subscribe to the RSS Feed

Friday, December 19, 2014

USGS Sacrifices Scientific Integrity to Jump on the Global Warming Bandwagon

Posted by jlwile on December 16, 2014

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out.  (photo in the public domain)

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out that occurred this year. (photo in the public domain)

The National Geographic headline says it all:

Biggest Walrus Gathering Recorded as Sea Ice Shrinks
More than 35,000 of the marine mammals have congregated in Alaska

Unfortunately, the headline isn’t true. It isn’t the biggest walrus gathering, and it’s not clear such gatherings have any relationship whatsoever to the amount of sea ice that exists in the Arctic. Where did National Geographic get their false information? From the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The National Geographic article goes on to say:

Scientists have seen large haul-outs on the Russian side of the Bering Strait for quite some time, says Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist at the USGS in Anchorage. But since the first recordings of walrus gatherings in Alaska in the 1870s, groups of this size weren’t observed until 2007, he said.

Of course, that’s also not true. Either the scientists at the USGS didn’t bother to check the literature on what they have been studying, or they willfully ignored the recorded observations of the past. This is not the largest haul-out on record for walruses, and haul-outs of this size have been observed several times in the past.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Research Shows That We’ve Been Wrong About Stem Cells

Posted by jlwile on December 11, 2014

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

Stem cells are a hot topic in biology. Scientists call them “undifferentiated,” because they have not yet specialized to become a specific kind of cell. This means that a stem cell can develop into several different kinds of cells, depending on what the body needs. For example, everyone has stem cells in their bone marrow. Some of those cells (called hemopoietic stem cells) can develop into various kinds of blood cells, while others (called stromal stem cells) can develop into fat cells, bone cells, or cartilage cells. Physicians have used such stem cells to treat certain heart conditions1, and it is expected that as time goes on, more stem-cell-based treatments will be developed.

Of course, bone marrow isn’t the only place in which stem cells reside. In fact, stromal stem cells can also be found in tooth pulp, the soft tissue that is under the tooth’s dentin (see the illustration above). That’s where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are found. While scientists have known for a long time that these stem cells are there, how they get there has always been a mystery.

Nina Kaukua and her colleagues weren’t trying to solve that mystery. They were just studying certain kinds of cells in the teeth of mice. These cells, called “glial cells,” are support cells that help the nerve cells (called neurons) do their job. In their research, they were adding a fluorescent chemical to these cells and watching what happened to them over time. What they found was kind of shocking!

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on December 9, 2014

This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist.  (click for credit)

This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist. (click for credit)

Because I was once an atheist and became a Christian, I am fascinated by stories of other atheists-turned-Christians. I have written about several over the years, and I plan to continue to write about them as I find out about them. Well, I ran across another one a few days ago, and his story is different from the others. For one thing, it starts in France!

Guillaume Bignon was born near Paris. He says that his family was “nominally Roman Catholic,” but none of them seemed to take it very seriously. By the age of 13, he decided that he no longer wanted to go to church, and his parents had no problem with that. As a student, he studied math, physics, and engineering, eventually graduating from an engineering school and working as a computer scientist. He also played volleyball for a national league. Here is how he sums up his life at that point:

An important part of young male French atheist ideals also consisted in female conquests, at which I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life, and in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing (let alone believe) the Gospel were incredibly slim.

Obviously, God can conquer the odds, no matter how slim.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Hello, my name is Jay Wile, and I am a pyromaniac.

Posted by jlwile on December 4, 2014

This is me lighting a methane balloon during a lecture.

This is me lighting a methane balloon during a lecture.

I haven’t written much about the chemistry course I am teaching at Anderson University, but it has been going very well. In fact, it is almost over. I don’t know whether or not I will do it again. It is a lot of fun to be teaching in a live classroom, but it also takes a lot of time to do it right. Unfortunately, that means less time for writing. Whether or not I do it again, I am glad I that did it this time.

As a part of my duties at Anderson University, I was asked to give a lecture for the public that is part of a very interesting series that the School of Science and Engineering is hosting. They said the lecture could be about anything, so I decided to share with the audience the fun you can have with chemistry. In the end, this turned into a lecture about fire, because I am a bit of a pyromaniac. I personally think all chemists are pyromaniacs, at least to some extent.

I started the lecture with burning gases that were held in balloons. Along the way, I taught the audience the basics of combustion. You can see a video of that part of the lecture below. Unfortunately, the camera had a bit of trouble focusing, because we dimmed the lights so the fire could be seen better. In addition, the best part of the lecture (burning a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen) did not translate well on video. The result was a loud explosion that shook the hall, but the camera’s automatic volume adjust ended up making it sound pathetic, so I cut it from the video. Nevertheless, I think you will enjoy the video segment, and I hope you learn from it as well.

What Does It Mean To Be Open-Minded?

Posted by jlwile on December 2, 2014

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy's "102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum"

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy’s “102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum”

Those who have been homeschooling for many years probably recognize the name Cathy Duffy. For years, her Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual was the main reference homeschooling parents used to choose among their various curriculum options. Over the years, other means by which home educators can get curriculum advice have been developed. Nevertheless, Cathy Duffy continues to be a trusted resource for many homeschooling parents.

Her latest book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, is a set of reviews of what she considers to be the best curriculum available to home educating parents. I was honored to find out that my new elementary science series has been included in that book. In her review, she writes:

I’m not aware of any other science curriculum similar to this. While it is a Christian curriculum, it avoids the apologetics flavor of some others that spend a lot of energy arguing for creationism and against evolution. Nevertheless, it helps students view science from Christian worldview. The use of hands-on activities to introduce lessons, the multi-age format, and the chronological approach in this series are also features likely to appeal to many families. This seems to me an excellent way to teach science, and an approach that should have exceptional appeal for classical educators.

I truly appreciate Cathy Duffy’s kind words!

Of course, there are many other reviews of my new series, and most of them are very positive (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). There is one negative review as well. In addition, there is one review that is a bit mixed, and it’s the one that caused me to write this post.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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
Return to Text

2. David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, pp. 5-6
Return to Text

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.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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
Return to Text

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!

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »