Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thorium nuclear reactors

Nuclear reactors tend to use uranium as a fuel. This is beneficial for those who desire the plutonium byproduct of such reactors. While modern designs improve safety of nuclear power, we are left with the problem of radioisotopes to dispose of. This can be offset somewhat by using thorium as fuel. China is researching such reactors.
Imagine how the nuclear energy debate might differ if the fuel was abundant and distributed across the world; if there was no real possibility of creating weapons-grade material as part of the process; if the waste remained toxic for hundreds rather than thousands of years; and if the power stations were small and presented no risk of massive explosions.

What you're imagining could fairly soon be reality judging from a little-noticed development in China last month.
Though apparently molten-salt reactors can run not just on thorium, but nuclear waste.
While nearly all current nuclear reactors run on uranium, the radioactive element thorium is recognized as a safer, cleaner and more abundant alternative fuel. Thorium is particularly well-suited for use in molten-salt reactors, or MSRs. Nuclear reactions take place inside a fluid core rather than solid fuel rods, and there’s no risk of meltdown.

In addition to their safety, MSRs can consume various nuclear-fuel types, including existing stocks of nuclear waste. Their byproducts are unsuitable for making weapons of any type. They can also operate as breeders, producing more fuel than they consume.
A breeder reactor is one in which isotopes present in the fuel that do not undergo fission are converted by neutron capture to isotopes that do undergo fission. Thorium reactors are breeder reactors as fissile thorium isotopes are minor so non fissile thorium must be continuously converted to uranium.

Salt reactors are also more fail-safe.
If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan.
And thorium is extremely abundant:
The earth’s crust holds 80 years of uranium at expected usage rates, he said. Thorium is as common as lead. America has buried tons as a by-product of rare earth metals mining. Norway has so much that Oslo is planning a post-oil era where thorium might drive the country’s next great phase of wealth. Even Britain has seams in Wales and in the granite cliffs of Cornwall. Almost all the mineral is usable as fuel, compared to 0.7pc of uranium. There is enough to power civilization for thousands of years.
So perhaps cleaner cheaper nuclear energy is on the horizon? Personally I am keen to see hydrogen fusion.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Monday quote

Worrying does not take away tomorrow's troubles. It takes away today's peace.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sovereignty and freedom

Arminians are convinced that God can be sovereign while his creatures have freewill; sovereignty being a state of rulership and not exhaustive control. The Calvinist struggles with this having a concept of sovereignty that means that nothing occurs outside the will of God, all things that occur are made to occur by God (even if indirectly) because they are aligned with one of the wills of God.

But if we concede that there are some things that God cannot do—things that are impossible for God to do—then why is sovereignty excluded from this consideration?

It is impossible for God to make 2 + 3 = 7. There are some things that God cannot do because they contradict logic. God cannot lie. There are some things God cannot do because they contradict his nature. If an attribute of love is such that it must be given freely and voluntarily, then God cannot make someone love him, nor can anyone else cause people to love them. Certainly God can influence people in a way that is conducive for people to love him. But if love must have a voluntary component (something I happen to think but have not proven) then it remains possible for some people to choose to reject God. It would be impossible for God to make them love him. If it is an intrinsic impossibility that God make people love him, then their refusal to do so does not limit God's sovereignty in the same way that God's inability to make 2 + 3 = 7 does not limit his mathematical prowess.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Monday quote

Atheism is not the result of objective assessment of evidence, but of stubborn disobedience; it does not arise from the careful application of reason but from willful rebellion. Atheism is the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality. In short, it is sin that is the mother of unbelief.

James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Age estimate for chromosome divergence

JS Allen mentioned a couple blog posts concerning the time the Y chromosome may have gone thru a bottleneck.
The second refers to the article A Revised Root for the Human Y Chromosomal Phylogenetic Tree: The Origin of Patrilineal Diversity in Africa.

Dienekes first post suggests that the divergence of the Y chromosome was 40,000 years ago, the second mentions recent data pushing the date back to 140,000 years. This material is something that Dienekes follows, whereas I am only moderately familiar with it. The journal article covers material on genetic anthropology and my reading on genetics is focused more on disease, but I wish to identify a few assumptions that mean I do not agree with the dates suggested.

My post was on the variation of autosomes, sex chromosomes and mitochondria based on a bottleneck of 3 brothers and their wives. The issue of dating a bottleneck, while related, is a different question. The later requires knowledge of
  1. the variation currently and the likely original sequences; and
  2. molecular clock rates.
Both have significant assumptions and I differ from the authors in several of them.

The article mentions that they attempted independence with regard to 1 then they discuss assumptions relating to using chimp Y chromosomes and human X chromosomes
We obtained a strict-consensus MP [maximum parsimony] tree, which was rooted with respect to either orthologous chimp MSY [male-specific region of the human Y chromosome] sequence... or paralogous human X chromosome sequence...
This hardly seems independent. I reject the use of other species sequences as having relevance, and I do not know whether my assumption of 8 X's to 1 Y at the bottleneck affects the second. So the resulting phylogeny is not necessarily correct.

The problem with molecular clocks is they are not independent either. Dienekes mentions a calibration of 70,000 years for a split but what is this based on? More to the point, in his 2010 post he raises the problem with molecular clocks.
Age estimates vary overall between 6,530 years and 535,755! It is obvious that fast/medium mutating markers provide unbelievably small age estimates (most of them are less than 20 thousand years). However, if we limit the analysis to slow mutating markers, most age estimates are in excess of 300,000 years!

In short, you can arrive at any age estimate you want, by choosing a particular mix of slow and fast mutating markers.
He says (correctly) that we mustn't average different clocks. He rejects throwing them in the trash and argues for identifying the correct clock.
But that is equivalent to having a number of different clocks, some of which tell you that 3 seconds have transpired, and some which tell you that it's been a whole minute. The rational thing to do is not to take an average, but to throw the clocks in the garbage, or figure out what's wrong with them.
I agree, but we are likely to differ on what we consider reliable. I suspect mutation is more rapid than accepted by evolutionists, if so then the clocks are going faster than anticipated. I would like to see some data obtained with fixed dates and generation numbers.

These are just 2 problems with the interpretation. There is also the interbreeding question, the targeted DNA changes versus random mutation, the incompleteness of the data (both complete Y DNA and adequate sampling of the populations). Further data will be interesting.

The greater issue is that (hidden) assumptions markedly affect interpretation. While  interpretations such as given in the paper will be seen as evidence for the evolutionary scheme, so much of the evolutionary paradigm is assumed that it becomes very circular. This is not intrinsically bad, but lack of awareness of assumptions can have the effect that you think your interpretation is stronger than it really is. This can be a potential issue for creationists also, though given their strong focus on identifying underlying assumptions, and that they are working within a paradigm they generally disagree with, I think they are often more attuned to this issue.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Postdiluvian genetic variation

This article from Robert Carter raises some interesting ideas concerning genetic variation.

People have 2 sets (diploid) of chromosomes. Many of our genes are identical, but several have variants. Consider the maximum variation at creation. Adam had 2 sets of autosomes, 1 X chromosome, and 1 Y chromosome. Eve was made from his side. God could have kept the autosomes, doubled the X chromosome, and removed the Y chromosome. But God could also have created Eve with her own set of chromosomes. Several genes may have been identical, but if we consider the maximum, then the original variation in Adam and Eve was (a maximum of) 4 alleles for each gene in all the autosomes, 2 from Adam and 2 from Eve; 3 alleles in the X chromosomes, 1 from Adam and 2 from Eve; 1 allele in the Y chromosome, from Adam; and 1 mitochondrial allele per gene from Eve. This assumes that all Eve's mitochondria had identical DNA. Sperm have mitochondria but these are not incorporated into the embryo so only the female's mitochondrial DNA is passed on.

Mutation and recombination would have increased the number of alleles in Adam's descendants to the time of the Flood. Carter discusses the genetic bottleneck at the time of the deluge and mentions the maximum number of variants this would entail.

On the Ark we have Noah, his wife, their 3 sons, and their sons' wives. The genetic material of the sons is determined by their parents, and the genetic material of the wives is potentially independent; depending on their relationship to Noah's bloodline. Thus we have 4 sets of autosomes from Noah and his wife, 3 X chromosomes, and 1 Y chromosome, 2 mitochondrial lineages. The sons could potentially inherit all 4 autosomes, both Xs from their mother (but not their father's X), 1 Y from their father, 1 mitochondrial from their mother. The sons' wives could have 6 autosomes, 6 Xs, no Ys, and 3 mitochondrial. Considering the offspring of Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives there is a maximum of:
  • 10 autosomes;
  • 8 X chromosomes;
  • 1 Y chromosomes; and
  • 3 mitochondrial chromosomes.
The mitochondria of Noah's sons (from their mother) will not be passed on. The mitochondrial variation may be somewhat more as several mitochondria are passed on and they may not all be identical within a single person.

The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth encompasses the entire human race. Carter considers the variation we currently find.
[We] are potentially looking at a huge amount of genetic diversity within the X chromosomes of the world.

Does this fit the evidence? Absolutely! It turns out that Y chromosomes are similar worldwide. According to the evolutionists, no “ancient” (i.e., highly mutated or highly divergent) Y chromosomes have been found. This serves as a bit of a puzzle to the evolutionist, and they have had to resort to calling for a higher “reproductive variance” among men than women, high rates of “gene conversion” in the Y chromosome, or perhaps a “selective sweep” that wiped out the other male lines. For the biblical model, it is a beautiful correlation and we can take it as is.

The evidence from mitochondrial DNA fits our model just as neatly as the Y chromosome data. As it turns out, there are three main mitochondrial DNA lineages found across the world. The evolutionists have labeled these lines “M”, “N”, and “R”, so we’ll refer to them by the same names. They would not say these came off the Ark. They claim they were derived from older lines found in Africa, but this is based on a suite of assumptions (I discussed these in detail in a recent article in the Journal of Creation). It also turns out that M, N, and R differ by only a few mutations. This gives us some indication of the amount of mutation that occurred in the generations prior to the Flood.

Let’s assume ten female generations from Eve to the ladies on the Ark. M and N are separated by about 8 mutations (a small fraction of the 16,500 letters in the mitochondrial genome). R is only 1 mutation away from N. This is an indication of the mutational load that occurred before the Flood. Given the assumption that mutations occur at equal rates in all lines, about four mutations separate M and N each from Eve (maybe four mutations in each line in ten generations). But what about R? It is very similar to N. Were N and R sisters, or perhaps more closely related to each other than they were to M? We’ll never know, but it sure is fascinating to think about.

One more line of evidence crops up in the amount of genetic diversity that has been found within people worldwide. Essentially, much less has been found than most (i.e., evolutionists!) predicted. The general lack of diversity among people is the reason the Out of Africa model has humanity going through a disastrous, near-extinction bottleneck with only about 10,000 (and perhaps as few as 1,000) people surviving. However, the reason for this lack of diversity is twofold. First, the human race started out with only two people. Second, the human race is not that old and has not accumulated a lot of mutations, despite the high mutation rate. Third, there actually was a bottleneck event, Noah’s Flood!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Monday quote

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.

CS Lewis

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Thoughts on time management

Douglas Wilson offers some advice on time management. I have often spoken of working smart, not (necessarily) hard. And that productivity is of more concern than hours worked. Although I appreciate Wilson's concept of fruitfulness over productivity which adds the dimension of usefulness to productivity, ie. there is no point in being extremely time efficient producing what is useless or detrimental.

I am also aware of the concept of diminishing returns. 1 hour of work may do a 50% job, but 2 hours may only add a further 25%. Those with perfectionist tendencies need to be aware that while some things require greater than 99% completion (eg. air traffic control), many do not (eg. housework) and can easily become time wasters. Wilson addresses this in item #3

Seven Thoughts on Time Management
  1. The point is fruitfulness, not efficiency. You should want to be fruitful like a tree, not efficient like a machine.

    But this fruitfulness is a function of God's blessing, and it is surrendered work that is blessed work. Seek that blessing, and seek it through concrete surrender. Such surrenders are not abstract. Put your Isaacs on the altar. Every interruption is a chance to surrender your work to the only one who can bless your work, particularly when the interruptions come from your kid wanting to play catch.

    We can see the principle with the sabbath and the tithe. Less blessed is more than more unblessed. 90% blessed goes farther than 100% unblessed. 6 days blessed are far more fruitful than 7 days unblessed.

  2. Build a fence around your life, and keep that fence tended. You should have a life outside your work, and your family should be enjoying that life together with you. Go to work at a reasonable, predictable time, and come home at a reasonable, predictable time. Keep your work on a regular schedule, not an absolute schedule. If the barn catches fire, allow that to interrupt your schedule. But if the barn catches fire three times a week, then perhaps some preventative thinking is in order. When you are driven by the tyranny of the urgent, most of the urgencies aren't. Let the fence hold.

  3. Perfectionism paralyzes. Chesterton once wonderfully observed that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. The sign of a fruitful worker is that he understands the critical difference between "that won't cut it" and "that is just fine."

  4. Fill in the corners. I typed the outline for this with my thumbs while sitting in a comfy chair at the mall while my wife was being a merchant ship that brings goods from afar. This was far more productive than staring vacantly at a neon Tito Macaroni's sign would have been. If you have a commute, use the time to listen to books instead of inane DJ chatter. If the books get too serious, or if you do, go back to the DJs.

    Do not despise how much can be packed into small corners. I live in a small town, and so my commute is four minutes, more or less. There have been times when I have arrived at the office with the same song playing as when I pulled out of the garage. And yet I listened to David McCullough's John Adams like that. It was a great steak, and cutting it into little tiny pieces did not diminish the flavor at all.

  5. Plod. Keep at it. Slow and steady wins the race. Truisms are true. Work adds up, provided you are doing it.

  6. Take in more than you give out. If you give out more than you take in, you will . . . give out. Your lake should have snowmelt streams running into it. Every vocation requires constant learning, constant development.

  7. Use and reuse. State and restate. Learn and relearn. Develop what you know. Cultivate what you have. Your garden plot is the same as it always was, so plow deeper. Envying the garden that others have cultivated plows nothing, and brings forth a harvest of nothing.

    Strive for deep conviction more than superficial originality, and deep originality will come. Your tomatoes will take the ribbon at the fair, provided you learned how to grow them in your own dirt.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

BBC anti-Christian?

A survey on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) showed that viewers consider the BBC biased:
Many people believe the corporation retains a politically Left-wing or “liberal bias” and that religions other than Christianity were sometimes better represented, according to they survey.
And specifically anti-Christian:
In terms of religion, there were many who perceived the BBC to be anti-Christian and as such misrepresenting Christianity.
A spokesman for the BBC denied the charges:
We have strict editorial guidelines on impartiality, including religious perspectives, and Christian programming forms the majority and the cornerstone of our religion and ethical output.
Yet a leaked report in 2006 revealed that the BBC was intentionally anti-Christian:
An internal memo, recently discovered by the British media, revealed what the BBC has been trying to hide. Senior figures admitted in a recent 'impartiality' summit that the BBC was guilty of promoting Left-wing views and anti-Christian sentiment.
At the time the a BBC executive acknowledged there were some concerns:
There was a widespread acknowledgement that we may have gone too far in the direction of political correctness. Unfortunately, much of it is so deeply embedded in the BBC's culture, that it is very hard to change it.
Why would the BBC think that the public will believe their reassurances they are treating Christians fairly when previous documentation shows otherwise, as per the executives' own comments? Public acknowledgement of this by the BBC after the fact hardly suggests that there is significant change since. And when the public see their ongoing anti-Christian programming with their own eyes….

Such bias is mildly concerning, though to be expected by those who reject Christianity; and most news sources are somewhat antagonistic to Christianity. However it is also concerning that that portray themselves as objective when they are not. This is doubly evil given they (the BBC at least) are themselves aware of their lack of objectivity and try to suppress it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Monday quote

He wants God's word to alleviate his distress; he does not want it to set his course. He wants that word for his relief but not for his rule; he wants to use but not to follow God's word.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Word became Fresh.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Increased productivity

I suspect many of the opinions expressed by Tapu Misa in this article are incorrect. I do not wish to discuss them save address this comment on wages:
For the first time in American history, rapid increases in productivity have not been accompanied by corresponding gains in wages; at the same time, the minimum wage has lagged behind increases in the cost of living.
It does not seem to me that increases in productivity should necessarily lead to increases in wages. It does seem that it should lead to an increase in standard of living.

Productivity gains should be sought. If a product at least equivalent in quality can be produced with lower cost in labour hours and source materials this is a good thing. As such the seller could make more profit per item. However in a competitive market the seller has an incentive to price the widget below that of his competitor to increase his market share. As such it may be that the profit per widget is unchanged though the cost of the widget to the consumer is less. Other manufacturers can introduce productivity gains and lower the cost of their widget, or improve the widget and sell a higher quality unit for the previous price.*

What I am suggesting is that increases in productivity should not automatically lead to an increase in profit which the socialists advocate be shared with the workers. Rather, in a competitive environment productivity gains should lead to decreased price.

But note that even though this does not increase wages, the standard of living can increase as these cheaper items cost proportionally less of one's income.


*I am aware that some productivity gains coexist with a lower quality item, though a significant drop in price may allow a much larger proportion of society to own items previously the domain of the rich. I am not advocating low quality, but some people may prefer a low quality item over the alternative—no item. And price drops are often proportionally greater than quality loss.

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