Archive for August, 2009

>The importance of information in the evolution debate

2009 August 30 30 comments

> Creationists often mention the concept of information as a challenge to the grand theory of evolution.

Information as a concept has long been recognised. It is something all people agree exists even if there is debate about how it is categorised. Archaeologists discovering inscriptions know there is a meaning even if they do not know what the meaning is, and most people would not dispute this. People recognise several things that are designed. Though one could say they do so because they already know these things are designed, such as a car or computer; there are examples of things we are not previously aware of, but we would still recognise intention.

As I have mentioned previously, information is not composed of, nor derived from matter. Of course it can be stored in matter.

There are several concepts of what information is, at least in terms of how we should represent information theory mathematically.

The application to evolution centres on the connection to DNA. DNA is recognised as carrying information. It has meaning. It resembles a blueprint, and metaphorically is one.

We can study how information originates. If the source of all information can be shown to be greater information (that is intelligence), then this conclusion also applies to DNA.

There are 2 potential ways that one could show information cannot be produced by itself. It may be possible to show this mathematically, in which case we can be absolutely certain (or essentially certain if the proof is statistical).

If not mathematically, it may be possible to show this empirically: that is, in investigating all the billions of examples of information that have been directly observed; if all are shown to have come from higher information sources and zero are self producing, then we can be extremely confident of our thesis.

Therefore the impossibility of information coming from non-information, mathematically or empirically, disproves Darwinism. Rather than being a red-herring as is sometimes claimed, information theory is absolutely central.

Categories: evolution, information, logic

>Disregarding the rule of law

2009 August 28 5 comments

>Since 1961 until recently the law in New Zealand stated that parents could use physical discipline for the purpose of correction but it was illegal to assault a child. The law was both intrinsically reasonable, clear in its intent, and effective in court. In 2007 the law was modified at the behest of a politician who has a philosophical opposition to the use of corporal punishment.

There was significant citizen opposition to changing the law at the time.

The new law is regarded a shambles. Persons on both sides of the debate have variably stated that it allows and forbids smacking children. Some have even claimed that it forbids using non-physical discipline on a child. And legal scholars have stated that the wording is a mess.

This is not clear legislation. In creating this law, Parliament abandoned its constitutional responsibility to say with clarity just which conduct is criminal.

Here is the wording of the law.

In response to the new law there was a referendum to which the vast majority (88%) of New Zealanders (who responded) voted that: A smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence.

The current government claimed to oppose the law when it was enacted 2 years ago. They were not in power at the time. Their response to the recent referendum is to say that the current law is working and there is no need to change it. They have also suggested that they will reinforce to the police not to prosecute minor infractions of the law.

I am not certain one can say the law is working when over 200 people have been investigated by the police for smacking since the law came into place (~2 years). And it hasn’t prevented 15 children from being murdered. (The population of the country is 4 million.)

Telling the populace that the police will not prosecute them even though the law states their behaviour is criminal is a request from the state for us to trust them. But a request for trust can only be made by someone that has proven themselves trustworthy. The refusal to change the law despite saying that they didn’t like the original law, despite the fact that the vast majority of New Zealanders want it changed, and despite the fact they are asking the police to disregard the law; proves they are not worthy of the trust they are asking for.

However the major problem here is not about parents being able to physically discipline their children for corrective purposes, as important as that is. What is incredibly pernicious is the idea that actions should be criminalised while the investigators of such actions are told to ignore these actions. Such thinking is stunningly foolish for any person, and malevolent for a politician. It utterly disregards the rule of law. It resembles the monarchy of a vacillating king; where men are praised or condemned at his whim.

The government needs to decide what behaviour they consider criminal and make the law clear. Unclear law where people are uncertain whether or not their behaviour breaks the law, and law that criminalises people but denies it will prosecute them (most of the time), are both unacceptable.

Some may claim that the police often use their discretion in prosecuting crime. This is true. There are several reasons why this may be the case.

  • A crime is identified but there is insignificant evidence against the perpetrator.
  • The criminal has committed several crimes and the police want to concentrate initially on the most severe.
  • Delay is being used to identify further perpetrators.
  • Police lack staff to adequately investigate all crimes so choose to focus on what they consider the most important.

The difference in the above examples are that decisions are being made based on what is possible, or practical. It is not the choice to deliberately ignore criminal behaviour.

This kind of approach to law could eventually lead to all citizens being guilty of criminal behaviour and the state arbitrarily prosecuting individuals it finds inconvenient.

Wisdom supporting liberty

Image source

Categories: children, politics

>Optimising a health system

2009 August 25 4 comments

> It could be argued that the state has no place involving itself in healthcare. And I have sympathy with that view. Government should focus first on its primary responsibilities such as justice and national defence. But many governments are involved in healthcare; and the promise to deliver health will attract votes in a democracy. So here are my thoughts of how I think government involvement could be useful and deliver good, cost contained (for the government) healthcare. This is based on my ideas in the previous post.

  1. I think that people should be responsible for their own health care including funding.
  2. I think the proportion of people needing reasonable funding at some stage in their life means the concept of sharing risk via insurance for most illness is meaningless.
  3. I think if people do not take care of their health, they will likely still get care and others will advocate for them; but there will be costs that someone has to cover.

The second point means that individuals each need to save roughly the average amount of money spent per person in their lifetime. If most people use a moderate amount of money in health and that is say $200,000 on average, then every person should be encouraged to save, say, $400,000 over their lifetime, much of which will be used in their later years.

The third point is important because the situation occurring as the result of people making bad decisions will be used to argue for socialised government in the name of caring.

I think the Singaporean system, or a model based on it, is worth considering.

Here is some reading on the Singaporean system as it is.

My proposal is essentially: government enforced compulsory health saving. Because under this proposed system the government will remove itself from the funding, there will be a decreased requirement for tax monies; and the savings will be cost neutral for the individual. The basic rules would be:

  1. All workers are to pay 5% of their income into an individual, managed, low-risk health account.
  2. There is a tax cut of the same amount so individuals have the same take home pay.
  3. Employers are not required to give any money toward their employees account, nor can unions force this issue. This prevents people being locked into jobs because of the health benefits.
  4. The money is yours, it cannot be taken by the government, it can be passed on in a will at death to other healthcare accounts, hospitals or medical research; or possibly as cash to the beneficiaries of the will.
  5. Compulsory insurance is paid from the account to cover rare, unexpected, high-cost events (eg. kidney failure requiring life long dialysis).
  6. You can use your account to pay healthcare costs. The potential healthcare and the costs are determined by government; that is, both what you can get medically and the maximum amount you can pay. It would include doctor, nurse, hospital visits, etc. It would include prescription and immunisation costs. It would cover dental care.
  7. You can only cover your own and your dependants healthcare costs.
  8. You can purchase a higher level of care, or medical services outside normal practice, but this is unable to come from your healthcare account.
  9. All provision is by private providers who can charge what they will, though adequate competition should keep costs down.

This solution intends to do several things. It means that people pay for their own medical care which, while being somewhat unpredictable, is able to be planned for. It intends to minimise government actually paying for individual health. It prevents people making poor decisions from becoming an unsustainable financial burden. It doesn’t add to the burden of employers who do not have a responsibility to the personal health of their workers other than the provision of a safe work environment. Of course employers are free to offer benefits as they wish as part of valuing employees, but there is no financial incentive to do so, nor the need to increasingly complicate tax law. It limits other family members from pressuring individuals to pay for their care. It still allows people to purchase any extra healthcare they wish as money allows (unlike the Canadian system).

There are problems. It does not deal to those who are not employed. It does not deal well with congenital conditions. It does not cover visitors to the country such as tourists. And it does not offer a solution as to how a different system can be transitioned to this. But with medical costs increasing rapidly because of new and better diagnostic and treatment modalities, it is impossible for governments to sustain future expenditures. And when individuals see how much an intervention really does cost, then they may consider whether the benefit is worth it.

Categories: economics, government, medicine

>Responsibility and costs for healthcare

2009 August 24 7 comments

> There is much in the news about healthcare due to the current political tinkerings in the US. I have my ideas about structuring a health system, somewhat based on my experience and what I have learnt about the Singaporean system.

There are probably several reasons why costs are so high in the US (and elsewhere). One significant reason is litigation. Until the legislators are willing to cap “compensation” payable then things are unlikely to get cheaper. The argument that someone is entitled to such extreme amounts of money because he suffered harm neglects that these costs will be recovered from future patients. Indemnity insurance in Western, non-US health is significantly less. Consider perhaps $NZ 1000–2000 per annum in New Zealand to > $US 100,000 in the United States.

This aside, if one is to judge healthcare proposals there are several issues around health and economics that need consideration.

Who pays?

I care little if you wish to spend your money on Kopi Luwak? I am content with the brew at the local cafe, or even instant coffee. But I care a lot if you spend my money on such. It doesn’t matter if nationalising health is cost neutral. If that cost is now paid by government and not individuals, then the government obtains that money from individuals via tax. Thus I am forced to cover your health costs, even if I made health choices intended to save me money long term. But the government payment of costs is even more complicated. There is no fixed amount of money. Individual payments to healthcare have different effects on the economy to government payments. Government removal of money from the economy decreases productivity; thus even a cost neutral program will leave the economy poorer in production, thus individuals worse off.

Who gets sick?

It is said that 75% of health expenditure is spent in the last 5 years of people’s lives. Now that is not every person, but it is a lot of them. We don’t know when we are going to die, and the increased medicalisation of our lives means that much is spent as we age and become increasingly infirm and near the end of our life.

This may be money well spent. It may maintain people’s independence. And if it is your own money then do as you will. But as one becomes increasingly unwell he should be assessing his life and making plans for when he dies. And increasing medical possibilities potentially means increased costs. Yes you can spend the last 15 days of your life half conscious hooked up to a respirator in the Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) with metastatic cancer that has failed 3 previous therapies, but I am not certain this is a gain over symptom control at home or in a hospice. Don’t get me wrong, these things can be hard to predict, and ITU is often appropriate, even if ultimately unsuccessful. And these are decisions for individuals, and we all weigh different options differently. But people need to think about their own mortality.

How many people have high costs?

Following on from costs occurring at the end of life, it needs to be remembered that this is a cost that a high proportion of people will face. Rare expensive events can be covered by spreading the risk, that is how insurance works. But if events become common then every person has to cover their own cost. If we are spending $400,000 over the final years of life for say every second person (the other dying in their sleep after a long healthy life incurring minimal costs), that means we need to collect ~$200,000 per person to cover end of life expenses. People in countries with socialised medicine talk of how they have paid their taxes all their life, and this is true (though some goes to education and roading, and some is frivolously wasted), but I think they are unaware of how quickly the tax that they have paid is used up.

Personal responsibility

Our own health should be something we take responsibility for. It is true that many things happen that we have no control over: accidents, infections, diseases, poor genetics. But much is known about healthy lifestyle. Debates around increased risks of the order of 10–100% are difficult to confirm. But it is clear, for example, that smoking tobacco, morbid obesity, and base jumping do not usually improve one’s health. Healthcare provision should take into account personal responsibility. (Though I think this intrinsically, I am aware that it can become politicised with claims that “politically incorrect behaviour” is “unhealthy”).

The problem with this is people often don’t take responsibility. And when they subsequently get unwell it seems unkind to leave them to suffer the consequences of their decision. Mercy is toward the undeserving.

Isn’t health provision caring for those who are suffering?

Yes, and no. It is true that we should think of caring for those who suffer, at least from a Christian perspective. But previously this has been about providing food and shelter, giving clothes, comforting people in pain. This is something that most individuals can give to another. But modern health care is more extensive. We can diagnose and treat many illnesses, often at significant monetary cost. It is not something that most individuals can do, and it is hard for many individuals to cover the cost of doing so for others. I applaud hospital and charity work in the third world. I think these are excellent endeavours, frequently they do much good for minimal cost. But I am cautious when people say that everyone is entitled to healthcare irrespective of cost. Someone does have to pay and there are competing claims to money. The statement that no cost is too great for good health is just not true.

Health insurance?

People need to rethink this. Healthcare costs are somewhat foreseeable. We can budget for routine doctor visits, prescription costs, spectacles, regular dental care. It should be possible to assess approximately how often people and families need to attend to their health, and budget for this, with a moderate margin. Insurance is not about these costs.

You don’t get insurance to cover the cost of your mortgage each month. If you did, the company would pay your mortgage, and your premiums would cover that plus an overhead. It would be more expensive. Health insurance should be insurance. It is to cover that which you do not expect to use it for. Insurance should have a high excess (save up the excess in discounted premiums and keep it in a bank account) and cover rare (and expensive) events that do not happen to most people. That way you have cheap insurance as an insurance, and you don’t pay overheads for costs that you know are going to be regular.

Categories: duty, economics, health

>Critique of my Young Earth Creationism post

2009 August 22 7 comments

> My post on young earth creationism raised several responses here and at Vox Popoli where it was originally posted. See also here and here. As well as a response on theologyonline.

These responses suggest some further aspects need to be discussed.

It is important for me to clarify what I was trying to do. I deliberately chose to give a scientific/ philosophical defence rather than a scriptural one. I thought it would interest a broader audience. And it is important to realise the issues in this debate are philosophical.

There were 2 main points I wanted to make.

  1. There is a fundamental difference between operational and historical science. Thus historical science can be challenged by types of knowledge (such as testimony and documentary knowledge) in a way that operational science cannot be challenged.
  2. Evidence against YEC that presupposes evolution is true is invalid. (In fact evidence against any theory presuming a priori that it is false is invalid).

