All 3 entries tagged Faith

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August 25, 2009

Flat Earth

Writing about web page http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/

I was actually planning to write a post about resaurants, but then I discovered this little jewel on the Internet. A forum for people who believe that the Earth is flat! Priorities changed, and suddenly I had something way more urgent to write about.

Now, I know that there are people out there who believe some ridiculous theories. Some believe we never landed on the Moon, some believe that biology is not a science. But believers in a FLAT EARTH?! Oh come on. That's not even controversial, that's just plain stupid. Naturally, I initally suspected that the entire forum might be a hoax. However, after reading the FAQ, and the posts made by regular members, I realised with creeping horror that they were serious.

Q: "Is this site for real?" 

A: This site is real. There are members who seriously believe the Earth is flat. However, there are also members who do not.

I'm not a physicist - never mistake a Mathematician for a Physicist - but I know enough about Newtonian Mechanics and our universe to know that a spherical Earth is the most sensible and elegant solution to the shape of our planet. Not to mention the most... true. There are pictures, there are satelites, and there has been overwhelming scientific and public consensus on this for hundreds of years. I see no reason to question my belief that the Earth is round and I am absolutely positive that you, the reader, feel the same way. So I am speechless that these people nevertheless believe this drivel.

I spent quite a while on the forum. Not because I felt a need to rebut their theory (in my opinion they are lost souls who have reached a level of idiocy that is not worth my time) but because I found it amusing to read about their extremely elaborate and complicated theory which attempts to explain natural phenomena from a Flat Earth perspective. I will give you a summary of their belief system here:

Map of a flat Earth

According to Flat Earth'ers, the Earth is a flat disc at the centre of the Universe, looking as above. It is surrounded by a great impenetrable Ice Wall, that prevents the sea and the atmolayer from falling off. The Sun and the Moon are spotlights that circle the sky overhead, thereby illuminating different parts of the Earth at different times. Sunrises and sunsets are "perspective effects". Lunar eclipses are caused by a third celestial body, the anti-moon, getting between the Sun and the Moon, thereby darkening the moon. Gravity is caused by a Universal Accelerator underneath the Earth. It is unknown how the opposite side of the Earth looks. Also, pilots who fly from, say, South America to New Zealand, are being misguided by their GPS. Other unexplained phenomena usually have something to do with Dark Energy.

That's Flat Earth Theory in a nutshell. For more details, go visit their FAQ. For an even more scientific approach, see Samuel Birley Rowbotham's book on Zetetic Astronomy, Earth Not a Globe.

The whole idea is of course utterly absurd. What I find funny is their obstinacy to make this a consistent theory with no flaws whatsoever. This means that they constantly have to invent new explanations to all the evidence that seems to refute their beloved hypothesis. The thing is, even if they somehow do manage to patch up every anomaly with far-fetched solutions to reach a theory that does not contradict itself, it will be riddled with so many pointless and artifical rules, forces and celestial bodies that it will look like a wobbly shed, next to the beauty of the Round Earth Palace. In short, Flat Earth Theory raises too many new questions. Ever heard of Occam's Razor?

Still, all that got me thinking. The posters at the forum in question seemed very stubborn, and I started wondering how one could possibly make them change their minds. So here's a little challenge for you: What is the simplest way to prove that the Earth is spherical? By "simple" I mean "easy to execute". And I'm talking about proper proof; a picture of a round Earth, for instance, could technically have been photoshopped. Any ideas?


April 13, 2009

Creationist Bingo

Writing about web page http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/prudent1/2009/04/post-relativity-physics.php

I stumbled on this site the other day: it is a blog run by an american called Leo Emmanuel Lochard, and is full of arrogant pseudo-scientific nonsense. Leo's speech is rich and smooth, but the content is very questionable to say the least, and he updates his blog at a frightening speed. The first article I read (the one I'll go through in this article) is named "Post-Relativity Physics", and is basically an eloquent but weak refutation of the Big Bang Model. Now, I don't mind that people have their own opinions and beliefs, but the way this guy abuses scientifical notions that he clearly does not understand, to reach a far-fetched conclusion on a par with one of de Selby's hypotheses, makes me both frustrated and disgusted.

But before we delve into the blog post in question, let me introduce you to...

id_bingo_card.jpg

(Note: I have not made and do not own this picture. Credits to Skeptico from Skeptico Blogs)

Despite the fact that Leo is not trying to prove Intelligent Design or disprove Evolution in this post, the Creationist Bingo Board can still be applied to it. Let's have a look at how well he scores...

