31 July 2007

Climate Change and The Truth: Introduction

Darius and other readers,

The experience of writing this reply to your entries about antropogenic global warming has been very informative for me. I know much more about the arguments, counterarguments, and scientific details of climate change than I did before. I am grateful for that opportunity. I realize that I am unlikely to change your mind, but I do ask that this reply be given careful and thorough consideration.

This reply is in a different font than my usual blog entries because it is the best option for handling subscripts and superscripts. I must also thank my roommate Chris for proofreading my draft of this reply and providing several valuable questions, ideas, insight, and editorial comments.

This reply is divided into five parts to make reading more convenient and because the Blogger spell checker would not work properly when it was one monolithic document.


In this reply, I discuss your objections to the claim that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real. I use the phrase to make clear that I am distinguishing between the natural variability of Earth's climate and the effects that human activities have had in the past 150 years. I am a physicist, not a climatologist, so I shall not address many scientific details of AGW; others can (and have) done a much better job of that than I could. Contrary to your claim that "those who are prominently pushing the theory of human-induced GW" are "U.N.-paid lackeys," I am funded by the United States Department of Energy, which is lead by Sec. Samuel Bodman, who was appointed by President Bush.

I shall focus on broad issues that I think I am qualified to address, so long as I cite the appropriate sources. I will address you objections by dividing them into three categories. First, I will address the issue of greatest importance, which is our Christian worldview. Then, I will address the power of science and whether we have the ability to understand and accurately forecast global climate. Third, I will address the proposed solutions to AGW and whether they are viable.

I shall conclude with what I hope are points on which we can agree.

27 July 2007

16 Pizza Boxes + 1 Physics Graduate Student =

Murder in Weinland Park: Arrest Made

According to the U. S. Marshals Service, The Columbus Dispatch, WCMH, and WBNS, a man was arrested for the murder of Kenneth Crawford on June 28, 2007. The Weinland Park Community Civic Association was informed of the arrest at our most recent meeting on July 25, 2007. I must not have been sufficiently diligent in reading the Dispatch because I did not see the article when it was originally published.

"For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer." - Romans 13:3-4

"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live." - Ezekiel 33:11

22 July 2007

21 July 2007

The Burner, The Oven, and a Plastic Bag

This is what a burner from a stove looks like after a plastic bag has melted onto it. I thought I was safe leaving the bag on the burner because the burner was turned off.

However, I had the oven on, and I failed to notice this exhaust pipe, which is connected to the oven, under the burner. The hot gasses from the oven melted the plastic to form the mess in the first photograph.

I felt foolish, but when I told my landlord about it, he suggested a simple solution. I followed his advice to heat up the plastic-coated burner again and use a grill brush to scrub off the melted plastic. It worked well, as you can see in the photograph above, and the burner is back on duty.

15 July 2007

My New Closet and VCR

As you may recall, when I moved into my apartment in Columbus, one of the walls of my bedroom had a portal that was open to the next room. Since the house is part of our landlord's efforts to improve the Weinland Park neighborhood, building a closet to fill the portal qualified as a community service project for a boy scout working towards Eagle Scout status.

We had to wait several months for the closet to be built because of the bureaucracy of the Boy Scouts. We joked that the scout in question had earned his Red Tape Merit Badge while getting the project approved.

After it was approved the scout and several others built the closet over the course of a few days. As you can see, it is quite an improvement in storage space and privacy over the previous situation.

Shortly after I arrived in Columbus, I bought a VCR to play my VHS tapes. Yes, I still have some. A friend suggested that I check for cheap VCRs at Goodwill; I took his suggestion and found this one. Click on the picture to read the price tag. The only caveat is that it did not come with a remote.

11 July 2007

On Gun Control and Anecdotal Evidence

I would have thought that a U.S. Navy veteran would be well-trained and competent to use a firearm to defend his home. Instead, the Columbus Dispatch (June 27, 2007, p. B1) reports that he accidentally shot his wife. I could use this incident to argue for tighter gun control laws, trigger locks, or not sleeping with a loaded gun next to your bed. Conversely, I could use the Virgina Tech shootings of April 16, 2007 to argue for relaxing of gun control laws or taking a loaded gun to class because then students would have been able to use guns to kill or incapacitate the shooter.

Basing any legal or public policy changes on either of these events would be a mistake because both are examples of anecdotal evidence. They are individual data points that may or may not accurately represent the national or local conditions that gun control and gun rights advocates are trying to address. These are both very emotional stories, and we cannot separate emotion from any human decision. However, we have a duty to do our best to ensure that our emotions and decisions are based on accurate data rather than anecdotes.

09 July 2007

Tour Guide Highlights

For several months in 2006, I was a tour guide at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which is the lab that provides the data I analyze. I lived near the center in Menlo Park, CA for more than a year. I gave several tours of SLAC in addition to my regular research duties.

One tour I gave was to a group of students from the Seoul Science High School. At the end of the tour, they surprised me with set of gifts that they had brought from South Korea.

First was a small bag that I think is made of silk. It contained the tassel below, and now I use it to carry my tuba mouthpiece, valve oil, etc.

According to my friends, this tassel is part of a traditional Korean woman's dress; apparently the students did not know whether their tour guide would be male or female. The tassel now hangs above my desk in my office in the Physics Research Building.

They also gave me a business card holder in a foam case. The holder is metal with inlaid iridescent decorations. My Korean friends tell that the animals adorning the holder are symbolic of long life. This gift received frequent use on my trip to Washington, DC earlier this year because I gave and received cards at almost every office I visited.

