Archives for January 2017

The problem with higher education

Tucker Carlson

According to Matthew W. Hughey, sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, Donald Trump won the recent presidential election because of rampant white supremacy among Americans.

In his interview with Tucker Carlson, Professor Hughey claimed that a “huge factor” in Donald Trump’s win was because of “a social, political, and economic commitment to white supremacy”, which he somewhat redundantly defined as “a social, political, and economic commitment to the promotion of people who pass as white.”

To be fair, Professor Hughey sounds quite intelligent. He casually throws around phrases and words such as “gender dynamics” and “heteronormativity” while attempting to justify his claims that white supremacy played a significant role in the recent election, reminding me of something my late father used to say: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with B.S.

Naturally, Dad used the more colorful word in lieu of the abbreviation.

Carlson pointed out one of the more obvious flaws in Hughey’s claim. He cited the statistical fact that during the last 50 years, 60 million immigrants have settled in the United States. Only 12 percent of those immigrants came from “white” European countries.

And Professor Hughey’s response was: “your point makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

Dr. Matthew W. Hughey
(image from Amazon)

That seemed both evasive and unnecessarily rude. Hughey went on to explain that he believes what is happening today is no different than forced immigration and slavery.

Now personally believing something so preposterous is one thing, but please remember that Professor Hughey teaches this nonsense. He is perceived to be an authority because he “studies” racism. Asked by Carlson to justify his claim that a white supremacist nation would tolerate the voluntary immigration of millions of nonwhite immigrants, Hughey rather haughtily replied:

Well, I think that it is (the behavior of a white supremacist nation), and since I study that, that is the behavior of a white supremacist country. You also fail to treat race as a variable that changes over time. One hundred years ago the Irish, Italians, other groups that we now think of as white, didn’t count as white.

Challenged once again by Tucker on the veracity of his claims, Hughey said, “You can read books on it. I’ve written quite a few.”

Indeed, he has. And in the classroom, he has a captive audience.

Apparently Professor Hughey must make a comfortable living out of blaming all of the problems in the world on what he calls “hegemonic whiteness.”

While I was initially disappointed when Carlson failed to ask what I considered would be an obvious followup question: how was President Obama elected, and reelected, in an overwhelmingly racist “white America.”

But I should have realized that it wouldn’t have mattered. Professor Hughey thinks he’s got the answer for everything, and that answer is: white supremacy.

Now I won’t blame everything that’s wrong with higher education on Professor Hughey because that wouldn’t be fair. He’s not the only academic who thinks he knows everything.

On the other hand, Hughey does provide an excellent example of most of what’s wrong with most ultra left-wing extremists…he’s a smug, condescending, and a know-it-all immune to logic and reason. He wouldn’t last a week in the real world, outside of his ivory tower.

He wasn’t speaking with Tucker Carlson; he was talking down to him.

But the real problem is that Professor Hughey earns his living by fomenting racial hatred while positioning himself as the authority on the subject. Because he’s written books, and says so. And has tenure. So he’ll be teaching his sociology students this nonsense, that all white people are racists and white supremacists, for decades to come.

Which led me to wonder, what does someone do with a degree in sociology, anyway? When in doubt, ask Google. And according to the search results, our options include: child care, rehabilitation, urban planning, and law enforcement. Truly those aren’t useless jobs, but I suspect a degree in English would offer similar opportunities.

Now I have another question, but I’m sure Google won’t be able to answer it: why do we even need sociology professors?

Okay, so maybe some sociology professors are worth their salary, but I can certainly think of one from whom nobody needs a lecture.


Computers versus bee brains

The Holy Grail for computer programming in terms of developing artificial intelligence is known as neural networking, which strives to program computers to mimic the capabilities of the human brain.

This always struck me as a lofty but probably an unrealistic goal, to say the least.

A more realistic aspiration might be to develop computer software that successfully emulates the capability of a bee’s brain, which has only a handful of neurons and a brain mass approximately the size of a pinhead. Yet bees somehow effortlessly manage to solve problems humans consider to be incredibly difficult and complex.

