December 18, 2005

On Good vs Evil. And Wikipedia

Writing about web page http://www.wikipedia.org

Man, long time since I'm blogged. Too busy. A mixture of things – assignments, of course, due to my typically crazy selection of every single module available, essays, and applying to endless silly internships. (No offence to whoever writes those websites, but there is too much homogenity within the various application websites. If I have to look at another website talking about development, team working, motivated, goal orientated, competitive, I'm going to scream. Get a thesaurus, guys!)

I guess all the recent silly news about wikipedia managed to flush me out of my hidey-hole, just for now. This post may contain numerous errors, because I'm writing it in a hurry.

The thing everybody forgets is that we're the good guys.
— Jimmy Wales

Hell, I don't believe in good or evil. It's quite possible that no-one believes in good and evil, really, though most people say that they do. We cite all sorts of things about what we believe to be absolute goods or absolute evils, but they never work in practice. Is murder evil? Everyone seems to think it is, but that doesn't stop us making war. Is charity good? Everyone agrees, but I don't see a communist paradise quite yet. Et cetra. More often than not, good and evil are used as verbal bludgeons to eradicate neccessary subtlety.

But I do think Jimbo (as we Wikipedianistas call him) captures an essential truth here. As much as being good makes sense, the only side in all these sorry affairs that are close to good are the wikipedians.

Lemme pause for a bit, to work out what we are talking about. You can't have missed it, can you? The Seigenthaler affair? And numerous anti-wikipedia rantings from the popular press?

We need to work out what the reality is here. People should ignore the crap that's been in the media about this. Even the Guardian is horribly wrong in its reporting of the case. Let's sum up the Seigenthaler affair:

  1. Vandal posts garbage to Seigenthaler's entry. (It wasn't initially clear in fact that it was a vandal. It could have been just another conspiracy nut who genuinely believed in what he was posting.)
  2. Someone attempts to remove the information, but does so by pasting in copyrighted information. That's bad. It gets reverted to the vandalised version.
  3. Seigenthaler finds out, and contacts Jimbo. Immediately, the page is reverted.
  4. Seigenthaler wants the real life identity of the vandal. Jimbo can't oblige.

The only thing that really went wrong was step 2. Many many articles get vandalised every day on wikipedia. Statistics show no recent rise in vandalism. It's bad if vandalism is left unreverted for a long time, but it happens. Seigenthaler is not a particularly important person, so no one checks his article.

4 is a real problem here. It's the thing that's been siezed on by the anti-wikis. They call it accountability. But they haven't thought through what this entails:

  1. First, you can't do it to existing edits. Wikipedia just doesn't have that information on file, and if it does, it would be breaching the agreement it made with all of its registered users.
  2. It's not practical with current technology. IP addresses, email addresses and so on are all unreliable forms of ID on the internet. The only way to make it work is to have a compulsary internet identification scheme on the national/international level, and clearly setting something like that up is not wikipedia's responsibility.
  3. It's hard to restrict. Granting this 'accountability' would be unparalleled on the internet. Even Brittanica does not provide this sort of information on its authors. If it works with wikipedia, then such legislation is easily extended to internet forums, blogs, personal websites…
  4. It is horrifically dangerous. Remember how children are taught not to give away emails or home addresses on IRC. Ditto here. Editors are vulnerable, and facing real life threats would be a terrifically chilling effect on freedom of speech. I have spoken to an editor who is scared for his life following the Seigenthaler affair, because a right-wing radical christian group has claimed that his edits to remove bias from an article on Pedophiles makes him a pedophile, and he fears these people can discover his real life identity. This works with politicians too - it is all too plausible in today's society for an employer to fire employees who are percieved to have edited various controversial articles with a bias. This 'accountability' will simply restrict control of knowledge to those who can afford the lawyers. In reality, the system of transparency, and the idea of demanding NPOV and verifiability does work on wikipedia, has worked on wikipedia, and is the only thing that can work with wikipedia.

The thing is, the refutations from wikipedia's proponents have always been rather weak. Why? Because wikipedians are just too nice. The reason wikipedians take part in wikipedia is because they believe in the value of the Project, and buy into the massively optimist view of humanity contained within. (See the wikipedia guideline Assume Good Faith for an example) The reason for opposition to wikipedia, in particular the acidic, misleading, vindictive opposition that appears these days, however, are darker.

