Podcast #28 - February 1st, 2006
Interview with Tara Smith of Iowans for Science; News Items, Your E-mail and Questions, More on HIV Denial, Science or Fiction
- Word from The Amazing Meeting 4 (TAM4) James Randi reports that TAM went swimmingly. They had almost 600 attendees, and the lectures were wonderful.
DVD's of the conference will be available in a few weeks.
Check in at www.randi.org.
- Vatican may have found Pope John Paul's 'miracle' By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, Jan 30 (Reuter): The Vatican may have found the 'miracle' they need to put the late Pope John Paul one step closer to sainthood: the medically inexplicable healing of a French nun with the same Parkinson's disease that afflicted him.
Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Catholic Church official in charge of promoting the cause to declare the late Pope a saint of the Church, told Reuters on Monday that an investigation into the healing had cleared an initial probe by doctors.
Oder said the 'relatively young' nun, whom he said he could not identify for now, was inexplicably cured of Parkinson's after praying to John Paul after his death last April 2.
'I was moved,' Oder said in a telephone interview. 'To think that this was the same illness that destroyed the Holy Father and it also kept this poor nun from carrying out her work.'
John Paul suffered from Parkinson's Disease during the last decade of his life. His body trembled violently and he could not pronounce his words or control his facial muscles.
'To me, this is another sign of God's creativity,' he said, adding that the nun worked with children.
He said Church investigators would now start a more formal and detailed probe of the suspected miracle cure.
The process that could lead to sainthood for John Paul began in May when Rome archdiocese published an edict asking Catholics to come forward with evidence 'in favor or against' John Paul's reputation of holiness.
One proven miracle is required after John Paul's death for the cause to lead to beatification.
It must be the result of prayers asking the dead Pope to intercede with God. Miracles are usually a physical healing that doctors are at a loss to explain.
Another miracle would be necessary between beatification and eventual sainthood.
- Bush's State of the Union calls for research spending January 31, 2006 9:57 PM PST
President Bush spent a lot of time in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening talking about technology, but it was mostly about calling for better alternatives to oil. (Defending the war in Iraq was another.)
'Tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative, a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research, at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs' in automobile fuel and electrical generation, Bush said, citing an unhealthy 'addiction' to oil.
Even though it may be a politically savvy move to call for weaning America from foreign oil, it's hardly clear that the humble black liquid is in danger of disappearing. Peter Huber and Mark Mills last year wrote a provocative article that essentially argues: if prices go up and are viewed as staying up, there's plenty of oil in Canada and Venezuela alone for the next century.
In addition to the oil angle, Bush also reiterated something he called for in the 2005 State of the Union address: digitized medical records. 'We will make wider use of electronic records and other health information technology, to help control costs and reduce dangerous medical errors,' he said.
Finally, Bush cited three themes, R&D funding, R&D tax credit, and education, that are beloved by tech companies. Here's an excerpt:
First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.
Second, I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit to encourage bolder private-sector initiatives in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life, and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.
Third, we need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We've made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high wage jobs. If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.
Posted by Declan McCullagh
Questions and E-mails
- Transponders What happened to those transponders on 9/11?
I am listening to your podcasts to catch up with your show and am into Sept 2005. Enjoy it very much. The 9/11 conspiracy show had a brief discussion of the aircraft transponder and a question of why it can be turned of in the cockpit. As a pilot and electrical engineer, I can tell you that there are very good technical reasons why this is necessary. I found the questions raised in the discussion of this very unskeptical.
I asked Glenn what the technical reasons were and he obliged...
First, how a transponder works. The transponder concept comes out of WWII when the British used it to identify Friend from Foe. The transponder receives a special interrogation signal from Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar and sends back a special encoded reply. This reply can be just a four digit identification number set by the pilot (Mode A operation), or with altitude information (Mode C operation). Mode S operation, that permits selective interrogation of a specific aircraft to provide additional information, is not yet in general operation.
The code number the pilot sets is called the Squawk number. Aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) normally squawk 1200, unless given a specific squawk code by ATC. ATC assigns a code when the plane is flying in congested operating areas (20 50 miles of major airports). All Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) flights are assigned a specific code. The code number and altitude (Mode C) information is put on the controllers radar screen to identify the aircraft. The screen can also show computer generated information such as direction of flight and speed. Most smaller aircraft would barely show on a radar screen without a transponder; certainly without the emphasis needed by the controller. A transponder ident feature lets the pilot push a button that causes his aircraft to be highlighted on the radar by having its representation flash brightly for the controllers benefit.
- Creation This is a follow up to an e-mail we discussed in the last episode.
Well that's a first class response. Thank you. Got sidetracked answering your email.
By the way, I appreciate the fact that you get right to the meat of your topics for discussion on your podcasts. I also like the fact that you allow us to download your podcasts directly as MP3 files instead of having to fool around with Itunes which just gets in the way. I'm not interested in lots of tunes and I listen to a podcast once!
Many podcasters make what I think to be some big mistakes by using introductory music followed by innocuous ramblings that have nothing to do with the promised subject of discussion. I was astonished the other day to hear a guy named Dave Weiner, supposedly the guy who came up with the idea of podcasts, including writing the facilitating software, stating on a podcast interview that he listened to podcasts the same way I do - on CD while walking for exercise. Such walks usually have a specific duration and the last thing we want from a podcast is to waste our precious time listening to music we don't care about followed by some guy or girl (rare to date) rambling on about their personal philosophies and opinions. You can be sure that the CD goes sailing through the air into the nearest trash bin.
Before commenting on your response, I think it would help the discussion (not that I presume I'll ever get another answer) if I told you my views on God. First, Im going to use 'God' in the generic sense, as I assume you did, to include a Supreme Being, a Supreme Intellect, etc.
I said I was a Christian. I'm also an agnostic. I don't believe you can prove God exists. If St. Thomas Aquinas couldn't, I can't. I don't believe you can prove God doesn't exist. We have the universe and we have life. Where did the universe come from? Was it created by a God? I don't know the answer. Scientists don't know. The same is true of the origin of life on Earth. But, in fact, scientists are interested in how the universe came into existence and how life originated on Earth. Some just assume that God played no role because there is no God. So much for logic!
I don't believe science must confirm to the Bible. If God created the universe and all that's in it he did so the way he felt like doing it and that includes evolution or the appearance of evolution. I have a couple of engineering degrees and I'm not interested in twisting the facts of science to my convenience. I agree that science cannot deal with questions of metaphysics, theology, the supernatural, i.e. areas of inquiry to which the scientific method cannot be applied. But I don't think it follows that scientists must ignore the possibility that God is behind it all, and many of the greatest minds in the history of science haven't. It is a possibility that God is behind it all. Is it scientific to ignore that possibility, to rule it out altogether? I also don't think it's incorrect to use the word 'faith' when applied to how life originated on Earth. One may be absolutely convinced that God had nothing to do with it, but what else can it be but an act of faith to believe in what you can't prove or demonstrate.
To the question of how life originated on Earth you gave me a terrific answer, and I doubt if anyone could give a better answer, but ultimately you don't know how life originated on Earth. That being the case, I think it's illogical to leave God out of the equation.
Now to your definition of evolution. It's important to define terms so we know what we're talking about but I cry foul when someone separates the origin of life from the definition of evolution. The Origin of Species was first published on 24 November 1859. The Descent of Man was published in 1871. What became known as 'The Theory of Evolution,' or Darwin's Theory of Evolution, is a summation of Darwin's ideas, the primary idea being natural selection. Isn't that true? Darwin also had a great deal to say about God and religion in his writings but let's ignore that aspect and stick with the defining what is meant by, and included in, 'The Theory of Evolution.' Well here we have some problems. First, initially the Theory of Evolution did not include an important part of today's definition because Darwin knew little about what was to become the science of genetics. This also means that initially the theory didn't include the concept of mutations, although Darwin may have had some vague concepts on that mechanism. He also toyed with many other ideas that have been discarded.
So the bottom line is: the definition of The Theory of Evolution has changed over the years and, although I'm no expert on the subject, I'll bet you'd be hard put to get common agreement today on any specific definition. Try getting a definition of what is meant by 'species.'
In this case, you state categorically that the origin of the species does not include the most fundamental element of that origin, the beginning of life on Earth. Once there was no life on Earth. One day, life began. No matter how primitive, this life had to have all the mechanisms within it to sustain the process known as evolution; self nourishment, reproduction, the power of natural selection, and mutation.
