Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Yet another system has been shown to be reducibly complex.

Not that it matters. The Creationists will just move the goal post yet again. Of course, Behe will still probably this doesn't fit his contrived definition of IC since the pieces "were involved in some other, different function" and Behe requires them be the exact same function for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Creationist "Journal" review

Although I'm not terribly active with it anymore, I do occasionally check to see if any new articles have been published regarding the research on solar type flare stars I began laying out my last year at KU. The main tool for looking up papers (the ADS) doesn't like the keyword "superflare". It apparently ignores the "super" part and just looks for "flares", and there's only a billion results for that.

So I tried Google Scholar. The first results were the original papers I've already discussed. There were a few articles on superflares on non-solar type stars. And then on page 2 of the search, I found an article with the title "The sun [sic] is not an average star".


One of the first things we teach in an intro astronomy class when we get to the section on the sun and stars is that the sun is boringly common! Is someone really presenting evidence to challenge this!?

Then I looked at the author: Jonathan Henry.

Hm. That name sounds familiar. Where's he from again?

Oh yes. Clearwater Christian College.

And what journal is he publishing in?

"The Journal of Creation".

And, since its publication in 2003, how many times has be been cited?


By himself.

Right. So what the hell is this nonsense all about and why is he citing Rubenstein & Schaefer? Let's go through it:

Henry's main thrust seems to be that our Sun is different from other stars in three main ways:
At present, it is possible to claim that, unlike most stars, (1) the sun is unassociated with nearby giant companions, (2) its planetary system seems to be a non-typical one, and (3) it is relatively stable.
Thus, magic man done it.
Who or what is responsible for these special features—God or evolution?
Not even off the first page and he's already conflating evolution with everything he doesn't like.

Off to a good start Henry immediately follows that with another logical fallacy:
The answer to this question is ultimately spiritual. The general revelation addressed in Romans 1:20 ‘consists only of God’s self-revelation. … After the Fall, man’s knowledge of God through general revelation has been darkened by sin, so that Scripture and the grace of the Holy Spirit are now needed for man to understand properly the message of general revelation’
That's right. Poisoning the well. He then makes some assumptions about why scientists don't like them much:
the real difficulty that many scientists have with creationists is not so much with the ad hoc nature of their theories as with their prior acceptance of the Bible and the restraints it imposes on theorizing.
You're right Johnny. We don't like Creationists because they claim to be doing science, yet already have "prior acceptance" of their conclusions. In other words, they're doing it wrong. But the ad hoc fallacies they espouse disqualify them too. It may solve their selectively compiled "evidence", but cannot be generalized to new evidence or even the full body.

Regardless, Henry somehow claims that this bit of persecution whining nullifies the Anthropic Principle. Furthermore, he claims that the "principle of mediocrity" also negates it since the Anthropic Principle requires special zones in which life can arise. This is really just a vaguer stating of the cosmological principle but the argument fails for the same reason: It's a matter of scale. In any random distribution, if you look on small enough scales, you'll find things that might otherwise seem to stand out. Such things are often referred to as "lucky streaks", but there's nothing statistically noteworthy about them unless they can hold out against the background noise on the large scale. Of course, if you do as Creationists do and selectively compile your evidence to only include these minor oddities, it's certain you'll see things incorrectly.

Henry goes on to make a very strange quotation:
We have no definitive proof that any planets exist beside the sun’s ... [but] we need … a second example to feel confident that our own solar system does not represent a cosmic anomaly, a unique (or nearly unique) circumstance.
Huh? I'm going to assume Henry at least read the Rubenstein & Schaefer paper which he later cites and given it explicitly discusses extra-solar planets, so why would he cite a source from 1985 saying there aren't any!? By 2003, when Henry published this article, numerous planets were already known, including some major ones (such as Upsilon Andromedae which was the first confirmed to have multiple planets and HD 209458 b which transits the star, giving conclusive evidence that it is indeed a planet)!

Henry admits a few sentences later that "planets have reportedly been detected" and waves them off because they're not likely to have life. This of course intentionally ignores the reason that, at that time, only super-Jovian planets with close in orbits, likely incapable of sustaining life were discovered: It's not because that's all that's out there. It's because the detection methods have a huge bias in that such planets are the easiest to detect! Only now are we truly getting down to the sensitivity necessary to detect Earthlike planets. Henry is either oblivious to all this, or willfully ignoring it in order to push his "prior acceptance of the Bible".

After 2 1/2 pages of beating around the bush, Henry finally starts getting to his main point:
Is the sun really of ‘middling size’ and ‘middle age’? Is it really ‘ordinary’, ‘run-of-the-mill’, and ‘mediocre’?
First Henry addresses the "middle age" claim.
The suspect nature of such characterizations is apparent when one reflects on the fact that calling the sun ‘middle age’ is a deduction based on nothing more than evolutionary scenarios of the sun’s history and operation. The sun is typically taken to be some 5 billion years old, with a presumed lifetime of the order of 10 billion years, placing the sun in the middle of its presumed lifetime at ‘middle age’. Clearly, if the evolutionary presuppositions behind this characterization are wrong, the description of the sun as middle aged is also wrong.
No reasoning behind why these "evolutionary scenarios" might be wrong. To Henry, they just are. What a shame for him that numerous times in this blog I've discussed how observations support them.

