A simplified model of a protein called phenylalanine racemase. The star points out the binding pocket. (click for credit)
In a previous post, a commenter asked an off-topic question. I try to focus the comments section on the topic at hand, but the question is an important one, so I decided to answer it as a separate article. The commenter is well aware that I think random processes cannot produce biological information. He included a link to an article by Dr. Fazale Rana in which Dr. Rana makes the claim that a recent study demonstrates that biological information can be produced by random processes. Obviously, the commenter wanted my take on the article.
Before I comment further, I want to make it clear that Dr. Rana has probably forgotten more biochemistry than I have ever learned. I have a lot of respect for him and am a big fan of his latest book. He and I disagree on some issues, but the issues on which we agree are far more numerous and far more important. This particular issue, however, represents one of the former. While I think the difference in our positions is largely semantic, it is important and worth defining.
In the article, Dr. Rana reports on a study1 that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. In the study, the authors compared the binding pockets of all known proteins in nature to a database of randomly-generated peptides (molecules that are very much like proteins but not large enough to be considered proteins). In order to understand the results of the study, you need to know what a binding pocket is.
A protein is a large molecule, but the workhorse of the protein is typically called its active site. When a protein needs to modify a molecule in some way, it attaches itself to the molecule at its active site. This active site is held in a region of the protein called the binding pocket. So the binding pocket is the area on the protein that contains the active site. An example of a binding pocket is given above. The drawing gives you a simplified view of a protein called phenylalanine racemase, a good example of a protein that is used in a wide variety of living organisms. The star points out the binding pocket.
In the study, the authors found that there were remarkably few varieties of binding pockets found in all the known proteins, and that all those pockets were able to bind (at least in some way) to something in the randomly-generated set of peptides. The conclusion, then, is that random chance could, indeed, produce biologically-active proteins. After all, if randomly-generated molecules could bind to the binding pockets of the known proteins of life, then those known proteins of life could also be randomly generated.
There were a lot of people named "Wile" in this town!
My Canadian tour came to a close in Nova Scotia, which actually has a place in my family’s history. My father’s ancestors came from Germany and settled there, forming a small town called “Wileville.” As you can see, I got a chance to visit there. It’s still a small town, and there wasn’t much there except for a market/bakery and a gas station. Nevertheless, it was cool to see that nearly every street was named after a Wile, and there was even a lake called “Wile’s Lake.”
Of course, the main reason I was in Nova Scotia was to speak at the HEMS Homeschool Convention. It was another intimate convention that was held at an excellent facility and run by a group of incredibly dedicated home educators. One of the things I loved about the convention was that in addition to a vendor hall (where curriculum providers sold curriculum to those who needed it), there was also a “young entrepreneurs” section where young people could sell things that they had made. There was a wide variety of things to buy, from candy to plants. I ended up buying some cards from a very talented young photographer who started a photography business called Gracious Vignettes.
I gave a total of six talks at the convention, five of which were on Saturday. That’s actually a lot of talking, and I even told the conference attendees that I expected to be bored with myself after giving so many talks. They were very gracious, however, thanking me over and over again for coming to their “little” convention. This seemed to be a theme at both of the conventions I spoke at in Canada. The organizers and even the attendees seemed to be constantly apologizing for how small their conventions were. They had heard of the mega-conventions in the U.S. and were sorry that their numbers couldn’t measure up.
I hope I was able to dispel them of this notion. I think that big conventions and small conventions both have a role to play in home education. Big conventions can bring in lots of great speakers, and their vendor halls are simply brimming with choices when it comes to educational material. However, they can’t be flexible. I remember when I spoke at the FPEA convention in May, Diana Waring and I had a great question from the audience, but before we were able to answer it, the hostess cut us off, because the convention had to stay on schedule. I completely understand why the hostess needed to do that, and it is a consequence of the convention being very large. In addition, I can’t spend a lot of time speaking with a single individual at a big convention. In both of my Canadian conventions, however, I had long discussions with several homeschoolers who needed a lot of advice, and I was never cut off in any of my talks. That’s the beauty of a small convention.
Low tide (left) and high tide (right) at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy.
