Read, PZ, Read!

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil (image by Mark Armitage)

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil
(image by Mark Armitage)

As I indicate in my “Links to Investigate” list on the right, one of the few blogs I read regularly is written by Dr. PZ Myers. While I disagree with nearly everything he writes, I do think he provides an entertaining, “new atheist” perspective on science. Of course, if you dislike foul language, it is best to avoid his blog. Some people are adept at defending their point of view with reason and intelligence, while others specialize in crude insults. It is rather obvious which camp Dr. Myers is in.

Imagine my delight when I was doing my “light reading” this past weekend and found that a blog post of mine was the focus of one of his diatribes! The post is entitled, “Think, creationists, think,” and it is an attempt to discredit Mark Armitage’s excellent work of isolating soft cells from a dinosaur fossil. The problem, of course, is that Dr. Myers didn’t actually bother to read up on the issue, and as a result, he makes some rather silly statements.

For example, when discussing the carbon-14 found in Armitage’s Triceratops fossil, Dr. Myers claims that someone with a PhD in nuclear chemistry (like me) should know that the presence of carbon-14 in the fossil means nothing. After all,

C14 dating uses the ratio of carbon isotopes; it can’t be used on material above about 50,000 years because the quantity of carbon-14 is too low to be reliable, not because it’s nonexistent. If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.

Well, had Dr. Myers bothered to click on the link given in my post, he would have seen that an age was reported: 41,010 ± 220 years. As I state in that link, this is well within the accepted range of carbon-14 dating, and it is younger than many other carbon-14 dates published in the literature. In addition, the process used to make the sample ready for dating has been spelled out in the peer-reviewed literature, and it is designed to free the sample of all contamination except for carbon that comes from the original fossil. Now as I said in my original post, it’s possible that the reading comes from contamination. However, I find that unlikely, given the process used on the sample, the cellular evidence that Armitage found, and the fact that such carbon-14 dates are common in all manner of fossils that are supposedly millions of years old or older.

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Scientist Isolates Individual Dinosaur Cells!

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

A single bone cell isolated from a Triceratops fossil. (Photo by Mark Armitage)

If you follow young-earth creationism at all, you probably know about Mark Armitage. In 2013, he and Kevin Anderson wrote a paper in which they imaged soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil that is supposedly 65 million years old. This challenges the old-earth dogma pronounced by the High Priests of Science, and Armitage was happy to discuss that fact with students at the university where he worked. However, to teach such heresy is an excommunicable offense, so the Inquisition fired him from his university position. He eventually won a lawsuit against them.

Despite the hard work of the Inquisition, Armitage is still investigating his amazing discovery. A couple of years ago, for example, a sample of the fossil was analyzed for carbon-14 content. If it really is 65 million years old, there should be no carbon-14 in the fossil. Nevertheless, carbon-14 was found. Of course, there is always the chance that the carbon-14 is the result of contamination, but combined with the presence of soft bone cells, it seems obvious to me that the fossil is significantly younger than 65 million years!

Somehow, I missed the latest update on Armitage’s incredible work. In the January, 2016 issue of Microscopy Today, he published more results from his painstaking analysis, and they are truly amazing.

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No, I Did Not Write Apologia’s Elementary Science Books

The cover from one of the many excellent elementary science books authored by Jeannie Fulbright.

The cover from one of the many excellent elementary science books authored by Jeannie Fulbright. Her name is magnified so you can see it clearly.

It has been a while since I have been able to blog, because I have been busy speaking at homeschooling conventions. This past weekend, for example, I spoke at the MassHope convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. I haven’t been at that convention for several years, and it was great to be back! It is an excellent event, with lots of great speakers and a fine facility.

I had an experience at the convention that I would like to share, because some version of it has occurred over and over again for many, many years. While its frequency has decreased, it is still something that happens regularly at the homeschool events which I attend. In between my talks, I was sitting at my publisher’s booth so I could speak with people one-on-one. A mother came up to me with a confused look on her face. She looked down at my elementary books (which were on the table), looked up at me, and the following conversation took place:

Mother: What are these?

Me: They are my elementary science courses.

Mother: But they aren’t from Apologia.

Me: No. They are published by Berean Builders

Mother: But you wrote the Apologia books.

Me: Apologia publishes most of my junior high and high school courses, but Berean Builders publishes my elementary courses and my high school chemistry course. I did not write the Apologia elementary courses.

Mother: Of course you did.

Me: No, I did not. They were written by Jeannie Fulbright.

Mother: (still a bit confused) We use the Apologia elementary books, and I thought you wrote them.

Me: No, Jeannie Fulbright wrote them. She and I have similar writing styles, but she wrote the Apologia elementary courses.

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A Series of Unorthodox Easter Skits

Me as the devil and Emma as my right-hand demon. (photo by Kim Williams)

Me as the devil and Emma as my right-hand demon. (photo by Kim Williams)

Easter is the most important holiday in Christendom. As Scripture tells us, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). In the church I attend, we always try to do something very special on Easter Sunday, and this Easter’s service was particularly meaningful to me. More than a month ago, the pastor asked if I could work up a series of skits that would augment his sermon. We had done something very similar for the service on Christmas day, and the congregation really seemed to appreciate it. So the pastor and I exchanged some ideas, and I ended up writing a series of very unorthodox skits that we presented throughout his message.

His sermon was based on three gardens (Eden, Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb). His overall message was that the tragedy of what happened at the Garden of Eden has been erased by the sacrifice that started at the Garden of Gethsemane and the victory of the resurrection that took place at the Garden Tomb. It’s difficult to write skits about such well-known events, so I often try to write from a unique perspective. With the pastor’s permission, I decided to write these skits from the Devil’s perspective. The four skits will appear below.

This was all laden with emotion for me, because it was the first time I had done a skit since my right-hand man in the church’s drama ministry passed away. I wanted to do something that made it clear how important this step was, so I hesitantly asked his teenage daughter, Emma, if she would do the skits with me. She agreed and did a great job. I really couldn’t have asked for it to go much better, and the congregation appreciated both the content of the skits and the significance of the event.

Feel free to use these skits in any way that the Lord leads. If possible, I would like a credit, but the most important thing is to use them to minister to the Body of Christ.

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Can a Homeschooled Child Take an Extra Year of High School?

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

A group of high school graduates (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Alberta Home Education Convention in Canada. As far as I know, it is the largest home education convention in Canada, and I think I have spoken there only once before, way back in the year 2000. It was really wonderful to go back. I met several parents who told me they remembered me from 17 years ago, and that I encouraged them to continue on in their homeschool journey. Their children are now in high school, at university, or in the real world, and they are very happy with their decision to continue homeschooling.

One of the kind souls who drove me around actually told me his son’s story, which is worth retelling here. He graduated homeschool many years ago and wanted to attend a major Canadian university. At that time, the university did not accept homeschool applicants. However, the student’s family knew someone on the inside, and that person was able to convince the university to accept him. At first, the university did not allow him to take any courses related to his desired major, because the administrators thought that homeschooled students “just played with Play-Doh all day.” As is generally the case, this homeschool graduate excelled, and the university quickly changed its tune. After he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a pile of honors, the university asked him to help them write their admissions policy for homeschooled students.

I spoke several times at the convention, and the audiences were very appreciative. I always try to leave time at the end of my talks for questions from the audience, and I succeeded for every talk except one. Many of the questions related to very specific cases, but I got one question that I think could apply to everyone, so I decided to discuss it here. At the end of one of my talks, I was asked whether or not a homeschooled student could take a fifth year of high school. The mother thought that for one of her children, an extra year of high school would do a lot of good, but she was concerned that it might look odd to a university.

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Scientist Realizes Important Flaw in Radioactive Dating

In beta decay, a neutron turns into a proton by emitting a beta particle, which is an electron (click for credit)

In beta decay, a neutron turns into a proton by emitting a beta particle, which is an electron (click for credit)

As someone who has studied radioactivity in detail, I have always been a bit amused by the assertion that radioactive dating is a precise way to determine the age of an object. This false notion is often promoted when radioactive dates are listed with utterly unrealistic error bars. In this report, for example, we are told that using one radioactive dating technique, a lunar rock sample is 4,283 million years old, plus or minus 23 million years old. In other words, there is a 95% certainty that the age is somewhere between 4,283 + 23 million years and 4,283 – 23 million years. That’s just over half a percent error in something that is supposedly multiple billions of years old.

Of course, that error estimate is complete nonsense. It refers to one specific source of error – the uncertainty in the measurement of the amounts of various atoms used in the analysis. Most likely, that is the least important source of error. If those rocks really have been sitting around on the moon for billions of years, I suspect that the the wide range of physical and chemical processes which occurred over that time period had a much more profound effect on the uncertainty of the age determination. This is best illustrated by the radioactive age of a sample of diamonds from Zaire. Their age was measured to be 6.0 +/- 0.3 billion years old. Do you see the problem? Those who are committed to an ancient age for the earth currently believe that it is 4.6 billion years old. Obviously, then, the minimum error in that measurement is 1.4 billion years, not 0.3 billion years!

Such uncertainties are usually glossed over, especially when radioactive dates are communicated to the public and, more importantly, to students. Generally, we are told that scientists have ways to analyze the object they are dating so as to eliminate the uncertainties due to unknown processes that occurred in the past. One way this is done in many radioactive dating techniques is to use an isochron. However, a recent paper by Dr. Robert B. Hayes has pointed out a problem with isochrons that has, until now, not been considered.

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I Will Be Teaching Online Classes!

Your high school student can have me as a teacher!

Your high school student can have me as a teacher!

After teaching university classes for a couple of years, I have remembered that I really enjoy teaching. However, due to scheduling issues, I won’t be able to teach at the university this year. Nevertheless, I have officially “caught the bug,” so I decided to get my teaching “fix” with online courses. If you would like your student to have me as a teacher for the upcoming academic year, this is your chance!

I will be teaching biology, chemistry and physics. Not surprisingly, we will use the textbooks I have authored: Exploring Creation with Biology, Discovering Design with Chemistry, and Exploring Creation with Physics. Each course will consist of a weekly 90-minute videoconference where I get together with 20-25 students and discuss the material that is covered in the text. Classes start the week of September 11 and meet every week except for the week of November 20th (Thanksgiving break), the weeks of December 25th and January 1st (Christmas break), and the week of March 19th (spring break). Classes end on May 16th.

Students will be expected to have read the material that will be discussed in class so that they can ask questions about the things they don’t understand. In addition to answering any questions the students have, I will show cool videos (like this one) that illustrate the scientific concepts which are being covered, discuss the more difficult material, give students tips on how to remember things, and share my views on the relevant scientific breakthroughs that are currently happening. I am really looking forward to it!

One thing to note is that these are “honors” classes, which means that they are more academically challenging than a normal high school class but are not at the AP or CLEP level. Students will be expected to do experiments at home, but I will grade their laboratory notebook entries. Students in chemistry and physics will be expected to do all of the experiments in the course. For biology, students who do not care about having an “honors” course will be expected to do the experiments that use household items as well as the dissection experiments. Students who want an “honors” level of biology will be expected to do all the experiments, even the ones requiring a microscope and its associated kit.

If you are interested, you can learn more here.

More on the Flat Earth

The logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society (click for credit)

The logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society
(click for credit)

I have written about the concept of a flat earth several times before (here, here, here, and here). Since the time of Aristotle (and probably before), most philosophers understood that the earth is a sphere. In fact, Eratosthenes was able to measure the circumference of the earth’s sphere around 200 BC. Thus, the idea that most ancient scholars thought the earth is flat is a complete fabrication. Indeed, the idea that people thought Columbus would sail off the edge of the world originated in works of fiction, not works of history. Nevertheless, from time to time, I encounter a modern person who believes that the earth is flat or knows someone who does. Such was the case this past weekend when I attended the Indiana Association of Home Educators annual convention.

I love attending that convention. Not only is it close to home, but the organization that runs it is incredible, and the speakers they invite are usually quite wonderful. I don’t always get to attend, because I am often asked to speak at a different convention that same weekend. However, this year, I had no previous commitments, so I went to the convention to sit at my publisher’s booth and give a brief talk about my new award-winning elementary science series. At the end of my talk, a homeschooling mother asked to speak with me about the fact that some people in her family were beginning to believe that the earth is flat. She asked what she could do help debunk that notion.

I talked with her for a while and gave her a couple of resources, and I also gave her my e-mail address in the hopes that her family members would send me any questions they had on the issue. However, as I started thinking about our talk, I decided it would be best to produce a page where I could gather some of the resources that clearly show the earth is not flat. It’s rather ironic that an idea which could be easily refuted more than 2,000 years ago still requires refuting today. Nevertheless, I am happy to do my part.

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Dr. Patrick Briney, Atheist-Turned-Christian

Dr. Briney presenting design evidence for creation (click for source)

Dr. Briney presenting design evidence for creation (click for source)

As many readers probably know, I was once an atheist but was “argued into the Kingdom.” Because of this, I tend to collect stories of other atheists who have become Christians. What intrigues me about these stories is that few of them are alike. God seems to use many different means to call people to Him, which is both wonderful and fascinating. Every now and again, however, I find a story that is similar to mine. Recently, I learned about Dr. Patrick Briney, and while there are some differences between his journey and mine, there are some similarities as well.

In his personal story, he talks about wanting to be a medical doctor from an early age. When he went to university to start pursuing his dream, however, something happened. A young lady who eventually became his wife called him to tell him that she had become a Christian, and she put him in contact with a person on his campus, the University of California, Irvine. According to Dr. Briney, this

…led to Bible studies, discovering answers, and eventually my salvation about two years later.

In this version of his story, he is short on the details, but according to another article he wrote, creation science played a role in this process. As I read that article, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities (and differences) between his story and mine.

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An Excellent Observation about Postmodernism

Cartoon by Judy Horacek (click for her website)

Cartoon by Judy Horacek (click for her website)

I was first exposed to postmodernism when I went to university. If you don’t recognize the term, it is rather hard to define, mostly because there are so many variants of it. However, it generally refers to the idea that there are very few (if any) objective truths. Most of the things we hold to be “true” are only true for our experiences. Someone with a completely different set of experiences might come up with a completely different sent of “truths,” and those “truths” are just as valid as the “truths” that we come up with.

Consider, for example, the insightful cartoon above. The first panel shows an artist who has apparently come up with something he thinks is amazing. Because he sees that it is good, he considers himself to be a genius. The second panel shows a postmodern artist, who says that there is no such thing as a genius, because that category is dependent on culture. Of course, he thinks he is a genius for recognizing this fact!

Now, when it comes to art there is a measure of truth here. What is beautiful to one person might be quite unpleasant to someone else. As the old maxim states, beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. However, I think it is possible to recognize the genius of an artist, even if you don’t find his or her art appealing. A postmodernist would not agree. Moreover, a strict postmodernist would apply this idea of “truth” everywhere, even in science. According to the postmodernist, a “scientific fact” isn’t a fact at all. It is a social construct, and it might be quite different in another culture or society.

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