"One of the "theories" proposed by evolutionists is that the Universe started by itself with a so-called "Big Bang."  Meanwhile, like so-called "missing links," "Big Bang" is yet to be proven as scientifically valid."

Leo doesn't quite confuse Evolution with Abiogenesis, he confuses it with the Big Bang Theory... He deserves a point for that, doesn't he?
He mentions "missing links", i.e. gaps in the fossil record. 2 points.
The last part is another way of saying that the Big Bang model is just a theory. 3 points.
Also note the abundance of quotation marks.

"In the second place, the laws of Thermodynamics which states that "Energy is never created nor destroyed but always transformed," forbid that so-called "past radiation" would continue to "exist" in the present in the absence of a real physical source; Entropy - eventual degradability and decay end-result".

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is about Entropy. Also, let's give Leo the Joker for having quoted the 1st Law of Thermodynamics as well. 5 points.

"If we had the technology to ourselves travel into deep space with spaceships and position relays of astronauts with communicators in hand, every two lightyears or so, for example, each would report "by walky-talky" that every light we see comes from a present stellar body that exists in-the-now, and that, the Universe does not have any so-called "epicenter.""

No points here, but this part so full of rubbish that it's worth having a look at.
1. If one somehow managed to show that every light we see comes from a present stellar body that exists in-the-now, that would not say anything about the epicenter of the Universe.
2. The Big Bang model states that the Universe DOESN'T have an epicenter; Leo's got it the wrong way round.
3. To reach those deep space stars Leo is talking about, i.e. the ones millions of light years away, an excessive number of astronauts would be needed to create a living chain between the stars and the astronauts.
4. (This is the worst one) If one were to position a relay of astronauts like our dear Leo proposes, their walky-talky report would NOT reach Earth before the light from the star itself, since radio waves themselves travel no faster than the speed of light. Each astronaut would have to wait two years before receiving the report from their neighbour astronaut. The entire thought experiment is flawed, bizarre, and naïve.

"Theoretical and practical advances in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Electromagnetism were discovered by scientists who had a firm belief in a monotheistic God, from Newton to Maxwell and Farraday, from Bohr to Einstein who himself proclaimed "God does not play dice with the universe.""

Leo claims that Newton and other scientists were religious. Also, we have a clear case of quote mining Einstein. 7 points.

"In a rational universe, things do not happen by random chance or accident. From the standpoint of theoretical discovery, science, especially Physics, is at a standstill."

Leo doesn't believe random chance can influence our universe. Also, the second statement is tantamount to saying that evolution is a theory in crisis. 9 points.

"I do not believe other nations pose a threat to our scientific predominance in the world, since no scientist has gone past Einstein's Theory of Relativity, in terms of new theoretical discoveries in Physics"

This one made me moan out loud. First, there is no "scientific predominance"; Science isn't a sport in which you hold records. Second, there has been a vast number of theoretical advances in Physics since the appearance of Relativity in the early 20th century, like Quantum Physics and String Theory. Third, Einstein was born German, and had various nationalities throughout his life, including Swiss. To claim he was american is downright arrogant.

"Secondly, the way in which the Sciences are taught must be revisited in order to foster real inquiry rather than "toeing the line" with godless approaches that satisfy the ideological conformity of the "herd"."

Yes, let's teach the controversy. 10 points out of 25, in a debate that doesn't even have anything to do with Intelligent Design. Well done, Leo.

-----

His newly appeared blog is like this in its entirety, a mix of right-wing politics and religious fanaticism, powdered with political incorrectness. He pretends to be a Physics savvy, but his obvious lack of scientific knowledge saddens me. If I ever hear a Christian talking about Einstein's "Uniform Field Theory of Gravity", I'll know what he or she has been reading.

I have disabled comments for this post, because I'd rather not start another internet argument about religion. May all arrogant atheists and believers be annihilated from this planet, so that the more moderate people among us may live peacefully and discuss things that truly matter.


February 24, 2009

Proof against Evidence

The last few days have been very busy. Started my Java programming project on Saturday, finished it before the deadline on Sunday. Have had other work to do and still have to send quite a few email to people who are probably wondering why I still haven't written back. So right now, I really shouldn't be writing a new entry for my blog. But I've had several ideas for a blog entry this week, and I just felt I HAD to write something. Oddly enough, what I'm about to write isn't one of the aforementioned ideas, but something that popped up tonight.

I had heard that there was this Grill-A-Christian thing in Knighcote (my residence hall), where you could ask a panel of christians any questions you had about their faith. I wasn't intending to go, not because I didn't want to (discussions like that are usually quite interesting) but because I just felt I had better things to do tonight, like sending those emails and tidying my room; but in the end I was lured by the Christian Union's free pizza. I never eat pizza during term-time, except when it's someone's birthday, or when it's free.

Anyway, it was very entertaining, and at the same time interesting and thought-provoking. I asked a lot of questions, trying to be inquisitive and raising challenging problems without sounding too accusing. The issues covered during the session isn't what I want to write about, though; this entry concerns two words that were used interchangably in relation to a particular question: namely "proof" and "evidence".

Before we go any further, let me point out that this is not a topic about religion or God: it's about the improper use of language. If I see a controversial comment bringing up this subject, I might well delete it, lest it will cause a flame war in a completely inappropriate place. If I fel I can get away with it, I might write an entry on faith, and my faith in particular.

When discussing God's existence, several talkers on the christian panel made use of the words "proof" and "evidence" as if the two were synonyms, and in fact meant the same thing. This is NOT the case: proof is stronger, a lot stronger, than evidence. If you have evidence that X is true, you have facts that make X more probable than previously believed, whereas if you have proof that X is true, the truth of X is then established beyond doubt. Briefly, given evidence, the truth or falsehood of X is still uncertain; given proof, it is certain. Strictly speaking, proof is only possible in Mathematics or other systems that employ formal logic to a given set of axioms (like theoretic economics), so a more relaxed version of the word is usually used in normal speech: Proof when when something is shown to be true beyond reasonable doubt. In other words, if X is proved to be true, only a complete moron* would blieve it to be false. You can have evidence for and against something in the same time, but you cannot have proof "for and against it" simultanously. There is either proof or disproof. Or neither.

To take a concrete example: If Shaggy's girl hears the screams getting louder, then later sees the marks on Shaggy's shoulder, she has strong evidence that he is banging the girl next door. Nevertheless, there is still room for doubt, and Shaggy can still pretend it wasn't him. However, if she catches him on camera, then she has proof (as long as she is able to recognise him in the video), Shaggy's lame excuse breaks down, and we will be forced to admit his infidelity. I think I've made my point. Please use the right words when you speak.

*In the case of physics, it's a little more delicate. Some things, such as light being a wave, had been "proved", until some genius found an anomaly and came up with a more suitable explanation



Now that we're here, I'd also like to address another vocabulary issue that crops up in debates about religion. Who hasn't heard creationists accuse the Theory of Evolution of being "just a theory". Again, I don't want to enter a discussion about Intelligent Design, I simply want to point out the meaning of the word "theory".

The word "theory" has two meanings, a scientific meaning and a normal-speech-meaning. The problem is that some people use the latter, when in fact it is clear from the context it should be the former. The common way of understanding "theory" is as a synonym for "hypothesis" or "conjecture", i.e. something unproven. It is a speculation that has come to life but that has not yet been verified by anything practical. There is nothing wrong with this definition: it is indeed what "theory" means in normal speech. But when dealing with the Scientific Method, "theory" has at least one other meaning: A collection of explanations that has been studied in detail, compared with actual data and approved by the general (scientific) community as being true, thus elevating the rank of the "Theory". A good example is the Theory of Gravity, or the more fancy-sounding Theory of Thermodynamics. In the context of the "Theory of Evolution", the word "theory" has this same meaning. It has nothing to do with the unproven connjecture of the alternative meaning. But ID proponent just never seem to realise, do they.

I'm on a roll now, I'll just mention something I read on a bag of The Stamp Collection crisps, today in Tesco's. It went something along the lines: "Terence Stamp spent years trying to find a recipe for gluten free crisps. And, being a master in the kitchen, we knew he would succeed." I'll give 5 pounds to the first person to spot and clearly state the grammatical error in the second sentence.

Oh and I just remembered this. Printed on a tuna sandwich I bought:

"Happyness"?

Oh for the love of Mike, please check for typos before you print something on a million sandwiches!


Phew, that felt good. I'm done ranting. Already two rants on my blogs, and they're BOTH about language. I have the feeling I'll be comlaining a lot about stuff like this. To be honest, I've got more in mind, but I thought it would be a bit of an overload. I'll try and make the next entry more positive, promise.


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