Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sceptical Towards Pseudoscience – The Pseudoscientific Method

What differs science from pseudoscience? Why do we call astrology, numerology, and feng shui pseudoscience? New Age followers frequently claim that science-fans are simply too arrogant and ignorant to look at the evidence, but how true is that? Here, I contrast the scientific method and the pseudoscientific method, and show why we sceptics are justified in labelling them as simply superstition.

Science is Self-correcting; Pseudoscience is Static

Scientific theories are self-correcting, that is, they change in the light of new, contradicting evidence. As a perfect scientific theory should have zero flaws, it is not surprising that what you’ve learned today may be completely wrong tomorrow.

Take the Theory of Evolution as an example. Initially, there was Lamarckism, a theory stating that changes in an individual’s genotype will be inherited by its offspring. Yet, the arrival of genetics on the scene completely rendered the theory wrong, and gave overwhelming evidence for Mendelian-inheritance.

Yet, by the early 21st century, it was found out that organisms don’t follow strict Mendelian inheritance patterns. This can be caused by epigenetics, environmental factors etc. In fact, in 2006, Minoo Rassoulzadegan from the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France, and her colleagues reported the first instance of non-Mendelian inheritance in mammals. They interbred wild-type mice with heterozygous with engineered Kit DNA. The wild-type mice had tails uniform in colour; the heterozygous mice had spotted tails. When they interbreed the mice, they got a litter full of spotted tail mice when Mendelian inheritance expected about half of each mice. They found out that the Kit mRNA in the heterozygous mice and the pups was lower in level and degraded, and the degradation was caused by Kit microRNA. This shows that DNA (RNA in some viruses) is actually not the only biochemical that affects inheritance, and once again, the Theory of Evolution needs to be updated.

Non-Mendelian Inheritance in Mice

It was found out that the damaged mRNA in the heterozygous mice was inherited by the para-mutated pups, giving them spotted tails.(Soloway/Nature, 2006)

But what about pseudoscience? Do they revise their theories in response to contradictory evidence? No, they don’t. Astrology, feng shui, numerology rarely update to reflect new findings, and is virtually the same as what they were thousands of years ago. The failure of Western astrology to address the precession of the equinoxes is a classical example and typical of pseudoscience. See my post - Debunking Astrology (Part 2 – Problems that Astrology Must Answer) for further info.

Science is Critically Peer-reviewed; Pseudoscience Spouts Claims Without Evidence

I don’t dare to say science is without fraud. Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Archaeoraptor etc. are examples we can all remember as embarrassments to the scientific community, a sore reminder that science must be honest to itself, and to be critically peer-reviewed.

A defining feature of science is that any single hypothesis must go through extensive scrutiny from the respective scientific communities before it even has the hope to be published in a scientific magazine, like Nature. With all those different hypotheses coming from everywhere, one has to ensure that they are truly of high quality, and it is the peer review system that allows us to judge whether a hypotheses is honest and truthful.

But, does pseudoscience have similar systems? Definitely no. Pseudoscience goes directly to the relatively uncensored mass media, telling the world of their “great” discoveries and predictions, in which they cannot give any evidence for. But what’s more disappointing is that quite some newspapers will praise their claims without second thought? Perhaps because of psychological and marketing factors? Whatever it is, the conclusion would be: pseudoscience never examines its claims critically, but it speaks louder than true science. Like a duck compared to an eagle.

Science is Objective; Pseudoscience is Subjective/Vague

A theory that explains everything explains nothing.

Science hypotheses, theories and laws must be falsifiable. What do we mean by falsifiability? It means that a theory/hypothesis/law must be specific and objective in its predictions so that they can be test and verified by other scientists. Here’s an example: Mendel’s Law of Segregation predicts that there are dominant and recessive alleles, and when both are present, the dominant allele will be expressed, masking the recessive allele. This was strongly supported when Mendel’s pea experiments showed a 3:1 ratio of 2 different traits, 1 being dominant and the other being recessive. Except in cases where non-Mendelian inheritance is involved, this law has always stood up to the test, and can thus be rightfully called a scientific law.

But pseudoscience never does this. Their claims are usually vague enough to be untestable using the scientific method and generic enough so that the predictions apply to everyone. Take astrology’s sun sign predictions as an example:

Capricorn, the tenth sign of the zodiac, is all about hard work. Those born under this sign are more than happy to put in a full day at the office, realizing that it will likely take a lot of those days to get to the top. That's no problem, since Capricorns are both ambitious and determined: they will get there. Life is one big project for these folks, and they adapt to this by adopting a businesslike approach to most everything they do. Capricorns are practical as well, taking things one step at a time and being as realistic and pragmatic as possible. The Capricorn-born are extremely dedicated to their goals, almost to the point of stubbornness. Those victories sure smell sweet, though, and that thought alone will keep Capricorns going.

That’s for Capricorn. Wow, doesn’t this sound like the perfect employee/employer? Note how does astrology (and also other pseudoscience) prey upon our dreams and visions so that we happily agree with it.  Moreover, the prediction above only explains a part of our life. One can look at a Capricorn sign and say that it fits his/her work-life, and look at an Libra sign and say: “That’s me! Charming, attractive, graceful! After all, that’s what I am in my personal life!” By making predictions which could apply perfectly depending on the situation, pseudoscience manages to be “accurate” in its predictions, when it is simply using the same-old tactic.

Science Uses Clear and Precise Words; Pseudoscience Uses Scientific-sounding Mumbo Jumbo

To allow your theory/hypothesis to be verified accurately by other scientists, what you need to do is to use the most precise, and the clearest words possible. They can then be verified using scienitific experiments, which will determine its validity. That’s needed so that science remains objective and falsifiable.

However, it seems that a lot of people frequently criticise science for using hard-to-understand jargon in place of general, understandable words. But be aware that when I say clear, I don’t mean easily understandable by the general public, but precise enough so other scientists can know exactly what are you referring too. This is how it is in the scientific community; on the other hand, more simple and generic words are used when informing the public.

But pseudoscience also uses the same words, so does that give it the same qualities? That’s a no. Take a look at the some “scientific” mumbo-jumbo used by pseudoscience: “energy vibrations”, “enhanced bio-field”, “non-Hertzian scalar energy”. Despite using scientific sounding terms, such terms don’t exist within the scientific community, as their existence have never been proved. Thus these terms are meaningless, nothing more than a trick to sound genuine to the public.

In other cases, pseudoscience will quote mine true and valid scientific theories to further their case. Take the notorious FusionExcel company as an example. The say that their “quantum pendant” are capable of generating “scalar energy”, which are supposed to improve our wellbeing. But wait! In physics, the word quantum is used to describe quantum mechanics, which is currently the best system for explaining interactions on the atomic/subatomic scale. Are they implying the pendants are created through manipulating molecules on the subatomic scale? And what is scalar energy? They try to use the Maxwell Equations to validate its existence, but I cannot find any link. That’s typical of pseudoscience.

Science Keeps Trying to Verify Its Predictions; Pseudoscience Rely on Confirmation Bias

A scientific theory must stand up to the evidence consistently. It must always match real-world observations, and the whole theory could be dismantled with one contradicting evidence. That’s why scientists constantly test scienitific theories against new observations to ensure its validity. If it doesn’t hold, then try to create a better one.

But pseudoscience never does this! They keep on giving vague, generic predictions, and in the case that even those predictions fails, they usually give some kind of rationalization, such as “The theory is just a guideline”, “Well you shouldn’t rely only on stars signs, there’s more to astrology”, “Maybe you missed something”, “You can’t judge someone from his/her looks” etc. Never do they admit to be wrong.

On the other hand, pseudoscience gets ecstatic when their claims are found to be true. They will declare it as empirical evidence, while ignoring the times when the predictions have failed to hold. It is of course frequently shown that these “evidence” can also be explained through pure chance, which may be why believers don’t look at contradicting observations. In psychology, this is known as confirmation bias, in which people deliberately ignore contradicting evidence, in favour of supporting observations. While commonplace in pseudoscience, confirmation bias in the scientific community is quickly exposed thanks to the peer review process.

Science Relies on Empirical Evidence; Pseudoscience Relies on Anecdotes

The last, and most annoying feature of pseudoscience is its overuse of anecdotal evidence. Science is empirical, requiring strong evidence and repeatable, testable predictions. Just because a well respected scientist or the majority of scientists claim something to be true doesn’t verify a theory/hypothesis. It must go through the peer review system as stated above, and be tested repeatedly to be valid.

