Rubinstein: cut-rate Hovind

| 36 Comments

Remember Dr Rubinstein? The historian who bloviated foolishly on evolutionary biology? He has replied on the Social Affairs Unit site (scroll down to find it). Orac is already on it, so I don't need to say much, other than…geez. What a wanker.

Rubinstein is still clueless, still protests that he is not a creationist, but still makes nothing but stupid arguments ripped straight from the creationist literature. His new claim is to offer $100 to anyone showing the evolution of a new species within the next ten years. Of course, one must recall his expression of understanding of what evolution is, "one species producing an offspring which was clearly of another, different species", and his hypothetical examples of cats evolving "into cats which look like kangaroos" or a cat giving birth "to kittens which looked like raccoons".

As long as he's setting up ridiculous challenges based on his misunderstanding, he should have gone whole hog—if my cat* happens to give birth to a mixed litter of raccoons and kangaroos, I'm going to collect Kent Hovind's $250,000 reward, rather than wasting time with that piker Rubinstein's piddly $100 prize.


*Our cat, Midnight, is a neutered male, which makes the demonstration only slightly more difficult.

36 Comments

I wrote Rubinstein a note in which I congratulated him on pulling off a brilliant parody, saying he was the unrivaled successor of Alan Sokal. He politely wrote back, either not getting it at all, or being discreet enough not to encourage me further. This is what he wrote:

Many thanks. It is constantly surprising to fond that one has readers. I have never heard of Alan Sokal, so far as I am aware, and my column is not knowingly based on his work. I am obviously not a trained scientist, but it seems to me the well-known theories of evolution cannot account for reality. I am not a “creationist,” as I have emphasised. I have a monthly email column on the Social Affairs Unit site, and cover many unrelated topics. All best wishes, Bill Rubinstein

I really have to vote for clueless.

I think you mean, Hovind: cut-rate Rubinstein.

Rubinstein at least has a real degree.

Speaking of Hovind, (who is not a real Dr. like Bill Dembski), I wonder why all the ramblings on his website are in podcast form, without text? I bet it’s because he doesn’t want his opponents to be able to cut and paste what he says.

Somebody should write a book on this whole phenomenon of scholars embarrassing themselves horribly when they convince themselves that they’re so smart that they can make pronouncements on ANY academic field. Otherwise very smart people can make horrendous spectacles of themselves. Tho this guy Rubinstein is so wrongheaded, he might not be much of a historian, either.

I’m not a biologist, I’m just a linguist who finds the stuff on this site very interesting, but I’ve seen plenty of professors from outside linguistics (often VERY outside) making COMPLETELY clueless pronouncements on language. A good cautionary lesson about the importance of humility…

Creationism and its allies are pretty thoroughly politicized these days, so it’s interesting to note that Rubinstein’s politics are firmly on the right. He’s proposed abolishing the BBC because of alleged left-wing and anti-Israel bias, and abolishing income tax because that will magically make everyone richer. This is probably irrelevant and coincidental … but it does seem curious that someone who, despite (by his own words) not being a creationist and denying most of what creationists have traditionally affirmed, chooses to repeat a whole load of creationist talking points, should be so neatly aligned with those creationists’ political allies. Am I just being paranoid?

“Creationism and its allies are pretty thoroughly politicized these days, so it’s interesting to note that Rubinstein’s politics are firmly on the right. He’s proposed abolishing the BBC because of alleged left-wing and anti-Israel bias, and abolishing income tax because that will magically make everyone richer. This is probably irrelevant and coincidental … but it does seem curious that someone who, despite (by his own words) not being a creationist and denying most of what creationists have traditionally affirmed, chooses to repeat a whole load of creationist talking points, should be so neatly aligned with those creationists’ political allies. Am I just being paranoid?”

Not at all. It explains a lot. Like many people, I think he’s picked up on creationism because he believes that’s What Good Conservatives Are Supposed To Do.

There seem to be a fair number of not-terribly-religious right wingers glomming onto creationism for this very reason. All part of a whole ‘belief package’.

” I am obviously not a trained scientist,”

of course not, he’s a trained monkey.

Toejam writes:” of course not, he’s a trained monkey.”

Trained monkeys can roller skate.

Can Rubenstein do that?

“Trained monkeys can roller skate. Can Rubenstein do that?”

why don’t you ask JAD?

“Creationism and its allies are pretty thoroughly politicized these days, so it’s interesting to note that Rubinstein’s politics are firmly on the right. He’s proposed abolishing the BBC because of alleged left-wing and anti-Israel bias, and abolishing income tax because that will magically make everyone richer. This is probably irrelevant and coincidental … but it does seem curious that someone who, despite (by his own words) not being a creationist and denying most of what creationists have traditionally affirmed, chooses to repeat a whole load of creationist talking points, should be so neatly aligned with those creationists’ political allies. Am I just being paranoid?”

Off-topic, but I am repeatedly amused by left-wing critics of the BBC here in the UK who regard the institution as having an ‘establishment right-wing bias’, and simultaneously by right-wing critics who regard it as the very den of socialism. Which isn’t to say that individual bias doesn’t emerge from time to time - which seems to dealt with by the broadcasting complaints people - but Rubenstein’s comments above do seem to be another indication of his extreme position.

The frequent excellent BBC programmes presenting natural history from an evolutionary standpoint presumably enrage him.

“Off-topic, but I am repeatedly amused by left-wing critics of the BBC here in the UK who regard the institution as having an ‘establishment right-wing bias’, and simultaneously by right-wing critics who regard it as the very den of socialism. “

we get the EXACT same thing happening wrt NPR here in the states.

Calling someone a “cut-rate Hovind” is sort of like naming Bossy a bovine cow.

but Rubenstein’s comments above do seem to be another indication of his extreme position.

Should have been ‘…comments referred to above…’ Sorry.

PZ Myers Wrote:

Rubinstein is still clueless, still protests that he is not a creationist, but still makes nothing but stupid arguments ripped straight from the creationist literature.

But not so clueless not to know which sound bites to parrot. “I am not a creationist.” Reminds me of “I’m not a crook.”

Of course an expert in a specific field is often an ignoramus in other fields (as Rubinstein’s example just shows one more time). However, Rubunstein’s story is beyond that trivial observation. If an intelligent writer goes, for whatever reasons, into a field which he/she is not versed in, his/her writing still bears the signs of his/her intelligence. Rubinstein’s piece is however a display of a monumental stupidity, making rather suspicious his qualification in any other field. It is hard to believe that a fool of such a caliber can produce anything of value in any field, including history. British historical science is very respectable so the fact of Rubinstein’s successful career looks like a paradox whose explanation would be interesting.

Speaking of Hovind, did anyone attend his Creation boot camp? It’s been over for a week and I haven’t seen any reports of survivors.

I would like to add that the fact the BBC draws fire from all sides of the political spectrum suggests to me that it is generally achieving some “balanced” reportin.

As for Rubinstein, when I was walking the dog, I was considering posting a few paragraphs on how imoprtant it is in the sciences to go and learn the basics, the history of a field, the specialist languages it uses, etc etc, before you try to critique it. Then I re-read his reply on the website and thought, naw, he’s not worth it.

If an intelligent writer goes, for whatever reasons, into a field which he/she is not versed in, his/her writing still bears the signs of his/her intelligence. Rubinstein’s piece is however a display of a monumental stupidity, making rather suspicious his qualification in any other field.

This statement directly contradicts all of my experience. I work with engineers who demand immediate evidence and rigorous logic, and use these tools to do excellent engineering. But as soon as the conversation wanders into religious territory, all of this part of their brain simply closes down. Hazy is fine, magic is acceptable, evidence is irrelevant, lies are truth. Remind them of the utility of logic and evidence in the rest of their experience, and they just stare at you in hostility. Their religion is RIGHT! What else matters?

This also seems to be true of people such as Behe and Steve Austin. They do peer-reviewed research (or used to) in biochemistry and geology, and seem highly capable – UNTIL their religion intrudes. At which point Behe can’t for the life of him imagine how biological structures could have evolved, and Austin’s extensive (and quite professional) studies of Grand Canyon strata are suddenly explained away by The Flood. Presumably Dembski’s degrees imply that so long as he is not trying to cram his religion into his math (fatally wounding his logic), he is a very capable mathematician.

To sum up: creationism requires deceit. Outside the creationist playpen, many if not most such people are not required to be deceitful, and indeed are not. But creationism has circumscribed a blind spot in their minds, and any reality that wanders into it simply vanishes.

