Friday, February 29, 2008

"A Strawman from an ID Proponent (say it ain't so!)" OR "A Corrected Conversation"

Over at Evolution Lies and Distortions, Luskin's got a cute version of a "dialogue with a Darwinist" in which he tries to paint a picture in which those supporting evolution refuse to actually address the issue and instead respond to everything pointing out the Wedge Document stating that the Discovery Institute outright claimed to want to undermine all of science by destroying methodological naturalism, or just pointing at how badly the ID movement got it's ass handed to it in Dover.

Of course, that's not really how evolution proponents actually respond. But Casey isn't known for paying attention to what evolution supporters say.

At the very least, there's a caveat at the end in which Luskin states:
A real scholarly debate between those on both sides of the intelligent design controversy would have much more technical arguments. Nonetheless, the sad truth is that when many criticize intelligent design in the media, courtrooms, classrooms, and even scientific journals, their arguments often fail to rise above those of the "Darwinist" antagonist presented here.
It's nice that Luskin at least admits that much, Luskin obviously fails to analyze the reason: It's a lot easier to spread lies (see especially: Gish Gallop) than to clean them up. In the media you get a few sentences, if you're lucky. In the courtrooms their points were addressed, but Behe still whined that it wasn't good enough because it didn't meet his contrived definition of IC. And what is Luskin whining about in classrooms? Since when does the DI want ID taught in schools? In journals, ID proponents can't even make a positive argument, so of course they're not going to make publication.

Regardless, let's go through the "conversation" here quickly and try to fix things:

ID Proponent: DNA. Genetic code. Language. Commands. Information. Intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Your definition and analysis of "information" is fundamentally flawed.

ID Proponent: Cambrian Explosion. Pattern of Explosions. Cosmic Fine-Tuning. Intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Logical fallacy - Argument from ignorance/incredulity as well as distortion of real Cambrian "explosion".

ID Proponent: Complexity of life. Irreducible complexity. Specified Complexity. Intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Logical fallacy - Argument from ignorance/incredulity. Contrived definition relying on strawmen as well as previously stated logical fallacy. Abuse of statistics and misdirection.

ID Proponent: Human intelligence. Creative Genius. Love. Music. Art. Leonardo da Vinci. Beethoven.

Evolution Proponent: Logical Fallacy - Argument from ignorance/incredulity.

ID Proponent: Molecular Machines. Molecular motors. Cellular factories. Intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Logical Fallacy - Argument from ignorance/incredulity. Additionally, all been shown to be reducible.

ID Proponent: Science. Evidence. Data. Observations. Intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Please learn what the first two mean then come back when you have the 3rd and 4th. kthxbai.

ID Proponent: theism: Richard Dawkins. Daniel Dennett. Sam Harris. Eugenie Scott. Barbara Forrest. Stephen Jay Gould. E.O. Wilson. Michael Ruse. P.Z. Myers. Many others. Wedge? Irrelevant.

Evolution Proponent: Dishonest conflation of personal personal philosophy with scientific methodology. Also, need we mention that every major ID proponent is Christian and most, like Dembski, Johnson, etc... have all stated that they are operating on explicit theistic agendas.

ID Proponent: Judges can’t settle science. Courts can’t change data.

Evolution Proponent: Neither can people who refuse to use the scientific method. At least courts actually require evidence.

ID Proponent: Judge adopted false definition of ID.

Evolution Proponent: Which came directly from your textbooks and was a word for word copy of creationism... er.. cdesign proponentistism.

ID Proponent: Judge ignored positive case for design.

Evolution Proponent: Logical fallacies are not a "positive case".

ID Proponent: Judge copied many errors into ruling from ACLU. Judge ignored ID rebuttals. Judges make mistakes all the time.

Evolution Proponent: Few were actually mistakes despite your claims. Judges accept findings of fact all the time.

ID Proponent: Judge ignored peer-reviewed pro-ID publications. Meyer, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Dembski, The Design Inference. Beye/Snoke, Protein Science. Others.

Evolution Proponent: Because none were peer reviewed and those that were didn't make a positive case for ID. Just a negative case against evolution that did not hold up to scrutiny.

ID Proponent: Judge ignored pro-ID research. Minnich's flagellum research.

Evolution Proponent: It wasn't ignored. It was refuted. Meanwhile, you refuse to accept the T3SS as a reducible form of the flagellum because of your contrived definition of IC.

ID Proponent: (Type III Secretory System has ¼ flagellar parts.) Not an explanation. Huge Leap.

Evolution Proponent: Still fits your definition.

ID Proponent: Flagellum: Rotor, Stator, Bushings, Motor, Propeller, U-Joint, Rotary Engine 100,000 RPM. Irreducibly complex.

Evolution Proponent: Again, reduces to T3SS if you don't make dishonest caveat that system must retain same function.

ID Proponent: Then provide step-by-step evolutionary model.

