From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Monday, August 29, 2011

LA Times Does Story on Geocentrism

On July 26, I wrote about the website Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right that is dedicated to showing that the Earth is the center of the universe.

This past Sunday, the Los Angeles Times did a story on the same subject. What's great is that the reporter got a quote from Ken Ham - who we know from Answers in Genesis, the creationist site.

Ham says,"There's a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated," Ham said. "The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system."

Yet Ham is certain that the Bible is a biology book. Interesting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Swirling your wine.

Last night for dinner, I opened a great bottle of Syrah from my favorite vinery, Blackjack Ranch near Solvang, California. It prompted me to finally write about some wine science, the science of wine swirling.

Swirling your wine helps release the volatile aromatic compounds and exposes the wine to oxygen allowing the esters, ethers and aldehydes to oxidize. These chemical reactions enhance the bouquet of the wine, The bouquet of the wine is especially important, because it is your sense of smell that mostly determines what you taste. These same reactions though will eventually turn your wine into something nasty. So if you open a bottle, drink it.

Being right handed, when I swirl wine I tend to swirl it counterclockwise. It never occurred to me to try to swirl it the other way. That is, not until I came across this - Wine Swirling, Left or Right? It Matters! Read it and be awed by Ralph de Amicis.

Lets start with this:
Like all living things wine cells have a magnetic polarity, just like humans and the Earth.

What in the hell is a wine cell? The basic component of all life is the cell. WIne is fermented grape juice. It's not alive, although wine sometimes makes me feel more alive. Cells do not have a magnetic polarity, although some cells may contain magnetic compounds. It is thought that this may be a mechanism that allow birds to navigate during their migrations.

"The positive pole is more highly charged, just like the North Pole of the Earth, which is why there are Northern Lights in the Arctic Circle, but not Southern Lights in the Antarctic."

The Earth's magnetic field causes the Northern Lights, but he claims there no such thing as the Southern Lights. So what is this a picture of? The Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) as seen from the International Space Station.

"This polarity tends to keep wine cells generally upright, spinning on their axis when they are being swirled. This magnetic action within a liquid is commonly demonstrated in laboratories. Because plant molecules are mostly liquid, when they form they are also subject to the electromagnetic forces that are a component of the rotation of the Earth. As a result, the pores on the surface of the molecules develop based on that rotation, like the shingles on a roof." 

I can't take it! Plant molecules are liquid? Nonsense. The electromagnetic forces that are the component of the Earth's rotation. Please make it stop! Molecules have pores? Now this is actually starting to hurt.

"When you swirl the wine counter-clockwise you are pushing against the molecules nap, just like stroking the fur of a cat the wrong way…"

Now I'm rolling on the floor imagining petting a molecule the wrong way.

But on a serious note. I have no doubt that Ralph believes every word of what he writes, and he provides the perfect rationale for why serious scientific research, especially ones involving human subjects, always are double-blind studies. In a double-blind wine tasting, one researcher would take the samples of wine label, pour them into glasses, and label the glasses so that the wine's identity is unknown to anyone else. These samples are then given to second researcher who would then present the samples to a subject. Using this method, the second research cannot inadvertently influence the subject and skew the results. When subjects are allowed to be influenced you get humorous results like these studies.

If this blog post accomplished anything, I hope it was to get you to open a nice wine and enjoy. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where did the universe come from? Part 2

In part 1, I showed that a literal reading of the Bible leads to a litany of contradictions. In support of this position, Dr. John Haught, a theologian from Georgetown University, said during a panel discussion that appeared after the Discovery Channel program Curiousity: Did God Create the Universe that the Bible is not a source of cosmology. (I'll go further and say it's not a chemistry, geology, or biology book either.) His view is that the Bible is a source of hope for Christians.

So maybe someone can explain to me why so many people think that a scientific explanation for the origins of the universe is an attack on Christianity. Particularly in light that the central tenet of Christianity, if I remember my catechism correctly, is that salvation comes through Jesus. No where in the Bible does it demand that you believe that God created the universe.

But I digress from the main point of this post: The Prime Mover or the First Cause. Simply put, God had to create the universe, because how else does it come into existence.

The argument for the First Cause goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Aristotle is credited for first making the first of this sort of argument, the cosmological argument. Many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian thinkers have spent much energy on this.

Sounds like a pretty good argument, doesn't it.

Now if I were a philosophy professor teaching logic, I could spend an entire semester tearing this apart, but I'm a physics professor. So let's examine it with the physical evidence.

Statement #1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. This statement seems to be common sense, but it's physically wrong. All of quantum mechanics is built upon the notion that nature is governed by chance. It's often difficult for many physics students to comprehend this. Even Einstein didn't like this probabilistic nature, but your computer, your cell phone, your TV, the scanner at the grocery store, and the light sensor on lamp poles all work because nature is random, not deterministic.

Let me illustrate with an experiment: The Two-Slit Experiment. Watch this You Tube video for a good explanation of the experiment. The basic set up is the experimenter shoots a beam through two small slits onto some detector; let's just call it a movie screen. It doesn't matter what the beam is. It could be a beam of photons (a laser), a beam of electrons, or a beam of atoms. What we measure on the movie screen is where each photon, electron, or atom lands. We find that where each thing lands is completely random; that is, where it ends up is governed by the laws of chance. The implication is that nothing causes that tiny bit to land where it does.

You don't have to like this result, but you have to realize that every modern device you use works, because nature, at its most basic level, is not caused.

Statement #2: The universe began to exist. Hawking believes that the universe began with the Big Bang out of nothing, and the laws of physics allows for light and matter to be created out of nothing. However, many physicists for good reason hypothesize that this universe is one of many, and at the Big Bang, sprung from the mutiverse, and it's conceivable that the multiverse has been around forever. As with all science, when there are competing hypotheses, experiments decide. We'll have to wait for those results.

So if you're with Hawking, you can accept the second statement, but if you're with physicists like Brian Greene, you don't.

Statement #3: Therefore, the universe has a cause. The argument failed with the first statement. Therefore, the universe was not caused.

I'll leave with this statement from Hawking. "Science does not deny religion. It provides a simpler alternative."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Hominoidea

While you're watching the latest summer blockbuster, realize the name of the movie and all of its predecessors were not appropriately titled. One, it is biologically inaccurate. If Earth is the planet of anything, it's probably the Planet of the Insects.

Two. The taxonomic classification Hominoidea is the family in the order Primates which includes Hylobatidae (gibbons) and Hominidae (the great apes). There are only seven species of great apes still around: Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Western and Eastern gorilla, the common chimpanzee, the bonobo, and humans. The Rise Planet of the Apes - that started about 65 million years ago.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where did the universe come from? Part 1

Allow me to tell you how I'm approaching this post. In part 1, I thought I was setting up a straw man argument. I will be arguing against a position - the biblical story of creation - that is held by strict creationists like Ken Ham. We encountered Mr. Ham and his Answers in Genesis site in an earlier post - Your Elementary School Teachers Were Right. I don't think I know any people who hold this view. Later, in part 2, I will discuss the notion of the Prime Mover or First Cause, and what roles god may play in the universe.

First I will describe what young Earth creationists - Biblical literalists - say about creation. When I started thinking about writing this, I had hoped that this position is truly a minority opinion among the religious, but I since have found a 2010 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans believe in this version.

The Book of Genesis (1:3-2:4) says that on the first day, he created the heavens. the Earth, and light.(1) The firmament is created on the second day. This means that the sky is like a tent over the Earth. Land, sea, and plants are created on the third day.(2) God on the fourth day puts lights in the firmament; these would be stars including our Sun plus the Moon.(3) On the last two days, he creates life, first sea life and birds, then land animals, and finally humanity.

Furthermore, through the analysis of Biblical chronology, young Earth creationists arrive at the age of the universe at about 6000 years.

What is the scientific consensus? (N.B. here I am only describing the results of science. I leave a general description of how scientists have arrived at these results for a later post.) The universe is 13.75 ± 0.11 billion years old. About 10-37 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe entered a period of inflation in which it expanded exponentially. This lasted for about 10-32 seconds. The universe then consisted of an extremely hot plasma consisting of quarks, gluons, and electrons. Through a process not yet understood, matter began to dominate over anti-matter.

A billionth of a second after the Big Bang the universe cooled enough so that quarks started to be bound and protons and neutrons were formed. At the one minute mark or there abouts, hydrogen and primordial helium formed. Finally, after a few hundred thousand years, the universe became transparent. The light left over from this time forms the cosmic microwave background.

Galaxies began forming in the first million years. The oldest known galaxy, IOK-1, formed about 750 million years after the Big Bang. Our Milky Way galaxy formed between about 9 billion years ago.

Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago from the accretion disk of the Sun. Life appeared about 3.8 billion years ago; 2 billion years ago is when eukaryotic cells evolved. One billion years later, life became multicellular. Lots of stuff happens, and then around 2 million years ago, our Homo ancestors come onto the scene. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens arise in Africa 200,000 years ago.

Now here's the thing. Science completely conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible. I'm not an expert in cosmology or in evolutionary biology, but I can back up everything I wrote with evidence - tons of it.

(1) The image to the right is a T-shirt popular with physics students
(2) In Genesis 2:5, plants came after the creation of man.
(3) Notice the Moon is included as a source of light. Maybe I'm being picky, but the Moon is not a source, but only reflects the Sun's light.