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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Chicken Did Come First, But Not For This Reason!

Posted by jlwile on July 27, 2010

Which Came First? (image in the public domain)

An article in Science Daily reports on a study that supposedly answers the question, “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?” Unfortunately, while one of the authors gives the correct answer (the chicken), he doesn’t use the correct reasoning. Also, spending time on that question actually distracts from the amazing results of the study, which demonstrate the incredible design ingenuity of the Creator.

The study focuses on chicken eggs. Specifically, it focuses on the shells of chicken eggs. While you and I (and a baby chick) see the shell as something annoying that needs to be broken, it is actually a marvelously-constructed shield that protects the contents of the egg while allowing them to interact safely with the environment. After all, the contents of the egg need protection, but the embryo needs oxygen, which it must get from the outside world. The egg shell is strong enough to protect the egg’s contents, but it is also porous enough for oxygen (which the embryo needs to take in) to diffuse into the egg and carbon dioxide (which the embryo must expel) to diffuse out.

This marvelous shell is made of a combination of proteins and calcium carbonate crystals. The proteins provide a bit of flexibility, while the calcium carbonate crystals provide strength. Without the proteins, the shell would be too brittle, and without the calcium carbonate, the shell would be too weak. The mother chicken makes both the proteins and the calcium carbonate, but until the study mentioned above was published, there was a big question mark regarding exactly how the calcium carbonate portion of the egg shell was formed.

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I Get Spam

Posted by jlwile on July 25, 2010

SPAM, a canned meat product and a very annoying form of advertisement.
(Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spam_with_cans.jpeg)

As anyone who has a blog knows, one of the nuisances associated with blogging is the spammers. They have automated programs that find blogs and then leave “comments” that essentially advertise something. Of course, most bloggers use some sort of anti-spam software to keep the spammers at bay, but no such software is perfect. The software I use, Akismet, is pretty good, but every once in a while, it misidentifies a real comment as spam. Since I don’t want to lose any real comments, I go through the spam folder from time to time.

It’s usually not a big deal. Spams have a pattern to them, so I can usually get through 50 spams in just a few minutes. For example, most of them are short, and they say things like:

yes your portal incomparable ac, (link to the site being advertised)

wow that site class ap, (link to the site being advertised)

whant to say this board class gx, (link to the site being advertised)

wanna say it’s site peerless hs, (link to the site being advertised)

Well, yesterday I was going through my spam folder and saw something that didn’t fit the pattern. Here’s what it said:

HELP! I’m currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia (link) and being forced to post spam comments on blogs and forums! If you don’t approve this they will kill me. (link) They’re coming back now. Please send help!
HELP! (link)

I think spammers are probably the lowest form of life, or at least they are giving politicians a good run for that position. Nevertheless, I think I could come to like the spammer who thought up that one!

Galileo’s Daughter, Part 2: The Genius of Galileo

Posted by jlwile on July 24, 2010

In part 1 of my review of the excellent book Galileo’s Daughter, I concentrated on how the author treats the confrontation between Galileo and the Roman Catholic church. In this part of the review, I want to focus on how the book treats other aspects of Galileo’s life.

The book shares all sorts of interesting things regarding Galileo about which I was completely unaware. For example, did you know that you can see a preserved part of his body if you wish? Indeed, the middle finger of his right hand is inside a glass egg at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence. My wife and I spent a day in Florence, but there are so many amazing things to see, we never got to the Museum of the History of Science. As a result, we never got to see Galileo’s finger.

I also learned that Galileo did not like academic garb. At that time in history, if you were a teacher at a university, you were expected to wear your academic robes at all times while you were working. When Galileo got his first teaching post at the University of Pisa, however, he:

deemed official doctoral dress a pretentious nuisance, and he derided the toga in a three-hundred-line verse spoof that enjoyed wide readership… (p. 19)

Now this is a man after my own heart. I hate it when university professors try to set themselves apart by any pretentious means. Not only did Galileo hate that as well, he actually wrote a snarky poem about it!

While little facts like these are interesting, there were two things I read in this book that I had never heard before, and they clearly show that Galileo was nothing short of a true genius!

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Homeschool Version of “I Will Survive”

Posted by jlwile on July 21, 2010

I am a big fan of homeschooling, which I knew nothing about until I was on the faculty at Ball State University. As I taught there, I started encountering students who were truly head and shoulders above their peers. When I asked them where they went to school, they said, “at home.” I had no idea what that meant or how it was legal. Furthermore, I couldn’t begin to fathom how an untrained mother could teach her children physics and chemistry well enough to allow them to come to university and ace all my tests. Nevertheless, the longer I taught at Ball State, the more amazing homeschool graduates I encountered.

