I am now in Thailand. The conference has moved to a new hotel, and it is gorgeous. I hope to post some pictures at some point. Right now, however, I want to write about another article that caught my eye while I was catching up on my reading during my 23 hours in the air.
This article was in Science1 The authors report on a new technique they have developed for carbon sequestration. Now anyone who reads this blog knows that I don’t buy into the global warming hysteria. Instead, I am guided by the data, and the data do not indicate that anything unusual is happening in terms of global climate.
Nevertheless, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is rising, and it is most certainly our fault. If human emissions of carbon dioxide (not from breathing – from everything else) were one-third of their present value, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would actually start decreasing. Thus, there is no question that we are causing the buildup.
While the data indicate that so far, this buildup of carbon dioxide is not significantly affecting global climate, it possibly could at some point in the future. In addition, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can make the ocean more acidic, since carbon dioxide reacts with water to produce carbonic acid (the same acid found in soda pop). So far, the increased ocean acidity due to increased carbon dioxide is rather insignificant, but once again, the effect could grow in the future. In addition, who knows what other things might be affected by carbon dioxide levels?
So while I don’t think that the rising carbon dioxide levels we are seeing now are any reason to take draconian steps to mitigate the issue, it is always worthwhile to find reasonable ways to lessen humanity’s impact on the planet. That’s why this article is so intriguing.
I am back on an airplane, this time on my way to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am speaking at an international education conference there. I did the same conference about three years ago, and I met some really incredible people. The location is nothing to write home about, and I really dislike the food. However, the conference attendees are truly amazing, making this something to which I am really looking forward!
In any event, since I am on a plane again, I am catching up on some of my reading. An interesting article in Chemical Engineering and News caught my eye1. It reported on a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that measured various nutrient levels in rice that had been genetically modified to be more resistant to insects and fungal infections. All three varieties of genetically-modified rice were found to be lacking in certain nutrients. One variety was deficient in vitamin E, another was deficient in protein content, and the last was deficient in key amino acids. The authors say that the study produced
…alarming information with regard to the nutritional value of transgenic rice.
Now I have no problem with genetically-modified crops, as long as they have been put through enough tests to make sure that they are safe for both the ecosystem and the consumer. Such tests are difficult, but certainly not impossible. However, I expect that very little research is done on the nutritional content of such crops. Geneticists tend to compartmentalize genomes, thinking that tinkering with genes involved in immunity won’t affect genes associated with metabolism and energy storage. Clearly this study shows that such compartmentalization is not a realistic approach to understanding genomes.
Anyone who knows me or has seen me in person knows that nutrition is just not all that important to me. I understand the value of good nutrition, but for me, taste rules. I eat the things I like, and I don’t eat the things I don’t like – regardless of nutritional value. I admit this is a short-sighted way to eat, but I would rather live happy than live long – it’s just that simple. So why do I care about this study on the nutritional content of transgenic rice?
I am back in Indiana now, and I am already missing Alaska. I just never got tired of seeing backdrops like this:
Typical View from Juneau
I am currently doing an Alaskan tour of six cities in seven days, working with educators in a state-wide, publicly-funded charter school system. Even though it is cold, it is a lot of fun. Alaska is beautiful, and the charter school system is excellent. It is great to see quality education occurring in such a novel way.
Because airplanes are the main way one gets from city to city in Alaska, I have been spending a lot of time sitting in airports, on tarmacs, and occasionally on an airplane that is actually flying. As a result, I have been doing a lot of reading. I came across an interesting article in
Science Science News today1, and I think it is a great illustration of something I stress in most of my science books.
For several years now, scientists have been using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe functioning brains. The main technique involves using a magnetic resonance imaging machine to look for small changes that occur within the blood vessels of a person’s brain. The very reasonable argument proposed is that the more active a neuron is, the more blood it needs. Thus, if the fMRI sees an increase in blood flow to a particular region of the brain, the neurons in that region must be more active. So…a subject is stimulated in some way, and the fMRI looks for increases in blood flow. Any region of the brain that “lights up” must be the region that is responsible for either processing whatever stimulus was provided or producing a response to it.
Several hundred papers have been published discussing the results of all manner of fMRI experiments, and they have made all sorts of definitive conclusions regarding what regions of the brain are responsible for processing various stimuli or producing various responses to those stimuli. Well, Craig Bennett wanted to see how reliable fMRI experiments are, so he decided to do a very simple baseline test. He used fMRI to study the way a dead fish’s brain responds to stimuli.
The results were quite interesting.
Global climate models (GCMs) are one of the driving forces behind the idea that global warming is real and is the result of human activity. These models attempt to simulate global climate as a result of various input parameters, one of which is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These global climate models generally agree that the earth should be warming due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere. For example, here are the projections made by several different GCMs back in 2000:
Projections of global temperatures given by several GCMs in 2000. Published under the GNU Free Documentation License, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_of_the_GNU_Free_Documentation_License.
Note that global temperatures were predicted to rise throughout the decade of 2000-2010. Instead, global temperatures have remained remarkably steady over that same time period:
Measured global temperatures as given by the University of Alabama’s Global Hydrology and Climate Center. (http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2lt/tltglhmam_5.2)
So why have the computer model projections fared so poorly when compared to what has actually happened so far? Well, it seems that one of the real luminaries of climate science, Richard Lindzen, has found at least part of the answer to that question1.
