Author Archives: Paul Braterman
https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote This most dispiriting of elections is also among the most important of my lifetime, and its consequences will be felt long after the principal actors are mercifully forgotten.
For me, the overriding issue is clear. We are heading for a situation where the Johnson-ERG axis that has taken over the Conservative Party will be returned with a minority of votes, but a majority of seats in Parliament. This will give us at best Johnson’s extremely damaging Brexit deal, but more probably, with detailed negotiations foredoomed by the rigid timetable, no deal at all. Here, for once, Farage is telling the truth.
The only way to stop this is by tactical voting. With grotesque tribalism, Labour, Lib Dem, and in some constituencies even the Greens are standing against each other in seats that will as a direct result fall to the Conservatives. The only way to stop this is for voters to show the statesmanship that is so sadly lacking in the Party leaders, and vote tactically.
Stopping a hard Brexit should still be your main concern in this election even if your main political desire is for Scottish independence, unless you want a hard border at Gretna.
It has never been easier to vote tactically. Simply go to https://dontsplittheremainvote.com, look up your constituency, and you will find a list of current candidates, details of voting in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections and the 2019 European election, and recommendations with rationale from up to 5 separate tactical voting groups. Don’t worry; they generally all agree. However, there are many constituencies that look safe for one party or another, even in these strange times, and here I suggest you simply vote your personal preference.
But first, make sure you are actually on the roll. Do not take this for granted, since, no doubt for excellent reasons, the Clegg-Cameron coalition changed the automatic notification rules, making it much easier for people (especially young people) to be dropped, and many were. So go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote . If like many students you have two addresses, you can register at both, and decide which one to use for greatest effect, by postal vote if need be.
If still in doubt who to vote for, as you may be in the many Scottish constituencies where Conservatives do not pose a serious challenge, then give even more consideration than usual to the character of the candidates. Within the lifetime of the incoming Parliament, supposedly five years, we can confidently expect major conflicts to emerge within all the main parties, so that individual members of intelligence and integrity will have a major role to play.
Let me give two examples.
E Dunbartonshire is safely Remain but highly marginal, having changed hands twice between SNP and LibDem. Here I would urge you to vote SNP, because the LibDem candidate and outgoing MP is the abominable Jo Swinson. A consistent supporter of Conservative policies, she has actively discouraged tactical voting, and when the LibDem candidate in Canterbury stood down in order to help the admirable pro-Remain Labour candidate, she had him replaced within hours and instituted disciplinary action. Parliament, and the LibDem party itself, will be a better place without her.
Then my own constituency, Glasgow North-East, also highly marginal, this time between Labour and SNP. The outgoing member is Paul Sweeney, Labour, whom I did not vote for, but whom I now wholeheartedly support. He is, on all counts, the best MP I have ever had. An admirable voice of reason and clarity within his own party, and consistent advocate for a People’s Vote and for close links with Europe, he has responded to policy questions with page-long humane and well-argued position statements. This in addition to detailed local knowledge and concern. We need more like him.
Images of all politicians mentioned by name taken from their Wikipedia pages
Why did Noah get drunk? What was Ham’s actual offence? Why was it Ham’s son Canaan who got cursed for it? Are all three of them perhaps composite characters? Japhet turns up in Greek mythology, as well as in Genesis; who is copying whom, and why? These and other questions are discussed in Paul Davidson’s gripping account, The Curse of Ham/Canaan: A Mythological Mystery, re-blogged below.
This is not my usual area, but it happens to be directly relevant to two of my own recent blogs, https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/noahs-flood-and-how-to-talk-to-creationists-about-it/ , which he cites, and https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/creationism-noahs-flood-and-race/
Two technical comments: Friedman (The Bible with Sources Revealed) regards all the genealogies as intercalations, neither part of Yahwist nor of the Priestly source narrative.
And I have verified the tortured Hebrew grammar of Genesis 10:21 and 10:25, discussed in Paul’s post. This of course does not validate any particular explanation, but it is very clear that there is something that needs to be explained.
Time to let Paul speak for himself:
One of many puzzling passages that anyone reading the Bible from the beginning is soon confronted with is a story in which the flood hero Noah gets drunk and falls asleep naked—and which concludes with Noah placing a curse on his grandson Canaan. Since this passage was brought up by a commenter recently, I thought I’d look into it more closely.
Part of the reason, no doubt, for the impression of strangeness it leaves on readers is that it is (understandably) almost never preached on in church and may surprise those who remember the tale of Noah in children’s storybook terms, full of cuddly animals and pretty rainbows. When Aronofsky’s film Noah came out in 2014, Jon Stewart’s Daily Showaired a segment poking fun at religious viewers who were irked by the inclusion of a scene in which the titular character got drunk—and who were apparently oblivious to the existence…
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Why does such a tiny, tight-knit, arrogant elite hold so much power?
