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Stephen Paddock could have been a Muslim convert

Last night, Las Vegas witnessed the worst mass shooting in the U.S. history. At a concert, 58 people were shot dead and 515+ additional ones were injured.

Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old local white man, was identified as the killer. His father was once at the FBI's "most wanted" list. Paddock himself looked ordinary, his criminal record was flawless, he liked gambling, music, and had no known political or religious affiliations or psychiatric illnesses.

So why did he do it?

There's an obvious answer and a source immediately gives some support to it: Paddock was a Muslim convert. According to Daesh's communication, he converted a few months ago and was their soldier.

Now, the experts quoted in the Time Magazine as well as the FBI claim that Paddock had nothing to do with international terrorism. Who is right?

I don't know for sure but I find the argumentation of both the FBI as well as the "experts" absolutely unsatisfactory. The FBI claims that Paddock had no connections to ISIS. Do I believe the statement? I don't really know whether he had such connections. But a bigger problem is that I don't believe that the FBI is even capable of giving reliable answers to such questions.

They couldn't even figure out that an old guy rented some ten weapons just some two days before the mass murder. So why would we believe that they know whether he believed in Allah in recent months or whether he has communicated with anyone connected to Daesh? If they knew about everyone connected to Daesh, why couldn't they just fully cure all the Daesh-related problems in the West?

Moreover, there are good reasons to think that he had contacts with the Islamic world. He lived with Marilou Danley, a 4-foot-11 Asian American woman. I think her connections are to the Philippines but to say the least, she visited Dubai last year.

OK, so concerning the FBI, I am skeptical about their ability to determine the spiritual contacts of random pensioners if they can't even monitor their hoarding of weapons.

But I have much more specific problems with the argumentation of the "experts" mentioned by the Time Magazine. To persuade us that he couldn't have been a soldier of ISIS, we are told:

According to analysts tracking ISIS propaganda, the second message identifying Paddock as a Muslim convert was unusual for claims from ISIS.

It’s almost defensive, anticipating that people will pick the claim to pieces when presumably, if it was true, this would come to light naturally. It leaves me thinking this is a particularly fishy communication.

It's not totally impossible that a 64-year-old white guy from Mesquite is an ISIS supporter, but it's pushing the envelope pretty hard.

Experts noted that Islamic State fighters typically seek martyrdom, rather than take their own lives on the "battlefield."
All these doubts are just saying that "it looks unlikely" which is why one should think that Paddock was probably not linked to ISIS. But when we say "unlikely", we must be careful what is the precise proposition whose probability is being quantified.

Is it unlikely that a man is a 64-year-old white pensioner who becomes a soldier of ISIS? Yes.
Is it unlikely that a man is a 64-year-old white pensioner who converts to Islam and then nevertheless commits suicide? Yes.
Is it unlikely that ISIS releases a communication that sounds defensive? Yes.

These probabilities are indeed low. But does it mean that Paddock converted to Islam shouldn't be the leading theory? No. Why?

Because there's one more, simpler proposition that is unlikely, namely:
A 64-year-old white pensioner with no psychological issues and no criminal record becomes the most brutal mass killer in the U.S. history.
Is it likely? Well, a priori, more than a day ago, it seemed very unlikely, weird, strange. But what is the probability of the statement now? It is 100%. It is certain. So something that was considered unlikely just yesterday has become a fact, a certainty.

To determine the leading explanations, we must actually estimate
the conditional probability that a known particular man, Stephen Paddock, did what he did because of his previous conversion to radical Islam, or because of other reasons.
So his seemingly harmless demographics looks like an unlikely description of a mass killer or terrorist but it has become a fact. The real question is whether additions to this story – additions that say something about his motivations – make the theory even more unlikely and how much, if at all.

If the probability of the combined proposition doesn't decrease from the already low probability of the proposition "the mass killer is someone like Stephen Paddock", then the more detailed theory is probably correct! We look for the most likely theories i.e. those whose probability is almost equal to or comparable to the probability of the simple proposition "the killer is a man like Stephen Paddock".

And as far as I can see, none of the "experts" has done this homework justifiably at all. They don't compute the conditional probabilities at all. They say "the converted hypothesis looks strange" but they ignore the fact that it doesn't look much stranger than the statements that are already known to be facts.

Born Muslims vs recent converts: ratios

So now, kindly assume the facts. The mass killer is a pensioner from this seemingly harmless demographics. What is the conditional probability that, given this identity, the motivation is conversion to Islam?

I think it's high and higher than other theories I can think of. When someone shoots so many people, he usually has some reason. It may be a mental disease. Or a big political program – like Breivik. This guy hasn't had either – and we sort of know it because those things would have to manifest themselves for a long time. So a persuasive motivation should better be something that may arrive rather abruptly and something different from the things that may be pretty much safely ruled out.

