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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Strike Yet Another Vestigial Organ

Posted by jlwile on September 15, 2014

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale.  The small pelvis is circled.  (click for credit)

This drawing illustrates the skeleton of a baleen whale. The small pelvis is circled. (click for credit)

Evolutionists love to talk about vestigial organs. Consider, for example, the human appendix. This wormlike tube connected to a person’s cecum looks something like the cecum that you find in some herbivores. Since there is some similarity between the two organs, and since a person can live an apparently normal life without his or her appendix, evolutionists long thought it was a vestigial organ – a remnant of our evolutionary history. Most evolutionary sources said it was useless in people, but we now know that isn’t true (see here and here). Others claimed it wasn’t necessarily useless, but it was still vestigial. They said the appendix is definitely the remnant of a herbivore’s cecum, but as it shrank, it developed a new purpose. We now know that’s not true, either.

Of course, there are many other organs that evolutionists claimed were vestigial but we now know aren’t (see here, here, here, here, and here). It seems we can add another to that list: the pelvis in a whale. Like the appendix, most evolutionary sources say that the whale pelvis is useless. For example, the book Life on earth says:1

During whale evolution, losing the hind legs provided an advantage, better streamlining the body for movement through water. The result is the modern whale with small, useless pelvic bones.

We now know that this is simply not true.

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How Should a Christian Deal with Tragedy?

Posted by jlwile on September 11, 2014

A child's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, which is in Washington, D.C.  (click for credit)

A child’s grave at Oak Hill Cemetery, which is in Washington, D.C. (click for credit)

When my wife and I were in Barbados with her parents a few years ago, we toured an old church on the island. Like many old churches, it had a graveyard in back. Several of the gravestones had epitaphs, but some did not, because those epitaphs were actually inside the church. Some of them were hanging on the walls, and some were even a part of the church’s floor. I read several of them, but there is one I will never forget. It was for a woman, and part of it read:

The last privilege vouchsafed to her on earth was to teach her husband and her children how a Christian ought to die.

I teared up as I read that sentence, and I wondered if someone would be able to say something similar about me one day.

For some reason, that epitaph brought home to me in a very real way a simple truth that should have been quite obvious: One way I could learn about how to deal with tragedies in my own life is to watch how my brothers and sisters in Christ deal with their own tragedies. As I have started doing this, I have found that some of my Christian brothers and sisters are negative role models – they show me how I shouldn’t deal with such situations. Thankfully, that’s not always the case.

On August 23rd, I learned that some friends of mine (a young couple) in Seattle had experienced a tragedy. She was delivering what was expected to be a healthy baby boy, but a complication arose. As a result of that complication, the baby (named Teddy) went without oxygen for 12 minutes. Teddy was rushed to Seattle Children’s hospital. The hospital staff worked tirelessly. The parents prayed. Their friends prayed. Family rushed in to offer support. A Facebook prayer group sprung up. Teddy fought valiantly.

On September 3rd, he passed away.

This was the young couple’s first child. Understandably, they were devastated. Throughout the entire process, however, they never lost sight of their Savior. They didn’t give the typical, “Christianese” response, plastering fake smiles on their faces and saying, “It’s all in God’s hands.” Instead, they shared their very real pain as well as how their very real faith was helping them to cope. I want to give you a feel for what I mean by quoting something the young father wrote:

We’ve been snuggling with Teddy, singing worship songs, crooning Sinatra, and humming lullabies. We’ve been kissing his face, his hands, his head, telling him stories about Jesus and his family and his mom and dad.

This is what we call our God Bubble. The pain is real, the tears flow steadily, the anger simmers beneath the surface of the shock. But we cherish moments instead of wasting them fantasizing over What Ifs. We gaze into Teddy’s peaceful face instead of slamming our fists into walls. We read Psalm 23, inserting Teddy’s name into the verses, instead of cursing the air. And when the nightmare invades our peace we weep, we pray, we hold the ones nearby. When the horror raises its head we surrender ourselves and our baby boy to God, our father who loves us more than we love Teddy, and beg for this suffering to pass us by — then accept whatever our faithful God decides to bless us with.

