Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Commentary on Al Gore’s Nobel

October 12, 2007

“We face a true planetary emergency,” Mr. Gore said in his statement. “The climate crisis is not a political issue; it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.”

Gag . . .

What a string of debatable claims.

Evolution / Intelligent Designer . . . whatever

May 28, 2007

From the language used by Nicholas Wade, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between evolution and an Intelligent Designer. Consider his characterization of evolution (almost a person, not merely a process) in his recent mini-review of a book about moths:

Every feature of a butterfly or moth, throughout its life from egg to adult, has been shaped over millions of years of evolution for specific purposes.

A moth on which evolution has lavished a remarkable degree of protective care is Oxytenis modestia.

As an adult, the Oxytenis moth resembles a leaf, but even here evolution’s inventiveness is not an end.

The distance between “specific purpose” and “design” in my mind is not very great, if not nonexistent. (Is Wade secretly an IDer?)

Other times, though, Wade speaks as if the variations seen on moths are not due to evolution at all, but rather to a conscious decision or effort of the moth:

Many butterfly and moth species try to pretend they are the least nutritious objects in the forest. This generally means imitating a piece of bird excrement if one is a caterpillar, and a dead leaf when one reaches adulthood.

Several butterflies practice a clever combination of camouflage and conspicuousness.

I’ve been trying hard to grow claws and wings for some time. Maybe I just don’t have a sufficiently moth-like drive to succeed?

Atheists with attitude

May 15, 2007

A semi-refreshing multi-book review of current atheist attacks on religion: the New Yorker considers some of the many shortcomings of books by Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. It’s “semi-refreshing” because one doesn’t expect much on the Christian religion from the New Yorker—their article on Benedict XVI in April was downright disgraceful from a number of perspectives, basic fact-checking not being the least of these. But here one gets an article that criticizes the extremist non-arguments of these authors, but, as one would expect, does not jump to defend “religion” in any real way.

Particularly embarrassing, I would think, to someone who claims to be a serious intellectual, are the logical impossibilities attendant upon classifying all systems of supernatural belief, regardless of their actual teachings, regardless of their mutual incompatibility, as one monolithic, evil entity called “religion.” The New Yorker author rightly comments:

From the perspective of the new atheists, religion is all one entity; those who would apologize for any of its forms—Harris and Dawkins, in particular, insist on this point—are helping to sustain the whole. But, though the vague belief in a “life force” may be misguided, it’s hard to make the case that it’s dangerous. And there’s a dreamy incoherence in their conviction that moderate forms of religion somehow enable fundamentalist zeal and violence to survive. Are we really going to tame the fervor of an extremist imam’s mosque in Waziristan by weakening the plush-toy creed of a nondenominational church in Chappaqua?

Not to mention the fact that, to my knowledge, none of the authors consider any form of religion other than the traditional-theistic—what about the belief in science, pursuit of financial gain, rationalism, or self-reliance as religions? People, even if they don’t recognize an omnipotent other-worldly being, will elevate something to transcendental status, be it even their own selves. If “religion” is to be taken as an undifferentiated and pernicious phenomenon, then these attacks on it by Dawkins, Harris, et al. are omitting an essential segment of their investigation. To include it would implicate themselves in the horrific project called “religion” that they want so badly to distance themselves from.

I know these books only through a great many reviews, so I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing them.

All hail science and “diversity”—except when they cramp our style

May 9, 2007

An article on Down Syndrome on the NY Times website stimulated a thought about the great present-day mantras of “diversity” and the promise of science to explain all of reality.

It’s well known that diversity is being pushed by the academic elites of the nation as a kind of panacea. Diversity will keep us from the deadening effects of parochialism. It’s better to be a citizen of the world than a patriotic American, after all.

And everyone knows that the key to true peace, freedom, and all other good things is unrestricted funding for every kind of scientific research. In technology, biology, engineering, and all the rest, scienctific knowledge is reliable and objective, setting us free from superstition and irrational prejudices.

But to return to this article on Down Syndrome: the author notes that there is a great push to screen all pregnant women for indicators that their baby might be born with Down Syndrome, and that 90% of women positively diagnosed choose to have an abortion. The author rightly notes:

But as prenatal tests become available for a range of other perceived genetic imperfections, they may also be heralding a broader cultural skirmish over where to draw the line between preventing disability and accepting human diversity.

