Tag Archives: science

Christians in a SciFi world

Just a few days ago one of my student brought this up at our faith and science discussion. I had never heard of it, but the story is so tragic and yet God used the Gibsons to do something incredible. It is so odd and yet such a powerful story that it is hard to place the emotion it produces.

The Gibsons had Emma through the National Embryo Donation Center, a faith-based embryo adoption program in which couples hoping to conceive are paired with embryos that will not be used by their genetic parents. The NEDC said in a news release that it has received donated embryos from all 50 states, as well as foreign countries.

A “baby counter” on the NEDC website tallies its live births at 686 babies.

Emma was frozen in October 1992, when Tina Gibson, 26, was 18 months old. The embryo was thawed in March of this year and implanted two days later. “Emma is such a sweet miracle,” Benjamin Gibson said, according to the news release. “I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago.”

Science Fiction almost never includes believing Christians but here we get a weird, uncanny view into how Christians behave in a Science Fiction wor

Cold with a side of Doom

I had planned to write a long post with more of my own ideas based off of this essay at Watts Up With That: The Climate-Grain Production Relationship Quantified. But instead, work intervenes again, and here is the nugget. You should certainly read the linked article too.

It should be relatively obvious that the sooner in the year that it gets cold and the later it gets warm, the fewer crops can be grown. I am sure I have beat the solar cooling drum before, though not to peddle alarmism. Rather to argue for genetically modified food and the unleashing of human potential to innovate and not just survive a potentially upcoming ‘little ice age’ but to this time avoid civilizational collapse as well. First, here is a graphic of the past and predicted solar cycle: clip_image008_thumbOf course, you should for this post ignore the fact that the global warming of the previous decades is surprisingly coincident with a solar maximum. instead, notice that the possible loss in corn yield, 21% loss… and who would this affect most? clip_image014_thumbWell, everyone of course, since problems in the middle east and Asia very rapidly become everyone’s problems.

However, rather than shout Doom! we should follow Mitch Daniels’ advice.

Potential Allies

The post-modern ‘proof’ of existence seems to me to be a truncated form of Descartes. Descartes started with what he knew you could know: that, in fact, some thing ‘I’ can think. He then proceeded to prove that I was an existence, and then that God must exist. Then since God exists, everything that ‘I’ observe exists at least somewhat like ‘I’ observe it. This framework is far more subjective than I would posit, however it is a usable framework for thinking and living. I made a graph after the nature of reaction profiles. (If you have had some chemistry, you may recognize the format.) As you proceed from left to right you are following the case for the worldview and as you go up, importance increases.Untitled-1Let us contrast that to a post-modern fully subjective worldview is like.Untitled-1aThis latter figure is the new worldview. This worldview has several repercussions. For now, though, I’ll only mention one. Everything includes ideas, thoughts, truth, good, evil, right, wrong, cowardice, and valor. Since existence is defined by the mind and thoughts of the one existing, it is not necessarily the case that something observed by one is true to the other. The only reason, in this scenario, for truth and reality to be agreed upon (such as everyone agreeing on what is green) is social conditioning and pressure. There is no ground for insisting that something is wrong outside of societal norms.

This worldview is antithetical in every way to two things: religions of revealed Truth (Specifically Christianity, but that is another topic for another time.) and science. That’s why I think scientists should swallow their anti-religion pride and make some common cultural cause with the strict traditionalists of the Church in the arena of absolute, knowable, transmittable and immutable truth.

You see, if truth is only a construct of the mind, then science cannot exist. Science depends upon the core belief that the truth is knowable and constant. Our knowledge of it is flawed and in constant flux, in constant need of study, experiment, update and thought. If truth is not timeless and knowable, then a consensus of quality minds actually would define truth and therefore science. If that were the case, then the sun did indeed revolve around the earth for Ptolemy, while much later, after some cataclysmic solar revolution, it now is orbited by the earth due in large part to Galileo.geocentric

Every scientist, and probably every person not fully committed to the conclusions of this worldview, would find this ridiculous. And yet one academic department after another has fallen to this worldview. Perhaps because they are not grounded in observation, or perhaps because scientists are a particular brand of curmudgeon, the humanities have fallen first, long ago. Now however, even the hard sciences are under attack. The global warming consensus is (although it mayn’t be a consensus after all) the only consistent argument in favor of the theory and people peddle it as fact. Man-made global warming may indeed be fact, but there is not one model made to predict the future warming that predicted the current pause. When all the models are wrong, it usually means something about the assumptions of the modelers.

