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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An Excellent Question from a University Student

Posted by jlwile on September 24, 2014

nuclear_Chem

In case you haven’t read two of my previous posts (here and here), I am doing something I haven’t done for nearly 20 years – teaching a university-level chemistry course. The class has been going on since the last week of August, but starting this past Friday, the topic has been nuclear chemistry, which is the speciality in which I got my Ph.D. Obviously, then, it is near and dear to my heart. We are probably spending too much time on the subject, but I just can’t help it. We will be getting back to “normal” chemistry (which concentrates on electrons) soon enough. For now, I want the students to see the wonders of the nucleus!

Of course, the most reasonable subject with which to begin a discussion of nuclear chemistry is radiation. So I taught the students about the various modes of radioactive decay, why radioactive decay happens, etc. Then I tried to make the point that radiation is everywhere, and that’s okay, since our bodies are designed to deal with low doses of it. I then showed them a Geiger counter and a radioactive source. The source was labeled with the warning symbols you see above. Not surprisingly, when I put the source up to the Geiger counter, the students heard lots of clicking, because the source was emitting gamma rays.

Then I surprised them a bit. I put an old orange ceramic plate up to the Geiger counter, and it started clicking a lot more than it did with the source I had just used. That’s because the pretty orange color was made using uranium oxide, which is radioactive. It emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. People ate off those plates for many years before it was determined that they shouldn’t be made anymore. I did the same thing with an old wristwatch. Once again, the Geiger counter went nuts, because the watch’s hands and numbers had been painted with a mixture of radium and zinc sulfide to make them glow. The radium also emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. I then assured them that modern luminous paints aren’t radioactive.

The reason I am writing this blog entry, however, is because of a question one student asked me.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson – Serial Spreader of Falsehoods

Posted by jlwile on September 18, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking as host at the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum. (click for credit)

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking as host at the Apollo 40th anniversary celebration held at the National Air and Space Museum. (click for credit)

A few months ago, I discussed some of the many historical falsehoods spread by Fox’s reboot of the television show known as Cosmos. A professor of history, philosophy, and sociology of science at Michigan State University actually wondered if it was okay for the show to promote such falsehoods, because the ultimate goal was to get people to believe in a naturalistic view of the universe. According to him, this is a good thing, so perhaps it’s okay to lie a bit about history in order to achieve that goal.

At the time, I didn’t want to blame the show’s host, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for these falsehoods. He’s a very likeable guy, and besides, he’s an astrophysicist, not a historian. I assumed that he was just reading a script and didn’t know enough to realize that the script was wrong. After all, Bill Nye had a similar problem when he didn’t understand the science behind a faked experiment that he narrated. Unfortunately, I think I was giving Dr. Tyson too much credit.

Thanks to the folks over at Evolution News and Views, I was made aware of three articles at The Federalist which show that spreading falsehoods seems to be a pattern for Dr. Tyson. The first article discusses how he made up a fake newspaper headline, and in the process, demonstrated that he doesn’t understand basic statistics. The second article rehashes the first one and then gives an example of a quote Dr. Tyson fabricated as well as a supposedly true story he tells, the details of which seem to change as he tells it. The third article discusses another fabricated quote that demonstrates Tyson’s lack of Biblical knowledge.

There is simply no excuse for making up quotes, headlines, and supposedly true stories. Now that I have read these articles in The Federalist, I wonder if Dr. Tyson had a hand in writing the historical falsehoods he spewed on Cosmos. It seems that would be in keeping with his standard mode of operation.

Strike Yet Another Vestigial Organ

Posted by jlwile on September 15, 2014

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale.  The small pelvis is circled.  (click for credit)

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale. The small pelvis is circled. (click for credit)

Evolutionists love to talk about vestigial organs. Consider, for example, the human appendix. This wormlike tube connected to a person’s cecum looks something like the cecum that you find in some herbivores. Since there is some similarity between the two organs, and since a person can live an apparently normal life without his or her appendix, evolutionists long thought it was a vestigial organ – a remnant of our evolutionary history. Most evolutionary sources said it was useless in people, but we now know that isn’t true (see here and here). Others claimed it wasn’t necessarily useless, but it was still vestigial. They said the appendix is definitely the remnant of a herbivore’s cecum, but as it shrank, it developed a new purpose. We now know that’s not true, either.

Of course, there are many other organs that evolutionists claimed were vestigial but we now know aren’t (see here, here, here, here, and here). It seems we can add another to that list: the pelvis in a whale. Like the appendix, most evolutionary sources say that the whale pelvis is useless. For example, the book Life on earth says:1

During whale evolution, losing the hind legs provided an advantage, better streamlining the body for movement through water. The result is the modern whale with small, useless pelvic bones.

