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Thursday, April 24, 2014

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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It Did Sound Too Good to be True…

Posted by jlwile on April 2, 2014

These are stem cells taken from the embryo of a mouse.  The color is the result of a stain used to make them easier to see.  The embryo had to be killed to get the cells, but they can develop into almost any kind of mouse cell (skin, nerve, muscle, etc.).  (image in the public domain)

These are stem cells taken from the embryo of a mouse. The color is the result of a stain used to make them easier to see. The embryo had to be killed to get the cells, but they can develop into almost any kind of mouse cell (skin, nerve, muscle, etc.).
(image in the public domain)

Every once in a while, I run across a story in the scientific literature that seems just too good to be true. Such was the case when I was reading the February 22nd issue of Science News. In a story entitled “A little acid can make a cell stemlike,”1 the author reported on some amazing results that were published in the journal Nature. In the published studies, scientists from the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan claimed that they could take cells from various parts of a mouse (like the brain, skin, and liver) and transform them into stem cells by simply treating them with acid or other external stimuli!

This would be an amazing feat, because stem cells are able to develop into many different kinds of cells. Consider, for example, what happens when two mice successfully mate. The sperm from the male fertilizes the egg from the female, and the result is a single cell that will eventually develop into a new mouse. In order for that to happen, the cell begins making copies of itself. As more and more copies are made, the individual copies begin to start “specializing” so they can do specific tasks. Some develop into skin cells, others develop into nerve cells, others develop into blood cells, etc. This process of cells specializing into different types of cells is called differentiation.

Of course, the cells in the developing mouse don’t start differentiating right away. There has to be a group of cells that have the ability to produce all the different kinds of cells the mouse needs, and these cells are generally called embryonic stem cells. Examples of mouse embryonic stem cells are shown in the image above. They may look unassuming, but they are truly amazing, because they can produce any kind of cell that the mouse needs. Of course, in order to produce that image, the mouse embryo from which the cells came had to be destroyed. In other words, to get mouse embryonic stem cells, you have to kill the mouse whose cells you want. If you want human embryonic stem cells, you have to kill the developing baby whose cells you want.

This, of course, presents a problem. Embryonic stem cells have great potential when it comes to solving many medical issues. Suppose, for example, you have a heart attack. As a result, some of the cells that make up your heart muscle died. In most cases, the body can’t completely replace the cells that are killed, so you will probably have a weaker heart for the rest of your life. If stem cells could be used, perhaps they could differentiate into heart muscle cells and completely repair the damage to your heart.

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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.

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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!

Bill Nye and the Fossil Record

Posted by jlwile on February 12, 2014

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

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

I already gave you my general thoughts on the debate that took place between Ken Ham and Bill Nye last week. However, I would like to address a few of the particular subjects that Bill Nye raised, because I don’t think Ken Ham did a great job of answering them. Of course, due to the debate structure, neither of the men had much time to address the other’s issues. Nevertheless, I do think they each could have done more than they actually did.

In this post, I want to concentrate on Nye’s contention that the fossil record neatly supports evolution. For example, in his presentation he described the geological column, claiming that the “higher” animals are found in more recent rock layers, while the “lower” animals are found in the older rock layers. Starting at 1:04:15 in the online video, he then says:

You never, ever find a higher animal mixed in with a lower one. You never find a lower one trying to swim its way to the higher one…Anyone here, really, if you can find one example of that – one example of that anywhere in the world – the scientists of the world challenge you – they would embrace you. You would be a hero. You would change the world if you could find one example of that anywhere.

Nye repeated a variation of this claim later in the debate, so it was clearly meaningful to him.

Of course, the fact is that you do find higher animals in rock layers with lower animals. Evolutionists have many ways of dealing with the problem, but none of them involve making the discoverer into a hero.

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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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Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Posted by jlwile on January 29, 2014

This is Jennifer Fulwiler, another atheist turned Christian.  (click for credit)

This is Jennifer Fulwiler, another atheist turned Christian (click for credit)

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, and here). Most of the time, these stories are rather different from my own, because God calls to each of us in a slightly different way. Nevertheless, I am always fascinated to see how people are able to find the errors inherent in an atheist worldview and learn the truth. Recently, I ran across the story of Jennifer Fulwiler, who was brought up in an atheistic household. In a short video presentation about her conversion, she says that when she was in fourth or fifth grade, her father would read Carl Sagan’s Cosmos to her at night. Her parents brought her up to believe that science was the answer to everything, and so from a very early age, she was indoctrinated into the materialist worldview.

In 2005, she started a blog called The Reluctant Atheist, and on what appears to be her first post, she wrote:

I was raised to believe that God does not exist…About two years ago I decided to actually do my own research and try to come to my own conclusions about God. I realized that despite my mantra of being “open-minded” about religion I was actually quite closed to ideas that didn’t fit with my atheist worldview.

