The 2015 Greater St.Louis Area Home Educators Expo

This is me speaking at my favorite session so far this year.

This is me speaking at my favorite session so far this year.

I spoke at another homeschooling convention this past weekend, and I have to say, it was my favorite one in quite a while! There were a lot of factors that went into making it so special. It was the first convention this year where I got to speak alongside Diana Waring, who is an incredible gift to the homeschooling community. Her wisdom and candor is a blessing, and it’s just plain fun when we do talks together. This time, we did one of our classics, Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, and a new one, Homeschooling: Things We Wish We’d Known. In addition, I gave talks on Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ Jr. High and High School Science at Home, Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide, and The Creatures and Biological Structures Evolutionists Don’t Talk About.

However, my favorite session of the year so far wasn’t a talk at all. It was a question/answer session. I will discuss that in a moment, but first, I guess I need to “toot my own horn” for a moment. For whatever reason, I got a lot more feedback than usual from homeschooling parents and students at this convention, and some of it was amazing. It all started with the speaker coordinator for the convention. She said that at a convention about 10 years ago, her son (who was in high school at the time) asked me a question. He wanted to be a medical doctor, but he also loved ballet. Well, he had a choice between participating in an exclusive ballet event or doing a science camp. He asked what he should do. I guess I surprised him with my answer, because I told him that he should definitely participate in the ballet event.

Why would I tell an aspiring doctor to do a ballet event rather than a science camp? There are at least three reasons. First, as I understood it, it was an honor to be asked to participate in the ballet event, while the science camp was something anyone could do. Second, I encourage students to be as well-rounded as possible, and if he really enjoyed ballet, he should make the time for it, despite the fact that it wasn’t directly related to his career. Third, and most important, getting into medical school is incredibly difficult. There are lots and lots of applicants who have done all sorts of science camps. However, there aren’t lots and lots who are accomplished ballet artists. If he continued with ballet and did things like the event he described to me, it would make him stand out as an applicant.

The mother told me that her son happily took my advice. He participated in the ballet event and continued to pursue ballet in college, even though he was a premed major. Not only did he get accepted into medical school on his first attempt (an accomplishment in and of itself), he was awarded a sizable scholarship! She and her son are convinced that those accomplishments were a direct result of taking my advice. I immediately told her that her son’s talent and hard work were the primary reasons for his accomplishments, but I am happy my advice was helpful to him. For any of my readers who are thinking of becoming medical doctors, it’s worth considering this young man’s path to medical school.

I will limit myself to two other examples of the feedback I received. The second came from a homeschooling mother who told me that her daughter had taken my high-school biology course, Exploring Creation with Biology. She then enrolled in a college biology class while she was still in high school. She ended up getting the highest grade in the class, despite the fact that she was the youngest student there. After that, the department hired her to tutor her fellow students in biology! I have heard some version of this story many times, and it just further confirms how utterly wrong Bill Nye is when he says that children who are taught creationism “…will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.”

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The 2015 Southeast Homeschool Convention

This is the TD convention center, where the Southeast Homeschool Convention was held.  (click for credit)

This is the TD convention center, where the Southeast Homeschool Convention was held. (click for credit)

This past weekend, I was one of many speakers at the Southeast Homeschool Convention, which is part of the Great Homeschool Convention series. These conventions are always enjoyable, because they are well attended and run smoothly. I gave a total of five talks: Creation versus Evolution: Religion versus Science or Religion versus Religion?, The Creatures and Biological Structures Evolutionists Don’t Talk About, What I Learned by Homeschooling, College and Faith: What’s The Real Story?, and Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity.

Unfortunately, I was about 15 minutes late for one of my talks, because I got involved in a very interesting conversation about Cartesian dualism and lost track of time. Nevertheless, many of the patient conference attendees were still there waiting on me when I ran into the room, huffing and puffing. I apologized profusely, of course, and they readily accepted my apology. After that, the talk went fairly smoothly.

This conference was the first one I have done since deciding to write a new high school chemistry course so that homeschoolers have a better option available to them than the new edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. Many of the people who came to my booth had heard that news, and they wanted to learn more about my plans regarding the course. Because of the interest expressed at the convention, my publisher set up a website where people can sign up for updates about the course. If you sign up, you will get notified when things like the table of contents and sample chapters are available to review. I know of one online school that already plans to use the course for this coming academic year.

While I was at the convention, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Chemistry posted an article regarding the course. In that article, the owner of the company makes it clear that he will not sell the old edition of the course. I was hoping he would, but now that I know he won’t, I am glad that I decided to write a new one.

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A New High School Chemistry Course Available August 17th

This is a diagram of the famous Rutherford experiment that showed us the basic structure of the atom.  It is one of several important experiments discussed in my new chemistry course.

