Nature, Science, & Mathematics: September 2003 Archives

CRI--Creation Research Institute

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Listening to the local Christian Music Radio station on my way home I just heard a gentleman who was introduced as a "geologist" from the Creation Research Institute utter what I most despise coming from these people.

After a long and elaborate description of a certain kind of pollinating symbiosis in one breed of orchids, the scientist reached his scientific climax, the coup de grace of evolution--the grand and oracular scientific utterance, "Natural selection could not bring this about, only God's design."

Now, I have no real problem with the sentiment--everyone is entitled to an opinion, and when faced with certain things like this, I am often stunned by the complexity of the relationship and the morphologies involved. But to claim that such a declamation was in any way scientific or evidence of anything other than a profoundly held opinion is, in fact, fraud. Opinions do not make science. My opinion that evolution is (or is not) the cause of every morphotype in adaptive space is not proof that it is so. When people attack the supposed proofs with solid reasoning (Michael Behe, and his ilk) I'm inclined to give an attentive ear. I find many of the defenses against Behe's argument, shall we say, defensive--each a case of special pleading.

But do not present an opinion, by a scientist or anyone else, and then call it documentary evidence. It is misleading and it makes the people who then quote this kind of thing look like absolute idiots. Worse, it makes the case presented by those with strong scientific credentials less plausible, because everyone can point to the opinionaters and group them together.

Science tries to be objective, but scientists are every bit the political animal every human being is--and so if you can show someone belonging to a fringe outlier, you don't need to pay attention.

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Ludwig Boltzmann

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Ludwig Boltzmann needs no introduction, but I shall give one anyway. He is largely responsible for our theories of molecular motion and for the development of Boltzmann's Constant which helps us to calculate the kinetic energy of translation of gases. (I know, I hated that statics part of physics as well--bear with me, there is an interesting tale.)

Boltzmann was apparently a genius of the first water, and as with many geniuses, his discoveries went largely ignored until after his death. (Depressed by the lack of interaction and comment, he took his own life.)

To the story--it is said that Boltzmann invented a device that could find the harmonic frequency of any object to which it was attached. The story goes that Boltzmann decided to test the device on his own house.

Now for those who don't know, the harmonic frequency is the sound frequency which causes an object to vibrate. The classic example is the opera singer whose voice can shatter crystal. The other classic example with which everyone should become acquainted for its spectacular engineering failure is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. (Link takes you to a short excerpt, find more here and here.)

Anyway, Boltzmann decided to test the device by placing it on his house. He set the device and left, returning several hours later to a pile of rubble and a device that had been destroyed in the test as well.

Though certainly apocryphal, I find something deeply resonant (pardon the pun) in this story. How many of us determine to test ultimately destructive things using ourselves, our loved ones, or our necessary things as test objects? We barrel headlong into spiritually questionable ventures without a thought as to the consequences. Some tinker with astrology, others with odd spiritualities, still others with "methods" of praying that appear to have little wrong with them, but are capable of spreading the infection of paganism and belief in sympathetic magic. Worse, we sometimes feel we can directly contravene divine will and thousands of years of teaching and put ourselves in the position of near occasions of sin. Humans being what they are, almost always a near occasion will preciptiate the sin itself. Not every time. But a near occasion of sin is a Boltzmann device, and when we choose to place ourselves in it, we set the device on our own houses. The oddest part is that we know full well what the consequences of that choice are likely to be, and yet we do it anyway, "just to see what might happen." Curiousity is a wonderful character trait, but we would do far better not to make a Tacoma-Narrows of our lives.

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Religion and Science


Here is a nice discussion of those questions may be answered by science and those that may be answered by religion.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Nature, Science, & Mathematics category from September 2003.

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