Again, if truth is only a construct of the mind, objective religion cannot exist. Religion is demoted to ‘something that makes you feel better’ which puts it into the category of whiskey. woodford

If that is the case, then anything in the religion that makes you feel upset or threatened must not be true –for you. Maybe someone else feels better knowing that God condemns sexual immorality of all sorts, then this religious belief is true for them.  And if a large enough group of spiritual people agree that something is acceptable for god, then, it must be. That of course leads to the absurd idea that god was pleased by the Mayan human sacrifices. If that were the case, then you could very easily argue not just that societies make their own gods in the image that pleases them, but that god must also actually exist for their believing created it. I am sure this scenario sounds more plausible than the Ptolemy scenario above. That feeling is just the result of the overwhelming nature of the subjective worldview in every domain but the hard sciences.

So that is why I recommend not just a peace treaty between traditional Church leader and scientists but active cultural cooperation. The Church is not in any danger of being wiped out by a fleeting theory in the minds of men, but science may well have to come and take shelter inside the doors of the Church, running for sanctuary from those that scientists currently think are science’s friend.

If this happens, you can count on churchmen to preserve everything they can, just like last time the forces of nihilism swept the western world. But before that, why not pick up a sword and fight in the streets of civilization (the enemy is long through the walls) alongside the Church for Truth and civilization and life?


Conservatives are often accused (wrongly and idiotically) of being ‘anti-science’. There are so many thoughts I have here that it will be very hard to avoid digressions of every sort. Due to the massive ignorance pervasive in modern America it seems that, in fact, the most ‘anti-science’ institution int he country is the educational system. Fighting words, I know, but consider: the guiding belief of almost everyone who teaches in schools, elementary, high, and college, is that absolutes, truth, facts, do not really exist outside the reference frame, or narrative, of the person or people who believe it. I can hardly think of any philosophy more antithetical to science than that.

The infection of this belief into the academic disciplines is not uniform, but it is spreading. For instance, the humanities are almost entirely overwhelmed, since it is easier to subvert objective fact. (Witness Howard Zinn, who’s seminal work would not have even been glanced at if it had been instead ‘A Peoples Perspective of Inorganic Chemistry’ and contained several  sections that ‘played fast and loose with the facts’.) While it has yet to make its way into the main body of chemistry there is a serious attempt by some chemists and many non-scientists to mug the whole meaning of science and replace it with the idea that a consensus of smart people determines the facts, and questioning their agreement is ‘anti-science’. The serious trouble is that most people, who have been taught this philosophy of thought and truth treat science the same way as they treat anything else, as if some things can be true for some people and not all people.

And this brings me to the topic I really wanted to mention: what my new favorite (well, the only one I read) chemistry blog calls ‘chemophobia‘.

Personally, I think the greatest failure of our field over the past three decades has been the steady decline of the public image of chemistry. Our “brand” has steadily deteriorated from an apex of “better living through chemistry” in the 1970s to the ever-worsening current climate where “chemicals are bad” and products are nonsensically advertized as “chemical-free”.

These are people who don’t want fertilizer on the plants that grew their food, or pesticides, or fungicides, or genetic modifications. These are people who have been swept up in outright fear of anything chemistry. They want to be soothed by ‘all-natural’, ‘no GMO’ markings. They don’t know, or purposefully forget that these chemicals are why more and more people can eat from the agricultural produce of less and less land. They also seem happy to forget that every single medication they take, (every drag of marijuana), every breath of air, is chemistry. Its odd, and ChemBark has some theories as to why people are afraid of chemicals, and some thoughts of fighting back in the public awareness.

1939_A_BetterThings_Detail_Horizontal_960x766Better Things for Better Living… Through Chemistry

Here is one more theory. Some time ago, while chemistry was in its most recent hey-day, the professors of chemistry, the researchers, started receiving more and more of their money from government funding. This coupled with the growing dislike, and then even sometimes hatred, in the academic world of the kinds of companies that actually use chemistry (Oil companies , pharmaceuticals, etc…) caused chemistry’s best advocates to secluded themselves, doing arcane and sometimes pointless research. And so, little by little, even the chemists became embarrassed of chemistry, because everything chemistry that non-academic people were in contact with were things that they 1) had not financial or academic interest in, and 2) from business sectors that they found repugnant.

So, I think to help chemistry’s image, we chemists should do two things. First, gather together with all scientists and engineers and bite the awkward bullet that they will be making common cause with fundamentalist theologians, and fight for the recognition of knowable, absolute truth. And secondly, be proud enough ourselves of what chemists do for people in the industries that chemists are indispensable to. We should certainly teach students about the horrible things done with chemistry (Horrible only if you have an immutable moral truth, by the way…) but we should also teach them about the things that people have saved with chemistry. That and we shouldn’t stand for defective education, either in the sciences or in the humanities.

The Flat-Earth is a Red Car

So there I was, getting my very first cavity cleaned and filled, ‘chatting’ with the dentist. ‘How are you?’ “gerblopflllob…” ‘Oh good, glad to hear that.’ ‘What do you study?’ (Shut up you idiot and fix my tooth!) “Hchemfloptry” ‘Oh, chemistry. (How the hell did he know what I said?) ‘Science is so strange. You think you know something and then more evidence arrives and it was all wrong.’ ‘sthop trup’ (so true) ‘One minute people are being burned at the stake for thinking the world is round and the next people sail around it.’120308_1200065_CAR_F12berlinetta_430x140

With educated ignorance like this, who needs stupid people? At least my tooth filling looks good, so good in fact you can’t even tell it’s there. They clean it out and fill it in, sculpting it in and then the set it with UV light… very cool. But the level of ignorance was absurd. So when did the belief that Christian Europe was backward, unscientific, stupid, and killed people for observing the universe start? Well, it is amusing to read the Wikipedia entry about the flat earth concept. Apparently, Europeans have generally believed the earth is round since Pythagoras. In fact the entry becomes more and more amusing as you discover that the idea of a spherical earth came to India in the early AD centuries from exposure to… Greek astronomy, and to the Islamic scientists from the translation of Greek cosmology from Constantinople into Arabic… China was way behind, finding out about the (apparently European) idea of a spherical earth in the 17th century from the Jesuits. So why, for any reason, do so many people believe that the medieval Christians think the earth was flat? And why are so many people willing to ascribe to them the act of killing the people who held the standard belief about the earth.

The mis-characterization of the medieval times and the time following is what I consider to be the most successful, most damaging, most pervasive campaign of lies, slanders, and libels in history. Here it is in a picture:tumblr_l22pkanVE51qbi5yxo1_500

That’s right, blame the dark ages on Christianity… because they totally happened and they were totally the fault of believing in the Christian God. Despite the fact that the picture graph was obviously made by an ignorant hack without even a tenuous grasp of history of any kind, let alone scientific advancement. The sad state of the matter is that many, maybe even most, people walk around in their lives with this view of history, with this view of Christianity, and this view of the west. Now, I am sure there was some time while Rome was falling, slowly backing out of what is now Western Europe it felt pretty dark, like this:

For the end of the world was long ago,
When the ends of the world waxed free,
When Rome was sunk in a waste of slaves,
And the sun drowned in the sea.

When Caesar’s sun fell out of the sky
And whoso hearkened right
Could only hear the plunging
Of the nations in the night.

Also, the science of the region fell dramatically: but you try to keep civilization going when being overrun by Vandals, Visigoths, et al. However, the purposefully forgotten piece of history is that the more populous of the Christian world at the time was the Eastern Roman Empire which survived with its science intact. Also, happily expunged are the brave and great people who cobbled civilization back together after Rome receded. Men like Alcuin who were part of this first ‘renaissance’ that only came to an end upon the onset of the little ice age. Alcuin is forgotten, conveniently perhaps, because one of his most important contributions was rebuking Charlemagne for his campaign of forced conversions saying this:

“Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptized, but you cannot force them to believe.”

