Next week marks Astronomy Week, climaxing on April 16 with Astronomy Day. It's a time when skywatchers open their hearts and their telescopes to educate the public about celestial sights. Check out the Astronomical League's event calendar to find out what's going on in your area.
The other big event is Yuri's Night on April 12. It's a "world space party" timed to commemorate the first-ever manned spaceflight, taken by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 — as well as the first space shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.
This is a celebration for the distributed-computing age rather than Cold War era: Fifty-three parties are being planned in 19 countries, generally highlighting music, dancing and cutting-edge videos. A hefty selection of clips are available online from the Yuri's Night home page, including the neo-constructivist "1961" music video, public service announcements for Mars exploration, and archived greetings from space. As Yuri would say, "Poyekhali!" ("Let's go!").
I'm indulging in a little "Poyekhali" myself: I'll be going on a road trip through Utah and Colorado for the next week or so, and that means postings to the log will be dependent on time and bandwidth. As usual, I'll try to send a postcard every once in a while, with the regular schedule resuming April 18.
• April 8, 2005 |
8:50 p.m. ET
Weekend field trips on the World Wide Web:
• 'Nova' on PBS: 'Garden of Eden'
• The Economist: Economics and human evolution
• LiveScience: Darwin scores a point in fish study
• Discovery Channel: 'Supervolcano'
• April 7, 2005 |
8:50 p.m. ET
Watch the eclipse on the Web: If you don't live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, your chances of catching Friday's hybrid solar eclipse are not that great — unless, that is, you have an Internet connection.
At least two groups have journeyed to Panama in hopes of transmitting real-time views of the eclipse. An expedition from the University of North Dakota, based at the Technical University of Panama, is gearing up for a Webcast of the eclipse, starting at 4:50 p.m. ET and climaxing with maximum coverage at 6:12 p.m. The eclipse ends around 7:15 p.m.
You'll need to equip your Internet browser with some special multicasting plug-ins to watch the show, so don't wait until the last minute to tune in.
Meanwhile, professors from Palm Beach Community College in Florida have headed down to a resort in Santa Clara, Panama, to capture video of the event. If the system works as planned, still imagery of the eclipse will be uploaded to the group's Eclipse Live Web site every 25 seconds, starting at 5:22 p.m. ET.
One of the effort's organizers, physics professor John Berryman, is in Florida working out the logistics and helping with the U.S.-Panamanian educational effort. Today, he held a solar science session for sixth-graders in Boca Raton while his colleagues did likewise in Panama. "The kids had a great time," he told me.
During Friday's eclipse, the team in Panama will track the sun using a digital video camera equipped with a solar filter. The images go to a laptop, then are beamed via microwave to an Internet provider in Panama that puts them on the Web.
This is the seventh outing for the Eclipse Live team members, and they've found that frequent still imagery works a lot better than trying to broadcast a live feed. "Unless you have a really good connection, it's hard to get that," Berryman said.
Although the total phase of Friday's hybrid eclipse won't be visible from land, even the partial phase could draw an online crowd, based on the traffic for past eclipse coverage. "We looked at the statistics until it was just too ridiculous," Berryman said. "The one in Africa [in 2001] was unbelievably successful. There were 3 million people at one time."
If you happen to live in the eclipse zone, you may not need a computer to get a good look — but be careful, and for heaven's sake, don't stare. Follow the safety tips for partial eclipses, and psych yourself up for the next honest-to-goodness total eclipse, due to occur next March. Berryman is already making plans to beam back online images from the path of totality in Turkey.
"We'll be doing that one in a big way," he said.
• April 7, 2005 |
8:50 p.m. ET
Bravo for 'Black Sky': Among today's Peabody Award winners for excellence in broadcasting is "Black Sky: The Race for Space," the TV documentary about the SpaceShipOne team's successful effort to win the $10 million X Prize for private spaceflight. The award went to the Discovery Channel and Vulcan Productions in association with Gemini Productions and Antenna Films. Check out our "New Space Race" section to keep up with the real-life sequel.
