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Sunday, January 31, 2010


Gravensteen is one of the castles of the Count of Flanders. It's located in the middle of Gent (Ghent in English) and it's an excellent example of an early medieval castle (extensively restored).

Anyone descended from William the conqueror is also a descendant of the early counts of Flanders (Baldwin IV, V, VI, Arnulf II)1 since William married Matilda of Flanders, the daughter of Baldwin VI (1030 - 1070). These early counts built a wooden fort on the site of the present castle. The present stone structure dates from about 1180 [Gravensteen].

I especially liked the back of the castle where the kitchen was located because it hasn't been completely restored and you get an idea of what Gravensteen must have looked like for most of the last five hundred years.

Even though it was a cloudy day, the view from the ramparts was spectacular. Gent is a beautiful city.

We spent a great deal of time in the torture chamber and Ms. Sandwalk took lots of pictures of the various instruments used to "persuade" the prisoners. She also got pictures of the guillotine that was used in the late 1700's and early 1800's.

Here's one of the more pleasant images.

[Photo Credits: top [Wikipedia], all others are by Ms. Sandwalk.

1. Assuming, that is, that you are a descendant of one of his legitimate children.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Yesterday we took Zoë on her first major outing. We visited the site of the battle of Waterloo. Here's a photo of Jane, Michael, and Zoë in front of the entrance to the visitor center located on the ridge overlooking the farms of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. This was the location of some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire battle (Ney's cavalry charge and the attack of the Imperial Guard).

Today there's a huge artificial hill on the site. You can climb the stairs to the top and see the entire battlefield.

The last time I visited Waterloo was 35 years ago with our niece and nephew. Ever since I've wanted to take my own kids to see this famous site and yesterday was the day for Jane and my new granddaughter. My son Gordon will be so sad that he missed this battlefield () but since he'll be here in a few months I'm sure his sister will take him to Waterloo.

For more pictures, see Family Outing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Difference between Truth and Framing

Chris Mooney is at it again. This time he address the question What Should Science Organizations Say About Religion? Answer: A Lot.

It's the accommodationist debate all over again although this time it's more focused. What should scientific organizations say about the compatibility of science and religion? It seems like an question with an obvious answer. Since there is considerable debate about whether science and religion are compatible then there can't be a definitive answer. Why would any scientific organization claim that science and religion are compatible? It's not a scientific question and it's not a true statement. The correct statement is that philosophers are debating the issue. It may be true that science and religion are compatible or it may be true that science and religion are not compatible. That's all that scientific organizations should say.

Chris Mooney thinks that scientific organizations should not tell the truth. He says that in the interest of American politics these organizations should lie about the compatibility issue. They should say that science and religion are compatible. It's called "framing."

I call it lying.
Aware of this context, groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) take a stance likely to help some religious believers reject what they’ve been told from the pulpit, and move toward a more moderate stance on science and religion–in essence, from anti-science fundamentalism to middle-ground reconciliationism. To this end, NCSE states something factually true and indeed, undeniable: that not every religious person thinks science and religion are incompatible.

The veracity of this statement is not really open to debate. The issue here is simply whether such people exist, and of that there’s no doubt whatsoever. In this blunt factual sense, at least, science and religion are compatible–they are reconciled all the time by actual living, breathing human beings. You might take issue with the logical basis for such reconciliation in a particular mind, but you can’t deny that it happens regularly.
Wow! According to this kind of "framing," science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism because it's undeniable that there are YEC's who are scientists. There are actual living breathing human beings who have no problem reconciling science and Genesis. I wonder if Chris Mooney would be comfortable if NCSE and NAS declared that science is compatible with the Bible?

Of course he wouldn't. Chris Mooney only wants scientific organizations to lie according to his version of reality.

A Philosopher's View of "Darwinism"

Most people think of "Darwinism" as equivalent to "evolution" but that can't be right. There are some mechanisms of evolutionary change—like random genetic drift—that clearly don't fall under the general beliefs of Darwin and his modern followers.

In today's terminology, Darwinism refers to a worldview that emphasizes natural selection as the most important mechanism of evolutionary change. Some extreme Darwinists even deny that change by random genetic drift counts as evolution.

Those of us who adhere to a broader view of evolution are called "pluralists" because we we consider several different mechanisms of evolution and several different levels of evolutionary change.

