those components right on cars going into production.

But the real world is quite different from the modeled world. What I found was that sometimes the aluminum block would have porosity (little holes from the casting) that was not in the model and this would allow fluids to get past the rubber gasket. Or sometimes the gasket itself would degrade to the point of no longer being able to seal. Or sometimes the plastic would deflect and creep more than the model had shown. Whatever the reason, it was not strange at all for the FEA to completely miss a failure that happened when we tested the parts.

But I learned even more from my time in the lab. I learned that even when we had a leak, sometimes we could not figure out what was causing it. We had three components. Simple components we understood and had experience with. And we could not figure out why there was a leak. We would take the assembly apart and examine the components. The plastic would look brand new and without defect. The gasket would look brand new. The block would have no apparent problems with it. There was no discernible reason it was leaking.  And yet it was.

You could have a room full of engineers from some of the top engineering schools in the country with a ton of experience with these types of components who would be completely stumped.

By a simple three component assembly.

And from working in the industry, I know that these sorts of problems were not unique to our company or our application. Every engineer working in an automotive or aerospace lab knows the frustration of finding problems in the test that were not predicted by models and are difficult to solve even when you have all the components in your hands.

So. How does this apply to climate change? Well, think about what is going on with the climate change models we have. Read the explanation of a climate change model listed on the NOAA website:

"Climate models are based on well-documented physical processes to simulate the transfer of energy and materials through the climate system. Climate models, also known as general circulation models or GCMs, use mathematical equations to characterize how energy and matter interact in different parts of the ocean, atmosphere, land. Building and running a climate model is complex process of identifying and quantifying Earth system processes, representing them with mathematical equations, setting variables to represent initial conditions and subsequent changes in climate forcing, and repeatedly solving the equations using powerful supercomputers."

I know for a fact this is BS. Instead of the three simple components our engineering team modeled with our FEA, these guys have climate change models that have to account for an almost infinite number of variables. Many of these variables are unknowns or extremely rough estimates. Many other variables have to be simply ignored to prevent the model from becoming unworkable. Many of the elements in the model are non-linear and hard to model. The environment in this world is almost infinitely complicated. 'A butterfly flapping her wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas,' as the saying goes. And then there are outside factors like magnetic field issues, sun spots, and solar flares. Then there are historic trends and cycles to the climate.  The whole thing is so complicated that even identifying all the variables is impossible let alone accurately and repeatably modeling them.

And unlike my engineering days, the climate change models are not testing known systems that have been tested and observed before. These models are new, the environmental changes are new, and the predicted results have yet to be verified.

I don't wonder if they are right. I know they are not. It is a joke. Simply too complicated to model. If you attached levels of confidence to all the variables the predicted results would have to include every possible future including global cooling.

But while my team of engineers understood that the FEA (of three simple components) needed to be followed up by rigorous testing to ensure it was right, these climate models are taken as the GOSPEL by almost everyone. If someone so much as dare to wonder if man made hydrocarbon is causal in a warming trend, you get shouted down as 'anti-science.'

There is no lab to check the models. There is no way to verify we are using the right variables. Forecasters cannot tell us what the weather is going to be like in December but these "climate scientists" know what the global temperatures will be in twenty years.

When I think of the difference between science and pseudo-science it is exactly this sort of confidence I am thinking of. When you are so confident in something that is so obviously BS, you are not doing science anymore. It is a religion or something.

Origins Science 

If there is one field that gets pounded over the head of Christians it is that of evolution. Christians are anti-science because the bible teaches creationism and science tells us evolution is true. Now, it is of course to be recognized that many devout and good Christians reconcile evolution with the bible. With that being said, origins research suffers from many of the same challenges as climate research with the added dilemma of most of the things being evaluated having taken place millions or billions of years ago. Contemporary science looks at phenomena that are happening today. These things can be tested and retested. If a critic arises, you can show it to them again. Origins science looks at a set of data and puts together a theory of what happened before anyone was around to witness the events.To illustrate historic science, think of a crime scene investigator (CSI). The CSI can use science to analyze blood, fingerprints, and footprints. He can construct a picture of what he thinks happened. It might be the best possible theory based on the available data. But there is always a chance his theory is wrong. Hopefully, if he is wrong, new data will vindicate the falsely accused. But sometimes the falsely accused sit in prison for years.

And as fraught with the danger of being wrong as they are at least the CSI is dealing with fairly recent and fresh clues.

