Science: August 2007 Archives

John Edwards' Faith

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I was reading an old entry from that I'd saved in my RSS reader until I had more time. It includes some of the Democratic presidential candidates' discussions of religion. I have a few comments on three of the candidates, but I'm going to treat them in separate posts, starting with John Edwards.

O’BRIEN: What do you say to all the people — and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it’s about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it’s perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

Is that even coherent? I mean everything after the "No" is coherent, but given the question asked, and his initial answer, can he coherently say what he goes on to say? I'm having trouble imagining how unless Edwards is a relativist about religious truth such that these people are correct in their six-day creationism while he is correct in his acceptance of evolution as consistent with his faith.

One reason I worry that that's going on is his answer to the question about gay marriage. He goes on to say that he has a personal belief against gay marriage but doesn't think he could as president enforce his personal religious views. I'm sure that's how many Christians will view these statements, but I think it's a mistake.

Mercury in New York City

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One quarter of adult NYC dwellers have elevated mercury levels. I'd like to know the rate of autism incidence in NYC as compared with other places with lower rates of elevated mercury. Does anyone know how to find such numbers?

Computer Poker Programs

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Geekpress linked to an interesting article on computer poker programs that are now becoming competitive with human poker champions. They're talking as if this is a level beyond Deep Blue for chess, and there's something to that. What's involved in beating a human poker champion is way beyond beating a human chess champion, at least when it comes to programming a computer. Still, there's something that seemed fairly problematic in how they're measuring the success of these computer poker programs, at least from how the article's presentation seemed to me to describe it. (I won't rule out the possibilities that unclarities in the article have disguised what they're doing.)

One crucial thing the article doesn't distinguish is very important for poker. It appears that some computer programs can play against some human players and play competitively against them. That's one measurement of how good a computer poker program is. But a more interesting measure would be to compare (a) how well the computer programs do against people with (b) how well the human players do against people. In other words, could the computer programs beat a novice like me as easily as the human champions do? Could they beat a champion as often as another champion could? Simply showing that they can beat champions almost as often as the champions beat them is something. But I'd be interested to see if they can handle human opponents as well as human players do. That seems to require a different play setup than just having all the humans play all the computer programs.



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