We now know that this is simply not true.

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How Should a Christian Deal with Tragedy?

Posted by jlwile on September 11, 2014

A child's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, which is in Washington, D.C.  (click for credit)

A child’s grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, which is in Washington, D.C. (click for credit)

When my wife and I were in Barbados with her parents a few years ago, we toured an old church on the island. Like many old churches, it had a graveyard in back. Several of the gravestones had epitaphs, but some did not, because those epitaphs were actually inside the church. Some of them were hanging on the walls, and some were even a part of the church’s floor. I read several of them, but there is one I will never forget. It was for a woman, and part of it read:

The last privilege vouchsafed to her on earth was to teach her husband and her children how a Christian ought to die.

I teared up as I read that sentence, and I wondered if someone would be able to say something similar about me one day.

For some reason, that epitaph brought home to me in a very real way a simple truth that should have been quite obvious: One way I could learn about how to deal with tragedies in my own life is to watch how my brothers and sisters in Christ deal with their own tragedies. As I have started doing this, I have found that some of my Christian brothers and sisters are negative role models – they show me how I shouldn’t deal with such situations. Thankfully, that’s not always the case.

On August 23rd, I learned that some friends of mine (a young couple) in Seattle had experienced a tragedy. She was delivering what was expected to be a healthy baby boy, but a complication arose. As a result of that complication, the baby (named Teddy) went without oxygen for 12 minutes. Teddy was rushed to Seattle Children’s hospital. The hospital staff worked tirelessly. The parents prayed. Their friends prayed. Family rushed in to offer support. A Facebook prayer group sprung up. Teddy fought valiantly.

On September 3rd, he passed away.

This was the young couple’s first child. Understandably, they were devastated. Throughout the entire process, however, they never lost sight of their Savior. They didn’t give the typical, “Christianese” response, plastering fake smiles on their faces and saying, “It’s all in God’s hands.” Instead, they shared their very real pain as well as how their very real faith was helping them to cope. I want to give you a feel for what I mean by quoting something the young father wrote:

We’ve been snuggling with Teddy, singing worship songs, crooning Sinatra, and humming lullabies. We’ve been kissing his face, his hands, his head, telling him stories about Jesus and his family and his mom and dad.

This is what we call our God Bubble. The pain is real, the tears flow steadily, the anger simmers beneath the surface of the shock. But we cherish moments instead of wasting them fantasizing over What Ifs. We gaze into Teddy’s peaceful face instead of slamming our fists into walls. We read Psalm 23, inserting Teddy’s name into the verses, instead of cursing the air. And when the nightmare invades our peace we weep, we pray, we hold the ones nearby. When the horror raises its head we surrender ourselves and our baby boy to God, our father who loves us more than we love Teddy, and beg for this suffering to pass us by — then accept whatever our faithful God decides to bless us with.

This young man is about half my age, but he has wisdom beyond my years. He and his precious wife have taught me more about how a Christian should deal with tragedy than a thousand sermons given by the world’s best preachers ever could.

My heart goes out to my friends, because I am sure this is a pain that will never leave them. But my heartfelt thanks go out to them as well. My life was changed by watching how they lived through this horrific situation, and I am certain that many others can say the same thing.

Please Note: This was posted with the permission of Teddy’s father.

Gore Was Spectacularly Wrong About Arctic Ice

Posted by jlwile on September 9, 2014

This was the extent of Arctic sea ice as seen by NASA's Aqua satellite September 3, 2010.

This was the extent of Arctic sea ice as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite September 3, 2010.

In 2008, former Vice President Al Gore was speaking to a German audience and stated:

The entire north polar ice cap may well be completely melted off in five years.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which he gave on December 10, 2007, he stated:

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

Seven years from now.

Of course, he thinks human-made global warming is to blame.

So depending on which prediction you believe, Al Gore thought there would be no more ice at the North Pole by 2013 (five years after his speech in Germany), 2014 (seven years after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech) or 2029 (22 years after his Nobel Prize acceptance speech). It’s obvious which one Gore favored. He mentioned it twice in the quote above: 2014.

Let’s look at the latest measurements of Arctic sea ice to check the former vice president’s prediction.

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What Keeps a Young Adult Active in the Faith?

Posted by jlwile on September 4, 2014

The praying hands statue in Web City, Missouri  (click for credit)

The praying hands statue in Web City, Missouri (click for credit)

We’ve all heard the story before. A child grows up in a Christian home and seems completely committed to the faith. When the child grows up and leaves home, however, he leaves his faith behind. This, of course, is devastating to his parents, and they wonder what they did wrong. Should they have spent more time at church? Should they have emphasized apologetics (reasoned arguments in support of the Christian faith) more? Should they have limited his circle of friends more? Should they have sent him to a Bible college before letting him go off into the real world? What could they have done to make him realize that faith is important throughout the course of his life?

