The pandemic delayed it, but Science in the Atomic Age has finally been finished and is available for purchase! The course is targeted at 7th/8th grade, depending on the student’s math level and experience with science. In general, students who are two years from starting algebra and have covered at least a couple of years’ worth of elementary science should take this course. Most publicly-schooled students would take a course like this in 8th grade, but homeschooled students at this age are generally a grade level ahead of their publicly-schooled counterparts. While it can be viewed as a continuation of my Science Through History series, students who have covered elementary science in some other way can use it as well.
The course is arranged so that students get a general introduction to science. It does this by exploring science through the levels of organization found in creation. First, it covers the atom. Students learn not only how scientists currently view the atom, but also how scientists arrived at that view. Throughout the discussion, I emphasize the way scientists dealt with the unknown. When Bohr proposed his model, which was based on quantum theory, he freely admitted that it was crazy, but he thought it had some merit because it could explain experimental results that no other model could explain. I share one of his iconic quotes with the students:1
Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.
I try to emphasize that Bohr couldn’t explain how his model was consistent with the science that was known at the time. However, he was forced to think it had merit because it was so successful at explaining and predicting the results of experiments.
I am writing this post because a reader asked me a question that I thought was very interesting and relates to a broader concept in biology. Before I answer her question, however, I want to make an important point about the virus that causes COVID-19 and how we should react to it. A few weeks ago, I gave the commencement address to a group of homeschoolers. Before I started my official remarks, I said this:
I am not going to say much about this virus, but I will say this: As a scientist, let me assure you that no one really knows what we should be doing. There are a lot of experts saying a lot of different things, and you should listen to all of them. Then, you should decide what works best for you and your family, and you should start doing it. But once you decide what you and your family should be doing, please please please show grace to those who choose to do something different. Since the experts can’t agree on a proper course of action, there is no reason to expect your neighbor to agree with your course of action.
I think that is the best way to approach this pandemic. The experts still can’t agree on exactly what to do because we just don’t know enough about this virus to make definitive choices. As a result of this ignorance, we must all muddle through this as best we can and realize that none of us has all the correct answers.
Now let me share my reader’s question:
Recently I came across a discussion online about quorum sensing in viruses. The initial topic had been the difference between groups meeting indoors verses outdoors, as many churches are now doing. I had never heard of quorum sensing before, so I did a little research, but I wondered if you would consider addressing this sometime. It sounds pretty fascinating to think viruses and such can actually monitor their environment.
Perhaps it’s the academic in me, but I am always bothered when I see a quote attributed to someone who never said or wrote it. The situation becomes even more frustrating when it is someone whose work I know well. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning and saw the following:
You do not have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.
While I appreciate the thought, it was not something C.S. Lewis ever wrote, and I can’t find any record of anyone saying that he heard Lewis say that. In fact, the phrase was written several years before Lewis was born.
It can be found in a magazine called The British Friend, which was an important publication among Quakers in the United Kingdom. The author is discussing the way a Quaker should mourn the death of a loved one. To emphasize that the body is a temporary vessel but the soul is eternal, he states:1
“Never tell a child,” said George Macdonald, “you have a soul. Teach him, you are a soul; you have a body.” As we learn to think of things always in this order, that the body is but the temporary clothing of the soul, our views of death and the unbefittingness of customary mourning will approximate to those of Friends of earlier generations.
Since the author attributes this quote to George Macdonald, a minister Lewis respected and admired, you might say that perhaps C.S. Lewis said this in a lecture, quoting George Macdonald. That could be true, but I seriously doubt the Oxford Don would do that without giving proper attribution!
1. W. H. F. A., “Be Not Entangled Again in a Yoke of Bondage,” The British Friend July 5, 1892, p. 157. Return to Text
***PLEASE NOTE: This is not a political post, and all political comments will be deleted without mercy.***
A good friend of mine asked me about something he had seen on Facebook. It wasn’t this particular post, but the message was the same. The image on the left comes from the post I linked. As it shows, the Coronavirus bill that became law on March 27, 2020 (called the CARES ACT) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 24, 2019. That’s long before we knew about the COVID-19 pandemic. How in the world could this bill be introduced in the House before anyone knew about the virus? As the Facebook post says:
Attention: The conspiracy theorists were right in calling this a “plandemic” and the proof can be found at www.congress.gov. Look up H.R. 748- CARES Act (the Bill that was passed for Coronavirus relief).
To someone uninitiated in the vagaries of legislation in the United States, the fact that the bill was introduced almost a year before anyone heard about the novel Coronavirus does seem to confirm that the entire pandemic was planned. However, like most conspiracy theories, a bit of education is all it takes to understand the real reason behind this odd timeline.
