Insightful Words from Michelangelo

The Florentine Pieta by Michelangelo (click for larger image)
The Florentine Pieta by Michelangelo
(click for larger image)
My wife and I are currently in Italy. Yesterday we reached our favorite Italian city, Florence. We had visited it once before, but for less than a day. There is so much art and history here, however, that such a short visit didn’t even allow us to scratch the surface. This time, we are here for a total of four nights, so we can explore the city much better.

Today, one of the many places we visited was the New Opera del Duomo Museum. It holds many artifacts related to the Cathedral of Florence, as well as many works of sacred art. It had a piece by Michelangelo that I had never heard of before – the piece pictured on the left. It is Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta, which is quite different from his most famous Pieta. He had intended it to mark his own grave, but he got frustrated with it and intentionally broke it. After he died, it was restored by Tiberius Calcagni, an apprentice to Francesco Bandini. The piece contains the body of Christ taken down from the cross, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary. Most historians say that the face of Nicodemus is a self-portrait of Michelangelo.

While the piece is magnificent and was a complete surprise to me, there was something else in the exhibit that was even more magnificent (in my estimation) and even more of a surprise. It was a piece written by the master artist himself near the end of his life. While his words are about him and his profession, I think they can apply to anyone who has a devotion to his or her career:

The course of my life has now brought me
through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,
to the common port where, landing,
we account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that now I clearly see
how wrong the fond illusion was
that made art my idol and my king
leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy:
what sense have they, now that I approach two deaths-
the first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm
my soul turned to that divine love
that to embrace us opened his arms upon the cross.

(Timothy Verdon, The New Opera del Duomo Museum, Mandragora 2015, pp.64-66)

Flowers Use Electricity to Communicate With Bees!

A bumblebee on a flower (click for credit)
A bumblebee on a flower (click for credit)
Most people know about the incredible relationship that exists between bees and flowers. Flowers produce pollen and nectar, which the bees love. So the bees come to the flower to collect them. Because a single bee visits several different flowers, it ends up passing pollen from one flower to another, which is the way flowering plants reproduce. In this way, flowering plants feed bees, while bees aid in the plants’ reproduction.

There are several means by which flowers attract bees, such as shape, scent, color, and even ultraviolet-reflective patterns. Over the past few years, researchers have found an additional one: electricity. Back in 2013, researchers determined that while bumblebees develop a positive charge, flowers tend to develop a negative charge. In addition, different species of flowers produce different patterns of negative charges. Using some pretty clever experimental techniques, the researchers showed that bumblebees use those patterns of negative charges to help them identify the best sources of nectar and pollen.1

Most of those same researchers now report that they have identified how the bumblebees detect the electrical charges displayed by flowers. They use the hairs (called filiform hairs) that cover their bodies. While these hairs detect motion and sound, the authors showed that they also respond to electric fields. The way they respond allows the bees to “read” the electric field on a flower.2

Continue reading “Flowers Use Electricity to Communicate With Bees!”

Deer Sense the Earth’s Magnetic Field

A herd of roe deer on snow.  (Click for credit)
A herd of roe deer on snow. (Click for credit)

There are many animals that sense the earth’s magnetic field. Monarch butterflies, for example, sense the magnetic field and use it to aid in navigation during their amazing migration.1. Salmon seem to “imprint” a picture of the earth’s magnetic field at the point where they enter the ocean, and they later use that imprint to navigate back to that same point when they return to their birthplace to spawn. Homing pigeons also sense the earth’s magnetic field and use it as a part of their navigation.

Years ago, I read about a study that seemed to say cattle tend to align with the earth’s magnetic field while they graze. It perplexed many scientists, and some didn’t want to believe it. After all, cattle don’t navigate long distances! Why in the world would they need to sense the earth’s magnetic field? However, the study seemed to stand up to scrutiny. When I am speaking, I often use it as an example of experimental data that make no sense, but nevertheless seem to be true. I further suggest that rather than fighting against the conclusion of the study, someone should try to figure out why cattle seem to have a magnetic sense.

Well, no one (to my knowledge) has done that for cattle, but someone has done it for roe deer, which are pictured above. Roe deer tend to congregate in flat areas, so their herds are easy to watch from a distance. Researchers studied them in 60 different locations in three hunting grounds in the Czech Republic. They observed the way the deer faced while they were grazing and, more importantly, how the deer reacted when they were startled.

They found that the deer tend to align their bodies along north/south magnetic field lines while grazing. Then, when startled, they tend to run north or south, regardless of the direction from which the threat comes. These behaviors were more pronounced when the deer were in large herds.2

Why do the deer bother sensing the earth’s magnetic field? Based on their observations, the authors suggest:

…an important function of this behavior is to coordinate the movement in the group, to keep the common course of escape when frightened and to maintain the cohesion of the group.

In other words, it helps the deer escape without running into one another, and it helps them regroup once the threat is gone.

The authors say that this is the first confirmed case of mammals using the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. I suspect that it is merely the first of many. The more I learn about Creation, the more in awe I am of its Creator.


1. Patrick A Guerra, Robert J Gegear, & Steven M Reppert, “A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migration,” Nature Communications 5:4164, 2014, doi:10.1038/ncomms5164
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2. Petr Obleser, Vlastimil Hart, E. Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Michaela Holá, Michael S. Painter, Jaroslav Červený, and Hynek Burda, “Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 06 June 2016, DOI:10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y
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No, Dr. Michio Kaku Hasn’t Proven God’s Existence!

