What We Learned from the Recent Lunar Eclipse

The moon during the recent eclipse as seen by a camera (left) and through a telescope (right).  [click for a larger image]

The moon during the recent eclipse as seen by a camera (left) and through a telescope (right). [click for a larger image]

If you watched the lunar eclipse on September 27th, you were treated to quite a sight! My wife got some great pictures of it, two of which are shown above. The image on the left is a picture she got with her camera alone, and the one on the right is what she got with her camera looking through my telescope. That was a particularly difficult shot, because the camera wasn’t designed for the telescope. She just pointed her camera at the eyepiece and patiently played with its orientation until she got the best shot she could.

The eclipse was beautiful, but it did produce something unexpected: a dark moon. Now, this eclipse was supposed to be dark, because the moon was at its perigee, which is the closest it gets to the earth. As a result, the earth’s shadow covered it a bit more thoroughly than it would have if the moon had been farther from the earth. Nevertheless, a lunar eclipse doesn’t make the moon go completely dark, because sunlight is bent through the earth’s atmosphere and shines on the moon. The process of sunlight traveling through the atmosphere produces a noticeable effect.

Sunlight is composed of many different wavelengths of light, each of which corresponds to a color that we perceive. The longest wavelengths of sunlight are red, while the shortest wavelengths are blueish. The other colors (orange, yellow, and green) are in between. Because wavelength and energy are inversely proportional, red sunlight is lowest in energy, and blue sunlight is highest in energy. Once again, the other colors are in between. Well, when sunlight passes through the atmosphere, it can bounce off particles and molecules floating in the air. Higher-energy light tends to bounce off more things than lower-energy light, so as sunlight passes through the earth’s atmosphere, the blues and greens tend to bounce around more than the reds, oranges, and yellows.

This is why the sun appears reddish-orange at sunset. When you look at the sun, the light you see is traveling straight from the sun to your eyes. The closer the sun is to the horizon, however, the more atmosphere its light must travel through to reach your eyes. Since the blues and greens tend to bounce off things in the air, they don’t travel as straight as the reds and oranges. As a result, more red and orange light coming from the sun hits your eyes than blue and green light, so the sun appears reddish-orange when it is near the horizon. The same effect causes the moon to appear reddish-orange during a lunar eclipse.

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Do Selfies Result in More Deaths than Shark Attacks?

A woman uses a 'selfie stick' to take a selfie. (click for credit)

A woman uses a ‘selfie stick’ to take a selfie. (click for credit)

The headline on my Facebook feed was just too interesting to ignore: More People Die Taking Selfies Than Being Attacked by Sharks! I clicked on the photo, which sent me to this article. The first line tells you the gist of the story:

A tally of selfie-related incidents leading to deaths this year comes with a startling revelation — selfie deaths in 2015 outnumber deaths from shark attacks.

Of course, the sources seemed a bit dubious. The first was a list of shark attacks compiled in a survivors’ forum, and the second was a list of selfie-related deaths as compiled by Mashable.com. I really didn’t trust either of those sources, so I decided to look into this intriguing idea a bit more.

Finding a reliable source for shark attack deaths was pretty easy. The Florida Museum of Natural History has an ichthyology (study of fishes) department that does a pretty good job of compiling shark attacks worldwide. While they haven’t posted any preliminary data for 2015, they do have data from 2005 through 2014. As you can see from their first table, fatal shark attacks ranged from 1 in 2007 to 13 in 2011. In 2014, there were 3 fatal shark attacks.

Getting data on selfie-related deaths is a bit more difficult. The only comprehensive source I could find was a Wikipedia article entitled, “List of selfie-related injuries and deaths.” While I wouldn’t necessarily trust a list on Wikipedia, this one has references to each of the incidents, and the references seem to be reliable. As a result, I decided to do my own comparison between selfie-related deaths and shark attack deaths.

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Bill Nye Once Again Demonstrates His Ignorance of Basic Science

Bill Nye calls himself the 'Science Guy' but doesn't know much about science. (click for credit)

Bill Nye calls himself the ‘Science Guy’ but doesn’t know much about science.
(click for credit)

Bill Nye has a habit of speaking and writing about things he doesn’t understand. For example, he speaks a lot about global warming but is ignorant of the data related to it. He also narrated a faked experiment about global warming, demonstrating that he doesn’t understand the physics behind the process. He then made an anti-science video regarding creationism and followed that up with an error-riddled book that demonstrates his ignorance of the evolutionary hypothesis. You would think he would learn from his mistakes and at least educate himself about a subject before he makes public statements. However, his latest video shows that he has not.

He opens up the video with a scientific error, stating:

Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized, and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova — a lot.

Of course, that is false. According to The Johns Hopkins Manual of Gynecology and Obstetrics,1 30-40 percent of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion. The National Institutes of Health say that it might be up to 50%. The highest rate of spontaneous abortion occurs with in vitro fertilization, and that rate is nearly 93%.

So, in the normal course of things, maybe as many as half of conceptions end in spontaneous abortion. That means only twice as many eggs are fertilized than children who are born. Even with in vitro fertilization, about 13 times as many eggs are fertilized as children who are born. Bill Nye’s “Many, many, many, many more hundreds” statement has no scientific support whatsoever. Why does he make this false statement? Because he wants to use it to make a claim that is completely bizarre.

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A Drama About Grace


If you haven’t been reading this blog long, you might not know that while science is my main interest, I do have some others. One of them is acting. For a brief time, I was a professional actor, but nowadays, acting is just a hobby. For example, I perform in community theater productions. In fact, I am currently preparing for the role of a gangster in Cole Porter’s classic Kiss Me Kate. It’s a fun role and allows me to sing what I think is the best song in the show, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” I also write and perform in dramas at our church. As a result, I have a category named “Christian Drama,” where I post some of the church dramas that I have written.

Yesterday, our pastor (Marc Adams) preached a sermon on Grace, one of the most important aspects of Christianity. His sermon had three main points, and the first one was “Grace gives me relief from yesterday.” It emphasizes how Christians need not be slaves to their past, because grace allows us to move on from our previous sins. I wrote the following drama to illustrate this important idea.

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! If you do decide to use this drama, the genders are not important. You can change them and their names to fit the actors you have in your church. If you use a boy rather than a girl, just substitute “handsome” for “pretty” when Ralph says he would remember if they had met before.

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Patterns of Evidence: Exodus


I don’t watch many documentaries. There are two main reasons. First, I think video is an inefficient way to learn. I can learn more quickly by reading, and I tend to remember what I read better than what I watch. In addition, it is hard to check references and confirm facts while watching a video. It is much easier to do so while reading.

The other reason is that documentaries are often incredibly biased. For example, I enjoyed Ben Stein’s documentary (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed), but it was not objective in any way. It is clear that Stein had made up his mind before he made his film, and the film was shot in such a way as to present his view in the most positive light possible. While written sources of information can be just as biased, the video medium adds more opportunity to slant things because you can manipulate lighting, sound, etc., to make people who disagree with you look bad while at the same time, making the people who agree with you look really good.

Nevertheless, a very dear friend of mine (who is a historian) asked me to watch the documentary Patterns of Evidence: Exodus with her. I agreed, and overall, I am glad that I did. The movie is about director Tim Mahoney’s search for archaeological evidence concerning the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as discussed in the Old Testament. Many archaeologists say that such a search is fruitless, because there is no evidence that anything like the Exodus ever occurred in Egypt. Indeed, as historian Dr. Baruch Halpern says:

The actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn.

However, if the Exodus occurred as discussed in the Bible, one would think there would be archaeological evidence for it. Since the historical accuracy of the Bible is important to Mahoney (and many Christians throughout the world), he decided to see if historians and archaeologists like Dr. Halpern are correct. As a result, he traveled around the world to interview archaeologists and historians to see what they thought and to look at the evidence for himself.

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Dirt Can Be Good For Children

This little boy may be improving his immune system. (click for credit)

This little boy may be improving his immune system. (click for credit)

There has been a noticeable rise in allergic diseases (like asthma), especially in industrialized nations.1 Several hypotheses have been suggested to account for this fact, but the one that seems to have the most evidence stacking up in its favor is the hygiene hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that many children who live in industrialized nations are raised in an environment that is just too clean. Because of this, they are not exposed to infectious agents and parasites that properly “train” their immune system. In addition, they miss out on some of the good bacteria and fungi that would take up residence in their body and support their immune system. As a result, the natural development of the immune system is stunted, and the body doesn’t know how to properly respond to certain foreign agents.

Several studies have shown a relationship between the cleanliness of a child’s environment and the child’s risk of developing an allergic disease. For example, studies have shown that children who grow up in rural settings are less likely to develop allergic diseases than those who grow up in urban settings.2 Even within rural settings, there is a difference. Children who grow up on farms seem to be the most protected against asthma and other allergic diseases.3

While there is a lot of indirect evidence for the hygiene hypothesis, a biological mechanism for why a “dirty” environment helps protect children against allergic diseases has been lacking. A recent study from Europe, however, has changed that.4

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Homo naledi: Human Relative? Probably Not.

A composite skeleton of Homo naledi, surrounded by other fossils from the same find (click for the full picture and credit)

A composite skeleton of Homo naledi, surrounded by other fossils from the same find
(click for the full picture and for credit)

Social media has been abuzz with reports of a newly-discovered ancient relative of people. Named Homo naledi, this “new species” is supposed to shed light on the supposed evolution of human beings. One news report said the discovery “…may alter ideas about the human family tree.” Of course, we’ve heard that before. It seems that every major discovery related to the supposed evolution of humans is said to radically change our view of how humans came to be. While this discovery is very, very interesting, I seriously doubt that is has anything to do with people.

One of the things that makes this find so interesting is where the bones were found. They were found in a cave more than 80 meters from its entrance. Even more intriguing, the chamber in which the fossils were found was accessible only through a narrow chute. The chute was so narrow that most paleontologists couldn’t fit through it. Indeed, in order to excavate the fossils, the lead investigator (Lee Berger) had to put out an advertisement on social media. It called for “…tiny and small specialised cavers and spelunkers with excellent archaeological, palaeontological and excavation skills.” There were 57 people who answered the ad, and six women were chosen from that group. They excavated the bones, while the other members of the expedition watched on video.

In the end, the paleontologists think they found fragmentary remains of at least 15 individuals. The picture above shows a partial composite skeleton that was made from these different individuals. In one of the two scientific papers written about the find1, they say that this composite skeleton represents the remains of a new species. Why? Because it contains a lot of traits associated with the genus Australopithecus, which is supposed to be an early ancestor of human beings. However, it also contains traits that are more like those of modern humans. Because of this mix of “primitive” and “modern” traits, it is thought to be a new species in the supposed evolutionary history of people.

While there is certainly a mixture of traits found in these fossils, I seriously doubt that they belong in the genus Homo (the genus that contains human beings), and I seriously doubt they are related to us in any way.

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Homeschooled Student Gets Perfect ACT Score

Image licensed from www.clipart.com

Image licensed from www.clipart.com

A Facebook friend of mine posted this news story on my wall. It’s from a local newscast in Pensacola, Florida, and it reports on homeschooled student Dawn Van Iderstine, who got a perfect score on her ACT (a standardized test used for university admission). While such scores are not unheard of, they are rather rare. The newscaster says fewer than 1% of students who take the ACT receive a perfect score. While that’s technically correct, it would be more accurate to say that fewer than one-tenth of one percent of students are able to achieve that score. In 2014, for example, only 0.076% of those who took the ACT received a perfect mark of 36. Obviously, then, Miss Van Iderstine is to be commended. She has accomplished something that very few students have accomplished.

