Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)

Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)

Over the holidays, I started reading a book entitled Shadow of Oz. I have yet to decide whether or not to post a full review of it, but I did want to point out what I have found to be the most interesting part of the book so far: the conversion story of its author, Dr. Wayne D. Rossiter.

Dr. Rossiter earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in February of 2012 and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University. One thing I found so fascinating about his conversion story is that it is rather different from mine. Science caused me to doubt my atheism, and an investigation of the evidence led me to a belief in Christianity. For Dr. Rossiter, however, it was not science itself that caused him to doubt his atheism. Instead, what he saw as the consequences of atheistic science caused him to fall into the Savior’s arms. Here is how he begins his conversion story:

…I had developed into a staunch and cantankerous atheist by the time I got to Rutgers to pursue a Ph.D. This was aided by an equally atheistic advisor who was of Dawkins’s ilk. Advanced education at our best universities is surprisingly insular. Like bobbleheads, we tend to read and agree on the same things, and give little to no countenance to critics of our views. (pp. 3-4)

I couldn’t agree more with his take on the insular nature of advanced education in the U.S. I vividly remember several instances from my early years in academia where a “senior” member of a research group would make fun of a position with which he disagreed, and the rest of us would bob our heads in agreement without even trying to suggest that there might be good reason to at least examine that position seriously. At the time, I didn’t understand how anti-science such actions were, but now that I look back on them, I shake my head at the sorry state of our advanced education system.

What caused Dr. Rossiter to doubt his atheism? After achieving an important milestone in every academic’s life (publication in a major journal of his field), he and his wife celebrated. He stayed up after his wife went to bed, and he became plagued by the “big questions” about life:

On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)

This led to some serious soul-searching, which included psychiatric counseling. His counselor was a Christian, and that intrigued him, so he read some intellectuals who found belief in God to be both rational and compelling. This caused him to doubt his atheistic view of science, and eventually, he became a Christian. The university at which he now teaches is a Christian university.

I have to say that I have never been impressed by the argument from morality, which is one of the issues he touches on in his quote above. I recognize that there are many who see it as the most convincing evidence for God’s existence, but it never swayed me as an atheist. Even now that I am a believer, I don’t see its power.

However, I do agree strongly with the last part of his quote. As I see it, if you believe that life is simply a collection of molecules whose interactions are guided by natural forces, there is no way you can believe in free will or consciousness. After all, if my brain is all there is to my mind, then there is no way for me to choose my beliefs or my actions. Indeed, my brain is simply a collection of cells, and those cells interact according to strict chemical and physical laws. There is no way to deviate from the outcomes required by those laws, so none of my actions or thoughts are my own. They are simply the consequences of the initial conditions of my brain and the interactions of its parts.

While this logical conclusion never convinced me to doubt my atheism (I was happy to be an automaton), I can see how it would cause others to do so. I thank God that it helped Dr. Rossiter to see the Light!

Another Christmas Drama

"The Adoration of the Shephers" by Gerard van Honthorst (Image in the public domain)

“The Adoration of the Shephers” by Gerard van Honthorst

In case you are new to this blog, you might not be aware that in addition to being a professional science writer, I am also an amateur playwright. The plays I write are for church, and most of them are short. For Christmas and some other special occasions, however, I write longer plays. The one you will find linked at the bottom of this post is the “sermon-length” (about 30 minutes) Christmas play that we performed at my church on December 20th during the worship service.

This one is more lighthearted than most of my plays, and it requires that the stage be dressed up in gaudy, secular Christmas decorations. They are there to make the point that Christmas is not about such things, but some churches may find them offensive. Also, there is one “special effect” that you can drop if you want, but it was really funny when we did it. When Marc said, “Hey, check this out, I can even make it snow,” he held up a homemade “snow machine” and made it snow.

The “snow machine” was actually just a leaf blower that I had filled with the fake, plastic snow you can buy pretty much anywhere that has Christmas decorations. In order to make the effect work, you need to remove the nozzle on the leaf blower so there is just an open tube remaining. The fake snow gets clogged up in the nozzle. Ideally, you would extend the tube so you can add more snow. I did it with a cardboard mailing tube taped on the end. Then I dumped enough fake snow into the extended tube so it was about 3/4 full. Don’t PACK the snow it. Just pour it in. Aim the leaf blower above the actors’ heads, and when you turn it on high, the fake snow will “explode” above them and gently fall on them. Of course, you can cut that effect if it’s too much trouble.

One other note: I wrote this play specifically for the people in our church. As a result, there are references that work specifically for those people. Marc really is our pastor, for example. He also leads worship, so when Sarah references that, it makes sense. The character named Jay is me, and I am in nearly every play we do. That makes Chris’s line about Jay being in a “few” plays funny. You can adjust those lines to make it work for the people in your church.