The U.S. Constitution says that all spending bills must originate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Thus, to be Constitutional, any spending bill (including the CARES act) must originate in the House. After it passes the House, it moves on to the Senate for consideration. During that process, the Senate can amend the bill, changing things it doesn’t like. However, once the Senate passes an amended bill, it must go back to the House, and it cannot be sent to the President for his signature until the House concurs with the Senate’s version of the bill.
Because Congress wanted the CARES act to move quickly, it essentially skipped the first step. It did so by taking a bill that had already passed the House and been sent to the Senate. That bill was HR 748, which was originally entitled, “Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019.” Its intent was to repeal a tax that the Affordable Care Act placed on “Cadillac” health insurance plans. It passed the House but was never voted on by the Senate. As a result, it just “sat” in the Senate until March of 2020.
At that point, the pandemic was upon us, and the Senate decided it needed to pass a relief bill fast. It took HR 748, stripped the bill of its content, changed the title, and “amended” it by writing an entirely new bill. The details of the bill were crafted with input from the House leadership so that once it passed the Senate, the House would quickly concur with the “amendment” so that it could be signed by the President, who had also been consulted to ensure that he would sign it right away.
So the strange timeline of the CARES act is the result of a “loophole” that the Senate uses in order to speed up the passage of a spending bill, not because the pandemic had been planned ahead of time. You might wonder if using such a “loophole” is really Constitutional. I personally don’t have enough expertise to figure that one out. I have read legal opinions on both sides of the issue, and they just left me with a headache. However, I can tell you that this is not the first time the Senate has used it. In fact, the Affordable Care Act, which was originally called the “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009,” was passed in the same way.
The more we learn about the universe, the more we see that it is a product of design. Indeed, for quite some time now, many scientists have recognized that the universe is finely-tuned for life. There are many parameters that govern how things happen in the universe, and they all have the characteristics of being just what they need to be for life to flourish. An electron, for example, is precisely as negative as the proton is positive, despite the fact that they are very, very different particles. If the charges were off by as little as one billionth of one percent, the resulting electrical imbalance in molecules would make even very small objects too unstable to form.1 The most obvious explanation for such fine-tuning is that the universe has been designed for life.
Now, of course, if you don’t want to believe that the universe is a product of design, you can offer any number of desperate alternatives. Perhaps we are just very fortunate. After all, if the universe weren’t designed for life, we wouldn’t be here to study it, so the very fact that we can discover these relationships tells us that the universe just happened to evolve into one that appears to be finely-tuned for life. You could also suggest that there are a ridiculously large number of universes out there. Most of them don’t have life, because they don’t have the proper parameters. However, if there are many, many universes, there’s a high likelihood that at least one will have all the right parameters, making it appear to be finely-tuned for life. You could also argue that there are actually a lot of combinations of parameters that might work for life; we just don’t know them. In that case, the universe’s apparent fine-tuning is an illusion.
Author Michael Shellenberger’s career has been one of climate activism. He was named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment back in 2008. He and co-author Ted Nordhaus wrote the ground-breaking book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, which won the 2008 Green Book Award. He now runs Environmental Progress, which has two goals: to lift all humans out of poverty, and to save the natural environment.
Recently, he penned a letter that was originally published at the Forbes website. However, it was quickly taken down, because it didn’t conform to the narrative that Forbes is trying to impose. This isn’t the first time Forbes has published a reasonable article that was then removed for violating its orthodoxy, and it probably won’t be the last. After all, as more people learn the science behind global climate change, aka global warming, more articles challenging Forbes’ dogma will surface. Some of them will probably make it past the censors, but when their heresy is later exposed, they will be put on Forbes’Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
Fortunately for all of us, Shellenberger’s organization has defied the Inquisition and has published the article that the censors at Forbes removed. I encourage you to read the entire article, but in brief, Shellenberger offers an apology on behalf of those who have been trying to frighten you regarding global climate change, aka global warming. Why is he apologizing? Because he knows enough science to realize that
Climate change is happening. It’s just not the end of the world. It’s not even our most serious environmental problem.
Unfortunately, as his letter says, he stayed silent about the science because he believes that cutting carbon-dioxide emissions is a good thing. Thus, he worked alongside the fear-mongers without speaking out against their anti-science rhetoric. Now, however, he thinks that the assault against science has gotten out of control, and he was forced speak out.
I encourage you to read his entire apology. Not only will you learn some good science, you will see how an honorable person admits that he acted wrongly.