“I wrote Rubinstein a note in which I congratulated him on pulling off a brilliant parody, saying he was the unrivaled successor of Alan Sokal. He politely wrote back, either not getting it at all, or being discreet enough not to encourage me further.”

Tony B: Brilliant! And Rubinstein’s clueless reply is priceless. You realy can’t make this stuff up!

It would be hillarious if the stakes weren’t so serious.

… and Aberystwyth used to be such a good university college. Sigh.

This also seems to be true of people such as Behe and Steve Austin. They do peer-reviewed research (or used to) in biochemistry and geology, and seem highly capable — UNTIL their religion intrudes. At which point Behe can’t for the life of him imagine how biological structures could have evolved, and Austin’s extensive (and quite professional) studies of Grand Canyon strata are suddenly explained away by The Flood. Presumably Dembski’s degrees imply that so long as he is not trying to cram his religion into his math (fatally wounding his logic), he is a very capable mathematician.

I used to have a friend who would say, “When something has you by the balls, heart and mind will follow.” I suspect he was referring to his wife, but he could just as easily have been talking about religion.

Re “I was considering posting a few paragraphs on how important it is in the sciences to go and learn the basics, the history of a field, the specialist languages it uses, etc etc, before you try to critique it.”

One would think that would be obvious, but it may be one of those cases where (1) those who would listen already know it and don’t need to be told, and (2) those who don’t know it won’t listen anyway. Sort of a catch-22 situation, huh?

Henry

Hmm, if our cat gave birth to a mixed litter of Kangaroos and Cats, personally I would begin to question evolution, after all if it could happen with our cat, then it could have happened with any animal in the past, calling into question the fossil record. The fact that our cat is also a neutered tom would also call into question some of my other core attitudes.

To see if Rubenstein is really a cut-rate Hovind, you should check to see whether he (Rubenstein) aligns himself with Hovind, Panda’s Thumb, and the Ayn Rand Institute in their unified and vigorous opposition to cosmological ID.

To see if Rubenstein is really a cut-rate Hovind, you should check to see whether he (Rubenstein) aligns himself with Hovind, Panda’s Thumb, and the Ayn Rand Institute in their unified and vigorous opposition to cosmological ID.

But Mr. Heddle, without evidence of cosmological ID, it would be silly to endorse it, correct? And so far, you have yet to provide any evidence. I realize, of course, that for you, this is faith-based position, so I don’t really expect that you can provide any evidence.

But it would be interesting.

Non sequitur.

RG, David has already provided evidence. I call it Heddle’s Law. It’s groundbreaking new statistics. It says that the probability of obtaining a result in an interval, is proportional to the size of the interval in the mks system. This overturns centuries of probability “dogma”. It can be written

P[r]=a*r

where a is just a proportionality constant.

Here’s a sample of Heddle’s own words:

Okay, we don’t have to be able to calculate precise probabilities nor do we need a large sample of universes to see how unlikely ours is. Here is the example I used before. Compare these two imaginary cosmological discoveries:

(1) Only if the expansion rate is anywhere within a factor of 1000 can the universe produce galaxies

(2) Only if the expansion rate does not vary within one part in 1060 can the universe produce galaxies

Then it should be obvious that if (2) is true then we are much “luckier” than if (1) is true. Thus you can say something qualitative about the likelihood of the universe without assigning probabilities.

See? A result in an interval can be considered improbable simply by imagining a vastly larger numerical interval. The enormous Paradigm Shifts produced by ID overwhelm my fragile little mind.

Speaking as a UK leftist, it’s not so much that the left objects to an “establishment rightwing bias” so much as an “establishment bias”. It’s just that the establishment has until very recently been rightwing. These days it’s centreleft (at least on social issues). Until Blair (well, Campbell really) tried to kill the BBC over the 45 minutes story, the Beeb could always be relied upon for a mild pro-government bias. Not surprising given that the government controls the purse strings.

All that said, I love the BBC, establishment bias or not.

Steverino:

I certainly stand by the comment– given there is no a priori theory of the expansion rate of the universe, then consider two scenarios:

1) Expansion rates from 1000 times smaller than ours to 1000 times bigger all lead to the formation of galaxies

2) Only expansion rates differing from ours by no more than one part in 1x1060 lead to the formation of galaxies

I stand by the statement that if (2) is the case, we are indeed “luckier” than if (1) is the case.

