Category: science

Do Science And Religion Mix?

Charmed-dia-wThere are lots of people on both sides of this issue that will tell you that science and religion do not mix. Evolution is the hot button for many, and there has sprung up a counter idea called Creationism. I am not sure what it is about Creationism that appeals to people, but since it supposedly challenges evolutionary theories, lots of people will string along.

Notice that I said that I really don’t know about Creationism. Well, I really am not deeply conversant with evolutionary theory, either. I will say that I am a Christian, and I am also a person with a scientific view of the world. This is not a contradiction

Let me quote someone from the religion side of things:

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things that they weren’t meant to say, and I think we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science.” — Rev. Billy Graham

Some evolutionary enthusiasts may say that Billy Graham was dodging the issue. Certainly, the first chapter of Genesis explains in detail how God created the world. Isn’t the Genesis version of creation a fairy tale? How do you explain the second creation story in Genesis? Why are they in conflict as suggested by Carl Sagan in his book, “Contact”?

I have never considered the Genesis 1:1 account as a literal description, even when I first read it when I was elementary school age. Read it yourselves. It is a beautiful story, poetic, and satisfying for someone trying to tell the story. The second story reverses part of the time line, but it starts a different part of the story. Carl Sagan was simply misguided, and not knowledgeable about the Scriptures, or how a stone age culture would tell a story. The writers of Genesis simply did their best to explain how God did what He did.

Evolutionary theory partly says that humans are descended from apes. Now, my wife will take exception to that, but will somewhat agree that I may be a bit ape like. Ah, the vicissitudes of life and marriage. For millions of people, the fossil record upon which the evolutionists depended was not satisfactory at all. Indeed, the record jumps around all over the place, and it makes you wonder why scientific people were making the assumptions they were. But, that is not the whole story.

It is easy to visualize evolution as a viable way for creation to have happened. Even now, there is substantial debate as to whether evolution can be correct. Enter the science of genetics.

Genetics ruins it all for Creationists. The Creationists who insist on some alternative way people evolved, or worse yet, appeared on earth as functioning, modern adults, have to wake up and take stock. Genetics is not a assumption like the fossil record. Genetics is legitimate science.

Live with it, folks. It certainly looks like some form of evolution has been at work for a very long time. There a lot of questions to be answered, but the truth will be made clear, eventually.

As a Christian I have no problem with genetics, or the idea of an evolutionary process in human development. However, I do not believe in random.

Random is just another word for uncertainty. I cannot buy the idea of a magical, random march of quarks, protons, electrons, and other esoteric particles in the origin of life, and the progression of mankind. I believe in a causal world. For every action there is a cause, and we have not ascertained the cause of every action, much less understand the cause of life,

So, Christians let science do what science does. I don’t think there are any conflicts.

Scientists, let it go about criticizing religion. After all, we are seeing new religions spring up, one of them being that of Science itself. Be careful about what you worship.

Absence Of Evidence Is Not Evidence Of Absence?

Evidence Of Absence?
Evidence Of Absence?

Several famous people have used this phrase in lots of situations. Recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson used it in the following way : “One of our mantras in science is that the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.”  This outburst was in defense of a failure of his memory in quoting George W Bush. Tyson got it wrong and after some embarrassing back and forth, finally admitted his error.

In thinking about the meaning of the phrase I realized that the phrase can be nuanced to death. You could spin the phrase to mean pretty much anything.

So, how do you take the meaning?

  • Evidence is evidence, and if there is no evidence to support a theory, there is no evidence. You cannot say that the absence of evidence proves the theory is false. You can only speak of things in the language of uncertainty, i.e., the theory is likely false if there is no empirical evidence to the contrary.
  • If there is no elephant in the room, and if you don’t see any evidence there is an elephant in the room, this lack of evidence means there is no elephant in the room. So, a lack of evidence can be used as evidence of absence.
  • That there is no physical evidence of mental telepathy means that mental telepathy does not exist.
  • There is no evidence mental telepathy does not exist, therefore it exists. This is called an Argument from Ignorance.

Tyson said that the phrase was a scientific mantra. Why would he say that? Maybe his mantra is really, “Everything I say is correct and shame on you for questioning my veracity.”

Everything depends on evidence. In science evidence must be data indicating actual physical parameters. Evidence is measured, counted, photographed, etc.

Of course, there are the ever popular examples as follow:

  1. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, did it make a sound?
  2. If your wife talks to you during a football game, does this mean you are hard of hearing just because you didn’t hear her?

I am guilty of getting into some deep, unfamiliar waters here. This stuff probably comes under the heading of philosophy. I skillfully endeavored to not take philosophy in college. I was more interested in electrons and women, not necessarily in that order.

It is time to stop this article. I have a headache.

Does Global Warming Cause Ebola?

NO.

Global warming does not cause the spread of ebola. However, it is only a matter of time until some shallow-minded person makes that allegation. Like most global warming stuff, it is an attempt to confuse the public.

picture of person sneezing
A Little Sneeze Goes A Long Way

Now that I have put the ebola/global warming thing to rest, I must report reading a blog by a noted climatologist, Dr Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Dr Spencer is most famous for being one of the scientists to figure out how to measure the earth’s temperature from satellites. His methodology gives more consistent readings than the old surface thermometer readings. The surface thermometer readings are subjected to several adjustments, some of which are controversial, and these adjustments result in large errors. Satellite readings have none of these problems.

Dr Spencer’s article is titled, “How Safe Is The Air You Breathe On A Plane?” The results are disturbing. Dr Spencer made some “unscientific” measurements to find out how much carbon dioxide is in an airplane’s cabin air that people breathe. People exhale carbon dioxide and other things. It cannot be helped. Passengers will unavoidably breathe in this mixture of CO2 and moisture exhaled by others.

Dr Spenser used a handheld air-quality meter that measures the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the air on the plane. It registered 1,600 ppm (parts per million), whereas the ambient concentration of CO2 in the outside air is closer to 400 ppm. This means that the air on a plane is in large part “used” air. You are breathing air other people have breathed, and exhaled, resulting in an elevated CO2 mix.

The problem is that you may be breathing the other stuff, too. There is undoubtedly some spit-swapping happening on an airplane. EEWWW!

Is it time to wear those face masks we saw the Chinese wearing to ward off SARS?

Understand that nothing I have said is supported in studies about health on airplanes.

Just saying…

Genetically Modified Food – Good Or Bad?

With all the hue and cry you hear from environmentalists, neo-preppies, and climate change antagonists that genetically modified organisms (GMO) are the work of Satan, it sounds like the world is coming to an end. Europeans will not allow the import of American corn, soybeans, or other US grown foods that have been genetically modified to combat pests, or to make food crops more drought resistant. Environmental groups are violently against GMO crops. Organic enthusiasts are particularly against these crops.

Before my research for writing this article, I knew very little about the field. Indeed, I have always been skeptical about claims that GMO foods are bad for us. Corn fed to beef and pigs have been modified. Soy beans whose oil goes into virtually every vegetable oil on the market have been modified. We have been modifying foods and other natural products for a long time.

Historically, pretty much every plant or animal food we consume has been modified in one way or another. For example, today’s corn plant had to be domesticated and was interbred over thousands of years to become today’s dietary staple. Ditto pretty much everything else. In 2009 about eighty-five percent of the US corn crop was genetically modified.

So why are people upset over the process? I think people are naturally skeptical of anything new, and some testy people are especially suspicious or critical of anything mankind does. Climate change is a prime example. It has become a political football in spite of the benign nature of climate change. Sure, climate changes all the time, and all those changes are not bad. Some are good.

Likewise, some genetically changed foods are better than their predecessors. They cost less to grow and harvest, perform better against pests, or are more resistant to drought.

Picture of honey bee pollinating a flower.
Honey Bee Pollinating Flowers (Wikipedia)

There are no scientific studies that show that GMO foods are harmful to humans or the environment. What are some of the claims of the crazies?

1. GMO crops are causing the honey bees to die in mass quantities.
2. GMO crops are destroying the environment.
3. GMO crops that are herbicide resistant (Roundup resistant) are causing more herbicide resistant  weeds to develop.
4. GMO food crops are causing more allergy reactions in humans.

The list can go on, and on. In every case that I have investigated, there are no credible scientific studies that show harm to anybody or anything caused by genetically engineered food crops.

Organizations that advocate loudly against GMO crops are political, anti-capitalism, and anti-human. More than anything, these anti-GMO advocates are collecting money from unsuspecting and ignorant environmentalists and kooks all over the world, similar to Greenpeace and other extreme advocacy groups.

Don’t forget to follow the money.

The Big Creation – Evolution Debate

The debate was on debatelive.org, and was between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”, and Ken Ham, CEO of Genesis Answers. The facility was the Creation Museum in Kentucky which Mr. Ham apparently runs. Bill Nye is well-known as a so-called science expert, and Ken Ham is a young-earth creationist. The young-earth creationists say that the earth is only about six thousand years old as opposed to the scientific view that it is four and a half billion years old.

The debate was a classic exchange of evolution arguments against Biblical based creation. Bill Nye used fossil evidence, radiometric evidence, and other things like genetic findings. He tried to concentrate his presentation against the young-earth hypothesis of the creationists. In doing so he repeatedly made a mistake in expressing that people who believe the Bible don’t understand science, or scientific principles. I agreed with him about the young-earth hypothesis being incorrect, but thought it was beyond the pale to imply that Christians, especially Christians in southern states, are ignorant of science and mathematics. That was pretty shallow of him.

The young-earth creationist view comes by counting Old Testament  generations from Adam to Jesus who lived at at a known time. I think they believe it was two thousand years from the world’s creation to Moses; two thousand years from Moses to Jesus; and two thousand years from Jesus to the present. There is uncertainty in their method, but I don’t feel like delving into all those scriptures and counting generations and years.

Of course, the four and a half billion year age of the earth comes from estimation using geological and astronomical data. Ken Ham’s retort to this sort of measurement was to define two types of science; present day observational science and historical science. His point was that since we were not present when the earth was created, we cannot ascertain age using current scientific methods. Ham says that all we are doing is making unwarranted assumptions.

