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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The California Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on June 16, 2014

This is the Ontario Convention Center, where the California Homeschool Conference was held. (click for credit)

This is the Ontario Convention Center, where the California Homeschool Conference was held.
(click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the California Homeschool convention in Ontario, California. It is a part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series, and as such, it offered a wide range of speakers as well as a big exhibit hall in which homeschoolers could examine the many great resources that are available to them. It was the first year for this particular convention, and that usually means a fairly small crowd. It generally takes a while for a homeschooling convention to get established, so you don’t expect large crowds in the first few years of a conference. This first-year conference defied that trend. It attracted a big crowd, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I gave five talks at the convention, two of them with Diana Waring. My “solo” talks were Recent News in Creation Science, The Bible: A Great Source of Modern Science, and Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide. The talks I did with Diana Waring were I Didn’t See That Coming and Arguing to Learn. The talks were well attended, and the audience members were actively engaged.

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How Do You Design the Best Train? Copy the Designs of the Ultimate Engineer.

Posted by jlwile on June 11, 2014

This is an Azure Kingfisher.  The Shinkansen "bullet train" in Japan was improved by copying the design of a kingfisher's beak.  (click for credit)

This is an Azure Kingfisher. The Shinkansen “bullet train” in Japan was improved by copying the design of a kingfisher’s beak. (click for credit)

I ran across a story on biomimicry a few days ago. Although it discusses things that happened a while ago, I thought it was a great example of how copying designs found in nature can improve the designs produced by modern science and technology. The story involves Eiji Nakatsu, a Japanese engineer who worked on the high-speed “bullet” trains in Japan. These trains travel at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, and not surprisingly, there are a lot of design challenges involved in such systems.

In particular, there were three design issues that plagued the trains. First, the train would produce a very loud noise when entering a tunnel, because it would be “smashing” into a column of confined air. While this slowed down the train a bit, the big problem was the noise that it produced. The loud bang would disturb not only wildlife but also nearby residents. In order to comply with Japanese noise pollution regulations, something needed to be done.

According to the article, Nakatsu met this challenge by redesigning the front of the train. As a bird-watcher, he had observed Kingfisher birds diving into water without producing much of a splash. He realized that this was similar to what the trains had to do when entering a tunnel, so he designed the front of the train to be more like the head and beak of a kingfisher. It worked. The train could enter tunnels at full speed without producing a loud noise.

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The Homeschoolers of Wyoming Convention

Posted by jlwile on June 9, 2014

This is one of the signs that welcomes people to Wyoming.  (click for credit)

This is one of the signs that welcomes people to Wyoming. (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Homeschoolers of Wyoming convention in Sheridan, Wyoming. I had never been to that part of the state before, so not only did I have a great time at the convention, I enjoyed visiting a new location. I gave four talks at the convention: Why Homeschool Through High School, Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, “Teaching” High School At Home, and Teaching Critical Thinking. In addition, I got to speak with several homeschoolers while I was hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the exhibit hall.

During one of those times, I experienced something that probably doesn’t happen very often outside of homeschooling circles. I was speaking with a mother about her teenage daughter’s options when it comes to science. The daughter was there as well. She wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, and the mother wanted to know what sciences her daughter should be taking in high school. I told her that the three subjects she should definitely take are biology, chemistry, and human anatomy, because they would all have a direct bearing on forensic anthropology. As a result, they would give her a good idea of the kind of science she would be doing if she chose that field. She should also strive to take physics, but it would not have as much direct bearing on her field as the other three.

Since the daughter had not taken any of those subjects yet, I suggested that she should start with biology. She began looking at my biology text and mentioned a few things she liked about it. She then asked me some questions regarding specific aspects of the course. Then she asked me the following question:

My main concern is, will this book challenge me enough?

I have to tell you, that’s a question you rarely hear from a teenager when it comes to a textbook! Nevertheless, it isn’t the first time I have been asked that question by a high school student at a homeschool convention. That’s one of the many reasons I love working with homeschooled students! They understand that education is important, and many of them actually want to be challenged by it!

