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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rapid Change in Lizards: An Example of Post-Flood Diversification

Posted by jlwile on May 31, 2012

An Italian wall lizard such as the ones analyzed in the study (Click for credit)

Nearly a week ago, a student sent me a web article about a study that slipped by me in 2008. According to the student, the study has been used by Richard Dawkins to show that evolution can produce entirely new structures in animals. This bothered the student, and he asked me to take a look at the web article to see what I thought of the study. Of course, the first thing I had to do was find the actual scientific paper upon which the web article was based. Once I read through the scientific paper, I thought it provided a great example of what young-earth creationists think happened after the worldwide Flood.

As I have mentioned previously, young-earth creationists are in debt to Charles Darwin, because he allows us to understand how an ark filled with two of every kind of animal (and seven each of the clean kinds) could produce all the biological diversity we see today. In case you aren’t aware, God did not command Noah to put every species of animal on the ark. Instead, He instructed Noah to take every kind of animal that needed protection from the Flood onto the ark. We young-earth creationists think that “kind” is a much broader term than “species.” For example, there are many species of cat today (tigers, lions, jaguars, domestic cats, etc.). However, we think that God created only one kind of cat.1 As a result, only two cats went on the ark, and all the cats we see today have descended from that one pair of cats.

This is why Charles Darwin is so critical to a young-earth understanding of biological history. We think that variation and natural selection are what produced all the species of cats we see today. As the one pair of cats went out from the ark, they reproduced, and their progeny spread out. As the progeny encountered new environments, they adapted to those new environments via variation and natural selection, just as Darwin envisioned.

Where we differ from modern evolutionists is that we think biological change is limited by genetics. There is a certain amount of information in a genome, and varying what kind of information is expressed in the organism will produce all sorts of diversity within a genome. However, it is not possible to add information to a genome, so it is not possible to fundamentally change a genome. Thus, while a specialized cat (like a tiger) can come from two unspecialized cats (such as those that were on the ark), there is no way that a horse can come from those cats. The genomes of horses and cats are too fundamentally different.

The study this student sent me provides a perfect example of how that works and how quickly it happens when the environment demands it!

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The Long Beach, California Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on May 29, 2012

The convention center's suggestion to homeeschoolers.

This past weekend, I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention, which is one of the Great Homeschool Conventions. Many home educators attend conventions like this one to get advice from various “experts” on homeschooling, and for this convention, it seems that even the convention center where the event was held wanted to put in its two cents. The facility put out the sign shown on the left, and it was the first thing most people saw as they drove into the convention center. Obviously, the advice is sound, and I hope that the attendees took it to heart!

I gave a total of six talks at the convention, and most of them were for the teens. However, there was one, entitled “What Are They Doing Now?“, that is specifically for the parents. The talk focuses on homeschool graduates and what they are doing with their excellent education. First, I share some statistics, such as the fact that homeschool graduates are more likely to have college degrees and more likely to be in college than their non-homeschooled peers.1,2 I then turn to a discussion of some individual homeschool graduates who are, literally, making the world a better place.

The homeschool graduates I talk about are all doing amazing things. For example, one is a medical doctor and bioethicist, another is an undercover operative for an intelligence agency, and still another is part of a non-governmental organization that is making better nutrition available to those in third-world countries. Many of them have impressive degrees, and many of them skipped university and started making a positive difference in the world right out of homeschool.

One of those who started changing the world right out of homeschool is named Sydnee. At the ripe old age of 17, she felt the Lord leading her to an orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. This was not part of some organized trip, and she didn’t know anyone there. She simply felt the leading of the Lord, convinced her parents, and ended up going to that terribly dangerous country because she wanted to help those who had no hope. The orphanage specialized in adopting these children out to parents in developed countries, giving them a chance for a safe, happy life. Sydnee thought the Lord wanted her to be a part of such a life-changing ministry.

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Colony Collapse Disorder: This Might Be the Cause

Posted by jlwile on May 25, 2012

Worker bees entering a hive loaded down with pollen. (Public domain image.)