• April 7, 2005 |
8:50 p.m. ET
Scientific smorgasbord on the World Wide Web:
• Technology Review: 10 emerging technologies
• Defense Tech: The Pentagon's flying saucer
• The Guardian: Scientists share life lessons
• AScribe: Chasing the evolutionary 'Red Queen'
The British and Australian press made much of the fact that the head of the Virgin Group and his 19-year-old son, Sam, traveled Down Under over the weekend for two days of filming. “I am not allowed to give away the end, but you could speculate that Superman will try to come to our rescue,” Branson told The Times of London.
Even more hints came to light in The Australian, which reported that Virgin Galactic's successor to the SpaceShipOne rocket plane would be featured in the movie. The Sydney Morning Herald says father and son were cast as the pilots of the "Virgin Galactic Cruiser."
A spokeswoman for Virgin Management, Debbie Dar, confirmed that Branson was indeed involved in the filming. That set my mind at ease, considering that the Times' report bore an April 1 publication date, with a lead cast in the form of an April Fool's joke. Dar laughed at the thought: "You never know — especially with Sir Richard," she said.
Branson, of course, has had more than his share of screen time, filling the lead role in "The Rebel Billionaire," one of Fox's reality-TV series; as well as smaller parts in movies such as the last year's remake of "Around the World in 80 Days" and Volvo's recent "Boldly Go" space-themed commercials.
The current reimagining of the Superman saga has been a hot topic in Hollywood for months, mostly because of the incredible to-and-fro over key roles ( James Caviez ... um, Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel, and Hugh Laur ... no, wait, make that Frank Langella as Perry White).
• April 6, 2005 |
8:30 p.m. ET
This space for rent: Over the next week, NASA will be accepting commercial proposals for sponsorship of its Web site during the two upcoming space shuttle missions, according to a news release issued today.
The deal would work this way: The space agency's site would be branded with a "corporate identity." In return, the sponsor would kick in a contribution to beef up NASA's Internet bandwidth for the missions. NASA estimates that each mission could spark 20 million to 30 million visits, with video usage amounting to as many as a half-million streams.
Even before the release was issued, NASA Watch's Keith Cowing posted the presolicitation notice for sponsorships. In that document, NASA says the alternative to going commercial might involve putting a cap on Internet traffic during the high-profile missions.
"This would force visitors to find content from other venues that may or may not cover the Return to Flight Missions," the notice states. I suppose that would include news Web sites like ours, which will definitely be following the missions.
Stay tuned for updates on NASA's latest semi-free-market venture.
• April 6, 2005 |
8:30 p.m. ET
Quick scan of the scientific Web:
• Biology News: Roses are red ... and now blue (via Slashdot)
• Space.com: Early stars show universe grew up quickly
• Slate: Clones are people, too
• Discover: Double, double, life's little bubbles
• April 5, 2005 |
10 p.m. ET
Return of the ‘rocket boys’: Remember the Rubicon 1 rocket that went kablooie last year during the stretch run for the X Prize? Since then, the "rocket boys of Forks" have sold off a lot of their stuff and aren't working in the machine shop anymore — but Space Transport co-founder Eric Meier says the Rubicon 2 rocket is still in storage in Forks, Wash., while he and business partner Phil Storm consider their next steps.
"We're just back in the thinking mode that we were in before we had a machine shop to work in," Meier told me today. "There are still some exciting possibilities for Space Transport."
Meier said he was planning to take up an assistantship at the University of Washington's aeronautics and astronautics division. When asked if he might be talking with other rocket ventures, such as Amazon.com founder's Blue Origin group, he acknowledged that there have been contacts but would say no more.
Storm was similarly mum: In an e-mail, he said there was "nothing really newsworthy to report."
"I'm working on some new ideas, but nothing I can share right now," he wrote.
Even though Meier said the Rubicon 2 was under wraps for the time being, there are Rubicons of a different kind for sale: As part of its X Prize model-rocket series, Estes is marketing mini-Rubicons, and a cut of the profits is supposed to make its way eventually to Space Transport.
"I'm not expecting some huge windfall, but it should be good," Meier said.
