Friday, March 20, 2009

Setting the record straight

I got into it over religion at The Smallest Minority again -- even though I keep promising myself I won't, because I just don't have the time or energy -- and the same points end up being repeated ad nauseum. I have to give up on this at least until the semester is over, but I want to take a moment to lay something to rest once and for all.

First, I am a devoted Christian. I used to be an atheist, and I was pretty hostile toward religion. About ten years ago I came to believe in a rational, loving God. Three years ago, I converted to Christianity. I believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God whose sacrifice opened the door to our salvation. I am also an astrophysicist with a Ph.D. from a respected institution, and have no difficulty whatsoever reconciling my religious beliefs with my work as a scientist. I believe that the universe is 14 billion years old, give or take a billion. And for the record, I believe that life forms have gradually changed from the less complex to the more complex over the history of the Earth, which is approximately 4.6-billion years old. I believe these things, because the evidence overwhelmingly supports them.

Second, I know a lot of atheists, and a few anti-theists. Most of them are exceptional people: intelligent, moral, decent, and just generally all-around good people. Of course, I would like them to convert, but that's between them and God.

Now, here's the sticking point. I strongly believe, based on the evidence, that there can be no such thing as a moral atheistic society. It has never happened. It isn't happening now. The USSR, China, North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia -- all obscenely horrifying places. There has never been a moral, prosperous, progressive nation that is atheistic. A rational person has to look at this and accept that it means something. Of course, logically, it doesn't rule out the possibility that there could someday in the future be a moral, prosperous, progressive society that's atheistic, but then again, socialism might work and Obama might end up being a terrific president. Are you going to count on it?

Pointing this out in a debate is risky, because someone inevitably makes the leap that because I acknowledge the obvious -- that there are no moral atheistic societies -- I must think all atheists are immoral, and that anyone who doesn't live in a Christian society is immoral and backwards. I've never said that, I've never believed it, and I never will. You can most certainly have atheists who are moral individuals. I know several. But I stand by the conviction that it doesn't work on a societal level.

I am not a bigot. I know that moral, intelligent, talented people are born everywhere, not just in Christian societies -- and, sadly, I have to admit that there are some really nasty, backwards so-called Christians out there. But in non-Christian societies, moral, intelligent, talented people are like seeds dropped on pavement, their goodness doesn't take root and grow. Of all the places in the world, why do huge numbers of people immigrate to the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia? These are all nations with a shared Christian heritage based on the English Protestant faith -- the same faith that ended the worldwide slavetrade, and gave rise to the industrial revolution, science, and individual rights -- and they incorporate the good aspects of many different cultures until the overall culture becomes a beneficial blend. It works, because Christianity is the fertile ground upon which the healthy seeds of humanity can grow and mingle and flourish. That's why Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Shintoists, Buddhists, Confucianists, and atheists can come to these places and prosper.

Spiritually, I am committed to my belief in God. Politically, I am committed to the principle of freedom. I want my freedom, and, more importantly, I want your freedom, and that means the freedom not to be Christian and even to be anti-Christian. But I will persist in pointing out that the latter is counterproductive. I consider any conservative/libertarian atheist to be a valuable political ally, but I will forever argue that the Christian faith should be acknowledged as the source of freedom, because failure to do so only chips away at the foundation of that freedom.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fuzzy Objects

Galaxy M66 imaged at 10 PM local time last night with the physics department's 16" refracting reflecting telescope + CCD camera. This is a stacked image of five 80-second exposures:

Not bad for a small telescope in a city. Here's what it looks like with images taken through color filters on a much nicer telescope

M66 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation Leo. It's relatively nearby at a distance of 35 million light-years. At this distance, its apparent angular size is 9 minutes of arc -- one third the apparent size of the full Moon -- which makes it about 90,000 light-years in diameter. The bluish hue of the spiral arms is indicative of star formation, where lots of massive, hot stars are being created in high-density regions of molecular hydrogen gas and dust.

My astronomy students will be taking images like the first one for their semester projects, including at least eight other galaxies. Last night was a test run to see how well the instrumentation is working. I'll post the student images in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Husband + alcohol + bravado = 17 stitches + major concussion*.

This is one of those rare times when I understand -- I mean really understand -- why some women want to marry other women. Or metrosexuals.

Thank God for hard Finnish heads. Now I need to get some sleep.

[*I know what you're thinking. This has nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day.]

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bison Armory is Almost There!

We're just about to go live. The The Bison Armory website is ready to go, and we're just waiting for our barrels to arrive. We will post news here regarding barrels and components as soon as we know anything so that you will be updated. Once you can see the web store, that means we're open for business, and you can buy right over the internet.