So what of the notion that the Sun isn't a middle-mass star?
The other characterizations of the sun just quoted are derived from the fact that the sun lies in the middle of the range of stellar types plotted on the Hertzsprung–Russell (H–R) diagram. This means that the sun occupies a median position of possible stellar types in the H–R diagram. However, the median of a population corresponds to the mean only if the population follows a normal distribution, but the distribution of star types does not follow a normal distribution.
This doesn't really solve the problem with with poor Henry is faced. He's just quibbling about definitions. In a normal (read: Gaussian) distribution, the middle of the range will correspond to the median. As he points out, the distribution of stellar masses is anything but Gaussian. This can be clearly seen from the initial mass function (IMF), which is generally stated as a series of power laws.

But so what? Even if Henry wants to quibble about the usage of the word "middle" it doesn't fix that looking across the ~1011 galaxies in the observable universe, that's still going to add up to billions and billions of solar type stars. It may not be the definition of "middle" Henry wants to use, but it certainly doesn't suddenly make the Sun "unique".

Another oddity in this part of the discussion from Henry comes this bit:
As an example, consider ‘the 100 stars closest to the sun. Stars at this range are near enough for us to measure accurate distances and to detect even very faint examples. They are also numerous enough to provide a good sample. Stars in such a random sample are believed to be representative stars—that is, a representative sample of all stars in our general neighborhood of the galaxy.
While I agree that the mass distribution is not Gaussian, does Henry really think that in what's supposed to be a "technical journal" that appealing to "the 100 stars closest to the sun" is the best way to prove his point? I suspect he's never heard of the IMF. Not surprising since it's discussed in junior and senior level astrophysics classes and Henry apparently has no training as an astronomer (he's apparently a chemical engineer).

But even more worrying is his claim that 100 stars is a "representative" sampling. Just looking around the galaxy shows it's far from accurate. We live in a nice quiet, happily evolved neighborhood in which there's not too many stars crowded around us, the older stars that would blow up at us have already died off, and also, in the plane of the galaxy. There are major differences between the distributions in the disk and the halo of the galaxy to which Henry is stunningly ignorant. Oddly enough, Henry's "citation" for this is the "Chemical Engineers' Handbook". I strongly suspect the book talks about what makes up a representative sample and Henry is blatantly misconstruing it. Regardless, Henry is failing basic statistics here.

He continues to wave numbers around without realizing the importance of them:
the sun is a type G star, a distinction held by only 9% of stars generally.
Yes. Nine percent is a minority, but minority doesn't mean or even imply that stars like the Sun are as exceedingly rare as Henry's trying to claim. After all, 9% x ~1011 galaxies x ~1011 stars/galaxy = 9x1020 G class stars! Rare indeed....

Henry again equivocates trying to pretend that if it's not the majority of cases that the sun must be stunningly unique in other ways. There's several paragraphs devoted to the fact that stars not in binary (or even trinary or more) systems are in the minority. Again, it's a sizeable chunk that aren't so it doesn't really further Henry's main point. It's just throwing out numbers without appreciating the scale of the universe.

Additionally, Henry discusses the variability of stars. The Sun has some inherent variation to it, but it's small (<1% on average). Henry claims "[s]uch variability is too insignificant to directly affect life on earth." I think I know someone who'd disagree with that.

But the main thrust of this section is that there are, "superflares in most sun-like stars". To justify this bizarre claim, he cites the papers that I'm so familiar with by Rubenstein and Schaefer discussing the superflares on solar type stars. Here's the quote Henry pulls out:
We have traditionally assumed, for instance, that if a star has roughly the same surface temperature and luminosity as the Sun, is a single star and rotates at a speed similar to that of the Sun, it will likewise have only modest levels of chromospheric activity. Such stars are commonly called Solar analogues. The unspoken assumption that all solar analogues are, in essence, interchangeable underlies much of the thinking about habitable worlds, and perhaps life, existing elsewhere in the cosmos.
What a glorious Creationist quote mine! What Henry strips from the paper is two things:

1) The likely cause for these superflares is a condition that does not exist in the solar system, or even around most G class stars!
2) These flares are exceedingly rare only ~10 in the past 100 years in the entire galaxy!

(See this post of mine regarding the papers in question for a more thorough discussion of what they actually say.)

Henry is obviously lying here.

The final section is devoted to the lithium abundance of the sun and the angular momentum as being supposedly contradictory to models of stellar evolution. As used, both are arguments from ignorance (I've discussed lithium and how it confirms the stellar evolutionary models here).