In this Ham is wrong. Science is science, and it should always be based on observational data. The way we estimate the age of  things formed in the past is by using well known constants that were valid in antiquity, and are valid now. Think Carbon 14 dating, radioactive decay of uranium or other elements. There are many methods of physically dating rocks, bones, and vegetable substances. However, there are uncertainties in many methods, and these are usually expressed as a plus and minus accuracy. Ken Ham argues that none of them are accurate, and I think his argument is based on wishful thinking rather than any concrete evidence.

Nye did not classify the uncertainty of many of the dating methods. It is things like that get lost in so-called debates. He pointed out that there were lots of physical things that are dated older than the six thousand years of Ham’s creationist world. For example, the well known Bristle Cone Pine trees of California can get very old. The age of these trees is measured by counting tree rings, and involves very few assumptions. At least one is nine thousand years old. Ham had no reply to this example.

Ken Ham was absolutely consistent. If he didn’t have a physical explanation, he relied on the Bible. When Bill Nye said he didn’t know how matter was created, Ham pointed that there was a book that explained all that, and the book is the Bible. That got a few laughs in the audience.

Nye also exhibited a good deal if ignorance about the Bible and Christianity. For example, he accused Ham of being inconsistent when Ham explained that the Bible had many parts, not just a description of creation and laws. Bill Nye had no knowledge of the Book of Psalms which is poetry and songs.

Mr Nye also seemed to have no appreciation of the way science is always changing. Not all science changes, but almost every day some theory or scientific finding is overturned. That’s the way science works. Nye spoke of science as if it were a monolithic, unchanging thing. Science is a process designed to use evidence as its basis. When new evidence becomes available,  older theories are many times invalidated.  Trusting in science for an ultimate truth is risky, indeed.

Bill Nye has a degree in mechanical engineering, and as such, is an intelligent person. Unfortunately, his knowledge is lacking in some cases.. Ken Ham is nothing but stubborn, and it is sometimes disappointing when he hides behind the Bible rather than give an answer other than the evolutionists make too many assumptions.

The purveyors of evolution do make a lot of assumptions, and then tout those assumptions as science. For example, they fossil record is not satisfactory to me to explain evolution. What is more convincing are the genetic records. Even though I am a Christian, I accept the principle of evolution.

I don’t believe evolution detracts from the glory of God. When you look into the miracles of nature with science, it is hard NOT believe in God. Mr Nye would be well advised to thank God for our ability to scientifically explore all creation. Mr Ham would be well advised to keep an open mind.

Note: You may be interested in this article on the Federalist blog by Cathy Resienwitz. She calls creationism as believing in the “God of the gaps”. Interesting, and I agree with her.

Existential Stuff

This seems like a good time to discuss beliefs and observations about a couple of basic questions. Does God exist? Why cannot the existence of God be proven.

There is a blog by Dr Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Dr Spencer is a decorated scientist and a pioneer in climatology who helped develope satellite technology to measure the earth’s surface temperatures, a much more reliable and consistent measurement than the older surface thermometers. Dr Spencer is also a Christian. I hope you enjoy his blog at this link. It was written in response to a journalist who knew nothing about science or Christianity.

You see, science is only a process that is imperfect at best. All it can do is compare physical entities and judge proof on that comparison. If you have no data you have no proof. So, if you have no physical evidence of God, you have no proof of God’s existence. Also, if you have no physical evidence of a random creation of life, you have no proof. This is a sword that cuts both ways.

Spencer makes the point that it takes the same degree of faith to believe in a Creator as it does to believe in a random process of particles accidentally creating life.  It takes a LOT of faith to believe in random.

When someone says they don’t believe in God because we cannot physically prove the existence of God, I have to question what they really believe. Do they not believe in God because they cannot see, feel, smell God?

Do people believe creation started in a random dance of electrons and other quantum particles banging together in some sort of cosmic march of the sugar-plumb quarks? Do they believe that space aliens brought life to earth several million years ago, or that life was transported to earth in asteroids and comets?,

Much of the science we read about in news releases, or done in the past has proven to be false. It is the job of the scientific process to disprove old ideas as new hypotheses are generated. This happens every day.

It looks like you have to work as hard to believe in nothing as to believe in God.

200,000 to 400,000 Killed By Hospitals

Yeah. I know, these are some pretty big numbers. There’s another study out done by a man whose nineteen year old son was killed by negligent hospital care.

These numbers are hard to believe, and they are truly estimates. However, earlier studies have shown that over 98,000 people die due to doctors and hospitals. Please reference my earlier blog, “  The Dirty Little Health Care Secret“.

The article describing the study is linked, here. In the article you will find a link to the actual study. It gets a little technical, but it is not that hard to understand.

Nobody knows the real numbers killed by our health care system. We do feel that the 98,000 number is low, but the 400,000 number may not be out of bounds. The problem is that we don’t have good data.

Hospitals just don’t have all the right data, and this makes studies like this one an estimate. We should always remember that, but even a low estimate means that our health care system probably kills more people than die in car crashes every year.

Take care, everybody. It’s getting dangerous out there.