Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hmmm... Hobbits again make news

Here we go again.

New species,, NOT a new species, ... wait, .. YES new species. And the beat goes on.

As I said in my last post on this ongoing controversy, we'd undoubtedly hear more.

Well, here's more.

Originally paleoanthropologist Lee Berger claimed the remains found at Flores Island were that of a new hominid species. After that, the arguments began.

The last article published in August of this year(2008) claimed Berger was too quick to publish, not examining the data. IE

"I think Berger's primary mistakes were his not understanding the variation in the skeletal population in which he was working, using fragmentary remains again in a situation where he didn't understand variation, and stepping outside his own area of expertise, which, I think all scientists try not to do but sometimes we do," Nelson said.


"One of his biggest mistakes was rushing to publish," Nelson said of Berger. "He did not take the time to understand the area in which he was working -- its entire history, not just the skeletal stuff," he said. "Any time you work anywhere, you have to understand this history. You just can't walk in and cowboy it, pull some stuff out and draw conclusions in the absence of understanding the bigger picture."

It's like a tennis match.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Big Bounce, ie: Quantum Loop

Students have been taught various things about the evolution of our cosmos through the decades. The most recent "beginning" of our universe involves the Big Bang. And this theory has been embraced by education as it is taught throughout the country. But the Big Bang has it's problems. Certainly we will never know everything (unless we actually DO come up with the "theory of everything"). And while scientists continue to come up with such grand unified theories we will undoubtedly have to live with certain gaps in our understanding. But back to the Big Bang.

It seems that scientists have to conjure scenarios to make the Big Bang fit. Right now it is inflationary theory. And scientists have come up with a particle called an "inflaton" that was an apparently crucial part of the rapid expansion of time and space. Otherwise, without inflation, we cannot piece together any reasonable theory of how the universe got to be the way it is. So when scientists try to model the Big Bang, they need to add such items as inflatons. But, alas, one crucial aspect to science in general is that theories are provisional. That means that when better theories and better explantions come along, science is apt to change. And perhaps that is what is happening with the Big Bang.

Another problem with the Big Bang is that when we work backwards to the moment of "creation" we find that the math runs into infinities. And this is always problematic for physicists. Infinities cannot tell us much. But the classic model for the Big Bang does just that, worked matter and energy and space and time into such a small point (the singularity) that it is infinitely dense. At the point of the singularity it gets really messy, but up until this point in time we haven't come up with anything much better. But now, perhaps we have.

While still in it's youth, the Big Bounce, or Loop Quantum Cosmology, this theory is gaining more attention. This is due to a number of reasons, but one of them is that it doesn't require the messy singularity that the Big Bang does. Instead of a universe that spews from absolutely nothing, the LQC posits that our universe came from a previous one. And while that previous universe came hurtling back into itself in a giant universal crunch, our universe exploded from it before it would hit the mysterious and theoretically cumbersome singularity. You can see why we would call this the Big Bounce. It's a lot prettier than the previous theory and solves some of the conundrums of Big Bang.

Like I said, science is provisional. And this theory may have it's problems as well. But the physicists are back at the drawing board trying to devise ways to empirically test the theory. I can't say that, and I won't pretend to understand the details of this theory, but it is an interesting theory that may shed more light on how our universe was formed. And for some strange and illogical reason I find it interesting. Anyway, take a look below.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Book Review: Case for a Creator

I have just finished reading Lee Strobel's book Case for a Creator. I don't know if this post actually belongs among the science related material among this site, but it ism in fact, MY site so what the heck. And so far as I can tell, no one has visited or read any of the material anyway. It is a place for me to explore, write, and document things I find interesting. I guess I don't mind saying that I've always thought the idea of a God was interesting although much of the religious propaganda today is just that: propaganda. Junk to control you and tell you what to believe. Anyway, moving on to the review.

This book will certainly appeal to the religious, particularly Christians. It attempts to explore scientific evidence in relation to the existence of a Creator. But it falls short on several levels. It would seem that the story would give an impartial view of the evidence for creation, but it does not. It is obviously biased and doesn't give equal opportunity to the opposing viewpoints and opposing scientific evidence. I do find some of the book quite interesting, particularly the astronomical views. This is a good area of the book for retrospection of what it may mean that we, as humans, are actually here, living among the cosmos with all of the odds seemingly against us and life altogether throughout the vastness of the universe.

But allow me to note some of the problems I noticed in the book.

1. Nearly everyone interviewed in the book was from the noted Discovery Institute. This is creationist group that is somewhat disguised as a scientific group. While maintaining scientists among their group, their vision and allegience is towards an adamant view that a creator exists. And further more that creator is the god of the Christian faith. Don't get me wrong, there are many intelligent people among this group, but it is never noted by Strobel that the deal behind these interviews is that they are all creationists. The Discovery Institute is never explained by Strobel, only mentioned as a hopeful strengthening rung to the ladder of his "case".

2. Strobel seems to want to use science as the tool for convincing the reader that a creator exists. But several of the interviews resulted in a proclamation that science must be changed to include apparently things like philosophy. The insistence on bringing non-science to science makes me wonder if these people know anything about what science is set up to do in the first place : empirically explore the natural world. Science doesn't make any assumptions about what is outside of the natural world if anything. It is designed to study how nature works, ie naturalism. Certainly items outside of nature may exist, but they cannot be reasonably explored unless they enter the realm of nature. So while Strobel tries to appeal to the scientifically interestd parties, it falls flat when a call for science to change is made.

3. Unbalanced. While noted evolutionary biologist AND fellow creationist believer Ken Miller is quoted throughout the book as an ardent Darwinist, it is never revealed that he is also a Christian. His religiosity is excluded and is downplayed as a Darwinist dreamer. I think that perhaps the fact that he is a Christian would undermine the polarized view that if one is a Darwinist that one cannot believe in God. This is typical among creationist propaganda citing that evolution and creationism cannot be held togther with any rational harmony. But this is not the case. In addition to Miller there are many theists that wholeheartedly accept evolution and creationism hand in hand. Try Francis Collins for example, the leader of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian. Or many of the hundreds of millions of Catholics. Strobel tries to wedge evolution and creationism saying he is not willing to gamble that such a wishful theory (evolution) is true. On the other hand he does seemingly blindly jump on the creationist bandwagon, which is equally or even more troubling and illogical. I suppose somehow the belief in God is not such a gamble for whatever reason.

4. God of the gaps arguments throughout. While I will agree that the overwhelming complexity of the universe, the planet, life, etc is exceedingly mindboggling, it doesn't suffice to say that this is due to a creator. Perhaps it is. Ancient humans often, if not always, attrbuted mysteries to gods. If we could not find a viable natural reason for something then it must be due to mystical or magical forces. This is a historical fact crossing numerous cultural boundaries. It is still present among us now. I can't say for certain that we are NOT created, and in fact I do believe in something beyond ourselves, but I also cannot honestly say that this rise of complexity is neccessarily due to god. Strobel does and so does the many creationists interviewed.

I would have loved to see more equality presented among the interviews. How about some retort to Behe's arguments?? How about some non-creationist interviews?? How about one?? The reason being is that it would not uphold Strobels "impartial" view. I seriously question how ardent of an atheist he was. Why is it that evolution should undermine spirituality and the potentiality of a creator. In the first chapters of the book he talks about his atheism. Then he visits one Discovery Institute and is miraculously converted to a believer?? There is some disconnect for me here into what he may have been thinking or that he was not being entirely honest about his adamant atheistic views.

As the book winds down we find more and more references to the Bible and Christianity. And as the book winds down I see more plainly that this book is an unbalanced written summary of Lee Strobels belief system and how he got there. It is not really any kind of "case" for a creator. If that were the fact we would see more interviews with more science on why there is not a creator. We would see a more impartial and complete view of the actual case. I did, for the most part enjoy the book, but was screaming out loud (in my head) at points along the way. Certainly it is up to the individual to decide whther to jump into a faith based scenario. And it is more appealing to believe that we will continue on somehow in another realm. It's hard for people to read the stuff that says, well, ... no there is no creator, sorry. But if we don't keep that in consideration then we are not thinking wholly realistically. While I do maintain a belief (based on the unknown) that the universes glory and mystery may be indicative and earmarked by intelligence, I can't reject material that says otherwise. This book doesn't present adequate opposition to the warm and cozy creation views.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Humans on the Move

Although I've linked to National Geographic on the sidebar, I think it is worth noting a feature of their site. This interactive feature, here, takes one on an exploration from the dawn of man in Africa to the distribution of humanity throughout the planet. Certainly there are more mysteries to be solved as more evidence presents itself (if and when it does). But with the help of genetic data, as well as a combination of climatology, geology, archeology, and more, this page highlights the generally accepted model of human migration.

My recent trip to Chichen Itza has prompted me to explore more ancient civilizations and how they had come to be. While the Maya date back nearly 4,000 years, undoubtedly there were modern humans before them. To what time span is unclear, but the vastness of distance and time is quite a revelation when considering the dangers, uncertainty, and logistics to populate the continental world.

I am dumbfounded at the incredible plight of ancient humans. While today we are accustomed to driving our climate controlled SUV to work, stopping at a Burger King for lunch, and awaiting our favorite programs digitally recorded on our HD TV's at home it is a wonder, literally a stupifying wonder, to humbly grasp the daily peril that faced our ancestors in getting here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving at Chichen Itza

It's definitely a place I'd go back to. There is much more to see even though no one is allowed to enter the structures anymore. This is of course due to disrespectful morons that decided to grafitti parts of the ruins. And for another that broke down a relief inside the pyramid. I'll try and search for some decent links to Mayan history, archeology, and culture as soon as I have time to search for them. I'd like to read up some more on these ancient people of Mexico before the return of Kulkucan. The site was spectacular.