Discovering Design With Physics

As I mentioned in my previous post, I haven’t been blogging much because I have been busy teaching classes and writing my new physics course, Discovering Design with Physics. However, that book is now at the printer, so I have more time for blogging. My previous post discussed how I begin and end the course, and now I want to give my readers an idea of what the differences are between my new physics course and the one that is still in print (Exploring Creation with Physics, 2nd Edition).

I wrote Exploring Creation with Physics, 2nd Edition almost 20 years ago, and while the material required for a college-prep physics course hasn’t changed since then, there have been some new developments in physics that are worth addressing. For example, over the past 11 years, the Voyager spacecrafts left our solar system. That is not only interesting in and of itself, but it is also a dramatic demonstration of Newton’s First Law of Motion. After all, they have been moving at roughly the same velocity since 1989, despite the fact that they haven’t used their fuel for propulsion since then! As another example, Pluto lost its status as a planet about 17 years ago. Thus, in this new physics book, it is not listed as one of the planets in the solar system.

More importantly, I decided to take a completely different approach in writing this new book. The “traditional” approach to physics is to start with the definitions of displacement, velocity, and acceleration. From there, you use equations to analyze motion in both one and two dimensions. After that, you then discuss Newton’s Laws, which actually dictate the behavior you have been using equations to analyze. That’s how I wrote Exploring Creation with Physics, 2nd Edition, because that’s the way every text from which I taught did it. However, I have never been happy with that approach. So for the new book, I decided to discuss displacement, velocity, and acceleration in the context of Newton’s Laws. That means the students learn about displacement and velocity in the context of Newton’s First Law, and then they learn about acceleration in the context of Newton’s Second and Third Laws. That way, the students learn why the motion being analyzed actually happens. The PhD physicist who reviewed the book for accuracy told me that this was a more satisfying treatment of motion.

In addition, I decided to take a new approach with the experiments as well. In the previous book, the students did several experiments where they were measuring things like acceleration, velocity, the period of a system’s motion, etc. Since those experiments involved measuring short intervals of time, the students had to repeat the experiment several times and then average the results so as to reduce experimental error. That is an important technique to learn, but it is also time-consuming. In the new physics course, the students do fewer experiments like that. They still learn the technique, but since they don’t use it as much, the experiments are not as repetitive or time consuming. Of course, that doesn’t mean there are fewer experiments. In fact, there are six more experiments in the new course compared to the old course!

Also, since I have been teaching physics for many years since the first book was written, I have learned better ways to communicate some of the more difficult concepts in the material. As a result, students will understand the material better. To ensure this, I field-tested the course with more than 70 students. They regularly communicated with me regarding how they were learning, and they even offered some excellent suggestions which led to some changes in the text. I have something very exciting to share about the results of that field test, but I am not at liberty to do so at this time. Be assured that I will do so when I am allowed.

Finally, my publisher has given me assurances that the student text will always be published as a hardcover book, since we encourage parents to use it for all their children over the course of many years. This is important, as there are some homeschooling publishers who have been producing their student texts as softcover books, which I think is unfortunate.

Of course, you might be wondering whether or not you should get this new text if you already have Exploring Creation with Physics, 2nd Edition. The new course is most certainly better than the old one for the reasons mentioned above. However, the old one is still a very good course. Thus, it really depends on how much strain the cost of the new course will put on your budget.

How I Begin and End My New Physics Book

Dr. Alfred Kastler (left), Dr. Isidor Isaac Rabi (middle), and Dr. Nathan T. Brewer (right)

My blog has been mostly silent because I have been teaching classes and working on my new physics book, Discovering Design with Physics. However, classes are winding down, and my new physics book is at the printer. I will have a more thorough post about the book itself next week, including how it is different from my old physics book. For right now, however, I thought my readers might be interested in how it begins and ends. The introduction to the student text begins this way:

Have you ever taken something apart in an attempt to figure out how it works? I have. Usually, I end up ruining it and not learning much. On the rare occasion when I am successful, however, I get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. In some ways, that’s what the subject of physics is all about. We try to “take the world apart” to see how it works. We look for laws and equations that allow us to analyze processes that occur on a very small scale (like electrons traveling through a conductor), processes that occur on an everyday scale (such as baseballs being hit by bats), and processes that occur on a very large scale (like planets orbiting the sun). If we can properly analyze these processes, we can start to understand how the world works.

