Archive for March, 2014

Answers for Eight questions for Evolutionists

he_who_is_nobody
he_who_is_nobody
Tue Mar 18, 2014 1:48 pm by he_who_is_nobody

(Ian Juby, seen here playing a scientist)

Last month Ian Juby asked eight questions for us silly evolutionists to answer. Here are my answers in the order they were asked.

 

 1) Let’s start at the beginning: How did the first life arise? If you have no life, then you have no evolution. Following the laws of science and nature, how did that first life arise?

 

We do not know, yet. However, saying that we do not know does not open up the question for Juby to insert a god(s). Modern science’s inability to answer this question completely is not a victory for magic (a.k.a. creationism).  However, I would encourage Juby to look into the field of abiogenesis. Lots of progress has been made in that field in the past decade.

 

 2) How do you explain the origin of Grand Canyon without a world wide flood?

 

Seeing as how a worldwide flood does not and cannot account for the Grand Canyon, I will give a truncated explanation for it. The layers one observes in the Grand Canyon were laid down at different times. Near the bottom of the canyon, one can easily see an angular unconformity, where the land was laid down horizontally, than uplift happened to one side raising that side higher than the rest. Erosion than happened, which flattened down the raised layers to an even plain, after that, more layers of sediment were laid down on top of the angular unconformity. Some of these layers are made up of limestone, which cannot form rapidly in an aquatic environment; others are made up of sandstone that had to have come from a vast desert. Both of those observations alone expose that the earth is not young and there was not a worldwide flood in recent history.

After all the layers were formed, the Colorado River started to make its way across the area were the Grand Canyon is now found. It was once a slow meandering river, which one is able to see when looking down on the Grand Canyon (it meanders around the Colorado Plateau). Slowly the Colorado Plateau uplifted making the Colorado River cut down into it more and more. This is how the Grand Canyon was formed.

Again, this is a truncated response, one could write a whole book about the history of the Grand Canyon.

 

 3) How do you explain the copious numbers of dating methods which point to a young earth, and a young universe?

 

One wonders what Juby means by copious, because as far as modern science is concerned there are no dating methods that point to a young earth or young universe. Perhaps Juby could point some out.

 

 4) What scientifically factual information can you supply to support your contention that the universe is billions of years old? Don’t give me your assumptions and theories, and don’t give me the speed of light problem because it’s also a problem for you, and I already answered it with my response. I want scientifically factual information.

 

Seeing as how Juby will not accept the speed of light (i.e. the only reason we can see stars billions of light years away is that their light had to travel billions of light years to get here) I guess we will have to settle for our observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, globular clusters, white dwarf stars and radiometric dating. All of those establish the universe to be billions of years old.

 

 5) How do you explain the origin of information, such as the information contained in the DNA, without violating the laws of thermodynamics?

 

Well, it would be nice if Juby defined information for us. Using the correct definition of information when talking about DNA (Shannon information), information can arise in a system without violating the laws of thermodynamics. No doubt Juby will take issue with this, but that is because Juby tries to equivocate the different definitions of information in his arguments.

 

 6) How do you explain the PRESERVATION of the information in our DNA over MILLIONS and MILLIONS of years, seeing as how thermodynamics is observably and quickly removing bits and pieces of that information in every single generation? 

 

Since Juby again does not define information, one can only assume he is talking about Shannon information. It is untrue to say that thermodynamics is removing bits and pieces every generation. Thus, this question is invalided because it is based off a flawed premise.

 

 7) How did sex arise? Seeing as how there are miriads of sexual reproduction systems in organisms, pretty much NONE of which are compatible with one another in reproduction. See CrEvo Rant # 13 Ian’s Sex Video for the quick low down on the problems you face in explaining this dilema. I’m not interested in sexual fantasies of how one system evolved into the other, I’m interested in factual, scientific evidence – observed changes, like any good scientist would expect of a theory.

 

Once again, we do not know the exact answer, yet. However much like the first answer I gave, science not knowing an answer does not make room for Juby’s god(s).

 

 8) Do you think your brain was intelligently designed? And if not, then how can you trust your thoughts if they are the result of unintelligent, undirected forces? Random chemistry?

