Insightful Words from Michelangelo

The Florence Pieta by Michelangelo (click for larger image)
The Florence 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 Florence 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)

Thoughts From Two Adoptive Fathers

A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)
A meme promoting adoption (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators Convention. I have spoken there at least twice before, and I have not been disappointed. This weekend was no exception. I met a lot of really interesting people, including one second-generation homeschooling mother who was pregnant with her middle child at the same time her mother was pregnant with her youngest sibling. What an incredible experience that must have been!

In contrast to that situation, I had a nice, long talk with a gentleman who related his adoption story to me. Being an adoptive father myself, I am always interested in hearing such stories, but this one was unlike anything I had heard before. He and his wife had several children of their own, but they are all grown up and out of the house. Because he and his wife had “extra time” on their hands, and because they genuinely wanted to serve “the least of these,” they decided to become emergency foster parents for babies who are abandoned. In that role, they care for the infant until he or she can be permanently adopted. He told me that it doesn’t usually last very long, because lots of people are looking to adopt infants.

However, one of their emergency foster children (a little girl) had serious digestive issues pretty much at birth and spent a long, long time in the hospital. In fact, the poor little girl had to have a lot of her small intestine and all of her colon removed, which meant she couldn’t eat normally. Essentially, she had to be continuously fed through a tube. This made her long-term prognosis questionable, and as a result, the agency could not find a permanent home for her. After much prayer, he and his wife decided to adopt her.

The good news is that the girl is now 3 years old, and while she still has some special nutritional needs, she can eat normally. However, because of the way she got nutrition for so long, she actually doesn’t like to eat. Thus, they are working on getting her to enjoy eating. I rejoiced with him that his daughter’s long-term prognosis is now very good, and eventually, the conversation turned to the effects that an adopted child’s previous traumas have on her future life. On that topic, he offered me a profound insight.

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Bill Nye Couldn’t Be More Wrong!

Me with a family whose eldest is about to finish an MD/PhD program.
Me with a family whose eldest is about to finish an MD/PhD program.

I have probably harped on Bill Nye’s errors far too much (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Partly, this is because he continues to make them, when even a small amount of self-education would fix that problem. Partly, it is because some of his errors are so incredibly egregious. This post is a result of the latter situation.

In his error-riddled book, Undeniable, Nye makes the following statement:1

Inherent in this rejection of evolution is the idea that your curiosity about the world is misplaced and your common sense is wrong. This attack on reason is an attack on all of us. Children who accept this ludicrous perspective will find themselves opposed to progress. They will become society’s burdens rather than its producers, a prospect that I find very troubling. Not only that, these kids will never feel the joy of discovery that science brings. They will have to suppress the basic human curiosity that leads to asking questions, exploring the world around them, and making discoveries. They will miss out on countless exciting adventures. We’re robbing them of basic knowledge about their world and the joy that comes with it. It breaks my heart. (emphasis mine)

This is one of the most egregiously false things that Mr. Nye has claimed, and that’s saying a lot, given that it took me twelve pages to detail all of the errors I found in his book. I want to give you some idea of how egregiously wrong that statement is by just highlighting a few people I have met over the past six weeks.

Let’s start with the family pictured with me at the top of this post. The woman in the picture is a homeschooling mother. She has two young ones with her, but she wanted to tell me about her eldest son, who is in the fifth year of his MD/PhD program. Why is he getting two advanced degrees? Because he wants to do cancer research. To treat patients, you typically need an MD. Being trained to do original research typically involves getting a PhD. Thus, those who want to do original research in medicine often get both an MD and a PhD so they have all of the relevant training they need.

This mother’s son demonstrates in no uncertain terms how wrong Bill Nye is. I met her in Peoria, Illinois this past Friday, when I spoke at the APACHE homeschool convention. She came up to me at my publisher’s booth and told me that her son had asked her to inform me of two things: First, my science courses encouraged him to pursue medical research as a career. Second, they helped him excel at university so he could get accepted into medical school.

I am not telling you this to “toot my own horn,” even though a former pastor of mine says I play that particular instrument very well.* I am telling you this because my courses are young-earth creationist courses, and this mother gave her son a young-earth creationist education. Far from suppressing “the basic human curiosity that leads to asking questions,” this young man’s creationist education encouraged him to continue to ask questions, explore the world around him, and make discoveries. He has, most certainly, already felt “the joy of discovery that science brings.” Indeed, I suspect he will be experiencing that joy for the rest of his career.

