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?”

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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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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The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

The cover of Andrew Klavan's book (click for Amazon entry)
The cover of Andrew Klavan’s book (click for Amazon entry)
In a previous post, I discussed Andrew Klavan’s conversion story and mentioned that he had written a book about it. I said I would read and review it when I had the chance. I read it a few weeks ago, but the book requires quite a bit of reflection to review, so I have only now come to the point where I can actually write my thoughts about it. It’s not that the book is hard to understand. It’s that the book is a real mixed bag.

First, let me say that Mr. Klavan is a masterful writer. When you sit back and think about the way that he is expressing his thoughts, you realize what an artist he is with words. However, what he says varies from shamefully self-indulgent to amazingly profound. There were times I got so annoyed with the self-indulgence that I nearly put the book away, but his flashes of brilliance kept me going. He says that his first draft was nearly twice as long as the final copy and that his wife helped him clean it up. I am glad she did, because I don’t think that his flashes of brilliance would have gotten me through nearly twice as many pages!

Now don’t get me wrong. I really am glad that I read the book, and I think that lots of people should read it. I am just warning you that there are times you will roll your eyes and think, “Please don’t give me another detailed account of another memory.” Of course, I understand the problem. He’s telling you about how he made the dramatic change from a Jewish person who didn’t believe in God to a Jewish person who started following God’s Son. That’s a remarkable change, and it requires a lot of backstory. I just think Mr. Kalvan gives you too much backstory. However, dealing with the backstory is well worth it, because the overall story is both compelling and important.

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A Really Undeniable Book, Written By a Real Scientist

A book that discusses some undeniable truths.
A book that discusses some undeniable truths.
Dr. Douglas Axe is a very interesting scientist. He did his undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley and got his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Caltech. His thesis was focused on molecular biology, which is why you find his scientific papers published in The Journal of Molecular Biology, PloS One, and Biochemistry. He is also a co-author on a paper that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Currently, he is the director of the Biologic Institute, which is a research organization that encourages its scientists to do their research from an Intelligent Design point of view. He is also one of the authors of Science and Human Origins, a book that surveys the evidence for human evolution and concludes that humans cannot be the result of an unguided, neo-Darwinian process. I recently had the pleasure of reading his latest book, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed.

The first thing you might notice about the book is its main title, which is the same as the main title of an error-riddled book written by Bill Nye. While Nye likes to call himself “The Science Guy,” some of his behavior is decidedly anti-science (see here and here, for example), and his book makes it clear that he doesn’t try to understand some of the issues that he discusses publicly. Unlike Nye’s book, this book is written by a real scientist who actually does educate himself on the issue about which he is writing. Indeed, most of what he writes in this book is directly related to the scientific work he has published over the years.

Before getting into the meat of the book, I think that a personal story he shares is worth noting. While he was a graduate student at Caltech, one of his final exams asked which biological molecule was likely the first “living” molecule. In other words, the person writing the exam wanted the student to relate what was currently the most fashionable conjecture regarding the origin of life. Here is how he describes his answer and its result:

I decided to give the expected answer in full and then – for extra credit – to state why I found that answer unconvincing. I explained why, contrary to the consensus view, I didn’t think any molecule has what would be needed to start life. As shrewd at that seemed at the time, I learned when my exam was returned (with points deducted) that we students were expected to not only know current thinking in biology but also accept it without resistance. We were there as much to be acculturated as educated. (kindle version, Chapter 1, emphasis his)

That is so true. If you ever wonder why so many scientists resist new thinking in the origins debate, it’s because they have been taught to resist it! Fortunately, some scientists (like Dr. Axe) don’t don’t take that lesson to heart. Instead, they do what scientists should do: question the existing paradigm when the data speak against it.

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The Power of Grace

Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of s photo that is in the book)
Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of a photo that is in the book)
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of a book entitled, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I had never heard of the author (Larry Taunton), but I enjoyed his writing style and his obvious intellect. As I mentioned in a different post, part of the book deals with Sasha, his daughter who he and his family adopted from the Ukraine. As an adoptive father, his loving words about his daughter touched me deeply, and when I found out that he had written a book specifically about her adoption, I had to read it. It’s called The Grace Effect, and I have to say it is probably the best book I have read since Quivering Daughters. The Grace Effect isn’t nearly as emotional as Quivering Daughters, but it is very meaningful on at least two levels.

The first level is obvious. This is primarily a story about a family who followed God’s leading and ended up radically changing a young girl’s life for the better. The simple version of the story is that Larry’s wife and three boys went on a short-term mission trip to the Ukraine. They went there to improve the facilities at one of Ukraine’s many orphanages: #17. There, they met a young girl named Sasha, and they all fell in love with her. They felt the Lord leading them to adopt her, not knowing anything of the challenges that they would face. With the help of some incredibly generous Christian brothers and sisters, they convinced Larry to adopt Sasha. As a result, Larry, his wife, and two of his boys traveled back to the Ukraine to get her.

The long version of the story, however, is much more interesting. They knew that such adoptions were expensive, but they had no idea how expensive. Not only are the legal costs high, but the Ukrainian government is so intensely corrupt that pretty much every step in the lengthy adoption process requires a bribe. Judges cancel hearings, orphanages delay appointments, etc., and the process comes to a halt. In order to get the process back on track, the person in charge has to be given a “gift.”

While Taunton never indicates the total cost, he mentions discussing Sasha with some well-to-do Christian friends, which resulted in two incredibly generous donations of $10,000 each. In addition, he discussed Sasha with Frank Limehouse, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent. He only discussed Sasha to get some wisdom regarding her health issue (she is HIV positive), but a few days later, Limehouse handed him a check and simply said:

That’s from the people of Advent. You get that little girl and bring her home. (p. 184)

So we know that the adoption costs were well over $20,000, much of which went to the bribes that were necessary to get greedy people simply to allow someone else to help a little girl.

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