 Now compare this CSI again to your favorite engineer in that test lab. When that gasket leaked a bunch of things that could have gone wrong. It could have been the wrong type of oil, it could be porosity in the mating surface, it could be warping of the plastic. We analyzed all these things. We used computer models and chemical analysis. We discussed with the PhD's in the R&D lab, and we reviewed with the best and the brightest engineers in the company. Finally, we chose the most likely cause. We decided that the mating surface had porosity in it (tiny holes) and that this must have caused the leak. Were we right?  Well, to check we took some epoxy and spread it on the mating surfaces to fill all the holes. Then we reran the test.....it failed again.

What?

I thought we proved it? We used science. We talked to the experts. We reviewed data. But the results don't lie. We were wrong. All the experts were wrong. So we went back to the drawing board. We reviewed our data again. We thought more about what we might have missed. Finally, we realized that the pressure gauge on the test chamber had not been calibrated recently. We had not noticed this before. We calibrated it and realized that it was running very high pressures that might have blown out the gaskets at certain temperatures. With this fixed, the test passed.

See the difference between the investigation of the engineer and that of the CSI detective? This is precisely the difference between the physical scientist and the professor of origins with the added complication of data being millions (or billions) of years old. The engineer works within a system that automatically scraps the scrap. Wrong answers reveal themselves.

As GK Chesterton quipped, "The trouble with the professor of the prehistoric is that he cannot scrap his scrap. The marvelous and triumphant airplane is made out of a hundred mistakes. The student of origins can only make one mistake and stick to it. "

Intelligent Design 

So is any sort of creationism or intelligent design anti-science? No. The argument for intelligent design is not “we cannot figure out how this happened… it must be God!”

No, the argument for ID is that when we use science to look at what happened historically, one of the things we can do is look for design. When, for example, a crime scene investigator looks at a death, one of the things he looks for is to see if that death was natural or due to foul play (design). Similarly, when archeologists look at rocks, they look for tool marks and other indications of design to distinguish between rocks formed by natural processes and rocks that are crafted by human hands. And humans do this all the time. We see paint spilled on the floor and know that it was an accident (natural) and then we see a painting (maybe the Mona Lisa) and we know that it was designed. The goal of science should not be to figure out a natural origin for everything we see but to figure out the actual origin - whether natural or designed.

So, what the ID movement has focused on is identifying the markers of design. How do we as humans know that the Mona Lisa is not natural but the paint on the floor is natural? William Dembski argued that the criteria by which we recognize designed systems is by noting two separate attributes: “high complexity” (or small probability) and “specification.” Systems with both of these typically are the result of design and are not the result of chance or even physical-chemical laws.

We all intuitively know that when both of these come together, we are probably looking at design. To illustrate, if you are walking under a mountain where rocks fall all the time, you ending up dead by a rock to the back of the head does not indicate design. But if you are walking in the middle of the city and have a rock smash your head open, the odds of a rock falling from somewhere (a plane? A building?) are much lower. Design in that case seems more likely due to small mathematical probability. But specification matters too. Pretty much everything that happens in life is unlikely. Shuffle a deck of cards and the order of that deck is impossible to predict and statistically unlikely to ever happen again. But the randomly shuffled deck has no sign of specification to it. It has no meaning, purpose, or use. But suppose another scenario. Suppose that three times in a row, you shuffle those cards and then deal yourself a royal flush. If you did that, the odds of that happening (statistically, it should never happen) combined with the apparent specification (a royal flush is the best hand in poker) would make us have to consider design (ie cheating) pretty seriously.

So, what is argued in the works of ID proponents (such as Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution  or Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell) is that there are various systems in the biological world that fit both these criteria. For example, Meyer argues that even the simplest DNA is spectacularly unlikely to have come about with any sort of random assembly of the molecules needed to create a basic code. DNA is a code that gives instructions on how an cell is to build itself and the odds of the code forming through natural processes are doubtful (something like a library exploding and the pieces of books coming to rest on the ground to form a new perfectly edited book). Meyer goes through the statistics (quoting mainstream literature on the odds) to demonstrate that the statistical complexity criteria is met. He then discusses specification. He shows convincingly that code is almost the very definition of specification. Whenever we see complicated codes in the world, we immediately recognize that someone created the code. A code needs to be written with intentionality and to be able to be interpreted. It is the very essence of specification. So, you have both a highly unlikely event and an event that appears to be as specified as a event can be. It therefore can be inferred that it is more likely than not that DNA is designed.

Meyer and other ID thinkers argue that to see systems such as these these and yet to go on assuming naturalism is a philosophical not a scientific choice. Like the detective that assumes that every death is natural even when a person was shot twice in the back of the head. It is not science at all to do this. Instead it is a philosophical choice.

