Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Flawed Logic of UKIP

One statement that has been repeatedly ejaculated from the mouths of UKIP's most vocal advocates is that of "80% of our laws are now coming from the EU!". It's a "fact" that has been mindlessly parroted by those with a Euro-sceptic bent: a sound-byte designed to enrage the patriotic spirit; to instil a belief that we in the UK have surrendered our national sovereignty and are now cowed and enslaved to the evil bureaucrats of Brussels...

[Aside: if the UK parliament has really been so disempowered, why would UKIP spend so much time, energy and money trying to elect their members into it?]

What is most annoying about this assertion though, is their application of a mathematical operation to non-quantifiable entities.

For instance, if I went shopping and bought a 5kg bag of best British potatoes for £2-50, and then a 50cl bottle of Italian's finest Limoncello for £15, how much of my shopping would be British? On an item by item basis it would be 50%, but going by weight/volume it would be more like 90% British. On the other hand, on the basis of price it would be only 14%. So I can get three different answers, depending on what metric I choose.

And that's on items that can be quantified!

How can you quantify laws? How can you for instance compare a law regulating for efficiency of light bulbs (an evil law from the EU in UKIP's eyes) to the law for marriage equality (a law from the UK - and similarly evil to UKIP)? The whole concept is utterly meaningless.

And besides, if a law is a good one (and I'd argue that both above examples are good), does it matter where it comes from? Surely only a bigot would think so...

And I'm certainly not going to turn my back on a good bottle of Limoncello just because it's not home-grown! Now pass me a glass...

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Sliming Mount Improbable

In his iconic book, "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins posits a qualitative scale of theism ranging from 1: Strong Theist to 7: Strong Atheist with the mid-value of 4 for those good honest agnostics who admit to being happy to sit squarely on the fence. Dawkins declares himself to be "a 6.9" and goes on to say "I'd be surprised to meet many people in Category 7... Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants."

Whilst philosophically I accept this logic, it still strikes me as being frustratingly non-committal, and doesn't consider the dynamic nature of the evidence, i.e. the balance of probability of a divine existence versus the increasing certainty of divine non-existence as time passes without the slightest hint of an omnipotent being even vaguely flexing their muscles.

So whilst one can state that existence of a god can never be disproved, the probability of such decreases continuously with time as no scientifically credible evidence is found.
Contemplating this situation reminded me of one of Zeno's paradoxes which I remember first being presented to me thus:

A snail crawls half way to the bottom of the garden one day, then half the distance left the next day, then half the remaining distance again the following day, etc. Does the snail actually ever make it to the end of the garden?

Well - it's evident that the snail will never truly reach his* goal (especially bearing in mind the finite natural lifespan of gastropods), but since the remaining distance decreases as an inverse exponential, then "as near as dammit"** he just as well might have. And mathematicians do indeed allow these convergent infinite series to be assigned with an exact result***.

So while philosophers continue to argue the toss over god's existence, the Snail of Doubt creeps relentlessly ever closer to his goal, with only divine intervention capable of thwarting his progress....

For all practical purposes, I therefore suggest that as long as one accepts the infinitessimal possibility of having to eat humble pie and change one's stance in the event of some supernatural entity finally and unequivocally demonstrating their presence, it's absolutely a perfectly reasonable stance to declare oneself a 7 on the Dawkins scale and unequivocally state one's disbelief.


* Most snails are hermaphroditic and I'm not sure what the correct personal pronoun is for such cases; I hope none are offended by my adoption of he/his/him. ;-)

** My old maths teacher's technical term.

*** The ones and zeroes in digital electronics switch in an analogous manner, arguably never actually reaching an absolute state of one-ness or zero-ness, but fortunately engineers are far too sensible to let such things worry them... ;-)