Archive for category Two Cents Tuesday

Two Cents Tuesday – Loyalty

To me, I think of two types of loyalty. The loyalty built between two individuals and the loyalty to certain ideologies. I was always taught loyalty was admirable, but these days I’m not so sure.

A true scientist or philosopher is never loyal to an idea or theory. They remain open-minded, for they never know when what they currently believed will be proven wrong. It is far easier to prove something wrong, than to prove something right and so, regardless of what we believe may describe the world today, we know some evidence may come to light that shows an idea to have been naive or ridiculously incorrect. If science is to be done faithfully, a scientist needs to retain their objectivity to both their data and their theories. The only loyalty to be had is that of ones commitment to performing an unbiased examination of the world around us.

Unlike science, religion is an arena in which there is loyalty to an ideology. Being loyal to a set of religious ideals is not a bad thing in itself, but what if that loyalty was at the cost of accepting evidence of the world around you? I was raised as a Christian and I see nothing wrong with the religious teachings of moral values. I do, however, recognize that there is much information in the Bible that is not suitable for our time (like, if you work on the Sabbath you must be put to death) nor to be taken as read (such as the world being created in 6 days). If you talk to many religious people they are not ignorant of evidence regarding the physical universe, such as the age of the Earth, nor do they take the Bible word for word. However, there are a number who do take the word of the Bible literally. Loyalty towards an ideology to this degree can be dangerous.

The insidiousness of loyalty to an ideology was no more strongly demonstrated than in the recent Nye vs. Ham debate. If you didn’t catch it, this was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham for Evolution vs. Creationism. The basic crux of this debate was whether Ken Ham’s creation model was correct. In his introduction to the debate Ken Ham pushed the idea that creation was the only possibility and said we should evaluate this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” He believes that the Earth is 6000 years old and will not accept any scientific evidence to the contrary. He believes, word-for-word, the history of our world as it is detailed in the Bible. He is loyal to his religion.

Loyalty and belief on their own are not an issue. People should be free to believe what they like. Even if we think they are wrong.

However, the real problem with this debate, the reason I say the loyalty expressed by Ken Ham was insidious is that in being so loyal to his religion he tried to diminish the value of science by insisting that secularists had hijacked the words “science” and “evolution”. He implied that science was it’s own religion. He said that by teaching evolution in schools we were indoctrinating our children in the religion of naturalism*. Ken Ham believes that by teaching evolution we (the secularist scientists?) are imposing our own ideologies and beliefs on our children; this belief in evolution that he makes tantamount to religious belief in a spiritual entity. Yes, there is belief in science, belief that we can deduce information about how the world works from a body of data. That is a far cry from the blind beliefs Ken Ham is trying to accuse scientists of. Ham is trying to push the idea that science is a religion itself so that he can justify superseding the teaching of evolution with that of creationism. His argument is that it is not right to allow one set of beliefs to be taught in our schools, but not the other. Let’s examine this closely.

Scientists are always looking for more information and do not just blindly believe something, there is no loyalty to their data or their theories, only a desire to keep looking and to keep discovering. Scientific theories are malleable, they change as more data becomes available. There is no religious indoctrination into certain beliefs when teaching science, there is only presentation of the current facts we have, presentation of the possible theories that could explain these facts and a clear message that scientific theories are always subject to change. In teaching science we create an environment where the support for certain theories is constantly being challenged as we attempt to discover more evidence of how our universe does and did work. Science teaches our children to think, question, test, and not simply accept everything they are told.

Teaching the creation model that Ken Ham puts forth requires asking our children to be loyal to a rigid belief system and asked to accept that the world was created in 6 days and that Earth is only 6000 years old. The only evidence they are presented with is the word of the Bible. There is no room for modification of that theory beyond what is documented in the Bible. There is no room for incorporating new evidence if it refutes this creation model.

Ken Ham’s belief in the creation model is born out of his loyalty to his religion.

Scientist’s belief in evolution is a result of constant debate over the possible mechanisms that could explain a huge body of data.

In which way would you rather have our children taught? Is loyalty always admirable, even when it means retaining a rigid view of the world regardless of any evidence presented to you?

*naturalism: the belief that only natural laws, like gravity, apply in the world and not spiritual or supernatural laws.


Two Cents Tuesday – Painting

The first thing I think of when someone says “painting” to me is the chemistry. In my younger years, I had the privilege to attend a lecture series on forensic analysis. I had originally thought that the talk on art fraud would be quite boring following the talks on arson and insurance fraud. How can you top smelling burnt articles to learn the differences between various combustable chemicals? Turns out that I could not have been more wrong; the one thing I remember most clearly from that day is the talk on art and the chemistry of the paints and canvases.

To me and you, a good copy of a painting could look like the real McCoy. With forensic analysis, hidden information, such as the true date range a pigment, varnish or canvas came from can be determined. Forensic scientists can do many things to date or verify the providence of a painting. Pigment dating. Carbon-dating. White lead dating. Infrared analysis. Microscopy. Two techniques that particularly impressed me where UV-fluorescence spectrography and X-ray diffraction and fluorescence. Certain paints and varnishes associated with historical developments have known responses to UV light, some fluorescing more than others, such that UV-fluorescence spectroscopy or spectrography can be used to determine which period a component of the painting does, or does not, come from. X-rays can also be used to determine the components of the paint and composition of the pigments; as art materials have advanced and new pigments have been developed, the purity or components present can reveal the likely age or exclude certain time periods where a pigment or component was known not to have existed.

Here is some more ways that can be used to investigate artwork. And, if you think ripping off and old master is a rare event, check out the case list of Freemanart Consultancy.

Foiling criminals who would try to dupe us with copies of great art, chemists do that…


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