Water Before Earth

I spotted this science story in the Los Angeles Times. I don’t suppose we think very much about water. Its just there. But some astronomers suspect that much of the water we drink  has been around before the Earth was formed.

Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system — even older than the sun itself.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

“It’s pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system,” said study leader Ilse Cleeves, an astronomer at the University of Michigan.

This finding suggests that water, a key ingredient of life, may be common in young planetary systems across the universe, Cleeves and her colleagues say.

I would think that water, in some form, would be rather common throughout the universe. It is made out of hydrogen and oxygen, two of the more common elements. There is more information about how the astronomers have come to their conclusions in the article.

I do not usually try to reconcile the text of the first chapters of Genesis with the findings of modern science. That is best left to those more learned in science and theology than I am. I am simply content to read Genesis to find out who created the universe and I turn to science to learn how He did it. Still, I am occasionally struck by how the writer of Genesis seems to have a better understanding of creation than any Bronze Age shepherd has any business having. Consider the very first verses.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. 

The first thing God created was light. The earliest event in the universe we can have any knowledge of would be the Big Bang. If you have the right instruments you can still see the light of creation. But it is the second and third days that this story reminds me of.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

God created water before the dry land. Evidently water predates the planets. Now, plants are shown to be created before the Sun and Moon. This presents a problem since plants cannot survive without the Sun. But instead of plants, think the most primitive forms of life, perhaps bacteria, or even life simpler than bacteria. Some scientists believe that life may have arisen in space and traveled throughout the universe before landing on Earth. If this panspermia hypothesis is correct, then it is possible that life might also predate the formation of the solar system. There is no evidence in favor of this hypothesis. No actual life has been detected in interstellar space, though organic molecules, such as amino acids, have been.

But this is all speculation on my part and I really should leave this to wiser minds.

Americans Love Obamacare

When I first saw the article titled The Truth is, Americans Love Obamacare in the Los Angeles Times, courtesy of Real Clear Politics, I thought that the author, Michael Hiltzik, must be delusional. After all, almost every poll has shown that Americans hate Obamacare, usually by fairly wide margins. As I read the article, I saw that Mr. Hiltzik is not delusional, but instead is displaying the sort of condescension often seen on the left when large numbers of Americans do not support their policies. This is the sort of attitude that leads them to write books called What’s the Matter with Kansas, in which they explain that the people who oppose them simply are too stupid to know what is good for them. Here is the article.

Among the many delusions guiding the Republican campaign against the Affordable Care Act, surely the most consistent is the idea that the public detests the law and is clamoring for repeal.

Here’s the truth: The American public loves Obamacare, with as many as 88% in favor, according to one survey.

How can that be, when polls regularly show a plurality of respondents with an “unfavorable” view of Obamacare? (In a September Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, the difference was 43% unfavorable to 39% favorable.)

The answer, of course, is that most Americans have no idea what’s in the law. In the Kaiser survey, 57% said they didn’t have enough information to know how it would affect them. When they’re asked how they feel about specific provisions, however, they’re almost always thunderously in favor.

Here are figures from Kaiser’s March 2013 poll:

Tax credits for small businesses to buy insurance: 88% in favor.

Closing the Medicare drug benefit doughnut hole: 81% in favor.

Extension of dependent coverage to offspring up to age 26: 76% in favor.

Expanding Medicaid: 71% in favor.

Ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions: 66% in favor.

Employer mandate: 57% in favor.

If you agree with those provisions, congratulations: You love Obamacare. Yet when respondents are asked how they feel about “Obamacare,” they’re against it.

The one provision that always polls negatively is the individual mandate. Unfortunately, the mandate is necessary if you’re going to outlaw exclusions for preexisting conditions. Without it, you’d bankrupt every health insurer in the country, because people wouldn’t enroll until they’re sick.

The only possible conclusion from all this is that the law’s opponents have succeeded brilliantly in marketing “Obamacare” as something it’s not, and its defenders have failed miserably at communicating what it is.

But that defines the history of Republican-versus-Democratic messaging over the last couple of decades. It’s the same stunt that brought us “death panels,” or that redefined the estate tax as the “death tax.”

The key moment was the 2010 midterm election, when Democrats ran away from their healthcare achievement as if it were poison, leaving it to their GOP opponents to place their own brand on the law; they should have stood up proudly for their handiwork.

The harvest is today’s government shutdown, which is predicated on the voters’ supposed hatred for a law they actually support.

See? Americans love Obamacare. They are all just too dumb to know it.