(Copyright Kathleen J. Wile, all rights reserved)
As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife and I are in Canada, seeing some of the sights. Since I had read about them, I wanted to see the tides at the Bay of Fundy, which are the largest in the world. When I mentioned this to one of the organizers of the Canadian convention at which I spoke, she suggested that we go to Hopewell Cape, which has rocks that erosion has carved into some interesting shapes. She said it would be a great way to see the tides, and she was right!
On the left side of the picture above, you see some of those rocks as they appear at low tide. Notice there are several people walking around the rocks. In fact, if you look very closely, you will see a spot of red in front of the biggest rock formation. It has a white blotch above it. That’s me in my red jacket and gray hair. On the right, you see the same rock formations at high tide. There’s a big difference, isn’t there?
The Bay of Fundy experiences the largest difference between high and low tide of any place in the world. On most coastlines, the difference between high and low tide is noticeable, but not dramatic. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, it is about 0.5 meters. On the coast of Southern Africa, it is about 1.6 meters.1 However, the difference between high tide and low tide in the Bay of Fundy can be more than 15 meters!2 That’s why the pictures above are so interesting, at least to nerds like me.
But why does the Bay of Fundy experience such incredible tides? I am glad you asked!
The "flowerpot rocks" formation at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy.
(Copyright Kathleen J. Wile, all rights reserved)
This past weekend, I spoke at the Home Educators of New Brunswick convention in Sussex, New Brunswick (Canada). It was an intimate, well-organized conference with many wonderful people. I spoke a total of five times, once on Friday night and four times on Saturday. Even though they are in another country, Canadians face many of the same problems with their education system that we in the U.S. face with ours. In fact, three of the talks I gave at this convention were “Canadian versions” of the talks I give here at home. They cover the same issues, but they use Canadian statistics rather than U.S. statistics. Nevertheless, the conclusions are very similar.
For example, one of my favorite talks is the one I give about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now. This link is the handout for the U.S. version of the talk, while this link is the one for the Canadian version. Even though the Canadian version contains only Canadian statistics and mostly the stories of individual Canadian homeschool graduates (with a few from the U.S. and New Zealand thrown in for good measure), you can see that the conclusions are really the same: Homeschool graduates are doing wonderfully well and are really making a difference in the world.
Of course, one of the great things about speaking at a convention in another country is that it gives you a chance to do a bit of sightseeing as well. My wife traveled up to New Brunswick after the conference was over, so she and I are traveling around enjoying the lovely countryside. The picture at the top of this post, for example, was taken at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy. I will write more about that in my next blog post.
As always, I was asked several wonderful questions after my talks and while I was in the exhibit hall.
A student sent me the video you see above. In it, a man highlights a South African geological curiosity. He says it is a giant footprint in rock that is somewhere between 200 million and 3 billion years old. He goes on to say that it is so amazing it should be drawing 20 million tourists to South Africa every year, but no one knows about it. He then takes you up a hill to the geological formation, and he shows you what appears to be a huge footprint in a wall of rock. The man points out the features of the “footprint,” and he ends the video with the statement, “There were giants on earth.”
I had the privilege of visiting South Africa in 2004. It is an amazing country, and the people there are simply marvelous. I would strongly recommend it as a vacation destination. However, I wouldn’t put this site on my “top 20″ list of things you should see. While it is an interesting geological formation, it is almost certainly not a footprint.
The first problem with the idea that it is a footprint comes from the type of rock in which it is found. The man in the video says that the rock is granite. Now, I am not a geologist, so I can’t be sure that the man is right, but the rock’s appearance is consistent with it being granite. Well, granite is an intrusive, igneous rock.1 What does that mean? An intrusive rock is one that is formed underground. An igneous rock is one that is formed from molten rock, such as magma. So if this rock is granite, there is no way it could harbor a footprint. The only time a foot could have sunk into it was when its temperature was several hundred degrees, and it was below the surface of the earth!
Diana Waring and I during the question/answer part of our "homeschool genius" talk.
Last Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Florida Parent-Educators Association (FPEA) convention in Orlando, Florida. It is one of the largest homeschooling conventions in the United States, and it is held at an incredible venue (the Gaylord Palms Resort). The convention was made doubly-special for me because I went early and was able to do a unique scuba dive: I got to dive in the Epcot Center’s “Living Seas” aquarium. You can see pictures of it on my Facebook page.
A homeschooling mother stood up and asked the following: Because geniuses tend to think outside the box, they are often noticeably different from their peers, and that can produce all sorts of negative consequences. If we do have children who are geniuses, how do we deal with those consequences? Unfortunately, our time had expired by then, and a conference official cut us off before we could answer that question. However, I went down to her, and a crowd gathered around us to hear the answer, which you will find below.
This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators (SECHE) convention. It was a small convention, but it was well-organized and full of enthusiasm. While I can understand the draw that large conventions have (lots of speakers, all manner of curriculum and resources in the vendor hall, etc.), there are a lot of advantages to small conventions as well. I got to spend a lot of time with each individual who wanted to speak with me personally, and there was plenty of time in each session for everyone to have their questions answered. The “personal touch” that is available at smaller conventions simply can’t be experienced at the larger ones.
I gave a total of five talks at the convention, including Homeschooling: Discovering How and Why It Works. In that talk, I give lots of statistics regarding students who are educated at home. For example, I discuss the Rudner study, which found that at every grade level, the average homeschooled student scored better on standardized tests than the average privately-schooled student, who in turn scored better than the average publicly-schooled student. It also shows that the average publicly-schooled student lags farther and farther behind the the older he or she gets. From an academic standpoint, then, it is more important to avoid public school in the junior high and high school years than it is in the elementary years.
In addition, I show Rudner’s comparison between students who are homeschooled every year of their K-12 education and those who are homeschooled for only some of those years. While there is no difference (on average) between the two groups in the elementary years, by the time the students are in junior high and high school, those who did not stay in homeschool lag behind those who are homeschooled every year. To me, this indicates that homeschoolers make the most academic gains in the junior high and high school years. I like the Rudner study, because the author was initially a skeptic of home education, thinking that home educators were a bunch of “conservative nuts.”
After I discuss the data related to homeschooled students, I switch to the data related to homeschool graduates. I show several studies that clearly demonstrate that homeschool graduates excel at the university level compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers (see here, here, and here, for example). This led to a very interesting question from an audience member.
This past weekend, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry Convention in Springfield, Missouri. It was a well-organized, well-attended convention with many excellent speakers. I had a total of seven sessions, including two with Diana Waring. One of the things that I love about doing conventions is that I get a chance to speak with a lot of people one-on-one. I personally think that’s where I can help people the most. It’s also a chance for me to be incredibly blessed.
After my very first talk at this convention, for example, a young lady came up to me to tell me that she is a nurse today because of my courses. I thanked her and told her that I was very happy my courses prepared her for college so that she could become a nurse. She immediately stopped me and emphatically told me it was much more than that. She said that before she started using my courses, she hated science. After using my courses, she not only loved science, but she realized that God wanted her to use science to help others. She said she would never have even considered becoming a nurse had it not been for learning science from my courses. I kind of teared up right there and told her I had no idea how I could thank her for telling me that.
Usually, it’s conversations like that one which I enjoy most at these conventions. However, as much as my conversation with this young lady (and many other such conversations throughout the weekend) were a blessing to me, I have to say that the most enjoyable part of the convention was a session I did with the teens. The organizers of the convention wanted me to do something different from a normal presentation, and they actually suggested that I do something related to acting, since they knew I write and perform dramas for my church. However, I told them I had no idea what I would do for a drama workshop, so I suggested a question/answer session.
The organizers decided it was a good idea, so they put it on the schedule and then put out notices telling teens that they would have a chance to ask me any questions they wanted to ask. I had a “backup plan” in place in case there were few (or no) questions, but from the moment the session started, I knew there was no need for it. Not only were there an enormous number of questions (so many that I had to cut them off after an hour and 15 minutes so the next session could start), but the teens were incredibly enthusiastic! Below the fold, you will find three of the excellent questions they asked me, along with a rough approximation of my answers.
I spent this past weekend speaking at the 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The crowds were huge, and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst both the attendees and the speakers. It seems to me that this convention was much like the conventions I remember from ten years ago: lots of enthusiastic homeschoolers listening and talking to lots of enthusiastic speakers about the joys, troubles, and triumphs of home education. It was wonderful.
I spoke a total of seven times on six different subjects. Two of my talks were given with Diana Waring, and I enjoyed them the most. She and I have different styles that seem to complement each other really well. As she puts it, I provide the “analytics,” and she provides the “warm fuzzies.” I am not sure that’s exactly right, but it’s probably close. We gave the same talks in Greenville, SC, and we will be doing them again in Springfield, Missouri and Kissimmee, Florida.
As is typically the case, the most interesting part of the conference for me was interacting with the attendees. I had a rather constant stream of parents and students coming to my booth to talk with me. Many of them asked questions, and I hope my answers provided some help. Others came by just to report on how they (or their children) were doing with my courses. I was really impressed to meet one young lady who had completed all of my textbooks! I have authored or co-authored eight texts, and most students get through five of them. Some complete six, and a very few manage to cover seven, but this young lady had gotten through all eight of them. As a result, she has already taken the equivalent of a year of university-level biology, a year of university-level chemistry, and a year of university-level physics. That’s pretty impressive!
I take questions from the audience in all of my talks, and at the end of one of my evolution-related talks, a man asked a question about abiotic oil. He had read a book by Dr. Thomas Gold entitled The Deep Hot Biosphere, which tries to make the case that both oil and coal are not fossil fuels. In other words, they are not produced by decaying dead things. Instead, they are produced by chemical processes in the earth and simply reworked by living organisms. I read that book many years ago, and while it is definitely worth reading (even today), I personally think that it really overstates the case.
Last week, I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, South Carolina. It was very well attended, and other than a fire alarm that interrupted one of my talks, it ran really smoothly. I gave two brand-new talks at this convention, and they were both done with Diana Waring, whose high school history curriculum is truly wonderful.
One of these new talks was on the myths that you find in textbooks. It started off with the myth that ancient people thought the earth was flat. There is simply no truth to such an absurd idea. As early as 200 BC, natural philosophers knew the circumference of the earth, and the earliest Christian writers who mention the shape of the earth (such as Basil of Caesarea – c. 330-379) mention the spherical shape of the earth as an accepted fact. No one thought that Columbus was going to sail off the edge of the earth. His problems getting funding involved people not thinking he could carry enough supplies to make a voyage all the way around the earth. The other talk was based on a study by Dr. Harold McCurdy, which I have already discussed here.
While the talks I gave were enjoyable, as usual, the most interesting thing that happened occurred as a result of someone asking me a question. One of the solo talks I gave was called Why Homeschool Through High School. As a part of that talk, I discuss studies in which homeschool graduates are compared to graduates of traditional schools when it comes to their performance in college. Not surprisingly, the homeschooled students do much better in college than their traditionally-schooled peers.
After the talk, a homeschooling parent who is also a college professor asked me a very interesting question. He asked me if any study had attempted to measure not the performance of homeschool graduates at the college level, but instead the preparation that homeschool graduates have when they arrive at college. After all, he said, a student can perform well at the college level even when he is unprepared, as long as he has the ability to learn on his own. I told him that the studies I had seen focused on performance, but I would take another look at the literature and see what I could find.
Well, it turns out that such a study has been done. It is a PhD dissertation, which is why I hadn’t seen it in the academic literature. It was done by a student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and it at least partially addresses the question that the homeschooling parent asked.
You have stumbled across Dr. Jay L. Wile's Blog. Dr. Wile holds an earned PhD from the University of Rochester in Nuclear Chemistry. He is best known for the "Exploring Creation with..." series of textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home. He has also just released an elementary science series!You can read about that here.
Red Wagon Tutorials
This site is run by the most gifted teacher with whom I have ever worked. He has live classes that go with my books as well as recorded classes.
Answers in Genesis
While I disagree with some of the theology on this website, the science discussed is pretty solid.
This website contains works from a good mix of young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Dr. Todd Wood, one of the leaders in baraminology. He covers current topics of interest to young-earth creationists.
This is the blog of Kevin Nelstead, an old-earth creationist geologist. He covers many topics related to the age of the earth and offers a nice contrast to the young-earth writings listed above.
An interesting "think tank" that contains the major players in Intelligent Design
This is atheist PZ Myers's blog. While I disagree with most of what he says, he is a provocative writer. This is one of the few blogs I read regularly. Please note that there is a lot of foul language in his writing. Those who cannot defend their positions rationally tend to descend into such nonsense.