Good Fortune/Confirmation Bias

Back in late June or early July I was eating Chinese food from my usual Chinese restaurant.  When I opened my Fortune Cookie, it said, “Good Things will come to you in 60 days.”  Being the eternal skeptic, I counted out the days then wrote on my whiteboad – Aug 31 – Good things.

So today is August 31st, and my iPod is scheduled to be delivered today – so the fortune will come true…right.

Well no actually – this is what is known as Confirmation Bias.  Because the fortune wasn’t specific, I could interpret just about anything as fulfilling the fortune. 

Want to try it?  Using my extreme psychic powers, I predict that something bad will happen to you this weekend, but something good will happen to you next week.

If you look hard enough, the prediction is likely to come true.

Side note, confirmation bias is also why some people see the Virgin Mary on Turtle Shells,


or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Jet Plane exhaust.


…because they are looking for it.

Disturbing news out of the Vatican

Although I thought Pope John Paul II was more than a little out of touch, at least he understood that there was an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of evolution.  John Paul II was a modern thinker compared to the new pope, who is looking to drive the Catholic church back to the dark ages.  In the past two weeks, three things have made me sit up and take notice:

Vatican Replace Father George V.Coyne

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes, 43, to be the new director of the Vatican Observatory.

Father Funes succeeds U.S. Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, 73, who had served as director since 1978.

There are some indications that Coyne asked to be replaced, but there are others that say that Coyne was replaced for other reasons:

ROME, August 21, 2006 ( – The Jesuit priest-astronomer who vocally opposed the Catholic understanding of God-directed creation, has been removed from his post as head of the Vatican observatory.

Fr. George Coyne has been head of the Vatican observatory for 25 years is an expert in astrophysics with an interest in the interstellar medium, stars with extended atmospheres and Seyfert galaxies. He also appointed himself as an expert in evolutionary biology and theology last summer in an article for the UK’s liberal Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Fr. Coyne was writing against Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, a principal author of the Catholic catechism, who said that an “unplanned process of random variation and natural selection,” both important parts of evolutionary thinking, are incompatible with Catholic belief in God’s ordering and guiding of creation.

It looks like ditching Coyne may have been a precursor to the Vatican coming out in support of Intelligent Design.

Philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals close to Pope Benedict will gather at his summer palace outside Rome this week for intensive discussions that could herald a fundamental shift in the Vatican’s view of evolution.

There have been growing signs the Pope is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of “intelligent design”

Even if [the Pope] knows where he wants to go, and I believe he does, it will take time. Most Catholic intellectuals today are convinced that evolution is obviously true because most scientists say so.” In 1996, in what was seen as a capitulation to scientific orthodoxy, John Paul II said Darwin’s theories were “more than a hypothesis”.

Last December, a US court sparked controversy when it ruled that intelligent design should not be taught alongside evolution theory. Cardinal Schönborn said: “The debate of recent months has undoubtedly motivated the Holy Father’s choice.” But he added that in the 1960s the then Joseph Ratzinger had “underlined emphatically the need to return to the topic of creation”.

The Pope also raised the issue in the inaugural sermon of his pontificate, saying: “We are not the accidental product, without meaning, of evolution.”

A few months later, Cardinal Schönborn, who is regarded as being close to Benedict, wrote an article for the New York Times backing moves to teach ID. He was attacked by Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory. On August 19, Fr Coyne was replaced without explanation. Vatican sources said the Pope’s former astronomer, who has cancer, had asked to be replaced.

I think any Pontifical support of Intelligent Design over Evolution will run into some serious resistance with Catholics in the U.S. (at least I hope it will), but from there the news out of the Vatican gets just wierd:

Adolf Hitler and Russian leader Stalin were possessed by the Devil, the Vatican’s chief exorcist has claimed.

Father Gabriele Amorth who is Pope Benedict XVI’s ’caster out of demons’ made his comments during an interview with Vatican Radio.

Father Amorth said: “Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations.

“I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler – and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil.

“You can tell by their behaviour and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That’s why we need to defend society from demons.”

