Sunday, August 05, 2007

Lowering The Bar On Miracles, One Coincidence At A Time

An example of why its Absolutely Incumbent on me to keep fighting the good fight in my own small way is the "news" story I saw on airport CNN yesterday about a solider who was "saved" by his Bible. Apparently the lucky chap was carrying his travel KJ in his pocket under his bullet-proof vest, stopping a bullet which would otherwise have done him some damage. The report came complete with testimonials about the miraculous nature of the event etc. etc. etc.

There's lots of bad reasoning here. (To be recited in your best "The Count" voice) Let's count the errors together: One... two... two errors, ha ha ha.

Error the first: any descriptions using the word "miracle" or "miraculous". Someone please explain to me what the miracle is here? It doesn't look like the FSM nudged the bullet out of the way with his Noodly Appendage or anything similar. In fact, it looks to me like the entire thing can be explained with reference to the laws of physics: bullet pierces vest, encounters the additional stopping power of a thick-ish stack of papers, comes to a halt. I bet you could model the interaction in 20 lines of poorly-written C code.

There's nothing remotely miraculous about a bullet being stopped by an additional layer of material. It's called "coincidence", even if the additional layer of material in question happens to have "Bible" stamped on the front in gold lettering. Which brings me to...

Error the second: Hello, selection bias much? No, really... how many times has a bullet been stopped by something other than a bullet-proof vest? Given the number of bullets that have been fired in Iraq in the past few years (roughly estimated at 1 kajillion by credible sources) I guarantee you that bullets have been stopped by all manner of improbably objects. I also guarantee you that, had it been stopped by the soldier's copy of "Atlas Shrugged", CNN wouldn't have been running the story.

Bad, bad, naughty CNN. Come on, some of you folk have college degrees, so you already know everything that I've said above. Which means that the only conclusion I can draw is that you're pandering. Shame, shame, shame... don't you realize that every time you run a story like this you actually make the country collectively dumber?


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