Finally, after all this blundering, Harry still audaciously claims, "it is clear that the earth is the object of God’s providential care." He again sums his "reasoning" in the conclusion: The Sun isn't the most common type of star, thus is somehow exceedingly rare and "[a] special, or even non-typical, sun can be taken as evidence of God’s provision for life on earth..." (Emphasis added because it's just.that.wrong.)

So the paper is crap from top to bottom. But let's look at the really final bit: The References and see how they stack up:

Reference #1: An American Dictionary of the English Language.

Really? He's going to cite a dictionary for technical jargon? Oh.... wait. He's just citing it for the definition of "special" so he can equivocate. Pretty expected for a Creationist, but something I've never seen in a peer reviewed journal from a respectable source. And to drive it in, he cites it again so he can be vague about "average".

Out of the 55 References listed in the relevant section well less than half (22 to be exact) actually come from peer reviewed journals. Of those 22 references, they come from a total of about 4-5 actual papers.

Twenty citations are to popular media (books, magazines, newspapers, websites) intended for laymen and hardly scholarly. Many of these are horribly outdated (think Sagan era).

Introductory Astronomy Textbooks are cited six times. Again we see the depth of Henry's study of Astronomy. Furthermore, all of the textbooks cited are at nearly 20 years old! Again, no points for up to date material.

Henry often points citations to other citations (a common practice), but the actual citation list stops at 55 even though two citations (#52 and #53) point to #58 for the full source, so I can't comment on them. Additionally, numbered citations in the actual text go all the way up to #64! Nine of his sources seem to be completely missing. This clearly shows you how much of a "peer-review" and editorial process such papers go through.

In conclusion, I find this bit of Creationist writing the same as Abbie did for the work she reviewed: Semi-Technical and Completely Worthless.

Digg this

Monday, August 24, 2009

Well... It looked like a picture... from the internet....

The Telegraph has a story about a boy who found a meteorite in his family garden.

Meteors actually making it to the ground are pretty rare, so I'm obviously skeptical. Regardless of what it actually is, the lack of critical analysis is a bit funny. Most stories at least have a mention of the finder taking the object to an expert who will at least do a rudimentary test to try to determine where it came from. But what does this family do?

Checks the internet.

It looks like a space rock. Must be one.

What's Step #2?

Check Ebay obviously.

Step #3?

Tell the kids to take pictures and watch out for aliens.

And here you have a 3 step process to avoid a real learning opportunity at all costs.

Let them eat cake

My girlfriend has a very odd fascination with cakes. She's really into shows like Cake Boss and reads cake blogs.

I don't get it.

That's fine. I'm into some things she doesn't get.

But every once in awhile, our interests overlap in the oddest ways. What a crazy random happenstance.

Must be a slow news day

Today in CNN's "Latest News" section, they had an article on Pluto. It's the same old "scientists disagree on the arbitrary classification scheme into which Pluto falls on the borders" claptrap.

What confuses me is why this can in any way be construed as "latest news". The story is three years old as of today (which is I suppose what makes them think it's newsworthy). Even the most recent real addition to the story was from early this year when New Mexico passed a "Pluto is a Planet in New Mexico Day".


Next I propose we pass a resolution declaring a "Brown Dwarfs are Stars in Missouri Day". At the very least we could use the same excuse Creationists use for being stupid about it: It supposedly draws attention to science and "makes people want to investigate".

In reality, I think the only investigation going on should be why politicians feel the need to waste their time on such things.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?

Now that I'm through laughing (or perhaps crying) at the anti-evolution pamphlet, I'll go over the second one I received.

Obviously, the title gives it a pretentious start: The question is only "ultimate" if you presuppose the answer to be "yes". Otherwise it's equally as yawn-worthy as asking whether or not you've been touched by his noodly appendage.

The first section is called "Asking the Crucial Questions". The way this one starts off just pisses me off; It's a description of the collection of the data for the Hubble Deep Field. Ugh. You just know that this scientific set up is just going to end up being twisted into some bizarre collection of BS. Indeed, it ends pointing to a box (on page 15) asking "Our Awesome Universe: How Big is Big?"

It never even winds up answering the question. It stops at the size of galaxy clusters with a comparison to oranges. But it does pose another question: How did this all come to be.

Skipping back to page 4 where I left off where it poses several more such questions, quoting Stephen Hawking asking, "What is our place in [the universe] and where did it and we come from?" as well as Sagan. There's some quotes from historians asking about a supposed "purpose" for Earth and its inhabitants.

The authors of the pamphlet make a bold declaration:
We can find the answers to these questions. Evidence of God's existence is both abundant and available.
I'm smelling the smelly smell of something smelly. It's their definition of "evidence". I'm willing to bet it includes logical fallacies, lies, and personal testimony. I hope they don't keep me waiting....

The next page starts off with the new section with the title "Evidence All Around Us".

So what is their evidence?

Cosmic fine tuning.


That's not even worth addressing beyond a good laugh. After all, ridicule is a good response to the ridiculous.

So what else they got for me?

"A world of design and purpose"


Sorry, not impressed with arguments from incredulity.

