My Elementary Science Series Wins an Award

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I wanted to share this with my readers: Practical Homeschooling has announced that my elementary series was awarded first place in the Elementary Science category of their 2017 Reader AwardsTM. My high school and and junior high school science courses have been voted #1 in their categories for many years, but this is the first time my elementary science series has received that honor!

When one homeschooling mother learned of the award, she wrote:

I just learned that your elementary science courses were voted #1 by the readers of Practical Homeschooling: well deserved! We have completed Science in the Beginning and Science in the Ancient World and are now using Science in the Scientific Revolution. The kids and I absolutely love doing the experiment with each lesson (using things I actually have around the house)! But the best thing is that my children actually remember a huge amount of what they have learned, even from two years ago, because of your understandable and informative lessons paired with the experiments. I cannot recommend your books highly enough!

I want to thank Practice Homeschooling and its readers for this honor. I am thrilled to know that my courses are making home science education easier and more enjoyable!

Click here to learn more about the award-winning series.

Chris Williams: Husband, Father, Actor, and Friend

Chris Williams, one of my Christian role models.

Chris Williams, one of my Christian role models.

Towards the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas wrote a short book as a gift to the King of Cyprus. In that book, he wrote:

First of all, among all worldly things there is nothing which seems worthy to be preferred to friendship. Friendship unites good men and preserves and promotes virtue.

As the events of the past few weeks play in my mind, I can’t help but think of those wise words.

My dear friend Chris Williams went into the hospital about three weeks ago with a sudden illness, and he never got better. As his condition worsened, our prayers intensified, but the Lord did not heal him here on earth. I spent a couple of nights in the ICU with him, and when it became clear that the end was near, my wife and I went to the hospital to say goodbye. While I was there, I talked to his father at length, and I just kept thinking that this isn’t the natural order of things. Parents should not see their children die.

But it’s worse than that. Chris leaves behind a wife and two daughters, ages 10 and 15. Children shouldn’t have to grow up without a father. It’s just not right. He won’t be there to celebrate the milestones in their lives. He won’t be there to cheer them on when they need encouragement. He won’t be there to hold them when they need comfort. You can try to make sense of something like this all you want, but it doesn’t make sense. It’s just not right.

So what can be done? Well, the first thing I can do is celebrate the life that he had here on earth. Chris was an amazing man. He was incredibly talented, but utterly unassuming. He was one of my “go-to” actors in our church’s drama ministry. He was best at comedy, but he could literally play any role I gave him. His elder daughter joined him on stage a few times, and they were brilliant together. I will never forget them as father and daughter in A Drama About Grace. Despite his incredible talent, he didn’t think he was anything special as an actor. He just did it because he wanted to serve.

I think that was the key to Chris’s life. He was very successful in his career. He was an amazing actor. He was a devoted husband and father. But more than all of those things, he was a servant. He genuinely wanted to make this world a better place in which to live, and he was willing to do that one person at a time. My life was significantly better because Chris was a part of it, and I suspect that many others can say exactly the same thing. This is one of the many reasons I saw him as a Christian role model.

The second thing I can do is honor his legacy by being a servant myself, especially to his family. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, they will have a host of struggles. I hope that I can be there to make those struggles a bit less painful.

The third thing I can do is accept this tragedy. I can’t explain it. I can’t justify it. I can’t understand how God’s master plan for the universe could include it. However, I can accept it, especially in the light of something his wife, Kim, wrote. In church yesterday, our pastor said that Kim texted him after Chris had died, and at the end of the text she wrote:

God was totally there.

After reading that text, my pastor said:

Of course. He was picking up one of His kids.

After that very sad but inspirational service, I was speaking to another friend about a play I had written. It recently won an award from a community theater organization and will be performed later on this year. It portrays former slave-ship captain John Newton near the end of his life. Chris played the lead role, a fictional assistant to famous abolitionist William Wilberforce. The character’s name is Nigel Bremley, and Chris brought him to life in a way that was better than I ever could have imagined. I told my friend that I would have loved to see Chris play that role again. My friend replied:

Think about it this way. Right now, he could be talking to John Newton, asking him what he thought of the play.

Kim’s text and the words of my friend encapsulate what makes this tragedy at least somewhat bearable. In the end, I know I will see Chris again, and I know that while we weep, he is in the arms of His Savior. I also know that in the context of eternity, the suffering that has been caused by this tragedy will hardly be remembered.

Of course, I do have to admit that I am somewhat anxious about seeing Chris in heaven. If John Newton didn’t like my play, those will be the first words out of his mouth!

