Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brownback and evolution

In the NY Times today, presidential candidate Sam Brownback has published an op-ed describing his feelings on evolution. I'm sure many of you will recall that during the Republican presidential debate, he was one of three candidates that raised his hand saying he didn't believe in evolution. Looks like now he wants to clarify.

He states, "we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two."

That's a cute, rosy little picture. Too bad it's quite divorced from reality. While the two need not be completely at odds, it's inevitable that one of the two will occasionally get things wrong, and upon discovery, can and should be expected to yield. With the matter of evolution, it is well supported. Yet the faithful refuse to yield.

Somehow though, I think Brownback sees it the exact other way around. He says, "the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God."

This presupposes the conclusion that God exists. If you've already made your mind up on that, there's no way to honestly or rationally flex your position. Thus, we can see why Brownback doesn't believe in evolution. God's there. He did it. Bible tells the story. The end.

The irony comes in his next sentence in which he says, "People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us."

Funny that he should pretend to use logic when he's already made his entire conclusion with the initial supposition. Everything from there is merely a puppet show for the masses.

Brownback also shows he's just kidding about the use of rationality and logic when he trots out a favourite creationist strawman calling evolution, "an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence."

Of course, this ignores the religious scientists who have no problem accepting that evolution was God's method of creation as well as the millions elsewhere in America that aren't scientists. And Brownback, like all creationists, expect us to take him seriously as he blatantly ignores large amounts of statistically important segments of the population. Not happening here pal.

But this is the justification for his dismissal. He says that if evolution is this strawman, "then I reject it." In other words, he doesn't care if it's right or not. He's made his conclusion already, and if his strawman version of evolution doesn't bow to it, then he rejects it. Part and parcel.

He restates this later, saying:
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Again, doesn't matter if it's right. Or even if it's what evolution really says. If people like Dawkins say it's divorced from the possibility of compatibility with theism, Brownback must run himself blindly to the other extreme. Are knee-jerk leaps to extremes what we really look for in a president? Regardless, with this statement Brownback reveals the farce of rationality at which he pretends.

Later, Brownback says,
Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion.
This is another statement I agree with in part. Both faith and science have a large amount to bring to the table. Faith has rendered some of the most amazing architecture throughout history. It has driven charities, relief efforts, and more. Science has given the power to make diseases such as smallpox disappear completely. It has lifted us to the stars.

The trouble is that that which faith brings to the table, doesn't require faith. Those of us who are atheists contribute to charities as well, although not typically as publicly given that we don't have a pre-organized infrastructure through which to do so. Meanwhile, no matter how much faith has had, it has never stopped a plague, or even regenerated a lost limb.

But for the time being, I agree that each does have a place at the table. However, when it comes to the matters that science does best, like curing illnesses, or looking at the evidence to see where we came from, faith really doesn't have anything to bring to the table besides good intentions.

One idiot believing crap like that is bad enough. When he's running for president, you'd expect him to be better informed and at least come up with some novel strawmen. I should know not to expect anything better from the creationists by now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is the romance gone?

In this recent article on CNN's website, renowned planet hunter Geoff Marcy commends on the work he does with the Keck telescope. It notes that when taking data, Marcy isn't even at the eyepiece of a telescope. He's in a building 45 minutes away giving directions to an operator who points the telescope for him, and Marcy just takes the data. There's no looking through an eyepiece anymore.

The article then quotes him as saying, "Some of the romance of astronomy is gone."

The scene he describes is not at all uncommon. Research just isn't done by naked eye. It's done with photometers, spectrographs, and CCDs. More and more telescopes are becoming operated by remote. Many professional astronomers are barely familiar with their constellations.

But does this detract from the beauty and romance of astronomy?

In my opinion: Hardly.

During my internship this summer, we visited Mt. Wilson observatory. This is the observatory at which Hubble made his groundbreaking discoveries.

At one point in the tour, our guide described and event in which a young relative of one of the astronomers at the observatory, who was very much enamoured with the field, was offered the chance to control the telescope for the evening. It was a cold night, in the mountains, in a telescope dome exposed to the outdoors. After a single night of freezing his ass off, the youngling gave up on astronomy forever.

I fail to see where the romance is in this.

But somehow, I'm not positive that's what Marcy was referring to. Possibly it was to the grand views that could be offered that cannot be replicated on a computer screen.

Yet, as much as I love stargazing, and have my own 8" telescope, there's really very little that looks like much of anything through even a modest telescope. Let's take a few examples. Here's a few images I took awhile back with exposure times that give images similar to what you'd see with your eyes:

If you don't recognize these objects, they're M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy) and M42 (the Orion Nebula) respectively.

Now let's see what those look like with long exposures from modern telescopes.



To me, these new visages have in no way diminished the beauty of the astronomical world. Sure, it's a bit less personal, but the views now are so far beyond anything available in the past, that it's just as captivating.

The romance isn't gone. It's just matured.

