Thankfulness Despite Tragedy

I have written about tragedy and faith in previous posts (see here, here, and here). As Christians, we should understand that the pain we experience as a result of tragedy is temporary in light of eternity. We will eventually be in a place where all tears are wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and that should provide us with some measure of comfort. But there’s a big difference between being comforted and being thankful, isn’t there? Can we really be thankful if we experience a serious tragedy?

Yesterday, I preached at my home church, Wesley Free Methodist. I have preached there a few times before, and you can find three of my sermons and many better ones preached by others on the church’s “Weekly Message” page. This sermon was different, however, because it was not the sermon I wanted to give. It was challenging, and if you listen to it, you will hear my voice crack a few times due to emotion. However, I think the message I am trying to impart is important, so I am sharing it here.

You can listen to the sermon by clicking on the “play” icon in the bar below, or you can right-click on the link below the bar and choose “Save Link As” to download it to your device. If the message touches you and you think you know of someone else it might touch, feel free to share it.


http://www.drwile.com/11_19_2017.mp3

Please Stop Believing Facebook, Especially When It Comes to Science!

A picture from a high school experiment that has been hyped on Facebook.

As I was scrolling through Facebook, finding my historical twin and learning what my friends are eating, I noticed a post on my wall. It was from someone I know only through Facebook, but I read her work from time to time, because she is a really good writer. Her post contained the picture above and linked to an article entitled, “WiFi Experiment Done By A Group Of 9th Grade Students Got Serious International Attention. THIS Is Why…” She asked if I knew whether or not the results were legitimate.

The experiment went like this: Students took 12 trays of cress seeds and put 6 of them in one room and 6 in another room. The six trays in one room were next to two WiFi routers, while the 6 trays in the other room were nowhere near a router. They tried to keep everything else (temperature, amount of water given, etc.) the same for all 12 trays. The article says:

After 12 days what the result spoke was clear: cress seeds next to the router did not grow, and some of them were even mutated or dead.

Obviously, then, WiFi routers produce something that kills (and apparently mutates) cress seeds.

I told my Facebook friend that the post reminded me of something that was popular a few years ago. It was an experiment where a person watered a plant with regular water and watered another plant with water that had been in a microwave oven. After several days, the one watered with microwaved water died, while the other one flourished. Obviously, then, microwave ovens are bad for you. Of course, the heart of science is being able to replicate experiments, and many people found that they couldn’t replicate the reported results. Indeed, the Mythbusters did an episode showing that microwaved water didn’t harm plants in any noticeable way.

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Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

This is the expression my daughter had pretty much every morning in home school.

There is a new blog that might be of interest to my homeschooling readers. It’s called Homschooling.mom, and as time goes on, it will offer insights from various speakers and authors who are popular in the homeschooling movement.

I wrote two of the articles that open up this blog. The most important one is

Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

It discusses my homeschooling journey with my teenage daughter and what it has meant for both of us now that she is an adult.

The other one discusses some of the research that has been done on homeschool graduates in university. I have discussed the contents of that article in separate blog posts on this site, but the article below compiles the information into one source:

Homeschool Graduates and University

I hope you enjoy the articles. I also hope you remember to go back to homeschooling.mom, because I suspect that it will be very useful to those who are still homeschooling.

What’s the Matter with the Universe?

A portion of the universe as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, using its full range of light sensitivities (ultraviolet to near-infrared).

The MSN headline is attention-grabbing, to say the least:

The Universe Should Not Actually Exist, Scientists Say

One of the things my Ph.D. advisor stressed over and over again is that there are two phrases any good scientist should be very comfortable saying. The first is, “I don’t know.” The second is, “I was wrong.” I have uttered both of those phrases throughout my career, and I am very glad that in this case, the scientists mentioned in the headline are wrong!

So why do these scientists say the universe shouldn’t exist? Well, if you don’t want to believe in a supernatural Creator, you have to figure out where the universe came from. Experiments demonstrate that even empty space contains a certain amount of energy, and our current understanding of quantum mechanics says that it is possible for energy to spontaneously be converted into particles. This is often called a quantum fluctuation, and for those who don’t want to believe in a supernatural Creator, it is a way of explaining how the universe got started. Particles sprung into existence from the energy of empty space, producing the universe we see today.

If this seems strange to you, don’t worry. You aren’t alone. As a nuclear chemist, I am well-versed in quantum theory and have no problem with the concept of particles springing into and out of existence in empty space. Nevertheless, the idea that this process can produce a universe is very strange to me as well, for a host of reasons. The MSN article linked above gives one of the most important: when particles spring into existence from energy, they must always be paired with their antiparticles. In other words, matter can, indeed, arise from the energy of empty space, but an equal amount of antimatter must be formed as well.