• April 5, 2005 |
10 p.m. ET
So many space stories, so little time:
• CfA: Case of Sedna's missing moon solved
• PSU: Gamma-ray probe nabs milestone measurement
• SpaceDev begins development of Streaker rocket
• Reason: Space revolution 'mostly just for fun'
• April 4, 2005 |
8:15 p.m. ET
Progress and the pope: In addition to bridging the gap between East and West, and between Catholicism and other religious denominations, Pope John Paul II will be remembered for his efforts to bridge the gap between science and religion.
The change has been more evolutionary, so to speak, than revolutionary. After all, it was Pope Pius XII who in the early 1950s first cracked open the church's doors to the possibility of accepting Big Bang theory as well as evolutionary theory. But you need only compare the phrasing of Pius XII's encyclical "Humani Generis" with John Paul's remarks on evolution in 1996 to see how things have changed.
John Paul also apologized in 1992 for the way his papal predecessors treated Galileo Galilei back in the 17th century, after the Vatican spent more than a decade reviewing the condemned astronomer's case. Indeed, in a letter to the head of the Vatican Observatory back in 1988, the pontiff tried to set forth a live-and-let-live policy for religion and science, at least in terms of their interpretation of how the universe works:
"Religion is not founded on science, nor is science an extension of religion. Each should possess its own principles, its pattern of procedures, its diversities of interpretation and its own conclusions."
The truce was underlined in 1999 when John Paul visited the Polish birthplace of Copernicus and spoke approvingly of the scientist who dealt a death blow to the geocentric view of the universe.
But now another revolution of Copernican proportions is playing out, involving questions far more immediate than whether the sun circles the earth or vice versa: When does life begin (and end)? Does human consciousness begin at the same time? Even in his pronouncements on evolution, John Paul said any theories that "regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man."
As recounted by Doug Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins responded to that statement by wondering at what point the pope thought God reached into the heads of the hominids and installed souls: "A million years ago? Two million years ago? Between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens?"
Dawkins wrote that "given a choice between honest-to-goodness fundamentalism on the one hand, and the obscurantist, disingenuous doublethink of the Roman Catholic Church on the other, I know which I prefer."
The question of life's beginnings doesn't just apply to the Pleistocene Era. It's also integral to the current debate over embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. Is a fertilized egg sacrosanct from the very beginning? If humans are uniquely "ensouled," at what point in embryonic development does the ensouling take place? (Check out this discussion of what Aquinas may or may not have said on the subject)
On the other side of life's spectrum, when does the "outsouling" take place? Does it happen once someone enters a vegetative state, a la Terri Schiavo ?
It took 359 years to close the gap created between religion and science when Galileo was branded a heretic. Let's hope the current Copernican revolution doesn't open up so wide a gap.
Update for 10:45 p.m. April 5: An earlier version of this item indicated that Galileo was excommunicated. Actually, Galileo was threatened with excommunication, forced to abjure his "heresy," then sentenced to life imprisonment — a penalty that was swiftly commuted to house arrest, as detailed in this Encarta encyclopedia entry.
• April 4, 2005 |
8 p.m. ET
‘Evolution: The Sequel’: In a similar vein, Cosmic Log readers continued to follow up on last week's debate over how science films handle theories on the origins of life. Here's a selection:
Gary O'Neal, Murfreesboro, Tenn.: "Why is it that only those of the Christian faith are criticized for their beliefs? I accompanied my children on a field trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, where the final event of the day was the viewing of an Imax feature about the sun. The entirety of the movie discussed the sun in terms of pagan worshippers who in the past, and the present, worshipped the sun as a deity. Much was made of pagan temples constructed to trace the movements of the sun. No scientist ever objected to paganism crossing over into the realm of science. But let a single Christian open his or her mouth and all calamity breaks loose. Maybe it's the scientists who are the hypocrites."
In this case, the tone probably has something to do with the presentation: There's a big difference in my book when the film script says "The Mayans believed ..." or "Christians believe...." Nevertheless, it's a provocative observation. I can hardly wait for the sun-worshippers to tell their side of the story. :-)
Mike, Summerland, Calif.: "You mentioned that you're not certain evolution has been 100 percent proven. Fact is, evolution is an observation, a fact. It's the mechanisms, the theories explaining aspects of evolution, that can never be 100 percent proven, which is one of the defining characteristics of science (good science, at least...). Hmm ... 'proven fact' ... those words don't really belong together in retrospect. Fact and verified theory make much better sense."