If you were on a crime scene and the deceased has two gunshot wounds to the back of the head but one of the investigators won't even consider that foul play is involved, what do you think about that investigator? Most would suspect that he has some sort of vested interest in avoiding any murder discussion. Maybe he is the murderer or being bribed by the murderer. But he must have some reason to be so insistent that design could not even be considered. We live a world that even atheists like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins admit have elements that appear designed and are very difficult to explain using natural processes. Dawkins, for example, admits that the formation of the first DNA may have only happened once (9)and that we have no good explanation for how it did. He also admits that the existence of consciousness is mysterious and naturally inexplicable. Hawking admits that the fine tuning of the constants of physics point to design (10) (a conclusion he then avoids by promoting the very questionable and unprovable idea of an almost infinite multiverse). They see these problems with a completely naturalistic explanation for what we see around us and yet they still insist that even to consider Designer is anti-science. But like the investigator who refuses to consider foul play, these atheists reveal more about themselves than they do about what actually happened in history. They show that they have deep motivations that have nothing to do with the pursuit of truth and nothing to do with science.

Science Requires a Christian Foundation

I have spent quite a bit of time talking about fields that claim to be science when in fact they are not. Or fields that while maybe having a whiff of science are also prone to error and uncertainty. But there is another problem with much of modern day thinking about science. That the field is somehow opposed to religion. That science is somehow continually bumping up against religion in the search for knowledge. 

 But one quick look at history shows the opposite it is true. Going back over the span of science and the origins of the scientific method one finds that far from being opposed to science, the Christian religion has provided the very foundation for science. 

 Science has some built in assumptions that are were not self evidently true to all people. For example, the idea that the universe might be governed by laws. The idea that mathematics might be used to describe those laws. The idea that the laws would be steady and consistent. The idea that humans might be smart and rational enough to understand these laws. 

All of these were built into the Greco-Christian philosophies of the middle ages when science as we now know it was born. The world for most people was unpredictable, disordered, and meaningless. But the Christians viewed it as ordered, rational, and meaningful because of biblical and philosophical reflections about God and the universe he created.

One thing that many people do not realize is that almost all the early scientists were devoutly Christian. A lot of people assume that everyone was sort of religious back then and that maybe they went along with the crowd. But they were not just go-along-with-the-crowd religious. They were not just avoid-being-burned-as-a-heretic religious. No. They were extremely religious. More religious than the people around them.

Isaac Newton? The guy that basically created modern physics, discovered gravity, built the first reflecting telescope, and invented calculus on the side? Did you know he wrote more on religion than he did on science? He was a zealot by almost any definition. .

What about
Robert Boyle? You know, the guy that pretty much created modern chemistry? Boyle's Law? He was obsessed with Christianity and when he wasn't creating new scientific fields, he wrote whole theological books like, "Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things," arguing that science at its best draws us closer to God. And he dished out a ton of his own money to support apologetic efforts to defend the faith.

But... you say....
Galileo. The heretic! Convenient that you didn't mention him, Lewis Ungit!

Well, I was getting to him. Did you know that most people in that era did not attend church weekly? It is true. Rodney Stark, in
Triumph of Faith cites studies that show that the number of churches in relation to the population of Europe meant that probably about 15% of people attended church weekly. (11) Most people were Christmas and Easter sorts of people. But Galileo attended mass DAILY. That is like church secretary devout.  He was personal friends with the pope! Yes, he got reprimanded by the church but they only sentenced him to house arrest (in a mansion) and the charges were brought by fellow academics (not churchmen). He was super devout.

Move forward a bit in time and think about the discovery of genetics. You know who did that?

Gregor Mendel. And you know what he did for a living? A monk. The father of genetics, ironically, committed himself to celibacy to serve the Lord.

Since we moved to something small like genes, what about Microbiology? Who is the "father of Microbiology?" A guy named
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek usually gets that title. Leeuwenhoek was a super strict Dutch Calvinist who believed that his amazing discoveries were merely further proof of the great wonder of God's creation.

As we are going super small, why not go smaller? Who pioneered atomic theory? A man named
John Dalton. Dalton was such a devout Quaker that he refused to live a normal life and instead lived a life of poverty. He spent the last 26 years of his life as a border in a buddy and his wife's house.

Who discovered the Big Bang? A guy named
Georges LemaƮtre. Care to guess his profession? If you said monk you are wrong. He was a priest.

I could go on almost all day. But you get the point. In almost every field of science you see some of the earliest and most important titans and founders and fathers of that field being not only Christians but especially devout Christians. For all those that claim that science and Christianity conflict or that somehow religion slows scientific progress, the facts confront you - far from slowing down science, it appears that being extremely religious has been beneficial for the advancement of science.