Wikipedia (the lazy blogger’s source… this is a red car (or is it a white rabbit) that I am chasing, no time for anything better than Wiki) goes on to say that in response Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in … 797 AD.

So where does the firmly held belief that Christian Europe was backward, and autocratic? I don’t know, but I suspect an evil cabal 🙂 of enlightenment thinkers and their ideological descendants. If the medieval ages were not dark, than their argument against God starts crumbling…

Bill Nye: The Red Car

Introducing red car Friday!
From now on, until I get bored of it, every Friday will feature a red car, like last week’s post on the middle ages. Also, whenever I can there will be other posts too… but here is today’s red car.
Bill Nye… the science guy…. You see him here and there on the news, expounding, pontificating, telling people what they should believe and what they shouldn’t believe. Here he is at Smithsonian magazine where the subtitle is: ‘The famous scientist cuts through the global warming noise and lays out the facts.’

And by the way, if you go watch it (embedding wasn’t working for some reason.) the bottles are absolutely nothing like our atmosphere with its many, barely understood equilibration systems. It is a horrible example.

Anyway, that’s Bill Nye… ‘famous scientist’ here is another situation, at the commencement speech at Lehigh University, where he said that overpopulation is a huge world problem….

And Bill Nye, apparently a real scientist…. Talking about the OK tornado.

Bill Nye is an expert in basically everything!

He also really hates the idea of creationism

So, Bill Nye is apparently an expert in: Climate science, Evolutionary biology, demographics, basically he’s like a scientist at everything!!!! So I wondered… what, exactly, are his credentials as a scientist (other than, you know, being called ‘the science guy’ which is catchy and cool because it rhymes with his last name…)

Well, according to Wikipedia

‘He studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University (where one of his professors was Carl Sagan)[9] and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977.[10] Nye began his career in Seattle at Boeing, where, among other things, he starred in training films and developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor still used in the 747. Later, he worked as a consultant in the aeronautics industry. In 1999 he told the St. Petersburg Times that he applied to be a NASA astronaut every few years, but was always rejected.[11]

I see… he took a class from a real physicist… and… he was repeatedly rejected by NASA so, that makes him a real scientist I guess. I don’t want to deny the possibilities of him being an autodidact, and mechanical engineers are certainly practical and solid thinkers by and large…. But his scientific credentials are remarkably…. thin. For instance in his scientific work, he made a sundial for the Mars rover… which sounds exactly like a project that would be given to a person who was included for the celebrity, rather than for their science…

It seems to me that his scientific credentials are:
1: He has a catchy name with Science in it
2: He endlessly repeats the most popular scientific shibboleths
3: ?????

Am I missing something that would give us good reason to listen to what Bill Nye (Real Scientist) says over someone (anyone) else?

It’s (Almost) Alive !!!1!1!

All I have to say is: No, no its not…

Three billion years after inanimate chemistry first became animate life, a newly synthesized laboratory compound is behaving in uncannily lifelike ways.

The particles aren’t truly alive — but they’re not far off, either. Exposed to light and fed by chemicals, they form crystals that move, break apart and form again.

This is a perfect example of sensationalist and wildly inaccurate reporting done about science in the general media. There is nothing life like here, except that the particles organize and reorganize, a simple process based in molecular and macro-scale forces that the researches have externally manipulated to form a system that cycles through phases of order and disorder. Certainly rather cool, nothing to do with life.

Each particle is made from a microscopic cube of hematite, a compound consisting of iron and oxygen, sheathed in a spherical polymer coat. One corner is left exposed.

Under certain wavelengths of blue light, hematite conducts electricity. When the particles are placed in a hydrogen peroxide bath under blue light, chemical reactions catalyze around the exposed tips.

‘There is a blurry frontier between active and alive.’

As the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, concentration gradients form. The particles travel down these, aggregating into crystals that also follow the gradients.

