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The Islamic Case for Scientific Empiricism and Skepticism toward Supernatural Phenomena

In answer to questions regarding people observing miracles

I would explore all possible scientific explanations for seemingly miraculous events before thinking of supernatural causes. Even if there is no scientific explanation now, one may find such an explanation one day. As I mention in my essays on why God allows evil to exist and on reconciling Islam and the theory of evolution, one of God’s self-imposed rules is the principle of plausible deniability: God never performs anything provably supernatural for us to see.  God always wants Himself to be hidden from us. That is what His dual attributes of al-Ẓāhir al-Bāṭin (The Clearly Visible, the Hidden) refer to. God is everywhere to be seen for a person who has faith in Him. But He is also completely hidden from direct observation.

We hear stories about some person’s friend’s relative who saw a clear and obvious miracle but miraculously failed to take a video of it. Rather than believing such stories, if we were to take the Quran seriously, we would be as skeptical about them as an atheist is. We fully believe in the miracles mentioned in the Quran, but we also believe the Quran when it says God will no longer show us any miracles that force us to believe in Him.

God is involved in our lives every moment of every day, but, and this is a very important point, He never provably involves Himself in our lives. He will always leave sufficient room for doubt so that when He answers a prayer we can always later say it was actually just an accident that the prayer came true. God does not want us to see Him or see effects of His actions directly. He wants our faith in Him to be a completely free and unforced choice. He wants us to proactively appreciate Him and love Him. He does not want us to passively be forced by external evidence to submit to Him.

I occasionally get messages from Muslims asking what “proof” there is that God exists and that Islam is the true religion. They have the mistaken idea that it is the job of Islamic scholars to prove Islam for them. They got it backward: It is their job to seek God and seek proofs of the correctness of Islam. Islamic scholars can help, but ultimately the business of faith is a personal business between each person and God. God has zero need for people. A person who fails to do their homework of proactively seeking God has no one to blame but themselves on the Day of Judgment.

HTML, CSS & JavaScript for Complete Beginners Code Examples

var text = 
    'And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must '
  + 'stand a minute or two here on the bridge '
  + 'and look at it, though the clouds are '
  + 'threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. '
  + 'Even in this leafless time of departing February '
  + 'it is pleasant to look at,–perhaps the chill, '
  + 'damp season adds a charm to the trimly kept, '
  + 'comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms '
  + 'and chestnuts that shelter it from the '
  + 'northern blast. ';
  
var text_analyzer = {
    current_text : text,
    get_words_array : function() {
        var text = this.current_text;
        var split_text = text.split(' ');
        return split_text;
    },
    count_words : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var length = words_array.length;
        return length;
    },
    get_average_word_length : function() {
      var all_word_lengths = 0;
      var words_array = this.get_words_array();
      for(var i in words_array) {
          var current_word = words_array[i];
          all_word_lengths = all_word_lengths +
              current_word.length;
      }
      return all_word_lengths / words_array.length;
    },
    get_longest_word : function() {
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        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(current_word.length > 
                longest_length_seen_so_far) {
                longest_word = current_word;
                longest_length_seen_so_far =
                    current_word.length;
            }
        }
        return longest_word;
    },
    get_word_frequencies : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var word_frequencies = {};
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(! (current_word in word_frequencies)) {
                word_frequencies[current_word] = 1;
            }
            else {
                var previous_frequency = 
                    word_frequencies[current_word];
                var new_frequency = previous_frequency
                    + 1;
                word_frequencies[current_word] =
                    new_frequency;
            }
        }
        return word_frequencies;
    },
};

function print_object(the_object) {
    document.write('{
'); for(var i in the_object) { var key = i; var value = the_object[i]; document.write('"' + key + '"'); document.write(' : '); if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value); } document.write('
'); } document.write('}
'); } function print_array(the_array) { document.write('[
'); for(var i in the_array) { var value = the_array[i]; if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value + ','); } } document.write(']
'); } document.write(text_analyzer.get_word_frequencies()['on']);

Chapter 12 “Program” starting code:


 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 12 four rectangles example. Remove the lines that say “remove this line” otherwise the code will not work.



Rectangle 1
Rectangle 2
Rectangle 3
Rectangle 4

Chapter 13 cookie-related code:

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors?

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Chapter 24 Reading Journal example (live demo)


My Reading Journal

  • Rebecca Stott, Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution 2012
  • David W. Deamer, First Life: Discovering the Connections Between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began 2011
  • Alister E. McGrath, Dawkins’ God: From The Selfish Gene to The God Delusion 2015

The Quran and the Shape of the Earth: Is It Round or Flat?

There is some propaganda on the Internet about the Quran suggesting the earth is flat. They do not mention that respected and highly orthodox Islamic scholars like Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim all believed the earth to be round. They also refer to a fatwa by Ibn Baaz (a follower of Wahhabism, a version of Islam probably followed by less than 1% of the world’s Muslims) who said that no Muslim has the right to say that the earth is round. To anti-Islam propagandists the opinion and thinking of 99% of Muslims can be dismissed in favor of the fringe 1% since it helps validate their prejudices against Islam when they can focus only on the most negative examples of Muslims they can find.

