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Friday, August 1, 2014

The SHEM Homeschool Convention (and some awesome questions)

Posted by jlwile on April 29, 2013

This past weekend, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry Convention in Springfield, Missouri. It was a well-organized, well-attended convention with many excellent speakers. I had a total of seven sessions, including two with Diana Waring. One of the things that I love about doing conventions is that I get a chance to speak with a lot of people one-on-one. I personally think that’s where I can help people the most. It’s also a chance for me to be incredibly blessed.

After my very first talk at this convention, for example, a young lady came up to me to tell me that she is a nurse today because of my courses. I thanked her and told her that I was very happy my courses prepared her for college so that she could become a nurse. She immediately stopped me and emphatically told me it was much more than that. She said that before she started using my courses, she hated science. After using my courses, she not only loved science, but she realized that God wanted her to use science to help others. She said she would never have even considered becoming a nurse had it not been for learning science from my courses. I kind of teared up right there and told her I had no idea how I could thank her for telling me that.

Usually, it’s conversations like that one which I enjoy most at these conventions. However, as much as my conversation with this young lady (and many other such conversations throughout the weekend) were a blessing to me, I have to say that the most enjoyable part of the convention was a session I did with the teens. The organizers of the convention wanted me to do something different from a normal presentation, and they actually suggested that I do something related to acting, since they knew I write and perform dramas for my church. However, I told them I had no idea what I would do for a drama workshop, so I suggested a question/answer session.

The organizers decided it was a good idea, so they put it on the schedule and then put out notices telling teens that they would have a chance to ask me any questions they wanted to ask. I had a “backup plan” in place in case there were few (or no) questions, but from the moment the session started, I knew there was no need for it. Not only were there an enormous number of questions (so many that I had to cut them off after an hour and 15 minutes so the next session could start), but the teens were incredibly enthusiastic! Below the fold, you will find three of the excellent questions they asked me, along with a rough approximation of my answers.

What’s the most important reason you believe in creation?

I can’t list just one reason. I believe in creation because of the preponderance of the evidence. There is some evidence for evolution (in the the flagellate-to-philosopher sense). After all, the geological column as presented in textbooks is exactly what one would predict from an evolutionary perspective. Of course, there are many problems with the geological column (see here, here, and here, for example), but nevertheless, it has to be counted as a mark in favor of evolution. In addition, the existence of “shared mistakes” in pseudogenes is evidence of common ancestry, but I find that evidence very weak. Thus, the idea of “simple” life forms becoming more complex over time has some evidence for it, but the evidence is rare and usually rather weak. In addition, there has been a long string of failed predictions coming from the evolutionary hypothesis (see here, here, and here, for example).

When I look at the evidence for creation, however, I find it to be plentiful and strong. The myriad of exquisitely-designed organisms we study in nature provides strong evidence for a Creator (see here, here, and here, for example). The incredible examples of mutualism that we see throughout creation provide strong evidence that nature works according to a pre-planned strategy (see here, here, and here, for example). The many negative feedback mechanisms we see operating on earth indicate that it has been carefully designed (see here, here, and here, for example). In addition, the predictions that creationists have made over the years which have later been confirmed by the data provide strong evidence for creation (see here, here, and here, for example).

So in the end, there isn’t just one thing that makes me believe in creation. I believe in creation because the preponderance of the evidence points strongly towards it.

What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist?

Believe it or not, my favorite thing about being a scientist is learning when I am wrong. I remember the first time this happened to me. I was a graduate student and had produced some data that I thought said something quite remarkable. I presented the data at a nuclear chemistry conference, and at dinner that night, several groups started talking about my presentation. Pretty quickly, four distinct interpretations of the data emerged, and mine was only one of those interpretations. I was first shocked that anyone would come up with an alternate interpretation of my data, but as I thought about it, I realized how cool it was. We decided to collect more data to try to judge which was the better interpretation, and it turned out that mine was wrong! However, the new data allowed me to discover something even more interesting! At least, it’s interesting to a nerd like me.

Since then, I have been shown to be incorrect time and time again, and in each case, I have learned something interesting as a result. A while back, I wrote about another example. Science is about hypothesizing and testing your hypothesis. A scientist will often find his or her hypotheses to be wrong, and a good scientist will be excited to learn that nature isn’t behaving the way he or she thinks it is!

Do you ever regret becoming a scientist?

To me, this was the best question of the session. The answer is, “Yes, from time to time.” When I first seriously thought about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I decided to be a concert pianist. However, over time I learned that my fingers are just too short to accommodate the repertoire expected for any serious pianist. Of course, I still play the piano as a hobby. For example, I play for my church when the good pianists aren’t available. People say it’s fun to watch me play, because I get lost in my music, swaying, bobbing my head, and sometimes even singing. At times like that, I do regret the fact that being a scientist has caused me to reduce my time at the keys.

When I learned that I couldn’t seriously pursue piano as a profession, I decided to become a professional actor. However, I quickly decided the lifestyle wasn’t for me. As I mentioned above, I am still involved in the theater. In addition to what I do at my church, I also act in a local community group. Just recently, I played the leading man in an old musical called Sweet Charity. I don’t particularly like the script of the show, but my leading lady (whose first name is Tiffany) was utterly brilliant. There is a scene that happens in a stuck elevator, and it can be one of the funniest scenes you will ever see on stage, as long as it is played correctly. Tiffany was so spot-on that the scene was nearly magical. I do remember once in the middle of that scene thinking that had I not become a scientist, I could have been doing a lot more scenes with incredibly talented actors and actresses like Tiffany.

On balance, however, I can’t think of anything else I would rather do for a living. Not only do I get to learn new things all the time, I also get to learn more about God by studying His handiwork. While I honestly do regret it from time to time, I can’t really imagine enjoying any other career for as long as I have enjoyed being a scientist!


2 Responses to “The SHEM Homeschool Convention (and some awesome questions)”
  1. Kathye Shuman says:

    I love knowing that you are an actor, pianist and scientist. My uncle is a physicist (was Dean of Physics at Wisconsin-Madison for years — looks like Einstein). He was my only model for a scientist until my daughter came along. She is getting ready to graduate high school, and wants to double major in neuroscience and dance in college. I’ve always had a difficult time seeing how the two go together in the same person, but they make my daughter complete. Glad to know there are other creative artist scientists out there. Thanks for your books…they have made our homeschool science successful. Not only is Emily wanting to major in neuroscience, but her twin wants to study Biology/Anatomy (to be an athletic trainer and physical therapist). Who would have known that the photographer and journalist could produce two scientists? God is a great, unique God :-)

  2. jlwile says:

    Thanks for your comment, Kathye. I bet that Emily will be a better scientist because of her dancing. The best scientists are the creative ones, and the more they study creative pursuits, the better they become! I suspect that your creativity is part of why Emily and her twin want to do science-related careers!

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