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Monday, January 26, 2015

Science and History Synchronized…Sort of

Posted by jlwile on January 21, 2015

This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.  Plato and Aristotle are at the center.

This painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is called The School of Athens.
Plato and Aristotle are at the center.

I have been writing an elementary science series that introduces science topics in roughly chronological order. Currently, two of the books are available, and the third is being printed as I type these words. The fourth is finished and is currently being reviewed by two science PhDs and one historian. I have just one more to write.

Now that I am near the end of the series, my publisher came up with a great idea. Since there are some excellent history courses that homeschoolers use at the elementary level, he suggested that I write a guide which synchronizes my elementary courses to them. That way, if a homeschooling family wants to, they can learn science and history side-by-side. I thought, “How hard can that be?” After all, my science is presented chronologically, and many of these history programs are presented chronologically. It should be easy to synchronize them, right?

Wrong! Science progressed slowly at first and then picked up steam as time went on. As a result, my courses speed through ancient history and the middle ages, slow down a bit in the renaissance, slow down even more in the Age of Reason, and will slow down even more after that. Understandably, this isn’t how most history courses are paced.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Counting To God: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on January 13, 2015

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist (click for credit)

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist
(click for credit)

Douglas Ell graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with degrees in math and chemistry. He then went to the University of Maryland, where he earned a Master’s degree in theoretical mathematics. Not satisfied with only three degrees, he also went to law school and graduated magna cum laude. After that, he began his career as an attorney.

When he was a child, he went to church, but the older he got, the less he believed in God. By the time he was in high school, he wrote to his minister and stated that he no longer believed in God. His minister wrote back and gave him a book to read, but Ell never read it. By the time he got his law degree, he was a full-fledged atheist. In his new book, Counting To God, he describes what he believed at that point in his life:

It seemed you could explain just about everything with logic and science. It seemed God had no place in our modern world. I treated God like a joke. (p. 19)

In his early thirties, Ell had a son, and this caused him and his wife to start attending church. Ell treated it like a social club, but he did notice something: Many of the people in the church he attended (including the minister) had an inner peace that he could sense. He wanted that peace, but didn’t see how he could have it, because he didn’t believe what they believed.

In his mid-forties, a new career opportunity forced him to spend a lot of time on airplanes. As a result, he started reading about science, mathematics, and religion. The more he read, the more he saw a connection between the three. He eventually saw seven specific ways in which science and mathematics support the existence of God:

1. The evidence that the universe had a beginning
2. The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3. The complexity of life and our inability to discover a naturalistic explanation for its origin
4. The fantastic, futuristic technology that exists in all of life
5. The mounting evidence against neo-Darwinian evolution
6. The specialness of earth
7. The mathematical nature of the universe

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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.


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

Flight to Heaven

Posted by jlwile on February 25, 2014

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

This book was written by a Captain Dale Black, who survived a plane crash as a teenager.

Not long ago, I wrote a review of the book Proof of Heaven. It was written by a neurosurgeon who was convinced that he had died and gone to heaven. I expressed quite a bit of skepticism, for reasons that are discussed in the review. Shortly after, I got an email from a reader who suggested what he considered to be a better book, Flight to Heaven. I put the book into my “queue” and finally got a chance to read it while I was in Central America. I agree with the commenter that this is a much better book, but I am a bit skeptical that the author, Captain Dale Black, actually went to heaven.

Captain Black is currently a retired airline pilot who owns a real estate company with his wife. He has two grown children and has worked tirelessly to improve aviation safety. He has also flown as a missionary pilot in 50 different countries. Indeed, the book starts with a harrowing experience he had while flying for missionary purposes in Africa. He sets up the desperate situation and uses it to introduce the airplane crash that caused what he thinks was his visit to heaven. Once he completes the retelling of the crash, his visit, and his recovery, he resolves the book by finishing the opening tale about his experience flying in Africa. It is an exciting way of getting the reader hooked early on in the book.