Sheikh Yasir Qadhi writes:

I was in a discussion yesterday with a young Muslim struggling with his faith. He mentioned that he had read from sources critical to Islam that the Quran clearly contradicts known facts and represents the world-view of its time (7th century CE). And of the most blatant examples, according to him, was that the Quran clearly preaches that the world is flat. Now, I have said and firmly believe that the genre of 'scientific miracles in the Quran' that we all grew up reading is in fact a dangerous genre, because it reads in 'facts' where no such facts exist, and because it posits one's faith on a purely scientific basis (so that when 'science', which is ever-evolving, might seem to contradict the Quran, this will lead to a weakness of faith). Nonetheless, to claim that the Quran preaches that the world is flat is an outrageous claim. In fact there is unanimous consensus amongst medieval Muslim scholars to the contrary.

Ibn Hazm (d. 1064 CE), wrote over a thousand years ago in his book al-Fisal, "I do not know of a single scholar worth the title of scholar who claims other than that the earth is round. Indeed the evidences in the Quran and Sunnah are numerous to this effect" [al-Fisal, v. 2 p. 78].

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328 CE), someone who is typically accused of literalism, wrote that there is unanimous consensus of all the scholars of Islam that the world is round, and that reality and perception also proves this, for, as he writes, it is well known that the Sun sets on different peoples at different times, and does not set on the whole world at the same time. In fact, writes Ibn Taymiyya, it is truly an ignorant person who claims that the earth is not round. [Majmu al-Fatawa, v. 6, p. 586]. And there are many others scholars, such as al-Razi, who wrote on this subject, and I do not know of any medieval scholar who held another view.

It is true that most of the Quranic verses on this issue are vague; there is no strong proof one way or another. There are verses like the following which could be referring to a flat earth or they may just be using literary language to speak of God’s active and highly thoughtful and considerate involvement in the design of the earth for the specific benefit of humans:

15:19 And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.

20:53 He Who has, made for you the earth like a carpet spread out; has enabled you to go about therein by roads (and channels); and has sent down water from the sky.” With it have We produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others.

43:10 (Yea, the same that) has made for you the earth (like a carpet) spread out, and has made for you roads (and channels) therein, in order that ye may find guidance (on the way);

50:7 And the earth- We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs)

The Quran says:

"He created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): He wraps the night up in the day, and wraps the day up in the night." (Surah az-Zumar 5)

The word used for “wrap” is kawwara, which is used in Arabic to refer to wrapping something around a spherical thing, such as wrapping a turban around the head. The Arabic word for ball is kura, from the same root. In Arabic all words belonging to the same root have a similar theme to them; when the Quran says the night is wrapped around the day and uses kawwara, this creates the image of darkness overcoming a spherical thing in the mind. It is extremely silly to say there is no suggestion of the earth’s roundness in this verse.

The Quran also uses daḥāhā (”he threw it in a rolling motion”) in verse 79:30  to refer to God creating earth in space. The Meccan children used to play a game with stones similar to marbles that they called al-madāḥi (from the same root as daḥāhā). The root of this word brings up the image of a stone rolling, which is again in consonance with a round earth.

In another place, 41:11, it speaks of interstellar dust gathering to form the earth. It also speaks of the expansion of the universe:

We constructed the universe through power, and We are expanding it. (Verse 51:47)

A fair-minded reader of the Quran will find in it some incredibly suggestive hints toward its truth (such as the strange mention of the expansion of the universe) while not finding anything in it that clearly and unequivocally says the earth is flat. A person who starts out by thinking the earth is flat can certainly re-interpret everything in the Quran to make it support their theory. But such a person’s opinion stands against the opinion of the vast majority of scholars, who also studied the Quran and found it to support a round earth theory.

The flat earth issue in Islam is therefore made up of a fringe group of Islamic scholars, atheists and anti-Islam propagandists saying the earth is flat, and 99% of the world’s Muslims since the Middle Ages saying the earth is round.

JavaScript for Complete Beginners Code Examples

var text = 
    'And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must '
  + 'stand a minute or two here on the bridge '
  + 'and look at it, though the clouds are '
  + 'threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. '
  + 'Even in this leafless time of departing February '
  + 'it is pleasant to look at,–perhaps the chill, '
  + 'damp season adds a charm to the trimly kept, '
  + 'comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms '
  + 'and chestnuts that shelter it from the '
  + 'northern blast. ';
  
var text_analyzer = {
    current_text : text,
    get_words_array : function() {
        var text = this.current_text;
        var split_text = text.split(' ');
        return split_text;
    },
    count_words : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var length = words_array.length;
        return length;
    },
    get_average_word_length : function() {
      var all_word_lengths = 0;
      var words_array = this.get_words_array();
      for(var i in words_array) {
          var current_word = words_array[i];
          all_word_lengths = all_word_lengths +
              current_word.length;
      }
      return all_word_lengths / words_array.length;
    },
    get_longest_word : function() {
        var longest_length_seen_so_far = 0;
        var longest_word = '';
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(current_word.length > 
                longest_length_seen_so_far) {
                longest_word = current_word;
                longest_length_seen_so_far =
                    current_word.length;
            }
        }
        return longest_word;
    },
    get_word_frequencies : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var word_frequencies = {};
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(! (current_word in word_frequencies)) {
                word_frequencies[current_word] = 1;
            }
            else {
                var previous_frequency = 
                    word_frequencies[current_word];
                var new_frequency = previous_frequency
                    + 1;
                word_frequencies[current_word] =
                    new_frequency;
            }
        }
        return word_frequencies;
    },
};

function print_object(the_object) {
    document.write('{
'); for(var i in the_object) { var key = i; var value = the_object[i]; document.write('"' + key + '"'); document.write(' : '); if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value); } document.write('
'); } document.write('}
'); } function print_array(the_array) { document.write('[
'); for(var i in the_array) { var value = the_array[i]; if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value + ','); } } document.write(']
'); } document.write(text_analyzer.get_word_frequencies()['on']);

Chapter 12 “Program” starting code:


 
 
 
 
 
 

Chapter 12 four rectangles example. Remove the lines that say “remove this line” otherwise the code will not work.



Rectangle 1
Rectangle 2
Rectangle 3
Rectangle 4

Chapter 13 cookie-related code:

Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors?

+ Increase size
- Decrease size

 

The Muslim view of Orientalists

Brother, I've heard that orientalists are westerners studying Islam and their purpose is to cause distortion of knowledge among people about Islam. My question is, what orientalists really are and for what purpose do they study Islam? Thank you.

“Orientalist” is a word that was used to refer to Western scholars of Islam until the middle of the 20th century. It is true that some Orientalists had negative views of Muslims and this affected their research. But on the whole, Orientalists were like any group of Western academics (social scientists, historians), trying to objectively study Islam. The work of Orientalists was perhaps the greatest contribution to the field of Islamic studies in the 20th century. They helped solve various mysteries that Islamic scholars had not solved, for example the origins of the Islamic schools of thought (madhhabs).

Orientalists like Ignaz Goldziher (d. 1921) and Joseph Schacht (d. 1969) had a low opinion of Islamic scholars and they believed that the vast majority of authentic hadith narrations were fabricated by them. Their theories upset many Islamic scholars and made them think there was some sort of conspiracy against Islam (especially since Goldziher was Jewish). Regardless of their motivations, since they were working within a Western academic field, the field continued to develop and refine its theories, so that by 2000 the theory of widespread fabrication of hadith was disproven by other Orientalists (who are no longer called Orientalists), especially the scholar Harald Motzki.

Louis Massignon

The French Orientalist Louis Massignon (1883 – 1962), a Catholic priest, was one of the greatest servants of the Islamic scholarly tradition in the 20th century and worked hard to increase Western respect for Islam. His students include important Islamic scholars and thinkers like Muhammad Abdullah Draz and Ali Shariati, and important Western scholars like George Makdisi who continued his tradition of respecting Islam and Muslims.

So it is unjust to color all Orientalists with the same brush. They were humans with different motivations, but the majority were trying to be objective in their study of Islam.

Additionally, their Western method of study is extremely valuable because it helps encourage balanced and objective discussion of the issues. Their method of study is now being adopted by Islamic scholars throughout the world since it is so valuable. In the past scholars from one school would often refuse to study the works of other schools and would defend their own ideas even if there was evidence that contradicted them. But the Western method of study, which requires publishing one’s ideas in papers that are peer-reviewed by other scholars, makes it impossible to defend false ideas for very long.

In this way, today’s Western field of Islamic studies, which was established by the Orientalists, is helping make the life of Islamic scholars much easier because their research is so objective and high in quality. Examples are the works of Frank Griffel and Kenneth Garden on Imam al-Ghazali, which have helped completely change how we understand this important scholar (they show that he was not against philosophy, quite the opposite).

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Draz on saints

Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Draz (1894 – 1958) with a granddaughter.

In fact, what a saint strives for is not so much to avoid the gross sins, to prevent himself from slipping into the lower strata of morality, as to guard against remaining at an average degree of self-perfection, and always to raise himself to superior levels. The morality of the saints is not a struggle; it is rather a life, with all that life bears in the battle for progress. This is why, during the short intervals in which they rest, they feel called to recommence the task. In the Qur'an, this inner call takes on the form of an express invitation to the Prophet:

When your task is done, start again and strive towards your Lord. (The Quran, verses 94:7-8)

This shows us that, far from allowing a creature to dispense with its struggle, an infinitely broader perspective opens up to pure souls in which to apply their effort. Even when one no longer has to fight against inclinations contrary to the law, one will always have to conquer the inertia of matter, to triumph against the weight of nature in order to soar higher and higher into the heavens.

