Science and Religion: Escape From The Center of (Robert) Sungenis

geocentrism_350pxw

Geocentrism: adding epicycles.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Robert Sungenis and anyone who missed the memo about the sun being the reason they call this the “solar” system.

     I’d like to tell you a story, my fine, young readers. It’s a story that’s over two thousand years in the making, and one that needs to be told. You see, we as a race are nearing a fork in the road of our development, between enlightenment and ignorance. This fork in the road means that those of us who honestly care where we are going, need to be diligent enough to tell these stories repeatedly, so that others don’t forget all that we’ve learned. I tell you this story, because I love each and every one of you. But, I digress…

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 - 168 AD.

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 – 168 AD.

     In the last years of the third century BC, Greek mathematician Appolonius of Perga posited a geometric model that would explain the movements of the planets as they tracked across the sky. Observed from the Earth, planets such as Mars seemed to move in one direction for a while, then stop, move backwards a bit, then return to their original direction of motion. What Appolonius proposed, was that these objects moved in what came to be known as “epicycles” as they tracked across the night sky. Appolonius’s epicycles were subsequently expanded upon and adopted by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, and became part of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. (Ptolemy’s model was even turned into an ancient analog computer of sorts, in what is now known as the “Antikythera Mechanism.”) The Ptolemaic system would hold sway as scientific dogma for the next fifteen hundred years.

Nicholaus Copernicus: 1473 - 1543

Nicolaus Copernicus: 1473 – 1543

     Flash forward, to the year 1542. A man lies dying from apoplexy and paralysis. His name, is Nicolaus Copernicus. For the past few decades, Copernicus had been working on the problem of the Ptolemaic model, trying to answer various questions about its inability to make more accurate predictions of the motions of the planets. At the same time, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation were spreading throughout Europe, challenging the long-held authority of the Roman Catholic church over what exactly the “truths of existence” were.

     Copernicus wasn’t an idiot. He knew that his observations and conclusions about how the heavenly bodies moved across the sky, would contradict church dogma. So, he waited until just before his death in 1543 to publish his observations in a book, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”) In this daring treatise, Copernicus posited that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the planetary system, and that the planets orbited the sun in circular paths.

Tycho Brahe: 1546 - 1601

Tycho Brahe: 1546 – 1601

     Three years later, another pioneer in the field of astronomy was born. Tycho Brahe was a headstrong young man, who even lost part of the bridge of his nose in a sword duel (in the dark!) with a fellow Danish nobleman, over a mathematical formula. Tycho was serious. Even more so, he was all about accuracy. Because of this, Tycho began to make meticulous measurements of the planets’ motions, using a device called a “quadrant.”

Johannes Kepler: 1571 - 1630

Johannes Kepler: 1571 – 1630

     By 1600, Brahe had compiled a massive amount of data. It was at this time, that 29-year-old Johannes Kepler met Brahe near Prague, at Benatky nad Jizerou, and became his assistant. Brahe didn’t entirely trust Kepler with his data. For that matter, he didn’t trust anyone with it, and guarded his data closely. He did, however, set his young protege a task; reckon out the motion of the planet Mars. (“Here, kid. Take these measurements and figure it out.”) Kepler already had his own view of the world around him, and since he wasn’t a Catholic, wasn’t as worried about crossing the “powers-that-be” as Copernicus had been.

     Tycho Brahe died in 1601. Immediately following Brahe’s demise, Kepler purloined his vast collection of observational data, and eventually published his conclusions in the “Astronomia nova” (“New Astronomy”) in 1609. “Astronomia nova” made compelling arguments for heliocentrism, and built on the Copernican model of planetary orbits, positing that instead of circular paths, the planets followed elliptical orbits around the sun.

Galileo Galilei: 1564 - 1642

Galileo Galilei: 1564 – 1642

     In the same year that Kepler published “Astronomia nova”, a 45-year-old Italian mathematician and astronomer, by the name of Galileo Galilei, built a device modeled after the “Dutch spyglass.” This device, which could magnify distant objects to about 3x, was the first practical telescope. Galileo turned his telescope skyward…and Galileo saw. Galileo sketched. Galileo discovered.

     He discovered that Saturn had rings. He discovered that Jupiter had moons of its own. He noted that Venus went through phases, much like the moon. Galileo published his findings in “Sidereus Nuncius” (“Starry Messenger”) in 1610, and in “Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo” (“Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”) in 1632. It was the latter book, which directly challenged established church dogmas, that would result in Galileo being tried for heresy by the Inquisition, and placed under house arrest until his death in 1642. The damage, however, had been done. The great man, Galileo Galilei, had dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic system of geocentrism…or so it seemed.

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 - 1727

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 – 1727

     In the centuries after Galileo turned his telescope to the sky, science has made advances that Galileo would have found astounding. Issac Newton refined Galileo’s work, developing a new system of mathematics (Calculus) to explain the motions of the planets, as well as the reasons why they move the way that they do. His “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) was a virtual watershed in the fields of mathematics, physics and astronomy.

     During the 1800’s, the sky was indeed the “greatest show on Earth.” Before the age of motion pictures, radio and television, people found entertainment and wonder in simply gazing up at the sky, identifying the stars and constellations, and acknowledging their place within the wider realm of existence…but then, that all changed.

     It is the year 2014. A recent poll by the National Science Foundation finds that 1 in 4 people in America don’t know that the sun is at the center of the solar system. America ranks 25th in science and math scoring of high-school students worldwide. (China, Finland and South Korea rank in the top three.) This spring, mail-order Ph.D. documentary producer and Holocaust denier, Robert Sungenis, is releasing a film based upon his book, “Galileo Was Wrong The Church Was Right”, titled “The Principle.” Sungenis is an adherent of the Ptolemaic model of geocentrism; the same model that was proven to be wrong almost 500 years ago.

     I can only hope that someone reads this story, and understands. I ache with the desire for someone to digest these words, and to be imbued with a child-like curiosity about science and the sky. Oh, God. If I had the money, I would gladly buy each and every one of you, my fine young readers, a brand new Celestron telescope, so that we could gaze together on the wonders of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings around Saturn and other “awesomesauce” out there in the night sky, if for no other reason than to honor Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and others for their hard work and sacrifices. Sacrifice, they did, all in the name of making our world a better and smarter place to be.

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American Rhetoric: Let’s Place A Ban…on Talk of Banning

Sheryl Sandberg wants to "lean in" and ban the word "bossy."

Sheryl Sandberg wants to “lean in” and ban the word “bossy.”

“The power of a word lies not so much in its mere utterance, but in the CONTEXT in which it is given utterance, and how it is received by those hearing it.”
-The Cybersattva

     There are times when the national discourse takes a turn that causes me a fair amount of concern, and this is one of those times. This past week, Facebook COO and author of the women’s empowerment tome, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg, launched a campaign via her book’s namesake “Lean In” organisation, in cooperation with Girl Scouts USA. The campaign’s goal? Ban the word “bossy.”

     According to Sandberg, the schoolyard term and “gender-specific insult” has been used to deter young girls from having the highest of aspirations, and therefore impairing their ability and willingness to succeed upon entering adulthood. Her effort to counter this long-suffered problem has been mapped out and presented via the “banbossy” website, and “#banbossy” hashtags have been cropping up all over the interwebz.

     I wish I knew exactly what Sandberg means when she says that the word should be “banned.” Is she suggesting a change in the language that school-aged children are allowed to use in an educational setting, or the complete disuse and disavowing of the word by society on the whole?

     At this point in the story, I’d like to state that I am very pro-woman. I honestly believe that the “fairer sex” has been getting a bad rap, ever since that whole “Eve and the apple” bit. Even now, women are still being denied an equal share of the wage and advancement opportunities in this country, and something definitely needs to be done about it. I am not confident, however, that the banning of a word or words, is quite the answer that the question requires.

     When we talk of “banning” words, I fear that this may be the first few inches on a steep and slippery slope. Those of us who have kept a weather eye on humanity’s past, know full well that things like this have happened before, and have led to some very dark places. Thought police. Book burnings. The control and limitation of free, unfettered speech. (I’ve been chided for connecting Mrs. Sandberg’s suggested ban with these concepts already, however upon further examination through the prism of history, I feel my concerns remain valid. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but let’s continue…)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, we should be discussing context instead. This goes back to my earlier piece on “What Makes Bad Words Bad.” When we say that someone is acting or being “bossy,” what do we mean? If someone is being proactive and assertive, while also taking others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings into consideration, then no, the word “bossy” should not be used to discourage or denigrate them. On the other hand, if someone is simply issuing orders or attempting to “throw their weight around” inconsiderately, then yes, they’re being bossy, and should be called out for it.

     I also have an issue with Sandberg’s “pigeon-holing” of the word “bossy” as a gender-specific insult. Of course, it can certainly be utilised as such, just as much as a kitchen knife can be used as a street weapon. And of course, neither should be acceptable. Just because a word or a kitchen knife can be used as those things, however, does not make them those things ipso facto.

     Instead of all this talk of “banning” words, perhaps it’s time to talk about redefining them. Perhaps we should be discussing how we employ our words, when we employ them, who we employ them with regard to, and how they might be received. At any rate, we as a society should be having this dialogue, instead of simply suggesting that we “ban” something that we don’t necessarily like, regardless of context.

______________________________

“Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you,
Is the nature of my game.”
– Rolling Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil” c1968.

