Friday, September 29, 2006

Judge Jones III @ KU

In a continuation of the "Difficult Dialogues" series here at KU which was kicked off by Ken Miller, Judge Jones III gave a lecture at KU last night followed by an additional dialogue Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, I teach my lab section on Tuesday night, so I wasn't able to attend. If you're wanting to know what went on, check out RSR's entry.

I did end up making it to the Q&A session Wednesday morning. As I did with the Miller sessions, I'll post the paraphrased question in italics, followed by the paraphrased answer in regular text.

Q1. Was the decision in the Dover case based more on law (ie the constitution) or a lack of credibility of the defendants?

A1. Obviously, the first obligation is to the law. However, Judge Jones said repeatedly that he felt the school board members (two in particular) "lied" during their deposition and on the stand. He says that while "lied" is a strong term, he feels it is necessary. Ultimately, the Lemon Test was applied so the answer to the question was "both".

Q2. Last night, the House passed the Public Expression of Religion Act. What are your thoughts on this? (NOTE: A press release from a news agency was read, but I couldn't find one that had the same content.)

A2. The press release showed how things are frequently misrepresented in the media in that it said Judge Jones "awarded two million dollars" to the defendants for legal fees. This is a mischaracterization. In reality, the two parties agreed that the legal fees were worth that amount and Judge Jones just signed the paperwork making it official. He also noted that it was eventually settled to be only half that amount.

The obvious reasoning behind this law is to discourage those that would blithely break the constituion by making severe financial reprocussions. It also allows for those that would not otherwise have the funding to pay for attorneys to challange those that do.

But the law creating this tradition was created by congress, and as Judge Jones said multiple times, "Congress gives. Congress taketh away." He didn't speak much more about the bill itself, nothing that he hadn't read it, but suggested he was weary of it because if there is no penalty, then how do you discourage people from breaking the seperation of church and state?

The article also mentioned that it is in part designed to stop groups like the ACLU from "profiteering". Jones noted that there's a lot of people that don't like the ACLU on principle, but as a judge, he had no particular opinion except to say that they were extremely organized. Meanwhile, the Thomas Moore Law Center did not do so well in that regard. He said that, had the defendants decided to pay for an attorney (instead of accepting the free council from the Thomas Moore Law Center), that he doubts that any attorney would have suggested not letting the case go to trial.

Lastly, he noted that he disapproved of "showboating", in which people "dare" to do things like Roy Moore placing the monument of the ten commandments in the federal judiciary building, knowing jurisprudence. PERA would only serve to endorse more cases of such things.

Q3. (From the Angry Astronomer) Many people reading the ruling in the Dover case have remarked on the surprisingly simple language. To what extent was this intentional?

A3. Quite intentional. Knowing that this decision would be of a great deal of interest to the public, Judge Jones said he rewrote parts many times, especially the conclusion. But at the same time, it wasn't terribly different than his decisions in any other case. He suggests that judges need to realize they're writing for the parties and not just the lawyers.

Q4. In the past, we have seen events of the executive branch trying to subvert the judiciary such as Roosevelt's effort to pack the supreme court. Is this common today, and how does the president interact?

A4. There's always thension. The founders gave life tenure to judges and occasionally the other branches may be "jealous". Early in the country's history there were attempts to impeach judges based on their rulings. Roosevelt's case was the most egragarious example as well as the Warren courts in the 60's, but fortunately that doesn't seem to be happening as much now.

Q5. What led you to rule as you did in Dover?

A5. The Endorsement test is common in the Thrid District. But just to be safe, Judge Jones said he applied both the Lemon and Endorsement in a "belt and suspenders approach." Since the endorsement test combines intent as well as effect, it required him to comment on whether or not ID is science. Not doing so would have made it likely that the trial would be repeated elsewhere. But it was "painfully evident" that Dover's motives were religious. However, the religious motivations may be sanitized elsewhere which also produced the need to rule on whether or not ID is science.

Additionally, Judge Jones pointed out that some people give him flak for ruling on what is and is not science. But, he says, this happens all the time. He says that judges should rule as narrowly when possible, but the ruling on ID as pseudo-science was prudent.

Q6. I'd attempts to appeal to the public as a smokescreen to hide their lack of science. How do we get around the ID marketing ploy?

A6. Ken Miller and Dr. Behe went on a "roadshow" in which where one went, the other would follow. Ultimately, ID should fall because it couldn't hold up under cross examination. The Discovery Institute can't seem to get over this nearly a year later and is "obsessing."

Q7. Those on school boards don't understand how the law works. There is frequently an attempt to get a certin court so rulings will be more favorable.

A7. Typically, judges get things right and are impartial. This isn't to say that there aren't some out there that aren't but that's why it's important to really scrutinize candidates. If they serve for life, their entire background should be "fair game." While this is what happens, it also results in some that are deserving of the position getting removed from consideration for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Judge Jones says he underwent an intensive seven week background check by the FBI in which they contacted everyone he knew. At first he found it amusing when friends from high school called saying the FBI just contacted them asking about him, but it became "kinda scary" when they started walking around the neighborhood knocking on neighbors doors.

Q8. So do you accept or decry "litmus questions"?

A8. Judges should not be asked how they're going to rule before the fact. There are far too many variables. Judge Jones also pointed out that he was appointed by the Bush administration and never litmus tested. He suggested that that's not how the current White House works.

Q9. Behe said ID only works if you already believe in God. But ID is the only "science" that requires this presupposition. Thus is this possibly the basis for a new test for court rulings?

A9. The Daubert Test is applied to determine good science. It looks for science that is peer reviewed, generally accepted, empirically verifiable, etc... Judge Jones found that ID did not meet these criteria for being good science. On the bench, Jones notes that Behe was at least candid and honest, unlike the school board members. But he was not conciously trying to create a new test.

Q10. Judicial Independence and Scientific Independence seem to go hand in hand. Is there a common threat socially or culturally?

A10. There could be. But more than that, the independence of teachers is at stake too. Judge Jones said he found it "alarming how the teachers were treated by the school board" having opposed the ID policy to the person.

Q11. Does the excellence of judges take the pressure off the electorate? Have poor laws been made as a result?

A11. Short answer: Possibly if not probably.

Judge Jones also mentioned in a bit of a tangent that he has no clue what the Discovery Institute actually does.

Q12. You've mentioned that the school board members "lied". Are there personal consequences for this?

A12. Two of the school board members were referred to the US attorney, but Judge Jones said he has no knowledge of how that's proceeding. It was, however, the first time he'd felt it necessary to take such an action. Had they told the truth, there could have been an injunction which would have prevented the fees and costs the defendants were "awarded". But this was not sought.

Q13. Is there any personal liability that they be made responsible for the 2 million that was awarded?

A13. Not at this point. The school board that replaced the incumbents could have attempted to sue as well as taxpayers in an attempt to surcharge, but that option was not sought.

Q14. Canada does not have a local form of control over schools. Is it becoming time that the US adopt this approach?

A14. Most people seem to be of the opinion that school board should be responsible to the electorate. The lesson from Dover is that people should pay attention for whom they vote.

Q15. Hisorically we have repeatedly seen faith vs. science vs. law. Any opinions on why this keeps happening?

A15. This is a nation full of religious people. They draw comfor from this and as such there we are "going to have inevitable collisions." Part of the job of schools is to make better citizens. Some feel this means the inclusion of religion which brings it into conflict with the law. Also, jurisprudence changes over generations.

