Image: Christmas Tree
CfA / Univ. of Ariz. / NASA / JPL-Caltech
Through small telescopes, the Christmas Tree star cluster looks like a tree bedecked by dazzling holiday lights. Spitzer's new infrared image reveals a different view: ribbons of gas and dust swirling like snow blowing in frigid winter winds and adorned by a festive collection of brilliant stars. A fan-shaped star cluster near the center of the image has been nicknamed the Spokes Cluster, or Snowflake Cluster.

Dec. 22, 2005 | 7:10 p.m. ET
Holiday treats for the eyes: Now is a perfect time for walking in a winter wonderland on the Web, so check out the great sights from scientific sites.

First, feast your eyes on SnowCrystals.com, presented by Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology. Libbrecht is one of the world's top experts on snow, ice and other white stuff — and he even grows his own in the lab. You've got to see Libbrecht's time-lapse movies of snowflake growth, and while the kids are home from school, you can try growing ice spikes in the freezer.

You'll see a lot more of Libbrecht's handiwork next year, when his snowflake pictures are due to be splashed over the U.S. Postal Service's holiday stamps. Get a preview of the 2006 "Holiday Snowflakes" toward the tail end of this USPS news release. And for more fun with snowflakes, click on over to our "Mysteries of the Universe" section for a look at the science of winter wonderlands and a poetical paean to snowflakes .

Starting on Christmas Eve, you can keep tabs on Santa Claus via MSNBC.com's "Santa Tracker" feature. Check out our earlier Cosmic Log item for the story behind this year's Santa-tracking sites.

On the big day itself, lift your eyes up to the skies: SpaceWeather.com points out that Spica can serve as a "star of the East" on Christmas morning this year, and in some locales you can actually watch the moon blot out the star, as detailed by Sky & Telescope. Even if you can't spot Spica, you can still see Jupiter twinkling in the eastern skies of Christmas morn, with this sky map as your guide. (Jupiter may well have played a role in the biblical sighting of the Christmas Star .)

Even if the skies are cloudy, you can experience the wonders of the season vicariously through SpaceWeather.com's pictures of yuletide auroral displays, such as this stunner from Alaska photographer Joseph Hall. Another dose of Northern Lights may sweep over Earth on Dec. 28, so keep watching the Web site for updates.

Finally, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the University of Arizona have gotten into the holiday mood by presenting some new imagery of the Christmas Tree star cluster.

Through smaller telescopes, the three brightest stars in the cluster look like the outline of a Christmas tree. But when NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope took a closer look, scientists found that the cluster is actually a complex swirl of stars and glowing gas, with a collection of protostars arranged like the spokes on a wheel — or, ahem, the pattern of a snowflake.

"That was a wonderful holiday surprise for us!" the lead author of the star cluster study, Paula Teixeira, said in a news release from the CfA. "The spatial regularity of these protostars provides us with a critical clue about the very nature of the process of stellar birth in the Spokes, or Snowflake, cluster."

You can get additional perspectives on the Christmas Tree cluster from the Spitzer team as well as the University of Arizona. And for still more holiday treats from space, don't miss our Year in Space Pictures slide show.

Dec. 22, 2005 | 7:10 p.m. ET
Debate over ‘debate’: In the wake of this week's intelligent-design decision , David J. Geracitano of Albany, N.Y., took issue with references to the "evolution debate," because the scientific evidence for evolution is well-established:

"You are letting all of your less-educated readers down by referring to this as a debate. It is not a debate. It is a propaganda war launched by religious fundamentalists against science. The only people debating are lawyers and ignorant fundamentalists. Do you see any peer-reviewed ID studies in the major scientific journals? No, because only an ignorant fool takes religious myth at face value. Please stop failing your readers and speak plainly on the topic.

"ID and Creationism are myth. That's not a bad thing, but its also not science. You can start by eradicating the word 'debate' from your articles on the topic. Then explain the difference between a scientifically testable hypothesis and untestable belief. Maybe you could also mention that scientists don't dispel the existence of God, they merely investigate how his world works. Then you can tell us all that there is not a single respected scientist anywhere in the world that believes that evolution did not occur, or that holes in evolution need to be filled in with ID. Now that would be some good, honest, balanced reporting.

"Then you can never give America's dangerous religous fundamentalists any more time in the press. What they want is no less dangerous than what Islamic extremists are hoping to create, and they are slowly destroying America."

Setting aside the religious and political perspectives, it's true that the evidence for evolution is well-established in the scientific community. In fact, the journal Science's "Breakthrough of the Year," announced just today , is all about the evidence for evolution in action. But in my view, the evolution issue is still a debate, even though it's being conducted primarily on religious and political grounds rather than on strictly scientific terms. So if you see the word "debate" in the context of evolution education, understand it in that broader sociopolitical sense.

This week's issue of Science also contains a study on public attitudes toward scientific issues such as stem cell research and genetically modified foods — a study that found the issues tend to generate more controversy in the United States than in Europe or Canada.

What other issues might become part of the scientifico-sociopolitical debate? As time goes on, I wouldn't expect controversy to be confined merely to evolutionary science, although intelligent design's proponents continue to press for recognition in what they consider peer-reviewed publications. For example, if you take a close look at the Discovery Institute's explanation of its aims (PDF document), theories in neuroscience and cosmology are also targeted.

Thus, the debate over the philosophy of science isn't likely to go away — instead, it just might spread more widely as scientific speculations about the "cosmic landscape" and the origins of consciousness are advanced.

Dec. 22, 2005 | 7:10 p.m. ET
E really does = mc2: As the World Year of Physics draws to a close, researchers report in the journal Nature that they've verified Einstein's most famous formula to an unprecedented accuracy of four parts in 10 million. The experiment involved measuring the amount of energy given off by silicon and sulfur atoms, then matching up those figures with ultra-precise measurements of the atoms' masses. You can take their word for it, or you can check out the news releases from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as the citation from Nature. Bottom line? Relativity rules!

Dec. 22, 2005 | 7:10 p.m. ET
Home page for the holidays: My own holiday vacation starts tonight, and I'll be heading from Seattle to Iowa for what I hope will be more a winter wonderland and less of a winter "whitemare." In any case, updates to the log will be sporadic until my return to the office on Dec. 30. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Dec. 22, 2005 | 7:10 p.m. ET
Holiday field trips on the World Wide Web:
Christian Science Monitor: What makes scientists cheat?
Transterrestrial Musings: Three words for the aliens
Wired.com: Passion of the Spaghetti Monster
Improbable Research: Jesus did the funniest things
Precious Ramotswe in the British Medical Journal

Dec. 22, 2005 | Updated 6:10 p.m. ET
The expanding podiverse: If you need any more evidence that the scientific universe is accelerating, look no further than the burgeoning number of podcasts on gee-whiz subjects.

We've already mentioned several science-related podcasts — that is, multimedia files suitable for downloading onto your iPod or MP3 player, or for piping through your computer speakers as you do the dishes. For a sampling, check out these "sounds of science," this item on "hearing science" and Clark Lindsey's list of "SpaceCasts."

Now NASA is weighing in with its own array of audio/video podcasts, ranging from features based on space research, to today's briefing on the Stardust comet-sampling mission to Paul McCartney's space station serenade. Check out the space agency's news release for some text-only background on the new offerings.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is also in the podcasting business, through its Science Update radio service. You can delve through archives going back to 1996. Our friends at AAAS have also been working up a podcast related to the "Breakthroughs of the Year," the annual year-end list that's due to be released by the journal Science on Thursday. (Other magazines presenting podcasts include Nature and New Scientist.)

But wait ... there's more! "The Naked Scientists" (sorry, no X-rated video here) have been putting shows on the air since 2000. "Science Friday," NPR's venerable talk show, is in the podcast game as well. You can always check the "Science Friday" archives for past shows in a variety of formats.

