The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Joe Cienkowski is a christian fundamentalist nutcase on twitter. He's written a book, which you can read for yourself at Google Books. I'm going to spend a few posts ridiculing this little self-published pamphlet, and this is the first installment. Page one.

If this was a high school essay...

OK. Let's just look at the first page of Joe's book.

First observation, holy crap, Joe didn't hire a typesetter or editor. Look at all the emphasis. Bold and italics, even underline. Joe just went mad with Microsoft Word's toolbar didn't he? And oh, wait! What's that in the middle? A smilie face? Seriously?

Let's just stop here for the first red mark of the day. If you rely on emphasis this much, then perhaps you're having trouble getting your point across.

Clear prose should be readable, and this is anything but. I haven't even read a word yet, and already Joe is failing the high school essay test. Let's start with the first paragraph.

Joe starts out confidently and strongly. Absolute truth never changes. Math problems always give the same result. Sure. This is colloquially kind of correct. Basic mathematics is deterministic, as long as the fundamental frame doesn't change. There are branches of mathematics which are a bit more complex than that, but let's not split hairs.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President, yes. But again, technical nitpick. He was the 16th president after the ratification of the US constitution. Before that, there were Presidents of The Continental Congress. There were 16 of those. Again, colloquially correct, but sloppy and ambiguous.

History can never change that fact, though? We all know the phrase "history is written by the victors". The further back you go, the more scant the records, the less sure you can be. Joe is trying to talk absolutes here, and he's gone stright to one of the least absolute of all fields of study - history. You don't have to be reading 1984 to realise that history is subjective and can be manipulated.

OK, so second red mark. Let's move on.

Water is a solid below 32 degrees, is a liquid up to 212 degrees, and turns into a gas past that. These are absolute laws of science.

Absolutely not.

Fact is, the boiling point is very much variable, dependent on the atmospheric pressure around you. I learned this in primary school, from a kids book which introduced the topic with "why can't you make a good cup of tea at the top of a mountain?".

Joe seems unaware of this simple fact. The fact is that phase transitions in elements are variable. More information can be found here.

So, we're only halfway through the first paragraph and already Joe has three big red marks.

Next up

The absolute law of gravity will remind you every time

Again, Joe's inexactitude fails him. Gravity varies dependent on your distance from the gravitational source, obviously, but in addition, there's plenty of theoretical work going on around variable gravity. Here's a sample search.

Am I nitpicking? Maybe, but given that this is the opening paragraph of Joe's thesis, and given that he's trying to set up a fundamental layer of absolute laws here, we must be strict. He's talking absolutes. Only one of Joe's examples is in any way absolute, and then only if you restrict the domain of mathematics to stricly deterministic problems and ignore chaos and complexity. And only if you don't talk to smart logicians and mathematicians who can tell you exactly when 2 + 2 doesn't = 4.

Joe then goes on to say this:

These truths prove there is an absolute truth and a great truth that many can't seem to see any more: God created the world. Yes, this is an absolute truth.

OK. Given that the "truths" you started with aren't absolute, that's a long stretch, Joe. In fact, it's a non-sequitur, a bald assertion unattached to the initial premises. You might as well have said

All cats are black. This proves beyond a doubt that aliens exist

Not all cats are black and even if they were, the premise has no bearing whatsoever on the conclusion. So what if some laws are absolute? Why does this then require the addition of a god? It just doesn't.

And even if it did, there is nothing, nothing whatsoever in that conclusion that requires that the god in question should be Joe's specific, personal, interventionist, christian god. I'm sorry I had to resort to italics twice and bold once, but this is how utterly wrong this first paragraph is.

It just makes no sense.

Continuing on, this, apparently, means that there's no reason to doubt the bible.

Uh, Joe... there is. You haven't even made an attempt. You've spent an entire paragraph constructing an unlikely non-sequitur, and now you're grinning and pointing at it trying to get us to congratulate you on your achievement, like a toddler with his potty.

Joe then crashes headlong into the biblical idea of man created from dust, and somehow feels it's appropriate to end with the nonsensical

"Kids always ask "Where did I come from?"

Yes, and most sensible parents at that point explain that "when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much they can make a baby and that baby grows in mummy's tummy until it's ready to come out".

I have to wonder what Joe's parents told him when he asked that question.

So that's it. Page one of Joe Cienkowski's book. A car crash of epic proportions, and we haven't even got off the first page. We didn't even get past one lousy paragraph. If Joe really is right, and a god exists (which I doubt), he's failed to even begin proving it. He's failed to even build basic premises for it. The entire first page gets a big red strikethrough and a "see me after class, you're failing this subject" in the margin. F-.

Makes me wonder if I should go on, really.

Coming soon in this series: A baby always comes from a mother and father, therefore god (except in species with asexual reproduction). We use "AD" in our calendar system, therefore god (I personally use CE). No-one can explain where spines came from, therefore god (no-one say the word notochord, for pity's sake!) and just about every logical fallacy you can think of.

All this and more, coming up!

posted @ Wednesday, September 22, 2010 12:50 AM


Comments on this entry:

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Renee Hendricks at 9/22/2010 1:22 AM
Brilliant! I am looking forward to more!

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Annraoi at 9/22/2010 2:15 AM
Excellent! I was going to mention that under normal atmospheric conditions, water freezes at 0 degrees rather than 32, but that would be a little mean of me :-)

Keep up the excellent work!

