There is Hope

Three homeschool graduates who are planning to study chemistry at the university level.

Three homeschool graduates who are planning to study chemistry at the university level.

On Saturday, I had the honor of addressing homeschool graduates at the 23rd annual Indiana Foundation for Homeschooling Statewide Graduation Ceremony. It was an excellent ceremony with great music, wonderful speeches from two of the graduates, and plenty of tradition. For me, however, it was more than that. Nowadays, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of our nation (and the world in general). This graduation ceremony helped remind me that there is hope, and it rests squarely on the shoulders of graduates like those at the ceremony.

There were a total of 80 students who took part in the ceremony, and some of them did something in addition to walking across stage and getting their diploma. One graduate played a (very difficult) violin piece as a prelude to set the mood. The color guard was composed of graduates, and three other graduates led the audience in singing the National Anthem. Two of the graduates gave inspiring speeches, each with a different message. One graduate sang a solo, and another played an impressive piano solo. I gave a commencement address that is similar to one I have given before, and its message is very important to me.

While all of these activities made for an excellent ceremony, they weren’t what inspired my hope for this nation (and the world as a whole). That came from getting to know many of the graduates. A lot of homeschool graduations have only a handful of graduates, since they service a small region instead of an entire state. As a result, you can learn a lot about each individual graduate. Since there were so many graduates at this ceremony, that wasn’t possible. Nevertheless, when each graduate walked across the stage, the screen showed his or her name and whatever information that the graduate wanted to share with the audience.

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PZ Myers Needs Better Reading Skills Than That

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

I was delighted to see that another blog post of mine is the subject of yet another diatribe by Dr. PZ Myers (Creatonists Need Better Evidence Than That). For those who missed it, my post on Mark Armitage’s groundbreaking original research bothered Dr. Myers, and he wrote a response that showed he didn’t really bother to read much about the issue. I wrote a reply that was designed to educate him on the issue. His newest diatribe is a response to that reply. Unfortunately, while Dr. Myers has shown more of an ability to read than he did in his first attempt, he needs to sharpen his reading skills if he ever wants to be informed on the issues that he is attempting to discuss. Perhaps this post will help.

Let’s start with Dr. Myers’s first problem. He doesn’t like the fact that carbon-14 has been found in a Triceratops fossil that is supposed to be millions of years old. In his first attempt at ignoring the data, he claimed:

If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.

In my response, I noted that this is just what was reported. The fossil was given a C-14 age of 41,010 ± 220 years. Of course, now he claims that such an age is meaningless. Why? He says that the date indicates there is very little carbon-14 in the fossil – so little that it could be explained by a source other than the Triceratops itself.

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My Review of “Is Genesis History?”

genesishistory

The film Is Genesis History is unique in many ways. As far as I know, for example, it is the first creationist film that was released as a Fathom Event, meaning it was scheduled to be in theaters for a single showing on a single day (February 23rd). Unfortunately, I was speaking at a conference during that showing, so I was unable to go. It was apparently a very popular Fathom Event, because it was then scheduled for two “encore performances” (March 2nd and March 7th). Unfortunately, I was busy on both of those days as well! As a result, I had to wait for the film to come out on DVD. It was released May 2nd, so I ordered it, and then I watched it.

My overall review is mixed. There are some wonderful moments in the film, and there are some moments that are not so wonderful. Before I get into the details, however, it is best to describe the film in general. The star and narrator of the film is Dr. Del Tackett, who originally studied computer science and taught it for the Air Force. He also served President George H. W. Bush as director of technical planning for the National Security Council. His highest earned degree is a Doctorate of Management from Colorado Technical University. He interviews thirteen different PhDs, most of whom are scientists. All of the interviews are designed to investigate the question that makes up the title of the film: Is Genesis History?