Muhammad Abdullah Draz, The Moral World of the Qur'an (1951)

 

Terry Pratchett and “The People”

Night Watch art by Marc Simonetti

Upon re-reading (well, re-listening to) Terry Pratchett’s 2002 novel Night Watch yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised with the following passage:

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so, the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.

The quality of Pratchett’s thinking declined sharply from 1999 onward (the 1999 novel The Fifth Elephant is barely 5% as clever as his earlier novels). Night Watch follows the same pattern, but it still has a really good plot and atmosphere that make up for it. I am also glad that it sold so well, since it is a good argument against the Marxism-inspired utopianism that is so common in the West today. America’s Democrats are outraged that the American population dares to vote for people they do not approve of. Hidden between the lines of their rhetoric is the all-pervading assumption that they are too good for the American population.

Did Islamic scholars impede the development of science? A questionable meme

Scholar by Ludwig Deutsch (1895)

Ali Paya (an Iranian professor of philosophy) writes in a 2016 article regarding al-Ghazali’s saying that Islamic jurisprudence is a science that is superior to the non-religious sciences:

Such an attitude, which can be seen both among fuqahā’ and mystics (Ghazzali belonged to both groups) has had a continuous and seriously negative impact upon the healthy development of science and technology in Islamic culture’s ecosystem.1

Is it really surprising that religious scholars should think that their field is more important than other fields? And where is the evidence that their attitude “has had a continuous and seriously negative impact upon the healthy development of science and technology in Islamic culture’s ecosystem”?

Imagine if there had been no religious scholars at all in the Islamic areas. Would their absence have removed this supposed negative influence on the development of science? I would say the opposite is much more likely. Their activities could encouraged intellectual exploration in the following ways:

  • Since the works of Islamic scholars were by far the largest genre of literary production in the Islamic world, their activities may have been essential for the establishment of a book production culture. This culture, in turn, may have enabled non-religious scholars, philosophers and naturalists to get involved in literary production since, thanks to the Islamic scholars, a market had been established that could help them produce and sell their books.
  • Islamic scholars had a need for linguistic knowledge, helping encourage the creation of the most advanced linguistic literature ever written until Europe caught up in the past few centuries. By helping create an independent, non-religious field of knowledge that gained wide acceptance and respect, Islamic scholars helped make secular knowledge respectable and even desirable.
  • Certain Islamic scholars had a strong interest in logic and philosophy, helping maintain interest in these topics and spreading them through their books. Al-Ghazali himself helped popularize the use of Greek logic in Islamic legal theory and theology.

As far as I can tell, the theory that Islamic scholars held back scientific development is nothing but armchair theorizing. It is obvious to certain type of thinker that religious scholars should have a negative influence in this regard. But without strong empirical evidence, this should be treated as groundless hypothesizing; Islamic scholars may have been essential to all intellectual developments the Middle East enjoyed until recently.

It is true that Islamic scholars have at times opposed philosophy and science. But even more scholars have embraced these things and even promoted them. Without a statistical analysis of the number of scholars who tried to impede intellectual progress versus the number who tried to encourage, we know nothing more than the fact that some scholars tried to impede intellectual progress and some scholars tried to encourage it.

For propaganda reasons, there are many (not speaking of Paya) who like to focus on the rare Islamic clerics who espouse anti-modern attitudes while ignoring the far greater number of clerics who fully embrace modern science and knowledge.

When it comes to history, blaming the presence of a certain influence is always a dangerous business because there is no way to conduct experiments to find out whether the blame is really justified. Unless someone goes back in history, removes all or most of the Islamic scholars, then looks to see if centuries later scientific progress happens earlier or later, they should not presume to voice strong opinions on this matter (unless they find another way of empirically testing their hypothesis). For all that we know, the Islamic world may have been far more undeveloped by 1800 had it not been for the influence of Islamic scholars. And there is good reason to believe this, because there are no sustainable civilizations that lack a strong religious basis. Once the religious influence is removed, the civilization enters a phase of slow-motion collapse (low fertility rates being a very good indicator of the civilization’s unsustainbility, as is the case in all modern secularized nations). The presence and activity of Islamic scholars helped maintain Islam’s relevance through time, helping maintain its power over the Islamic world. Had they not done that, Islam could have fallen into irrelevance as happened to Greco-Roman religion.

Of course, Islamic scholars could have done more to promote science. But we can say the same regarding just about anyone.

Jordan Peterson eclipsed Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris in 2018 when it comes to search interest

Jordan Peterson doesn’t really have too many insights to offer, he tries to teach what the best religious mysticism teaches but without the religious ingredient. He may change a few lives, and he may have a good influence on changing many people’s notions about leftism. But I do not expect him to have a lasting effect, because his teachings lack the essential aspect of replicability which religion has. Without replicability, teachings like those of Peterson will fail to spread beyond a small group of true believers.

