Saturday, January 28, 2006

Reply to Bethgem's Questions.

Bethgem said...

"Note: the most accurate theory man has ever devised."

How do you know? I know little enough about this to be under the impression that it's only circumstantially experimentable (is that a word?). And mathematics indicates its veracity. Is that true?

Bethgem said...

Can you do a post, since you mentioned radioactive decay, dealing with carbon dating? I still don't quite understand how that works (or doesn't work). I know it's asking a lot...

Bethgem said...

Okay, I'm a moron. Obviously carbon isn't radioactive. Can you explain it anyway?

Replies to Bethgem. Esther, please read this! I'll tell you why later.

QED (Quantum Electrodynamics) is considered the most accurate theory man has ever devised. Why is that? Because the theory and experiment match up numerically to about nine or ten decimal places, which does not happen with any other theory.

You are right to call into question the veracity of science. As Gordon Clark was fond of saying, "Science is a collection of useful falsehoods." What he meant by that is that science is no means of arriving at truth. It can only give us approximations to the truth, and those approximations have predictive power, enough, as the engineers would say, for all practical purposes. Mathematics, on the other hand, I believe to be true in a manner quite beyond the capabilities of science. Mathematics is one gigantic "if-then." Start with these premises, come to those conclusions. Mathematics does not usually have as much to say about the premises as it does about the method of arriving at the conclusions from the premises. Mathematics is, among other things, the language of science.

About radioactivity. There are two major things going on here: the nuclear strong force, and the nuclear weak force. An atom is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons and neutrons together form the core of the atom, known as the nucleus. The strong force tends to hold the nucleus together, and the weak force tends to split it apart. Both the strong and weak force get stronger the larger the nucleus. So for uranium, e.g., the strong and weak force are both stronger than for helium (a much smaller nucleus). However, the weak force gets stronger faster, with increased nucleus size, than the strong force gets stronger. Eventually, given a big enough nucleus, the weak force overcomes the strong force, and the nucleus splits. This is radioactivity.

Now carbon 14 dating works something like this. First of all, let me explain something about the elements. In an atom, if you vary the number of electrons, then you are talking about different ions. If you vary the number of protons, you get different elements. If you vary the number of neutrons, you get different isotopes. Most importantly, if I add some neutrons to an atom, I don't get a different element, but I do get a heavier nucleus, and thus the balance of the weak and strong force shifts more towards the weak force, thus tending to make the atom more unstable, or more radioactive.

Now about carbon. The usual isotope encountered in nature is Carbon 12. Now since we are talking about carbon, that means there are 6 protons. Carbon always has six protons, because if you recall, the number of protons determines the element. If we're talking about carbon 12, then there must be 12 - 6 = 6 neutrons. However, you also find carbon 14 in nature, which still has six protons, but now has 8 neutrons. With me so far? Now carbon 12 is stable, but carbon 14 is radioactive, though it takes a long time for the average carbon 14 atom to decay, on the order of a few thousand years I believe.

As it turns out, scientists have observed that the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere has remained quite constant ever since we started measuring. So, and here is the crucial step and highly problematic, we extrapolate backwards and assume the ratio was the same a few thousand years ago as it is today. Some scientists are willing to go even farther back.

The next item to consider is that living things today have the same ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 as does the atmosphere around them. However, when they die, they stop getting any carbon infused into their carcass. In time, the carbon 14 decays, leaving only the carbon 12. This changes the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in their bodies. Since we know generally how fast carbon 14 decays, we extrapolate backwards by measuring the current ratio in some fossil or carcass. This gives us some measure of the age of the fossil or carcass.

The mathematics involved in the theory here is not extremely complex: straight-forward freshman calculus. What's hard is measuring the carbon ratio in whatever sample you're examining. Incidentally, scientists can only perform carbon 14 dating on things that were once alive. Other dating methods are not so restricted.

Carbon 14 dating makes many assumptions, which are rightly challenged by many scientists today. I would not trust any carbon 14 dating if applied to anything older than, say, 4000 years. Scientists have shown that its accuracy is highly suspect outside the date range of maybe 1000-4000 years. They even dated a deer that was 27 days dead, and calculated it had been dead for millions of years!

There are other dating methods, all based on the same basic idea. Another notable such method is rubidium-strontium dating. They all make the same sort of assumptions, and are thus subject to the same source of error.

Ok, there's my explanation of carbon 14 dating. Now, Bethgem and Esther: you are both non-technical people. How clear was my explanation? I am passionately concerned about communicating science clearly and effectively to the general public. So any criticism (I thrive on criticism) of my explanation I would greatly appreciate.

In Christ.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

A Very Strange Proverb

I was reading in Proverbs 22 for my devotional, and came across something so strange I had to post about it. It's verse 14, which in the ESV reads, "The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the LORD is angry will fall into it."

That's odd, I thought. Don't you? Isn't that incorrect grammar? "Mouth" doesn't match in number with "forbidden women." I thought I'd try the old King James to see what it said. That same verse reads, "The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein." There it is again, this mismatch of number. So now I was curious. Did every version translate it this way? The NIV does not. It reads, "The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the LORD's wrath will fall into it." The NASB also matches number, as does the NKJ. The old American Standard Version does not match number. So out of six translations that a conservative Presbyterian like me could trust, fully three of them have a mismatch in number, including my favorite translation, the ESV. Perhaps Lane could enlighten me as to what the Hebrew says; surely number is easily verified in the original.

What is the reason? If the best translation is a mismatch in number, what could this proverb be saying? Well, one possible explanation is that perhaps the identification of "mouth" with "forbidden women" emphasizes the "deep pit"-ness of them all. A mouth is a pit of sorts (for those teenagers out there that would be 'bottomless pits'). So the warning is against the mouth, which we know from other Proverbs will drip honey but conceal death. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Theory of Just War Applied to Conversation

I know what you're thinking: you're thinking of making a joke based on the juxtaposition of the words "war" and "conversation." Fine, whatever.

This is something my pastor, Chris Hutchinson, wrote up and gave me permission to post. I've found it quite helpful when I hear what I believe to be error and have a desire to correct it.

Incidentally, here is a web page which explains the theory of just war.

JUST WAR – as applied to conversation when confronting someone else with error.

1. Just cause. This is clearly the most important rule; it sets the tone for everything which follows. A state may launch a war only for the right reason. The just causes most frequently mentioned include: self-defence from external attack; the defence of others from such; the protection of innocents from brutal, aggressive regimes; and punishment for a grievous wrongdoing which remains uncorrected. Vitoria suggested that all the just causes be subsumed under the one category of “a wrong received.” Walzer, and most modern just war theorists, speak of the one just cause for resorting to war being the resistance of aggression. Aggression is the use of armed force in violation of someone else's basic rights.

Your point must be correct. – truth – Ephesians 4:14; 29.

2. Right intention. A state must intend to fight the war only for the sake of its just cause. Having the right reason for launching a war is not enough: the actual motivation behind the resort to war must also be morally appropriate. Ulterior motives, such as a power or land grab, or irrational motives, such as revenge or ethnic hatred, are ruled out. The only right intention allowed is to see the just cause for resorting to war secured and consolidated. If another intention crowds in, moral corruption sets in. International law does not include this rule, probably because of the evidentiary difficulties involved in determining a state's intent.

You motive must be correct – love – Ephesians 4:14; I Corinthians 13:2.

3. Proper authority and public declaration. A state may go to war only if the decision has been made by the appropriate authorities, according to the proper process, and made public, notably to its own citizens and to the enemy state(s). The “appropriate authority” is usually specified in that country's constitution. States failing the requirements of minimal justice lack the legitimacy to go to war.

The listener must be within your realm of influence or authority.

4. Last Resort. A state may resort to war only if it has exhausted all plausible, peaceful alternatives to resolving the conflict in question, in particular diplomatic negotiation. One wants to make sure something as momentous and serious as war is declared only when it seems the last practical and reasonable shot at effectively resisting aggression.

This does not apply as easily except that one need not rush to correct. Proverbs 19:2; Matthew 7:1ff; James 1:19.

5. Probability of Success. A state may not resort to war if it can foresee that doing so will have no measurable impact on the situation. The aim here is to block mass violence which is going to be futile. International law does not include this requirement, as it is seen as biased against small, weaker states.

Your listener must be ready to be corrected or you make things worse. – Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 27:14.

6. Proportionality. A state must, prior to initiating a war, weigh the universal goods expected to result from it, such as securing the just cause, against the universal evils expected to result, notably casualties. Only if the benefits are proportional to, or “worth”, the costs may the war action proceed. (The universal must be stressed, since often in war states only tally their own expected benefits and costs, radically discounting those accruing to the enemy and to any innocent third parties.)

Speak so as to be understood without condescension – Ephesians 4:2; 29.

I hope you enjoyed this, and find such wisdom in it as will be helpful to your conversation.

In Christ.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Structure of Physics

My dear brother Lane asked me to give an overview of math and physics in terms of the sub-disciplines of each field. I'll do physics now, and math maybe later. I think math is rather more difficult.

I. Physics
A. Elementary Particle Physics (deals with the tiniest particles known to man)
1. Quantum Electrodynamics (synthesis of quantum mechanics and electromagnetics). Note: the most accurate theory man has ever devised.
a. Theory
b. Experiment
2. Quantum Chronodynamics (synthesis of quantum mechanics with the nuclear strong force, the force that holds nuclei together)
a. Theory
b. Experiment
3. Electroweak (synthesis of electromagnetism with the nuclear weak force, the force responsible for radioactive decay; works against the strong force.) I believe this theory is also quantized, or sythesized with quantum mechanics.
a. Theory
b. Experiment
4. Quantum Field Theory (something of a unification of the previously mentioned theories; not yet a Theory of Everything (ToE))
a. Theory
b. Experiment
5. String Theory (highly theoretical attempt to integrate quantum mechanics, and hence all unifications up to date including those mentioned above, with the least understood force of them all: gravity. Of the four fundamental forces, electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravity, gravity is the least understood. There is no experimental side to string theory, because everything involved is much too small to observe with any existing equipment.) Note on Elementary Particle Physics: you are classified as either theoretical or experimental. You are also classified according to the energies you are working with. High energy, medium energy, low energy are the options.
B. Nuclear Physics (deals with nuclear forces and reactions including radioactive decay)
1. Theory
2. Experiment (includes nuclear engineering)
C. Solid State Physics aka Condensed Matter Physics (the origin of computers is here, along with superconductivity and phases (gas, liquid, solid))
1. Theory
2. Experiment
D. Astrophysics (deals mostly with gravity, special and general relativity, and cosmology; also includes astronomy)
1. Theory
2. Experiment
E. Optics (classical and quantum theories, wavelets, antennae, lenses, fiber optics, etc.)
1. Theory
2. Experiment
F. Mathematical Physics (this really doesn't fit right in with any of the previous categories, but it is extremely important. The term "physicist" wasn't invented until the 1800's; before that, everyone in physics was pretty much what we would now call a mathematical physicist. Also: these people are the theoreticians of the theoreticians. These people, for the most part, do not belong in the lab.)
1. Functional Analysis (deals with abstracting the notion of a function.)
a. Operator Theory
b. Abstract Spaces (metric, normed, Banach, Hilbert spaces)
2. Differential Equations
a. Partial Differential Equations
b. Ordinary Differential Equations
c. Integral Equations and Integro-differential equations
3. Special Functions (Bessel, Laguerre, Legendre, etc.)
4. Algebraic Methods (group theory especially)

Well, I think that's about it for now. I might revise this later.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Viva la Font!

I'm told that sans-serif fonts are better for Microsoft PowerPoint, which may well be true, but regular serious type should be serif. This is the truth, and anyone who thinks otherwise is... well, I'd rather not say. (Yes, I'm being a tad bit, only a tad bit, tongue-in-cheek.) My favorite font of all is Garamond. Everyman's Library uses it for many of their books.

In Christ.

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Cucumberland Island again

I realize that time in a day is limited. If you happen to be one of those people interested in my second blog, Cucumberland Island, I thought I might save you some surfing time by announcing that I plan to update that blog once a week: on Sundays or thereabouts. It seems an appropriate time; besides, I don't have time to post on it every day any more than you do to look at it every day. Toodles.

In Christ.

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Theology of Clothing

Why must we wear clothes? What is different about us versus Adam and Eve, who did not wear clothes? For that matter, why did Adam and Eve feel the need to make clothes after the Fall?

The more I have thought about it, the more am I convinced that the real reason is intimacy, or the lack thereof. Here is the reasoning.

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve first of all each had intimacy with God. Their relationship with God was unmarred. Therefore they had intimacy with each other, and that also was a right relationship.

Then came the Fall. Neither Adam nor Eve then had a right relationship with God; God cursed the relationship between them so that they no longer had intimacy. Because they did not have intimacy, they needed clothes. It follows by contraposition that if you do not need clothes when you are with someone (hopefully your spouse!), you must be intimate with that person.

Now we can see why it is immoral not to wear clothes. Not wearing clothes implies an intimacy. If you don't have that intimacy, then not wearing clothes is really lying. You're saying the intimacy's there when it isn't.

Where am I going with this? A little while ago, I posted a blog entry on female modesty. The present blog entry, to my mind, not only provides the theological reason for my previous comments, but also supports another conclusion: it is equally wrong for men to appear unclothed where there is no intimacy as it is for women. I'm not saying the consequences would necessarily be the same; I understand that men and women are different in how they react to visual stimuli. However, that does not change my line of reasoning here. It is still wrong for men to be naked. So, men: you need to dress modestly also! Furthermore, my little "rule" (please see my previous warnings about legalism) about neck to knees and not too tight seems quite as appropriate for men as it does for women. I realize this goes against the grain of modern culture, which certainly sees nothing wrong with half-naked men going about. I submit to you that 10,000 Frenchmen can still be wrong. Naturally, that does not necessarily make me right. But this is hopefully food for thought. I'd be interested in your ideas.

In Christ.

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Philippians 4:8 Revisited

Since there was such an underwhelming response to my Philippians 4:8 post (scroll all the way down to the bottom of my blog; it's the second-to-last, which means of course that it was the second blog entry I wrote), I thought I would throw this out for discussion.

In Ken Myers' book, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, the author makes an incredibly helpful distinction between three kinds of cultures: pop, folk, and high cultures. He proceeds to point out the various characteristics of each culture. His conclusion? He certainly does not say that Christians should never engage in pop culture, or enjoy it. He does not say that Christians should be snobs and look down on people who engage in pop culture. He does, however, say that Christians should spend most of their time in the folk and high cultures.

It might be that someone has written a critique of this book. I have not seen it. I would be surprised if anyone could really do a good job at it, because Myers has done his job so thoroughly. In my opinion, Myers is a keen cultural critic, and his message is highly important.

Incidentally, the link between my Philippians 4:8 passage and the book I've been talking about is that most of the ideas for my blog entry came from that book.

In Christ.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Blog

I wanted to investigate the implications of Pride and Prejudice for appropriateness of speech, but since there are so many chapters in that book, I didn't want to bog this blog down with all those posts. So I've started a new blog, Cucumberland Island. I hope you enjoy it! The link is over to the right.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Americans have got to be the most easily offended people groups in the world. I mean, think about it. If you get into a "discussion" with someone, and you happen to say something with which they disagree, they get all uptight about it. They somehow imagine that if you are attacking their views, you are attacking them. I guess they're not aware of various verses such as "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you" or "Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" or "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires."

What spurred this topic on was an episode of "Good Neighbors", a British show which has a man and wife deciding to leave the "rat race" and be self-sufficient. It is a very funny show. But one thing that interested me was in one episode where they have "transportation problems", i.e. no car. And their cart has just broken. So the wife, Barbara, decides to get a horse. The husband, Tom, says something like, "It's very sweet, but it's just not practical (or efficient, I forget which), is it?" He argues with Barbara, who sulks a little bit, but admits that Tom is right, and then life goes on as normal. Perhaps even more importantly, Barbara defends the decision to get rid of the horse over and against her dear neighbor, Mrs. Leadbetter, who tries to get Barbara to be "liberated." But Barbara is loyal to Tom, and defends the decisions he makes. It really is heart-warming to see a marriage on TV that works that well. In any case, most American women would have been rather offended that her husband argues with her, and comes right out with such a statement as, "It's just not practical, is it?"

Why do people ignore those verses I mentioned above? And please understand I am not excluding myself from all these accusations. The answer: the same old tired old reason people have been bitter, proud, angry, jealous, backbiting, etc. for millenia. People are sinful. They sin because they are sinners. And they need the gospel.

So let's say you are a Christian; you have the gospel. You should be one who is exceedingly difficult to offend. I find it helpful to think of things this way: if someone says something I don't like, it's either true or not. If it's true, then I need to change to become a better person; furthermore, this person might actually be trying to help me be a better person. Therefore, I should love them for that. If it's not true, then it has no hold over you. You can just let it wash over you. There's no need to dwell on it.

Of course, you will need God's grace to do this well; pray earnestly for it. This is part of your sanctification.

So next time someone says something you don't like, instead of thinking of suing them, you can lengthen your lifespan by not worrying about it unless it's true. Then you can lengthen your lifespan by following the advice.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Recent Wall Street Journal article

My Dad (again) brought home a Wall Street Journal article talking about population. It really is amazing, isn't it, how wrong the liberals are about population? Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, has certainly proven himself a false prophet on... nearly every count.

One of Ehrlich's ideas was that the population would outgrow our resources. This has proven laughably false. According to the article, a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman is needed to maintain the status quo, not even to increase or decrease. The American birth rate is currently about 2.07, and shows every sign of declining, except in red states. Interestingly, Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest birth rate, and Bush won 25 out of 26 states with the highest birth rate. This is known as the Roe effect, or also conquest by the cradle.

At this point, I am nearly convinced that if a couple is capable of having more than two children, and they decide not to, they are disobeying the Dominion Mandate in Gen. 1:28. God didn't happen to say whether the resources would be enough. He said to go and do this.

Another interesting point the article made was about Western culture. It's not that Italians (about the lowest birth rate in the world: about 1.1. They're halving their population rapidly.) will run out of food; food is going to run out of Italians.

In my opinion, the real reason the population bomb idea is a myth is that while it's true more people require more resources, it's much more true that more people can invent new ways of more efficiently managing the resources they have such that resources actually increase. I mean, imagine if fusion power ever got off the ground!

In Christ.

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The American Enterprise

My Dad just got an introductory issue of The American Enterprise, a (what else!) conservative magazine of ideas. It had an hilarious review of the year 2005 by James Lileks. I thought I would quote one or two exceptionally funny snippets for you.

Pope John Paul II dies. To the horror of many, his successor turns out to be Catholic.

Iran announces it will no longer allow inspectors into the Khomeini Memorial Peaceful Nuclear Research Facility for Hastening the Destruction of Israel. European diplomats threaten to take the matter to the U.N. Subcommittee of the Task Force for Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report. But the group's next meeting isn't until 2007, and it must first take up the horror of Israel's security fence. Iran promises to allow inspections in exchange for 500 million Euros, payable in coins of enriched uranium. The E.U. agrees, with the condition that the interest rate on the loan will be adjusted upward if Iran makes nuclear bombs. If they actually detonate a bomb there would be an immediate balloon payment, make no mistake about it.

The 1,587th death in Iraq provokes no major display of eye-catching graphics in the Western media, as it is not a round number.

John Roberts is nominated to the Supreme Court. The snarkblogs point out that he wore plaid pants in the '70s, and that his children may yet. He is confirmed nevertheless. There are tense moments, however, when Senator Feinstein attempts to plumb his feelings as a man and father. This seems to be a new standard for top jurists. Roberts refuses to profess that he would powder the bottom of the Bill of Rights, tuck it in, leave a light on, and play new-agey music softly while he read a book in the next room, one ear cocked should the Constitution wake up crying because it had a nightmare about an emanation chasing a penumbra. He is confirmed nevertheless.

Hope you enjoyed.

In Christ.

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