Monday, July 31, 2006

Atheist Googling

I didn't expect so many interesting links when I googled for 'atheists'.

The first link is about a very courageous Catholic going to an atheist meeting, and guess what, he survived. Well, my experience with such meetings (I went to one in, I think, Palo Alto). is that it was boring. A friend complained about the lack of women.

The third link is an experiment about how to convert to being an atheist. It's easy:

Here’s how to do it. Walk slowly into your bedroom, skip the kneeling by your bedside thing, and lay calmly down on your bed. Close your eyes and begin thinking about Santa Claus, remember to be perfectly silent. Now, compare Santa Claus to God and repeat three times, God and Santa are the same. Soon you will begin to hear jingle bells outside of your bedroom and you will see the red glowing nose of Rudolph. This is the first step to an atheist epiphany. Once you realize that God is actually Santa Claus, your belief in the mythical Armageddon will dissipate into the atmosphere; in other words, it will vaporize into the land of make believe.

Worth a try, I think. Anyway, I always though that telling kids the fairytale about Santa Claus is a good thing. It encourages them to find the truth, and not believe everything they are told. It certainly is a sense of achievement when they find out, and they may want to repeat that for any religion imposed on them.

The fourth link points to an interview with a christian scientist. Not very convincing:

A: Like many scientists, I was afflicted with the mind-set of reductionism: Anything worth understanding can be understood by using the tools of science and basic physical and mathematical principles. Also there was an aspect of plain arrogance; I had developed such a sense of being able to understand everything through my own intellect that it wasn't necessary to contemplate the fact that there might be mysteries beyond that. Those things together led me in my 20s to be a pretty obnoxious atheist.

So, if there are things you cannot find out, there must be a god? Well, we know that there are things we do not know. How, exactly do we then know it's god? Or whatever? We just do not know, and a god needs an awful lot of explanation. And, how is this arrogant? Isn't it much more arrogant to just have no reason, except faith, to believe in a god, moreover, a christian god with all the bells and whistles?

Okay, that's it for today. Oh, you ask for the second link? See yourself. No, I didn't know either.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

9/11 Myths

The German magazine Der Spiegel mentions (german only) the success of the Loose Change, supporting the usual 9/11 conspiracy theories. I do not plan to watch that movie, I do not expect anything new. The article also doesn't mention anything that hasn't been debunked already, but dissapointingly, it doesn't mention that most of the perceived peculiarities can be explained naturally. But I want to take this opportunity to list a few sites that debunk most (all?) of the myths floating around:

One reason I do not buy these conspiray theories is that I believe the current US administration is just too stupid for that.

Rapture and Global Warming Lumped Together

I hear you saying 'wtf?'? That's what I was thinking when I read this op-ed by Zev Chafets in the LA Times. The article is about how Israel takes advantage of the rapturists, and sees nothing wrong with it:

This support [by Falwell and Pat Robertson] takes practical forms. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is an American group led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein that raises tens of millions of dollars from evangelicals for Jewish causes. It is now giving money to update the bomb shelters of the Galilee. Sure, some of these donors may see this as part of a vast cosmic drama. Why not, they're entitled.

Wow. How nice of Jerry and Pat to build shelters for Israelis. And what a good reason to support the christian wackos.

But that's not what I am complaining about now. In this shallow analysis he puts the science about global warming on the same level:

Secular liberals find this scenario preposterous. On the other hand, many of these same scoffers profoundly believe that high-octane gasoline and the profligate use of electric home appliances will heat planet Earth to a doomsday temperature last experienced 420,000 years ago (when, presumably, gas was a dime a gallon and it was OK to leave the TV on all night).

Hello? Contrary to bible myths, there is evidence for global warming.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Odd Weather Patterns in the Bay Area

Last week, until last Monday the heat here was brutal. We had more than 111F (44C) here in the East Bay. On the weekend, there was no relief in the night as usual. Looks like this pattern was unprecedented.

This comment hit the nail on its head:

I'm reading Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" repeatedly to remind myself that global warming is just a hoax devised by money-hungry environmentalists, while driving my SUV with the AC on high and the windows rolled down. Also, drinking bottled water shipped from the other side of the world.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Interview with Al Gore

There is an interview with Al Gore on the German magazine Der Spiegel about his movie. I already read the german version a few days ago.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The 39th Skeptic Circle

... is up. Enjoy the trip. My last post is included!

Monday, July 17, 2006

YEC Discussion with Sprittibee

I am having a discussion with Sprittibee, in this post of her blog. Sprittibee is a creationist who home schools her children. I found this via gnosos. I even stole the title from gnosos... I hope that's okay. She also replied to my post about Globular Clusters.

As I already noted, YECs are not always stupid. I do think that Sprittibee is able to understand, it is just that she has to learn a few things. In her comments, she asks a few very basic questions, all of which should be easily answered by a high school student. I say should, and if a high school student cannot answer these, something has gone terribly wrong with the education system. And anyone who thinks he can make an argument for YEC, has to be able to answer these questions, not to speak of someone who wants to home school her children. That does not mean she is stupid.

These are her question, repeated from her notes of Kent Hovind:

1. Where did all the 90-plus elements come from (iron, barium, calcium, silver, nickel, neon, chlorine, etc)? 2. How do you explain the precision in the design of the elements, with increasing numbers of electrons in orbit around the nucleus? 3. Where did the thousands of compounds we find in the world come from: carbon dioxide, sodium chloride, calcium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, oxalic acid, chlorophyll, sucrose, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, aluminum silicate, mercaptans, propane, silicon dioxide, boric acid, etc.? 4. How was it determined how many bonds each element would have for combining with other elements? 5. When did these compounds develop from the elements (before the big bang, during the big bang, after the big bang)? 6. When evolutionists use the term "matter", which of the thousands of compounds are included? 7. When evolutionists use the term "primordial soup", which of the elements and compounds are included? 8. Why do books on evolution, including grade-school, high-school and college textbooks not include such important, basic information? 9. Evolutionists are masters of speculation. Why don't they speculate about this?

Why do books on evolution, including grade-school, high-school and college textbooks not include such important, basic information. Yeah, that would explain a lot. Most of these questions were answered in my text books, I am sure.

She then goes on with her own questions, after I explained to her that heavy elements are formed in supernovae:

1. How do we know what elements are in a super novae? 2. How were a sample of these elements obtained? 3. If we add new elements to the chart occassionally, how do we know we have discovered them all? 4. If there are undiscovered elements and we have never been to a super novae to collect samples, how do we then know that they do not use elements that are not yet discovered in their supposed evolution?. 5. If we are not using observable and testable factual real life evidence in our models and simulations, how then can we call them scientific? 6. If we start our research with a pre-disposed idea of the conclusion, is our data not then skewed to reflect that pre-disposed idea?

It is especially number 3 that shows complete lack of understanding. 4 follows from that. And I am not going to repeat basic high schoool physics and chemistry here.

I can answer 5. I think this comes from my post about GCs, where I talk about models for star formation, and how they beautifully fit the observations. Well, basically that's it: they do match the observations. It also isn't true that the input from the models does not come from the observations: the initial composition is observed by in interstellar gas clouds, the physics is observed and well understood, some data are from nuclear bomb tests. Maybe I didn't express it clearly: the age derived from the observation of GCs is not dependent on other observations that the universe is old, and that is why I considered it important.

I think number 6 deserves annother post. Just this much: there are no pre disposed ideas. Nobody came along and said 'I need a universe that is 15 billion years old, please assume this in your models'. It is the other way around: we observe those clusters and derive an an age of 15 Gyears.

Update: Meanwhile, Sprittibee posted part 2 of her series, this post has been included in The 39th Skeptic Circle (cool!) by Mike, and pooflinger discovered the discussion too.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Global Warming Links

Via RealClimate I found this great link about The Discovery of Global Warming.

And, while looking for grass growing in Antarctica, I found this great site: Global Warming:Early Warning Signs.

There are two species of flowering plants in Antarctica: Antarctic pearlwort and Antarctic hair grass. Both have spreads dramatically in the last century:

The populations of two native Antarctic flowering plants increased rapidly between 1964 and 1990, coincident with the strong regional warming over the Antarctic Peninsula. The Antarctic pearlwort population increased 5-fold while the Antarctic hairgrass increased 25-fold. The unusually rapid increases are attributed to warmer summer temperatures and/or a longer growing season, which enhance the plant's ability to reproduce.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Quote of the Day

I love this, by John Derbyshire in National Review Online:

I’ll also say that I write the following with some reluctance. It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring.
It would be less boring if they’d come up with a new argument once in a while, but they never do. I’ve been engaging with Creationists for a couple of years now, and I have yet to hear an argument younger than I am. (I am not young.) All Creationist arguments have been whacked down a thousand times, but they keep popping up again. Nowadays I just refer argumentative e-mailers to the TalkOrigins website, where any argument you are ever going to hear from a Creationist is whacked down several times over. Don’t think it’ll stop ’em, though.**

See also Whack-a-mole if you do not get the point...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

44th Carnival of the Godless

At Daylight Atheism. I had no time yet to read any of the entries.

Globular Clusters and The Age of the Universe

Usually, when asked how we know the age of the universe, one refers to the expanding of the universe that we see when looking at distant galaxies. When this expanding is tracked back, we arrive at an age of around 15 billion years. But that is not the only method. Here I want to explain an independent method: the age of globular clusters.

Globular Clusters (GCs) are clusters of a huge number (a few hundred thousands) of stars, all at about the same age. They surround our and other galaxies, and were formed at about the same time the galaxies formed, when star formation was much heavier than it is now. Nowadays, GCs do not form any more in our galaxy, but they do in other galaxies where there is much more star formation going on. They should not be confused with Open Clusters, which are much smaller, and contain a lot less stars (a few thousands). Those still do form, and a prominent cluster is for example the Pleiades.

Why are they important to understand the age of the universe? Well, if they are old, than the universe must be at least that old. So their age gives a lower limit to the age of the universe. They are also convenient because all members are of about the same age, and of the same composition. Also, because they are clusters, all members are at about the same distance to us. Now, it happens that the evolution of a star is determined by just two factors: the mass and, to a lesser extent, the composition. A heavy star is relatively short lived, and a lighter star has a much longer life. The sun will live for about 10 billion years in total, but a star with a few tens the mass will live only a few million years. Lighter stars live much longer, even longer than the current age of the universe - so we will not see any of those at the end of their life.

To classify a star, that is to determine its type and therefore its stage in its development, we just need two basic properties: their luminosity, and their color. The color is a more or less direct measurement of the surface temperature. When these observed properties of stars are plotted against each other, we do not see them randomly distributed, but we see a very significant pattern. This is the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Follow the link (and others I give here), there is a nice picture (HRD). You see that most stars line up in that diagram in a diagonal line. That is the main sequence. A few others cluster in the upper (brighter), right (cooler) region. In the main sequence, brighter stars are hot and dimmer stars are cool.

Okay, but what about the age now? Well, we can make simulations of the evolution of a star. Simple models assume a spherical symmetry, and use four differential equations. The models also require a lot of input from other sources, for example the opacity of the elements, which are derived in part from nuclear bomb testings. The important thing: the input is not coming from observations of other stars, apart from determining their initial chemical composition, and occasional reality checks. What do we learn from these models? We see that a star on start very quickly moves in the HRD to the main sequence, and spends most of its time there. Its exact position on that line depends just on its mass (and a little bit on its composition). The heavier the star, the brighter and hotter. But also, the heavier the shorter its lifetime. As soon as the end is near, the stars move to the right, upper corner, so it gets cooler and brighter at the same time (which means that it also gets bigger, that's why they are then called giants, but that's another topic).

