Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coffee break: Distant iceball Pluto is rescued from oblivion by American state senator

Mark Steyn, invincible Canadian humourist, writes that in Illinois,
Like some sort of rulers of the universe, state lawmakers are considering restoring little Pluto's planetary status, casting aside the scientific community's 2006 decision downgrading the distant ice ball.

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday unanimously supported planet Pluto and declaring March 13 "Pluto Day..." The push for a state decree on Pluto comes from state Sen. Gary Dahl, a Republican whose downstate district includes Streator, birthplace of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. Dahl told colleagues Pluto is important to the local community, which considers the vote to downgrade Pluto to "dwarf" planet was unfair...

Maybe they could vote to downgrade Blago to dwarf planet instead.
More from Betsy Newmark here:
OH, yes. I'm sure that state Senator Dahl has truly helped his constituents with this resolution. It's a platform that I'm sure will send him to the stratosphere in politics. Just what we need - more politicians who think that they can solve every question by political resolutions.
In case you want to know what I think? I think it is nice to know that there is no serious recession in Illinois. Or crime, or unattended health care needs. Can they package that and export it? We all await with keen interest, bated breath, and bankers' drafts.

In practice, what is and is not regarded as a planet seems to have been decided in the past by convention and not by an absolutely strict standard. I suspect that the discoveries of Sedna and Quaoar must have spurred some rethinking about dear old Pluto. Nine was a nice number, but ...

And do remember, this post WAS titled "coffee break."

Podcast: Chemist Charles Garner on Chemical Evolution

On this ID the Future podcast, Chemistry Professor Charles Garner from Baylor University testifies before the Texas State Board of Education about the need to teach students about both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Dr. Garner specifically focuses on chemical evolution, emphasizing some of the scientific weaknesses in theories of a natural chemical origin of life, and encourages that evidence to be taught in Texas science classrooms. Click here to listen.

One big problem with "chemical evolution" is this: It not only assumes that Darwinian evolution is a creative force but that it can work prior to the existence of life forms. Darwin himself never claimed that, incidentally. He offered to explain the Origin of Species, not the Origin of Life.

If chemical evolution were true, we should expect to see much more unusual chemistry around us than we apparently do. So claims about chemical evolution are claims intended to support ... what, exactly? A naturalist worldview as opposed to a theist one? That should not, of course, be funded by the taxpayer.

If people want to do that, let them find their own audience and do it on their own time, and their own dime.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Science fiction: When the numbers run out

Nicolas Cage's movie, What Happens When the Numbers Run Out?, sounds like an interesting sci fi entry:
In 1958, as part of the dedication ceremony for a new elementary school, a group of students is asked to draw pictures to be stored in a time capsule. But one of the students, a mysterious girl who seems to hear whispered voices, fills her sheet of paper with rows of apparently random numbers instead. Fast forward 50 years to the present: A new generation of students examines the contents of the time capsule and the girl's cryptic message ends up in the hands of young Caleb. But it is Caleb's father, professor Ted Myles, who makes the startling discovery that the encoded message predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years. As Ted further unravels the document's secrets, he realizes it foretells three additional events—the last of which hints at destruction on a global scale and seems to somehow involve Ted and his son.
Here's the trailer:

What happens when the numbers run out?, The trailer portentously asks. Well, I guess in that case we go back to "more," "less," "too big," "too small," "too expensive," and "I don't like this deal, but can't explain why." Numbers have their uses, after all, if not for divination.

Billions of Earths in our galaxy?

According to some, our galaxy has billions of Earths.

Think what that will do for the slumping real estate market ...
So far, telescopes have been able to detect just over 300 planets outside our Solar System.

Very few of these would be capable of supporting life, however. Most are gas giants like our Jupiter, and many orbit so close to their parent stars that any microbes would have to survive roasting temperatures.

But, based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one "Earth-like" planet.

This simple calculation means there would be huge numbers capable of supporting life.
Oh wait ... what's the market reach for extraterrestrial bacteria?

A key question, obviously, is why would a planet have only unicellular, and not multicellular life?

While we are here, the Kepler mission is to hunt for Earth-like planets

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Science shows that the universe shows evidence of intelligent design

A friend, Wintery Knight, who probably lives in a place as boring as I do (currently cold and dull much of the time, except for enlivening ideas!), notes
In nature, the values of physical constants, (e.g. - the force of gravity), are set at the instant when the universe is created. Initially, atheists assumed that the constants could be any value, and life would still exist. But the progress of science has shown that if these constants were altered even slightly, then the resulting universe would not permit life. For example, physicist Brandon Carter has shown that if the force of gravity were stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, life-sustaining stars could not exist. While each possible value of the force of gravity is equally unlikely, the vast majority of these possibilities prohibit complex life of any kind. That means that any one value picked at random is as likely as any of the others, but it is overwhelmingly likely that the one picked will not permit life.

And how do atheists respond to the evidence of a universe that is finely-tuned for life? Well, there are two responses I’ve seen. The first is to speculate that there are actually an infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned, (i.e. - the gambler’s fallacy). All these other universes don’t support life. But, lucky us, we just happen to be in the one universe that popped into being out of nothing, and is fine-tuned to an incredible degree for life. What’s that you say? “Wintery! How can we be sure that these other universes even exist?” Why, you just have to have faith, because there is no way of directly observing these other universes. So, to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist, you have to believe in a billions and billions of demons unobservable universes.
My own view is that atheism is dead in the water, except for its political appeal.

If there is no God, everything politicians want to do is okay.

But if there is a God, they better look out that they are not harming his people or his creation, right?

It's not hard to see why lots of people with a big agenda would prefer that there isn't really a God so - conveniently - they can't be caught by human law enforcement, when they do things they know are wrong.

I do not think that the world we live in works that way. Everything they do and everything I do matters. And it will all come back sooner or later.

Also Wintery Knight talks about divine hiddenness - the way in which God reveals himself only somewhat - for good reason.

My sense, as a Catholic Christian, is that God does not want to force people to believe in him. Anyone can see - looking at the history of the world - that people are better off if they believe in God than if they believe in multi gods, ghosts, or superstitions that have never done good for anyone who believed in them.

Many people worldwide have starved who could have been fed, and many have died who could have lived, if only they had access to knowledge. Real knowledge. Of the real world God made. Not worthless propaganda.

This is what I mean by real knowledge. Knowledge that matters.

Science fiction: Losting corridor

Losting Corridor is a recent week's installment of Sci Phi Journal - a mystery story by Matt Wallace, read by Drew Beatty. Here's the text, and check out other formats as well:

The first room’s dark and The Detective almost trips over a big black lump quivering at his feet. The priest is on his hands and knees, sobbing, his rosary soaking in the puddle of tears and snot he’s dripped onto the carpet. Standing a few feet away is a pixie of a girl, tiny, wearing a pink baby tee, “fides” spelled in glittery letters across breasts that are perfect round plums.

“Looking for a little faith?” she asks The Detective.

“Looking for a shooter,” he says. “I lost him in the park. Lamp lights tripped off the water in Bethesda Fountain and when I blinked he was gone.”

“The only light in here belongs to the Lord Jesus,” the girl says. “And to Allah, and to Ishvara. It’s the light of Dharma, for those who’ve gone back to sleep after waking. I and I shines brightly here for its lost children so that they may return to their homeland one day.”

“It’s dark in here,” The Detective points out. He’s a detective, he notices things like that.

“You’re not looking for the light,” she says simply.

The Detective nods. “I’m looking for a shooter. Lost him in the alley behind O’Hanlon’s. I pickled a rat movin’ in the ash cans. Saw the thing, eyes-up in the muck. It wasn’t the shooter.”

This sounds like US hard-boiled to me, doubtless a sci-fi angle.

Intelligent design of the universe as possible science finding

First, thanks to all patient readers who have waited for me to get past a relative's recent illness. Remember, bloggers are mostly volunteers (and special thanks to all generous PayPal donors).

A friend writes to say about this post at Discover Magazine's blog, "Big Surprises,":
This intriguing blog post (read to the end) suggests that Carroll sees design as a possible scientific finding, one that would be profoundly surprising.
Sean Carroll [pictured above] asks,
But there are plenty of other good possibilities; what if we discovered tachyons, or that there really was an Intelligent Designer? Suggestions welcome.
My friend notes,
One of the commenters points out, however, that the discovery of design would be surprising only to "those who don't believe in one -- which is a relatively small group," albeit a group that contains Sean Carroll, Steven Weinberg, and I'd bet most of Carroll's friends and colleagues. Those selection effects will bite you every time.

Fascinating to see how often ID comes up in the comments.
Someone provided a link to the film of Carl Sagan's Contact novel too.

And - aw, come on, you knew this was coming - here's the Contact film trailer: