Posted by jlwile on April 4, 2011
Last weekend I spoke six times at the Midwest Homeschool Convention. It was an incredible conference. It definitely had the highest attendance of any conference at which I have spoken in the past couple of years. While there were a lot of people who were upset over the fact that Ken Ham had been disinvited from the conference, that didn’t seem to affect the attendance in any significant way. There were a few people who were wearing white buttons that said “I stand with Ken Ham,” but that was really the only visible effect of the controversy. For those who were upset at Mr. Ham’s disinvitation, I thought the buttons were an appropriate way to demonstrate their displeasure. They did not demean anyone else, and they did not disrupt the convention, but they showed displeasure. My hat goes off to whoever came up with that idea!
As is typical, I spoke on two broad subjects – homeschooling and Christian apologetics. One of my homeschooling talks was on how to homeschool at the high school level, and another was on the data that show how homeschooled students compare to non-homeschooled students academically and socially. I also gave one of my favorite talks there – “Be Open Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out.” It stresses the need for people to investigate multiple positions and learn to think critically while doing that. My Christian apologetics talks focused on fulfilled prophecy, design in nature, and the historical reliability of the Bible.
Not surprisingly, I was asked a number of excellent questions during my talks, and I want to focus on two of them. One deals with the studies that have been done on homeschooled students, and the other deals with probability arguments in the creation/evolution debate.
In my talk about how homeschooled students compare academically and socially to their publicly- and privately-schooled peers, I show how homeschooled students truly excel academically. In general, the average homeschooled student is academically superior to the average privately-schooled student, who is (in turn) academically superior to the average publicly-schooled student. In addition, studies at the university level show that homeschool graduates are academically superior to their non-homeschooled peers. A questioner asked whether such comparisons are valid, given the fact that homeschooling parents are significantly more involved in their children’s education than are parents who send their kids to school. Given that, do these studies really show that homeschooling is superior, or do they show that the parents’ commitment to education is superior?
That is an excellent question, and it is one that any educational researcher must address when looking at such studies. Some of the studies don’t do a good job of addressing this question, but others do. For example, one of the studies I cite compares homeschooled students to publicly-schooled students based on the parents’ education level. Even for the students whose parents are not highly-educated, the homeschoolered students are still significantly superior from an academic standpoint. Since the education of the parent is correlated with the parent’s commitment to their children’s education, it seems to me that comparing students whose parents have similar levels of education also compares students whose parents have similar levels of commitment to education.
In addition, another study I cite compares homeschooled students who have always been homeschooled to those who were homeschooled for a while but then went back to school. Even in that comparison, after fifth grade, the always-homeschooled students are academically superior to the partly-homeschooled students. To me, this is another way of comparing children of parents with similar commitments to education. After all, they all started as homeschooling parents. Thus, they are at least similar in their commitment to education. Nevertheless, if their students stayed in homeschool, the students made more academic gains than those who were put back in school. Studies like these indicate to me that the academic superiority of homeschooled students is at least partly the result of the homeschool model itself.
The other question I want to review is on probability. In one of my design talks, I discuss how incredibly improbable it is to form even simple functional proteins by random chemical reactions. Given that a lot of complicated proteins are necessary for life, it is very hard to understand how such ridiculously improbable proteins could have all formed by any naturalistic process so as to produce life. A questioner pointed out that ridiculously improbable things happen all the time. For example, if you calculated the probability that exactly the people who attended my talk would show up to any given talk, the odds would be astronomically low. Nevertheless, here they all were. Doesn’t this show that low probabilities aren’t a good argument against evolution?
The answer, of course, is “no.” The problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores functionality. My talk would go on regardless of who showed up. Since any audience would result in a talk being given, the probability of a talk being given is 100%. However, if a protein is not functional, the life process it governs can’t occur. Thus, the probability of life processes occurring is dependent totally on how many possible proteins could be made and what percentage of those would actually be functional. Considering all the possible proteins that can be made from the 20 amino acids found in life, the percentage of ones that are actually functional and can promote life is absurdly small. Thus, the probability of life forming naturalistically is also absurdly low.