Evolution Proponent: Sorry, not playing your "explain everything or you've explained nothing" game. Even when well detailed explanations are given, Dembski rejects them out of hand saying he wants more. Again reveals ID double standard on evidence.

ID Proponent: (ID has no research.) Minnich. Axe. Dembski. Marks. Meyer. Behe. Snoke. Gonzalez. Biologic. Others.

Evolution Proponent: Again, their logical fallacies do not count as research.

ID Proponent: (NAS rejects. AAAS rejects. “Steves” reject.) That’s Politics. Thomas Kuhn was right. “Science not a democracy” –Eugenie Scott. All majority views started off as minority views.

Evolution Proponent: Being a minority view doesn't mean it's right either. Evidence does. Yours has been judged and failed.

ID Proponent: ID also has science. Plus Darwinism has politics: NAS anti-ID edicts; AAAS anti-ID edicts; Witch hunts (Sternberg, Crocker, Gonzalez, others).

Evolution Proponent: No. ID has logical fallacies that it calls science. The "anti-ID edicts" aren't politics, they're upholding of the scientific process. Sternberg et al were not "persecuted" for ID position but rather for other reasons.

ID Proponent: DNA. Genetic code. Language. Commands. Information. Not Bible based.

Evolution Proponent: Repeating yourself are you? Already addressed the silly "information" claim. Pandas shows ID is bible based as does admissions from Johnson, Dembski, etc...

ID Proponent: Cambrian Explosion. Pattern of Explosions. Cosmic Fine-Tuning. Not Faith based.

Evolution Proponent: Already addressed. While arguments themselves are not faith based, the motivation to used flawed arguments are.

ID Proponent: Complexity of life. Irreducible complexity. Specified Complexity. Not Divine Revelation based.

Evolution Proponent: Already addressed.

ID Proponent: Molecular Machines. Molecular motors. Cellular factories. Not Religion.

Evolution Proponent: Already addressed.

ID Proponent: World’s most famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins (who is anti-ID): “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

Evolution Proponent: Point being? I'm still waiting for a refutation of that that isn't based in the aforementioned logical fallacies.

ID Proponent: DNA Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick (who is anti-ID): "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.“

Evolution Proponent: Quite true. Otherwise we get into supernatural gibberish that no longer conforms to the scientific method.

ID Proponent: Former NAS president Bruce Alberts (who is anti-ID): “The entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines. . . . Why do we call the large protein assemblies that underlie cell function protein machines? Precisely because, like machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.”

Evolution Proponent: And that's supposed to be an argument for design? Hey everyone! The earth looks flat! That means it is! In-duck-tive reasoning a la Behe!

ID Proponent: Theological Objection—Irrelevant. Theological Answer: God is eternal, has no designer.

Evolution Proponent: Eternal universe, having no designer is more parsimonious.

ID Proponent: Knowledge of designer not necessary for design inference.

Evolution Proponent: Oh shit. And here I was trying to take ID to it's logical conclusion (if designer is more complex than creation, and complex things require designer, then infinite regression). Sorry for actually trying to apply your nonsense to scrutiny to show the fundamental flaws. Regardless, evidence and not logical fallacies are required for design inference. Still waiting on that.

ID Proponent: Why does the universe exist?

Evolution Proponent: Loaded question. "Why" implies intent.

ID Proponent: Science seeks truth. If ID is right, ID is progress.

Evolution Proponent: Science seeks truth through the scientific method. ID rejects this by allowing for supernatural causation.

ID Proponent: Naturalism failing. How did flagellum evolve? Evolution of the gaps.

Evolution Proponent: Argument from ignorance/incredulity. Extrapolation for evolution justified given overwhelming success on all levels (again, parsimony). ID has no positive track record.

ID Proponent: Where are Cambrian ancestors? Evolution of the gaps.

Evolution Proponent: Many have been found. You choose to ignore them.

ID Proponent: How did the first cell arise? Evolution of the gaps.

Evolution Proponent: Logical Fallacy - Strawman. Evolution doesn't have to explain where the first cell came from (abiogenesis) any more than gravity has to do with where the first mass came from.

ID Proponent: ID is positive. DNA. Genetic code. Language. Commands. Information. Cambrian Explosion. Pattern of Explosions. Cosmic Fine-Tuning. Complexity of life. Irreducible complexity. Specified Complexity. Human intelligence. Love. Music. Art. Leonardo da Vinci. Beethoven. Molecular Machines. Molecular motors. Cellular factories. Science. Evidence. Data. Observations. Information in nature requires intelligent design.

Evolution Proponent: Sorry. I wasn't impressed by your logical fallacies earlier. I'm still not impressed by your arguments from ignorance/incredulity.

ID Proponent: How did any single biochemical pathway arise? Evolution of the gaps. ID dramatically superior.

Evolution Proponent: Already addressed.