If you don’t follow the news as it relates to science, you might not be aware of a genuine threat to our food supply that was identified six years ago: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Many beekeepers have experienced the disappointment of checking their hives to find one of them mostly empty. While this is to be expected, most beekeepers report it happening rarely – on the order of one hive in five each year. Starting in the winter of 2006, however, some beekeepers started reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. This unusual increase in beehive loss has continued, and the problem is called CCD.

Why should we worry about CCD? Doesn’t it just mean there may be a shortage of honey one day? Absolutely not. Bees are critically important in the reproduction of many flowering plants. They collect pollen from flowers and take it back to their hive, as shown in the picture above. The big yellow “globs” on their legs are pollen sacs that are full of pollen. However, while they are collecting pollen, they can’t help but transfer some of it from one flower to another. That transferred pollen fertilizes the egg cell that is held in the female part of the flower, producing a new plant that gets packaged into a seed. The seed is further packaged in a fruit, which provides food for animals and people.

So without bees, animals and people would have a much harder time finding food. Now as far as we know, wild bees are not affected by CCD. As a result, it is doubtful that CCD will destroy the food supply in nature. However, hives that are maintained by beekeepers are responsible for fertilizing all sorts of commercial crops. As a result, if beekeepers continue to lose hives, there will eventually be a shortage of bees available for crops, which will result in higher food prices. These higher prices will not be limited to fruits, because some fruit products (such as almond hulls) are used for feeding livestock. In the end, many foods will become more expensive if CCD continues at its current rates.

Scientists have been looking for the cause of CCD for quite some time, and many avenues have been investigated. However, there haven’t been any studies that have proved particularly promising…until now.

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No, It’s Not a Tail!

Posted by jlwile on May 21, 2012

A human embryo after about 7 weeks of development
(public domain image)

I have written a lot about the evolutionary myth of vestigial organs (here, here, here, here, and here), showing how several biological structures evolutionists once thought were vestigial are, in fact, quite necessary. The concept of vestigial organs is very popular among many evolutionists, but it usually boils down to ignorance. If evolutionists don’t know the use for a biological structure, they assume that it must be vestigial. As is often the case, however, further research generally shows that this evolutionary assumption is quite wrong, due to our ignorance of the structure being considered.

This concept is often employed when studying the development of embryos. Because of the fraudulent work of Ernst Haeckel, evolutionists have long promoted the myth that an embryo will produce vestiges of its evolutionary history as it develops. Once again, this is mostly the result of ignorance. Embryonic development is rather difficult to study, so we often observe things that we don’t understand. When these things superficially resemble something that supposedly developed in the evolutionary history of the organism that is being studied, it is often pointed to as some vestige of evolution.

For example, in Why Evolution is True, Dr. Jerry Coyne tries to make the case that the human embryo is covered in a fine coat of lanugo hair simply because it is a part of the evolutionary heritage of humans. He says that there is no reason for a human embryo to be covered with hair, but it happens because humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor that was covered in hair. The coat of hair is simply a leftover vestige from that part of the human evolutionary lineage. As I have already pointed out, this is utterly false. In fact, the fine coat of hair that human embryos have is incredibly important to their development, and the idea that it is a leftover vestige of evolution is just a result of ignorance when it comes to human embryonic development.

Well, in a Facebook group discussion I recently had, the conversation turned to the supposed “tail” that human embryos have early in their development. This is a popular myth, but it is utterly false, and I thought I would post this so that others would benefit from a modern scientific analysis of this important embryonic structure. As you can see in the photograph of a human embryo above, there is a structure (pointed out in the figure) that resembles a tail. The structure eventually goes away, but it is a rather striking part of the embryo while it is present. Evolutionists have long taught that this is a leftover vestige of when our ancestors had tails,1 but we now know that such an idea is simply 100% false.