Now, if this justifiably-proud mother were the only person I met recently who demonstrated Mr. Nye to be wrong, I probably wouldn’t have posted about her and her son. However, the Lord has led several such people to me recently, and I want to introduce a few of them to you!

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A Spinosaurus and a “Pregnant” T. Rex at the Texas Homeschool Convention

A spinosaurus drawn by Hayley, a Texas student who has used my courses.
A spinosaurus drawn by Hayley, a Texas student who has used my courses.

I love going to homeschool conventions. This past weekend, I spoke at the Texas Homeschool Convention, and it was a wonderful experience. I got to talk with a lot of interesting people, like the great granddaughter of Maria von Trapp. I also got a headache from discussing quantum physics, mechanistic naturalism, and determinism with two of the philosophers I mentioned in a previous post. Of course, I also got to talk with students who have used and are using my courses. One of those students was incredibly enthusiastic, asking me several questions about science. During the course of the convention, she drew me the wonderful picture you see above, which is of a spinosaurus. He is the villain in a story she is writing.

Speaking of dinosaurs, I got a very interesting question during one of my talks. A student who was obviously interested in science asked if I had heard about the pregnant Tyrannosaurus rex that had recently been found. I was surprised by the question for two reasons. First, I had not heard about it, and I try to keep up on the latest events in science. The fact that this student knew a current event in science that I had not heard about really surprised me. Second, it seemed strange that someone would say a Tyrannosaurus rex was pregnant, since all that we know indicates it was a reptile, meaning it laid eggs. I think the term “pregnant” refers to carrying a developing fetus, so it wouldn’t be applied to an egg-laying animal.

Due to the wonders of in-flight internet, I was able to investigate the student’s question on my flight home. Sure enough, there were a lot of news stories about a pregnant Tyrannosaurus rex (see this one, for example). However, when I found and read the scientific paper upon which the stories were based, it became clear to me that the news outlets were doing their typically less-than-stellar job of reporting on science.

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The Dominican Republic Also Shows Bill Nye Was Wrong

Standing room only at one of the Dominican Republic schools.
Standing room only at one of the Dominican Republic schools.

I finished my speaking tour in the Dominican Republic, and it was quite an experience! I gave talks about creation in public schools, private schools, churches, and a university. The people were incredibly warm and inviting, and even though I could not communicate with most of them unless I had an interpreter, our mutual love for the Savior transcended words.

While I still cannot speak or understand Spanish, I did get a bit better at recognizing certain Spanish words. For example, in one church service, I looked up at the screen that contained the words to the next song (in Spanish, of course). The title of the song wasn’t on the screen, and the music had not started playing. Nevertheless, I recognized the song and said, “How Great Thou Art – one of my favorites!” My interpreter turned to me and asked, “How do you know that?” I told him that I recognized enough of the words to realize what the hymn must be. He seemed impressed.

While I was in Santo Domingo, I visited the main campus of Universidad Nacional Evangélica, a Christian university. I met with the president of the university and one of the professors. They indicated that they were committed to making sure their students learned about the scientific evidence for creation and against evolution. They scheduled me to speak to their students the next day, but unfortunately, there was a power outage, so they had to cancel the talk.

I was on a tight schedule, so I had to leave Santo Domingo before they could reschedule my talk. However, the same university has a campus in Santiago, where I was headed. That campus was happy to schedule me to speak, so I ended up getting to speak to students at the Universidad Nacional Evangélica, just not the ones who go to the Santo Domingo campus.

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Creation Science in the Dominican Republic

The beach outside of Bani in the Dominican Republic.
The beach outside of Bani in the Dominican Republic.

On Thursday of last week, I left Indiana for the Dominican Republic to give lectures about the science of creation to schools, churches, and universities. This lovely country is an explicitly Christian nation. Its motto is “Dios, Patria, Libertad” (God, Fatherland, Liberty), and the country’s flag has both the Bible and a cross at its center. The Bible is supposed to be open to John 8:32, “y conocerán la verdad, y la verdad los hará libres” (and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free). Because it takes its Christian roots seriously, students are allowed to learn about Christianity, even in public schools.

In fact, the first talk I gave was at a public school in Santo Domingo. In that talk, I discussed mutualistic symbiosis, which is a situation in which two or more organisms of different species work together so that each receives a benefit. I have blogged extensively about this amazing aspect of nature (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example), because I find it fascinating. In order to illustrate the process, I showed several videos of mutualistic symbiotic relationships in nature.