This is a real fear for many parents. They understand how important faith is in a person’s day-to-day life, and they want to spend eternity with their children. How can they avoid the heartache of seeing their children leave the faith? Not surprisingly, there are people who offer answers to that question. Some groups insist that children must be firmly grounded in a Christian worldview. As a result, they offer courses that they claim will help young adults keep their faith in a hostile world. Others insist that the problem lies in the fact that most young adults don’t know how to defend their faith against attacks. Thus, you need to firmly ground them in apologetics in order for them to keep their faith.

The core assumption involved with both of these “answers” is that young Christians just don’t know enough. They don’t know how to analyze the presuppositions that people use in forming their worldviews. They don’t know how to answer the objections that those who are skeptical of the Christian faith raise. They don’t know what parts of the Bible to read for guidance. If we could just teach them all the things they need to know, they will be firm in their faith for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, that core assumption is wrong. As a result, while things like worldview classes and apologetics books might be useful and helpful, they will do little to keep a young adult in the faith. What actually keeps a young adult active in the Christian faith? The answer might surprise you, but it really shouldn’t.

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Not a CDC Coverup…A Case of Using the Wrong Analytical Method

Posted by jlwile on September 2, 2014

Sometimes, you can get the job done even when you use the wrong tool.  However, sometimes the wrong tool produces the wrong results.

Sometimes, you can get the job done even when you use the wrong tool. However, sometimes the wrong tool produces the wrong results.

The “news story” headline is astounding: “Fraud at the CDC uncovered, 340% risk of autism hidden from public.” The article says that data in a 2004 CDC study on the relationship between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism were purposefully hidden so it could deny a relationship between the two. Those hidden data supposedly show that some who got the MMR vaccine were significantly more likely to become autistic than those who didn’t. According to the article, this shows that the original study is “fraudulent,” and there is now a petition to get the study retracted. It also calls into question the other studies that the CDC often cites to show that there is no relationship between vaccination and autism. And this article has to be reliable. After all, it is on CNN’s website, right?

Well, not exactly. If you go to the article, you will see “NOT VERIFIED BY CNN” at the top, and you will find a CNN producer note that this website is the network’s “user-generated news community.” So the article wasn’t written by someone at CNN. It was written by a blogger. Does that mean it’s not reliable? Of course not. I read several blogs regularly, and I find most of the articles written on them to be very reliable. In fact, I would say that some blogs are more reliable than some standard media outlets! The question, of course, is whether or not this particular blog article is reliable. When you look into the details, you find that it’s not.

The article’s big claim is that by including data which were supposedly covered up by the CDC, you can find that African American boys have a 340% increased risk of autism if they got the MMR vaccine. This conclusion, however, was “hidden due to pressure from senior officials.” Of course, to make such a claim, someone must have done some sort of study. The article itself tells you nothing about that study, but the CNN Producer Note at the top indicates that it was a study done by Dr. Brian Hooker (a bioengineer) and was published in a journal called Translational Neurodegeneration. An update to that note indicates that the journal has pulled the study, and the journal says this is “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions.”

That doesn’t sound very good, but then again, maybe the journal has been pressured by the CDC to participate in their elaborate coverup. Fortunately, I was able to read the study before it was pulled, and I have to agree with the journal’s decision. The study’s conclusions are obviously wrong, because it used the wrong kind of tool to evaluate the data.

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Exploring Creation with Chemistry, 3rd Edition: My Initial Thoughts

Posted by jlwile on August 28, 2014

An Erlenmeyer flask is a typical piece of glassware used in chemistry experiments.  (click for credit)

An Erlenmeyer flask is a typical piece of glassware used in chemistry experiments. (click for credit)

I write this blog post with a somewhat heavy heart. Apologia is in the process of producing Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Third Edition, which is an update of the high school chemistry course I wrote. Updating science books is a good thing, and when Apologia updated the Human Anatomy and Physiology course that I co-authored, I was very happy with the result. The new edition of that course is better than the old edition, no question about it. I wish I could say the same thing about the new edition of this chemistry course. So far, however, I cannot.

Now please understand that I haven’t seen the entire updated course yet. Although Apologia’s catalog indicated the new course would be available in July, they have delayed the release of the book. To help families who plan to use the new edition for this academic year, they have posted the first three modules of the course online. That’s what I have reviewed. There were 16 modules in the original course, and assuming this holds true for the new edition, that means I have reviewed only about 3/16 of the course.