Jim Lennox is a philosopher. He has written a revised version of the "Darwinism" entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [Darwinism]. Now we all know that philosophers can be wordy, if it can be said by a normal person in two paragraphs then a philosopher can't possible write anything less than a small book. However, at the very least you expect to see a conclusion that makes sense. Is "Darwinism" a viable position in the 21st century? What does "pluralism" mean?

And wouldn't you expect a serious discussion of adaptationism and how it relates to Darwinism? I would.

Read the entry and see if you can decide whether "Darwinism" is a good synonym for "evolution."

[Hat Tip: John Wilkins]

Monday, January 18, 2010

Epigenetics and the Calico Cat

This is our friendly calico cat. She lives on the farm where we are staying. Almost all calico cats are female—do you know why? It has something to do with epigenetics.

See: Calico Cats—it's one of my most popular postings.

Can anyone explain how some very rare calico cats might be male?

[Photo by Ms. Sandwalk]

Name This Tree

Seriously, what kind of tree is this? It grows in Belgium.

[Photo by Ms. Sandwalk]

Who Does This Remind You Of?


[Photo by Ms. Sandwalk]

Monday, January 11, 2010

Herent Belgium

We're staying in a town called Herent, in Belgium. Our apartment is in a renovated manor house on a working farm (goats, chickens, ponies, cat).

Herent is a few kilometers north of Leuvan and only 20 minutes from Jane, Michael and our new granddaughter Zoë.

It's an easy drive back and forth except for the snow and Belgium drivers. Today we're off to our first babysitting job!!!!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Critical Thinking

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy posted this video from QualiaSoup. It's one of the best descriptions of critical thinking I've ever seen. Critical thinking is what we're supposed to be teaching our students in school and university.

We're not doing a very good job.

Homeopathy and Avogadro's Number

Avogadro's Number, or it's more modern equivalent, Avogadro's Constant, is 6.022 × 1023 mol-1.

There's a new website called "Homeopathy: There's nothing in it" that explains why Avogadro's Number is important in understanding why homeopathy is a fraud.

[Hat Tip: Phil Plait]

Zoë Jane

This is my new granddaughter, Zoë Jane. Congratulations to my daughter Jane and her husband Michael. In a few hours we'll be flying to Paris then taking a train to Brussels to visit them. Meanwhile, there are more pictures at The First Picture's on Ms. Sandwalk's blog and a video of her first bath on Jane and Michael's blog [Zoë's First Bath].

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Key Darwin and Design Science News Stories of the Year

The people at Access Research Network have compiled a list of the best stories of 2009. These are stories that lend support to the idea that God exists and that he plays an important role in creation of the universe.

The stories are supposed to fall into two categories; anti-science stories that cast doubt on modern scientific explanations, and stories about evidence supporting intelligent design creationism.

Here's the list from: “The Key Darwin and Design Science News Stories of the Year”. Judge for yourselves how many fall into each of the two categories.

  1. The Modern Synthesis is Gone
  2. Cell Motors Work in Concert
  3. Early Large Galaxies Stun Cosmologists
  4. The Ida Hype and Bust
  5. Walking White Blood Cells
  6. Signature in the Cell
  7. Cells Use Cloud Computing
  8. Peppered Moths Oscillates Back to Gray
  9. Reverse Engineering Biological Designs
  10. Cambrian Explosion Continues to Challenge Materialistic Theories
  11. The Collectivist Revolution in Biology
  12. Failed Assault on Irreducible Complexity
  13. Intelligent Input Required for Life
  14. The Edge of Evolution Confirmed
  15. The Ardi Hype and Bust

Communicating Science

The primary goal of science writers and science journalists is to be effective communicators of science. However, they have had little impact on the general public over the past few decades since the level of science literacy has barely budged.

Most citizens have little idea of how science works and many reject outright the basic fundamentals of science.

Having failed to achieve their goal, and finding themselves irrelevant when it comes to making a profit (largely because of their own failure), they are now looking for someone to blame. Chris Mooney has decided to blame scientists for not being science journalists. See his latest contribution at On issues like global warming and evolution, scientists need to speak up. He doesn't really mean "speak up" as scientists, of course. What he means is that scientists should learn how to "frame" and fudge their position in order to please the general public. Making friends with theists and promoting religious scientists is supposed to help.

What's interesting about this debate is that science writers like Chris Mooney are convinced they know how to teach the general public in spite of the fact that science writers—as a profession—have not been successful in the past.

Why should scientist listen to them?