Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The death of cosmology?

This ties in with what I wrote recently, half-facetiously, about the expansion of the universe. In an article today in MSNBC, physicists predict that one day, in the far distant future, observers of the universe won't be able to observe anything except their own galaxies, which they will mistake for the entire universe since all the other galaxies have moved too far away. The article says:

The universe is rapidly expanding — perhaps not rapidly enough to rip to shreds, but enough that distant galaxies will eventually be moving away faster than the speed of light. This much has been known for decades.

Emphasis mine. How can anything move faster than the speed of light? Einstein's theory has placed c as the absolute maximum speed of anything as far as I know. Even if something moves away at the speed of light, its light still reaches us at the speed of light and I would think that would mean that we wouldnt detect any movement or expansion at that point. The galaxies will not 'blink out of existence.' Theyll just sit there, that is, moving away from us at the speed of light while their light reaches us at the speed of light.

It's either that or Einstein's theory has been debunked while I wasnt looking. The universe can expand faster than the speed of light relative to our galaxy and can blink out of existence away from an observer. If there are any physicists out there, can you explain this?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sorry, Dave

In an earlier post, I may have misquoted Psalm 14. In that post I said Psalm 14 stated that those who believe there is no God (atheists) are fools. I read Psalm 14 again and some commentaries on it and it seems that David didnt mean atheists at all when he wrote the Psalm. And he didnt use the word translated as fool in the English to mean 'dim-witted.'

Here is Psalm 14 in its entirety from the English Standard Version (ESV):

Psa 14:1 To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

Psa 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

Psa 14:3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Psa 14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?

Psa 14:5 There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

Psa 14:6 You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.

Psa 14:7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The word translated fool in Psalm 14 was נבל nabal and it could mean a number of things: either in the usual sense of the word--foolish, vacuous--or in a moral sense, that is, vile, wicked. The context clearly shows that it is in the moral sense that the person in verse 1 is considered a 'fool.' The fool says in his heart there is no God. Meaning, by his actions, the immoral person flouts the authority of God by doing wicked things. This person could in fact be a nominal believer in God but by his actions pooh-poohs God, in other words, a hypocrite. Banal na aso, santong kabayo, and all that. Sort of like the people being talked about in Isaiah 29:

And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men... (verse 13)
These people have the appearance of believing in God, but by their actions show that in their hearts they dont recognize him. Psalm 14 wasnt talking about atheists. I'll apologize to King David when I see him.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yoyoy Villame (1938 - 2007)

On March 16, 1521

When Philippines was discovered by Magellan

They were sailing day and night across the big ocean

Until they saw a small Limasawa island

Magellan landed in Limasawa at noon

The people met him very welcome on the shore

They did not understand the speaking they have done

Because Kastila gid at Waray-Waray man

When Magellan landed in Cebu City

Rajah Humabon met him, they were very happy

All people were baptized and built the church of Christ

And that's the beginning of our Catholic life

When Magellan visited in Mactan

To christianize them everyone

But Lapu-Lapu met him on the shore

and drive Magellan to go back home

Then Magellan got so mad

Ordered his men to camouflage

Mactan island we could not grab

Cause Lapu Lapu is very hard

Then the battle began at dawn

Bolos and spears versus guns and cannons

When Magellan was hit on his neck

He stumble down and cried and cried

Oh, mother mother I am sick

Call the doctor very quick

Doctor, doctor shall I die?

Tell my mama do not cry

Tell my mama do not cry

Tell my mama do not cry

That's the end of Magellan

in the island of Mactan long time ago

ladies and gentlemen

Salamat g'yud kaayo, bai.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


A project during my NGO days in the 90s took me to the island of Jintotolo just off the southwest tip of the town of Balud in the island of Masbate. It was an idyllic little island with a Spanish-era lighthouse but this entry isnt about that. It's about what I noticed as I sat under the caimito tree drinking Tanduay with the barangay captain and some locals before they set off to fish for squid that night. The barangay captain had several livestock--hogs, chicken--free-ranging on his property and I remember thinking how happy they must be being able to roam freely and not be confined to cramped pens. The hogs were fenced in of course, but their confines werent as cramped as what they would be in a commercial hog farm. The chicken were free as, well, birds.