If you're looking for more tech-oriented fare, you can try out our own MSNBC "TechWatch" podcast . And if you really want to zone out on science audio, take a browse through the science section of Podcast.net. Is there a science-oriented audio or video program you're dying to share? Send in your recommendations, and I'll try to pass along a playlist.

Update for Dec. 22: How could I forget the Space.com podcasts? Or the "Skywatch" audio programs presented by the Space Telescope Science Institute? Or the CBC's "Quirks and Quarks" show? Also, the "Breakthrough" podcast from Science is now available, as is a video presentation on the same subject.

Dec. 21, 2005 | 10 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
Slashdot: Q&A with the Mythbusters
The Guardian: Quantum leap of life
Discovery.com: Who was the first 'Father Christmas'?
Discover Magazine: The year in science

Dec. 20, 2005 | 9 p.m. ET
Galaxy’s center in focus: Astronomers have used a laser-guided telescope to produce the clearest picture yet taken of our galaxy's mysterious center, where close-packed stars swing around what is thought to be a supermassive black hole.

Image: Galactic center
Keck / UCLA Galactic Center Group
This picture — taken with the laser-equipped, 10-meter Keck II Telescope — shows the stars surrounding the Milky Way galaxy's center, which is indicated by a small white cross. The center is thought to contain a supermassive black hole, 26,000 light-years away from Earth.
The view of the Milky Way's central point, also known as Sagittarius A, comes from the Keck II Telescope, outfitted with a "Laser Guide Star" adaptive optics system. The laser system generates an artificial bright star that helps the telescope's imaging equipment compensate for shimmering atmospheric distortions.

"Everything is much clearer now," Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California at Los Angeles, explained in a news release today. "We used a laser to improve the telescope's vision — a spectacular breakthrough that will help us understand the black hole's environment and physics. It's like getting Lasik surgery for the eyes, and will revolutionize what we do in astronomy."

The research team is already using the sharper imagery to analyze the infrared light emanating from hot material that's just on the edge of the black hole's event horizon, in the process of being pulled in.

The black hole is so massive that nothing inside the event horizon can escape its gravitational pull — that's why black holes never show up visually. But astronomers can still study how the material sucked into the hole behaves, and also trace the movements of stars orbiting the galactic center. Ghez and her colleagues have been doing just that for the past 10 years.

Based on the black hole's gravitational influence, astronomers estimate that the Milky Way's black hole is more than 3 million times as massive as our sun. Ghez and her colleagues hope to determine whether the new stuff falling into the black hole plays a role in its growth.

Image: Galactic center
Keck / UCLA Galactic Center Group
Orbits of stars around the Milky Way's center, marked by a five-pointed star, hint at the presence of a supermassive black hole.
The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in today's issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Ghez's co-authors include UCLA graduate students Seth Hornstein and Jessica Lu; the W.M. Keck Observatory's David Le Mignant, Marcos Van Dam and Peter Wizinowich; Antonin Bouchez and Keith Matthews at the California Institute of Technology; and Mark Morris and Eric Becklin at UCLA.

Check out the Galactic Center Group's Web page on the observations, as well as this archived report on our galaxy's central black hole.

Dec. 20, 2005 | 9 p.m. ET
Separation anxiety: When Cosmic Log correspondent Nathan Morrison read today's story on the intelligent-design ruling , the comment from former school board member and intelligent-design supporter William Buckingham definitely rubbed him the wrong way.

Buckingham was quoted as saying, "I’m still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there’s a separation of church and state." So Morrison wanted me to pass this along to Buckingham:

"... My reply is simple: In the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (the first 10 of these amendments are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights) it is stated: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' What this means, in short, is that Mr. Buckingham is authorized to practice any religion he would like, while the state (which includes the public schools) is not authorized to recognize said religion. This is what is meant by the separation of church and state. I hereby submit that Mr. Buckingham could have at least read the First Amendment, if nothing else, before issuing his challenge. ..."