In fact, you can attribute the discovery of gravity by Newton directly to faith.

A brief story about Isaac Newton – the most important and influential scientist of all time. 

Newton lived in a day when the teachings of Aristotle were just fading from popularity and the teachings of Cartesian mechanical philosophy were taking hold. The Cartesian mechanical philosophy taught that everything had to be on contact with something else in order to move. So when thinking about the orbit of planets (it was speculated) there must be some invisible substance that moves them (the term they used was ether). If you can imagine their thought, the planets moved because they were in a sea of swirling ether. The idea of one body influencing another body from a distance by an invisible force was considered superstitious and antiquated. 

But Newton was not naturalist in any stretch of the imagination. He a radical even for his day when it came to religion. He wrote more on theology than he ever wrote on physics and mathematics put together. When everyone else was writing off the possibility of invisible forces Newton was not. And so, when it came to defining and understanding gravity, Newton had a leg up on everyone else because of his rejection of naturalism.

The Cartesian mechanistic assumption so prevalent in the scientific world at the time of Newton was a major barrier to discovering gravitation. Newton's theism helped him discover it. He rejected the Cartesian philosophy and did not accept that all things had to have mechanism.

Why did Newton reject Cartesian philosophy? Why was Newton able to see what all of science did not at the time? The answer is that he hated Cartesian philosophy because he thought that with God miracles were possible. Newton believed that God usually worked with mechanism but that sometimes God just worked. And so Newton was not held back by the search for mechanism. He was able to see centuries ahead of everyone else because he thought invisible instantaneous forces were possible.  

Hooke (of Hooke's law fame) and Newton corresponded as he worked on gravity. They spoke of this force as an “attraction” between two objects. But attraction is a very non-mechanical notion. Using this term went entirely against the Cartesian orthodoxy.  Hooke and Newton had  rejected the fundamental tenet of the mechanical philosophy, namely, that everything occurs by way of matter coming into direct contact with other matter. Like many things we take for granted today, gravity continues to be a pretty mysterious thing. We all accept it because the math works but it was pretty impossible to see before Newton wrote his Principia.

When Newton first published Principia in 1687, he was dismissed by the Cartesians because in he rejected Cartesian explanations for gravity and replaced them with nothing. Gravity relied on no ether. No air. No physical mechanism to hold and push the planets and stars. He was proposing something that was invisible and instantaneous. To many observers, he was just saying, 'God did it.' And nothing was unacceptable.

And so Newton, thanks to his deep faith, was able to discover the law of gravity and change the world. 

Now... someone might say that Newton got lucky and that now (maybe) we have found a mechanism for gravity (Einstein and others have put forward ideas on that). Would this bother Newton? No. He saw God in the mechanism too. But his openness for something without mechanism allowed him to be the greatest scientist in history.

The scientific revolution did not coincidentally come at a time when the culture was steeped in the Christian faith. It came because of it. Newton is just one example. Some day I will post on the many many examples of Christians that assumed design and function in the universe thanks to their belief that all things were designed by a good and rational God. And in this assumption, they advanced science. We have science today thanks in large part to Christian assumptions.

Science as a Religion: The Simulation

In contrast to the very devout origins of science, modern day science is much more secular. Although a majority of scientists today believe in some sort of higher power, atheists are definitely over represented. This is not the result of science but the result of who goes into science. In other words, there is no evidence that education makes people more secular (there is some evidence to the opposite (12)) just that atheists disproportionately go into science. 

Why is this? Well some people like Rodney Stark argue that humanity naturally needs religion.(13) And science has become, for many, a religion. 

For me, there is no clearer evdience of this than when people start talking about "trusting science" or "believing in science". I see yard signs in my neighborhood that express the affirmation that "this house believes in science." There are 'science marches' that are organized. Science for many is a savior that will bring goodness and light to the world. 

And if science were to have a complete inception into a religion it would be the simulation.

It used to be that when unlikely or seemingly perfect things happened, humans would attribute this to the hand of God. Joan of Arc, an inexperienced teenage girl, is sees visions that help her first take leadership of French troops and then inexplicably predict English movements? The hand of God. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both die on the same day and that day happens to be July 4th? Obviously the providence of God. More recently, a man named Bernie "Madoff" made off with billions of dollars in a pyramid scheme? A man named Anthony "Wiener" gets busted for showing his wiener to people online? Obviously a divine joke. 

