The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘cosmology’

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun, Member of House Science Committee, Says “Evolution, Embryology, Big Bang Theory are ‘Lies Straight from the Pit of Hell’ “

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

But don’t take it from me, take it straight from his mouth…

First, allow me to state the obvious:

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… we see two things from this idiotic tirade from Rep. Broun:

1. He engages in the typical creationist fear-mongering about evolutionary science that it is inherently evil, etc (hence the “Pit of Hell” reference).  I suppose we needn’t bother Rep. Broun with the annoying fact that many of his Christian brethren think evolution is just fine.

2. He, like far too many of his conservative colleagues in our government (I’m talking about YOU, Rep. Todd Akin), seem to have gone out of their way lately to declare war on any form of science they deem contrary to their ideology.  This includes not only denying evolution and denying climate science, and apparently basic info on human reproduction, but also rejecting certain pesky historical facts along the way.

Folks, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want people like this running my federal government.  This is why I so strongly support efforts like Science Debate, and why I think you should, too.  It is also why those of us who are defenders and advocates of science and skepticism should be involved in our political process.

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

Testing String Theory? How Real Science Progresses

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2010

Something very interesting has happened recently in the world of theoretical physics.  One of the hottest ideas around is the notion of so-called string theory: it’s the idea that all matter & energy in the universe – from the electrons & quarks that make up atoms to photons of light to everything in between – is composed of ultra-tiny strings of vibrating energy.  It’s a marvelous and mathematically elegant idea, one which many theoretical physicists believe holds the key to unifying the fundamental forces of nature, but it suffers from a big flaw: these strings are, according to the theory, so small that we have no way to experimentally detect them. Thus, if such is the case, then many physicists & critics of string theory have equated the idea with a dragon in the garage, an unfalsifiable notion which isn’t subject to scientific investigation.  I have placed myself into this category of string theory skeptics for quite a long time for this very reason…

… up until now, that is.  It seems that the question of whether or not string theory is testable, and therefore real science, has been answered.  That’s because recent theoretical analysis of string theory has revealed that it makes unique predictions which can be tested in a controlled laboratory setting having to do with a weird phenomenon called quantum entanglement. Up until now, physicists haven’t had a good way to really predict the behavior of systems that coupled via quantum entanglement, but it seems that some aspects of string theory can shed some light on this…

New study suggests researchers can now test the ‘theory of everything’

String theory was originally developed to describe the fundamental particles and forces that make up our universe. The new research, led by a team from Imperial College London, describes the unexpected discovery that string theory also seems to predict the behaviour of entangled quantum particles. As this prediction can be tested in the laboratory, researchers can now test string theory.

Over the last 25 years, string theory has become physicists’ favourite contender for the ‘theory of everything’, reconciling what we know about the incredibly small from particle physics with our understanding of the very large from our studies of . Using the theory to predict how entangled quantum particles behave provides the first opportunity to test string theory by experiment.

“If experiments prove that our predictions about quantum entanglement are correct, this will demonstrate that string theory ‘works’ to predict the behaviour of entangled quantum systems,” said Professor Mike Duff FRS, lead author of the study from the Department of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London.

“This will not be proof that string theory is the right ‘theory of everything’ that is being sought by cosmologists and particle physicists. However, it will be very important to theoreticians because it will demonstrate whether or not string theory works, even if its application is in an unexpected and unrelated area of physics,” added Professor Duff. …

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Posted in physics denial/woo, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptical App on the iPhone/Touch 3: The Big Bang Theory Study Guide

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

In my never-ending quest to pass along all things skeptical, techie, and educational, I have discovered another very useful app for the iPhone or iPod-Touch.  If you are into physics & astronomy, or if you happen to ever get into conversation with people regarding cosmology, cosmic evolution, the big bang, and creationism, then this is the app for you!

It’s called The Big Bang Theory Study Guide, and it is a very well-indexed and laid out collection of facts and whatnot about the big bang cosmology.  I consider this to be the physics & astronomy version of the famous Creationist Claims Index, and it is a must have for any serious skeptic & science backer…

There’s one drawback: it’s not free – but it is cheap, at a cost of only $1.99 (well worth the cost).

Posted in creationism, internet, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” Entry #3

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #3: We’re back from lunch!  Our speaker is Dr. Ron Pine, explorer, retired biology professor, and debunker of “Intelligent Design”…

He’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and he’s here talking about evolution & creationism (and the newest version of creationism – “intelligent design”).  One argument by creationists often used is to “teach the controversy”.  In ID, there are basically no new arguments – the roots of ID are actually older than Flood Geology, Biblically based Young Earth Creationism.  Thus, these ID arguments have been thoroughly refuted for a long time, yet the argument is back with new terminology.  Essentially, the ID argument boils down to claiming that “we have proved the existence of God using science!”

That’s a pretty enormous claim, especially considering that there is no science in modern ID – it’s just a bunch of essays written by the proponents.  They use all the standard creationist arguments against evolution which have been debunked for many years.