After I showed the videos and discussed how each relationship works, I discussed how evolution tries to account for these amazing relationships. Most evolutionists think that mutualistic symbiotic relationships started out as parasitic relationships, with one organism exploiting the other one. However, as time went on, the organisms co-evolved and began cooperating with one another. I then talked about a recent study that shows this explanation isn’t consistent with the data.

I told the students that I think these relationships give us a glimpse of what creation was like before the Fall. Creation was built on relationships, with organisms helping one another to survive. However, when sin entered the world, all creation was corrupted to some extent (Romans 8:22). As a result, many of those relationships were corrupted, and what we see now is only a glimpse of what creation used to be like.

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The 2015 California Homeschool Conference: Wisdom from Jacob and Kristine Barnett

This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett.  It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.
This is from the cover of a book written by Kristine Barnett. It tells how she raised her autistic son, Jacob, to be an amazing young man.

I spent this past weekend in Ontario, California, speaking at the California Homeschool Convention, which is part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series. There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about the Great Homeschool Conventions, but the thing I most appreciate is the eclectic mix of speakers they invite. You see all the “standard” speakers from the homeschooling circuit, such as Jim Weiss, Andrew Pudewa, and Heidi St. John, but you also see speakers that aren’t typically a part of a homeschool convention. This year, for example, they had Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher as a speaker. I interviewed her before the first convention, and I later reported on her talk at the convention, which was nothing short of incredible.

The other interesting speakers they had this year were mother/son team Kristine and Jacob Barnett. I didn’t get a chance to hear them at the other conventions, but since this was my last opportunity, I made a point to go to their talk. I am so glad I did! If you have not heard about them, Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. His mother (Kristine) initially followed all the experts’ advice, which ended up meaning hours of therapy for Jacob every day. Eventually, however, she decided that all this therapy was robbing Jacob of his childhood. As a result, she stopped all the therapy and simply played with him. She blew dandelion puffs in his face, listened to music with him, and helped him search for patterns in the clouds.

She found that this was helping him much more than therapy, so she started encouraging other mothers of autistic children to do the same. In fact, she was so sure that this kind of nurturing was the best “therapy” autistic children could get, she began working with other autistic children. Her goal was simple: just enable them to do what they really wanted to do. She would get them what they needed, and she would simply help them do whatever it was that interested them. For some, this meant making robots. For others, it meant creating amazing paintings. For another, it meant chasing storms and trying to analyze them. In her own words:

I was not teaching them. I was letting them.

I don’t know much of anything about child development, especially when it comes to children with special needs. Thus, I have no idea how effective her strategy would be for most autistic children. However, she says that it was very effective for those that she helped. I can tell you for certain that it was effective for her son, Jacob, because his talk was one of the best I have heard in a long time.

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The 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference

A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.
A portion of the crowd at the 2015 Homeschool Iowa Conference.

I spent this past weekend speaking at the Homeschool Iowa Conference. I had never been to this particular homeschool conference before, and I am so glad I got to go this year. The attendance was excellent, the conference ran smoothly, and the organizers treated the speakers incredibly well. My publisher’s booth was right across from Heidi St. John’s booth, and for the first time in quite a while, I got to spend some time talking with her and her husband, who has the world’s best first name (Jay). They are both wonderful servants of God, and spending time with them is a real blessing.

I gave six talks at the conference: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ Science at Home, Building a Biblical Worldview, Ecohysteria, Creation Versus Evolution, and What I Learned by Homeschooling. They were very well attended, and I got some excellent questions afterwards. I also spent a lot of time taking with individuals, including several very impressive homeschooled students.

One particularly impressive student was a junior in high school. After one of my talks, she asked me to sign a couple of her books. I noticed that one of them was my advanced chemistry course, which is essentially AP-level chemistry. I told her that I was impressed she was taking advanced chemistry, and she told me that she had already taken my biology, chemistry, and physics courses as well as a Human Anatomy and Physiology course. Once she finished advanced chemistry, she planned to take advanced physics. This means that by the time she graduates, she will have covered the equivalent of three AP-level science courses in high school! I told her how impressive that is, since many high school students don’t even take one AP-level science course. She was quite humble, however, brushing aside my praise and simply telling me that she really enjoys studying science.

Another student and his family spoke to me about their experience with the third edition of Exploring Creation with Chemistry. As you might know, I don’t recommend that edition to anyone because of its many scientific errors and its habit of requiring students to know things they have not yet been taught. The student told me that he had started with the third edition of the the course, not knowing that I wasn’t the author. As he tried to cover the material, he got more and more confused. Eventually, he realized that my name wasn’t on the book, so he got online and found a used second edition of the course (which was authored by me). When he used that edition, he understood and enjoyed the material. I told him I was very sorry that he had to do that and, unfortunately, there are probably many students who have found themselves in a similar position.

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The 2015 Michigan Home Education Conference And The Success of Homeschooled Students

This is the Lansing Center, where the conference was held.
This is the Lansing Center, where the conference was held.

This past weekend, I spoke at the Michigan Home Education Conference. It might have been the very first time I have spoken at this convention, even though it has been going on for quite a while. It was held in the beautiful Lansing Center (pictured above), and the weather was quite nice, so I got an opportunity to enjoy the conference center’s riverfront setting. When I wasn’t outside enjoying the view or talking with people at my publisher‘s booth, I was giving talks. I gave a total of six talks at the convention: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, ‘Teaching’ High School at Home, Teaching Science at Home, Be Open-Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out, How to be a REAL Environmentalist, and Why Homeschool Through High School.

The conference was well attended and ran quite smoothly. One interesting thing this conference does is offer a free session on Thursday night. It is designed for those who are thinking about homeschooling their children, but in the end, anyone is welcome. The first speaker of that session was Carol Barnier, and she was a delight to hear. She spoke about the basics of homeschooling, and she had one of the best phrases I have heard regarding the homeschool model:

Homeschooling is incredibly efficient and forgiving.

It is efficient because the education is tailor-made for the child. As a result, the child can learn a lot more in a set amount of time than one who must sit in a classroom that attempts to meet the needs of all the students there. It is forgiving because it is so efficient. It might take you several years to find the ideal educational approach for each of your children. However, once you find what works, each child learns so efficiently that it doesn’t matter if you wasted a few years. In the end, the child will “catch up” and eventually surpass what he or she would have accomplished in a classroom setting.

I wholeheartedly agree with Carol. Homeschooling is incredibly efficient and forgiving, which is why homeschooled students are so outstanding, especially those who were homeschooled K-12.

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The Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Convention

The convention was held on the lovely campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. (click for credit)
The convention was held on the lovely campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. (click for credit)

On Friday and Saturday last week, I spoke at the Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Convention in Ontario, Canada. It has been 10 years or more since I last spoke there, so it was nice to be back. The convention was held on the campus of Redeemer University College in Ontario, where the admissions director is a home educator. Like many universities, Redeemer has learned that homeschool graduates make above-average university students (see here, here, here, here, and here), so they actively encourage homeschool graduates to apply. They are also happy to support homeschooling in Canada.

The convention was very well attended, and based on a show of hands at my keynote session, about 20% of the attendees had never been to a homeschool convention before. As I spoke with individual attendees, it became clear that several of the people at the convention were considering home education for the first time. When I mentioned this to one of the conference organizers, he indicated that the new premier of Ontario is introducing a radical sex education program, and it is causing many in Ontario to look for a way out of the government school system. Based on what I read about the new program, I truly hope lots of parents remove their children from such a horrible situation!

I gave a total of six talks at the convention: Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, Be Open-Minded, but Don’t Let Your Brain Fall Out, What About K-6 Science?, Why Homeschool Through High School, ‘Teaching’ High School at Home , and How are Homeschool Graduates Doing? When I give talks in a different country, I always try to make them relevant for that country, so most of the statistics I shared came from Canadian education studies, and most of the experts I quoted in my talks were Canadian. The conference organizers really appreciated that. I guess some U.S. speakers come to Canada and just assume that all of their U.S.-based talks are relevant to Canadians, and some of them just aren’t.

One thing I have to note is that this convention really knew how to make an out-of-the-country speaker feel right at home. They arranged for me to have a home-cooked dinner the night that I arrived, and it was great! The couple who hosted me had three charming children, two of whom colored pictures for me. Those pictures are now on my bulletin board in my office. Then, each morning, another couple cooked breakfast for me. The other meals were catered by Redeemer University College. Everyone made sure I had everything I needed to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t get pampered like that very often, and it was really nice!

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