Are you familiar with “The Traveling Salesman Problem?”

Basically, it goes like this: Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?

Consider this story found in the UK Daily Mail:  “Bees’ tiny brains able to beat computer at complex mathematical problems,” the headline reads. Brutal!

For those critical minds prone to “shoot the messenger” by challenging the source, please note that CBS News relied on different experts to reach the same conclusion — bees are a lot more intelligent than one might naturally assume, given the size of their brain.

Okay, so they’re a little smaller these days…

To be fair (to the inanimate object) the computer cannot be blamed for struggling to calculate the best way to do what a bee does every day, because humans programmed the code for the computer, and humans are, well, human.

We make mistakes. Lots of them.

The creator of bees apparently wrote much more efficient and elegant code into its DNA than humans could ever hope to have programmed into our personal computers.

Dr Nigel Raine, from Royal Holloway’s school of biological sciences, used computer-controlled artificial flowers to determine bee behavior.  He said,

Foraging bees solve travelling salesman problems every day. They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.  Despite their tiny brains bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour.  We need to understand how they can solve the travelling salesman problem without a computer.

This logistics research can potentially benefit human networks in activity such as traffic flows, internet information and business supply chains.

Though it possesses a brain that would be difficult to see with the naked eye, apparently the honeybee could teach FedEx or UPS a thing or two about efficiency.

Before we assume that the intelligence of a human being can be matched or even surpassed by artificial intelligence, researchers should focus on a more realistic goal — to only be as smart as a bee.

Fibonacci’s spirals

Mathematician Arthur Benjamin said, “Mathematics is the science of patterns, and we study it to learn how to think logically, critically, and creatively.”

Not only do patterns exist in nature, they are clearly ubiquitous. Mandelbrot’s fractals (often called the thumbprint of God) are but one example of a mathematical pattern repeated on a scale ranging from the micro world to the cosmos. Another extraordinary pattern is known as the Fibonacci sequence, which graphically translates into Fibonacci’s spirals (often referred to as the fingerprints of God.)

Leonardo Bonacci (a.k.a. Leonardo of Pisa and Fibonacci) was an Italian mathematician most famous for his discovery of what has been called the “golden sequence” of numbers. The famous Fibonacci sequence is simply the following, repeated to infinity. The next number in the sequence is always the sum of the previous two numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181…

This reasonably short video demonstrates how the pattern can be found everywhere from DNA to clouds in the sky. This slightly longer documentary claims to find the golden sequence everywhere in nature, art, music, and even the Mandelbrot set.

Of course, not everyone agrees with mathematicians who claim the Fibonacci sequence can be found in virtually everything in the universe. For example, physicist Donald Simanek offers harsh criticism of Fibonacci on a page at his website called the “Fibonacci Flim-Flam.”

Professor Simanek described people (like me) who found the pro-Fibonacci video interesting as “the lunatic fringe who look for mysticism in numbers.” However, he is mistaken to assume that I have any sort of unusual fascination with numerology — I don’t even play the lottery except on the rare occasion that my wife asks me to buy her a ticket, and I don’t think that counts.

I’ve always relied on hard work, not luck, to earn income. I seriously doubt I could plot a Fibonacci spiral on graph paper myself — even if my life depended on it. In other words, I’m really not qualified to arbitrate the dispute between a physicist and all of these mathematicians. My choice to accept the consensus of math experts over the dissenting opinion of the physicist may very well be an example of the bandwagon fallacy, no different than belief in global warming.

If you assume that I’m an ordinary person who watches a few YouTube videos (yes, Fibonacci merited several) and accepts everything there on face value, you’d be wrong — I watch a lot of videos. Also, Google the name “Fibonacci” and just about every link on the first page or two talks about how important Leonardo Bonacci was. The guy is allegedly responsible for getting replacing Roman numerals with Arabic symbols, which makes him a hero in my book. Can you imagine trying to work through calculus problems using Roman numerals?

It appears inarguable that some sort of pattern can be found in every created thing. We may see the effect, but don’t seem to understand the cause.