When Dale Black was nineteen, he had his pilot’s license. He had wanted to be a pilot for quite some time, and he worked hard earning the money necessary to take the required classes. He wasn’t ready to fly jets yet, but he was able to be part of a three-man group that was flying a twin-engine cargo plane making several deliveries throughout California. Upon takeoff, the plane couldn’t get enough lift, and it crashed into, ironically, a monument built to honor the pioneers of aviation who had passed on.

Of the three-man team, Dale Black was the lone survivor.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

An Atheist Detective Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on February 19, 2014

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I like to discuss the stories of other atheists who have become Christians (see here, here, here, here, and here.) This post adds to that list of stories.

J. Warner Wallace is a successful homicide detective. He specializes in cold cases – unsolved murder cases that remain open, waiting for someone to examine them in a new way that will lead to finding the killer. He has been trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA), which is a methodology that examines a person’s linguistic usage to determine the veracity of what he or she is saying when being interviewed about a case. He also used to be an atheist. As he says in his book, Cold-Case Christianity:

My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview… (p. 16)

However, a fellow officer kept inviting him to church. He was able to avoid going for a while, but he eventually felt obligated to accept the invitation. He says that he managed to ignore most of what the pastor was saying during the service, but he noticed that the pastor painted Jesus as a smart guy with a lot of good things to say. As a result, Wallace purchased his first Bible, just to see if this Jesus fellow was the great teacher that the pastor made him out to be.

What Wallace found changed his life.

As he began to read the Gospels, he noticed something:

I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts. (p. 17)

Of course, it didn’t take him long to realize that he could treat the Gospel accounts like one of his cold cases. He could evaluate the testimony of those claiming to be eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Jesus, look for corroborating evidence, and try to determine whether or not the accounts are accurate. When he did that, he came away believing that the Gospels are, indeed, accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. As a result, he became a Christian.

His book takes you through his analysis, so that you can see exactly how he evaluated the “cold case” of the Gospel accounts. To make sure you have all the requisite skills necessary to follow his analysis, he gives you 10 tips on how to be a good detective. They are all great tips, but his first one is the best. He tells the story of the first homicide case he ever worked: a woman who had been murdered in her bed. A seasoned detective who had seen far too many cases took the lead, and as soon as he saw the crime scene, he thought he knew what had happened. Based on his experience, he concluded that the husband was the killer. However, as they investigated the crime, they found that the woman was single. All the signs that pointed to the husband as the killer (no forced entry, the victim didn’t put up much of a fight, etc., etc.) ended up being explained by a completely different killer (a friendly neighbor).

This taught Wallace to avoid presuppositions. The lead investigator let his presuppositions guide him in the case, and for that particular case, those presuppositions were completely wrong. Following them hampered the investigation. Each case is unique, and you should avoid any presuppositions you have about it. This is his first tip for any detective, including anyone who is trying to determine the veracity of the Gospel accounts. If you avoid presuppositions, you can allow the evidence to guide you.

After giving you his 10 tips for being a good detective, he then shows you how he evaluated the Gospels. He shows you why he thinks the Gospel accounts indicate that the sources for the four Gospels were actually there at the events discussed in the Gospels. He then shows you what he considers strong corroborating evidence for the eyewitness reports. He then ends with a discussion of the possible biases in the eyewitness accounts. I have read many, many Christian apologetics books, but I honestly think that this one has the best analysis of the Gospels.

Even though this is primarily a book showing the evidence that supports the veracity of the Gospels, there is also a lot in it for believers. Indeed, it taught me some new things. In evaluating whether or not the accounts in the Bible are authentic, he spends time discussing the “little details” that show the sources for the Gospels were actual eyewitnesses to the events reported. He notes, for example, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s mother is never called by name. She is simply called “Jesus’s mother” or “the mother of Jesus.” Why is that? He explains:

The answer might be found in the nineteenth chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus entrusted Mary to John at the crucifixion. Jesus told John that Mary was now his mother, and He told Mary that John was now her son. ..Writing the Gospel of John many years later, it just may be that John was uncomfortable calling his own mother by her formal name. (p. 91)

This is something I never noticed, and had I noticed it, I am not sure I would have made the connection that Wallace made. This is just one of the many nuggets found in this book.