[Empty Silence; Crickets]

ID Proponent: OMG! We're being persecuted! Help! Help! I'm being oppressed! Come see the violence inherent in the system! Let's make a "documentary" about it and lie to interviewees to get statements to quote mine from! Let's try to bypass the scientific process and get directly into schools and then claim we don't! Let's appeal directly to churches, steal creationists arguments, definitions, methods, etc... and wonder why we're being called a Trojan horse! Let's also refuse to address that our own founder (Johnson) has explicitly admitted that "This isn't really, and never has been, a debate about science, it's about religion and philosophy" as well as Dembski and most other leaders. Let's substitute logical fallacies for evidence! Let's refuse to admit that the Wedge document has any relevance and call it part of a "fund raising campaign" which means either we're lying on that, or were lying to investors! But we're still honest! Let's take our own and martyr them with false evidence so we can be persecuted more (just like Jesus)! Let's predict that we're going to do well in a trial and pull out at the last minute and then bitch about it (just like people bitching about an election they didn't vote in)! Let's make flash animations to mock our opponents instead of honestly addressing their claims. Let's make up arguments like IC that have unmeetable criteria that have no justification. Let's make up arguments like specified complexity which are crappy math, but still impress and scare Americans since they rely on big numbers. Let's plagarize and then offer a not-pology! Let's quote mine in our newest and best book! Let's never ever ever make a positive argument!

Evolution Proponent: GTFO!

ID Proponent: (Slamming door on way out) PERSECTUTION!111?!11eleven!1

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on Flares

In my last post discussing my research for this semester, I explained that, in order to determine whether or not massive, close in Jupiter like planets could induce super flares on their parent start, I have two available paths:

1) Determine whether superflare stars have planets.
2) Determine if stars with planets have superflares.

The trouble with the first is that looking for planets isn't exactly an easy task. The main method requires good spectroscopy over the length of the entire orbit. For these hypothetical massive, close in planets, it shouldn't be too hard, but that's still telescope time we'd have to apply for (or ask someone else to tack on to their observing run).

Another problem is that so few stars have been observed to have these flares, we're still dealing with small number statistics which makes convincing correlations difficult.

The second approach also has problems. We avoid the problem of not having many candidates since there's nearly 250 known planetary systems, but we run into another: We'd have to be watching all these stars and hope we catch it during a flare. Currently, we have no idea how often such stars might flare, making it an even more daunting task.

So the second way isn't much better unless we can find some way to make a substitute argument about whether or not the star will flare.

It should be pretty obvious that stars with more active atmospheres will be more prone to flares, whether large or small. Thus, if we can find a quick way to measure the photospheric activity, and that activity gets larger when you have close in planets, we can support the hypothesis.

As luck would have it, there's a nifty trick to determine the photospheric activity. It's called the S value for the star and has to do with the relative strengths of two main calcium emission lines (the H & K lines) in the star's spectra. The larger this value is, the more active the star's outer layers. The more active the outer layers, the more likely the star will be to flare (big or small), even if we don't observe the flare directly.

So the obvious next step would be to take all the known extra solar planetary systems, and plot up the S value against the semi-major axis of the known planets. If the planets are indeed having a strong enough effect to induce superflares on the star, we should see the S value increase as the planets semi-major axis gets smaller.

Although S values have been found for well over 3,000 stars, they haven't been found for many of the known planetary systems. After dropping all the systems that didn't have stars with spectral classes within 1/2 a spectral class of the sun, we were left with 15 stars that had S values. Not great numbers, but hopefully enough to see if something exciting was going on.

So after spending 3 hours looking for all these values, and plotting it up, what did it look like?


No noticeable correlation what-so-ever.

So what does it mean?

Well, we can't say just yet.

Before we can really be certain, we need to cross check this against the extreme cases, both looking at average S values for solar type stars that don't undergo massive flares as well as looking to make sure there's actually a correlation between the semi-major axis and the S value for the RS CVn stars. If there is, then we know the results of this test actually mean something. If not, then this entire angle on it wasn't any use and we'll have to find some other way to approach the problem.

In the meantime, we're also looking at either asking a planet hunter to glance at these superflare systems to search for planets, or doing it ourselves. Other options would involve going through images from some of the massive sky surveys to see if any of the stars with known planets have ever flared while those images were being taken, and also to see if these systems we're looking at have flared again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pareidolia: n + 11

Another day, another Jesus in a tree.

This newest bit of pareidolia is probably one of the worst I've ever seen. The "figure in the tree" is amazingly hard to make out. The observers say that to really see it well, you have to wait till just the right time of day, when the angle of the sun is just right.

Yeah. Uh huh. I bet it also helps to squint a whole bunch, have a few drinks before hand, and use your imagination really hard. Sounds pretty on par for faith in the first place I suppose.

