The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Carl Sagan’

Carl Sagan Day 2012 in Chicago – Audio Recording

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2012

This past Carl Sagan Day celebration in Chicago was a wonderful experience: the room was packed, the speakers were quite inspiring, and I left the evening with my enthusiasm for science and reason elevated!  The audio of the entire event was recorded, and I wanted to share that with you below.  Enjoy :D

Carl Sagan Day – Chicago 2012

Image Source

“We wait for light, but behold darkness.” Isaiah 59:9

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Adage

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Carl Sagan Day 2012 Approaches!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2012

In the next few weeks, supporters of science and secularism will be celebrating the 78th anniversary of the birth of Carl Sagan, scientist, astronomer, skeptic, and popular advocate for science and critical thinking.  For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos).  In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we in the Chicago area will celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Thursday, Nov. 1st – look here for more information!

**Aside: To find a Carl Sagan Day event in your area, just use Google.  If there isn’t one, consider holding your own :)

Carl Sagan at The Planetary Society in 1980.  Image source

You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2012! Chicago’s secular community is gathering once again to celebrate the life and legacy of the great science popularizer, the beauty of discovery, and the fun of exploration. The event will be held in Schmitt Academic Center Room 161, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The building is handicapable accessible, and accommodation can be provided upon request. …
Apple pie (made from scratch, of course) and cosmos will be served.
Speakers: “Carl Sagan’s Life and Legacy” Dr. Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and a former colleague of Carl Sagan
[Topic Undetermined] Dr. Angela Olinto, Chair of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Chicago
“Citizen Science” Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchantz, Associate Professor of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Studies Department at DePaul University
Emcee: Matt Lowry High School Physics Teacher, writer at The Skeptical Teacher.

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“We Are Star Dust” – Symphony of Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 12, 2012

Astrophysicist and science/skeptical activist Neil deGrasse Tyson is working on a re-release of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and this nicely autotuned Youtube video clip from melodysheep clearly shows why he is the right person for the job :)

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“A Glorious Dawn” in Honor of Carl Sagan

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 11, 2011

We’ve made yet another journey around the Sun, and once again the annual celebration of Carl Sagan’s life and legacy is upon us.  If you have never read his pivotal work, Cosmos: A Personal Journey, I highly recommend it.  Sagan and his work was responsible for encouraging so many people, like me, into pursuing science and the study of the natural universe with a sense of awe and wonder.  As a quick tribute to Carl Sagan, I would like to share with you a very popular music video from YouTube called “A Glorious Dawn”, which is based on one of the key ideas in Cosmos

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe…” :D

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Carl Sagan Day on November 12th!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2011

For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of astronomer Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos).  In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we can celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Saturday, Nov. 12th – look up an event in your area!

Specifically, if you find yourself in the Chicago area that weekend, you are more than welcome to join our public Carl Sagan Day event…

Saturday, November 12 · 6:00pm – 10:00pm

Robert H Lurie Medical Research Center of Northwestern University
Hughes Auditorium
303 E. Superior St.
Chicago, IL

You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2011! Come meet up and hang out with Chicago’s secular community, right in the heart of downtown. We’ll be hosting a panel on Science, Skepticism, and the Legacy of Carl Sagan!

(Panelists TBA)

Food* and drink** will be provided!

Sponsored by:
DePaul Alliance for Free Thought
Northwestern University Secular Student Alliance
University of Chicago Secular Alliance
Women Thinking Free Foundation

*includes apple pie from scratch
**includes cosmos (21+)

We look forward to seeing you there! Talk to your group leaders for travel arrangements.

(This event is free and open to the public.)

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Science Confirms the Bible? Hmmm, Not So Much…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 2, 2011

So while I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as I was hanging around the vendor tables I encountered a nice man who came up to me, handed a small pamphlet to me, and said, “Carl Sagan would want you to read this.”  He then went on his way and repeated this process all around the hall.  When I looked at the pamphlet, I was rather amused by what I saw: it was titled “Science Confirms the Bible”.  A virtual copy of the handout can be found at Living Waters, the website of evangelical Christianity espoused by none other than Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort.  Here’s what it looks like…

Yup, the folks over at Living Waters are seriously making these arguments.  Ray Comfort should have just stuck with the banana thing; at least that bit had a sight gag :)

Now I’m going point out just a couple of specific things about this pamphlet that shows it (as well as the argumentation behind it) are just way off base.  Suffice it to say that others have already analyzed some of these points, such as at a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, but I’ll just give my thoughts here:

First, look at the format of this pamphlet: it shows a Biblical verse, a claim about what science “then” was saying (btw, “then” was supposedly 2000-3000 years ago), and a claim about what science now says.  The implication is that current science supports what the Bible is saying.  Now before I get to specific claims in this pamphlet, let me first say that it is ironic that Ray Comfort and his band of evolution-denying evangelicals are claiming that modern science supports their interpretation of the Bible, because their interpretation of the Bible conflicts with modern evolutionary science!  So if Ray Comfort is claiming what he is in this pamphlet, then he’s messing things up from every direction (but what do you expect from a guy who thinks that banana’s are “The Atheist’s Nightmare”?)

Not to mention, if a literal reading of the Bible (according to the manner in which Ray Comfort would read the Bible “literally”) is supposed to be scientifically accurate, then how can one account for blatant inconsistencies such as that in these verses from Genesis?

Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

[Addendeum (8-2-11): How could there have been light before there were stars?  The only scientifically viable option is to invoke the big bang model of cosmology, which many creationists such as Ray Comfort are loath to do, since they don't like the fact that it clearly shows the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  So there's another contradiction.] Okay, so there was day and night in the sky and on the Earth before there was a Sun (the greater light).  How exactly does that jibe with our understanding of modern astronomy?  Oh wait… it doesn’t.

Folks, this sort of thing is just a taste of the multitude of inconsistencies found between a “literal” reading of the Bible and modern science.  If you really want to see more, I suggest checking out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, on to some specific criticism regarding this Living Waters pamphlet.  Let’s just take a look at the very first line in the claims about how the Bible supposedly predicts that the Earth is a sphere, from Isaiah 40:22.  What exactly does Isaiah 40:22 say?  Here it is…

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

So the Earth is described in this Bible verse as a circle.  A circle.  For those who may not have mastered basic, high school geometry, a circle is a flat, two-dimensional object.  Yup, basically the Bible is arguing for a Flat Earth (because remember that, hey, circles are FLAT!!!) This is in direct conflict with the findings of the ancient Greeks (about 2000-3000 years ago) when natural philosophers such as Erastothenes of Cyrene proved, using simple measurements and geometry, that the Earth was a sphere.  Two additional points should be noted:

1. The fact that the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was NOT flat is also in direct conflict with the claims in the Living Waters pamphlet, which states that the ancients two or three thousand years ago thought the Earth was flat.

2. Modern science actually states that, due to the Earth’s rotation, our planet is not perfectly spherical.  In fact, it is an oblate spheroid.  So this fact is two steps removed from the text of Isaiah 40:22 – first that verse states the Earth is a circle, not a sphere; and second, if the Bible really were so accurate scientifically, why didn’t it just say “oblate spheroid”?

[Addendum (8-2-11): I would think that if the Bible were so amazingly accurate in predicting the behavior of the universe in scientific terms that it would have said something about quantum mechanics, general relativity, or how to do something practical like build an airplane or make a vaccine.  Nope, nothing like that in the Bible, either.]

I could go on, but I think that by now you get the idea.  Feel free to take a look at some of the other loony claims made by this pamphlet, read through the Bible verses for yourself, and have a good hearty laugh.  Because that’s all this pamphlet is good for: a laugh :)

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Pale Blue Dot — An Alien View of Earth

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 24, 2010

Recently we celebrated the 20th anniversary of a remarkable photograph that was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it began its long, slow exit from our solar system.  That photo was of the Earth, and the image was immortalized by astronomer Carl Sagan in his book called Pale Blue Dot. For a fuller story on this image, I suggest reading up on it all at this excellent NPR story.

