Thursday, December 28, 2006

Middle East Research Center: Iranians upset over Egyptian visa denial

Iranians are upset over the failure of 35 Iranian scientists to obtain Egyptian visas for a recent meeting in Alexandria of researchers hoping to work on the Synchrotron Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) project. Eight countries are now members of this consortium - an interesting mix of countries: Jordan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey (yes...this is really the list). The Iranian parliament is expected to vote sometime next year on a proposal to formally join the project in which its scientists have participated since 2001. So...Middle East peace will be achieved through a Synchrotron - at least its a new idea. But this visa issue may influence Iran's decision to join-in. According to Science (Dec 15, 2006), some miscommunication on both sides about timings was responsible for visa denials.

The synchrotron machine is donated by Germany and will be located at a site 19 miles outside Amman, Jordan. It is expected to start working in 2010 and is intended as both a platform for research and a model for research cooperation. You can find more info. about SESAME here

This building, located 19 miles outside of amman, Jordan, will house the SESAME particle accelerator.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

God finally responds to Richard Dawkins

God is indeed using some old recycled arguments (Stalin, Hiter, etc), but does have a point about asking Dawkins to relax a bit. You can read the full letter here: A Christmas thunderbolt for for the arch-enemy of religion

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Rockin' Flagellum

Quite appropriately, the battle over bacterial flagellum - oh that key piece of evidence for ID-ists, is now on now the Time's Person of the Year can weigh in directly.

Here is the Flagellum evolution video

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Geography of Faith

This is a cool visual of expansion of religions. Very aptly advertised as: "See 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds..."
History of Religion

and here is 5000 year Imperial History of the Middle East - yes compressed in 90 seconds (take that you history courses!!)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

God and Carl Sagan

On Carl Sagan's 10th death anniversary, couple of his quotes related to science & religion and his views on afterlife:

The following two quotes are from the May 1981 issue of U.S. Catholic, and the interview was titled: God and Carl Sagan: Is the Cosmos Big Enough for Both of Them?
On the issue of "first cause":
I would say the question of a "first cause" is only a speculation. It is perfectly possible that the universe is infinitely old and therefore uncaused. In fact, there are detailed cosmological models that hold such a view and that are consistent with everything we know. To my mind, it seems not fully satisfactory to say that there was a first cause. That seems to postpone dealing with the problem rather than solving it. If we say "God" made the universe, then surely the next question is, "Who made God?" If we say "God" was always here, why not say the universe was always here? If we say that the question "Where did God come from?" is too tough for us poor mortals to understand, then why not say that the question of, "Where did the universe come from?" is too tough for us mortals? In what way, exactly, does the God hypothesis advance our knowledge of cosmology? What predictions does it make on which the hypothesis will stand or fall?
Q: In the final analysis, what does Carl Sagan, scientist, explainer of science, and embodiment of "creative skepticism" believe?

Sagan: My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a god does not exist, our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent with both science and religion, and is essential for the welfare of our species.
From his last essay, In the Valley of Shadows (1996 article in the Parade magazine and also reprinted in Billions and Billions), when doctors had told him that he had less than 3-months to live:
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
From Ann Druyan's Epilogue to Billions and Billions:
Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever.

First Stars in the universe? not directly science & religion, but this still touches on the issue of origins (and its really cool!). Using Spitzer Space Telescope (it works in the infrared), astronomers have found possible signs of first stars in the universe that lived about 13 billion years ago. Why do astronomers care about this? Almost all elements other than hydrogen and helium (these were produced in the Big Bang) have been processed inside stars or in the explosions of dying stars. But stars are great at recycling - the next generation of stars is born out of gaseous material ejected by dying stars. Thus all the stars that we see contain at least some recycled material - observed in the form of elements heavier than hydrogen & helium (our Sun is a third generation star). But there has to be a first generation of stars made up purely of hydrogen and NO processed elements.

These stars, for various reasons, are expected to be much bigger than the stars we see today. These are also expected to live a very short life time (perhaps less than a million years) thus quickly providing processed material for the next generation of stars. The Spitzer observations have either found light from these first generation stars, each about 1000 times as massive as our Sun, or this light is from some early black holes. This is one of those rare instances where the possibility of black holes is less exciting than the discovery of stars. You can read the full story here:

Monday, December 18, 2006

Saudi Arabia to invest $2.6 billion in a science & technology university

The focus may still just be on applied sciences...but at least its a start.

From Science (Dec 8, 2006)
Saudi Arabia, which spends less on research and education per capita than almost all other countries, announced last week that it will commit $2.6 billion to build the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in the desert. Undergraduate degrees in diverse fields including biotechnology and computer science will be offered beginning in 2008, with enrollment restricted to Saudis and some foreign "outstanding Muslim students," says a Saudi official. There are no plans yet for a Ph.D. program.

This is the latest step in a recent push for scientific development in the Arab world. But the bottleneck is not money, says Rabi Mohtar, an agricultural engineer at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who is working with the Qatar Foundation to boost science in the region. The lack of prestige and opportunities in the sciences drives the vast majority of Arab researchers abroad to study and work. However, "having big educational investments will hopefully raise the level of public awareness," he says, and may entice Arab scientists back home.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas celebrations and atheists

If you want to know how Sam Harris (the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason") and Richard Dawkins (the author of "The God Delusion") celebrate Christmas...
An Atheist Can Believe in Christmas (from New York Times - 12/17/06)

and a relevant cartoon:

William Dembski's latest attack on Judge Jones

Still smarting from last year's court decision against the teaching of Intelligent Design in Dover, PA, William Dembski (one of the main ID proponents) has been regularly attacking the presiding judge of the trial. In reaching a new low, he has come up with an animation that he is offering as a Christmas gift. You can check out the animation here, and this is what he has to say about it on the website Overwhelming Evidence:

From Bill Dembski:

"The Judge Jones School of Law" is the brainchild of brilliant professional flash animator (I think of him as the "Rembrandt" of flash animation; for now he will remain anonymous until he sees the fallout from his handiwork) as well as of me and my lovely wife Jana (who came up with the name). We present this as a Christmas gift to students everywhere. Around Christmas last year, Judge Jones did you the disservice of shafting you royally. This time it's your turn to laugh at his expense. Yes, the humor is adolescent, but is a site for adolescents, and you are, after all, the ones who got shafted, having to endure the imbecility that is Darwinism at school by being forcefed this materialist ideology in the name of science.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Harvard drops religion course requirement

Proposed course requirement at Harvard in the category of reason and faith has been dropped.

And in case you missed Steven Pinker's views on this, you can read them here: Less Faith More Reason

Recharging soul points: new religious video games

Finally a video game that we can all appreciate. From the creators of the Left Behind book series, comes this new video game called Left Behind: Eternal Forces:
The game is set in New York City after millions of Christians have been transported to heaven. Players are charged with recruiting, and converting, an army that will engage in physical and spiritual warfare with the antichrist and his evil followers.
Here is the relevant CNN story and you can find more information about the game here.

Not to be left behind (ha ha), here is a new video game where a rabbi is having a crisis of faith.