Hat tip to Stupid Evil Bastard.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hidden Creation

One of the excuses I've seen creationists use as to why astronomy can't possibly be right (and thus magic man done it) is that we've "never seen a star form". The response I gave noted that there's 2 primary reasons for this.

1) Unlike star deaths, star births aren't expected to be sudden and dramatic. Even for the most massive stars which collapse the fastest, this takes tens to hundreds of thousands of years. For the less massive stars, this can take even longer! It's not a sudden flick of a light switch were it's not glowing one moment and there the next. Rather, it's a slow process of heating.

2) Stars form behind curtains of dust and gas. Dust and gas block light. They're especially good at blocking light in the regions we really like to look, namely the visible region of the spectrum. However, we can somewhat peer into these nebulae by looking at longer wavelengths which are better able to get through.

Recently, this was spectacularly confirmed by the Spitzer telescope which peered into a dusty patch of sky around Rho Ophiuchi. If an image is taken in the visible part of the spectrum, it looks like the image on the left here.

It's definitely pretty. The stars around the area have wonderfully contrasting colors that make it a popular target in small scopes. But one of the defining characteristics of this area that's overlooked is the dark band near the center of the image. It's dark, boring, and there's not a whole lot going on there. At least not at first glance.

But what's really going on is the process of star formation! When Spitzer peels back the veil of dust and gas, dozens of high mass, young stars are found in the exact region that looks devoid! Some of the stars even have the large circumstellar disks still present.

A careful inspection of various regions in this and the other image released by Spitzer show many other features associated with newly forming stars: jets of material slamming into the cloud in which they're forming, causing bow shocks known as Herbig-Haro objects.

So the creationist canard that we "never see stars form" is a bit of a silly statement. It doesn't happen quickly, but through techniques and telescopes like Spitzer used, we can see frozen vestiges of star formation.

Note: The images above are the same scale and orientation.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pareidolia: n + 10

What does a virgin taste like?

Salty according to this new (or perhaps not so new since the same thing happened in 2005) bit of pareidolia in which the Virgin Mary has popped up with baby Jeebus on a pretzel. So what should you do with such a divine gift? Sell it on Ebay of course!

When I found this earlier this morning, it was already up to $4,000, but at the time of posting this, it's up to $6,000.

Hey Christians: How about actually listening to your silly book and donating that money to charity instead of buying stale snacks? I wonder if hypocrisy tastes salty too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Whyfore flares?

ResearchBlogging.orgIf you've been hanging around this blog for some time, you may remember that, shortly after I started this, I spent a summer in San Diego working on some research at SDSU with one of the professors here. The target of investigation was a cute little cluster named NGC 7142 and the program was a pretty straightforward photometric analysis (find the color-magnitude diagram, determine distance, age, identify variables...).

That's been over and done with for awhile. But this semester I've begun some new work with Dr. Melott here at KU. Melott's primary interests lie in Astrobiology, namely asking how astronomical events would impact life here on Earth, or even possibly elsewhere, if it exists. His most well known work is implicating a Gamma Ray Burst as a cause for the Ordovician extinction and has received some pretty large coverage. Melott has also identified a link between position in the galaxy and more minor extinctions.

Meanwhile, what I'm working on has less implications for life here on Earth. At least hopefully not.

Most people are aware that the Sun undergoes occasional flares. These flares are eruptions of ionized plasma that are flung out into the solar system. For the most part, they're not all that dangerous to us. We're pretty far away so they will spread out and come pretty diffuse before they reach us, and we have a nice magnetic field to protect us. About the most that typically happens is that we get a nice auroral display.

However, not all flares are created equal. Just before Halloween in 2003, a somewhat larger flare occurred that caused damage to some satellites and ionized the upper atmosphere, disrupting radio communication. And this is only the second largest flare recorded since we started watching a scant 40 years ago.

In September of 1859 a significantly larger flare erupted. It was so strong that it caused power lines to catch fire. The induced current in telegraph wires allowed telegraph operators to send messages even without power for several minutes. The aurora were reported as far South as Florida. It was an exceptional event.

At least, as far as we know. But could there be bigger?

The typical consensus is that main sequence stars with similar mass to our Sun are pretty stable and flares shouldn't get much bigger. There have been superflares observed very young stars and stars with close companions, but only a fistful of superflare events have ever been discovered on solar type stars without some sort of odd characteristic.

In a 1999 ApJ paper, Schaefer, King, and Deliyannis identified 9 stars which were within half a spectral class of the Sun, similar in metallicity, without unusual magnetic fields, and without any sort of interfering binary companion. The question, they asked, is what could be causing these flares?

A possible solution followed that paper: Rubenstein and Schaefer noted that the appearance of these flares had similar characteristics to flares caused by a class of stars known as RS Canum Venaticorum (RS CVn). These stars are close binaries. Since their magnetic fields interact, the magnetic fields get tangled up. When they break and untangle themselves, this results in a flare. This is essentially the same mechanism that causes flares on the Sun. Since the Sun rotates faster at the equator than at the poles, the magnetic field gets stretched and torn.

