Archive for: June, 2007

Creationist Canard #2 : "Evolution isn't a proper science, you can't do experiments"

Jun 11 2007 Published by under Science & Religion

This is my second post where I'm writing, for my own reference, the response to one of the old and hoary creationist canards that are brought up in response to things like my long letter to the editor published in the Tennessean, as part of a segment on the question "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?".

I will quote from one of the letters I received to give one version of this argument:

Science, by definition must be observable, measurable (testable), and repeatable (reproducible).
Neither creation nor evolution can be observed. Both are done. By evolution, we must specify macro evolution and not minor adaptive modifications. Change must involve gene or DNA modification to qualify as an evolutionary development. Cross breeding or hybridization is also not evolution. All we "see" or observe today is modification: no true evolution.

The general argument is that evolution is no more scientific theory than creationism, because both are dealing with past events that cannot be addressed in the scientific laboratory. Sure, we've seen evolution in the lab— consider the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria today, clear evidence of bacteria which have evolved in the face of a change in environment (i.e. an environment awash with antibiotics). But creationists call this "microevolution." They say that changes between species as described by the theory of evolution happen on such a long timescale that we can't do experiments, and that as such, according to them, evolution doesn't obey the rules of science. So, they say, evolution is just as much faith as creationism, and the two should be treated equivalently.

They are, of course, very wrong.

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23 responses so far

Creationist Canard #1 : "Evolution is a theory, not a fact"

I had a long letter to the editor published in the Tennessean, as part of a segment on the question "should you take your kids to the Creation Museum?" I receive a fair amount of e-mail. This has motivated me to put up, so that I can reference it from now on, my own rejection of a couple of creationist canards. Doubtless you can find huge numbers of rejections of this elsewhere, since these are canards that creationists bring up all the time.

"Evolution is a theory, not a fact."

Strictly speaking, that statement is true. However, this statement is always raised by those who would then take it to mean that it is reasonable to doubt that evolution happened, that evolution is just somebody's idea that caught on rather than something that is supported by mountains of evidence.

The problem is that the uses of the term "theory" and "fact" do not mean in science what most people think they mean. This is true particularly of theory.

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8 responses so far

On Quantum Mechanics : Stochastic is Not the Opposite of Deterministic

Jun 08 2007 Published by under Astronomy & Physics

Most of the misconceptions about and misuses of quantum mechanics (QM) comes a misunderstanding of the stochastic nature of QM. In the 20th century, as we came to understand that QM is how the world works on a fundamental level, we had to abandon the idea that physics was in principle deterministic. Alas, too many have read too much into this abandonment. Recently, one of the typical creationist nutters was commenting on the Gonzales tenure denial, and had this to say:

Now, materialism is shot to pieces anyway, and has been ever since quantum mechanics began to be understood.

Er, no.

But, before that, we have had all sorts of mystics putting out stuff like the movie What the <Bleep> Do We Know, which took the non-deterministic nature of Quantum Mechanics to mean that we, somehow, get to decide the states that elementary particles will fall into.

Er, no.

Now, you might be excused for thinking that "stochastic" is the opposite of "deterministic" if you, for example, use the really cool Unix command-line utility "dict" (here is a web interface to the same program) to get a definition of "stochastic" off of one of the dictionary servers on the net. Among other things, you will see this:

2. random; chance; involving probability; opposite of deterministic

Hmm. However, stochastic does not mean simply "not deterministic." I shall attempt to elucidate.

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16 responses so far

Friday Galaxy : NGC 4526 & SN 1994D

Jun 08 2007 Published by under Astronomy & Physics, Pretty Pictures

The image below is an image taken in 1994 with the Hubble Space telescope of galaxy NGC 4526:


Image: NASA, ESA, The Hubble Key Project Team, and The High-Z Supernova Search Team

The bright spot in the lower left is the supernova known as SN1994D. This is a Type~Ia supernova, type type of supernova that has been used by several times (initially two, the one that I was in, and the one that this image is credited to) to measure the expansion history of the Universe, and to discovery that the expansion is accelerating (requiring that there be that which we now call "Dark Energy" filling the Universe). The supernova here occurred in the outskirts of the galaxy— which isn't particularly surprising for this type of supernova.

The galaxy itself is a dusty disk galaxy. Most disk galaxies have a fair amount of dust in them; you can see the dust in our own galaxy if you look at the sky at the right time of night from a very dark site.

4 responses so far

In which I bag on post-modernism

Jun 07 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Right now, we're all painfully aware of attacks on science that come from the political Right. However, let us not forget that such attacks can and have in the past come from the political Left, and that indeed anybody with a political ax to grind, and with a strong identification with some political ideology, will turn on science when it seems that the process of science is not supporting that ideology.

Martin at Aardvarchaeology writes about historians struggling with the "truth be damned" legacy of post-modernism. It reminded me of when I was a naive young scientist, comfortable in the knowledge that the notion of objective reality wasn't anything particularly surprising, and had my first rude encounter with post-modernism. It got me riled up, and I dug around a bit more, horrified by the sorts of crap that was spouted in the name of intellectualism. I sit back and felt superior when I ran into the Sokal Affair, watching wind taken out of the bags of post-modernist writing. I suppose there must be something to it, because some non-science people like my wife get defensive when I bag on "post-modernism" generally, saying that yes, a lot of "intellectual" stuff was written deliberately obfuscated and asserting all sorts of crazy stuff, but that one shouldn't blame all of post-modernism for that.

Who knows. I suppose I don't understand it well enough to know what all of it is, and thus can't condemn it all. But, still, my first encounter was pretty telling, and I know enough to be able to confidently condemn at least some of it.

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38 responses so far

Jupiter at Opposition

Jun 06 2007 Published by under What's Up?


Jupiter was at "opposition" yesterday, which means that it's still almost at opposition today. "Opposition" means that it's on exactly the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The picture to the right shows diagrammatically the layout of the Solar System when Jupiter is at opposition. This means a few things. First, we're closer to Jupiter than we are at any other time. This means that Jupiter is both brighter and, if you have a telescope, a bit bigger than it usually is. Second, it means that Jupiter is as high in the sky as it will get right at local midnight (which is generally some time close to local 12:00AM).

If Jupiter is opposite the Sun, that means it will be rising in the East right as the Sun is setting in the West. Look for a very bright "star" in the Eastern sky a bit after Sunset. It's not a UFO; it's the planet Jupiter. if you're up at midnight, the very bright "star" that is nearly overhead is Jupiter.

You can see the four Galilean moons of Jupiter with binoculars... if you can hold them still enough! Get a pair of 7x35, 7x50, or 10x50 binoculars, and point them at Jupiter. Try leaning on something, or laying down on the ground, to hold your binoculars still enough. If you can, you will see up to four small specs of light lined up on one or both sides of Jupiter. Sometimes stars will happen to be there, but some of those specs of light are, indeed, the moons of Jupiter. Watch them from one day to the next, and you'll see that they change positions with each other.

11 responses so far

Understanding American Political Affiliatons

Jun 06 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

A Republican is somebody who thinks that the first, fourth, and eighth amendments are too dangerous to be followed in the modern world.

A Democrat is somebody who thinks that the second and tenth amendments are too dangerous to be followed in the modern world.

A Libertarian is somebody who thinks that oppression and stifling bureaucracy can only come from governments.

A Socialist is somebody who thinks that oppression and stifling bureaucracy can only come from corporations.

A Communist is somebody both who hasn't read the newspapers in nearly 20 years, and also who teaches humanities at a university.

A Green Party patron is somebody who is good at projecting their own individual wants and needs onto Ralph Nader.

An Independent is either a Republican or a Democrat, but one who doesn't want to admit it.

Every person thinks that everybody else should have the freedom to do what that first person might want to do, but that anything else is too dangerous of a freedom to be tolerated.

2 responses so far

The blogosphere makes it a wee bit harder to stomp on the voiceless individual

Jun 04 2007 Published by under Rant

CompUSA screws over a customer bigtime. They sell him an empty box, and when he comes back for a refund, they refuse. They think they can get away with this because, hey, who's he going to tell? Their customer base is so huge that if he and his friends get torqued off and never come back, it's no problem.

But, this is just the sort of thing we bloggers just love to trumpet about. Big company stepping on individual. It happens all the time, and it's crappy every time it happens... but now the word an spread a lot farther, a lot faster, and potentially the company might finally feel some embarrassment over it. It kinda worked with the stupid copyright notice Shelly got on her blog; who knows if it will work here.

I had a bad experience with CompUSA back in the early-mid 1990's, and avoided the chain for many years after that. In the last 5 or 6 years, though, I've started going back to the CompUSA in Nashville, and have had nothing but good experiences there. However, stories like this guy's story makes me wonder if I should be a bit more careful....

(Found via BoingBoing.)

7 responses so far

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