2011-09-26 13:03:00Blog Experiment
Glenn Tamblyn


I am REALLY glad some of us aren't on the dark side. Its WAY to easy to produce believable bullshit.


As an aside John, after the experiment is over and you have the response from each participant, will you then be showing them the complete set of 4 threads. Seeing the same names producing such conflicting opinions might show how easy it is to be misled.

2011-09-26 13:23:03Showing all 4 threads
John Cook


I don't think they'll be showing the participants all 4 threads, not much point to that. I'll probably make up different names for each just in case anyway, all fictional made up names.

Steve recommended we hand the participants who read the denier blog post a flyer as they leave, explaining what was wrong with the denier blog post (just to ensure we don't convert too many into deniers). So that's something I need to whip up shortly as the experiment will be run soon.

2011-09-26 14:28:36Walking on my grave...
Glenn Tamblyn


Ooohh, a shiver just went down my spine, liking someone was walking on my grave. This is TOOOO EASY.

2011-09-26 14:42:45Posting denier comments
John Cook


Yes, I found the more comments I posted, the easier it got and, this is very scary, the more enjoyable it got. Am feeling a bit like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader gouded him into channeling the dark side.

2011-09-26 15:09:37More seriously
Glenn Tamblyn


Once your experiment is complete it might be good to actually do a post on it, showing all 4 versions and commenting prominantly that both warmist and skeptic comments were written by the same people

2011-09-26 15:13:33Will definitely post about the experiment
John Cook


Probably after it's been accepted or published though, best not to pre-empt the peer-review process.

Not sure if I'll post the actual article and comments - that will be something to ponder way down the track. Could have a bit of fun with it.

2011-09-26 18:23:52Good cop, Bad cop
Glenn Tamblyn


John, no one else wanted to give you the last entry you needed. You might want to alter the names to match the tone. My previous 'poster' was totally 'bad cop' so you might want to use a different name for this more mellow 'good cop' last post.

And I just couldn't help myself, I had to dangle the ID bait. I understand your Christian views but I am pretty sure your not an IDer.

Besides, an old mate of mine just emailed me a photo of a really 'lovely young lady' that has me seriously reconsidering  my objections to ID. Surely THAT couldn't be just an accident! How could something so lovely and ... bllrrgggh .., sleek ...grrhhpph .. inviting .. wqwqwqww .. and just so perfectly proporti ... ihhhghghghh...

... What is this SOAP doing in my mouth?

2011-09-26 22:51:48
Steve Brown


It's really got me wondering how many of the regulars at WUWT are genuine and how many are SkS contributors having a laugh after the pub.  Some of those skeptic comments were a bit too realistic.

2011-09-27 10:09:43ID
John Cook


No, I'm not an IDer. I used to be a creationist and if psychology tells us anything, it's that it's very, very difficult for the evidence to break through all the ideological defences that bolster one's world view. For me, the deciding factor was observing that creationists used all the same rhetorical arguments and tricks that climate misinformers use. I have an uncle who is a professional creationist - he debates evolutionists, produces videos, travels the world. Dawkins mentions him in one of his books. For the longest time, I considered him a man of science. Then I asked him one day about his opinion of climate science. He posted me a video he'd made on the topic. You guessed it - wall to wall climate misinformation. It was a disillusioning moment as I realised he wasn't a man of science, he was a misleading rhetorician.

I had to get to that point before I could even look at the evidence for evolution with an open mind. When I started investigating, I found the case for evolution was based on many independent lines of evidence, similar to the case for AGW. 

I see Chris Mooney converse with atheists on how to reach Christian groups about the evolution issue and most of the atheists are on completely the wrong track on the most effective approach. But Chris Mooney pretty much has it right, it has to be a Christian who shares their values and can frame the issue in a way that doesn't threaten core values. If I wasn't otherwise occupied, I'd have a crack at it. But the way I see it, hundreds of thousands of lives aren't at risk from people being skeptical about evolution - climate change is a much higher priority.

BTW, Glenn, I've been listening to a fascinating, engaging set of psychology lectures on iTunes U and there was one lecture on evolutionary psychology that tries to explain why men go so gaga at pretty girls :-)

And on another related note, did you ever hear about that research that found that women are evolving to become prettier while men have stayed pretty much the same. I'm picturing a few millennia from now, the blokes will all be troglodytes and the women will be goddesses.

2011-10-09 21:54:48
Paul D


I was once a Christian but never took creationism seriously. I never really took the Old Testament seriously although it made for some spectacular hollywood movies featuring Charlton Heston! :-)
(Added: Maybe I did take the Old Testament seriously when I was really young, but that is probably due cultural influences before the 1970s, I think we were all taught about Noah etc, back then)
For me, if Christ was supposed to be the Son of God, then he trumped everything else.