So if people came away unconvinced yet more aware of their own preconceptions, and they could see that YEC is a valid philosophy that can be considered—and either accepted or rejected—then I am content with this.

The main complaints were the lack of positive evidence for YEC and the lack of exegetical support given for the YEC position.

Addressing the lack of positive evidence first. This complaint is reasonable, especially given my title. However the reasons given above are why I was cautious to discuss specific issues. Until these issues are dealt with, debates are frequently at cross purposes. YECists are forever pointing out the assumptions that non-YECists hold.

I had considered that too much discussion on the merits of, say, helium diffusion dating (and why evolutionists disagree with it) would miss the point that evolutionists are assuming ancient dates because they have a prior commitment to such, and thus they are judging other dating methods by their agreement, or not, to radiometric dating. Whereas my position is that the questioning of all dating methods is legitimate. As it was, the debates in the comments still frequently assumed the validity of old earth dogma.

Do YECists not also have a prior commitment to younger dates? Yes, they do. But they admit their commitment to a biblical timeframe. Evolutionists frequently deny their prior commitment and pretend they are somehow more objective, when in fact they are choosing the clocks that suit their purposes.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of more positive evidence of a young earth would have improved the post and it may be something I could address at a later stage.

My choice to avoid a scriptural defence on why the Bible demands YEC was deliberate, as mentioned. I laid out the basic beliefs for the benefit of those who did not know what they were; to clarify what YECists believe and also what they do not believe despite accusations to the contrary. However the responses and a conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago has suggested that I should probably give the scriptural reasons for the YEC position at some stage.

>New Zealand voters do not wish to criminalise smacking

2009 August 21 3 comments

>Following from my recent post on whether or not parents who smack should be criminals. The preliminary results to the recent New Zealand citizen’s initiated referendum are available. To the question:

  • Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

1.6 million of an eligible 3.0 million people (54%) voted by postal ballot.

Vote Yes

  • A smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence

got 12%.

Vote No

  • A smack as part of good parental correction should not be a criminal offence

got 88%.

Results of referendums are not binding for New Zealand government.

>Dog food?

2009 August 20 5 comments

> Auckland resident Paea Taufa killed and cooked his dog this past weekend. He was visited by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) but not prosecuted as his actions are legal.

He rendered the dog unconscious with a blow to the head before slitting its throat, which is regarded as humane.

Under the Animal Welfare Act it is legal to kill a dog in New Zealand if the animal is slaughtered swiftly and painlessly.

That did not stop several persons from condemning him and calling for a ban on the consumption of dog meat in New Zealand. SPCA Auckland chief executive Garth Halliday said,

Although we appreciate the difference of cultures that exist in a place like New Zealand, the SPCA finds this sort of treatment of any animal to be totally unacceptable,… Even though the law says you can humanely kill an animal, you should not be treating any animal like this.

And SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said,

The slaughtering, roasting and eating of a dog or other companion animal is simply abhorrent to our culture as New Zealanders.

Korean Garden Trust spokesman Stanley Park was surprised it was legal in New Zealand. He also stated,

Dog eating may be part of our history, but most Koreans today would consider eating dogs totally barbaric – and our culture actually forbids us making a meal of animals that are considered companions.

Save Animals From Exploitation voiced objection as well. Hans Kriek said,

While we are opposed to the killing of all animals for eating, banning the consumption of dog meat would be a good start.

And a variety of others have expressed their thoughts on this, many of the opponents calling for a ban.

Now I have never tasted dog meat. I don’t have a strong desire to facilitate my consumption of it at a later stage, though I would be prepared to try it, or eat it if offered it in a culture where my refusal would be seen as offensive.

But why the call for banning? You don’t like the idea of eating a dog, don’t eat one.

Kriek’s comment is revealing. He opposes all meat eating and just sees this as a step in eventual banning of all carnivory. It is, however, probably the most consistent position among the opponents.

When people find something icky what makes them strongly desire to prevent everyone else from doing it? These same people would likely strongly object if I imposed bans on their preferred behaviours. I am not a particular fan of tattoos or body piercing, but I do not support calls to make it illegal.

I am all for debate, and some things should be illegal. But the speed at which people are prepared to jump from “I wouldn’t do that” to “no one should ever be allowed to do that” is phenomenal. This in an age when the call for tolerance is greater than at many other times in history.*

* I am not suggesting I support this age’s call for tolerance, just noting that we are in it—though rapidly moving away from it.