So here we disagree. My definition of evolution, of the 'Origin of Species,' begins with the origin of life itself, as the title of Darwin's book on the subject would seem to imply. Who decided it doesn't? I also believe that the entire theory of evolution rests like an inverted pyramid on this origin, which some scientists claim took place by means of natural and fortuitous accident unassisted by God, a process that cannot be proved or demonstrated by science.
I understand your point about the logical fallacy of inserting God into each gap in science until discoveries gradually squeezes God out. But I haven't made that error. I've attributed nothing to God. I've only reflected on the possibility that God may have had a hand in the creation of the universe and life on Earth. This is something that many great scientists have done and have been none the less great for having done so.
But the idea that gaps in science are narrowing is also a fallacy, in my opinion. Some are for sure, as discoveries are made. But overall, the number of unanswered questions and gaps in scientific knowledge continually increase, and that includes evolution. According to string theory we're up to eleven dimensions, the sub nuclear zoo spawns endless puzzles and questions, and the universe does the same. It would be a full time job just to attempt to fit God into just a few of these gaps. I'll leave that task to others.
Finally, I have a question or puzzle example regarding evolution. Before I get to it, I should give you some idea about my bias against evolution theory. As I said before, natural selection appears to me to be fact. The same goes for continuous mutation within the species. But overall, the theory doesn't make sense. Not only does there appear to be a lack of evidence demonstrating to any reasonable degree the stages of evolution from one major species to another, along with a litany of fraud and blunders by members of the scientific community in attempting to show what are sometimes called 'missing links,' but there is also the problem of codependent species which, at least to me, vastly increases the improbability of evolution theory. Having said that, let me give you one example of codependency.
Take the relationship that exists between bees and flowers. Bees depend on flowers for honey. Flowers depend on bees for reproduction. How did this relationship develop? Did millions of years ago a couple of one-celled protoplasm's hold a conversation during which one agreed to evolve into a bee and the other a flower?
The task evolutionists must perform in such a case of co-dependency is to explain how these two forms of life continued to evolve over the millions of years during that period when the mechanisms for their future co-dependency and survival had not yet developed? What went on in the interim? How and when did the flower become a flower and how did it propagate in the eons of time prior to meeting the bee. And what about the bee? During this same period, where did the bee get the honey to sustain life? Are we to presume that these incredibly complex, life-sustaining mechanisms developed all by themselves waiting for the day when the two species discovered each other?
From all I've read, evolutionists make little attempt to answer the question of co-dependency amongst living creatures.
Dr. Novella Responds:
Thanks for your continued civil discourse. Let me attempt to answer your questions and address some of your statement.
You wrote: 'If God created the universe and all that's in it he did so the way he felt like doing it and that includes evolution or the appearance of evolution.'
The problem with the idea that god may have created this earth with the 'appearance of evolution' is that this is an untestable hypothesis, and therefore it is outside the realm of science. Think about it this way - science works by making hypotheses about how nature works. Scientists then make statements to the effect of 'If nature works this way, then this is what we should see.' They then do an experiment or make a follow up observation to see if nature looks as predicted. However, for any such observation or experiment you could say that it looks that way not because nature works as hypothesized but because god arbitrarily decided to just make nature look that way. For example, you could say that there is no gravity, rather god controls the movement of all things and just makes all things move exactly as if there were gravity. So what's the difference?
To science, there is no difference between an evolved natural world and a world that an all powerful superbeing created 5 seconds ago to appear exactly as if it had evolved over billions of years. In fact, you can think of many such metaphysical statements that are outside the realm of science. I could also say that we are living inside a computer programmed to function exactly like a world that evolved. Or we are the dream of a sleeping god. Or whatever - none of it can be tested scientifically. And science can only be agnostic towards any such metaphysical concepts.
You wrote: 'But I don't think it follows that scientists must ignore the possibility that God is behind it all, and many of the greatest minds in the history of science haven't. It is a possibility that God is behind it all. '
Yes, science must ignore the possibility that god created the world to appear as if it evolved - because this notion is outside the realm of science. This is not a choice - it is a logical imperative. Think of an observation you can make or an experiment you can do that can potentially prove that god did not make the world. Until you can do that, the notion of god is outside of science. Keep in mind, science does not say that god did not make the world - science is agnostic.