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by CapnAlex at 9/22/2010 3:26 AM

Sometimes I wonder if God created Joe for our entertainment. ;)

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Karen Lee at 9/22/2010 7:37 AM
I am a Christian and have NEVER used that as an excuse for stupidity. Joe's level of stupidity and the struggle to remain so is astonishing!

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Stu Spencer at 9/22/2010 1:05 PM
Absolute gold! However I think the real question should be, who is stupider, Joe or Ray Comfort?
It's very close.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Jason at 9/22/2010 2:14 PM
Good question. I was inclined to call a score draw, but then I realised that Ray is smart enough to employ editors and typesetters.

So it's Joe. For now.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Robin Eccles at 9/22/2010 5:24 PM
This is brilliant, As someone who has read joe's pamphlet I know how hard it is to read let alone write a review. good work.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Andrew Skegg at 9/22/2010 5:32 PM
"Reading @JoeCienkowski, so you don't have to."

I thank you.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Rosa Rubicondior at 9/22/2010 5:48 PM
Surprised anyone bothered to read it when Joe had displayed, day after day on Twitter, his inability to do joined up thinking and his so frequent displays of hypocrisy which show that even he doesn't believe a word of the nonsense he's trying to foist on gullible simpletons.

Clearly Joe Cienkowski is trying to use a cloak of religiosity to hide his real intentions and to disguise his contempt for anyone who isn't Joe Cienkowski.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by TheShickle at 9/23/2010 6:18 PM
I thought he was joking when he said he had written a "book" (I of course use the word in it's broadest possible sense). Especially when he said he had proved atheism was a religion because he had said so in his "book" which he wrote using a definition of atheism which he made up. Well, he hasn't said he made the definition up, but the one he is using bears no resemblance to the Wikipedia reference and he hasn't answered me when I've called him on it.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Richard at 9/23/2010 7:16 PM
Great article! Some small nitpicks -- there's nothing any less absolute or certain mathematically in chaos theory (not sure what you mean by 'complexity').

And while I can SORT of see truth to making 2+2 not equal 4, I can't do it while keeping the same meaning of '+' -- so it's not really possible...

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Jason at 9/23/2010 8:11 PM
Nitpick noted. The chaos/complexity problem is just the unpredictability, not it's absolute nature. Chaos implies determinacy as long as initial conditions stay the same, but implies wild variability from small changes in initial conditions. I did some googling for indeterminacy in mathematics, but it was all a bit technical, really.

A thought on the 2+2 thing: I'm not a mathematician, and I can't come up with a 2+2!=4 example, but I can make 2 x 2 != 4. It's a good trick.

Think in terms of area. a 2 x 2 square in 2d euclidean space has an area of 4 units. But if that square is moved into a non-euclidean space,say, the surface of a sphere, you don't get 4. You just don't. You get 4.nnnn recurring. Similarly, a shape with *only* right angles in euclidian space is a square. On the surface of a sphere, you can make a triangle with three right angles.

The point is all about being exact about your premises and your frames of reference, and Joe is anything but.

I was struggling to come up with something similar for 2 + 2, by thinking about lines in curved space, but I'm not convinced it works.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Peter at 9/23/2010 9:40 PM
nitpick-fu: "Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President". Not so fast, maybe 16th President of the United States, but not "16th President" (Republic of Haiti, French Republic 1848-52..)

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Peter at 9/23/2010 10:03 PM
Note how apologists move from truth to absolute truth, just like from knowing and knowing something absolutely. Law of gravity can not be considered absolute because it might not exist outside our universe and perhaps during the first second after the Big Bang. Also consider a normal talk "I know sun will rise tomorrow" is a correct use of the word know. However I don't know it absolutely as I might be rapture tonight. If you know something it does not lead to knowing something absolutely.

BTW Barents Sea temperature (water molecules) gets to about 29 degrees F (-2 deg C) in winter because of salinity.

# re: The failure of @JoeCienkowski: part one

Left by Richard at 9/24/2010 1:29 AM
Chaos is a fascinating topic, and not too hard to grasp at the basics with a bit of work. You're right that it's a feature of deterministic systems; sensitivity to initial conditions is part of the picture, but not the whole thing. If you look it up, be a bit wary of older sources, as the definition has been tussled around a bit. There's an old theorem to do with discrete dynamical systems, for example, that says, "Period three implies chaos." Turns out under a modern understanding of chaos, that's not actually true (not that the result is wrong -- just that what is described isn't a chaotic system).

They never bothered to change the phrasing, though. It just sounds so damn cool.

As for the 2x2 thing...well, sadly that's still not actually right (though it's an understandable mistake). The problem is that all our lives, we're taught that the area of a square is just the side length squared. But that's not quite true. It's true if we're working in Euclidean space. But when you change from flat space to (for example) a sphere, you also change a number of other notions -- distance, for one, and also area.

So what you've really shown isn't that you can make 2x2 not equal 4; it's that 2x2 isn't the area of a square with side length 2 if that square has been drawn on a sphere.

Incidentally, it's perfectly possible to define area on an arbitrary surface (in 3D) in a way that makes sense and which collapses to the familiar Euclidean case when presented with a flat surface. But my comment is getting a tad long as it is...
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