This young lady has been homeschooled since kindergarten, but that’s not why my Facebook friend posted the news story on my wall. If you watch the video, at the 18-second mark, you will see Miss Van Iderstine pulling books out of her backpack. The first one that comes out is the second edition of Advanced Chemistry in Creation, which is one of my books. While it was neat for me to see that, it’s not why I am writing about this amazing young student. There are several things in the news story that really impressed me about her, and the perfect ACT score relates to only one of them.

I learned that Miss Van Iderstine received a score of 32 when she first took the test. As the newscaster says, that’s a great score. It is within the range found among the majority of students who go to Harvard. However, this young lady was not satisfied. She wanted to do better, so she took the test a second time, and that’s when she got her perfect score. I know a lot of students who would have stopped after getting a 32 on their first try. After all, that’s a great score, and most students are happy with a great score. However, this young lady thought she could do better, so she studied and tried again. It clearly paid off.

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Who’s the King of The African Savanna? The Lowly Termite!

The termite mound behind those zebras makes life better for the plants and animals surrounding it.

The termite mound behind those zebras makes life better for the plants and animals surrounding it.

In the United States, we think of termites as pests, because they can destroy our homes. However, in Africa, they are anything but pests. Instead, they are “soil engineers” that make their surroundings more hospitable for other organisms. How do they accomplish this? By building their homes, which we call termite mounds. As Dr. Todd Palmer (an ecologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville) puts it:1

These mounds are really the supermarkets of the savanna.

How do termite mounds become “supermarkets of the savanna”? It’s because of the engineering prowess of the termites. If the soil is too sandy to make their mounds, the termites add clay to it. If the soil has so much clay that it is difficult to excavate, the termites add sand to it. Either way, they end up making the soil more ideal for plant growth. In addition, the engineered soil helps the mounds hold onto water more efficiently. Indeed, when an African savanna goes through a dry spell, most of the plants turn brown. However, the plants that grow in and around the mounds remain green.

Not only do termite mounds help retain water, but they also enrich the soil with chemicals that are necessary for good plant health. Studies show that the soil in and around a termite mound has significantly more nitrogen and phosphorus in it than soil that is far from a termite mound. Those nutrients end up producing benefits in plants that grow up to 5 meters away from the mound!2

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The Dominican Republic Also Shows Bill Nye Was Wrong

Standing room only at one of the Dominican Republic schools.

Standing room only at one of the Dominican Republic schools.

I finished my speaking tour in the Dominican Republic, and it was quite an experience! I gave talks about creation in public schools, private schools, churches, and a university. The people were incredibly warm and inviting, and even though I could not communicate with most of them unless I had an interpreter, our mutual love for the Savior transcended words.

While I still cannot speak or understand Spanish, I did get a bit better at recognizing certain Spanish words. For example, in one church service, I looked up at the screen that contained the words to the next song (in Spanish, of course). The title of the song wasn’t on the screen, and the music had not started playing. Nevertheless, I recognized the song and said, “How Great Thou Art – one of my favorites!” My interpreter turned to me and asked, “How do you know that?” I told him that I recognized enough of the words to realize what the hymn must be. He seemed impressed.

While I was in Santo Domingo, I visited the main campus of Universidad Nacional Evangélica, a Christian university. I met with the president of the university and one of the professors. They indicated that they were committed to making sure their students learned about the scientific evidence for creation and against evolution. They scheduled me to speak to their students the next day, but unfortunately, there was a power outage, so they had to cancel the talk.

I was on a tight schedule, so I had to leave Santo Domingo before they could reschedule my talk. However, the same university has a campus in Santiago, where I was headed. That campus was happy to schedule me to speak, so I ended up getting to speak to students at the Universidad Nacional Evangélica, just not the ones who go to the Santo Domingo campus.

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