I decided to look at the academic literature to see if studies had been done on home educated students, and the studies I found agreed with my experience: on average, homeschooled students simply are academically and socially superior compared to their publicly- and privately-schooled counterparts. That’s the reason I started working with homeschoolers. I simply wanted to be a part of what is clearly the best kind of secondary education available in the United States.

Since I have been working with homeschooled students, I have come to learn that the real heroes of homeschooling are the parents. They face adversity, anxiety, strife, and financial hardships, yet they survive. Not only do they survive, they produce some amazing students. This video clip is for all the homeschooling parents out there!

Three-Way Mutualism: A Clue to Pre-Fall Viruses

Posted by jlwile on July 20, 2010

Panic Grass (image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dichantheliumlanuginosum.jpg)

I came across an article I had pulled out of the journal Science back in 2007, and it reminded me of a very interesting form of mutualism that I had completely forgotten about. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, mutualism is a situation in which two or more organisms work together so that they each benefit. It is quite common throughout creation. For example, one of the ways you get the Vitamin K that you need is through a mutualistic relationship between you and some bacteria that live in your intestine. You provide them with food and housing, and in exchange, they provide you with Vitamin K. Well, this article discusses a mutualism that involves three partners, and in order for the situation to work, all three partners must be present. Amazingly enough, the partners are a fungus, a plant, and a virus!1

In the article, the scientists were studying Dichanthelium lanuginosum, a grass that is often called “panic grass.” While this grass can grow in many places, it actually flourishes in the geothermal areas of Yellowstone National Park, where the soil is far too hot to support most plants. When scientists initially studied this plant, they found its roots infected with a fungus, Curvularia protuberata. Now this is not unusual at all. Indeed, roughly 80% of plant species that have been surveyed participate in a mutualistic relationship with at least one species of fungus.2 Typically, the plant provides sugars for the fungus, and the fungus absorbs minerals from the soil and gives them to the plant.

It was assumed for many years that the fungus found in the roots of panic grass provided the plant not only with minerals, but with something that allows the grass to tolerate soil that is simply too hot for other plants. The authors of the Science article found that this is only a partial explanation.

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Galileo’s Daughter, Part 1

Posted by jlwile on July 18, 2010

Suor Maria Celeste Galilei

I recently mentioned the book Galileo’s Daughter in a previous post. I wrote then that it might become my new favorite book regarding this amazing scientist, and it most certainly has! The book is not only an excellent look at Galileo, his accomplishments, and his struggles, but it also is incredibly unique. In the process of discussing the events of Galileo’s life, the author weaves in actual letters written to him by his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste Galilei. Since she was a nun, there are also nice interludes where the author discusses what Suor Maria Celeste’s life was like at the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri. In addition to all that, despite the fact that this is a biography of a well-known scientist, there is actually a surprise ending! At least it was a surprise to me, and I have read quite a bit about Galileo.

There are so many good things about this book that I cannot cover them all in one post. So to start, I will discuss how this book treats the most famous issue involved in Galileo’s life: his confrontation with the Roman Catholic church. Obviously a lot of very detailed, very carefully-researched tomes have been written about this affair, and I have read many of them. However, I think this book deals with the issue better than any other book I have read.

Why is this book’s coverage of the struggle between Galileo and the Roman Catholic church so good? For one thing, it doesn’t try to take sides. I have read books about Galileo that portray him as the champion of science who was persecuted by the mighty Roman Catholic church, and I have read books that portray him as a egotistical man who tried to use the force of his personality to make the Roman Catholic church change its theology based on very little evidence. Neither of those portrayals are accurate. Instead, as is the case with most history, the confrontation between Galileo and the Roman Catholic church was very complex, with no pure villains and only one pure hero. That hero was neither Galileo nor the Roman Catholic church. Instead, it was Suor Maria Celeste Galilei.

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A Chemistry Demonstration for The Atonement

Posted by jlwile on July 14, 2010

Image licensed from www.clipart.com

I have been doing the “wrap up” session for Vacation Bible School this week, and I have been using chemistry experiments to illustrate the lessons. Tonight’s lesson was about how Jesus died for our sins. It was a real challenge coming up with a chemistry experiment to illustrate The Atonement, but here’s what I did:

In a 250 mL Erlenmeyer flask, I dissolved a small amount of corn starch in 150 mL of water. I then added a small amount of potassium iodide. The result was a slightly cloudy, but mostly clear solution.

In a 50 mL beaker, I made 40 mL of a saturated solution of sodium thiosulfate.

I then filled a medicine dropper with bleach.

The Erlenmeyer flask represented a person, and the bleach in the dropper represented sin. I added a few drops of bleach to the flask, which turned blue. The color change represented the effect of sin. As I added more drops, the color got deeper.