The idea of interviewing only people who hold PhDs (another unique feature of the film) was a good one. They were all clearly knowledgeable in their fields, and they all seemed comfortable in front of the camera. Rather than interviewing them in their offices, Tackett went “into the field” with each of them. When he interviewed geologist Dr. Steve Austin, for example, he did so at the Grand Canyon, where Austin has done a lot of his research. When he interviewed microbiologist Dr. Kevin Anderson, he went to Anderson’s laboratory. This made the interviews more interesting and provided some great visuals to go along with the information being presented.

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Read, PZ, Read!

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil (image by Mark Armitage)

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil
(image by Mark Armitage)

As I indicate in my “Links to Investigate” list on the right, one of the few blogs I read regularly is written by Dr. PZ Myers. While I disagree with nearly everything he writes, I do think he provides an entertaining, “new atheist” perspective on science. Of course, if you dislike foul language, it is best to avoid his blog. Some people are adept at defending their point of view with reason and intelligence, while others specialize in crude insults. It is rather obvious which camp Dr. Myers is in.

Imagine my delight when I was doing my “light reading” this past weekend and found that a blog post of mine was the focus of one of his diatribes! The post is entitled, “Think, creationists, think,” and it is an attempt to discredit Mark Armitage’s excellent work of isolating soft cells from a dinosaur fossil. The problem, of course, is that Dr. Myers didn’t actually bother to read up on the issue, and as a result, he makes some rather silly statements.

For example, when discussing the carbon-14 found in Armitage’s Triceratops fossil, Dr. Myers claims that someone with a PhD in nuclear chemistry (like me) should know that the presence of carbon-14 in the fossil means nothing. After all,

C14 dating uses the ratio of carbon isotopes; it can’t be used on material above about 50,000 years because the quantity of carbon-14 is too low to be reliable, not because it’s nonexistent. If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.

Well, had Dr. Myers bothered to click on the link given in my post, he would have seen that an age was reported: 41,010 ± 220 years. As I state in that link, this is well within the accepted range of carbon-14 dating, and it is younger than many other carbon-14 dates published in the literature. In addition, the process used to make the sample ready for dating has been spelled out in the peer-reviewed literature, and it is designed to free the sample of all contamination except for carbon that comes from the original fossil. Now as I said in my original post, it’s possible that the reading comes from contamination. However, I find that unlikely, given the process used on the sample, the cellular evidence that Armitage found, and the fact that such carbon-14 dates are common in all manner of fossils that are supposedly millions of years old or older.

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Scientist Isolates Individual Dinosaur Cells!

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

If you follow young-earth creationism at all, you probably know about Mark Armitage. In 2013, he and Kevin Anderson wrote a paper in which they imaged soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil that is supposedly 65 million years old. This challenges the old-earth dogma pronounced by the High Priests of Science, and Armitage was happy to discuss that fact with students at the university where he worked. However, to teach such heresy is an excommunicable offense, so the Inquisition fired him from his university position. He eventually won a lawsuit against them.

Despite the hard work of the Inquisition, Armitage is still investigating his amazing discovery. A couple of years ago, for example, a sample of the fossil was analyzed for carbon-14 content. If it really is 65 million years old, there should be no carbon-14 in the fossil. Nevertheless, carbon-14 was found. Of course, there is always the chance that the carbon-14 is the result of contamination, but combined with the presence of soft bone cells, it seems obvious to me that the fossil is significantly younger than 65 million years!

Somehow, I missed the latest update on Armitage’s incredible work. In the January, 2016 issue of Microscopy Today, he published more results from his painstaking analysis, and they are truly amazing.

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No, I Did Not Write Apologia’s Elementary Science Books

The cover from one of the many excellent elementary science books authored by Jeannie Fulbright.

The cover from one of the many excellent elementary science books authored by Jeannie Fulbright. Her name is magnified so you can see it clearly.

It has been a while since I have been able to blog, because I have been busy speaking at homeschooling conventions. This past weekend, for example, I spoke at the MassHope convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. I haven’t been at that convention for several years, and it was great to be back! It is an excellent event, with lots of great speakers and a fine facility.

I had an experience at the convention that I would like to share, because some version of it has occurred over and over again for many, many years. While its frequency has decreased, it is still something that happens regularly at the homeschool events which I attend. In between my talks, I was sitting at my publisher’s booth so I could speak with people one-on-one. A mother came up to me with a confused look on her face. She looked down at my elementary books (which were on the table), looked up at me, and the following conversation took place:

Mother: What are these?

Me: They are my elementary science courses.

Mother: But they aren’t from Apologia.

Me: No. They are published by Berean Builders

Mother: But you wrote the Apologia books.

Me: Apologia publishes most of my junior high and high school courses, but Berean Builders publishes my elementary courses and my high school chemistry course. I did not write the Apologia elementary courses.

Mother: Of course you did.

Me: No, I did not. They were written by Jeannie Fulbright.

Mother: (still a bit confused) We use the Apologia elementary books, and I thought you wrote them.

Me: No, Jeannie Fulbright wrote them. She and I have similar writing styles, but she wrote the Apologia elementary courses.

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A Series of Unorthodox Easter Skits

Me as the devil and Emma as my right-hand demon. (photo by Kim Williams)

Me as the devil and Emma as my right-hand demon. (photo by Kim Williams)

Easter is the most important holiday in Christendom. As Scripture tells us, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In the church I attend, we always try to do something very special on Easter Sunday, and this Easter’s service was particularly meaningful to me. More than a month ago, the pastor asked if I could work up a series of skits that would augment his sermon. We had done something very similar for the service on Christmas day, and the congregation really seemed to appreciate it. So the pastor and I exchanged some ideas, and I ended up writing a series of very unorthodox skits that we presented throughout his message.

His sermon was based on three gardens (Eden, Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb). His overall message was that the tragedy of what happened at the Garden of Eden has been erased by the sacrifice that started at the Garden of Gethsemane and the victory of the resurrection that took place at the Garden Tomb. It’s difficult to write skits about such well-known events, so I often try to write from a unique perspective. With the pastor’s permission, I decided to write these skits from the Devil’s perspective. The four skits will appear below.

This was all laden with emotion for me, because it was the first time I had done a skit since my right-hand man in the church’s drama ministry passed away. I wanted to do something that made it clear how important this step was, so I hesitantly asked his teenage daughter, Emma, if she would do the skits with me. She agreed and did a great job. I really couldn’t have asked for it to go much better, and the congregation appreciated both the content of the skits and the significance of the event.

Feel free to use these skits in any way that the Lord leads. If possible, I would like a credit, but the most important thing is to use them to minister to the Body of Christ.

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Can a Homeschooled Child Take an Extra Year of High School?

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Alberta Home Education Convention in Canada. As far as I know, it is the largest home education convention in Canada, and I think I have spoken there only once before, way back in the year 2000. It was really wonderful to go back. I met several parents who told me they remembered me from 17 years ago, and that I encouraged them to continue on in their homeschool journey. Their children are now in high school, at university, or in the real world, and they are very happy with their decision to continue homeschooling.

One of the kind souls who drove me around actually told me his son’s story, which is worth retelling here. He graduated homeschool many years ago and wanted to attend a major Canadian university. At that time, the university did not accept homeschool applicants. However, the student’s family knew someone on the inside, and that person was able to convince the university to accept him. At first, the university did not allow him to take any courses related to his desired major, because the administrators thought that homeschooled students “just played with Play-Doh all day.” As is generally the case, this homeschool graduate excelled, and the university quickly changed its tune. After he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a pile of honors, the university asked him to help them write their admissions policy for homeschooled students.