Yes, as I wrote in 2015, that’s Dave, “Boris” (Alexander Boris dePfeffel), and the rest of their Old Etonian pals, in purpose-tailored  getups, before the notorious Bullingdon Club dinner, which year after year ended in drunken rioting, invading and smashing up the rooms of ordinary students (who were referred to as “trogs” i.e. troglodytes), the occasional debagging (an old tradition; see Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall), and then moving on to more serious stuff like smashing up restaurants.
“Boris” you will have noticed, was already showing his talent for occupying centre-stage, and by all accounts was already exhibiting his incendiary sense of humour.
If you’ve forgotten about Dave (David William Donald Cameron, PM 11 May 2010 to 13 July 2016), his autobiographical For the Record is due for release in September, and he is said to have obtained an £800,000 advance on this from HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, which also owns Dow Jones (as in Dow Jones Index). Perhaps we should feel sorry for him; Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is said to earn that much every year.
1] According to Wikipedia, the price of this gear in 2007 was £3,500. Equal to some 600 hours work at minimum wage, or 49 weeks living allowance on benefits in Glasgow. But remember, that does include the special biscuit-coloured waistcoat. And you do get two more chances to wear it, if you make it into the Club in your first year.
Well, the first post didn’t quite have that name but that was kind of the message. In a nutshell, that post discussed research showing that a better basic understanding of science made for more intense partisanship. Now a short article in The Atlantic describes a somewhat similar exercise generated by More in Common, but this time directly addressing partisanship itself. Basically, this summarizes a study asking people questions about the beliefs of their political opposites. And once again, more education seems to make people misjudge reality.
Honestly, this is discouraging. But wait–it gets more bizarre.
Basically Democrats lacking a high school education had a pretty firm fix on the opinions of members of the Republican party, correctly estimating what fraction of Republicans agreed or disagreed with certain policy statements. But as you go up the education ladder, Democrats get worse and worse. Republicans, on the other hand, are pretty…
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More marvelous discoveries about the tsunami that marked the impact that finished off the dinosaurs
An outstanding account by Scott Buchanan, based on https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2019/03/27/1817407116.full.pdf and other sources, complementing my own earlier https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/how-to-kill-the-dinosaurs-in-ten-minutes/ regarding the impact site.
Scott also includes much general background, and detailed discussion of what makes this site special, and why this, like so much else, is incompatible with Young Earth and other creationist thinking.
Sequences of Fossils in Sedimentary Rock Layers
K-Pg Asteroid Strike
The Tanis K-Pg Event Site
More Findings from the Tanis Site
Other Dinosaur Finds: Tracks, Eggs and Feces
Location of Dinosaur Fossils in the Rock Layers: Is a Recent Global Flood Credible?
More on Paleosols and Vertebrate Burrows
Closing Thoughts on Significance of the Tanis Site
Sequences of Fossil in Sedimentary Rock Layers
When canal builders surveyed the rocks of Britain in the early 1800s, they noticed that certain fossils only appeared in certain layers, and that the order of these fossils from layer to layer was typically the same all over the country. The same tendency of a well-defined sequential order in fossilized species has been found to hold all over the world. For instance, rock layers containing trilobites are found below, never above, layers containing modern clam species. Rocks with horse fossils are found above, never…
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20th-Century creationism and racism
(re-post from 3 Quarks Daily): Henry Morris, founding father of modern Young Earth creationism, wrote in 1977 that the Hamitic races (including red, yellow, and black) were destined by their nature to be servants to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. Noah was inspired when he prophesied this (Genesis 9:25-27) . The descendants of Shem are characterised by an inherited religious zeal, those of Japheth by mental acumen, while those of Ham are limited by the “peculiarly concrete and materialistic thought-structure inherent in Hamitic peoples,” which even affects their language structures. These innate differences explain the success of the European and Middle Eastern empires, as well as African servitude.
All this is spelt out in Morris’s 1977 book, The Beginning of the World, most recently reprinted in 2005 (in Morris’s lifetime, and presumably with his approval), and available from Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.
Morris is no fringe figure. On the contrary, he, more than any other individual, was responsible for the 20th-century invention of Young Earth “creation science”. He was co-author of The Genesis Flood, which regards Noah’s flood as responsible for sediments worldwide, and founded the Institute of Creation Research (of which Answers in Genesis is a later offshoot) in 1972, serving as its President, and then President Emeritus, until his death in 2006. Read the rest of this entry
“People in this country have had enough of experts,” said Michael Gove. The experts who tell us that Brexit will be damaging and a no-deal Brexit devastating; that human-caused global warming is a clear and present danger [Correction: Michael Gove does accept the expert consensus on climate change]; that physics teachers know more about physics (and about teaching) than Michael Gove did when telling them what and how to teach and getting it wrong from beginning to end; that actions have consequences; that reality matters.
And so, regretfully, for the third time, why Michael Gove is not fit to lead an Easter egg hunt, let alone a nation on the brink of the most catastrophic decision since 1914.
And since among other things that decision may well force us to submit to whatever trading arrangements the Tramp Administration chooses to impose on us, I would also draw attention to Miles King’s Michael Gove and the American Neoconservatives.