Why do these people oppose wikipedia? Because a successful wikipedia threatens their own interests. Media sources, which earn money by controlling information with copyright, fears wikipedia. Encyclopedia Britannica, whose editor has made the most vocal attacks on wikipedia, obviously fears wikipedia. The assorted banned users obviously have a personal vendetta. Neccessarily, those whose livelihoods are based on an information monopoly fear attempts to free this information.

Wikipedia needs to win this war.

To help, see link

Or help edit an article!


September 26, 2005

Now this is repulsive

Writing about web page http://www.sundaymirror.co.uk/news/news/tm_objectid=16170720%26method=full%26siteid=62484%26headline=exclusive%2d%2dmaxine%2ds%2dsick%2dvisit%2dto%2dgraves-name_page.html

No, I don't normally read the Sunday Mirror. (or any other tabloid) Those who know me know me as a Guardian reading lefty, and proud of it. Still, I came across a copy on the bus yesterday, and allowed my eyes to stray over the headline.

EXCLUSIVE: MAXINE'S SICK VISIT TO GRAVES

Maxine, of course, would be Maxine Carr, the woman notable in her involvement in the Soham Murders. Also, tabloid enemy number one. So, what has she done now? What is it that the Sunday Mirror finds so utterly outrageous?

She decided to visit, in private, the murdered girls' grave. Where she wept, and left teddy bears. And even worse:

Yet Carr – jailed for lying to protect the girls' killer Ian Huntley – wants to return EVERY YEAR.

Oh my lord, the horror, the horror.

Really. The horror. This, people, is a vision of the future. The Mirror, one of the UK's largest papers, has now decreed remorse to be a crime. When Maxine, whose only connection to the case was that she stood by her trusted boyfriend and provided a false alibi, decides to visit the grave of his victims to express her regret, and to try to make her peace with the dead, she is branded as a sick villain.

Why is the Mirror doing this? It moans about the cost of protecting her anonymity, but then publishes her address every now and then, leading her to recieve death threats. It moans about her getting educated in psychology. It notes, with bloodthirsty relish, her attempts at suicide. Do most of the readers of the Mirror visit the Soham girls' graves? Do the staff of the Mirror go there, ever? Why do they so want to hold this wound open to fester and rot? The explanation is pure, simple greed, and here they are trying to elevate themselves morally, making themselves the great noble judge, the crusader for justice.

Now this is sick. Gut wrenchingly, vomit-inducingly sick.

And yet, people still keep buying the newspaper. Any readers here to tell me why?


September 12, 2005

At least it isn't the science section anymore

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/science/story/0,12996,1567977,00.html

Today was the Guardian's first edition in the new 'Berliner' version. Plenty of hype, of course. My thoughts on this is that, well, big deal. The format should be a bit more convenient, but I've gotten rather adept already with the old folding contorting gesticulating game. As for 'everything is going to change', and the loss of the special science section, that was scary, but I reckoned that they wouldn't neglect their core audience.

Which is why I am currently angry. So angry that if I knew where their offices were, I'd be marching down there with a bunch of friends to demand the old science section back. If I had any friends.

Anyways.

What they've done here that made me so angry is a bunch of things. First, they've turned the science section into a daily spread. Fine. That's ok. And then they decided to call it Ideas.

Ideas? What the hell does Ideas mean? Hey, let's all vote for the BNP. That's an idea, isn't it? Floral print is an interesting idea for jolly clothing. Do you have any idea the size of the queue today?

The trouble with ideas is that like rectums, everyone's got one. Sure, ideas are part of science. But that's not just it. What is neccessary is also a rigorous and as-objective-as-possible means of discriminating between them, to reject what is false and then to examine even deeper what we fail to reject. Bush was talking gibberish when he was on about teaching all sides of the story. We haven't the time to deal with the infinity of crap out there without a shred of evidence to support.

Science isn't about ideas. Science is about wonder and skepticism together. Science is about getting to truth. Why don't they just call the damn section truth, and be done with it? Or maybe just science?

Well, apparently because they want to publish interviews with folk like Michael Behe.

Behe is a crank. Behe works at the Discovery Institute, whose official goal is the so called wedge strategy, to redefine science and to cement religion into US life. In short, to make the USA into a theocracy. Behe's contribution to this is the idea of so-called irreducible complexity, the idea that things are too simple to have evolved naturally. (This is a point many people get wrong. Behe states that evolution is complexity linear, and so will never arrive at efficient systems.) Irreducible complexity is one of the few falsifiable points of creationism, but it has been falsified again and again.

