A Different Kind of Blog

Upper Waterton Lake in Alberta, Canada. (Photo copyright Kathleen J. Wile)

My wife and I felt led to leave the church we had been attending for 25+ years, and after a lot of searching and praying, we found a wonderful new church. There are lots of ways to serve in this church, and one of them is to contribute to the church’s blog. I will be doing that on a regular basis. My contributions to the blog will come under the heading “Amazed by Him,” because that’s the way I feel when I study Him. As a scientist, I am amazed by His creation, and as a Christian, I am amazed by Him. If you would like, you can read my first article, which was published today:

Amazed by His Goodness

Is Religion on the Decline in America?

Ruins of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was destroyed by earthquakes (click for credit)

The secularization thesis holds that the advance of science and modernization leads to a decline in religion. As a result, the more scientifically and technologically advanced a society becomes, the less religious it becomes. One of the strong proponents of this view was Dr. Charles Wright Mills. In his book, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford University Press, 1959), he wrote:

Once the world was filled with the sacred – in thought, practice, and institutional form. After the Reformation and the Renaissance, the forces of modernization swept across the globe and secularization, a corollary historical process, loosened the dominance of the sacred. In due course, the sacred shall disappear altogether except, possibly, in the private realm. (pp. 32-33)

There are many people who believe this, and they think that Europe provides a great example of how it happens. There are huge, magnificent cathedrals in Europe, which are a testimony to how influential Christianity once was. Today, however, many of those cathedrals do not serve as houses of worship. Instead, they are museums of history. Even the ones that are still functioning as houses of worship have tiny congregations that are dwindling year by year.

Despite what happened across Europe, I have always been skeptical of the secularization thesis. Mostly, that’s because science convinced me that there must be a Creator God, which then led me to Christianity. The more I teach science and do scientific research, the more I see the Hand of God in nature. In my mind, advances in science and technology strongly support Christianity. As a result, the secularization thesis makes no sense to me.

I was recently made aware of an article from two years ago that argues against the secularization thesis in the United States. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think that it applies to the world as a whole.

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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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C.S. Lewis’s Stepson at the Texas Homeschool Convention

Me and Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’s stepson. The cross he is wearing was made by his daughter, a professional jeweler. It has Aslan at the center of the cross.

I travel to a lot of different places and meet a lot of different people. I also hear a lot of different speakers. After a while, most of those experiences become a blur in my mind. However, a few stand out as truly extraordinary, and last weekend was one of those. I spoke at the Texas Homeschool Convention, and while I was there, I got a chance to meet with Douglas Gresham, a man I had corresponded with a few years ago and interviewed a few weeks ago. We had a lovely lunch, over which Mr. Gresham shared some of his memories of C.S. Lewis, who he refers to as “Jack.”

As I listened to Mr. Gresham’s stories, I was struck by Dr. Lewis’s humor. This is not something I had noticed by reading his books and essays, and it is not something I recall any biographer discussing. Nevertheless, nearly every tale I heard was either charmingly witty or downright hilarious. For example, Mr. Gresham was discussing a time at the dinner table where his mother, Joy, asked C.S. Lewis about a task that she had reminded him of but was afraid he had forgotten. He said:

My mother asked, “Jack, did you take care of that matter?” Jack replied, “Yes, of course I did. What do you take me for, a fool?” She replied, “No, I took you for better or for worse.”

I also learned that Mr. Gresham was responsible for a bumper sticker that was popular a while ago. As I mentioned in my previous article, Mr. Gresham has become an advocate for homeschooling. Apparently, someone was interviewing him about education, and in his typical witty way, Mr. Gresham said:

Schools are for fish.

Later on, the interviewer contacted him and asked for his permission to turn that phrase into a bumper sticker. I remember seeing a couple of them at past homeschool conventions.

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Tori Miller, Homeschool Graduate and Elementary Education Major

Tori Miller, a homeschool graduate I have in one of my university courses.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I first learned about home education when I found out that my top students at Ball State University were graduates of homeschooling. After taking a long hiatus from academic life to write textbooks designed for homeschoolers, I am once again “dabbling” in academia as an adjunct professor of chemistry and physics at Anderson University. I am once again teaching homeschool graduates in my university classes, and I continue to be impressed by them.