It is very difficult for parents to ensure that their children grow up morally upright because, as the sociocultural evolutionists Richerson and Boyd point out, the effects of non-parents on children’s values and beliefs are much stronger than the effects of parents.

In Small Gods (1992), the atheist writer Terry Pratchett expresses his belief that it is possible to be a nice and decent human being without having to carry all that religious baggage:

What have I always believed?
That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.
You couldn’t get that on a banner. But the desert looked better already.

Maybe it would have been great if things were really like that. But the reality is that atheists suffer what might be termed the generational devolution of morality. An atheist born to religious parents can perhaps be just as upright as his parents while abandoning their religious ideas. But that is not the true test of irreligious morality. The true test is this: can the atheist bring up children just as morally upright as themselves? And can their children bring up grandchildren just as morally upright as the children?

While a minority will likely be able, through much hard work and care, to bring up morally upright children, for example by having them read the classics, when it comes to the majority, the abandonment of religion always, generation after generation, leads to the abandonment of moral uprightness.

The scientific reason for this might be that religion enables parents to “outsource” the transfer of moral uprightness. The hard work of ingraining all those moral ideals into the brains of your children is done through a society-wide mechanism that is all-pervading, always-on and self-perpetuating (the child acquires the “virus” of religion, likes it and passes it on). Atheists have to “reinvent the wheel” by bringing up morally upright children who believe in the same principles as they themselves believe, without enjoying this vast system of persuasion and perpetuation. If the religious mechanism sounds scary and dystopian, I want to point out that it does not have to be. You can be as kind and gentle as the kindest and gentlest person you can imagine and still enjoy the benefits of these mechanisms on your children, raising them to be kind and gentle and religious like yourself.

The results of secular efforts to replace religion with alternative moralities are as pathetic as you would expect. There is no secularized society whose majority is not made of juvenile-minded, unprincipled, selfish and short-sighed men and women. They complain about unethical and anti-consumer corporations while investing their retirement savings in these very same corporations’ stocks. They complain about the banks while constantly borrowing from them. They complain about corrupt politicians while continually voting the same enemies of the people and puppets of the banks and the state back into office because they promise them shiny new things.

There are many decent irreligious people. But the longer the society continues without religion, the rarer they will become.

The reality seems to be that it is simply impossible to bring up morally upright, responsible and long-term minded citizens in a secularized society. Secular morality is always a defective wannabe religion that is incapable of convincing the majority of people to act by it. The nice, kind and moral secular people you see in the West are perhaps all second or third-generation offspring of upright Christians who continue to enjoy Christianity’s teachings in an unsystematic and vague manner, for now. With each generation those teachings are going to fade more, out-competed by the influences of secular society (films, songs, books). It has taken just one human lifetime for the United States to go from a world where Wall Street and Congress had many highly principled humans (thanks to Christianity’s influence) to a world where they have become almost impossible to spot. I am not saying there was some golden age 80 years ago when Christian morality was still taken seriously. It is, rather, the difference between 10% of the elite being principled 80 years ago compared to 1% being principled today. And that makes all the difference in the world. A few good men and women in a power structure can prevent a great deal of evil.

Those who think that humanistic ideals can replace religion should remember that the greatest historical humanists were all highly religious people and many were priests. Secularism is just a recent social experiment, and the results are not encouraging.

Programming for Complete Beginners Code Examples

var text = 
    'And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must '
  + 'stand a minute or two here on the bridge '
  + 'and look at it, though the clouds are '
  + 'threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. '
  + 'Even in this leafless time of departing February '
  + 'it is pleasant to look at,–perhaps the chill, '
  + 'damp season adds a charm to the trimly kept, '
  + 'comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms '
  + 'and chestnuts that shelter it from the '
  + 'northern blast. ';
  
var text_analyzer = {
    current_text : text,
    get_words_array : function() {
        var text = this.current_text;
        var split_text = text.split(' ');
        return split_text;
    },
    count_words : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var length = words_array.length;
        return length;
    },
    get_average_word_length : function() {
      var all_word_lengths = 0;
      var words_array = this.get_words_array();
      for(var i in words_array) {
          var current_word = words_array[i];
          all_word_lengths = all_word_lengths +
              current_word.length;
      }
      return all_word_lengths / words_array.length;
    },
    get_longest_word : function() {
        var longest_length_seen_so_far = 0;
        var longest_word = '';
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(current_word.length > 
                longest_length_seen_so_far) {
                longest_word = current_word;
                longest_length_seen_so_far =
                    current_word.length;
            }
        }
        return longest_word;
    },
    get_word_frequencies : function() {
        var words_array = this.get_words_array();
        var word_frequencies = {};
        for(var i in words_array) {
            var current_word = words_array[i];
            if(! (current_word in word_frequencies)) {
                word_frequencies[current_word] = 1;
            }
            else {
                var previous_frequency = 
                    word_frequencies[current_word];
                var new_frequency = previous_frequency
                    + 1;
                word_frequencies[current_word] =
                    new_frequency;
            }
        }
        return word_frequencies;
    },
};

function print_object(the_object) {
    document.write('{
'); for(var i in the_object) { var key = i; var value = the_object[i]; document.write('"' + key + '"'); document.write(' : '); if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value); } document.write('
'); } document.write('}
'); } function print_array(the_array) { document.write('[
'); for(var i in the_array) { var value = the_array[i]; if(Array.isArray(value)) { print_array(value); } else if(typeof value === 'object') { print_object(value); } else { document.write(value + ','); } } document.write(']
'); } document.write(text_analyzer.get_word_frequencies()['on']);

Chapter 12 “Program” starting code:


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

How backward is Russia compared to Europe and the United States and when will it catch up?