But the stars that Schaefer and his group discovered didn't have any companions. At least, not visible ones. The question then became, could there be a hidden companion, and if so, what could possibly hide that well and still have a strong enough effect to cause such massive flares?

The answer they proposed was a close in super Jovian planet. Fortunately, that's just the kind of planet that we're getting good at detecting.

So my research this semester is trying to tease out any possible connections between known planetary systems and flare activity.

Going through the list of stars that Schaefer found, only one of them was observed for planetary systems (κ Ceti) and was not found to have any. Of course, that doesn't really mean that it doesn't have one since the method they used (radial velocity measurements) would only detect planets that are orbiting in a direction in which the plane was near the line of sight to the Earth. If the plane the system was aligned with the plane of the sky, we'd never see it.

So we're now trying to approach the problem the other way around: do stars with close in Jovian planets have excited photospheres? This problem is a bit harder to tease out answers to and I'll post more on that topic as our research progresses.

Schaefer, B.E., King, J.R., Deliyannis, C.P. (2000). Superflares on Ordinary Solar‐Type Stars. The Astrophysical Journal, 529(2), 1026-1030. DOI: 10.1086/308325

Rubenstein, E.P., Schaefer, B.E. (2000). Are Superflares on Solar Analogues Caused by Extrasolar Planets?. The Astrophysical Journal, 529(2), 1031-1033. DOI: 10.1086/308326

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Evolution wins in Florida

For the first time, evolution has made it into Florida's science standards. In case you haven't been following, this comes at a time when several districts were trying to impose anti-evolution rhetoric into the standards with the old "just a theory" canard.

To placate these equivocators, the board decided to remind everyone that it is a scientific theory. Not a bad concession, but why not remind them that gravity is just a theory too?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making Dust

ResearchBlogging.orgIn my last post I discussed a paper in which the authors investigated the ability of supernovae to make enriched elements. While it's certainly true that supernovae are very good at this, it's certainly not all they can make.

Aside from making all the heavy elements, they make a smattering of lighter ones as well. Just after the supernova, the gas is still extremely hot and ionized. But as it cools, the electrons settle back down in their oribitals, and eventually, even complex molecules can form. These molecules are typically called "dust" although they can also take the form of organic compounds (note: "organic compounds" just refer to molecules with covalently bonded carbon and don't imply life).

Although hundreds of supernovae are discovered each year, they're almost all extremely far away. Supernova 2005X was big news in the astronomical community because it was in the relatively nearby galaxy M100. But even that is so far away that studying the expanding shell is impossible.

The last really good one that we could study was supernova 1987A which happened in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy to our own). This supernova has been suggested to have begun to form dust. Additionally, a supernova that was first observed in the 1671 in the constellation of Cassiopeia (called Cas A) is also thought to be forming dust. Although there was a claim in 2003 to have located this dust, it was refuted in a Nature paper in 2004, which suggested that the dust the 2003 observers detected was actually just a large cloud between Cas A and the Earth.

But a paper that came out in January suggests that the long sought after dust from Cas A may have finally been detected.

By looking at the spectra of several regions of the nebula. Several unique spectra were found, which left the researchers to try to figure out what was causing them. Although I painted a nice rosy picture of determining chemical composition in my post on spectra, the picture becomes mush more complicated when molecules get involved because photons don't only come from transitions between orbitals, but energy can also come from vibrational and rotational modes in molecules. Additionally, there's way more types of molecules than elements.

So trying to figure out what the dust is made of is no easy task. To do it, astronomers start with what elements we know are common, and try to figure out what sorts of molecules they're likely to form. By adding the emissions from several different common species together via superposition, they attempt to recreate the observed spectra through modeling. Of course, not only do they have to figure in the chemical makeup of the dust, but they also need to try to determine the temperature since molecules act as (imperfect) blackbodies.

By fitting these spectral models to the observed spectra, it was determined that the dust formed in Cas A suggested that it has formed SiO2, Mg protosilicates, and FeO in the inner region. Further out, they found Al2O3 and carbon grains. Towards the edge, they determined that the remnant had formed MgSiO3, and either Al2O3 or Fe grains.

The total mass of all this junk? About 2-5% the mass of the Sun. That doesn't sound like a whole lot, until you remember that the entire mass of the Earth is only 0.00025% the mass of the Sun. So one supernova can produce enough dust to make an entire solar system worth of planets!

But the real question the paper asks is whether or not supernovae like this could produce enough dust to explain observations in distant, dust filled galaxies. They concluded that the amount of dust that supernovae like Cas A aren't nearly sufficient. In fact, they're about an order of magnitude too small. Thus, to really explain all that dust will likely require a different explanation.

Given that stars in the distant universe were much more massive than ones today, it's not unreasonable to assume that the supernovae resulting from these stars would produce much more dust as well. Unfortunately for astronomers but fortunately for all life on Earth, no such giants have exploded near us recently to be able to figure out just how much dust more massive supernovae would really produce.

Rho, J., Kozasa, T., Reach, W.T., Smith, J.D., Rudnick, L., DeLaney, T., Ennis, J.A., Gomez, H., Tappe, A. (2008). . The Astrophysical Journal, 673(1), 271-282. DOI: 10.1086/523835

Making Nickel

ResearchBlogging.orgMost people are familiar with Carl Sagan's famous reminder that we are all made of "star stuff". In a previous post I discussed a 1957 paper from Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, and Hoyle which detailed the mechanism by which heavy elements are built up in supernovae. In that post, I concentrated on how the elements are made, but what I didn't mention is just how much of them are produced or why it's important.

Aside from the obvious reason it's important that I opened with, the elements produced also allow us to understand something about the supernovae that produce them. If you've never seen a light curve for a supernova, it rises to a peak brightness within a few days, followed by a period of rapid decay, which then shallows becoming less steep after another few days.

The change in brightness is a bit odd and can't be explained by just expansion and cooling. Instead, the light that is still being given off is a result of decay of the radioactive isotopes that are built up during the supernova. In these supernovae, a large amount of the isotope 56Ni is created. It then decays to 56Cobalt, and finally to 56Fe as (partially) illustrated in this image.

However, this is just a rough sketch. While the amount time each phase lasts is dictated by the half life of the elements, what's not fixed is the change in brightness. This will depend on how much of the 56Ni is created. Knowing how much can be made is especially important since two recent supernovae have been a bit... odd. For a typical core collapse supernova, the amount of Ni required is less than ~15% the mass of the Sun. But, supernovae 1999as and 2006gy were both much brighter than the average supernova which would obviously require that these stars be extra massive and produce a substantial amount of 56Ni to get the ball rolling. 1999as would require at least 4 times the mass of the Sun to be able to explain the light curve, and 2006gy would need at least 13 solar masses!

But can massive progenitor stars really produce that much 56Ni, especially given that there's a theoretical upper limit to how big the progenitor star can be?

This is the question posed by a recent paper published at the beginning of the month in the ApJ. Using their model, they looked at how much could be produced for different progenitor masses.

It turns out that getting the 4 solar masses required for SN 1999as isn't all that difficult. It takes a really massive star to do it, but nothing unrealistically large. Depending on just how efficient the explosion was and how much energy it gave off, it could be done with as little as ~34 solar masses. This may seem like a lot, but keep in mind there are far larger beats out there like Eta Carinae which is somewhere over 100 solar masses.

However, to get the amount of material required for 2006gy was much harder. From their model, the progenitor star would have to beat at least 200 solar masses! So what's up with this? There's several different options at this point (sorry creationists, "Magic man" isn't one of them). It could be that this supernova wasn't the typical kind we understand really well. The authors suggest that if the core were instead composed primarily Carbon and Oxygen just before collapse, the larger amount of Ni could be produced with as little as 60 times the mass of the Sun. It could also be possible that two massive stars merged. Or perhaps the theoretical upper limit isn't really there and such gigantic monsters really did exist. And of course, the possibility is always out there that the model they're using could be flat out wrong.

At this point, it doesn't look like much work has been done on figuring out 2006gy, but given how exceptional it was, being the brightest supernova yet recorded, I expect we'll see more on this beastly blast in upcoming years.

Umeda, H., Nomoto, K. (2008). . The Astrophysical Journal, 673(2), 1014-1022. DOI: 10.1086/524767

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Exorcism kills2

Only a few years ago I thought exorcisms were a remnant of history and the things silly movies are made up, but since starting this blog, I keep seeing news reports about them. And how do they end? Tragically.

This past week, there are two reports of people being killed by superstitious dipshits. One guy suffocates his wife during an exorcism and claims that demons made him do it. In another story a priest has finally been sentenced for crucifying a nun in another exorcism.

On the up side, the "Romanian Orthodox Church ... has promised to take steps to prevent anything similar happening in the future, including psychological screening for potential clergy."

That should thin out their numbers a bit.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Book Review: Who Will Rise Up?

Although it's a book you won't find in the average bookstore, Brother Jed has his own book entitled Who Will Rise Up? (full text of older version available here). Instead, you'll have to order a copy from his ministry or be lucky enough to have him give you a free copy when he visits a campus near you. It took me nearly 2 years of listening to him to get one.

I've listened to Jed enough times to get to know him pretty well as he preached on campus, and although I don't agree with him, I at least respect him because he's far more internally consistent and doesn't tend to pick and choose like most Christians. However, in reading his book, this view has been somewhat shaken as I'll discuss later on.