I call denial of this obvious fact, with an attempt to couch it in probability-like language, Steve’s Folly. Steve’s Folly can be stated this way: If you do not know the precise probability distribution, then you cannot make even qualitative statements such as the one above. In this case Steve’s Folly really means: although there is no particular reason at all to expect that the expansion rate of any universe is a physical constant, then even though it is more tightly constrained than our most precise known value of any physical constant, we should not attach any significance to the fact—since we do not know the a priori probability distributions of all possible expansion rates in all possible big bang universes.

Dave’s Lie: Saying I required a precise probability distribution. I have asked you, a hundred times, for any information about the distribution. You cannot provide any. You cannot call an interval of results unlikely by finding much bigger numbers. You have to have some iota of information about what results to expect.

You cannot say whether we are lucky or unlucky under either scenario 1 or 2. Because you have no idea what expansion rates to expect. You have not a hint of information about the probability distribution, so you can not say anything about the likeliness.

Lest anyone think Dave’s telling the truth, and that I ask for “precise” probability distributions before allowing qualitative statements, here’s some proof:

“I’ve tried to explain to Heddle that you can’t call something unlikely without knowing at least something about the probability distribution.”–comment 16396

other people have tried to explain this too:

“DavidH,

It’s patently obvious that fine-tuning only makes sense if there is some distribution of possible values. We don’t know that a distribution is possible, and, further we don’t know what that distribution is if it exists. It’s one thing to look for such distributions - as cosmologists are doing - it’s quite another to act as though such disytributions were actually known.”–comment 22846

to no avail.

Sometimes he seems to admit the problem, but then doesn’t see it. Like in comment 13671:

The assumption, based on our present knowledge of cosmology, is, that among all possible universes, there is a distribution of expansion rates, whose sigma is larger than the tight constraint that we see.

Oh you say, that’s not fair — maybe the distribution is centered near our expansion rate and the sigma is within the constraint.

In that case, we face a problem, for that would effectively make the expansion rate of universes something like a fundamental constant. And there is no theory that suggests that.1

In other words, there is nothing we know that would restrict the distribution of expansion rates, so we assume that, in effect, a distribution, uniform over a range huge compared to the constraint that we see, is possible.

He admits that since no theory stops him from making up the distribution he wants, he does. And he doesn’t see a problem with that. So RG, when you say, “And so far, you have yet to provide any evidence.” the answer is, he thinks he can assume the evidence when no known law of physics precludes it.


1: by the way, that’s not a problem. It’s just unknown. It might be a constant, it might be based on a constant, it might be variable. It might have a small sigma, it might have a large sigma. Nobody knows. There’s no way to decide which it is, given what we know.

Dave’s horrible argument in a nutshell:

1 the expansion rate is amenable to life 2 we have no idea how likely that is 2 we don’t even know a single significant digit of the expansion rate 3 but there’s no reason to think it isn’t very unlikely, whatever it is 4 so it is!

Now, based on Charlie Wagner’s success, he hopes that endless repetition will change our minds.

steve:

You’re trying to work forward rather than backward. If you work backward, then you encounter none of these issues:

1) The universe was created. This is a given, not to be questioned. Ever. At all. 2) We can support this axiom by declaring our universe unlikely. 3) Ah, but some spoilsports are going to ask, “compared to what?” So we provide the answer: Compared to something MORE likely. 4) How do we now anything is more likely? We make something up. 5) Our universe is less likely than what we made up because we SAID so. QED.

Now, wasn’t that easy? In all truth, we don’t need any of those intermediate steps, which add nothing to step #1 anyway.

It’s just so painful, these ID “Theorists”. Lately I think ID means “Ima Dumbass”

To Heddle:

Thank you for once again expressing your religious opinions for everyone. Why, again, should anyone pay any more attention to your religious opinions than they should to mine, my next door neighbpr’s, my car mechanic’s, my veterinarian’s, or the kid who delivers my pizzas?

Have you forgotten, yet again, that your religious opinions are just that, your opinions. They are no more holy or divine or infallible or authoritative than anyone else’s religious opinions. No one is obligated in any way, shape, or form to follow your religious opinions, to accept them, or even to pay any attention at all to them.

You are just a man, Davey. Just a man.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on May 21, 2005 3:04 PM.

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