This is a diagram of the famous Rutherford experiment that showed us the basic structure of the atom. It is one of several important experiments discussed in my new chemistry course.



NOTE: You can get updates on the progress of this course by signing up at the publisher’s website.

If you read my review of the newest edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry, you know that there are significant issues which make it very difficult to use in a homeschool setting. As I stated in that review, I was afraid that I was being overly harsh in my analysis, so I sent it to two other PhD chemists to look over. One of those chemists gave it to two students who had used the older edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry and were successful in his university-level chemistry course. Based on input from those four sources, I changed the review and posted it.

In addition to sending it to the two chemists, I also sent the original review to the publisher of Exploring Creation with Chemistry on January 8th, a full month before I ended up posting my review. I asked the publisher to make the older edition available for those who would like to have a more useful version of the course. It has been more than two months, and I have heard nothing from the publisher. I suspect that the publisher has studied my review, because they posted an incomplete errata sheet for the book. It corrects many of the errors I noted, but surprisingly, not some of the major errors, such as the physically-impossible Figure 3.3 and the claim that Robert Boyle wrote The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation.

Since my review was posted, several homeschoolers have asked for my advice regarding what they should use for chemistry next year. They share my views and don’t want to use the new edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. I have been recommending that they just use the older edition, but the number of copies available in the used market is declining. I have also been asked the same question by instructors who teach online chemistry classes. They don’t want to use the new edition, and they don’t think they can rely on the used market when it comes to telling their students what course to purchase.

All of this feedback led me to make this a matter of prayer. After a lot of praying, a significant number of discussions with homeschooling parents and online teachers, and some counsel from an attorney, I would like to announce that I am currently writing a new high school chemistry course that will be available on August 17th of this year.

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Gentle Herbivore? Think Again!

This is a white-tailed deer.  Other members of its species have been caught eating birds!

This is a white-tailed deer. Other members of its species have been caught eating birds!

In order to make sense of the living world, biologists attempt to classify the organisms they find in creation. No classification system is perfect, of course, because creation doesn’t conform itself to the definitions that we invent. A classic example is a slime mold, which I have discussed before (see here, here, and here). These interesting organisms resemble fungi during part of their lifecyle, but they resemble colonies of single-celled organisms (called protists) during other parts of their lifecycle. So, are they fungi, or are they protists? Well, they used to be classified as fungi, but later on, biologists began classifying them with the protists. Either way, however, there are problems, because slime molds simply don’t fit well into either category.

Such problems are to be expected when you are trying to make sense of the incredibly diverse creation that God designed. However, there are some classification schemes you would think should be fairly reliable. For example, animals are generally classified into one of three groups: herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. What is an herbivore? Here’s how an article from Northwestern University defines it:

A herbivore is an animal that gets its energy from eating plants, and only plants.

The website lists several examples of herbivores, one of which is a white-tailed deer. Montclair State University has a “Whitetail Deer Fact Sheet” that says:

Whitetails, like all ungulates, are strictly herbivores and have teeth that are adapted for chewing.

This, of course, makes perfect sense. After all, the ungulates (a group of animals that includes horses, cattle, sheep, giraffes, camels, deer, and hippopotamuses) have a digestive system that seems optimized for plant matter. No matter how obvious this classification seems, however, it turns out that it’s at least a bit wrong!

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More Examples of Organisms Changing the Products of Their Genes!

This is an example of the squid that was studied in the experiment that is being discussed.  (click for credit)

This is an example of the squid that was studied in the experiment being discussed.
(click for credit)

Almost three years ago, I posted an article about an octopus that actually changes the products of its genes so it is better suited to its environment. I had never heard of such a thing before, and it seemed fantastic to me. After all, when I was at university, I was taught the central dogma of molecular biology:

DNA —-> RNA —–> Protein

In other words, DNA carries a set of “recipes” that tell your cells how to make the proteins they need to make. That recipe is copied by another molecule, RNA, and the copy is transported out of the nucleus of the cell to a ribosome, where the copy is then translated into a protein. At that time in history, biologists thought that there was one gene for every protein.

As scientists learned more about the marvelous design of DNA, they found that the idea of one gene producing one protein was far too simplistic. In plants and animals (and many microscopic organisms as well), the genes are interrupted by stretches of DNA called introns. At first, geneticists lumped introns into the category of junk DNA, an evolution-inspired idea that couldn’t be more incorrect (see here, here, here, and here, for example). However, molecular biologists eventually found out that the introns are an integral part of a multi-layered data storage system that allows a single gene to code for up to tens of thousands of different proteins through a process called alternative splicing.

