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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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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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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