I couldn't have said it better, Mike, though I should have said it at least as well.
Tim Schroeder, Willimantic, Conn.: "It is simply impossible to reason scientifically with a creationist, because they know what they believe and will simply deny, disbelieve or not even listen to anything but what they believe. It is part of the fundamental difference between science and religion. Science starts with observations and works forward through a long and complicated process of testing and discussion to come up with answers. Religion starts with the answer. It's in the book, end of story. Unfortunately for science, creationists who are insecure in their beliefs need to attack science to prop up their stature, and have a lot of good practice at doing so, as is evidenced in these posts...."
Mike Angove, Newport, R.I.: "[You write,] 'The tide is turning for science documentaries that challenge the biblical version of life's origins.' Is that supposed to be a joke? Exactly which science documentaries that support the biblical version of creation are you referring to? I haven't seen any of these on PBS or the Discovery Channel lately. In fact, the last time I checked, National Geographic declared victory (albeit with no new evidence) for Darwin in the debate over the rise and diversification of life.
"Please ... no sob stories about oppressed Darwinists. In fact, the only case of censorship I'm familiar with is a New Mexico PBS station pulling a documentary that critically examines the Darwinian mechanism — 'Unlocking the Mystery of Life.' That case is not mentioned in your 'column,' nor is the smackdown Eugenie Scott has orchestrated concerning the publication of a pro-intelligent design paper by Stephen Meyer in a Washington biology journal. So yes, there actually is a discrimination story to be told — just not the one you are spinning."
Laurie Rodriguez, Santa Clarita, Calif.: "First, regarding the inability of evolution to explain abiogenesis: Biological evolution is defined as genetic changes that occur in a reproductive population over time as a result of differential reproductive success due to a variation of character traits in that population. Notice that evolution requires reproduction, something that can only happen in living things. Hence, until there is life, specifically life that can reproduce (which is one part of the definition of life), there can be no evolution. Evolution does not seek to explain how life started, only what happened afterward. Once living beings can reproduce, some will 'fit' better in a given environment, they will reproduce at different rates and, presto, you have evolution.
"Second, I had the enjoyable, albeit frustrating, experience of engaging in an e-mail debate with an acquaintance who 'believes' in intelligent design. We spent two weeks of emailing trying to parse out a functional working hypothesis for intelligent design. Try as he might, my friend could never come up with a testable hypothesis outlining the process involved in intelligent design. No mechanism, no quantifiable measures, nothing that would allow for scientific analysis or evaluation of the 'theory.' In other words, intelligent design is not science. Until the proponents of ID can produce a quantifiable, testable hypothesis (and with all of their so-called 'scientific journals,' don't you would think they could come up with one if it existed?), intelligent design will remain in the realm of belief and religion. When they do come up with a testable hypothesis, scientists such as myself will be delighted to welcome them with open arms into the world of scientific research."
Gary, Chicago: "It is amazing that anyone can oppose evolutionary theory, when it is based on a simple principle: When any organism (or entity) cannot reproduce, the population that it is part of becomes like those that can reproduce — and variability between individuals means that the process never ends. The simple proof: If anti-evolution groups stamp out nature films that discuss science, the films left will define nature films. And, of course, if anti-evolution political forces are successful at winning seats, the political climate becomes anti-evolution. Every action to oppose evolution 'theory' merely provides more support that evolution is a fact...."
Sam, Dorset, England: "So let me get this straight: The atheist community is quite happy to force schools and other institutions to talk of evolution as fact rather than hypothesis (which it is), but the moment someone decides a film containing some reference to evolution is not good enough to be shown (as it is pedantic yet unsuitable for children) they have the gall to allege it is an act of censorship! When the evolutionists admit their ideas are flawed hypothesis, not fact, then they can take the moral high ground. Before that happens, they don't deserve to decide what is and isn't factual! Nor do they deserve to speak of censorship!"
Heber Rizzo, Montevideo, Uruguay: "It is hard to believe that the 'land of the free' is coming to be 'the nest of the religious fanatics.' Fortunately, I'm not from the United States. But, having admired your history and your past fights for freedom, I feel shame now.