My views these days are a result of education. I have difficulty in taking the texts at face value and I think religion is just a factor of the human mind. Even the most simple text has many, many meanings. If someone interprets a single meaning, it is because of pre-existing cultural/religious learning. I was quite impressed by Derridas work on texts, although I really am not interested in any deep meaning intellectual discussions about philosophy etc. Been there, done that, as they say.

Re: a professional creationist??

That term in itself sounds unreligious. I really can't take seriously someone that goes around selling an idea, whether it is a corporation knocking on my door or someone doing professional lectures and charging for them.

Evolution and adaption makes a lot of sense, especially in the context of what we know about physics. These days I imagine the world/universe made up of building blocks (particles) that all have specific properties (like Lego bricks) and can come together to form complexity, then that complexity builds more complexity.

I think it is more fascinating and beautiful than some literal religious POV. But the question can still pose... Why are the building blocks the way they are? That we probably will never know.

2011-10-10 20:05:19
Ari Jokimäki


My brother is a priest in Finnish equivalent to creationists. I don't discuss science with him.

2011-10-11 20:38:20
Glenn Tamblyn


Looks like I have started a side conversation on religion.

I would describe myself as an Evangelical (well moderately) Agnostic. I readily concede that any of the world's religious beliefs may be true. Maybe the true religion was one of the ancient ones that has long since passed. Maybe we haven't found/created the true religion yet. MAybe we did find the true religion in the past but its God(s) are dying because our belief in them has waned (this is a favorite in High Fantasy Literature) Maybe the true religion has been found by a dolphin/seal like race on a water world billions of galaxies away. Maybe our definition of religion is too anthropocentric, too concerned with us and what happens to us - someone seeing every sparrow fall and all that.

Also our religions all tend to be very anthropomorphic - that a higher principal is a 'some one' rather than a 'some thing'. Perhaps physics, cosmology, etc really will be able to dig deep enough to resolve this. Or at least find that any higher principal is something so profoundly, inhumanly, meta-physical that the conventional label 'religion' will be inadequate. Or, perhaps, one day the sky will part and there is GOD looking down at us (or maybe Loki) saying 'Fooled, ya. I had you going there for a while didn't I. The fossils, Microwave Background Radiation, Nuclear decay clocks. Pretty cool stuff huh? Some of my best work. Let me tell you, being omnipotent is just so much fun. But really folks, Bishop Usher had it right.'

I dunno. That is why I call myself an agnostic - not in the traditional literal sense of 'without knowledge (gnosis) of the Christian God', but in a broader sense of 'I don't know the answer to the question. And I have no way of finding it out'. So I freely admit that any of the possibilities I have mentioned are possible, and many more I haven't even thought of.

And in that last statement I was conducting a simple psychological experiment. How many people would equate a statement that something is 'possible' with something is 'probable'? If I had to put odds on most of the suggestions I have mentioned it would  be millions to 1 against. Mayber trillions to 1 against. Next experiment. How well did you assimilate the difference between those two set of odds?

Several books that are REALLY interesting as a varied take on religion from an outside perspective

First from a Scientist/Writer

CONTACT. That was the book by Carl Sagan that became the film with Jody Foster. Unfortunately the film dropped the most interesting things in the book. Several people go on the journey, not just her. And the encounter the alien race that sent the message. And this race do that, helping other races up the next rung of the ladder. They won't offer any more until you have advanced a lot further. But they tell the Jody Foster character that they in turn are on their own quest, following/seeking their own mesage from 'something' higher again. The Jody Foster character returns home, is not believed etc yadda yadda yadda. She goes back to her SETI lab and sets t computer programs running. The first is simply a program that calculates PI - outto millions of digits. It does this in Base 11 because, well, .... that just what a geek scientist does. Then she feeds the output of this program into the signal pattern recognition programs that SETI use to look for alien signals. Then she goes home to bed. Some hours/weeks later the pattern recognition program pages her. It has found a pattern. She goes back to the lab and there, millions of digits down into PI is a block where it is just 0's & 1's. She plays around with it a bit till she realises that 0's & 1's need to be plotted out as a 2 dimensional array. And lo and behold, when she does this they form a pattern. A circle made of 1's on a background of 0's!

PI is a fundamental constant of the Universe. Actually it can be used as a metric for how much the Universe is a Euclidian or Non-Euclidian geometry. The Universe can't be the Universe if PI has a different value. And yet buuried deep within PI, the first observable pattern within it is a Circle. Now that is how a GOD really sends a message to their Creation. That is how a Scientist imagines religion!


