How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

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jdogmoney
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How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby jdogmoney » Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:59 am UTC

[By the way, I'm not a scientist by training, I'm still in high school...but I'd like to think I have the scientist's mind.]

The science in question is evolution.

Generally, a well-accepted theory, right?

Well, a youth pastor friend of mine doesn't subscribe.

Now, this guy has answered a few questions of mine about Christianity and religion, so, when he posted a blog about ID and evolution, (a subject of some familiarity to me), I thought I'd see what he said.

Oh, dear.

[Note: the question I'm asking, before you are bombarded with text, is am I being reasonable enough, but still clear as to the facts of the situation?

The original blog:
[wall of text warning]
Spoiler:
[Title:]ID not evo

Evolution is easily refuted if a person is honest about a few things.

1) Evolution is a theory. It's a theory because it cannot be subjected to scientific method and proven. (oddly enough so is gravity, but that's a side issue) The important thing to note here is that evolution cannot be proven beyond doubt. We can see in the fossil record that there have been apparent changes to the plants and animals on our planet, but we are missing thousands, maybe even millions, of links in the evolutionary chain. The only way the fossil record supports evolution is in the fact that there are animals that could possibly be ancestors to modern animals. Once again, there are NO in between stages in the fossil record. The few links that scientists claim as proof for evolution are often examples of micro-evolution not macro-evolution (more on this in point 2), or possibly an entirely different species that is related to the animals they claim are in the evolutionary chain.

2) Micro-E vs. Macro-E: Micro-E states that a change is made in an animal or plant so it can survive, or because of some sort of outside influence. Another way to say this would be to use the term adaptation. Human skin color is a great example of this. Skin color is based on melanin (pigment). Melanin is also responsible for people getting tans, but not burns. An increase in melanin produces a tan, which in turn protects from burns. People with more melanin in there skin have darker skin. In most cases people with darker skin come from an area of the world where they are more apt to be naturally tanned or burned anyway. Micro-E states that over many years people are born darker and darker to cope with the natural tendency to tan/burn. In places where tanning/burning is less likely people often have paler features - including skin color. Other examples of Micro-E include plant size or toxicity. For instance wild almonds and tomatoes are poison to humans. But through selective breeding (caused by humans - the afore mentioned outside force) we have two crops that are good for eating. Mangos originally were not eatable, but through human intervention have become a food crop. The boysenberry is actually a mix of three different berries. Many evolutionist use to these examples to support their views on evolution. They say that evolution has been aided or sped up by humans. While in a sense this is true, because we have seen and recorded Micro-E, however, it does not support Macro-E. The problem here is this: in no recorded cases can we see Macro-E. Basically Macro-E says that, for one reason or another, one species becomes another. For instance: A fish becomes an amphibian that becomes a lizard that becomes a bird, a mammal, or whatever. That kind of evolution has never been recorded, and cannot be proven with the fossil record. Once again there are no missing links - of any sort (plant or animal).

3) The best argument for creation over evolution is found in 3rd grade science. The second law of thermodynamics states that all things "tend toward entropy". Basically we do not see that ordered systems just start up. What we can see, record, and prove is that ordered systems break down. We do see growth in animals and plants in the form of eggs and seeds becoming adults, but this is simply a functioning of a system, not a new complex system that starts on it's own. For evolution to be true things like solar systems have to "start up" on their own some how. Order has to come form disorder. Even assuming that the big bang is true you still are talking about an explosion producing life. That's like saying that setting of a nuke in a vacuum will some how generate life in several billion years. It just doesn't happen, and we have scientific law to prove it. Evolution as a theory is easily proven wrong with one scientific law. Proponents of evolution will argue this point with many different explanations, most of which I have read. None of them can explain away this basic law if you are honest with the information at hand. We never find order coming from chaos without an outside influence. This leads to my next point.

4) "God created the world through evolution." Many Christians lean this way because they feel that science proves evolution. I think I have covered a few of the better reasons science does not support evolution, but still this idea remains. These Christians say that the creation story is a way to simply explain how God created the world through the different phases of evolution. First we had light (big bang), then earth and sky (creation of the earth through time and slow rotation of a gas cloud), after that all the other phases of creation. The primary problem with this idea is that the Bible does not support it. Here is why: God told Adam that when he ate the Fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die. Prior to eating this fruit humans were immortal in their earthly bodies. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit death entered the world. This is found in Paul's writings - Romans I think - I'll look it up for you if you want chapter and verse. Because death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned it is reasonable to assume that when Adam and Eve fell that all of creation fell with them. We see proof of this in God's cursing of the snake and the ground. Therefore, God creating the world through evolution cannot be true, because many, many things would have had to die for the evolutionary cycle to function. The Bible teaches that humans in Eden had complete dominion over the world. When they sinned dominion passed to satan, and part of what Jesus did on the cross was take that dominion back. These statements are proven in Hebrews and Romans - once again if you want chapter and verse I'll look up exactly where they can be found. This statement is important, because Jesus is called the second Adam. That through His perfect life and His sacrifice on the cross followed by His return from death - original order was restored, and any that choose to follow Jesus can walk in authority like Adam and Eve did.


My response:
[wall of text warning]
Spoiler:
You've been kind enough to tell me your views on religion, so I hope you don't mind if I do the same with science.

1) Evolution is just a theory, just like science itself is just a lot of theories.

However, ID is just a theory, too, and it has less scientific evidence supporting it, so you can't very well say "Your theory is wrong because it's a theory."


2) "Basically Macro-E says that, for one reason or another, one species becomes another. For instance: A fish becomes an amphibian that becomes a lizard that becomes a bird, a mammal, or whatever."

You seem to be over-simplifying. The only difference between macro-evolution and micro is time and scale. In other words, macro-E is the compounded effects of lots of micro-E.

And so, if micro-E is supported, then so is macro-E.

The effects of macro-E are simply too gradual for humans to spot in three or four generations, and thereby classify the new animal as a new species.

For example, dogs.

Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but they are descended from a common ancestor and are still from the same specie. If a single taxonomic term (which is wide enough to include a mastiff and a chihuahua) is going to be the standard for a new version to be a new specie and, therefore, be evidence of macro-E, the lifespan of a human (or several humans) isn't enough for him to record macro-E.

And if you want evidence of a specie evolving into another specie in a time less than the average human life span, you might have to settle for bacteria.

I can't remember exactly, but I think that there was a study done where the bacteria had adapted enough to be considered a new specie...but I don't remember enough to find a link referencing it.


3) The 2nd Law states, in a nutshell...

Okay, I don't know how the 2nd Law disproves evolution, but, luckily, Wikipedia does, and has provided a rebuttal.


And, finally, 4) is accurate, according to the Bible.

But I don't think the Bible can be used to explain scientific theories.

[I mean, according to the Bible, pi is exactly three.]


He replies:
[wall of text warning]

[as if you had some doubt...]
Spoiler:
Thanks for your comments Jeff - They are always welcome. In response:

1) I agree that ID is also a theory in scientific terms. If I did not make that clear then it is only because I do not agree that Evolution has more support than ID. It depends on what you read, and how you interpret it.

2) You say I'm over simplifying, and that Macro-E is a combination of tons of Micro-E. That alone would disprove evolution. We have no record in all of the fossils we find of even one UNdenible missing link. That in itself leads to the idea that Micro-E can be true, but Macro-E needs better support. Link one or two missing links. You use dogs as an example, and that is very similar to the pigment example I used. The point is - over many years it's still a dog. Nothing about one dog makes it any different from another in the sense of it being a dog. For this is easily seen in how any one dog can breed with another and reproduce. If they had changed significantly they would eventually have to lose the ability to reproduce with one another. While size may hinder this it does not make it impossible.

3) I have read the many rebuttals including one like this. The problem is that the 2nd Law really does not allow for this on a grand scale. I agree that in a limited sense that self-organization is possible, but in reality there is a huge difference between this and evolution. Also keep in mind that we are talking about a scientific law verse a system that seems to be true. There are no rules that tell us exactly how S.O. works - only that it exists. I see that it is useful on a small scale, but it is not seen large scale anywhere - unless we assume evolution is true.

4) I did not mean to imply that the Bible should do so. Only that for a person claiming to be a Christian evolution can not be an option.


Phew.

We're both wordy little buggers, aren't we?

Now, I know there is virtually no chance of convincing this guy to rethink his position, but I'm not sure if I should go back and clarify on the one or two parts where my reasoning was muddled...

[I also think the last thing he says is patently wrong on a spiritual level, but that's another forum.]

And, keep in mind, he's a good guy, and I don't want to make fun of him.

To paraphrase the rules page, make fun of his arguments all you want, but...
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Durandal
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Durandal » Thu Jan 24, 2008 2:31 am UTC

.
Last edited by Durandal on Wed Jul 08, 2009 4:56 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby CivilDefense700 » Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:29 am UTC

I went to a summer camp a few years ago and got into the same discussion against my better judgement with my counselor. I can't remember the specifics but it went something like

me: but we have concete dates for ages of fossils using radiometric dating!

him: you know how many innacuracies there are in carbon dating?

:roll: rrrrrriiiiiiiiigggghhhhhhttttt.......
you'r talking to someone whose passion is science, especially nuclear science.

I just ended the conversation there, it was enough to make my brain explode trying to process all the innacuracies in his argument.


I watched a pbs documentery last night on the doctor that did the icepick lobotomies, and I just thought of a solution to the problem, locate the part of the brain that makes us believe in the supernatural, poke a sharp instument in the region, and give it a good twirl to scramble it up. problem solved! :twisted:
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:38 am UTC

1) ID is not a theory. It can't be tested nor disproved. It is functionally identical to evolution, except it doesn't make any predictions and can hide wherever it likes. Evolution can and has been tested. Try and use penicillin sometime, see if it still works.

2)Macro E is Micro E over time. I seem to remember hearing about a scientist who separated fruit flies for long enough that they would no long interbreed. Point out Galapagos turtles. Point out Archaeopteryx (probably spelled wrong). Point out the clear line of hominid fossils.

3) Ask him to look over the 2nd law. He'll find that, yes, entropy increases, but only in a closed system. If it's an open system with energy flowing in, all bets are off. Find some impressive statistics about how much energy the sun throws at us.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Karrion » Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:41 am UTC

I'm pretty sure all his points have been made, and debunked, hundreds of times before. I suspect that any rebuttals will be lost on him, however, since he sounds like he's so invested (or indoctrinated) in his beliefs that rational argument may not even be possible.

But in brief: 1) When scientists say "theory" they don't mean "guess" like regular people do; it's a term with a specific meaning, which is to say a systematic collection of facts and hypotheses which have been tested over and over, by making predictions based on the theory which turn out to be correct, and never finding any contradictory evidence. Evolution is NOT a theory, it's a FACT: we've observed it happening in the laboritory and in the field. The "Theory of Evolution" refers to the systematic theory of the exact mechanisms by which this occurs. ID is LESS than a theory because it makes no testable predictions - it's not science at all.

2) 'macro-evolution' is just changes at a species level. Speciation occurs gradually as two parts of a population become isolated and no longer interbreed; eventually (over generations) they are different enough to consider separate species; but there's no hard-and-fast line. We do also have observational evidence for a number of speciation events as late as the last few hundren years.

3) The second law of thermodynamics does not prevent evolution. For a start, it's a massive strech to equate evolution with decreasing entropy (evolution isn't even about increasing complexity, let alone decreasing entropy; it's simply about adaptation to the environment). It's true that entropy can't decrease without an outside 'influence' (technically, without an outside source of energy). Fortunately for us there's a whopping great outside source of energy only 150 million km away; our planet happens to be in orbit around it.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby bippy » Thu Jan 24, 2008 4:11 am UTC

I just want to interject that talking about science with a non-scientist is a far cry from talking about science to a religious person on an issue where he feels science conflicts with his worldview.

He's repeating incredibly tired arguments, you're responding to them, etc. Both of you feels the other "doesn't get it" and so forth. It's just a waste of time.

EDIT - That's of course my view for my time. I won't ever go look for those discussions or engage in them when passing by, but if someone brings them to me I will engage since I assume they actually might care about my personal thoughts rather than exchanging well-worn talking points.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby iop » Thu Jan 24, 2008 4:42 am UTC

How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Actually, the question seems to be how to defend science as a non-specialist to a non-scientist. The problem with that is that both of you will need to make appeals to authority that the other can simply choose to not believe.

The first thing when defending evolution is to realize that it can't actually explain everything yet (if it could, why are there still so many people scientists working on it?). However, even though we learn more and more about the fossil record and about genetics, evolution still keeps turning out not to be wrong. This is what characterizes a successful scientific theory.
It is true that no scientific theory can be proven without doubt, but then, nothing empirical can be proven without doubt. And if one accepts that people can get executed if their guilt is proven without reasonable doubt, then one should be willing to apply similar principles to evolution, where no life is on the line.
The fossil record is very extensive or very incomplete depending on the perspective (it is ridiculous to claim there are NO in-between fossils. Either, all the fossils are all completely unrelated (but then where does the similarity come from), or they are related, but then, as soon as there are three related fossils over time, the middle one is in between). It is clearly much more extensive than hundred years ago. Furthermore, it is not just the fossil record that gives us an indication that there is common ancestry between living creatures - and the two actually agree. Genetics also supports that. For example, if all life has sprung up individually, why would there be so much similarity between human and yeast genes? Why would the similarity be higher between mammals than between mammals and vertebrates than between mammals and invertebrates?

As to micro- vs macroevolution: Again, so far, there does not seem to be any additional mechanism than those driving microevolution when comparing genomes of different species, or kinds, or even kingdoms. Furthermore, the boundary between micro and macroevolution keeps being pushed toward more and more macro - is your friend bothered by that?

Finally, ID is a theory, but not a scientific one. It states that there should be things in the evolutionary process that cannot be explained by science, and that these have been caused by the "designer" through means which are not accessible to science. This makes ID "design of the gaps", i.e. whatever can't be "sufficiently well" explained by evolution (where "sufficiently well" is up to the whims of the proponents of ID) must have been the designer.

Now, I'm Catholic (and consider myself thus Christian, though your friend may disagree :)) and I strongly support evolution. In my opinion, if your entire faith rests on the requirement that a book written by humans must be the literal truth, then your faith is not very strong. But that is not a discussion for the science forum.
Anyway, since his religious beliefs hinge on the hope that evolution is wrong, he may not actually be open to discussion, or to changing his viewpoint. So it is quite likely a waste of time to try and convince him.
Last edited by iop on Thu Jan 24, 2008 12:43 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby btilly » Thu Jan 24, 2008 4:47 am UTC

For every point he makes, search for a detailed argument and present him the link. Then ask that before presenting you with any other points that he search the archive for himself and only respond if he is not satisfied with the answers that are there.

That tends to simplify things.

For instance his original post can be responded to with http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/macroevolution.html and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-mis ... tml#thermo.

Now I, being somewhat experienced in these debates, admittedly would respond differently. For instance he stated the macro-micro distinction in a trivially refutable way. He said that micro-evolution cannot lead to different species. But ring species show otherwise - there we have 2 species in one location and currently living transitional forms linking the one to the other. Several examples are in http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB910.html.

Similarly I wouldn't argue thermodynamics from a link. Instead I'd tell him straight out that the second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems. The Earth is not a closed system. To make it a closed system you have to get rid of the energy inputs and outputs - so turn the Sun off and put a mirror around the Earth. If you did that then fairly quickly life would cease, and with it evolution. Once you change to an open system the limitation goes away. Now there is research on open systems, and that research indicates that open systems with a steady input (as from the Sun) and output (as from thermal energy radiating into space) of energy show a strong tendency to spontaneously self-organize in interesting ways. Which fits exactly with what we've observed happening on the Earth.

Incidentally in your response you made reference to the Bible's claiming that pi is 3. That argument is fallacious. The Bible describes 2 measurements of a circular object. Both measurements could easily be correct to the nearest cubit. (If the diameter was 9.66 cubits, then the circumference would be about 30.35 cubits.) If you want a Biblical contradiction a far better example is to ask what happened to Judas' money, how Judas died, and how the field of blood got its name. There are two accounts in the Bible and they are irreconcilable on all 3 points.

BTW if you want to have fun, you could buy a copy of The Jesus Puzzle, read it, then lend him your copy. It uses history and internal evidence within the Bible to support the conclusion that there never was a historical person named Jesus.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Kilogolf » Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:13 am UTC

ask him if the earth is the center of the universe, then say that 500 years ago, according to his religion, it was.

this is why, whenever I get drawn into a religious argument, that I say I'm wiccan and walk away (I'm actually atheist).

then tell him that yes, entropy tends to increase, but, once you put in the fact that the sun is throwing out tons of energy per second at us (e=mc2), you get entropy on the earth will decrease.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby mrbaggins » Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:17 am UTC

Yeah, after having this discussion enough times, I'm inclined to say "Don't bother".

As for more points to use against him, if you so choose:

1: His main argument in #1 is basically "Refer to #2"

As for his rebuttal to your #1 point "I do not believe evolution has more support than ID", then tell him to open his damned eyes. Micro evolution IS evolution, on a small scale. Even if he won't accept that, you can argue that it supports evolution in the same way that he probably argues ID. This is usually "That toaster would never have come into existence except for people, much like the eye could never have just shown up out of chance". His change of scale is perfectly identical to yours.

2: As you said, Macro = micro over large systems of time. I usually find this is the point that causes the most contention. I can argue all day about how evolution works, giving examples, and then get told "That's adaptation, not evolution". Telling them that "Evolution is a collection of adaptations that result in a subset of animals distinct from the first ones" is usually responded to with "Then why are there still monkeys if we evolved from them? Surely we'd all be optimal". At this point, I usually come back with the whole thing about separation leading to species (Read, the squirrels split by an earthquake example in every bio textbook in High School, or the separation of fruit flies until they no longer interbreed, which is the definition of a species).

For fossil records, as mentioned, look for Archeopteryx. Firefox says it's spelled wrong, but it's close.

And yes, you're right, they have over simplified the process of evolution. A fish doesn't suddenly sprout lungs, and nor do they suddenly learn to fly. Over the course of generations, small adaptations result in better survival instincts - leads to breeding - leads to better genes - leads to new species etc...

For his "Nothing makes it not a dog", ask him to define species. If two things can no longer breed, they are then different species. Now thrust a bunch of paper under his nose about fruitflies. Now ask him if he can see where that leads in long term, large scale systems with many different animals.

3: Sure, all things tend toward entropy. I'd even say that the human species DNA is tending toward entropy. Moral / ethical dilemnas aside, we are slowly introducing so many bad and deadly things into our collective gene pool it's not funny. People with predispositions to diseases that would be otherwise deadly are having kids, spreading everything from haemophilia through to cancer predisposition through the gene pool.

Besides the fact that EVERY single time you create new genetic material to create children with, there are changes in it compared to what you are. It is different. It is less organised. Mutations are the most obvious, but all of the aspects of biology that cause kids to perhaps look NOTHING like their parents can be included. Given 10 genetically identical mice, it would be VERY reasonable to expect that in a few generations, you had mice that looked nothing like their ancestors. Given a lot of time, and separation, we would expect two species to form, unable to interbreed.

As for "never finding order coming from chaos", there are still undeniable forces that act. The weak force, strong force, gravity and electromagnetism will ALWAYS pull things from a random assortment into clumps. These clumps will ALWAYS pull other atoms from the atmosphere, and depending on how you follow the big bang, stars form, explode, create more complex atoms, re clump, make planets and little stars, and eventually you have a still VERY entropic system, with what appears to be order. I'd go so far as to say that the Earth, and in fact, every thing on it, are FAR from any form of 'order'.

This is all an aside to the fact that the law allows one part of a system to become more ordered if the entire system as a whole becomes more entropic. As well as the fact that you can define a system as a single molecule, a single person, a single planet, or the entire universe.

As for comparing the big bang to a 'nuke in a vacuum'... just no. And calling the big bang an explosion is kind of iffy too.. You could argue this in terms of scale (That an explosion to us is very deadly, and very quick, whereas the big bang is more than likely still in place (Universe expanding from the initial force still).

4: No one can claim to be a Christian Scientist. I'm sorry, but it's not possible. If you are a Christian scientist, you must also believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And a large assortment of other Deities, and given that most of these religions are "My way or the highway" that therefore shows that you cannot be a Christian Scientist.

Or they simply aren't applying scientific method to their religious beliefs. Either way, they're wrong. I am actually agreeing with him here. this often happens on this point.

The point I usually make is just how old they think the Earth is. Any 'Christian' that says a figure over 7000 years is obviously not very devout. Science says its much older. They usually retaliate with 'God did it to trick us, or keep us busy, because proof of his existence cannot be found'. At that point, I tell them that they obviously don't exist, that I am imagining this conversation, and that what they think are their current memories are nothing more than delusions to keep their mind occupied for the next coming of the FSM, as they are in denial of scientific FACT that PROVES their OWN existence.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby evilbeanfiend » Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:43 am UTC

i always like the 'test them to see if they will ever except' method i.e. you ask them what evidence they would except as proof, if the answer is 'none' then you know its not worth your effort trying.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby El Senor Fruit Swing » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:10 am UTC

Ok, I don't post here because my grammar and punctuation suck. So please don't be to hard on me. :P
Anyways, it's useless to argue against some one whose main argument is "nuh-uhh." You need to learn to be more manipulative.
Ask them, didn't god make monkey's? What about (insert species)? Then retort with, well if god made those monkies then us coming from monkeys ain't against the bible right? And as soon as he answers say you agree with me then? This is the only logical way to win against a Christian. They don't use logic or thought flow. They use a book written thousands of years ago, that some how made it through out the years.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Peripatetic » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:34 am UTC

mrbaggins wrote:4: No one can claim to be a Christian Scientist. I'm sorry, but it's not possible. If you are a Christian scientist, you must also believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And a large assortment of other Deities, and given that most of these religions are "My way or the highway" that therefore shows that you cannot be a Christian Scientist.

Or they simply aren't applying scientific method to their religious beliefs.

You're first sentence is refuted by the existence of Francis Collins (I don't see how you can deny his being a scientist or a Christian). Most scientists who have ever lived have been religious (of course there are exceptions: Darwin, Laplace, Dawkins, Einstein, etc. etc.), simply because most people who have ever lived have been religious. On the whole, the proportion of scientists that are religious is smaller the general population, but not zero. Your last sentence will describes the situation most accurately. The reasons for this are many and diverse, having to do with culture and the scientist's individual opinion of the scope of science itself.

The point I usually make is just how old they think the Earth is. Any 'Christian' that says a figure over 7000 years is obviously not very devout.

This will be a surprise to the billion or so Catholics in the world, who, according to papal decree, are free to believe in evolution without going against the church. Young-earth creationists (those that profess that the universe was created in 4004 B.C.) are a small minority among Christians. Young-earth creationism depends on a certain interpretation of the genealogies in the Old Testament which is not universal among Christians or even among Protestants. Your measure of devoutness is flawed in that the age of the Earth or the universe is not an article of faith for most Christians. Whether the universe is 6,000 years or 14 billion years old makes no difference in their religious practice, in much the same way that whether the Earth moved or not was a non-issue in centuries past. The commandment "Love thy neighbor" is not contingent upon a young, geocentric universe.

You reveal your ignorance of religion the same way the pastor revealed his ignorance of biology. Both of your views are based on naïve understandings of subjects outside your expertise.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby zealo » Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:38 pm UTC

from my experiences trying to teach people, or spectating forum debates, about evolution and more commonly global warming, i have concluded that people such as this are unteachable, and the best you can do is mock them while pointing out why they are wrong to discourage others from accepting their idiocy.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Dobblesworth » Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:56 pm UTC

Curious thing about my secondary school experiences, was that 2 of the more devout/evangelical religious members of staff, were also biology teachers. It was a shame that neither were the ones teaching my class the Theory of Evolution at GCSE level - it would have made for some entertaining discussion.

I have had it a few times where I would find myself embroiled in debates over the science/religion topic with Christian distant relatives or acquaintances in the States. They weren't as arrogant or aggressive as some of the above cases, but I do agree that it can be frustrating to have to face down the evangelical types and try to stay rational while they reject any of your arguments based on commonly accepted science and defend their 'facts' with misinterpretations of other scientific theories in an attempt to back up their arguments.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby El Senor Fruit Swing » Thu Jan 24, 2008 1:56 pm UTC

I had a discussion with a kid at school trying to disprove the mormon prophet saying he isn't a prophet because he's black blacks couldn't be mormons until 1957 (or w/e) and i told him religions are established before the rules of the religion then he goes on about evolution and how we cant come from monkeys because the bible says its a sin he had this whole thing about moses and it hurt my head I wanted to strangle the shit outta him (sorry for language)
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Mathmagic » Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:38 pm UTC

For those interested... and maybe a merge: viewtopic.php?f=8&t=3033
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Masuri » Thu Jan 24, 2008 3:45 pm UTC

evilbeanfiend wrote:i always like the 'test them to see if they will ever except' method i.e. you ask them what evidence they would except as proof, if the answer is 'none' then you know its not worth your effort trying.

This.

In a lot of cases, you can argue the facts until you are blue in the face but a religious guy has his faith to sustain him - and it will give him the strength to hold out against every reasoned argument, proven example, or obvious truth. So why bother? Agree to disagree. You can each console yourself with the fact that the other person is wrong. ;)

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby iop » Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:05 pm UTC

mrbaggins wrote:I'd even say that the human species DNA is tending toward entropy. Moral / ethical dilemnas aside, we are slowly introducing so many bad and deadly things into our collective gene pool it's not funny. People with predispositions to diseases that would be otherwise deadly are having kids, spreading everything from haemophilia through to cancer predisposition through the gene pool.

Oh, the myth of the degrading genome! Granted, genetic drift may lead to weakly deleterious mutations becoming more widespread. However, genetic drift is only a major driver of evolution as long as natural selection is not very strong.
Unfortunately for your argument, natural selection gets stronger the larger the population becomes. Thus, our genome is adapting faster now than it used to 100000 years ago.

Also, the fact that more people die of cancer today than before is not because they are more and more genetically predisposed, it's because they die much less due to other causes.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Robin S » Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:13 pm UTC

iop wrote:Unfortunately for your argument, natural selection gets stronger the larger the population becomes. Thus, our genome is adapting faster now than it used to 100000 years ago.
I'm not quite sure what you're saying there. Surely natural selection depends on the genome being the main discriminant when it comes to having descendants, which would mean that our genomes are adapting less quickly now?
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby hobbesmaster » Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:51 pm UTC

Most people in this debate (for a lack of a better word) approach this from the wrong angle - you're just exchanging talking points with the other person. If you really want to change their viewpoint, you'll have to read up on old earth creationism, and be very familiar with the bible (old and new testaments). You'll have to talk to them about the science and how that fits with Christian theology. You'll probably need a MDiv or ThD level of understanding of theology to get anywhere.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Herman » Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:58 pm UTC

My take on Points 1 and 3:

1. As some people noted, the word "theory," used in a scientific context, is a set of ideas that explain phenomena and make predictions. So, yeah, evolution is a theory, and so is the theory of gravity. It's also true that they're uncertain, in the sense that they are not laws like the conservation of energy -- it's possible for them to be improved and refined, and indeed, they are being improved all the time. Creationists like to use this as an opening for whatever notion they have about reality. But this brings up the most important point, that really goes to the heart of the whole debate: science requires us to be disinterested. That is, science has no place for desires about how the world is. So if a theory is uncertain, that doesn't mean we can put in any notion we like. It means we must conclude that the theory is partially or probably true, in limited situations, and to go about disinterestedly finding an explanation for unexplained phenomena. ID and Creationism exist because the people that believe in them don't believe in their responsibility to be disinterested.

Everyone here probably agrees with this, but I wanted to write it down explicitly, because it's so important to this debate.

3. Re: Entropy. As many people pointed out, the Earth is not a closed system, and every life form needs an outside source of energy, whether it's the sun or geothermal vents or other life forms. Another thing: entropy always increases in the universe as a whole, but that allows for parts of the universe to lose entropy as a result of other parts gaining more. There are many, many biological, chemical, and physical systems that do this. A simple analogy for the non-scientific: helium balloons float upward. Gravity is no less universal that the 2nd Law, but nevertheless, up the balloon goes. Of course, that's because it's lighter than air; in fact, the balloon is required by the law of gravity to float upward. Arguing by analogy is risky, but it can show that universal laws can have counterintuitive effects.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Peripatetic » Thu Jan 24, 2008 7:35 pm UTC

Herman wrote:[E]volution is a theory, and so is the theory of gravity. It's also true that they're uncertain, in the sense that they are not laws like the conservation of energy -- it's possible for them to be improved and refined, and indeed, they are being improved all the time.

Don't make the mistake of assuming laws are more certain than theories. Laws can and have been improved and refined. The law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy have proven to be untrue in light of Relativity Theory. These were replaced with a new law of conservation of mass-energy.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby iop » Thu Jan 24, 2008 8:46 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:
iop wrote:Unfortunately for your argument, natural selection gets stronger the larger the population becomes. Thus, our genome is adapting faster now than it used to 100000 years ago.
I'm not quite sure what you're saying there. Surely natural selection depends on the genome being the main discriminant when it comes to having descendants, which would mean that our genomes are adapting less quickly now?

There are four drivers of evolution: natural selection, mutation rate, genetic drift and recombination. The first one is the one most people are familiar with. It is also the only one that is directed. However, natural selection only becomes relevant at sufficiently large populations. In small populations, the effect of natural selection is obscured by the randomness of the other effects, except if a mutation is extremely favorable or deleterious. However, the larger the population, the less important the noise becomes. Thus, in larger populations, even weak selective pressures lead to adaptation of the population. Consequently the more humans there are, the faster we evolve.
It is true that we have been able to remove some selective pressures thanks to technological advances. Therefore, certain traits that may have been advantageous before are no longer advantageous now, so it's kind of pointless to claim that "oh, we are degrading because we are no longer adapted to an environment in which we don't live anymore".
Because we have been changing our environment so quickly, however, there are plenty of new selective pressures. For example, in industrialized nations, the age at first birth has been rising, we are exposed to new (and probably more) chemicals, we are exposed to more UV radiation etc. If a mutation makes us better adapted to these new challenges, it will spread rapidly.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Herman » Thu Jan 24, 2008 9:42 pm UTC

Peripatetic wrote:
Herman wrote:[E]volution is a theory, and so is the theory of gravity. It's also true that they're uncertain, in the sense that they are not laws like the conservation of energy -- it's possible for them to be improved and refined, and indeed, they are being improved all the time.

Don't make the mistake of assuming laws are more certain than theories. Laws can and have been improved and refined. The law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy have proven to be untrue in light of Relativity Theory. These were replaced with a new law of conservation of mass-energy.


Well, in some sense, laws like this are tautological. Energy is this thing that's conserved, and if we find it's becoming mass, well, *that's* a form of energy now too. (Also, there's a theorem out there that proves conservations of energy, momentum, and angular momentum from the postulate that the laws of physics don't change). So laws are very slightly uncertain, but they're much more certain than a complex system of ideas like a theory.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Strilanc » Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:03 pm UTC

For #1: "How is saying 'The theory of evolution is only a theory.' an argument against the theory of evolution?"
You may want to emphasize "theory", and practice saying it so you don't sound incredibly arrogant.

For #2: I would point to the success of genetic algorithms. They aren't exactly like evolution, but they do show that mutation + selection work as a search algorithm. An excellent paper, which details teaching a GA to play checkers only by telling it the available moves and whether it won or lost, is here: ( http://www.natural-selection.com/Librar ... E-TEVC.pdf ). TalkOrigins has a lot of other interesting GA stories like that one.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby wst » Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:07 pm UTC

Peripatetic wrote:
Herman wrote:[E]volution is a theory, and so is the theory of gravity. It's also true that they're uncertain, in the sense that they are not laws like the conservation of energy -- it's possible for them to be improved and refined, and indeed, they are being improved all the time.

Don't make the mistake of assuming laws are more certain than theories. Laws can and have been improved and refined. The law of conservation of mass and the law of conservation of energy have proven to be untrue in light of Relativity Theory. These were replaced with a new law of conservation of mass-energy.


However, these new laws are more complicated than the ones it was created from. I'll mess up my GCSE's if I pay too much attention now, but this will help in my AS- and A-Levels. Everyone )in the UK at least) is taught some basics about Conservation Laws, and we get given the simple ones first (for the people who don't give a damn to get a good mark) and then, when people have the choice whether they want to do any science, then they learn the good stuff.

Of course, when a non-scientist discovers that what they were taught for their GCSE's isn't actually correct, they ignore the revised laws covering that aspect and use it as a 'deny any science works' card for any argument. At least, the narrow-minded ones do.

I just say that my beliefs are based on things that can be tested, and not the words of some people born before the dark ages, which were then twisted to suit each rulers point of view, and so are viewed through a 2000 year old, fingerprint covered, rose-tinted lens.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Peripatetic » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:01 pm UTC

That's true, wst. I'm more concerned, however, about people thinking that once there is enough evidence for a theory ("once a theory is proven") then it becomes a law. This allows non-scientists to get away with saying that $Thing_I_Don't_Like is "just a theory." I've even heard science teachers make this mistake.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby wst » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:24 pm UTC

Peripatetic wrote:That's true, wst. I'm more concerned, however, about people thinking that once there is enough evidence for a theory ("once a theory is proven") then it becomes a law. This allows non-scientists to get away with saying that $Thing_I_Don't_Like is "just a theory." I've even heard science teachers make this mistake.


What's the point at which a proven theory becomes a law though? I mean, when Newton sussed out gravity, when did scientists stop calling it 'The Theory of Gravity' and call it 'The Law of Gravity'?

Laws aren't even final, even when called 'Laws', for example, the aforementioned law, The Conservation of Mass-energy, was created from previous Laws. Gravity is still being played with, with different theories being tried out to incorporate into the Law(s) of Gravity.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Peripatetic » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:41 pm UTC

I don't know if we're actually disagreeing over anything.

Theories never become laws. Theories and laws are completely different things. Laws concisely state patterns we see in nature (Kepler's Laws, the Law of Universal Gravitation, the Law of Multiple Proportions). Theories provide explanations of those laws (Relativity for the first two and the theory of atoms for the last).

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby angel_jean » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:55 pm UTC

I don't really have advice on this one, but I have something to add that we don't seem to have covered yet.

There is literature "debunking" evolution. Should your friend choose to search for "evidence" against your points, as you might do against theirs, they will find plenty of fodder. Sure, most of it is written by theology professionals rather than scientists, and is supported by pseudoscience (read: crap). But you're never going to make your argument look more authoritative than theirs; the only way is to get them to think critically about things. And that's ... hard.

Critical thinking needs to be indoctrinated into people from a young age :P
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby mrbaggins » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:00 am UTC

For example, in industrialized nations, the age at first birth has been rising, we are exposed to new (and probably more) chemicals, we are exposed to more UV radiation etc. If a mutation makes us better adapted to these new challenges, it will spread rapidly.


I would have thought that these things have nearly 0 effect on the human population. And I would expect natural selection to be far more inlfuential in small populations, as the net change in the genepool is larger compared to the entire pool itself.

IE: 100 monkeys, one gets a mutation compared to 6 billion people, and 1 million get a mutation.

As well as the fact that unless the change is drastic in the large human population, medicine will nullify the effect anyway.

As well as people often marry and have kids with people for reasons that have NOTHING to do with their genetics, which is completely separate from natural selection.

You're first sentence is refuted by the existence of Francis Collins (I don't see how you can deny his being a scientist or a Christian). Most scientists who have ever lived have been religious (of course there are exceptions: Darwin, Laplace, Dawkins, Einstein, etc. etc.), simply because most people who have ever lived have been religious. On the whole, the proportion of scientists that are religious is smaller the general population, but not zero. Your last sentence will describes the situation most accurately. The reasons for this are many and diverse, having to do with culture and the scientist's individual opinion of the scope of science itself.


My last sentence, which you say you agree with, precludes a truely Christian Scientist from existing. If you accept scientific method, then you cannot be a devoutly religious person.

This will be a surprise to the billion or so Catholics in the world, who, according to papal decree, are free to believe in evolution without going against the church.

Since when? And even if this is the case, I find it sad that a religion can call one thing an abomination, and totally against its church, and then later say that it acceptable.

I also was not specifically targeting young earth creationists. If a Christian accepts the bible as proof of God, then they must accept the fact that the Earth is about 6000 years old. You cannot have your cake, and eat it too. You look like you try to make the point the bible is nothing more than a morality teaching tool, which is also a view taken by a lot of atheists who feel Christianity was an attempt to control the masses, and not the story of why and how we are here.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby asad137 » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:17 am UTC

mrbaggins wrote:Since when?


Since Vatican II? Which was in...1967? Eh, too lazy to look it up. Someone else can correct me if I'm wrong -- my Catholic school education is failing me.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Robin S » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:24 am UTC

That sounds about right, according to Wikipedia.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Peripatetic » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:39 am UTC

mrbaggins wrote:My last sentence, which you say you agree with, precludes a truely Christian Scientist from existing. If you accept scientific method, then you cannot be a devoutly religious person.

