Repost: The Age of Wonder

HumanityInSpace

[Author's Note: I'm reposting some old favorites while I'm away on vacation this week. This post was originally from November 2008.]If you search the internet, it's not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more "holistic" approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand vs. Carl Sagan

Voyager2

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IIThe decay of Colorado is accelerating. Men that Dagny knows personally, men who love their jobs and swear that they'll never leave, that they'll resist whatever blandishment or temptation is claiming their fellows, or at the very least that they won't disappear without an explanation, are vanishing one after another without a word. Since I'm nothing if not scrupulously fair to Ayn Rand, I'll cite this passage as a well-executed example of building … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 9

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(I've decided to review the new Cosmos series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson that's airing on Fox. If you missed it, you can stream full episodes online.)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 9, "The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth"At the beginning of its run, Cosmos tended to alternate excellent episodes with mediocre ones, which made me wonder if that would be the pattern for the whole series. But I'm happy to say that the show has hit its stride: the last three episodes, including this one, … [Read more...]

A Richness of Planets

Exoplanets

I've been writing a lot lately about hatred and discrimination, about the small prejudices that keep humanity fractured and ignorant. It's important to fight for reason and equality, but I think it's equally important to remember why we're fighting these prejudices, and keep in mind the greater things that we can accomplish if we overcome them. Consider, then, this column about the real meaning of the exoplanet revolution by Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University.The … [Read more...]

One-Half of One Cent

PIA14840-br2

As I'm writing this post, NASA's latest Mars mission - the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity - is just hours away from its destination. By the time you read this, we'll know if it touched down safely on the surface of the red planet. Curiosity is a robot rover about the size of an SUV, much larger than previous Mars rovers, and carries more scientific equipment. That makes it too big and too heavy to drop to the surface and bounce to a stop protected by airbags, the way that its … [Read more...]

A Confluence of Holidays

This year, there's an interesting calendrical coincidence: Today is both Earth Day and Good Friday. That being so, I thought it would prove enlightening to compare these two holidays and the messages they respectively send to their practitioners.One of the holidays on this date is to commemorate the gory death of a Jewish mystic some two thousand years ago, a dimly remembered event in an obscure corner of a long-vanished empire - an event which, we're told, takes precedence over everything … [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: A Universe Not Made For Us

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 7The final section of this chapter concerns Gonzalez's argument that the Earth is uniquely designed to make scientific discovery possible. His argument is that our planet is fine-tuned not just to allow the existence of life, but to allow us to find out important facts about the nature of the universe that wouldn't be possible to discover if we lived anywhere else. (As an aside, it's asinine for Strobel and his interviewees to celebrate how perfectly designed … [Read more...]

The Case for a Creator: Hot Jupiters

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 7In chapter 3, I chastised Jonathan Wells, a trained biologist, for making deceptive arguments whose answers he unquestionably already knows. I have to send a similar criticism Guillermo Gonzalez's way, because in this chapter, he makes an argument that any beginner student in astronomy would be able to answer easily.The argument has to do with the nature of extrasolar planets, of which we currently know over 400. Gonzalez concedes that this means our … [Read more...]

The Case for a Creator: A Parade of Horribles, Part II

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 7Earth's SizeGonzalez's next assertion strikes me as highly dubious. He claims that, if the Earth were larger than it is, the higher surface gravity would tend to smooth out mountains and ocean basins, producing a perfectly spherical planet with little surface relief. (He provides no numbers on how much bigger the planet could be before this happens.) This would result in a "water world" whose surface was evenly covered by a shallow ocean, and "a water world … [Read more...]


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