     What’s puzzling me with regard to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, and her foundation’s connections, goes right to the heart of my concerns over her suggestion of banning words. Since Facebook went public, it appears that the site has begun a slow transformation from social networking, to social engineering. Case in point, Facebook has started penalising its users for sending “friend requests” to people on the site that users do not know personally:

social_networking

     In addition to this, “The Baffler’s” Susan Faludi revealed in an article penned last year, that Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” organisation has connections to a number of “Platform Partners” with equal opportunity histories that are, shall we say…”impeachable”? The following is an excerpt from the Faludi / Baffler piece from 2013:

“Lean In Platform Partners Mondelez and Nestlé: In 2013, an Oxfam investigation in four countries where the two companies outsourced their cocoa farms found that the women working in the cocoa fields and processing plants that the companies relied on “suffer substantial discrimination and inequality.” When women at a cocoa processing factory demanded equal treatment and pay, the investigation noted, all of the female workers were fired. The same companies that “put women first in their advertisements,” Oxfam concluded, “are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.””

     So, my question is, what exactly is Sheryl Sandberg playing at? What is the “nature of her game”? Why is it that she talks about banning words and limiting the national dialogue, under the guise of women’s empowerment, while at the very same time, “holding hands with the devil”? Why is her company, Facebook, actively impeding users from advancing this same dialogue, through the process of free and open social networking?

     Something is fishy in Denmark, my fine young readers. We as netizens now require our own bit of “empowerment,” to be able to glean the answers that Susan Faludi was unable to glean.

Faith and Religion: A Flood That Doesn’t Hold Water

Comparison between the Ark and the HMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of Patheos.com / PZ Myers.

Comparison between the Ark and the RMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of Patheos.com / PZ Myers.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Ray Comfort and our friends at Answers in Genesis.

     It seems like the older I get, the more skeptical I become regarding things that, for the longest time, I held to be unquestionably true. A young Earth, the Genesis story, the story of Jesus, and the Noah’s Ark story. I grew up with things like the flood story, being told by my Sunday School teachers how Noah built this gigundous boat, and brought all of the animals in the world onto the Ark by twos, male and female, because God was going to flood the Earth. God made it rain for forty days and forty nights, they said. God made the rainbow, they said.

     I guess I started questioning things the minute I discovered that I could make rainbows, (a la the prism or a sprinkler!) and the questions only multiplied from there. I learned about dinosaurs in school. When I asked about them in church, I was told that they died in the flood. I took that answer, and ran with it for quite some time…but no longer. You see, the accumulation of knowledge and a greater understanding of things like cause and effect does something funny to a person’s perception of reality. It shatters illusions, and places certainty solidly within the realm of testable theory, evidence, and proofs.

     Look around for evidence of a global flood. There is none, despite the fact that something on that massive of a scale would leave indubitable evidence behind, in the form of sedimentary layers. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami left sedimentary evidence everywhere in its impact area. (1) Evidence of earlier tsunamis has been unearthed in places such as Japan, the Cascadia subduction zone, and elsewhere. No uniform layer of ocean sediments, however, has been unearthed that would support a global flood having happened.

     Dinosaurs. According to young-Earth creationists such as the Hovinds, Ray Comfort, Ken Ham and the nice folks at Answers in Genesis, they lived alongside early man, from Adam to Noah. Where did they go? Wasn’t Noah supposed to have taken them aboard the ship as well? Let’s look and see what the ol’ King James says about that in Genesis 6, verses 19-21:

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

     So God said every living thing. Of all flesh. (Sounds pretty definitive to me!) This begs the question; was Noah an obedient man? According to the Bible, he was. That’s why God hand-picked him to preserve life on that overblown raft of his. So if that’s true, then again, where are the dinosaurs? I’ve gotten a few different answers from the “answer” folks on this. Either they died in the flood, or they went extinct after. If they went “glug glug,” then that would have to mean that Noah was disobedient to some degree. If they went extinct afterwards, then why didn’t other reptiles, such as crocodiles, snakes, turtles and lizards go extinct? T-rex and Velociraptor were apex predators, for Christ’s sakes! So, I guess we wait for the creationists to come up with a better excuse.

     Where did all of the water go? There’s only a finite amount of the “wet stuff” on this planet, and it’s not nearly enough to have covered the Earth deeper than Mount Everest is high:

19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
(Genesis 7: 19-20, King James Version.)

     “Ah! But what about all of the frozen water, locked up in polar ice?” you may ask. Here it is; if we melted every glacier, every iceberg and every ice sheet, global ocean levels would only rise about 220 feet. (2) The tippy-top of Everest sits at a whopping 29,029 feet above sea level. Maybe if we added all of the ice cubes out of everyone’s freezers, we’d add a few more inches to that previous 220 feet number.

     I’d like to know something. At what point did Noah stop off in Australia, and drop off the Marsupials? Kangaroos. They’re endemic to just one continent on this, God’s green Earth; the Land Down Under. How did they get there, especially when there’s no land bridge between New Guinea and Queensland? The interesting thing about this one, is that the YEC’ers have pulled a new explanation out of their posteriors; a post-flood ice age. Intriguing…proof, si vous plait? Conversely, why are they only endemic to Australia? If the ark landed in Turkey somewhere, then why don’t we see them in Africa? In South America? In India at least?