I spoke several times at the convention, and the audiences were very appreciative. I always try to leave time at the end of my talks for questions from the audience, and I succeeded for every talk except one. Many of the questions related to very specific cases, but I got one question that I think could apply to everyone, so I decided to discuss it here. At the end of one of my talks, I was asked whether or not a homeschooled student could take a fifth year of high school. The mother thought that for one of her children, an extra year of high school would do a lot of good, but she was concerned that it might look odd to a university.

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Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating

In beta decay, a neutron turns into a proton by emitting a beta particle, which is an electron (click for credit)

In beta decay, a neutron turns into a proton by emitting a beta particle, which is an electron (click for credit)

As someone who has studied radioactivity in detail, I have always been a bit amused by the assertion that radioactive dating is a precise way to determine the age of an object. This false notion is often promoted when radioactive dates are listed with utterly unrealistic error bars. In this report, for example, we are told that using one radioactive dating technique, a lunar rock sample is 4,283 million years old, plus or minus 23 million years old. In other words, there is a 95% certainty that the age is somewhere between 4,283 + 23 million years and 4,283 – 23 million years. That’s just over half a percent error in something that is supposedly multiple billions of years old.

Of course, that error estimate is complete nonsense. It refers to one specific source of error – the uncertainty in the measurement of the amounts of various atoms used in the analysis. Most likely, that is the least important source of error. If those rocks really have been sitting around on the moon for billions of years, I suspect that the the wide range of physical and chemical processes which occurred over that time period had a much more profound effect on the uncertainty of the age determination. This is best illustrated by the radioactive age of a sample of diamonds from Zaire. Their age was measured to be 6.0 +/- 0.3 billion years old. Do you see the problem? Those who are committed to an ancient age for the earth currently believe that it is 4.6 billion years old. Obviously, then, the minimum error in that measurement is 1.4 billion years, not 0.3 billion years!

Such uncertainties are usually glossed over, especially when radioactive dates are communicated to the public and, more importantly, to students. Generally, we are told that scientists have ways to analyze the object they are dating so as to eliminate the uncertainties due to unknown processes that occurred in the past. One way this is done in many radioactive dating techniques is to use an isochron. However, a recent paper by Dr. Robert B. Hayes has pointed out a problem with isochrons that has, until now, not been considered.

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I Will Be Teaching Online Classes!

Your high school student can have me as a teacher!

Your high school student can have me as a teacher!

After teaching university classes for a couple of years, I have remembered that I really enjoy teaching. However, due to scheduling issues, I won’t be able to teach at the university this year. Nevertheless, I have officially “caught the bug,” so I decided to get my teaching “fix” with online courses. If you would like your student to have me as a teacher for the upcoming academic year, this is your chance!

I will be teaching biology, chemistry and physics. Not surprisingly, we will use the textbooks I have authored: Exploring Creation with Biology, Discovering Design with Chemistry, and Exploring Creation with Physics. Each course will consist of a weekly 90-minute videoconference where I get together with 20-25 students and discuss the material that is covered in the text. Classes start the week of September 11 and meet every week except for the week of November 20th (Thanksgiving break), the weeks of December 25th and January 1st (Christmas break), and the week of March 19th (spring break). Classes end on May 16th.

Students will be expected to have read the material that will be discussed in class so that they can ask questions about the things they don’t understand. In addition to answering any questions the students have, I will show cool videos (like this one) that illustrate the scientific concepts which are being covered, discuss the more difficult material, give students tips on how to remember things, and share my views on the relevant scientific breakthroughs that are currently happening. I am really looking forward to it!

One thing to note is that these are “honors” classes, which means that they are more academically challenging than a normal high school class but are not at the AP or CLEP level. Students will be expected to do experiments at home, but I will grade their laboratory notebook entries. Students in chemistry and physics will be expected to do all of the experiments in the course. For biology, students who do not care about having an “honors” course will be expected to do the experiments that use household items as well as the dissection experiments. Students who want an “honors” level of biology will be expected to do all the experiments, even the ones requiring a microscope and its associated kit.

If you are interested, you can learn more here.

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