One Reason It Is Hard to Change a Person’s Mind About Politics (and Science)

A scene from Her Opponent (Photo by  Richard Termine)

A scene from Her Opponent (Photo by Richard Termine)

I don’t write about politics, because I find that most political discussions produce lots of heat but very little light. However, I have decided to discuss a political “experiment” that I recently learned about because I think it relates to science. In addition, it is about a play, and since I am an amateur actor and playwright, I couldn’t resist. However, I have to warn you up front that I will mercilessly delete any comments that try to turn this into a political discussion. It is not. It is a discussion about how people react to the information they are given.

The intriguing political experiment was conceived by Dr. Maria Guadalupe, Associate Professor of Economics and Political Science at INSEAD an international business school. She wanted to know how people would react to the 2016 presidential debates if the genders of the two candidates were reversed. As a result, she decided to produce Her Opponent, a play that featured excerpts from the three presidential debates with the genders of the two candidates reversed. A male actor portrayed former Secretary of State and Senator Jonathan Gordon, while a female actress played business tycoon Brenda King.

Jonathan Gordon, of course, was the “male version” of Hillary Clinton, while Brenda King was the “female version” of Donald Trump. The actors delivered their lines verbatim from the debates, and they worked hard to use the same mannerisms, emotions, and vocal inflections as the candidates they were trying to represent. You can see a short excerpt from a rehearsal here. The audience members were given two surveys to fill out – one before seeing the play and one after seeing the play.

As New York University reports, Dr. Guadalupe and her co-producer thought they knew what the results of the surveys would be. They thought that the audience would react very negatively to Brenda King, because they thought that the kinds of things Mr. Trump said in the debates would never be tolerated coming from a woman. In the same way, they thought the audience would react positively to Jonathan Gordon, because they thought that Hillary’s tone and statements would be given more weight if they came from a man. It turns out that their expectations were wrong.

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Microfossils? Maybe. Oldest? Who knows?

These tubes of iron ore MIGHT have been formed by bacteria. (photo from the scientific paper being discussed)

These tubes of iron ore MIGHT have been formed by bacteria.
(photo from the scientific paper being discussed)

The headlines are screaming the latest incredible fossil find. Science News says, “Oldest microfossils suggest life thrived on Earth about 4 billion years ago.” MSN reports, “World’s oldest microfossils found, study says.” The Washington Post writes, “Newfound 3.77-billion-year-old fossils could be earliest evidence of life on Earth.” I have learned to take most of the “science” you find in the major media outlets with a grain of salt, so I decided not to comment on this story until I read the scientific paper upon which all this fuss is based. As is usually the case, the scientific paper is not nearly as sensational as the headlines that report on it.

Let’s start with where this discovery was made. There is a geological formation in Quebec, Canada known as the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt. It contains rocks formed from lava as well as those formed from sediments. These rocks, however, have been subjected to a lot of heat and pressure and are therefore called metamorphic rock, because the heat and pressure have transformed (metamorphosed) them from their original state. That’s important. I will come back to it later.

Extensive geological studies have concluded that this formation was once on the ocean floor and contained hydrothermal vents. There is controversy when it comes to the conventional dating of the formation, however. Radioactive dating based on the abundance of specific uranium and lead isotopes indicates that the formation is about 3.8 billion years old. However, radioactive dating based on samarium and neodymium isotopes indicate that it is 4.3 billion years old. As a nuclear chemist, I don’t think either dating method gives accurate results, so those dates mean very little to me. However, they are important to those who are committed to believing in an ancient earth. So whether or not these are the oldest microfossils isn’t really known. If one of those two conflicting ages happens to be correct (I seriously doubt it), then yes, they are the oldest.

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Junk DNA and Evolution

Does evolution depend on a lot of junk DNA?

Does evolution depend on a lot of junk DNA?

In my previous post, I reviewed the book Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies. At the end of the review, I mentioned that the book suggested a conclusion for the famous ENCODE experiments that I had never considered. In case you are unaware, ENCODE is an international collaboration of scientists who want to find out exactly how much of the human genome is actually used by the human body. In 2012, they made the startling announcement that more than 80% of the human genome has at least one biochemical function. This flatly contradicts the evolution-inspired notion that the vast majority (up to 98%) of the human genome is composed of “junk DNA” and is not used for any purpose. Evolutionists have generally dealt with ENCODE’s conclusion in one of two ways. Some say that ENCODE’s definition of “function” is too broad, so what they call “functional DNA” is not really functional. Thus, the vast majority of human DNA is still “junk.” Others suggest that the concept of “junk DNA” isn’t vital to evolution to begin with, so ENCODE’s results (correct or incorrect) do not really relate to evolution.