This whole thing about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state has sparked yet another controversy among some particularly religious-minded folks. Even during the intelligent-design trial, reference was made to Buckingham's doubts about church-state separation, as well as the school board's consideration of a book titled "The Myth of Separation." U.S. District Judge John E. Jones cited such discussions as evidence that the Dover school board had religious motivations for at least some of their official actions. (You can search the PDF file of the judge's opinion for references to "separation.")

For the story about how judicial reflection gave rise to the idea of church-state separation, check out this backgrounder from the "Exploring Constitutional Conflicts" Web site.

Dec. 20, 2005 | 9 p.m. ET
High-tech frontiers on the World Wide Web:
Defense Tech: Pain ray headed to Iraq?
Nature: Robotic heroics at radiation lab
Wired.com: Tech may identify more 9/11 victims
N.Y. Times (reg. req.): Is that a finger or a Jell-O mold?

Dec. 19, 2005 | 8:25 p.m. ET
Supernova hunters wanted: You might not think there's a connection between exploding stars so far away they're hard to spot and subatomic particles so rare they're hard to catch. But some researchers contend that observations of supernovae and ghostly neutrinos could be linked up to solve an astrophysical mystery.

In fact, they believe the collaboration is so promising that they're considering a call for amateur astronomers to focus their search on a particular kind of supernova. Neutrino-hunters might thus become the latest group to tap into a global community of "semi-pro" skywatchers.

Nowadays, the upper echelons of amateur astronomers are armed with equipment that would make any electronics geek drool, including heavy-duty optics, ultra-sensitive CCD cameras and computer-controlled mounts. They have already made major contributions to various fields of astronomical research — including the hunt for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects and gamma-ray bursts.

The search for supernovae is another field where amateurs have already distinguished themselves, and in Physical Review Letters, a research team based at Ohio State University suggests that such observations could help unravel "one of the unsolved problems of astrophysics": how supernovae explode.

Astronomers say that the explosion sparked by the collapse of a star should blast out 99 percent of its energy in the form of neutrinos. However, scientists have not yet been able to correlate neutrino detections with supernova blasts, in part because the supernovae can't be detected quickly enough.

"Even with all our modern telescopes, the professionals can't look at the whole sky at once," John Beacom, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at OSU, said in a news release issued today. "But the amateurs are everywhere. With relatively small telescopes, they can see these nearby supernovae, which are very bright — often brighter than their host galaxies."

In a follow-up interview, Beacom told me that the ideal targets for amateurs would be galaxies within 30 million light-years — which is basically in our astronomical back yard. The types of telescopes required to spot such supernovae are bigger than the usual department-store variety, but smaller than the typical observatory-scale telescope.

Beacom envisions one scenario in which scientists at neutrino detectors could sound an alarm when two particles are detected within, say, a 10-second time frame. "The neutrinos are emitted a few hours or maybe half a day before the light," he explained. Such an alarm could serve as a supernova prediction, alerting amateurs to be on watch for the visible signal of a stellar blast.

Another scenario calls for supernova observers to alert physicists when a blast is detected in a nearby galaxy, so that records could be checked retroactively at the world's neutrino detectors. That scenario is promising enough that researchers at Japan's Super-Kamiokande detector have already agreed to search their records for events that could be linked with supernova detections, Beacom said.

Beacom admitted that it's still a little early to expect reliable results from such a supernova-neutrino network, but he said the next generation of ultrasensitive neutrino detectors could make the job much easier.

So what do the high-end amateurs think? Michael Schwartz, director of the Tenagra Observatories, is considered one of the leaders of the amateur astronomy community. He told me that Beacom's suggestion was a good idea whose time has not yet come.

"It's a good paper, and I love stuff that asks the amateur community (me) to be part of the action," Schwartz wrote in an e-mail. But he wondered how scientifically useful it would be to try to correlate one or two neutrinos with a supernova event. "A much larger flux is needed in order to study the nature of the collapse through neutrino types and energies," he said.