     For that matter, how did Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans get across the Torres and Bering Straits? Once again, post-flood ice age. Right, sure. Ya bet’cha.

     Supposedly, the flood happened around 2350 BC, according to the folks at AiG. (3) At Creation Ministries, Dr. John Osgood fixes it at 2304 BC. (4) In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher fixed the date of the flood at 2348 BC. What’s a few (or 40) years, right?

     Centuries of research by the best and brightest scholars, have narrowed the date of the building of Khufu’s pyramid on the Giza plateau to sometime between 2560 BC and 2470 BC. (5) So, what gives? Were the pyramids built pre-flood then? (AiG makes an attempt to answer this question, albeit rather poorly. They fail to offer a date of their own for Khufu’s pyramid being built.) Young-Earth creationists have come up with a theory of their own with regards to the movement of land masses, which they’ve termed, “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics.” (6) If that theory was true, and the pyramids were built before the flood, then they surely would have been destroyed, don’t ya think? Again, YEC’ers can’t answer with a firmer date for the building of the pyramids, so…?

     Come on. We know that the Earth’s plates are drifting at about 2cm/year average speed. If we push “stop” on the global VCR, and then press “rewind,” it would take far longer than a mere 6k years for the landmasses to rejoin. We know about how long it takes for rocks to form. We can measure plate movement via GPS, and can prove subduction via Seismology. Science has yet again jumped in where religion has fumbled the ball, and taken it down the field and toward the end zone of understanding the physical processes that have shaped the planet. (A gratuitous football reference there, in anticipation of Sunday’s big game!)

     To sum all of this up, the global flood story has more holes in it than the colander in my kitchen cabinet. So, what are we disillusioned believers now supposed to believe?

Life and Living: All That Glitters…Is Perhaps NOT All That Exists!

brane_world     Ghosts, the soul, paranormal phenomena, such as precognition and auras. Photons, electrons and neutrinos. How could they be related?

     In the course of discussing things like religion and faith versus proof and evidence, I started thinking about existence. What is it? How do we observe and measure it? What are some of the weird, unexplainable phenomena that have been borne out of those observations and measurements? Then, my fine young readers, I started connecting the dots between these questions, and the fledgeling field of “String / M Theory.” It was when I did this, that I came to the realisation that we may exist and interact as part of a universe that is far more amazing, filled with much more “awesome-sauce” than we ever imagined!

     For ages now, we as a species have been attempting to explain our world, and the things that we can observe. We’ve looked into the night sky with ever more accurate devices, in an attempt to decipher the secrets of the very large. Conversely, we’ve dug deeper and deeper into the very small, with ever more powerful devices, in our attempts to unlock the mysteries of what we’re made of…and our efforts have yielded some very strange, counter-intuitive results!

     Take for instance, the “Double Slit Experiment.” In this apparatus, a beam of photons (light) is generated from a coherent light source, passed through two narrow slits, then projected onto a screen. Now, based on what we see in the everyday world, we would assume that what we would see on the screen would be two vertical shafts of light…and we’d be wrong. What we in fact have observed, time and time again, is what is known as an “interference pattern.” or multiple shafts of light! This would seem to indicate not only that these photons are behaving like waves instead of particles, but also that each photon is capable of going through both slits at the same time! (My fine young readers, you can call bullshit on this if you wish, but it’s true! This experiment has been performed several times, in several ways…each time with the same results!) The same experiment can be done with a single slit apparatus, capable of being narrowed manually. As the slit is narrowed, the light beam, instead of narrowing and being eventually cut off, actually spreads out horizontally! Ah, but this is not the only instance of “quantum weirdness” that has been seen.

     In other experiments, we’ve observed such things as neutrinos passing through solid matter, and electrons (and other point particles) that seem to pop in and out of existence. BUT! Are they actually doing so, or are they in fact just passing in and out of our three observable dimensions, from and to other “planes of existence”? This idea might sound pretty “Ghost Hunter-ish” at first blush, but there are in fact, mathematical equations and scientific theorems that back this up. String Theory, and its offspring “M” Theory, postulate the existence of no less than seven other spatial dimensions in addition to our own. If the equations of string theory are an accurate description of our universe, then the behavior of things like electrons and neutrinos becomes like text on a page, coming into focus once we put a pair of glasses on. (See where I’m going with that? Foster Grants…for quantum mechanics!)

     That’s not all, though! Once we begin to consider that the world we live in is far bigger, and contains far more dimensions than what we experience with our five senses, then things like paranormal phenomena might also be explainable, scientifically! Everything from auras, spirits and other things that we have wondered over, scientifically measurable and known.

STTNG_Q_100pxw

“Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities…of existence.”
(“Q”, Star Trek TNG, episode “All Good Things.”)

The Chaser: Of Asteroids And Dinosaurs – More Musings on Young-Earth Creationism

"Brian, you said Chixulub was a great vaca...dude, if we live through this, I am SO unfriending you on Facebook!"

