Monday, October 15, 2007

Atmospheric Science

There are some amazing films/animations of something called undular bore waves here. A wonderful piece when teaching about weather!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Hey! Someone linked to me!

Maybe not the best sort of link, but Mr. Baker is engaged in discussion with me about religion and atheism. Please let me know what you think of what he is saying, as well as me, so that I can broaden how I see his writings.

Update: Well, I had posted a response to Mr. Baker's rather nebulous attack on Christianity, but I see that he has not allowed it to post. Let me place my response here.

Why here? Because this is the blog of a Catholic father. Catholic apologetics is a very important activity and skill; I should engage in it and I should teach my children how to do it. Further, simply knowing how to argue and to counter bad arguments is a critical skill! From time to time I will place examples here to show how to make a point, how not to make a point, and how to spot faulty thinking.

For a little background on this particular bit, I tend to spend time going to anti-Christian websites and engaging in apologetics. If you are not familiar with the term 'apologetics' it means 'defense and promotion of the faith'. In an earlier writing Mr. Baker had claimed that terrorism is, effectively, an outgrowth of religion (I will skip some of his other errors in the piece). When I pointed out that atheist terror organizations had easily killed many more people than any religious extremists, he became a bit defensive.

If you visit that first piece and read through the comments you will quickly see that Mr. Baker engages in two tactics that can be seen as dishonest. the first is something usually called 'moving the goalposts'; Mr. Baker begins the thread of discussion that leads to the post that links here with the question

As for atheist terror organisations: they exist, but do they harm people on the scale of the religious G3?
While Mr. Baker had made other claims and queries, this is the statement the rest of the thread discussed. This is actually a very good question: can the deaths attributable to religion and religious groups be quantified? Can the same be done for atheists and atheist groups? If both are possible, then a comparison is possible.

Actions such as the Crusades, the Inquisition (as a whole), the Wars of Religion, and the Protestant with trials are some of the most intensively studied aspects of history. At the same time, atheist groups are relatively new and are mainly well-documented aspects of the 20th Century.

In other words, the data is there for comparisons. The results are unambiguous - atheism is a much more prolific killer than religion. Total deaths for the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Wars of Religion, the witch trials, etc. combined reach a maximum of no more than about 8 million people. And 8 million is certainly a high guess - the real total is probably about 6 million people. But I can be cautious and round up to 10 million. Since this begins roughly with the year 1000 AD, that is roughly 10,000 per year. While not a small number, it is less than 1/6th the number of people who died of the flu in America in 2003.

The death toll of Communism and Anarchism (both atheist ideologies) in the 20th Century was about 100 million. But since some sources differ, let us round that number down to make this sporting and cap the death toll of Communism at90 million. This also make the per-year math a touch easier since we are only looking at the 20th Century from about 1910 forward, meaning Communism killed people during that time at the rate of 1 million people per year. To put that in perspective, this means that for 9 decades Communism was, effectively, killing every man, woman, and child in modern-day Dublin every year (you can substitute Fresno or New Orleans if you are more familiar with those cities).

In other words, even a cursory glance at the data reveals that the actions of atheist groups has easily been no less than 10 times as lethal as the actions of religious groups, If you factor in the time element, atheism is 100 times more deadly than religion.

After I pointed this out Mr. Baker was kind enough to state (unwittingly) his second major false argument. Mr. Baker made these statements,
The people who committed those murders were deluded, they [did] not kill because they were atheists.
and, later,
I accept communist organisations, such as the Maoist Shining Path, have committed murder on a large scale. But did they do this because they were atheists? Clearly the answer is no. In the same way that most murders by religious fundamentalists often are not done because people believe in this, that or these gods.

This is good. Mr. Baker seems to be on the verge of realizing a major fault with his basic position, which is 'religion causes more deaths than anything else' The problem with that is that he, ultimately, associates any violence performed in association with religion as both illegitimate and the fault of religion. This ignores the historical facts of many events condemned by modern people (the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was about people breaking the laws of the Spanish King, not the laws of the Church; the Crusades were a counter-attack in an attempt to regain lands taken by armed might; the Wars of Religion were as much about the birth of the concept of nation-states as they were about religion; etc.). In other words, the very basis of Mr. baker's position contra religion is so broad that it is largely meaningless. More critically, if you respond in terms as broad (as Mr. Baker pointed out, not all deaths caused by atheists are because of atheism any more than the corollary is true for the religious) atheism 'loses' anyway.

Do these statements mean that Mr. Baker is going to realize that the topic he has chosen is much more complicated than he initially admitted?

No. See, he also says this,
The problem is that the religious G3 (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) through their acceptance of horrific Bronze Age texts actually condone these actions.
Ah, well. He was close.

What is the problem, you ask? Let's skip any potential errors in Mr. Baker's hermeneutics; let us also look away from any analysis of what various religious leaders and theologians have said. No, let us focus on the core "argument" he is making, to wit 'by accepting scripture religious people condone these acts of violence'. Let's also skip how he is continuing an earlier fault (some of that violence may have been legitimate) and ask a simple question.

How do atheists condone their actions? After all, Mr. Baker claims that these 'horrific Bronze Age texts' we religious adhere to allow us to justify past atrocities. I have shown very clearly that atheists have been engaged in similar or worse violence on a much more massive scale - how do atheists sleep at night?

Simple - through the acceptance of horrific 19th and 20th Century texts. The Communist Manifesto and the other writings of Marx and Engels; Mao's Little Red Book; Foundations of Christianity; these and other Communist works explain in stark, explicit terms that Communists are to oppose religion (the atheist element) and to export violent revolution.

As you can see, Mr. Baker's statements are both unsupported and unsupportable.

Books on Topics in this Post:

A look at the costs of Communism in the 20th Century

A solid look at what the Spanish Inquisition was really like - I own it

There are more books on apologetics, debate, and reason in my Amazon store.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

This weekend I took all four boys for a nature walk. We are lucky enough to have our property border undeveloped public land Therefore it is a simple matter to go through our back gate and into the Georgia woods and, after about 20 minutes, reach the shores of a lovely lake.

This time I also decided to begin the first in a series of wilderness navigation and survival lessons as part of homeschooling. I was in the US Army for 8 years and spent most of that time at tactical posts. Which means, really, I spent a lot of time in the forests, swamps, deserts, and mountains of the US and a few other places. I used to teach land navigation at my unit on Ft. Bragg and, to be honest, love simply being in wilderness.

200 yaards from your grill might not count as 'wilderness', but it is the right place to teach people the basics before you get there. I took my compass so that the boys could learn the first lesson - be ready. If you are planning on going into the wild, even just a 1/2 mile hike through forests to the lake, make sure you have at least the basic stuff you need, like real shoes and a hat.

The second lesson was - compasses don't lie. When I was teaching land navigation the #2 reason people got lost was they were sure that they decided they knew better than their compass. It sounds odd, but people tend to assume they know where they are going. When the compass disagrees with them, many people ignore the compass as 'wrong'.

After that, we settled into basic movement through the woods. The first 'trick' I taught them was to use the compass to pick a marching point. This is pretty simple; use the compass to decide which way you should go, then pick out an object that is in that direction and walk to it. This means you spend most of your time actually paying attention to your surroundings and very little time staring at a compass. The best type of compass for this is a lensatic compass. If you are new to using compasses, I suggest a cheap lensatic, like the military marching compass (link below). If you want a more rugged lensatic, then pick up the Brunton Classic (also linked below). The Brunton is twice the cost of the Military Marching, but it is easily 5 times tougher.

When we reached our first marching target (a tree, of course), I showed them the seond trick - routinely pause to look behind you. This isn't fear of zombies, this is to familiarize yourself with the return route. Many people do a good job of getting to somewhere then get lost coming back. This is more psychology; people assume, subconsciously, that they already know the terrain and are less careful when attempting to retrace their steps. In fact, if you don't stop to look around and to specifically look behind you, you have little idea what the return trail looks like.

This is closely related to the number one reason people got lost in land navigation training; they simply weren't paying attention. They were looking at their compass; they were looking at their map; they were looking straight ahead. Then, when something distracted them (and something always does), they had no idea where they actually were. When travelling in the wilderness, look around. Pay attention. Notice funny-looking trees, deadfalls, and patches of sun. Check the time of day, the position of the sun, and the slope of the land. It sounds like a lot, but humans are very good at remembering this stuff - if they bother to look.

The next lesson was blazing a trail. No, this doesn't mean storming through at high speed, or even being first; in the wilderness, 'blazing' means 'marking a trail'. Sometimes obstacles keep you from following a compass bearing exactly. As a matter of fact, even in the desert you usually have to move in something rather unlike a straight line. To make sure you can retrace your route, you mark where you changed directions. This is also a help if you end up lost or hurt - others can follow your movements until the point you stopped marking your trail.

There are three rules to blazes: make them visible; make them clear; and make them for the worst.

Make them visible means to put them in the open. I once saw someone put a mark at ground level 4 feet off the trail!

Make them clear means indicate clearly what direction you were going to go when you made the mark. An X on a tree means very little. An arrow means a lot.

Make them for the worst means make them so they are there when you come back. A line of leaves on the ground is not a blaze; one light breeze and they are all gone.

These simple things were all we covered this time. We were able to travel about 1/8th of a mile through trees and brush and then retrace our path virtually exactly. While this may sound simple, it is the best way to start; simple and short.

More to come!

Products Mentioned in the Article:

A good starter compass

A Rugged Compass - I own one

Books Related to this Practical Homeschooling Topic:

A Great Resource - I own it

Maybe the Best Book on Navigating Without Tools - I own it