In 1999 the secret “Wedge Document” was leaked to the world. This document outlined the master plan of the proponents of Intelligent Design to infiltrate the scientific establishment and make Intelligent Design a valid scientific notion worthy of being taught in school alongside the theory of evolution.
The governing goals of the plan were: “To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies”, and “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”.
However, the highflying expectations of the Intelligent Design movement were stopped cold by a 2005 ruling by a Pennsylvania judge that exposed Intelligent Design as nothing more than religion masquerading as science. This was the last of a string of legal defeats that creationist suffered in the United States.
One of the things that caught my attention about the Wedge Document is that creationists apparently object to materialistic explanations of how life on Earth arose and evolved. This greatly puzzles me because it is widely understood that science is incapable of any other type of explanations! And this is not due to science being co-opted by materialists who want to destroy God and religion.
Let me give you an example. Suppose you throw a bicycle in a pond that contains several fish. After a while the fish will probably swim around the bicycle, but they will definitely never ride it. Can you conclude that the fish rejected the bicycle? Of course not, because it is not in the nature of fish to ride bicycles. Following this analogy, we must understand that the whole concept of a God, or any proposal that involves theistic (related to a God) intervention, is not in the nature of science to analyze or comprehend. Science cannot elaborate hypotheses that involve divine intervention to explain what happens in the world, because they are not testable. Only materialistic explanations are testable, and here is where the problem arises.
Creationist believe that the Earth is 10,000 years old, that life on Earth appeared in one creation event involving 7 days, that there was a universal flood, and that the first man was created from clay directly by God. Of course science has found that the Earth is billions of years old, that the diversity of life on Earth did not appear in a span of 7 days, that there was no universal flood, and that humans evolved from other life forms. Creationists view these notions as an attack on their beliefs, and they are scandalized when this knowledge is taught in schools. Are scientists doing this to reject the literal creation story of the book of Genesis in the Bible, discredit theism, and impose materialism?
The answer is no. Scientists ask questions and provide answers based on the evidence. Of course, a particular answer may conflict with your beliefs, but what are scientists to do if that is where the evidence leads them? There is no ill will, no master plan to discredit theism and impose materialism, just the search for truth. There are some scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, who disavow religion and advocate exclusively for materialistic explanations regarding the origin of life and humanity, and that is their prerogative as freethinking individuals in an open society. But a large number of scientists from many cultures are believers, and they see no conflict between science and religion. However, what these scientists understand is that religious books such as the Bible should not be used as textbooks of natural history. These scientists subscribe to the maxim attributed to Galileo that the Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.
Science is the best method we have to find the truth about the behavior of matter and energy in the world around us. In this sense, when it comes to the natural world, science can help us in deciding what to believe or how to believe it. But science has limitations. It cannot tell us what is right or wrong, it cannot give us the guidance we seek as to the best way to live our lives from a moral and ethical point of view, it cannot provide us with values. This is the realm of religion, faith, and belief. These different areas of expertise that the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould called non-overlapping magisteria are necessary for the education of balanced human beings, and they should be kept separate. Science should be taught as science and religion should be taught as religion.
Creationist should, to quote a person whose teachings they know very well, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's”.
The tittle page image of the Wedge Document is in the public domain.
I have visited Wolf Rock several times while hiking in the Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland. I keep returning to this rock formation despite the fact that you can’t see anything from it, as opposed to the breathtaking vista you can see from nearby Chimney Rock. So I decided to write a post about it.
Wolf Rock is a large stretch of rock around 400 feet long and 30 feet high that protrudes over the surrounding woodland. The northern half is sufficiently clear of vegetation that you can see it using Google Maps. From above, it seems to be made of blocks that have been assembled next to each other (see picture at left).
Wolf Rock and other such rocks in the park began as grains of sand that were washed off mountains to the west and deposited on a shallow sea that existed in this area 550 million years ago. When the African continent collided with North America 250 million years ago, and formed the Appalachian Mountains, the sand was compressed and crystalized into a very hard rock called quartzite. Since then, the Appalachians, which were once as high as the Rockies, have eroded down to the heights they have today, and ledges of quartzite like Wolf Rock that are more erosion resistant than the surrounding rock have been exposed.
What impressed me at first about Wolf Rock is how massive it is and how suddenly is rises from the surrounding terrain. In fact, Wolf Rock is the only site in the park where rock climbing is allowed and there are several routes on the rocks that have names and are popular with local climbers.
Once you climb to the top by a trail that you can barely make out among the rocks, you find yourself in a unique fractured landscape. When you head north along the surface of the rock you have to jump and climb your way around a maze of boulders and crevasses.