Some people will assert that these patterns are governed by the laws of mathematics, which is a fine argument until you realize these laws of mathematics must have existed prior to the universe and origin of matter, which is irrational. Mathematics is the study of quantity, structure, space, and change — how can we study something before it exists?

Nor can the so-called “laws of physics” begin to explain how (or why) a universe could come from nothing because of complex order when nothing existed?

Patterns can be found in grains of sand and living cells, as well as galaxies in the cosmos — and according to the mathematicians, all of them bear these spectacular “fingerprints of God” known as Fibonacci’s spirals.

God’s plan for nature is complex and delicate, as this beautiful video about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park illustrates. The restoration of a missing link in the food chain literally changed the landscape.

Which brings this question to mind: can design exist, without a Designer?


Mandelbrot’s fractals

Patterns are models, or plans, used to produce nearly perfect copies of a specific design. In fact, the ability to discern a pattern from raw data is usually considered an indicator of advanced intelligence.

Some scientists (who happen to be avowed atheists, and curiously not agnostic) will argue that when words like “models”, “plans”, and “design” are used to describe an organic, natural process, those words don’t mean what they would ordinarily mean.  These experts also claim the appearance of design in a living organism is nothing more than an overwhelmingly convincing optical illusion.

In his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, biologist (and renowned atheist) Richard Dawkins wrote,

Perhaps it was religious indoctrination that held us back (from believing in evolution). Or perhaps it was the daunting complexity of a living organ such as an eye, freighted as it is with the beguiling illusion of design by a master engineer.

Why does Mr. Dawkins believe that our eyes have deceived us, and the intuitively obvious appearance of design in our bodies only an illusion? It’s because he perceives design flaws in the human eye, probably due to the fact that the photoreceptor cells in the retina are allegedly placed backward. Dawkins has also been quite adamant about his belief that the vas deferens tube in humans and the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe are also examples of  “poor” design which, as this website suggests, commits the logical fallacy of personal incredulity.

This argument of Dawkins depends upon our making the assumption that a creator God could not, or would not, create an imperfect organism. We must trust that his ideas about “improving” the current design of a human being or a giraffe would actually be an improvement over what ordinarily works pretty well as-is, because he said so. We should trust that any personal bias toward atheism will not affect his “careful conjecture” and conclusions reached after studying the available evidence: the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and DNA analysis.

Dawkins suggests that any previously-held strong beliefs in creationism should be shattered by his “overwhelming” evidence for evolution, conveniently ignoring this one very important and obvious fact: creation (by God or good luck) must precede evolution, even if we assume that all of his claims about evolution are true.

Simply stated, life cannot evolve until it exists.

Do patterns exist that are the product of “unintentional” design? Some would say yes. But isn’t the very idea of an “accidental design” an oxymoron? Does the inference of “bad” design actually prove that no design was involved at all?

Born in Poland, French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot discovered that geometric patterns occurred in nature which could be expressed in mathematical terms, regardless of scale that he called fractals.

While discussing Mandelbrot’s work, Dr. Ian Stewart said:

The same mathematics is generating chaotic behavior and pattern behavior. This changes completely how you think about all of this. The idea that there are regularities in nature and then totally separate from them are irregularities is just not true. These are two ends of one spectrum of behavior which can be generated by the same kind of mathematics. And it’s the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of true mathematics of nature.

The “Thumbprint of God”

Of course, Mandelbrot’s fractals aren’t the only repetitive patterns seen ubiquitously throughout nature.

There are also Fibonacci’s spirals, sometimes called the “fingerprints of God”, found in things as small as a human fingerprint (and smaller) up to the formation of galaxies.

The Mandelbrot set has also been called “the thumbprint of God” because with Fibonacci’s spirals, the repeated patterns across a broad spectrum of natural objects strongly imply the work of an intelligent designer.

Dr. Andrea Sella said,

I think one of the great take-home messages from Turing’s work and from the discoveries in chemistry and biology and so on, is that ultimately pattern behavior seems to be woven very, very deeply into the fabric of the universe.  And it actually takes some very simple and familiar processes like diffusion, like the rates of chemical reactions, and the interplay between them naturally gives rise to pattern. So pattern is everywhere, just waiting to happen.