I'm thinking the authors must have sensed just how pathetic their arguments were, because their next section attempts to drag the opponents down to their level:
Supporters of evolution like to point out that the acceptance of the idea of a divine Creator requires faith in someone or something we cannot see. Yet they are far more comfortable admitting that all who believe that life evolved from inert matter also have faith in a theory that cannot be proven - and is founded on far more fragile evidence than that which supports the faith of believers in a Creator.
That's right. Equivocate on the term "theory" and claim that the Miller-Urey experiment and all its subsequent follow ups never happened. Ignore the fact that your previous two "evidences" were based on poor logic and a logical fallacy and as such, don't count at all. Ignore that this means even the slightest bit of real evidence for naturalistic abiogenesis would be infinitely more than that of the Creationists since they have exactly none.

Yet none of that stops them from claiming "Evolution has become, in a real sense, another religion."

As the saying goes: Don't argue with an idiot. They'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

They then go back to mumbling about "natural laws" proving God, obviously missing the operative word there (natural). They even claim abiogenesis violates the "law of biogenesis". Which just goes to show how little these people know about scientific terminology. After all, they already dropped the ball (probably intentionally) on the definition of "theory". Why should we expect them to have any inkling just how solid "laws" like the "law of Gravity" end up being in the extremes.

The next few pages are more ramblings about how "designed" things look (go go gadget Behe quotes!) and flaunting personal incredulity.


The next section is on "The Beginning of the Universe".

The thrust of this?

"OMG! Universe had a beginning! Thus God."

Even though they seem to accept the Big Bang, they still try to invoke God as a first cause without reason. The faulty reasoning is apparent when looking at two quotes together from the section "Where science stops":
...everything scientists know simply breaks down at the moment of creation.

...the universe leapt into existence from nothing.
If everything we know breaks down, then how do we know it came "from nothing"? As they themselves are admitting, scientists can't (yet) know! Thus, the entire claim is just Creationist projecting what they want to believe into the unknown. In other words, it's yet another God of the Gaps.

So to what do they make the logical leap in the face of ignorance?
We must seek a source other than science to understand who or what existed before the origin of the universe. And only one source offers a truly believable and rational explanation - the Bible.

There is only one alternative to the biblical claim of supernatural creation by a supreme Intelligence. Atheists must argue that the entire universe came from nothing without a cause.
Holy false bifurcation Batman! If you're not a Bible Believing Christian, you're an atheist!

Again, I'm having some problems with their use of the English language. Namely their claim that the Bible is "believable and rational". Rather, it's annoyingly vague and can (and has) be twisted to agree with any claim with which you happen to come up with.

Which is precisely what they try to do in the section "Understanding Genesis: 1:1-2 which attempts to shoehorn the Genesis account into what we know of history through science. Of course, they ignore that the order is wrong on many key points (flowering plants were much later on the scene than Genesis claims).

The rest of the section is more of the same: It's a rip off of Privileged Planet. And it's completely destroyed by the Anthropic Principle.

The next 14 pages are a restating of the anti-evolution pamphlet so I won't even bothering touching that again.

Then there's 13 pages on "Life's Purpose and the Consequences of Ideas" which is just a long section that claims you can't be good without God because (Godwin's Law).

The last 10 pages is a sort of "get to know Jeebus" section and is a brief overview of their sect's beliefs, interspersed with claims that they actually gave some real evidence and claims that flout the need for evidence in the first place (since they can just shove God outside the universe and it solves everything anyway).

Thus, the opening title is just as weak as I predicted: They failed to justify why it's any more of an important question than how much beer I'm going to get from the eternal beer volcano as I toast with the midget.

So in the end, my "ultimate question" (at least for the moment) is what to have for breakfast....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Creation or Evolution: Does it Really Matter What You Believe?

The first of the pamphlets I've picked up is the one on Creation or Evolution: Does it Really Matter What You Believe?.

The first section is entitled “Society's Dramatic Shift”. It laments the time when, “[o]nly a few generations ago laws prevented the teaching of the theory of evolution”. It complains that, “[t]he Bible is banned from classrooms in American schools, and serious discussion of the biblical view of the creation of our universe and our human origins is forbidden.”

The juxtaposition of these two quotes is amusing: They claim to want a fair discussion, but prefer laws to prevent evolution from being taught. Yeah. Real fair.

The second quote is an outright lie: Bibles are allowed in schools. There's numerous Bible history classes across the nation. This certainly permits the discussion of the biblical creation story. However, whether or not it will be taken seriously is unclear.

They then claim that there's a growing number of critics speaking out against evolution citing the “current intelligent design debate” which posits a “Creator” because they don't like “random chance”. Man, three buzz words in a single sentence. Not bad. They even manage to conflate ID with a Creator. Oh well. I guess they're bound to get something right. Even a broken clock still gets the time right twice a day.

Next up, they appeal to an argument from authority from Wernher von Braun where he waffles about design in the universe and even brings up nonsense about “random chance” producing the “human eye”. To be sure, von Braun was a very religious man. Not trusting rocket technology to what he considered to be a godless regime, but instead wanting it to only be held by a nation which largely expressed his favored religious morals. However, such design quotes are a dime a dozen and without the evidence, they're worthless.