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“Global Warming” Has Not Increased Droughts

Posted by jlwile on June 4, 2014

The dry portion of a riverbed in California (public domain image)

The dry portion of a riverbed in California (public domain image)

One of the common predictions made by people who believe in catastrophic global warming (aka “climate change”) is that as the globe’s temperature rises, there will be more and more droughts. As one book on global warming puts it:1

Extreme drought is one of the expected consequences of increased global warming, especially in the American Southwest, where it has already been projected to be severe by several models.

I have already written about the fact that actual observations show the precise opposite for the American Southwest. But what about the globe as a whole? Perhaps the American Southwest is not behaving as global warming enthusiasts predicted, but that doesn’t mean droughts aren’t increasing in other parts of the world. Surely the global warming that has already happened has produced drier conditions on the earth as a whole, right? After all, that’s what the climate modelers have predicted.

For example, the British government funded a study on global warming and drought by climatologists at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. The study, which was published in 2006, made the following prediction:2

This graph represents one climate model's predictions of the percentage of land around the world that will experience drought.  The dotted lines are for moderate drought, the dark, solid lines are for severe drought, and the light, solid lines are for extreme drought.  There are three lines for each level of drought because the model was run using three different sets of assumptions. (image from reference 2)

This graph represents one climate model’s predictions of the percentage of land around the world that will experience drought. The dotted lines are for moderate drought, the dark, solid lines are for severe drought, and the light, solid lines are for extreme drought. There are three lines for each level of drought because the model was run using three different sets of assumptions.
(image from reference 2)

Notice that the amount of land around the globe which experiences moderate to extreme drought was projected to increase in a shaky but consistent fashion throughout the 21st century. Is that what’s actually happening?

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Not Suprisingly, DNA Is Even More Complex Than Previously Thought

Posted by jlwile on June 2, 2014

Because proteins are so complex, they need to be viewed in different ways.  This illustration shows three of the ways a protein can be viewed by chemists.  (click for credit)

Because proteins are so complex, they need to be viewed in different ways. This illustration shows three of the ways ways a protein can be viewed by chemists. (click for credit)

DNA is an incredibly complex molecule that can store information in an amazingly efficient manner. Experiments indicate that a single gram of DNA (a gram is approximately the mass of a U.S. dollar bill) can store 500,000 CDs worth of information! It uses a complicated system of alternative splicing so that a single region of the molecule can store the information needed to produce many different chemicals (see here and here, for example). It is so complex that even the best chemistry lab in the world cannot produce a useful version of it. In the end, the best human science can do is make tiny sections of DNA and then employ yeast cells to stitch those segments together so that they become something useful.

Over the past few years, DNA has surprised scientists with higher and higher levels of complexity. For example, scientists recently learned that DNA can store an extra level of information by slightly altering its typical shape. This was particularly surprising, because the fact that DNA alters its typical shape from time to time was already known. However, the alteration was thought to be the result of some kind of damage. We now know that it is not the result of damage. In fact, it is another level of complexity.

Even more recently, scientists discovered that DNA sometimes stores two completely different types of information in the same place. In some sections, it stores the recipe for making a chemical in the same place that it stores information regarding how often that chemical needs to be made. Once again, this was a complete surprise, because it was thought that the recipes for making chemicals were stored in certain sections of DNA, while the information regarding how often those chemicals should be made was stored in completely different sections. However, we now know that at least in some cases, both kinds of information are stored in the same place!

Well, DNA has offered up another surprise to geneticists, and it points to yet another level of sophistication in this incredible molecule.

