Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Monday, November 23, 2009

giant jellyfish and global warming

It sounds like a scene from a low-budget sci fi/horror film:

A blood-orange blob the size of a small refrigerator emerged from the dark waters, its venomous tentacles trapped in a fishing net. Within minutes, hundreds more were being hauled up, a pulsating mass crowding out the catch of mackerel and sea bass.

But for Japanese fisherman, it's all too real:

This year's jellyfish swarm is one of the worst he has seen, Hamano said. Once considered a rarity occurring every 40 years, they are now an almost annual occurrence along several thousand kilometers (miles) of Japanese coast, and far beyond Japan.

The migration of giant jellyfish into Japanese fishing waters is just one of the many effects of the climate change. Around the world, entire societies are threatened as the land that has sustained them through centuries is rapidly becoming inhospitable.

East Africa suffers through severe drought while Southeast Asia endures record floods. Though it seems paradoxical, both of these can be attributed to global warming.

As the air temperature increases even slightly above its historical average, it is able to hold more water vapor; as a result, clouds grow larger before dumping rain. Some areas are bypassed altogether while others get hit harder. Droughts and floods, courtesy of our appetite for energy.

The painful irony is that many of the places hit the hardest are already the poorest nations on earth. They are simultaneously not responsible for their changing climate, and not able to do anything about it.

Meanwhile the industrial world continues to pump carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at levels unprecedented in the history of the earth. And many developing nations, China and India foremost among them, are gearing up to join the club.

This cannot continue forever. But what are we going to do about it?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

creationist infighting

Dr. Georgia Purdom of the young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG) takes a look at "Intelligent Design" (ID):

The definition of ID can be best summarized as a theory that holds that “certain features” of living and nonliving things were designed by an “intelligent cause” as opposed to being formed through natural causes.1 The ID concept does not name the intelligent cause, nor does it claim that everything is designed, thus allowing for evolution/natural causes to play a role.

After acknowledging some things which, from the AiG perspective, are positives of ID, Dr. Purdom levels this criticism:

However, the major problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other.

In today's culture, many are attracted to the ID movement because they can decide for themselves who the creator is—a Great Spirit, Brahman, Allah, God, etc. The current movement focuses more on what is designed, rather than who designed it.

And I agree. Well, I'm not so sure that anyone is drawn to ID because of the vagueness of its definition of God; my understanding is that the vast majority of ID proponents profess some form of Christianity.

But the ID movement does divorce the creator from creation. When ID proponents argue that the best evidence for a creator can be found in the organization of the bacterial flagellum, and not in the hearts of the followers of Christ, it becomes hard to imagine that they might be talking about a personal creator.

Dr. Purdom's next criticism is this:

Proponents of ID fail to understand that a belief in long ages for the earth formed the foundation of Darwinism. If God’s Word is not true concerning the age of the earth, then maybe it’s not true concerning other events of the Creation Week; and maybe God was not a necessary part of the equation for life after all.

On this one I have to side with the proponents of ID.

I see two fallacies here. First, the age of the earth — about 4.7 billion years according to the most accurate radiometric dating methods available today — is much greater than the age needed for Darwinian evolution. According to current estimates, life did not appear for more than a billion years after the planet was formed. What's more telescopic observations and background radiation measurements indicate that the universe existed for about nine billion years before our little solar system was formed. The ages of the earth and the universe have been continually refined as scientists have uncovered more precise methods of measuring them. These are not arbitrary numbers chosen for the benefit of Mr. Darwin.

Second, the book of Genesis was not written to provide us a simple historical timeline. Since ancient times, believers have applied allegorical interpretations to Bible stories to uncover deeper meanings. AiG's suggestion that we can't trust God if the earth is more than 6000 years old simply makes no sense. What's more, in staking out such a position the young earth creationists have placed themselves firmly in agreement with the new atheists. That's probably not the company you need if your goal is to promote the integrity of scripture. But I digress.

Dr. Purdom continues:

In addition, because the ID movement does not acknowledge God as Redeemer, there seems to be no final solution for the evil in this world; and by all appearances it will continue to reign supreme.

