14 September, 2010

When a complete moron meets an absolute idiot

Irish politicians can be stupid, like Dermot Ahern. Or very stupid, like Willie O'Dea. But occasionally they are so stupendously stupid that it defies all belief....

Meet Conor Lenihan (our complete moron).

This man is the Minister for Science, a position you might think entails encouraging the best in science and rational thought. Why then, you might ask, did this complete moron agree to attend the launch of "The Origin of Specious Nonsense", an anti-evolution book by a crank called John May (our absolute idiot)?

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with idiots launching books, but I do have a problem with a highly-paid public servant - who is supposed to be the Minister of Freakin' Science - actively promoting it. The fact that he eventually withdrew from the launch is irrelevant. He should have never even flirted with the idea. Hell, he should have been fundamentally opposed to it to begin with!

Let's have a quick look at what he almost gave an official Irish government stamp of approval to. From May's website:

Eh, what? H2O is oxygen. Oh and evolution doesn't explain astrophysics, THEREFORE IT'S WRONG!!!!!! TAKE THAT EVOLUTIONISTS!!!!!

His painfully stupid '15 tennis ball' analogy shows his complete ignorance of evolution, probability and large numbers. As I explain here (scroll down to no 12 on the page), his error is that he is predicting in advance what the outcome will be - all balls to land in a circle in correct order. This is not analogous to how evolution works so he is simply attacking against a strawman. The balls have to end up in some orientation, just as life had to evolve in some way. In fact, it is actually evolution deniers who believe that life improbably *poofed* into existence fully formed. May is so stupid that he doesn't even realise his astronomical numbers argument goes against his own beliefs.

But not only is the subject matter laughable - it is full of grammatical errors. Indeed, he is clearly unimpressed by the modest comma and yet he can't seem! to! fit! quite! enough! exclamation! marks! in! (hmm, a true sign of a scholarly genius?). Bad grammar is no crime of course, but along with the basic language used in his book (see here for a sneak preview), this suggests that May is less than proficient in the brain department (fittingly for a friend of Minister Lenihan it would seem). For example, take these quotes as attributed to May in the Irish Times:

In publicity material for the launch of his book on the theory of evolution, Mr May accused “Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C Dennett, et al” of having sacrificed reason on the altar of Chance, Mutations, Randomness . . . Mr May called on “the world’s atheists, scientists, evolutionists plus tens of millions of their duped followers” to stop pretending they had “any facts whatsoever to support the greatest deceit in the history of science”.

No facts! Eh, try here and here for starters.

Furthermore, with respect to the bolded phrase above, an acquaintance of mine who is a notable Irish physicist and accomplished debater mused...

We used to get first years to work the phrase "sacrificed [noun] on the altar of [another noun]" into their debates as a kind of an in-joke in debating circles. It was such a hackneyed cliche that it would be a silent nod to older debaters from other teams that these were freshers and to go easy on them.

Speaks volumes.

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