And now, I don't have to freeze my ass off to partake in it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Poor psychics

First they get the boot in Philly.

Now, it looks like they may have to pass a test to practice in the home of witch country: Salem.

Apparently the "legitimate" practitioners are worried that fakes will show up and cause serious damage. The "official witch" (whatever that means) of Salem, Laurie Cabot, said that she had to pass a test 20 years ago in which she performed a reading for a police officer. So what were the stringent requirements?

"He sat down with me, I did a psychic reading, he was pleased with the reading, and I got my license."

Tough, eh?

I wonder if Laurie would care to subject herself to the same tests she encourages the city council to require new practitioners to undergo. All signs point to "No."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Carnival of Space #4

Over at Universe Today, they've put up Carnival of Space #4. So if you're missing all the astronomical content here while I settle in at home for the summer and try to find a job, stop by and check out all the other posts.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Home again, home again

Finals are over. I've finished doing all the grading for my lab. Grades are submitted and I'm back home in St. Louis.

A few thoughts from the conclusion of the semester:

1. A note to administrators: It is utterly inhumane to schedule a final for a class that doesn't meet until 10:00am, at 7:30am on a Monday morning. Especially so when that class is quantum physics.

2. A note to students: If you have an assignment in which you must occasionally observe the sunrise or sunset over the course of the semester and decide to fabricate your data because you didn't actually make your observations, don't say that you made observations every Wednesday for the full semester. This is Kansas. We go without seeing blue sky for 2-3 weeks on end.

3. Additionally, don't say you started taking data a week before the assignment was even given.

4. The big fiberglass cow on I-70 about an hour outside St. Louis looks very angry. Fear him.

Now to continue unpacking the ton of things I brought home.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Luskin Revs Up the Spin Machine

In my post on Gonzalez being denied tenure FTK pointed out that the Discovery Institute has taken exception to my post. They claimed that I automatically assume that ID proponents are dishonest (thereby making them undeserving of tenure) because I have been led astray by KU professors such as Dr. Mirecki who "model knee-jerk prejudice".

Interestingly enough, here, it is Luskin making the knee-jerk accusations and trying to discredit my comments by (loose) assosciation instead of addressing what I said. Rather than modeling my views off Dr. Mirecki in late 2005, my interest in standing against pseudo-science began in high school, long before I'd heard of Mirecki, and certainly before I was in attendence at KU.

More specifically, my interest disdain for Creationism and specifically the ID version came nearly 4 years ago while I was still in attendence at Missouri State University.

So Luskin's claim that I've been corrupted by the views of Dr. Mirecki are far from credulous.

Additionally, Luskin shows that he only briefly skimmed my post. He claims I'm
trying to imply Dr. Gonzalez doesn't have a prestigious publication record.
Yet my post clearly states:
published over 60 papers in reputable journals “including Astronomy and Astrophysics, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astrophysical Journal and Solar Physics.” The NASA Astrophysical Database System when searched, confirms that he has a good deal of contributions up to present day.
I went out of my way to confirm that Gonzalez has been published and even make a special point that he continues to do so unlike nearly every other ID proponent out there who have all seemingly dropped even the pretense of the practice in favour of watered down garbage. Good for him!

One of the points that I was making is that I expected the DI to be trumpeting Gonzalez's publications. Yet they don't. From his main page on their website, they hide his scholarly publications. Searching their site for "Gonzalez publications" also turns up nothing. I suspected that this is because much of Gonzalez's work flies in the face of people like FtK who try to deny stellar evolution. This isn't good for the Discovery Intistute's "big tent" policy which wants to rope in the young earthers.

The final point was that publication isn't the only requirement for tenure. Honesty is. The Discovery Institute and its affiliates (including Gonzalez) all dishonestly pretend that ID is a legitimate theory. It's not.

Not that this is the only reason that Gonzalez doesn't really meet the qualifications for tenure. PZ has more, and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars puts it in more perspective, noting that, no matter how much the DI spins, well published people are routinely denied tenure. In fact, I've had a number of people warn me away from the field of astronomy because it's so difficult to get tenure.

But don't let any of that factor in Casey. Instead, just keep making stuff up about how I'm Mirecki's protege. You keep lying. I'll keep laughing.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are Liars

Well, I’ve watched a pretty good deal of the “debate” that ABC hosted in which Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron claimed they would present scientific evidence for God and the Rational Response Squad would refute their claims.

I couldn’t finish because it was just that awful. In the introduction, the pair claimed that they would prove God’s existence without invoking the Bible.

Ray’s first “proof” was the argument from ignorancedesign in which he says paintings need painters, buildings need builders, creations needs creators. Creator = God. His second was that we have the 10 commandments and that everyone is a thieving, lying adultering person who’s going straight to Hell. His third was that God gave us a conscience, so we know he must exist.

This should have been astoundingly easy to counter for the RSS, but they managed to screw it up. Perhaps part of the reason was that Ray and Kirk both lied through their teeth and the RSS wasn’t really prepared for it.

