Monday, December 29, 2008


Hot Air links to this video of a computer simulation of an asteroid collision with the earth. It's best watched full screen with the captions on. The asteroid in the sim is about 300 miles in diameter (about as wide as Pennsylvania is long):

The video notes that this is believed to have happened about six times in the earth's history. One such collision, which struck more of a glancing blow to the earth, is believed to have ejected enough molten rock from the earth's crust to have formed the moon. Another impact, smaller than the one depicted, is believed to have wiped out the big dinosaurs.

Such collisions would be even more frequent were it not for the fact that the earth orbits the sun in the same plane as the large outer planets, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus. These, as well as our large moon, act as cosmic vacuum sweepers whose powerful gravity sucks debris into themselves preventing it from striking the earth. This is one of the many facts about life on earth that often gets overlooked in discussions of the possibility of finding life in other solar systems. Any planet which would give rise to life has to meet an extraordinary number of conditions, among which is that it has to be shielded from impacts such as this one by larger planets in the same solar system.

Few, if any, other planets in the galaxy, or even in the entire universe, meet all the criteria necessary to sustain life which is why scientists Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee titled their book on the subject Rare Earth.

Until just a decade or so ago, scientists pretty much accepted the principle of mediocrity which held that the earth was an unexceptional planet of an unexceptional star situated in an unexceptional galaxy. It was believed that such characteristics must be common in the universe and that therefore life, too, must be common. With the dawning realization, however, that the earth is anything but ordinary and that living things require hundreds if not thousands of specific conditions unlikely to be found together in any one place anywhere else in the cosmos, scientists have of late had to change their thinking, and the principle of mediocrity is being silently laid to rest.

The earth is an extraordinary place. One might almost think, if he didn't know better, that it was all intentionally set up that way.


What Africa Needs

Matthew Parris at The Times Online is an atheist which makes this article rather remarkable. He writes, surprisingly but correctly, that the best hope for Africa is Christianity. Here's part of his essay:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

After discussing how Africans are enchained to a kind of group think that reveres the strongman and how the typical African resigns himself to his wretchedness and adopts a stultifying passivity toward life and its challenges, Parris says:

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know-how that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Of course, Christians have been saying for two thousand years that Christianity provides a liberating worldview that nothing else, certainly not materialistic atheism or tribal polytheism or animism, does. It's good that some non-believers are finally seeing for themselves and telling others that it is indeed so, but it reminds me of the closing line of Robert Jastrow's God and the Astronomers when Jastrow, talking about the arduous trail of scientific discovery that led finally to the conclusion that the universe exploded into being ex nihilo just as Christian thinkers have been saying for two thousand years, says:

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

For "scientists" substitute "secular liberals" and you have the situation in Africa that Parris describes.

HT: Hot Air


Hacker Wars

If anyone thinks that if Israel would just be reasonable and give the Palestinian Arabs all they want, i.e. put a gun to their collective head and pull the trigger, there'd finally be peace on earth and good will toward men they should read this. If it weren't so serious it'd be funny, especially the last sentence:

The war that worries most people in the Middle East is the one going on between Shia Iran and Arab Sunnis. This conflict ultimately takes over every other conflict. For example, Iran has been trying to get a Cyber War going against Israel. Prizes were offered for the most daring attacks on Israeli web sites by Moslem hackers. But the effort went sideways last year when some of the Shia hackers began attacking Sunni websites in retaliation for some Sunni attacks on Shia sites. For the Shia, this was also payback for the increasingly anti-Shia tone of Sunni mass media. This, in turn, was in response to Iran's nuclear weapons program, and increasingly belligerent Iranian claims that it should be the leader of the Islamic world.

For the last three months, Shia and Sunni radicals have escalated their attacks on each other's web sites. What really got things going was a Shia attack on the two main web sites for Sunni radical religious propaganda (including al Qaeda) on September 11, 2008. Sunni hackers retaliated shortly thereafter by defacing 300 web sites belonging to Shia clergy and religious organizations. Shia hackers then came back with more attacks on Sunni clergy, media and religious sites. The two main Sunni radical propaganda sites, and, have been down most of the time since September 11. Since some 80 percent of Moslems are Sunni (versus about ten percent Shia), the Shia soon began taking more damage than they were dishing out, by a margin of more than two to one.

At first Arab media and religious leaders pleaded for the hackers to stop. Some chastised the hackers for fighting fellow Moslems, rather than going after infidels (particularly Israel.) But Moslem hackers don't like tangling with the Israelis, who have a much deeper bench in the hacking department.

Meanwhile, Iran has been trying to get Moslem hackers united against Israel. For two years now, the Hamas office in the capital of Iran, has sponsored a hacking contest. Whoever makes the most spectacular attack on the most important Israeli web sites (belonging to a government agency or one of the major political parties), wins a prize of $2,000. Not that a lot of Moslem hackers need much encouragement for this sort of thing. But the Islamic radical groups have noticed that they are not getting the best hacking talent, and the Israelis typically respond much more forcefully. It has been found, however, that a prize, and a formal competition, tends to bring in the more skilled, if less religiously radical, Moslem hackers.

It was hoped that this contest would defuse the Internet based war between Sunni and Shia Moslems. Although most Hamas members are Sunni, Shia Iran is a major backer of Hamas. So it makes sense for Hamas to come up with something to stop the Internet war between Shia and Sunni Moslems, and unite everyone against Israel. It hasn't worked, and Israeli and Western counter-intelligence agencies appear to have joined in, making attacks on Shia and Sunni sites, and letting paranoia take its course.

Far be it from me, who can scarcely boot up a computer let alone hack into someone else's, to laugh at this kerfuffle, but the thought of Israeli and other Western operatives provoking the two sides to war against each other is kind of funny.