The idea of using neutrinos as a supernova forecast system would be "the potentially exciting part of the game," Schwartz said. But it would take a lot of coordination between the professionals and the high-end amateurs to make the system work, and the new neutrino detectors would probably have to come online first, he said.

Schwartz agreed that high-end amateurs eventually will be needed to unravel the tangled mysteries of supernovae and neutrinos.

"It's a sexy thought and a fun challenge, and I hope it happens," Schwartz said, "but in the long run there are a lot of factors that must line up. The good part is that it doesn't take money or any effort to get the amateurs moving (if not coordinated). We love this kind of thing, and jump on it like a terrier on a rat."

Dec. 19, 2005 | 8:25 p.m. ET
Scientific smorgasbord on the World Wide Web:
Slashdot: Marfa lights explained
Science News: Mathematicians zero in on infinite helix
WashPost: NASA's spaceship builder sets sights on moon, Mars
Flight International: Virgin spaceport plan allows for bigger ships
Mojave Desert News: Mojave to continue key role in space tourism

Dec. 16, 2005 | 8:55 p.m. ET
Find your star: 'Tis the season for spacey gift-giving — and from now until Valentine's Day, you can expect to hear plenty of offers to name a star for a loved one. Such arrangements are the "pet rocks" of the astronomy trade, because the registry that matches up names with stars has absolutely no official standing.

Only the International Astronomical Union can give official status to the name of a celestial body, despite all the claims by "international" registries, as has been pointed out year after year. The IAU just might accept your suggestion if you're an astronomer who has discovered something, or can persuade such a person to take up your cause — as we found out in January . But don't expect your sweetie's name to live on in the astronomy books just because you've sent $40 or $50 to a mail-order outfit.

This year, there's an extra twist to the "name-a-star" offerings: Houston-based Space Services Inc. will throw in some time on the SLOOH Observatory's robotically controlled telescope so that you can gaze at "your" star over the Internet.

Space Services is the same outfit that is due to send the remains of scores of loved ones into orbit next year, ranging from "Star Trek" engineer James Doohan to Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper . The company says it plans to send the star names and personal messages into orbit as well, and will provide buyers with the usual array of star charts and certificates.

Frankly, the SLOOH angle is more interesting to me than the star-naming angle: SLOOH sells packages of online telescope time during which you can control 14-inch (356mm) telescopes at an observatory in the Canary Islands via the Internet, or tag along for an online group outing. The astronomical images pop up on your computer display.

If you're looking for a low-cost name in the heavens, you just might luck out by piggybacking on someone else's honor. Here's how it could work: Go to the IAU's alphabetical list of minor planets and look for a name that suits your purpose — say, asteroid Boyle, or asteroid Smith, or Kitty or Toni or Wil. Take note of the number in front of the name, then plug that into JPL's asteroid orbit finder.

I feel a lot better knowing that there's an official asteroid Boyle out there, between Mars and Jupiter — and it didn't cost a cent. You could even print up a do-it-yourself certificate with the orbit and official designation as a quickie holiday gift for the space buff on your list. I'd be quite satisfied with that. But if you've got a spare asteroid sitting around that you want to name Alanboyle or Cosmiclog ... don't let me stop you.

Dec. 16, 2005 | Updated 10:35 p.m. ET
Scientific storms: This week was a big one for the controversy over stem cells and cloning , and whether what seemed to be a breakthrough in May has turned into a scandal. Next week could well be just as big for the controversy surrounding evolution education and intelligent design . The current thinking is that a federal judge could issue a ruling in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover intelligent-design case as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

Stay tuned for updates on both subjects in the days ahead. Just today, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to legislation setting up a national databank for umbilical-cord blood and bone marrow — something that people on both sides of the embryonic stem cell debate can support.

Here's a selection of the e-mail feedback received on stem cells as well as the evolution debate.