As the sun was going down, a rooster crowed, and soon all the other chicken appeared out of the bushes and gathered under the caimito tree. I remembered thinking the rooster acting like he was in total control, as if he was inspecting the chicken, probably counting them to see if they were all there. He kept crowing and moving around: "Dammit, where are the others? It's getting dark!" That kind of thing was going on with him, I thought. Then one by one, they flew--flew!--twenty to thirty feet up to roost on the branches of the caimito tree for the night. The rooster was like a dad making sure the family was safe, and I thought, what if these animals had the same sense of family we humans do? What if they felt friendship, and loyalty, and love? What if they truly cared about each other? And what if they knew, based on what they saw happen to their friends and relatives, their ultimate fate: to end up as food?

Sometimes I think, when eating my baon of chicken, that this baon once belonged to a creature that was alive. That they had little chicken hopes and dreams like we did. That they also wanted to have fun and laugh and sing. We dont know that they dont, and we can't be sure that they can't. What if?

I think sometimes that if they knew what their fate was, how come none of the livestock we exploit for food and labor ever rebelled against their condition? Ive never heard of a herd of cows organizing themselves into a revolt. Maybe theyre not that smart. Maybe they dont know what their fate is. Maybe they have no idea what it's like to not be confined to cramped quarters and therefore won't know what freedom means, and what struggling to survive in the wild is like, and maybe these domesticated animals really won't be able to survive without us humans and they really should be thankful because without us to care for them they'd be dead. But we won't be able to know for sure how they feel about their condition. What if they do think about these things: Oh to be wild and free! Oh wretched fate!

Now Im not off into some PETA trip. I like chicken. Pork and beef too. I try not to think about these things while eating, but there must be some ethical way we can treat these creatures we slaughter by the tens of thousands, or treat as egg and milk factories. For example, how ethical would it be to artificially select for nervous system disorders in chicken or cows or pigs? Artificially select individuals and breed them in such a way that they get smaller and smaller brains with each generation until we can succeed in breeding ones with no higher brain activities. They'd be for all intents and purposes, vegetables. Their nervous system just enough to keep then alive and not much else. They have to be fed by a machine and artificially inseminated. They won't be aware of anything or be able to feel anything. Would that be more ethical? To breed brainless animals with no capacity for even the most primitive thought; to breed them for food?

I dont know. I dont want to think about it. Not while Im eating.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Political correctness invades American Christianity?

You know the kind Im talking about. The whiny, "Oh Im so offended, Im going to tell my mommy" type of victimhood. Recently, World Net Daily featured a story on one woman's reaction to a message in her Starbucks coffee cup which was part of the Starsbucks's The Way I See It campaign, wherein they feature opinions of their customers printed on a paper cup.

The 'offending' message quoted from a customer in Canada read:
"Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imaginations for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure."
"As someone who loves God, I was so offended by that," Michelle Incanno, a married mother of three who is Catholic, told the Dayton Daily News. "I don't think there needs to be religious dialogue on it. I just want coffee."

Oh, boo-hoo, Ms. Incanno. I want coffee, too. And I love God. But for the life of me, I dont see how that statement could be offensive to a theist, especially one who claims to be a Christian. A Christian believes that, like David wrote in Psalm 14, The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." It's a foolish statement. But offensive? Come on! Are you offended when someone proclaims one and one is three? Or that Sanjaya is the greatest singer in the world?

Newsflash: there is no such thing as freedom from being offended. In a free society, you come in contact with all sorts of stupid statements, and sometimes even truly offensive statements, but that is the price you pay for your freedom. Im sure some atheists are offended when theists call them fools and claim victimhood as well. Boohoo, big, bad Christian prayed in front of me and called me a fool. But Im sure some of them just laugh at the poor foolish theists for believing something that they consider imaginary. We all have freedom to choose our own delusions.

Now enough of this whining!

(World Net Daily has a follow-up report here.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Our rights

I just realized something. Whenever I discuss civil rights with other Filipinos, I almost always point out 'In the Constitution, blah, blah, blah...' as if our civil rights come from the Constitution. They dont. We owe none of our rights to the Constitution. The Constitution merely states the rights that are inherently ours, inalienable human rights that the Creator endowed us with, rights that are ours whether the Constitution says so or not. Although I do appreciate the fact that our Constitution recognizes these rights and agrees with them. And I appreciate the fact that you can print it out, roll it up, then bop someone on the head with it.