Q16. Is homeschooling a threat to public schools?

A16. It's fine. Judge Jones said he doesn't see that it leads to collisiobns.

Q17. Do you think your ruling will influence future rulings on ID?

A17. Obviously one cannot say, but Judge Jones says he hopes it will be influential. However, it's not binding outside of Pennsylvania but he hopes it will discourage those that are pushing for ID.

Q18. What effect did the Dover case have on you personally?

A18. Judge Jones said it has brought to light how seriously the public misunderstands the court system and how people are typecast (such as him being pegged as a "conservative" judge). He points out that because of this misunderstanding, judges should feel obliged to speak out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I wish I flew more

Apparently, frequent flier miles can be cashed in for trips to space. And having racked up more than 2 million frequent flier miles (enough to go around the earth 80 times), Alan Watts plans to do just that. That's one giant leap from Space Mountain.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Art of Science

It seems to be a trend recently, that a number of the science bloggers have been discussing the results when art and science collide. Mollishka recently posted an entry saying that a chandelier of the universe entitled "The End of Modernity" had won a McArthur Fellowship. I'm not an art buff, but I agree with Mollishka in thinking it's rather pretty.

Meanwhile, the Bad Astronomer has been all about art lately.

I'm not quite enough of a trend whore that I will ever stoop to posting a ridiculous meme on what my favourite cereal is (perhaps one that pertains to science if I ever come across one), but I figured I'd toss in my contribution to this realm as well that I found tonight as I was clearing out my bookmarks.

Over at Princeton, they started an annual competition in 2005 called the Art of Science which is a "celebration of the aesthetics of research and the ways in which science and engineering inform art and vise versa".

So what are my favourites? I particularly liked this video of drainage dynamics of soap film. This one of the inside of a fusion generator was also quite impressive. Lastly, well, I'll just let this one speak for itself.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Captain Occam to the Rescue!

I have no idea how to introduce this, but it seems that there's now a webcomic about Creationism. I wasn't sure what to expect from this when I found the link, but I'm very impressed with the writing!

Check it out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bad Astronomy on CNN

Stealing a bit of thunder from the Bad Astronomer, I noticed an article on CNN this morning that had a few errors in it. Nothing major, but I figured it might be fun to address.

The first part of the article I don't like is the title. It's sensationalist. It claims that scientists are rethinking things as if the notions currently held have just been shattered and it's time to start over. Yet later on the article goes on to say the discovery "doesn't necessarily undermine that discovery or other previous research". So there's some sloppy writing right off the bat.

The next problem is at the end of the first sentence when the author says that astronomers are thinking about how stars "disintegrate." Disintigratiobn implies things are being broken down into their most basic forms, namely atoms. In a supernova, the exact opposite happens! Stars, while being extremely complex in a mechanical sense as I'm finding out this semester, are actually made up of pretty much the simplest stuff you can think of. In the large stars, the ones prone to becoming supernovae, most of the atoms are ionized and since it's mostly hydrogen (at least on the visible surface), that means that it's going to be a bunch of protons and electrons floating around. Can't get much simpler than that.

Meanwhile, when a supernova occurs, all these building blocks are smashed together making more complex nuclei which gives rise to all the "metals" in astronomy (astronomers call metal anything with an atomic number greater than helium). So "disintegration" is the wrong word. "Integration" perhaps? But that might stir up bad memories of calculus...

The next, and what I'd say is the biggest, error is saying that the Chandrasekhar Limit is "1.4 times the size of our sun". Size has nothing to do with it. It's all about the mass.

Let's take a closer look at what causes a supernova. In any object, the sun and stars being no exception, there always has to be a balance of forces. The mass of the object, makes a gravitational pull that goes towards the center. Thus, if nothing was stopping it, all objects would collapse down to a single point. Fortunately, there's lots of ways to stop this collapse. All you need is an opposing pressure in the opposite direction. In stars in the main portion of their lifetime, the heat and energy generated in the core pushes the outer layers back to keep things from collapsing.

But what about things like the Earth and stars that have already used up all their fuel? What keeps them from collapsing? The answer is that atoms themselves to the work. The charged electron clouds around the atoms repel one another just like how those colorful balls in McDonalds playpens settle in together.

This is the case for the white dwarf stars that are the progenitors for the type of supernova discussed in the article. So what's with this limit?

What ends up happening is there's a point where atoms just can't hold themselves up anymore. Pile on enough mass and the atoms collapse. So what the magic limit an object without any additional outwards pressure can support? It's generally been held that it's 1.4 times the mass of the sun.

White dwarf stars are the end result of stars similar to our sun. They're normal stars, that as they die, blow off their outer layers slowly creating what's called a planetary nebula. What's left behind is the burnt out core of the star. But at this point, it's not gaining mass and is obviously less than that limit (otherwise it would have gone straight into a supernova which is a different class than the one talked about in the article).

So where does the extra mass come from? It turns out that a very appreciable fraction of stars in the universe exist in binary systems. If one star dies by blowing off its outer layers, and the remaining core is just below 1.4 solar masses, it's possible that, when it's companion starts swelling up to toss out its outer layers, that the first star will grab some of that material. If there's enough to push it over the limit, the white dwarf collapses, resulting in a supernova.

Now that you know the good astronomy behind the article (and where it buggered up), let's take a moment to analyze what the article is saying and what its implications are.

The article discusses a supernova that was discovered in a galaxy ~4 billion light years away (that's pretty darn far) that the progenitor white dwarf was two solar masses before it decided to collapse. This is well over the formerly thought limit of 1.4 solar masses.

I'm not quite sure how the masses were determined in this case. There's lots of tricks, but given the distance, I'm inclined to think that it may just be a case of error involved in observations. But assuming that the presumed mass is correct, this still doesn't throw out the Chandrasekhar limit. It just means something funny's going on. One possibility that the article mentions is that the white dwarf was spinning rapidly which would produce a centrifugal force that would help take some of the weight off. Or perhaps this supernova wasn't formed in the manner we usually attribute to their formation.

But what are the implications if it turns out that the Chandrasekhar limit isn't as steadfast as previously thought or is alltogether wrong? It turns out that this class of supernova is very important in astronomy. Because we think we know what the mass is of the exploding star, we can determine how bright the explosion should be. By comparing that to how bright it is, we can figure out how far away things are. This is one of the key determinations in finding the age of the universe.

So if these "standard candles" turn out to burn a bit brighter than previously though, it means our estimated age would be off too. Alltogether, it's an interesting article even though a few things were off. I'll have to look when I have more time and see if I can find the publication.

Spaceballs: The Animated Series

For those that don't know, and that couldn't have guessed, I'm a bit of a geek. Along with the interest in science, video games, and computers, that also generally implies a strong interest in science fiction/fantasy. I fit this criteria very well too.

I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars movies. I waited until the original trilogy came out in its unaltered form (Just say no to Hayden Christiansen in RotJ) before buying it last Saturday, and promptly sat down and watched all three original movies in a single day. I went to the Episode III premiere in my Darth Vader costume. I also have a few Jedi costumes, as well as a Rebel Pilot and the beginnings of a Rebel Trooper.

