meteorite thin sections

Sunday, 21 September 2008
  1. PCA82506


  2. PCA82506


  3. EETA79001


  4. ALHA78040



We only have one. Take care of it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

science, creationism, and “open-mindedness”

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

I recently had a discussion (actually, my first-ever intelligent discussion) with a creationist. Our discussion was, mainly, about the nature of the debate rather than any specific points — after all, neither of us was going to convince the other. However, one of his main contentions was that so-called “evolutionists” were close-minded in nature and desperately clung to the theory of evolution when there are scientific problems with that theory.* Some responses:

  • The purpose of science is, in fact, to discriminate. It sorts out theories that accurately explain existing phenomena and predict the future behavior of the universe from those that do not provide sufficient explanations or make inaccurate predictions. It is not “close-minded” to reject a hypothesis that has been disproved many times over during the past hundred-odd years. This is just science doing its job! If, each time we educated a new scientist, we had to start from scratch without any established theories, we would still be at the level of the ancient Greeks. Very optimistically. Then again, it is the Platonic tradition to disbelieve observations of the physical world, so maybe that’s where the creationists want us.
  • Logically, to prove a hypothesis, we must either find an analytical proof based on irrefutable premises or show that the hypothesis is true for every single possible case. A frequent contention by scientists is that creationism cannot be placed on par with a scientific theory because it has no predictive power. But ah-ha, say the creationists, Dr. Russell Humphreys, Ph.D., used creationist premises to make predictions about the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune that were borne out after Voyager II. This proves that creationism has predictive power. Not so, I say! It proves only that creationist premises (and many barely-justifiable assumptions) lead to a prediction that is consistent with the physical world in a single case. Creationists will have to show a lot more predictions than that to demonstrate that they have a scientific theory on their hands. In fact, I challenge them to use Genesis to make accurate (or any) predictions in the biological sciences, rather than in a specific application of magnetic theory that is so underdeveloped at present that scientists have had to revise it every single time a probe visits an outer planet. Is it really so close-minded to expect logical rigor when arguments are presented as scientifically rigorous?
  • On the other hand, disproving a hypothesis requires only a single counterexample. By this test, creationism has been disproved many times over by various methods that date the Earth, Solar System, galaxy, and universe to far greater ages than the ~6000 years nominally required by creationism. In fact, Judeo-Christian biblical creation can be refuted on these grounds taking as a premise nothing but the inerrant truth of the bible: Genesis contains two creation myths, each of which is mutually exclusive of the other (different initial conditions, order of events, and duration of events). By the premise, both must be taken as true, however, if either one is true, then the other must be false. Since either one (or both) creation myths is false, the premise must be false. Ergo, neither myth can be treated as fact. Again, all I am applying here is the simple logic of implication; I am not necessarily closing my mind off to all alternatives. I even opened myself up to the creationist premise of the literal truth of the bible.
  • The theory of evolution has, well, evolved since the time when Darwin first postulated it. This is because science often uncovers phenomena that elucidate a new aspect of a field, and existing theories must be revised to account for that data (see previous remark about gas giants). In other words, when a theory cannot explain some data, scientists revise the theory (sometimes extensively). Thus, we do not “cling desperately” to evolution, since the theory itself has been repeatedly modified. However, creationism, by virtue of coming out of a supposedly irrefutable bible, has never been modified to fit new data. Rather, creationists “desperately cling” to their belief by re-interpreting the data to fit the existing theory. Well, I exaggerate slightly — creationism was modified to fit observed data once: by a guy named Darwin, who allowed that God must have created life through the process of evolution.
  • One thing that creationism will never be able to do is use the scientific method to provide a convincing inductive argument for biblical creation. To do this, creationists would have to take as a premise not the literal truth of the bible, but the accuracy of observation and their ability to draw logical conclusions from those observations. They would then have to use their observations alone to show that, logically, the most likely explanation for the data is that the world was miraculously created 5768 Earth calendar years ago and that the creator was their preferred god. First, I note that they do not currently take this approach — rather, they work backwards: take bible as true, go find evidence to support that premise/conclusion. (Creationists often obfuscate their argument by building their conclusions into their premises.) Second, and more importantly, there is no way creationists could support their theory in a scientific manner. There are two reasons why I know this. One — available data (e.g., the age of the Earth, Solar System, galaxy, and universe as obtained by radioisotope dating, measuring the speed of light, plate tectonics, measured sedimentation rates, crater counting, timing formation models for Solar System or galactic features, etc) do not support the theory. Two — even if creationists could show that the universe was <6000 years old, they would still have to show that it was created in a six-day period by a god (who they would also have to show the existence of, by logical interpretation of data). This is scientifically impossible unless said god were to appear and submit to observational tests. Here, creationists usually go back to invoking their bibles, which is where they build their conclusions into their premises. Now, I may seem unnecessarily harsh: What does all this have to do with open-mindedness? My point is simply that even if I give the creationists the benefit of the doubt, their theory does not stand up to truly scientific analysis and, in fact, they could not arrive at their theory through the methods of science. Whether scientists are “open-minded” or not has nothing to do with the validity of creationist theory.

* Many creationists have latched on to the term “evolutionist” to describe anyone who believes in a non-biblical creation; that is, that evolution guides the development of life and that the universe is >5768 years old. Essentially, the term applies to most scientists. However, I reject the use of the word “evolutionist” because it seeks to portray evolution as a belief system rather than a scientific theory. I do not believe in evolution, rather, I am convinced of evolution, perhaps of the punctuated equilibrium variety, by a preponderance of evidence. Furthermore, my convictions that the theories governing relativity, radioactive decay, plate tectonics, etc, are sufficiently accurate to date the formation of the Earth, Solar System, and universe are not dependent on my being convinced of evolution.

my ranking of the coolest moons in the Solar System

Wednesday, 21 November 2007
  1. Europa
  2. Titan
  3. Io
  4. Enceladus
  5. Iapetus
  6. Triton
  7. The Moon

Did I make it?

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Originally posted 15 April 2006:


  1. Be addressed as “Lieutenant Shoer” once again (Ithaca Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol)
  2. Kayak in Cayuga Lake (or should I call it Kayaka Lake?) — No have kayak. Yet?
  3. Go wine-tasting any time I like Not that I do. But I could!
  4. Officially call myself a rocket scientist
  5. Be the first person in the world to work on an entirely new class of spacecraft Well, in the first group to do so.
  6. Have a color as a mascot
  7. Live in my own apartment
  8. Be surrounded by gorges and waterfalls
  9. Walk down the hall to the ornithopter lab or mix things up with a visit to the college synchotron Again, not that I do, but I could! There are some pretty damn cool toys around here.
  10. Use Zaphod Beeblebrox’s pickup line: “Hey baby, you wanna see my spaceship?” Haven’t come close to making this one yet, much to my disappointment. But just give me a couple years!!

stuff to bring any family/friends who visit me to

Monday, 29 January 2007
  1. David Sedaris at the State Theater (1 April)
  2. Deep-dish pizza at The Nines (sooooo good, probably the best pizza I’ve ever tasted)
  3. Dessert at Madeline’s  (there just aren’t words)
  4. Toughannock Falls (because they are big and impressive)
  5. Rhodes Hall B50  (“Space Systems Design Studio”…robot arms and levitating magnets, dude)
  6. The I. M. Pei-designed Cornell Art Museum (with intriguing exterior acoustic properties)