But obviously, pseudoscience doesn’t do this. As evidence can’t be found for their claims, they instead rely on anecdotes from customers or supporters. When I asked my friends for evidence of ghosts, they say: “I saw it! It was late night in my camping tree, and I saw a spectre in the trees”, “I hear weird sounds sometimes!” or “My friend them, I saw them, doesn’t that make ghosts true already?”. Classic example of pseudoscience/superstition.

But why not anecdotal evidence, you ask? The problem with anecdotes is that human errors are simply too frequent, we have great imagination, we all have slight confirmation bias, and yes, the placebo effect is quite a powerful force. This problem exists even in mass hallucinations, where the power of suggestion can cause a group of people to have “God” show up in front of them, when spectators see nothing except for a bunch of lunatics. Anecdotal evidence cannot be used as scientific evidence for this reason.

Blurry Fog

I saw a vaguely-humanoid shaped fog: Evidence for ghosts!


I think I’ve given enough reasons on why pseudoscience is pseudoscience. To sum it up, it’s dogmatic, unverified, untestable, and relies and anecdotes and confirmation bias. So stop claiming that we sceptics are close minded. How about this, believers – review your claims. Perhaps you’ll find out that those superstitions aren’t that factual after all.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dogma Exposed - Rape victim receives 101 lashes for becoming pregnant

A 16-year-old girl who was raped in Bangladesh has been given 101 lashes for conceiving during the assault.

The girl's father was also fined and warned the family would be branded outcasts from their village if he did not pay.

According to human rights activists, the girl, who was quickly married after the attack, was divorced weeks later after medical tests revealed she was pregnant.

The girl was raped by a 20-year-old villager in Brahmanbaria district in April last year.

Bangladesh's Daily Star newspaper reported that she was so ashamed following the attack that she did not lodge a complaint.

Her rape emerged after her pregnancy test and Muslim elders in the village issued a fatwa insisting that the girl be kept in isolation until her family agreed to corporal punishment.

Her rapist was pardoned by the elders. She told the newspaper the rapist had "spoiled" her life.

"I want justice," she said.

This was from I hoped I was surprised when I heard about this, but no, I am not, unfortunately. The sharia law is so infamous for its sexism and its maltreatment of women, and this is just one in many cases. There is certainly many more cases not reported in the media. Yet, from this we can see how irrational, tyrannical, and sexist extremist Islam is, and anyone who says that sharia law is fair and play should rethink their words. Seriously.

Well, at least it such a law isn’t in the Holy Quran, and we can all agree that this is a case of the extremists misusing the sharia law. But sexists views are still present here and there in the Quran (and the Bible, for that matter).

Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart, three (monthly) courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back in that case if they desire a reconciliation. And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise. - 2:228, Holy Quran

If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 22:23-24, the Holy Bible (KJV)

PS: Moderate Muslims around the world, there is no better way to prove that Islam is a religion of peace than now! You say that Islamic-phobia is widespread, eh? Then how about this: condemn the extremist and sexist acts. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Debunking Astrology (Part 2 – Problems that Astrology Must Answer)

A key feature of all scientific theories it that they must stand up to extreme, honest scrunity by the scientific community and strongly supported by empirical, not anecdotal evidence. Yet astrology has been around for thousands of years, and it seems that there are still great problems in which it cannot answer. Let’s take take a look.

Axial Precession

Precessional motion occurs when torque is applied to an rotating object and changes the direction of its axis of rotation. This occurs because the torque increases the angular velocity of the initial angular velocity of the rotating body, causing the axis of rotation change direction.

This effect also happens to the Earth. Known as the precession of the equinoxes, it is the slow westward motion of the equinoxes about the elliptic, and it is caused by the torque crerated as a result of the gravitational attraction of the Sun and the Moon pulling the bulge at the equator towards the elliptic. A full 360 degree turn takes about 25,800 years.

So what does this hold for astrology? Nothing good. Take 25,800 years divide 360, and you get around 72. In other words, it takes around 72 years for the direction of the axis of rotation to be offset by 1 degree. Since the house in astrology have never been updated since the Babylonians created them around 2000BC, that means they have means the equinoxes have gone out of place by around 56 degrees (4032/72 = 56). Oops.  If you’re Capricorn, you should be a Scorpio/Sagittarius now. Why hadn’t astrologers update the position of the houses?

Precession of the Equinoxes

Precession of the equinoxes

Why Isn’t Natal Astrology Based on the Moment of Fertilization?

Natal astrology focuses on predicting a person’s life based on the individual’s exact time, date, and place of birth. Needles to say, this is very problematic. Why care about when is the individual born? The hypothetical force should after, be perfectly natural as astrologers love to claim (after all, astrology is a science, and science only addresses the natural!), and I don’t see why should the mother’s womb act as a barrier to that force, preventing it from having any effects on the baby. A better model would be to measure the moment of fertilization, as all embryonic developments later on are largely dependent on this process. Of course, there is no way yet to determine when does this occur, which renders natal astrology useless.

Astrology Not Working as Predicted

There are quite a lot of studies that shows astrology isn’t better than chance. Just Google it. But let’s do a simple test, shall we? Let’s start with my supposed sign, Capricorn. Here’s a description I found on Virgin Media:

You are rock-solid, dependable, responsible, highly organised, goal-oriented, logical and clever.

You thrive in positions of power or any job where maths or money are involved. Consider an IT position because you love software and computers. You are also well-suited for being a doctor, accountant or lawyer.

I see. I should love maths and money. Well yes, I do, but I also love science, mysteries, debating, public speaking, writing blogs, challenging dogmatic religions etc. Not the what the conservative, quiet Capricorn should do. Anyway, let’s see some famous people born as on January 1st:

January 8, 1935 - Elvis Presley - Musician

January 10, 1945 - Rod Stewart – Singer

December 26, 1893 - Mao Tse Tung - Political Leader

January 2, 1880 - Joseph Stalin – Dictator

January 6, 1572 - Johannes Kepler - Astronomer

January 9, 1913 - Richard Nixon - President of US

January 14, 1412 - Joan of Arc – Saint

January 17, 1899 - Al Capone – Gangster

January 17, 1942 - Muhammad Ali - Boxer

Huh? I mean, why are there Capricorns overturning the Chinese monarchy, leading Communist Russia, being the King of Boxers, and shocking the world with his great songs? Shouldn’t Capricorn after all, be conservative? And how does Mao and Stalin be responsible and dependable when they killed millions? That just doesn’t fit. I’m waiting for an explanation.


Astrologers claim their work is science. To be considered as such, astrology must stand up to critical and sceptical scrunity. No astrologer I’ve ever seen could answer these questions, and before there is an explanation for the problems stated, astrology is bunk, or at least extremely inaccurate and unreliable.


John Daintith BSc, PhD & Elizabeth Martin MA. (Eds.). (2005). Oxford Dictionary of Science. New York: Oxford University Press.

Previous: Debunking Astrology (Part 1 – No Known Force is Strong Enough to Affect Us)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Debunking Astrology (Part 1 – No Known Force is Strong Enough to Affect Us)

For the planets plus the Sun and the Moon to affect our lifes and personality, there must be a force that is strong enough to reach us, and have a profound impact. The claim the that Pluto, a planet about the size of the Moon can affect us when even when it is 7,228,829,857km from us is an extremely extraordinary claim, and so the force must be exceptionally strong. Let’s see if there is any evidence for such a claim.

The 4 Fundamental Forces of Physics – Can They be Responsible?

The fundamental forces (or fundamental interactions) describe the way in which particles interact with each other. So far, every interaction can be broken down into 4 fundamental interactions, as described below:

Strong Interaction (aka the Strong Nuclear Force)

The strong interaction has greatest magnitude of all 4 forces, which is why it got its name. It is 100 times stronger than electromagnetism, 105 stronger than the weak interaction, and 1039 stronger than gravity.

The Strong Force

Quarks and gluons are bonded together as a result of the strong interaction. Curiously, this force doesn’t decrease in magnitude with increasing distance. Instead, once it reaches a limit (roughly the size of a hadron), the force remains constant at about 100,000 newtons. When quarks are pulled beyond a certain distance, it would be energetically favourable to create a new quark/anti-quark from vacuum. That’s why quarks are only found clumped together as hadrons, and no free quarks have ever been observed. This is known as colour confinement (not related to colour in the visual sense. In this context, colour is a property of quarks and gluons in the strong interaction).

