The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘chemistry’

The Pope Tries to Have It Both Ways on Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2015

Like many, I was pleasantly surprised when Pope Francis recently made public comments about climate change, wherein he stated that a) it was real, and b) it is largely due to human activity. This is good news because, rightly or wrongly, the Pope is looked up to by billions of people around the world, and when someone of his stature speaks, people listen; and it seems his words are having a positive effect. It is also interesting that so many global warming deniers are beside themselves, even going so far as to label the Pope’s stance as off base and that he should (get this) leave “science to the scientists” (pardon me while I laugh at the irony of that comment). Of course, what do you expect from people who continually confuse weather with climate?

Now, while I’m happy to see these developments, I also urge caution. It’s not like Pope Francis is suddenly a big booster for science. Like too many high-profile public figures, he is a science-booster when it works for him and a science-denier when it works against him. Case in point: I was also a tad disappointed when the Pope visited Turin, Italy a few days ago, and he took some time to pray before the much-revered Shroud of Turin.

italy_turin_pope_francis_visit_tur31_50953173

(Image source)

So why does this matter? It matters because, to put it bluntly, it has been shown rather conclusively that the Shroud of Turin, which many claim is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, is fake. For instance, there is the historical evidence which dates it to a time (around the year 1300 C.E. – roughly 13 centuries after Christ’s supposed burial) when supposed “holy relics” abounded in Europe; then there is the radio-carbon dating which dates it conclusively to the same time frame; then there is the evidence that, despite claims by the Vatican to the contrary, that it is actually rather easy to fake the phenomenon of the Shroud. All of this evidence pointing to the fakery that is the revered Shroud is nicely summed up in this entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Which leads to an obvious question: If Pope Francis is such a science-booster, why is he avoiding the entire question of the Shroud’s authenticity? Why are his statements regarding the Shroud little more than veiled references to Jesus and the Christian faith? Could it be because he wants to have it both ways, like Sen. Rick Santorum, and leave “science to the scientists”, except when he doesn’t like the answers science reveals?

Officially, the Vatican hasn’t taken a stance on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, but apparently that won’t stop the Pope from giving every indication that he believes it is real and thus influencing millions of Shroud-believers. Taking this stance is essentially to make one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously? That’s the argument? Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation. And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

Ah well, at least the Pope got it right on climate change.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, global warming denial, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2012

It seems that in the United States we could be doing a much better job of teaching our young people about science (big surprise there).  However, it doesn’t become apparent just how troublesome the situation is until you take a look at the standards for public science education laid down by the states.  One look at this map gives you some idea of the challenge we face…

Image from Your State Sucks at Science

The well respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which regularly tracks issues related to science and education, has provided a summary of the survey of state science standards.  You can read more about their summary, as well as a breakdown of the standards state-by-state, here…

American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed. [emphasis added]

This is particularly problematic because the 21st century is going to be one of intensifying competition between the United States and developing nations such as China and India.  If we cannot (or will not) beef up our science education then we are only hurting ourselves in the long run.

Why is it that the U.S., the most powerful and technologically advanced nation (so far) on the planet, seems to have this weird relationship with science where we appear to almost disdain it?  My thoughts on that in a future blog post…

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

Skeptical Homeopathy Homework Assignment

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 4, 2012

I found this image via a skeptical Facebook friend, and it just screams “skeptical teacher”!  I’m just jealous that I didn’t think of it first 🙂

Three words: FOR THE WIN!!!

Image source: Reddit

The solutions (pardon the pun) to these questions reveals one glaring fact: homeopathy, there’s nothing in it, except water.

**Update (2/5/12): For those interested, I have calculated the actual answers to these questions.  Contact me if you would like to see the math; here are the answers:

a) 3.46 x 10^21   or   3,460,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms

b) 3.46 x 10^15   or   3,460,000,000,000,000 atoms

c) 3.46 x 10^-39  or  0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 00346 atoms (a number so stupidly small we can safely say that there are effectively NO arsenic atoms remaining within the solution!)