So, what was the Guardian doing interviewing someone who persists in stating things that are just plain wrong? Who is a known distorter of the facts? What was it doing failing to point out the endless refutations which exist for everything Behe says? Your guess is as good as mine.

Lemme analyse a few tit bits:

Everybody – even Richard Dawkins – sees design in biology. You see this design when you see co-ordinated parts coming together to perform a function – like in a hand.

Behe immediately muddies the water. Keep track now… What Behe is on about now is organisation. Organisation is fine. Behe now renames organisation as appearance of design. I mean, in many, many things, pieces come together to perform a higher task. The organisation of the markets out of individual traders, for example. Behe now calls this appearance of design.

You can't just have one part work a little bit then add another part and have it work a little bit better. And that's the sort of thing Darwinian evolution would have to do, if it was true.

Strawman number one. Darwinian evolution isn't about adding things. Evolution is about just change in genetic material. Evolution can also be taking things away. But we can still wait, because Behe hasn't shown life to be a mousetrap, yet.

I see it as straightforward empirical observation. One analogy I like to use is to Mount Rushmore. If you had never heard of Mount Rushmore, you would see immediately the images of four people and immediately recognise that to be design. There wouldn't be any question of metaphysics there. You can tell that something was designed from its physical structure.

Really? Now that is a metaphysical question. Let's do a thought experiment.

Suppose you are an alien. You have never seen a human before. You have no concept of a face, and have never seen a construction engineer, never seen dynamite, and have no knowledge of Earth landforms. Would you really conclude that Mount Rushmore was designed?

And we can do better. What about pareidolia – the finding of patterns that don't exist? Faces, in particular. The Virgin Mary in cheese sandwiches. Does Behe really think these are designed?

It's not a matter of knowing about Mount Rushmore. It's about a number of distinct requirements to allow us to recognise design.

1. We have a designer in mind – Humans, or even more specifically, human americans. (As opposed to non-human americans, I suppose.)
2. From this designer, we have a set of things we are looking for. For Mount Rushmore, it's the fact that it looks like a face. For the motor car, it's the fact that it takes us places.
3. We know of a set of processes by which our designer could have produced the design.

Note that we have all of the above when judging Rushmore, none of the above when judging the Cheese sandwich, and none of the above when judging life. This makes the latter two at best a matter of faith, and at worst complete garbage.

It's that you can see that there are quite literally machines in the cell. Machines made out of molecules. It's not just the intelligent design people who use this term. It's widely used in molecular biology. If you look in any of the science literature you will see that they talk about "machines".

Strawman number two. Biologists mean a different thing from Behe here. Machines are just systems that do things. The use of the word machine doesn't mean biologists accept design. He's trying to steal a word.

No. I'm just trying to explain the bacterial flagellum. You see, this is one problem I always run into. I see this flagellum and say, "Gee whiz! It looks designed," and then people come along and say, "Well, you're trying to say that the whole world was created by some superagency." No. I'm just focusing on this area in biochemistry.

But you see, Behe isn't. Behe's whole argument rests on his incapability to explain the flagellum. The fact is, other people have actually been trying to explain the flagellum, and they've outline at least two possible ways with evidence to support them. Meanwhile, all Behe has done is to sit around and chant - it isn't possible.

Yes. We're at the molecular level of biology and from physics we know that's where it ends.

What, now, is biology? Behe takes a lurch into the metaphysical here. We say that biology ends at the molecular level, because biology is a field we define ourselves. Life itself is a very hard thing to define in a non-arbitary level. There is no rule in physics that there may not be biological influences from beneath the molecular. Behe finds it very easy to accept invisible intelligences, but very hard to consider the existence of undiscovered laws of nature.

All that the evidence from biochemistry points to is some very intelligent agent.

And here's the final nail in the coffin. Biochemistry doesn't understand the concept of intelligence. No one, and I mean no one, understands the concept of intelligence. The whole intelligence word is an ancient and insoluble concept in philosophy.

Behe is using the idea because he doesn't know what he means, and he can safely count on no one else knowing either. He's using it just because he needs to segue into his Discovery Institute job. But even if his argument succeeds, he's only disproven a very strict definition of evolution. Consider following alternatives that have no trace of intelligence, but also have the same amount (zero) of evidence, and the same (negligible) probability…. (The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a false start here. We need something unintelligent, not just dumb.)