The Residual Strong Force (Nuclear Force)

The residual strong force, as its name suggests, is a residue of the strong interaction. This force works between hadrons within atomic nuclei. The hadrons consist of mesons (made up of one quark and anti-quark; examples: pions and kaons), and baryons (made up of 3 quarks; examples: proton and neutrons). Mesons are transmitted between nucleons within the atomic nuclei, binding them together (and preventing protons from repelling each other because of their same electrostatic charges). Unlike the strong interaction, the residual strong force does decrease as distance increases, and is doesn’t exist beyond 10-15 metres. As electromagnetism decreases over distance at a much slower pace, the electromagnetism-to-residual nuclear force ratio falls in favour of electromagnetism as distance increases, causing nuclides with atomic number over 82 to be unstable.

Why Not?

The reasons why the strong interaction is definitely not the force that affects our lives should be clear by now. The strong interaction only works between quarks and gluons, which are unimaginably small. Moreover, when pulled apart beyond a certain distance, quark/anti-quark pairs are created, and this means that there is a maximum distance between quarks. The same goes for the residual strong force, with its maximum range of effect of around 10-15 metres. To say that this force works on a planetary scale is simply absurd.

Weak Interaction (aka the Weak Nuclear Force)

The weak interaction is caused by the exchange of W and Z bosons (the intermediate vector bosons). It is called weak because it is 10−11 times weaker than electromagnetism, and 10−13 times weaker than the strong interaction. It is most notable for causing beta decay.

Uniqueness of the Weak Interaction

The weak interaction affects left-handed leptons, quarks, and neutrinos (the only other force that affects neutrinos is gravity, but its effect are negligible).

Flavour Changing

The weak interaction is the only known force that changes flavour. (not the flavour of taste; flavour in particle physcis means the quantum number of elementary particles.) Take beta decay for an example. For a neutron (1 up quark, 2 down quarks) to change into a proton, (2 up quark, 1 down quark), it must change one of its down quarks into an up quark. By emitting a W-negative boson, which then breaks up into a electron(e) and antineutrino(νe).

Beta Decay

The Feynman diagram for beta-minus decay of a neutron into a proton, electron, and electron antineutrino via an intermediate heavy W− boson

Violation of Symmetry

The laws of nature were long thought to remain the same under mirror reflection. The results of an experiment viewed via a mirror were expected to be identical to the results of a mirror-reflected copy of the experimental apparatus. This is called the law of parity conservation.

Yet, in the mid-1950s, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee suggested that the weak interaction might violate this law. Chien Shiung Wu and collaborators in 1957 discovered that the weak interaction in fact maximally violates parity, earning Yang and Lee the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics.

CP symmetry explains that when a particle is interchanged with its corresponding antiparticle (C symmetry, or charge conjugation symmetry), and left and right swapped (P symmetry, or parity symmetry), the laws of physics should be the same. Yet, it was found that the weak interaction may violate the CP symmetry, and thus create asymmetry in the universe. This is the most likely explanation of why there is almost only matter in the universe, as without this violation, matter and antimatter would’ve cancelled out each other.

CP Symmetry

A simple diagram indicating the action of CP: CP reverses all spatial axes and takes particles to antiparticles. In this diagram, CP takes a spin-up electron to a spin-down positron.

Why Not?

As the W and Z bosons have a large mass of about 90 GeV/c2 (on subatomic scales, that is), their mean life is only about 3×10−25 seconds. Even at the speed of light, the effect of the weak interaction is limited to a mere 10-18 metres, which is a 1000 times smaller than an atomic nucleus. That’s 1000 times smaller than the residual strong nuclear force, so how can it be expected to be the force that astrology claims? Next.


As the force in which matter attracts and are attracted to each other, gravity is obviously the force we are the most familiar with, and we are all too familiar the story that an apple fell on Newton’s head (that’s fiction, but whatever). Despite being the weakest among all 4 fundamental interactions, gravity decays very slowly over distance and has infinity range, and is thus a likely candidate for the “astrological” force.

General relativity is currently the best explanation of how gravity works, and is currently accepted as the best model of gravitation by the scientific community. Developed by Albert Einstein between 1907 and 1915, the theory is extremely successful in its predictions, but not perfect; we mustn’t doubt the overwhelming evidence available for it though.

In terms of general relativity, gravity is caused by the curvation of space-time by mass, and that free-falling objects are moving along locally straight paths in curved space-time. These straight lines are called geodesics. It states that if there is a force applied to an object, it would deviate from the geodesics in space-time. Everything on Earth are not following geodesics, as gravity exerts force upon them.

Solar System

Gravitation keeps the planets in orbit about the Sun. The curved lines represent the curvation of space-time. (Not to scale, obviously)

Why Not?

Although gravity spreads out infinitely, it’s effects still decay fast enough for the planets to have virtually none effect on the Earth. Jupiter, despite it’s massive gravitational pull doesn’t seem to affect the Earth’s orbit, much less Pluto (not a planet anymore in astronomy, but still one in astrology), with its smaller-than-Moon size and its unimaginably great distance away from the Earth. The only 2 celestial bodies in the Solar System that affects us directly would be the Sun, which locks us in orbit with it; and the Moon, which causes quite a number of tidal effects. Yet these are only a part of astrology, and thus gravity is no longer a candidate.


Electromagnetism is the force that affects charged particles and is the most misused force ever is electromagnetism. Saying it brings mystics, feng shui, and yes, astrology to mind. However, electromagnetism is the most encountered force in life, save for gravity. Electromagnetism holds your body’s atoms together; cause electrons to orbit around atomic nuclei; cause the repulsion and attraction of magnets etc.

Earth's magnetosphere

Artistic rendition of the Earth's magnetosphere.

Why Not?

Astrology involves the planets, the Moon, and the Sun. But here’s the problem: only the Sun has a noticeable effect on the Earth. The only planets that have magnetospheres are Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and of course Earth – the other planets’ magnetic fields are too weak. Yet even Jupiter’s magnetosphere, which 14 times greater than those of Earth, extends only 7 million kilometres in the Sun’s direction, which means that it doesn’t affect the Earth at all. Plus the inverse square law stated above, and it is clear that the planets cannot affect our lives as astrology claims. The only celestial body that affects us electromagnetically would be the Sun,the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), which is the magnetic field of the Sun that is carried by solar winds.

What about a 5th, undetected force?

The hard-headed new ager may claim: “So what? There may be an undetected force that works behind the scenes!” Of course, the onus of proof is on the new ager, not the sceptic, but for the sake of discussion, let’s entertain that possibility.

What Characteristics the 5th Force Must Have

1. It mustn't decay over distance.

All 4 fundamental forces of physics decay too quickly over distance to have any true effect on a interplanetary scale, and thus the 5th force must be constant in magnitude. However, this poses another problem. To prevent our brains from exploding, let’s just consider the celestial bodies present in the Milky Way. Well, it is estimated that there are 1011 stars in our galaxy. Isn’t it a bit naive to simply ignore all those stars in astrology?

2. It should be independent of size.

Since astrology claims the Sun and Pluto to have equal effect on us, that means size must be ignored. Well, then perhaps we should take into account every single asteroid orbiting the Sun. After all, there are 70,000 Kuiper Belt Objects in the Kuiper Belt.

3. Or it could rely on some undetected property.

Yes, perhaps science hasn’t detected a unique property that only the planets + the Sun + the Moon has. Such a claim however, will create even more wishful thinking for astrology, and thus will push astrology even more into the realm of blind faith. Moreover, astrology must explain the missing planets 4 planets in ancient astrology, and how could they have been accurate at all. And who is to say that there are no other planets now with similar properties?

4. Or it is sentient.

Alright. This basically invokes something along the lines of the god(s)/deities. Nuff’ said.


It is very clear now that simply isn’t possible that any non-sentient force can affect our lives and personality as astrology claims. The 4 fundamental forces have proved to be impossible candidates, and the 5th hypothetical force creates more problems than it aims to solves. The only alternative is to invoke the supernatural, but that simply puts astrology into the field of superstition, which it has always been since its separation from astronomy -  the true science of the cosmos.

PS: I know that gravity and electromagnetism aren’t explained in detail here, but we all know how they work,. However, I may do so if there are requests :-)

Previous: Debunking Astrology (Introduction)

Next: Part 2 – Problems that Astrology Must Answer

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Declare Thyself! (Here’s my Answer)

I found a great self-review table on Sabio's blog - Triangulations! So whether you're a theist, deist, agnostic, atheist, or pantheist, as long as you want to understand more about your stance on things, declare thyself!

