Counting To God: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist (click for credit)

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist
(click for credit)

Douglas Ell graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with degrees in math and chemistry. He then went to the University of Maryland, where he earned a Master’s degree in theoretical mathematics. Not satisfied with only three degrees, he also went to law school and graduated magna cum laude. After that, he began his career as an attorney.

When he was a child, he went to church, but the older he got, the less he believed in God. By the time he was in high school, he wrote to his minister and stated that he no longer believed in God. His minister wrote back and gave him a book to read, but Ell never read it. By the time he got his law degree, he was a full-fledged atheist. In his new book, Counting To God, he describes what he believed at that point in his life:

It seemed you could explain just about everything with logic and science. It seemed God had no place in our modern world. I treated God like a joke. (p. 19)

In his early thirties, Ell had a son, and this caused him and his wife to start attending church. Ell treated it like a social club, but he did notice something: Many of the people in the church he attended (including the minister) had an inner peace that he could sense. He wanted that peace, but didn’t see how he could have it, because he didn’t believe what they believed.

In his mid-forties, a new career opportunity forced him to spend a lot of time on airplanes. As a result, he started reading about science, mathematics, and religion. The more he read, the more he saw a connection between the three. He eventually saw seven specific ways in which science and mathematics support the existence of God:

1. The evidence that the universe had a beginning
2. The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3. The complexity of life and our inability to discover a naturalistic explanation for its origin
4. The fantastic, futuristic technology that exists in all of life
5. The mounting evidence against neo-Darwinian evolution
6. The specialness of earth
7. The mathematical nature of the universe

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An Update On The Triceratops Fossil That Contained Soft Tissue

A triceratops skull (click for credit)

A triceratops skull (click for credit)

In March of 2013, I wrote about soft tissue that had been found in the fossilized remains of a Triceratops horridus, which is supposed to be about 65 million years old. One of the scientists who found the tissue and published a paper on it in the peer-reviewed literature1 (Mark Armitage) was subsequently fired from his position at California State University Northridge. He has sued the university, claiming that he was fired because of his religious views. This update isn’t about the lawsuit; I have no knowledge of how that is going. Instead, this update is about the fossil itself.

Samples from the fossil were sent to Dr. Alexander Cherkinsky at the University of Georgia’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies for dating via the carbon-14 dating method. Since the current half-life of carbon-14 is “only” about 5,700 years, there should be no detectable levels of it in the original parts of the fossil, if the fossil is millions of years old. However, Dr. Cherkinsky’s lab found very detectable levels of carbon-14. In fact, there was so much carbon-14 in the fossil that it was given a date of 41,010 ± 220 years.2 This is well within the accepted range of carbon-14 dating, and it is actually younger than other carbon-14 dates reported in the scientific literature.3

While this is an interesting result, it is not as interesting as I would like it to be. I wanted the soft tissue that was found in the fossil to be dated, but it was not. Instead, the fossil’s bioapatite (a mineral found in bone) was dated. According to a 2009 report in the journal Radiocarbon, bioapatite is actually preferable to soft tissue in many cases. As the report states:4

Contamination of the organic fraction in the process of the burial or during museum preservation treatment generally prohibits the use of the collagen fraction for dating. Our investigation has shown that the pretreatment of bone with diluted acetic acid following a proscribed technique allows the separation of the bioapatite fraction from diagenetic carbonates.

Please note that “diagenetic carbonates” refer to contaminants that occur during the fossilization process. The report then gives a method by which original bioapatite can be extracted from a fossil. Dr. Cherkinsky’s lab followed that procedure. Since the lab specifically reported a date for the fossil’s bioapatite, I have to assume that the investigators who actually did the preparation and dating think they were dating the fossil’s original bioapatite, not a mixture of bone and contaminants.

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More Archaeological Evidence That Supports The Bible

This bulla (a clay seal) and five others were found in a 10th-century BC village near what was the border between Judah and the land of the Philistines.  The ruler in the photo is marked off in centimeters.  (click for credit)

This bulla (a clay seal) and five others were found in a 10th-century BC village near what was the border between Judah and the land of the Philistines. The ruler in the photo is marked off in centimeters. (click for credit)

Back in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, it was fashionable among certain archaeologists to claim that Biblical characters such as King David never existed. However, archaeological finds like the Tel Dan Stele forced most of these archaeologists to admit that King David was, indeed, an actual historical figure.

But many of them still wanted to doubt the accuracy of the Biblical text. As a result, they grudgingly admitted that David really existed, but they claimed that the Old Testament “glorified” him. He wasn’t the king of a mighty kingdom, as depicted in the Bible. Instead, he was more of a tribal chieftain who commanded a rag-tag group of rural villagers. National Geographic, for example, describes how Dr. Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, sees it:1

During David’s time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.”

While this might be the fashionable view among certain archaeologists, the actual archaeological evidence speaks strongly against it. As I discussed more than a year ago, the excavations at a large city called Khirbat Qeiyafa have demonstrated that in the late 11th-century BC (David reigned in the early 10th century BC), Judah was already a thriving kingdom. Just recently, more archaeological evidence has surfaced to back up this view of ancient Judah.

