Howard Edmund Wile: The Man Who Showed Me How to Live

My dad on a cruise ship, where he loved to feel the rolling deck under his feet.

My dad on a cruise ship, where he loved to feel the rolling deck under his feet.

What does it mean to be a father? When my wife and I adopted our only child, I thought a lot about that question. I came up with various answers, none of which were really satisfactory. However, something happened on Tuesday night that put it all into focus for me: my own father passed into the arms of his Savior. The event wasn’t a surprise. From the time I was in high school, my dad had severe health issues. However, over the past year and a half, his health deteriorated severely. More than a week ago, he stopped getting out of bed. A few days ago, he stopped eating. We all had time to prepare for the inevitable.

Of course, when the inevitable actually occurs, you find you aren’t prepared for it at all. The reality is that even when a person is bedridden and hardly able to muster the energy to speak with you, he is still there. When he dies, he is no longer there. He is simply gone, and there is no way to prepare oneself for that. Because of this gaping hole left in your world, you are forced to think about things differently. As a result, I think I have finally come up with the answer to my question.

While writing his obituary, I was forced to think about who my dad was. He was a sailor, having defended freedom in World War II and the Korean War. He was a part of the criminal justice system. He was a tireless volunteer for the Republican party, his church, and many community organizations. But of course, to me, he was much more than that. He was my dad. And he was really, really good at it.

What made him good at it? I thought about that question for a long, long time, and suddenly, a quote popped into my head. It was from a book on parenting I had read while we were in the process of adopting our daughter. The book itself was so unremarkable that I don’t remember its title. Perhaps because it was in such an unremarkable book, the quote meant little to me at the time. However, in the light of thinking about my own father’s life, its profound truth struck me. With a little help from Google, I got the actual quote as well as its source. When speaking of his own father, Clarence Budington Kelland said:

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.

In a nutshell, that’s why my dad was such a good father. He showed me, on a daily basis, how a Christian man should live. He demonstrated to me how a man cares for his family, how a man prioritizes his life, and how a man deals with those who are less fortunate than himself.

Howard Edmund Wile showed me how to live. When I see him in heaven, the first thing I am going to do is thank him for that.

Antarctic Ice Still a Mystery

A German ship (The Gauss) in Antarctic Ice, in Antarctic Ice, as seen from a balloon in 1901. (credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

A German ship (The Gauss) in Antarctic Ice, as seen from a balloon in 1901.
(credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce)

Ice in the Arctic has been on a shaky-but-steady decline for the past 25 years, perhaps even longer. Many point to this decline as evidence for global warming. If that were the case, however, ice in the Antarctic should be declining as well, but it isn’t. A recent scientific paper that attempts to put Antarctic sea ice in historical context states this problem succinctly:

In stark contrast to the sharp decline in Arctic sea ice, there has been a steady increase in ice extent around Antarctica during the last three decades, especially in the Weddell and Ross seas. In general, climate models do not to capture this trend and a lack of information about sea ice coverage in the pre-satellite period limits our ability to quantify the sensitivity of sea ice to climate change and robustly validate climate models.

In other words, the computer models that are based on our understanding of global climate predict that global warming should be causing a decline in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. However, that’s not what’s happening, at least according to the satellite record, which has been around for a little over 35 years. As a result, the authors of this paper decided to do something innovative: attempt to find out how much ice was in the Antarctic roughly 100 years ago.

How did they do it? They examined the logbooks of explorers who attempted to reach the South Pole during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which took place from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Using those logbooks, the authors were able to produce what seems to be a fairly accurate map of the edge of Antarctic sea ice during that time period. However, these data don’t help to resolve the conflict between the Arctic ice record and the Antarctic ice record. In fact, they seem to amplify the problem.

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The Latest Numbers on Homeschooling From The U.S. Department of Education

Homeschooled students building a trebuchet (click for credit)

Homeschooled students building a trebuchet
(click for credit)

Roughly every four years, the United States Department of Education produces a report of statistics related to homeschooling. Their 2016 report, which covers statistics from 2012, was recently released, and it contains some interesting results that I think are worth discussing. Before I do that, however, it is important to note the limitations of this report.

Since each state has its own laws regarding home education, it is very difficult for the federal government to track homeschooling families. As a result, the estimates regarding the number of homeschooled students is probably low and the sample that was studied is probably not totally representative of the homeschooling population. Also, the detailed statistics are based on a survey called the “Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey.” Of the more than 17,000 students covered in that survey, only 397 were homeschooled. Thus, the statistics are based on a relatively small sample of students. Nevertheless, some of the results are worth noting.

First, the report tries to adjust its results to take into account the fact that it can’t track all homeschooling families. Based on the data and the subsequent adjustments, the report estimates that there were 1,773,000 students being homeschooled in 2012. This did not include students who were being temporarily homeschooled (because of a long-term illness, for example). This translates to roughly 3.4% of the population, which represents a doubling of the percentage of homeschooled students in 1999 and an 18% increase from the time of the previous report (2007). Needless to say, then, homeschooling is becoming more common.

