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Posts Tagged ‘science’

07.14.2010 – A Fine-Tuned Universe?

I find myself intrigued by the various arguments for and against God. Lately, I’ve been considering the Fine-Tuning argument (a subset of the Teleological Argument). In a nut-shell, it goes like this:

The Fine-Tuning argument is a modern variant on the overall Teleological argument and is based on the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle deals with the seemingly delicate balance of conditions that are necessary in order to support human life. It finds its evidence mostly in the vast improbabilities that the universe would find the conditions that it has in order to produce human life. And because these improbabilities are so vast, that leads to the assumption that a designer needed to be present.

I’m not going to get into the specific numbers of this argument (they are, after-all incomprehensibly large), because the refutations to those are out there to be had (basically, life DID occur in this universe, so the probability is technically negligible and there’s nothing that we know of to measure it against. ie…a universe that did NOT produce life). What I DO want to discuss, though, is MY take on it. It may not be scholarly, or based on any kind of scientific data or research, but I believe it to be based on some common sense. And, as always, I’m open to other people’s takes on the topic.

What we see in the observable universe are mind-bending amounts of empty, black space. Vast areas of absolutely nothing in the Cosmos. And in all that space and time, to the best of our limited knowledge, WE are the only life that has developed in this universe (though, I fully expect in the coming years, decades, and centuries that may change, but for the time-being I must rely on reality, and reality is, we are all we know of). My trouble with the fine-tuning argument is this: If the universe is fine-tuned for human life, why are we the ONLY human life in an unbelievably enormous universe? Doesn’t it seem like an awfully huge waste of energy and matter in the universe to have only us here, on this tiny ‘Pale Blue Dot’ in the arm of an otherwise ordinary spiral galaxy? If the universe was fine-tuned for human life, shouldn’t it be absolutely bursting at the seams with human beings? It seems that if it WAS designed, it wasn’t done so very efficiently and that doesn’t seem like the modus operandi of an all-powerful, eternal engineer.

Now, I’m obviously not a scientist. I’m not even all that smart of a guy. I get that the constants in the universe, and the coincidences in the numbers are impressive. I also understand that even the slightest changes in those numbers could have resulted in a lifeless universe. However, reality is what it is. The universe has produced intelligent life. But how many other universes are out there that are completely void of life? We will probably never know.

I’m just starting my deep investigation of these claims, so I expect that I will post more on the topic as I learn and dig into the various explanations. And a lot of times I feel like I don’t have a clue what some of these arguments are talking about. But I’m making progress, and while sometimes they give me pause, ultimately, I’m secure in my belief set.

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06.15.2010 – What “The Pale Blue Dot” means to me

So, over the last few years, Carl Sagan’s “The Pale Blue Dot” has become one of my favorite pieces of writing. All of Sagan’s writing is beautiful, but this particular section just hits me somewhere special. I find that it gives me some much-needed perspective when I’m feeling like life has started to get to me. It makes me back up and say to myself, “Look Self…there is SOOO much out there. Why do you think the universe is lined up to just make YOU miserable? That’s ridiculous and arrogant. Now get over it, and go make something of your life”. Or something to that effect!

Sagan had a way of wording things that not only explains complex topics, but beautifully describes them with deep descriptive text. I just love his style. It’s such a pity that we lost him so soon.

The transcript (mildly altered in the video, and this video isn’t done by me for the record. just one of my favorite versions) :

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

02.12.2010 – Happy Darwin Day

February 12, 2010 1 comment

In honor of Darwin Day, I thought that I would just post some Charles Darwin quotes that I really like. So here goes:

* We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universe, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.

* I feel most deeply that this whole question of Creation is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton! Let each man hope and believe what he can.

* There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

* It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin. Today I celebrate the life of a man who we may find, ultimately, caused more change in the worldview of human kind than any other in history. At least that’s my hope. Maybe one day everyone will find the path that I found and shed superstition and replace it with reason, science, and critical thinking. Maybe one day Darwin’s theory will be so common place that the debate is finally put to rest.

Maybe one day!

02.01.2010 – Natural Selection vs. Artificial Selection

February 1, 2010 1 comment

Matt Dillahunty on this week’s Atheist Experience show was asked by a caller about why believers in Evolution/Natural selection/Survival of the fittest wouldn’t naturally move towards a society in which handicapped people or the general ‘undesirables’ of society would be eliminated. It seemed to me to be the usual attempt to connect Darwin’s theory with Hitler and other genocidal maniacs of recent centuries.

I found Matt’s response to be just about perfect (big surprise there) and something that really helped to solidify this concept in my mind. He basically said that what these people are doing is ‘artificial selection’. They are trying to force their world view onto society at large.