The organization of this book is not well organized in the beginning. Topics seem to come out of nowhere and have no coherent flow to them. However, by halfway through the book seem to take on structured themes such as his views on marriage, the school system, why he preaches on campus, etc...

It seems that one of the main themes through the book is a justification for his confrontational public ministry. Jed makes it clear that he feels that colleges are a great bastion of sin and that he has been called to save souls there. He says his methods are to get people to recognize their sins that it may bring them to God. This is, of course, done by the good old guilt trip. He explains the reasoning for this on page 74 when he states
[Martin Luther] was convinced that a man would never see his Savior until he saw his sin!
He also describes what this involves:
The evangelist must impress on them that they are wicked to the core. There is not anything good about them. All their righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of a holy GOD.
If you've been following my blog for awhile, you've probably heard of Brenda Frei who was in the 30 Day: Atheist/Christian episode. During this, as well as in private, she's said that one of the reasons she dislikes Christianity is that it operates by telling people that they're worthless and in need of salvation. This is also pointed out by Bob Minor in his newest book. Many Christians take exception to this being brought to light, but here Brother Jed exemplifies this.

Yet, on page 229, Jed has the audacity to chastise "guilt manipulators" who takes in large sums of money to fund himself and his ministry. He who guilts others doesn't appreciate the tactic being turned around on him apparently. Oops! Hypocrisy!

This tactic of Jed's also shows a gigantic flaw in his reasoning. To make someone believe in God, Jed attempts to convict them of their sins. However, to believe that the sins are actually sinful, they must first make the a priori assumption that God exists. Little bit of a Catch 22 there. This is where other tactics of preaching love seem to work better. However, Jed strongly condemns those practices as cherry picking the feel good parts.

Of course, Jed's understanding of "love" seems more than a bit twisted. On pages 68-69, he describes his view: To love God is to fear him and hate sin. Love = fear = hate. Rather Orwellian.

Brother Jed seems to like to make up his own definitions for things, which frequently don't coincide with reality. On pg 106, he criticizes people for being "politically correct" rather than enforcing God's word. However he defines this saying,
Being ‘politically correct’ means deciding issues on the basis of membership in a particular group or adherence to a particular ideology, not on the foundation of evidence, merits or morality.
I guess brother Jed is politically correct then given his strict adherence to ideological principles without a single shred of evidence.

The "evidence" he does present is typically a poor generalization. Jed, like many evangelists, insist that they (especially as a teen) felt that something was missing. On page 18, Jed says,
When I was fifteen, I began to recognize an emptiness in my life. Night after night, I can remember lying in bed and thinking, "There must be a book to reveal what life is all about."
To Jed, this emptiness must be a lack of God (as opposed to the obvious answer of raging hormones), and everyone who's lacking God must feel the same emptiness. If everyone feels the same way, this proves that there must actually be a God that's missing from their lives. He reiterates this on 126, saying,
Sonny and Cher sang "All I Ever Need Is You," and "I've Got You Babe." Today they are divorced. Obviously they needed more than each other. They needed a relationship with the God of the universe.
Jed also generalizes, saying there's no such thing as a happy gay (p 35), stating, "You are not gay; you are miserable." I don't think he's looked too hard. On page 45 he claims, "Homosexuals hate God, hate their parents and hate one another." Again, I think Jed's doing a bit of projection.

The abuse of generalizations and poor logic is especially ironic when Jed announces,
Contemporary academics have no dearth of opinions, but lack knowledge and wisdom. They have “thinking” confused with “Feeling.” You often hear these so-called students say, “I feel,” but rarely, “I know,” or, “I think,” or even more uncommonly, “I conclude.” They are unable to define terms, analyze argument or know the difference between influences and causations.
Brother Jed's delusions don't end there. Repeatedly, throughout the book, he shows his delusions of grandeur and overemphasized self worth.

Straight away in the introduction, his wife, sister Cindy states,
Christians have said that they cannot mention the name of Christ around campus without someone bringing up “Brother Jed.”
Jed claims to be personally responsible for great spiritual revivals on several campuses. Yet on pg 40 he says,
Sadly, the conservative revival at ASU did not last. By the end of the eighties, the liberals had once again take over the newspaper, and the Christians seemed to have gone back into the closet.
As should be obvious, Jed doesn't take responsibility for his failures. On page 18, he refuses to even acknowledge that he is responsible for his own behavior of becoming an alcoholic. Rather, he says,
It may have been during this time that the advertisement for Falstaff Beer implanted a taste for it in my subconscious mind.
"OMG! It's not my fault! It was that evul subliminal messegin'!"

Jed also has an amazing ability to give into confirmation bias. He proclaims that Sonny and Cher are divorced because they didn't have enough God, yet ignores the fact that born again Christians have a much higher divorce rate than atheists!

Additionally, Jed doesn't have a high opinion of women. On 166 he claims he's "trying to put you women down, I'm just trying to put you in your proper place."