Here's my answer:

School of Philosophy Analytic
Ontology Naturalist
Science Scientific Realist
Theory of Time B-Theory
Theology Atheist
Politics Libertarianism
Language Russellianism
Mind Physicalism
Mental Content Externalism
Abstract Objects Nominalism
Knowledge Empiricism in Science, Rationalism in Mathematics
Personal Identity Both Physical and Psychological, with Psychological taking precedence
Free Will Incompatibilism Logically, but hoping that Compatibilism is true
Normative Ethics Consequentialism
Meta-Ethics Moral-antirealism

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Debunking Astrology (Introduction)

Who'd go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing -- astronomy...? - Richard Dawkins

Unfortunately, Mr. Dawkins, you mean almost everyone who’ve heard of it. Astrology is obviously on par with feng shui as the 2 most widely believed and practiced pseudoscience in the world. Since it was most voted for in the the poll, I’ll give a detailed debunking on claims that astrology has any scientific basis, and show there is none.

Astrology Defined

As stated in the Compact Oxford Dictionary, astrology is:

The study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies and their supposed influence on human affairs.

Babylonian Astrology

The 12 horoscopes that we are so familiar with first originated in Babylon in the second millennium B.C. It started with the belief that the all phenomena are affected by the heavens, be it the life of humans, natural disasters, or simply the weather. 5 planets were identified at that time, with their respective gods: Jupiter with Marduk, Venus with Ishtar, Saturn with Ninurta (Ninib), Mercury with Nabo, and Mars with with Nergal. Together with the sun-god Shamash and the moon-god Sin, they affected the material world with their movements. Babylonian astrology attempts to predict their movements, and from that the fate of everything material. 12 houses were created, which set the basis for the 12 horoscopes today: 1. Life ; 2. Poverty/Riches ; 3. Brothers ; 4. Parents ; 5. Children ; 6. Illness/health ; 7. Wife/husband ; 8.Death ; 9. Religion ; 10. Dignities ; 11. Friendship ; 12. Enmity.

Hellenistic Astrology

Hellenistic astrology appeared in the Mediterranean region sometime around the 1st century BCE. It all began with the conquest of Alexander the Great, where the the Babylonian astrology and Egyptian Decanic astrology merged, forming the first horoscopic astrology. It was the first to use the ascendant, and the 12 celestial house which are derived from it. Much emphasis was shifted to the natal chart, which calculate the position of the heavens when one is born. Western astrology was derived from this.

Western Astrology

Western astrology is a an extension of Hellenistic astrology, and is based on the zodiac – the belt or band of constellations through which the Sun, Moon, and planets move on their journey across the sky. It is the most practised form of astrology nowadays, filling up newspaper columns daily/weekly. The zodiac begins at the position of Aries at the Northern hemisphere Vernal Equinox, which is always around March 21 of each year. Well, it was supposed to be so, but it has been offset by 1 month since 5000 years ago, and thus cannot be relied upon anymore. More on that later.

The 12 Constellations

The 12 houses: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces. Kudos to somerod

Chinese Astrology

Chinese astrology is different from other variants in that one’s zodiac is determined based on the year (the Chinese calendar, not the mordern version) he/she is in. There is a 60-year cycle to it, the first of which is the Five Elements (in order Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin and Yang forms. Then we have the of the 12odiac animal signs (生肖 shēng xiào) or Earthly Branches . They are in order as follows: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. It is usually used in conjunction with feng shui and other Chinese superstitions.

Chinese Zodiac

The 12 Chinese Zodiacs. Note the Dao in the middle.

Why am I Critical Towards Astrology

If people simply took astrology as outdated superstition and an ancient culture, the world would be better off. Why do I say so? Here’s the reasons:

Taking Focus Away from Science

It would be perfectly normal to go into a bookstore and see astrology/zodiac/feng shui books taking up over ten times more shelf space than books on science. Why? The answer can’t be simpler. The market for readers of astrology and related superstitions is overwhelmingly bigger than the market for science lovers. And that’s not just it. I bet you to take a look at those apps on social networking platforms, and see how many astrology quizzes there are compared to apps on science education! Or take a survey on our future leaders – teenagers, and see ask how many of them trust astrologers over critical thinking and the scientific method. I did it, and I can tell you, the results aren’t optimistic.

So what implications does this hold? Well, instead of driving the progress of science and technology, astrology distracts the people from the true beauty of science, and deludes them with unproven fantasies. Think of it! With decreased numbers of those interested in science, fewer will dive into the field of science/technology, and guess what? Science and tech slows down. Without superstition (most religions included), we should be exploring the galaxy by now.


According to the Compact Oxford Dictionary, the definition of scam is:

1. wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
2. a person intending or thing intended to deceive.

It is all too common to see astrologers promising a good love life, better income by taking readings and predicting your future. The results are always the same: either the predictions are so vague to be useful, or they are never more accurate than chance. Yet even in face of such results, people are still scammed into giving their money for something that is completely unable to meet their needs, and doesn’t work as pictured in the ads. This is scamming, whether the astrologers are doing so consciously or not. And I damn hate these con-men taking advantage of the gullible.

Superstition Harms

See what happened when parents in England, Indiana, South Africa refused to give their children medical injection because of unproven fears that they would cause autism. Massive measles outbreaks, causing deaths in the hundreds. Or perhaps when people believe that they would get 72 virgins in heaven, and fly a plane into the World Trade Centre. These are only the tip of the iceberg, but it is clear: superstition is damn harmful, and they should be eradicated at all costs, astrology included. When people rely on star signs to guide their life, their productivity decreases, they worry about unfounded predictions, and they spend money and time on useless activities. This adversely affects not only the person, but the productivity of society as a whole.

Edit: Here's the latest example on superstition bullshit:


I have given my thoughts on why astrology is harmful, and should be removed. This shall the job of my following posts, where the concept of astrology itself would be completely debunked as superstition and pseudoscience.

We should take astrology seriously. No, I don't mean we should believe in it. I am talking about fighting it seriously instead of humouring it as a piece of harmless fun. - Richard Dawkins again

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why I am Not a Buddhist

Not my Dharma Wheel

Sorry, but I've officially left Buddhism.

I left Buddhism not very long ago – it was November 2009 when I started identifying myself as an atheist. Why did I leave, you ask? Isn’t Buddhism nothing more than a philosophy of life? Isn’t Buddhism atheistic/agnostic? I hoped it was so, but in reality, it isn’t. Buddhism is a religion in Malaysia, and is full of superstition. To my Buddhists friends and all those who respect this religion, I apologize, but there certainly are reasons why I de-converted.

What Buddhism is in my society.

While Westerners generally think of Buddhism as philosophical and metaphorical, it is viewed as literally in some ways. Quite a number of Malaysia Buddhists (and possibly other Southeast Asian societies), the Buddha is viewed as god-like, hell and heaven are believed to be literally true, the existences of ghosts are accepted without question and so on. Avoiding association with such beliefs is one of the reasons I left Buddhism. Also note that when I speak of Buddhism, I mean Mahayana Buddhism, which is the one practised the most in Malaysia.

Similarities Between Buddhism and Theistic Religions

The Pure Land of Bliss – Buddhist Version of Heaven

It is taught in Buddhism that life is suffering, and to escape it, one needs to attain nirvana, or enlightment. I’m perfectly at ease with this view, but there is another Buddhism school that teaches differently – Pure Land Buddhism, which is a Mahayana sect. It teaches that Nirvana is increasingly hard to attain, and by chanting the Amitābha Sutra, and constantly devoting to the Buddha, one can get to the Pure Land of Bliss, which is a stepping stone to attaining Nirvana.

So what is there in this realm? Well firstly, suffering ceases to exist in the Pure Land, and there is only bliss. It is a realm rich and prosperous, comfortable and delightful, fertile and rich, and it is crowded with Bodhisattvas, Devas (deities) and humans. No evil beings like asuras, ghosts, hell-beings, and animals (gasp) exist. Expect crystal clear water, golden sands, overwhelming numbers of lotus flowers, trees of jade, warm lights, cotton-soft terrain, beautiful birds singing melodious notes (Wasn’t animals banned? Paradox!), and the chanting of sutras stretching towards all corners of space. Sounds like a great place to go.

