Month: July 2017

‘Matter’ What it is?

MATTER IS ALL AROUND US We seldom stop to think about it as we go about our daily lives, but we are matter.  Everything we detect in the universe is matter. It’s the fundamental building block of everything: you, me and all the life on Earth, the planet we live on, the stars, and galaxies. It’s typically defined as anything that has mass and occupies a volume of space. We’re made up of atoms and molecules, which are also matter. The definition of matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. This includes normal matter as well as dark matter. However, that definition is reall only extended to normal matter. Things change when we get to dark matter. Let’s talk about the matter we CAN see, first. NORMAL MATTER Normal matter is the matter that we see all around us.  It’s often referred to as “baryonic matter” and is made of leptons (electrons for example) and quarks (the building blocks of protons and neutrons), which can be used to build atoms and molecules which, …

The false dichotomy feminism

The occasion is provided by recent controversies concerning the delicate concepts of gender and race, where once again — as in both the cases of trigger warnings and of Islamophobia — I see well intentioned progressives needlessly (in my mind) and harshly attacking fellow progressives, or at the least, people who ought to be their natural political allies. (As in the other two cases, I will ignore contributions from the right and from libertarians, on the ground that I find them both less constructive and less surprising than those from the sources I will be discussing here.) Let me start with gender. I recently read with fascination an two year old New York Times op-ed piece by feminist Elinor Burkett entitled “What makes a woman?” explaining why a number of feminists have issues with certain aspects of the transgender movement, and in particular why Burkett had mixed feelings about the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner. First, Jenner: Burkett says that of course she supports a member of an often vilified gender minority when …

Black Holes, A Brief Introduction

Everybody has heard of black holes. Science fiction books and movies use them as great plot devices. However, does everybody know what they actually are? These real-life objects are scattered throughout the universe, particularly at the centers of galaxies. So, they’re common, but nobody has really explored them! There’s a good reason for that: once you get inside a black hole, there’s no escape. That makes them intriguing and frightening all at once. However, that hasn’t stopped astronomers from studying them from the outside and using the laws of physics to understand them. Black holes are objects in the universe with so much mass trapped inside their boundaries that they have incredibly strong gravitational fields. That gravity is so strong that nothing can escape a black hole once it has gone inside. Most black holes contain many times the mass of our Sun and the heaviest ones can have millions of solar masses. Despite all that mass, the actual singularity that forms the core of the black hole has never been seen or imaged. The …

Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution

In the US there have been many attempts to expunge evolution from the school curriculmor demand that creationism – the idea that all life was uniquely created by God – is given equal treatment in science textbooks. While all these have failed, the government in Turkey has now banned evolution from its national curriculum. US creationists want both views to be presented, to let children decide what to believe. Bids to reject this are wrongly characterised as attempts to shut down debate or free speech – to promote a scientific, atheistic, secular, ideology over a more moral, ethical, commonsense religious worldview. Turkey’s decision goes much further. This isn’t about claiming equal treatment, it’s an outright ban. The government justifies it by claiming evolution is “difficult to understand” and “controversial”. Any controversy however is one manufactured by ultra-religious communities seeking to undermine science. Many concepts in science are more difficult than evolution, yet they still get taught. Creationist arguments Evolution, creationists argue, is just a theory – it’s not proven and so up for debate. Evolutionary …

‘No religion’ The fastest growing religion in Australia

DESPITE a scare campaign about Australia becoming a “Muslim country”, those ticking “no religion” in the Census has now overtaken the number of Catholics. It’s the first time in Australia’s history the number of people who claim “no religion” has overtaken Catholics. The latest Census drop showed those ticking “no religion” rose from 22.6 per cent to 29.6 per cent — nearly double the 16 per cent in 2001. Meanwhile, those identifying as Catholic dropped from 25.3 per cent to 22.6 per cent. The number of Christians in total still made up 51 per cent of the population, but this is much less than the 88 per cent in 1966 and 74 per cent in 1991. Islam (2.6 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent) were the next most common religions reported. Islam grew from 2.2 per cent in 2011, overtaking Buddhism, which dropped from 2.5 per cent, to become the most popular non-Christian religion. The religion question was controversial this year, with Australians warned not to mark “no religion” on the Census survey by …

Skepticsociety Magazine Blog

The conflict between religion and science 1

Many, both theists and atheists, acknowledge the conflict between religion and science. This includes New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and also academic philosophers such as John Worall, who argue that one cannot be both purely scientifically minded and religious. Others disagree. Stephen Jay Gould, an agnostic, famously defended the NOMA thesis — that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they are about non-overlapping magesteria. His sentiments have been echoed by some academic philosophers, such as Del Ratzsch, who argues that the conflict between science and religion is greatly exaggerated. Most recently this thesis was reiterated by Alvin Plantinga in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism. If there is a conflict, it is supposedly only about minor ideas that are usually found in small movements — like creationism, which is (they say) only popular in certain Christian fundamentalist segments of America. I disagree. Contrary to Gould, Ratzsch and Plantinga’s arguments, religion conflicts with science, especially regarding religious issues, doctrines, beliefs and thought processes of major significance. I will demonstrate why. For brevity, …

Artificially inflating the threat from Russia does nobody any good

Artificially inflating the threat from Russia does nobody any good Sumantra Maitra, University of Nottingham Much has been written lately about Russia “hacking” the US presidential elections, and how Vladimir Putin’s government is in a new Cold War with the West. Molly Mckew, who advised Mikhail Saakashvili when he was president of Georgia, writes that the West is already fighting a war in defence of the values on which its liberal order is based. Like many others, she never attempts to define what exactly “The West” is, or what its contradictory state interests add up to. In the Financial Times, meanwhile, Lilia Shevtsova is even more pessimistic. She claims the current situation is without historical precedent, and that current Western strategy “requires ideological clarity, but the ambiguity of the post-Cold War world made the strategy irrelevant”. Countless pieces like these are churned out in the Anglophone media every day. They share a remarkable deficit of proportion and objectivity; they present what’s happening today as historically unprecedented, an incorrect diagnosis that simply stirs up hysteria and …