Skepticism, Religion Archive

Thursday, March 14, 2013

VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"

I got an e-mail the other day about a new car supposedly being made in China. The e-mail was partly true, and partly not true. But the truth is so cool that I can't resist blogging about it.

The e-mail claimed that a new car had been developed in China, with a bit of input from Volkswagen, and that the car got phenomenal gas mileage at an unbelievably low price. Well, the price point is unbelievable, and the car was developed by Volkswagen in Germany, not be a Chinese company with input from Volkswagen, but the gas mileage claim is real.

Here are some pictures from the e-mail. These are for the concept prototype, not a production version. The concept was known as the VW 1-Litre Concept Car. The 1-litre designation is because the goal of the car design was to be able to go 100 km on 1 liter of fuel. The car managed to meet that goal, needing just 0.99 liters for 100 km, or to put that in terms familiar to us U.S. readers, it achieved 238 mpg.

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

Image Credit: Unknown

Volkswagen had a second prototype similar to the original one but with several improvements, and then moved on to a production version. The production version is named the XL1. Here are a couple pictures of it.


Image Credit: Wikipedia


Image Credit: Car and Driver

According to Volkswagen, this production version only needs 0.9 liters to travel 100 km, or in other words, it gets 261 mpg. That's pretty amazing. And it sounds like VW is planning on putting the car into production. The catch? It's not cheap. According to a Car and Driver article, the anticipated price is around $50,000.

For those interested in reading more about the car, here are a few good articles on it. And for those interested in the original e-mail that prompted this entry, I'm including that below the fold.

More Info:

Continue reading "VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"" »

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Progressive War on Science?

War on Science, Image Credit: Khairil ZhafriI subscribe to the Skeptic Society's Skeptic magazine and get their online eSkeptic e-mails. For the most part, it's a pretty good organization, and I enjoy reading their articles. However, nobody's perfect, and I find myself questioning their articles from time to time. This morning, I found a new eSkeptic in my inbox, with the title, The Progressive War on Science. It was a review of a book, Science Left Behind by Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, claiming that the political left is just as anti-science as the political right. The reviewer mostly just repeated the claims of the book without providing any counter arguments.

Now, I don't think that the left is guilt free in regards to abusing science. It's a problem in society in general, so it's going to cross party lines. The issue is which side is worse. And when out of the entire crop of potential Republican presidential candidates, only three of them supported both anthropogenic climate change and evolution, and then two of them later backpedaled on their positions, I think it's pretty clear which side that is.

The book conceded that Republicans are anti-science on some of those highly visible issues, but claimed that there were other issues where progressives were guilty. The problem, at least according to the examples listed in the article, is that when I was reading through the issues claimed to be problems for progressives, I recognized many of them from the Texas Republican party platforms over the past few years. For example, here's one paragraph from the review.

And despite studies showing conventional crops to be equally nutritional and both personally and environmentally safe (never mind vastly less expensive), "organic" foods--whatever that means in a shamefully unregulated industry--are somehow superior products. Ditto for raw, unpasteurized dairy products and juices left untreated for foodborne illnesses.

Here's what Texas Republicans had to say about that in 2010*:

Unprocessed foods - We support the availability of natural, unprocessed foods, which should be encouraged, and that the right to access raw milk directly from the farmer be protected.

Here's another quote from the article.

They accuse progressives of propagating a number of socially destructive myths, among them the assumptions that everything "natural" is good and everything "unnatural" is bad. Accordingly, homeopathy is just as good as or better than traditional medicine, vaccines actually harm children, and nuclear energy promises unprecedented sickness and loss of life.

In addition to the quote above about unprocessed foods, here are a couple more quotes from the Texas Republican Party Platforms, the first from 2010, and the second from 2012.

Health Care and Nutritional Supplements - We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription-only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products. We strongly favor legislation recognizing legitimate alternative health care choices. [emphasis mine - JRL]
Immunizations - All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

This isn't the first time Michael Shermer and the gang over at the Skeptics Society have tried to paint the left as just as bad on science as the right. Shermer had an article in Scientific American earlier this year, The Liberals' War on Science . It was refuted briefly by PZ Myers in his blog entry, Shermer's false equivalencies. As Myers pointed out, and as I alluded to above, ignorance of science is a general problem in the country. However, when it comes to the leadership of the parties, i.e. the elected politicians, there's much more of a problem among Republicans than Democrats. Rebecca Watson has a more in depth rebuttal in her blog entry, Is There a Liberal War on Science?.

There's an interesting article in Mother Jones, It's Not Your Imagination: Republicans Really Don't Like Science. It lists the results of a study looking at trust in science over the years. While conservatives, liberals, and moderates all trusted science roughly equally back in 1974, in recent years, the level of trust among conservatives has plummeted.

Admittedly, the article in eSkeptic this week did list a few problems that do seem to be more of a problem with the left than the right, but when half of your examples don't support the point you're trying to make, then your point probably isn't a very strong one. And considering the points made in some of the other articles linked to above, it really does appear that the problem of anti-science is more of a problem in conservative leadership, not just the rank and file.

Anti-science attitudes are a problem for the whole country and cross political divides, but it's more pronounced on one side in particular, and it's not the progressives.

Related Entries:

Image Credit: Khairil Zhafri, Flickr

*As shown by the 'Related Entries' links above, I've reviewed the Texas Republican Party Platforms for the past few years. I skimmed through my reviews to find the quotes I included in this article. There may be relevant sections to each of the issues from the most current platform, but I don't feel like wading through that entire document again. Plus, it's not as if 2008 is the distant past. Showing that Republicans were supporting those issues as recently as 5 years ago shows that it's not a 'liberal' problem.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Bible on The History Channel - A Disappointing Adaptation

The Bible on The History ChannelThe History Channel just aired the premiere of a new mini series, The Bible. Since I'm in the midst of reading the entire Bible right now (see my series, Friday Bible Blogging), and I'd just finished with the book of Numbers, I figured this first episode on the early books of the Old Testament would be right up my alley.

To be honest, I didn't pay very close attention to the commercials for the series, so my preconceptions weren't accurate. Since it was the History Channel, I was expecting a documentary, albeit one with a lot of special effects and reenactments of the stories (is 'reenactments' really the right word for myths?). Had I actually paid attention or looked at the History Channel's website, I would have known that this is a mini series. There is no commentary or analysis. It's simply a dramatization of the stories, with a narrator at points to help move the episode along.

Still, a mini series could be good. I thought it might be interesting to see some of the stories I've been reading about come to life on the small screen. Here's the description of the series from the History Channel.

The Bible comes to life in HISTORY's epic new series. From Genesis to Revelation, these unforgettable stories unfold through live action and cutting-edge computer-generated imagery, offering new insight into famous scenes and iconic characters. Created by producer Mark Burnett and featuring an international cast that includes Roma Downey, this 10-hour docudrama explores the sacred text's most significant episodes, including Noah's journey in the ark, the Exodus and the life of Jesus.

Sounds okay so far. What's more, while they're calling it a 'docu-drama', they're claiming to have consulted with a lot of experts in the making of the series. Here's a quote from the About page on, specifically from the section, Biblical Accuracy & The Bible.

According to an interview with Ms. Downey the miniseries, " being made with full hearts. We've had scholars and theologians help. We're not pretending to be biblical experts. We brought experts in once the scripts were created to take a look at the scripts to make sure we were accurate and true to the Bible, but obviously we're making a movie, and so we breathed creative expansion into that."

The Bible project advisors include:

Rick Warren - Pastor, Saddleback, Erwin McManus - Pastor, Mosaic, Jim Daly - Focus on the Family, Sam Rodriguez - National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Paul Eshleman - Campus Crusade for Christ, Bobby Gruenewald - YouVersion Bible, Brad Lomenick - Catalyst, Leith Anderson - National Association of Evangelicals, Frank Wright - National Religious Broadcasters, Tom Peterson - Catholics Come Home, Geoff Tunnicliffe - World Evangelical Alliance, Gabe Lyons - Q, Luis Palau, George Wood - Assemblies of God, Craig Groeschel - Life Church, Denny Rydberg - Young Life, Andrew Benton - Pepperdine University

That sounds so promising (well, at least from the point of view that they'd tried to keep everything as close to the Bible as possible). Unfortunately, after watching just a bit of that first episode, I was extremely disappointed. As happens so often with film adaptations of books, too much had been changed. That's unexpected for a supposedly sacred book believed to be the divinely inspired word of God, especially when the producers are Christians themselves. I was also disappointed in that it left too much out. I know it would have been impossible to include every detail from the Bible, but some of the omissions were significant.