Wait a minute, doesn't that sound like praying to Jesus/Allah/Yahweh and getting salvation? And doesn’t the Pure Land of Bliss sound eerily like Heaven as depicted in Christianity/Judaism/Islam? Take a look, is it not identical to the Jannah as depicted in Islam?

One day in paradise is considered equal to a thousand days on earth. Palaces are made from bricks of gold, silver, pearls, among other things. Traditions also note the presence of horses and camels of "dazzling whiteness", along with other creatures. Large trees are described, mountains made of musk, between which rivers flow in valleys of pearl and ruby. – Encyclopaedia of Islam

While many may protest that the Pure Land of Bliss is not meant to be a  paradise, but rather a stop on the way to enlightment, the principle is still there. It’s exactly the tactic used by almost every religion to create mass appeal, in which great bliss is promised to the one who believes in a particular divine being/religion. In Abrahamic religions, it's the escape from hell to Heaven. For Pure Land Buddhism, it's escape from "suffering" in the real world to a perfect land of bliss. Even Buddhist teachings identify this belief as a faith.

The Pure Land of Bliss

The Pure Land of Bliss: Similar tactics are employed by other religions to gain followers.

Prayer Towards Deities

Go into almost any Buddhist temple here, and you will find altars and offerings to the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and other gods. People here kneel down in prayers to the Kuan Yin bodhisattva, the Laughing Buddha, the Four Guardian Kings, the Jade Emperor, and other supernatural deities, hoping that the deities will give them luck, prosperity, safety, etc. Yes, you hear me right. In Malaysia, Buddhism is predominantly polytheistic.

Of course, a lot of you may say: “No! Buddhism is atheistic, as it doesn’t accept the view of a god”. Yes, Buddhists don’t believe in a Creator-God. But Malaysian Buddhists believe the existence of the Buddha/Bodhisattvas/Devas as divine beings, and that they can interfere in our daily lives by blessing us luck. They are more like Hindu deities in this sense, and Buddhism can still be classified as polytheistic.

Viewing of Sexual Acts as Dirty

The Abrahamic religions are frequently criticised as being critical towards sex, but guess what - the Buddhist teachings in Malaysia does this as well. It is said that women are “dirty”, masturbation causes diseases and disorders, and homosexuals are considered as abnormal and in one book – viewed as the cause of AIDs. I realise that this isn’t true Buddhism, but here in Malaysia, it is preached as such.

Reincarnation - Where's the scientific evidence?

Buddhism teaches that all beings have an eternal soul, as opposed to a finite body. When we die, we are reincarnated into another body. The exact realms in which we will be born into is determined by our karma. Despite the wishful belief of reincarnation, there is little (if any) scientific evidence for it, and I choose not to uphold this belief. I will explain the problems of the soul in my following posts in detail, but for now, let’s just say that the brain is the core of consciousness, not the soul, and that we cannot survive materialistic death.

Karma - It's simply superstition.

Karma, or known as “报应 (bao ying)” in Chinese, is core to Buddhism. Karma, in its most basic form is simply cause-and-effect, in which no one can deny in its existence. But for Malaysian Buddhists, it goes one step further.

Here, karma takes a supernatural meaning. It is all to familiar to hear: “You’re going to hell for lying”, “Curse people and you will be reborn with a crooked mouth”, “Look down upon people and you shall be reborn as a ghost”, “If you do bad deeds, accidents will fall upon you” etc. Karma in this context moves way beyond casual determinism. It’s like a omniscient, omnipotent force, constantly monitoring what you do, and blessing you with prosperity or cursing you with accidents and deformations if you do “bad” things. I know that’s not the best analogy, but the word “karma” is quite different from the deterministic cause-and-effect model.

Evolution – Not Compatible with the Six Realms of Existence

The Six Realms of Existence is the one of the core beliefs of Buddhism. There are the realm of the Devas, which are blissful; Asuras, which are more blessed than humans but full of rage, anger, and jealously towards the Devas; the realm of Homo sapiens sapiens; the realm of the Animalia kingdom; the realm of Hungry Ghosts, where they are always hungry and suffering, with a fire-like sensation burning in their throats; and Hell, where “bad souls” get punished for what seems like an eternity through fire, metal birds pecking, dismembering, metal snakes going through one eye and coming out of another, and in the case of the Uninterrupted Hell, it lasts for 3.39738624*1018 years long. Alright, I’m getting off-topic.

A main problem I have is the distinction between humans and animals. Yes, we have evolved advanced thinking abilities in contrast to other members, so we are different from most animals in that way. But from when, I ask, are we to be considered human? Homo sapiens? Homo hablis? Australopithecus? Ardipithecus? What about Neanderthals, who co-evolved with Cro-magnon? The fact that Homo sapiens have only existed in the last few ten thousand years when life existed for billions of years makes the sudden distinction between the 2 realms even more illogical. And I’m not going into why bacteria, plants, and other living organisms were left out.


In this post, I summarized the main reasons why I left Buddhism. Well I agree with a lot of Buddhist teachings, these problems were too large for me to ignore, and I decided that being non-religious was the way to go. This list isn’t exhaustive, and will be subject to update. If I had any misconceptions on Buddhism, please correct me. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9b - Evidence for a 4.54 billion year old Earth through Radiometric Dating)

While I did explain radiometric dating in my previous Answering Creationist Claims post, I don’t think I’ve given any direct evidence for an old Earth (not the Universe, that’s a different topic), and I think it’s my job to present them here:

Evidence from Rocks of the Earth

The Oldest Zircon – 4.404 Billion Years Old

Why are zircons are loved by geologists so much? Firstly, zircons are all too common in the Earth’s crust. It occurs in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Zircons are able to survive geologic processes such as transport, erosion, even metamorphism (recrystallization), are chemically inert and they have much to tell about the geologic processes that occurred in history. However, the greatest thing is that within this mineral are uranium and thorium, and thus can be dated by the extremely accurate Uranium-Lead dating method, fission track dating, and (U-Th)/He dating.

At Mt Narryer and Jack Hills in the Narryer Gneiss Terrane, Yilgarn Craton,
Western Australia, a 4.404 billion year old zircon grain have been found, about 130 million years older than the previous record. Stunning, indeed. What’s more, a high ratio of stable isotopes was calculated using the δ18O method (7.5 – 5.0%), and the magmatic oxygen isotope ratios of such range points toward the possibility that the the oceans may have formed 4.4 billion years ago, 100 millions years than previously expected! While this is still under debate within the scientific community, it nevertheless provides an exciting point of view.

4.404 byr year old zircon

Cathodoluminescence image of earth's oldest-known mineral (zircon grain - W74/2-36) with inset concordia plot showing the 4,404 billion year old region. Note the oscillatory zoning in the outer rim. Image by John W. Valley. © University of Wisconsin

The Oldest Rocks: The Acasta Gneiss Complex - 4.04 Billion Years Old/Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt – 4.28 Billion Years Old

The Acasta Gneiss Complex is a rock outcrop located at Slave Province, Northwest Territories of Canada. Dated to be at about 4.04 billion years old in the Hadean period (informal), the Acasta Gneiss complex is the oldest exposed rock to date. A zircon dated 4.2 billion years old using mass spectrometry was also found within a 3.9 billion year granite rock, providing further evidence that the Acasta Gneiss Complex is the oldest rock to date.

Acasta Gneiss Complex

Close-up View of the Acasta Gneiss Complex

On September 25, 2008, researchers from McGill University, Carnegie Institution for Science and UQAM announced that a rock formation known as the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt, located on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in Quebec may be older than the Acasta Gneiss Complex after all. Dated at 4.28 billion years old using the Samarium-Neodymium dating method, it is surely a great contender against the Acasta Gneiss Complex. However, Simon Wilde of the Institute for Geoscience Research in Australia said that:

On the weight of evidence from other studies in the area, I would still consider that 3.8 billion years is more likely the actual age of the rocks.

The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt (Dammit, why is it so hard to pronounce?)

Nevertheless, should overwhelming evidence arise for the 4.28 billion year old age of the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt, it would be plain awesome.