"You are fighting with the armies of darkness, for oil and for obscurantism. There will come difficult times for all the world, and freedom is under attack from the East and from the West (I see no real difference between Bush and Osama bin Laden). But free thinking and justice will prevail, even when (and because) the United States and the Muslim fanatics will no longer be."
• April 4, 2005 |
8 p.m. ET
Your daily dose of science on the Web:
• Scientific American: OK, we give up
• The Economist: Just what does it mean to prove something?
• 'Nova' on PBS: 'The Great Escape'
• Science News: Full stem ahead
• April 1, 2005 |
8:40 p.m. ET
Reviewing the evolution film flap: The tide is turning for science documentaries that challenge the biblical version of life's origins. Last month, it came to light that some science museums and theaters were turning down Imax films such as "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," reportedly out of concern that they would offend religious sensibilities.
This week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science weighed in with "strong concerns" about those reports. And theaters in Fort Worth, Texas, as well as Charlotte, N.C., said they would show "Volcanoes" after all.
In fact, theater managers and film reviewers said that the references to the Big Bang and the origins of life on Earth weren't that big of a deal — and that the reasons they passed up "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" had more to do with the criticism that it was "disorienting and pedantic," or that it was "scary for children."
Be that as it may, Cosmic Log readers had a lot to say, from both sides of the Darwinian fence. Here's a representative selection of the feedback:
J. Newman, Columbus, Ohio: "Does it seem we have stepped back 400 years regarding the sciences? Science museums and theaters must now scrutinize or censor exhibits and films out of fear that certain subject matter will offend certain religious sensibilities. Offend, not because the material is bad science, but because it offends a theological viewpoint. It’s a wonder that NASA can still send space probes to Mars, as this might contravene someone’s scriptural worldview. Galileo was forced to recant his views and Bruno was burnt alive for challenging the church’s cosmological doctrine. From the fury of conservative Christians save us, O Lord!"
Chris Eldridge, Harrisburg, Pa.: "Watered-down documentaries are much like watered-down music: They are only intended to placate to the general complacency of those with no appetite for learning or deep thought. Though theories such as the Big Bang may never be proven with 100 percent certainty, evolution has been! Finding a simple fossil of a seashell on a mountaintop must surely be an indication of absolutely historic changes that have taken place over geologic time. ..."
I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that evolution has been proven with 100 percent certainty, at least in terms of our current understanding of how it works. In fact, that's the hallmark of scientific theory — that it's always subject to revision based on new experimental data. Of course, the same data can suit a variety of purposes. For example, religious believers long cited the "seashell on the mountaintop" as evidence for the biblical Noah's Ark flood.
Joshua Stateham, Wichita, Kan.: "It cracked me up when you quoted Alan Leshner saying, 'Yet, the suppression of scientifically accurate information as a response to those with differing perspectives is inappropriate and threatens both the integrity of science and the broader public education to which we all are committed. It is also objectionable to many stakeholders — including many with strong religious convictions — who understand that religion and science are not in opposition.'
"This is so true, yet it seems to only be true when talking about evolution. They (the pro-evolutionists) will gripe and moan when evolution is questioned, but have no problems suppressing the intelligent design theory (i.e., banning putting a label on a science book stating that evolution is only a theory). They aren't willing to give any other theory but evolution the time of day, therefore Leshner's quote is quite hypocritical and, quite frankly, humorous. Evolution has become a religion for scientists. It is no longer based on logic and subject to critical analysis, which is sad for the scientific community. ..."
Selected Pete: "Kudos for a creative spin on this, but honestly — I cannot recall any Imax film of a scientific nature that does not tout evolution as the primary explanation for the subject at hand, be it ocean, land, biology or the existence of the solar system. Leshner comes across as a whiny child that has been used to having it his way and suddenly sees opposition for the first time. Leshner's crowd might get a little better reception if they would at least use the word 'theory' in conjunction with the term 'evolution' ... just once in a while."