From there, they go on to invoke some arguments from ignorance based on reproduction:
How does evolution account for sexual reproduction
Why do babies need care for so long?

Darwin even gets a quote saying, “I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything: and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them. (Emphasis added by Creationists).”

What's not mentioned is that the supposed “quote” wasn't directly from Darwin. It came from the Lady Hope story of Darwin's deathbed recantation which was rejected by his children. In other words, it's entirely false.

The next paragraph is again lying about how court decisions are “effectively banning public expression of religious beliefs”. Again, an outright lie. Public is fine. Government sponsored and endorsed is not. They attempt to justify this as being bad saying that it causes “languish[ing] in the sorrow and suffering that results from rejecting absolute moral standards.” My my. What a slippery slope. A leads to B even if the evidence suggests otherwise. But of course, they claim this is what evolution predicts: a bunch of greedy, backstabbing bastards. Shame that group cooperation works so nicely to increase survivability.

On the next page it's more Evolution = Religion. "Evolution teaches us that man created God." Err... no.

It then quotes someone named Louis Bounoure who they claim was "Director of France's Strasbourg Zoological Museum and professor of Biology at the University of Strsbourg". The quote is:
volution is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless.
Want to take a guess where this quote really came from? I'll give you a hint: It's not who it's attributed to. Rather, it's from a renowned liar.

Hm. I guess that's too general. Let's narrow it down a bit: He's in jail for tax fraud.

Guess that made it obvious: Kent Hovind made it up. Doh!

The next section is titled "Science, the Bible and Wrong Assumptions". It begins claiming that many scientists are fleeing from evolution because the "scientific knowledge has increased, [and] researchers have not been able to confirm the basic assumptions of the evolutionary theory". LOL! That's completely backwards: Evolution, like all science, was accepted into the mainstream precisely because the basic assumptions and more have been confirmed!

The supposed wisdom of "some states' educational boards" is invoked, claiming that they're somehow better informed than "scientists and educators".

There's a few quotes from Phillip Johnson predicting the demise of evolution, likening it to a battleship whose "sides are heavily armored with philosophical barriers to criticism". I'll agree that the USS Evolution is well armored. Not with supposed barriers to criticism, but rather, with barriers to BS via the scientific methodology which defends against false criticism.

The authors discuss how "science has refuted some religious notions about nature and the universe that religious leaders mistakenly attributed to the Bible." What sorts of things? Dunno. It's not mentioned. But I can think of at least one: the notion of a 6,000 year old Earth. Oh wait.... That really is in the bible if you buy it wholesale like these people do which is highlighted in their rant on Catholics for the next few paragraphs in which they reprimand them saying, "taking the Bible literally has not been a hallmark among Catholics through much of the 20th century."

Finally, after their diversion on Catholics, they try to get back to the claim that the ideas that science has debunked weren't really in the bible. It brings up the idea that the Earth floats through space. It claims the bible got it right saying in Job 26:7 that the Earth "hangs on nothing". Guess they're trying to ignore Job 9:6, Psalm 75:3, and I Samuel 2:8 which say the Earth rests on "pillars".

There's an entire section devoted to "Darwinism and Morality" where, for 8 paragraphs they invoke the slippery slope of "without religion there is no good".

Finally, on page 19, they start addressing "evidence" in a section on "What Does the Fossil Record Show?" What's the first sentence of this section? The old "Evolution is just a theory, not a law" shtick. *YAWN* Been there. Heard that. Got the T-shirt.

The rest of the section is a gaps fallacy claiming there's no transitional fossils, even invoking some quotes over 25 years old to support this. There's also a pretty obvious quote mine from Niles Eldridge regarding the uniformitarian view of evolution. The bit they quote obviously argues against that, but I strongly suspect that immediately following the end of the quote, it argues for Punctuated Equilibria. They even go so far as to quote Gould describing the reasoning for PuncEq, but completely remove any discussion of what it is until a page later at which point they call it "inherently unprovable". Yet, a simple search for "Evidence of Punctuated Equilibrium" turns up #1 as an article from 2006 on tracing Punc Eq through genetics.

Later on, they claim "the only logical place to find proof for evolutionary theory is in the fossil record." I guess genetics and homology don't count as science.

Another amusing claim comes on page 29 where they claim that "[t]he deceptive, smoke-and-mirror language of evolution revolves largely around the classification of living species." Right.... We have trouble defining species.... So can you please define a "kind"?

On page 32 we find a confused definition of how science (although they're only discussing evolution) works. They claim that "evolutionists" only look at similarities (and then claim that's evidence of common descent). I guess they never read Origin of Species which the entire foundation of evolution is based in why there are differeces. The truth is, we look both ways.

Regardless, they claim that any similarities are the result of a "common Designer", as if they aren't also two-facedly arguing the differences imply a creator too.

There's another quote from Gould in which he says "In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors: it appears all at once and 'fully formed'." They key word the Creationists ignore in this quote is "local area". It should go without saying that, when you look at too localized an area, you get the wrong picture. If you only look at your local surroundings, the Earth is flat. It's only when you step back that you see the large picture.

The picture the authors are obviously trying to ignore is that Punc Eq is a real force and even in its absence, species migrate!

Next up is Behe invoking the complexity of the cell. There's then the standard fare on the Cambrian Explosion and the "life from non-life is impossible" without explaining why and it's the end of the section. Thank goodness.

But the next section doesn't look much better: Can Evolution Explain Life's Complexity?

It claims that evolution is impossible because all features must "be in harmony and synchronized with other bodily modifications, or the changes would be of no benefit". It gives the example of a wolf that could run faster, but claims that it would have to also have a stronger heart to keep up with the additional exertion.

What a stupid example. Small steps don't put an appreciable strain on the other features such that it will be of "no benefit." Rather, it's a small benefit that will be bounded shortly thereafter if the other features don't catch up. But by no means must all features be in lockstep as the authors claim.

On the next page, they're true to the form I predicted earlier about waffling over "kinds". They claim that evolution produces nothing new because it only produces "certain kinds of individuals."

Ironically, the quote they used to support this came from Tom Bethell who they then quote as claiming evolution was "on the verge of collapse." This was nearly 80 years ago.

Next up: There's no such thing as a beneficial mutation and species are fixed around a point via "invisible but firmly fixed boundaries that mutations can never cross."

The next section ("The wondrous cell") is a list of Behe talking points:
- Mousetrap
- Irreducible Complexity
- The Eye
- Blood Clotting

"Oddities in Nature That Defy Evolution" is the next section. It's again, a list of arguments from ignorance. The first one is a Hovind favorite: The bombardier beetle. Then bird migration, salmon's cycle of returning to the location of birth, the camouflage of certain fish; They're all chalked up to "I don't know how this could form via evolution, so it didn't thus God." *SIGH*

The final section is "The World Before Man: The Biblical Explanation". In here, it flits through the biblical narrative as it applies to Earth: God created some stuff, there were some angles, there were some people. It even argues that the Earth could be old. But it still argues that God is magically popping all species into existence. I'm with Miller that such a God not only contradicts the evidence, but is theologically worthless.

The only evidence they claim for this is the previous 60 pages of lies and distortions about evolution that, even if they were true, would still only amount to a God of the Gaps argument. In other words, that was 71 pages of typical Creationism.

RE: Those awful ads

Last month PZ asked his readers to send for pamphlets for a religious organization in order to subject them to some real critical analysis. So I did.

We were limited to three. It was a hard choice. There were at least 5 I wanted to get. The Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? was an obvious choice. There were a few on End of Times and Eschatology (which I've been getting into for a side project I've been chipping away at for nearly 3 years now), so I also picked up Are We Living in the Time of the End?. And just to round things out, I also picked up Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?.

They arrived yesterday. I was spending time with my girlfriend, so I haven't had time to read them yet but I'm hoping to get to them here soon. From flipping through them, I already expect that there won't be anything new. I can probably copy/paste arguments from old posts of mine given how copy/paste the Creationist arguments are looking to be. But we'll see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."

I'm not an especially claustrophobic person, but seeing these pictures from the Soyuz TMA-11 mission which landed in April of last year make me never want to head to space (at least as long as the US is having to rely on the Russian vehicles for transport).

Seriously, how do 3 people fit in that thing?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writer's block

Every day, Livejournal asks a "Writer's Block" question. It's essentially a question of the day to give people something to write on if they can't come up with anything else.

Today's question was, "Do you believe everything has a scientific explanation?"

I knew better than to read the responses....

But I did anyway.

First, let me add my own response:

It depends on how you define "everything". Science is a methodology for explaining our universe. Thus, if it's in our universe, science can address it. It doesn't mean the answer will always be right on the first go, or that we'll be able to come up with one immediately, but it does mean that there is a scientific explanation out there.

The trouble comes when one starts positing things "outside" our universe. Whatever that means. In that case, science can't really have an answer, but then again, it's a rather silly assumption to make that there are such things.

So as it stands, with our knowledge only being such that we know of things in our universe, the best answer is, yes, everything has a scientific explanation even if we haven't found it yet.

But on to how other people answered:
No. What would be the fun in that? I need mystery.
Translation: Reality should be subject to my desires.
Nature is beautiful-admire it, don't question it.
Anyone or anything that says "don't question" just scares me.
No....That's not going to prevent us from trying, though, and as long as the government is paying we'll be there.
Yes. Science is just a conspiracy to make money from the government....
[Long poem by San Juan de la Cruz ending with the following]
And if you wish to hear:
the highest science leads
to an ecstatic feeling
of the most holy Being;
and from His mercy come His deed:
to let us stay unknowing,
rising beyond all science.
Oh good. A poem to willful ignorance.

