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Thursday, May 31, 2007

NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin, Doesn't Think Global Climate Change Is a Problem

On the ride in to work this morning, I was listening to NPR as normal, and they were interviewing a couple people about NASA funding, Greg Easterbrook and NASA Administrator, Michael Griffin. Michael Griffin made a few comments that were so stupid, I had a hard time believing I'd caught his name right. After all, it's always a little tough to catch who they're interviewing when you pick up in mid stream, and when you're driving and have to pay attention to the other cars on the road more than the radio, but I checked the NPR website, and sure enough, I got it right.

Now the interview was about a lot more than just global warming, but it was one of the topics they brought up. Here's part of the transcript from NPR's website, with the interviewr's questions in bold, and Griffin's responses following.

It has been mentioned that NASA is not spending as much money as it could to study climate change — global warming — from space. Are you concerned about global warming?

I'm aware that global warming exists. I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we've had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I'm also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can't say.

So, he acknowledges that this is a real phenomenon, that people are responsible for it, and that it's already had a measurable effect. But then in the next breath says he's not sure if it's a longterm concern. Whaaaa?

Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?

I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Whoah, I'm dizzy from that change in direction. In that first section I quoted, he admits that the current climate change is caused by people, and then here, one question later, he says we don't have the power to keep the climate from changing. And then he has the gall to say that people that want to stop human induced climate change are being arrogant! That's like someone going around and intentionally starting forest fires, and then when the firefighters show up, he calls them arrogant for assuming that potential future residents might not want trees in their back yard.

Look - it's not like the current situation is a natural phenomenon that we want to stop. Noone's suggesting something like stopping plate tectonics because we happen to like geography the way it is. The fact of the matter is that this is a human caused phenomenon, and the rates of change are going to be much higher than most times in that "millions of years of history" Griffin referred to. Sure, life on this planet will continue, and humanity will most likely make it through, too, but unless we start taking some drastic action now, it's going to be one hell of a ride before things settle out.

This was good timing. When I checked Pharyngula today, there was an entry about a new site devoted to answering climate skeptics. Go check it out to see some responses to common arguments. And don't forget to check out RealClimate, either, which has much more actual data.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Creation Museum/Creationist Rule of Thumb with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

There's now a follow-up entry to this post, written after the "museum" actually opened. If you want to read John Scalzi's reaction from his visit, or see his flickr set of photos from the museum, go to that entry.

Well, the grand opening of the Creation Museum is scheduled for this coming Monday, May 28th. I've blogged about this once before, lamenting the fact that $27 million was being wasted on this shrine to ignorance, but I figured that with the opening day approaching, it was worth making another post on this topic (and maybe get included in the upcoming Creation Museum Carnival, update - it's here).

There are two problems I had with this entry - the first being that this is a museum that I've never visited and that hasn't even opened yet. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the organization running the museum, even wrote a short entry on his blog the other day, Name-calling against Creation Museum, whining about this very issue. That isn't really all that big of a deal, though. Since this museum is being run by AiG, I'm assumimg that everything in the museum is going to be consistent with the AiG website. I wouldn't imagine that there are any new, ground breaking arguments being unveiled in this museum that AiG hasn't already put up on their website. The real problem, is that AiG is such a reposity of stupidity, it's hard to narrow down your focus to one manageable topic.

I'd been planning on writing a blog entry about a certain topic for a while now, so I might as well use this opportunity to do it, and that is to state a simple rule of thumb for dealing with creationists. Anytime somebody tries to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to refute evolution, you should realize you're dealing with somebody who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. If it's a website, you should save yourself the time, and just leave and go look somewhere else. This may seem like a bit of an ad hominem attack, and maybe it is a bit, but life is short. You shouldn't waste your time dealing with idiots and liars. Maybe, just maybe, a website that uses the Second Law of Thermodynamics this way will have some thought provoking arguments, but it almost certainly won't be because the person running the website understood the science - they got lucky (in the same way as a million monkeys at typewriters would eventually reproduce Shakespeare), or they parroted it from somewhere else. But in any case, especially under the liar scenario, you'd have to really be careful to figure out just what you could trust from that source, and you'd be much better going somewhere more reputable.

And guess what, AiG has a page all about it, The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Answers to Critics. It's a little hard to figure out if it's based on ignorance or dishonesty. I'd guess a little bit of both, considering the author, Jonathan Sarfati, was competent enough to get a PhD. But the rule of thumb still applies - stay way from AiG if you're looking for good information.

This paragraph added 2007-05-24 After reading this, I'd imagine some people would think this rule of thumb could be even easier - anytime you're dealing with a creationist at all, you should realize you're dealing with someone who doesn't understand science or who is a liar. And, that could be true for the most part, but it's possible that creationists could be people that understand science, but haven't studied evolution/biology in particular, and don't actually know all the evidence in support of evolution, or that they have such strong faith, the evidence wouldn't matter to them, anyway. This misuse of the Second Law has nothing to do with fossil evidence, genetic evidence, or faith - it's just a complete misapplication of a scientific theory that should be obvious. So, that's why I still use this rule of thumb - it's not arguing over the interpretation of evidence (which still puts creationists on shaky ground), it's getting things wrong right from first principles. Creationists that use the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument really are the bottom of the barrel.

Okay, I guess I should first define the Second Law of Thermodynamics for anybody reading this who doesn't already know what it is. Wikipedia has three short definitions listed for it, which all seem consistent with what I was taught back in my college Thermo class:

"The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium." Rudolf Clausius

"Heat cannot of itself pass from a colder to a hotter body." Rudolf Clausis

"A transformation whose only final result is to convert heat, extracted from a source at constant temperature, into work, is impossible." Lord Kelvin

I guess you need to know what entropy is, too, to understand this. It's sometimes described as roughly equivalent to disorder, but that's to try to give students a better feel for it. Actually, I'll just go ahead and quote the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on entropy, which is pretty good.

The concept of entropy (Greek: εν (en=inside) + verb: τρέπω (trepo= to chase, escape, rotate, turn)) in thermodynamics is central to the second law of thermodynamics, which deals with physical processes and whether they occur spontaneously. Spontaneous changes occur with an increase in entropy. Spontaneous changes tend to smooth out differences in temperature, pressure, density, and chemical potential that may exist in a system, and entropy is thus a measure of how far this smoothing-out process has progressed. In contrast, the first law of thermodynamics deals with the concept of energy, which is conserved. Entropy change has often been defined as a change to a more disordered state at a molecular level. In recent years, entropy has been interpreted in terms of the "dispersal" of energy. Entropy is an extensive state function that accounts for the effects of irreversibility in thermodynamic systems.

Now, consider how evolution works - the DNA replication process isn't perfect, so organisms invariably produce offspring with slightly different genetic makeups. Since organisms have more offspring than the environment can support, it just stands to reason that the best adapted organisms will survive more often, and go on to produce even more offspring. Evolution seems inevitable.

Looking at the definition of the Second Law, and considering how evolution works, I just can't imagine at all how anybody with even the most basic understanding of the two could have dreamt up applying the Second Law of Thermodynamics to trying to refute evolution. We know that the chemical reactions necessary for life occur, we know DNA replication takes place, and that there are often errors in this process. How the Second Law changes any of this is beyond me. It's just silly, and I could stop this whole blog post here. But, just for fun, let's take a look at a few of the worst things stated in AiG's article.

Consider this statement, "Open systems still have a tendency to disorder. There are special cases where local order can increase at the expense of greater disorder elsewhere." What the hell does he mean by local? On the scale of the universe, the Earth is a pretty "local" system. And individual organisms on Earth are even more "local." If I define a local system as a cup of water, when I put it in a freezer it will freeze, when I take the ice back out and set it on the counter, it will melt. Where in my open system was it a special case of only a "local" increase in order? Oh well, he gets to this later on, even though he's still wrong.

Then, in the next paragraph, "The open systems argument does not help evolution. Raw energy cannot generate the specified complex information in living things." Oh, my fault, I thought we were talking about entropy, not some unquantifiable concept dreamed up by creationists.

And just a few paragraphs later, Sarfati writes, "I suggest that thermodynamic arguments are excellent when done properly, and the 'open systems' canard is anticipated. Otherwise I suggest concentrating on information content." There's a reason why it's anticipated - it's the proper, correct response. And then his next suggestion is to change the subject away from real thermodynamics to that unquantifiable term. Hmm, maybe it was more dishonesty, and not ignorance.

In a later section about crystals, he does address ice. First, he quotes somebody named Boyce Rensberger,

If the Second Law truly prohibited local emergence of increased order, there would be no ice cubes. The greater orderliness of water molecules in ice crystals than in the liquid state is purchased with the expenditure of energy at the generator that made the electricity to run the freezer. And that makes it legal under the Second Law.

Sarfati's response nearly made me crack up:

Rensberger is ignorant of the creationist responses to this argument. An energy source is not enough to produce the specified complexity of life. The energy must be directed in some way. The ice cubes of his example would not form if the electrical energy was just wired into liquid water! Instead, we would get lots of heat, and the water breaking up into simpler components, hydrogen and oxygen.

Hmm. What happens in the winter, then? Is it impossible for ice in a lake to freeze without human intervention, making sure all the energy sources are hooked up the right way?

A little later in this section, the article starts trying to further explain the complex specified information concept. Sarfati tries to show how DNA is so much different from crystals.

Many scientific experiments show that when their building blocks are simply mixed and chemically combined, a random sequence results. To make a protein, scientists need to add one unit at a time, and each unit requires a number of chemical steps to ensure that the wrong type of reaction doesn't occur. The same goes for preparing a DNA strand in a correct sequence.

I really fail to see how this supports the thermodynamic argument. Sure, it shows that proteins aren't simple, and that conditions need to be just right to create them, but that's to be expected. If anything, by admitting that scientists make proteins in the lab, Sarfati shows there's nothing mystical about them. The likelihood of abiogenesis is debatable (and yes, notice how he shifted the argument from evolution to abiogenesis), but it's not impossible, and it certainly doesn't violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The third section is laughably silly, "Did the 2nd Law begin at the Fall?" As if God would completely change the nature of everything because Adam and Eve ate that apple, and that maybe in the garden of Eden, water would spontaneously crystalize into ice even on a hundred degree day. To be fair, AiG said that the Second Law must have been around from the beginning, but what does it say about their target audience that they even need to say it? I think Sarfati's wording is little funny, too, "No, I would not say that entropy/Second Law of Thermodynamics began at the Fall.' I would not say... You'd think he could have been a little more emphatic about it. He almost makes it sound like his opinion.

Entropy is used to figure out whether or not certain events will occur. We know that all the chemical reactions necessary for life do indeed happen, and we know that mutations do indeed occur. Thus the Second Law of Thermodynamics doesn't preclude evolution at all. (In fact,we have even directly witnessed genetic mutations leading to the evolution of bacteria in multiple ways - resistance to antibiotics, ability to digest new food sources like nylon, etc.). AiG has a page that actually defends this old fallacy, and even blatantly states, as was noted above, "I suggest that thermodynamic arguments are excellent when done properly..." So go ahead and use my rule of thumb - steer clear of AiG. Whether because its members are inept or dishonest, this group is not to be trusted. And unless their new museum is a complete break from everything they've done to this point, it is a complete waste of $27 million that could have been put to much better use.

(If you want to read another explanation of how the Second Law of Thermodynamics relates to evolution, just go to the appropriate entry in the Index to Creationist Claims on Talk Origins. They don't include my handy little rule of thumb, but they do have references.)

There's now a follow-up entry to this post, written after the "museum" actually opened. If you want to read John Scalzi's reaction from his visit, or see his flickr set of photos from the museum, go to that entry.

Modified 2011-07-18: I'd originally misspelled Sarfati's last name as Safarti. I corrected it following the convention of striking through the typo and following that with the correct spelling (i.e. Safarti Sarfati). Well, a friend of mine who just read this article thought I was playing a juvenile joke (fart) and that the misspelling was intentional. Of course, I wasn't trying to do anything of the sort, so I've decided to simply remove the struck out typos. I think that as long as people are aware of the correction, especially for a simple misspelling, there's no harm in changing what I wrote.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

FAA Funding Debate

I'm a private pilot. I haven't been very active over the past few years, but I still like to follow the goings on, because I plan to become active again in the future. The latest brouhaha is a proposed plan to change where Air Traffic Control (ATC) gets its funding from, basically reducing what the airlines pay and making general aviation (GA) pilots foot more of the bill. Obviously, as a GA pilot, I don't like it. Flying's expensive enough as it is (the reason I haven't been very active for the past several years), and when I do fly, I hardly ever use ATC. I fly mostly in uncontrolled airspace under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). I still talk to other pilots over the radio, but ATC doesn't have anything to do with it. (For you non-pilots, it's like driving your car. You use turn signals and what not to communicate with other drivers, but there's no central authority organizing where and when you can go.) The only time ATC really does anything for me is when I'm a passenger on an airliner, and airline tickets are already taxed to cover that. So why should I have to pay more taxes than the average citizen for a service that I don't use any more than they do? You can find a lot more information on AOPA's page

Anyway, on the Ercoupe Yahoo Group I'm a member of, one of the other members, Ed Burkhead, recently made a very good post about this issue. I've copied his message below.

Any of these thoughts that get refuted buy you gals and guys won't be included in the letter I'll send my senators shortly. My preliminary thoughts on user fees are these:

1. I pretty much never use the air traffic control system except:

a. I'm affected (penalized) by it because it keeps me out of areas in greatest use by airliners (even though their use may be just a few planes a day.

b. When I do use the medium-airliner-use airports, my use of the air traffic control system is mostly because it's imposed by the government on behalf of the airliners. It's not a "benefit" for me, it's an imposition.

2. If they want to impose a use tax on people who *use* the air traffic control system, let them charge the same per-occupied-seat tax on us as they do on the airliners.

a. It may, truly, cost as much for air traffic control to handle a Piper Cub at PIA as a 747 but the cost is there for the benefit of the 747, not the Piper Cub.

b. Thus, charging per person is more equitable than charging per plane.

3. We already pay our fees through existing taxes.

a. We pay our share through fuel taxes.

b. Moreover, we pay our fair share of the airliner-protection-system through general fund taxes - as we should. The benefits of airliner flights accrue to all of us through the economic benefits of moving people and goods.

c. To disproportionately charge the people who fly on private and business aircraft for the airliner-protection-system is unfair. We all benefit equally per person from the safety of the airliners.

d. It may be fair to charge a moderate per-person fee (ticket-tax) for aircraft using the IFR system, but I think it's better to keep the current funding system.

4. As we can see from the example of Europe, imposing user fees on non-mass-transport aviation is a powerful means of killing it.

5. A strong small and general aviation industry and environment is of value to all the population, witness the developments and science developed from Weick's W-1 as well as many other aircraft developed for the personal market.

Ed Burkhead



Well, I don't think I have any regular readers, but I'm making this apology, anyway. Just a few weeks after I announced that I was going to try to post at least once per week, I didn't make any posts last week. So, to make up for it, I'm going to try to make at least two posts this week, not counting this one (but I'm not promising anthing). I'm going to be lazy on the first post, and just copy verbatim somebody else's e-mail. But I figure, heck, it was an e-mail forum. Putting it on a public web page, even if it's an unpopular one, at least gives it the potential to be seen by more people. Plus, he gave permission for people to publish it. I'll try to think up a more thoughtful post for later in the week.

