Homeschooling in New Zealand

This is typical of the lush scenery that exists all over New Zealand!

I am currently in New Zealand on a homeschooling tour arranged by the Firelight Foundation. This is not my first visit to this lovely country, and it most certainly won’t be my last. In 2006, my wife (Kathleen) and I traveled here to do our first “Kiwi” homeschooling tour, and in 2009, we came back here to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Each time I am here, I am struck by two things. First, this has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. The plant life is lush, the air smells amazing, and the landscape is truly breathtaking. Second, the people are incredible. Everyone is particularly friendly and helpful. They really give you the impression that they want to help you enjoy your stay here. Of course, working with homeschoolers in New Zealand is a double blessing, because I get to see how home education produces such stellar students regardless of the country in which it is taking place.

My first stop on this New Zealand homeschooling tour was the lovely town of Palmerston North. Situated in the Southern part of the North Island, it is New Zealand’s seventh largest city, and the venue at which I spoke was packed. I gave a total of six talks (two in one evening and four during the next day), and as you would expect from an audience of homeschoolers, there were some excellent questions. I want to discuss two of them.

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More on Cane Toads in Australia

In my previous post, I discussed the cane toad invasion of Australia. While studies of the invasion have shown a new mechanism of selection that is distinct from classic natural selection, they have also shown how limited the range of evolutionary change in cane toads really is. This is consistent with the creationist view and quite contrary to the evolutionist view.

In this post, I want to discuss the changes that the cane toads have produced in other Australian animals. As you might expect, as a foreign species spreads across an ecosystem, it is going to have an effect on the already-established species there. In general, one expects the effects to be negative, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Indeed, a large study designed to assess the damage that the cane toad invasion has done to the already-established animals in Australia says:1

Overall, some Australian native species (mostly large predators) have declined due to cane toads; others (especially species formerly consumed by those predators) have benefited; and for yet others, effects are minor or are mediated indirectly rather than through direct interactions with the invasive toads.

So in the end, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. However, what I find interesting are some of the details of how these animals have changed in response to the cane toad invasion.

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Cane Toads in Australia

A cane toad (click for credit)
A reader E-MAILed me asking about an article she had read regarding cane toads in Australia. The article seemed to have some implications regarding evolution, so she asked if I would look into it. Since I will be speaking to homeschoolers in Australia near the end of June, I wanted to learn more about this issue. As a result, I looked into it, and it is all quite fascinating.

Cane toads are not native to Australia. Indeed, there are no toads that are native to Australia. They were brought there from Hawaii in 1935 in order to control sugar cane pests in northeastern Queensland.1 Now you would have thought that those in charge would have learned from the famous rabbit fiasco that was recognized as a serious problem in Australia by the turn of the century, but apparently they did not. Instead, they brought the cane toad in to control the pests and, not surprisingly, it started to spread far beyond where it was originally brought. The map below shows you how incredibly far it has spread in only about 75 years.

A map of the original introduction of the cane toad (black), the current extent (brown line), and the expected range (green). Click for credit.

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The MassHOPE Convention

Last weekend, I spoke at the MassHOPE convention. I have spoken there many times over the course of the past 15 years, and it is one of my favorite conventions. It is held in a great facility, and it is very well-organized. Also, while I was young, I used to spend a lot of time in Massachusetts because my father grew up there. It is always fun to go back and listen to people who talk like my dad.

I gave five talks while I was there. Two of them were on homeschooling. I dealt with elementary science in one of the talks and junior-high/high-school science in the other talk. In my elementary science talk, I stress how important mathematics is for science, and I tell the parents that while science is important, during the K-6 years, mathematics is even more important. Thus, if you want to stress anything during the K-6 years, stress the math. That will pay off huge dividends in science later on. As a result, while you should do some science in the K-6 years, you should do it only from time-to-time. You should be stressing mathematics, reading, and writing during that time in your child’s life.

What I find interesting is that most parents seem to instinctively know this already. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me after I give that talk and tell me that they have been doing just that for quite some time. However, they have always felt vaguely uneasy about only doing science from time-to-time and are glad that someone like me has validated what they are doing. I think this is an example of how parents really do know what’s best for their child’s education, even when they don’t have the benefit of advice from an “expert.”

My other three talks were on science. I talked about the scientific evidence for Christianity, about the prophecies in the Old Testament that have been fulfilled in both history and in the life of Christ, and about the amazing science that you find in the Bible. I got two questions from that last talk which are worth covering in this post.

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The APACHE Conference

Last Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Association of Peoria Area Christian Home Educators (APACHE) conference. It was held in the Peoria Civic Center, which is a very nice facility. Interestingly enough, the home education convention was sharing the facility with a pool and darts convention, which led to some interesting overlap. For example, I wasn’t sure exactly where to go at first, and I ended up walking into an exhibit hall to see what was going on there. I figured I was in the wrong place when a saw a booth with a beer tap!

Once I found where I was supposed to be, I had a great time. Since I am not selling anything these days, I really don’t need a booth. However, the APACHE conference was kind enough to give me one, and it was nice. I put a small card table in the middle of the booth and just sat there, waiting for people who wanted to talk with me. I guess it seemed inviting, because a lot of people sat down and talked with me at length. I got to know several homeschooling parents as well as their children/students.

I ended up talking with two students who had graduated homeschool and are now in college. One was pursuing mechanical engineering, and the other was pursuing crop science, probably with an emphasis in genetics. It was great to hear how well they are doing in their coursework and how much they are enjoying science. Those kinds of conversations really lift the heart of this science educator.

I got two interesting questions that are worth discussing, both related to science.

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Modern Science Is a Product of Christianity

I received an E-MAIL from a student a few days ago. He had just finished Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design, in which the authors claim that God is not necessary in order to explain the universe. While I have not read the book yet, reviews (even from non-Christian sources) are far from flattering.

The student informed me that Hawking and Mlodinow credit the Ionian Greeks with the discovery of natural laws. This confused him, because in my book, Exploring Creation with General Science, I make it very clear that modern science was born out of Christianity. This is because the concept that nature operates according to strict laws is a natural consequence of the fact that it was created by a Supreme Lawgiver. Without the concept of a law-giving Creator, there would have been no reason to search for natural laws. Indeed, as Dr. Stanley Jaki tells us:1

…the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a breakthrough in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws

The search for the laws that govern nature was inspired by Christianity, and as a result, modern science is a product of Christianity.

So what of the Ionian Greeks? Did they do something related to natural laws? Not really. They did do something related to science, however, and their contribution should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, it needs to be put in the proper context.

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The Midwest Homeschool Convention

Last weekend I spoke six times at the Midwest Homeschool Convention. It was an incredible conference. It definitely had the highest attendance of any conference at which I have spoken in the past couple of years. While there were a lot of people who were upset over the fact that Ken Ham had been disinvited from the conference, that didn’t seem to affect the attendance in any significant way. There were a few people who were wearing white buttons that said “I stand with Ken Ham,” but that was really the only visible effect of the controversy. For those who were upset at Mr. Ham’s disinvitation, I thought the buttons were an appropriate way to demonstrate their displeasure. They did not demean anyone else, and they did not disrupt the convention, but they showed displeasure. My hat goes off to whoever came up with that idea!

As is typical, I spoke on two broad subjects – homeschooling and Christian apologetics. One of my homeschooling talks was on how to homeschool at the high school level, and another was on the data that show how homeschooled students compare to non-homeschooled students academically and socially. I also gave one of my favorite talks there – “Be Open Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out.” It stresses the need for people to investigate multiple positions and learn to think critically while doing that. My Christian apologetics talks focused on fulfilled prophecy, design in nature, and the historical reliability of the Bible.

Not surprisingly, I was asked a number of excellent questions during my talks, and I want to focus on two of them. One deals with the studies that have been done on homeschooled students, and the other deals with probability arguments in the creation/evolution debate.

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A quick update on the Japanese Nuclear Reactors

My previous post gave several details regarding the problems that are plaguing the Japanese nuclear power plants right now. I wanted to add one bit of information that I learned this morning.

It turns out that the Japanese nuclear reactors did have diesel generators as a backup system. So when the earthquake took out the nation’s power grid, the cooling systems were running fine off their diesel generators. If that were the end of the story, there would not be any serious nuclear-power-plant problems now. Unfortunately, when the tsunami hit later on, the saltwater infiltrated the generators, making them nonfunctional. That’s when the plants had to switch to battery power.

So it turns out that it took a “one-two” punch to put the Japanese nuclear power plants where they are now. The earthquake by itself wouldn’t have been a problem for the power plants. It was the earthquake followed by the tsunami that did them in.

The Nuclear Power Plants In Japan

I have gotten questions via E-MAIL, Facebook, and phone regarding what is going on at the nuclear power plants in Japan, so I thought I would post my thoughts here. I am not privy to any special information regarding the disaster in Japan. I am getting my news from the same sources that anyone else can use. However, as a nuclear chemist, I can easily spot the flaws in many of the news reports and commentaries related to the Japanese nuclear power plants.

Before I discuss my take on what is happening in Japan, let’s get one thing straight:

A nuclear power plant CANNOT experience a nuclear explosion!

In order to produce a nuclear explosion, you must have a runaway nuclear chain reaction. To have such a runaway nuclear chain reaction, you must have a very specific amount of nuclear fuel in a very specific geometry. A nuclear power plant (by design) does not have the right amount of fuel in the right geometry. So even if all the safety measures completely stop working, there is no chance that the nuclear reactor will turn into a nuclear bomb. Basic physics says this is not possible.

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The Sun Is Not Shrinking

Although you can find information on the internet indicating that the sun is shrinking, the most reliable data indicate that it is not
(manipulated NASA image)

A commenter asked a question before I left on vacation. I gave him a brief answer as a reply, but now I want to go into the details of my answer. As the commenter mentioned, he was doing research for a sermon and came upon some information that indicated the sun is shrinking at a rate of about 5 feet per hour. While that’s not a lot for something as big as the sun, it indicates that the sun is rather young. After all, if we extrapolate the sun’s size backward over time using that rate, we would find that the sun would have been touching the earth a “mere” 11 million years ago.

If this were true, it would be a clear indicator that the earth and sun are not billions of years old. After all, the earth would not be a haven for life if it were anywhere near the surface of the sun! So if the sun is (and always has been) shrinking at anywhere near a rate of 5 feet per hour, the earth and sun could not be very old.

The problem is that this argument is based on faulty ideas about where the sun gets its energy and, more importantly, it is based on faulty data.

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