I'm not sure what is the basis for this criticism. As far as I can see, ID is not mutually exclusive with the idea of God as redeemer. And since many of the leading ID proponents claim to be Christians, they evidently don't see any contradiction between these two beliefs.

On the other hand, Dr. Purdom would be correct if she stated that ID does not require its adherents to believe in God as redeemer. In, fact it requires nothing at all in terms of belief in God.

And that, I think, is AiG's main concern with the ID movement. In their single-minded focus on sneaking their designer into science class, ID proponents have lost sight of the bigger picture. Young earth creationism, for all its flaws, at least ostensibly has the goal of glorifying God. The ID movement holds on to the creationism but cuts ties with God.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

dolphin intelligence

Humans have known for a long time that dolphins are intelligent creatures. But the more we study them, the more intelligent we find they are.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, dolphins are trained to clean their own pools; if they bring trash to the trainers, they will receive a reward of fish.

One dolphin named Kelly has figured out how to maximize her payoff:

When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on.

Kelly has learned how to save for the future. And that's not all:

One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish.

After mastering this technique, Kelly taught it to other dolphins. The dolphins have learned how to make wise, high-yield investments.

But there's more. In a famous experiment by Karen Pryor, dolphins demonstrated the ability to think creatively:

Two rough-toothed dolphins were rewarded whenever they came up with a new behaviour. It took just a few trials for both dolphins to realise what was required. A similar trial was set up with humans. The humans took about as long to realise what they were being trained to do as did the dolphins. For both the dolphins and the humans, there was a period of frustration (even anger, in the humans) before they "caught on". Once they figured it out, the humans expressed great relief, whereas the dolphins raced around the tank excitedly, displaying more and more novel behaviours.

Wild dolphins have even been observed using tools:

Scientists have observed a dolphin coaxing a reluctant moray eel out of its crevice by killing a scorpion fish and using its spiny body to poke at the eel. Off the western coast of Australia, bottlenose dolphins place sponges over their snouts, which protects them from the spines of stonefish and stingrays as they forage over shallow seabeds.

And now they've evolved opposable thumbs:

[M]arine biologists at the Hawaii Oceanographic Institute reported Monday that dolphins, or family Delphinidae, have evolved opposable thumbs on their pectoral fins.

OK, that last one isn't real; it's from the Onion. For the rest, see this article from The Guardian. And here is Karen Pryor's research paper on dolphin creativity.

Dolphins truly are a fascinating species.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

an easy way to increase creativity

All you need to do is distance yourself from the situation:

According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category.…According to CLT, psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete. Consider, for instance, a corn plant. A concrete representation would refer to the shape, color, taste, and smell of the plant, and connect the item to its most common use – a food product. An abstract representation, on the other hand, might refer to the corn plant as a source of energy or as a fast growing plant. These more abstract thoughts might lead us to contemplate other, less common uses for corn, such as a source for ethanol, or to use the plant to create mazes for children. What this example demonstrates is how abstract thinking makes it easier for people to form surprising connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, such as fast growing plants (corn) and fuel for cars (ethanol).

See the full story at Scientific American.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

where does evolution leave god?

Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins offer their answers to this question.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

joel o$teen'$ new book

Joel O$teen i$ back with a new book and it'$ not about him! Crazy, huh? But true. Thi$ time around it'$ all about YOU.

More $pecifically--your TIME.

And according to Pa$tor O$teen, it'$ your time NOW to purcha$e hi$ new book, It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor

See the full review at Jesus Needs New PR. Hat tip: Bad Alice via Twitter.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

next time, don't invite the baptists

When Rebecca Middeke-Conlin's church sent out invitations for her installation service to other churches in her area, they probably weren't expecting the reply they received from one Baptist pastor:

We, desiring to please Almighty God, have separated ourselves from the Lutheran churches as disobedient to the Scriptures and from Rebecca Middeke-Conlin as a shameful person, for thus saith the Lord.

Therefore we cannot accept your invitation but rather exhort you to receive what the Scriptures say and repent of this disobedience or to cease calling yourselves a Christian church.

And what does Ms. Middeke-Conlin do that is so shameful?

See her post to find out.

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