Nonsense! Utter nonsense!! And one more for the road

Is it reasonable to think that since no one knows what caused the Big Bang, one could occur anytime, anywhere, even right here, if the circumstances were right? I mean, if it were a random fluctuation of... the vacuum... of nothing... then that means another one could occur at any time. And if it does occur, would it wipe us out or would it explode into another dimension and we wouldnt know one occurred?

Stephen Hawking says that the Heisenberg Uncertainty means that there could be black holes anywhere--tiny ones that swallow up subatomic particles, then disappear. He was making a case against scientific determinism at the time in his lecture, Does God Play Dice? If tiny black holes could appear anywhere, doesnt it follow that tiny bangs wherein particles emerge from nothing could occur anywhere, anytime, too? Little creatio ex nihilo's. Holy mother of pearl, what if there wasnt a bang? What if what occurred were tiny little bangs that accumulated in Planck time, then rapidly expanded? There was no bang. The universe is expanding and creating new particles in the process as space-time is being stretched out. Fred Hoyle was right about the steady-state, but he was premature in his predictions! The universe isnt a steady state. It's heading towards a steady state. Given enough time, we wouldnt know whether or not the universe is expanding since we have a universal speed limit, c, the speed of light. The farther away a galaxy is, the faster it appears to be moving away from us such that if galaxy A is twice the distance from us as galaxy B, galaxy A would appear to be moving twice as fast as galaxy B is. Therefore, at some point, the nearest galaxy to us would be traveling at the speed of light, and therefore would appear to be standing still. We would have reached a steady state. There would be no more empirical evidence for expansion. One day, our descendants would think that the Big Bang was just a silly superstition.


With the rapid developments in genome sequencing, I may have found a way wherein Michael Behe's irreducible complexity in living things could be explained by traditional Darwinian methods. As you probably know, more and more evidence is being uncovered that the so-called junk DNA isnt really junk. Darwinians explained junk DNA as just by-products of evolution, but scientists pursuing the theory of intelligent design predicted that the non-coding genes actually had a purpose, and research has proven them to be correct. Some act as start-stop codes, for instance, telling when a certain set of instructions when to start and when to stop. As more and more of the gene sequence is decoded, if researchers find redundancies in the gene sequence, that is, different sets of instructions that more-or-less did the same thing, irreducible complexity can then be explained thus:

For example we had a biological process we'll call IRREDUCIBLYCOMPLEXPROCESS, where each letter is a biochemical process that is part of an irreducibly complex system. We can explain this via traditional Darwinian processes if it can be found that a process with IRREDUCIBLYXXXXXXXXX, and another process with XXXXXXCOMPLEXXXXXXX, and another process with XXXXXXXXXXPROCESS joined together. The XXX's are processes identical to the functions of IRREDUCIBLY, COMPLEX, and PROCESS. These three joined together to form something like IRREDUCIBLYXXXXXXXCOMPLEXXXXXXXXPROCESS, with the concommitant redundancies of the XXX's. Natural selection would later select against the XXX's, et voila! That leaves our IRREDUCIBLYCOMPLEXPROCESS.

The problem with this process is time. We have had only 4 billion years to explain the complexity we see today. Would random processes account for the variety of information we see? Up to now, there is no consensus yet as to how much new information can actually be created by a random process, with some scientists being skeptical about the 4 billion years being enough. That's why theories like Directed Panspermia were invented. Directed because they dont believe that a one-time random insemination of earth could account for all the information and for the seeming explosion of lifeforms over the years. The insemination they say, had to be deliberate and occurs regularly. But we have powerful computers now and maybe one day some computer genius would design an algorithm to test whether the specified complex information we see today can be explained by random processes.


Addendum 10 May. There is one thing that scientists can't do with a computer: model how Darwinian evolution works. It's just impossible. To do so would require programmers, but that's not allowed because Darwinian theory denies the participation of intelligence in the formation of species. They deny real design, only affirming apparent design. But real design is exactly what is needed to create a computer model of Darwinian evolution. The moment you introduce an intelligence into the mix, youre playing right into the hands of the ID theorists.

That's what Richard Dawkins tried to do in his book, The Blind Watchmaker. In chapter 3 of his book, he tries to demonstrate how random iterations on a set of 28 characters would come up with METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. At the first attempt, he did it in 41 generations. Pretty impressive. But wait, the books says:
The computer examines the mutant nonsense phrases, the 'progeny' of the original phrase, and chooses the one which, however slightly, most resembles the target phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL.
Did you see it? A target phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL, is written in the program, that is, the program already knows what it's looking for. The process therefore is not blind but 'intelligent.' He demonstrates another computer model in the same chapter but it's more of the same: what is supposed to be a demonstration of natural selection becomes a demonstration of artificial--intelligent--selection.