Yes, where does “diversity” enter the picture? Are we interested in diversity of skin color and sexuality only? Or are we prepared to admit that living with people who have “genetic imperfections” might be a positive thing, for ourselves as well as for those with those genetic conditions? And if we tend to abort those babies, does that mean we are committed to diversity only when it costs us nothing? (I’m not saying I have a committment to diversity—only that it’s undeniable that many who favor abortion, and favor aborting genetically imperfect babies, also are on board the diversity bandwagon, and probably favor other positions primarily favored by the Left.)

And this is where science comes in. Why is it that some people will claim in one breath that science can explain religion, morals, “the mind,” and so much else . . . but then claim in the next that science can’t tell us when life begins?

It seems to me that in both cases, there are those who choose to worship diversity and science when it is convenient for their lifestyles to do so. Not out of any committment to truth—a committment to their own comfort and autonomy.

P.S. Another thing that puzzles me is how many of those who tout “diversity” and its synonym, “multiculturalism,” as great goods, consider Globalization to be a great evil. Are we somehow to become citizens of the world, but limit our buying and selling to our own backyard? There seems to be a contradiction here.

NASA rethinking (sex and) death for Mars mission

May 2, 2007

The link to this article reads, “NASA rethinking sex and death for Mars mission.” However, get to the article, and the headline mentions only death: “NASA rethinking death in mission to Mars.”

But just when you thought you’d been baited and switched, comes this section:

One topic that is evidently too hot to handle: How do you cope with sexual desire among healthy young men and women during a mission years long?

Sex is not mentioned in the document and has long been almost a taboo topic at NASA. Williams said the question of sex in space is not a matter of crew health but a behavioral issue that will have to be taken up by others at NASA.

Ha: “too hot to handle” . . . yeah, the NASA prudes don’t dare touch that one. Too busy with their pocket protectors and slide rules, I guess.

Walker Percy includes a lengthy section in Lost in the Cosmos dedicated to the problems of manning a long-term space mission. Do you choose the Burt Reynolds/Shirley MacLaine type crew? The inseparable, middle-aged homebody lesbians? The San Fran homos? Or the lapsed Catholic/militant feminist crew? Great fun.

I took a poll of undergraduates and they overwhelmingly favored the lesbian crew. Why? Because Percy said they were “excellent astronauts” and “highly cultivated.” However, being a good astronaut, a poet, and a historian may not help with the ultimate goal of the mission, which is to establish relations with ETIs (Extra Terrestrial Intelligences). The lesbians might not be the best choice if you want a crew able to accurately represent the majority of the human race. I say go with the lapsed Catholic . . . at least he’ll probably call a spade a spade when he’s dragged before the alien tribunal.

“Age management”—it’s in the Bible!

April 7, 2007

CNN profiles an “age management” doctor and two of her clients from Atlanta. These are people who do not believe, in the words of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), in “the arcane, outmoded stance that aging is natural and inevitable”.

And how does CNN start its article, posted on Holy Saturday?

Clothia Roussell draws inspiration from the prophets. “I’ve read in the Bible how we’re supposed to live to see 120, and those prophets lived to be 400 or 500 years old,” said the 49-year-old homemaker.

Where in the Bible does it say we’re “supposed to” live to see 120? Moses died at 120, but the Psalmist says “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

Highlighting the fact that these two people base their hopes of living 500 years on something they perceive as biblical, CNN equates quackery with Christianity. These things tend to come out around Easter: consider the NY Times article from this past Tuesday: “Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say.” It’s all a hoax. And just in time for Easter and Passover!

Back to anti-aging: the Gerontology Research Group is another organization in desperate need of a reality check. They describe themselves as “Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers dedicated to the quest to slow and ultimately reverse human aging within the next 20 years.” Twenty years! That means that if I get on board now, I’ll not age past 55 years. But when the process reverses, does that mean I’ll eventually revert back to my adolescent, childhood, and embryonic stature, gradually devolving to a single-celled organism and ultimately separating into egg and sperm? And what happens to children born 20 years from now? If the aging process is reversed, will they even be able to mature in the womb? Or start as oldsters and work their way back to infancy?