Dr. Sy Garte holds an earned Ph.D. in biochemistry from the City University of New York and a B.S. in chemistry from the City College of New York. He is an accomplished scientist, with over 200 publications in the peer-reviewed literature. Throughout his career, he held several very important positions, including Division Director of Physiological and Pathological Sciences at the Center for Scientific Review, which is responsible for thousands of grants that provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support important medical research. I didn’t know anything about him until one of my readers sent me an article he wrote in Christianity Today. I was immediately hooked by its title:
I Assumed Science Had All the Answers. Then I Started Asking Inconvenient Questions.
Essentially, Dr. Garte was raised a communist and an atheist. As a result, he relied on science to provide answers to all his questions. However, as he got older, he started asking questions to which science has no real answers. He then met some scientifically-minded Christians who led him to church. That led him to read the Bible, which he says he knew was false, even though he had never read it. Not surprisingly, he was surprised by what he read. Eventually, an Evangelical preacher on the radio led him to his Savior.
Because I am a scientist, I know a lot of people who think like Dr. Garte once did. Some of them believe science has all the answers because they were indoctrinated to believe it and simply won’t consider how absurd such an idea is. Others believe it because science has produced a lot of wonders that make our lives healthier, easier, and more enjoyable. Others believe it simply because they think it’s “cool” to say inane things like, “I believe in science.” I have many Facebook “friends” who fall into that last category. However, like Dr. Garte, anyone who understands science and thinks deeply about it will end up agreeing with Dr. Erwin Schrödinger, the man who gave us our modern view of the atom:1
…the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
Obviously, Dr. Garte came to agree with Dr. Schrödinger, and he has now turned to the Source of real Truth, which is wonderful!
I learned about the power of the Bible as a guide from God to the central questions of our existence. I learned that the true purpose of science is to describe how things are, not to engage in misplaced speculation about why the world is the way it is. I learned that modern atheist taunts about the purposelessness and meaninglessness of the universe and our own existence are not only false but destructive. Most importantly, I learned that nothing I have learned came through my own merit, but only from the grace of our Lord, whose love and mercy are beyond understanding.
1. Erwin Schrödinger, Nature and the Greeks and Science and Humanism (Cambridge University Press, 2014) p. 95. Return to Text
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the lead members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force was recently on the US Department of Health and Human Services’ podcast, which is called “The Learning Curve.” It exists so people can hear from experts in the department, learning what those experts are doing and what they think you should know. Obviously, Dr. Fauci was on to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some of what he said on the podcast was valuable, he made one statement that shows he is completely out of touch with most people in the United States:
One of the problems we face in the United States is that unfortunately, there is a combination of an anti-science bias that people are — for reasons that sometimes are, you know, inconceivable and not understandable — they just don’t believe science and they don’t believe authority…
Now, of course, you can always find people who don’t believe science for a variety of reasons. In my experience, however, they are few and far between. The majority of people in the United States hold science in very high regard. For example, Scientific American recently conducted a poll that found 90% of the people they surveyed wanted science to have a significant influence on society. An additional 7% wanted science to have some influence, which leaves a mere 3% that wanted science to have no influence at all. This is consistent with what I see around the nation. Most people believe science, some are skeptical, and very few think it has no value.
If people in the United States believe science, why does Dr. Fauci think they don’t? Because he is confusing science with scientists. As a scientist myself, let me put this very bluntly: In general, you can trust science. However, you cannot trust many scientists. Why do I say this? The Scientific American article linked above gives one reason: Many scientists have values that conflict with the majority of people in the United States, and those values affect how they interpret the science they know. For example, when a scientist doesn’t recognize that this world is a product of design, he or she will be led to all sorts of false conclusions. When the scientist communicates those false conclusions as if they are absolute fact, many reasonable people end up distrusting him or her.
But the Scientific American article linked above misses the more important reason people don’t trust scientists. It’s because scientists regularly make statements that they claim are absolutely true, but eventually, those statements are shown to be false. I highlighted a recent example a year ago. Visitors to Glacier National Park were told that computer models indicated the glaciers they are admiring will be gone by 2020. Well, it’s 2020, and the glaciers are still at the park. So what did the scientists do? Did they admit to their mistake? No. They quietly removed the signs, hoping the mistake would go unnoticed. In this day and age, however, such things rarely do.
The nonsense about the glaciers isn’t an isolated example. Time and time again, scientists make pronouncements and even take action based on ideas that they claim are absolutely true, but end up being utterly false. It was thought for a long time that the human appendix was a useless remnant of evolution. This silly notion was believed by surgeons, so many would remove the appendix from a patient having abdominal surgery, even if the appendix was entirely healthy. We now know that the appendix is an important lymphatic organ, and people without an appendix are more likely to have difficulty recovering from certain intestinal diseases. Tonsils are another example. It was once common practice to remove inflamed tonsils rather than treat the inflammation with medicine, because tonsils were supposed to be a leftover vestige of evolution. People who were unfortunate enough to be treated by someone who believed such nonsense (me, for example) are much more likely to suffer from respiratory, allergic, and infectious diseases. The fact that scientists routinely make definitive statements which are later shown to be wrong is so well-known that it is the subject of comedy routines.
In the end, scientists have themselves to blame when it comes to people not believing their pronouncements. They have betrayed the public trust too many times, because they have forgotten that by its very nature, science is tentative. Thus, it cannot be used to make grand pronouncements of absolute truth. Scientists have to realize that they are not priests. They are people who have expertise, but that expertise is based on a method of inquiry which routinely produces false conclusions. Rather than making grand pronouncements about the “truth,” they should show people the evidence and explain how they interpret the evidence. If they don’t communicate science that way, the public has no choice but to distrust them.
I watched the discussion live, and I appreciated the fact that all the panelists were collegial. While they all had different ideas regarding homeschooling, there were no personal attacks or insults. That can’t be said about the text comments that were being added by some of the people who were watching. According to the software, 1,100 people were watching once the introductions were over, and 2,009 were watching by the very end, which was just over an hour and a half later.
The main issue that all the panelists addressed was how much government intervention should exist when it comes to home education. Here are the ways I would summarize each panelist’s position as expressed in the discussion: Professor Bartholet thinks that parents must demonstrate that they will be effective educators and provide a safe environment before they should be allowed to homeschool. Kerry McDonald said that there really shouldn’t be any government intervention, since the government has shown that it cannot educate children well or keep them safe. Neal McCluskey said that there should be limited intervention, confined to making sure children are not being abused or neglected. However, he emphasized that this should be done through the existing criminal processes, which assume innocence until guilt is proven. Professor Gaither didn’t really offer an opinion, but said that he has been horrified by some of the news accounts of abuse done by homeschooling parents. He also gave a history of homeschooling that was a bit biased, but relatively accurate.
I meet a lot of different people. Some of them are fans, and they offer me high praise. Some of them are definitely not fans, and they offer me insults. Some of them share common interests with me, and they support me in those interests. Many of them are brothers and sisters in Christ, and they offer me love. I am sure that the vast majority of those brothers and sisters are sincere in their offer, but every once in a while, I meet a brother or sister who actually demonstrates the love of Christ to me. One of those sisters was Ellen Irene Parran. While she is now gone from this world, it will continue to be a better place because of her effect on it.
I met Sister Parran (who quickly became Mother Parran to me) because I spoke at the Creation Evidence Expo, which was organized by her son-in-law, Pastor Fredrick Boyd, Jr. of Zion Unity Baptist Church. I am sure I was introduced to her earlier, but my first memory of her was something that happened at a dinner she had prepared for the speakers. The ribs she made were the best I had ever eaten, and I went over to her and told her that. She smiled and told me that she was happy I liked them, and I turned around to go back to where I was sitting. However, she gently grabbed my shoulders, turned me around, looked me straight in my eyes, and said:
I love you Dr. Jay. Don’t you ever forget that.
It’s easy for someone to say those words, and it’s easy for me to hear them and quickly forget them. However, looking deep into Mother Parran’s eyes, it was clear that she really meant what she said. And, more importantly, she lived out those words. Whenever I saw her, whether it was because of the Expo or because I was just visiting, she would make sure that all my needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual) were being met. When my wife was diagnosed with cancer, she regularly sent me encouraging messages, assuring me that she was praying for us. In short, she lived out those words from the time she said them until the time she died.
Of course, her love was not just lavished on me. It was given to anyone who would receive it, regardless of color, creed, or nationality. I remember one time a bunch of us were sitting around a table, and during a break in the conversation, she said:
This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
At first I didn’t understand the context, but as I looked around the table, I figured out what she meant. There were men and women with several different skin colors from several different countries, and we were all united because of our love of Jesus.
I attended her funeral on Saturday, which was called her “Homegoing Celebration,” and those words immediately came back to my mind. The church contained people with different skin colors from different countries, but we were all united by the love that she gave us, which was a result of her love for Jesus. Indeed, the sanctuary of the church that morning was an example of what God’s kingdom looks like.
As those very different people spoke about how she had changed their lives, I could not help but think 1 Corinthians 13:13:
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Because of the way she loved others, Mother Parran is one of the greatest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She is gone, and I will miss her, but the power of her love has already changed the world for the better, and it will continue to do so through the people who were fortunate enough to experience it.