Below is a chart of the scientific output productivity of a number of important countries. Scientific output productivity refers to the number of scientific research papers published by a certain country divided by its population. A higher number indicates that the country is more “scientifically productive”, meaning that it is prosperous and advanced enough to have a large number of citizens busy doing scientific and scholarly research. In 2017, Russia’s scientific output per capita was 561. It published 80796 scientific papers and had a population of 143.9 million. Dividing the two numbers, we get 561, the number of scientific papers published by the country per million citizens. In 2008, Russia published 36419 papers. Ten years later its output had more than doubled, reflecting the fact it is investing heavily in science and has many more professors and researchers busy doing research at universities and research institutions. Still, its output per citizen is still below Iran, and it is almost half of Malaysia. Russia’s scientific output is almost exactly one third of the US, which stands at 1684 papers per million citizens.

The scientific output of the US peaked in 2014 and has only declined since. This is likely a trend that will continue. Russia, in the meantime, will likely continue growing barring a nuclear war, so that by 2028 it will likely reach South Korea’s output level, and soon after that of France (whose output is also declining). The forecast above assumes a 9.35% annual growth in scientific output for Russia, which is what its annual growth was between 2008 and 2017, so I am assuming a continuation of the same trend now since the Russian rulers appear to have finally realized the crucial importance of scientific research for national power and prestige and will likely continue investing  heavily in it.

We can expect the scientific output of the United States and Europe to stagnate and decline due to their aging native populations. Immigrants can help stave off some of the fall in output, but due to their generally lower educational attainment, it is unlikely that they will be able to undo the trend unless the countries only allow in highly educated immigrants.

Russia’s 2017 output was where Spain was in 1996 and where South Korea was 2003. We can expect Russia to reach European levels of scientific output by 2028.

Spain: It is interesting to note that Spain is today publishing more science per capita than either the United States or France, despite its population having a median age five years higher than that of the US and two years higher than that of France.

The United Kingdom: The UK’s scientific output is amazing. It publishes almost 1000 more papers per million citizens than many other European countries, reflecting an extremely well-funded and well-organized post-graduate system.

Below is a similar forecast done for Iran. If Iran continues at the rate of scientific output growth it had from 2008 to 2017, it will reach European output levels by 2028. I expect it to slow down its growth and to closely track that of Russia, perhaps being somewhere slightly below it by 2028.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Malaysia has overtaken Japan in scientific research output per capita

Below is the graph from my previous post where I discovered that Malaysia has been producing more scientific research per citizen than Japan since 2016. This is very interesting because Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country. Japan has stagnated since 2006 due to its aging population and stagnant economy while Malaysia, thanks to having a sustainable population (thanks to sustainable fertility rates, thanks in large part to religious faith) continues to grow steadily. We can expect South Korea to slowly fall as it goes the way of Japan, so that Malaysia may actually become the top science-producing country (per capita) of Asia in the next two decades.

In 2017, Japan published 892 scientific papers per million citizens, while Malaysia produced 936.

 

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Japan, South Korea and China’s scientific research output compared

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare Japan, South Korea and China’s scientific output per capita, meaning the number of scientific research papers published per million citizens by each country. In the late 1990’s South Korea was going through industrialization but was greatly behind Japan. South Korea’s papers published per million citizens (PPMC) was 222.8 in 1996, compared to Japan’s 681, meaning that Japan was producing almost three times as much scientific research as South Korea. As South Korea industrialized, the gap between the two countries narrowed, so that South Korea actually overtook Japan in 2007. The sad story of Japan is that it has never been able to go significantly above its 2006 scientific output levels of 942 PPMC, perhaps due to its aging population (its median age is higher by 6 years today compared to South Korea’s), and perhaps due to its stagnant economy caused by the long-term effects of interest.

South Korea too appears to have entered the twilight zone in 2015 at a PPMC of 1523, we can probably safely assume that it will go through decades of slow decline from here on (unless immigration saves the day). China is slowly ramping up its scientific output, although it has yet to overtake South Korea’s scientific output per capita levels for the year 1999.

