Ham, Höss, and Noah


I have not seen the movie The Zone of Interest, though I have read a bit about it (not to mention more Holocaust books and articles than Carter’s has pills. See, for example, the review by Manohla Dargis).

What interested me about the movie was William Trollinger’s take on it. For those, like me, who have not seen the movie, it is based on the true story of Rudolf Höss , the Commandant of Auschwitz, and his family, who lived an idyllic existence on the very edge of the concentration camp.

Professor Trollinger likens the Höss family to the imagined family presented by Ken Ham and his minions in the Ark Park (see photographs by Dan Phelps here). The Ark Park celebrates what they claim is the destruction of 20 billion people in the Flood. Mr. Ham and his staff have made up a long story about the family of Noah, and given them names, jobs, and so on. As Prof Trollinger puts it,

Taking “artistic license” to a whole new level (as very, very little of this in the Bible), placards accompanying the dioramas of [Noah's family] invent personalities and skills for the three sons, and names, personalities, and skills for the sons’ wives. Most striking is the plushness of the living quarters, which include a library, large kitchen, and lots and lots of delicious-looking food.

Life for these eight individuals is very good indeed – a paradise, as it were. And while the Noah family is blissfully reading, making music, creating artwork, eating, and so forth, what is going on outside the boat? Well, according to Ark Encounter, up to twenty billion (!) people were drowning. This includes folks with various disabilities as well as toddlers, infants, newborns, and the unborn.…

He concludes by pointing out,

In contrast with The Zone of Interest, Ark Encounter is quite blatant in encouraging visitors to identify with the comfortably content, albeit morally vacuous (to understate the case), Noah family.

I have always wondered why anyone would want to worship such a murderous God. I would say that Prof. Trollinger does not; Mr. Ham does.

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Dembski and Ewert dump functional information

[Six grandfathers image]
The mountain called Six Grandfathers by the Lakota people before it was
renamed Mount Rushmore. Does the Lakota name reflect a design inference?
Wikimedia, public domain


I have been reading the new 2nd edition of The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities and wanted to give some reactions to it, having reached the end of the chapter on “Specified Complexity”. This new edition adds Winston Ewert as the second author. Unlike the 1998 first edition, which was published by Cambridge University Press, this “Revised and Expanded” 25th anniversary 2nd edition is published by Discovery Institute Press. For a book of 582 pages, it is available rather inexpensively, in a paperback edition and in a Kindle edition. (Its cover illustration shows the faces on Mount Rushmore, as an example of a design inference).

William Dembski’s original Design Inference argument involved our seeing a pattern in nature, in an organism, that embodied what he called Specified Complexity. Its argument became better known as a result of Dembski’s 2002 book No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence. This was much invoked as a major argument for Intelligent Design at the time of the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board trial.

The Specified Complexity argument involves genotypes arrayed on a scale. A scale of what, we will be discussing. The general strategy of the design inference is to find a region of the scale that is so improbable under “chance” that natural evolutionary processes would be extremely unlikely to result in genotypes that good or better. The probabilities that natural processes would produce anything that good have to be so small that such an event would be expected less than once in the whole history of the Universe.

Over the years since 1998, there seem to have been several definitions of the scale and the probability:

  1. A quantity which is fitness or a component of fitness, with the probability being simply the fraction of all genotypes in the initial population having that high, or higher, a value, or,
  2. The same scale, but with the probability being instead the chance that natural evolutionary processes would produce that good a value, or higher, or
  3. A more mysterious scale involving whether the genotype (or phenotype) could be produced by a small set of instructions.

The first one is related to a concept called Functional Information. As I will show, the second is not at all useful. The interesting new development is that Dembski and Ewert have moved to definition 3, resulting in a specification that no longer has any connection to Functional Information. Functional Information has been thrown under the bus.

We’ll discuss the first two one at a time; the third will be considered in another post …

How to Teach Grown-Ups about Climate Change: A Review

Book cover

I hope I am not entering my second childhood, but I just read a splendid book aimed at third through seventh graders: How to Teach Grown-Ups about Climate Change. A picture book, no less, written by Patricia Daniels and illustrated by Aaron Blecha, with a foreword by Michael Mann, the discoverer of the “hockey stick.” I have not been a (5 ± 2)th grader, nor have I had one, in a very long time, but I am going to guess that the material is suitable for that age group, though possibly a bit hard for a third grader.

Someone once told me that if you want to get the attention of a fifth grader, just say “fart.” Sure enough, on page 27, the authors write,

Giant pandas return to National Zoo

Prof. Steve Steve

According to a headline in the Washington Post, Giant pandas are returning to D.C. this year, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo announces, after reaching a lease agreement with China. The two pandas, a two-year-old male named Bao Li and a two-year-old female named Qing Bao, are due to arrive later in the year. Bao Li’s mother is Bao Bao, a giant panda who was born at the zoo in 2013. Both are of course relatives of Prof. Steve Steve, the mascot of The Panda’s Thumb. Prof. Steve Steve is impressed that his relatives will cost the zoo $1 million per year for 10 years.

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