So what is this "proper place" he's talking about?

Let's take a look at how he describes his wife:
By God's grace, I have not failed to cherish her and give honor to her as the weaker vessel. (p 162)

After ten years of marital bliss I have an obedient and loving wife... (p 255)
Jed makes it very clear that women are inferior to men and that obedience and making babies is their primary function. He even goes so far as to praise Phyllis Schafly (p 168).

On page 78, Jed wonders, "So how is it these “Christian” girls are so convinced that I called them whores?"

Gee. I don't know. Perhaps it's because you actually say they're "worse than whores".

The way he describes his daughters isn't much better. He describes good parenting as making sure your kids fear you saying of his second daughter,
By her second year she was coming when we called, fearing the rod and being quiet in church. This made her a greater blessing to the family.
Having a daughter that can do tricks like a dog because she's afraid of getting hit is a blessing. Of course, since Jed thinks that love = fear, this shouldn't be in any way surprising.

It's a very twisted little realm he lives in, but although Jed claims not to like Fred Phelps, his views seem astoundingly similar at times. He claims that ills are blamed on a lack of holiness:
Many of the mastectomies performed today may be a result of God’s judgment on women for using their breasts as mere sex objects and not desiring to have a baby, much less nurse one. (p 112)

Calamity and disasters are usually the natural consequences of violating God's Moral Law. (218)
As if that doesn't sound familiar.

So what have we seen so far? Jed is egotistical, hypocritical, misogynistic.

But at least he knows the bible. Right?


Jed frequently bemoans the fact that
…I don’t remember a teacher, administrator or student ever suggesting prayer or Bible reading in high school except commencement. No one ever talked to me about a right relationship with God. (p 18)
To support the idea that this is the function of school, he summarizes Galatians 3:24 as saying, "our schoolmaster [is] to bring us unto Christ."

It's been awhile since I've read the bible, but I certainly didn't remember that and I expected that if that were really what it said, I'd be seeing Creationists quoting that passage all the time. So I checked. What does Galatians really say?
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
I don't see anything about "schoolmaster(s)" in there. The closest thing is "the law". But what law?

The rest of Galatians 3 is talking about divine Law, the Law God gave in the OT. Not the law of the Caesar and the government.

So why does Jed decide to twist this? Because it doesn't fit into what he wants to believe. Many Christians use this chapter as well as others, to suggest the "new covenant" after Noah's flood which superceeds the original laws of the OT. Since Jed's dead set on keeping all of that, he selectively cherry picks, rationalizes, and distorts what doesn't fit that view. For shame!

And although Jed shows astounding ignorance of the topic (carefully sidestepping it in this book and bumbling his way through it on campuses, Jed just can't refrain from taking a jab at evolution on his way out the door, saying,
“Our eyes are so staggeringly complex that evolutionists cannot explain how they could have evolved by chance selection. Its functional design, structural economy and specialized parts make the human eye about the most dependable visual imaging instrument in the universe.”
Pastor Glen concludes, “The human eye is so complicated that it can function only as an integrated unit. Which means it’s scientifically impossible for the human eye to evolve piecemeal, as natural selection requires, because the eye is totally useless unless fully developed.”
Looks like the typical IDC Irreducibly Complex argument from ignorance. And what willful ignorance it is given that eye evolution is well explained! Why the silly attack on evolution though?

Like so many others, Jed views evolution as the root of all evils in society. As if, before 1859, the world was a magical fairy tale land full of lollipops.

The rest of his science is pretty bad too. Brother Jed clearly states he has no interest in taking responsible stewardship for the planet, instead insisting,
In contrast, visionary Christians are having large families and training them to take dominion upon the earth because we know overpopulation is not the problem facing humanity, but the problem is underproduction. In the next generation we will have the manpower and influence to regain control of our culture and its institutions.
"Breed! Breed! Take over the land! If we run out of food, we can just make more! Magically since we're running out of usable farmland and overfishing our oceans! But who cares because I believe in God and that God will make everything wonderful!!1!!eleven!"

Yep. Delusional. Egotistical. Misogynistic. Hypocritical. Out of touch with logic, reality, and common sense. All of these things describe Brother Jed. For the most part, I'd realized all this before ever picking up his book, but after reading it, it's quite clear that this understanding of him shines through in the text.

As if they weren't pathetic enough...

As if American Christians wheren't being pathetic enough with sad attempts to bolster an apparently failing faith by getting the government to prop it up, they're still working on showing just how low they can go.

After getting all huffy last year about the new dollar coins not having the "In God We Trust" moved to the rim of the coin in a supar sekrat atheist conspiracy (tm) and getting butthurt about it, congress just passed a new law moving the phase back to the coin's face. Can anyone tell me how in any way this respects the bit of the first amendment which starts "Congress shall pass no law..."? Congress did pass a law, and it explicitly gives deference to a particular religion.

Doubleplus pathetic.