Evidence from Meteorites

Despite being so old, rocks and minerals still do not tell us when was the formation of the Earth. Why? Well, with the combined forces of geologic processes such as plate tectonics, weathering, eruptions and hydrothermal circulation destroyed most of the evidence available by mixing them and constantly resetting the point of closure of minerals. Thus, we have to look towards the fallen stars for an answer. But why meteorites? Firstly, meteorites are big pieces of rock without the dynamic geologic processes associated with the Earth; that is, they’re quite static, and the crusts have never been recycled. Secondly, it is only fair to assume that everything in the Solar System formed from the same molecular cloud, and the age of meteorites give hints to the true age of the Earth.

Canyon Diablo Meteorite - 4.550 billion years (± 70 million years)

Around 50,000 years ago, the Canyon Diablo meteorite smashed into Arizona, creating the Meteor Crater/Barringer Crater. This meteorite is particularly special as it a big piece of a rare type of meteorite that contains sulphide minerals (particularly troilite, FeS), metallic nickel-iron alloys, plus silicate minerals.

In 1953, Clair Cameron Patterson dated the Canyon Diablo meteorite at 4.55 billion years old using Uranium-Lead dating, by measuring the amount of lead in the sulphide within the meteorite, and not surprisingly, it was found in much greater amounts than uranium, the parent nuclide. This date is supported by  almost 70 well-dated meteorites with ages of 4.4-4.6 billion years. These meteorites, which are fragments of asteroids and represent some of the most primitive material in the solar system, have been dated by 5 independent radiometric dating methods (got this info from the United States Department of the Interior).

Holsinger Meteortie

Holsinger Meteorite: the biggest recovered fragment of the Canyon Diablo meteorite.

Evidence from the Moon

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. – Neil Armstrong

I did not hear that word, and I assume that many of you never did too. Yet, when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, it fulfilled the our ancestor’s dreams of meeting the Moon. During the subsequent Apollo missions and the Soviet' Union’s Luna missions, many moon rocks would be taken home for research (plus those that fell to Earth as meteorites), and they all point to one thing: the Solar System is, at the very least, 4.5 billion years old.

The rock samples from the Moon range from 3.16 billion years old for the basaltic samples derived from the lunar maria, and up to about 4.5 billion years old for rocks derived from the highlands. As there is has been zero plate tectonic activity and no atmosphere (no weathering), we can be confident that this represents a quite truthful age for the Solar System.

Genesis Rock

Genesis Rock: A sample of early lunar crust from around the time the Moon formed. Returned by the Apollo 15 mission.


Thus, as I have shown, the evidence for an old Earth through radiometric dating is simply overwhelming, and that’s not taking evidence from the cosmos, erosion, etc. into account. It's a wonder that YECs can look at all this evidence and still insist that the Earth is 6000 years old. *facepalm*

Creationism Demotivational


Simon A. Wilde, John W. Valley, William H. Peck & Colin M. Graham. (2001) Evidence from detrital zircons for the existence of continental crust and oceans on the Earth 4.4 Gyr ago. Nature.

Tsuyoshi Iizuka, Kenji Horie, Tsuyoshi Komiya, Shigenori Maruyama, Takafumi Hirata, Hiroshi Hidaka, and Brian F. Windley. (2006). 4.2 Ga zircon xenocryst in an Acasta gneiss from northwestern Canada: Evidence for early continental crust. Geology 2006;34;245-248. doi: 10.1130/G22124.1

Previous: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9a – Deny The Age of the Earth and You Deny Science Itself)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Throwing Molotov Cocktails doesn't improve your rating, extremist Muslims.

If anyone hasn’t heard of the “Allah” word controversy in Malaysia by now, I’ll give an brief introduction. So a Bible was written in the Malay language, and it used the word “Tuhan” for “Lord”, and “Allah” for “God”. Not surprisingly, this raised quite a number of objections by the Muslim community, and the Malay Bible was banned initially. Yet the Court lifted the ban after that, and said that the word “Allah” is free for use by other religions (with the term that a warning that the book was for non-Muslims be placed on the cover of the Malay Bible). Now this sparked a great controversy in Malaysia. As the fights (on paper) went on, a few fanatics decided to take it one step further, and voila, there have been 8 churches under attack from Molotov cocktails so far. Oh the humanity.

Churched attacked

Jan. 10: Police officers inspect damage at the All Saints Church in Taiping of Perak state, Malaysia.

Seriously, what’s this all about? Firstly, the word “Allah” is the Arabic term for “God”, and has been in use since pre-Islamic (aka pagan) Arabia, in which it referred to the creator-god, and is still in wide use by Arabic Christians/Jews. Why the controversy? Secondly, it is surprising that there are guys who think that by throwing Molotov cocktails at churches, they are fighting for Islam as a whole. Please. You extremists are most certainly embarrassing the Islamic religion, your much more rational/moderate Muslim peers, and Malaysia. Lastly, I’m still waiting for the mullahs around the world to give their opinions on this issue. So far, there’s none.

Alright, enough of my rants. I’m going to write about science in my next post. I promise. Anyway, what’s your opinion on this topic?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jebbus, save me from your followers (if you exist).

I sent an email to Bible Life Ministries in hope that they would take a look at my blog, and have an intelligent conversation. Guess what I got? Insults. You would’ve thought that god-loving people will do better. Anyway, here’s the exchange:

1. Rebuttal of "Top Ten Scientific Facts Proving Charles Darwin's,Theory of Evolution is Wrong, False, and Impossible" – Me

Hi, Mr. Rieske. I'm Darren Wong, an evolutionist. I've took a look at your claims that the evolution is impossible, and I definitely do not agree with it. I have thus given rebuttals to it in my blog: In my Answering Creationist Claims series, I gave evidence for evolution, and cleared up misconceptions about it. I hope sincerely that you would take a look at it, and see for yourself that evolution is scientifically established. Thanks.

PS: You can accept evolution and still be saved, right?
Romans 10:9
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.

2. Re: Rebuttal of "Top Ten Scientific Facts Proving Charles Darwin's,Theory of Evolution is Wrong, False, and Impossible" – Kent Rieske

Hi Darren,
I nearly click the "X" on your email, and I certainly will without opening it if you write back.

First, I don't debate or bother with brainwashed people on blogs. Bible Life Ministries is NOT a debate forum.

Second, no you cannot accept evolution and be saved because you do not believe in your heart the very first verse in the Bible. You are lost and destined to spend eternity in HELL (which was also created by God).

Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.

Don't bother reading beyond Genesis 1:1 until you believe and accept it in your heart. You are simply brainwashed, and I have MORE BAD NEWS. You have no way to correct it. This page explains why.

Brainwashing, Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychotic, Sociology, Sociopath, Schizop


3. Ever Heard of Theistic Evolution? (Whether you bother to open it or not) – My Reply.

Whatever, Mr. Rieske, but have you ever heard of Theistic Evolution? It's the believe the Genesis and evolution are mutually compatible. See Answers in Creation. That's a good Christian website.

And when did evolution had anything to do with the beginning of the Universe and the Earth, anyway? It addresses the change of life over time (not the origin of life). And who is to say that god did not put this process into motion. For the Bible itself are full of parables, isn't it?

And you just contradicted yourself. You said that I'm going to hell (whatever that is) because I don't believe in Genesis 1:1, but isn't it said in Roman 10:9 that you only have to believe that Jesus was resurrected to be saved? Hey, even you said that on the website.

Lastly, before you call me brainwashed, I accepted evolution through myself. No one forced it upon me. My school hasn't taught it yet.

A Piece of My Mind

Oh yeah, Mr. Rieske, it does seem that I’m going to a non-existent hell that a “sky fairy” created, because he loves me, but I believe in evolution. Seriously, man, what’s this bullshit? I sent the email in hope of an intelligent debate. It seems I should’ve thought better.

Not only did Kent not even try and take a look at my points, he just outright insulted me, and cursed me to go to hell. Now, has Jesus not said that you should love your enemy? But such reactions are only to be expected from a fundamentalist. I doubt that a response will be given, but anyway, I’ll wait. For now, my friends, you may take a good laugh at the hypocritical and hard-headed mindset of this creationist.

Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9a – Deny The Age of the Earth and You Deny Science Itself)

The sudden expansion of space-time from a singularity of infinite mass + temperature around 13.73 billion years ago marked the beginning of the universe. Soon, it would cool down, and allow the formation of galaxies. Around 4.56 billion years ago, a part of a massive molecular cloud, giving to the Sun and planets of the Solar System, including Earth itself. Then, a Mars-sized planet called Theia smashed into the Earth, and the part of the enormous amount of debris collapsed and formed the Moon. Finally, around 4 billion years ago, the first life appeared on Earth, most likely through abiogenesis, and life have evolved and came into their present form now.