This young man is about half my age, but he has wisdom beyond my years. He and his precious wife have taught me more about how a Christian should deal with tragedy than a thousand sermons given by the world’s best preachers ever could.

My heart goes out to my friends, because I am sure this is a pain that will never leave them. But my heartfelt thanks go out to them as well. My life was changed by watching how they lived through this horrific situation, and I am certain that many others can say the same thing.

Please Note: This was posted with the permission of Teddy’s father.

What Keeps a Young Adult Active in the Faith?

Posted by jlwile on September 4, 2014

The praying hands statue in Web City, Missouri  (click for credit)

The praying hands statue in Web City, Missouri (click for credit)

We’ve all heard the story before. A child grows up in a Christian home and seems completely committed to the faith. When the child grows up and leaves home, however, he leaves his faith behind. This, of course, is devastating to his parents, and they wonder what they did wrong. Should they have spent more time at church? Should they have emphasized apologetics (reasoned arguments in support of the Christian faith) more? Should they have limited his circle of friends more? Should they have sent him to a Bible college before letting him go off into the real world? What could they have done to make him realize that faith is important throughout the course of his life?

This is a real fear for many parents. They understand how important faith is in a person’s day-to-day life, and they want to spend eternity with their children. How can they avoid the heartache of seeing their children leave the faith? Not surprisingly, there are people who offer answers to that question. Some groups insist that children must be firmly grounded in a Christian worldview. As a result, they offer courses that they claim will help young adults keep their faith in a hostile world. Others insist that the problem lies in the fact that most young adults don’t know how to defend their faith against attacks. Thus, you need to firmly ground them in apologetics in order for them to keep their faith.

The core assumption involved with both of these “answers” is that young Christians just don’t know enough. They don’t know how to analyze the presuppositions that people use in forming their worldviews. They don’t know how to answer the objections that those who are skeptical of the Christian faith raise. They don’t know what parts of the Bible to read for guidance. If we could just teach them all the things they need to know, they will be firm in their faith for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, that core assumption is wrong. As a result, while things like worldview classes and apologetics books might be useful and helpful, they will do little to keep a young adult in the faith. What actually keeps a young adult active in the Christian faith? The answer might surprise you, but it really shouldn’t.

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Another Study Shows College Does Not Erode Faith – For Most Christians

Posted by jlwile on August 21, 2014

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting.  (click for credit)

College students pray at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting. (click for credit)

About a year ago I discussed a study that indicated a college education makes a person more likely to retain his or her faith. Recently, a new study on essentially the same topic was published in the same academic journal. It looked at data in a different (and very interesting) way, but its conclusions generally support those of the previous study.

The author, Dr. Philip Schwadel, used a well-known data set called the General Social Survey (GSS) for the years 1973 to 2010. He then looked at the years in which the respondents were born. He found that he had plenty of data for people born after 1900 and before 1980, so he focused on them. This gave him 38,251 people to analyze, which is an excellent sample size. In the GSS, the people are asked what their religious preference is: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion. They are also asked about their education and what kinds of degrees they have. Dr. Schwadel wanted to determine whether or not a college degree had any effect on a person answering “no religion.”

He found that people who were born from 1900 to 1964 were more likely to say they had no religion if they had a college degree. However, the amount by which they were more likely to say that dropped fairly steadily from 1915-1964. For those born in 1965, a college degree had no effect on whether or not they answered “no religion.” After 1965, having a college degree made a person less likely to indicate they had no religion. As the author says:1

Results from hierarchical age-period-cohort models using more than three and a half decades of repeated cross-sectional survey data demonstrate that the strong, positive effect of college education on reporting no religious affiliation declines precipitously across birth cohorts. Specifically, a bachelor’s degree has no effect on non-affiliation by the 1965–69 cohort, and a negative effect for the 1970s cohorts.

If we dig a bit deeper into the study, however, we find something even more interesting.

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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.

A Great Story I Heard During a Radio Interview

Posted by jlwile on July 18, 2014

This is Vivienne McNeny, the Sociable Homeschooler. (click for her radio show website)

This is Vivienne McNeny, the Sociable Homeschooler. (click for her radio show website)

I just finished an interview with Vivienne McNeny, host of an internet radio show called The Sociable Homeschooler. It was a delightful interview for many reasons, not the least of which is that Mrs. McNeny has a wonderful personality and is great at interviewing people. At the beginning of our time together, she told a story that was very encouraging to me, and at least a part of that story should be encouraging to many homeschoolers as well.

She and her husband homeschooled their children, and although they are both focused on the arts, their youngest son, Simon, was focused on science. They used my high school curriculum for science, but they also read my book, Reasonable Faith: The Scientific Case for Christianity together. She says that her son enjoyed the book, and when he went to college, he referenced it in a paper he wrote for one of his science professors, Dr. Collin Thomas. Dr. Thomas requested a copy of the book, and Simon gave him one. He said that he really enjoyed the book, even though he is not a Christian.

Now, of course, that part of the story was encouraging to me, but the rest of the story should be encouraging to many other homeschooling parents. She said that this professor used to feel sorry for homeschooled students…until he started getting them in his college classes. Now he thinks they are better college students than his publicly-schooled students. She interviewed him on her radio show approximately two years ago, and the interview is fascinating. If you have time, I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. It starts at 15:20 on the recording that is posted on the website.

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Academic Freedom and Christian Colleges

Posted by jlwile on July 10, 2014

This sign contains the English translation of Wheaton College's motto, "Christo et Regno Ejus."  (click for credit)

This sign contains the English translation of Wheaton College’s motto, “Christo et Regno Ejus.”
(click for credit)

On June 30, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by University of Pennsylvania English professor Peter Conn entitled, “The Great Accreditation Farce.” In that article, which Binghamton University history professor Adam Laats calls a “hatchet job,” Dr. Conn tries to argue that Christian colleges which require their faculty to sign a statement of faith should not be given accreditation. After all, he says:

Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research. However, such inquiry cannot flourish—in many cases, cannot even survive—inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.

Now I have to admit I have some sympathy for that argument. In a post I wrote nearly three years ago, I highlighted one Christian university that does not make its faculty sign a detailed statement of faith: Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. In that post, I said Anderson University “gets it” when it comes to what a university is all about – honest, open inquiry. In my view, a detailed statement of faith restricts the search for truth, and that’s not what a Christian university should be about. Certainly, a Christian university should be staffed by Christian faculty, but it should not restrict that faculty’s fields of inquiry with a detailed statement of faith.

Even though I have some sympathy for Dr. Conn’s argument, it is wrong on at least two counts. First, while I would never teach at a university that requires a detailed statement of faith, that doesn’t mean such a university shouldn’t receive accreditation. After all, the purpose of accreditation is not to make sure the university is a bastion of skeptical and free inquiry. Instead, according to The U.S. Department of Education:

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.

This has little to do with how much skeptical and unfettered inquiry is going on at the institution. Instead, it has everything to do with the quality of the classes, the depth of the material covered, and the standards to which the institution holds its students.

The other reason Dr. Conn’s argument fails is more important: Using his argument, very few (if any) secular colleges could be given accreditation, because they don’t allow skeptical and unfettered inquiry, either.

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One Researcher Says China Will Soon Be The Largest Christian Nation on Earth

Posted by jlwile on May 15, 2014

This is the Haidian Christian Church in  Beijing, China.  (click for credit)

This is the Haidian Christian Church in Beijing, China. (click for credit)

Dr. Fenggang Yang is a Professor of Sociology at Purdue University and Director of the university’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society. He was recently interviewed in The Telegraph, and he made this remarkable statement:

By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.

How soon is “very soon?” According to Dr. Yang’s calculation, China’s Protestant community, which had only one million members in 1949, will reach 160 million in 2025. The U.S. Protestant community is currently at 159 million, but its population is declining. Based on these numbers, then, “very soon” will be in less than 11 years!

Is that a realistic prediction? I have no idea. According to the article, there were 58 million Protestants in China in 2010, which already puts them above Brazilian Protestants and South African Protestants in terms of sheer numbers. Of course, one has to put these numbers in perspective. There are about 1.3 billion people in China right now, so this all these Protestants make up only 4% of the population, and if they reach Dr. Yang’s projected number in 2025, they will still be only about 10% of the population. Nevertheless, those numbers are quite remarkable for a country that is officially atheist.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Yang’s prediction has produced some negative comments from China’s Communist Party.