As is the case with all my dramas, feel free to use this in any way you think will edify the Body of Christ. If possible, I would like a credit, but that’s not nearly as important as using it to build up the church!

The Worst Christmas Play Ever!

Exciting News in the Energy World

This illustration shows the coil system (blue) and plasma (yellow) design in the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator fusion reactor. (click for credit)

This illustration shows the coil system (blue) and plasma (yellow) design in the
Wendelstein 7-X stellarator fusion reactor. (click for credit)

Nuclear power has always presented the possibility of cheap, nearly unlimited electricity. So far, however, the reality has not lived up to the expectations, because we are using the wrong nuclear process. We have mastered using nuclear fission, which is the process by which large nuclei (like certain isotopes of uranium and plutonium) are split into smaller nuclei. This produces a large amount of energy, but it also produces a large amount of radioactive waste. In addition, the reaction can get out of hand, as we have seen in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

However, some countries have utilized nuclear power well. France, for example, currently gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear power. But even France is transitioning away from it, as it is planning to produce only 50% of its electricity that way by the year 2025. With the high-profile disaster at Fukushima and the problem of radioactive waste, it is understandable why even France is trying to move away from nuclear power.

If we could only master the opposite process, nuclear fusion, we wouldn’t have such problems. In fusion reactions, small nuclei (like certain isotopes of hydrogen) are combined to make a larger nucleus. If the nuclei are small enough, this also produces energy. The nice thing about nuclear fusion is that the byproducts are not radioactive, and the reaction is easy to stop. Indeed, it is hard to keep the reaction going! In addition, hydrogen is more abundant than uranium and plutonium.

Why don’t we use nuclear fusion to produce electricity? Because it’s harder than it sounds. Nuclei are positively charged. When you push two positively-charged things together, they repel one another. The closer they get, the more strongly they repel. In order to get two nuclei to combine, they have to get really close together. It takes a lot of energy to make that happen, and so far, the energy we spend trying to force it to happen is more than the energy we get from the reaction.

Continue reading

It’s Not That Simple!

This Black Angus cow is not happy about a study done by Carnegie Mellon University! (click for credit)

This Black Angus cow is not happy about a study done by Carnegie Mellon University!
(click for credit)

It always bothers me when people make overly simplistic statements about the issues we are currently facing. It bothers me even more when scientists do it. Nevertheless, I find examples of scientists making overly simplistic statements time and time again, especially when it comes to “global warming,” aka “climate change.” I have discussed at length the overly simplistic way in which some scientists approach climate (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Not surprisingly, those same scientists often approach the “solutions” to global warming just as simplistically.

Consider, for example, this story from The Guardian. The headline says it all:

Eating less meat essential to curb climate change, says report

The article’s main discussion point is a report issued by a thinktank known as Chatham House, but it discusses several sources in which scientists and policymakers insist that we must reduce our meat intake in order to curb global warming. Why? It seems simple enough. Keeping livestock requires energy, and the livestock themselves produce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. It only makes sense that eating food coming from plants (which consume carbon dioxide and produce little methane) would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, right?

Well, a study done by Carnegie Mellon University concludes precisely the opposite!

Continue reading

This is So Cool!

The box-patterned gecko has an amazing way to stay dry! (click to see video from which this image was taken)

The box-patterned gecko has an amazing way to stay dry!
(click to see video from which this image was taken)

Studying God’s creation fills me with constant wonder! It is amazing to see how incredibly well-engineered the world and its inhabitants are. Even well-known, well-studied things can surprise us with a new piece of technology that we never imagined. So it is with the gecko. Scientists have marveled at the gecko for years because of the way it can climb almost any surface, and they have studied it so thoroughly that engineers can crudely mimic its climbing ability. The gecko is so well designed that we haven’t completely figured out the details of how it climbs, but we at least have the basics, and they have been known for a while now.

A recent study shows us that at least one species of this amazing group of lizards, the box-patterned gecko, has another marvelous design feature: the ability to repel water in a most ingenious way. The gecko’s skin is covered in microscopic spines called spinules. These spinules force the water to form into droplets, and as the droplets grow in size, they are eventually propelled away from the body! If you click on the picture at the top of this post (and I strongly suggest that you do), you will be able to see a wonderful video of how this happens.

Why would the gecko have such a marvelously-designed system for repelling water? The authors of the study1 suggest that it reduces the ability of bacteria and fungi to grow on the skin, and it may help clean the skin of certain contaminants. Whatever the reason, I love the fact that we are still learning things about this well-studied animal!