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Another Stunning Confirmation of General Relativity

An artist’s conception of a pair of neutron stars producing gravitational waves.

Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity make some really odd predictions. Many people don’t care for those predictions, but as a scientist, I have one simple question: Are the predictions confirmed by the data? If the answer is “yes,” the theories are reasonable. The more often the answer is “yes,” the more scientifically sound the theories become. The answer has been “yes” many, many times for these theories, so regardless of how odd their predictions, I have to accept them as sound scientific theories, until another theory becomes even more successful at making such predictions.

While the special theory of relativity is strange enough, the general theory is even stranger. It predicts the existence of black holes, and those black holes have been indirectly observed. It predicts that time speeds up in low gravitational fields and slows down in high gravitational fields. Not only does the global positioning system verify this every nanosecond of every day, but it has been confirmed in the laboratory as well.

General relativity also predicts the existence of gravity waves. A special facility designed to detect such waves, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), made headlines last year when it finally confirmed their existence. It has since detected more gravitational waves, but with the help of other facilities, it has now done something truly amazing!

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By Teaching, We Learn

A single-celled organism from genus Anisonema, as captured by high school student Brynna Taylor.

I have a small plaque on my wall that reads, “Docendo Discimus.” It is a Latin proverb that means, “By teaching, we learn.” The very first time I helped a friend with her homework, I realized the truth of that proverb, and it is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much. I love to learn, and since teaching helps me to learn, I love to teach. Part of the proverb’s truth comes from the fact that as we explain things to others, we think about them in new ways, which often leads to new insights. Over the years, however, I have found other ways that teaching helps us to learn, and I experienced one of them this past weekend.

Because of the Lord’s leading, I decided to offer some online high-school courses this year. It has been a blast teaching students from all over the U.S. as well as a handful of foreign countries. Along with the joy of teaching and getting to know students, however, comes the drudgery of grading. While I love the former, I most certainly do not love the latter. However, on Saturday, I graded lab reports from my various classes.

I started with my high school biology class, which had spent the last week or so culturing pond water and looking at samples of it under the microscope. A lab like that is “hit or miss,” because finding interesting microscopic creatures in pond water depends on a lot of factors. Some students see many organisms, while other students see few or none at all. I was in the “monotony zone,” having gone through several lab reports, when I came across a submission with an excited note attached. The student, Brynna Taylor, was thrilled with what she saw, and she just had to share a few videos with me.

The first of three videos is posted (with her permission) below. She thought the organism she was focusing on was a Euglena, and while I understood her reasoning, I quickly realized she wasn’t correct. Euglena typically have only one flagellum (a tail-like appendage used to move around), and the organism she was focusing on had two. In addition, only one seemed to be used for movement. The other was pushed out in front of the organism, almost like it was using the flagellum to sense what was ahead.

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A Climate Skeptic’s Story

A polar bear on drift ice. (click for credit)

I was recently sent this article, which was written by a student. It’s about how she became a “climate skeptic.” It is definitely worth reading in its entirety, because it demonstrates how critical thinking can overcome indoctrination. In addition, it shows you what this critical thinking can cost, especially at the university level.

Rather than encouraging her to investigate and think for herself, her university “science” classes simply try to indoctrinate her. As she says near the end of the article:

I am disappointed by the quality of the “science” taught at University though — when theory is presented as fact, and computer models are regarded as gospel despite their infamous unreliability, it’s not actual science.

It’s propaganda—dogmatic as any religion.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with her. Even back when I was a university student, I could see examples of my “science” professors pushing propaganda on me. As a university professor, however, I have seen it become worse and worse.

But why did the student first decide to question the propaganda that was being pushed on her in the guise of science? Because of what she was being taught in middle school about global warming drowning polar bears. She was an animal “fanatic,” so she started reading about polar bears to learn more about them. In her reading, she found that they are able to swim 60 miles at a time. She asked her teacher how ice loss could harm polar bears that could swim so far. Her teacher simply told her that polar bears can’t swim that far (even though they routinely do) and then repeated the propaganda.

This caused her to start questioning what her teachers were telling her, and so she started investigating the issue of climate change for herself. As a result, she became a skeptic. Now I am sure that her middle school teacher wouldn’t want to hear this, but I think the teacher did a great service to this one student. Of course, the teacher has probably committed educational malpractice on many more students, but in the case of this one student, by simply denying the science and restating the propaganda, she taught the student to question the pronouncements that come from the high priests of science.

That’s probably the most valuable thing the student learned in middle school!

Cosmologists: Often in Error, but Never in Doubt

The history of the universe, according to the Big Bang Model.

In 2004, Dr. Simon Singh wrote a book entitled, Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It. On page 265 of that book he attributes a quote to Dr. Lev Landau, a Nobel Laureate in physics. According to Singh, Landau said:

Cosmologists are often in error, but never in doubt.

Regardless of whether or not Dr. Landau actually said this, it is an insightful statement. Most cosmologists have absolutely no doubt that the Big Bang Model is an accurate description of the history of our universe. When that model seems to contradict observational data, rather than doubting the model, they add something to it in order to force it to be in compliance with the data.

For example, in 1998, some observational data indicated that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This didn’t agree with the current interpretation of the Big Bang Model, which suggested that the rate of universal expansion should be decreasing, since gravity should be attracting all sources of mass to one another. As more and more data supported the acceleration, cosmologists started to rely on dark energy, a mysterious form of energy that counteracts the effects of gravity.

In the currently-accepted form of the Big Bang Model, just under 70% of all the energy of the universe is dark energy. Cosmologists don’t know anything about it, but most of them have no doubt that it exists, because it forces the Big Bang Model into compliance with observations. Since they have no doubts about the Big Bang Model, they have no doubts about the existence of dark energy. It’s just that simple.

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An Award-Winning Play

From left to right: Cameron Gamble, Andrew Persinger, and Natalie Gamble in “Amazing Grace.”

Six years ago, I wrote a play for church. It was called “John Newton: A Wretched and Admirable Man,” and I performed it with Chris Williams, who went home to be with the Lord earlier this year. While he was still with us here on earth, I learned about The Greenberg Playwright Competition, which was organized to seek writing talent in the state of Indiana. I talked to Chris about it, and he suggested that I submit that play.

I decided I would follow Chris’s advice, and I looked at the script, thinking I would just “tweak” it a bit and send it in. However, when I finished reading it, I thought to myself, “I remember it being better than this.” So I decided to watch the video, and I realized that it was, indeed, much better than my initial script. That’s because Chris, who played the role of Nigel Bremley, had adjusted his lines, and the other actors adjusted in response. The result was much better dialogue than what I originally wrote.

So I rewrote the script based on the video, retitled it as “Amazing Grace,” sent it in, and it won one of the categories! As a result, it was assigned a professional director, David Coolidge, and three talented actors (Cameron Gamble, Natalie Gamble, and Andrew Persinger). They worked on the script, improving it even further, and they ended up delivering an incredible performance at The Alley Theatre in Anderson, Indiana. They were all generous enough to agree to perform it the next day at my church, and I tried to get a video of it.

Churches aren’t really made for videos, so the result is not what I had hoped for. Also, one of the cameras failed, so the end of the play, which is the most dramatic part, had to be finished with a poor-quality camera. If you watch the video, you will see what I mean. Below the video, I have a link to the script. Please feel free to use it in any way you think will edify the Body of Christ, but I do request a credit as the author.

Amazing Grace: The Script

A Positive Step for Science

A man holds a sign at the International Science March outside Humbolt University (Berlin) on April 22nd, 2017. (click for credit)

When I submit a paper to a scientific journal, it is reviewed by experts in the field before it is published. The experts might say that the paper should be published as it is. They might say that the paper should be published, but certain changes should be made to either make it more consistent with what we know or to provide better context for understanding the results that are being presented. The reviewers might say that the article shouldn’t be published, because it contains poor science or because the results aren’t important. This is the process of peer review.

I have been on both sides. I have submitted papers for publication that went through peer review, and I have been a peer reviewer for scientific journals in my area of expertise. Although neither process is particularly enjoyable, I think it is a very important part of science. Indeed, even though it is not required, I have all of my science texts reviewed by at least two experts before they are sent to the publisher. These experts often catch errors that I have made, and they also add valuable comments that allow me to improve the way I discuss certain topics. My textbooks are significantly better because they are peer-reviewed.

Of course, there is also a problem with peer review. It can lead to the suppression of scientific results for unscientific reasons. I have experienced this personally. I recall one paper that my collaborators and I submitted to a nuclear physics journal. It was rejected by the peer reviewers, and the journal said that it would not be published. We looked at the reports of the peer reviewers and showed the editor that the reviewers’ objections were without merit. The journal agreed to send it to two more peer reviewers, who both accepted it with only minor corrections.

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