Thoughts and Pictures from the Eclipse

The International Space station (the structure in the center of the image) photobombs the 2017 eclipse. (NASA image)

I remember the 1994 eclipse. I was on the faculty at Ball State University, teaching chemistry and physics. I told all my students about the eclipse, and when it came time to view it, I joined a few of the university’s staff watching the eclipse with welder’s goggles, pinhole viewers, and even natural pinhole viewers made by the foliage of the trees. As we watched, a few people joined in. Most of them had no idea that the eclipse was happening until they saw us looking at it.

Well, the 2017 eclipse was very different! Because of social media, a lot more people knew about and planned for the eclipse, so my Facebook feed was filled with awesome photos of people watching the eclipse, the eclipse itself, and the effects that the eclipse had on the surroundings. While I agree that social media has a lot of negative effects on our culture, it also has some positive effects, and the eclipse highlighted one of those. Social media has made it much easier to “get the word out” on a variety of issues, including science-related events that people can experience.

I thought I would share some of my photos of the eclipse as well as some better ones, providing “color commentary” as I go. Before I do that, however, I would like to just make a comment about how some people, like Eric Metaxas, view an eclipse as evidence for God’s existence. The argument goes something like this: the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but it is also 389 times farther from the earth. As a result, they each take up roughly (not exactly) the same amount of space in the night sky. Without this pleasant “coincidence,” a total solar eclipse could not happen. Of course, it is no coincidence. It is another piece of evidence for the fact that our solar system is designed.

While I think that nature explodes with evidence of design, I am not sure this is really one of those evidences. Sure, it represents an interesting example of “balance” between natural variables, and it certainly makes for an awesome sight. But honestly, it’s only four parameters (two distances from earth and two sizes). It’s not all that improbable for four different parameters to be balanced as a result of mere chance. In addition, those parameters are somewhat constrained, because we need a large moon for healthy oceans that can support life and a reasonably small, “gentle” star for our energy source. So while I think that the moon and the sun both provide strong evidence for the idea that our solar system is designed, I don’t think the fact that they can produce a total solar eclipse does.

Now let’s see some pictures!

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One Reason The Argument from Morality Might Be Persuasive

Allegory of Goodness by 16th-century Italian artist Jacopo Comin, who became known as Tintoretto.

As I have noted previously (see here and here, for example), I consider the Argument from Morality a very, very weak argument for God’s existence. Nevertheless, many philosophers who are much deeper thinkers than me champion the argument, and in many of the accounts of atheists who became Christians, the Argument from Morality was at least a factor in them accepting the Truth.

I have read several books and internet articles on the issue, but I have not read a single defense of the Argument from Morality that has been even moderately convincing to me, despite the fact that I do believe that God is the only source of morality. As a result, I have often wondered why the Argument from Morality has so much apparent power. One possible reason is that I am totally clueless on what makes a good argument for God’s existence. However, I recently ran across a study that might provide an alternate reason.

It was published in Nature Human Behavior, and it explores the preconceptions that people have when it comes to morality. The authors studied nearly 3,800 people in 13 different countries, and they found that in the vast majority of those countries, the participants were much more likely to believe that an evildoer is an atheist.

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Resources for The Upcoming Solar Eclipse

The 1999 solar eclipse as photographed through a telescope (and then Photoshop enhanced) by Luc Viatour in France (click for full credit)

As most people are probably aware, there will be a total eclipse of the sun visible from many parts of the United States. It will occur on August 21st, but the exact times depend on where you are. I received a question about how to best enjoy it, so thought I would compile some resources to help people who are interested. First, you can find out exactly when to expect the eclipse by going to this website:

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in.html

If you put in your city and state, it will tell you when to start viewing the eclipse, when it will be at its maximum, and when it will end. In addition, it will tell you the magnitude, which is the fraction of the sun that will be blocked by the moon. If it doesn’t have your city, just add a comma and the full name of your state, and it will bring up several other cities in that state. Choose the one closest to you.

The next thing to make clear is that YOU SHOULD NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE ECLIPSE! The sun produces a lot of light; too much for your eyes to handle. As a result, when you look directly at the sun, the light-sensing cells in your eyes can be overwhelmed. If they are overwhelmed for too long, they can die. Even though the sun is a lot dimmer during an eclipse, it still produces too much light for your eyes. However, it isn’t as difficult to look at as the uneclipsed sun, so you don’t notice that you are overwhelming your light-sensing cells. This can lead to solar retinopathy, which can cause serious vision problems.

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It’s REALLY Hard for a Planet to Support Life

The surface of Mars, as photographed by the Pathfinder lander (Image courtesy of NASA)

Dr. Stephen Hawking, one of today’s greatest minds in theoretical physics, stated:

I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.

While the last sentence is obviously offered tongue-in-cheek, the first sentence is a popular view among atheists. Because they believe that life must have come into being solely as a result of natural processes, they are forced to conclude that it must be prevalent throughout the universe. After all, if it happened here, it must have happened on a lot of other planets.

As a result, many atheists are enamored with the idea of finding life on other planets. Indeed, Bill Nye the anti-science Guy says that finding life on Mars or Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) would:

…utterly change this world. Everybody would think differently about everything.

As I wrote in the post linked above, I can’t imagine that’s true. The people who commented on the article seem to agree. Nevertheless, in many atheists’ minds, it’s a big deal. After all, if life is found on other planets, it becomes easier to believe that there is “nothing special” about life. It’s common throughout the universe, so there is no need to invoke anything other than natural processes to explain its existence.

The problem, of course, is that the scientific evidence speaks strongly against such a notion.

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When People Don’t Believe in God, They Will Believe Anything!

Some people actually think it is possible that we are living in a computer simulation.
(click for credit)

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who was largely responsible for bringing Mother Teresa to the world’s attention, once said:

One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.
(Malcolm Muggeridge and Christopher Ralling, Muggeridge Through the Microphone, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1967, p. 44)

I couldn’t help but think of that quote when a student asked me to read Scientific American’s article entitled, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

Apparently, that question was the topic of a debate held at the American Museum of Natural History back in 2016. The debate was moderated by serial spreader of falsehoods Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is responsible for one historian asking if it’s okay to lie about history, as long as the lies support a good cause.

According to the article, Dr. Tyson made the evidence-free speculation that there is a 50/50 chance we are, indeed, living in a computer simulation. Why? Because as Muggeridge suggested 50 years ago, when you give up belief in God, you must believe in all sorts of wild ideas in order to make sense of the universe around you.

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Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, 2nd Edition

The cover of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, Second Edition

About 12 years ago, Sherri Seligson published a course entitled, Exploring Creation with Marine Biology. It quickly garnered rave reviews among homeschooling families. Over those 12 years, I have spoken to many, many high school students who have called it their favorite course, and I can remember at least four of them who said that they planned to study marine biology at university specifically because the course had given them a love for the subject. Such reviews have never come as a surprise to me, because Seligson has the “perfect storm” of characteristics for writing an excellent marine biology course for homeschoolers.

First and foremost, she knows her subject. She has a degree in marine biology and was the aquarist of the Living Seas aquarium at Epcot Center for four years. Based on her work there, she was able to publish original research on shark behavior in captivity. Second, she has a real passion for the subject. Just ask her a question about marine science. Her eyes will light up, she will smile, and she will enthusiastically answer your question, along with a dozen other related questions that you hadn’t thought to ask. She is also an excellent communicator, being able to adjust the way she discusses a subject so as to meet the needs of the listener. Finally, she is a homeschooling mother, having educated four amazing children who are now adults. Is it any wonder that she could write a course on marine biology that would become so beloved in the homeschooling community?