Essentially, the introns divide a gene into several “modules of information.” The cell can chop up the RNA copy and splice those modules together in different ways. Each different way the modules are spliced produces a different protein. Once alternative splicing was figured out, the idea of one gene producing one protein was discarded. One gene can, in fact, produce lots and lots of different proteins. However, even in alternative splicing, the information contained in the DNA is preserved. Each individual module of information codes for a specific part of a protein, and if you look at that specific part of the protein, it is made exactly the way that module of information says it should be made.

Well, the octopus study I wrote about nearly three years ago shows that’s not always true. Some organisms can edit their RNA to make a final protein that is actually different from what the modules of information in the gene actually specify!

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Homeschooling Promotes Intolerance? Think Again!

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

Two people in a heated argument about religion (click for credit)

One of the many uninformed criticisms of homeschooling is that it promotes intolerance. The Encyclopedia of Distributed Learning, for example, summarizes how the National Education Association sees it:1

Critics, among them the National Education Association, argue that…because they are not exposed to the broad range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups found in conventional classrooms, home schooled children may become bigoted and intolerant.

Until now, I had never seen any studies on the issue, but my personal experiences with homeschoolers don’t give any credence to this idea. In my personal experience, homeschooled children are significantly more tolerant than those who come from public and private school.

Of course, my personal experience is not a good gauge for the homeschooling movement as a whole. I tend to interact with homeschooled students who first reach out to me, through email, Facebook, or homeschooling conventions. Since they are reaching out to me, they are part of a self-selected group of homeschooled students who many not represent the norm. As a result, I read with interest a recent article in the Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform. In it, the author discusses what studies exist regarding private schooling, homeschooling, and intolerance. He then he reports his own findings on the subject.

Let’s start with the author’s discussion of what previous research has been done on the issue. Most of the research is related to private schools, and the author contends that the literature shows that privately-schooled students are at least as tolerant as publicly-schooled students. That was only marginally interesting to me, because it doesn’t really relate to homeschooling, which is the focus of my work.

He tries to discuss some research related to homeschooled students, but it mostly centers around how involved they are in civic activities. In my opinion, that tells us nothing about the level of intolerance in homeschooling, since intolerance can lead to a high civic involvement. After all, as militant evolutionists have already demonstrated, if you don’t want alternate views to be discussed, one way to get that accomplished is through legislators or the legal system. Thus, I didn’t think that part of the article was very useful.

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Maybe the Sun Doesn’t Affect Radioactive Decay Rates

variable_decay

In previous articles (see here, here, and here), I discussed some very interesting results that were coming from different labs. These results indicated that the half-lives of some radioactive isotopes vary with the seasons. They seemed to imply that the sun was somehow affecting the rate of radioactive decay here on earth. This made the results controversial, because there is nothing in known physics that could cause such an effect.

One criticism of the studies was that weather could be the real issue. Even though labs are climate-controlled, no such control is perfect. Humidity, pressure, and (to a lesser extent) temperature can all vary in a nuclear physics lab, so perhaps the variations seen were the result of how the changing weather was affecting the detectors. However, the authors used several techniques to take changing weather into account, and all those techniques indicated that it couldn’t explain the variations they saw. The authors were (and probably still are) convinced that they were seeing something real. I was as well. In fact, one of my posts was entitled, “There Seems To Be No Question About It: The Sun Affects Some Radioactive Half-Lives.”

Well, it looks like there is some question about it. Two scientists from Germany decided to measure the rate of radioactive decay of the same isotope (Chlorine-36) that was used in some of the previously-mentioned studies. However, they decided to use a different experimental technique. The studies that showed variation in the rate of radioactive decay used a Geiger-Muller detector (often called a “Geiger counter”) to measure the radioactive decay. The two scientists who authored this study used a superior system, based on liquid scintillation detectors. The authors contend (and I agree) that the response of such detectors is much easier to control than the response of Geiger-Muller detectors, so their results are more reliable. They also used a particular technique, called triple-to-double coincidence ratio, that reduces “noise” caused by background radiation. When doing detailed measurements of radioactive decay, this is one of the standard techniques employed.

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The Texas Homeschool Convention

My publisher's booth at the Texas Homeschool Convention.

My publisher’s booth at the Texas Homeschool Convention.

Last weekend, I spoke at the Texas Homeschool Convention. I already wrote about meeting Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher and hearing her talk at the convention, but now I want to discuss some other things that happened there.