G. Raymond: "When I heard Imax was planning on allowing religious extremists to define its programming, my wife and I were saddened that we wouldn't be going to Imax anymore. I'm open-minded about evidence presented regarding theories, pro or con. But religion is not theory — it's faith. If they want to sell religious programming that's fine — but it needs a Warning Label: 'Warning: The following program contains contemporary cultural beliefs mixed with non-controversial evidence in support of scientific theories. This program is intended for entertainment and is not recommended as a basis for educational purposes.' Needless to say, the warning needs to be on all advertisements and displayed at the beginning of the feature."
Stephen: "It seems the more I hope to find comfort in God's omnipotent powers, the more I am told by most that God is simply not capable of such miracles as evolution. They would have me believe that God can only snap his fingers, and ideas such as evolution of species is more than God can handle. I think we should give God a little more credit than we have in the past."
Mitch Bogart: "... I believe that there is a Creator who contributed tremendous intelligence to the design of the universe, including its living inhabitants. The actual mechanisms used in this development, however, have not been adequately or substantially discovered yet. For example, trying to get an intuitive feel for how things work at the quantum level still totally boggles the mind. Evolution simply can not explain how a biological structure requiring all of 10 innovations before it works can ever be 'evolved' through random mutations. Shakespeare can not be produced by typing monkeys — there is not enough time in the universe."
James Thompson: "The recent discovery of soft tissues in dinosaur bones casts extreme doubt on the scientific community's ability to date geological historic events, and sounds the death knell of evolutionary theory."
Michael, Durham, N.C.: "It just seems so incredibly ludicrous to me. If religious fundamentalists don't want to see a movie about evolution, they shouldn't watch it. How hard is that to realize? If people want to hear creation 'science,' they can go to Sunday school. How hard, in turn, is that? The issue isn't science vs. creationism, it's political and social control. With a lot of double-speak about equal time for opposing views and religious discrimination, the religious fringe has managed to create a climate in which they can (and do) take every opportunity to censor not only what they or their children consume from culture but what everyone else does, as well. How dare they appoint themselves as our very own homegrown Taliban?"
Rosemary: "Are you saying that science centers are reluctant to show films containing evidence of evolution? Science centers?? Oh, my head (as Satchel would say)... I have yet to see a church that was reluctant to preach creation."
Richard C. Terzo, Atlanta: "I have to say this is the most ashamed I have been to be from the great South. Keeping children and parents in the dark about scientific facts in order to insure religious conformity sounds too much like a cult instead of a religion. Religion should be a choice made knowing all of the facts as we understand them. Hiding the truth will not make it go away. These institutions should be ashamed for compromising their scientific duties to appease a backward, redneck, dark-age and close-minded constituency."
Claire Wilson, Auburn, Ala.: "The more I hear about challenges by the Christian right to the teaching (or even mention) of evolution, the more I am prompted to ask this question: How strong is your faith if you can never hear anything that doesn't support your version of the world completely and utterly? I am an atheist living in the Bible Belt. I don't run screaming or cry foul when my neighbors tell me they feel blessed for the good weather we're having, or say that they are praying for the recovery of a sick relative. Why is it that fundamentalist Christians seem unable to simply ignore things that don't fit in with their worldview? If you don't like evolution, watch the volcano movie and think to yourself smugly, 'Too bad they don't present the real version of the origins of life on Earth. Oh well, at least I'm saved.'"
William W. Wilfong: "Faith-based ignorance is not even biblical. After all, God's first job for Adam was to name the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air, 'and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.' The identification of speciation was therefore a God-given mandate for mankind. Adam was the first taxonomist.
"Science is integral to knowledge, and science is the experimental method. Evolution is testable; creationism, being inherently untestable, is a religious belief. Evolution therefore belongs in the corpus of scientific theory, alongside the theories of gravity, relativity, wave propagation, etc."
John, Washington, D.C.: "I was outraged to read about this issue last week. So much in fact I wrote an email to Lisa Buzzelli, the director of the Imax theater in Columbia, S.C., one of the places that refused to show the film. This director was the one who made the decision arguing that religious people would not want to see the film.
"This is a convoluted argument. First of all, it makes the assumption that religion and science are opposing views. Secondly, what about the people who want to see this film? If you are so opposed, then boycott the film. Don't spend your money on it, tell your friends not to. But for a director of a theater that is supposedly science-related to boycott the film for a population is ridiculous. Maybe she should be boycotted and relegated to a job that would suit her better — maybe something in the clergy. There are many films that contain things which may offend some viewers. If all of these films were not shown because of sensitivities, the cinema would be a very dull place indeed.