In addition, I strongly encourage all Christians to learn how the Bible came to be. In his book, Wallace goes through a “chain of custody” for all four Gospels, to make sure that the Gospels we read today have not been significantly altered from their original form. This chain of custody provides the best concise description I have ever read of how the Bible came to be. That section alone is worth the price of the book.

In the end, I think this book is one of the best additions to Christian apologetics that has come out in a long time. I strongly recommend it to everyone, but especially to skeptics of the Bible. If you are interested in what the evidence says, it is worthwhile to hear from someone whose career is devoted to following the evidence, regardless of where it leads!

An Odd View of an Old Debate

Posted by jlwile on November 20, 2013

Mr. Strock's book

Carl Strock is a journalist-turned-columnist who recently retired from the Schenectady Gazette after 25 years of service. After he traveled to Israel and wrote some decidedly anti-Israel columns, the Gazette received numerous complaints. In response, his editor told him to stop writing about Israel for a while and submit all of his columns to her for editing. This bothered Strock, because he saw it as censorship. After continuing his columns with less frequency, he eventually retired. However, he has not stopped writing. He has a blog at the and has written a book, From D’burg to Jerusalem, The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman.

Why am I writing about Mr. Strock? Because in his book, he mentions a debate he had with me back in 2006. I had actually forgotten about the debate, but when a reader in Schenectady told me about being mentioned in his book, I recalled the event. I got his book and planned to read the entire thing, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I did read some parts of the book, including the chapter that discusses the debate. I found his view of that event to be very odd.

Here’s what prompted the debate: Strock had written some columns in the Gazette regarding creationism and intelligent design. Since he obviously knew little about either subject, his columns provoked some rather heated responses, which he seemed to find surprising. Eventually, he tired of people pointing out his ignorance, so he said:

I will meet any of them in open forum, and we’ll see who’s ignorant of what. (p. 161)

A student who was using one of my textbooks at the time contacted me, and (of course) I agreed to meet Mr. Strock in open forum. Strock was surprised, but he agreed to the debate. I thought the debate was amatuerish but informative. Based on what he has written in his book, he obviously disagrees.

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Proof of Heaven

Posted by jlwile on August 12, 2013

The cover of the book

Dr. Eben Alexander is an academic neurosurgeon. He has taught at esteemed institutions such as the Duke University Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has also done surgery at world-renowned hospitals like Boston Children’s Hospital, the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Obviously, his academic credentials are impeccable, and he seems to be a very well-respected surgeon by many health care professionals. Of course, the reason I am telling you about him is that he wrote a book called Proof of Heaven, in which he details a Near Death Experience (NDE) he had. This NDE radically changed him from a materialist who believed that the human mind is simply a product of the brain’s physiology to a theist who believes that our consciousness is a supernatural gift from our Creator.

I decided to read the book because I have always been skeptical of NDEs. At the same time, however, I really haven’t done much reading about them. My skepticism, then, is based largely on ignorance, and I am happy to admit that. It seemed to me if anyone could provide a good, scientific analysis of a NDE, it would be a neurosurgeon who actually experienced one. I read the book, hoping to be persuaded by the evidence. However, I have to say that I finished the book a bit more skeptical about NDEs than when I started.

In brief, Dr. Alexander came down with a very rare case of Escherichia coli meningitis, which he maintains completely shut down his cortex, the portion of the brain that is associated with “higher” functions such as thoughts and actions. He maintains that for all intents and purposes, he had no consciousness, since the part of the brain associated with consciousness was simply shut down by the bacteria that were attacking it. Despite this complete lack of higher brain function, he had a vivid experience of completely different places: An underworld he calls “The Realm of the Earthworm’s Eye View” (p. 30), a glorious land of beauty he calls “The Gateway” (p. 38), and the realm of God Himself, which he calls “The Core” (p. 45).

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Riddle of the Feathered Dragons

Posted by jlwile on July 31, 2013

Despite the fact that no evidence of feathers has ever been found associated with a Deinonychus fossil, this model of the dinosaur at Canada's Royal Ontario Museum is covered with feathers in an attempt to emphasize the supposed evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds.
(Click for credit)

Dr. Alan Feduccia is a world-class evolutionary biologist whose research has focused on the natural history of birds. He is the S.K. Heninger Distinguished Professor Emeritus at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and even his abbreviated list of publications is the envy of most scientists. He has received numerous honors for his scientific accomplishments, including having an extinct species of bird named after him: Confuciusornis feducciai.

Despite his incredible scientific accomplishments, he is ridiculed by some in the scientific community because he doesn’t think that dinosaurs evolved into birds. There are those who call him a “BANDit” (BAND stands for “Birds Are Not Dinosaurs) and lump him in with the hated creationists and the global warming “deniers.” Why don’t these people listen to a man who has contributed so much to the biological sciences? Because they follow the consensus, and the consensus is that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Anyone who questions this consensus, regardless of the data they present, are simply ignored and ridiculed.

In his latest book, Riddle of the Feathered Dragons, Dr. Feduccia has something to say about this consensus:

The word “consensus” has no place in science and is never a validation of any hypothesis, yet one frequently sees trust in “consensus” for validation of important scientific concepts. (pp. 4-5)

I couldn’t agree more. When you hear the word “consensus” used to support a scientific argument, you know the speaker has stopped thinking. Rather than examining evidence for himself or herself, the speaker is simply allowing the majority to rule. Majority rule might be a good system in some social applications, but it is the worst possible method for doing science.

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The Human Body: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Second Edition

Posted by jlwile on July 25, 2013

This is an example of Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings of the human foot's anatomy. (public domain image)

The Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, mathematician, engineer, inventor, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and anatomist Leonardo da Vinci said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”1 Indeed, the entire human body is a testament to the creative mind of God. That’s why Marilyn Shannon and I used Psalm 139:14 in the title of our our human anatomy and physiology book, The Human Body: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. The book was published in 2001 and has been used by many high school students around the world. Several students have written me over the years saying that the book helped them in their university-level studies, and some have even said it sparked their interest in a career in health care.

Of course, most textbooks need to be updated from time to time, especially to keep up with advances in the field. For example, when our book was published, scientists weren’t sure what the human appendix did. Many considered it a vestigial organ, but creationists and intelligent design advocates did not. As a result, the best we could write at the time was that the function of the human appendix was unknown. Several years after the book was published, however, scientists determined the function of the appendix (see here, here, and here). Even some evolutionists now agree that the appendix provides such a vital function that it is not vestigial in any way. In fact, one group says it is so important in some mammals that it evolved independently at least 32 separate times over the course of earth’s history!

It is not surprising, then, that the publisher of our book decided it was time for a new edition. However, since I am no longer a part of that company, I was not involved in its production. As people began to understand this, some asked me what I thought the new edition would be like. I told them that the co-author of the first edition (Marilyn Shannon) was involved in the project, so I expected the second edition of the book to be very good. She is incredibly knowledgeable in the field (she teaches it at the college level), and she is a strong Christian who has a good understanding of how faith and science interact. I didn’t know who else was working on the project, but I suspected that as long as she was the guiding force, it would turn out well.

I was recently able to review the book, and I was pleased to see that my expectations were correct. The second edition is an excellent course on human anatomy and physiology that will prepare students well for advanced study at the university level. It is “user friendly” enough to be used independently by home-educated students and is rigorous enough to prepare students who have already taken Exploring Creation with Biology for the Advanced Placement Test in biology.

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Science & Human Origins

Posted by jlwile on March 25, 2013

I was recently asked to review the book Science & Human Origins for Apologetics 315. While the book is not perfect, it is definitely worth the read.

You can see my review here.