Adding Malaysia to the chart lead to something I hadn’t noticed before, Malaysia overtook Japan in scientific output per capita in 2016 (the green line):

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

China’s scientific output per capita compared to Malaysia’s

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare Malaysia and China. Malaysia is interesting for being the most industrialized Muslim-majority country in the world. It took China until 2001 to reach Malaysia’s scientific output per capita levels for 1996, meaning that China was five years behind Malaysia on this measure of scientific output. By 2005, the two countries were producing the same amount of scientific research per citizen. Then the gap started widening, so that it took until 2011 for China to reach Malaysia’s output levels for 2008. But even by 2017, China had not caught up to Malaysia’s 2009 output levels. Today Malaysia is producing almost three times as much scientific research per citizen than China is. I expect China to remain firmly 10 years or more behind Malaysia for the foreseeable future due to the time and energy costs of scaling scientific research output over the vast swaths of China, but China will likely ultimately catch up with Malaysia some day.

Note that China was producing 16 times as much scientific research as Malaysia in 2017, what we are comparing here is output per citizen, which tells us the entire country’s general state of development. Since China has highly undeveloped rural areas with hundreds of millions of citizens, those are going to seriously drag down its output per citizen until those areas are finally industrialized.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

South Korea and Malaysia’s scientific output growth compared

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare South Korea and Malaysia. This is an interesting comparison because South Korea is one of the most recently industrialized parts of Asia, while Malaysia is the most industrialized Muslim-majority country in the world. In 1996, Malayisa was 11 years behind South Korea in scientific output per capita (how many scientific papers it published per million citizens). This scientific productivity gap narrowed to seven years between 2003 and 2005, then it started widening again, so that in 2017 it was more than 10 years. Now that South Korea’s output is declining, Malaysia might be expected to slowly catch up with it in the next decade.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Malaysia and Iran’s scientific growth compared

In the previous posts I compared South Korea’s scientific output per capita with China’s, then with Iran’s. In this post, I will compare Iran and Malaysia, to see how far behind Iran is compared to Malaysia. It took Iran until 2003 to reach the same scientific output level as Malaysia had in 1996, meaning that it was 6 years behind. But by 2006 Iran had achieved parity with Malaysia, both countries were publishing the same amount of scientific research per capita. But the two countries started diverging in 2008, with Malaysia far outpacing Iran’s growth (perhaps due to the sanctions on Iran reducing its ability to fund research). It took Iran until 2014 to reach Malaysia’s level of 2010. As late as 2017, Iran had not reached Malaysia’s levels of 2011. Besides sanctions, another reason might be Iran’s much larger geographical size making scaling scientific research costlier in time and money, as is also the case in China.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Comparing Iran’s scientific growth to South Korea’s

In the previous post I compared China’s scientific growth to South Korea’s. In this post I do the same for Iran. Iran’s gap with South Korea is narrower than China’s gap. In 2017 it was only 13 years behind South Korea when it came to scientific research output per capita. This gap might continue growing due to Iran being larger and more difficult to industrialize. But now that South Korea’s per-citizen scientific output is in decline, Iran (and China) have a good chance of catching up with it within the next decade.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Comparing China’s scientific output to South Korea’s

It has been said that China is twenty years behind South Korea in development, and that South Korea is or was twenty years behind Japan. A measure of development that I like to use for comparing the development level of different countries is PPMC, which stands for Papers Published Per Million Citizens, referring to the number of scientific and scholarly papers a country publishes per a million citizens in a year. In 2017, that number was 1491 for South Korea while it was 349 for China, meaning that South Korea produced more than four times more scientific research per capita than China, which means that South Korea’s infrastructure, institutions and educational attainment on average are four times more advanced than China’s. The reason for this is that besides the fact that China started industrializing later than South Korea, China is a much larger country and requires far more investment and work to where South Korea is. China’s coastal cities likely already far outpace South Korea technologically, but China’s interior is going to be dragging down the country’s averages for decades to come.

Below we have South Korea’s scientific output per capita compared to China’s. It took China until 2009 to reach the same scientific output per capita as South Korea had in 1996, meaning that on this measure China was 13 years behind South Korea. This lag only increased with time, so that by 2014 the gap was 15 years. By 2018, the gap was 18 years because China’s output per capita hadn’t risen significantly.

It is natural for this gap to grow with time because due to China’s much larger size, it is going to take it far more time to raise the country’s scientific production compared to the much smaller South Korea. The good news for China is that this gap is probably not going to be getting much larger because South Korea’s output has started falling (likely due to an aging population, i.e. fewer young people available to become scientists and scholars) while China’s continues to rise.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

How lenders contribute to decreasing native populations in industrialized nations: Housing prices, wages, interest and low fertility rates

The following chart from a BBC article (archived link) shows how home prices in the UK increased much faster than wages between 1975 and 2005.