I have always considered that those in the latter group have a very weak case. As Dr. John Sanford demonstrated a while ago, the “gold standard” digital simulation of evolution (Avida), requires at least 85% of the starting genome to be junk in order to produce any significant evolution. However, while reading Chapter 13 of Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies (written by Salvador Cordova), I learned about another argument against the idea that evolution doesn’t depend on junk DNA. It comes from evolutionist Dr. Dan Graur, who says quite plainly:

If ENCODE is right, evolution is wrong. (p. 234 of Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies)

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Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies

The cover of the book (click for Amazon entry)

The cover of the book
(click for Amazon entry)

What is the nature of science? Many think this is a fairly easy question to answer. Science is about making observations and then forming the most reasonable conclusions based on those observations, right? Well…that depends. There are many (myself included) who think that the scientific community as a whole artificially censors certain conclusions, because those conclusions don’t fit a criterion that has been imposed on science: that science can refer only to material causes. Because of this view, which is often called naturalism, many claim that science cannot deal with issues like purpose, will, the soul, or God. Of course, this flies in the face of science history, which shows us that the science we have today was formed by those who continually incorporated God into their scientific research.

The purpose of Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies is to explore how naturalism overtook science and how that error can be corrected. The book is actually a compilation of the proceedings of the 2016 Conference on Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism. As such, it is really a collection of essays written by multiple authors. Some of the authors deal with the problem of naturalism’s infection of science, others discuss how scientists can build alternatives to naturalism, and others make suggestions for how non-naturalistic causes can be used to guide research in certain fields.

But wait a minute. Science is about studying the natural world – doing repeatable experiments and coming up with conclusions that apply uniformly throughout nature. Doesn’t anything supernatural work against that? After all, if miracles can occur, doesn’t that mean I can’t trust my experiments? Couldn’t any result I get in the lab be the work of a capricious demon? Of course not, and the author of the second contribution to this book (Tom Gilson), gives us the obvious reason why.

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The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

The cover of Andrew Klavan's book (click for Amazon entry)

The cover of Andrew Klavan’s book (click for Amazon entry)

In a previous post, I discussed Andrew Klavan’s conversion story and mentioned that he had written a book about it. I said I would read and review it when I had the chance. I read it a few weeks ago, but the book requires quite a bit of reflection to review, so I have only now come to the point where I can actually write my thoughts about it. It’s not that the book is hard to understand. It’s that the book is a real mixed bag.

First, let me say that Mr. Klavan is a masterful writer. When you sit back and think about the way that he is expressing his thoughts, you realize what an artist he is with words. However, what he says varies from shamefully self-indulgent to amazingly profound. There were times I got so annoyed with the self-indulgence that I nearly put the book away, but his flashes of brilliance kept me going. He says that his first draft was nearly twice as long as the final copy and that his wife helped him clean it up. I am glad she did, because I don’t think that his flashes of brilliance would have gotten me through nearly twice as many pages!

Now don’t get me wrong. I really am glad that I read the book, and I think that lots of people should read it. I am just warning you that there are times you will roll your eyes and think, “Please don’t give me another detailed account of another memory.” Of course, I understand the problem. He’s telling you about how he made the dramatic change from a Jewish person who didn’t believe in God to a Jewish person who started following God’s Son. That’s a remarkable change, and it requires a lot of backstory. I just think Mr. Kalvan gives you too much backstory. However, dealing with the backstory is well worth it, because the overall story is both compelling and important.

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Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction

A fossil cast of a Protoceratops nest (click for credit)

A fossil cast of a Protoceratops nest (click for credit)

According to the currently-fashionable hypothesis, dinosaurs evolved into birds. Indeed, some evolutionists take this to such an extreme that they say things like:

Birds Are Living Dinosaurs

While there are some evolutionists who disagree with this hypothesis, it is part of the current scientific consensus. Of course, for a hypothesis to be considered scientific, it must make predictions that can be confirmed by the data. The more its prediction are confirmed, the more reliable it becomes. The more its predictions are falsified, the less reliable it becomes.

Indeed, one of the reasons I consider the creation model to be very strong is that it has made several predictions which have been confirmed by the data (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). The evolution model, however, has made many predictions that have been falsified by the data (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example).