Anyway,here we go again:
The [then] Education Secretary said “What [students] need is a rooting in the basic scientific principles, Newton’s laws of thermodynamics and Boyle’s law.” [reported here]. He has been widely criticized for this (e.g. here and here), but it’s still worth discussing exactly why what he said is so appallingly wrong, on at least four separate counts. In the unlikely event that Mr. Gove ever reads this, he may learn something. Muddling up the laws of motion with the laws of thermodynamics is bad enough. Muddling up an almost incidental observation, like Boyle’s Law, is even worse, especially when this muddle comes from someone in charge of our educational system [well, not mine actually; I’m glad to say I live in Scotland], and in the very act of his telling teachers and examiners what is, and what is not, important.
Okay, from the top. Newton’s laws; Gove probably meant (if he meant anything) Newton’s laws of motion, but he may also have been thinking of Newton’s law (note singular) of gravity. [I went on to summarise both Newton’s laws, and Newton’s law, and to explain how the combination of these explained the hitherto mysterious phenomenon of planetary motion and related it to the motion of falling bodies on Earth; an intellectual achievement not equalled until Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity]
But what about the laws of thermodynamics? These weren’t discovered until the 19th century, the century of the steam engine… [I briefly described them]
If you don’t immediately realize that Newton’s laws and the laws of thermodynamics belong to different stages of technology, the age of sail as opposed to the age of steam, and to different levels of scientific understanding, the individual and macroscopic as opposed to the statistical and submicroscopic, then you don’t know what you’re talking about. Gove’s blunder has been compared to confusing Shakespeare with Dickens. It is far, far worse than that. It is – I am at a loss for an adequate simile. All I can say is that it is as bad as confusing Newton’s laws with the laws of thermodynamics, and I can’t say worse than that.
And regarding Gove’s description of Boyle’s Law as “basic”, I had this to say:
He [Gove] has been justly mocked for confusing Newton’s laws with the laws of thermodynamics. But the kind of ignorance involved in describing Boyle’s Law as a “basic scientific principle” is far more damaging.
Disclosure: I taught Boyle’s Law for over 40 years, and it gets three index entries in my book, From Stars to Stalagmites.
Bottom line: Boyle’s Law is not basic. It is a secondary consequence of the kinetic theory of gases, which is basic. The difference is enormous, and matters. Anyone who thinks that Boyle’s Law is a principle doesn’t know what a principle is. (So Gove doesn’t know what a principle is? That figures.)
Mathematically, the Law is simply stated, which may be why Mr Gove thinks it is basic: volume is inversely proportional to pressure, which gives you a nice simple equation (P x V = a constant) that even a Cabinet Minister can understand. But on its own, it is of no educational value whatsoever. It only acquires value if you put it in its context [in the kinetic theory of gases], but this involves a concept of education that seems to be beyond his understanding…
Educationally, context is everything, the key to understanding and to making that understanding worthwhile. A person who decries the study of context is unfit for involvement with education.
Even at Cabinet level.
And, I would now add, completely unfit for making major decisions in these interesting times.
I have just one good thing to say about Behe’s book: the rebuttals have introduced me to some splendid science, such as this: a four-mutation sequence with enhanced function at each step, refuting all three of Behe’s arguments; and reproducible!
This is the fourth in a series of posts about a new book by Michael Behe, Darwin Devolves. Behe is a leading proponent of intelligent-design creationism (IDC), which asserts that known processes cannot adequately account for evolution and, therefore, some intelligent agent must be involved in the process. Behe is a professor of biochemistry, which gives him knowledge and credentials that most IDC advocates do not have. However, my posts explain why I think his logic is unsound and his evidence weak and biased.
In brief, Behe argues that random mutation and natural selection are almost entirely degradative forces that break or blunt the various functions encoded by genes, producing short-term advantages that are so pervasive that they prevent constructive adaptations, which he claims are very unlikely to emerge in the way that evolutionary biologists have proposed. Unlike young-Earth creationists, Behe accepts the descent of living species from common…
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“[T]here is in fact nothing that can alleviate that fatal flaw in Darwinism” says Professor Behe, stating the book’s central claim in the mendaciously mislabelled creationist web journal Evolution News.
The claim is clickbait, the book title misleading, and the argument long since rebutted. The historical roots of the argument show the close links between what now calls itself Intelligent Design, and biblically inspired “creation science”. The issues are important because the Intelligent Design movement gives a veneer of intellectual respectability to the denial of scientific reality. Read the rest of this entry
Full paper cited here now publicly available at
Can we trust radiocarbon dating? Young Earth creationists tell us that we can’t. After all, it makes the same range of assumptions as other radiometric dating methods, and then some. Other methods benefit from internal checks or duplications, which in the case of radiocarbon dating are generally absent. There are numerous cases where it appears to give absurdly old ages for young material, while apparent ages of a few tens of thousands of years are regularly reported for material known on other evidence to be millions of years old. So can the Young Earth creationist1 objections be rebutted, and if so how?
The principle of radiometric dating is simple.2 If we know how much of a particular radioactive substance was present when a material formed, how much is still there, and
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