?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

David Sklansky, famous poker theorist, is offering a $50,000 reward for any American fundamentalist Christian who is good at math (or a good deal many other Christians, depending on your definition of "fundamentalist").

See also physicist Sean Carroll's coverage of this, Putting Your Money Where Your Beliefs Are, where I heard about this from.

If you can pass a lie detector test saying that with at least 95% confidence you believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened, and that adults who die disbelieving in the resurrection cannot go to heaven, then this man is betting you $50,000 that you suck at math compared to him. And he'll pay you the 50-grand if you can beat him on the math section of either the SAT or the GRE, where the time is cut in half to avoid a tie due to perfect scores. Of course, you also have to put up 50-grand to play, that he gets if you lose. (You might think money would be a problem, but I think since evangelical Christians have proven themselves historically good at raising large sums of money, I don't think this is much of an issue... if there is really such a person around who can beat him, there are more than enough evangelicals around who could raise the money to finance that person... turning a profit for the Church, as well as discreditting the hypothesis that there is no such thing as a smart fundamentalist Christian.)

This is pretty amusing, and reminds me of the comment I made last weekend about the feeling that I often get that poor math skills are closely related to religious superstition, at least of the fundamentalist variety. I think in most cases, both of them stem from a lack of basic reasoning abilities. That said, I think Sklansky may be ignoring an important thing, which is that taking any statistical correlation about a population and applying it to all of them is going to get you in trouble. Even if there is just one Christian fundamentalist out there who is good at math, Sklansky could lose his shirt. While the vast majority of Christian fundamentalists are no doubt terrible at logic and math, I wouldn't be completely shocked if there were 1 or 2 somewhere in the country who for whatever reason are capable of maintaining cognitive dissonance balanced on a razor's edge. And if there are, they can make a bundle at his expense... which would be interesting to see.

Another thing he's ignoring is that lie detector tests are not always accurate. With a bit of training, it should be possible to pass them. As is not uncommon in my profession, I scored a perfect 800 on the math GRE, so you might think I'd be a good candidate to take him up on the bet... if, of course, I could learn how to pass a lie detector test. However, the problem in my case is that even if I managed to pass the lie detector, he might still find out that I'm not a Christian from my blog or elsewhere, declaring the bet invalid. So is there anyone else reading this who is up for the challenge? Is it worth $50,000 to lie about one's religious convictions? Or, on the other hand, are there those out there who could honestly answer yes to both of his questions, and are good enough at math to have a better-than-even chance of beating this guy? At any rate, spread this around if you know of anyone who is up for the challenge... I think it's an interesting bet. I should also mention, as a general public-service announcement, that I will not argue with you or make fun of you or remove you from my friends-list just because you are religious. Yes, I tend to speak out against religion and even say some downright nasty things sometimes. But it's the ideas I dislike, not the people themselves. I do realize that there are occasionally very bright people who come to believe in some very strange things, and I will not hold that against you as a person even though I think you are naive.

And speaking of religious challanges, sort of coming from the other end, there's also this one (via veleda):

Take the Blasphemy Challenge
http://www.blasphemychallenge.com/

The Blasphemy Challenge video reminds me of how powerful words can be psychologically. Just saying something out loud can give a person so much more power over their life, and change the way they think about themselves, even if the actual act of saying it seems a bit silly. That's one of the few things about religion I will not deny, the power of incantation.

Comments

( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
dogofjustice
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:33 am (UTC)
The literal bet is uninteresting. I know tens, maybe even hundreds of people who can consistently get perfect scores on the SAT and GRE math sections in the given time constraint. David Sklansky is one of those people. So there is no beating him, just tying him.
killtacular
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:43 am (UTC)
how many of those that you know would accept the literal resurrection of jesus and that adult non-christians are all consisgned to hell?
(no subject) - dogofjustice - Dec. 18th, 2006 12:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 04:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dogofjustice - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:54 am (UTC) - Expand
killtacular
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:38 am (UTC)
The thing is, the math GRE and SAT are more just problem solving and/or basic math computation stuff, right? You don't necessarily have to think mathematically to any high degree in order to do well (although I'm sure it helps). That is, why would there have to be any cognitive dissonance whatsoever for someone to be a fundamentalist christian and to perform quite well on standardized tests of problem solving ability?

Also, why again do you think that mathematicians, as opposed to scientists, say, would be averse to believing in religion? The problems with religion are ethical and evidentiary problems (I can't imagine how anyone could really worship the God of the old testament, and if you are a someone who requires evidence for things they believe, then obviously you are not going to be disposed to believing in an ooo-god), and math doesn't necessary trade on evidence, and also does not relate to ethics.

The beating-the-polygraph thing is pretty interesting too. I actually missed one or two on my math GRE and only got a 770 so I probably wouldn't beat the dude anyways, but I certainly couldn't fake my way through a polygraph (I sometimes get slightly shaky and apparently nervous when I am, well, actually nervous :)). However, he does explicitly say he wouldn't pay up if the person wasn't a practicing fundamentalist christian...

the blasphemy challenge is interesting, too bad I don't have a camera :)
spoonless
Dec. 18th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)

The thing is, the math GRE and SAT are more just problem solving and/or basic math computation stuff, right?

Right.

why would there have to be any cognitive dissonance whatsoever for someone to be a fundamentalist christian and to perform quite well on standardized tests of problem solving ability?

I could see you asking this if we were talking about abstract math, as there is probably no relation (positive or negative) between that and religion. But I would have thought the connection between fundamentalism and lack of problem solving abilities, logic, and reason would be clear. The bible contradicts itself almost every page, and yet somehow the people who interpret it literally can read it without ever noticing. If you are skeptical of using reason because it's too rigid a framework, that's one thing. But if you insist on literal black and white truths and take the Bible word for word, and then don't realize how many times you contradict yourself, there's a serious lack of comprehension going on there. They also don't seem to have the ability to judge between two explanations for something and evalutate which is more likely. I think having (or not having) an intuitive notion of probability factors in here. What are the chances that among all the arbitrary belief systems, you happen to be born into the one that's really right, as opposed to all of them sounding right if that's the only thing you've been exposed to? I think in order to grasp this you need some kind of basic notion of Bayesian priors, even if it isn't anything you would know how to formalize or translate into symbols.

Also, why again do you think that mathematicians, as opposed to scientists, say, would be averse to believing in religion?

Oh, mathematicians are definitely more prone to religion than scientists, I've seen the surveys. Biologists are the most atheistic, followed by physicists, chemists, etc.... with mathematicians being the most theistic (unfortunately, the survey I saw only included math and science, no humanities). However, both mathematicians and scientists are good at basic reasoning. It's the advanced math where they begin to differ. And as you mention, the SAT & GRE don't test any advanced math, even the GRE only includes high school math up through Geometry.
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 04:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 04:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 07:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 07:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 12:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 18th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - killtacular - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
geheimnisnacht
Dec. 18th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)
I checked the blog; wasn't very impressed with Sean's reply. Mostly correct I'd say, but also mostly trivial. And then after reading some comments I couldn't help but post.
spoonless
Dec. 18th, 2006 07:38 pm (UTC)
yeah... I think he incorrectly assumes that what Sklansky is doing relies on there being a single unified definition of intelligence. (Then again, maybe this is Sklansky's belief, I don't know.)

Anyway, I agree with the comment you left there. But I'd also add that there may not be a "present day Newton". 300 years ago the sum knowledge about the world was far more limitted and it was a lot easier to believe in whacky things than today. The equivalent of Newton today would have to be a lot less religious.
lars_larsen
Dec. 18th, 2006 11:58 am (UTC)
I could beat the lie detector, but not the mathematician.

The trick is to control your stress level, regulating your heartrate, breathing, and sweatyness. They ask you some questions to "force" you to lie, and then use that as their baseline for what a lie looks like. If you're more calm during the real questions, you'll appear truthful.

Its sort of a combination of triggering a mini-panic attack and going into a meditative state, one right after the other.

Lying about being a fundamentalist isnt even that hard. You dont feel guilty about it, and hopefully dont fear the machine, so you shouldnt get stressed out. This may be why he's making you put up $50,000. To scare you on the polygraph.

spoonless
Dec. 18th, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC)
+5 Informative

Lying about being a fundamentalist isnt even that hard. You dont feel guilty about it

I don't know, I might feel a bit guilty about it.

This may be why he's making you put up $50,000. To scare you on the polygraph.

From what I understand, you don't have to put up the $50k until after passing the polygraph. The polygraph is just to see if he'll make the bet with you in the first place.
Re: +5 Informative - lars_larsen - Dec. 18th, 2006 10:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
ikioi
Dec. 19th, 2006 04:55 am (UTC)
I can't find the study right now, but I once read interesting results about the relative religiousness of people in the assorted natural sciences. It said that Physicists were by far the least religious, chemists and biologists were not very religious but moreso than physicists, and mathematicians were significantly more religious that the others. My personal experience is that mathematicians are only moderately less likely to be religious than random people. My personal experience also says that physicists are almost never religious. With all of that said, my personal experience also says that mathematicians don't do so well on SAT level math, so who knows. ;-)
spoonless
Dec. 28th, 2006 03:24 am (UTC)
Did you see the link I posted to the Nature article about the 1998 survey they did on this? This may be what you're referring to, but if so it was biologists, not physicists, who are the most atheistic. I seem to remember you and I talking about this before. If it's another survey, I'd be curious to hear which.

My personal experience has been that scientists and mathematicians are much less religious than most people, but mathematicians are more likely to believe in the divine in some form (although, I would think, far disconnected from orthodox religion in most cases).
montensem
Dec. 20th, 2006 06:20 am (UTC)
why not the entire SAT or GRE?
spoonless
Dec. 28th, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
See discussion above about the relationship of solving SAT-style math questions and basic reasoning. There is probably also an anti-correlation (of religious superstition) with the verbal section, but I'd bet it's weaker. (And admittedly, he probably also picked the math section because he's particularly good at it.)
nanikore
Dec. 27th, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)
I don't understand what in the world this guy is trying to prove.

I work at Intel, and I'll bet $50,000 that he sucks at designing microprocessors.
spoonless
Dec. 28th, 2006 03:36 am (UTC)
He's trying to highlight the inverse correlation between mathematical ability and religious superstition. See rest of comments/discussion for more details.

I don't think whether you can beat him at designing microprocessors is relevant. Although I would bet there is a similar correlation there too.
(no subject) - nanikore - Dec. 28th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 29th, 2006 07:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nanikore - Dec. 29th, 2006 07:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 29th, 2006 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nanikore - Dec. 30th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC) - Expand
jeffburdges
Mar. 6th, 2007 06:43 am (UTC)
It'd be more meaningful if he used the putnam exam but had a minimum age of 30.

http://math.scu.edu/putnam/describtcJan.html

( 39 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

blueshirt
spoonless
domino plural

Latest Month

May 2017
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lizzy Enger