  • Quantum evolution – evolution proceeding beneath the level of his irreducible complexity
  • Order principle – special cases to laws of mathematical chance, favouring life
  • Multiple universes – we just happen to be in the right one
  • Molecular telepathy – non linear causality in evolution

The list is provably infinite.

And meanwhile, the final question the interviewer can come up with:

Did Galileo come to mind?

Presumeably, the bit where he licks Behe's boots was deleted from the final version.


September 01, 2005

A Zombie Apocalypse

Writing about web page http://urbandead.com/

Hey, with the world going to hell, what better than to escape into a fantasy undead rising? At least, this is one disaster that isn't terribly likely to happen, right? Right?

So, go play Urban Dead now…

Essentially, it's a text based MMORPG. So, graphically and stuff, it isn't terribly impressive. It isn't even technically impressive. But it's good fun. Basically, you play a human survivor in a dawn of the dead type scenario. Every half hour, you get an Action Point to do stuff, and you can save up to 50 of those. You spend your action points hitting stuff (or more typically, missing stuff), moving about (the game world is huge. 10,000 tiles, with about 80% of them containing an indoor tile) and performing various actions. The trick is that if you get killed, you become a zombie, and get to hunt down and chew up braiinss… And the zombies get the advantage that they can't permanently be killed….

So essentially, the humans hide.

Basically, they barricade themselves into safehouses and go out hunting now and then to discourage zombies from gathering. The zombies tend to bash on the doors a bit, and then move on in search of easier targets.

It's kinda interesting watching order emerge in the game world. While the author is himself updating the game now and then, the more dramatic changes in gameplay come from the players themselves. See, after a while, the zombie start getting organised. While before 5 or 6 might attack, rumours are now circulating of a vast horde that have gathered. Over 100 zombies who actually coordinate their attacks, and use human informants and PKers to help out. These guys have simply steamrollered their way through. So suddenly, recently, the balance of power has swung towards the zombies. Even though the humans have tried to form their own groups, they don't work nearly so well together…

So, join the game. Have a go. Help us beleagured humans out. You might enjoy it.


July 20, 2005

Leopold II of Belgium

Interesting documentary on last night. Bet none of you saw it. It was on around midnight, on BBC2, and you were probably busy paying back that sleep debt. Well, I watched it. It was pretty good. Considering the subject – systematic atrocities resulting in the deaths of 3 – 20 Million people.

Pretty awful, hmm? But more surprising is the year. We've been getting used to such numbers in the bloody mess of the mid-late 20th century, over the world wars and the famines and so on. But this was in 1885 – 1906. A time where the world population was only around 1.7 billion. 20 Million people is more than 1% of that number. Over that period, 1 in 100 people in the entire world was killed in Congo, because of one man, King Leopold II of Belgium.

When we see such numbers, what strikes us is the insanity of it. Hitler and the rest and in the end somewhat convenient to us. We can say that these people were insane, blinded by crazy ideology. Murderous monsters, irrational creatures of hate. We can say to ourselves – we recognise such evil. We can avoid it, stop it, prevent such atrocities from recurring.

But Leopold's crimes are different. He was very much rational, very much reasonable in his actions. His motivation was simple – personal profit.

And for this profit, under the guise of spreading 'civilisation', he purchased as a private citizen a gigantic area in Africa for himself. To maximise his earnings from the growing rubber trade, he created his private armies to enforce his rule. To cower the people with terror to produce more for himself, he ordered the killings, the rapes, the exterminations.

One junior white officer described a raid to punish a village that had protested. The white officer in command: "ordered us to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross."

It was all very logical. Terror works. Leopold's rule was not threatened by rebellion. The white missionaries and so on mostly kept quiet, happy so long as they were left alone to carry on their tasks of conversion. The victims were black, and the guards were black too, enslaved from childhood or recruited from cannibal tribes. The whites giving the orders kept their hands clean. Who cares if black savages killed black savages? What did it matter, so long as the rubber kept coming?

In the end, a handful of people got the truth out. They forced the issue into the public agenda with photographs and pamphlets. They persuaded the missionaries to put their humanity before their faith and speak out. They persuaded the merchants to put their humanity before their purses and give funding. Leopold, cornered, commissioned a report, hoping to whitewash over the whole thing. But even the loyalists he appointed to write it were horrified by what they saw.