To get into details, the series began with Noah's Ark. For some reason, this has always been one of my favorite stories from the Bible. But the amount of coverage it got was miniscule - just a few minutes showing Noah reciting a paraphrased version of the first creation story from Genesis to his family while they were getting tossed about in the ark, with cuts to scenes of the creation. And that was it. No scenes of Noah building the ark, loading the animals, getting everything off the ark when the flood was all over, sacrificing all the animals, getting drunk and cursing Canaan. It was as if Noah's Ark was used only because it provided a good opportunity for special effects. (As a side note, I was also struck by how roomy the ark was inside - not crowded at all for a boat carrying specimens of every land animal on Earth.)

When Abraham and Lot were doing their travelings, and it became clear that their herds were becoming too big to keep together, the Bible states, "8 Then Abram said to Lot, 'Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.' " Not so in The Bible mini series. At the urging of his wife, Lot told Abraham that they'd decided not to follow Abraham any longer, and to go settle near Sodom. And Abraham was distraught, begging Lot to remain with him. Why? It wasn't to help shorten the story to fit time constraints. It was a needless change.

And then there was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even the way the angels found Lot's house was different from in the Bible. Instead of simply meeting him and being invited in, they were being chased by an angry mob and were in need of help. When the mob tried to get into Lot's house, there was no mention of their wanting to 'know' the angels, and Lot never offered his daughters to the mob in exchange for the strangers' safety. Those omissions would have taken less than 30 seconds to include. But perhaps worst of all for this chapter of the story, when it came time to flee the city, it was a battle. And the angels were the warriors. I read one review that called them angel ninjas. It was ludicrous.

Abraham's story had so many interesting points that were left out. Sara never became the wife of the Pharaoh. Abraham never built his altars and made his sacrifices (there was a telling omission of animal sacrifices in general), nor dug his wells. The Tower of Babel and other stories were left out entirely. I understand that some details had to be omitted, but when there were gratuitous scenes like the ninja angels, or another invented scene where Moses fought with his step brother, you know that the producers did have the time to include some more actual details from the Bible rather than invent things out of thin air. It also seemed to me that some of the omissions were sanitizing the stories.

I could go on, but the main point is that this adaptation played very fast and loose in its interpretation of the Bible. Just about every part I watched (at least until I fell asleep some time around the Exodus from Egypt) had glaringly obvious differences from the book. Obviously, I'm not troubled by this for any theological reasons myself, but the nerd in me just hates to see film adaptations butcher their source material. If you really want to know what's in the Bible (and it's not pretty), go read it for yourself.

Image Source:

Update 2013-03-08 Added sentence about Abraham being distraught when Lot decided to leave. Also clarified sacrifices as animal sacrifices.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Noah's Impossible Ark - Some Comments and Links

Noah's Ark, by Edward Hicks, croppedOver the past few week's I've heard a few conversations of people discussing Noah's Ark like it actually happened. Now, I know that Biblical literalists are out there, and I even knew that some of those people I overheard were of that bent, but it's always a bit jarring to here people seriously discussing something so obviously untrue.

I've mentioned Noah's Ark on this site a few times, but always in passing. I thought it might be fun to put together a blog post explaining why it couldn't have happened. But then I started looking around on the Internet a little, and there are already fairly comprehensive pages and articles dedicated to debunking the flood myth. So anything I wrote would just be duplicating work that's already been done. So instead, I decided to provide links and highlights to a few of those already existing discussions of Noah's Ark, with just a little bit of my own commentary.