“Brian, you said Chixulub was a great vaca…dude, if we live through this, I am SO unfriending you on Facebook!”

     Every now and again, I find myself revisiting that ages-old question: why are we here? How did we get here? How long did it take? Now, I have a pretty good idea, and a lot of the time I find my own beliefs and hunches about these things, bringing me into direct conflict with established, organised religion. I guess that’s why I haven’t found a church where I can fit in, because those topics always come up, and I get the usual, “Oh, you’re letting Satan confuse your mind,” or some such codswallop.

     There are more than a few areas where religion, specifically young-Earth creationism, falls short in explaining the existence of things, but I’d like to focus on just a few here…

Asteroids. Why?

     Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, lies the main asteroid belt. It’s strewn with the debris of failed planets, “planetesimals” and even a few dwarf planets. Even farther out, beyond the orbit of Neptune, lies the Kuiper Belt, where the “trans-Neptunian objects” make their home. Even farther than that, about 1ly out, astronomers have hypothesised the existence of the Oort Cloud, home to what are known as the “long-period” comets. In other words, there’s a lot of debris flying around out there in space. Why? Did God get the solar system, six-thousand years ago, as a kit, with “some assembly required,” and after putting it all together, find that he, like all other guys who put project kits together, had some extra left-over parts? I don’t buy it.

     If God created the entire universe, planets and all, fully-mature as the YECs insist, then why did he leave all of these rocks lying about? These are the proverbial “Lego pieces on the carpet in a dark room,” but in the case of asteroids and comets, they come flying at us. Sure, comets are great to look at through a telescope, but meteors aren’t so great, especially when they impact our planet in places like Tunguska and Chelyabinsk. (1)

     Comets, asteroids and meteors don’t serve any real, stabilising purpose within the solar system, as near as the brightest minds in the fields of Cosmology and Astronomy can tell. No, actually they’ve caused at least one ELE (extinction-level event) that we know of, and may have played a part in at least one other, the Permian-Triassic extinction, which by the way, brings me to my second musing…

Dinosaurs. Where’s my Velociraptor?

     No proponent of young-Earth creationism has come up with a solid, convincing argument that can explain the conundrum of dinosaurs. No, YECs such as Eric Hovind and Answers in Genesis have tried to sell us on the idea that before the “great flood,” man walked the Earth alongside carnivores like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor. Then, the story gets a little fuzzy, depending on the YEC that you ask for answers. Some will tell you that God allowed the dinos to die in the flood, which then creates a conflict with Genesis 6:19, where God commands Noah;

“And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.”

     Now supposedly, Noah was a righteous and obedient man, the only one of those left on the whole planet, which was why God chose him to save man and animal-kind. So, if Noah was obedient, and he did what God told him to do, and dinosaurs were walking the Earth alongside of Noah and his fam-bam, then where’s my Velociraptor? I’d like to have one as a pet, let it run around the back yard. So help me though, I can’t seem to find one of those nifty raptor eggs down at my local PetSmart.

     No, this conundrum, combined with the pseudo-quasi scientific misconceptions that Hovind et al. have about how rocks form, makes for some cringe-worthy reading. According to these guys, the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary either doesn’t exist at all, or is something other than what it actually is. Luckily for Christendom, theirs isn’t the mainstream view. Even Pat Robertson, that verbally inept “700 Club” stalwart, has admitted that young-Earth creationism is alack in its explanation of the “dino dilemma.” (2)

     I haven’t given up hope though, that there’s a convincing explanation for all of this out there, one that would solidify the young-Earth argument. So, I guess I’ll keep asking the questions, in search of the truth of the matter, and annoying the hell out of those poor young-Earth creationists!

Truth, Stranger Than Fiction: Arab States Deploying New Weapon To Combat Homosexuality

Somewhere, over the rainbow...

Somewhere, over the rainbow…

     Just when we thought that the antics of nations couldn’t get any more amusing than the continuing “dramarama” of “Iran-diana Kim and The Quest For Nukes,” along comes something that makes us cry out, “Seriously!?”

     According to several news sources, including the U.K. Daily Mail (1) and Israel’s Arutz Sheva (2), the small Arab nation of Kuwait has announced plans to research development of the world’s first medical “gaydar,” in a misguided, if somewhat comical attempt to prevent LGBT expatriates from entering the country. (You’ve got to hand it to Iran and north Korea in light of this, at least they’re equal opportunity haters; nuclear weapons deny life and liberties indiscriminately!)

     During a recent interview with Arabic newspaper Al Rai, Director of Public Health for Kuwait’s health ministry, Yousuf Mindkar, stated that a central committee would be set up to discuss the proposed “gay testing,” when it (the ministry) meets in November. In addition, Mindkar suggested that the testing could be introduced in all other Gulf Cooperation Countries, which include:

  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Oman
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

     So in other words, Kuwait is not only seeking the proverbial “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” it is also proposing to share the spoils with the rest of the GCC class. Of the nations listed above, all of them have laws against homosexual behavior, with Saudi Arabia meting out the harshest penalty (death) for homosexuals.