What does it matter that the string theory has been published? That information does not help me live my life. Frankly, I could care less.
Translation: "I'm self absorbed and if it doesn't help me directly, then it's no good."

Anyone want to take a guess as to whether this girl was in her teens or not?
Nope. The Impossible happens everyday.
Which makes it, by definition, possible.
Not at all.

Theres too much evidence that paranormal activity exists.
If there's "evidence", that means it can be tested, which would give mean science could address it. I think you're mistaking "personal incredulity" for evidence. Don't worry. You're not the only one.

In general, these were the representative answers for those that answered negatively. The other one was, "Science can't explain X so no." "Love" was the #1 thing science apparently can't explain (I think Savage Garden best answers that). There were many "I believe in God so I can't believe in science" answers, but they were so common (and sadly expected) I didn't bother to quote them either.

Fortunately, there were also several good answers. I think my favorite was this:
Science has all the answers, we just do not have all the science.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Carnival of Space 115

Carnival of Space #115 is now up at New Frontiers. Have a read!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Book Review: DNA

This book wasn't originally on my reading list, but at some point I got on a mailing list that offered me review copies of books. Most of them I ignore without a second though (how many self help book BS do I really need?), but the tag line for DNA by W. Craig Reed caught my eye: It reads, "Intelligent Design or Darwin's Evolution? Discovering the truth can be fatal..."

Oooh. Sounds like it would be a campy religious bit of nonsense invoking the typical arguments from incredulity to posit design.

I thought it'd at least be good for a laugh, so I requested a copy.

The book was not what I expected at all.

Instead of being a piece espousing religion, it's a suspenseful mystery book about some Islamic terrorists who recruit leftover Cold War scientists to develop a biological weapon. In other words, it's built on cliche.

And the hackneyed plot doesn't end there. There's frequent twists and turns worthy of a daytime soap opera with characters dying and coming back to life with amnesia and plastic surgery or others having taken on a half dozen different roles thanks to being masters of disguise. It works in an "elixir of life" which allows a character to get shot 9 times and walk away. It even worms in references to 2012 nonsense and a reference to Planet X.

So where does the "Intelligent Design" come in? It works its way in about 1/2 way through the book as a bunch of scientists laugh (rightfully) at Behe and Dembski. It's an odd exchange and probably wouldn't make a lick of sense to anyone not familiar with the ID movement. But the the entire concept disappears until the last 5 pages of the book when yet another ridiculous plot twist pops up:


Space aliens "intelligently designed" humans to mine gold and platinum to make the elixir of life.



All in all, this book tries way too hard. The basic plot, if stripped of all the silly subplots and nonsense, would be an engaging read. The author does the action reasonably well and is very knowledgeable on his military what nots (being an ex-SEAL). But, as it stands the gratuitous woo factor ruined it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Science of Anime

After nearly 5 months of trying to get my panel from Naka Kon online, all the codecs are worked out, the format is correct, and youtube is actually working right. There's a total of 5 parts and each one takes about 5-6 hours to upload so I'll post the rest as the rest get uploaded.

Part 2.
Part 3.
Part 4.
Part 5.

Thanks to my girlfriend for doing all the editing for me!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Finding Galaxy Clusters with the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Effect

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchFinding galaxy clusters is an important task in cosmology. By finding them and mapping them, we've determined the filamentary structure on the largest of scales in our universe. Their properties constrain cosmological models.

But finding them isn't an easy proposition. We can do it fairly easily in the local universe, but since light follows the inverse square law, they become very faint very quickly. As such, finding them by looking for their light isn't terribly easy. Often distant galaxies are found when something special happens: like a GRB or a supernova.

The most recent issue of the ApJ has a cool article that adds a powerful new trick to the mix; It employs the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect.

First, a science lesson:

The SZ effect is essentially reverse Compton scattering. Compton scattering is what happens all the time in our atmosphere: (relatively) high energy photons come in, bounce off (relatively) low energy electrons and atoms and molecules and lose a bit of that energy (which is why the sky is blue) as well as bouncing off in a new direction (which is why we see light coming from the entire sky and not just directly from the Sun).

Of course, as with most physics, if it can go one way, why not posit the reverse and slap your name on it.

The SZ effect occurs when a relatively low energy photon passes through a hot gas, and picks up some of that energy. In other terms you could say the photon gets blueshifted or gains a shorter wavelength.

Now if you're galaxy savvy, you probably realize that clusters of galaxies are (usually) full of hot, ionized gas. (I say usually since galactic collisions can strip them of their gas, but this is more on a individual galactic scale as opposed to a cluster scale.) Propagating though this gas is low energy microwave photons from the Cosmic Microwave Background.

There's been several observations of known clusters showing the SZ effect, but this paper is the first to go the other way around: Using the SZ effect to find the clusters.

With this technique, the group found 4 clusters of galaxies in a ~40º section of the sky, three of which were previously unknown. And looking at the optical images of them, it's not hard to see why they were missed! The green circles show the cluster and the blue ones note galaxies that are gravitationally lensed.