Trying to model Darwinian processes using computers is an impossible task. I dont know how it can be done, anyway. But maybe some computer genius would think of a way.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Saturn backlit by the Sun

Filched from the online magazine Edge, this spectacular photo of Saturn taken by the Cassini mission. The earth is in there somewhere, as a speck in the upper left. One wonders what went through Galileo's mind when he first saw this planet's magnificent rings through his telescope. I suppose he wouldve been awestruck by the sheer force of its beauty. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

I would even imagine the words of David from his eighth psalm come unbidden to his lips:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

(Photo used without permission from Edge.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Einstein's God

In Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, he makes a case for Einstein being in his camp. Here is the latest pull in the tug-of-war between theists and atheists for the soul of Albert Einstein.
"There are people who say there is no God," [Einstein] told a friend. "But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views...What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos," he explained.

The article continues:

"The fanatical atheists,...are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who--in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses'-- cannot hear the music of the spheres."
My comment: Richard Dawkins does hear the music of the spheres. His best books have the proper reverence towards nature. But he is like an art patron who misses the point and thinks taking measurements with a ruler and calipers is the proper way to appreciate Jackson Pollock, as if art can be reduced to its component parts. In his review of God Delusion, Terry Eagleton writes that reading Dawkins, one gets the impression that Dawkins thinks "‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ is a mighty funny way to describe a Grecian urn."

Between Carl Sagan's "The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be" and Shakespeare's "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," I bet Albert Einstein would find his ever elusive Beauty in the latter.

Addendum. 04 May 2007. Over at Scott Adams's Dilbert Blog, he comes to a realization on why theists and atheists are fighting over Einstein.

Now I know why Einstein invoked Spinoza when talking about his beliefs. Einstein discovered more than the theory of relativity. He also found a way to act like he believed in God, so all the God-lovers would accept him as their own, while simultaneously saying God is nothing more than semantics, so atheists would embrace him too. And he blamed it all on a dead guy, Spinoza. How many ways does Einstein need to keep proving he’s a genius? I mean seriously, this is just showing off.

Limbo doesnt rock

With the 'abolition' of limbus infantium, Pope Benedict XVI has now declared that babies who died that havent been baptized, indeed those who died without having been born, go to heaven. With this new interpretation, has the Catholic Church placed itself on a slippery slope? One wonders what happens to the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, that is, that all humanity is born with the sin inherited from Adam's sin, and that we are all collectively guilty of this sin from the moment of conception, and that the sacrament of Baptism is needed to cleanse the infant of this original sin because no one can enter heaven with any hint of corruption. By allowing non-baptized unborn babies into heaven, what then happens to original sin? Is a major rethink of this doctrine taking place? How much wiggle room does the Catholic Church have?

Original sin as interpreted by Catholics has a very technical meaning. Unlike normal sin, original sin is not an act but a state. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace in consequence of the sin of Adam. (Section VI. Nature of Original Sin.) It is therefore not the guilt of Adam that is transmitted to all mankind, but the state of corruption and separation from God. But at the same time, they believe that since Adam willfully sinned, and since Adam was the first human, there is a moral unity of our will with the will of Adam, since Adam, acting as representative for mankind, was acting for all of us. We are not guilty of Adam's sin as individuals, but are guilty of Adam's sin as part of the human race. That's a pretty wide wiggle room if you ask me. Babies, not being guilty as individuals, are free to enter heaven, the collective guilt in Adam presumably have been erased in them through means that I can only assume are being worked out by Catholic theologians.

But this runs right smack into the sacrament of Baptism. The Council of Trent, Session V says:
4. If anyone denies that infants, newly born from their mothers' wombs, are to be
baptized, even though they be born of baptized parents, or says that they are indeed
baptized for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from
Adam which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration for the attainment of eternal life, whence it follows that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is to be understood not as true but as false, let him be anathema...
If unbaptized babies can now go to heaven, doesnt this run afoul of the infallible declarations of the Council of Trent? I dont know how the Catholic theologians would explain this without a reinterpretation of the doctrines of original sin and baptism. But I trust theyre working on it.