Posted in education, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

More Twisted Thinking from Shroud of Turin Proponents

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2011

I shouldn’t be surprised to see this particular headline at this time of the year: The Shroud of Turin Wasn’t Faked, Italian Experts Say.  It’s just too easy, I assume, for the media to take a story like this and run with it during the Christmas season.  Going beyond the headline, I’d like to analyze a couple of specifics from the folks who are behind this latest “research” on the Shroud.

First, they claim – falsely – that it would have been impossible to fake the Shroud…

… Experts at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded in a report that the famed purported burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked. … [emphasis added]

Which is an interesting claim, based upon the fact that in 2009 researcher Luigi Garlaschelli published his methods for replicating the Shroud using only techniques which would have been available in the 13th and 14th centuries (dates to which all available evidence points as the time of origin of the Shroud).  Here’s what he came up with…

Replications of the Shroud of Turin — So much for the claim that it cannot be replicated (oops)

But the worst part of the analysis by the Shroud proponents comes from the next part of the ABC article:

… According to the Vatican Insider, a project by La Stampa newspaper that closely follows the Catholic church, the experts’ report says, “The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory … This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.” … [emphasis added]

Note the last line there.  It is essentially one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire “scientific” endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously?  That’s the argument?  Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation.  And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

If this is the best the Shroud proponents can do, color me unimpressed.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

What is the Physical Evidence for the Existence of Jesus?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2011

The Easter season is upon us, and members of the world’s most populace religion – Christianity – will be celebrating the traditional event that serves as the foundation of their beliefs: the supposed death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Now, I’m not really interested in getting into all the philosophical & metaphysical questions regarding the beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ here.  Rather, I am more interested in asking a much more direct question: did Jesus actually exist as a historical figure?

To address this question, and the related issues which are presented in a (pardon the pun) newly risen branch of theological discourse called the Jesus/Christ myth theory, we must take into account the physical evidence (or lack thereof) for the existence of Jesus.

To address these questions, I would like to reference this excellent article from LiveScience.com:

Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up?

Jesus Christ may be the most famous man who ever lived. But how do we know he did?

Most theological historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that Jesus really did walk the Earth. They draw that conclusion from textual evidence in the Bible, however, rather than from the odd assortment of relics parading as physical evidence in churches all over Europe.

That’s because, from fragments of text written on bits of parchment to overly abundant chips of wood allegedly salvaged from his crucifix, none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny.  [Who Was Jesus, the Man?]…

This is a particularly interesting point that I think some Christians need to address.  Many insist that the world around us provides evidence for their beliefs: that God is real, and Jesus died for our sins to save us, etc.  However, when we really analyze the world around us to address questions such as “Did Jesus really exist?” the evidence seems lacking; and then those same believers dismiss this lack of evidence and then proceed to point to the Bible as “evidence”.  People who argue in such a manner are not being consistent in their argument nor are they being intellectually honest, because they want to stack the deck of evidence, so to speak.

[**Addendum (4-22-11): Even for those who wish to try gathering all of their “evidence” for the historical reality of Jesus from the Bible, there are very troublesome inconsistencies.  To see why, try taking this Easter Quiz on the Biblical account of Jesus’s death & resurrection over at Skeptic Money]

So let’s talk about the supposed physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and see just why it is that it doesn’t pass muster.  For example, a recent “documentary” claimed that the original nails used to crucify Jesus on the cross could have been found, but according to the LiveScience.com article…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

Science Creates Artificial Cell and Creationists Spin, Spin, Spin

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 30, 2010

A couple of weeks back, a bombshell of an announcement hit the scientific world: the first artificial cell has been synthesized in the lab. Needless to say, this is a big deal, because it not only has vast implications for bio- & genetic engineering, but the discovery can help fill in gaps in our knowledge of how life evolved naturally from non-life (see my previous blog post on this issue – The God-of-the-Gaps Just Got Smaller: Link Found Between Life & Inorganic Matter)

What’s also interesting is the reaction from some religious & creationist circles concerning this discovery.  First, there is the response from the Catholic Church warning scientists not to “play God”…

Catholic Church officials said Friday that the recently created first synthetic cell could be a positive development if correctly used, but warned scientists that only God can create life.