I then showed the kids the beaker, which represented Christ. He lived a sin-free life, which is why the solution was clear. I poured the clear solution into the colored solution that was in the flask, which represented Christ coming into a person’s life. When the two solutions mixed, the deep color went away, and the result was a solution that looked like what was originally in the Erlenmeyer flask – a slightly cloudy but mostly clear solution.

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Autism – Closing In On the Causes

Posted by jlwile on July 13, 2010

Autism is a poorly-understood condition characterized by problems with social interaction and communication. It is clearly a complex neurological issue, and its symptoms range from quite mild to very severe. As a result, neurologists tend to use the term “autism spectrum disorders” (ASDs), as they suspect autism is made up of a group of disorders with similar features.

I have a good friend with Asperger Syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. While he seems mostly like any other person, he has some obsessive, repetitive rituals, and he sometimes experiences great difficulty in communicating with people, especially those who are unfamiliar with his personality. On the other side of the spectrum, a couple I know fairly well has a son with severe autism. It is difficult for them to communicate with him. It is as if he lives in his own little world. Additionally, he often experiences “meltdowns” in which he slams himself against the ground or the wall and screams at the top of his lungs. His behavior is not the result of “bad parenting.” It is the result of a serious neurological disorder.

What is frustrating for both health-care providers and parents is that so far, medical science has little to offer in terms of explaining what causes autism. In addition, while there are behavioral therapies that have helped many people with ASDs, it is difficult to prescribe a specific therapy for a specific individual. This, of course, leaves doctors and parents rather frustrated.

While there is a lot we don’t know about ASDs, there are things we do know. We know that they are on the rise. Even though there are many different ways to define ASDs, which leads to many different specific numbers, a good overview can be found here. Based on their numbers for the U.S. and outlying areas, for example, ASDs among people age 6-22 have increased 18-fold since 1992!

What are the causes of ASDs? The answer is that we don’t know. However, medical scientists are at least closing in on them.

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Intelligent Design in Nature?

Posted by jlwile on July 11, 2010

An interesting article has appeared in the journal Nature, and believe it or not, it uses the concept of Intelligent Design. Now don’t get excited. It doesn’t apply Intelligent Design to biology. That would be crazy, wouldn’t it? Instead, the article applies Intelligent Design to the field of anthropology, where the high priests of science still allow the use of such concepts, at least for now.

Simon Parfitt and his colleagues have been looking for clues regarding the earliest presence of humans in Northern Europe. In 2005, they published a study that indicated humans were in Northern Europe long before it was originally thought. Indeed, using scientifically irresponsible dating techniques, that study found evidence of humans in Northern Europe nearly 700,000 years ago,1 which is roughly 200,000 years earlier than had been previously thought.

Now Parfitt has pushed that date back even further. Using data from both magnetic and climate indicators, they say that their newest discovery indicates people were in Northern Europe between 850,000 and 950,000 years ago.2 While their 2005 paper presented anthropology with a bit of a surprise, this one is even more surprising.

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Patriarch Age and Genetics

Posted by jlwile on July 10, 2010

A schematic of DNA, showing the four nucleotide bases that code the information it contains.
Source:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_simple2.svg

In 2005, Dr. J. C. Sanford wrote a book entitled Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome (Elim Publishing, 2005). Dr. Sanford is well-suited to write a book on genetics, given that he has a PhD in plant breeding and genetics and holds more than 30 patents in his field. While the main thrust of the book is that the field of genetics as we understand it today provides little evidence for evolution and an enormous amount of evidence against it, there are some fascinating “side issues” he brings up from time to time.

I was reminded of one of those side issues on Friday when a student asked me why the patriarchs in Genesis lived to be so old. Noah, for example, lived to be 950, according to Genesis 9:29. Given today’s lifespans, that seems pretty outrageous. How could Noah possibly have lived that long? Also, even though his descendants didn’t live as long as he did, they still lived longer than anyone today.

Noah’s son, Shem, lived to be 600 years old, according to Genesis 11:10-11. Noah’s grandson, Arphaxad, lived 438 years, according to Genesis 11:12. If you continue through Noah’s line, you will find that (on average) the later a descendant was born, the shorter life he led. Nevertheless, it takes many, many generations for the lifespans of the patriarchs to reach what we would call reasonable based on today’s standards.

Of course, one way to deal with this issue is to say that the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis are not accurate. Instead, as a kind of “hero worship,” the writer of Genesis artificially inflated the patriarchs’ ages to make them look “larger than life.” In his book, Dr. Sanford not only shows why such an explanation is probably not correct, he points out the data that indicate a decay in lifespan is exactly what you would expect given our current understanding of genetics.

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