     With strains of Bob Hope’s “Thanks For The Memories” droning on in the background, this Desert Storm veteran is suddenly compelled to reflect back on the year 1991. It was during 1991, that a U.S.-led coalition entered Kuwait, and drove Sadaam Hussein’s invading forces out, thereby reinstating Kuwait’s and the Kuwaitis’ freedom from Iraqi oppression. Now, twenty-two years later, what have they done to honor that debt? Have they developed a cure for AIDS? A cure for Cancer? How about Alzheimers? Nope, they want to develop medical “gaydar,” and restrict / deny the freedoms of an entire group of people. Gee Kuwait, thanks for the memories.

Space and Science: Alone, Are We

In the absence of new material, I thought I’d try reblogging a few articles…

The Cybersattva

     TLDR ADVISORY:This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.

     Ah, the title. The title, the title the title. See, whenever I compose one of these pieces, I endeavor to come up with a catchy title, in the hopes of snaring those few extra readers by virtue of the title’s interesting nature. In this case, I drew upon the downwards, backside-up-speak of the venerable Yoda. Depending upon both the order of these three small words and the placement of punctuation marks, the title can become a question…or a statement. As to how these three words should read, that all depends on who you ask.

     There seem to be not one, not two, but three major schools of thought on the subject of whether we are alone in the universe. The fundamental, religious types will tell you that, since God created the heavens and…

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The Cybersphere: Facebook Likes The IRS

zuckerberg_1m_bill     As a Facebooker, my eye is caught whenever a news article pops up with regards to my favorite social networking haunt. What can I say? I love Facebook! It helps me keep in touch with people that I haven’t seen face-to-face in over 20 years, provides me with occasional fodder for the blog, and gives me an outlet for spreading good (or bad) news, increasing my readership, or simply venting my frustrations on a particular topic. In return, the nice peeps at Facebook have given me several interactive features with which to do these things. Having a Facebook account is tantamount to having my own website, replete with mail, chat, picture and video sharing, a bulletin board and search capabilities to find long-lost friends and acquaintances…all for free. As Facebook has stated on its sign-up / login screen since its inception; “It’s free and always will be.”

     Since its February, 2004 beginnings, Facebook has decimated then-popular “Myspace”. (There’s a joke making the rounds in the “Face-space”, that if you go far enough back on your Facebook timeline, you’ll end up back on Myspace!) In 2012, Facebook went public with an IPO negotiated at $38 per share. Since their rocky start on the market, the company has thrived. Now, Facebook is reaping some very surprising rewards.

     According to a recent Fox News article, Facebook raked in over 1 billion dollars in profits in the 2012 tax year, on which it will pay…zero dollars in federal and / or state taxes. That’s right, my fine young readers. Facebook is effectively tax-exempt for tax year 2012! What makes this story even sweeter for Zuckerberg, et. al. is the fact that they (the company) will be receiving refunds totaling $429 million, and in the next three years, totaling $3 billion. (1) (I would kill to be getting that large of a tax refund!) If the Internal Revenue Service has a Facebook page, you can bet that Mr. Zuckerberg is clicking their “like” button repeatedly.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Which brings me to the point of this piece; since Facebook has come out smelling better than ten dozen of the finest roses on God’s green earth, what do we, the faithful Facebooking multitude, get as a reward? In my way of thinking, Facebook wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for its users. Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr. Zuckerberg start writing checks to each user, but that some increase in consideration for user input and suggestions might be nice. For example:

  • How about adding a “Dislike”, or a “Thumbs Down” button? There are indeed some posts that friends have made that would have occasioned the use of this proposed button, like the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or other social issues. In addition, bad jokes, smack talk and other ill favored posts could fall under this category. Then, similar to You Tube, the average between “likes” and “dislikes” could also be displayed.
  • How about making the Timeline an option? I have several friends who absolutely hate the new Timeline format, and would rather have their old pages back.
  • How about an option to turn all game invites off? There are those of us who don’t care about “Superfarkles”, “Cityvilles”, “Farmvilles”, “PotFarms” and such, and use our Facebook accounts for other, more straight forward things like social networking, chatting and things of that nature. We don’t want to be bothered with the incessant game invites. (My aunt actually cited this as one of the reasons that she was leaving Facebook.)
  • How about bringing back the option to send a quick message with friend invites? We could do this once upon a time, but that feature seems to have pissadeered!
  • How about getting rid of those advertisements and “suggested page” entries from my newsfeed? Keep the ads over on the right-hand side of the screen where they belong, si vous plait!
  • How about being a bit more responsive to user concerns about posts that blatantly violate the Facebook TOS? (I have personally brought three of these to their attention, with only one being removed. Things like hate speech definitely need better policing by the folks at Facebook.)

     In my humble opinion, things have in fact gotten better with Facebook overall, as time has gone by. There are however, those few things that I cited that need improvement, and I think they would be well worth the $429 million of free money that Facebook is receiving from the coffers of the American taxpayers.