I have no idea what you mean by a "true Christian." If you mean a fundamentalist, then there weren't any "true Christians" before the 20th century.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamenta ... ristianity

This will be a surprise to the billion or so Catholics in the world, who, according to papal decree, are free to believe in evolution without going against the church.

Since when?

Evolution has been accepted by the Catholic church for at least 50 years now.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_ ... hn_Paul_II

And even if this is the case, I find it sad that a religion can call one thing an abomination, and totally against its church, and then later say that it acceptable.

It's sad to change one's mind?

I also was not specifically targeting young earth creationists. If a Christian accepts the bible as proof of God, then they must accept the fact that the Earth is about 6000 years old. You cannot have your cake, and eat it too. You look like you try to make the point the bible is nothing more than a morality teaching tool, which is also a view taken by a lot of atheists who feel Christianity was an attempt to control the masses, and not the story of why and how we are here.

Very few Christians will agree with you. The bible contains history, poetry, laws, letters, morality stories, and accounts of dreams and was written at a time when all of these subjects were not well separated disciplines. Any reading of the bible that can stand any scrutiny must take into account the culture, language, and time it was written in. The 6000-year-old earth argument is a relatively recent contention first put forth by Bishop Ussher in the 17th century.

The bible is not a textbook. It is a complicated document that must be interpreted by scholars, historians, archaeologists, socialogists, as well as theologians and the laymen.

I'm speaking as a former Christian (now atheist) and a scientist. If you're going to criticize something, you must have an accurate picture of what you are criticizing. There is no one Christian church; there is no one Christian religion.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Robin S » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:55 am UTC

Peripatetic wrote:The 6000-year-old earth argument is a relatively recent contention first put forth by Bishop Ussher in the 17th century.
Untrue. Jews have been making that claim for much longer.[/quote]
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby hobbesmaster » Fri Jan 25, 2008 1:21 am UTC

Robin S wrote:
Peripatetic wrote:The 6000-year-old earth argument is a relatively recent contention first put forth by Bishop Ussher in the 17th century.
Untrue. Jews have been making that claim for much longer.
[/quote]

And were not taken seriously. According to wikipedia anyways. (it cites answers in genesis, which is a creationist website)

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby iop » Fri Jan 25, 2008 3:06 am UTC

mrbaggins wrote:
For example, in industrialized nations, the age at first birth has been rising, we are exposed to new (and probably more) chemicals, we are exposed to more UV radiation etc. If a mutation makes us better adapted to these new challenges, it will spread rapidly.


I would have thought that these things have nearly 0 effect on the human population. And I would expect natural selection to be far more inlfuential in small populations, as the net change in the genepool is larger compared to the entire pool itself.

IE: 100 monkeys, one gets a mutation compared to 6 billion people, and 1 million get a mutation.

As well as the fact that unless the change is drastic in the large human population, medicine will nullify the effect anyway.

As well as people often marry and have kids with people for reasons that have NOTHING to do with their genetics, which is completely separate from natural selection


Sounds intuitive, doesn't it?

Except that science disagrees.


Peripatetic wrote:If you're going to criticize something, you must have an accurate picture of what you are criticizing.

Amen, brother.
Also, if you support something, it helps to have an accurate picture of what you are supporting.

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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby Robin S » Fri Jan 25, 2008 3:14 am UTC

hobbesmaster wrote:And were not taken seriously. According to wikipedia anyways. (it cites answers in genesis, which is a creationist website)
The Answers In Genesis page you linked to says nothing on the matter, and even if it did it is hardly an authority on Jewish history (being a Christian website, run by people whose interest in Judaism apparently extends only so far as it is relevant to their own religion). The Wikipedia article cites one person claiming that Jewish theologians have generally accepted the scientific evidence that the Earth was actually much older, but such evidence has only been recognized for a few centuries. Why do you think Jews worked out the number of years since the Creation in the first place if they didn't believe it to have any literal significance?

Iop: let's look at the original subject of discussion, which caused you to give your explanation of recent acceleration in the process of natural selection:

iop wrote:
mrbaggins wrote:I'd even say that the human species DNA is tending toward entropy. Moral / ethical dilemnas aside, we are slowly introducing so many bad and deadly things into our collective gene pool it's not funny. People with predispositions to diseases that would be otherwise deadly are having kids, spreading everything from haemophilia through to cancer predisposition through the gene pool.

Oh, the myth of the degrading genome! Granted, genetic drift may lead to weakly deleterious mutations becoming more widespread. However, genetic drift is only a major driver of evolution as long as natural selection is not very strong.
Unfortunately for your argument, natural selection gets stronger the larger the population becomes. Thus, our genome is adapting faster now than it used to 100000 years ago.
What you effectively said was that genes predisposing people to diseases are not drifting into the gene pool because there natural selection against that is actually stronger now. However, the examples you cite appear to be referring to natural selection in entirely different areas. I see nothing indicating that mrbaggins' proposed harmful genetic drift should not occur.
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Re: How do you discuss science with a non-scientist?

Postby yy2bggggs » Fri Jan 25, 2008 3:53 am UTC

Try showing the following to your friend. This is highly simplified, but very well made:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeTssvexa9s

Thanks yet again to Phil Plait (and Bay of Fundie).
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