In the first part of my review of Dr. Bradley Monton’s Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, I discussed Dr. Monton’s excellent defense of intelligent design as a legitimate scientific pursuit. However, I also mentioned the fact that his book makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I want to address that now.
First, Dr. Monton’s sharp intellect makes it hard for me to forget that there are intellectual atheists out there. Most of the “new atheists” are such buffoons that it lulls one into the false idea that atheists are mostly irrational. While this may be true about many atheists, it is certainly not the case for Dr. Monton.
He displays his intellect in no uncertain terms, for example, when he sets out to formulate a statement of what intelligent design is. He starts with the Discovery Institute’s statement of intelligent design:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
He then makes the obvious point that everyone must agree with that statement. An athlete’s strong muscles (a feature of a living thing) are not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection – they are the result of the athlete’s intelligently-designed workout regime. Similarly, a building like the Empire State Building (a feature that is in the universe) is not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection. It is the result of design. Thus, he rightly points out that this description of intelligent design doesn’t really state what the proponents of intelligent design want their own theory to mean. He spends several pages coming up with a much more intellectually rigorous statement of intelligent design:
I wasn’t going to blog on this subject until later, but a college instructor (Dr. Christopher O’Brien) posted a rather uninformed review of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. The review referenced the first part of my review of that same book. I thought I would use Dr. O’Brien’s post for a “teachable moment.”
The blog starts out like most blogs that are uninterested in finding out what science really says about origins. Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.” This, of course, is nonsense. It is an attempt to sidestep the science and hope that no one notices. It is a common rhetorical technique, typically employed by those who do not have the courage to face opinions that contradict their own.
In any event, I want to mention Dr. O’Brien’s post because it is a classic example of how incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. After once again trying to smear creationists rather than honestly address their arguments, the author of the post says:
Wile apparently believes this is sufficient for an instructor like me to start teaching ID in the classroom as a reasonable alternative to evolutionary theory.
This, of course, is also nonsense, and it shows that the author should stop making assumptions and actually start reading what he claims to have read.
I usually love to read the works of atheists, because they tend to remind me how irrational the atheist faith is. For example, I love reading PZ Meyers, because not only is he an excellent writer, but his writing is so emotional that it displays the fact that his atheism comes not from rational thought, but from some deep-seated anger or resentment that he harbors. In the same way, while Richard Dawkins knows a lot about biology, he is very sloppy with data, and he seems to be virtually unaware of how logic works. His writing makes it very clear that his atheism is not the result of rational thought. I even love it when “Norwegian Shooter” comments on this blog, because his refusal to look at even the simplest data makes it clear how desperately he clings to his atheistic faith.
However, there are some atheists who make me uncomfortable, and Dr. Bradley Monton is one of them. In his newest book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, he demonstrates quite clearly that not all atheists are irrational. This, of course, makes me uncomfortable, because it is easier to dismiss the atheistic view when it is represented by buffoons like Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. When it is represented by people like Dr. Bradley Monton, you have to at least sit up and take notice.
In part 1 of this review, I told you the things I liked about Genesis and The Big Bang by Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder. Now I want to move on to the things I didn’t like about the book. As I already mentioned, Dr. Schroeder seems firmly committed to the Big Bang model, despite its many problems. However, that’s not my main concern. While there are a lot of problems with the Big Bang model, there are some data that support it, so it is not irrational to choose to work with that paradigm. My problems with the book go much deeper than that.
My first problem is that Dr. Schroeder has either not investigated the myriad of opinions of ancient Jewish theologians, or he conveniently doesn’t tell the reader about them. He wants to make the case that he is getting his theology from sources that have not been influenced by modern science. He chooses four theologians (Onkelos, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides) that he says have “withstood time’s test,” and he says:
Because their commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries. (p. 18)
I have two problems with this statement. First, there are many more than four ancient Jewish theologians who have “withstood the test of time.” I am not even Jewish, and I can name several more off the top of my head: Philo Judaeus, Akiba ben Yossef, Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon, Abraham ibn Daud, etc., etc.
Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder is a very original thinker. I recognized that when I read one of his previous books, The Science of God. Dr. Schroeder holds an earned PhD in physics and earth science from MIT and currently is an international consultant on radioactivity and a faculty member at Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. As an orthodox Jew, he takes the Old Testament very seriously. He believes that the days in Genesis are definitely 24-hour days, but he also believes that the earth is billions of years old. In fact, his writings indicate that he is a theistic evolutionist.
How can a theistic evolutionist believe that the days of Genesis are 24-hour days? That’s where his original thinking comes in. As a PhD physicist, he understands that defining reference frame is very important. After all, we know the rate at which time passes depends on the reference frame in which you are measuring time. For example, time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on earth. If this were not taken into account, your Garmin would not lead you to your destination. Thus, the question in Dr. Schroeder’s mind is not “How long were the days of Genesis?” He is convinced they were 24 hours long. The question in his mind is “In what reference frame did those 24 hours pass?”
In The Science of God (and in this book), he gives us the answer to that question. He says the reference frame is not that of earth. Indeed, earth doesn’t become the focus of the creation account until after a couple of days pass. As a result, he thinks that the reference frame in which the Genesis days are defined is that of the universe as a whole. This produces an interesting effect.