However, 12 years is a long time for a biology course to be around. Our understanding of the natural world changes, and sometimes, those changes are substantial. As a result, science courses need to be updated from time to time. So far, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology has been “hit and miss” with its updates. A few years ago, the publisher updated its Human Anatomy and Physiology course, making it significantly better than the previous version. The publisher then updated its chemistry course, with disastrous results.

I am happy to report that the publisher is now “two for three,” having produced an excellent update to this already fantastic course.

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When Richard Dawkins Notices Your Inconsistency, You Have a Problem!

Dr. Richard Dawkins in 2010
(click for credit)

I am not a fan of Dr. Richard Dawkins. I have read most of his books, because I think it is important to know what one of atheism’s leading evangelists has to say. However, I obviously disagree with a lot of his beliefs. As a result, when I first read about one of his events being cancelled, I have to admit that I thought, “Well, it serves him right. He regularly attempts to shut down creationists, so it’s about time he got a taste of his own medicine!” After allowing time for my brain to override my emotions, however, I realized that this cancellation is not a good thing.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, Dr. Dawkins was scheduled to read from his new book, Science in the Soul, at a church (ironic, isn’t it?) in Berkeley, California. The event was sponsored by a local radio station, KPFA. However, the radio station got cold feet and cancelled the event. Why? According to the statement they sent to ticket holders:

We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.

I am not sure why the people at the radio station think words that “offended and hurt” constitute “abusive speech.” It seems to me that a lot of statements can offend and hurt people but not be abusive. If I say, “Pedophilia is wrong and should be punished severely,” I am sure to offend some pedophiles out there. However, that statement can hardly be considered abusive. In the same way, Dr. Dawkins has said some terrible things about Islam, but I can’t remember reading anything of his that I thought was even remotely abusive to the people who follow Islam.

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Two Videos About Density

I have been making some videos for the online courses I will be teaching this coming academic year. There will be more to come, but I won’t be blogging about every one of them. I do want to share two of them, however, because they are both very interesting. The first is about things floating in water. Did you know that some bowling balls actually float in water?

The same kind of reasoning used in that demonstration can be used to make a balloon full of air float:

I have done variations of the first demonstration several times, and the Coke/Diet Coke part is from an experiment the students do in their kitchen sink in my elementary course, Science in the Beginning. I had never done the second demonstration before, and I was surprised at how well it worked.

As I said, I won’t be blogging about every video. If you want to see them all, visit my publishers’s YouTube channel. I will be making several more over the course of the next year, so if you like them, you might want to subscribe to the channel.

A Test to Determine Whether or Not We Have a Creator

The prevalence of junk DNA is a strong indicator of creation or evolution.

I have always said that evolution requires the presence of a large amount of junk DNA. Not only does it make sense that the “trial and error” nature of random mutations acted on by natural selection would produce a large amount of garbled nonsense in the genome, evolution simulations like Avida require a very large percentage of the virtual genome to be junk in order to get any evolution. A few months ago, I discussed a piece by Salvador Cordova that seemed to make the case even more strongly. However, it was based on the work of Dr. Dan Graur, which I had not read. Thus, I couldn’t evaluate it in a detailed fashion. That has changed.
Just recently, a paper by Dr. Graur was published in Genome Biology and Evolution. In it, he makes his argument in a detailed, mathematical way. Having read his paper, I can now see why he made the following statement:

If ENCODE is right, then evolution is wrong.

If you don’t recognize the word “ENCODE,” it refers to a huge scientific initiative that is designed to determine what portions of the human genome are actually used by the various cell types that exist throughout the human lifespan. Their landmark publications in 2012 came to the conclusion that at least 80% of the human genome is functional. Dr. Graur says that if their conclusion is right, then there is no possible way we could have been the product of naturalistic evolutionary processes. When I read his argument as discussed by Salvador Cordova, I was a bit skeptical. However, now that I have read his paper, I am inclined to agree.

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