Let me quote a relevant number:

The New York Times has estimated that 25% of the American Muslims are converts. Does it imply anything for our analysis? I think it does. I think it implies that among the Muslim terrorists, one could actually expect the percentage of the attacks done by the Muslim converts to be comparable to 25%. It doesn't have to be equal to 25% because there are probably correlations. A convert is a "different kind of a Muslim" and he may have a different, probably lower, probability of becoming a terrorist. Ethnicity probably matters, too.

But I think there's no reason to think that the percentage of the converts among the Muslim terrorists should be zero. There would have to be a no-go theorem for that, some kind of a symmetry principle to refute the corollary of Gell-Mann's totalitarian principle. I don't see any.

The spiritual age

There's one more thing that this theory would make more meaningful. The high age is actually strange. Such dramatic events are more likely to be done by youth. So the explanation should better be something whose probability doesn't decrease too much with age. And I think that conversion to a religion is a great possible explanation for this reason. Why?

You know, as an undergrad, I dated a girl I loved a lot. She was a fanatical Evangelical/Charismatic Christian, about 2.5 years younger than me. But on top of this physical age, there was one more concept of an age she taught me. The spiritual age, or whatever was the term (in Czech). That counter starts when you meet Jesus Christ for the first time, when you just start to get it. Needless to say, I have never really gotten it, and I still don't, but I could still learn something about these things as a theorist.

So of course, she wanted her future husband to be not only reasonably marginally older according to the physical age we understand; but also according to the spiritual age. Which I clearly couldn't have been even if I pretended that I just got converted – and I was only willing to play this game in a very lukewarm way because it's just not easy for me to pretend that my thinking is completely different than it is.

As far as I remember, she converted some two years earlier so her spiritual age would be two years older than me if I had begun to pretend as soon as possible. ;-)

But I am sure you understand where I am going. The physical age of Stephen Paddock was 64 years and he looks like an unnaturally old bloke for such a terrible, intensive, evil exercise. But 64 years is just his physical age. We could also consider his spiritual age. And assuming the ISIS report that he converted a few months ago, Paddock was just a totally youthful boy, basically a baby. So he could compete with some of the young men who also became converted to the radical Islam just months before the terrorist attack. His spiritual age could have been equally low and this spiritual age could have been more relevant if the Muslim theory is right. If the Muslim theory is right, the photographs with his older physical appearance are just misleading illusions.

For this reason, I think that the conversion is a rather good hypothesis to explain the anomalously high age of the attacker.

Predictions of suicide

Another "expert" complained that the jihadists shouldn't commit suicide because they don't get to Heaven in that case. Paddock did. Does it reduce the hypothesis that he was a convert? I don't think so. It's still a normal reaction for a white person to commit suicide after he does something comparably terrifying. It's normal for a Muslim not to commit suicide. But here we have a white Muslim. We don't really know whether a white Muslim's belief gets "reversed" after a similar act. There is very little experience. Both answers are plausible. After the mass murder, the white convert may act either as other Muslims; or as other whites. Because these options are comparably possible at this point, we shouldn't use the knowledge of the answer – he did commit suicide – as evidence for or against the conversion theory.

Defensive tone

One of the "experts" has also proposed another reason why we should doubt the conversion theory: the ISIS report calling Paddock "their soldier" sounds defensive and suggests that the writers knew that readers would be skeptical. Does this fact reduce the probability that Stephen Paddock did what he did because of his conversion to Islam?

My answer is a resounding No. Why? Because the possibility that the "ISIS report is untrue" is offered by the "expert" as the explanation, perhaps only explanation, why the writer of the ISIS report apparently knew that people would be skeptical of his claim. However, a problem with this logic is that there exists a totally different explanation why the writer wrote it in a way that suggested that he knew that people would be skeptical. (I hope that your IQ is at least 105, otherwise you could start to get lost in these longer sentences.)

The alternative explanation why the ISIS writer knew about the skepticism is that it is obvious that people will be skeptical about every theory about the motives that a 64-year-old Gentleman could have had. The writer had to be pessimistic about the reception of his theory because the story really does sound weird. But if and when Paddock had gotten converted and became a soldier of Daesh, it was already guaranteed that all the stories that would involve him would sound surreal (unless he would be leaving traces everywhere, in which case he could have been found before the attack).

So I think that the "defensive tone of the ISIS report" doesn't reduce the probability that Paddock's motivation was Islamic conversion at all. It doesn't reduce it because the seemingly "necessary" condition to explain the defensive tone, namely the falsehood of the ISIS report, isn't necessary at all. Instead, the defensive tone had the conditional probability close to 100% already at the moment when it was hypothetically decided that the attack would be carried by soldier Paddock! Because the conditional probability is close to 100%, the defensive tone cannot change anything about the probability of the whole theory.

For this reason, the logic attributed to the "experts" looks absolutely defective to me. I am still extremely far from sure that Paddock was a Muslim convert and it was the reason for his terrorist attack. But I am just seeing another example of the "bogus experts on everything" that we are being served everywhere.

A more constructive approach than to just label some argumentation unsatisfying would be to produce a creative list of 10 alternative explanations and compare the estimated probabilities with the probability of the conversion theory.

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