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The Devil’s Delusion

Posted by jlwile on May 18, 2012

Dr. David Berlinski holds an earned Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. He has been on the faculty of many universities, including Stanford and the Université de Paris. He has written on a wide variety of topics, including mathematics, philosophy, and Intelligent Design. The last topic is probably the one for which he is most famous. He is an agnostic but a champion of Intelligent Design. He is often used as an example of how one can be a proponent of Intelligent Design without believing in God. Daniel Engber of Slate magazine calls him a “maverick intellectual,” and that’s a succinct and accurate description of the man.

One of his latest books is The Devil’s Delusion, in which he makes the strong case that science does not support atheism. Why would an agnostic write such a book? He tells you himself in the first chapter:

If nothing else, the attack on traditional religious thought marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion…And like any militant church, this one places a familiar demand before all others: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. It is this that is new; it is this that is important. (p. 10)

So he wrote this book not to attack atheism. Instead, he wrote it to attack the kind of atheism that acts like a church – proposing science as the only god that can be followed.

Berlinski succeeds admirably in his goal. Throughout the pages of the book, he writes with flair and stinging humor about what he sees as the discord between the “science” promoted by militant atheism and the actual facts and logic upon which science should be based.

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Dawkins and His Poor Scholarship

Posted by jlwile on May 16, 2012

St. Augustine as imagined by Sandro Botticelli in the late 15th century. (Public Domain Image)

I was speaking to a group of people in Portland, Indiana last night. As always, I took questions from the audience, and after the session, people came up and asked me more questions. In this individual question/answer session, one man said that he had read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and he was wondering if I had any insight into something Dawkins claimed in the fourth chapter, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” The man didn’t have the book with him, but he said that Dawkins claimed that St. Augustine (properly pronounced uh gus’ tin) encouraged people to avoid learning about the natural world, as gaps in our knowledge of the natural world glorify God. In other words, if we were to understand everything about the natural world, there would be nothing left to attribute to the Hand of God.

I read The God Delusion a few years ago, and I didn’t remember Dawkins making such a statement. I told the man that I am neither a philosopher nor a historian, but I can’t imagine St. Augustine saying any such thing. Augustine was very concerned about all manner of learning, and although he rarely wrote about anything related to science, I couldn’t imagine him saying that we shouldn’t learn about the natural world. I promised the man that I would look into it and write him back.

This morning, I looked around in Chapter 4 of my paperback edition of The God Delusion and found the portion to which the man was referring. In a subsection of the chapter entitled, “The Worship of Gaps,” Dawkins discusses Intelligent Design. He says that it basically promotes scientific laziness, because as soon as you attribute something to the Hand of God, there is nothing more you can learn about it. He then goes even further and says that an advocate of Intelligent Design would actually tell scientists to stop learning about something that is amazingly complex, so it can always be attributed to God. He then says:1

St Augustine said it quite openly: ‘There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.’ (quoted in Freeman 2002)

The reference he gives (Freeman 2002) is The Closing of the Western Mind by Charles Freeman. Like his discussion of Intelligent Design before it, this quote is 100% false.

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Dark Matter Just Got Darker

Posted by jlwile on May 14, 2012

Like most galaxies, the spiral galaxy M74 has more visible matter at its center than near its edges (NASA image)

In 1932, astronomer Dr. Jan Oort was studying the motion of stars in the Milky Way and could not understand his results unless he assumed there was a lot of matter in the galaxy that he was not seeing. As a result, he proposed the existence of matter that he assumed was very real but was not detectable using the instruments available at the time. Just a year later, astrophysicist Dr. Fritz Zwicky found that he had to make the same assumption to understand the Coma galaxy cluster. Several years later, he referred to this undetectable matter as “dunkle Materie,” which is German for “dark matter.”

However, the most compelling evidence for the existence of dark matter came more than 40 years later, when astronomers started measuring the speeds at which stars orbit the center of the galaxy they are in. If you look at the photo of a spiral galaxy above, you will see that it is much brighter at its center than it is at its edges. Based on such observations, it was assumed that most of a galaxy’s mass is located at its center. If that assumption were correct, it would mean that the stars near the center of the galaxy would orbit the center faster than the stars at the edge of the galaxy, just as the planets near the sun orbit much faster than the planets far from the sun.