On the fantasy side, I'm a member of the Society of Creative Anachronisms which does full contact recreation sword fighting in heavy armor and I love the fantasy worlds of Tolkien. My favourite author is Terry Pratchett, who parodies, well, everything in his fantasy world.

So when the worlds of parody and science fiction/fantasy meet, I'm especially prone to liking it. As expected, this puts Spaceballs high up on my list of favorite movies. In Spaceballs, it makes fun of the marketing aspect of blockbuster films with action figures, towels, breakfast cereals, and even Spaceballs the toilet paper. Ha, ha. All in good fun.

Except that it looks like it's serious this time. Nearly 20 years after being released, Spaceballs will be having a spinoff animated series. For once, I'm actually glad I have cable in the dorms.

Holy superpositions Batman!

It's been awhile since I've seen anything really nifty to blog about in the astronomical world. Either that or I just haven't had time to write up the more lengthy astronomical posts I did this summer, but this happened to catch my eye today.

If humans ever do end up going out and exploring our solar system, they might just get homesick and find themselves looking home. The Cassini spacecraft, out visiting Saturn, did just that recently. So what does the Earth look like from 1.5 billion miles away?

Not much.

Earth and the almost resolved moon are shown in the inset in the upper left, and amidst Saturn's rings to the right of center in the main image. Pretty insignificant in the big scale of things.

But if that's not enough for you, check out today's APOD:

What are those two little dots? Its the ISS and shuttle Atlantis sillouhetted against the sun. As the Bad Astronomer points out, the transit lasted less than a second, but astrophotographer Thierry Legault knows his stuff.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Miller at KU part 4 - Reactions

While I thought Dr. Miller's talk at KU was excellent in most regards, the blogsphere was abuzz immediately afterwards, with PZ Myers calling Dr. Miller a creationist (which he later noted was the lowercase "c" variety) and many others making comments. I debated for some time over whether or not I should jump in the frey immediately, or if I should sit back awhile, listen to the talk again from the audio I linked to earlier, digest things a bit more, and then make a post concerning things.

Ultimately, I was very pleased with Dr. Miller's presentation. One of his main points that I agree very strongly with, is that science cannot support or refute supernatural causes like God. Therefore, any conclusions drawn from science on these subjects, whether it be from Intelligent Design "theorists" or from atheists like Dawkins and Dennet, are philosophical as opposed to scientific in nature and should be treated as such.

However, while I agree with the message, there's a few niggling details that I had problems with that I'd like to address. Since first seeing the talk nearly two weeks ago now, I've relistned to it twice and found that the majority of my critisizm comes from a single section of Dr. Miller's talk. To help address things, I've transcribed that portion of the talk and will post that now before I go any further:
"What's behind the back and forth, unending warfare that we see everywhere in this country and that we see exlemplified in the rising and ebbing tides of evolution and creation in a state like Kansas? Here's what I think is going on, and this is my contribution to the difficult elements of this dialogue:

We have a biological theory called evolution, which deals with the origin of species by material processes. Many people, Dawkins among them, Daniel Dennet, many others, draw a conclusion from evolutionary theory which is fundamentally anti-theistic; A philosophical interpretation that having a material origin for living things denies meaning and purpose to our lives and denies a diety.

Most recently, the last two months, two major books have come out that argue exactly this point: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins and "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural Phenomenon" by Daniel Dennet of Tufts University. Faced with such unremitting hostility to religion, and that's exactly what these books exemplify, I think the advocates of religion react, and they react in a predictable way; The "creation scientists" for example, decided "We've got to do something about this." Their solution, however, was to ignore this interpretation and go after evolution itself. So all of the arguments from the old creation science thing are designed to attack the validity of evolution, the logic being, "If we can just cut the knees out from under evolution, this interpretation will whither on the vine."

One of the reasons people in the scientific community immediately recognized Intelligent Design was just the same as creationism was when it came along, Intelligent Design sought to do exactly the same thing: To attack evolution in the hopes that this interpretation would go away.

The contribution and suggestion I would like to make to this dialogue is pretty simple and that is that people of faith are shootin' at the wrong target and that instead, what they should be shooting at is not evolution itself, which has turned out to be remarkably robust following 150 years of attacks upon it since the publication of "Origin of Species", it's still standing, but rather the anti-theistic interpretation of evolution. And that, I am convinced is ultimately the road to peace; the way in which these two disputatious groups can be brought together in states like Kansas and elsewhere in the United States, and this is the argument that I would like to make tonight.

So, for example, what we can draw from evolution, certainly, includes the anti-theistic interpretations that I mentioned, but it's also possible, and I think necessary, to draw a theistic interpretation of evolution, one that material origins of our and other species reveals meaning, purpose, and the diety; In short: That they are consistent with religion.

Now, the key question, that I think all of us have to face, regardless of our views about science and religion, is whether or not science carries us as deeply into the mystery of life as we truly wish to go. And that's a question I think everyone should grapple with. I would say that people of faith would argue that it does not; That science, as useful as it is, doesn't answer the ultimate questions of existance.

Now, this is not a rejection of science. I'm a scientist. I've devoted my life to science. I don't reject science, but I do think I recognize the limitations of science, and many other scientists do as well. And I would argue that an appreciation of the validity of this choice, you don't have to agree with it, you just simply have to say "That's a valid choice, I might not make it, but other people clearly do." is really the first step in making a genuine peace, between science and religion.
So now let's address what critisizms I had of this portion.

The first issue I took was that Dr. Miller implies that people abusing science to make anti-theistic arguments is the root of the problem and the cause of the attack on evolution. While I have no doubt that this is a contributing factor to the targeting of evolution, I feel to claim that it's a significant factor is simply not true.

The first reason I claim this is that the arguments creationism and Intelligent Design rest upon have all been around for far longer than Dawkins, Dennet, and others ever started using science to attack religion. Paley's "watchmaker" argument has been around since the late 1700's. This predates Darwin's "Origin of Species" by well over 50 years! Thus, such arguments were already in existance. Additionally, as soon as "Origin of Species" was published, it immediately fell under attack, before anyone had a chance to use it to turn against evolution. Just the mere act of publishing it make theists feel attacked.

Which leads me to my second point: Regardless of whether or not there is a true attack there will always be those that feel they are being attacked and respond in outrageous ways. My example for this is the imagined "War on Christmas". The idea that saying "Happy Holidays" is somehow an attack on Christianity is absurd, yet there are those that feel if you're not supporting religion, you're against it and thus percieve an attack where there is none.

So to restate this, whether or not some abuse science to attack religion seems beside the point to me. There are those that will always perceive themselves as being attacked if they aren't welcomed with open arms and respond by attacking their perceived agressor.

I've exchanged a few Emails with Dr. Miller and pointed this out, and he responded that, first off, he did not intend to imply that this was the sole or even the main reason that evolution was under attack. My response to this is that if he didn't mean to imply it, then perhaps it shouldn't have been the only "cause" that he mentioned in his talk. Dr. Miller also pointed out that even many Christians find the "War on Christmas" to be absurd and the ones espousing that garbage are few in number. My response was that those who don't, tend to be the strongest advocates of Intelligent Design and are far more numerous than he may think. But perhaps it's just a Kansas/Missouri thing since those are the only places where I've spent good amounts of time.

Regardless, I feel that saying that atheists misusing science is a significant contribution to the cause for creationism is wholly false.