William Paley’s Watchmaker Argument: from the modern ID movement, it is clear that their version of the Intelligent Designer is their view of the Christian god.

Irreducible Complexity & Specified Complexity – IC is complexity which can not be broken down any simpler.  SC speaks to specific functions (i.e., DNA, etc)

Law of Conservation of Information: basically, it is impossible for natural processes to come up with SC – wtf?!

The entire ID argument boils in large part down to an argument from incredulity – “I cannot conceive that God didn’t do it, therefore evolution is wrong & God did it!”  When presented with explanations via evolution for what we observe, they essentially deny the evidence & rationalize it away.

Another ID argument is known as god-of-the-gaps… in the past, in the absence of natural explanations for various phenomena (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, etc) the explanation of “God did (does) it!” comes to the front.  However, as we learn more and more about the natural world, the god-of-the-gaps gets smaller and smaller, which is one reason why intelligent theologians do not like this line of argumentation.

The Center for Science & Culture via the Discovery Institute pushes ID through their Wedge Strategy, internal memos which explicitly state that they are attempting to push a Christian theocracy on U.S. society.  They believe that this “wedge” will lead to a replacement of evolution in science by ID, and this will better society as a whole – note that they say specifically that they aren’t interested in science, rather they are interested in pushing their ideology.  Questions such as Young Earth Creationism vs. Old Earth Creationism are said to be answered after evolution is replaced.

At least in YEC, there is some kind of model to be tested, making it at least a legitimate pseudoscience, whereas the modern ID movement is not even wrong, it’s not even a pseudoscience, because it doesn’t even have a model which can be tested in the first place!

ID proponents claim they have a theory, yet they don’t – no model to test – just a bunch of articles.  They take advantage of the public’s misunderstanding of the word “theory”, which they imply is “just a guess.”  Sadly, many high school texts don’t help with the manner in which scientific terminology is mangled (e.g., hypothesis is more than “a prediction”).  This includes mixing up various terms such as scientific law, theory, etc.

There is no ID “theory” – it is simply an assertion.  And scientists shouldn’t even use such language in reference to ID, because it gives them more credit than they deserve. …

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Live Blog of CFI Chicago’s “Dangerous Nonsense” – Entry #2

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 24, 2010

Speaker #2: Dr. Michael Albrow , physicist at FermiLab, talking about “What’s True and What’s Untrue in Physics Today?”

Opening joke: please take away from this that physics is much simpler than biology! 🙂

Some knowledge is as certain as certain can be, while some things are necessarily uncertain.  There is much we know is not possible, but there is much which we know is also outside of our domain.

The beginning of modern science probably started with Galileo and his conflict with the Church.  Differences between science & religion…


*distrust authority / only Nature is authority

*criticism encouraged

*all hypotheses are testable by repeatable experiments / observations

*try to fault existing theories, make progress

*theory = explanation

*disagreements are healthy

*accepted standards of statistics & evidence



*questioning / criticism not encouraged

*not fundamentally upheld to testing

*”theory” = speculation

*disagreements discouraged / when scientists disagree that mans they’re wrong

*poor understanding or misuse of statistics & numbers

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Posted in physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

National Science Foundation Omits Evolution Polling Data from Report

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I found out recently, through an article in Science Magazine (the official journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science) that the National Science Foundation has released a report which has actually omitted polling data regarding evolution & the big bang.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?!!

Needless to say, this story is getting a LOT of attention from science supporters…

From the National Center for Science Education: What happened to evolution at the NSB?

And PZ Myers at Pharyngula chimes in: Let’s hide that embarrassing conflict in American culture

Here is the actual Science article in question:

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans’ knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.

They’re not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.

“Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice” that “downplays the controversy” over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week’s issue of Science.

But why is it this information, which has been part of every previous Indicators report to date, been removed at the last minute without any oversight?  Here’s a clue…

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs,” says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee. …

The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions “very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding” of the two topics.

“I think that is a nonsensical response” that reflects “the religious right’s point of view,” says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

So what exactly was the offending material deleted from the report?  Here you go…

The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

So rather than report the honest truth about the state of scientific literacy in the United States on these topics, it seems the NSF has chosen to hide the embarrassing facts.  But, thankfully, it didn’t work.  We cannot change the poor state of science education in this country by hiding such information, either to save political face or to kow-tow to religious fundamentalists who push creationism; rather, we must face the challenge head on.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Youtube Videos on Debunking CrAP

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 25, 2009

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to a series of videos on Youtube – Creationist Astronomy Propoganda Debunked (or CrAP Debunked 🙂 ) – which address numerous bogus claims made by creationists regarding astronomy

CrAP Debunked

Since much of the whole discussion of creationism focuses on biology, I wanted to pass these videos along to show that these pseudoscientific nutters hold all of science in contempt, not just biology.  Please take some time to watch and pass them on!

Posted in creationism, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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