The myth of Noah's Ark breaks down on so many levels, that it's hard to believe that people take it seriously as a literal story. First, there's the implausibility of building a wooden ship that big to begin with. Then there's the problem of gathering all those animals to Noah's location (how did the sloths get there). Then Noah had to somehow fit all the animals aboard, along with all the food, water, and other supplies that would have been required. And for the entire time they were on the ark, a crew of 8 were all that were available to care for all those thousands and thousands of animals (just look at the staffs modern zoos require). Then once the flood was over, there's the little problem of getting all the animals back to where they belonged. (Why did most of the marsupials head straight to Australia? And how did the kangaroos cross the Pacific to get there?) And on top of that is the problem of re-population without inbreeding, and without the predators eating the only remaining specimens of those now endangered animals. And the story totally ignores plants and non-land animals. (Freshwater fish can't survive in salty conditions, and vice versa.)

But all that's granting some plausibility to a global flood happening in the first place. In reality, there's just no evidence that such a flood happened, especially in the time-frame that Biblical literalists claim. And there's no known mechanism by which it could have happened, even if every last speck of ice on the planet was melted (sorry Kevin Costner).

Ignoring all the previous objections, what would such an occurrence say about God's character? Actually, I wrote a bit about this in a previous entry of mine, Friday Bible Blogging - Genesis 1 to Genesis 10.

Children's books show Noah, his family, and the elephants and giraffes surviving happily on their boat. But just stop and imagine if something like this had actually happened. Think of all the newborn babies, toddlers, precocious seven year olds, expectant mothers, new mothers, proud fathers, newlyweds. Think of the puppies and kittens and baby koalas and cute cuddly polar bear cubs. Think of the hawks and eagles and their fledgling chicks. Think of the ants, and frogs, and freshwater fish. Think of all the life on the entire planet save one boatload full. And now think of them watching the floodwaters come, the fear they felt as they kept climbing to higher ground, wondering when the rising waters would stop. The terror when they finally realized that the waters were going to swallow them, and there was nothing they could do about it. The desperation of trying to save their children, of looking for something, anything, to keep them afloat and keep them from drowning.

And finally, Noah's Ark isn't even an original legend. It's just a retelling of the Mesopotamian Flood Myth, common to many cultures of that era.

Okay, let's move on to linking to other websites like I said I was going to do, which will also address a few of the specifics from above.

Talk Origins - Problems with a Global Flood

This is probably one of the best online resources on the subject. Just to show what it covers, here's the index from the page:

1. Building the Ark
2. Gathering the Animals
3. Fitting the Animals Aboard
4. Caring for the Animals
5. The Flood Itself
6. Implications of a Flood
7. Producing the Geological Record
8. Species Survival and Post-Flood Ecology
9. Species Distribution and Diversity
10. Historical Aspects
11. Logical, Philosophical, and Theological Points

The first two of those points are only covered briefly, but the rest are covered pretty well. It's not a book length thesis, but it's enough detail to show the implausibility of it all.

Here are a few short excerpts.

What is a kind? Creationists themselves can't decide on an answer to this question; they propose criteria ranging from species to order, and I have even seen an entire kingdom (bacteria) suggested as a single kind.
Were dinosaurs and other extinct animals on the ark? According to the Bible, Noah took samples of all animals alive at the time of the Flood. If, as creationists claim, all fossil-bearing strata were deposited by the Flood, then all the animals which became fossils were alive then. Therefore all extinct land animals had representatives aboard the ark.
Fresh foods. Many animals require their food to be fresh. Many snakes, for example, will eat only live foods (or at least warm and moving). Parasitoid wasps only attack living prey. Most spiders locate their prey by the vibrations it produces. Most herbivorous insects require fresh food. Aphids, in fact, are physically incapable of sucking from wilted leaves.

Talk Origins - Review of John Woodmorappe's "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study"

This article is a review / refutation of a creationist book attempting to show that the flood myth was plausible. By being a direct response to creationist arguments, it shows just how strained those arguments are. Here are a few excerpts from this page.