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Another Christmas Drama

nativity1

Since this is my last post before Christmas, I thought I would include another Christmas Drama that I wrote. All of the dramas I write are non-traditional, but this is non-traditional in a couple of ways. First, it tells the Christmas story, but not in the standard way. If you read the script, you will see that it starts with a stage that has a stable filled with hay. This gives the illusion that the congregation will be seeing a standard depiction of the nativity. It even begins with an innkeeper sweeping the floor. A knock is heard, and the innkeeper says that there is no room. The person outside persists, saying that his companion needs help. When the innkeeper answers the door, however, two men walk in.

The audience learns that the men are Saul of Tarsus and his traveling companion, Shemaya. Saul has been struck blind and is making his way slowly to Damascus. However, they need to get out of the terrible weather. The innkeeper eventually agrees to let them stay in his stable, and that’s where they go. When the innkeeper brings them blankets to help make them more comfortable, Saul speaks for the first time. In the discussion that follows, the innkeeper learns about Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and birth, in that order. Along the way, the audience learns that this is the same innkeeper who (when he owned an inn in Bethlehem more than thirty years ago) sent Mary and Joseph to his stable. He has been suffering from guilt about that, and he ends up finding forgiveness and joy as a result of Saul’s visit.

The play is also non-traditional because it uses some multimedia. The story of Christ is told through “flashbacks.” Sometimes, the flashbacks contain singers who are supposed to represent people from the past. A teenage young lady, for example, sings “Be Born in Me” as Mary. Later, she and a teenage young man (playing Joseph) care for a baby in a manger. Some of the other flashbacks, however, use singers in modern dress and a slideshow that depicts the event being presented. For example, to tell the story of the crucifixion, two singers in modern dress sing “The Power of the Cross,” while a slideshow presents several pieces of art that depict the crucifixion. Two of the flashbacks don’t even use live people. They are just YouTube videos. The combination of the way the story is told and the incorporation of multimedia make the drama very non-traditional, indeed.

It’s kind of silly, but this is one of my favorite endings. Even if you don’t read the entire script, you might want to skip to the last page and read it. If you do, remember who Saul becomes…

Feel free to use the script in any way you think would edify the body of Christ, but if you use it, I would appreciate a credit.

Full script of The Innkeeper: More than 30 Years Later

USGS Sacrifices Scientific Integrity to Jump on the Global Warming Bandwagon

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out.  (photo in the public domain)

This aerial photo, captured by Corey Accardo of the NOAA, shows the enormous walrus haul-out that occurred this year. (photo in the public domain)

The National Geographic headline says it all:

Biggest Walrus Gathering Recorded as Sea Ice Shrinks
More than 35,000 of the marine mammals have congregated in Alaska

Unfortunately, the headline isn’t true. It isn’t the biggest walrus gathering, and it’s not clear such gatherings have any relationship whatsoever to the amount of sea ice that exists in the Arctic. Where did National Geographic get their false information? From the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The National Geographic article goes on to say:

Scientists have seen large haul-outs on the Russian side of the Bering Strait for quite some time, says Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist at the USGS in Anchorage. But since the first recordings of walrus gatherings in Alaska in the 1870s, groups of this size weren’t observed until 2007, he said.

Of course, that’s also not true. Either the scientists at the USGS didn’t bother to check the literature on what they have been studying, or they willfully ignored the recorded observations of the past. This is not the largest haul-out on record for walruses, and haul-outs of this size have been observed several times in the past.

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Research Shows That We’ve Been Wrong About Stem Cells

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

This is a simple schematic of a tooth. (click for credit)

Stem cells are a hot topic in biology. Scientists call them “undifferentiated,” because they have not yet specialized to become a specific kind of cell. This means that a stem cell can develop into several different kinds of cells, depending on what the body needs. For example, everyone has stem cells in their bone marrow. Some of those cells (called hemopoietic stem cells) can develop into various kinds of blood cells, while others (called stromal stem cells) can develop into fat cells, bone cells, or cartilage cells. Physicians have used such stem cells to treat certain heart conditions1, and it is expected that as time goes on, more stem-cell-based treatments will be developed.

Of course, bone marrow isn’t the only place in which stem cells reside. In fact, stromal stem cells can also be found in tooth pulp, the soft tissue that is under the tooth’s dentin (see the illustration above). That’s where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are found. While scientists have known for a long time that these stem cells are there, how they get there has always been a mystery.

Nina Kaukua and her colleagues weren’t trying to solve that mystery. They were just studying certain kinds of cells in the teeth of mice. These cells, called “glial cells,” are support cells that help the nerve cells (called neurons) do their job. In their research, they were adding a fluorescent chemical to these cells and watching what happened to them over time. What they found was kind of shocking!

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Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist.  (click for credit)

This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist. (click for credit)

Because I was once an atheist and became a Christian, I am fascinated by stories of other atheists-turned-Christians. I have written about several over the years, and I plan to continue to write about them as I find out about them. Well, I ran across another one a few days ago, and his story is different from the others. For one thing, it starts in France!