The hypothesis that dinosaurs evolved into birds has been used to make a prediction about the time it took for dinosaur eggs to hatch, which is typically referred to as the incubation period. We can’t directly measure the incubation period of dinosaur eggs, but many evolutionists have assumed that it must be similar to that of birds, which is quite different from that of reptiles. For example, Dr. Kenneth Carpenter wrote a book entitled, Eggs, Nests, and Baby Dinosaurs: A Look at Dinosaur Reproduction. On page 200, he suggests that the incubation period of dinosaur eggs should be similar to that of birds. He shows how bird egg incubation period varies with mass and then writes about a particular dinosaur egg:

…with an estimated live weight (i.e., as it might have been 70 million years ago) of 152 g, would have an estimated incubation time (from time of egg laying until hatching) of thirty-five days.

Similarly, on page 266 of Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants, we read:

The amount of time necessary for a dinosaur embryo to mature to the hatching stage may never be known with certainty, but it can be at least roughly estimated by a model developed by Rhan and Ar (1974) for birds. On the basis of comparisons with extant birds that have, in contrast to modern reptiles, a rather constant incubation temperature of about 40 oC, a dinosaur egg of 1.5 kg – the size of an ostrich egg – would require an incubation time of about 60 days to hatch.

The latest research indicates that such predictions aren’t anywhere close to being correct.

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What Happens to the Mind When the Body Can’t Communicate?

A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)

A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)

More than five years ago, I sat by a hospital bed where my Aunt Kay lay dying. Unlike my father, she was completely uncommunicative on her deathbed. She never made any purposeful physical movements, and despite repeated requests, she never indicated that she was aware of what was going on around her. I remember sitting there wondering whether or not she was “in there.” Was she able to hear the words of love people were sharing with her, or was she, for all intents and purposes, already gone? While I am here on this earth, I will never have the answer to that question, but a recent scientific paper indicates that in at least some cases, completely uncommunicative people really are still “in there.”

In this case, the study was done on four patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Their cases are so severe that they are described as being in a complete locked-in state. This means that they cannot make any voluntary movements at all. They can’t even move their eyes. As a result, they have no way of letting others know what they think or feel. One of the patients had been unable to reliably communicate with anyone for six years prior to the study. Two of them had been in a similar uncommunicative state for two years, and one of them for several months.

The researchers outfitted each of the patients with a cap similar to the one pictured above. It could communicate with a computer that recorded measurements related to the physical workings of their brains. The researchers then instructed the patients that they would be asked several yes/no questions over the course of the study. Some would have answers that could be verified. Some would be “open” questions for which only the patient knew the answer. The patients were asked to strongly think “yes” or “no” (actually, “ja” or “nein” since the study was done in Germany) in response to each question. They were specifically told not to “picture” their response. They were told to only think it.

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Politics Poison Science

In 2015, the NOAA published a "scientific" paper for what appear to have been political reasons.  We now know the data used are false and should have never been published.

In 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a “scientific” paper for what appear to have been political reasons. We now know the data used are false and should never have been submitted for publication.

From the days I started doing scientific research, I have seen that politics play far too great a role in science. Some of this stems from the fact that most basic research is funded by the federal government, and since politicians control the money, they inevitably exert influence on what kind of scientific research is done. Over the years, however, I have observed a nasty, growing trend of scientists’ own political views influencing the way they handle data and communicate their results. In some fields, the political influence is worse than it is in others, and climate science might be the most politicized field of them all. A story posted on Dr. Judith Curry’s blog is the latest in a series of revelations that show us just how bad this has become.

Starting in the late 2000’s, those who had been studying worldwide temperatures noticed that the average temperature of the earth was not increasing. This was troubling for those who believed in human-produced global warming, since the models upon which they base most of their conclusions suggest that the earth’s average temperature should be increasing with increasing levels of carbon dioxide. As time went on, this lack of warming became more and more difficult to understand under the human-produced global warming paradigm, and critics of the paradigm started calling it “The Pause.”

In 2015, however, scientists from the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced a report that was published in Science, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. According to this report, “The Pause” was an artifact of the way earlier temperature analyses were done. When those analyses were “corrected,” there was no “Pause.” As shown in the NOAA-generated graph above, the trend of global warming had remained constant since the early 1950s. While slower than predicted by the models, it had not slowed down in recent years at all. As a result of its conclusion, this paper became known as the “Pausebuster” paper.

Interestingly enough, the Pausebuster paper was published about six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. Critics of the paper noted this timing and argued with the conclusions. In fact, another prestigious scientific journal, Nature, published a paper in 2016 (after the Paris conference) that strongly argued against the conclusions of the Pausebuster paper. We now know for certain that this 2016 paper is correct, and that the scientists who produced the Pausebuster paper disregarded the NOAA’s protocols in the process of producing their paper. How do we know this? Because the scientist who wrote some of those protocols has finally spoken out.

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