As a part of a new series on this blog, I decided to interview one of my current students, Tori Miller, who is in a physics class I am co-teaching. Entitled “Teaching STEM in the Elementary Classroom,” it gives future teachers specific tools that they can use to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into their lesson plans. While you might find it odd that a homeschool graduate is studying to be a school teacher, I think it is awesome!

Tori was homeschooled K-12, and although she has only been at Anderson University for two years, she is technically near the end of her junior year because of all the college credits she has earned. Initially, she was thinking about studying accounting so she could help her father in a family business, but she decided she wanted to work more directly with people. If you meet Tori in person, you will see why. She is friendly, outgoing, and always willing to lend a helping hand.

Once she decided that she wanted to work with people, she gravitated towards professions where she could help make the world a better place. She considered nursing, but says that science is not her strong suit, although you wouldn’t know that from her performance in my class. She settled on education because she thinks that she can do a lot of good there, and she hopes that she can bring the values that she learned through homeschooling to the classroom.

I asked Tori about how she thinks homeschooling prepared her for university life. She says it produced a good work ethic in her, and it also taught her about taking responsibilities seriously and having respect for authority figures. She also says that homeschooling gave her a desire to pursue a higher education, since she was taught to appreciate learning and was also encouraged to make life better for those around her.

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Death and Transformation

From left to right, Robert Kaufmann, JJ Brannon, yours truly, and John Ashmead.

I have to warn you. This post is different from the normal fare you will find on this site. It represents more of an unfinished thought than an argument or an analysis. However, I want to share this unfinished thought with you, because I can’t help but think that it might be important, at least in some way.

This past weekend, I attended a memorial service and wake for a man who was taken from this earth far too soon: James Jerald (JJ) Brannon. I met JJ at a science fiction convention that I speak at nearly every year. He was the cousin and dear friend of the man who invited me to participate in the conference, and he was also a speaker at the conference. In fact, we did several panel discussions together over the years, such as the one pictured above. That particular panel was about the diseases we might expect to see in the 21st century.

JJ was, in a word, unique. He had many awesome qualities, but he was, quite frankly, incredibly difficult to deal with. He often portrayed himself as an expert on subjects about which he was not well-educated, and unless you worked hard to hold him in check, he would monopolize any conversation he was a part of. He also went on and on and on and on and on when a subject was very important to him.

Now don’t get me wrong. JJ was incredibly difficult to deal with, but he was also an amazing friend. I genuinely enjoyed seeing him, and I was truly fond of him. Also, he loved me and his other friends (and his family) fiercely. However, after spending a lot of time with him, I often found myself getting annoyed with him. His cousin (the friend who introduced us) often felt the same way. One thing he would often complain about is that when JJ called, it was never a short conversation. As I said, JJ could go on and on and on, especially when a subject really interested him.

When I went to his memorial service, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What would people say about this wonderful but annoying man?

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Facts and Truth

Me as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
This past weekend I did something I have been dreaming about for more than 30 years. I portrayed the lead role in the classic musical Man of LaMancha. It was a wonderful experience. The cast was incredibly talented, and the production was both unique and beautiful. All the performances were sold out, and the audiences truly enjoyed the experience. I cannot express how thankful I am to The Alley Theatre for its support and its love of the arts.

As any serious art should do, the musical tackles a big question: How should we approach the world in which we live? On one side, there is the character Dr. Sanson Carassco, who says that we must face the world as it is. On the other side, there is Don Quixote, who says we should face the world as it ought to be. For example, Don Quixote meets a prostitute named Aldonza. However, he sees and treats her as a virtuous lady he calls “Dulcinea.”

In his insightful program notes, our director said this:

The simple, deconstructed storyline of LAMANCHA can be imagined as DON QUIXOTE standing at one end of a line. He is the dreamer and the crusader for change. On the other end of the line is DR. CARASSCO, the representative of “things as they are.” Walking from one to the other, in journey we should all take, is ALDONZA. She begins as “who she is” and ends as “who she should be and could be.”