these are a few of my favorite things

Wednesday, 4 October 2006
  • Walking across the Science Quad, behind the bleachers set up on the lawn
  • Physics snacks
  • Parker and the marshmallows
  • Foliage and music on Mountain Day
  • Sneaking a dump truck into Lisa’s room
  • Walking across Mission to visit Dave
  • Running barefoot in 12″ of snow
  • Killing as an organized sport
  • Braving -30°F wind chills to build an R/C glider
  • Watching Erika in hockey games
  • Spending time in Greylock
  • Chatting sci-fi authorship with Joe
  • What a Feeling
  • Working wild quantum problems with Creston
  • Losing every ultimate frisbee game but completing our explicit objective of having more fun than any other team
  • Emsa the wild and crazy JA
  • Poking Jonaya to make her giggle
  • Lessons in Go
  • Watching Alden fiddle
  • Pajama parties
  • Spectating at the final match of a pro squash tournament
  • Woodbridge dance mixes
  • Meditating on the form of a still-life
  • Broomball games
  • Professor Adams making bets
  • Learning to give technical physics talks
  • Applauding Prof. Bolton on the last day of class
  • Wine and cheese and the Rite of Spring at Tanglewood
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Oh Hell and Hearts
  • Occasionally swing dancing
  • Laser safety goggles as sunglasses
  • Running from Morgan to the squash courts
  • Water-feuding with Lisetta
  • Watching Alden take pool shots from atop the table
  • Inventing our own Hall-Ball
  • Listening to Ashleigh go on about chemistry
  • Having a sister around
  • Cranking out some of the most difficult, intellectually challenging writing I’ve ever done…for planetary geology class
  • Playing boggle
  • Combo Za does “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
  • International dinners in Dodd
  • Baxter Hall
  • Purple mountains majesty
  • Best mascot ever
  • Security officers joining us to look for meteor showers on Cole Field
  • Throwing and making the most nail-biting, zero-to-no-chance-of-success, long-shot hammer for a touchdown in the annual math-versus-physics frisbee game
  • Spring peepers sounding on my way home
  • Struggling with thesis research between problem sets and papers
  • Hiding in the nest under Lisa’s bed
  • Justin and the Nerf Wars in Bronfman
  • Papa’s Delicate Condition
  • Cinnamon buns an omeletes for brunch
  • Carmina Burana
  • Grilled honey buns at the Snack Bar
  • Taking the long shift tutoring in the Resource Center and watching the kids succeed
  • Running into students of all disciplines on the sidewalk
  • Anti-caterpillar chalkings
  • The pumpkin hunt
  • Getting locked in Lisa’s closet
  • Pulling music over the network
  • Pet crayfish
  • Rooming on the science quad
  • Putting up “wanted” posters for Esa
  • Watching SNL with almost the entire entry at lunch
  • Playing against a French TA at the badminton club
  • Linguistics
  • Losing “betting units” to Dave
  • Playing poker for pennies
  • Make your own pizzas in Mission followed by pool above
  • Curtis the custodian
  • Telling everyone fifteen times about my upcoming Southwest vacation
  • Sam igniting a napkin
  • Cookouts on lawns and quads
  • Concerts in Goodrich Hall
  • Bouncing a tennis ball against Lisa’s wall
  • Watching the mystery of What is Alden’s Door Combination get solved in spectacular fashion
  • Just watching Ross
  • Where’d You Get That?!
  • The Eyes
  • Hanging out with Sparky
  • Professors who know exactly how to impart versatile problem-solving tools
  • Getting seven out of eleven acceptance letters
  • The Islamic Blanket and the Courtly Bow
  • Analyzing a lunar eclipse
  • Episodes of “The West Wing” with matzah in my room on lazy Sunday mornings
  • Lying in the sun on my bed in Currier
  • Tossing Frisbees on the Odd Quad
  • Hearing Dean Roseman call my name at Ivy Exercises
  • Getting the thesis to work out beyond my expectations when I was in the doldrums
  • Climbing trees for no reason at all
  • Building the world’s least cohesive snowman
  • Dinners with Alden, Lisa, Teresa, Esa, Dave, and Erika in various combinations
  • Greetings from Ducky on the way into Mission
  • Working EM problems in Schow
  • A capella groups outside making noise
  • Baxter mailroom in mid-day
  • “The Mountains, The Mountains!”

Too much else to remember.  Why should this all hit me at 2 am last night?