The crevasses can be quite deep and they can swallow you whole if you fall!
A remarkable feature of the top of Wolf Rock is the many pitch pine trees (Pinus rigida) that grow on the rocks. It’s amazing how these trees have adapted to this environment and make a living from the roots they insert into the cracks among the stones.
The monolith is slowly breaking up into many discrete sections that give it the modular appearance that you see in the Google Maps image above.
As you make your way among these cyclopean blocks you find traces of their ancestry like this mineral vein (see below) on the formations named King and Queen Rocks. The shadow of me taking the picture can give you an idea of the size of these boulders.
At the north end of Wolf Rock, you find the emblematic Wolf’s Head Rock Pillar towering over the so called boulder garden in that area.
In this section you also find the Suspended Rock, which is a slab of rock stuck in between adjacent boulders in a manner reminiscent of the famous Kjeragbolten boulder in Norway.
Wolf Rock is not the longest, biggest, highest or many other -est rock formation in the United States, but for me it is a quiet out of the way place where I can connect with nature and wander around and ponder.
Ponder about the magnificent geologic processes that shaped our planet over the eons.
Ponder about the remarkable way life has evolved and adapted to the landscape as mountains were eroded into sand that washed into sea bottoms that in turn were lifted back into mountains that are now in the process of being eroded into sand again.
Ponder about how humanity through observation and experiment has uncovered these amazing facts about our world.
Alternatively, of course, I can just sit on a small boulder under the shadow of a pitch pine tree, close my eyes, and feel the wind blowing in my face.
In the late 1700s there was a lot of discussion in scientific circles regarding whether light was a particle or a wave. It was then that a British scientist named Thomas Young designed a famous experiment to settle the matter. Young reasoned that if light were a wave, then two streams of light that interact with each other would generate an interference pattern. What is this? First let’s look at the behavior of water waves.
In the simulation below (Figure 1) there are waves that originate on the left side of the image (each of the blue lines represents the crest of a wave, whereas the dark space in between is the trough). These waves hit the yellow wall which has one opening or slit. The part of the wave that makes contact with the slit passes through and moves on to the right side spreading out in a radial pattern.
However, when there are two slits, the waves originating from the two slits overlap with each other. In those areas where the crest of one wave intersects the crest of the other, the wave is taller. In those areas where the crest of one wave intersects the trough of the other, they cancel each other out. And in those areas where the trough of two waves meet, the wave is deeper. The pattern they form is called an interference pattern (Figure 2).
If you were able to continuously record the waves arriving at the right hand side, you would see a large central swell where the waves originating from both slits reinforce each other, flanked by troughs where they cancel each other out, followed by progressively smaller swells where the intensity of the reinforcement of the waves diminish as they spread out. It would look something like Figure 3.
Young expected that if light behaves like a water wave, and were forced through two slits, it would generate a similar interference pattern. On the other hand, if light is made up of particles, the light particles would go through the slits in a straight line generating two distinct images on the right hand side (no interference pattern).
I decided to try to perform this experiment to see what results I got, and you can too! When Young performed the experiment 217 years ago he used sunlight, but we will use a laser pointer. Additionally (see below), among other things, we will need a flat glass, a candle, a pin, and matches (not meant as a product endorsement, just matches we’ve had for almost 20 years and barely used).
Light the candle and place it on a surface such as a plate and cover one of the sides of the glass with soot.
Don’t put the glass in contact with the candle flame for an extended period of time like I did (my glass shattered)! Allow for some cooling in between intervals of exposure to the candle flame. I finally covered one side of my broken glass in soot (careful with those sharp edges if there are any). Shine the laser pointer into the soot-stained surface to make sure light doesn’t go through.
Proceed to make single and double slits on the glass’s soot-stained surface with the pin. You can aid yourself with a magnifying glass.
This is how my slits looked. In theory they should be straight and as close as possible to each other, but this is the best I could do.
I took advantage of a wooden ornament to set up the glass. I ended up holding the laser pointer with my hand, but it’s better if you can hold it in place say with a clamp.
Be mindful not to look at the laser pointer straight on, it can damage your eyes! I darkened the room and shone the laser pointer through the single and double slits in the glass into a wall some 15 feet away, and I had another person take pictures with a smart phone.
So what were the results?
When I shone the laser pointer through a single slit, I obtained the pattern below. So if I were to shine the laser pointer through the double slits, I would expect two such blobs of light next to each other, if light behaves like a particle, right?
But when I shone the laser pointer through the double slits, I obtained this:
Those blobs of light flanking the central one and decreasing in intensity towards the sides are characteristic of the interference pattern (see Figure 3) that you would expect if light behaves like a wave! Of course, my experimental setup and slit construction were rather crude. Physicists working with more sophisticated equipment can obtain much better patterns.
