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Archive for April, 2007

Global Warming: Place Your Bets

April 30th, 2007 3 comments

Global warming proponent Brian Schmidt has been betting on global warming for a while now, the latest bet, worth $6000, has been taken by David Evans from Science Speak. Check out A climate skeptic’s guest post: Why David Evans bet against Brian Schmidt over global warming. David seems to have some pretty solid reasons. (Via Tim Blair)

I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry (Google on “FullCAM”). When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause. I am now skeptical. As Lord Keynes famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

His comments on the combination of science and politics are also fairly helpful and insightful:

Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. The science of global warming has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly supports carbon emissions as the cause of global warming, to the point of sometimes rubbishing or silencing critics.

Read the whole thing.

Categories: Science Tags:

Space Saturday XXXI

April 29th, 2007 2 comments

Welcome to Space… Sunday? Ok, I meant to post this yesterday… Anyway, last week (April 24th) was the 17th Anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope and to celebrate HubbleSite has released a new image of The Carina Nebula: Star Birth in the Extreme.


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29566×14321 - yes, that’s right! But beware, the file is 200 MB!
Credit: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) (Source)

This image is

one of the largest panoramic images ever taken with Hubble’s cameras. It is a 50-light-year-wide view of the central region of the Carina Nebula where a maelstrom of star birth and death is taking place. This image is a mosaic of the Carina Nebula assembled from 48 frames taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

The immense nebula contains at least a dozen brilliant stars that are roughly estimated to be at least 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun. The most unique and opulent inhabitant is the star Eta Carinae, at far left. Eta Carinae is in the final stages of its brief and eruptive lifespan, as evidenced by two billowing lobes of gas and dust that presage its upcoming explosion as a titanic supernova.

This is such a cool photograph and the high resolution images (did you see the 200 MB version??) show some incredible detail. Be sure to check out some of the close up images at the news release archive (I have also posted a few of my own crops below). Just beautiful!

For more of my favorite astronomy pictures check out my Space Saturday Archive.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

“Best-selling Author Will ‘Prove’ God’s Existence”

April 27th, 2007 15 comments

Best-selling Author Will ‘Prove’ God’s Existence: ABC to Air LIVE Atheist Debate with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (via Hot Air). I think this could be dangerous and unnecessary for a few reasons.

Firstly, God is not out to be proved. I think this requires a bit of qualification. I don’t think God can be proven. More qualification? In certain contexts, such as logical proofs, I think God can be proven (because you have to take certain axioms as true which will provide the necessary conditions for it to be so, this is not circular logic because the initial axioms can be debated as being “truthful”). I think the context most atheists speak of (and which I think this “debate” will also be focusing on) is more of a scientific proof which requires using the scientific method (which, according to Wikipedia, “is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to specific principles of reasoning”). In this context, I don’t think God can be proven. I know this statement might make some Christians nervous, so let me again say what I mean: there is plenty of evidence to suggest that God exists, but the evidence could also be explained in other ways. Let me use an example: While in the beginning of my third year of my physics and astronomy program I was given a clear vision that I was to become a teacher (instead of pursuing graduate work in astronomy). I personally know this was guidance from God and no one is able to say otherwise. Externally, it could be explained that my decision to become a teacher is the result of numerous conditions and circumstances that pushed me in that direction. Similarly, independent pieces of evidence that Christians all over the globe can attest to work together to show that there is a God. But that is not proof. The scientific method is designed to test and refine theories in attempt to prove them, but “proof” of the religious nature is not repeatable. I cannot go back into the same circumstances I was in to see if I would be guided by God to become a teacher again. To me, the evidence for God is undeniable (and I have numerous posts to show that I really believe that), but just because God has been proven to me, doesn’t mean He has been scientifically proven.

Secondly, theologically speaking, God still cannot be proved. If God could have been proven, Jesus probably would have done that, and if not Jesus, the disciples or the early church. If God was able to be proven without a doubt, it removes our ability to choose. God wants us to accept His gift of salvation freely, if it was known to be a fact that He was there, we lose our freedom because He is the only option. The Bible never speaks of the necessity of proof, it speaks of the actions and the faith of God’s followers. Now, as suggested in the previous paragraph, I want to make it extremely clear that I don’t think this is a blind faith. There is plenty of reason behind faith, but it is faith none the less. And moreover, the Bible speaks of faith in a positive light and not something that we should be sad about “only” having; I don’t need certitude to be convinced (and any scientist should be completely on board with that because how often is something entirely certain?). Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive.