Vatican and Italian church officials were mostly cautious in their first reaction to the announcement from the United States that researchers had produced a living cell containing manmade DNA. They warned scientists of the ethical responsibility of scientific progress and said that the manner in which the innovation is applied in the future will be crucial.

“It’s a great scientific discovery. Now we have to understand how it will be implemented in the future,” Monsignor Rino Fisichella, the Vatican’s top bioethics official, told Associated Press Television News.

“If we ascertain that it is for the good of all, of the environment and man in it, we’ll keep the same judgment,” he said. “If, on the other hand, the use of this discovery should turn against the dignity of and respect for human life, then our judgment would change.”

I’m all for proceeding cautiously in this particular research, because there is the potential for abuse, just as there is with any kind of new technology.  But read between the lines of what the Vatican is saying – they seem to be implying that, somehow, this artificial life is fundamentally different from “normal” life simply because of the manner in which it was created.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The God-of-the-Gaps Just Got Smaller: Link Found Between Life & Inorganic Matter

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 20, 2010

If you’re familiar with various creationist arguments, you will no doubt recognize the infamous god-of-the-gaps argument. This is basically a variation on the classic logical fallacy called the argument from ignorance, which basically states that if we don’t understand some phenomenon with 100% clarity (such as the origins of life), then that must mean that “Poof! God did it”…

There is one fatal flaw with this kind of argument, which begs an interesting theological question: what happens to the god-of-the-gaps when we do come up with evidence & naturalistic explanations for the gaps in our knowledge?  Most scholarly theologians disdain the god-of-the-gaps argument precisely to avoid this trap, because they don’t want their god somehow diminished as science marches ever forward.

But not creationists, who usually take the intellectually lazy & dishonest route by simply dismissing the evidence filling in said gaps.  Only by ignoring and distorting the science can their god-of-the-gaps be maintained, so while the rest of us learn more and more about our universe and our place within it, creationists insist upon wallowing in their ignorance, content that their twisted reading of a 2000 year-old holy text (only one of many different supposedly “divinely inspired” holy texts out there) has revealed to them the truth.

So here’s the big news, and why the god-of-the-gaps just got a lot smaller: scientists have discovered a missing link between life and inorganic matter…

Philosophers and scientists have argued about the origins of life from inorganic matter ever since Empedocles (430 B.C.) argued that every thing in the universe is made up of a combination of four eternal ‘elements’ or ‘roots of all’: earth, water, air, and fire, and that all change is explained by the arrangement and rearrangement of these four elements. Now, scientists have discovered that simple peptides can organize into bi-layer membranes. The finding suggests a “missing link” between the pre-biotic Earth’s chemical inventory and the organizational scaffolding essential to life.

“This is a boon to our understanding of large, structural assemblies of molecules,” says Emory Chemistry Chair David Lynn, who helped lead the effort, which were collaborations of the departments of chemistry, biology and physics. “We’ve proved that peptides can organize as bi-layers, and we’ve generated the first, real-time imaging of the self-assembly process. We can actually watch in real-time as these nano-machines make themselves.” …

… The research is part of “The Center for Chemical Evolution,” a center based at Emory and Georgia Tech, for integrated research, education and public outreach focused on the chemistry that may have led to the origin of life. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy have funded the research.

Many groups studying the origins of life have focused on RNA, which is believed to have pre-dated living cells. But RNA is a much more complicated molecule than a peptide. “Our studies have now shown that, if you just add water, simple peptides access both the physical properties and the long-range molecular order that is critical to the origins of chemical evolution,” Childers says.