Does order emerge from chaos by accident, and not by design? Did the universe have a choice except to exist, and to create life from inanimate matter?

To see what I’ve called “the Big Picture” in my book Counterargument for God, we must look at everything from the Big Bang to natural selection. We must learn what the experts think they know about abiogenesis and speciation, and to contemplate the significance of Fibonacci’s spirals, Mandelbrot’s fractals, and the incredible complexity of DNA.

Cosmology, chemistry, genetics and geometry will all factor in the development of a better understanding of how we came to exist, leaving us to contemplate the question of why we came to be. The evidence for design begins with the precise values of cosmological factors necessary for the success of the Big Bang and the anthropic universe, as well as inflation. The chemical elixir that facilitated the origin of life did not brew itself in a warm, shallow pond, as advocates of Darwin believe — cells cannot be formed without enzymes, so the existence of enzymes had to precede the first cell.

Too many things must “accidentally” happen with perfect timing in proper sequence in order to answer an existential question without invoking a supernatural creator even remotely plausible: the origin of matter via the Big Bang, after an unbelievably precise calibration of cosmological factors, followed by a perfectly timed period of accelerated expansion (called inflation) that together allowed the universe that exists today, to exist today. For this “fine-tuned” universe to exist without divine intervention of any sort, the perfect blend of chemicals had to have coalesced and reacted until enzymes and cell membrane formed in preparation for the self-organization of LUCA, the first living single-celled organism.

Even grains of sand are fractals.

beach sand from Maui, magnified 300x (photograph by Dr. Gary Greenberg)

Have you ever looked at sand under a microscope? Nothing to be ashamed about, I haven’t either — but Dr. Gary Greenberg has, and he took photographs, which can be seen in this amazing TED talk video.

You can see an individual heart cell beat, and watch as an immune cell consumes bacteria. Those two cells look nothing alike, but if both come from the same organism, they have the same DNA. Watching live cells in action is even more impressive than looking at beach sand from Maui under a microscope.

The primary reason for my interest in Mandelbrot’s work on fractals is the idea that complex structures may develop from a simple set of rules. My personal belief is that DNA can be viewed as organic source code which uses a very simple pattern of a four value sequence in rigidly structured and organized patterns. Obviously, patterns exist. They are ubiquitous. Order is in everything. You only have to see it.

Unless (as atheists often claim about intelligent design) patterns and order are nothing but an illusion.


Miracle at Cokeville

If someone said “Cokeville” here in north Georgia, the listener might think the speaker was making a joke about living the city of Atlanta, home of the Coca Cola company — even home of the World of Coke.

But Cokeville is a real place, a small town in Wyoming not much bigger than the World of Coke, with a population of a little more than 500 people.

Five times more people visit the World of Coke in Atlanta on an average day than live in Cokeville, Wyoming. But why haven’t we heard of Cokeville before?


If our hypothetical speaker were to say “Columbine” instead, most listeners will immediately be reminded of the horrible massacre planned and executed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado, not the flower.

Twelve innocent high school students and one heroic teacher were murdered by two deranged teenagers, and twenty-four more people wounded.

Then Michael Moore’s movie Bowling for Columbine famously took advantage of the tragedy to advocate for stricter gun control, making sure we never forget the horrific massacre that took place on April 20, 1999.

What we’ve learned from modern terrorists is that if you take away all the guns, the lunatics will learn how to make bombs. Or they’ll steal a truck or bus, and run over people. If someone wants to commit murder and create terror and mayhem, they will find a way.

Back to Cokeville — what makes Cokeville, Wyoming so special? It’s special because of the tragedy that didn’t happen there. On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young took as hostages more than 150 children and teachers at the Cokeville Elementary School. The Youngs were armed with a massive gasoline bomb, plus a small arsenal of firearms. According to reports, David and Doris intended to demand ransom of $300 million from the small community.