 

This question is a vague attempt to insult proponents of evolution, and never fails to make me laugh when I see it. Of course our brains are not intelligently designed; they are a product of natural and sexual selection. However, just because they were not intelligently designed does not mean our thoughts are based on unintelligent, undirected forces. The reason we can trust our thoughts is based on knowledge that we obtain through experience or learning. Because we live in a natural world, were the laws of physics do not change on a whim, we can base our prior experiences and knowledge on the facts of reality in order to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Hat tip to Bill Needle for transcribing the questions used above. 

School reality in Austria

Inferno
Inferno
Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:00 am by Inferno

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time now but I never got around to it. I wanted to continue my politics series, but atm Austrian politics really sucks and I’d rather not talk about it.

In my last post on education, I briefly brushed on one astounding fact: Education is hereditary. I stated that “between 60-80% of learning achievement can be predicted by looking at the background of children”.

I won’t delve into why that is too much, but I want to explain how that creates problems for teachers.

I am currently teaching at a school in Vienna. It’s not a bad school at all, in fact I’m quite happy about the school’s infrastructure, the colleagues there, the children and of course the parents. All in all, I’m satisfied.

Could things be better? Of course they could. Our computers and printers are slow and old, our projectors hardly work at all and we’ve barely got enough space to work on. (About the size of an average computer screen, 1.5 if you’re lucky.)
Compared to Nordic countries, that’s nothing! In Sweden, I had my own desk and two cupboards. That’s about as much as our head mistress gets!

All that aside, there’s a much deeper problem with our education, one that can’t easily be fixed.

 

Let’s back up a little. A few decades ago, kids were still beaten. Kids were scared to go to school, but they went anyway. Kids had suffered through a damn lot.

And yet, they got good grades, learned a lot and essentially built what we have today: A (more or less) functional society with (more or less) good morals and a (more or less) slowly closing gender gap, with (more or less) little discrimination against people due to whatever reason… All in all it’s a good society, though of course there are still things we can improve.

However, kids were more polite, though that is of course not due to any innate quality of generations past, but rather because they feared the rod. In any case, teachers in those days had it much easier but used inadequate methods to teach.

Nowadays, we have the exact opposite. Teachers have the benefit of smartboards, neuroscience, excellent teacher training, readily available teaching materials and so on and so forth.

And yet, teaching is more difficult than ever. You have to make your subject not only more interesting than the other subjects, but you actually have to compete with video games, movies, taking drugs, drinking and even sex. Try doing that, making your subject more interesting than sex: Good fucking luck.

 

If that were the only problem, we’d be in trouble, but we would be able to fix it: Appeal to the parents, make them work a bit.

Here’s the real problem: Many parents, at least in Austria, think they know better than the teachers. I’ll give you an example. Last week, we talked about “animals” in class: Basic vocabulary, talking about them, etc. Possibly the easiest animal for a German kid to remember is “rat”. So I was surprised to see that a boy had written “ret”. While my colleague was teaching, I went up to him and asked him about that. Here’s the short discussion that ensued:

Kid: “My mom told me you spell it like that.”

Me: “Well that’s a problem then because that’s not the way it’s spelled. I studied English for a reason, did your mom? Look, here’s the book spelling it “rat”, here’s the dictionary, here’s…”

Kid: “I don’t care. My mom told me you guys suck anyway, so I don’t have to listen to you.”

Now this might be an isolated incident, but it’s still representative of the mentality many parents hold: Teachers are lazy, get paid too much and they know absolutely nothing. Here’s another example. We’re currently re-structuring the curricula at my teachers university college (PH Wien) and I volunteered to help. Needless to say we have no power to do anything at all, but we still meet regularly. During the first meeting, one of the participants (parents association representative) asked, and I paraphrase his long question: “How come, after all this training, there are still bad teachers?”

Now this, of course, betrays a wild ignorance of Gaussian distribution: Some people are very good, a lot are medium and some are very bad. Teachers training doesn’t get rid of the bottom percent, it just moves the whole curve a bit to the right, aka. towards the “better” part of the curve. However, there is a deeper message: Teachers need to be controlled, they need to be supervised, they need to be watched over.

On the whole, of course, I agree: Teachers should do their absolute best, just as doctors and firefighters and … should do their absolute best. No questions asked. However, that’s not possible without public support (aka money) and public support (aka supporting parents and society).

 

The third problem, and I’ll be sure to confuse you with this sentence, is migration.

“Wahhh, right wing scum.”

