Posts Tagged ‘science’

Chance Eclipsed

On earth, we get a total solar eclipse because our sun and moon are just the right size and they and the earth just the right distances apart. These eclipses give us a great wealth of information and allow us to research the cosmos.

We’re also just the right distance from the sun so that we don’t bake or freeze. And our moon is just the right size and distance so that it induces tides and it keeps our planet tilted at the right angle to allow seasons. This video explains it well:

For reference, consider what a lunar eclipse recently looked like on Mars:

The only intelligent life in the solar system is on the planet with a transparent atmosphere and a moon that perfectly eclipses the sun. If humanity is the result of random chance alignment of atoms, then not only is it astounding that those atoms should give rise to humanity, but it is also astounding that they should give rise to humanity that would become intelligent enough to figure out science and that those atoms should happen to be on a planet where observation of the universe would be pretty much optimal. It is almost like the universe wants to be understood by us. Or perhaps God wants us to see and understand the universe so we can understand something bigger than ourselves.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1 ESV)

ADDED: The very existence of this sized moon around this sized planet with this type of atmosphere is incredibly improbable. “Current theories on the formation of the Moon owe too much to cosmic coincidences.

When People do ‘ologies’

Science is a bit of a political football and a wax nose these days. The New Atheists are claiming that science has all the answers and no other discipline, especially not theology, can or should dare speak to science. But here’s the problem with that idea: science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People do science. Just like people do theology and sociology and psychology. And when people do “ology” their biases and preconceived notions come in to play. The scientific method should manage that but, like science, the scientific method doesn’t happen in a vacuum either. People do the scientific method. And so what you wind up with is science and the scientific method operating pretty well as long as research and theories occur within the boundaries of what scientists are willing to accept as truth. Once you stretch that boundary, you’re in trouble, adequate research not withstanding. I’ve posted on this before.

And so today I came across two news articles that once again demonstrate this principle. I’ll offer the first without much comment since the findings are new and are still being evaluated. Dr. Mark Regnerus did some research on homosexuality and that seems to have gotten him in a lot of trouble. This is one of the areas that is so highly politically charged that only specific types of research are tolerated. Regnerus went beyond the bounds and he is now under intense scrutiny. The first round of reviews found nothing suspicious in his methods but “according to a report released on Wednesday by the [University of Texas at Austin], that does not mean the study isn’t ‘seriously flawed,’ only that there was no evidence of falsification or other unethical practices.” Obviously, it must be flawed because it seems to prove what we don’t believe.

The second is kind of similar except instead of a young professor, it is about a retired professor who really doesn’t give a rip if people don’t like what his data are saying or how he interprets them. That, my friends, is kind of refreshing! James Lovelock, the father of the Gaia theory which says that the Earth operates as a single, living organism, acknowledged that he had been unduly “alarmist” about climate change. How did he arrive at this? Was his researched tainted by money of special interest groups? Nope, just the opposite.

[Dr. Lovelock] responds to attacks on his revised views by noting that, unlike many climate scientists who fear a loss of government funding if they admit error, as a freelance scientist, he’s never been afraid to revise his theories in the face of new evidence. Indeed, that’s how science advances.

Isn’t that great? Here is a leading scientist, and I do mean ‘leading’, and I do mean ‘scientist’ who is not afraid to update his position because he can’t lose funding if he does. What caused his update?

Having observed that global temperatures since the turn of the millennium have not gone up in the way computer-based climate models predicted, Lovelock acknowledged, “the problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago.”

Right, his change of heart is data driven. Personally, my attitude toward climate change has been that something is going on but we can’t be sure what just yet. I’m relieved to hear that I’m pretty much in line with the grandfather of climate change theory. I didn’t have facts, I was just going with my gut and looking at how the facts were being handled and presented. Here’s a guy who has the facts.

The lesson we all need to hear from this is that no matter what side of the debate you’re on, you’re on that side of the debate and you have luggage packed and sitting there with you. You believe what you believe and you’re biased to keep believing it unless something sure can change your mind. Therefore, when something you don’t believe seems to contradict, the first response is doubt. That’s fine, be skeptical, but also be prepared to listen and to be wrong.

What Do You See?

“What Dana [Tierney, writer for The New York Times Magazine] observed about believers–their wonder over the creation–is at the heart of why we even have science. If the stream is a result of accidental natural forces, then you just see water, rocks, and dirt. If God equals the stream, then you worship the stream god, not the creator of the stream. But if God created the stream, then wonder and curiosity naturally flow into study.” – Paul Miller, A Praying Life

“The contemporary atheist movement has a scorched earth strategy – chop down Christianity, root and branch. I don’t believe in God either, but this strategy is entirely counterproductive.

“Not satisfied to point out that elements of Christian belief are historically implausible, or that religion is scientifically unsubstantiated, the New Atheist movement wants to prove something more. That Christianity has been a force for bad, that there is something fundamental about religious belief that holds back progress, approves of oppression, and stokes hatred.

“Yet virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins. To pretend otherwise is to toss the substance of those ideas away. It was theologians and religiously minded philosophers who developed the concepts of individual and human rights. Same with progress, reason, and equality before the law: it is fantasy to suggest these values emerged out of thin air once people started questioning God.” – Chris Berg, Secular World Has A Christian Foundation, Brisbane Times, 4/15/2012


Leviticus has some fascinating spots in it. Chapters 13 – 15 are about skin disease on people, mildew buildings and about bodily emissions. Here’s what I find fascinating. We have this ritual required a few times:

[T]he priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. – Leviticus 14:4-7

What is really neat to me is that this ritual isn’t given to make the disease or mildew or emission go away. The Bible doesn’t give magical spells for curing people. What precedes this ritual in every place it is commanded are steps to be take to determine if the disease is only skin deep or commands to scrape plaster and remove rocks from buildings or specific time periods to allow after an emission is stopped but never is there a spell or ritual to remove these things. God does not command magic for his people to gain power over the natural world. It is, after all, the world he created and he expects them to live in it. His law gives them ways to live in the world, not power over it.

Permissible Hypotheses Only

In his speech [at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference] and in an interview, Dr. [Jonathan] Haidt argued that social psychologists are a ‘tribal-moral community’ united by ‘sacred values’ that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals. “I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one [non-liberal graduate] student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” he said, arguing that this shared morality both “binds and blinds.”

“If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

“Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.” – John Tierney, The New York Times, Social Scientist Sees Bias Within, February 7, 2011

The War Is Over if You Want It

[ok-si-mawr-on, -mohr-]
–n. a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”
It is official. I’m a global warming/climate change skeptic. Something is happening but I’m not convinced that it is our fault, that we can really do anything about it and that anyone really understands it. So when I read this in the NY Times I just kind of rolled my eyes. “The reality is, we’re freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.” It seems to me that once they (rightly) stopped calling it “global warming” they lost the fight. The earth’s climate has never been stable, it has always changed. Calling it “climate change” is like saying “random chance” or “convicted felon.” It is redundant. Climate changes. When you start saying, with a straight face, “It is getting colder because it is getting warmer” you just punctuate my assertion that you’ve lost.

Ha. Man, how I was that were true. If it were, we might be able to get past the politics, religion and money that drives so much of the climate change (okay, I said it, so what?) debate and get some real answers to what’s happening and why and if we’re in a good place to cope.

Update: Just came across a video of a British meteorologist who predicted the cold winter in Europe. He says that the “warming causes cooling” argument is not based on any kind of science.