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Sunday, November 23, 2014

And I Thought Slime Couldn’t Get Any Better!

Posted by jlwile on November 29, 2010

Velvet worms make amazing slime! (public domain image)

As a chemist, I have always loved slime. There are so many different kinds of slime and so many different ways to make it! For example, you can make slime at home using glue, water, and borax. You can also make it using water, cornstarch, and some heat. Both slimes are different, and they both bring out the kid in me. Chemistry really can produce great stuff! Of course, nature does a far better job at chemistry than even the best of today’s chemists. Indeed, the best chemists in the most sophisticated chemistry labs on earth cannot begin to make many of the sophisticated chemicals that a “simple” bacterium makes every day!

There is an obvious reason for this, of course. While chemistry has developed over thousands of years and was guided by some incredibly intelligent people, nature was made by God. As a result, you expect nature to be filled with things that put the most amazing achievements of chemistry (and science in general) to shame. Of course, that’s exactly what you find. From the best possible design for the vertebrate eye to the lightning-fast chameleon tongue, nature’s designs are significantly better than anything human science can produce. Indeed, world-renowned atheist Antony Flew had to give up his atheistic faith specifically because of the amazing design he saw in nature.

Well, it turns out that even some of nature’s slime is amazing!

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It’s Too Bad The APS Won’t Learn from This

Posted by jlwile on November 21, 2010

Dr. Harold Lewis is a giant in physics. At one time, he was the chairman of the physics department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is now an Emeritus professor at the same institution. He served in the Navy during World War II, was chairman of the technology panel on the Defense Science Board, chaired that same board’s study on nuclear winter, was on the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, was a part of the President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee, chaired the American Physical Society’s study on Nuclear Reactor Safety, and was a member of the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. As if that’s not enough, he is a co-founder of JASON, a group of scientists who advise the United States Government on scientific and technological issues.

This giant recently resigned from the American Physical Society (APS). Why? Because he was sick and tired of the APS supporting pseudoscience when it comes to global warming. In his resignation letter, which I urge everyone to read, he specifically says:

…the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.

Even though I doubt that the APS will learn from this action, I applaud Dr. Lewis for publicly separating himself from an organization that claims to be scientific but seems happy to throw science under the bus in order to jump onto a politically fashionable and incredibly lucrative bandwagon.

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Cool It!

Posted by jlwile on November 17, 2010

Bjorn Lomborg is the Skeptical Environmentalist
(Click image for credit)

Because I have written extensively on the topic of global warming and have appeared in a documentary that addresses it from a Christian viewpoint, I was invited to pre-screen Ondi Timoner’s documentary, Cool It. This excellent film is based on a book with the same title, which was written by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg. It also stars Dr. Lomborg himself. Even though I am not a fan of documentaries because it is hard to check their facts, this one is definitely worth watching. If nothing else, it fills the gap between Vice President Gore’s nearly science-free, fear-filled documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the more scientific The Great Global Warming Swindle, which lacks a “take home” message on what should be done when it comes to sane environmental policy.

Dr. Lomborg is an associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He claims to have been a member of Greenpeace who got tired of the hyperbole that is inherent in most radical environmentalist materials. After scientifically investigating a few of the more ridiculous claims of the modern environmentalist movement, he officially left Greenpeace and embarked on a quest for sane environmentalism. Greenpeace, however, says it has no record of Lomborg being an active member. In any event, his scientific investigations led him to author a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist. While Lomborg took a lot of heat for that book, the criticism was often based on falsehoods, and that is the subject of the opening parts of the documentary.

After setting the stage with cute little children explaining the doom that will befall the earth because of global warming, Dr. Lomborg tries to set the record straight regarding the message of his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Using old talk-show footage, he shows that unlike many of his critics claim, he never questioned the reality of global warming. He shows that he has always held to the idea that global warming is real and is caused, at least in part, by human activities. The points he stressed in his book (and since then) are that (a) the costs of cutting carbon emissions to stop global warming are astronomical and will do very little good, and (b) there are significantly greater problems that the world faces, and we can do something about some of them.

While I disagree with him on the “global warming is real” issue, I have always appreciated his pragmatic approach and his pursuit of sane environmental policy. Both of these qualities are on full display in Cool It.

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Relativity Confirmed Under Normal Laboratory Conditions

Posted by jlwile on November 11, 2010

Albert Einstein in 1921 (Click image for reference)

Einstein’s theories of relativity have fundamentally changed the way scientists view reality. This bothers some, which is why you can find creationists who desperately try to fight against them. These attacks often strike a chord since most people (even many scientists) know little about these revolutionary theories. Partly, this is because the theories are difficult to understand. In addition, they often deal with things that are not a part of everyday experience, such as extremely high speeds or unusual gravitational fields. Nevertheless, both theories are immensely important to some everyday items. For example, if you use a GPS device for navigation, that device would not work properly if the global positioning system did not use relativity correctly.

To understand what I mean, you first need to know that Einstein proposed two separate theories of relativity. Special relativity deals with systems that move relative to one another with a constant velocity. General relativity deals with systems that move relative to one another with a variable velocity. In each theory, Einstein’s only concern is that the laws of physics must work the same in both systems, regardless of the fact that they are moving relative to one another. While this seems like a common-sense idea, it leads to conclusions that make little sense.

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Another Confirmation of Quantum Mechanics

Posted by jlwile on November 8, 2010

Some Christians don’t like quantum mechanics. More than 20 years ago, one Christian writer called it “the greatest contemporary threat to Christianity.”1 Eleven years ago, R. C. Sproul wrote a book entitled Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology. In that book, he attacked quantum mechanics. A Christian group called “Common Sense Science” champions an absurd model of elementary particles in order to get away from quantum mechanics.

Why all this Christian angst directed against quantum mechanics? Well, some Christians think that quantum mechanics is inconsistent with their view of God. For example, one of the fundamental conclusions of quantum mechanics is that the behavior of elementary particles and atoms is statistical, not mechanistic. This means that even if you knew everything there is to know about an atom, you could not predict exactly what that atom would do. You could make statistical statements like, “There is a 12% chance that it will do this and a 45% chance that it will do that.” However, there is no way to pin down exactly what an atom will do, regardless of how well you know the atom and everything that is affecting it.

This, of course, bothers many Christians, especially those of the Calvinist persuasion. Indeed, in the book I mentioned above, Sproul really seemed to think that quantum mechanics was somehow a threat to God’s sovereignty. If nature really is statistical at some level, then even God would not know exactly what His creation will do, and that just doesn’t work for a Calvinist!

Others don’t like quantum mechanics because, inherently, it doesn’t make sense. There is a lot in quantum mechanics that goes against common sense (as you will see in a moment), and since some people are under the mistaken view that science has to be rooted in common sense (as demonstrated by the website linked above), they think that there must be something wrong with quantum mechanics.

The problem is that when quantum mechanics is tested against the data, it passes with flying colors. Thus, even if you don’t like quantum mechanics, you must appreciate its scientific value. The experiment I will discuss below the fold is another clear example of this.

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A Small Brain Does NOT Mean A Low Intelligence

Posted by jlwile on November 5, 2010

A bumblebee has a small brain but can do complex calculations (click the image for its credit)

As I mentioned in a previous post, because they are not willing to understand that it has been designed by an incredibly intelligent and powerful Designer, evolutionists are forced to look at nature in a ridiculously simplistic way. Take the naive evolutionary idea that brain size correlates with intelligence. Because evolutionists can’t appreciate the incredible design that went into producing brains, they generally assume that the smaller the brain, the lower the intelligence of the organism. Nearly a year ago, I reviewed The Design of Life , which discusses some powerful evidence against this silly notion. Recent research1 on bumblebees has just added more evidence to the pile.

In the research, the investigators wanted to know how a bumblebee decides the order in which it visits flowers. It has been observed for quite a while that bees tend to visit the flowers they have identified as good food sources in a predictable order. In other words, they don’t fly “willy nilly” amongst the flowers they visit. Instead, the have a planned flight route. This has been called trapline foraging, because human trappers typically follow a preplanned route when checking the traps they have set.2

The question the authors wanted to address was how the bees arrive at their preplanned “trapline” route. Do they just visit the flowers in the same order in which the flowers were originally discovered, or is there more thought given to the process? In the end, the researchers were able to show that there is a lot of thought devoted to the process.

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Thank God for Whale Poop!

Posted by jlwile on November 3, 2010

Sperm whales are amazing divers (Scarred Giant by artist Chris Harman, click picture for reference)

Whales are incredible creatures. They are perfectly designed for a life in the water, even though they breathe air. They can dive to depths that would kill human beings, because their ribcage and lungs are designed to change as they dive deeper. This allows the whales to adapt to water pressures that are simply incredible. Sperm whales, for example, can dive more than a mile underwater.1 At that depth, the pressure the whale experiences is well over 150 times atmospheric pressure!

Many whales have an intricate method of communication that allows them to be highly social. Most social mammals rely on visual cues for communication, but because the water they live in inhibits the effectiveness of visual cues, whales mostly communicate with vocalizations. Dolphins, for example communicate with clicks, whistles, and other sounds. A few years ago, researchers learned that dolphins use their whistles to identify other dolphins by name. Two dolphins that are “talking” might even refer to a third dolphin by name as a part of their “conversation”!2

Well, it seems there is another thing to add to the ever-growing list of what makes whales so amazing: they also have great poop!

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Climate Heretic Dr. Judith Curry

Posted by jlwile on November 1, 2010

Dr. Judith Curry is the latest scientist to be branded a heretic by the climate community.
(Image from Wikipedia)

Dr. Judith A. Curry is the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a member of the National Research Council’s Climate Research Committee, and she currently has 144 refereed publications to her credit. An active climate researcher, Curry is considered an expert on hurricanes, atmospheric modeling, polar climates, and air-sea interactions. She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and has won awards from both NASA and the American Meteorological Society for her excellent climate research. She has also been officially branded a heretic by Scientific American.. What horrible offense has caused her to be labeled this way? She actually started thinking for herself rather than blindly following the reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Curry’s story is a classic one and is very similar to my own in many ways. She says that when she reviewed the parts of the IPCC’s third report that were related to her expertise:

I told them that their perspective was far too simplistic and that they didn’t even mention the issue of aerosol impacts on the nucleation of ice clouds. So it’s not so much as finding things that were wrong, but rather ignorance that was unrecognized and confidence that was overstated.

In other words, she had doubts about the IPCC’s report when it came to the areas in which she had serious expertise. However, when push came to shove, she says:

I had decided that the responsible thing to do in making public statements on the subject of global warming was to adopt the position of the IPCC. My decision was based on two reasons: 1) the subject was very complex and I had personally investigated a relatively small subset of the topic; 2) I bought into the meme of “don’t trust what one scientists says, trust what thousands of IPCC scientists say.”

As time went on, however, she began to question her supposedly “responsible” position.

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