The Wisdom of Galileo

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans
Image in the Public Domain
I am reading a fascinating book entitled Galileo’s Daughter (Penguin Books, 2000). The author discusses Galileo’s life in the light of letters from one of his daughters, who lived most of her life as a nun. Her convent name was Suor Maria Celeste. While I have read a lot about the life of Galileo, this book has given me some new insights. It does a great job of blending the science that he worked on with the personal joys, sorrows, and difficulties that he experienced.

Currently, my favorite book on Galielo is Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible by Dr. Richard Blackwell. Published by The University of Notre Dame Press, it gives an unvarnished account of how poorly Galileo was treated by the Roman Catholic Church. In the end, however, this new book might end up becoming my favorite resource regarding this great man of science and faith. Of course, once I am completely finished, I will give it a thorough review.

The purpose of this post is to discuss an amazingly insightful thing written by Galileo way back in 1623. In a work that was meant to refute an interpretation of comets by Orazio Grassi, Galileo wanted to make it clear how little he cared about the opinion of the majority of scientists. He said:

The testimony of many has little more value than that of few, since the number of people who reason well in complicated matters is much smaller than that of those who reason badly. If reasoning were like hauling I should agree that several reasoners would be worth more than one, just as several horses can haul more sacks of grain than one can. But reasoning is like racing and not like hauling, and a single Arabian steed can outrun a hundred plowhorses. (p. 93)

Interestingly enough, Galileo was wrong about comets. He thought they were an atmospheric phenomenon, but we now know they are “dirty snowballs” that orbit the sun.

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Dam That’s Big!

Beavers are amazing animals. They can actually alter their surroundings in a purposeful way in order to make them more suitable. They do this by building dams so that water collects to form an amazing wetland environment. Here is an example:

A Beaver Dam
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beaver_dam_in_Tierra_del_Fuego.jpg

Some people think that beavers live in their dams, but that is not correct. The dam is there simply to produce the wetland environment the beavers love. Of course, lots of other animals love a wetland environment, so beavers are considered a keystone species, an animal upon which other animals heavily depend.

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This Isn’t Evolution – It’s Lunacy

Are some monkeys more valuable than some babies?
Clipart licensed from www.clipart.com
As you can see by the links on the right, I am a fan of the Discovery Institute. As its website says, “The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.” Those are three concepts that are very near and dear to my heart. As a result, I get their Discovery Institute Views, and I read with interest the Summer 2010 edition.

On the front page of that newsletter, there was an article about Wesley J.
Smith,
senior fellow at the Institute’s Center for Human Rights and Bioethics. He is a champion of human exceptionalism, the seemingly obvious concept that people are more valuable than other forms of life on this planet. At first, it seemed a bit odd to me that this concept needs a champion, since it is, as one of my chemistry professors used to say, “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.” As I learned from the article, however, there are people who actually attempt to argue against this self-evident idea.

One such person is Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. In 1979, he published a textbook called Practical Ethics. In 1993, a second edition was published, and that’s the one I found at the library. After skimming parts of the book and reading other parts, I can definitely say that this is one guy who has taken the hypothesis of evolution and twisted it into lunacy.

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Evolution and Falsification

Sir Karl Popper
from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Popper.jpg
Dr. Hunter had a post on his blog a few days ago dealing with evolution and whether or not it could be falsified. As he states, falsification is an incredibly important part of science. Indeed, the great philosopher Sir Karl Popper pointed out that science cannot prove anything. Instead, the best science can do is pile up evidence to support a theory. The more evidence that supports the theory (and the less evidence that opposes the theory), the more reasonable it is to believe the theory. However, the theory can never be proven.

In Popper’s view (and I agree with him), while you can never prove a scientific theory, you should be able to demonstrate it to be incorrect. In other words, a scientific theory should be falsifiable. There should be the possibility that some discovery would end up demonstrating that the theory is false. If a scientific theory can accommodate any data, it is not a scientific theory. This, of course, makes sense. If a theory is so plastic that it can be molded to fit any data, it is definitely not scientific.

Dr. Hunter says that evolution is not falsifiable because it is a negative argument. As he puts in in the post mentioned above:

Evolution is, and always has been, motivated by failures of creationism and design. If god did not design or create this world, then it must have evolved. Somehow. Evolutionists perform research to try to figure out how evolution could have happened, but it must have happened—that much they know. That is a metaphysical position, not a scientific position, based on a negative argument. It is not falsifiable.

While I agree with the last sentence in that quote, I don’t agree with anything that comes before it.

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Bioluminescence

Bioluminescent single-celled organisms make this wave glow.
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bioluminescent_dinoflagellates.jpg

Bioluminescence is an amazing thing. Many living creatures use it to “light up” so they can communicate with others, more easily find food, or defend themselves against predators. In the picture above, for example, there are millions of single-celled organisms (called “dinoflagellates”) in the water. When they are disturbed, they use bioluminescence to glow. They are glowing in the picture because the wave is disturbing them. This is actually a defense mechanism. If the water is disturbed by an animal that eats them (such as a manta ray), the dinoflagellates glow, and the light might attract a predator that will eat (or scare away) the manta ray.

E. A. Widder wrote a review1 of bioluminescence in the May 7th issue of the Journal Science, and it is fascinating. As Widder points out, there are over 700 genera (the classification level above species) of organisms that use bioluminescence, and most of them (about 80%) live in the ocean. The mechanisms by which this process works are elegant and amazing, and they certainly defy any coherent evolutionary explanation.

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Imagine That – The Sun Is Important!

The dark spots on the sun's disk are sunspots.
from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sun_projection_
with_spotting-scope.jpg

It seems simple enough. The sun warms our planet. Thus, if one is wondering what is happening to the temperature of our planet, one should look for changes that are occurring in the sun. Sure, there are a lot of other things one must investigate as well, but the sun should be a major priority, right?

Well, not according to the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC). In their 2007 report,1 which claims that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that there is a “very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming,” they state:

Solar irradiance contributions to global average radiative forcing are considerably smaller than the contribution of increases in greenhouse gases over the industrial period.

So the IPCC says that the huge ball of thermonuclear reactions upon which the earth depends isn’t nearly as important when it comes to climate change as the relatively recent 35% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Fortunately, not everyone thinks the IPCC is serious about science. As a result, some climate researchers are actually trying to figure out how important changes in the sun’s activity are when it comes to the overall temperature of the earth. Not surprisingly, current research is showing that the conclusions of the IPCC are wrong.

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Introns: Junk that Is Really Gold

Before the human genome was sequenced, it was thought that humans had well over 100,000 genes. This reasonable conclusion was based on the fact that that the human body is estimated to produce 120,000 – 140,000 different proteins. Since biology had determined that a gene tells a cell how to make a protein, it was assumed that 120,000 – 140,000 proteins would require 120,000 – 140,000 different genes.

As is often the case with science, however, the data turned out to be very surprising. When the human genome was initially sequenced, it was estimated to contain about 30,000 genes. Today, it is thought that the human genome contains 20,000–25,000 genes.1

So if a human cell requires a gene in order to make a protein, and if the human body produces as many as 140,000 different proteins, how can it do so with “only” 20,000–25,000 genes? A large part of the answer to that question has to do with an amazing process called alternative splicing.

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Entropy and Evolution, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the proper way to apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to a simple process: the freezing of water in a bucket. Now I want to apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the process of evolution. This is a difficult thing to do, because currently, there is no accepted mechanism for the process of evolution. Evolution might occur according to the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis; it might occur via punctuated equilibrium; it might occur according to the evo-devo view; it might occur as a result of facilitated variation; it might occur by some as yet undiscovered mechanism; or it might occur as a result of a combination of all or some of these mechanisms.

Even though there is no agreed-upon mechanism for evolution, some general statements can be made about the supposed process, and that should be enough to allow us to roughly apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to it. In general, evolution says that organisms increase in complexity over time. A single-celled organism, for example, eventually developed the ability (through some as yet unknown process) to cooperate with other cells, which eventually led to a multicelled organism. Clearly, a multicelled organism is more complex than a single-celled organism, so via that unknown process, “simpler” single-celled organisms gave rise to “more complex” multicelled organisms. These multicelled organisms began to develop (once again, through some as yet unknown process) more “advanced” features, so that eventually a large diversity of life formed.

The longer evolution had to work through its unknown process, the more complex living creatures became. Thus, while it took some time for the evolutionary process to create relatively “simple” multicelled creatures, it took more time for evolution to produce complex invertebrates, and it took more time for evolution to produce vertebrates. The more “advanced” the vertebrate, the longer it took for evolution to produce it.

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Entropy and Evolution, Part 1

I was reading Dr. Hunter’s blog yesterday, and he had a post about entropy and evolution. In that post, he cited an article that comes to the right conclusion on the issue, but for the wrong reason. In fact, I am surprised that it passed peer review, since it promotes a very bad misconception regarding the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Because both creationists and evolutionists do a very poor job of applying the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the concept of origins, I thought I would try to explain the proper way to interpret the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In the next post, I will then apply the Second Law to the concept of evolution.

Before I get started, however, let me tell you the overall conclusion. The Second Law of Thermodynamics DOES NOT forbid the process of evolution. I know there are many creationists out there who claim that it does, but they are simply wrong. In addition, I know there are a lot of evolutionists out there who claim that it doesn’t, but they do so for reasons that are often wrong. So let’s talk about the Second law of Thermodynamics and how to properly apply it to many situations, including the process of evolution.

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Blood Platelets…Not Just for Clotting!

From left to right: A red blood cell, a platelet, a white blood cell
Image in the pubic domain

A recent issue of Science has a very interesting article on blood platelets.1 As nearly any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you, there are three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. As indicated by the scanning electron microscope image above, platelets are the smallest of the three.

In addition, almost any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you that each blood cell is principally involved in one area of your body’s maintenance. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues, although to a certain extent, they also pick up carbon dioxide waste from the tissues. White blood cells are responsible for cleaning the tissues of debris and fighting off invaders. Blood platelets are involved in clotting the blood so that we don’t bleed to death from a small cut.

Interestingly enough, this article indicates that blood platelets do a lot more than what most textbooks tell you!

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