You wrote: 'But the idea that gaps in science are narrowing is also a fallacy, in my opinion. Some are for sure, as discoveries are made. But overall, the number of unanswered questions and gaps in scientific knowledge continually increase, and that includes evolution.'
Sure, the number of questions may be rising as we learn more about the universe, but in most disciplines, after a certain point, the questions are progressively narrower in scope (shrinking). For example, take genetics. It is firmly established that traits are inherited, that genes are the fundamental units of inherited traits, that this information is encoded in DNA. These facts filled in huge gaps in our knowledge of inheritance. They also generated a great number of questions, but of much smaller scope. The details of exploration get smaller and smaller over time. Gaps shrink.
You wrote: 'Take the relationship that exists between bees and flowers. Bees depend on flowers for honey. Flowers depend on bees for reproduction. How did this relationship develop?'
Natural scientists have indeed addressed this question - at length. This is called co-evolution. There are some misconceptions in your questions. First, flowering plants do not 'need' insects to pollinate. They can spread their pollen through wind, through direct contact, through incidental animal contact, etc. Insects do not make is possible for them to reproduce, just more efficient. And greater efficiency translates to an evolutionary advantage. This means that flowers that have features that attract insects will have a greater chance of being pollinated more extensively - more offspring = adaptive change.
Bee ancestors, by the same token, could not have been dependent upon fully modern flowers. But primitive flowers did have pollen - they needed it to reproduce. This pollen would have represented a new and untapped food source in the environment. An untapped food source is like an evolutionary vacuum. We also observe in nature today that many species of animals will sometimes utilize food sources that are very different from their main source. Predators will occasionally scavenge, scavengers will occasionally hunt, fruit eaters will occasionally eat other plants or even meat, etc. With a fierce competition for food, insects that stumbled upon pollen as a food source would have thrived without competition, but then later would compete with their own kind. That would create selective pressures to be more efficient at gathering and using pollen.
And that's it - the dance of coevolution was under way. Flowers that were more attractive to insects were selected, flowers that were shaped in such a way that maximized the chance of pollination from insect contact thrived. Insects that could live on pollen thrived, those that could locate flowers with pollen or nectar out-competed those that couldn't. Those insects that happened to spread pollen from the flowers they could live off of did better because that created more flowers - more food. And of course, those flowers did better.
So where's the big mystery? Regards,
- HIV Denial Discuss why the basic criterion 'scientific proof' of aids has never been met. The requirement that (HIV 1) RNA transcribed, 'cloned' replicated and retransmitted in the lab, has never occured, yet you still accept the scientific dogma as scientific fact. Belief that some marker exists to test the current blood supplies for a disease that cannot be replicated.
That under every circumstance known, such a marker in the blood would demonstrate a positive immune response (immunity) to a virus, yet with HIV 1 demonstrates the precursor to contracting full blown aids. Why you would inject toxic chemicals into a patient which would destroy the immune system, to cure an autoimmune disease? Go ahead and demonstrate how skeptical you all are. I didn't think so.
PS: Being an intellectual skeptic, who tries to prove one side of an argument, while trying to pretend to examine both positions is not just transparent. It's a fraud. There is ample proof on the Internet to scrutinize many popular beliefs on the AMA, FDA, treatment of diseases, who blew up Oklahoma City, to the Government involved with Aliens. While none of this evidence makes it so, to pretend to take a hard 'skeptical' look at the evidence and conclude on the side of big money and power makes you what?
I think we both know the answer to that.
- Interview with Tara Smith Tara Smith is an assistant professor of molecular biology at the University of Iowa and the founder of Iowans for Science
She has a blog on microbiology, creation/evolution, and HIV denial.
- Article on Christine Maggiore, HIV denier and author of What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong? Her 3 year old child recently (in the Spring of 2005) died from AIDS.
Science or Fiction [ Show Answers ]
- Question #1 Science There is no evidence that Adolf Hitler ever ordered the 'final solution,' or the extermination of all Jews in Europe.
- Question #2 Fiction There is no physical proof or documentation of the existence of gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps.
- Question #3 Science The claim that the Nazis mass produced soap from the remains of concentration camp victims was a wartime propaganda lie.