My second and comparitively smaller issue was the use of the term "anti-theistic". When first attending the talk, I was busily taking notes (I had a total of 6 pages worth) and thus, had things filtered through the note taking process. As a result I managed to think that Dr. Miller had used the term as a noun ("anti-theist"). Many others in SOMA also got this impression.

However, after listening to the talk twice more, the noun form does not make an appearance. That being said though, anti-theistic is only marginally better. So what's my problem with the word use here?

My issue is the connotation assosciated with it. If someone is using "anti-theistic" arguments you can infer that the person is an anti-theist. If people actually took this word literally and only included people in that group that were actually in it (ie, those that actually attacked religion as opposed to the large majority of atheists who remain silent unless provoked), there would be no problem.

But last year, we in SOMA learned a valuable lesson on the connotations assosciated with emotionally charged terms like this. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, a professor at KU (Dr. Mirecki) was intending to offer a course on Intelligent Design that labeled it as a mythology. In a private Email to SOMA, Dr. Mirecki said (among many other non-offensive remarks) that the class would be a "slap in the face of big fat fundies". The listserve, however, had been joined by a conservative columnist (John Altvelgot) sent this Email to the press.

Immediately outrage grew over the term "fundie" in which many moderate Christians to whom the term does not apply, also decided to lump themselves into the fundamentalist grouping. The conflict grew with Senators threatening to cut funding for KU, and finally peaked with Dr. Mirecki being assaulted and beaten.

So what's the lesson we learn from this? When there's emotionally charged terms like "fundie" or "anti-theist(ic)", chances are that people will be put in that group that don't belong there and it becomes a shitstorm. This is especially true in Kansas where many of the less moderate Christians live in a bifurcated world that I've posted about before. The former leader of the school board once stated that science and religion were mutually exclusive and that people had to choose. Such people are unable to make the distinction between "anti-theists", who are outright hostile towards religion, and passive atheists. Additionally, many members of SOMA took the same idea on the opposite side, and even though most are not openly hostile towards religion, using scientific arguments against philosophical topics, they felt that they were being labeled and painted as the villians (being the implied root of creationism as I mentioned earlier).

But am I being overly cautious here? I don't think so. Only a few days after expressing these concerns to Dr. Miller in Email, a user joined the SOMA message boars proclaiming "Ken Miller trashes atheism", making sweeping generalizations based on Dr. Miller's words that truly applied to only those that were making the anti-theistic arguments. Thus, my fears are justified.

I find it more than a bit annoying that both sides try to make words mean more than they truly do, both the Christians who can't escape their black and white world, and the atheists that are so used to being attacked that they perceive this as another attack. However, the reality is that this does happen. A good speaker should recognize it and try to either explicitly define such words instead of leaving them to speak for themselves or use different words all together.

My only other quibble was Dr. Miller's joke (not in the transcribed section) about how, given that the materialistic interpretation "denies meaning and purpose to our lives", he can't imagine how Dawkins finds the drive to get out of bed. I'm relatively sure that this was meant as a joke, however, it didn't sit well with me or many other members of SOMA. The reason? The idea that not having a god to give our lives meaning means that atheists somehow have no drive or moral center is a strawman. And not even a good one. I'm pretty sure that Dr. Miller recognizes this and it was meant as a tongue in cheek comment. The problem is that, especially in Kansas, there's a very large amount of people that actually believe that crap! And having Dr. Miller repeat it, even as a joke, only reenforces it.

So what's my final conclusion on the talk? I still hold that it was absolutely fantastic. When taken objectively and literally with what he meant to say, I don't think there's much that I disagree with aside from the first point I made above. My main issues come from the realization that in places like Kansas, atheists get a bad wrap (members of SOMA have been asked if they worship Satan, eat babies, etc...). Dr. Miller's presentation I think unwittingly played to that. It's a shame that more people can't be objective and realize what Dr. Miller was truly saying, but that's reality. Thus, my main critisizm would be that Dr. Miller needs to realize his audience a bit better and put aside the notion that he's talking to scientists that actually follow logic.

After all; This is Kansas. They call it "pop" here. Can't they get anything right?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bush's "Third Awakening"

Killing is wrong, and bad. There should be a new, stronger word for killing like badwrong or badong. YES, killing is badong. From this moment, I will stand for the opposite of killing, gnodab.
-Kung Pao: Enter the Fist

According to the Washington Post, President Bush sees a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion looming due to the struggle against terrorism. While I'm forced to agree that there has been a strong upsurge in religious expression since 9/11, I can't understand why this is. When Americans are attacked by religiously driven terrorists, to me, it would prompt an analysis of the damage religion can do and cause an introspective analysis of my own faith.

But it seems that Americans, instead of ever questioning themselves, paint things in a black and white dichotomy in which they can do no wrong and it must be the problem of everyone else. Which is precisely the position Bush has taken, "A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me."

Such absolutism in which one feels that one can do no wrong is one of the most dangerous things I can think of. It's akin to the driver of a car feeling invincible, taking their hands off the wheel and praying. It might work ok for a time, but eventually there will be a turn in the road. Is blind faith really going to take America around that corner?

Space Cadet Madonna?

Madonna seems to have been in my blog a lot recently. I'm hoping this doesn't continue or I might have to create a new subsection in my post index. First she was touting magic Kaballah water and then crazy Christians were making bomb threats to stop her from having a concert.

But now there's buzz that she's wanting to take a trip to the International Space Station. But it seems that the Duma (lower house in parliment) has rejected her request because of her routine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

House of Yaweh predicts the end starts today

It seems that a church recently gaining notoriety for their doomsday predictions have finally decided that today is the day. They put fliers on cars announcing that nuclear war will start today and that we have only 13 months left till the ultimate end.

Personally, I'm not holding my breath. Even if a nuclear war did start today I would not see this as an astouding prediction given that on practically any day of the year, someone is predicting that the end of the world is starting. One group has already made 11 predictions this year alone.

But I suppose I'm scoffing (2 Pe 3:3) which only goes to further their convictions...

Pluto - Worth 1000

I'm pretty tired of the Pluto nonsense, but I just discovered that Worth 1000 did a photoshop contest to promote Pluto.

Check out all the entries here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Miller at KU part 3 - Morning Discussion Session

The Friday morning following the presentation, Dr. Miller was gracious enough to have another Q&A session in a much smaller and more personal setting. At the time I started, I seemed to be the only student in attendance. The rest of the audience was well dressed professors. Fortunately, SOMA president Andrew Stangl later arrived.

As I did before, I'll post the paraphrased questions in italics, and the paraphrased answers in normal text.

Q1. Seven out of the ten expert witnesses for the defense in the Dover trial backed out. Why did they do this? Was it pressure from the Discovery Institute? Did they not like the battleground and if that's the case, which battleground do you think they would prefer?

A1. To qualify as an expert witness, one must first write a statement roughly equilavent to a Master's thesis. Dr. Miller obviously did this, as well as the seven members of the Discovery Institute and the other three witnesses for the defense (not directly affiliated with the Discovery Institute). However, not only did the Discovery Institute witnesses eagerly file theirs, but after reading Dr. Miller's, they wrote reubttal papers showing that, at least initially they were extremely enthusiastic about assisting with the trial.