"By the way, I never did get a response from the aforementioned director."
Patrick Bishop, Caldwell, N.J.: "I understand Mr. Leshner's concerns, but what many evolutionary scientists miss is the creationist contention that the information that is being presented by evolutionists is not scientifically accurate. Belief in something with as many unanswered questions (abiogenesis) and problematic issues (irreducible complexity) as we find in evolutionary theory requires as great a leap of faith as does belief in the creationist alternative. Creationists' gripe with evolution-themed programming is that it does suppress scientifically accurate information; any evidence that would tend to discredit the evolutionary assumption is summarily discarded when it is found.
"The fossil record is frequently cited as evidence for evolution, but there is ample evidence within the fossil record against evolution, too: Archaeopteryx is frequently cited by evolutionary scientists as a transitional form between true birds and their reptile ancestors, yet there are fossils of true birds which antedate Archaeopteryx. Archaeopteryx may represent an entirely different line in bird evolution, but it can't be an intermediate step. Archaeopteryx is a cool word to write as well as say, so perhaps that's why it is still in circulation among evolutionists when it shouldn't be.
"Here is the definition of theory I use. I like it because it has been used by the National Academy of Sciences as well. Theory: a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences and tested hypotheses.
"The problem creationists have with evolutionists is that their theory does not incorporate facts, laws, or tested hypotheses; it is all based on inferences and thus, is not well-substantiated. To test hypotheses you'd have to do an experiment. That being the case, there really is no such thing as 'the theory of evolution.' When you get right down to it, the creationist point of view on the origins of life has as much going for it as does the evolutionist point of view because neither point of view is actually 'scientific.' They both seem pretty implausible to me. ..."
To my mind, faulting evolutionary theory because it doesn't fully account for abiogenesis — that is, the leap from nonliving to living things — is like faulting cosmology because it doesn't fully account for what gave rise to the Big Bang. It's the hardest problem to answer, and I don't think the broader theory should be dismissed because the answer hasn't yet been found — although researchers haven't given up looking.
As far as Archaeopteryx goes, it seems to me that there's rarely a clear progression of transitional forms in development. For example, the current thinking on human evolution is that the "transitional" Homo erectus co-existed with "true humans." Convergent evolution could come into play as well, as demonstrated this week by the case of the 150 million-year-old termite-eater .
As much as I like Patrick's postings (which is why I let him go on at length), I can't agree that the creationist view is on equal footing with mainstream evolutionary biology. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences uses its definition of "theory" specifically to show the difference between evolutionary science and creationism. But if Darwin's doubters raise valid questions that challenge current "facts, laws, inferences and tested hypotheses," that's surely a healthy part of the scientific process.
• April 1, 2005 |
8:40 p.m. ET
More Hubble trouble: This week also brought bad news for those who love the Hubble Space Telescope (and who doesn't?). Some of them are ramping up campaigns to keep hope alive for Hubble. Others are wondering what this says about the White House and the country's space vision . Here are a couple of representative comments:
Wade Whitlock, Aberdeen, Md.: "Even as Hubble continues to produce marvels, the chicken hearts at NASA and the Bush leaguers push for its demise. It never ceases to amaze me that they want to go to the moon and Mars but are scared fecal-less about being in Earth orbit. ..."
William G. Graham, Jacksonville, Fla.: "With all of this wonderful science from the Hubble telescope, why isn't the Bush administration willing to save it? It seems to me that we taxpayers deserve a better answer than to kill our investment in this magnificent discovery system or to remove its feeding tube."
• April 1, 2005 |
8:40 p.m. ET
Five more reasons to dislike April Fool's Day:
• Astronomy Picture of the Day: Water on Mars
• Lirpa Sloof Foundation: $100 million moon prize offered
• Google Gulp (beta): Quench your thirst for knowledge
• Unmanned Spaceflight: Strong winds at Gusev Crater
• NASA Watch: Shuttle canceled? Hoax upon hoax