Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Our Odd Solar System

Posted: May 16, 2013 in creation, science

A fascinating discovery that raises interesting questions:

As of this month, we’ve discovered 884 planets, 692 planetary systems, 132 of them with more than one planet and, strange to tell, almost none of them look like us.

“We are now beginning to understand that nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer [planetary] systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than 100 days,” says Steve Vogt, astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “This is quite unlike our own solar system, where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up.” …

As the discoveries roll in, Mike [Brown, an astronomer at Caltech,] is getting more and more uncomfortable. Though it will take a while to discover smaller planets, right now there’s only one planetary system that looks a lot like our own, he says. “HD 13931 b is nearly perfect. What I would desperately like to know is whether or not it has the small rocky bodies on the inside too. But it’ll be a long time before we can find that.”

Meantime, he is trying to get used to the idea that we live on an unusual planet in an unusual solar system. That’s two “unusuals.” One more than he’s used to. To live doubly-unusual, is to be luckier — and perhaps rarer — than we knew.

“It really is something that I find deeply weird,” he writes. “What does it all mean? I don’t know. I am certain that this single-minded emphasis on planets-in-habitable-zones is making people forget that there is still a lot of weird stuff happening out there and that we still don’t even understand the basics of how we ourselves got here.”

John Frame offers 11 principles, 6 of which are reprinted below:

1. This discussion concerns the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. The question is not whether we should abandon the teaching of these chapters to accomodate science. The question is, What does this passage actually say? It is an exegetical issue. …

2. I am not denying that secular science has influenced the debate. The claims of scientists that the universe has existed for billions of years have certainly motivated theologians to go back to the text, in order to see whether these claims are consistent with Scripture. In my view, that is entirely right and proper. …

3. But there are also wrong ways of being influenced by science. In re-examining traditional views, we should not be governed by any principles of reasoning that are inconsistent with Scripture. …

8. There are reasons for taking the days as normal days.

9. On the other hand, I am not persuaded that figurative views should be considered heretical…

10. In all this discussion, we should remind ourselves that God, speaking through Moses in Genesis 1-2, has a purpose, namely, to display his glory in his creative work and to provide background for the narrative of the Fall. It is not the primary purpose of the narrative to tell us precisely how God made the world, when he did it, how long it took, and how all of this relates to the theories of modern science.

– John Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 302-306

In this panel discussion from Ligonier’s 2012 National Conference, R.C. Sproul and friends discuss the Christian’s approach to Scripture and the natural world, offering wise words regarding the importance of embracing both as infallible revelation from God.  In my opinion, R.C. Sproul (in the clip below) and Michael Horton (in the full recording, timestamp 69:30) offer the most helpful insights into how Christians should think about and discuss these controversial issues.  Sproul’s main point is that we must embrace all of God’s revelation, not setting one part against another.  Horton clearly agrees, noting: “All truth is God’s truth, but not all truth is in the Bible.”

In my opinion, this fascinating discussion should serve as (yet another) call for a little more light and a little less heat in discussions related to faith and science.

Leon Wieseltier, writing for The New Republic:

[The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions by Alex Rosenberg] is a catechism for people who believe they have emancipated themselves from catechisms. The faith that it dogmatically expounds is scientism. It is a fine example of how the religion of science can turn an intelligent man into a fool.

Unfortunately, the defense of science became corrupted in certain quarters into a defense of scientism, which is the expansion of scientific methods and concepts into realms of human life in which they do not belong. Or rather, it is the view that there is no realm of human life in which they do not belong. Rosenberg arrives with “the correct answers to most of the persistent questions,” and “given what we know from the sciences, the answers are all pretty obvious.” (I have cited most of them above.) This is because “there is only one way to acquire knowledge, and science’s way is it.” …

IN THIS WAY science is transformed into a superstition. For there can be no scientific answer to the question of what is the position of science in life. It is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. The idea that physical facts fix all the facts is not an idea proven, or even posited, by physics. …

THIS SHABBY BOOK is riddled with other notions that typify our time. Rosenberg maintains that atheism entails materialism, as if the integrity of the non-material realms of life can be secured only by the existence of a deity. Reason does not move him, no doubt because of the threat it poses to the physicalist tyranny. He asserts, as would anyone who does not live in Congo, that “most people are nice most of the time,” because “we were selected for niceness,” which is all we need for ethics. He calls this “nice nihilism,” since it promotes moral values without moral beliefs. As for “Hitlers, Stalins, Mao Zedongs, Pol Pots, and Osama bin Ladens”—the people who are not nice most of the time—“biology has the answer”: there are always variations in inherited traits. But the variations cannot be the answer, because they are the question. Moreover, most people are both good and bad, neither devils nor angels. Rosenberg is untroubled by such complications. He is untroubled by everything under the sun. The man’s peace of mind is indecent. “We know the truth,” he declares sacerdotally in his preface. “Some of the tone of much that follows may sound a little smug. I fear I have to plead guilty to this charge …” Once upon a time science was the enemy of smugness.

Amazing Murmuration

Posted: November 10, 2011 in misc, science, video

The truly astounding video below has been circulating for a while now.  For more information about murmuration, check out Wired’s recent article:

What makes possible the uncanny coordination of these murmurations, as starling flocks are so beautifully known? Until recently, it was hard to say. Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modeling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics.

Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.

Looking Back Through Time

Posted: October 17, 2011 in creation, god, science, theology, video

The Hubble Space Telescope

One of the truly incredible things about gazing up at the stars is that we are actually looking back in time on account of the inestimable distances between us and the heavenly bodies.  For example, the Sun is 149.6 million kilometers away from the earth and its light takes a little over 8 minutes to reach us.  This means that if the sun were to all of a sudden “go out,” we wouldn’t notice any difference for another 8 minutes.  Alpha Centauri, one of our nearest neighbors, is 4.37 lightyears away from us (which means that its light takes 4.37 years to reach us).  So, when we look at Alpha Centauri (which is actually a binary star system) we are actually seeing the star as it was over 4 years ago.

Now, this all gets really interesting when we start looking at objects a little further away.  With the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the largest space telescopes ever built, we are now able to gaze deep into space, picking out objects much further away than Alpha Centauri.  Perhaps the most amazing discovery from Hubble was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, taken in 2004 (check out this FAQ).  Astronomers decided to point the telescope at one of the emptiest and darkest regions of the sky, to see if there was anything hidden in the inky blackness.  What they discovered was more incredible than anything anyone could have imagined…

Hubble Ultra Deep Field (click to enlarge)

This mind-blowing image reveals the incomprehensible immensity of the cosmos, but has also given us fascinating insights into the early stages of the universe.  For an explanation of the image, check out the awesome video below.  You can also take a look at this graphic that helps put everything into perspective.

As mind-blowing as this image is, it’s even more incredible that God created all this…with a word.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. – (Genesis 1:14-18)

And the stars.  Billions of galaxies full of trillions of stars, mentioned almost as if they were an afterthought.  He simply speaks and the universe explodes into being.

That’s our God.

The Wall Street Journal:

1) The carbon taxers/limiters have lost. Carbon-dioxide emissions have been the environmental issue of the past decade…

Here’s a reality check: During the same decade that Mr. Gore and the IPCC dominated the environmental debate, global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.

Those increases reflect soaring demand for electricity, up by 36%, which in turn fostered a 47% increase in coal consumption. (Natural-gas use increased by 29% while oil use grew by 13%.) Carbon-dioxide emissions are growing because people around the world understand the essentiality of electricity to modernity. And for many countries, the cheapest way to produce electrons is by burning coal.

2) Regardless of whether it’s getting hotter or colder—or both—we are going to need to produce a lot more energy in order to remain productive and comfortable.

3) The carbon-dioxide issue is not about the United States anymore. Sure, the U.S. is the world’s second-largest energy consumer. But over the past decade, carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.7%…Meanwhile, China’s emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa’s carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia’s by 44%, and the Middle East’s by a whopping 57%. Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions—about 6.1 billion tons per year—could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have gone up.

4) We have to get better—and we are—at turning energy into useful power. In 1882, Thomas Edison’s first central power station on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan converted less than 3% of the heat energy of the coal being burned into electricity. Today’s best natural-gas-fired turbines have thermal efficiencies of 60%. Nearly all of the things we use on a daily basis—light bulbs, computers, automobiles—are vastly more efficient than they were just a few years ago. And over the coming years those devices will get even better at turning energy into useful lighting, computing and motive power.

5) The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere…