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September 05, 2006 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-09-05

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6A - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006


Harvard professor
takes on more
cosmic issues


A young boy looks at a display of flowers for international media personality and environmentalist Steve Irwin, who died on the Great Barrier
Reef yesterday
Crocodile hunter Irwin
killed y stigrays barb

Man who made a career of
dangerous encounters with
animals fell victim to one
CAIRNS, Australia (AP) - Steve Irwin
died doing what he loved best, getting too
close to one of the dangerous animals he dedi-
cated his life to protecting with an irrepress-
ible, effervescent personality that propelled
him to global fame as television's "Crocodile
The 44-year-old Irwin's heart was pierced
by the serrated, poisonous spine of a stingray
as he swam with the creature yesterday while
shooting a new TV show on the Great Barrier
Reef, his manager and producer John Stainton
News of Irwin's death reverberated around
the world, where he won popularity with mil-
lions as the man who regularly leaped on the
back of huge crocodiles and grabbed deadly
snakes by the tail.
"Crikey!" was his catch phrase, repeated
whenever there was a close call - or just about
any other event - during his TV programs,
delivered with a broad Australian twang, mile-
a-minute delivery and big arm gestures.
"I am shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's
sudden, untimely and freakish death," Austra-
lian Prime Minister John Howard said. "It's a

huge loss to Australia."
Conservationists said all the world would feel
the loss of Irwin, who turned a childhood love
of snakes and lizards and knowledge learned
at his parents' side into a message of wildlife
preservation that reached a television audience
that reportedly exceeded 200 million.
"He was probably one of the most knowl-
edgeable reptile people in the entire world,"
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus
Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, told ABC's "Good
Morning America."
In high-energy programs from Africa, the
Americas and Asia, but especially his beloved
Australia, Irwin - dressed always in khaki
shorts, shirt and heavy boots - crept up on lions,
chased and was chased by komodo dragons, and
went eye-to-eye with poisonous snakes.
Often, his trademark big finish was to hunt
down one of the huge saltwater crocodiles that
inhabit the rivers and beaches of the Outback
in Australia's tropical north, leap onto its back,
grabbing its jaws with his bare hands, then
tying the animal's mouth with rope.
He was a committed conservationist, run-
ning a wildlife park for crocodiles and other
Australian fauna, including kangaroos, koalas
and possums, and using some of his TV wealth
to buy tracts of land for use as natural habitat.
Irwin was in the water at Batt Reef, off the
Australian resort town of Port Douglas about

60 miles north of Cairns, shooting a series
called "Ocean's Deadliest" when he swam too
close the stingray, Stainton told reporters.
"He came on top of the stingray and the sting-
ray's barb went up and into his chest and put a
hole into his heart," said Stainton, who was on
board Irwin's boat, Croc One, at the time.
Crew members administered CPR and rushed
to rendezvous with a rescue helicopter that flew to
nearby Low Isle, but Irwin was pronounced dead
when the paramedics arrived, Stainton said.
"The world has lost a great wildlife icon,
a passionate conservationist and one of the
proudest dads on the planet," Stainton said.
"He died doing what he loved best and left this
world in a happy and peaceful state of mind.
He would have said, 'Crocs Rule!' '
Marine experts called the death a freak acci-
dent. They said rays reflexively deploy a sharp
spine in their tails when frightened, but the
venom coating the barb usually just causes a
very painful sting for humans.
"It was extraordinarily bad luck," said Shaun
Collin, a University of Queensland marine
neuroscientist. "It's not easy to get spined by a
stingray, and to be killed by one is very rare."
Irwin was born Feb. 22, 1962, in the south-
ern city of Melbourne to a plumber father and
a nurse mother, who decided a few years later
to chase a shared dream of becoming involved
in animal preservation.

God subject of
study for leader of
planet definition panel
(AP) - Too bad about Pluto
- the planet, not the Disney dog
- and that humiliating descent to
mere "dwarf planet" status in our
solar system.
Don't blame Harvard Univer-
sity's Owen Gingerich. He led the
International Astronomical Union
panel on how to define a planet,
which wanted to keep tiny Pluto
among 12 planets on an expanded
official list. Instead, the world's
astronomers voted down Pluto and
recognized only eight full-fledged
When not politicking about
planets, Gingerich is the sort to
ponder more cosmic questions. For
instance: Why do any planets exist
at all? Or self-aware organisms
such as humans, given the spec-
tacular odds against this? And: Is
the biblical God involved?
He wonders about scientific spe-
The number of grains of sand
on all of Earth's beaches is vastly
exceeded by the number of stars in
the universe. But the total of stars is
vastly exceeded by the unimagina-
ble connections within-any human
brain (100 billion neurons, each
linked with 10,000 other neurons).
All the gold ever mined
throughout human history would
fit into a cube measuring only 18
yards per side having the same
weight as the steel that American
mills produce every four hours.
Gingerich's book on all this,
"God's Universe" (Harvard Univer-
sity Press), is, like Pluto, relatively
small. Yet it's big in ambition. The
author is both a believing Christian
and a world-class scientist, now
retired as a Harvard historian of
science and senior astronomer with
the Smithsonian Astrophysical
It appears just after "The Lan-
guage of God" (Free Press), a best-
seller in which faith gets similar

defense from another Christian
and distinguished biologist, Fran-
cis Collins, director of the interna-
tional Human Genome Project.
Both Gingerich and Collins
believe in God as the creator of the
universe, yet neither advocates the
much-debated "intelligent design"
movement. This theory holds that
earthly species are too complex to
have occurred without guidance
from some intelligent power (for
instance, God).
That's religion, not science,
Gingerich objects, although as a
believer he's personally impressed
with divine intelligence as he sur-
veys the astonishing structures of
the cosmos. He also thinks Dar-
win's theory of evolution has more
potential for explanation than dev-
otees of intelligent design do.
Gingerich says the universe and
life on Earth make more sense if
the divine will designed things in
a purposeful way. But this "can be
neither denied nor proved by scien-
tific means," any more than science
explains realities such as love or
Scientists, whether believers or
atheists, use the same methods in
the laboratory. "Science cannot
rule out miracles" but miracles
aren't part of scientific explana-
tions, he says. The fact that scien-
tists don't refer to God "does not
mean that the universe is actually
godless, just that science within its
own framework has no other way
of working."
He complains that some fel-
low scientists overreach - and
build support for intelligent design
- when they turn evolution into an
argument for atheism. That's ideol-
ogy, not science, he maintains, and
should be resisted for the same rea-
son that intelligent-design thought
doesn't belong in science classes.
"I am personally persuaded that
a superintelligent Creator exists
beyond and within the cosmos"
and that "encouraging the exis-
tence of self-conscious life is part
of the Creator's design and pur-
pose," he said.


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