Here’s the photo, and Sagan’s eloquent words about it…

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

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Happy Carl Sagan Day!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 9, 2009

Happy Carl Sagan Day… or, to be more accurate, belated Carl Sagan Day :)

November 7th is the birthday of that great communicator of science & skepticism, Carl Sagan.  In a time when many of his fellow scientists were loath to communicate directly with the public, Sagan was a unique link between the scientific community and the general populace.  He communicated the power, joy, and importance of science to us through lectures, books, and television.  In particular, I think I can honestly say that an entire generation of scientists were inspired by Carl Sagan’s book and television series Cosmos (which aired in 1980) – I count myself among them. Were it not for the inspiration provided to me in my teenage years by my beat-up copy of the book Cosmos, I may have never pursued a career in science…

The unforgettable introduction to Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is available on Youtube…

And a recently auto-tuned remix of Carl Sagan’s dialog from Cosmos, called “A Glorious Dawn (featuring Stephen Hawking)”, is also available on Youtube.  Check it out…

**Note: You can download your own copy of “A Glorious Dawn” from its creator’s website – SymphonyofScience.com
– where there are many other cool videos & music files available.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Baloney Detection Kit

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2009

There is a video out from the Richard Dawkins Foundation featuring Dr. Michael Shermer called The Baloney Detection Kit. This is a quick 15 minute Youtube video which outlines the basics of skeptical & scientific thinking.  Give it a quick look and pass it on…

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Science & Democracy

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 29, 2009

Yesterday I read an amazing essay in the New York Times titled “Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy” by Dennis Overbye about how the pursuit of science & governing by democracy are inextricably linked. By the time I’d read to the end, I almost had tears in my eyes – I cannot really do it justice, so I will simply recommend that you read it in its entirety. Allow me to share a few of the highlights.

How some criticize modern science:

The knock on science from its cultural and religious critics is that it is arrogant and materialistic. It tells us wondrous things about nature and how to manipulate it, but not what we should do with this knowledge and power. The Big Bang doesn’t tell us how to live, or whether God loves us, or whether there is any God at all. It provides scant counsel on same-sex marriage or eating meat. It is silent on the desirability of mutual assured destruction as a strategy for deterring nuclear war.

Overbye’s response to those critics:

But this is balderdash. Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.

That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.

I especially like this part – science is a methodology employed by all people, regardless of tribe or creed:

It requires no metaphysical commitment to a God or any conception of human origin or nature to join in this game, just the hypothesis that nature can be interrogated and that nature is the final arbiter. Jews, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists and Hindus have all been working side by side building the Large Hadron Collider and its detectors these last few years.

How science & democracy go hand in glove:

It is no coincidence that these are the same qualities that make for democracy and that they arose as a collective behavior about the same time that parliamentary democracies were appearing. If there is anything democracy requires and thrives on, it is the willingness to embrace debate and respect one another and the freedom to shun received wisdom. Science and democracy have always been twins.

Overbye’s point about science and democracy is well made. If you study the history of science, you will learn that it grew out of the Western tradition of natural philosophy handed down by the Ancient Greeks. Most historians of science trace the origins of natural philosophy to Thales of Miletus, who famously proposed a theoretical understanding of the basis for all things in the cosmos – Thales believed that everything was made of “water”. This idea may sound silly to us now, but the thought processes put in place in ancient Greek natural philosophy gradually evolved into what we now call modern science. Consider, if you will, that many physicists have drawn a page from Thales when they contemplate that all matter & energy in the universe is an expression of ultra-microscopic strings.

That same ancient Greek civilization is also the birthplace of democracy. It was the contemporaries of Thales who created the rudimentary institutions of democratic government, including electing representatives from the community to meet, debate, and vote about the politics of the day. Both modern science & modern democracy are the descendants of Thales and his fellow Greeks, and we have inherited both traditions.

In closing, I’ll leave you with one final thought from Overbye’s New York Times article. It’s a warning, echoed by most scientists, about placing limits on our explorations:

But once you can’t talk about one subject, the origin of the universe, for example, sooner or later other subjects are going to be off-limits, like global warming, birth control and abortion, or evolution, the subject of yet another dustup in Texas last week.

And, as Carl Sagan stated in the closing chapter (“Real Patriots Ask Questions”) of his famous book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen – or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for the Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

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