In 1975, Dr. Vera Rubin and Dr. Kent Ford announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society that their studies indicated the stars in a galaxy orbit the center at roughly the same speed, regardless of where they are in the galaxy. This was a shock, and about the only thing that could explain it was the assumption that there was a lot of mass spread throughout the galaxy that could not be detected. Dark matter, which up until that time was mostly a curiosity, soon became a staple of modern astronomy. Today, astrophysicists estimate that 83% of the matter in the universe is dark matter – stuff that we cannot (as yet) detect directly.1

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The SEEK Graduation Ceremony

Posted by jlwile on May 11, 2012

Yesterday, I had the distinct honor of speaking at the 2012 SEEK graduation ceremony. As I told the graduates, I do a lot of speaking around the world on many different topics, but speaking at homeschool graduation ceremonies is my very favorite kind of speaking engagement. I thoroughly enjoy being a part of such an important time in the lives of students and parents, and this specific graduation ceremony was particularly enjoyable. The event was efficiently organized and ran like a well-oiled machine, but more importantly, it was inspiring and uplifting.

It began with a short welcome by a graduate named Jensen. When people speak in public, they often take on a completely different personality. Sometimes, this is good, and sometimes, it is awkward. Jensen simply didn’t do that. He came up and welcomed us as if he was talking to each one of us individually. His personality came shining through in his welcome, and it set the tone for what was a very real, very enjoyable evening.

After a sincere opening prayer given by another graduate named Troy, we were treated to a graduate (Joe) who played and sang “If I stand,” by Rich Mullins and Steve Cudworth. Now I play the piano well enough so that I don’t offend anyone, and I thoroughly enjoy listening to those who can really play. I also sing in a way that doesn’t offend too many people, and once again, I love to listen to those who can really sing. Well, this student could really play and really sing, and he could do them both at the same time! The song, of course, is chock-full of meaning, and the chorus says it all:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You
So if I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home

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Homeschooling with Heroes

Posted by jlwile on May 7, 2012

The U.S. capitol building at night. (My photo)

Last week, I had the privilege of of speaking to the Bolling Area Home Educators (BAHE), a group of military homeschoolers who live on the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling near Washington, DC. In other words, I got the opportunity to speak to heroes and their families. These brave men and women sacrifice so much in order to keep up safe, and those who choose to homeschool their children sacrifice even more. The nature of military life often means one spouse is gone for extended periods of time, which means that the spouse who stays at home must carry the burdens of parenting and educating alone. In addition, homeschooling is made significantly easier when you have a consistent network of other homeschoolers in your area. Because our military heroes rarely stay in one location for more than a few years, a military homeschooler rarely has the consistent support network enjoyed by most other homeschoolers in the U.S.

The trip got off to a very military start, because a good friend of mine has his private pilot’s license, and he agreed to fly me there in a Cessna Cutlass 172RG. Since we were flying into the DC area, there were all sorts of restrictions related to where we could fly, and he was actually given instructions on what to do if the fighter jets came to escort us out of a restricted area. Since there were so many restricted areas, I assumed we wouldn’t see any actual military traffic. It turns out that I was wrong.

We were flying towards the Manassas Regional Airport at an altitude of 5,000 feet. There was a solid layer of white clouds at around 2,000 feet, well below where we were. As we were flying, air traffic control told us to be aware that there were two F/A-18 jets doing some maneuvers in our area at about 3,000 feet. We scanned the sky below us and sure enough, we got to see them flying around! Of course, they were flying so quickly that they were hard to follow for any length of time, but it was amazing to watch from our point of view!

Once the bird’s-eye view of military maneuvers was over, we landed, and it was time to get a ground-level view of military life and homeschooling. Because the guest housing at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling was full, we ended up staying in the guest quarters at Fort Belvoir, another military base in the D.C. area. It was very interesting to see life on the base from the inside.

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