Is anybody out there?

No, this is not a post about SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence).

A few months ago, someone emailed me asking for links to blogs that are similar to mine. I said that I didn’t know of any. The only other science-related blog by a Christian that I regularly read is The Evangelical Ecologist, but it has a narrower focus than this blog does.

Perhaps Intelligent Design the Future is in this category, but I don’t regularly read it. It doesn’t allow comments, so it isn’t a typical blog.

I don’t know of any others. Does anybody have any links?

Grace and Peace

Hubble Art

New Hubble Space Telescope pictures were released today, in honor of the 17th anniversary of deployment of the orbiting observatory by the space shuttle Discovery. Absolutely astounding, as always.

hubble_carina_nebula

The image here fails to do justice to the detail that can be seen in these images. Check it out in more detail at:

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Hubblesite.org

Centripetalnotion.com (thanks Glenn for this link)

Grace and Peace

Life on Gliese 581c?

The headlines:

Science Daily: New Planet Could Have Life

Yahoo News: Potentially Habitable Planet Found

Scientists have discovered more than 200 extrasolar planets (planets orbiting stars other than our sun) since the mid-1990s, and the numbers will certainly continue to increase as instruments improve. In regards to suitability for life, a vast majority of these planets are too large, too hot, or too cold; this is called the Goldilocks problem. Today, astronomers at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) announced that they have discovered a planet that might be “just right.”

The planet orbits a red dwarf star named Gliese 581, and it has been given the name Gliese 581c. Red dwarfs are smaller and cooler than our sun, and 581c orbits within what is called the “habitable zone,” which is the region around the star where it is possible to have liquid water on the surface—neither too hot nor too cold. The astronomers believe it is one of three planets that orbit Gliese 581; the others are designated 581a and 581b. The telescopes we have are not powerful enough to directly view extrasolar planets, but the astronomers infer their existence by watching the stars “wobble” under the influence of the gravity of the planets.

How does this relate to life in the galaxy? It is widely believed among exobiologists—those scientists who speculate about life elsewhere in the galaxy (certainly not to be confused with UFO-ologists)—that in order to have life, one needs liquid water. If a planet is too close to its star—or too far away—then conditions are not right to have living organisms, at least not on the surface of the object.

It also needs to be made clear that these astronomers are not talking about intelligent civilizations on worlds like Gliese 581c. The universe might have an abundance of places that are suitable for bacterial slime, and Gliese 581c might be one of them. The conditions required for advanced life—anything more complicated than a Paramecium or Amoeba—are likely to be exceedingly rare in the universe.

My thoughts:

  1. The results are very preliminary. We don’t have any direct measurements of the planet’s temperature. If it has a CO2-rich atmosphere, it could still be too hot, even being within the habitable zone.
  2. In the future, as instruments become more powerful, it might be possible to analyze light from planet such as this. If spectrographic analyses indicate presence of both water and atmospheric oxygen, this would greatly increase the probability that there is life of some sort on the planet.
  3. I would not see the discovery of primitive life on a world such as Gliese 581c as having any negative theological implications. Everything from Genesis 1:2 on is very Earth-centered, and so the Bible doesn’t say anything one way or the other about whether life exists on other worlds.


Artist’s conception of a planet orbiting a red dwarf, from hubblesite.org

Grace and Peace

Carbon Credit Craziness

One of the methods that has been put in place to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide is the idea of carbon credits. If your factory produces too much CO2, then you can compensate by purchasing a “carbon credit,” which is a promise made by some other entity that they will somehow make up for the CO2 you produce. So, the factory can reduce its impact on the atmosphere, not by actually reducing CO2 output, but by paying a nature reserve in Africa to plant more trees (which consume CO2 during photosynthesis).

It is sort of like a wealthy community that exports its toxic wastes to poor Indian reservations in the United States. In an effort to make it look like everybody wins, they point out that not only does this make their own community cleaner, it contributes economically to the impoverished tribe. They forget to point out that the tribe ends up with the toxic waste dump.