So did Young’s experiment settle the argument? Unfortunately at the time some heavyweights in science such as Isaac Newton favored the particle theory, so Young’s double slit experimental result was slow to catch on. However, in the end things turned out to be more complicated than they seemed (they always do). Not only did light display the behavior of a particle in other experiments, but other entities besides light such as electrons and even some large molecules that no one would ever think of as a wave were found to exhibit both particle and wave behavior. Nowadays light is thought of as having a particle-wave duality (it can exhibit properties of both waves and particles but not at the same time). However, the ingenious experiment designed by Young was improved upon in modern times and ended up generating some of the remarkable results that form the cornerstone of the revolutionary theory that nowadays we call quantum mechanics.
And I just performed this experiment in my living room, and you can too!
Now, isn’t that cool?
Single and double slit GIFs by Lookang used here under an Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wave by Klaus-Dieter Keller modified and used here under an Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
I have been recently reading about Flat Earthers. These are individuals who claim that the real shape of the Earth is flat. If you go to social media outlets such as Twitter and type in hashtags such as #flatearth you will see the accounts of a number of these people. One thing that struck me about Flat Earthers is that quite a number of them are sophisticated individuals who are well versed in technical jargon and can argue with you forever or outpost you on a discussion board. There is even a society called the Flat Earth Society dedicated to promoting the “truth” of the flat earth. It held the first International Flat Earth conference in 2017.
But you may ask: how do Flat Earthers explain all the pictures of Earth taken from space that show it’s a sphere? The short answer: a conspiracy! Flat Earthers believe that the public is being deceived by the government which has bribed or coerced astronauts into lying, faked the moon landing, and created bogus pictures of a spherical Earth.
Admittedly, the case of Flat Earthers is an extreme example. You could even say that they are at the fringe of antiscience groups such as climate change deniers, antivaxers, or creationists. But from their rhetoric, I think we can draw one valid question that is worth addressing: How do we know there is no conspiracy? The government has been shown to have lied in the past, as well as have many other institutions and organizations. How do we know they are not doing it in these cases?
The answer is diversity: diversity in scientists, and diversity in methodology.
I have mentioned in a previous post the famous case of N-rays, the mysterious radiation discovered by the French scientist René Blondlot, and confirmed by other French scientists, that turned out to be nothing but a case of self-delusion. During the course of the investigation of N-Rays, at one point it became evident that almost all of the positive results were coming out of French labs. When all the positive results originate from one state, or organization, or lab, we should be concerned. Diversity in the scientists that practice science is a safeguard against bias and mistakes.
In another post I have also mentioned the case of polywater, a seemingly new form of water with many potential applications. Many scientists set to work on polywater and they were able to obtain the same results reported by other scientists (the results were reproducible). Nonetheless, polywater was eventually demonstrated to be false. The positive results were due to the fact that all the scientists were using the same methodology and making the same mistake! When all the positive results come from scientists using the same methodology, and these results can’t be supported by any other methods, there may be a problem. Diversity in the methodology employed in research is also a safeguard against bias and mistakes.
Thus when many scientists from different nations, ethnicities, religions, political beliefs, scientific traditions, etc. study a problem employing different approaches and methodologies and come up with the same results, you can infer not only that the chance that there is a conspiracy going on is vanishingly small, but also that there is a very good chance that the theories they have generated have grasped important aspects of reality.
For the conspiracy that the Flat Earthers claim to exist to be true, it would have to involve not only the government of the United States and astronauts, scientists, and private contractors involved in the space program, but also similar numbers of people in the other 5 space agencies that possess launch capabilities (those of India, Europe, China, Japan, and Russia), as well as those of the 50 plus countries that have satellites in space, not to mention individuals involved in space research in all these countries. Additionally, the roundness of the Earth has been demonstrated by many methods. If you want to argue for a flat Earth, you might as well argue that we are all living in The Matrix.
However, in their conspiracy claims Flat Earthers are in good company. The theories that the global climate is warming and that humans are responsible for it, or that vaccines do not produce autism, are the product of science involving a diversity of researchers and methods, and yet they are also rejected by many people claiming that they are part of massive conspiracies.
To all individuals out there espousing these conspiracy theories about science and scientists, I want to suggest that you consider a radical and revolutionary idea. This is that maybe, just maybe, the vast majority of scientists are interested in the truth, they act in good faith, and that the theories they have generated are correct!
The image of a flat Earth by Trekky0623 was modified under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The image of the real Earth from NASA is in the public domain.