While these notes give you the “big picture” about the show’s message, I want to discuss a side issue that centers around one of my favorite lines. When I first started rehearsing, I said the line one way, but our ever-patient director encouraged me to re-examine how Don Quixote would actually say it, and I ended up changing the delivery significantly.

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Where Did Western Philosophy Begin?

Artist Frank Wu’s interpretation of Job 1:20-21. (click to go to the artist’s website)

In my sophomore year at university, my roommate was Frank Wu. He was a fun, energetic guy, and we had a great time together. We remained friends throughout our time at university. I got married after my junior year, and Frank gave me and my wife an original painting, which is pictured above. It represents his artistic interpretation of my favorite passage in Scripture: Job 1:20-21. I have treasured the painting ever since he gave it to us. It hangs in my office where I can see it while I work. Now that he is an award-winning artist, it is probably worth some money, but that couldn’t possibly compare to the value it holds in my heart.

Because the book of Job contains my favorite passage in Scripture, I have probably read it more than any other book in the Bible, along with many commentaries. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an interpretation of the book that I had never considered. It comes from Dr. Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany.

Dr. Neiman says this about the book of Job:

I am a philosopher who believes that Western philosophy begins not with Plato, but elsewhere, and earlier, with the Book of Job. That is because I believe that the problem of evil is the central point where philosophy begins, and threatens to stop.

The problem of evil, of course, is the apparently contradictory situation in which God is all-good and all-powerful, but there is suffering in the world. How could an all-good, all-powerful God allow that to happen? For centuries, Christians have written excellent answers to that question, so I don’t consider it a problem. See, for example, Chapter 14 in Warranted Christian Belief by Dr. Alvin Plantinga. However, it is a good question that every person who believes in an all-good, all-powerful God must consider.

Thus, I encourage you to read Dr. Neiman’s essay when you have time to consider it. I don’t agree with everything she says, especially when it comes to God’s omnipotence. However, the way she describes the roles of Job, his friends, and God is very interesting. I will spend more time considering her interpretation and perhaps write a follow-up article.

Here’s Another College That Gets It

Six years ago, I wrote an article about Anderson University, where I am an adjunct professor. While the university clings strongly to the essentials of the Christian faith, it does not force its faculty to conform to one interpretation of Scripture. As a result, students are exposed to many different views that exist within Christendom.

In addition, rather than just trying to proselytize for their own view, the faculty are committed to making sure students understand the different ways Christians interpret the world through the lens of Scripture. This is best exemplified by an example. One of the science professors is an old-earth creationist, but he regularly invites me into his classes either to give a young-earth view of the science the students are learning or to engage in a friendly debate with him on the issue of the earth’s age. I especially like the latter, since students see that two people can engage in serious disagreements and still be good friends.

Just before Christmas, someone I respect and admire sent me an article that I wanted to share with my readers. It gives you another example of a Christian College (in this case, a seminary and Bible College) that gets it. To fully appreciate the article, however, you need to know the history behind it.

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Thankfulness Despite Tragedy

I have written about tragedy and faith in previous posts (see here, here, and here). As Christians, we should understand that the pain we experience as a result of tragedy is temporary in light of eternity. We will eventually be in a place where all tears are wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and that should provide us with some measure of comfort. But there’s a big difference between being comforted and being thankful, isn’t there? Can we really be thankful if we experience a serious tragedy?

Yesterday, I preached at my home church, Wesley Free Methodist. I have preached there a few times before, and you can find three of my sermons and many better ones preached by others on the church’s “Weekly Message” page. This sermon was different, however, because it was not the sermon I wanted to give. It was challenging, and if you listen to it, you will hear my voice crack a few times due to emotion. However, I think the message I am trying to impart is important, so I am sharing it here.

You can listen to the sermon by clicking on the “play” icon in the bar below, or you can right-click on the link below the bar and choose “Save Link As” to download it to your device. If the message touches you and you think you know of someone else it might touch, feel free to share it.


http://www.drwile.com/11_19_2017.mp3