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Monday, November 24, 2014

An Interesting Observation from China

Posted by jlwile on November 20, 2014

This is a Christogram, a  combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ.  This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)

This is a Christogram, a combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)

Recently, I read an article by Dr. Paul Copan entitled, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures.”1 In that article, he makes the case for how faithful Christians have transformed the societies they have served. For example, he discusses the Ethiopian famine that took place in 1984 and 1985. Brian Stewart, a CBC journalist, noted that it was Christians who were on the front lines of the famine, giving aid to the suffering. Their service was such a powerful witness to him that it started him on his journey to becoming a Christian himself.

While Copan’s article is interesting, it led me to a book that I thought was even more interesting. It is entitled Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, and it is written by David Aikman, who served as a journalist for Time Magazine from 1971 to 1994. In his role as a Time correspondent, he visited China several times and even lived in China for two years as Time’s bureau chief. He returned to China in 2002 to gather the information he needed to complete his book.

He begins the book in a dramatic way. It is worth quoting at length:2

The eighteen American tourists visiting China weren’t expecting much from the evening’s lecture. They were already exhausted from a day of touring in Beijing. But what the speaker had to say astonished them.

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

This was not coming from some ultra-conservative think tank in Orange County, California or from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was a scholar from China’s premier academic research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing in 2002. (emphasis mine)

In his book, Aikman suggests that Christianity will transform China to the point where it won’t even be communist anymore. He suggests that in the next thirty years, nearly one-third of China could be Christian, making it one of the largest Christian nations in the world and a strong ally of the U.S.

I have no idea whether or not that will happen, but I can say this: It is very sad that most Western scholars refuse to even consider the conclusions of the Chinese scholar quoted above.

REFERENCES

1. Paul Copan, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures: How Faithful Christians Have Transformed Societies, Christian Research Journal 37(04):43-47, 2014
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2. David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, pp. 5-6
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The Bright Morning Star

Posted by jlwile on November 18, 2014

morningstar

A few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook that was entitled “Full Blown Lucifer Worship At The Catholic Vatican.” It linked to a YouTube video with the same title. The video has more than 110,000 views, so while it is not as popular as a lot of cat videos, it does have at least some level of influence. The problem, of course, is that it is dead wrong. The central piece of evidence it shows for the “full blown devil worship” is a deacon singing the Easter Proclamation during the Easter Vigil in the Roman Rite of Mass. The song, of course, is in Latin, and the video “helpfully” translates the Latin for you. Here is what the video claims the deacon is singing:

Flaming Lucifer finds Mankind,
I say: Oh Lucifer who will never be defeated,
CHRIST IS YOUR SON (!!!!)
who came back from hell,
shed his peaceful light and is alive
and reigns in the world without end.

Now I don’t know Latin, but I figured anything which is sung during the Easter Vigil is probably well known and rather old. So I looked for it, and not surprisingly, I found it on Wikipedia. It is called “The Exsultet,” and Wikipedia helpfully has both the Latin and its English Translation. Here is how Wikipedia translates the same passage:

May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

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Two Interesting Quotes

Posted by jlwile on November 13, 2014

This statue of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz adorns the auditorium of the University of Göttingen.  (click for credit)

This statue of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz adorns the auditorium of the University of Göttingen. (click for credit)

I am in the midst of working on the final revisions for the third book in my new elementary science series, which is one of the many reasons I haven’t had any time to blog recently. Nevertheless, I had to take a break from the book to share two quotes of which I was recently made aware. When I finish a book, I send it to other scientists to review. This is called “peer review,” and it is an important part of the scientific process. It not only helps to find the errors that have crept into my work, it also gives me a chance to benefit from the insights of other scientists.

Well, my peer reviewers used some quotes as a part of their review, and I found two of them to be interesting enough to share with my readers here. The first comes from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He is one of the last natural philosophers I discuss in the third book of the series, and he is best known for pointing us to the conservation of mechanical energy. I discuss this in the book, but I also talk about his development of a binary system of logic, which led to the development of binary numbers. While we use binary numbers in computer systems today, one of Leibniz’s uses for binary numbers was to explain the Christian concept of creation out of nothing.

One of my peer reviewers pointed out something I didn’t know about Leibniz. He was fascinated with music and spent a great deal of time analyzing the mathematical nature of it. He said:1

Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.

As someone who plays the piano, sings, and just loves music, I find that quote to be very interesting.

The other quote is more directly related to the concepts that are found in the book. Since it was formed during the time period covered in the book, I discuss the Royal Society, which is the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. One of my peer reviewers gave me a quote about the Royal Society, which comes from Dr. Ian G. Barbour, a physicist and theologian:2

The charter of the Royal Society instructed its fellows to direct their studies “to the glory of God and the benefits of the human race.” Robert Boyle (1627-1691) said that science is a religious task, “the disclosure of the admirable workmanship which God displayed in the universe.” Newton believed the universe bespeaks an all-powerful Creator. Sprat, the historian of the Royal Society, considered science a valuable aid to religion.

Sadly, I suspect that the Royal Society no longer follows its original charter, nor the ideals of the scientific luminaries who founded it.

REFERENCES

1. Daniel Timmons, Catherine Johnson, and Sonya McCook, Fundamentals of Algebraic Modeling: An Introduction to Mathematical Modeling with Algebra and Statistics, Brooks/Cole Cengate Learning 2010, p. 256
Return to Text

2. Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, Harper 1997, p. 19
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More Than A Marksman

Posted by jlwile on November 4, 2014

An archerfish hunting a cricket (click for video)

An archerfish hunting a cricket (click for video)

I have been intrigued by archerfish (genus Toxotes) ever since I saw them at an aquarium. They like to feed on insects that crawl around on the plants near the water’s edge. When an archerfish spies an appetizing insect, the fish shoots a stream of water out of its mouth, hitting the insect and knocking it into the water. The fish then goes to the surface and swallows the insect. You can watch a video of this happening by clicking on the picture. Youtube has several other videos of these incredible fish.

Obviously, the archerfish has to “know” a lot of physics to be able to hunt the way it does. After all, as soon as the water leaves its mouth, it is affected by gravity. As a result, the stream of water doesn’t travel straight to its target. Its path bends downward, forming a shape called a parabola. Because of this, the archerfish can’t aim directly at its prey. Instead, it has to aim above its prey, taking the curved shape of the water’s path into account.

But that’s not the end of the story. When light passes from one medium to another, it bends in a process called refraction. This causes a problem for what we see when we look at things that are in the water. Consider, for example, looking at a fish that is swimming in a pond. You see the fish because light hits the fish, reflects off the fish, and travels to your eyes. However, when the light passes from water into air, it bends, and that causes a problem for you. Look at the drawing below:

refraction

The light coming from the fish bends when it enters the air, but your brain interprets light as traveling in a straight line. So when your brain constructs the image of the fish, it doesn’t take refraction into account, and therefore it forms the image of the fish at a shallower depth and behind where the fish actually is. Those who try to spear fish while standing in shallow water have to account for this. If they don’t aim their spear in front of the place where they see the fish, they will never hit it.

The archerfish, of course, has a similar problem. The light that its eyes receive bends when it hits the water. Because of the way it bends, the fish sees the insect closer and lower than it really is. So not only does the archerfish have to account for the effects of gravity when it aims its water stream, it also has to realize that it shouldn’t aim for the position where it sees the insect. Instead, it should aim for a position that is closer and lower!

If all that isn’t impressive enough, scientists have recently found out that the archerfish uses even more physics when it hunts!

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An Interesting Sculpture of Nelson Mandela

Posted by jlwile on October 23, 2014

This sculpture marks the approximate location where Nelson Mandela was captured by police on August 5, 1962.  (copyright Kathleen Wile, click for larger image)

This sculpture marks the approximate location where Nelson Mandela was captured by police on August 5, 1962. (copyright Kathleen Wile, click for larger image)

As my two previous posts indicate, my wife and I are currently in South Africa. While the main purpose of our visit is to support home educators in this lovely country, we have been seeing some of the sights as well. For example, after I spoke at the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, we went to a game reserve to see some amazing wildlife! My Facebook page has a photo album that gives you a taste of what we saw.

Before we went to the expo, however, we traveled through the KwaZulu-Natal province and visited a historic site. It marks the spot where, on August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela was captured by the South African police. He had been on the run from the police for 17 months, and at that time was posing as a chauffeur. He and the other man in the car (Cecil Williams) had just visited the head of the African National Congress to report on what Mandela had been doing outside the country to fight Apartheid. Their car was stopped at a road block, and the police saw through Mandela’s disguise. He was arrested and eventually imprisoned for 27 years.

When he was released in 1990 (in large part due to international pressure), he started negotiations with then-president F. W. de Klerk to dismantle the Apartheid regime. Four years later, South Africa had its first multiracial election, and Mandela was chosen to be the country’s first black president. Many in South Africa refer to him as “The Father of the Nation.”

This history is very important, of course, but that’s not the reason I am writing this post. Instead, I want to highlight the work of art (pictured above) that is used to mark this historic spot. It was unveiled in 2012, on the fiftieth anniversary of Mandela’s capture.

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Homeschooling in South Africa

Posted by jlwile on October 21, 2014

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).  It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa.  (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa. (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

We arrived in South Africa a week ago, but we have been busy adjusting to the new time, reacquainting ourselves with friends, exploring our surroundings, and traveling to the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, which took place three days ago (Saturday). In some ways, the conference was just like a homeschooling conference in the U.S. There were vendors selling curriculum, speakers giving talks, refreshments being sold, etc. In some ways, however, it was quite different. Much of the curriculum and some of the conversations were in two different languages: English and Afrikaans. It seemed everyone at the conference spoke English, but many chose to talk among themselves in Afrikaans, and some wanted to have at least a portion of their curriculum in that language as well. The refreshments, not surprisingly, were quite different. Hot tea was the main beverage consumed (although coffee and soda were available), and the food available for purchase included meat pies and “pancakes,” which were unlike pancakes found in the U.S. They were thin, covered in cinnamon sugar, and rolled into a tube.

I spoke three times at the conference, discussing Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, “Teaching” Science at Home, and What I Learned by Homechooling. The technology available to the speakers was excellent. There was a great sound system, three screens that showed my PowerPoint presentation to all parts of the auditorium, and a video crew filming me as I spoke. The talks were well-received, but not surprisingly, the best part was the questions that were asked once each talk was over.

Homeschooling has not been going on in South Africa as long as it has been going on in the U.S., so many of the questions reminded me of the questions I got when I first started speaking to homeschoolers in the U.S. back in the 1990s.

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Headed Back to South Africa

Posted by jlwile on October 12, 2014

My daughter took this picture the last time we were in South Africa.  This little girl is 2 days old!

My daughter took this picture the last time we were in South Africa. This little girl is 2 days old!

Ten years ago, my daughter and I went to South Africa so that she and I could give several presentations to homeschoolers throughout the country. Yes, there is a strong homeschooling movement in South Africa, and many of the people there use the books I wrote for their junior high and high school science courses. Since then, I have started an elementary science series, and it is starting to be used in South Africa as well. While my daughter and I were there, we saw some amazing things, including the two-day-old zebra pictured above. We both fell in love with the country and the people there.

It has been far too long, but I am on my way back! My daughter has a full-time job now, so she cannot come. That means I get to introduce my wife to the wonders of this beautiful country. I will be speaking to homeschoolers again, and my wife will be taking as many pictures as her SanDisk can hold. I also get to dive while I am there, so I hope to get some good underwater shots. We will be there for just over two weeks, and I hope to blog a couple of times about what’s going on.

Bill Nye Makes a Prediction

Posted by jlwile on October 8, 2014

Bill Nye is known as "The Science Guy," even though some of his behavior is rather anti-science. (click for credit)

Bill Nye is known as “The Science Guy,” even though some of his behavior is rather anti-science.
(click for credit)

Despite the fact that Bill Nye is known as “The Science Guy,” some of his behavior is rather anti-science. He doesn’t think certain scientific ideas should be debated, despite the fact that conflict between competing theories is one of the most important aspects of science. He also narrated a faked experiment, demonstrating his lack of understanding of basic climate science along the way. Nevertheless, he is an interesting (and funny) guy. In addition, he debated Ken Ham on the creation/evolution issue. Even though the debate was not all that interesting, it was nice to see him engage in it. That’s more than most evolutionists will do! As a result, I like to keep up on what Bill Nye is doing and saying.

He was recently in Canada to attend the 65th International Astronautical Congress. While there, he was interviewed on The Morning Show. You can see the entire interview here. Not surprisingly, I disagreed with much of what he had to say, but I want to highlight two of his statements here. The first is a prediction. When speaking of creationists, Nye said:

In another 20 years, I claim, those guys will be just about out of business. That’s my claim.

I am willing to make exactly the opposite claim. I predict that in 20 years, creationism will be stronger than ever. I expect more scientists will be creationists, creationism will be more openly discussed in academic settings, and there will be more groups dedicated to communicating creationism to the general public. This will be true not only for the U.S., but for most countries in the world. After all, contrary to a previous statement Bill Nye made, creationism isn’t something unique to the U.S.

Barring some unforseen tragedy, Mr. Nye and myself should both be alive in 20 years. It will be interesting to see whose prediction is the more accurate one.

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Climate Science Is Not “Settled”

Posted by jlwile on October 3, 2014

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.  (click for credit)

Neither how the globe is warming nor how much humans are responsible for it is understood.
(click for credit)

Unfortunately, because of the college class I am teaching, a looming publishing deadline, and an upcoming speaking engagement in South Africa, I don’t have time to write a full blog article. However, a man I respect and admire sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal article about climate change. The Author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, a theoretical physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences. The article is an excellent example of how to approach the issue of climate change from a truly scientific perspective. Unfortunately, you rarely find such an approach in most discussions of the subject. In my opinion, here is the best point he makes:

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.

I couldn’t agree more!

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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