William J. Cashore, M.D., Brown University Medical School, Providence, R.I.: "The 'snafu' in the Korean stem cell project may damage not only the reputations of the scientists and universities involved, but also public trust and scientific credibility for the technology itself. We won't know for some time whether Dr. Hwang's approach is reproducible as a reliable source of the cells to be studied. The scandal hints at serious flaws in the ethics of 'big science' under pressure to produce breakthroughs and money, not the least being an appearance of very weak standards for supervision and co-authorship by senior investigators often distant from the lab benches and notebooks where the work is actually done.

"The ethics of co-investigation and scientific authorship have received some recent discussion, but apparently not enough to assure the honesty and accountability which such a crucial scientific undertaking as high quality stem cell research requires. We have enough public distrust of science and technology already without undermining and distorting a proper appreciation of an important branch of biology which has come to us with such overinflated expectations.

"Putting aside moral and 'theological' considerations for the moment, in my opinion the proper subject and goal of stem cell research would be a better understanding of normal and abnormal early human development with relationship to reproductive failure, malformations, growth of cancer cells, etc.

"For now, the idea of using human embryos, however derived, as spare parts depots for potential cures is an unfulfilled expectation and will be ethically problematic to some because of too many restrictions and to others because of not enough restrictions. Let's just get back to the basics of good developmental research and defuse the hype and rhetoric about cures on the one hand, and on the other the acrimonious mischaracterization of thoughtful people who would like to see progress in this research area but still have unresolved moral reservations about it. The apparent laxity and dishonesty which now clouds the Korean project will cause a few opponents to crow inappropriately over the latest failure, but will deeply trouble other reasonable people who think that ethical standards must be held exceptionally high for this type of research."

Michael Wood, M.D., M.P.H.: "... As a physician, I'll be among the first to agree that stem cell research has the possibility for great medical wonders in the future.  That word, 'possibility,' means very many things to so very many people.  Most people in society today seem to have very little concept about the differences between possibility, probability and potential (hey, they all start with 'p,' don't they?).  That, however, is not the direct cause for my concern over stem cell research.

My concern, as demonstrated by this latest event, is that the ethics of stem cell research (indeed, many other fields of scientific research as well) is at best poorly defined.  In fact, the pre-eminent ethic found in the field seems to be one whose underlying principle is 'if it can be done, it should be done.' The leading researchers in the field are the ones who produce results (and any will do) fastest, regardless of any considerations except perhaps grant money. Obviously, such an oversimplification maligns many fine scientists in the field, but I state it that way to make a point.  As the letter to Science by Wilmut, West, et al. said, "Many patients and family members of patients with degenerative diseases place great hopes in regenerative medicine."  Is it too farfetched to wonder if such hopes have been falsely raised in an effort to obtain more research money?  Given the current scandal, it doesn't seem that implausible.

"One could say that great disservice, or even harm, has been done to those patients and family members by scientists raising those hopes by pointing to possibilities without any proven potential.   More importantly, however, is that there are just too few questions being asked about the research to begin with. Scientists are understandably frustrated by the amount of legal, political, and media interest in their field when it seems to interfere with their ability to do research instead of bringing additional grant dollars.  However, such scrutiny is required to force questions to be asked that the scientists themselves seem reluctant to ask.  'Is it right to do this research at all?'  Such a question has no place in a realm where the only guiding principle is to ask 'can it be done?'  Therefore it falls to others to ask the questions.

"'Is it right to do this research at all?'  I actually think that it is right to do this research, but if I'm honest I would have to say that I really don't know.  That's why I welcome the current debates and think that we should limit the research at this time until, for lack of a better phrase, we know just what we're doing.  Too many questions are still unanswered, too much potential is still unproven.  And this latest scandal only goes to show that we can't necessarily trust the scientists doing the research to answer the questions alone."

Elmer in Orrville, Ohio: "Why don't we see more about the use of adult stem cells ? I understand that there are a number of medical treatments already in use through this research, and that studies with adult stem cells have actually shown more promise than embryonic cells."