Natural selection is just that…natural. It involves biological laws and rules that direct genetics to mutate and change to suit the various changing attributes of a species’ environment. There’s no reason that we would have to connect this ‘natural’ process to folks that try to force the world to be what they see in their disturbed little heads.

Thanks to Matt’s explanation, I have a much better understanding that these two ideas and processes are completely separate.

Thanks Matt!

01.26.2010 – Facebook Fun – Episode 3 – Young Earth Creationism

January 26, 2010 2 comments

One of my facebook friends (a hardcore fundy) posted this as her status today:

hmmm. so what are your thoughts? young earth or old earth?

So, obviously I couldn’t resist responding. It’s been pretty light-hearterd in general. Though, my mother posted a massive writing that she got from some creationist website and I countered all the arguments with links from talkorigins.org so, that wasn’t a big deal.

However, it was the latest comment from someone I don’t know that really made me scratch my head and worry about the over-all mentality of these folks:

When God created Adam he created an adult not a baby. Could he have created the earth with an age also? If he did is it old or young? At actual age of 1 day how old was Adam physically? Just some food for thought.. As for what I believe, I believe the earth is actually aprox. 6000 years old

I just am amazed at the lengths that folks will go to to justify their belief in these bronze aged myths. So now the earth was created, in it’s near present form already representing 4.5 billion years of age to anyone that would look and search to find it? I truly believe that people like this are just beyond help. I suppose if they are just living in their own little deluded world, that’s fine, but they rarely just leave it at that. It’s these kind of folks that are tyring to get stuff like this taught in the science classroom. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s wrong on many levels.

Beware the Spinal Trap

I’m reposting this article in support of CSICOP….

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Beware the Spinal Trap (link to article on csicop.org)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

Simon Singh


On 29th July a number of magazines and websites are going to be publishing Simon Singh’s Guardian article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the part the BCA sued him for removed.

They are reprinting it, following the lead of Wilson da Silva at COSMOS magazine, because they think the public should have access to the evidence and the arguments in it that were lost when the Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic Association sued for libel.

We want as many people as possible around the world to print it or put it live on the internet at the same time to make an interesting story and prove that threatening libel or bringing a libel case against a science writer won’t necessarily shut down the debate.


You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Ghost Hunters? Or Story Tellers?

Let me just say that I certainly approach this subject skeptically. I understand that these shows are made for TV. So right out the gate, in the back of my mind, is that this could all be fabricated and I’m just being handed some entertainment to keep my mind wondering about things that really have no basis in reality whatsoever.

I’m fairly proud of the progress that I’ve made in the previous months at enhancing and growing the critical thinking portion of my mind. I’m trying to become more and more scientific about how I approach all topics, because, in the end, I believe that science will be the method where we find the truths about all topics (if those truths can even be found).

That being said, I’m a huge fan of the Ghost Hunters shows on TV. The ones that I truly enjoy are ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Ghost Hunters International’ on SciFi…(lol SyFy…because they just changed their name to that…pretty weird…but I digress). The ‘Most Haunted’ show with the folks from the UK is, in my opinion, the biggest bunch of crap on TV…but that doesn’t entirely stop me from watching – and often laughing at – the ridiculousness.

The trouble I am having lately is that I’ve become a huge fan of CFI (Council for Inquiry) and it’s Podcast/Radio show ‘Point of Inquiry’. It’s really helped me understand what things constitute real evidence versus pseudoscience. And a couple of the articles/shows have discussed the paranormal and these ‘ghost hunter’ shows. Basically, saying outright that they are pseudoscience at best. Some of the discussions even said that these guys have slowed down recordings to make their ‘evps’ more ominous or to even make some random sounds seem more like a voice. Now, I understand that this is a TV show and that’s a very real possibility. But with the original Ghost Hunters in particular, I have a hard time believing that these guys would do something like that. They seem to have a genuine interest in getting to the real truth. And sometimes they come up with recordings (audio/video) that just make me give pause.

It seems that the perspective of CFI, etc is, that because these guys aren’t real scientists and the ‘evidence’ isn’t gathered according to scientific standards, that they are fabricating things. I find it hard to believe that these guys are being blatantly dishonest. Again, I can certainly see how that could happen (being glorified for TV and all), but it also seems like such a stretch. And it seems almost close-minded to just disregard it and turn the other way. I would think that someone who is in a search for ‘truth’ would accept even SOME of this stuff, and maybe mark it into the ‘that’s interesting’ column rather than just outright rejecting it.

I’m hoping that I’m just misinterpreting what they are saying and that because they discuss these topics, obviously they must find something intriguing about them, and therefore count them as valuable. Even if it’s obviously not ‘scientific evidence’ that is being presented.

I continue to have questions about these ‘supernatural’ topics. But more and more I’m finding myself trying to apply rationality and logic to them, and coming up with answers that say ‘There’s just no real evidence’

 

-eoe-