However, once the money had been collected, they planned to blow up the bomb anyway, killing all the hostages and themselves as well as destroying all the money. David’s diary actually revealed that the ransom demand was only a ruse. His real goal was to inflict the maximum possible financial and emotional pain on the entire town of Cokeville. But they failed.

The bomb was detonated, and the Youngs both killed, but none of the hostages died. About half of the hostages were wounded. None of the injuries were life-threatening, though.

David Young hated the people of Cokeville so badly that he wanted every last one of them to suffer heartache. His own suicidal plan and the death of his wife meant nothing to him. As long as he could destroy the hope of the whole town in one fell swoop, he would die a happy man.

David’s plan left nothing to chance. He built a test bomb to make sure the triggering device worked and it would explode, and it did. So did the real bomb. Yet, none of the hostages were killed.

How is this possible?

Observers claimed that David Young became very agitated when some of the schoolteachers led their students in prayer, trying to calm the children down. Their prayers agitated David Young, so he decided to step outside. Before exiting the classroom, David detached the bomb detonator from his wrist and put it on his wife’s. All of the children were huddled together against the far wall, near the windows.

This is where their story gets really interesting.

Quite a few of these children claimed a “beautiful lady” had appeared and told them to go there. For example, first grader Nathan Hartley said that he saw an angel he recognized as his great grandmother. Travis Walker claims that he heard an angel tell him to take his younger sisters to the window and keep them there.   His sisters Rachel and Katie described beings that shone like light bulbs hovering over the heads of each hostage. Then the inexplicable happened.

Doris Young set off the bomb prematurely, apparently by accident.  She staggered out of the classroom, engulfed in flames. David shot his wife to end her agony, and then turned the gun on himself.

Most of the townspeople had gathered outside the school because their children, or someone they knew was inside. They watched in horror as the school burst into flames. Children jumped from the windows as teachers crawled on the floor and helped others evacuate the burning building.

One teacher had been shot and one student struck by a stray bullet.  More than thirty students and teachers were treated for second degree burns. But an entire generation in the small town of Cokeville had been spared, by some kind of miracle. Bomb expert Richard Haskell testified, “I can’t tell you how lucky they were. When you look at the classroom—when you see all that charred furniture and burnt walls—it’s amazing that there weren’t 150 kids lying in there dead. To call it a miracle would be the understatement of the century.”

On the 20th anniversary of the incident, a group called the Cokeville Miracle Foundation (CMF) released a book titled Witness to Miracles, which included 187 firsthand descriptions of the events of that fateful day. Apparently many residents who collaborated with the CMF agree with Mr. Haskell’s professional opinion.

Given the name of the group and their book, it may come as no surprise to learn the words “In God We Trust” fill the entire background of the front cover.

These people would be fools if they didn’t.  They are convinced that they know what really happened — nothing less than divine intervention.

Skeptics and critics may rightfully ask, why didn’t God protect the innocent people at Columbine? My answer provides them no comfort — I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know…I wasn’t there that day, at Columbine High School. Or at Cokeville. So I cannot say what happened, or why.

As Carl Jung suggested, I can say that I’ve never had an experience in which I was saved from certain, imminent death by divine intervention, but I cannot say with any degree of confidence that these children were not.

No one can know what another person has experienced, unless they were present to witness the event in question.

Did God love the children at Cokeville more than the victims at Columbine? Of course not. Were those children spared because they had the opportunity to pray for divine intervention?

Again, to answer is to suggest that I am privy to the thoughts of God. And I’m not.

The question is, do miracles really occur? Absolutely. Did a miracle occur in Cokeville, Wyoming on May 16, 1986?

Clearly, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”

But was it a miracle that merely involved some extraordinary luck, or did some form of divine intervention truly occur?

Don’t ask me. I wouldn’t know. Ask someone who was there.

Ask a witness who actually saw what happened.




[Elaine Jarvik, Deseret News, May 15, 2006, article “Cokeville recollects miracle of 1986“]

[Dan Millman and Doug Childers, Divine Interventions, St. Martin’s Press]