Before I give you the next interesting statistic, I want you to think about the answer to the following question:

Are homeschooling parents generally more or less educated than the rest of the population?

I have heard people suggest both answers to that question. Some view homeschoolers as people who do not value “real” education, so they are less educated, on average, than the rest of the population. Others view homeschoolers as those who value education more than the rest of the population, so they are more educated. Based on this survey, the education level of homeschooling parents is roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the population. 25% of homeschooling parents have a Bachelor’s degree, while according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32% of U.S. adults have one. 18% of homeschooling parents have a graduate or professional degree, compared to 12% of U.S. adults. Only about 2% of homeschooling parents don’t have at least a high school degree, compared to about 12% of U.S. adults.

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Radiation Probably Did Harm the Apollo Astronauts

The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.

The astronaut in this Apollo 17 photo was probably harmed by the radiation to which he was exposed on his voyage.

The earth has been magnificently designed for life. Amongst its amazing contrivances for nurturing and protecting living organisms, its magnetic field shields its surface from most of the high-energy radiation to which it is exposed. If it weren’t for this protective shield, life as we know it could not exist on earth. So what happens when people venture beyond that protective shield? A recent paper in the journal Scientific Reports attempts to answer that question by studying astronauts. While it suffers from the unavoidable weakness of using a very small group of individuals, the results presented in the paper are very interesting.

The researchers who wrote the paper examined five women and 37 men who had spent some time in space. All five women and 30 of the men experienced low-earth orbit, while seven of the men were a part of the various Apollo missions that went to the moon. These astronauts were compared to three women and 32 men who have been trained as astronauts but have never gone into space. Both of those groups were also compared to the U.S. population of the same age range. Specifically, the researchers were looking for the mortality rates among the astronauts, as well as what caused their deaths.

What they found was that the astronauts who never went into space were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and other common ailments (such as cancer) than the rest of the population in the same age range. This makes sense, since health is one of the factors used to choose astronauts, and their training keeps them healthy. However, they were more likely to die from accidents than the rest of the U.S. population. Once again, this makes sense, since being an astronaut is a dangerous line of work.

However, when the astronauts who never went into space were compared to the Apollo astronauts, there was one striking difference.

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The Reviews (At Least Some of Them) Are In!

The cover of my new chemistry book

The cover of my new chemistry book

If you haven’t been reading this blog for a while (and didn’t notice the ad on the right), you might not know that I have written a new high school chemistry course: Discovering Design with Chemistry. My previous course, Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Second Edition, was updated by different authors, and I didn’t like the result. Consequently, I thought it necessary to write a new course so that home educated students could have a scientifically accurate, user-friendly, up-to-date resource with which to study chemistry at the high school level. I already discussed the user-relevant differences between my old chemistry course and my new one, so I won’t rehash that. Instead, I want to share some reviews and comments the new course has received.

I will start with the most recent one, which comes from a teacher who is facilitating classes that use the book. She discusses the fact that my old chemistry course prepares students very well for chemistry at the university level, and then she says:

Wondering about Dr. Wile’s new Chemistry text? We’re about 1/3rd of the way through the text at two class day programs. There are new experiments, which are a great addition to the topics. The topics go a little more in depth and are in a different order than the previous edition.

I highly recommend his new textbooks, including his new elementary series which I’ve taught to 5th/6th grade students for over a year now.

I am really glad that she mentioned the new experiments, because I think they are the main reason to use my new chemistry course instead of a used copy of my old chemistry course. The old chemistry course is still a good one, but the experiments in the new course are significantly better. If you would like to see some of them, this student is posting videos.

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Does science undermine human rights? No, But Materialism Might.

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com.

If you have been reading this blog much, you probably know that while I am not smart enough to be one, I play at being a philosopher. As a result, I read a lot of philosophy, and I discuss it from time to time on this blog. If you have bothered to plow through what I have written on the subject, you might also know that I think the Argument From Morality is one of the worst arguments for the existence of God. Nevertheless, as any scientist should be, I am willing to change my mind on the subject, if I am presented with evidence that challenges my position. Recently, I stumbled across some of that evidence, and while it is not enough to change my mind on the subject, it makes me less certain of my derision for the argument from morality.

The evidence comes from Dr. John H. Evans, Professor & Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He wrote an article for New Scientist in which he summarizes his original research, published in an Oxford University Press book entitled, What is a Human? What the Answers Mean for Human Rights. In this research, he surveyed 3,500 adults in the United States, asking their opinions on humans and human rights.