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New Record Set for Soft Tissue in Fossils

Posted by jlwile on May 22, 2014

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

This is an example of a Sabellidites cambriensis fossil. (click for credit)

Sabellidites cambriensis is an animal that we know only from the fossil record. It is thought to be a worm-like creature that built its own tube in which to live. Its fossils are found in Ediacaran rock, which is supposed to be on the order of 550 million years old. Evolutionists are interested in studying organisms from this rock, because they are thought to be the oldest multicelled animals. The problem is that there are other fossils of tube-forming animals in the same rock, so it is difficult for evolutionists to tease out the supposed relationships that exist between S. cambriensis and similar animals that are alive today.

In order to better understand S. cambriensis, a group of paleontologists examined several fossils using electron microscopes, X-rays, and spectrometers. Their analysis indicates that the structure and layering of the fossils’ tubes are similar to that of an existing group of animals known as beard worms,1 an example of which is shown below:

These are beard worms.  They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales.  (public domain image)

These are beard worms. They live on the ocean floor, typically near hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, or the carcasses of whales. (public domain image)

As a result, the authors conclude that the S. cambriensis fossils represent ancient forerunners of the beard worms. This presents a bit of a problem for evolutionists, however. As the authors note, using molecular clock estimates, it was thought that beard worms didn’t evolve until about 126 million years ago. Since the fossils the authors studied are supposed to be about 550 million years old, their analysis says that the molecular clock estimate is off by almost a factor of four! However, I personally think these fossils represent an even bigger problem for evolutionists.

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The Inquisition Strikes Again

Posted by jlwile on May 19, 2014

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled "Inquisition."

This painting, by French artist Edouard Moyse, is entitled “Inquisition.” (public domain image)

Dr. Lennart Bengtsson is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading’s Environmental Systems Science Centre. When it comes to climate scientists, there are few more distinguished. He has been awarded the Descartes Research Prize (for outstanding scientific and technological achievements resulting from European collaborative research), the International Meteorological Organization Prize (for outstanding contributions to meteorology, climatology, hydrology, and related sciences), and the Rossby Prize (the highest award for atmospheric science given by the American Meteorological Society). He currently has 238 papers published in the nationally-recognized, peer-reviewed scientific literature, focused mostly on climate science. Obviously, his credentials speak for themselves.

About a month ago, he accepted an invitation to join The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a think tank devoted to climate science and its effects on public policy. They say they are focused on “Restoring balance and trust to the climate debate,” and their members have a wide range of views on the science behind global warming. Some agree with the opinions of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which says that human beings are causing the planet to warm and the results are potentially catastrophic. Others do not think the scientific evidence is strong enough to make such a statement, while others think the scientific evidence indicates that the climate changes we are seeing now are mostly the result of natural cycles which have been going on for a long, long time. In short, their membership represents the same variety of opinions that is found in the climate science community.

Unfortunately for Dr. Bengtsson (and science as a whole), this is considered unacceptable by the Inquisition, which seeks to enforce orthodoxy among scientists. According to the Inquisition, the science is settled. Despite the fact that the data are far from conclusive, the Inquisition has decided that to even suggest there might be something wrong with the “scientific consensus” on global warming is downright heresy. As a result, Dr. Bengtsson was bullied into resigning from his position at the GWPF. In his own words:

I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety…I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years. [Please note that English is not Dr. Bengtsson's mother tongue.]

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One Researcher Says China Will Soon Be The Largest Christian Nation on Earth

Posted by jlwile on May 15, 2014

This is the Haidian Christian Church in  Beijing, China.  (click for credit)

This is the Haidian Christian Church in Beijing, China. (click for credit)

Dr. Fenggang Yang is a Professor of Sociology at Purdue University and Director of the university’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society. He was recently interviewed in The Telegraph, and he made this remarkable statement:

By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.

How soon is “very soon?” According to Dr. Yang’s calculation, China’s Protestant community, which had only one million members in 1949, will reach 160 million in 2025. The U.S. Protestant community is currently at 159 million, but its population is declining. Based on these numbers, then, “very soon” will be in less than 11 years!