But when modern 'science believers' see these things they do not point to God. They point... sometimes jokingly but often quite seriously to the idea that we are living in a simulation created by some advanced species (possibly humans). Think the Matrix movies. One person that thinks this possibility is quite real is the brilliant Elon Musk. In a recent interview, he said,
"The strongest argument for us being in simulation is that 40 years ago, we had 'Pong'. Like two rectangles and a dot. That is what games were. Now, forty years later we have photo-realistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it is getting better every year. And soon we will have virtual reality and augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all then the games will become indistinguishable from reality. Even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is right now, then you just say okay let's imagine it is 10,000 years in the future which is nothing in the evolutionary scale. So given that we are clearly in our trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on any set top box or PC or whatever and there would probably be billions of such computers and set top boxes, it would seem that it would follow that the odds that we are in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what is wrong with that argument? .... is there a flaw in that argument?" (14)
This argument is growing popularity. In addition to countless silicone valley titans like Musk,  I have heard it said by popular podcasters like Joe Rogan and social media personalities like Mike Cernovich.I have heard it argued by academics like, Nick Bostrom (Oxford).

Bostrom explains the idea in his 2003, "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation," like this,
Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race....
It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.
Therefore, if we don't think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. (15)

Now... I should note that Musk and Bostrom appear to have two slightly different views of the simulation. Musk appears to be saying that we are real people living inside a computer generated environment. Bostrom appears to suggest that we are part of the computer program itself (created by some future race of humans). I think that Musk's view is slightly more tenable than Bostrom's but both have major philosophical problems. Those problems fall into two categories that I will discuss here:

1) Issues surrounding rationality of the human mind
2) Issues surrounding consciousness

Bostrom's simulation has problems on both issues. Musk maybe just the first issue. Both these issues were discussed in depth in chapter 9 so I will not spend much time on them but basically any argument that requires questioning our own rationality is fatally flawed. If we must question everything we see, taste, eat, think, were taught, etc as somehow false and generated by a computer, we have no reason to trust our own ability to find out that we are living in a computer. There would be no reason to believe that the creators of the simulation would give us enough information to know we were in a simulation or that any of the information they gave us was true at all. After all, in video games no laws of physics or reason apply. Play Super Mario Bros. And on Bostrom's idea that we are ourselves computers, I discussed the impossibility of getting consciousness from a physical computer in chapter 9. We can rightly say to Bostrom, I think therefore I am not a simulation. 

 But my point here is not to argue against the simulation. It is to note how deeply religious it is. 

Is there a creator to everything we see? Yes. 

Is there a meaning and a purpose to what we see? Yes. 

Do things unfold as the creator(s) planned? Yes. 

And so we see science being made into a religion of the purest form. Science is said to answer our deepest questions. Science is said to answer our deepest needs. Solve the worst problems. And in the end, science may in fact be the creator of the universe. 

The creed of this religion is "I believe in science." Heresies for this religion are: doubting unguided evolution, doubting man made global warming, questioning whether some vaccines might have some negative side effects, and etc. 

This religion has no foundation for morals. It has a bad philosophical basis. It is shallow. It has no great promises. It changes its opinions and doctrines regularly. 

It is a really crappy religion.

Sources

(1) Antifragile by Taleb page 221 

(2) Ibid Taleb 221

(3) Ibid Taleb 218

(4) Ibid Taleb 228

(5)  This quotation is also found in Ibid Taleb 228

(6) https://www.autodesk.com/research/publications/same-stats-different-graphs 

(7) https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/02/06/correlations-of-iq-with-income-and-wealth/

(8) https://www.afr.com/markets/equity-markets/economists-are-terrible-at-predicting-recessions-20190812-p52g8r

(9) Dawkins-  https://books.google.com/books?id=U8AFxmc76rcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=dawkins+greatest+show&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfrpDOwp7kAhUNWK0KHZW8CjEQ6AEwAHoECAIQAg#v=onepage&q=only%20happened%20once&f=false

(10) Hawking- https://books.google.com/books?id=ePaawpkS6dMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=stephen+hawking+the+grand+design&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjQo5yCw57kAhUDWa0KHTPdDAEQ6AEwAHoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=fine%20tuning&f=false

(11) Stark - https://www.amazon.com/Triumph-Faith-World-More-Religious/dp/1610171381(8++) 

(12) See Bradley Wright - Education makes us religious

(13) Rodney Stark - Humans need religion

(14) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBKRuI2zHp0

(15) https://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

Recommended Reading
 How the West Was Won by Rodney Stark
Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Fergusson

Comments

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    1. Haha. Nice response. Come back with an argument and specifics. Until then.... GTFOH.

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