He started by asking them how much they agreed with three different definitions for human beings:

I. The Biological Definition: Humans are defined (and differentiated from the animals) by their DNA.

II. The Philosophical Definition: Humans are defined by specific traits, like self-awareness and rationality.

III. The Theological Definition: Humans are created beings that have been given the image of God.

Here is how he describes the questions that followed:

I also asked them how much they agreed with four statements about humans: that they are like machines; special compared with animals; unique; and all of equal value. These questions were designed to assess whether any of the three competing definitions are associated with ideas that could have a negative effect on how we treat one another.

I finished with a series of direct questions about human rights: whether we should risk soldiers to stop a genocide in a foreign country; be allowed to buy kidneys from poor people; have terminally ill people die by suicide to save money; take blood from prisoners without their consent; or torture terror suspects to potentially save lives.

His results were quite surprising to me, but not to those who promote the Argument From Morality.

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A Demonstration About Inertia

inertia

My publisher asked me to record an example experiment from the third book in my elementary science series, Science in the Scientific Revolution. This one is about inertia, and I cover the topic when I cover Sir Isaac Newton. It’s a potentially messy experiment, because in your desire to hit the pie pan hard, you might end up hitting the glass of water, knocking it over. Also, if you don’t hit the pie pan hard enough, you might end up just upsetting the system, resulting in a broken egg. However, if you can do the experiment correctly, it’s pretty impressive.

The concept of inertia was an important step forward in our understanding of motion. Up until the 14th century, most natural philosophers (that’s what scientists were called back then) believed what Aristotle taught: objects have a natural tendency to be at rest. Thus, unless something kept exerting a force on an object, an object in motion would eventually come to rest. This is consistent with our experiences. After all, if I kick a rock, it bounces down the sidewalk for a while, but it eventually comes to a halt. Even though Aristotle’s teaching is consistent with our experiences, it is nevertheless quite wrong.

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Secular Jew Becomes a Christian

Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)

Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)

A very good friend of mine alerted me to a book that sounds incredibly interesting. It’s entitled, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, and it is written by Andrew Klavan, a rather prolific writer and political commentator. I have ordered the book and plan to review it as soon as I can, but I decided to do a bit of “background reading” first, and I ran across this thought-provoking interview that he did with Jews for Jesus. The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it.

If you aren’t familiar with the organization, Jews for Jesus is a group of Jewish people who have come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, and they want others to learn this as well. As a result, they do what they can to spread the Gospel within the Jewish community. Since Andrew Klavan is a reasonably famous Jewish person, it only makes sense for them to promote the fact that he has come to believe in Christ as the Messiah. What makes the interview interesting to me, however, is the fact that he described himself as a secular Jew before his conversion. In fact, he says:

After my bar mitzvah, I was done with the religious part of Judaism. Or any religion. I was always comfortable as a cultural Jew, though. I kind of liked being a bit of an outsider in that way. It didn’t mean very much to me but it was there. As for God, as I became more of an intellectual, I became an agnostic. For a brief, though important time, I was an atheist.

Note that he makes a distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist. This is an important distinction that is (unfortunately) lost on many theists. An agnostic claims neither belief nor unbelief in God, while an atheist specifically says that he or she does not believe in God. Klavan is obviously aware of the difference, and if I am interpreting his words correctly, it seems that he went from agnostic to atheist and then back to agnostic again before becoming a Christian.

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This Baby Has Two Mothers and A Father

An illustration of what was done to produce a baby without Leigh Syndrome (click for credit)

What was done for one couple to produce a baby without Leigh Syndrome
(click for credit)

Modern medicine can do a lot of amazing things these days. Diseases that used to be a death sentence are now not only treatable, but sometimes even curable. Because of the marvels of modern medicine, I have been able to benefit from the company and wisdom of my parents for many more years than I would have if I had been born but a generation ago. However, there are times I wonder whether we should be doing some of the things that modern medicine makes possible. An article I recently read in the journal Science brought that question to my mind once again.

The article describes the work of Dr. John Zhang, the medical director at New Hope Fertility Center in New York, New York. He was working with a couple who had lost two children to Leigh Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the nervous system. While there are different forms of this disease, some of those forms are the result of the mother’s DNA alone. The father’s genes don’t play a role at all.

How is that possible? Most of the cells in your body hold DNA in two different places. The nucleus of the cell contains most of its DNA, which is called nuclear DNA. Half of that DNA comes from your mother, and the other half comes from your father. However, there is a small amount of DNA stored in the cell’s mitochondria, which produce most of the energy that the cell needs to survive. They are represented by the blue, peanut-shaped structures in the illustration at the top of the post. This DNA is called mitochondrial DNA, and you get it only from your mother. As a result, any genetic disease that is produced by mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from your mother.

This fact allowed Dr. Zhang to produce a baby that is mostly the biological child of the couple with whom he was working, but the baby is also partly the child of a second woman, who served as a donor of healthy mitochondrial DNA.

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