Space and Science: Alone, Are We

"BILLIONS, upon BILLIONS..."(Carl Sagan)

“BILLIONS, upon BILLIONS…”
(Carl Sagan)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.

     Ah, the title. The title, the title the title. See, whenever I compose one of these pieces, I endeavor to come up with a catchy title, in the hopes of snaring those few extra readers by virtue of the title’s interesting nature. In this case, I drew upon the downwards, backside-up-speak of the venerable Yoda. Depending upon both the order of these three small words and the placement of punctuation marks, the title can become a question…or a statement. As to how these three words should read, that all depends on who you ask.

     There seem to be not one, not two, but three major schools of thought on the subject of whether we are alone in the universe. The fundamental, religious types will tell you that, since God created the heavens and the Earth, and created us in His image to be upon the Earth, then surely we are at the center of his creation and must be alone in the universe. (I shudder whenever I get this response, because one would think that this school of thought would, and should have died out at the same time that Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the solar system was proven as being correct. In point of fact, we’re not even at the center of anything universe-wise! In our own Milky Way galaxy, we actually reside about halfway out, on one of it’s spiral arms. If we were in the galactic center, we’d be devoured by the super-massive black hole that’s there. (1))

     The hopeful romantics out there, a group which includes various conspiracy theorists, MUFON, some that are involved with SETI and others who “believe”, will reply that it is a foregone conclusion; we are not alone, and the truth is out there! The third school of thought, held by those with a pragmatic bent on scientific observation, will tell you that the possibility, while being rather remote, cannot be entirely dismissed due to the myriad of unknown variables in the universe. It is along these lines that I want to proceed and discuss with you, my fine young readers, a few of the variables that the scientific community considers when contemplating this ages-old question.

     First of all, let’s look at what we know about our own home, this “third rock” from the sun (maybe I should have also titled this article “Things You Might Not Have Known”);

  •      We’re in what’s referred to as the “habitable”, or “Goldilocks” zone, a comfortable distance from our star where things like liquid water can form, given the right atmospheric pressure and conditions. (2)
  •      Speaking of atmospheric pressure, we have an atmosphere comprised of mostly Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon, with other trace gasses thrown in for good measure. Because of the mass of our home planet, a comfortable 5.97219 × 1024 kilograms, there’s an equally comfortable 101.325 kPa (kiloPascals) of air pressure exerted. If our planet had considerably less mass, things would be a lot different!
  •      Our planet has a hot, two-stage core comprised of iron and nickel, which rotates. This “geodynamo” provides our planet with its geomagnetic field, which protects us from otherwise harmful solar radiation. This geomagnetic field also prevents our atmosphere from being stripped away by solar winds, which is a good thing for us. (We like to breathe, don’t we? Most of us are pretty good at it!) It is thought that this is what happened to the Martian atmosphere long ago, as geological processes like plate tectonics and core spin ground to a halt. (3)
  •      Our planet is part of a system of planets which orbit a single star, a relatively small G-type main-sequence star known as a “yellow dwarf”. While most other stars in the observable galaxy are part of binary and ternary star systems, our yellow dwarf seems to be in the small minority of systems with only a single star. (4)
  •      Our blue marble spins on an axis, at about a 23° tilt, which gives us our seasons. We spin around once every 24 hours, which gives us our days and ensures that most of the planet is equally bathed in life-giving sunlight. (The polar regions get far more or far less sunlight at certain times of the year, also due to the axial tilt, and the manner in which we orbit the sun.)

     In other words, the conditions here are like Baby Bear’s porridge; just right. Any closer to the sun, and we would bake. Any farther, and we would freeze. If our core stopped spinning, then our magnetosphere would collapse, and that nice, breathable atmosphere would be whisked away by the solar winds. If our planet did not spin, then half of the planet would always be hot, the other half, always cold. This would change only gradually, over the 365-day period of orbit around the sun.  There are several conditions that have to be just right, for life to not only develop, but to thrive.

     Here’s another thing to consider; when we talk about “life on other planets”, people’s minds always jump to the idea of “little green men”, “the greys” and other concepts of sentient, developed lifeforms. What about the smallest forms of life, microbial life? What about plant life? There could very well be life on other planets, just not the kind of life that people are expecting!

     Now ask yourself; what is the likelihood of there being an extra-solar system somewhere out there, with a single sun, with a planet in its habitable zone possessing a two-stage metallic core, which spins on an axis and has the right mass, and an atmosphere at just the right pressure, that liquid water can exist with some modicum of stability? Out of all of the exoplanets discovered so far by the Kepler mission, how many of them meet these criteria?

     It’s easy to dismiss or to take for granted, the several things that make our home a home. At the end of the day however, they all still figure in to the equation. Given all of this, coupled with the vast distances between the stars, is the idea of “contact” a likelihood? Are we alone / alone are we / alone we are  / we are alone…?

Faith and Religion: Faith Beyond Reason?

TLDR ADVISORY: The following article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.

Bridging the gap...?

Bridging the gap…?

     Ah, another relaxing dies Solis. A cup of coffee, browser tabs open to the major news purveyors of the day, and what do we find? Blog fodder! (Huzzah, happy face!) Fox News aired a segment this past Friday, in which one of their hosts presented a ten-minute piece on whether a belief in God was “reasonable”. Appearing in the three-person interview were atheist Nick Fish and believer Dr. Alex McFarland, discussing concepts such as morality, along with the presence of theological and logical “holes” in each side’s argument for and against the existence of a God. (1)

     A little less than a hundred words in…can you already see my issue with this Fox segment? If you can’t, don’t stress. I’m about to expound on this in my usual candid and pragmatic fashion. The problem as I see it, my fine young readers, is this; discussions and debates such as this cannot be had in a mere ten minutes, especially when at least two to three of those precious minutes are taken up by the hostess, who really needed to just shut up and let these two chat! No, the debate between Atheism and Theism needs a far better venue than Faux News, and immensely more time than ten minutes.

     In 2007, ABC-Nightline’s Martin Bashir hosted a similar debate in which actor Kirk Cameron and his partner, author and evangelist Ray Comfort, debated the existence of God with Brian Sapient and Kelly O’Connor, two guests from the atheist “Rational Response Squad” organisation. (2) This debate lasted about an hour and a half, and in the end did little to answer the question in a definitive manner. Given this, one might ask the question, “Well, how long does it take to reckon out through discussion, the existence of a divine power, and whether belief in that divine power is a reasonable reaction to what we are able to discern with our five senses?” Honestly, this debate has been going on since science began disproving long-held church dogmas regarding the nature and workings of the universe, so the answer to this decidedly complex question might not be such a simple one.

     What I will do within the limited space of this article is present my own thoughts regarding faith, whether that faith is reasonable, and whether God’s existence can be proven, not necessarily in this order. Let’s start with what I believe, and why I’m persuaded to believe it…

     I believe in the existence of God. I believe that “he” created everything in this universe, both observable and unobservable. Why do I believe this? I believe this because I also believe what I’m seeing when I look up into the night sky, and see what astronomer Edwin Hubble saw; that there are billions upon billions of stars up there, along with a plethora of other galaxies that are moving away from us. I believe that our observations indicate that we live in an expanding universe and, if we press “stop” and “reverse” on the universal remote, that contraction leads right back to one single point; one “primordial atom” as described by Father Georges Lemaître back in the 1920’s – 1930’s. Science refers to this point as a “singularity”, and by my reckoning, that singularity had to come from somewhere. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the Big Bang. Scientific observation and theory strongly suggest that the universe started from a singularity; immensely dense, immensely hot, within which was contained the four basic forces that we now observe in nature;

  • Gravity
  • Electro-magnetism
  • Strong Nuclear
  • Weak Nuclear

     There’s another reason that I’m led to believe in the existence of a divine intervening force in the universe; the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law of physics states that in an isolated system, entropy must increase. Plainly put, order cannot come from chaos, only chaos from order. In order to get order out of chaos, there has to be an intervening factor, and I believe that this factor…is God. How else does one explain the level of order that we observe in our universe, especially when the universe is supposed to have started from an ordered singularity? By all rights, if the Second Law were to hold true, we shouldn’t even be here.

     Granted, this is all based upon my limited understanding of these scientific concepts, and my beliefs are based upon indirect inference. Then again, a lot of science is also based upon indirect observation and subsequent inference, isn’t it? We didn’t witness the Big Bang directly, did we? No, but we can directly observe certain aspects of its aftermath with tools such as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, thereby inferring that this is most likely what occurred.

     Which brings us to the next question; is my belief in God a reasonable one? I believe that it is, due to the fact that I’m basing my belief on not only the religious, biblical information that I was raised on, but also on observable, scientific principles. I also believe that, for my belief to be reasonable, it must be subject to the acceptance of new information as it’s presented. In other words, I’m “keeping an open mind”. The more I learn, the more info I have to go on. If new information contradicts what I believe, especially if that information is directly observable, I have to admiss it if I’m being truly reasonable. I believe that where faith becomes unreasonable, is when the believer refuses to admiss things like gravity, the speed of light through a vacuum, things that we can directly observe and prove. (See my previous article on “Young-Earth Creationism”.) In my not-so-humble opinion, willful ignorance is never a reasonable basis for faith.

     Can I prove that God exists, scientifically? No, no more or less than the atheist can prove that God doesn’t exist, and that’s where I think Cameron / Comfort got it wrong. By its very design, faith in God, Christ and salvation must come down to exactly that; a matter of faith. Faith is a leap, one that transcends the known and knowable. Much of science also requires this leap, due to the fact that things like evolution and the Big Bang cannot be proven, only inferred by indirect observation. So readers, I leave the final question to you; is faith beyond reason?