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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My Elementary Science Series Wins an Award


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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