No, don’t get me wrong. The problem isn’t with migrants, it’s with how we accept migrants. This may be different in other countries, but migrants in generally aren’t welcomed in Austria: There’s a strong anti-immigration strain-of-thought, especially in large cities. If the only thing you tell migrants is that they’re lazy and that their language isn’t worth a damn, then we’ll have a society of people who think just that. If we tell people that only our language is important, then not only will migrant children lose their identity, but we’ll lose the ability (or willingness) to adapt to new cultures.

This may have something to do with our history: We’ve had a long-standing feud with the Ottoman Empire (aka the Turks) and we’ve been invaded more often than possibly any country on earth. (This may or may not be a slight exaggeration) We were once a mighty empire with loads of cultures where we didn’t have to fear diversity, now we’re a tiny country with no say in any matter. However, fear of diversity will kill this small country: Only through increased diversity and increased acceptance of it will we be able to hold our place.

Finally, it is exactly the wrong approach to tell children that their language isn’t worth anything: We must encourage them to learn their mother tongue, if only because mastery of one language will make mastery of a second language more probable. The earlier, the better; the more, the better. In short: If, as a foreigner, you want your kid to learn English, teach it your mother tongue first.

 

Jumping back to the beginning, I think I’ve identified a few problems with schools as they’re currently run:

1) School needs to be exciting, but schools nowadays are boring.

2) Society neither trusts teachers, nor are they seen as authority figures. Where respect and mutual aid used to be the norm, distrust and low-profile conflict are now much more common. Parents tell their kids not to trust their teachers because “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. Parents think they’re experts in education, simply because they have a kid and have read a few books on the subject.

3) Education isn’t as “interesting” a political topic any more. Screw what they said in “House of Cards”: Education isn’t anything that will capture votes. Or maybe it will, but after that we won’t do anything useful. I’ll have an entire post about that soon. *

4) Cultural identity and the benefits from it aren’t recognised as worth protecting, instead we want people to assimilate in a way that’s comfortable for us. Never mind what’s best for the kid, let’s think about what’s best for me.

These are just a few of the problems teachers in Austria (and probably also in other countries) face. I’m not saying that teachers are saints, of course not. Neither am I saying that they’re purely victims. I’m saying that we should be realistic about the challenges of teaching, that parents should support a child’s learning and that schools can’t work miracles. When in doubt, talk to your child’s teacher once in a while and formulate a plan how you can best support your child.

*There are many things I could talk about, but I think this will be the most interesting. I’ll be talking about current problems in schools (due to the system), current scientific investigations into the topics including possible solutions, and I’ll talk about how the state is trying to fix it: By doing the opposite of what experts are telling them, I might add.

If you have any questions regarding schools, school reforms, teaching practices, etc. I’ll be happy to answer.

Know Your Bones: March 2014

he_who_is_nobody
he_who_is_nobody
Mon Mar 03, 2014 8:36 pm by he_who_is_nobody

Last months challenge was apparently very easy. WarK was able to guess the correct answer within a matter of hours. However, later in the day Aught3 gave an even more correct answer.

 

Some kind of terror bird but not a moa :(

Diatryma?

Edit:
Dammit WarK!
How about Gastornis giganteus then? Just to try and be even more correct.

 

Aught3 is correct that this is Gastornis giganteus, formally known as Diatryma giganteus, however, Aught3 is incorrect in thinking that this is a terror bird (also, moas were not terror birds).

 

(Taken at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

 

Gastornis ranged across much of North America, Europe, and Asia during the late Paleocene and early Eocene 56-45 million years ago. It is largely believed that Gastornis was the apex predator of its day, like the “terror birds” that inhabited mostly South America. However, Gastornis and its relatives lack the curved beak and sharp-clawed feet found in their distant cousins, the “terror birds”. The lack of those features leads some paleontologist to believe that Gastornis may have been a vegetarian, using its large beak to crack nuts and branches.

 

Gastornis’s skull and large size (~2 meters) often lead it to be confused with “terror birds”. Gastornis is sometimes called a “terror crane” because it is allied with the wading birds (such as cranes). Often you will see the junior synonym Diatryma used in books or museum displays. The reason this happens, I believe, is because Edward Drinker Cope, a very famous U.S. paleontologist, gave it that name after discovering a large specimen near Cuba New Mexico. This critter is also the first dinosaur to appear in the “Know Your Bones” series.

 

Moving on to the new challenge:

 

 

(Taken at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

 

Thought I would give a challenging one this month. Good luck to everyone.

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