Ray had claimed that he was not going to invoke the bible, yet he did. Repeatedly. The RSS seemed so hung up on this that it threw the rest of their rebuttal into disarray. So much so that they bungled the refutation of Ray’s first, horribly ignorant claim in which he claimed creation needs a creator

What they should have pointed out is that every time we see something like a painting or a building, we know it has been made by a painter or a builder respectively because we've witnessed painters and builders doing precisely that. Thus, we can correlate the two with a good amount of certainty. But since we've never witnessed a mythical builder putting together universes, no correlation can be honestly made.

Additionally, every time we see these things assembled, it's done by a human. Thus, if we're truly going to follow the logic through, we must conclude that the universe was created by a human. Not God.

This is ridiculous and if we can find things that can be created without the help of such things, then the entire argument (everything needing a creator, whether human or magical), falls apart. Thus, we consider something similar to a building. Buildings are used for shelter. In ancient times, caves were used for shelter. But did the cave have to have a designer? Absolutely not. We know fully well that they are typically carved out by flowing water. Thus, the argument that things require a designer crumbles. We can only infer a designer when we have witnessed the creation of such objects in action.

The RSS hinted at this but it was very confused in the stating. They did rightly call him out for the blatant lie that he would not cite the bible however.

Kirk Cameron is a tremendous liar as well. He claimed to have done extensive research into evolution, and that his research had led him to conclude that evolution was false.

So how does he define evolution? Well, in his bizarre land, it starts off with an explosion…

Wait. Wha?

I think he’s trying to describe the Big Bang. But he even got that wrong. It wasn’t an explosion. It is an expansion. He also said that there’s no such thing as a transitionary fossil. Oh but there are! He then proceeded to say that a transitionary fossil would be a horrible chimera of half crocodile, half duck, or a half frog, half bull. Little does he know (I could end the sentence there) that this would entirely disprove evolution.

So here we have Kirk presenting a disfigured strawman. Either he honestly believes it’s all true, in which case he’s lying about his extensive research, or he’s lying to the audience about what evolution actually states. I wonder which it is…

One of the questions the moderator asked Ray and Kirk later, was if faith was a projection of culture, noting that certain religions are most prevalent in certain cultures. Apparently Ray isn’t bright enough to understand the question because he spent several minutes dodging it, saying no matter where he went in the world, he would feel God’s presence.

Entirely missed the point of the question and pretended that Christianity was the only religion on the planet. Apparently his research is more than a little lacking as well. He also said, “If you hear the gospel and call upon the name of God, He will reveal himself to you. You’ve got God’s promise.”

Funny. I know many, many atheists who have heard the gospel, called upon the name of God, and gotten nothing but a bunch of proverbial chirping crickets. Many of the atheists I know point out that they gave up on Christianity because they were tired of talking to themselves.

Kirk claimed to have gotten an answer when he tried this, but as the RSS pointed out, this is anecdotal evidence, and cannot be reproduced or tested in any way. Ray and Kirk claimed to bring scientific evidence, yet brought logical fallacies and personal testimonies; neither of which constitute science.

Which brings me back to the first point: Ray claimed that being a liar proved that there was a God and you needed him. If this is true, and considering his bald faced lies, who’s the one that really lacking morals here? Did God forget to install his conscience?

On a side note, one of the advertisements between the segments was for Nicoderm in which one of the people in the commercial said they “needed something bigger”. I suspect that, in this case, they didn’t turn to God.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gonzalez denied tenure

As RSR has pointed out the ID promoting astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, at Iowa State, has been denied tenure. This will of course, lead to grand claims of discrimination by the ID crowd, but let’s take a look at some of his work.

His ICSD profile lists him as having published over 60 papers in reputable journals “including Astronomy and Astrophysics, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Astrophysical Journal and Solar Physics.” The NASA Astrophysical Database System when searched, confirms that he has a good deal of contributions up to present day. Interestingly enough however, his Discovery Institute publication list doesn’t feature a single one published in a respected astronomical journal. Perhaps they wish to hide the fact that much of his work deals with stellar evolution (specifically post main sequence stars) from the young earth contingency that makes up so much of the ID crowd?

Regardless, publications aren’t the only requirements for tenure. From the Iowa State Tenure Policy, tenure can be denied or repealed if there is “(2) dishonesty in teaching, research or extension activity” (Emphasis mine). Distorting the views of the scientific community and peddling pseudoscience to the masses sounds pretty damned dishonest to me.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"One pair of hands at work...

Does more than 1,000 clasped in prayer."

With that in mind, Atheist Volunteers in cooperation with the Rational Response Squad, and the Center For Atheism, organized the atheist blood drive to conincide with the national day of prayer.

I did my part today and headed to the Community Blood Center and did my part to contaminate the blood supply with evil atheist blood. As I was coming in, I also saw fellow Mark Frei, husband of Brenda Frei, also donating. I also logged my donation at and came in as donator #407.