REFERENCE

1. Gregory S. Watson, Lin Schwarzkopf, Bronwen W. Cribb, Sverre Myhra, Marty Gellender, and Jolanta A. Watson, “Removal mechanisms of dew via self-propulsion off the gecko skin,” Interface, 11 March 2015, DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1396
Return to Text

Deep Wisdom About Adoption

Katie Davis and her 13 adopted daughters on her wedding day.

Katie Davis and her 13 adopted daughters on her wedding day.

About four years ago I read a book that touched me more deeply than I can describe. It is entitled Kisses from Katie and was written by Katie Davis, who is one of the most amazing people about whom I have ever read (and I have read about a lot of people). At the ripe old age of 16, she decided that God was calling her to be a missionary. During her senior year in high school, she did some part-time missionary work in Uganda, and after she graduated high school, she went back there to do full-time missionary work. I blogged about her book, and I encourage all those who follow Christ to read it. It is a remarkable tale of what can happen when a person listens to God’s still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) and follows His lead.

One of the many reasons I was touched by Katie’s story is that we share something in common; we are both adoptive parents. I wrote an article about how my wife and I adopted our daughter, and it barely compares to Katie’s story. My wife and I had a comfortable home, a good dual income, and the young lady we adopted was a healthy teen who attended our church. Katie had no husband, was doing missionary work (for which there is never enough money), and the 14 daughters she ended up adopting were unhealthy strangers with whom Katie didn’t even share a common culture. However, she has the heart of Christ, and that’s all it really takes. If you are wondering why there are only 13 daughters in the picture at the top of this post, one of them was taken back by the birth parent after Katie had lovingly nursed the little girl back to health.

Because her book touched me so deeply, I read her blog from time to time. She doesn’t write very often (I can’t imagine how she finds any time to write), so I don’t visit it very often. However, I recently went there to catch up, and I read an incredibly touching post that I simply had to share. It is written to the adoptive mother who doesn’t really feel like a mother, and the message of the article resonated with me, because it mirrors my own experience as an adoptive parent.

Most of the people who have observed my daughter and I together for any length of would call me a doting father. I am wrapped around her little finger, and there is simply nothing that can be done about that. Why? The answer is simple: I love her. It’s important to note, however, that such intense, emotional love didn’t happen right away. Katie describes this masterfully:

From the moment I met my children I loved them in the way that a heart feels they must love another human being, especially one in need of care. I felt that God made it clear to me that I was to raise them and this intensified my love into a fierce, protective, sacrificial love, but it didn’t change the fact that it takes some time to make strangers into family.

That’s exactly right. At first, we weren’t even considering adopting Dawn. We just knew that she needed a safe place to heal, and we provided that, because the Lord was leading us to do that. Once we decided to adopt her, that kind of “caring love” intensified into something much more sacrificial, but it still didn’t make me into a doting father. As Katie says, it takes time to make a stranger into a member of your family.

As I have written previously, God molded my heart and my wife’s heart around our little girl so that now, she is an inseparable part of our little family. But that didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen over the course of a few months. As Katie writes:

Love is a thing that grows.

If you have recently adopted a child, give your love the time it needs to grow. I assure you, it is well worth the wait!

Yet Another Global Warming Alarmist Prediction Has Been Falsified

One species of coccolithophore (click for credit)

One species of coccolithophore
(click for credit)

The best way to evaluate a scientific hypothesis is to use it to make predictions, which can then be compared to observations. The more the predictions line up with the observations, the more scientific merit the hypothesis has. Based on this commonly-used evaluation, the hypothesis that increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will result in catastrophic climate change has virtually no scientific merit whatsoever. As I have discussed previously (see here, here, here, here, and here), the predictions made by global warming alarmists have been demonstrated to be wrong time and time again. Recently, I ran across another study that adds to this growing list of falsified predictions.

The picture shown above is of an ocean-dwelling microscopic organism known as a coccolithophore. It makes its own food via photosynthesis, and it also makes the “plates” that you see covering it. It makes them by absorbing bicarbonate (HCO3) and calcium from ocean and making calcium carbonate (CaCO3). When coccolithophores die, their calcium carbonate plates sink to the bottom of the ocean, making deposits of chalk.

Now it turns out that this process of making plates out of calcium carbonate is influenced by the acidity of the water. The more acidic the water, the harder it is for coccolithophores (and all organisms that do the same chemistry) to make calcium carbonate. Well, increasing levels of carbon dioxide leads to increasing acidity (technically, lowering alkalinity) of ocean water, since carbon dioxide can react with water to form carbonic acid. It is therefore assumed that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will harm coccolithophores. As one book on biodiversity puts it:1

Higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, by making oceans more acidic, could reduce coccolithophore populations (by interfering with their skeletal formation), thereby reducing a major CO2 sink and leading to still higher levels of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Fortunately, actual scientific observations demonstrate precisely the opposite.