Mr. Hiltzik is correct in stating that without the individual mandate, none of the rest of Obamacace works. Insurers do not exclude people with preexisting conditions because they are run by mean people who like to torture puppies and kittens. They might very well be mean people who torture animals, but they know perfectly well that if they didn’t exclude preexisting conditions, no one would bother to get health insurance until they had such a condition. If you are going to make health insurance available to all, you are going to have to make people get it while they are healthy.

It is possible that rather than being fools who have been taken in by the Republican’s brand on the law, the Americans who oppose Obamacare may be quite reasonably concluding that however much they may like certain aspects of Obamacare, they are not willing to be compelled to purchase health insurance, whether they want it or not, in order to gain those parts they like. They may have all too clear an idea of what the law entails. The Democrats who ran away from their achievement might have known a thing or two about what the people thought that Hiltzik has been missing. After all, they jobs depend on how well they know what the voters want.

As for the death panels, I have stated before that death panels are going to have to be part of any healthcare system in which the government provides “free” healthcare. If Obamacare works out the way I think it will, it will not make healthcare more affordable. The combination of increasing demand and stable or decreasing supply will cause costs to skyrocket. If the free market is not used to balance supply and demand through pricing close to the actual costs, than healthcare will have to be rationed by the government or by the providers. This means that people will have to be refused treatments that are not deemed worthwhile, thus death panels. It doesn’t matter if Obama and every single Democrat supporting Obamacare have no intention of ever instituting death panels. The economics of the situation will ultimately demand it.

God Made Man or Man Made God?

Here is an op-ed piece from the Los Angeles Times that I have been meaning to comment upon. There is a discussion here about the possible origins of religion. The scientific research that the authors of this article refers to is interesting and may well shed light on certain aspects of human cognition and behavior but I think their conclusions, that this research shows there is no God or gods, and the religious impulses are simply the result of natural selection and should be discarded, go beyond the realm of science and are unwarranted. Here are some excerpts.

Before John Lennon imagined “living life in peace,” he conjured “no heaven … / no hell below us …/ and no religion too.”

No religion: What was Lennon summoning? For starters, a world without “divine” messengers, like Osama bin Laden, sparking violence. A world where mistakes, like the avoidable loss of life in Hurricane Katrina, would be rectified rather than chalked up to “God’s will.” Where politicians no longer compete to prove who believes more strongly in the irrational and untenable. Where critical thinking is an ideal. In short, a world that makes sense.

In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion’s “DNA.” They have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence (including “imaging” studies of the brain at work), that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around. And the better we understand the science, the closer we can come to “no heaven … no hell … and no religion too.”


In addition to these adaptations, humans have developed the remarkable ability to think about what goes on in other people’s minds and create and rehearse complex interactions with an unseen other. In our minds we can de-couple cognition from time, place and circumstance. We consider what someone else might do in our place; we project future scenarios; we replay past events. It’s an easy jump to say, conversing with the dead or to conjuring gods and praying to them.

Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection.


Beyond psychological adaptations and mechanisms, scientists have discovered neurological explanations for what many interpret as evidence of divine existence. Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger, who developed what he calls a “god helmet” that blocks sight and sound but stimulates the brain’s temporal lobe, notes that many of his helmeted research subjects reported feeling the presence of “another.” Depending on their personal and cultural history, they then interpreted the sensed presence as either a supernatural or religious figure. It is conceivable that St. Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus was, in reality, a seizure caused by temporal lobe epilepsy.

The better we understand human psychology and neurology, the more we will uncover the underpinnings of religion. Some of them, like the attachment system, push us toward a belief in gods and make departing from it extraordinarily difficult. But it is possible.

We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct. We owe it to ourselves to at least consider the real roots of religious belief, so we can deal with life as it is, taking advantage of perhaps our mind’s greatest adaptation: our ability to use reason.

I don’t suppose that it could possibly occur to the authors that the reason that humans are “hard-wired” for religion might possibly be that there is, in fact, a God, and that He has provided the means for us to know Him.

The fact that religious impulses and feelings can be tracked by scanning the brain is no great surprise.  Nor is the concept that religion, in many cases, encourages moral behavior and is an advantage in natural selection. There have been many surveys which have shown that religious people tend to be happier and better adjusted. It goes beyond the findings of science to conclude from these facts that there is no God or that reason and religion are incompatible and frankly, I think that it is inappropriate to attempt to use the mantle of science to promote what are simply the personal opinions of the writers.


I notice that most of the related articles provide by wordpress seem to be by atheists gleefully reporting that Science shows that God does not exist. Here is one that rebuts the article from the Loss Angeles Times better than I could.