No, I take that back. In order to foster “religious tolerance”, I propose the theory that a sky daddy created us around 6000 years ago (or any other time), and that he done in about 6 days (or ages). Alright, that was complete sarcasm, but when people believe in such bullshit instead of science, we have a thing to worry about. Creationists keep on spending their time convincing children and the uninformed that the {add any religion here} view is literally true to undermine science education, and so is Bible Life Ministries. Proving them wrong is absolutely necessary.

Radiometric Dating

The most famous dating method is obviously radiometric dating, and since it shows that the Earth is billions of years old, it has been the target of creationist attacks. However, radiometric dating is one of the most established dating methods ever. Let me explain how it works.

Radioactive Decay

As we all know, all atoms consist of protons and neutrons as the nucleus, with electrons in orbit around the nucleus. Quite some elements has their own isotopes, which means same atomic number, different neutron count. A nuclide is an atom characterized by its atomic and neutron number. The difference is that an isotope is a member of an element of same atomic number with differing neutron count; while a nuclide refers to only one type of atom (not a member of any element group). It’s just a difference in semantics, anyway.

There are many types of decay, including alpha decay, which ejects an alpha particle (2 protons and 2 neutrons bound together) from the nucleus; Beta-Negative (β) decay, in which the weak nuclear force causes a neutron to be converted into a proton, and ejects an electron and an antineutrino; gamma decay, which happens when the nucleus is still left in an excited state after alpha/beta particles have been emitted, and by emitting a gamma ray, it can turn back to its ground state.

Alpha Decay

Alpha Decay - Nucleus Emits Alpha Particle

Beta-negative Decay

Beta Negative Decay - One neutron turns into a proton, while a electron(e) and antineutrino(νe) is ejected.

Gamma Decay

Gamma Decay


Some nuclides are unstable. That is, they decay spontaneously into a different atom over time. We call that atom a daughter nuclide. How does this happen? Well, at subatomic levels, the interactions between matter are governed by the strong nuclear force, which is the most powerful force over subatomic distances; electrostatic force, which plays a big role as well; and in the case of beta decay, the weak nuclear force is involved.

These forces create many interactions which can alter the state of particles, and cause them to release energy. While excited particles can maintain their form when undisturbed, this is never the case. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics states, overall entropy is always increasing, and thus when certain excited particles are disturbed (by quantum vacuum fluctuations), their arrangement are changed, and they release energy and become a less-excited particle (aka their ground state).

The Half-life

Radioactive decay is a stochastic process, as it is virtually impossible to predict when a particular nuclide will decay. Nevertheless, we are able to predict general trends when a certain number of the same nuclide are present. We call this trend as the half-life, which is the time taken for half of the nuclides in a group of atoms to decay.

Let’s take a piece of wood as an example. To date the wood, we use Carbon-14, which decays into Nitrogen-14. Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years, which means that within 5730 years, about half of the Carbon-14 nuclides would’ve decayed into Nitrogen-14. So that’s 1:1 ratio of nuclides. In another 5730 years, half of the remaining 50% Carbon-14 nuclides will decay again, leaving 25% of the atoms in the wood as Carbon-14, and 75% as Nitrogen-14. And so on, until we reach a point when there is virtually no Carbon-14 left, and we are unable to determine its age any further. For Carbon-14, that’s about 60,000 years.

There many other nuclides that can be used, such as Potassium-40, which decays into Argon-40, and has a half-life of 1.3 billion years. Because of this, we are able to use it determine the age of the oldest rocks. Then we have the Uranium-Lead dating method, which one of the most refined dating methods ever, with an error margin of 2-5%. As the time taken for Uranium-235 to decay into Lead-207 is 700 million years, while Uranium-238’s decay into Lead-206 is 4.3 billion years, we can collaborate the data taken from both sources, and thus get an very accurate example.


Radiometric dating requires that no nuclide may enter or leave the object for its whole lifetime. As it is possible that a particular object may be contaminated, it is absolutely necessary that checks be made to ensure that it is not altered.

For radiometric dating to be accurate, the object being dated should have enough numbers of parent nuclides. There must be a measurable ratio between parent and daughter nuclides. This is highly dependent on the half-life of the nuclide being measured. For example, Carbon-14 is useless beyond 60,000 years, as there would be to little Carbon-14 left to make accurate measurements. Potassium-40, on the other hand, will still be accurate even after billions of years.

Closure temperature

The closure temperature of a system is the temperature in which the system have cooled down enough to form a state where exchange of nuclides with the environment is impossible. Radiometric dating can only be used to start dating from the point the system reaches its closure temperature, as contamination would be highly unlikely after that. The closure temperature varies from mineral to mineral. In the case of of Carbon-14 though, renewal of the nuclide stops when the organism dies, instead of when reaching a closure temperature.

How Reliable is Radiometric Dating?

Couple of experiments have shown that radioactive decay is virtually unaffected by environmental factors: chemical reactions, heat, pressure, electromagnetic & gravitational fields, etc. These experiments include those done in the lab, studies of the Oklo natural nuclear reactor, and astrophysical observations of the luminosity decays of distant supernovae (which occurred long ago as the light has taken a great deal of time to reach us). All of them strongly point to the fact that decay rates have been constant throughout history (ignoring human errors and variation, that is).

But what about the so-called errors in of radiometric dating as claimed by creationists? Most of their claims are usually about instances when radiometric dating gave unexpected results, and they hail it as proof that it is not valid. Yet the problem is that even if radiometric dating fails in one instance because of some problem, it doesn’t invalidate radiometric as a whole. In fact, multiple radiometric dating methods and even non-radiometric dating methods can be used in conjunction to get the best answer, and so far, it works virtually every single time.

The last creationist method would be contamination. Yes, it is admitted that Carbon-14 is susceptible to contamination, and thus shouldn’t be treated too confidently. However, most other nuclides can be checked for contamination and they are extremely accurate. So far, contamination or not, all of the results points to a billion years old Earth. There literally 0 cases in which a different result was obtained. Don’t ignore that, creationists.


In my post, I have explained that the age of the Earth is an established fact, and is confirmed through radiometric dating, which is the best dating method ever. All of them point to a 4.54 billion year old Earth, and none contradicts that. However, we have yet to see a scientific paper that shows that the Earth is only 6000 or millions of years old. Let’s wait.

Previous: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 8 - The Fluid Nature of Chromosomal Count)

Next: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 9b - Evidence for a 4.54 billion year old Earth through Radiometric Dating)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Answering Creationist Claims (Part 8 - The Fluid Nature of Chromosomal Count)

Our genes lie within our chromosomes , which plays an extremely important part in heredity. A common creationist claim would be the “fixity of species”, and from this comes Bible Life Ministries’ and the Creation-Evolution Encyclopaedia's claim that the chromosomes counts are fixed (or if it changes, it’s deleterious). Such a claim can only come from ignorance on the topic of genetics, and it shall be my topic today.

What’s a Chromosome? (Brief)

A chromosome is a structure in our cells that is made up of DNA and proteins. It contains almost all of our genetic information, and comes with gene regulation proteins. Depending on the species, the chromosome can contain from 10,000 to 10,000,000 base pairs.

Chromosomes of Eukaryotes

Eukaryotes are organisms which cells contain nuclei (plants, animals, etc.). The nucleus of the eukaryotic cells houses the chromosomes, which are linear and rod shaped. Near the centre of the chromosome is the centromere, which is the point where 2 homologous chromatids and microtubules fuse. At the the tips of the chromosome are the telomeres, which contain repetitive DNA (with 2 chromatids present, that makes it 4 telomeres). It is shown that these repetitive DNA are responsible for maintaining the integrity of our genes, as they protect our genes by “capping” them. Eukaryotic chromosomes replicate through cell division, either by mitosis; and meiosis (in which the chromosomal count of the cell is halved), which is responsible for producing gametes.

Chromosome Sketch
(1) Chromatid. One of the two identical parts of the chromosome after S phase. (2) Centromere. (3) Short arm (4) Long arm.

Chromosomes of Prokaryotes

Prokaryotes (bacteria & archaea) chromosomes are single and circular, and vary greatly in size, from 160,000 to 12,200,000 base pairs in the bacterium Candidatus Carsonella ruddii and Sorangium cellulosum, respectively. Prokaryotic chromosomes are less sequential than those of eukaryotes, and replicate from a (or multiple) point(s) of origin. As they do not have a nucleus, prokaryotic chromosomes are organised into a structure known as the nucleoid instead.