According to secret Vatican documents recently released wartime pontiff Pope Pius XII attempted a “long distance” exorcism of Hitler which failed to have any effect.

Father Amorth said: “It’s very rare that praying and attempting to carry out an exorcism from distance works.

“Of course you can pray for someone from a distance but in this case it would not have any effect.

“One of the key requirements for an exorcism is to be present in front of the possessed person and that person also has to be consenting and willing.

“Therefore trying to carry out an exorcism on someone who is not present, or consenting and willing would prove very difficult.

“However I have no doubt that Hitler was possessed and so it does not surprise me that Pope Pius XII tried a long distance exorcism.”

DEMONIC POSSESSIONS!? Are they serious?  Maybe they should have the water tested in Rome.  Oh, and by the way, if you let your children read Harry Potter, you are basically handing them to Satan to do his bidding:

In the past Father Amorth has also spoken out against the Harry Potter books, claiming that reading the novels of the teen wizard open children’s minds to dabbling with the occult and black magic.

Father Amorth, who is president of the International Association of Exorcists, said of the JK Rowling books:”Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.”

He said that Rowling’s books contain innumerable positive references to magic, “the satanic art” and added the books attempt to make a false distinction between black and white magic, when in fact, the distinction “does not exist, because magic is always a turn to the devil.”

Father Amorth is said to have carried out more than 30,000 exorcisms in his career and his favourite film is, according to Italian newspapers The Exorcist.

Sometimes I think life would be so much easier if I would:

  1. Stop thinking for myself and just drink the Kool-aid – or
  2. Disconnect myself from all electronic media and ignore everything that doesn’t directly affect me.

Missouri Booster Seat Law – Update

The Missouri Booster Seat law is going into effect earlier than originally statedThe law goes into effect Monday.  I guess I had better put the booster seats back in the van.

Missouri law will now require:

·  Children less than 4 years old or less than 40 pounds to be in an appropriate child safety seat.

·  Children ages 4 through 7 who weigh at least 40 pounds to be in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat unless they are 80 pounds or 4’9″ tall.

·  Children 8 and over or weighing at least 80 pounds or at least 4’9″ tall to be secured by a safety belt or booster seat appropriate for that child.

The Friday Groaner

My kids like this one….

Little Billy was eating a banana popcicle before class, but he didn’t have time to finish it, so he shoved it in his pocket.  He went into class and his teacher immediately made him stand up for a pop quiz on geography.

Teacher: Billy, what do you call someone from America?

Billy didn’t know the answer, but little Suzie whispered, “American”

Billy [speaking loudly]:American.

Teacher: Very good, now what do you call someone from Australia?

Again little Suzie whispered, “Australian”


Teacher: That’s right.  What do you call someone from Europe?

Suzie (whispers): European


On: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design

I have been reading a bit about Jonathan Wells’ new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. You can tell be the title that Mr. Wells is a creationists – only creationist refer to Evolution as Darwinism.  From the excerpts I’ve read, it sounds like the book is a combination of quote mining and rehashed creationist arguments that have been addressed time and again.  In one quote mining example I have seen, Wells takes this statement by William Ballard (a well known elder developmental biologist),

All [embryoes] then arrive at the pharyngula stage, which is remarkably uniform throughout the subphylum, consisting of similar organ rudiments similarly arranged (though in some respects deformed in respect to habitat and food supply). After the standardized pharyngula stage, the maturing of the structures of organs and tissues takes place on diverging line, each line characteristic of the class and further diverging into lines characteristic of the orders, families, and so on.

Before the pharyngula stage we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. Only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that “gastrulas” of shark, salmon, frog, and bird are more alike than their adults.

and turns it into this:

It is “only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence,” by “bending the facts of nature,” that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates “are more alike than their adults.”

These two paragraphs don’t mean remotely the same things.  This just reeks of dishonesty.  If you think that the Creationists/ID proponents have valid arguments, you have to wonder why they would stoop to such levels.  To me, the answer is obvious — they have nothing to base their opinions on and are grasping at straws.

Source: Pharyngula