So the King gave up his land to Belgium. He was paid 50 million francs in gratitude. The Congo enterprise had earned him 200 million Euros in today's money, but he was the most hated man in Europe. He died a year later.

And then, Belgium forgot. The King had burned all his papers, and his supporters were now able to rewrite history. Never mind the endless eyewitness accounts – the witnesses were dying now, of old age and of Belgium's own colonialisms. The supporters pointed to the great buildings Leopold had built with his wealth, created the image of the great civiliser. Statues of the King began to pop up. Britain and the rest could have disapproved, but they were busy. The Great War was starting, and suddenly Belgium was plucky little Belgium, holding back the Kaiser. The old rabble rousers were disappearing. Morel, the british champion of the congolese was discredited for his anti-war views. Harris, a priest who spoke out, was executed as an Irish nationalist.

One of the greatest holocausts of history disappeared. Leopold wins.


July 07, 2005

Well, we've been attacked

Writing about web page http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/news/archives/2005/07/07/explosions_plunge_london_into_chaos.html

The picture in London is rapidly clarifying into a series of coordinated terrorist bombings. Pretty soon, I suppose, the recriminations and the real panic will begin. I think everyone is pretty numb right now.

Jesus fucking christ.

Of course, this attack is a surprise to nobody. We've been predicting attacks on the UK all along. Unlike after 9/11, there isn't going to be a sudden awakening. We know why they hate us. We know (probably) who they are.

Fucking hell.

There is very little, it seems to me, that we could have done. Doubtlessly, people are going to be appending this to the ID card bill. But this is one of those attacks that such a bill will not help. The public transport system is just too big, too broad to be included in an identification scheme. By definition, such a system has to be vulnerable.

Another 'obvious' statement to make is that this has something to do with the Olympics. Of course, the timing is very unfortunate, and will lead to maximum world visibility. But it is deeply unlikely that an attack can be organised to such detail in 24 hours. Speculation will happen, but it won't be accurate.

Shit.

We need to remember this attack changes nothing. Iraq is still as it is before. The issue of security and rights are still unchanged. The risk of being attacked is still the same, now that one has succeeded. We must not be taken away by the emotional tides, and let our fear and terror betray us.

But….


June 13, 2005

Probability Puzzle Time!

Writing about web page http://www.gchq.gov.uk/recruitment/careers/math_apply.html

This puzzle from the GCHQ recruitment website has completely flummouxed me. I suspect there is some sort of general method to dealing with stuff like this, but I have no idea what it is.

2. Alice and Bob play coin toss: Alice pays Bob £1 for each head and Bob pays Alice £1 for each tail they throw. They continue playing until one player loses (runs out of money). Initially Alice has £6 and Bob has £14.

a. Determine, with proof, the probability that Alice loses.
b. Determine the probability that Alice loses but also has at some time previously been within £1 of winning.


June 11, 2005

How Much Effect Is There From the Sea?

Follow-up to Humanity's Greenhouse Footprint from The Militant Wing of Pacifism

CS responded to one of the previous posts with:

A little known fact is that much of the world's CO2 is stored in sea-water, and a rise in temperature reduces the water's capability to retain CO2, so the oceans give off CO2 as they warm. While I don't have exact figures to hand, I think the contribution of natural warming to CO2 levels in this manner is significant.

I pretty much ignored it, previously, because it wasn't really significant to my point – even if human global warming is triggering other carbon sources, this still counts as human caused climate change, in that it wouldn't be happening if we weren't releasing. It just adds a degree of superfluous indirectness to the preceeding. It didn't occur to me to investigate this particular 'fact'.

So, from RealClimate :

This question keeps coming back, although we know the answer very well: all of the recent CO2 increase in the atmosphere is due to human activities, in spite of the fact that both the oceans and the land biosphere respond to global warming.

Why? Because we've actually measured the Carbon content of the seas. The following is pasted pretty much directly from that entry. (Because I can't get blockquotes working right…) They've given references, so you can check up their assessments if you desire:

Pasted section begins

On time-scales of ~100 years, there are only two reservoirs that can naturally exchange large quantities of CO2 with the atmosphere: the oceans and the land biosphere (forests and soils). The mass of carbon (carbon is the "C" in CO2) must be conserved. If the atmospheric CO2 increase was caused, even in part, by carbon emitted from the oceans or the land, we would measure a carbon decrease in these two reservoirs.

Number of observations of carbon decreasing in the global oceans: zero.