In addition, please understand that since I wrote the original course, I am probably not as objective as I would like to be when evaluating the new edition. After all, I wrote what I thought was the best explanation of general chemistry that I could possibly give. Perhaps I can’t be satisfied with any update. However, I was very satisfied with the update of the Human Anatomy and Physiology course that I co-wrote, so I really hope I am being as objective as possible. I am certainly willing to believe that there’s a better way to teach chemistry than what I developed. I just don’t think this is it.

Finally, I have to say that I know one of the authors of the new edition personally (Rusty Hughes), and I consider him to be an excellent teacher. I also really like him as a person. I don’t want him (or the other author, who I do not know) to take offense. It’s just that many people have asked for my thoughts on this new edition, and I feel compelled to write them.

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First Day of Class

Posted by jlwile on August 25, 2014

College students sitting in class (not my class - click for credit)

College students sitting in class (not my class – click for credit)

Today was my first day teaching general chemistry at Anderson University. I promise I won’t be reporting on every class session, but I couldn’t resist talking about this one. I started the class with a little demo. Prior to class, I had soaked a Q-tip in a slightly acidic solution of phenolphthalein, an acid/base indicator. In presence of an acid, it is clear. In the presence of a base, it is pink. I used the Q-tip to write the name of the course (Chem 2110) on a large sheet of paper, and it dried clear. I soaked another Q-tip in a solution of potassium ferrocyanide (which is a light yellow color) and wrote my name on the same piece of paper, right over where I had written the course name. It also dried clear. When I set it up, then, the students saw a blank sheet of paper.

I then sprayed the paper with a very weak solution of sodium hydroxide. The base caused the phenolphthalein to turn pink, revealing the class name. It had no effect on the potassium ferrocyanide. I then sprayed the paper with a weakly acidic solution of iron (III) chloride. The acid caused the phenolphthalein to turn clear again, so the course name went away. The iron (III) chloride reacted with the potassium ferrocyanide to bring out my name in blue. I love that demo, and at least a few of the students seemed to appreciate it.

After going over the syllabus and discussing the mechanics of the course, I decided to start by giving one of the best descriptions of science I have ever heard. It comes from Dr. Henry F. Schaeffer III, the Graham Perdue Professor professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He is one of the most important chemists of our time, and here is what he says about science:1

The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.

I told the students that as far as I am concerned, that’s what science is all about – figuring out how God did it and trying to understand a small piece of God’s amazing plan for His creation. I then went on to discuss the introductory material for the course.

I was pleased to find out that two of the 61 students in my class had used my high school chemistry book! I wrote that book to prepare students to study chemistry at the college level, and I have received many notes from students, parents, and teachers indicating that it has. It will be interesting to see whether or not these two students have a similar experience.

It looks like the semester is off to a good start!

REFERENCE

1. Sheler, J. L. and J.M. Schrof, “The Creation,” U.S. News & World Report (December 23, 1991), pp 56-64.
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Another Study Shows College Does Not Erode Faith – For Most Christians

Posted by jlwile on August 21, 2014

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting.  (click for credit)

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting. (click for credit)

About a year ago I discussed a study that indicated a college education makes a person more likely to retain his or her faith. Recently, a new study on essentially the same topic was published in the same academic journal. It looked at data in a different (and very interesting) way, but its conclusions generally support those of the previous study.

The author, Dr. Philip Schwadel, used a well-known data set called the General Social Survey (GSS) for the years 1973 to 2010. He then looked at the years in which the respondents were born. He found that he had plenty of data for people born after 1900 and before 1980, so he focused on them. This gave him 38,251 people to analyze, which is an excellent sample size. In the GSS, the people are asked what their religious preference is: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion. They are also asked about their education and what kinds of degrees they have. Dr. Schwadel wanted to determine whether or not a college degree had any effect on a person answering “no religion.”

He found that people who were born from 1900 to 1964 were more likely to say they had no religion if they had a college degree. However, the amount by which they were more likely to say that dropped fairly steadily from 1915-1964. For those born in 1965, a college degree had no effect on whether or not they answered “no religion.” After 1965, having a college degree made a person less likely to indicate they had no religion. As the author says:1

Results from hierarchical age-period-cohort models using more than three and a half decades of repeated cross-sectional survey data demonstrate that the strong, positive effect of college education on reporting no religious affiliation declines precipitously across birth cohorts. Specifically, a bachelor’s degree has no effect on non-affiliation by the 1965–69 cohort, and a negative effect for the 1970s cohorts.

If we dig a bit deeper into the study, however, we find something even more interesting.

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