As you start “taking apart” the world in this course, you should be struck by how intricately designed everything is. The world runs amazingly well, because all its parts have been designed to work together. As French physicist and Nobel Laureate Alfred Kastler states:

The idea that the world, the material universe, was created all by itself, seems absurd to me. I only conceive of the world with a creator, therefore a God. For a physicist, a single atom is so complicated and so rich in intelligence, that the materialistic universe has no meaning.
(Fabre-luce Alfred, L’été de la résurrection, Grasset 1971, p. 105, translated from French by Fernando José Walsh)

I hope that as you read this book, you will come to see the truth of Dr. Kastler’s words.

After spending 16 chapters “taking apart the world,” I end my discussion of physics this way:

You have reached the end of this high-school physics course. You have learned a lot about how God’s creation works, and I hope that this has given you a deeper sense of awe for our Creator. That’s certainly what studying physics has done for me. As I learn more and more about the intricacies of how the world works, I cannot help but be filled with wonder for its Designer.

I think Dr. Isidor Isaac Rabi, who won the 1944 Nobel Prize for physics, said it best:

Physics filled me with awe, put me in touch with a sense of original causes. Physics brought me closer to God. That feeling stayed with me throughout my years in science. Whenever one of my students came to me with a scientific project, I asked only one question, “Will it bring you nearer to God?”
(“I. I. Rabi As Educator and Science Warrior,” Physics Today, 52(9):38, 1999).

I think that’s a great question to ask of any endeavor you wish to pursue.

It’s important to note that many other scientists share Dr. Rabi’s view. Homeschool graduate Dr. Nathan T. Brewer is a nuclear physicist whose research is focused on creating new elements. He says,

The world is absolutely breathtaking, and studying the world’s beauty fuels my faith.

As you continue to study more of the amazing creation that God has given us, I hope you end up agreeing with Drs. Rabi and Brewer!

William Lane Craig on Adam

William Lane Craig’s latest book.
In September of last year, a reader asked me to review William Lane Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam: A Biblical and Scientific Exploration. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and I have to say up front that I was disappointed. Not with his conclusion; I predicted that ahead of time. I was disappointed with Dr. Craig’s intellectual inconsistency. I expected more of a philosopher with his credentials and track record.

But I am getting ahead of myself. In the first part of the book, Dr. Craig spends a lot of time comparing the Genesis account to creation myths of the Ancient Near East (ANE). He claims that there are many parallels between the ANE myths and the Genesis account. To demonstrate this “fact,” he discusses a lot of those myths. The problem is, they sound nothing at all like the creation account of Genesis. Consider the following:

In the Sumerian myth Enki and Ninmah 24-37 we read that Enki enjoins the mother goddess Namma to knead clay so that the birth-goddesses could nip off pieces with which she could fashion human beings. How is the story of God’s forming man from the dust of the earth in Gen 2 functionally distinct from such a story simply in virtue of the fact that Yahweh is the sole diety? (Chapter 3)

I don’t know about you, but I find quite a bit of functional distinction. For example, Yahweh had actually made the dust. There is no indication that anyone in the Sumerian myth made the clay. This is a huge distinction. Yahweh is the Creator of everything in the Genesis account. In the ANE myths that Dr. Craig discusses, there is no sense of the gods (or a single god) being the creator of everything. Also, people have experience using clay to make things. The Sumerian myth makes it sound like the gods are doing typical human activities, but they just have some magic added in. That’s not the way the Genesis account reads at all. Nevertheless, based on what I would call very questionable “similarities” Dr. Craig decides that the Genesis account has all the trappings of a myth. However, since it does have historical overtones, he says that the Genesis account belongs in a category called “Mytho-History.”

Of course, he takes great pains to reiterate what C.S. Lewis made abundantly clear quite some time ago: The term “myth” does not mean the story is false. Myths can be used to teach deep truths. It just means that the setting and many of the details aren’t meant to be taken literally. In Matthew 13:3-9, for example, Jesus tells the story of a sower who is planting seeds. He doesn’t intend for you to believe this sower actually existed. Instead, he wants you to hear the truth in his story. In the same way, the Genesis creation account is mythical but teaches a very important truth.

Now, even though Dr. Craig thinks the Genesis account is mythical, he says we have to take its historical overtones seriously, especially when we read the New Testament. In the book of Romans, Paul writes of Adam as a real, historical person. So based on the New Testament (not the Genesis account), Dr. Craig says that Adam must have actually existed. However, since the Genesis account is mytho-history, we can’t assume that he was created exactly as is discussed in the myth or that Eve was actually made from his rib. The details of the account are mostly mythological; his existence is the important historical element.