However, come time for deposition, Dembski's lawyer simply walked in, told them that he would not be testifying and left. They then flew to (I believe) Seattle where the next witness from the Discovery Institute did the same. From there, they called ahead before flying across the country just to find out that they were stood up. Sure enough, the rest of the Discovery Institute fellows had dropped out. This begs the question: "Why just the witnesses from the Discovery Institute and not Behe and the other two?"

Discovery Institute claims it was "personal decisions", that the Discovery Institute never agreed with the Dover School Board, and that the seven witnesses that backed out wanted to have their personal lawyers take the deposition instead of lawyers from the Thomas Moore Law Center, who would not allow this.

Dr. Miller held that this claim was inadequate and still suggests that the Discovery Institute pressured them to back out noting that only those who were on the Discovery Institute payroll withdrew. Additionally, Dr. Miller pointed out that while the Discovery Institute claims not to have ever advocated the teaching of Intelligent Design, this is directly contradicted by a C-SPAN debate in which a lawyer for the school board revealed a document published by the Discovery Institute and written by its head which was a "How to" for teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom.

The position Dr. Miller holds is that, having heard of the strong religious statements the school board made (ie. "2000 years ago, someone died on a cross for you..."), saw a train wreck coming, jumped off and then denied that they were ever on board.

Ironically, during the Dover trial, the Discovery Institute still sent Casey Luskin to stand outside and during recesses spin things for the press.

(AA Additional notes: I think it should also be noted that the former head of the school board in Dover also came forth this past spring and revealed that the Discovery Institute had been in direct contact with them, pushing them forward until they realized the school board had screwed things up.

Also, I agree with Dr. Miller's assertion given that, if the DI were truly in opposition to the position of the school board, they wouldn't have felt the need to cry "activist judge" and publish their "Trapising into Evolution" book. The DI needs to make up their mind. Or are they do like John Kerry and "waffle"?)

Q2. In the talk last night, you said that science being naturalistic dates back to St. Augustus. However, can we not trace this naturalistic notion back even further to Aquanius of the Greek?

A2. Absolutely. The naturalistic nature goes back much futher. I just brought up St. Augustus as an example of a religious figure who could seperate the two. Interestingly, the Kansas School Board claims to be wanting to return to a "traditional" (ie. non-naturalistic) definition of science, but given how far the naturalistic roots go back, this would be incorrect.

Q3. After writing "Origin of Species", Darwin dropped references of God from other works. Is it not unfair to not mention this in your talk last night and thus pretend that Darwin was a highly spiritual person?

A3. The closing quote wasn't meant to prove that Darwin was spiritual, but only that the two can coexist.

That being said, the phrase, "put by the breath of the Creator" did not appear in "Origin of Species" until the second edition and remained there through the sixth and final edition in Darwin's life.

However, to be fair, Darwin supposedly never set foot in a church after his daughter's death. One personal letter describes him as an agnostic. But other lettrs contradict this. Thus, there's no clear consistency.

Q4. What's next? How do we quickly sweep ID?

A4. First off, stop letting the ID crowd define terms incorrectly. They frequently say that evolution is "random" but this is about as far from the truth as you can get. If we let them make this claim, it makes people uncomfortable because it makes no moral implications.

But isn't assuming this some sort of hubris?

Dawkins would argue it's a byproduct of evolution. However, it's very hard, if not impossible, to distinguish such thigns from evolutionary baggage. Thus there's no way to make a real scientific argument.

Q5. Who are your favourite contemporary theologians and what are your views on abortion/stem cell research?

A5. Garry Wills ("Why I'm a Catholic" and "What Jesus Meant")
CS Lewis ("Mere Christianity")

In regards to abortion, Catholic doctrine holds its wrong, but then again, they also hold that divorce is wrong. But we don't force this on everyone. The same should hold true for abortion.

During a lunch Dr. Miller had with five bishops, he told them that, if cells are extracted from a developing embryo early enough, the remaining ones can grow perfectly normally. In fact, this is done routinely to screen for genetic diseases. The bishops agreed that in this case, everything is fine and that there would be no moral difference than giving blood. The only catch is that the embryo cannot give consent, but given that they do not claim to know when the soul comes in, it's still a grey area.

In regards to homosexuality, it is extremely complex biologically. The gay community is divided over whether or not they want to know if it's genetic. If it is, some feel that would be good because then it would be no different than having a certain skin color, but others worry that if it is, then it would be a genetic disease and try to "cure" it. Meanwhile, congress is reluctant to fund such research, so not much is known yet.

Q6. Roughly how many scientists are religious?

A6. Recent survey says about 42%. This was about the same as it was in another survey conducted in 1917.

Q7. How should we deal with the biblical literalists who refuse to acknowledge science?

A7. Get them to admit that their standpoint is entirely theological. Science doesn't disprove their position, but should make them question how they interpret things. Then demonstrate that the two (science and religion) can coexist.

However, it's generally not worth trying to convince such people. They're generally a lost cause and the ID debate is more on convincing the middle ground.

Q8. So what do scientists need to do?

A8. Science needs more popularizers like Carl Sagan & Mr. Wizard. The scientific community needs to stop looking down their noses at such people.

Q9. (From the Angry Astronomer) In your talk last night, you said that the theists were "shooting at the wrong target" and that they should "attack the anti-theists". Being a member of the atheists group on the KU campus, this has generated quite a lot of stir and I was wondering if you'd intended to use such militaristic language or if you had some other way of stating this?

A9. The Thursday night was the first time that this part of the talk had been included and thus, the wording was probably not the best of choices. What we really need is for everyone to stop using scientific arguments to prove/disprove the existance of a creator and get back to a philosophical battleground. I'm open to ideas on better ways to word things.

(AA Additional Notes: As Dr. Miller said, this was his first time including this particular part to his statements. In this video, Dr. Miller gives nearly the same talk, same jokes and all, but without the bit that's causing controversy.)

Q10. (From SOMA president Andrew Stangl) How do you seperate miracles and science? In effect, how can you accept something like the virgin birth when you know, scientifically, its impossible?

A10. In such instances, science has no evidence. Thus, science cannot say one way or another, ie. it's agnostic. This is where faith and spiritualism come into play. When we have scripture with miracles, we must choose whether it is truly literal, or something that we need to interpret. However, too many scientists try to claim that in those cases, where science doesn't know, that it must be wrong.

Q11. Are we making a mistake focusing on just evolution when the attack on science is much more broad?

A11. No. The wedge document explicitly defines the goals of the ID movement. Scince it concentrates on evolution as the spearhead for the entire movement, that's what we must focus on too.

Q12: If people of faith (especially biblical literalsts) rever the world as God's creation, why aren't they at the forefront of conservation?

A12: The Bible enjoins humans are "stewards". This can be viewed as meaning "caretakers" or "ownership", the latter suggesting man can do whatever they want. The scientific community should have drawn them in long ago and are starting to do so now. Joining the faith and the science at this point might also be a good thing because it could lead to a healing of the evolution wars.

In my next post, I'll start giving my opinons on the things Dr. Miller said in these talks, as well as commentary on the buzz in the blogsphere.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Miller at KU part 2 - Q&A

After his lecture Dr. Miller then entertained questions from the audience. If you don't feel like reading my cliff notes version, feel free to head to the KCFS site and download the .mp3s yourself. I'm downloading them right now and plan to listen to them when I have the chance.

As far as the evening Q&A goes, there were a total of 7 questions asked. I'll put the (paraphrased) question in italics and the response (also paraphrased of course) in normal text.