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and "futurist" (picture from his Facebook page)
Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and “futurist” (picture from his Facebook page)

The headlines are screaming it. Christian Today says, Top scientist claims proof that God exists, says humans live in a ‘world made by rules created by an intelligence.’ The Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies proclaims, Scientist says he found definitive proof that God exists. says, Respected Scientist Says He Found Proof God Exists. At last! We now have definitive, scientific proof For the existence of God, right? Wrong!

I guess this story broke when I was busy getting ready to go to Salt Lake City to speak at a homeschool convention, because I hadn’t seen it until someone emailed me the Christian Today article and asked me what I thought of it. Since then, several other people have contacted me via email and Facebook to get my thoughts. Initially, I only glanced at the article, but even with that little glance, I was incredibly skeptical. The article claims to report on the work of Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who had done some cutting edge research a couple of decades ago, but is more of a “scilebrity” today, promoting science and his ideas about the future on television shows, etc.

According to the article, Dr. Kaku was conducting tests on “primitive semi-radius tachyons” and decided that his tests told him that we live in some sort of “matrix” that was made by an intelligence. This bothered me a lot. Tachyons are theoretical particles. We have no idea whether or not they exist. If they exist, they travel faster than the speed of light, so it’s hard to know how in the world we could ever detect them, much less conduct tests on them. I have no idea how such particles can tell us something about the nature of the universe. I looked in vain for an article on the subject authored by Dr. Kaku himself. I then went to his Facebook page, which made no mention of this “monumental discovery.”

Since I couldn’t find anything written by Dr. Kaku, I decided to investigate these “primitive semi-radius tachyons” myself. I had never heard that term before, but then again, I am not a particle physicist. So today, I tried to find the term in my reference books. I could not. When I did an internet search on the term, the only hits I got were to articles about this supposed discovery. As a result, I seriously doubt that primitive semi-radius tachyons exist, even in the minds of theoretical physicists.

However, searching for that term did lead me to some Spanish websites, which show that this is actually an old story. This website posted the same story more than a year ago. Through the magic of Google Translate, I learned that this website decided the story was a hoax more than two years ago. Apparently, the hoax started on Spanish websites and has now made its way to English websites.

I think science offers a wealth of evidence to support the belief that God exists. However, as far as I can tell, Dr. Michio Kaku has not offered any.

An Unexpected Consequence of the Fukushima Disaster

The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system.
The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system.
On March 11 of 2011, the most powerful earthquake known to have hit Japan struck near the east coast of Honshu. The earthquake generated a tsunami that reached a height of more than 130 feet. One of the many things that happened as a consequence of the disaster is that some of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant went into meltdown, and radioactive substances were leaked into the ocean and released into the air. People in a 12-mile radius around the power plant were evacuated. I have written several posts about the incident (here, here, here, here, and here), and I will continue to do so whenever new information comes to light.

Much of the discussion about the nuclear power plant disaster revolves around its long-term consequences. Since we know increased exposure to radiation can lead to an increase in cancer risk, it is natural to think that there will be an increase in cancer rates for people who were living or are living near the disaster site. Thyroid cancer is particularly sensitive to a common radioactive product of nuclear power plants, so it is assumed that thyroid cancer rates will climb in Fukushima. Indeed, a recent study shows a significant, persistent increase in thyroid cancers in the Ukraine that can be directly tied to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986.1

Two of my previous posts (here and here) discussed the projected increase in cancer rates as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and the balance of the evidence seemed to indicate that the increase would be rather small. However, in order to get a more direct measurement of thyroid cancers resulting from the disaster, Japanese authorities decided to screen all 368,651 Fukushima residents who were under 18 at the time of the disaster. An advanced technique (ultrasound) was used, and the results were surprising!

Continue reading “An Unexpected Consequence of the Fukushima Disaster”

What Drives Young People to Atheism?

Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)
Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)

I have written about Larry Alex Taunton before (here, here, and here). I don’t think I had heard his name until I read his book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I enjoyed his writing style and his intellectual approach to Christianity, so I read another one of his books, The Grace Effect. I have since moved to his works found on the internet, and I ran across an excellent piece entitled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.” I strongly recommend that you read it.

In the article, he discusses the results of a project created by his organization, Fixed Point Foundation. The project’s participants simply asked young atheists to tell their story. They wanted to hear what caused these young people to become atheists. What they learned was no surprise to me, but I think it is worth discussing, especially for those who do not have a lot of experience with atheists.

In my opinion, the most important result that came from the project was:

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity. (emphasis his)

This is certainly consistent with my experience. Most of the atheists I know were raised in the church and became atheists in reaction to what they perceived as the church’s failings. What were those failings? I suspect that most Christians will be surprised to learn them.

Continue reading “What Drives Young People to Atheism?”

Homeschooling In Real Life


I was recently interviewed by Andy and Kendra Fletcher, two homeschooling parents who started Homeschooling in Real Life. They have an excellent podcast in which they discuss many of the issues related to homeschooling. I love their take on homeschooling, and I highly recommend their podcast. The episode that includes me can be found here:

The entire episode is worth listening to, but my segment begins at about 19:07.

If don’t know what got me interested in working with homeschoolers, you might want to listen. It’s the first thing I discuss.