Friday, May 11, 2007

New CarterGyro Video

Well, a fan of the company I work for (Mat Recardo is the fan, Carter Aviation Technologies is the company), just put together a highlight video of our small single place demonstrator and posted it online. I think he did a pretty kick-ass job (but of course, he had a good aircraft to show off). Anyway, here's the YouTube video.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ray Comfort & His Horrible "Scientific Proof" of a Creator

Ray Comfort was one of the reasons that originally inspired me to start this blog. A guy at a flea market gave my wife and I a Comfort CD, and when we listened to it, the arguments in it were so horrible, I just had to vent somewhere. So, I wrote one of my first blog entries. Well, over the past couple weeks, Comfort's been making waves in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

To give a quick background - Ray Comfort and his (hmm, sidekick is too demeaning, but I don't think he's an equal partner, so maybe...) protege, Kirk Cameron, of Living Waters Ministries (and also The Way of the Master website), challenged the originators of the Blasphemy Challenge, the Rational Response Squad, to a debate, wherein, according to the Christian News Wire, Comfort and Cameron "offered to prove God's existence, absolutely, scientifically, without mentioning the Bible or faith." I was hoping it was going to be better than the argumentum ad bananum, but unfortunately, it wasn't (in either the humurous sense or the actually making a good argument sense).

The televised, edited version of the debate should air tonight on ABC's Nightline, but there's already a clip on YouTube. Admittedly, the clip was put together by people sympathetic to the Rational Response Squad, and not Comfort and Cameron, but after listening to Comfort on that CD I mentioned above, I doubt he had any better arguments than what that video shows. Anyway, the televised version will be aired tonight, so if Comfort & Cameron did put forth any better arguments, they'll be made public soon.

Basically, the "scientific" argument Comfort put forth in the debate boils down to this - paintings must have painters, buildings must have builders, etc, etc; therefore creation must have a creator, i.e. God. That's just a horrible analogy. For one thing, all he's doing is listing things with known intelligent agents directly responsible for them, then listing those intelligent agents, and then somehow makes the jump that the universe must therefore have been created by an intelligent agent. The problem is, not everything we see was directly created by an intelligent agent. Many things, even ordered structures such as snowflakes and other crystals, or structures that appear intentional, such as the Old Man of the Mountain, are certainly the direct result of natural, unintelligent processes. So from that aspect of it - no, not everything must have an intelligent creator.

Another problem with Comfort's analogy, is that even though the same word, "create," can be used for all the things he's describing, it really is describing a different concept in the human vs. divine cases. All the human examples he gave were the result of physical entities merely rearranging materials that they already have to work with from their environment, while the divine creation of the universe was a supernatural agent creating all matter out of nothing. It's a big jump to go from the first to the second, since they aren't really the same thing.

Thirdly, even if Comfort's analogy could somehow be taken as proof of a god, it does nothing to prove the existence of the God of the Bible - it could just as easily be applied to Zeus. And finally, by Comfort's reasoning of everything requiring a creator, you're left with the question of where God came from in the first place. (I know, I know - it's not turtles all the way down; God is infinite, and doesn't need a creator; or else, He created time, so it's meaningless to ask what came before Him.)

Anyway, whether you believe in God or not, Comfort & Cameron's argument was far from a proof, and certainly not a scientific proof, for any god, let alone a proof for the Christian God. Don't use their silly, simplistic arguments to try to convince anybody of anything.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Intelligent Design Conference in Dallas Follow Up

Well, I'm late in getting to this like just about all my other blog posts, but... About a month ago, I made an entry about a then upcoming Intelligent Design event in Dallas. Well, Zachary Moore of the blog, Goosing the Antithesis, attended the event and wrote a 6 part series about it. Apparently, it was as bad as I would have thought it to be. Here are the links to the entries:

Darwin vs. Design: Lee Strobel
Darwin vs. Design: Jay Richards
Darwin vs. Design: Stephen Meyer
Darwin vs. Design: Michael Behe
Darwin vs. Design: Questions and Answers
Darwin vs. Design: Final Thoughts

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog attended the Darwin vs. Design conference in Knoxville, which was apparently very similar. He gives his take on the event in a two part series:

Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part One
Darwin and Design in Knoxville, Part Two

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fairy Tales

The other day I wrote that my daughter no longer believes in the Easter Bunny, and this week she finally got around to admitting that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy aren't real, either. I guess I'll have to keep an eye on her the next few days to make sure she doesn't go on a murderous rampage.

Man, after reading that and a few other of Jack Chick's tracts, it's scary to think there's somebody so demented to come up with that stuff, and even scarier to think of the number of people who buy his products.

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