If you ask “Why are wages not increasing fast as home prices?” you are asking the wrong question. What we are seeing above is a literal land grab enabled by what our ancestors called usury. Due to the way that the profits of finance always outrun the profits of the ordinary economy, the wealth of financiers (lenders) grows faster than the wealth of the rest of the economy. In order to reinvest their fast-accumulating wealth, they buy houses and rent them out. They become a major player in the house-buying market, and their fast-increasing wealth, which always outpaces wage growth, enables them to bid up home prices. What we see above is simply a reflection of how usury causes wealth to accumulate in the hands of the lenders. Below is a chart from an essay of mine that illustrates the way wealth accumulates in the hands of lenders over a 100-year period:

I can now state Hawramani’s law of home prices in usurious economies:

In an economy largely controlled by lenders, house prices do not reflect supply and demand, they reflect the increased accumulation of wealth in the hands of the lenders as they bid up home prices in their efforts to reinvest their ever-increasing wealth.

To put it another way, house prices track wealth inequality (wealth accumulation in the hands of the lenders) more than they track supply and demand.

The collapse in fertility rates in industrialized nations has a number of reasons and economics is an important part of it. In countries that have experienced heavy immigration the effects of low fertility rates have been masked since the population continues to be replenished by foreigners. But in countries like Portugal and Japan where immigration has been negligible, the effects are everywhere. Portugal’s population decreased by over 300,000 between 2009 and 2015, which is an important decrease for a small country. Japan’s population is expected to decrease by a third by 2065. Japan’s population peaked in 2010 at 128 million. Today it has a population of about 126.7 million, meaning that it lost 1.3 million during this period. The most visible effect of population decrease is the collapse of the countryside. Villages and small towns are abandoned as the shrinking population makes it economically unfeasible for businesses to provide basic services to them.

When fertility rates go below-replacement, it usually takes 30 years for the population to start falling. This delayed effect is one of the reasons why no industrialized society has come up with an intelligent way of addressing the problem.

People’s interest in marriage and reproduction is going to be rather low when housing is unaffordable. But lenders consider housing an important playground for their wealth, therefore they bid up house prices without concern for the way it reduces fertility. However, lenders also want big populations because bigger populations means more people to burden with debt and extract interest from, and because these people will have to buy the good and services they need from the corporations that are owned largely by these same lenders.

Lenders therefore seek two mutually exclusive things: They want to control the housing (and stock) markets, and they want large populations. They cause fertility rates to collapse by subjecting the population to economic conditions they dictate, in which things continually become more expensive, but they also demand continuous population increase since a growing population is essential for growing corporate profits and growing rents.

The solution, of course, is that they lobby for immigration. Immigrants may be less productive than the native population, but they will still need to pay rent, buy groceries and get into debt through credit cards, mortgages and student loans. Regardless of what an immigrant does, at the end of the day they will be putting money into the pockets of the lenders one way or another.

Today there are hundreds of millions of people who would jump at the chance of living in a Western country. But that number is going to fall dramatically as standards of living in their own countries improve, and as their population growth slows down due to the dramatic fall in fertility rates that is happening all over the place. But for the next few decades, there will likely be ample numbers of third-world people willing to replenish the collapsing populations of industrialized nations, but the pool is going to start to shrink at some point.

In summary:

  1. Finance (interest/usury) continually concentrates wealth in the hands of lenders.
  2. Lenders compete for assets, driving up home prices and making them unaffordable.
  3. Fertility rates drop as people avoid family formation to avoid the high costs of housing and other necessities.
  4. Population growth slows down and eventually comes to a stop.
  5. Lenders lobby for immigration to replenish the native population.

SSDs became 3.4 times faster in eight years, 15.5 GB/s read speeds by 2030

In November 2010, AnandTech reported about an SSD that was achieving 800 MB/second sequential read speeds:

In July 2018, AnandTech reports that 2700 MB/second SSD drives are available:

In this period of about 10 years, PCIe SSD speeds increased by a factor of 3.4, at least when it comes to sequential read speeds, which is an increase of about 16% per year. Projecting this trend forward, we get a sequential read speed of 15.5 GB/s in 2030 and 68 GB/s in 2040:

DDR3 RAM near the end of its lifetime had a maximum data rate of about 17 GB/s. So around 2030 PCIe SSDs will be just as fast as DDR3 RAM when it comes to sequential read speeds. However, DDR3 will still be much faster in terms of random read performance. Today’s best PCIe SSDs have a random read performance of about 100 MB/s, only 3.6% as fast as their sequential performance (100/2750). If that continues to be the case, then by 2030 the random read performance of these SSDs will be only 612 MB/s. Even by 2040, their random read performance will “only” be 2.47 GB/s, still very short of DDR3 RAM.

In fact, we will have to wait until 2053 to get PCIe SSDs that are as fast as DDR3 RAM’s last standard:

However, note that DDR3 as the beginning had a data rate of only 6.4 GB/s. SSD random reads will reach that speed somewhere around 2046.

As for DDR4, the maximum data rate is 25 GB/s, not that much more than DDR3’s latest data rate. If we extend the above forecast, we see that SSD random reads will reach that speed around 2056:

By that time new technologies may have made the difference between RAM and long-term storage obsolete, so that computers may only have one form of storage.

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