Monthly Archives: January 2011

Sometimes It Is Science All the Time Around Here

I’m often amused by the things science evidently can’t explain. The Chick Tract Big Daddy, nominally about evolution, claims that science can’t explain why an atom’s nucleus holds together even though it’s packed full of positively-charged particles.

In the tract Big Daddy, Jack Chick claims the strong nuclear force doesn't existIn the Chick Tract Big Daddy, atoms are held together by Jesus

In the version I read long ago, gluons weren’t even mentioned — the tract merely claimed that no one knew why atoms held together. At the time I murmured, “the strong nuclear force?” At some point Chick updated it to refute quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong nuclear force that holds atoms’ nucleii together, by saying “Nuh uh!”

That’s semi-defensible: QCD is a deep subject, an area of physics that you really only run into if you specialize in physics in school. More puzzling is that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t know how tides work.

O’REILLY: I’ll tell you why [religion’s] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can explain why the tide goes in —

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O’REILLY: See, the water — the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can’t explain that.

In sixth grade my science class focused on Earth science. One of the topics was tides, where I learned that the Moon and Sun’s gravity pulled our oceans around, causing tides. I also learned that the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, meaning that the same side of the moon always faces the earth. That should give a hint that things orbiting around each other has something to do with tides.

Let me present some new information to counterbalance ignorance: did you know that eventually the Earth will be tidally locked to the Moon? Just like the Earth now stays at a fixed location relative to the Moon, the Moon will stay at a fixed location above the Earth. As a side effect, the Earth’s rotation relative to the Sun will slow, and the Moon will move further away from the Earth. As an exercise for the reader, can you explain why this is happening? Bonus points if you can predict how long a day on Earth will then be.

Oh, and here’s the full video featuring Bill O’Reilly:

Al Mohler and His Lying God

Al Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s very concerned about evolution, calling it one of the biggest challenges to Christianity. He knows evolution isn’t true, though, because his God is the author of one of the biggest lies ever: the Earth.

I am willing to accept the authority of science on any number of issues. I am fundamentally agnostic about a host of other scientific concerns — but not where the fundamental truth of the Gospel and the clear teachings of the Bible are at stake.

As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution.

Pause for a second and let that sink in. Al Mohler is explicitly saying that all of the physical evidence points to an Earth much older than however many thousands of years he and Bishop Usher have decided on. He concedes that point, because in the end, God can overrule natural laws, and has done so to manufacture fake fossils and to fiddle with natural processes like radioactive decay.

Think through what this means. In Al Mohler’s view, you can’t trust your lying eyes. The Earth looks old not because it is old, but because God made it look old. God is lying to you, obfuscating the truth as much as possible because…well, that’s really the question.

This portrayal of God is an interesting one. Al Mohler’s God is always testing you, telling you falsehoods to see if you’ll be able to sort them from the truth. The act that Al Mohler is so concerned about, God’s creation of the Earth, was an act of lying. Al Mohler’s God is a lying liar who seeks to mislead you.

I’ve seen this behavior is described in the Bible. Strangely enough, it’s not behavior that the Bible condones or normally associates with God. If you asked Al Mohler if his God is a liar, he’d undoubtedly say no. How strange, then,  that Al Mohler’s worldview requires a God who lies.

Why Companies Care About Twitter

In the comments to yesterday’s post, Jim mentioned how interesting it was that Twitter had finally gotten companies to pay attention to what customers were saying about them. I got to wondering why that was. Why didn’t this happen with blogs, or Facebook? Both of those use the same one-to-many broadcast model as Twitter. Facebook and Twitter share the concept of friends, as do blogging platforms like the venerable LiveJournal.

The key difference is that Twitter messages spread easily, and it’s simple to watch over all of Twitter for any mention of a company. Blogs stand alone with only links or individuals’ comments tying them together. Blog owners added blogrolls and similar list of favorite sites to encourage cross-pollination, but lists of sites with little context don’t drive many visitors to those sites. Posts on low-trafficked blogs got little attention, and were passed around mainly if a high-traffic blog linked to it.

Facebook aggregated people together into groups of friends and explicitly encouraged posting short, pithy status updates. This in turn made people much more likely to vent, but that venting didn’t travel far beyond the person’s friends. If you’re motivated, you can create a Facebook page to express how much a company sucks, but those pages are more like blog posts, and you’re back to hoping that enough friends spread the link to the page. And there are barriers to searching Facebook’s content. You have to have an account, start a search, and then explicitly set it to be searching status updates.

Twitter has similar group aggregation to Facebook and, by virtue of its 140-character limit, greatly encourages its users to share short messages about anything and everything in their life. Even more importantly, people using Twitter quickly latched on to the practice of retweeting — rebroadcasting someone’s message. Retweeting has become such a standard practice that Twitter clients and the Twitter webpage allow you to retweet someone’s message with one click. One person’s rant about Comcast can now be passed around Twitter widely and quickly, spreading from group to group. The barrier to re-broadcasting is far lower than with Facebook and especially with blogs.

Twitter has made additional design decisions that further drive these network effects. Twitter now lists trending topics — topics that a lot of people are talking about. Twitter also lets you search all tweets for mentions of you, your company, or any topic you care about. Companies can monitor what people are saying about them easily, and feel compelled to do so because complaints about them can spread like a brushfire.

That’s the one-two punch that distinguishes Twitter from other publishing services. If Twitter hadn’t made it so easy to re-broadcast people’s messages, or if content on Twitter was as hard to search for as it is on Facebook, then I don’t think companies would care that much about Twitter.

eHarmony Pays Attention

Over the holidays, eHarmony released apps for iOS and Android that give you access to their site. They chose an unfortunate tagline, though.

eHarmony mobile helps you find someone wonderful "in the palm of your hand"

Since I am a twelve-year-old boy at heart, I had to make a joke about the tagline on Twitter.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/Sargent/status/22339099524341760″]

To my surprise, eHarmony responded!

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/eHarmony/statuses/22345334722142208″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/Sargent/status/22348106943172608″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/eHarmony/statuses/22349609292537856″]

I’m impressed that eHarmony was paying attention, responded, and is changing their tagline. Now only one question remains: what should I use my new-found Twitter power to do?