The Solar System’s Ocean Worlds

If we ever overcome our differences and make it into space, there's a universe of wonders waiting for us. This month, NASA unveiled another of those wonders with the announcement of hydrothermal vents on Enceladus.Enceladus is one of Saturn's moons. Although it's tiny, barely 300 miles in diameter, it has a long history of tantalizing skywatchers. It's the most reflective body in the solar system because it's entirely covered in ice. The Voyager 2 flyby found a smooth and geologically young … [Read more...]

Movie Review: Arrival

Content note: Minor spoilers.I'm behind on movies, but I'm trying to catch up on the ones I missed when they were in theaters. The 2016 film I most wanted to see was Arrival, and it was worth the wait.Arrival is a first contact sci-fi story, based on Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life". It begins with twelve huge ovoid spaceships appearing silently, simultaneously, at twelve locations across the Earth. Every eighteen hours, a hatch opens in each of the ships, and the human beings … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 11

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 11, "The Immortals"As the new Cosmos approaches its final episode, it's about time that the series started looking back on the ground it's covered and drawing some larger lessons. This episode accomplished that, and while it treads into more speculative territory than earlier outings, I think that's appropriate.But first, there was a scene about someone I'd never heard of: Enheduanna, a Sumerian high priestess who holds the honor of being the most … [Read more...]

Is There Life on Mars and Venus?

You may have heard that the scientific community is buzzing with excitement over the discovery of Gliese 581g, an Earth-sized planet circling the red dwarf star Gliese 581, 20 light-years from Earth in the constellation Libra. Five other planets orbiting this star were already known, but what's exciting is that the new one is smack in the middle of the star's habitable zone, making it the best candidate ever discovered for an extrasolar planet with liquid water. And where water flows, is it … [Read more...]

The Case for a Creator: All the Starry Heavens

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 7Chapter 7 of Case is about the argument from planetary fine-tuning. This time, Strobel has two interviewees: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, both affiliated with the Discovery Institute. Since we're keeping count of scientific "authorities", which is whom Strobel claims to be interviewing, let me point out for the record that Gonzalez has a legitimate Ph.D in astronomy from the University of Washington. Richards, meanwhile, is another Christian … [Read more...]

The Case for a Creator: Strange New Worlds

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 6The cosmological fine-tuning argument is one of the more interesting claims in the intelligent-design movement's toolkit. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the best argument they have. I'll let Robin Collins make the point as strongly as he can:"Over the past thirty years or so, scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of the universe is balanced on a razor's edge for life to exist. The coincidences are far too … [Read more...]

Book Review: UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God

(Editor's Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)If you've been around the atheist blogosphere, you probably know the name Christopher Hallquist, author of the blog The Uncredible Hallq (I've always wondered, does he get more skeptical when he gets angry?).Well, it seems he's come into his own, because last month in the mail I got a copy of his new book, UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus, which … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Raelism

As humanity's understanding of the universe evolves, our religious beliefs change along with it, and the result is that every new religion bears the stamp of the time and place in which it first arose. Mormonism is an example - Joseph Smith used "seer stones" to translate the Book of Mormon, and claimed that the Native Americans were descendants of ancient Hebrew tribes, at a time in American history when both those ideas were in vogue. Today's post concerns a more recent, yet equally strange … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (Xenu/Thetans)

Although past installments of "Do You Really Believe That?" have skewered absurd beliefs from other sects, I doubt any religion has doctrines as laughably ridiculous as Scientology's beliefs about "space opera". Today's post will explore the most infamous of those.According to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was an alien overlord who, 75 million years ago, was in charge of a "Galactic Confederacy" consisting of 76 planets, including Earth (which, according to Hubbard, was then … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions VII: Alien Abduction

Back in August, in "Some Thoughts on Fermi's Paradox", I proposed some explanations for why there's no evidence of intelligent alien species. But I left out what seems like the most obvious explanation of all: they do exist, and they're already here.This may well be the most popular answer. To judge by polls like this one from 2002, almost half of American adults believe that intelligent aliens have visited the Earth. (Ironically, The Onion actually gets this percentage right in its deadpan … [Read more...]