Woodmorappe attempts to solve the feeding and care problems by comparing the ark to modern mass production farming methods. But there is no justification given to approaching the problem in this fashion. It is not clear that solutions applicable to the care of 8,000 hogs, requiring the same food, water and space, can be applied to 8,000 different animals each requiring a different set of food, water and environmental conditions. Every care and feeding problem is attacked by this approach. And yet he suggests that some of the snakes can be coaxed into eating inert food by stuffing snake skins with meat. He notes that pandas can survive on diets lacking bamboo, but a check of the references shows that the replacement diet is more time-consuming to create than bamboo. This type of feeding is precisely why so many have wondered whether Noah and company had sufficient time to feed thousands of animals.
Woodmorappe states (p. 27) that the urine could be drained overboard by gravity. He does not tell how this is possible from the lowest floor level which was below the water line. At one point he suggests that the animals could be trained to urinate and defecate upon command while someone holds a bucket behind the animal. Assuming that this can be accomplished for the largest quarter of the animals and that they need to be serviced three times per day, each person must service 125 animals per hour, 2 animals a minute. What a fun job that must have been.
Animals outside of the ark were supposed to have survived in pockets of floodwater suitable to their requirements (whatever those requirements were). He appeals to gradual acclimatization of amphibians and fish to the salinity of the flood waters. But exactly how a global flood was able to gradually occur is unexplained. He has plankton be buried and then re-excavated to survive the flood.

EvoWiki - Noah's Ark

This was a short entry looking at the displacement of the ark, and whether it would have even been possible for it to carry what creationists claim. They even generously granted the assumptions of the creationist, John Woodmorappe, about a reduced species count on the ark (allowing many animals to have somehow survived without being on the ark, and necessitating a type of 'hyper' evolution after the flood waters receded to generate the current biodiversity), and the food requirements of those animals. Here's the takeaway.

Exactly how does a vessel whose displacement must have been less than 45,000 tons, manage to carry cargo and animals whose aggregate weight is more than 70,000 tons?

As a side note to the above, here's a discussion of the largest wooden ship, which included a link to the following picture:

Solano Ferry vs. Wyoming (Big Wooden Ships)

Those ships were some of the biggest wooden ships every built, and they were only on the order of 5,000 tons. And they had the advantage of modern materials like steel in addition to the wood. - Noah's ark and the flood: Comparison of the Babylonian and Noachian flood stories

This article describes how similar the Noah's Ark story is to another Mesopotamian flood myth. Here's the introduction, describing the other flood myth.

The Chaldean Flood Tablets from the city of Ur in what is now Southern Iraq contain a story that describes how the Bablylonian god Enlil had been bothered by the incessant noise generated by humans. He convinced the other gods to completely exterminate every person on Earth as well as land animals and birds with a great flood. One of the gods, Ea, went against the decision of the rest of the gods, and told Ut-Napishtim to build an ark to save a few humans, and some animals.

How Stuff Works - Could Noah's ark really have happened?

This is a little less specialized site than most of those linked above. But they still point out the obvious.

Before we dive into the question of whether Noah and his ark existed, let's first ask if there's any evidence of ancient worldwide flooding. Scientifically speaking, such a flood would be impossible. It would take more than five times the amount of water in the oceans and atmosphere to submerge the earth up to its mountaintops. And if that amount of water entered the atmosphere, the resulting pressure would crush people's lungs.

This article does discuss a possible historical basis for the legend - local flooding of that particular region.

Here's where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come into play. The two waterways that slice through modern day Iraq served as the main thoroughfares for trade at that time, and were the setting for the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Because both rivers flood each summer, scholars think that Noah's story may be based on that actual event -- a greater than usual flooding of the Tigris or Euphrates. In fact, archeologists have uncovered evidence of such a great flood in Mesopotamia, dating back to around 2900 B.C., that quickly wiped out a number of Sumerian cities.


Well, for an entry I was expecting to be rather short, this grew longer than I expected. I guess it's just that there are so many problems with the Noah's Ark legend. Like I wrote above, it's hard to believe that people take it seriously as a literal story.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Website Update - Reorganized 'God- or Gorilla?' Entries

God or Gorilla PicWhen I first posted the entries in my 'God - or Gorilla?' series, I posted them in both my Books and Skepticism, Religion categories. But just playing around and looking over my site, I realize that the 'God- or Gorilla?' posts kind of clutter those categories if you're just wanting to browse. So, I decided to make a subcategory under books called God - Or Gorilla?, and to move all of those posts into that new category. I left the first post in the 'Books' and 'Skepticism, Religion' categories so that people browsing through those will at least know of the existence of this series. So, if you're really interested in the 'God- or Gorilla?' posts, you can now find them all in one place. And if you don't like them all that much, you don't have to wade through them when reading the other entries.


Selling Out