Suffice it to say that I don’t think this “reversal” of the aging process has been thought out. They also haven’t recognized that their website is every bit as subject to the aging process as humans are—the thing still uses frames and cheesy animated gifs:
grg_site

But it should not be surprising to learn that the GRG is also anti-Christian: Their website shows Richard Dawkins autographing his then-latest book, The Ancestor’s Tale, on Good Friday, 2005. A long quotation, but worth the time:

The introduction of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution followed by its elaboration by modern biologists, who have rationalized it in a manner to be consistent with the Laws of Physics and Chemistry, is spiritually liberating. And why is that? We no longer have to search out God’s intent for mortal humans (Thy “will” be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.) which is such a frustrating business, since He has revealed so little evidence for His purpose, or having to listen to the admonitions of those self-appointed prophets who seek to speak for Him (the clergy/ruling-class, who fabricated the notions of sin and guilt, acting largely out of self-interest to maintain their social status). Instead, we can come to appreciate that our “human condition” is in no way sacred — that it was, in fact, thrust upon us without our consent. Therefore, we can change it if it suits our own purpose, in the same fashion as wearing clothing when it’s cold or putting on a pair of spectacles when our vision becomes impaired with old age without fear of untoward consequences in the “afterlife.” So, this argument is liberating in the sense that the fatalistic dogma of nearly all religions regarding “heaven” (and “hell”) and/or reincarnation can now be ignored with impunity.

Where they cook up the idea of “spirit”, which they certainly need before they can talk of something being “spiritually liberating”, is something they leave unexplained. I’m looking forward to checking back with these people when I’m an old man, to see how they’re progressing. Oops, I meant, in 20 years, when they’ve recreated human nature and rewritten the laws over which we have no control.

The benefits of adult stem cells

March 31, 2007

Here’s something for people who think that there is no promise in adult stem cells. I’m thinking specifically of someone who posted a comment this month accusing me of “Bronze Age theology” and saying that “the reason the media doesn’t report on adult stem cell cures is because they don’t exist” (or something very close to these words):
NY Times: For Athletes, the Next Fountain of Youth?

The kinds of stem cell therapies being researched for the most part do not involve the politically sensitive use of embryonic stem cells. But they could involve using harvested adult stem cells, stem cells saved from a child at birth or cells from what may someday be a national bank of donated stem cells derived from umbilical cord or placental stem cells.

And:

The primary uses to date for cord blood have been in the treatment of leukemia and other life-threatening diseases.

“The focus so far has been on more important things than fixing an athlete’s joints,” Dr. Hariri said. “But we’re well aware of the possibilities and the revolution that is coming.”

Popular Mechanics puts Rosie in her place

March 31, 2007

Recently Rosie O’Donnell went on and on on The View about how the collapse of World Trade Center 7 (not one of the two towers, but a nearby building) was not due to natural physical forces, and vowed to call up Yale or Harvard’s physics department to get to the bottom of things. I.e., it must have been an inside job . . . I get so tired of these “truther” rants. Popular Mechanics responds. Turns out that when a 110-story building collapses, a building 300 feet away takes a serious, serious beating. Who’d have guessed?

My favorite part is how sure Rosie is about physics, fire, and structural engineering. Her words (as quoted from the Pop. Mech. site):

I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics that World Trade Center tower 7—building 7, which collapsed in on itself—it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved. World Trade Center 7. World Trade [Center] 1 and 2 got hit by planes—7, miraculously, the first time in history, steel was melted by fire. It is physically impossible.

The response to these assertions also points out that steel begins to weaken at a much lower temperature (400°) than it melts at (2,750°), and that WTC 7 had two 6,000-gallon tanks of gasoline in the basement that fed electrical generators via pressurized lines . . . and that fires raged within the building for seven hours prior to its collapse.

Good one, Rosie.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my puzzlement over how a TV show like The View manages to stay on the air. Is it really just 4 women sitting around pontificating? And one of them is Rosie O’Donnell? Yikes.

Ex-wife becomes a man; ex-husband seeks end to alimony

March 28, 2007

The article says that the ex-husband (who is still a man) will likely have to keep paying $1,250 a month to his ex-wife (who is now also a man). But I am rooting for the ex-husband. It seems to get one into contradictions to say that sex changes are okay, but that for purposes of alimony payments one must act as if no sex change occurred.

Response to Rayilyn Brown

March 27, 2007

The following is a response to the first comment on my post entitled “Meet the new Christopher Reeve.” (WordPress won’t let me post a comment to that entry, and this is long enough for its own main entry, so here it is.)

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