Evidently True

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on September 18, 2011

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I grew up in a Catholic household in a predominantly Christian part of the rural Midwest.  It seems like there’s a church on every street corner of my hometown.  The Christian world view was part of our culture and our identity.  As a young boy interested in science, it’s therefore no surprise that one of the sources of information that I was given was a cassette tape that talked about all the evidence of God’s work in nature.  I listened to this cassette repeatedly.

It’s been many years, so I only really remember one particular part.  The preacher (I assume he was a Christian preacher or minister that made the tape) was talking about the fact that when you look at the branch of a tree, you’ll notice that the side branches do not grow out of that branch in a random pattern.  In fact, they follow a repeating pattern where, for example, every fifth branch is pointing in the same direction.  This order was evidence of God’s hand in the creation of a tree.   God made the tree with a certain logic, and this was evidence of the creator’s work.

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There’s a new study that indicates..

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on October 2, 2011

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I recently watched a documentary called “Forks over Knives”.  The premise of this film is that you can avoid a lot of illnesses, especially cancers and heart disease, if you avoid all animal-based foods and eat only non-processed, plant-based foods.  Let me state right from the start that I immediately saw this for what it is – vegan propaganda.   I found some good blog posts that dissect the film bit-by-bit and point out what is wrong with the arguments and with the science.  That’s not the point of this post.

What I want to write about today is one particular bit of evidence that the film uses to make its case.  They refer to a study done in India that studied the effects of a diet high in casein (milk protein) on the incidence of cancer in rats.  They report that rats who received a high-casein diet had higher incidence of cancer than rats on a low-casein diet.  From this, the film draws the conclusion that diets high in animal proteins promote cancer growth, and thus all animal products should be avoided.

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Mathematical Questions for Aaron Santos

At our next meet-up, Aaron Santos will be talking about how mathematics can be a tool for applying skepticism.

Over at his blog, A Diary of Numbers, Santos states he “likes solving geeky Fermi problems.”  For example, Santos has tackled questions such as:

  1. How much gas do you waste by turning on the headlights of your car?
  2. How sensitive would a shark’s nose have to be in order to detect a drop of blood from one mile away?
  3. How many people spinning anti-clockwise would it take to counteract the Earth’s spin, assuming that the premise is sound.
  4. Assorted Death Statistics

So what other good hypothetical questions could Santos try and solve?  Here’s a few that came to mind:

  1. How much hair throughout the entire world is grown in one day?  I wonder if it would cover my driveway?  Or the Eastern Michigan University Water Tower?  Or the University of Michigan Football Stadium?
  2. According to wikipedia, it took over three years, two months, fourteen days and sixteen hours, for Forest Gump to run coast to coast across the country several times.  What was his average speed?
  3. If the sun disappeared, how quickly would the temperature drop on Earth?  And how powerful of an artificial heat source would you have to have in order to compensate for the decreased temperature?

Are there any others?  Post them in the comments section.

 

Should Children Read From Digital Paper?

Guest Contributor: Nicholas Lester Bell from End of Line

Published on February 11, 2011

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A family friend wrote this on her tumblr page:

i am torn, because i want grace to read and i feel like she would be more inclined to read on an e-reader with a touch screen rather than on the pages of an actual book. i myself would prefer the paper book, and am a bit anti-e-reader, but in a recent debate over whether or not to let her play a video game (instead of watch tv), i think an e-reader would be my top choice over anything else. thoughts?

I wrote her a long explanation about e-reader pros and cons, various options and opportunities there are. A great deal of words were spent on this without addressing the actual direct question. This is going to be a better exploration of that issue and the greater question of ebooks. The technical information will follow in a later post.

To answer the question “should children read from e-readers?” you need to ask another question: “will an e-reader help your child read more?” Yes? Then they definitely should use it. The more a child reads, the better off they will be in all parts of life. Reading helps develop and expand the mind in a way almost nothing else will. Even the subject matter isn’t overly critical. It is better to read garbage like Twilight than nothing at all. Everyone has to start somewhere. There is always more time to graduate to better literature.

The presentation of a digital book does not really matter. Just like the paper of a physical book does not matter. With few exceptions, the physical presentation of a book is not critical to the experience. It is the medium on which content is delivered. The best analogy is music – for most of it, it does not matter if you listen on vinyl, mp3 or cd. It is all the same notes, the same words.

A story is not the pages it is written on. In fact, it is not even the words it is written with. A story is the experience of reading. A band without an audience may be making noise, but are they making music? Without the reader, the story is merely words on a page, digital or otherwise. It is the reading that gives it a life, a presence all its own.

So let your child read an ebook. Let them read a comic book. Let them read the newspaper, the encyclopedia, the back of the cereal box. Reading gives a child wings to explore not only their own world, but infinite worlds behind this one. Whatever avenue helps them best do it, let them read. The universe awaits their exploration.

[Chris: The comments in this original post are worth reading as well]

The Existence of Mosquitoes

Guest Contributor: Dan Kiskis from Some Forgotten Corner

Published on April 30, 2011

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Summer is approaching.  I’m looking forward to being able to go outside without a coat or jacket on.  I’m especially looking forward to the clear nights when I can get out my telescope and peer into the universe that surrounds us.  The one thing I don’t look forward to is the mosquitoes.  It’s extremely annoying to go outside and realize I’m just a big walking meal for thousands of little insects.  While mosquito repellents are effective, I hate having to take the time to apply them and then having to shower afterwards to remove them just to have an hour of comfort outside.

When I used to travel to India, we would take anti-malarial medicines because of the mosquitoes.  We would sleep with mosquito repellent coils burning in the room to protect us.  I have no idea what chemicals I was breathing.  These devices were generally effective.  We would only have a few bites in the morning.  I’ve heard that scientists are working on laser targeting systems that can detect mosquitoes and fire a tiny laser to kill them.  This would be amazing technology, and I wonder what it would look like when in use.  I can imagine a tiny laser light show shooting around the room.

We’ve all experienced the nuisance of mosquitoes. They are a part of our lives.  They are everywhere, and nobody doubts that they exist.  Why isn’t it the same way with God (meaning, the Christian god, but the same applies to all deities)?  If God really existed, why wouldn’t it just be an obvious part of the world, just like mosquitoes are?  Why would we need to “believe”?  You don’t have to believe in mosquitoes, they just exist, and that’s it.

Imagine what the world would be like if God really existed.  God would be visible and evident in some manner.  If natural disasters actually happened, the people who prayed would always survive.  I read today that an entire town in Alabama was destroyed by tornadoes, including all three churches.  If God existed, the report would be that the town was destroyed, but, of course, the churches were protected.

If God really existed, people wouldn’t have to make up convoluted arguments for why Evil exists in the world.   Either it simply wouldn’t exist, or God would make it perfectly clear to every human why it does.   We would never have religious wars, because it would be obvious to everyone what God was and how he acts.  Nobody fights wars over their belief in the nature of mosquitoes.

If it appears that I’m oversimplifying theology and I don’t understand the subtleties of the nature of the existence of God and the need for Faith or whatever, well, that’s not the case.   If an all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent entity actually existed, it would be obvious.  We wouldn’t need holy books full of opaque metaphors to explain it.  There wouldn’t be dramatically differing opinions on the matter. It would be as obvious as gravity, or the air we breathe, or mosquitoes.