It was a bit early for a homeschool convention (most of them run from mid March to late June), and it was the first time this convention had ever been held. As a result, I had no idea what to expect. I was incredibly surprised by the large attendance, and like the other Great Homeschool Conventions, this one ran quite smoothly. Overall, I was very pleased. I gave a total of five talks: Creation versus Evolution: Religion versus Science or Religion versus Religion?, The Creatures and Biological Structures Evolutionists Don’t Talk About, What I Learned by Homeschooling, College and Faith: What’s The Real Story?, and Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity. I had lots of good questions after the talks, one of which I will discuss below. However, before I discuss that question, I want to report about a few encounters I had at the convention that were particularly meaningful.

The first happened when I was at my publisher’s booth (pictured above). I typically hang out there between talks so I can answer questions about my courses and talk informally with the convention’s attendees. Early in the convention, a mother came by the booth and told me about her son. In early high school, he planned to go to college and get a degree in law or political science so that he could get involved in politics. However, he took my chemistry course in 10th grade, and soon after that, he changed his mind. He is now a chemistry major at university, and he plans to continue on to get his PhD! He credits my chemistry course for sparking his love of chemistry and helping him do so well at university.

Now, of course, I love stories like this. However, that was just the beginning. Later on, a high school student came to talk with me. He said that he was planning on studying Russian at university, but after taking my chemistry course, he has decided to major in chemistry! I thought it was pretty amazing to hear two such “conversion” stories at one convention, but then I heard yet another. A high school student came to me and told me that she really didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but after studying two of my courses, she has decided to major in some scientific field when she goes to university!

This isn’t the first time I have heard “conversion” stories like these, but hearing them at this convention was particularly meaningful, because I had recently finished Bill Nye’s awful book, Undeniable. In that book, he claims that students who are taught creationism will “never feel the joy of discovery that science brings.” In my review of the book, I said that this is demonstrably false, as I know several students who have said that using my creationist science courses caused them to study science at university. Some of them have graduated and are now doing scientific research. However, Nye’s ignorant statement was still fresh in my mind at the convention, and these three different personal encounters at the convention confirmed how incredibly wrong it is.

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Inge Auerbacher at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Inge Auerbacher and me at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Inge Auerbacher and me at the Texas Homeschool Convention

In a recent post, I wrote about the Texas Homeschool Convention. I thought it would be a memorable one, because I was going to be able to meet and listen to an incredible person who I was able to interview late last year – Inge Auerbacher. Well, it was a memorable convention, for more than one reason! I will write about the other reasons in a subsequent post, because meeting and listening to Inge was a truly singular experience.

I ended up arriving late to her talk, because I had to give a talk that overlapped with hers a bit. As a result, I had to attend a follow-up version of the same talk to get her entire story. I was thrilled to see the huge turnout she had. I am glad that the homeschoolers who were in attendance understood and took advantage of the amazing opportunity they had been given. I was even more thrilled to see what happened at the end – a standing ovation. I have been to a lot of homeschool conferences over the years, and I have seen a lot of “rockstars” in the homeschooling community give a lot of talks. I don’t remember ever seeing an audience give a standing ovation at the end. I am so glad they did that for Inge, because she deserved it.

She spoke in a familiar tone, as if she was our mother telling us an important story that we needed to remember. The story, of course, was how she survived the horrors of the Holocaust. To help us visualize what happened to her, she showed both pictures and illustrations. The pictures came from multiple sources, and the illustrations had been made for her by an artist. The mix of real-life photos of Jewish people being taken to prison camps and artistic representations of her personal experiences was very effective. Towards the end, she showed pictures of when she returned to the site of the concentration camp many years later. It was chilling.

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My Review of Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Third Edition

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)

In August of last year, I wrote about my initial reactions to the new edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. At that time, only three modules (out of 16) were available, and based on them, I thought the new edition would not be an improvement over the other two editions. Now that I have had a chance to review the entire course, I can say without hesitation that this book is a giant step backward compared to the other two editions. I cannot recommend this book to any student. It is just too flawed.

Now please understand that I reviewed the entire book and wrote the first draft of my review almost a month ago. When I got done, however, I became concerned that I was being overly harsh and nitpicky. As a result, I sent my review to two chemistry PhDs to read. One of them is a university professor, and the other is an industrial chemist who has used both the first and second editions of Exploring Creation with Chemistry in homeschool co-op courses that he facilitated. The university professor decided to give the review to two of his students, both of whom used the second edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry in their high school education. Both of them are excelling in their university-level chemistry courses.

Based on the comments of those four individuals, I changed the review. I removed the things they thought were not real issues, and I changed the overall tone as well. In the PDF document linked below, you will find a three-page general review that outlines the problems I have with the new edition, and then a detailed list of the 77 major problems I found in the book, 11 odd things that didn’t make sense, and the 65 typographical errors that I found:

My Complete Review of Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Third Edition

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