Continue reading

Soft Blood Vessels from a Dinosaur Fossil

Blood vessels taken from a dinosaur fossil.  (Image credit: M. Schweitzer, North Carolina State University.)

Blood vessels taken from a dinosaur fossil.
(Image credit: M. Schweitzer, North Carolina State University.)

In 2005, Dr. Mary Schweitzer shocked the paleontology community by reporting that she had found soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus fossil that was thought to be 65 million years old.1 One type of soft tissue structure found appeared to be branching blood vessels like those shown in the picture above. The idea that blood vessels could have remained soft for millions of years is contrary to everything we currently know about biomolecules and their decay, so many in the paleontology community searched for some other explanation of Dr. Schweitzer’s find.

For example, its possible that despite its appearance, the structure isn’t composed of blood vessels at all. Instead, it could be the result of a recent colonization of bacteria or fungi. After all, when the blood vessels in a bone decay away, the “tunnels” in which they were housed remain. What if rather recently, a colony of bacteria took up residence in those same tunnels? These organisms often leave a slime (called a biofilm) behind, and if they left it in those “tunnels,” the biofilm would take the shape of the “tunnels.” That would make the biofilm look and behave a lot like blood vessels.

Such an explanation seemed to get some support back in 2008, when a major article was published in PLoS ONE.2 In that article, researchers reported on a survey they had done of many dinosaur bones. They found several examples of what appeared to be soft tissue in those bones, and they submitted some of those samples for carbon dating. The dating indicated that the samples were of very recent origin. In addition, they compared their samples to modern biofilms and modern collagen (a protein not made by bacteria). Their samples of apparent tissue resembled modern biofilms much more than modern collagen, so they concluded:

When biofilms coat a substrate, and that substrate is subsequently removed, the biofilm will retain much of the original morphology. This can explain the quantity and similarity of structures found in fossil bone and indicates that these structures are unlikely to be preserved dinosaurian tissues but the product of common bacterial activities.

Since then, however, the analysis of a variety of soft tissue found in dinosaur bones has lent a lot of support to the idea that these tissues are not biofilms, but are genuine dinosaur tissue (see here, here, here, and here). It seems that the definitive paper has finally been published, showing, at minimum, that soft blood vessels found in one dinosaur bone do come from the dinosaur itself.

Continue reading

Another Atheist-Turned-Christian

Dr. Sarah Salviander has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is currently a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy.

Dr. Sarah Salviander has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is currently a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy.

As regular readers of this blog know, I collect interesting stories about atheists who have become Christians. This is partly because I was once an atheist myself, and it is partly because I find it fascinating how God reveals Himself to people in so many different ways. Recently, I ran across the testimony of Dr. Sarah Salviander, who holds an earned Ph.D. in astrophysics and is a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy. She has a healthy list of publications in the peer-reviewed literature and characterizes herself as a scientist, apologist, and author.

In her testimony, she says that her parents were atheists who preferred the term “agnostic” and that religion played no part in her life as she grew up. Indeed, only three of the people she met by the time she was 25 had identified themselves as Christians. She says:

My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial.

This is something Dr. Salviander and I had in common. When I was an atheist, I viewed religion as a crutch. It was okay for people who didn’t have the intellectual fortitude to face reality, but for someone who was knowledgeable about science and philosophy, it was absurd. Like Dr. Salviander, I eventually learned how wrong such a position is.

Continue reading

Mathematics and Science

This is one way to visualize the meaning of the irrational number "pi."  If a wheel has a diameter of 1, it will travel a distance of pi when it makes one complete revolution. (click for credit)

This is one way to visualize the meaning of the irrational number “pi.” If a wheel has a diameter of 1, it will travel a distance of pi when it makes one complete revolution. (click for credit)

Was mathematics discovered or invented? That might seem like an odd question, but it is an important one. I haven’t seen any official poll on the matter, but I suspect that most mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists would say that it must have been invented. After all, math is a tool. We use it for accounting, parceling out land, etc. Surely people invented this tool and then improved on it over time. If that’s really true, however, there is a deep mystery that is awfully hard to explain. Nobel laureate Dr. Eugene Wigner (a theoretical physicist and mathematician) put it this way:

The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it.

Think about it. We didn’t invent the natural world. We simply study it. If we invented mathematics, why does it play such an integral role in our understanding of the natural world?

In my opinion, there is no mystery as to why mathematics is so useful in the natural sciences. That’s because I don’t think we invented it; I think we discovered it. Indeed, I think it is the language of creation. As Galileo wrote:

[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.

I was reminded of Galileo’s wise words when I read a short paper by two professors from my alma mater, the University of Rochester.

Continue reading