André Marie Ampère: A Fascinating Genius and Devout Christian

André Marie Ampère, the genius who helped us understand the connection between electricity and magnetism.

I recently finished the final book in my elementary science series. It is called Science in the Industrial Age, and it covers the major scientific advancements that occurred in the 1800s. While I was writing it, I had to research the lives of the men and women who were responsible for those advancements. Many of their stories are fascinating, and I hope to write about more of them (and the others I researched while writing the other books). For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the person from the 1800s whom I found most interesting: André-Marie (ahn’ dray muh ree’) Ampère (ahm pehr’).

Ampère was born into a wealthy French family, which meant that he could have received the best education money could buy. However, his father wanted him to learn on his own. His father never required him to learn anything, but he inspired his son to want to learn. You might say that Ampère was “unschooled.” According to a friend that knew him well, unschooling seemed to work for him. Ampère read all the volumes of the encyclopedia in his father’s library, starting with the first volume and reading in alphabetical order. He also read extensively on natural philosophy (science).

Unfortunately, his life was marred with three serious tragedies. His sister died when he was 17. The next year, his father was executed as a result of the French Revolution. This hit him particularly hard. He had no more interest in learning, and some of his friends thought that he had lost all reason. Then he discovered Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Letters on the Elements of Botany, and he was pulled from his intellectual lethargy. He later fell in love with and married a woman named Julie, but she died only a few years later.

Despite these terrible tragedies, Ampère was a devout Christian his entire adult life. When his wife died, he wrote two verses from the Book of Psalms and the following prayer:1

O Lord, God of Mercy, unite me in Heaven with those whom you have permitted me to love on earth.

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Can Courses Taken in Junior High Be Included on a High School Transcript?

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

I just got back from Ontario, California, where I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention. I gave a total of five talks over the three-day conference, and I had the chance to speak with lots of homeschooled students and their parents. Several wonderful things happened at the conference, but the highlight for me is pictured above.

On Friday, a young lady named Savannah came up to my publisher’s booth and asked if I was Dr. Wile. I said yes, and she proceeded to tell me that she loved my biology textbook and planned to major in biology at university. I tried to express how much that meant to me, and then she hesitantly asked if I would sign her copy of my book. I said, “Of course!” She didn’t have it with her, but she promised to bring it the next day. Late into the convention on Saturday, she returned with her book, and when she handed it to me, she said, “This is my favorite book in the entire world!”

I had no idea what to say to that. While a lot of students tell me that they love my textbooks, and many of them have also said that my textbooks have inspired them to study science at university, I have never had anyone tell me that one of my books is their favorite book in the entire world! I have lots of favorite books, and none of them are science-related! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of science-related books that I really love, but I wouldn’t list any of them as my favorites. When I think of my favorite books*, I think of fictional works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (my all-time favorite series), The Lord of the Rings, and Armageddon’s Children. Not a single science-related book comes to mind. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by Savannah’s words.

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Radioactive Half-Lives Not Affected by Earth/Sun Distance

The international symbol for radiation, which is also known as the trefoil.

The international symbol for radiation, which is also known as the trefoil.

Several years ago, data came out of Purdue University, indicating that the half-lives of some radioactive substances are affected by the distance between the earth and the sun. Despite the fact that most scientists thought there were problems with the experiment, the group continued to publish pretty convincing data supporting their case. Based on their data, I thought their conclusion was well-founded. However, it looks like they (and I) were wrong.

I first noted that there might be a problem with their conclusion over two years ago, when other researchers tried to duplicate their results using a more precise technique. They found small changes (significantly smaller than the Purdue group) and no indication that those changes were correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. Since then, two more papers have been published that pretty much seal the case that the Purdue results were wrong.

The first paper comes from NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since NIST is responsible for all sorts of standards, several of their groups monitor radioactive isotopes for extended periods of time. They are also concerned with precision, so their procedures are focused on making sure there are no outside influences acting on their experiments.

Their paper reports on the results of experiments carried out in 14 laboratories across the world. A total of 24 different radioactive isotopes were studied, including those that decay by alpha emission, beta emission, electron capture, and positron emission. Some experiments covered “only” 200 days, but others covered four decades! Eleven different experimental techniques were used. All of the experiments saw very small variations (less than one-hundredth of one percent), and none of them saw any correlation between those tiny variations and the distance between the earth and the sun. In addition, the variations were different from experiment to experiment, so the most likely explanation for them is variation in the instruments that were used.

While the NIST paper obviously makes a strong case that the Purdue results are not real, I think a more recent paper gives us the final word. The authors used the same detection technique as the Purdue researchers, but they performed the experiment in a sealed chamber that had constant pressure, humidity, and temperature. They studied five radioactive isotopes for over a year, and like the NIST teams, they saw only small variations that were not correlated with the distance between the earth and the sun. This indicates that whatever the Purdue researchers saw was related to changing weather conditions, not changing radioactive half-lives.

While it would have been exciting for radioactive half-lives to be dependent on the distance between the earth and the sun, it almost certainly isn’t the case.

More Evidence that A Baby in the Womb is Fully Human

Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)

Two images from a 4d ultrasound (click for credit)

Dr. Jerome L. LeJeune was the brilliant geneticist who first demonstrated that there is a link between certain diseases and corresponding chromosomal abnormalities. While testifying before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee in 1989, he said:

To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a matter of metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.

Almost thirty years have passed since he made this statement, and the scientific evidence continues to support it.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote about a study of twins in the womb. The study indicated that social interaction takes place prior to birth when the opportunity arises. Later on, I wrote about another study that indicates that if our understanding of brain networks is correct, babies actually think about the future while in the womb!

I recently learned about a new study that adds even more evidence to the ever-growing pile which indicates that babies are fully human while they are inside the womb.

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A Study of Unschoolers

Idzie Desmarais, an unschooled speaker/blogger. (Image from her Youtube channel)

Idzie Desmarais, an unschooled speaker/blogger.
(Image from her Youtube channel)

I worked with homeschoolers for several years before I heard the term “unschooling.” It took me a while to learn that it refers to several different kinds of homeschooling, but they all involve shying away from learning schedules, curricula, and specific learning goals. Rather than focusing on textbooks and lesson plans, unschoolers learn through everyday experiences, and while traditional homeschooling is directed primarily by the parents, unschooling is directed primarily by the children. According to most unschooling philosophies, children are naturally curious. If you let them experience life, they will come up with their own questions, and at that point, parents can either teach them or help them find answers on their own.

Having spent most of my early career as a university professor, I was skeptical of unschooling. Over time, I have met several adults who were unschooled, and I am not nearly as skeptical as I once was. However, the scientist in me wants more than just a few anecdotes about unschooling. I want to see studies, and there haven’t been very many. One small study in Canada showed that while traditionally-homeschooled students were academically superior to their publicly-schooled peers, unschooled students (the study calls them “unstructured” homeschoolers) were academically inferior. The authors point out that their unschooling group was too small to make that conclusion statistically significant.

Of course, it’s not clear what “academically inferior” means when it is applied to unschoolers, because the goals of unschooling are rather different from the goals of public schools, private schoools, and traditional homeschools. Thus, I want to see a lot more studies of unschoolers. I would like to know more about the parents’ goals, the outcomes (academic and non-academic), and the adults that it produces. Fortunately, I recently stumbled across a study that was published four years ago, and it sheds some light on unschooling and those who practice it.

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No, Young-Earth Creationism Isn’t a “New” Idea

One of the books that John Murray wrote on the subject of geology.

One of the books that John Murray (a 19th-century young-earth creationist) wrote on the subject of geology.

I spent this past weekend in Naperville, Illinois, speaking at the Illinois Christian Home Educators convention. It is a joy to do that convention, because not only are the attendees wonderful, the convention treats its speakers incredibly well. I gave a total of eight talks over three days, which is more than I do at most conferences. However, it was well worth it! As is always the case, I took a lot of questions from the audiences of those talks, but in this post, I want to focus on a question I got from someone while I was at my publisher‘s booth.

A homeschooling father told me that he was taking my advice and reading the works of people with whom he disagreed. I commended him for doing that and said that I wish more people would. He then asked about a statement he read in a Biologos article. He didn’t quote the statement, but for the sake of my readers, I will:

Young-earth creationism is relatively new and as recently as a century ago even fundamentalist Christians saw little reason to reject evolution.

I told him that I had read a statement like that at least once before, but I knew that it was utterly false, so I really didn’t pay much attention to it. In addition, I assumed that since the statement is so easily refuted, it must not be very common. However, he said that he had read it in more than one place. Sure enough, when I later did some surfing, I found essentially the same statement at an old-earth creationist website as well.

Since there are at least two sources that make this claim, I thought I would write an article that shows how utterly false it is.

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Another Journey from Atheism to Christianity

Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University (click for credit)

Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University (click for credit)

Two people recently shared with me a very interesting article written by Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University. It is entitled, “How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus,” and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. While I can’t speak for Oxford University, I am safe in saying that Dr. Peter Singer would not be happy with that title. He is a fervent atheist and a champion of the idea that some human lives have little or no value. I am sure that if he learned he helped “drive” a fellow atheist to Jesus, he would be more than a little annoyed.

How did he accomplish it? He gave three guest lectures at Oxford University, where Dr. Irving-Stonebraker was a junior research fellow. At that time, she was an ardent atheist. She attended Dr. Singer’s lectures and was stunned by their content. Essentially, Dr. Singer believes that atheism tells us there is no intrinsic worth to human or animal life. An organism’s worth is contingent on the cognitive abilities of that organism. As a result, there are some animals (chimpanzees, for example) that have more worth than some humans (newborn infants and mentally disabled adults, for example). Dr. Irving-Stonebraker writes:

I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.

As a result of her “intellectual vertigo,” she began to explore avenues that she had never explored before, including theology. She began reading Dr. Paul Tillich and was attracted by the intellectual underpinnings of Christianity. However, she was not convinced.

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There is Hope

Three homeschool graduates who are planning to study chemistry at the university level.

Three homeschool graduates who are planning to study chemistry at the university level.

On Saturday, I had the honor of addressing homeschool graduates at the 23rd annual Indiana Foundation for Homeschooling Statewide Graduation Ceremony. It was an excellent ceremony with great music, wonderful speeches from two of the graduates, and plenty of tradition. For me, however, it was more than that. Nowadays, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of our nation (and the world in general). This graduation ceremony helped remind me that there is hope, and it rests squarely on the shoulders of graduates like those at the ceremony.

There were a total of 80 students who took part in the ceremony, and some of them did something in addition to walking across stage and getting their diploma. One graduate played a (very difficult) violin piece as a prelude to set the mood. The color guard was composed of graduates, and three other graduates led the audience in singing the National Anthem. Two of the graduates gave inspiring speeches, each with a different message. One graduate sang a solo, and another played an impressive piano solo. I gave a commencement address that is similar to one I have given before, and its message is very important to me.

While all of these activities made for an excellent ceremony, they weren’t what inspired my hope for this nation (and the world as a whole). That came from getting to know many of the graduates. A lot of homeschool graduations have only a handful of graduates, since they service a small region instead of an entire state. As a result, you can learn a lot about each individual graduate. Since there were so many graduates at this ceremony, that wasn’t possible. Nevertheless, when each graduate walked across the stage, the screen showed his or her name and whatever information that the graduate wanted to share with the audience.

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PZ Myers Needs Better Reading Skills Than That

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)

I was delighted to see that another blog post of mine is the subject of yet another diatribe by Dr. PZ Myers (Creatonists Need Better Evidence Than That). For those who missed it, my post on Mark Armitage’s groundbreaking original research bothered Dr. Myers, and he wrote a response that showed he didn’t really bother to read much about the issue. I wrote a reply that was designed to educate him on the issue. His newest diatribe is a response to that reply. Unfortunately, while Dr. Myers has shown more of an ability to read than he did in his first attempt, he needs to sharpen his reading skills if he ever wants to be informed on the issues that he is attempting to discuss. Perhaps this post will help.

Let’s start with Dr. Myers’s first problem. He doesn’t like the fact that carbon-14 has been found in a Triceratops fossil that is supposed to be millions of years old. In his first attempt at ignoring the data, he claimed:

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.

In my response, I noted that this is just what was reported. The fossil was given a C-14 age of 41,010 ± 220 years. Of course, now he claims that such an age is meaningless. Why? He says that the date indicates there is very little carbon-14 in the fossil – so little that it could be explained by a source other than the Triceratops itself.

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My Review of “Is Genesis History?”

genesishistory

The film Is Genesis History is unique in many ways. As far as I know, for example, it is the first creationist film that was released as a Fathom Event, meaning it was scheduled to be in theaters for a single showing on a single day (February 23rd). Unfortunately, I was speaking at a conference during that showing, so I was unable to go. It was apparently a very popular Fathom Event, because it was then scheduled for two “encore performances” (March 2nd and March 7th). Unfortunately, I was busy on both of those days as well! As a result, I had to wait for the film to come out on DVD. It was released May 2nd, so I ordered it, and then I watched it.

My overall review is mixed. There are some wonderful moments in the film, and there are some moments that are not so wonderful. Before I get into the details, however, it is best to describe the film in general. The star and narrator of the film is Dr. Del Tackett, who originally studied computer science and taught it for the Air Force. He also served President George H. W. Bush as director of technical planning for the National Security Council. His highest earned degree is a Doctorate of Management from Colorado Technical University. He interviews thirteen different PhDs, most of whom are scientists. All of the interviews are designed to investigate the question that makes up the title of the film: Is Genesis History?

The idea of interviewing only people who hold PhDs (another unique feature of the film) was a good one. They were all clearly knowledgeable in their fields, and they all seemed comfortable in front of the camera. Rather than interviewing them in their offices, Tackett went “into the field” with each of them. When he interviewed geologist Dr. Steve Austin, for example, he did so at the Grand Canyon, where Austin has done a lot of his research. When he interviewed microbiologist Dr. Kevin Anderson, he went to Anderson’s laboratory. This made the interviews more interesting and provided some great visuals to go along with the information being presented.

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