Staniszewski, Z., Ade, P., Aird, K., Benson, B., Bleem, L., Carlstrom, J., Chang, C., Cho, H., Crawford, T., Crites, A., de Haan, T., Dobbs, M., Halverson, N., Holder, G., Holzapfel, W., Hrubes, J., Joy, M., Keisler, R., Lanting, T., Lee, A., Leitch, E., Loehr, A., Lueker, M., McMahon, J., Mehl, J., Meyer, S., Mohr, J., Montroy, T., Ngeow, C., Padin, S., Plagge, T., Pryke, C., Reichardt, C., Ruhl, J., Schaffer, K., Shaw, L., Shirokoff, E., Spieler, H., Stalder, B., Stark, A., Vanderlinde, K., Vieira, J., Zahn, O., & Zenteno, A. (2009). GALAXY CLUSTERS DISCOVERED WITH A SUNYAEV-ZEL'DOVICH EFFECT SURVEY The Astrophysical Journal, 701 (1), 32-41 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/701/1/32

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Forming Stars: W51A - A Case Study

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchEver since I was introduced to a Creationist claiming it's impossible to form new stars, I've been extra interested in journal articles that highlight how well our theory of stellar formation and evolution lines up with the evidence. It's been a pretty hot topic on this blog and a new ApJ article adds yet another confirmation that we're not just making things up when it comes to our knowledge of stars.

The article looks at a star forming region called W51A that is a bubble in the gaseous cloud in which it resides. In the paper, it addresses two major points of the formation of stars:

1) The required density for stellar condensation
2) The ability of expanding shells driven by other stars to cause the necessary overdensities

In order to analyze the first point, the researchers used a correlation between the amount of CO molecules (which can be determined via spectroscopy) and hydrogen to find the location the hydrogen is the densest. As expected, several locally dense regions exist near the perimeter of the bubble. Based on their estimations, they found the density to already be greater than the theoretical density necessary for the cloud to start fragmenting into stars. Given we see young stars in regions predicted by theory, that suggests that we're doing pretty well on the first point.

For the second, the group needed to tie the formation of the bubble to a star within it. By measuring the radial velocity of the bubble near the edges, the team could trace back how long it should have taken for the bubble to grow to its current diameter as well as determining the approximate center. Near that center, they find a massive star (which they estimate to be a O8.5 main sequence star) which would likely be the reason for the bubble. But to really test the feasibility for this star to make the bubble, they match these observations with theoretical calculations for similar regions from a 2006 paper. The predictions from the model predict a time scale and shell size that line up excellently.

So from this, two points of stellar formation are, yet again, supported by observational evidence.

Kang, M., Bieging, J., Kulesa, C., & Lee, Y. (2009). TRIGGERED STAR FORMATION IN A DOUBLE SHELL NEAR W51A The Astrophysical Journal, 701 (1), 454-463 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/701/1/454

Carnival of Space 114

Carnival of Space #114 is up at Cheap Astro. Have a look!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

And you shall know them by their color-color diagrams

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchImagine this situation:

You're trying to find an astronomical object. It looks, at first glance, like an ordinary star; It's a bright point source. But to make sure you don't have it easy, this object (or perhaps many of this object) is hidden amongst a field of tens to hundreds of thousands of genuine stars. How do you pick them out?

This is the problem that astronomers have when trying to pick out Active Galactic Nuclei behind clusters or other galaxies. Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) are, as the name describes, the cores of unusually energetic galaxies.

While they're useful in their own right to constrain models of galactic evolution and cosmology, they can also be important as background sources to study foreground ones. Since AGNs are broadly similar, we can characterize their spectrum. If that light then passes through a foreground galaxy or cluster, the foreground object will modify the light in ways that can allow us to analyze the makeup of that object. Additionally, since they're so far away, they have no apparent motion and as such, can be used as static markers to map out the minute motions of other (nearby) objects.

So finding AGNs that are behind objects we'd like to study is a very useful tool. But since they're often so far away, they look just like stars until you start breaking down the spectrum. But doing a full spectrographic study of every object when you're looking for AGNs is not practical since spectroscopy takes a relatively long time.

But that's why astronomers developed photometry. It's a quick and dirty way of getting a lot of the same information.

This recent study built on previous work suggesting that by comparing the differences in various filters in the right way, it would be possible to weed out most of the stars, leaving only the AGNs.

Applying this technique, the group singled out nearly 5,000 probably AGNs behind the Large Magellanic Cloud. Of course, the method does can be fooled. Stars enshrouded in dust like late Asymptotic Giant Branch stars or ones encased in Planetary Nebulae can end up in the same color region.

But still, this method filters out a significant number of the stars leaving only a few to be sorted out.
Kozłowski, S., & Kochanek, C. (2009). DISCOVERY OF 5000 ACTIVE GALACTIC NUCLEI BEHIND THE MAGELLANIC CLOUDS The Astrophysical Journal, 701 (1), 508-513 DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/701/1/508