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Shroud of Turin Reveals the 3D Face of Jesus?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 3, 2010

Just in time for Easter, the “History” Channel has come out with a television special which claims to have found the “true face” of Jesus Christ.  And just how was this amazing feat accomplished?  Supposedly through a complex, three-dimensional computer analysis of the Shroud of Turin.

See the ABC News story here…

Of course, this is a major media fail on the part of the “History” Channel, because the entire argument that this is the face of Jesus is based upon a false premise.  Namely, the assumption on the part of both the “History” Channel and the researchers performing the computer analysis is that the Shroud of Turin actually did cover Christ… when in reality it didn’t.

All the evidence we have to date shows quite clearly that the Shroud could not have been the funeral covering for Christ, because all signs point to it being created sometime around the 13th century A.D. (see my previous blog posts on the Shroud of Turin here and here).  And, unless I’m really bad at both math and a basic understanding of Christian theology, Jesus is supposed to have been resurrected a mere three days after his death, as opposed to roughly seven centuries!!! All the cool technology in the world won’t change the basic fact that if you start with a bad argument (i.e., the Shroud is authentic), you’ll still end with a bad argument (i.e., the “3D face of Jesus” is the real thing).  In other words… “garbage in = garbage out”.

So while the “History” Channel might be going for ratings with the timing of this TV special, they get a big, fat failing grade for spreading yet more nonsense when they are supposed to be educating the public.

Posted in media woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

More Shroud Science FAIL

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 22, 2009

The Shroud of Turin has been in the news a bit recently, and I blogged about how it can be replicated using completely natural methods (something many Shroud-proponents say cannot be done – whoops).  Well, now the Shroudies are back, with one of them claiming that she has seen ancient writing on the actual Shroud which “proves” it was the funeral covering for Christ’s burial.

Researcher: Faint writing seen on Shroud of Turin

A Vatican researcher has rekindled the age-old debate over the Shroud of Turin, saying that faint writing on the linen proves it was the burial cloth of Jesus. Experts say the historian may be reading too much into the markings, and they stand by carbon-dating that points to the shroud being a medieval forgery.

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

She asserts that the words include the name “(J)esu(s) Nazarene” — or Jesus of Nazareth — in Greek. That, she said, proves the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have mentioned Jesus without referring to his divinity. Failing to do so would risk being branded a heretic.

Of course, the claim of “proof” here flies in the face of much other evidence which clearly shows the Shroud’s origins as a pious fraud in the 1300s A.D., way past the burial date of Christ.  This includes evidence from independent radiocarbon dating tests, as well as evidence from historical, iconographic, pathological, physical, and chemical sources that points to its inauthenticity. As one of the foremost skeptical Shroud researchers, Joe Nickell, has concluded: the shroud is a 14th century painting, not a 2000-year-old cloth with Christ’s image.  And, concerning these most recent claims of seeing writing in the Shroud, they are dubious for multiple reasons…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Shroud of Turin: It’s Fake, Get Over It!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2009

Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised one bit by this piece of news: there is yet another piece of evidence that the much revered Shroud of Turin is a fake.  But don’t tell the “Shroudies” – those who emphatically maintain that it is the “holy cloth” which covered the body of a crucified Jesus in his tomb – because they’re likely to engage in some rather interesting mental gymnastics via special pleading & cognitive dissonance.

Italian Scientist Reproduces Shroud of Turin

This latest research on the Shroud definitely counters the criticism among the Shroudie-true-believers: that there is no known man-made technique which can accurately replicate the features of the Shroud.  That is because the scientist in question, Luigi Garlaschelli, has perfected a method of replicating the Shroud!

“We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud,” Luigi Garlaschelli, who is due to illustrate the results at a conference on the para-normal this weekend in northern Italy, said on Monday.

A professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, Garlaschelli made available to Reuters the paper he will deliver and the accompanying comparative photographs.

The Shroud of Turin shows the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, while the entire cloth is marked by what appears to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side. …

… But scientists have thus far been at a loss to explain how the image was left on the cloth.

Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ghosts & paranormal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments »

 
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