Best Case of Chromosome Number Change – Chromosome 2

Most members of the family Hominidae have 48 chromosomes. Humans have 46. Huh? How could this be? After all, if evolution was true, we should have same chromosome counts, right? Well, at least that’s what claimed by creationists. To find the answer to this, let’s take a look at Chromosome 2 of humans.

Chromosome 2

Chromosome 2: Strong Evidence for Common Ancestry of Humans and Modern Apes

What’s so special about Chromosome 2? Because it’s damn similar (near-identical) to Chromsome 2a and 2b of chimps combined. Moreover, it’s a telomere-telomere fusion at region 2q13. And we have scientific evidence for that.

Firstly, there is is a inverted head-head arrangment of the TTAGGG array and the adjacent sequences at the predicted fusion site, which are surprisingly similar to the telomere points found in human (and ape) chromosomes. In other words, after the repeated TTAGGG sequence, the sequence inverts, becoming CCCTAA (it’s not GGGATT as CCCTAA is the reverse sequence that TTAGG maps to {A <> T, G <> C}).

Secondly, since Chromosome 2 is said to be a fusion of Chromosome 2a and 2b, there must be 2 vestigial centromeres, right? Well, that’s exactly the case. When scanning with DNA probes, signals for the presence of a centromere was detected somewhere around q21.3-q22.1, in the long arm of Chromosome 2. The other centromere is actually used (so it's not vestigial after all), and it lines up with 2p chromosome of chimps.

These 2 chromosomes strongly point to the fact that after diverging from chimps around 6-7 million years ago, Chromosome 2a and 2b underwent a telomere-telomere fusion, and thus is evidence for evolution.

Other Cases in Which Individuals of a “Kind” Have Different Chromosome Counts

Since chromosomes counts are supposedly “fixed” and all chromosomal changes are deleterious, let’s see the diploid chromosome count of “kinds”.

Fox “Kinds”

Arctic Fox
Alopex lagopus
Bat-eared Fox
Otocyon megalotis
Bengal Fox
Vulpes bengalensis
Fennec Fox
Vulpes zerda
Gray Fox
Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Kit Fox
Vulpes macrotis
Red Fox
Vulpes vulpes
Tibetan fox
Vulpes ferrilata

Horse “Kinds”

Equus ferus caballus
Przewalski's Horse
Equus przewalski poliakov
Equus africanus asinus
Moutain Zebra
Equus zebra
Plains Zebra
Equus quagga
Grévy's Zebra
Equus grevyi
Burchell's Zebra
Equus quagga burchellii

On a side note, a normal horse (64 chromosomes) can breed with a Przewalski's Horse (66 chromosomes) and produce a completely fertile hybrid offspring (65 chromosomes).


Thus, as it have been shown, the chromosome count is in fact variable. Not only can we see evidence for it in Chromosome 2, but even different species of the same "kind" (which means nothing in science) have different chromosome counts. Thus the creationist claim that all chromosome changes are harmful and that there is a "fixity of species" is completely wrong.

And since the most of Bible Life Ministries following claims are completely unrelated to evolution, I will only address the one that is. (Tip: something to do with the age of the Earth).


IJdo et al. (1991). "Origin of human chromosome 2: an ancestral telomere-telomere fusion". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 88: 9051–5. doi:10.1073/pnas.88.20.9051. PMID 1924367

Previous: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 7 – The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Truthfully Explained)

Next: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 8 – Deny The Age of the Earth and You Deny Science Itself)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Answering Creationist Claims (Part 7 – The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Truthfully Explained)

One of the most common creationist claims is that evolution is in conflict with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – and yet it is one of the most thoroughly refuted claim. Yet ignorance is still widespread about this claim, and I will give a thorough explanation on this law.

Definition of Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is study of the laws that govern:

  • the conversion of energy from one form to another;
  • the direction in which heat flows;
  • and the availability of energy to do work.

Thermodynamics is based on the concept that there is a measurable quantity of energy in any closed system, known as the in the internal energy (U). This only takes into account the total kinetic and potential energy in the matter of the system that can be transferred as heat, and thus doesn’t involve chemical and nuclear energy.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Explained

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that energy in an isolated system must be constant. Thus, for the the internal energy (U) of the system to change, it must be open. In a system of constant mass, the internal energy is equal to the heat present (Q) plus the amount of work done (W). Hence the equation: U = Q + W.

This is exactly the same as the principle of the conservation of energy, which states that energy can only be converted, but never created or destroyed. All natural processes strictly conform to this law, and this brings us to the 2nd Law.

While energy can transform from one form to another, in all cases, the process is irreversible to a certain extent. The direction of flow of energy and the principle of entropy is the subject of the 2nd Law of thermodynamics.

Rudolf Clausius, founder of the concept of entropy, stated that:

heat cannot be transferred from body to a second body at a higher temperature without producing some other effect


the entropy of a closed system increases with time

These 2 statements gave rise to the concept of temperature (T) and entropy (S). Temperature determines whether heat will flow into or out from the system; entropy is the measure of the unavailability of energy in a system to do work.

Lord Kelvin explains the Law further:

It is impossible to convert heat completely into work in a cyclic process.

What can we infer from their statements? Firstly, heat will tend towards flowing from a system of higher temperature to one of lower temperature. And when this process occurs, usable energy is irreversibly lost, and thus the overall entropy of the system increases. For the entropy of one system to decrease (aka increase of usable energy), energy must be transferred from a second system of higher temperature, and at cost of increased entropy of the second system. Based on this Law, Lord Kelvin put forward the idea of the “Heat Death of the Universe” as a possible way in which the Universe may come to an end.

In short, the definition for the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is: the law that states the direction of heat flow and dictates that overall entropy in a closed environment increases over time.

Carnot's Heat

Carnot's Heat Engine diagram (modern) - where heat flows from a high temperature TH furnace through the fluid of the "working body" (working substance) and into the cold sink TC, thus forcing the working substance to do mechanical work W on the surroundings, via cycles of contractions and expansions.

The Sun as the One and Only Source of Energy

Creationists claim that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is true, and thus evolution cannot occur. This claim however, is based on a misunderstanding of the Law. Let’s take a look at Bible Life Ministries version of the claim:

The second law of thermodynamics proves that organization cannot flow from chaos. Complex live organisms cannot rearrange themselves into an organism of a higher form as claimed by evolutionists. This is scientifically backwards according to the second law of thermodynamics, which has never been proven wrong. Scientists cannot have it both ways. The second law of thermodynamics is proven to be correct. Evolution lacks any scientific proof. The Theory of Evolution is contrary to proven scientific truth.

The problem with their claim is that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics works only with in closed system, and the Earth (or more specifically, the Earth’s surface) is not isolated. Meet the Sun.

The Sun, a massive ball of hydrogen plus helium is constantly undergoing nuclear fusion, a process that gives out massive amounts of energy to the Solar System. This is can only be expected as heat always flow from a place of higher temperature to one of lower temperature, as stated in the 2nd Law. Because of this, the Earth’s entropy is maintained, and thus is able to support evolution, and life itself for that matter. Without a source of energy, both creationism and evolution is not possible, as life would never have appeared. Of course, maintaining the Earth’s entropy requires an increase in the Sun’s entropy.

Another point is that evolution would still be possible even if the entropy of the Earth’s surface is increasing (given that it is slow enough). The mechanisms of evolution is largely based on genetic mutations + natural selection. Genetic mutations will surely occur, regardless of entropy levels. An increase in usable heat/energy will not prevent mutations. Natural selection is also quite unrelated to the Laws of Thermodynamics. It is simply the process in which individuals which are better adapted to the environment and are fertile get to to pass their genes on. These processes aren’t directly related to thermodynamics (see Definition of Thermodynamics). If I am wrong on this, please tell me :-). Thanks.


In this post, I have given the truthful explanation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is shown to be unrelated to the processes that drive evolution, but even if it did, evolution would be possible, as the Sun is still there. So no, creationists, stop using that refuted-a-thousand-times tactic.

The next post will address Bible Life Ministries claim that the chromosome count is unchangeable, and that species are “fixed”. Stay tuned.


(2005). Oxford Dictionary of Science Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press Inc. pp 812-813. ISBN 978-0-19-280641-3

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Next: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 8 - The Fluid Nature of Chromosomal Count)