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Not Surprisingly, the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Is a Fake

Posted by jlwile on May 5, 2014

A papyrus fragment that contains the phrase, "Jesus said to them, 'my wife...'."  It and its sister document (a papyrus fragment that contains some of the Gospel of John) are almost certainly forgeries.  (click for credit)

A papyrus fragment that contains the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’.” It and its sister document (a papyrus fragment that contains some of the Gospel of John) are almost certainly forgeries. (click for credit)

In 2012, the media was abuzz with a sensational archaeological find. An ancient scrap of papyrus, a paper-like material made from the papyrus plant, contained the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’.” In addition, the fragment mentions the name “Mary.” An anonymous owner had given the fragment (and another that contains some of the Gospel of John) to Dr. Karen King of Harvard University, who judged it to be from the fourth century AD. This, of course, indicates that at least some early Christians thought Jesus was married, perhaps to Mary Magdalene. As a result, people started calling this scrap of papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

Immediately, there were those who thought the papyrus fragment mentioning Jesus’ wife was not authentic, but in April of this year, the Harvard Theological Review published a series of articles supporting its authenticity. One of the most important pieces of evidence was the radiocarbon dating test, which indicates the papyrus was made between AD 209 and AD 405. The same testing indicates that the other papyrus (which contains some of the Gospel of John) was made between AD 681 and AD 877. Radiocarbon dating has lots of problems associated with it, but when it can be calibrated using tree rings (as is true in this case), it is reasonably reliable. Thus, the papyrus fragments probably were made during those time periods.

Just a few weeks later, Indiana Wesleyan University’s Dr. Christian Askeland posted a blog article that shows the papyrus fragment containing some of the Gospel of John is almost certainly a fake. He compared it to an authentic fragment of the Gospel of John, called the Codex Qau. He found similarities that could not be coincidental. For example, in 17 lines, the breaks in the text are the same between the two documents. In addition, he noted that the dialect used in the papyrus fragment in question fell out of use long before the time when the radiocarbon dating says the papyrus was made.

Based on his analysis, Askeland concludes:

Unless compelling counter-arguments arise, both this fragment and the Gospel of Jesus Wife fragment should now be considered forgeries beyond any doubt.

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The SHEM Convention (and Why College Isn’t the Right Option for Most Students)

Posted by jlwile on April 14, 2014

This is the St Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the "Show Me State" of Missouri.  (click for credit)

This is the St. Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the “Show Me State” of Missouri.
(click for credit)

Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry (SHEM) Convention in Springfield, Missouri. Driving from Indiana to the convention, we passed the famous Gateway Arch, pictured above. This, of course, let us know that we were in the “Show Me State.” I spoke at the SHEM convention last year, and it produced my favorite “talk” of the year – an entire session of nothing but questions from the teens. They didn’t plan a session like that this year, but I still got the chance to answer a lot of questions, both after my talks and at my publisher’s booth.

I gave a total of six talks over the course of the two-day convention. I talked to the parents about how homeschooling is the solution to our education problem and about how college tends to keep young adults active in the faith. This surprised a lot of the attendees, because they believed the “common wisdom” that students who go to college are likely to lose their faith. In fact, the research is very clear – students who do not go to college are significantly more likely to lose their faith. I also talked about how my wife and I came to adopt our daughter and what I did with her in homeschooling. That talk was in the last time slot for talks at the convention, and afterwards, one mother wrote on my Facebook page:

…I would like to thank you for sharing the story of your own family with us. Your talk was the perfect way to end the convention and it left me excited, and with renewed enthusiasm. Thank you.

I also gave two talks with Diana Waring. The first was about how arguing promotes learning, and the second was about what to do when your children’s plans for their future are radically different from your plans for their future. Finally, I talked to the teens about how homeschool graduates are doing. In that talk, I go through some statistics about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now, and then I focus on specific homeschool graduates and how they are truly changing the world.

As usual, the most interesting part of the convention for me was answering questions. At my publisher’s booth, for example, I had a long discussion about nuclear fusion with a homeschooled student who had all sorts of great questions. However, I want to focus on a question that occurred after one of the talks I gave with Diana Waring.

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