Okay, to summarize:

  • the heavier the star, the shorter its time on the main sequence
  • all stars of a GC are of the same age
So this means that if we plot all stars of a GC in the HRD, at some point in the main sequence we see stars moving off it into the upper, right direction. All heavier (brighter, hotter) stars have already disappeared - the exact point where that happens depends on the age of the GC. And this is plotted in this post on the Globular Clusters Blog, which shows an age of 13 billion years for the GC M55. It turns out that all GCs of our galaxy are of that age. Which means that the universe must be at least that old.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The 38th Skeptic Circle

Bottled by LBBP

I haven't read all of them, but I found this post about the ark particularly interesting.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Are All Creationists Idiots?

Not all of them. But it is sometimes hard to believe that it is not so. A post dug up by The Uncredible Hallq comes to this conclusion:

I found it disappointing that every time a Christian or someone who trusts in the fact that the world was created or has an "intelligent design" (the new phrase that's going around), they seemed to be uneducated, silly fanatics who could be easily dismissed or argued away and made to be a fool by those who trust in Evolution.
Now, if you think this girl cannot be a creationist because of this insight (and if you just read the part quoted by Hallq there is no reason to think she is), you are wrong:
I know that there are scientists out there who trust firmly in Creation, and that, while it certainly has an element based on faith and can be interpreted differently than Evolution, that there is scientific evidence that supports Creation (I know there are several books that have even been written about it, ... I mean, I know that since Creation is true that perhaps the educated scientists or whatnot don't feel the need to defend it, but still, it would help other Christians such as me if we knew we had educational backing.
She just didn't find yet that there is no evidence at all for creationism, but there is hope. Not an idiot, just deluded. If she really does major for science, she will come to the right conclusion, in the meanwhile I recommend reading a few books by Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould. Dawkins is probably good too, but may be to atheistic (not a problem for me, but probably for creationists). A few good links are also in Zetko's post I linked to above.

Islam and Evolution

A muslim ponders whether evolution is compatible with Islam. Interesting:

Equipped with irrefutable facts, I now began to devour works by evolutionary biologists, including Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould confident that I could demolish the false claims of neo-Darwinism, alternatively known as the modern synthesis (the fusion of Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics). Of course, I could not. Dawkins' work was forcefully argued and took no prisoners from the creationist camp; however, I did find his militant atheism quite off-putting (Madeleine Bunting was right in my view in arguing that Dawkins' approach unwittingly plays into the hands of creationists).
I am not suprised that he, as a Muslim, is offended by Dawkin's atheism. It is notable though that this guy actually is open minded enough to follow the arguments and accept evolution:
Otherwise, much like those women from certain Gulf countries who cast off their burqas as soon as they set foot on a plane to go overseas, it is quite possible that many Muslim students may come to wrongly blame Islam, rather than the ill-informed interpretation of the Qur'an by some Muslims, for denying the fact - not theory - of biological evolution.

Via Gene Expression.

So disgusting...

Details Emerge in Alleged Army Rape, Killings

But there is another thing which attracted my attention:

...soldiers scoured the area, trying to find the funeral for the family. "But they did not find it, simply because the relatives did not do it, because the death includes the rape of one of the family members, which is something shameful in our tradition," the hospital official said.
I do not know what to say.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Christian Wackos find the ark

Yes, again. They have pictures and a video.

His discovery will greatly distress evolutionists who do not want the story of Noah and a worldwide flood to be verified.. Sure, those evil evolutionists panic. Fortunately, there are geologists who can distinguish between petrified wood and basalt (see the comments). I at least, would expect some rings in the wood. And even if this would be wood, does that make it a ship? And why are there not other artifacts around, like pottery?

Famous atheists

Here is a great video featuring famous atheists. And if you like the music of the movie The God Who Wasn't there, it uses the same theme music. Makes me proud to be an atheist.

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