Guillaume Bignon was born near Paris. He says that his family was “nominally Roman Catholic,” but none of them seemed to take it very seriously. By the age of 13, he decided that he no longer wanted to go to church, and his parents had no problem with that. As a student, he studied math, physics, and engineering, eventually graduating from an engineering school and working as a computer scientist. He also played volleyball for a national league. Here is how he sums up his life at that point:

An important part of young male French atheist ideals also consisted in female conquests, at which I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life, and in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing (let alone believe) the Gospel were incredibly slim.

Obviously, God can conquer the odds, no matter how slim.

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Hello, my name is Jay Wile, and I am a pyromaniac.

This is me lighting a methane balloon during a lecture.

This is me lighting a methane balloon during a lecture.

I haven’t written much about the chemistry course I am teaching at Anderson University, but it has been going very well. In fact, it is almost over. I don’t know whether or not I will do it again. It is a lot of fun to be teaching in a live classroom, but it also takes a lot of time to do it right. Unfortunately, that means less time for writing. Whether or not I do it again, I am glad I that did it this time.

As a part of my duties at Anderson University, I was asked to give a lecture for the public that is part of a very interesting series that the School of Science and Engineering is hosting. They said the lecture could be about anything, so I decided to share with the audience the fun you can have with chemistry. In the end, this turned into a lecture about fire, because I am a bit of a pyromaniac. I personally think all chemists are pyromaniacs, at least to some extent.

I started the lecture with burning gases that were held in balloons. Along the way, I taught the audience the basics of combustion. You can see a video of that part of the lecture below. Unfortunately, the camera had a bit of trouble focusing, because we dimmed the lights so the fire could be seen better. In addition, the best part of the lecture (burning a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen) did not translate well on video. The result was a loud explosion that shook the hall, but the camera’s automatic volume adjust ended up making it sound pathetic, so I cut it from the video. Nevertheless, I think you will enjoy the video segment, and I hope you learn from it as well.

What Does It Mean To Be Open-Minded?

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy's "102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum"

My new elementary science series has been included in Cathy Duffy’s “102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum”

Those who have been homeschooling for many years probably recognize the name Cathy Duffy. For years, her Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual was the main reference homeschooling parents used to choose among their various curriculum options. Over the years, other means by which home educators can get curriculum advice have been developed. Nevertheless, Cathy Duffy continues to be a trusted resource for many homeschooling parents.

Her latest book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, is a set of reviews of what she considers to be the best curriculum available to home educating parents. I was honored to find out that my new elementary science series has been included in that book. In her review, she writes:

I’m not aware of any other science curriculum similar to this. While it is a Christian curriculum, it avoids the apologetics flavor of some others that spend a lot of energy arguing for creationism and against evolution. Nevertheless, it helps students view science from Christian worldview. The use of hands-on activities to introduce lessons, the multi-age format, and the chronological approach in this series are also features likely to appeal to many families. This seems to me an excellent way to teach science, and an approach that should have exceptional appeal for classical educators.

I truly appreciate Cathy Duffy’s kind words!

Of course, there are many other reviews of my new series, and most of them are very positive (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). There is one negative review as well. In addition, there is one review that is a bit mixed, and it’s the one that caused me to write this post.

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An Interesting Observation from China

This is a Christogram, a  combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ.  This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)

This is a Christogram, a combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ. This version was the most common Christogram used by Western Christians (click for credit)

Recently, I read an article by Dr. Paul Copan entitled, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures.”1 In that article, he makes the case for how faithful Christians have transformed the societies they have served. For example, he discusses the Ethiopian famine that took place in 1984 and 1985. Brian Stewart, a CBC journalist, noted that it was Christians who were on the front lines of the famine, giving aid to the suffering. Their service was such a powerful witness to him that it started him on his journey to becoming a Christian himself.

While Copan’s article is interesting, it led me to a book that I thought was even more interesting. It is entitled Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, and it is written by David Aikman, who served as a journalist for Time Magazine from 1971 to 1994. In his role as a Time correspondent, he visited China several times and even lived in China for two years as Time’s bureau chief. He returned to China in 2002 to gather the information he needed to complete his book.

He begins the book in a dramatic way. It is worth quoting at length:2

The eighteen American tourists visiting China weren’t expecting much from the evening’s lecture. They were already exhausted from a day of touring in Beijing. But what the speaker had to say astonished them.

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

This was not coming from some ultra-conservative think tank in Orange County, California or from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was a scholar from China’s premier academic research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing in 2002. (emphasis mine)

In his book, Aikman suggests that Christianity will transform China to the point where it won’t even be communist anymore. He suggests that in the next thirty years, nearly one-third of China could be Christian, making it one of the largest Christian nations in the world and a strong ally of the U.S.

I have no idea whether or not that will happen, but I can say this: It is very sad that most Western scholars refuse to even consider the conclusions of the Chinese scholar quoted above.

REFERENCES

1. Paul Copan, “Jesus-Shaped Cultures: How Faithful Christians Have Transformed Societies, Christian Research Journal 37(04):43-47, 2014
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2. David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power, pp. 5-6
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