With this conclusion, Dr. Craig decides to go searching for Adam using the historical and scientific tools we have at our disposal. Not surprisingly, he slavishly follows the scientific consensus, up to a crucial point. Thus, as far as Dr. Craig is concerned, the earth is billions of years old, biological evolution happened essentially as the High Priests of Science have proclaimed, and the standard tales told by anthropologists are true. Based on all this, Dr. Craig concludes:

Adam, then, may be plausibly identified as a member of Homo heidelbergensis living perhaps >750 kya. He could even have lived in the Near East in the biblical site of the Garden of Eden – though vastly earlier than usually thought, of course. (Chapter 12) [Note: kya means thousand years ago]

Of course, the basic concept here is neither new nor surprising. Lots of Christians have decided to accept the scientific consensus and say that God used evolution to produce the human race. However, most who accept this view think that Adam and Eve are mythological beings; they didn’t actually exist in history. Dr. Craig comes to a different conclusion. How? By being utterly inconsistent.

He accepts the scientific consensus on the age of the earth, biological evolution, anthropology, etc., etc. However, he then throws scientific consensus out of the window by writing:

Such an identification is fully consistent, both temporally and geographically, with the data of population genetics, which does not rule out the existence of two heterozygous, sole genetic progenitors of the human race earlier than 500 kya. (Chapter 13)

What does he use to back up this idea? A reference to the journal BIO-Complexity, which is well outside the scientific consensus! Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against that journal. In fact, I think an incredibly important genetic study can be found in it.

Here’s the problem: The scientific consensus says that there is simply no way evolution could produce the genetics of the human race from just two people. At minimum, it needed to start with a group of 2,250 people. However, since Dr. Craig wants to believe that Adam existed in history and is the father of the human race, he must believe that the scientific consensus is invalid on this point. As a result, he looks outside the scientific consensus to find science that backs up his view.

Now to be sure, he tries to justify this view by reporting that a few consensus-driven scientists (like S. Joshua Swamidass) say that if you push Adam’s existence far enough back in history (more than 500,000 years), then science cannot rule out the possibility that he and Eve could be the genetic origin of all humanity. However, the vast majority of geneticists would disagree with that. Thus, it is still an idea that is well outside the scientific consensus. Indeed, S. Joshua Swamidass himself doesn’t agree with it.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have no problem with going against the scientific consensus. Indeed, nearly every important scientific advance that has happened was the result of doing just that. What I am saying is that if Dr. Craig has the courage to question the scientific consensus when it comes to the genetics of the human race, perhaps he could find the courage to question the scientific consensus when it comes to other issues, such as the age of the earth and biological evolution. If he does that, he might find a much more satisfying way to believe in a historical Adam.

Postmodernism Redefined

The cover of Dr. Lawler’s book
I am not a fan of postmodernism, at least as it is generally defined. Because of this, I have written a couple of posts (here and here) that portray it in a negative light. A frequent commenter on this blog, Jake, took issue with my negative portrayal and suggested that I read Postmodernism Rightly Understood by Dr. Peter Augustine Lawler.

Since I appreciate Jake’s excellent comments and have learned from him on more than one occasion, I wanted to read the book, but it took me a while to get to it. I finally did read it last week. It was an interesting book that discussed several important authors and their ideas. Some of the authors (like Walker Percy, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Allan Bloom) were familiar to me, but others weren’t. As a result, I learned a lot and was exposed to several new ideas. However, I think the book misses the mark.

Now, of course, I am practicing philosophy without a license, while Dr. Lawler is a trained philosopher with lots of experience. Thus, you can take this criticism for what it is worth. Nevertheless, I don’t think this book is a defense of postmodernism. It is more of a discussion of anti-modernism, and based on Lawler’s obvious admiration of Walker Percy (who definitely deserves admiration), it is more a defense of Thomism.

Of course, it’s easy to get lost in the language of philosophy, so let’s make sure we are all on the same page. When it comes to philosophy, modernism suggests that we should ignore traditions (both religious and social) and the inherent biases that come with them, and we should try to judge the world critically. The more unbiased we can be in our judgments, the better. If we do that, we will be able to control our own destiny.

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How I Address the Age of the Earth in My Courses

My publisher has been getting several questions about how I address the age of the earth in my science courses. This probably stems from the fact that there is a lot of misinformation going through the homeschooling community regarding my position on the issue. I thought I would try to clear things up with a post.

First, my position on the age of the earth hasn’t changed in more than thirty years. I turned from atheism to Christianity in my late high school years, and at that time, I was happy to believe what my teachers told me about the age of the earth. It was more than four billion years old. I was told that we knew this because of radiometric dating methods, which involved studying the relative amounts of radioactive atoms in rocks and fossils. This “fact” of science was later reinforced when I went to university, so I was still happy to believe it.

Then I started my Ph.D. program in nuclear chemistry. I learned about radioactive decay in detail and started doing experiments with nuclear reactions. Most of my work was done at the University of Rochester Nuclear Structure Research Lab, which also had a group that did radiometric dating. I never did any of that work myself, but I watched them do their experiments, asked them questions, listened to their presentations at the lab, etc. Based on what I learned there, I decided that I couldn’t put much faith in the ages given by radiometric dating.

This caused me to question the age of the earth from a scientific perspective. Theologically, I wasn’t committed to any age for the earth. Certainly the most straightforward interpretation of Genesis is that the universe and all it contains was created in six solar days, and that leads to a young-earth view. At the same time, however, there were early church Fathers (as well as ancient Jewish theologians) who didn’t interpret the days in Genesis that way. So I attempted to investigate the subject with an open mind. I found that in my view, science makes a lot more sense if the earth is thousands of years old rather than billions of years old, so I started believing in a young earth. The more I have studied science, the more convinced I have become that the earth is only thousands of years old.

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A Frustrating Book, But A Good First Step

A new, honest book about the creation/evolution controversy with the church.
When the creation/evolution controversy comes up in Christian circles, it is often accompanied by a lot of strife. Some Christians think that evolution comes straight from the Devil, while others think that when Christians refuse to accept the fact of evolution, they are harming the cause of Christ. Unfortunately, most of the major Christian organizations that focus on the subject fuel this acrimony. As a result, when I heard that the Colossian Forum had convinced Dr. Todd Wood (a young-earth creationist) and Dr. Darrel R. Falk (a theistic evolutionist) to write a book about the subject, I was intrigued. I actually pre-ordered a copy of the Kindle version, but later was happy to find that the publisher had sent me a free paperback copy to review.

The book, entitled The Fool and the Heretic, is made up of chapters written by Dr. Wood (the “fool”), chapters written by Dr. Falk (the “heretic”), and short interludes written by Rob Barrett of the Colossian Forum. There are also discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Drs. Wood and Falk are diametrically opposed when it comes to the question of origins, and that becomes clear right up front. Indeed, the first chapter (written by Wood) is entitled “Why Darrel is Wrong and Why It Matters,” and the next chapter (written by Falk) is “Why Todd is Wrong and Why It Matters.” Because of those titles, I almost named this review, “Why Todd, Darrel, and Rob are all wrong and why it matters,” because that’s the main conclusion I was left with when I finished the book.

Both initial chapters present the standard view from each camp. Dr. Wood says that Dr. Falk is wrong because when you try to interpret the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be anything other than historical narrative, you end up doing great theological damage to the rest of the Bible. Dr. Falk says that Dr. Wood is wrong because the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and when Christians reject that evidence in order to hang on to an outdated view of Scripture, it ends up causing great damage, especially to those who are interested in pursuing the truth. They will eventually encounter this overwhelming evidence, and it will produce a crisis of faith, which sometimes results in leaving the faith. Of course, neither of those assertions is new, and in my view, neither of them is correct.

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Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, 2nd Edition

The cover of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, Second Edition
About 12 years ago, Sherri Seligson published a course entitled, Exploring Creation with Marine Biology. It quickly garnered rave reviews among homeschooling families. Over those 12 years, I have spoken to many, many high school students who have called it their favorite course, and I can remember at least four of them who said that they planned to study marine biology at university specifically because the course had given them a love for the subject. Such reviews have never come as a surprise to me, because Seligson has the “perfect storm” of characteristics for writing an excellent marine biology course for homeschoolers.

First and foremost, she knows her subject. She has a degree in marine biology and was the aquarist of the Living Seas aquarium at Epcot Center for four years. Based on her work there, she was able to publish original research on shark behavior in captivity. Second, she has a real passion for the subject. Just ask her a question about marine science. Her eyes will light up, she will smile, and she will enthusiastically answer your question, along with a dozen other related questions that you hadn’t thought to ask. She is also an excellent communicator, being able to adjust the way she discusses a subject so as to meet the needs of the listener. Finally, she is a homeschooling mother, having educated four amazing children who are now adults. Is it any wonder that she could write a course on marine biology that would become so beloved in the homeschooling community?

However, 12 years is a long time for a biology course to be around. Our understanding of the natural world changes, and sometimes, those changes are substantial. As a result, science courses need to be updated from time to time. So far, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology has been “hit and miss” with its updates. A few years ago, the publisher updated its Human Anatomy and Physiology course, making it significantly better than the previous version. The publisher then updated its chemistry course, with disastrous results.

I am happy to report that the publisher is now “two for three,” having produced an excellent update to this already fantastic course.

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My Review of “Is Genesis History?”


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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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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