One of my coworkers left an article from Time magazine in the teacher’s lounge today that does a great job of tearing apart the concept of carbon credits, at least how they are presently implimented. The article is Limosine Liberal Hypocrisy, by Charles Krauthammer, and here are some excerpts:

Remember the Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore global-warming pitch at the Academy Awards? Before they spoke, the screen at the back of the stage flashed not-so-subliminal messages about how to save the planet. My personal favorite was “Ride mass transit.” This to a conclave of Hollywood plutocrats who have not seen the inside of a subway since the moon landing and for whom mass transit means a stretch limo seating no fewer than 10.

Leo and Al then portentously announced that for the first time ever, the Academy Awards ceremony had gone green. What did that mean? Solar panels in the designer gowns? It turns out that the Academy neutralized the evening’s “carbon footprint” by buying carbon credits. That means it sent money to a “carbon broker,” who promised, after taking his cut, to reduce carbon emissions somewhere on the planet equivalent to what the stars spewed into the atmosphere while flying in on their private planes.

In other words, the rich reduce their carbon output by not one ounce. But drawing on the hundreds of millions of net worth in the Kodak Theatre, they pull out lunch money to buy ecological indulgences. The last time the selling of pardons was prevalent–in a predecessor religion to environmentalism called Christianity–Martin Luther lost his temper and launched the Reformation.

I like the reference to the Reformation. Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences, which were certificates saying that said someone’s time in purgatory could be reduced, for a price. “As soon a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Martin Luther responded by posting the 95 Theses on the church door, and the Protestant Reformation was underway. Souls cannot be saved with money. Likewise, a gluttonous lifestyle cannot be offset by poor people planting trees in Uganda. The article continues:

Sergey Brin, zillionaire founder of Google, buys carbon credits to offset the ghastly amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Google’s private Boeing 767 but confesses he’s not sure if it really does anything.

Which puts him one step ahead of most other eco-preeners who actually pretend that it does–the Goracle himself, for example. His Tennessee mansion consumes 20 times the electricity used by the average American home. Last August alone it consumed twice as much power as the average home consumes in a year. Gore buys absolution, however. He spends pocket change on carbon credits, which then allow him to pollute conscience-free.

What is wrong with this scam? First, purchasing carbon credits is an incentive to burn even more fossil fuels, since now it is done under the illusion that it’s really cost-free to the atmosphere.

Second, it is a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the poorer segments of humanity in the Third World.

Carbon credits, properly administered, could be part of the solution to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, but the current system only eases consciences without actually doing much.

Grace and Peace

Will the T.P. police knock on your (stall) door?

From BBC News:

Crow calls for limit on loo paper

Singer Sheryl Crow has said a ban on using too much toilet paper should be introduced to help the environment.

Crow has suggested using “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”.

Hmmmm. I’m all for protecting the environment, and perhaps if someone is using half the roll they might want to consider cutting back a bit, but I suspect there are more substantial things I can do to “save the earth.” And how will this be enforced? Hidden cameras in toilet bowls?

Earth Day 2007 — Stewardship of the Environment

This item was originally posted in December 2006 which wasn’t all that long ago. In honor of Earth Day, it is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The Earth is Not Flat! now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries. The original entry was a follow-up to a blog entry on The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy also produced a document called The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application. Article XVI of this statement is about the environment:

Article XVI: Stewardship of the Environment

We affirm that God created the physical environment for His own glory and for the good of His human creatures.
We affirm that God deputized humanity to govern the creation.
We affirm that mankind has more value than the rest of creation.
We affirm that mankind’s dominion over the earth imposes a responsibility to protect and tend its life and resources.
We affirm that Christians should embrace responsible scientific investigation and its application in technology.
We affirm that stewardship of the Lord’s earth includes the productive use of its resources which must always be replenished as far as possible.
We affirm that avoidable pollution of the earth, air, water, or space is irresponsible.

We deny that the cosmos is valueless apart from mankind.
We deny that the biblical view authorizes or encourages wasteful exploitation of nature.
We deny that Christians should embrace the countercultural repudiation of science or the mistaken belief that science is the hope of mankind.
We deny that individuals or societies should exploit the universe’s resources for their own advantage at the expense of other people and societies.
We deny that a materialistic worldview can provide an adequate basis for recognizing environmental values.

I heartily endorse this kind of thinking. It states the high value of creation without minimizing the importance of humans. Many in the environmentalist movement deny or minimize the value of humans. May we in the Christian community not go to the other extreme, only giving lip service to the value of the creation.

Grace and Peace

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Application is found at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website.