So here I am. Two years and a lot of research later I’m still not sure what I think. I’ve uncovered a lot of information and philosophical perspectives that I certainly was not told about as a kid and am still trying to process it all. After educating myself more about physics and biology I now believe intellectually in some sort of intelligent design, but my heart has yet to catch up. To be totally honest with myself, I’m still functionally an atheist. But I want to believe. My logical mind tells me some sort of creator exists. Some deep gut feeling tells me God exists. But I have a long way to go.

This sounds a lot like me when I was an atheist. Once I actually started learning serious science, it became abundantly clear to me that a Creator had to exist. As a result, my mind was pushing me to a belief in God, but it took a while for my heart to catch up. If you scan through her posts at The Reluctant Atheist, you see her working through several issues, and it seems that in less than a year, her heart had caught up to her logical mind. She changed her blog from The Reluctant Atheist to Et tu, Jen?, and now it is called Conversion Diary.

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Another Atheist-Turned-Christian

Posted by jlwile on January 9, 2014

This is  Rosaria Champagne Butterfield during an interview with Marvin Olasky of World Magazine.  (click for credit)

This is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield during an interview with Marvin Olasky of World Magazine. (click for credit)

Because I was an atheist who converted to Christianity, I like to read the stories of other former atheists (see here, here, and here). This post is about atheist-turned-Christian Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. She was an English professor at Syracuse University, and in her own words, her conversion to Christianity was a “train wreck.”

A short version of her conversion story is at Christianity Today, and it is well work the read. She has also written a book entitled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I have not read the book, but it is on my list.

What I find most intruiging about her story is how it began. She had written an article in the local newspaper that was critical of the Christian group called Promise Keepers. Like most controversial pieces, the article sparked all sorts of written responses. She says that she filed them into two groups: hate mail and fan mail. However, there was one letter she couldn’t classify. That letter led her down the path to Christ.

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Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Anti-Science Guy

Posted by jlwile on January 6, 2014

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

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

More than a year ago, Bill Nye was in an anti-science video that tried to convince people the creationist view should be censored. As I pointed out then, this is an incredibly anti-science notion. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only example of Mr. Nye’s anti-science behavior.

Nevertheless, I now have to give Mr. Nye some credit for doing something very pro-science: He is going to debate Ken Ham on the question, “Is creation a viable model of origins?” The debate will take place on February 4th at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It is good to see that Nye is stepping away from his promotion of censorship and is interested in actually engaging the creationist view. I tried to order tickets online as soon as they were available, but the event seems to already be sold out!

Now even though this is a positive step towards a more pro-science attitude for Bill Nye, many evolutionists are trying to convince him to be more anti-science. As one Christian-turned-secular-humanist put it:

Will the Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate Advance the Secular Cause? Of course not. Debates are all about the faithful on each side saying their side wiped the floor with the other side. I am not sure why Bill Nye decided to debate Ken Ham. Nothing good can come of it.

I obviously disagree. I think debate is usually a good thing, because it allows us to hear another point of view from someone who actually believes in that view. For the creationists who attend the debate (and I suspect they will be the large majority), they will hear from an evolutionist who actually believes in evolution. This will be good, because most likely, much of what they hear about evolution comes from creationists. For the evolutionists in attendance, they will hear about the creationist point of view from a creationist. This is also good, since most of them have probably never bothered to get the creationist view from someone who actually believes it.

In an effort to help Mr. Nye with his budding pro-science attitude, I will give him a piece of advice: Be Prepared!

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The Benefits of Musical Instrument Lessons Last A LONG Time!

Posted by jlwile on December 19, 2013

A recent study shows that musical instrument lessons can provide lasting benefits to hearing.
(click for credit)

My parents thought it was very important for all their children to have piano lessons. I think they believed it would give us boys (I have no sisters) some culture, so in first grade we all began learning how to play the piano. My brothers quit as soon as they were allowed, but I really enjoyed those lessons, so I continued. At one time, I honestly thought I would become a concert pianist, but unfortunately, my fingers are too stubby. I simply cannot play many pieces of music properly, because I cannot spread my fingers wide enough to span more than an octave. I still play for church (mostly on the synthesizer), and anyone who watches me play can see that I am truly having fun. I thank God that my parents thought those lessons were important, because they ended up providing me with a long-term hobby that has brought me a lot of happiness.

Long after my brothers quit playing the piano, they complained that those piano lessons (as well as the practicing that went along with them) were a big waste of time. They understood that I really got something out of the lessons, but they were convinced they received nothing. However, a recent study indicates that they may be wrong. They might enjoy better hearing now because my parents forced them to take piano lessons when they were young.

It turns out that when you listen to someone else talking, your brain does an incredible job of interpreting the quickly-changing sounds associated with speech. Especially when the person speaking makes a transition between a consonant and a vowel, there is a rapid change in the properties of the sound wave that hits your ears. To be able to recognize such transitions, your brain relies on its ability to link the sounds the ears are receiving to the time at which the sounds were received. This is called neural timing, and as you get older, your brain’s neural timing deteriorates. This is one reason older people have trouble following conversations. They may be hearing just fine, but if their neural timing is off, they can’t understand the words they are hearing.1

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