Next from a Science Fiction writer (but an old one - early 20th century)

STARMAKER by Olaf Stapledon. A man goes out for a stroll in the evening. He climbs to the top of a hill and looks up at the stars. His mind starts to drift out. And out, and out, and out. Soon his mind is leaving thr Solar System and heading out into the galaxy. He observes alien races, their lives, trial and tribulations. He sees galaxy wide empires rise and fall. He witnesses the rise and fall of MIND  in many forms and on many scales. He watches the slow heat death of the Universe as the last civilisations survive inside the dying embers of old stars. He sees the rise and decline of the MIND of this Universe.

So far it is a moderately interesting old style SF story, very much written in an early 20'th century English - some times a bit hard to get into. Then you read the final chapter. Our voyager finally sees what is behind this universe. The Starmaker. A Creator being who starts as a young creator and is continually creating new Universes, each different and more complex than the previous one. One of them is made of pure music for example. And each Universe develops a more complex and sophisticated MIND. And when each Universe has served its purpose, achieved what is meant to achieve according to the view of the growing Creator, that Universe is ended. And So the Creator continues, building in his craft. Until finally the MIND of his final Universe is so rich and complex that the Creator mates with the MIND of his last Universe. Giving genesis to his younger novice self. And so the circle is closed.

And our Universe is not the final one. And the Creator isn't really interested in watching sparrows fall.


Finally from a very different direction, a psychologist

'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind' by Julian Jaynes.

Jaynes' thesis is that the human mind had a very different structure thousands of year ago, mirroring brain function. Essentially that the division of the brain into right & left hemispheres with sometimes mirrored function produced an intersting effect. One side of the brain contained the language centre and many of the functions that interact with the outside world. The other side of the brain also effectively contained language centres and possibly seats of consciousness as well but was unable to access the external world. This other half of the brain could however communicate with the half that could interface to the external. And that this manifested as voices. One side of the brain 'did' while the other side 'commanded'. The most immediate thing that comes to mind when considering this is schitzophenia - people who hear voices. Also the various studies that look at what happens to people who have many of the links between the 2 halves of the brain severed for medical reasons. One of the most dramatic examples of the consequences of this was a women who had arms that operated independently. One hand might be unbuttoning her blouse while the other was doing it up. One hand would keep slapping her in the face while the other tried to stop it.

Jaynes' looks at a range of historical evidence from ancient texts for what he regards as supporting evidence for this. The difference in language and description of how things happen and why between the Iliad & the Odyssey - the apparent lack of of an introspective 'I' in the Iliad  where characters just act because the voices from the other side of their brain (the gods) command them to. Stellae from Babylon of Hammurabi - he of the Law Code - standing eye to eye with his 'god' while in the latter part of the Assyrian Empire the stellae are of kings, priests etc pointing towards an empty throne of the god.

Jaynes is essentially saying that the social structure (and religion if that is the right word) of early societies was built on the fact that each person had their own personal god, inside their head. The other side of their brain. And that the non-god side was less dominant. Then as societies grew these God relationships became more complex. The God-side of the Head Man started to be significant and influenced his lesser fellow citizens. And much early writting was essentially a means of conveying the instructions of some-ones God side. Much early writing isn't what we would recognise as a conversation. It is either basic bookkeeping, or it is of the form 'King X who is the Voice of God Y Said yadda yadda yadda' The transfer of instructions to distant others via cuneiform.

And then that this started to break down between 2000 & 1000 BC. Perhaps driven by the expansion of kingdoms, and thus peoples separation from the integrating influences of the hierarchy of internal gods. Perhaps driven by the need to use writing to link kingdoms together ratther than personal contact.

The old psychological/neurological structure started to breakdown. The 'Gods' started to not speak as clearly in peoples heads. Oracles such as Delphi that used to speak clearly and directly started to need the oracle to use drugs, needed priesthoods to 'interpret' the progressively more obscure communications. Hammurabi met his God eye to eye. Later generations confronted the crises where the Gods talked less and less. As the 2 halves of brain integrated, the gods fell silent. And so the age of oracles, prophets and so forth grew - those whose brains weren't as integrated, at least under some circumstances.

One major chapter in Jaynes book describes the history of an ancient 'tribe', the Khabiru. Literally the nomads. Our modern pronunciation is 'The Hebrews'. That the Old Testament can also be seen as the record of people coping with thier Gods falling silent.

I find Jaynes' ideas plausible since they link historical texts with neuroscience. However they can't be taken beyond that. The key evidence you need is neurological data from 1000's of years ago. Bit of a problem there!

But I do find people like Jaynes speculating about such topics incredibly invigorating. The past is a place we think we know, but actually it was probably far different from ouur expectations. It is hard to cast our imaginations back that far without imposing an incredibly simplified perspective. 2000 BC was every bit as complicated as 2011.