1. Would you not agree that faith on Sunday and reason on Monday-Saturday requires a schizophrenic compartmentalization especially to scientist.

“No, I think a truly religious person believes that both faith and reason are gifts from god… should compliment one another. We shouldn’t use faith to test things in lab. These are questions of reason. Faith gives scientists a reason to pursue reason… Faith that nature can be understood and is worthwhile.”

2. From an evolutionary perspective, why are humans religious? Was it evolved or a side effect?

The religious impulse can fit with evolution. It helps people band. Some would argue that that’s atheistic, but if there is a God and He used evolution to fashion our physical bodies, he should be able to fashion or mental faculties as well. Thus, it can fit with both the evolutionary perspective and theological ones.

3. How does having a fused set of chromosomes affect meiosis?

Ultimately it doesn't. One telomere must be inactive, which is precisely what we see.

4. If god is the creator, what if an asteroid had never wiped out the dinosaurs? Then there would be no humans --> no God.

This is Gould’s argument. But what’s wrong with big brained dinosaurs? But who’s to say that God wanted hairless bipedal apes and not just some well developed species?

The bible does say that we were created in God’s image, but there's multiple ways to interpret this. One way is to assume that it meant in mental faculties and spiritually. Not in a literal sense that God is a hairless bipedal ape.

5. We know how science has contributed to the human condition. Has Faith? If so, how?

Science is the child of faith. Modern science developed in Eastern theological emphasis of humans being connected to nature and is thus not wholly objective. Western separates man and nature, making objective observer. Thus (Western) faith has contributed by helping to shape science.

6. You claimed that attacks on anti-theism (rather than attacking science) is the road to peace. But history contradicts this.

“Attack” is bad world. Anti-theism should just the target of dialog.

7. Are all faiths equal? Can science help choose one over another?

Glad you decided to end with an easy one. No one thinks all faiths are equal. Everyone thinks their own is best. Science is not much help. Everyone should be modest enough to recognize this. We should all respect choices of others.
That's the short version of the Q&A session. If you want to hear the responses for yourself, follow the link above and check it out. In my next post regarding Dr. Millers visit I'll post my notes on his morning discussion session and from there, will post my overall thoughts of the series. From looking at the blogsphere, it looks like there's a lot of different reactions, even within the same blog.

How to stop Madonna

If you recall one of my previous posts Madonna is a bit off her rocker. But regardless of her pseudo-scientific standpoints, she's still one hell of a performer.

But not everyone sees it that way. Apparently a mock crucifixion scene her current show riled one priest enough that he felt it needed to be stopped. How to stop the show? Call in a bomb threat of course. Unfortunately for him, the police caught on very quickly that the threat was nothing more than hot air.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Miller at KU part 1

As I stated in my previous post, Dr. Kenneth Miller made the trip to the University of Kansas here recently to give the opening talk of the "Difficult Dialogues" series hosted here. As a long time fan of Dr. Miller's I eagerly anticipated his talk and was not disappointed. Since Dr. Miller's presentation in the evening, as well as his Question and Answer session the next morning were so rich, I'm going to break this into 4 parts. The first will be his actual talk, the second his Q&A tha night, the third his colloquim the next morning, and last, my overall impressions.

I showed up nearly 30 minutes early to meet with many other members of the Society of Open Minded Atheists and Agnostics. After a brief introduction Dr. Miller came out. I ended up taking nearly 6 pages of notes (on a laptop) so I have a pretty detailed account of the speech. So here it is. (I apologize for bad image quality before hand, I was pretty far back)

Dr. Miller began the talk with an introduction to the ID phenomenon. Given that this was Kansas, he started by pointing out that Kansas isn't the only state dealing with this problem. His first illustration of this was the Cobb County case not too long ago in which the school board decided to put stickers on the textbook (of which he was the author) that read:
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
Shortly thereafter he was called by a reporter from Georgia looking for a comment. Miller, recognizing that she was trolling for a sound bite in order to write a headline along the lines of "Biologist Outraged At Stickers" or, "even better", as he put it "Northern Biologist Outraged!"

But instead of giving the reporter what she was looking for, Dr. Miller replied by saying he liked it, it just "didn't go far enough". As an illustration he pointed to atomic "theory" in which, dispite being called a theory, it doesn't suggest that we're not damn sure atoms are really there and that, one day, we'll start calling the class "Atomic fact". His point in this was that theories and facts are very different things, and that one never becomes another.

His main beef with the sticker came with the last sentence. Not because it was factually incorrect, but because, to a 14 year old seeing that sticker it would imply that the school was damned sure about everything in that book except evolution, which is far from the truth.

Thus, Dr. Miller volunteered to rewrite the sticker to be more accurate saying:
This textbook contains material on science. Science is built around theories, which are strongly supported by factual evidence. Everything in science should be approached with an open mind.
Personally, I think this is an excellent rewrite. Unfortunately, the Cobb County school board didn't agree and declined to its use.

From there, he mentioned several other states having problems with ID, but cautioned that it was not simply an American phenomenon. A US poll said 5/10 American support the teaching of ID or Creationism in schools, and a similar poll in the UK showed that 4/10 supported it across the pond.

This introduced the Dover trial in which he gave a brief run down of the leadup to the trial. However, while the Dover trial was preparing to get underway, this was the time in Kansas that the Kansas school board decided to change the definition of science from
Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.
Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.
As I'm sure most of you are well aware, the key change is that the new definition doesn't require explanations to be naturalistic. Dr. Miller noted that, although supernatural methods may be entirely correct, there's no way to test them, thus, by necessity, they must lie outside science.

His example for this was the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series (over my hometown Cardinals). No natural explantion for this happening is readily available, thus many people attribute it to God. For all we know, it could be right, but there's no way to test it, thut it can't be science.

This whole scenario, he explained, was a prologue to the Dover trial. The Kansas school board wanted to host a series of debates to decide what to do with ID (although it was most likely a foregone conclusion). Dr. Miller was invited, but when he asked why they wanted to fly him in from the East cost when there were hundreds of equally qualified scientists in Kansas, he was eventually told that they were having to fly ID proponents in from all over the country so they felt obligated to fly the real scientists in too.

This was the point at which Dr. Miller said he realized he wasn't being invited to an academic debate, but a political one. This was the realization that all scientists the school board contacted came to and thus, all withdrew. The Discovery Institute's repsonse? Call the scientists chicken and say they were afraid to publicly debate the ID proponents.
I therefore await the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas that compel evolutionists to be deposed and interrogated at length on their view. There are ways for this to happen, and the wheels are in motion. What I propose, then, is a strategy for interrogating the Darwinists to, as it were, squeeze the truth out of them.
-William Dembski
Ironically, Dembski's chance would not be far away as the Dover trial was ready to begin. The defense wanted to have 10 expert witnesses, William Dembski among them. To make the irony meter jump even higher, 7 of those 10 backed out. The three that stayed weren't paid by the Discovery Institute, thus making it look very much like the Discovery Institute saw a train wreck coming and jumped ship.

And boy what a train wreck it was.

Dr. Miller drew two lessons from the Dover trial.
1. It demonstrated the complete collapse of ID as a scientific theory.
2. It exposed how ID is religion masquerading as science.

