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Seven Quick Takes Friday 1

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I am jumping on a meme bandwagon: Seven Quick Takes Friday, hosted by Jen F. at Conversion Diary. Since this is a blog about science and faith, not a personal diary, I hope Jen will forgive me if my seven snippets consist of news, info, and thoughts about those subjects.


Gray nurse shark, aka sand tiger shark, at the Minnesota Zoo by Joe LencioniIf you grow your young in a uterus, but you have not evolved a placenta, how do you feed them? For the gray nurse shark, aka the sand tiger shark, the answer is incestuous cannibalism. Gray nurse shark pups in the womb eat each other for nourishment, so only two are born per pregnancy (females have two uteruses). Since they are endangered, marine biologist Nick Otway is trying to develop an artificial uterus for gray nurse shark pups. Back when I worked as an aquarium biologist, we had several of these huge sharks. They are quite docile despite their fearsome complement of teeth.

At right: Grey nurse shark at the Minnesota Zoo, courtesy Joe Lencioni. (CC) Some rights reserved.


Check out this video of comedian Stephen Crowder, hosted by the Raving Theist (formerly the Raving Atheist). He does an over-the-top parody comparing Planned Parenthood to a used car salesman.


From the world of physics (via Scientific American) comes a story about the continued dissonance between Einstein's special relativity and quantum mechanics. This particular story has to do with a principle of special relativity called locality, which conflicts with a principle of quantum mechanics called entanglement. Of note is a comment buried on page 4 of the online article:
The old aspirations of physics to be a guide to metaphysics, to tell us literally and straightforwardly how the world actually is—aspirations that had lain dormant and neglected for more than 50 years—began, slowly, to reawaken.

This is good news for philosophers who, like me*, view reality as a concrete thing and truth as absolute.

*Not that I am any kind of philosopher.


Shame on the New York Times for its headline, "For Catholics, a Door to Absolution is Reopened." The article is about the church's promotion of indulgences — which are decidedly not the same as absolution, and which have never had the door closed, having always been available. The Times notes that the tradition of indulgences is "one of the most complicated to explain," then proceeds to do a rotten job of explaining it. In particular is the omission of the crucial point that Purgatory is a process of purification, of making us more like God so we can enter his heaven, not a place in space-time where one serves a sentence of days or years. (Hat tip to Science and Religion News.)


Hubble photo image of Pluto and moonsWhen Pluto was removed from the list of planets, it became the first discovered member in a brand-new class of space objects: the dwarf planets. In a way, this is actually a promotion, not a demotion. But apparently a lot of people are emotionally attached to Pluto as a planet. In 2007, the State of New Mexico (home of Pluto's discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh) declared Pluto officially a planet. (Hat tip to Spaceports blog.) This reminds me of the apocryphal tale of one of the Appalachian states (Tennessee?) trying to declare the mathematical constant pi as equal to exactly 3.

At right: Image of Pluto and its moons by the Hubble Space Telescope (courtesy of NASA).


If you are Catholic, and the Pope himself told you to your face that you were wrong on some issue, would you reconsider your position? Apparently, Nancy Pelosi would not. She shows no signs of easing from her pro-choice stance despite a face-to-face reprimand from Pope Benedict XVI. One prays that at least a seed was planted.


Until now, the Alavesia fly was an insect known only from amber fossils from the Cretaceous period, before the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs and many other species. Now two species of living Alavesia have been found in Namibia and have been dubbed "living fossils" by the media. A completely new suborder of insects, the Mantophasmatodea, was discovered as well. There is still much we do not know about the mysterious world of living things. It's no surprise the new discoveries were insects; there are an estimated six to ten million species of insects, but only about a million have been described.

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