Turning to the evolution debate:

Michael Breland, M.D, Ph.D., Walla Walla, Wash.: "Your recent science vs. religion 'experiment' was quite interesting. However, in every discussion of this type I've read, there is always the same conclusion about intelligent design: You can't test it, therefore it's not scientific. I felt Rosemary Karalius' comments especially poignant in this aspect. She said: '... it isn't in any way useful from the standpoint of modeling.' I agree that in the present form intelligent design is not testable. However, I would disagree with her next statement that 'It could be true, but it doesn't matter.'

"If it is true, it matters a lot. Hopefully the reasoning behind that is obvious, since what we believe determines how we live and behave. As Einstein said, 'It's theories that tell us what we can believe.' However, in spite of the monumental importance of this issue, I have yet to see anyone suggest that the theory of intelligent design be modified so that it is testable. There are numbers of responsible people, groups, and organizations studying related topics with just that goal in mind. However, I have yet to see anyone discuss any of them. Perhaps they are not controversial enough, or perhaps there are so many flaky groups out there that it is hard to find the serious ones.

"As a start, I would suggest Ken Wilber's book 'The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion.' He asks those hard questions and makes suggestions that point in the direction of resolving this millennium-long problem.

"The other point I always see made is that if we accept intelligent design, this will cause the United States to fall even further behind in science worldwide. I understand the concern from the standpoint of eroding science by accepting intelligent design as it stands. However, with a good, testable theory, I think it would open up an area of research that would enrich our culture in many ways. We have reached the point where we now have the tools and the knowledge to rethink our ideas in this area and reach forward and study them in a responsible, respectful way. In doing so, I would predict it would create a revolution in how we do things, similar in richness to that of the discovery of integrated circuits. To do otherwise is to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room."

Doug Reitsch, Shelton, Wash.: "It occurs to me that while science in the narrow sense can only pursue a narrow band of truth that follows the classic scientific method (observation, hypothesis, prediction, and experimental testing of the prediction), to begin with the presupposition that there is no God is dangerous. It is theoretically possible that there really is a God, and that the universe, life, string theory, physical laws, etc., are unexplainable without recognition of a creator. If scientists (by the way, I am one) have a problem with allowing for the supernatural, then they (we) need to stay out of religion and philosophy until we have a purely naturalistic, consistent, experimentally verifiable Theory of Everything, which in my reading is at least decades away or perhaps impossible. Bottom line: If there actually is a creator, how can science pursue truth without including the supernatural?"

Joey Capps, Austin, Texas: "I'm both Christian by decision and a physicist and computer scientist by training. Science is nothing more than the attempt to discover how things work. Period. Religion is the attempt to understand why things work. The first requires the building and refining of models that show how something could work. When something comes up that messes up the models, you modify them. The second cannot be determined by any amount of science and can only be based on your personal beliefs and faith.

"As a scientist, using the methods I have been trained in, I cannot tell whether there is a God or not. Nor does the question come up in that setting, as I am pursuing how, not why. As a Christian, I believe because I believe, I have faith because I have faith. I feel that I am correct. As Christian scientist, I am not arrogant enough to tell God how he did things. I will look and try to build honest models that tell me how. Right now evolution is the best model going, so I accept it. Since the majority of the evidence says this model works, to do otherwise would be to raise myself above God and tell God that He could not have used evolution to do His work. That would be incredibly arrogant and un-Christian. On the other hand, if something comes along to cause us to need to modify the model of evolution, we will do so."

Dec. 16, 2005 | 8:55 p.m. ET
Weekend field trips on the World Wide Web:
Forbes: The biology of King Kong
The Economist's annual Innovation Awards
'Nova' on PBS: 'Spies That Fly'
Australian Nat'l Univ.: Shakespeare's smoke and mirrors

Looking for older items? Check the Cosmic Log archive. Share your perspective on cosmic subjects with Alan Boyle. If you link to this page, you can use http://cosmiclog.msnbc.com or http://www.cosmiclog.com as the address. MSNBC is not responsible for the content of Internet links.

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