To illustrate the first point, Dr. Miller pointed out several arguments that the ID proponents used in court. The first was the claim that there is no evidence in the fossil record.

This was directly contradicted by a quote from the National Academy of Sciences, saying
So many intermediate forms have been discovered between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, and along the primate lines of descent that it often is difficult to identify categorically when the transition occurs from one to another particular species.
Additionally, Dr. Miller pointed to the specific example of the development of whales which were long believed to have evolved from land mammals. To truly test this hypothesis, numerous intermediate forms would be needed in the fossil record.

At the outset, critics of evolution laughed, claiming that it was impossible because creatures with half developed legs would not be good at swimming nor good at land movement. However, they stopped when precisely such forms were discovered in the fossil record.

But, as Dr. Miller pointed out, science is enormously self critical and went further. To truly develop, there would need to be a restructuring of the inner ear from a setup good for hearing in air, to being good in a liquid medium. By looking into the preserved skulls, just such a transition was revealed.

His second point on the issue was that genetic evidence also strongly supported evolution. Humans have 46 chromosomes while all other great apes have 48. Since the loss of 2 whole chromosomes would be fatal, the only reasonable explation was that two of the ones from our ancestor must have fused. This should be detectable and if it wasn't, the whole concept of sharing a common ancestor would be falsified. However, in looking at the human genome, a fused pair was found thus vidicating the theory even further.

Yet this cannot be expained through Intelligent Design unless the designer were intentionally trying to decieve us. As Dr. Miller said "I don't reject that on scientific grounds, I reject it on philosophical ones" as he chooses not to believe in a deceptive creator.

Next, Dr. Miller described how the "icons of ID" were shown to be false, namely the bacterial flagellum and the blood clotting mechanism. The flagellum was argued to be "irreducibly complex" but was demonstrated to reduce to the Type III Secretory system. The argument for blood clotting was the same, by fiat of course.

In a book published in, I believe Dr. Miller said 1987, Behe said:
As scientists, we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustration. Sisyphus himself would pity us.
In short, Behe claimed that it was impossible and not to even waste time trying. But being that Dr. Behe is apparently out of touch with how science functions, the real scientists tried anyway, and succeeded in breaking down the system of blood clotting.

To illustrate how out of touch Behe was,Dr. Miller referred to a point during the Dover trial in which Dr. Behe was asked if he still stood by his earlier words. He agreed that he did and was summarily presented with 57 papers, 9 books, and several textbook chapters on the development of the blood clotting system. Behe, being a rather short fellow, was buried beneath the evidence piled before him and eventually said to the judge, "Your honor, can I move the evidence to one side?"

This very well sums up the ID crowd in which, when the evidence becomes too much (ie, any), they move it to one side and play with fluffy theological arguments.

Thus ID, Dr. Miller stated, was shown to not be science. However, the Dover trial also demonstrated that it was religion.

In Behe's own words, he claimed that it is "implausible that the designer is a natural entity." Another expert witness for the defense, Minnich, said that ID would have to change the definition of science to be considered one (precisely what was done in Kansas) and the last expert witness (Fuller) said this was the whole goal of ID.

Dr. Miller then posed the question of what would happen if ID were considered good science. The first thing he pointed out is that, to adopt a loose enough definition (as Kansas did for a time), would make astrology a science. This was confirmed by Behe under oath.

Additionally, ID was shown to be religion by a look at the earlier copies of the ID textbook the Dover school had obtained: "Of Panas and People". The definition of Intelligent Design in it was:
Intelligent design means that the various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, etc.
However, all drafts preceeding 1987 were creationist texts with the [i]exact[/i] same definition, only having Intelligent Design substituted for Creationism and Designer replacing God.

So what happened in 1987? That's when the supreme court struck down Creationism as being unconstitutional od course.

The next question Dr. Miller adressed is "Why is evolution under attack?"

His conclusion was that it was not because it was shaky science as creationists always claim. Quite the contrary. Answers in Genesis asserts that it's the rock solid of everything wrong with society today from divorse to homosexuality.

The problem is that many for some reason see a split between science and religion. To illustrate how quickly people try to pit religion and science against one another, Dr. Miller showed a clip from when we was on the Colbert Report and noted that religion was the second question he was asked.

This pitting of science and religion against one another is one that was directly addressed and outlined in the infamous Wedge Document.

But is science inherently atheistic?

Dr. Miller's argument was that it isn't. Dispite several prominent scientists like Richard Dawkins trying to use science to support their philosophical positions, science cannot be used to either confirm or refute what it cannot test.

Thus, Dr. Miller suggested that ID proponents and Creationists were scared by this attack on their faith using science, and instead of meeting the challange directly, they've skipped the actual head on fight, and instead are trying to destroy science in the hopes that arguments stemming from it will just go away.

What those assaulting science must therefore do, he asserts, is get the battle out of science where it has no place, and back into the theological realm where it belongs. Thus, Dr. Miller urged theists to "attack" the "anti-theists" instead of attacking science.

He then pointed to several instance demonstrating that science and religion need not be at odds. His first was St. Augustine, who said:
Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens … the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics: and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation in which people show up vast ignorance in Christianity.
A later follower of St. Augustine, known as Gregor Mendel was also deeply religious and was the founder of the entire field of genetics. Dobzhansky, the leader of the human genome project and Nobel laurate, was also religious dispite being a scientist, and had no problem working side by side with an atheist even though he described himself as a "creationist and an evolutionist."

Additionally, the current Pope has supported science saying,
True contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence...A world in evolution does not follow a strict plan bit is nonetheless given is being, value, and meaning by God’s vision for it. The God of evolution does not fix things in advance, nor hoard selfishly the joy of creating. Instead God shares with all creatures their own openness to an indeterminate future
Miller's last point of his talk was to bring up this quote:
I think there is grandeur in this view of life; with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few form or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful have been, and are being evolved.
-Charles Darwin
With this as his final thought, Miller then proceeded to the Q&A session which I'll detail in my next post.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ken Miller at KU

Tonight Dr. Ken Miller, one of the key figures in the Intelligent Design trial in Dover will be coming to KU. I'll be heading there and taking lots of pictures and notes. Expect a full report tonight.

Just when you thought it was safe...

Just when the Pluto debate was dying down and we thought people might not be caring quite so much about what is and isn't a planet, another object comes along to blur the definition. But this time, it's on the other end of the spectrum.

The Hubble has recently imaged an object around a nearby red dwarf star that is estimated to have about 12 times the mass of Jupiter. This brings up the question of whether it's a planet or a star. It's generally accepted that any object capable of any sort of fusion at any time in its life so far, will be considered a star.

The reason this new object blurs the line is that deuterium fusion (deuterium being an istope of hydrogen containing a neutron in the nucleus) starts occuring somewhere right about 12 Jupiter masses. Precisely where that line is, is not terribly well known as the insides of stars are very complex places (as my astrophyics course this semester has been demonstrating).

Thus, the designation for this new object still needs to be hammered out.

Super Scientologist Man!

Every religion has its perks. Catholics can become immune to sexual harassment suits, Jews are apparently magic with money, Islam gives multiple breaks from work to pray...

Until now, Scientology has been left out of the club. But they're working to change that. So what are they unveiling as their perks?

Super powers!

According to the article, Scientologists believe we are all born with 57 different ways to percieve the world and that they just have to be unlocked with training. For a list of these powers, check out the end of the article. They're all pretty lame and all fall under our normal senses. But that's the key to creating religion: Don't be bothered with the facts.