Is that a realistic prediction? I have no idea. According to the article, there were 58 million Protestants in China in 2010, which already puts them above Brazilian Protestants and South African Protestants in terms of sheer numbers. Of course, one has to put these numbers in perspective. There are about 1.3 billion people in China right now, so this all these Protestants make up only 4% of the population, and if they reach Dr. Yang’s projected number in 2025, they will still be only about 10% of the population. Nevertheless, those numbers are quite remarkable for a country that is officially atheist.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Yang’s prediction has produced some negative comments from China’s Communist Party.

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Well, I Finally Saw the Movie Noah

Posted by jlwile on May 12, 2014

noah

It was particularly awful. Honestly, the only reason I sat through the entire movie was that I kept thinking it had to get better. It didn’t. Now please understand that I am not talking about how wildly the movie differs from the Biblical account. Hollywood has a reputation for taking a great moment in history and destroying many of the facts related to it. Consider, for example, The Ten Commandments, which was shown on the silver screen in 1956. There were all sorts of things in that movie (Moses as a war hero, the Nefretiri love story, Moses being arrested and exiled, etc., etc.) which had no basis in the Biblical account. There were also all sorts of things in the Biblical account that were left out of the movie (six of the plagues, manna, the celebration of Pharaoh’s death, etc., etc.)

Despite the unBiblical nature of The Ten Commandments, however, it is an amazing movie. All of the leads, especially Charlton Heston, give great performances, and the dialogue is mostly believable and very meaningful. Watching the movie is, quite simply, a great experience. It can also be a great critical thinking exercise. I suggest that you watch the movie and then re-read the Biblical account. Try to write down the major differences between the two and think about why a filmmaker would want to introduce such differences. Is each difference a result of a philosophical agenda, a desire to make the story more enjoyable, problems with illustrating the details well, or some other issue?

With that in mind, despite the fact that I had read about all the inaccuracies in the movie Noah, I still wanted to see it. Like The Ten Commandments, I expected things that were in the the Bible to be left out and things that weren’t in the Bible to be put in. However, I also expected it to be an enjoyable movie. As a friend of mine who is a pastor wrote:

When I go see a movie “based on a Biblical story” and made in Hollywood…I don’t EXPECT it to be accurate…however, with a budget and cast as this one had…I DID expect it to be good…it wasn’t.

——- Spoilers Below ———

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These Algae Falsify an Evolutionary Prediction

Posted by jlwile on May 7, 2014

This is one of the species of algae that seem to falsify an evolutionary prediction (click for credit)

This is one of the species of algae that seem to falsify an evolutionary prediction (click for credit)

Two species that are closely-related should compete for resources more strongly than two species that are distantly-related. This is a prediction Darwin himself made, and while it hasn’t been tested very much, it has been assumed to be true ever since. In 1967, MacArthur and Levins formalized the prediction1, and at least according to some biologists, it is “central to ecology and evolutionary biology.”2 It’s one of those ideas that makes sense in an evolutionary framework but is hard to test. As a result, most biologists have just assumed that it is true.

Well, while studying algae, Dr. Bradley J. Cardinale and his colleagues inadvertently put the idea to the test. They were trying to measure the competition that existed between 23 different species of green algae, such as the one pictured above (Coelastrum microporum). All these species are commonly found existing together in North American ecosystems, so it is assumed that they compete with one another. In their experiment, they took two different species from the group of 23 and put them together in a laboratory environment. They then measured how the two species competed with one another.

Now remember, they were looking at 23 different species, but they only put two species together to compete with one another. In order to look at all possible combinations of these 23 species taken two at a time, then, they had to examine 253 separate situations. They examined each combination of species twice, to make sure that their results were consistent, so they looked at a total of 506 competitive situations. However, in order to compare how the species did in competition to how they did without competition, they also had to put each species in a laboratory environment on its own. They examined each of those situations twice as well. In the end, then, they examined 552 different situations of algae growing in a laboratory environment. In other words, this was an extensive experiment.

The results of this extensive experiment were rather surprising, at least to the investigators and many other evolutionists.

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