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Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Historian Asks: Is it okay to lie about history for a good cause?

Posted by jlwile on July 22, 2014

Pinocchio, the beloved character in Carlo Collodi's novel, had a nose that grew when he lied. (click for credit)

Pinocchio, the beloved character in Carlo Collodi’s novel, had a nose that grew when he lied.
(click for credit)

Not too long ago, the Fox network aired a reboot of Cosmos. The first version, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, was a thirteen-part series hosted by Dr. Carl Sagan. The reboot, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, was a thirteen-part series hosted by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. While both series were mostly about science, they each mentioned the history of science from time to time. While I can’t comment on the first series, I can say without a doubt that the new series was spectacularly awful when it came to science history.

It started off badly when the first episode elevated Giordano Bruno to the status of scientific hero and martyr. The problem is, of course, that history tells a completely different story. Bruno was a champion of all sorts of strange ideas (such as that Satan would be redeemed by God and that Jesus was a magician, not the Son of God), and when he did discuss science, it was clear he didn’t understand it very well. He ended up being a martyr for magic and the occult, not for science. In addition, the serious natural philosophers of the day, like Kepler and Galileo, opposed Bruno.

Perhaps the worst treatment of science history by the new Cosmos was its discussion of Newton. Dr. Tyson actually claimed

Newton’s laws of gravity and motion revealed how the sun held distant worlds captive. His laws swept away the need for a master clockmaker to explain the precision and beauty of the solar system. Gravity is the clockmaker. [Episode 3: "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"]

Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the Master Clockmaker was the reason Newton came up with his Universal Law of Gravitation. Unlike the philosophers of the past, Newton believed that all motion should follow the same basic set of principles. This led to his Universal Law of Gravitation as well as his Laws of Motion. Why did Newton believe this? According to Dr. Morris Kline:1

The thought that all the phenomena of motion should follow from one set of principles might seem grandiose and inordinate, but it occurred very naturally to the religious mathematicians of the 17th century. God had designed the universe, and it was to be expected that all phenomena of nature would follow one master plan. One mind designing a universe would almost surely have employed one set of basic principles to govern related phenomena.

So rather than sweeping away the need for a Master Clockmaker, the laws he discovered were firmly rooted in the belief that there is a Master Clockmaker.

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Not Suprisingly, DNA Is Even More Complex Than Previously Thought

Posted by jlwile on June 2, 2014

Because proteins are so complex, they need to be viewed in different ways.  This illustration shows three of the ways a protein can be viewed by chemists.  (click for credit)

Because proteins are so complex, they need to be viewed in different ways. This illustration shows three of the ways ways a protein can be viewed by chemists. (click for credit)

DNA is an incredibly complex molecule that can store information in an amazingly efficient manner. Experiments indicate that a single gram of DNA (a gram is approximately the mass of a U.S. dollar bill) can store 500,000 CDs worth of information! It uses a complicated system of alternative splicing so that a single region of the molecule can store the information needed to produce many different chemicals (see here and here, for example). It is so complex that even the best chemistry lab in the world cannot produce a useful version of it. In the end, the best human science can do is make tiny sections of DNA and then employ yeast cells to stitch those segments together so that they become something useful.

Over the past few years, DNA has surprised scientists with higher and higher levels of complexity. For example, scientists recently learned that DNA can store an extra level of information by slightly altering its typical shape. This was particularly surprising, because the fact that DNA alters its typical shape from time to time was already known. However, the alteration was thought to be the result of some kind of damage. We now know that it is not the result of damage. In fact, it is another level of complexity.

Even more recently, scientists discovered that DNA sometimes stores two completely different types of information in the same place. In some sections, it stores the recipe for making a chemical in the same place that it stores information regarding how often that chemical needs to be made. Once again, this was a complete surprise, because it was thought that the recipes for making chemicals were stored in certain sections of DNA, while the information regarding how often those chemicals should be made was stored in completely different sections. However, we now know that at least in some cases, both kinds of information are stored in the same place!

Well, DNA has offered up another surprise to geneticists, and it points to yet another level of sophistication in this incredible molecule.

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Well, I Finally Saw the Movie Noah

Posted by jlwile on May 12, 2014


It was particularly awful. Honestly, the only reason I sat through the entire movie was that I kept thinking it had to get better. It didn’t. Now please understand that I am not talking about how wildly the movie differs from the Biblical account. Hollywood has a reputation for taking a great moment in history and destroying many of the facts related to it. Consider, for example, The Ten Commandments, which was shown on the silver screen in 1956. There were all sorts of things in that movie (Moses as a war hero, the Nefretiri love story, Moses being arrested and exiled, etc., etc.) which had no basis in the Biblical account. There were also all sorts of things in the Biblical account that were left out of the movie (six of the plagues, manna, the celebration of Pharaoh’s death, etc., etc.)

Despite the unBiblical nature of The Ten Commandments, however, it is an amazing movie. All of the leads, especially Charlton Heston, give great performances, and the dialogue is mostly believable and very meaningful. Watching the movie is, quite simply, a great experience. It can also be a great critical thinking exercise. I suggest that you watch the movie and then re-read the Biblical account. Try to write down the major differences between the two and think about why a filmmaker would want to introduce such differences. Is each difference a result of a philosophical agenda, a desire to make the story more enjoyable, problems with illustrating the details well, or some other issue?

With that in mind, despite the fact that I had read about all the inaccuracies in the movie Noah, I still wanted to see it. Like The Ten Commandments, I expected things that were in the the Bible to be left out and things that weren’t in the Bible to be put in. However, I also expected it to be an enjoyable movie. As a friend of mine who is a pastor wrote:

When I go see a movie “based on a Biblical story” and made in Hollywood…I don’t EXPECT it to be accurate…however, with a budget and cast as this one had…I DID expect it to be good…it wasn’t.

——- Spoilers Below ———

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I Was Wrong

Posted by jlwile on February 17, 2014

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

The day after the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I gave you my general impressions of how it went. One of the things I said was:

Will this debate change any minds? I doubt it, because each debater never really addressed the other’s contentions.

Fairly quickly, a commenter told me that I was wrong about that particular thought. In fact, the commenter wrote:

While I agree with most of what you said, I disagree with this statement… “Will this debate change any minds? I doubt it, because each debater never really addressed the other’s contentions.”

Ham presented the full Gospel, at least twice. God’s word does not return void. This debate will surely change some minds.

Well, it turns out that the commenter was right, and I was wrong. We now know that at least one person did change his mind as a result of the debate. An Answers in Genesis staff member reports:

A friend from Maine related to us that his family was praying for a young man, Kyle, who was having a hard time trying to reconcile science with faith. The family had witnessed to him many times and invited him to watch the [Nye] debate, which he did. Afterward, a friend was able to get him into the Scriptures, and Kyle finally repented and received Christ.
When asked what part the debate played in him finally receiving Christ, Kyle’s friend replied, ‘If anyone actually won the debate, it was Ken Ham. [Ken’s use of] the orchard model of species (versus the evolutionary tree) impressed him in particular, but that it was a greater trust in the Bible that helped him receive Christ.

As the commenter alluded to, Isaiah 55:11 tells us:

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I obviously forgot that verse, and as a result, I was clearly wrong. I am so glad that I was!

DVD and Live Streaming Options for the Debate

Posted by jlwile on January 7, 2014

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye will debate the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

On February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham and Bill Nye will debate the question, Is creation a viable model of origins?

There were 800 tickets available for the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, and they sold out within minutes. As a result, Answers in Genesis is offering both a DVD option and a live streaming option. I chose the live streaming option, so I will be able to see the debate live and blog about it shortly afterwards. If you would like either the DVD or the live stream option, you can go to:

The Answers in Genesis Debate Page

A Tribute to My First Grade Teacher

Posted by jlwile on October 14, 2013

Linda L. Knight

Last week, I spoke at a memorial service for Linda L. Knight. She was my teacher in first grade, and she later became a friend of mine. She was an important part of my life, so I want to share the approximate text of my eulogy. I say “approximate” because I never write down my public presentations. I just use some notes and have a rough outline in my head of what I will say. Thus, what follows isn’t exactly what I said. It is, however, as near as I can remember it. Because I was speaking to her friends, most of whom live in the same town, there are some local references that many people won’t understand. Please don’t let that get in the way of the message.


William Arthur Ward once said:

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

Linda Knight was a great teacher. She inspired me. I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for her inspiration, I would not be the scientist I am today. The impressive thing about this is that she wasn’t one of my college teachers. She wasn’t one of my high school teachers. She wasn’t even one of my middle school teachers. She was my first grade teacher. Nevertheless, her inspiration sticks with me to this day. Titus 2:7-8 says:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…

That’s exactly how Linda Knight taught. She was an incredible role model, she taught with dignity and integrity, and the things she taught us were sound.

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The Most Difficult Article I Have Ever Written

Posted by jlwile on June 21, 2013

No, it’s not a treatise on deexcitation mechanisms in strongly-damped, heavy-ion collisions. That was my PhD thesis, and it was easy compared to this one. The most difficult article I have ever written is a 2-page summary of the details surrounding our adopted daughter. It was incredibly difficult for three reasons:

1. The story should fill an entire book. To cut it down to a magazine-length article was excruciating.

2. Every time I think of the reasons my daughter needed adoptive parents, I get so angry that I want to go out and shoot someone.

3. It is profoundly difficult to put into words what my daughter means to me. Nevertheless, I felt like I had to try.

So if you want to read the most difficult article I ever wrote, click on the link below:

My Little Girl

Dr. Gish Dies at Age 92

Posted by jlwile on March 6, 2013

Dr. Duane T. Gish (Click for credit)

According to Answers in Genesis, an icon of the modern young-earth creationist movement has passed into Glory. Dr. Duane T. Gish was a popular author among creationists, especially in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I read many of his books over the years, including Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record, Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics, and Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! While I did not agree with everything he wrote, I found his books incredibly helpful.

He was probably best known for his willingness to debate those who disagreed with him. He is said to have taken part in more than 300 public debates on the creation/evolution controversy. I always admired him for that. I never had the chance to meet Dr. Gish in this life, but I certainly look forward to doing so in the next.

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

-Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Dr. Jay is AFK

Posted by jlwile on January 25, 2013

For those of you who do not speak nerd, “AFK” means “Away from Keyboard.” I will be traveling for the next three weeks, and for much of that time, I will not have internet access. That means I will not be able to moderate or respond to your comments. However, please feel free to leave your comments. When I have internet access, I will try to do what I can to moderate the comments and answer any questions you might have. I will also try to post new articles, but it’s not clear whether or not that will happen. It’s possible that there won’t be a new article posted for as many as three weeks.

More Evidence Against Feathered Dinosaurs

Posted by jlwile on January 2, 2013

This is a portion of one of the two fossils examined in the study that is discussed in the article below (GMV 2124). It is thought to be a Sinosauropteryx fossil, and the gray region pointed out is interpreted by some to be the remains of primitive feathers. The study strongly disputes that interpretation. (Click for credit.)

Several months ago I wrote an article about the fossil evidence for primitive feathers (often called “protofeathers”) in some dinosaur specimens. The article discussed a study by Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, Alan Feduccia, and Xiaolin Wang that provided strong evidence against the common interpretation that the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx was covered in such protofeathers. In the discussion that followed, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati suggested that I should read another article by Lingham-Soliar.1 Over the holidays, I finally had a chance to do so. As he suggested, this is another very important study in the “feathered dinosaurs” debate. While Dr. Sarfati has his own excellent analysis of this study and a few others, I would like to add some thoughts of my own.

Lingham-Soliar’s study focused on two fossils: NIGP 127587 (identified as a Sinosauropteryx fossil) and GMV 2124 (thought to be a Sinosauropteryx fossil). Both exhibit exceptional preservation. In fact, the latter fossil is so well-preserved that the stomach contents were analyzed and three mammal skulls were found! Two came from mammals in the genus Zhangheotherium, and the third came from the genus Sinobaatar.2 The important aspect of the fossils for this study, however, is the fact that both show some sort of “fuzz” extending from the body of the animal (pointed out in the picture above). This “fuzz” has been routinely interpreted to be the remains of primitive feathers, but Lingham-Soliar and his colleagues strongly dispute that interpretation.

In an attempt to understand precisely what this “fuzz” represents, Lingham-Soliar performed a detailed examination of the fossils and also did a simple experiment. The combination of his fossil analysis and the results of the experiment provide still more evidence that Sinosauropteryx did not have any feathers.

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