Too bad none of them seem to have developed their Reality power yet.

However, I would like to see a superhero named Muscular Tension Man...

California legislature weighs in on Pluto

Apparently the California legislature feelt the need to add their .02 to the Pluto debate and it seems they're not happy about it. But as you'd expect, their reasoning is pretty thin:
WHEREAS, The mean-spirited International Astronomical Union decided on August 24, 2006, to disrespect Pluto by stripping Pluto of its planetary status and reclassifying it as a lowly dwarf planet;
Thats right. Those "mean-spirited" poo poo heads. How dare they disrespect the little guy! That's unamerican and no, don't remind us that the IAU isn't just americans. Pluto deserves respect!
WHEREAS, Pluto was discovered in 1930 by an American, Clyde Tombaugh, at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, and this discovery resulted in millions of Californians being taught that Pluto was the ninth planet in the solar system;
Yeah! Hear that! It was discovered by an American, which means it's the best planet ever! And let's make an appeal to the status quo and assume that Californians (who are Americans btw) are incapable of learning anything new! God knows that Hollywood proves this with all the forumlaic movies it puts out.
WHEREAS, Pluto, named after the Roman God of the underworld and affectionately sharing the name of California's most famous animated dog, has a special connection to California history and culture;
That's right. We need to let Disney cartoons determine how we do science and percieve our universe. Because we all know there's magic and gigantic devils, just like in Fantasia.
WHEREAS, Downgrading Pluto's status will cause psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants;
That's right! Californians are really worried about universal constants not being constant. If Pluto isn't a plannet who knows what could happen next!? We could wake up tomorrow and the gravitational constant could change and we'd all float away!!! Imagine the psychological harm and the number of people who are now going to have maladaptave tendecies to feel they must hold onto something lest gravity shut off.
WHEREAS, The deletion of Pluto as a planet renders millions of text books, museum displays, and children's refrigerator art projects obsolete, and represents a substantial unfunded mandate that must be paid by dwindling Proposition 98 education funds, thereby harming California's children and widening its budget deficits;
Furthermore, let it go on the record that California was also against man landing on the moon because this required that textbooks updated. Apparently Califoria school districts are so poor that they are also unable to afford a pen to have students write in a quick "^dwarf planet". But at least they also have to be against Intelligent Design by this token since that would require additional textbooks.
WHEREAS, The deletion of Pluto as a planet is a hasty, ill-considered scientific heresy similar to questioning the Copernican theory, drawing maps of a round world, and proving the existence of the time and space continuum;
Yet California does somehow endorse the Copernican theory even though it replaced the Geocentric models dispite the fact that, should that happen today, textbooks would undoubtedly be wrong. Furthermore, California makes the unfounded assumption that Pluto is a planet and anyone disagreeing is denying reality instead of an arbitrary definition.
WHEREAS, The downgrading of Pluto reduces the number of planets available for legislative leaders to hide redistricting legislation and other inconvenient political reform measures;
That's right. There will be no Gerrymandering on Pluto anymore. Because that was such a problem in the past.
WHEREAS, The California Legislature, in the closing days of the 2005-06 session, has been considering few matters important to the future of California, and the status of Pluto takes precedence and is worthy of this body's immediate attention;
Who cares about balancing California's budget. We need to squabble over something that's not our busisness!
now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Assembly hereby condemns the International Astronomical Union's decision to strip Pluto of its planetary status for its tremendous impact on the people of California and the state's long term fiscal health; and be it further

Resolved, That the Assembly Clerk shall send a copy of the resolution to the International Astronomical Union and to any Californian who, believing that his or her legislator is addressing the problems that threaten the future of the Golden State, requests a copy of the resolution.
That's right. After all our logical fallacies used to make our claims what are we going to do!? Write letters! Take that you meany IAU...

Now back in reality land, I'm thinking this resolution has to be a parody. There's a lot of idots in California (not as many as in Kansas), but this really takes the cake. Either way, thanks to the Bad Astronomer for linking to this.

EDIT: Apparently, this bill is a joke. It's legit, but was more written in jest. Still, I wonder if the 53 cosigners read the bill before adding their name.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Getting your fix

I've been more than a bit slack in posting recently. Lots of work and so on and not much happening that I've felt deserves to be a distraction a break from my studies that I post on it. However, Mollishka has a great post introducing gravitational lensing that's worth reading.

Pluto Ho!

Amidst all the controversy surrounding Pluto's designation, a spacecraft named New Horizons is on its way out there, to swing by and then explore the Kuiper belt. This week it opened its camera for the first time and took a picture of M7, an open cluster in our galaxy.

The camera's detection level included stars as faint as 12th magnitude, which shows the camera is operating at expected sensitivity.

Now we just have another 9 years till it swings by Pluto.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pluto 2.0

I hadn't intended to say any more about the Pluto debate, but unfortunately, it doesn't seem to want to die. Public interest has waned apparently, but according to Yahoo news scientiests are still squabbling.
"The IAU created a definition which is technically flawed, linguistically flawed and scientifically embarrassing," [Alan] Stern [planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado] said in a phone interview.

The 300 astronomers and planetary scientists who signed the petition said they would not use the IAU's definition.
While I still stick by my earlier statements that ultimately, the title Pluto itself is given is unimportant, I have the same reservations the Bad Astronomer has: namely that the defition is overly vague.

One of the requirements is that a planet be able to "clear" its orbit. However, what this truly means is not explicitly defined. Pluto is obviously disqualified for lurking near the edge of the Kuiper belt. But what about all the Near Earth Objects that cross our orbit? There's a lot of 'em, so do we not qualify?

I'd argue that we do. Earth's done a great job clearing out its orbit, but it's like having just dusted a room, there's more that's bound to settle immediately.

But what about other Planets? Jupiter has two groups of asteroids (one preceeding it and one trailing) known as the Trojan asteroids that follow in its orbit. I think the "cleared" is meant to imply that objects must orbit with the body in question.

Mercury's orbital area is pretty clear. But we also have to stop to consider whether or not Mercury really did this on its own. It's quite possible that its had help from a rather massive neighbor (ie, the Sun). So, if placed elsewhere in the solar system, would Mercury still be able to make the cut?

Mars too has done a good job, but its two moons (Phobos and Deimos) aren't in stable orbits. One is slowly spiraling outward while the other is slowly heading inwards to crash into the planet. Thus, do these disqualify Mars?

Another requirement is that the planet be massive enough that it be able to make itself spherical. As the Bad Astronomer points out, there's no clarification on how spherical is "spherical". While most planets are pretty round, Earth is slighly pear shaped. Not noticeable visually, but still not spherical.

Saturn meanwhile, is very noticibly oblong. Due to a rapid rate of rotation, Saturn in about 10% wider along the equator. Thus is Saturn disqualified for this reason?

So while the public may not be up in arms as much as they were when the decision was still front page news, it's obviously still a very hot button issue in the scientific realm. As petulant as those are that are refusing to use the now ratified definition are, I'm forced to agree that the new definition is inadequate in every regard (although slightly less so than the former lack of a definition).

Thus, while I wasn't planning on discussing the issue any further, I would also have to call upon the IAU to adopt a definition that is quantitative rather than ambiguous and qualitative.