Thirdly, I do not really see the debate as achieving anything. Now, I am actually not completely sold on that statement as it is entirely possible that the reasoning of Cameron and Comfort will endear many of the unbelieving watchers to Christendom. That being said, the atheist-Christian debate/argument has been going on ad nauseam and I cannot see these two fellows saying anything too radical or new that will demolish atheists’ unbelief. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think atheist arguments against God are persuasive, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t.

Here is the money quote from the article:

“Most people equate atheism with intellectualism,” Comfort added, “but it’s actually an intellectual embarrassment. I am amazed at how many people think that God’s existence is a matter of faith. It’s not, and I will prove it at the debate - once and for all. This is not a joke. I will present undeniable scientific proof that God exists.”

But I do think that God’s existence is a matter of faith; I also happen think that God has been proven to me. Being certain of God’s existence is never required of me, faith in his redemptive work is what is asked of me. Again, being convinced does not require certitude (any Christian that is certain about every aspect of God is not being honest).

I am also worried that there will be a perception that Christians try to equate religious belief and science, I know I don’t. Science and religion are looking at fundamentally different issues: how vs. why. I have spoken on various aspects of this in other places (see especially Creation Science and Science vs. Religion). It seems that so many folks that are out to prove God feel they have to do so by trashing some scientific theories: if it isn’t evolution, it is the big bang; if not fossil records, it is stellar evolution. Why don’t they leave those things alone and let God speak for himself, he doesn’t need our defense. Is their faith so weak that they see any scientific theory that they perceive to be anti-God/Bible that they must attack it? Sometimes their critiques of the science are valid and will, in fact, help science progress, sometimes they are not and primarily based on either sentiment or poor (or at least not completely accurate) interpretations of scripture. This is obviously a huge issue that I will not flush out here, but I am just worried that many of the people (sometimes myself included) are more worried about proving that God exists than they are about following God’s commands, living in grace and mercy, loving their neighbor, caring for the needy, or having concern for social justice (among many other issues). Being passionate about science, I do love to see how God works in those fields, but I am not going to be too worried if some scientific theory may conflict with some of my beliefs.

Finally I do want to address something that may or may not be touched upon in the debate. Comfort and Cameron will be having the debate with the two originators of “The Blasphemy Challenge” which has people (including kids) posting videos with these instructions:

You may damn yourself to Hell however you would like, but somewhere in your video you must say this phrase: “I deny the Holy Spirit.”

I find this repulsive. Even if we want to give God’s grace a wide berth and say that the folks that participate in the “challenge” will be given other chance, it is still disgusting that the “Rational Response Squad” would put people in that situation. I won’t really discuss this more than the brief mention because I think that John Stackhouse’s post The Blasphemy Challenge does a much better job than I ever could. My point in bringing this up is to ask a question: why would Comfort and Cameron want to enter into debate with the two guys that started this project? I find their lack of concern for others distasteful and inappropriate and therefore not worthy of being part of any sort of civilized debate. There are plenty of atheists that would be up to the task that are not so repulsive that Comfort and Cameron could have choosen.

I feel like I have rambled and strayed all over the place… I hope what I am saying makes some sense. It will be an interesting debate I have no doubt, but I have a feeling it will make as big an impact as The Lost Tomb of Jesus did.

It is late so if anyone needs me to clarify and restate anything, let me know. I don’t intend to be heretical. ;) And does anyone else still just see Cameron as Mike from Growing Pains? He is still just a doofus to me! I know that isn’t fair of me, but come on!

UPDATE: I wasn’t able to see the debate but Amanda has helpfully pointed to YouTube for some help (I can make no guarantee how long they will be there): Part 1 - Part 2a - Part 2b - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10 - Part 11 - Part 12 - Part 13 - Part 14 - Part 15 - Part 16 - Part 17 - Part 18

I have posted my thoughts here: A Response to the Proof of God Debate.

Categories: Religion, Theology Tags:

Mark Steyn: Let’s Be Realistic About Reality

April 23rd, 2007 10 comments

I seem to have a thing for Mark Steyn lately (can you blame me?). His most recent article, Let’s be realistic about reality had some more good stuff to say. (See my previous post Mark Steyn: A Culture of Passivity for some other good stuff.)

I think we have a problem in our culture not with “realistic weapons” but with being realistic about reality. After all, we already “fear guns,” at least in the hands of NRA members. Otherwise, why would we ban them from so many areas of life? Virginia Tech, remember, was a “gun-free zone,” formally and proudly designated as such by the college administration. Yet the killer kept his guns and ammo on the campus. It was a “gun-free zone” except for those belonging to the guy who wanted to kill everybody. Had the Second Amendment not been in effect repealed by VT, someone might have been able to do as two students did five years ago at the Appalachian Law School [Ed. Note: I added the link]: When a would-be mass murderer showed up, they rushed for their vehicles, grabbed their guns and pinned him down until the cops arrived.

I have actually flip-flopped on my stance on gun control over the last few years. I used to think that there is no reason at all for anyone to have a gun, at all (not very republican of me, eh?). But my stance has come to change. Canada has lots of people with guns. Japan has fairly strict gun control yet a mayor was shot to death on the streets. Gun control isn’t the issue, people are. The bad guys will always find a way to get a gun, regardless of legislation. While I still think it shouldn’t be easy to get a gun (and I do still think automatic weapons [which were NOT used at VaTech] should have many restraints), I also think people, who have gone through the proper channels, should be free to carry.

UPDATE I: Instapundit has pointed to a great article about the Appalachian Law School murders that Steyn mentions. Pretty interesting, eh?

UPDATE II: And via Matt MacAdam an article by Fred Thompson: Signs of Intelligence? that I found to be a good read as well.

The statistics are clear. Communities that recognize and grant Second Amendment rights to responsible adults have a significantly lower incidence of violent crime than those that do not. More to the point, incarcerated criminals tell criminologists that they consider local gun laws when they decide what sort of crime they will commit, and where they will do so.

When people capable of performing acts of heroism are discouraged or denied the opportunity, our society is all the poorer. And from the selfless examples of the passengers on Flight 93 on 9/11 to Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who sacrificed himself to save his students earlier this week, we know what extraordinary acts of heroism ordinary citizens are capable of.

Categories: Social Commentary Tags:

Space Saturday XXX

April 21st, 2007 2 comments

Thirty five years ago today, Apollo 16‘s Lunar Module (LM-11) Orion landed in the Descartes highland region on the Moon. To commemorate, here are two images from the surface of la Luna.


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Credit: NASA (Source)


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Credit: NASA (Source)

The top image was taken by Commander John Young of LMP Charles Duke Jr. on the edge of Plum crater. The “Lunar Module pilot, is photographed collecting lunar samples at Station No. 1 during the mission’s first extravehicular activity at the Descartes landing site.” The bottom image is of John taken by Charlie (with John in mid-jump).

Check out the Apollo 16 Wikipedia article for more info and images (which also has a video clip of the lunar rover). You can also peruse NASA History Division’s On The Moon With Apollo 16: A guidebook to the Descartes Region. And be sure to stop by Google Moon to see the relative positions of the lunar landers.

Oh, happy National Astronomy Day!

For more astronomy photographs, see my Space Saturday Archive.

Categories: Science Tags:

Mark Steyn: A Culture of Passivity

April 18th, 2007 11 comments

Mark Steyn posted a column that is getting a lot of attention around the blogosphere: A Culture of Passivity - “Protecting” our “children” at Virginia Tech. It is worth reading and mulling over. There are two additional posts worth reading at Ace that both comment on Steyn’s article: Steyn’s Controversial Column On Cowardice And VaTech and I disagree with Ace.

The VaTech situation is pretty crazy (and the media certainly helps that along) and it can be hard to step back and take some perspective on things. I guess all I can really say is keep wrestling with it, pray over it.

Steyn remarks:

We do our children a disservice to raise them to entrust all to officialdoms security blanket. Geraldo-like protection is a delusion: when something goes awry whether on a September morning flight out of Logan or on a peaceful college campus the state wont be there to protect you. Youll be the fellow on the scene who has to make the decision.

I think it is a fairly harsh, but accurate, statement. The government can only do so much (and they do a lot), but what it comes down to is this: we are fallen people and people will do bad things, it is something we will always have to wrestle with.

UPDATE I: NBC is airing the moron’s “manifesto.” What is wrong with them? You NEVER give idiots like Cho Seung-Hui the satisfaction of the attention they so wanted. Please don’t watch it. UPDATE Ia: Instapundit and Mickey Kaus seem to agree.

UPDATE II: Student Government Asks Reporters to Leave by Monday (4/23). Good call.

UPDATE III: Another one for you: Mark Steyn: Lets Be Realistic About Reality.

Categories: Around the World, Social Commentary Tags: