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Sunday, November 23, 2014

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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The 2014 Valley Home Educators Convention

Posted by jlwile on July 28, 2014

This is me at my publisher's booth talking with two homeschoolers.

This is me at my publisher’s booth talking with two homeschoolers.

This past weekend, I spoke at the Valley Home Educators Convention in Modesto, California. It’s a mid-sized convention that is always well-run and a delight to attend. I gave a total of six talks: Why I believe in a Young Earth, Creation vs Evolution: Religion vs Science or Religion vs Religion, Homeschooling: The Solution to Our Education Problem, Why Homeschool through High School, What about K-6 Science?, and ‘Teaching’ the Jr High & High School Sciences at Home. They were all well attended, and I got several good questions. However, I did have one talk (I forget which one) after which no one asked a single question. I don’t recall that ever happening before.

I was a bit concerned about giving the first talk, because it tends to ruffle some feathers. In the talk, I make the (rather obvious to me) point that the young-earth interpretation of Scripture is not the only orthodox interpretation that submits to Scriptural authority. I demonstrate this several different ways, including by pointing out that some of the early church fathers (like Origen) interpreted the days in the creation account to be figurative and not literal. By the 1100′s a figurative interpretation of Genesis was widespread in the church. Other church fathers (like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers) believed that the days had nothing to do with the passage of time but instead were used as a means by which the things that were created could be ordered in terms of priority.

This, of course, goes against what some of my fellow young-earth creationists teach, so sometimes, the content of the talk is greeted with quite a bit of anger. At this convention, however, no one seemed to get angry. In fact, I didn’t get a single hostile question after the talk, which surprised me. Everyone who spoke to me about that talk later said they appreciated how I handled such a hot-button issue. I did get an interesting question related to the talk from someone who came to my publisher’s booth, and it’s the question I want to address in this post.

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An Update on Mark Armitage and the Inquisition

Posted by jlwile on July 25, 2014

This is Mark Armitage giving a talk at a meeting of the Creation Science Fellowship.  (click for source)

This is Mark Armitage giving a talk at a meeting of the Creation Science Fellowship. (click for source)

Last year, I discussed how Mark Armitage fell victim to the evolutionary Inquisiton. In July of last year, he published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Acta Histochemica. In that paper, he reported finding soft tissue in a Triceratops fossil that is supposedly 65 million years old. Remarkably, the soft tissue was composed of tiny, fragile cellular structures which showed no evidence of being mineralized. In addition, there was no doubt that this tissue came from the Triceratops, as it has exactly the microscopic structure one would expect for bone tissue.

That was too much for the High Priests of Science. The Inquisition struck, and Armitage was fired from his position at California State University. Armitage himself commented on the post, indicating he was convinced that his firing was directly related to the paper and he would sue the university.

Today, I ran across an announcement from The Pacific Justice Institute indicating that he has filed the lawsuit. The announcement includes something Armitage mentioned in his comment – that a university official proclaimed:

We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!

A staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute is quoted as saying:

It has become apparent that ‘diversity’ and ‘intellectual curiosity,’ so often touted as hallmarks of a university education, do not apply to those with a religious point of view.

That isn’t news to me. It isn’t news to a lot of other Christians who happen to be scientists, either. It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit progresses.

New Record Set for Soft Tissue in Fossils

Posted by jlwile on May 22, 2014

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

Sabellidites cambriensis is an animal that we know only from the fossil record. It is thought to be a worm-like creature that built its own tube in which to live. Its fossils are found in Ediacaran rock, which is supposed to be on the order of 550 million years old. Evolutionists are interested in studying organisms from this rock, because they are thought to be the oldest multicelled animals. The problem is that there are other fossils of tube-forming animals in the same rock, so it is difficult for evolutionists to tease out the supposed relationships that exist between S. cambriensis and similar animals that are alive today.

In order to better understand S. cambriensis, a group of paleontologists examined several fossils using electron microscopes, X-rays, and spectrometers. Their analysis indicates that the structure and layering of the fossils’ tubes are similar to that of an existing group of animals known as beard worms,1 an example of which is shown below:

These are beard worms.  They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales.  (public domain image)

These are beard worms. They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales. (public domain image)

As a result, the authors conclude that the S. cambriensis fossils represent ancient forerunners of the beard worms. This presents a bit of a problem for evolutionists, however. As the authors note, using molecular clock estimates, it was thought that beard worms didn’t evolve until about 126 million years ago. Since the fossils the authors studied are supposed to be about 550 million years old, their analysis says that the molecular clock estimate is off by almost a factor of four! However, I personally think these fossils represent an even bigger problem for evolutionists.

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Even Leaf Fossils Contain Original Remains After Sitting for Supposedly 50 Million Years!

Posted by jlwile on April 16, 2014

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old.  Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material.  (click for credit)

This fossil leaf is supposed to be 49 million years old. Leaf fossils of similar supposed age have been shown to contain original leaf material. (click for credit)

One of the many recent scientific discoveries that is best understood in a young-earth creationist framework is the preservation of original tissue in fossils thought to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, and here, for example). So far, all of the examples of such tissue come from animals, but recently, a study was published in the journal Metallomics that indicates at least some plant fossils also have remarkably well-preserved original remains in them!

The research team, which includes palaeontologists, physicists, and geochemists, used the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the UK’s Diamond Light Source to examine fossil leaves which are believed to be 50 million years old. These two facilities use fast-moving electrons to produce radiation that is very intense and very high energy. This radiation can be used to study various aspects of an object that are not possible to study using visible light. In particular, the research team used the radiation from the facilities to examine the distribution of chemicals found in the leaf fossils.

Why did they want to do this? Well, essentially the same team of scientists used a series of tests (including ones conducted at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource) on a reptile fossil that was also supposed to be 50 million years old. They found the chemicals you would expect to find in reptile tissue, and they found them in exactly the places you would expect to find them in living reptiles.1 As a result, they concluded that there was a remarkable level of chemical preservation in a reptile fossil that is supposed to be 50 million years old. They wanted to see if the same thing existed in plant fossils.

They found that it did!

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Talking Past One Another – The Ham/Nye Debate

Posted by jlwile on February 5, 2014

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

Bill Nye (left) and Ken Ham (right) during the debate.

The much-anticipated debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham happened last night. I had some pretty high hopes for the debate, and some of them were realized. However, most of them were not. If you happened to miss the debate, it is still available as a video, so please feel free to watch it. As I understand it, the video will only be there for a limited time, however, so if you want to watch it, you should probably do so soon.

Let me start by telling you the things I liked about the debate. First, it went off without a technical glitch. With so many people watching it via live streaming, there were all sorts of problems that could have happened. However, I was able to watch clear video with crisp audio the entire time. It was great to think that so many people could enjoy the debate in that format. I also love the fact that it is still available as a video so even more people can watch it!

Second, both debaters were cordial, and they concentrated on making their cases. Neither one of them resorted to name-calling, which is all too common in such situations. Nye repeatedly said that Ham’s views were “extraordinary,” and he also repeatedly referred to science as it happens “outside” the Creation Museum. However, at no time did he turn his attacks towards his opponent. That was very good.

Third, both debaters brought up some good points. You will see what I mean later on in this post.

Fourth, there were two chances for the debaters to rebut one another, and then there were (pre-written) questions from the audience. As a result, there were opportunities for the debaters to interact with one another. This is where I come to my main problem with the debate. While there were plenty of opportunities for the debaters to interact, they rarely did so. As the title of this post indicates, they spent most of their time talking past one another. That’s unfortunate, because a real discussion between the two debaters would have been more illuminating than what happened in the debate. Nevertheless, there were some good (and bad) moments for both sides in the debate, so let me use this post to point out what I thought each debater did well and what I thought each debater did poorly.

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Will This Bring Back the Moon Dust Argument?

Posted by jlwile on January 22, 2014

This NASA photo shows the thin layer of dust on the moon.  (public domain image)

This NASA photo shows the thin layer of dust on the moon. (public domain image)

Answers in Genesis keeps a list of creationist arguments that should never be used. It is a good list, and I am glad that Answers in Genesis maintains it. It would be nice if an evolutionary source did the same thing. I don’t know how many times I have to refute nonsense like vestigial tails, lanugo hair, vestigial hair, the vestigial appendix, junk DNA, and all manner of evolutionary arguments that are simply not consistent with the data we currently know.

In any event, the first item on the list of creationist arguments that should never be used is the Moon Dust Argument. In brief, the argument used an estimate of how quickly dust accumulates on the moon to calculate how much dust the astronauts should have found when they landed there. It claims that if the moon were really billions of years old, there should be more than 100 feet of dust on its surface. Astronauts found only a thin layer of dust when they landed, so the moon is not billions of years old.

The problem with that argument rests on the estimate for how quickly dust accumulates on the moon. It was based on how quickly dust accumulates on earth. Obviously, the earth is quite different from the moon, so it’s not clear how good such an estimate is. In addition, other estimates have been made using other methods, and those estimates mostly disagree with one another. Since there seemed to be no good way of estimating how quickly dust accumulates on the moon, responsible creationists stopped using the argument, and that’s how it ended up on the Answers in Genesis list of arguments that should never be used.

Well, some interesting experiments have been done to provide a more direct measurement of dust accumulation on the moon, and the results are surprising, at least to those who are committed to an old earth.

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An Explanation that is Not Exactly Iron-Clad

Posted by jlwile on December 2, 2013

Tyrannosaurs like this one were thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, but soft tissue has been found in one Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. Soft tissue has also been found in several other fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old. (click for credit)

In 2005, Dr. Mary Schweitzer shocked the scientific world by reporting soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is supposed to be 68 million years old.1 While many scientists who are more interested in their preconceptions than they are in the data tried to dismiss her findings, several other examples of soft tissue in fossils that are thought to be millions of years old have been found (see here, here, here, here, and here). In the end, it has become nearly impossible for a thoughtful scientist to conclude anything other than the fact that there is soft tissue present in some fossils which are thought to be millions of years old.

Now, for someone who truly believes in an ancient earth, it’s very hard to explain how soft tissue can remain in a fossil that has been in the ground for millions of years. Even for a young-earth creationist like myself, it is still a difficult thing to understand. Soft tissue tends to decay in a matter of days or weeks. From a chemical point of view, it is hard to understand how it can stay soft for even a few years, much less hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years. Fortunately, Dr. Schweitzer has continued her studies on soft tissue in dinosaur fossils, and she has found at least one chemical mechanism by which soft tissue can be preserved for significantly longer than anyone expected.2

She and her colleagues began by examining soft tissue from her T. rex fossil as well as a Brachylophosaurus canadensis fossil. While the T. rex fossil is supposed to be about 68 million years old, the B. canadensis is supposed to be about 76 million years old. Nevertheless, under a transmission electron microscope, both are seen to harbor soft vessels that are probably blood vessels. Interestingly enough, however, the vessels have tiny particles of iron embedded in them.

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“Oil” in Weeks, Not Millions of Years

Posted by jlwile on October 2, 2013

This is a magnified image of a fungus from the same genus as the one discussed in the article.
(Public domain image)

In 2008, plant pathologist Dr. Gary A. Strobel and his colleagues published a paper about an odd fungus (Gliocladium roseum) they found in a Patagonian rainforest. It is endophytic, which means it lives within a plant and takes nutrients from the plant, but it is not a parasite. Other endophytic fungi have been shown to produce all sorts of benefits to plants, including giving them much-needed chemicals and allowing them to communicate with one another, so this fungus probably gives some benefit to the plants in which it grows. However, that wasn’t the focus of Dr. Strobel’s paper. Instead, he and his colleagues noted that this fungus actually produced a wide variety of chemicals, including those found in diesel fuel! As the authors stated:1

The hydrocarbon profile of G. roseum contains a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel and so the volatiles of this fungus have been dubbed ‘myco-diesel’.

The prefix “myco” means “fungus,” so the authors basically were calling some of the chemicals that G. roseum produces “fungus diesel.”

Well, it seems that Dr. Strobel and his colleagues have been busy trying to coax G. roseum to make more “fungus diesel,” and they have produced some rather dramatic results. They built a tabletop device they call “The Paleobiosphere”2, which is supposed to mimic the conditions under which oil might form. It consists of two layers of shale, a type of rock that often contains oil. Sandwiched in between those two layers is a mixture of the fungus as well as leaves from maple, aspen, and sycamore trees. The container is flooded with water periodically, and in a mere three weeks, the shale layers contain a rich mixture of chemicals that is very similar to the oil found in the shales of Montana!

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The Great Debate, Take 2

Posted by jlwile on September 26, 2013

The skulls of some primates. Based on genetics, most evolutionists believe the chimpanzee is our closest living relative, but physical characteristics indicate the orangutan is. (click for credit)

Last night I once again debated Dr. Robert A. Martin, a vertebrate paleontologist who is professor emeritus at Murray State University. The previous debate was on the broad subject of creation versus evolution. This time, the organizers of the event wanted us to narrow our discussion, so we chose to talk about dinosaurs and people. Before I discuss the debate, I want to thank Dr. Martin for participating in it. I personally think the best way to understand an issue is to hear from multiple sides, so I think debates can be extremely helpful to those interested in controversial topics. However, it is difficult to get evolutionists to participate in debates about the creation/evolution controversy. I thank Dr. Martin for being committed to education strongly enough to be an exception to that general rule!

Since Dr. Martin had the weaker position scientifically, I allowed him to choose whether to present his case first or second. He chose to go second, so I was up first. The initial activities (songs, introductions, and remarks from the organizers) made it clear that for some reason, the audience this year was overwhelmingly creationist. The previous year, creationists were in the majority, but there were many evolutionists present. That didn’t seem to be the case this year, so I started by thanking Dr. Martin for being willing to act as a lion in a den of Daniels.

In making my case, I concentrated on the evidence that indicates dinosaur fossils are not millions of years old. I stressed the soft tissue that is being found in fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). I also discussed the fact that several dinosaur bones from different locations around the world all have enough carbon-14 in them to indicate that their maximum age is less than 40,000 years old. I also discussed how living organisms like the coelacanth, Wollemi pine, and tuatara falsify the geological-column thinking that leads most scientists to conclude that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time.

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