Number of observations of carbon increasing in the global oceans: more than 20 published studies using 6 independent methods.
The methods are:
(1) direct observations of the partial pressure of CO2 at the ocean surface (Takahashi et al. 2002),
(2) observations of the spatial distribution of atmospheric CO2 which show how much carbon goes in and out of the different oceanic regions (Bousquet et al. 2000),
(3) observations of carbon, oxygen, nutrients and CFCs combined to remove the mean imprint of biological processes (Sabine et al. 2004),
(4) observations of carbon and alkalinity for two time-periods combined with an estimate of water age based on CFCs (McNeil et al. 2002), and the simultaneous observations of atmospheric CO2 increase and the decrease in (5) oxygen (Keeling et al. 1996), and (6) carbon 13 (Ciais et al. 1995) in the atmosphere.

The principle of the last two methods is that both fossil fuel burning and biospheric respiration consume oxygen and reduce carbon 13 as they produce CO2, but the exchange of CO2 with the oceans has only a small impact on atmospheric oxygen and carbon 13. The measure of atmospheric CO2 increase together with oxygen or carbon 13 decrease gives the distribution between the different reservoirs.

All the estimates show that the carbon content of the oceans is increasing by 2±1 PgC every year (current burning of fossil fuel is 7 PgC per year). One method is able to go back in time and shows that the carbon content of the oceans has increased by 118±19 PgC in the last 200 years. There is some uncertainty about the exact amount that the oceans have taken up, but not about the direction of the change. The oceans cannot be a source of carbon to the atmosphere, because we observe them to be a sink of carbon from the atmosphere.

Why are the ocean and land taking up carbon, when we know that warming of the oceans reduces the solubility of CO2 and warming of the land accelerates bacterial degradation of the soils? The answer is that warming is not the only process that influences the oceans and land biosphere. The dominant process in the oceans is the response to increasing atmospheric CO2 itself.


June 09, 2005

Bellamy KO'ed by Scientific Fact

Follow-up to Lies, Damned Lies, and Global Warming Deniers from The Militant Wing of Pacifism

Well, it seems that Monbiot has won his little spat with David Bellamy. That would be the Bellamy I blogged about previously for making crap up about Global Warming. He's just been kicked out from the Centre for Alternative Technology for:

Some of Prof Bellamy’s recent published statements seem to be flying in the face of the considered opinion of the majority of the scientific community. Such statements are clearly inconsistent with the standpoint of CAT.

Of course, it would be unseemly for me to gloat too excessively at his personal misfortune, but really, if you want to pick a fight, then you really need to make sure the facts are at least partially on your side. On subjective issues of judgement, there is always plenty of wriggle room in any argument, but if your statements are based on complete and utter lies, then you are just looking like an idiot.

This has been blogged about somewhat, here and here.


June 06, 2005

Silly, silly poll on religion

Writing about web page http://wid.ap.org/polls/050606religion.html

So, some people are raving and ranting about the results of a new poll by AP.

Most of this is stating the complete bleeding obvious. Of course the US is more religious than Canada and the UK and stuff. But some of the claims being made by the poll are pretty silly. And if you look carefully, you will find that the poll was in fact badly done.

The specifically dubious claim is that:

Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith is important to them, and only 2 per cent said they do not believe in God.

Now, let's dig up the actual results:

Now, they've all focused on that first single entry:

  • I don't believe in God.

But check out some of the other entries:

  • I don't know whether there is a God, and I don't believe there is a way to find out.

  • I don't believe in a personal God, but I believe there is a higher power of some sort.

  • Not sure.

By the definition of belief, all of the above in fact qualify as not believing in God. If you don't know whether X exists, obviously you don't believe in its existence. You just don't believe in it's non-existence either. And an impersonal God is indistinguishible from a natural law – many scientists, such as Einstein, believed for example in the universality of a natural order, and they don't believe in God. And if you are not sure what you believe in, how can you make the positive statement that you believe in God?

Here's the thing. Implicit in the question was the definition of 'not believing in God' as 'believing in the absence of God'. Now, this is an incredibly strong and irrational statement to make, and the vast majority of self-declared atheists would not agree with it. No scientist worth his/her salt would dare make such a statement.

That's why it is hugely misleading for the above ranters to treat this latest poll as proof of the end of secularism in the US, or whatever. Rest assured, fellow comrades, there is still some sanity in the old US of A.


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