This view is a highlight of every tour of SLAC. I took this photograph near one end of the Klystron Gallery, which is a building that sits directly above the accelerator. It houses the equipment that transforms electricity from the grid into microwaves that propel the electrons and positrons on their two mile journey to BaBar. The Gallery, like the accelerator beneath, is two miles long and as straight as possible. Looking down a straight two-mile-long hallway gives visitors and exciting and slightly surreal lesson in perspective.

08 July 2007

What is Wrong with Christians Believeing Young-Earth Creationism? Answer #3

Answer 3: Science is more useful to Christians than you might think.

The popularity of Young-Earth Creationism is due in part, I think, to a broader distrust of scientists and intellectuals in conservative Christian culture. YEC and related issues are, in part, about whether we, as Christians and as a nation, trust and respect science. They are about whether we have the courage to face evidence that contradicts our interpretation of Scripture.

One use of science that is particularly relevant to Christianity is the debunking of superstitions, such as homeopathic medicine and astrology, among other things. In strong contrast to a Biblical worldview, believers in these practices all assume predictable supernatural outcomes for certain actions (e.g. avoiding black cats) or circumstances (e.g. being born under a particular constellation of the Zodiac). These predictions are amenable to testing and falsification by science.

Medical advances are another concrete and important example. As an InterVarsity staff member wrote to a large group, "Take the example of smallpox in rural India. Traditional Hindus believe smallpox is the curse of a goddess, or the goddess herself; Christians and Muslims believe smallpox is a disease to cure via the scientific method." If we had assumed that smallpox is part of the immutable wrath of God, it would not have been eradicated.

Similarly, in The Language of God, Dr. Francis Collins writes about his experience working at a mission hospital in Eku, Nigeria. "A wide spectrum of diseases was represented. Oftentimes patients arrived at the hospital only after many days of progressive illness. Even worse, the course of the disease was regularly compounded by the toxic ministrations of the witch doctors, who which many Nigerians would first go for help, coming to the hospital in Eku only when all else failed (ch. 11)."

I realize that some competent medical professionals do hold the YEC view, but they do so in direct contradiction to the evidence and the conclusions obtained by the scientific method. The same method allows them to understand and treat a vast array of diseases and injuries that would remain fatal if the words of Scripture were used as our only source of knowledge.

More generally, science is useful to Christians because it provides an exciting, effective, inspiring, useful, and realistic outlet for our God-given curiosity about Creation. Adhering to YEC often stifles that curiosity; this can been seen in textbooks for home-schooled students that advocate only the YEC position. A textbook for 8th graders entitled Space and Earth Science (3rd ed.) and published by Bob Jones University Press claims to be presenting "the young earth Creationary view of the Earth's history and rejecting the uniformitarian/evolutionary models pervading our culture." Similarly, Science of the Physical Creation from A Beka Book publishers, "includes a good refutation of the 'principle of uniformity' and other ideas of evolutionary philosophers."

A sample page from Science of the Physical Creation asserts, "God created the earth's atmosphere, the blanket of gasses that surrounds our planet, to protect and support life in many ways." This seems innocuously reverent, but it effectively declares scientific investigations of the past to be impossible and pointless. Scientists have developed effective and empirically supported explanations for the origin of Earth's atmosphere. Yet this text book seems to say that we shouldn't devote effort to these endeavors. This could be construed as evidence that Christians deliberately stifle scientific investigation because we are afraid of what it might uncover. Also, this simple statement offers no explanation for why the other planets of the Solar System have atmospheres, unless one chooses to argue that the atmosphere of Venus is a warning against the dangers of anthropogenic global warming.

When explanations the one given in Science of the Physical Creation claim to be the final and only necessary answer, they are an insult to the curiosity that drives science. They can reduce the number of Christians who enter scientific fields, increase the tension between scientists and Christians, and impede the progress of science understanding the parts of Creation our which we are stewards.

03 July 2007

Lesson Learned

If a half dollar coin fits in the coin accepting slot of a vending machine, that does not necessarily mean that the machine will actually accept the coin or that it will not get stuck. I doubt that anyone besides me would ever try this, but I thought you might like to know.

01 July 2007

Addendum to Italy 2006

This should be my final entry about my trip to Italy last year. I realized that I had forgotten to post two of my favorite incidents there.

From reading my previous entries, you might have noticed that the old centers of the cities of Italy tend to have very narrow streets. I remember joking to myself an American would be foolish to try to drive a large vehicle, such as a Hummer down these streets.

I thought I was joking until I took this photograph. When I saw the Hummer coming down the street and a bus turning to go anti-parallel to the Hummer, I knew people would probably not believe me unless I captured it on film. The two vehicles paused for a few moments because the street was not wide enough for both of them. The Hummer soon backed into an empty parking space to let the bus pass. I do not know the nationality of the Hummer drive, but as you can see, the Hummer has European Union licence plates.

Another unusual international close encounter occurred when several participants in the conference, myself included, went out for dinner a cozy local restaurant. It had great atmosphere; the inside was decorated to appear as the it had been carved out of solid rock. When our waiter presented our menus, which were written only in Italian, he said, "Capito Italiano," which means "do you understand Italian?" We all shook our heads or said "no." He then asked, "Parlez vous fran├žais," which means, "Do you speak French?" Two members of our group, one of whom was born in France, replied, "Oui." The waiter then read us the menu (it was fairly short), translating from Italian to French; the two francophones then interpreted from French into English for the rest or us.

The food was all very good, especially the roast potatoes. I had rabbit for the first time, and it did not have much flavor, but it did have an unusually chewy texture.