Random forces pull the crystals apart, but eventually they merge again. The process repeats again and again, stopping only when the lights go out.

This is basically like saying ‘Oh look, the magnets pulled themselves together!!! It’s almost alive!’ This kind of breathless hysterical reporting is part of the reason why non-science people are so miserably uninformed about science.

See also The Modern Philosopher’s Stone (which is about the same kind of popular reporting, but about the so called ‘upcoming hydrogen economy’)

Phantom Fingers

So I collect strange news stories. This one was so strange and cool I decided to share. This woman’s mind supposedly knew her hand was meant to have 5 fingers, and so it felt even the two she was born without after an accident and amputation.

The woman was born with only three fingers on her right hand and had the hand amputated after a car accident when she was aged 18. She later began to feel that her missing limb was still present and developed a “phantom” hand. “But here’s the interesting thing,” Dr. Paul McGeoch at the University of California, San Diego, told New Scientist. “Her phantom hand didn’t have three digits, it had five.”

Buckyball Cube

So I made a tongue-in-cheek ‘instructional video’ to document my triumph over the buckyball cube. (I figured it out, I did not look it up although I could have.) I had purchased a set of Buckyballs due to the impending legal action against the company and they arrived in a lovely cube that immediately died. I have since enjoyed playing with them mightily but have sought to recreate the cubic (simple cubic packing in Chemistry talk) state it arrived in. Here is the video that shows it.

Those laughing in the background are my family, although I must say, when I teach chemistry, it is a very similar presentation style.

The Great Extrapolation

Science is so frequently abused it is no wonder that people are rapidly losing their trust of anything with the label science. I suppose this is the just end for those who used the science label and the trappings of science, graphs, charts, R2 values, big words, to trick people who rightfully trusted science. Science, real science, is a method to discover the truth about the world. In this system it is acceptable to make extrapolations and theories that are difficult or even impossible to prove. This creative side of science gives scientists and people ideas to test, and if real science is being done, discard if they are found in contradiction of observation. As a result, any theory that cannot be tested is in essence not science.

One of the most common features to the ‘sale’ of pseudo-science and loony conspiracy theories dressed up as science is the graph; specifically the false extrapolation graph. Here, I think, is a perfect example of what I mean. When I was small, my mother and father kept track of my height at different ages. When I plot this data against my age in years, the resulting graph is below.

As you can clearly see, my growth between age 11 and age 14 was really nicely correlated to my age, that’s a nice statistical correlation.. so lets extrapolate.

OK, so for anyone with even my sister’s level of math, the 12.779 inches at age 0 wasn’t a surprise, it is from the equation for the line. (My sister is a very talented violinist, who would probably have been good at math too if she had liked it at all.) But lets extrapolate into the future the same amount.

That puts me at around 120 inches next year! I should warn my wife that I am about to grow four feet. Alright, so this example is obviously ludicrous. How about an example of potential pseudo-science? Here is a graph of IPCC models (from the IPCC website, some random presentation linked if you click on the slide.)

I am not (here at least) trying to make the case that man-made global warming is a total hoax brought to you by the same set of people that gave us the ozone hole… However, it is a particularly good rule of thumb that if a theory asks you to believe a prediction of the future based on past measurements, you should be skeptical. In fact, people should at all times, and in all ways, be skeptical of all claims made by all people. Since the most reverend and ancient ploy to convince people to believe or buy something is appealing to an authority you made up for the purpose it is even more important to be skeptical of any ‘authority’… not stubborn disbelief, nor unfettered belief, just skepticism. A good non-scientific example: Obama wants us to believe the authority of a non-partisan study conducted by a donor to his campaign…

Well, as one last note, here is how the information on my age to height is potentially valid. When I was 12.7 years old, I was probably quite close to the 68.45 inches predicted by the linear fit on the graph. That is, the correlation is only valid inside the range of measurements. Perhaps mind is all polluted by analytical chemists in college 🙂 and that makes me demand my correlations be within the measured standards. (Read Wikipedea on Standard Curves… I don’t feel like explaining it now.)