Ignoring the Log for the Speck

The Parable of the Mote and the Beam by Domenico Fetti (c. 1589 – 1623)

A reader sent me an article from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). It is about a summit being held by Harvard Law School. Scheduled to happen in June of this year, the summit is supposed to address problems that exist within the homeschooling community. As the HSLDA article indicates, the lineup of speakers is a “Who’s Who” of anti-homeschooling advocates and advocates of strict governmental regulation over home education. HSLDA is rightly worried about this conference, especially since there don’t seem to be any homeschooling advocates among the speakers.

The HSLDA article provides a link to the summit’s website, and I was struck by the title: “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform.” When I read that title, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words, recorded in Matthew 7:1-5:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

The organizers of this summit are behaving exactly the way Jesus describes. They are worried about the problems associated with homeschooling, when those problems are incredibly rampant in the public schooling system. What are these problems? The website says:

The focus will be on problems of educational deprivation and child maltreatment that too often occur under the guise of homeschooling, in a legal environment of minimal or no oversight.

The irony should be obvious. Educational deprivation and child maltreatment are RAMPANT in the government-regulated public schools, but the organizers of this summit think that government regulation is needed to keep it from happening in home schools!

If you don’t understand the severity of these problems in government-regulated public schools, you haven’t looked at the data. Students in our public schools routinely experience educational deprivation. It is estimated that about one-fifth of high school graduates are functionally illiterate. Testing indicates that seniors in public school perform well under the international average in mathematics. Performance on the ACT indicates that more than 25% of high school graduates who plan to go to college are not prepared for it. The list could go on and on.

What’s even more alarming is the rate of child maltreatment in the public schools. A government report estimates that 1 out of every 10 children will suffer sexual abuse in the public schools. If you weren’t aware of how rampant sexual abuse is in our public schools, I suggest you spend some time at Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation. The stories are heart-wrenching, and unfortunately, the public schools have a pattern of covering up these incidents, which leads to them becoming even more common.

Now please understand the point I am trying to make here. I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to address the issue of educational deprivation and child maltreatment in home schooling. What I am saying is that government regulation isn’t very effective at getting the job done. After all, government regulation is much, much easier in public schools, where the students are regularly in the presence of government employees. Even in such an environment, however, educational deprivation and child maltreatment are rampant.

In the end, if these speakers and the organizers of this summit are really interested in the welfare of homeschooled students, they should work with homeschooling organizations, not against them. Homeschooling organizations know the homeschooling population better than government organizations. As a result, they would be more effective at helping to correct educational deprivation and child maltreatment among homeschoolers, which I suspect is significantly less common than it is in the public schools.

Unfortunately, based on the list of invited speakers at this summit, my guess is that the participants will advocate working against homeschoolers, which will ultimately produce more educational deprivation and child maltreatment, not less.

Posted in Home Education | 7 Comments

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Finding yourself in lock down with ever decreasing possibilities for conversation? Click on the button below to retrieve a random post from this blog. Use the post as a topic for your conversation. If it fails to generate sufficient interaction split into two groups to argue for or against the topic in the post but assign members randomly so some in the “for” group have to argue against and some in the “against” group have to argue for the topic. Click the button and have some fun!

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Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Possible Treatment for COVID-19

A transmission electron microscope image of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The spikes surrounding the virus make it look like a crown, which is where it gets its name. (click for credit)

While countries are scrambling to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus), doctors are trying to find the best treatment for it. In three separate studies, a surprising candidate has been found: the anti-malarial drug chloroquine. In a letter that was published on February 19th, three Chinese scientists reported that more than 100 patients were given the drug. Based on the patients’ responses, they write:

…chloroquine phosphate is superior to the control treatment in inhibiting the exacerbation of pneumonia, improving lung imaging findings, promoting a virusnegative conversion, and shortening the disease course…

The authors also report that there were no adverse side effects noted in the patients.

A report in Spanish (translation here) concurs. It discusses both the results seen in patients and the results of experiments where primate cells are infected with the virus and then treated with chloroquine. The conclusion is as follows:

Chloroquine can both prevent and treat coronavirus in primate cells…According to South Korean and China human treatment guidelines, chloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19. Given chloroquine’s human safety profile and existence, it can be implemented today in the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world.

Finally, a study published in the journal Nature confirms that when primate cells are infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, both chloroquine and an antiviral drug known as remdesivir were effective at fighting it. The researchers state:

Our findings reveal that remdesivir and chloroquine are highly effective in the control of 2019-nCoV infection in vitro. Since these compounds have been used in human patients with a safety track record and shown to be effective against various ailments, we suggest that they should be assessed in human patients suffering from the novel coronavirus disease.

Now, of course, these studies are far from conclusive. However, I expect that doctors will judiciously test the treatment on patients who volunteer for it. Hopefully, that will allow us to learn more. Perhaps an effective treatment is on the horizon!

Posted in Medical Science, Modern Science | 7 Comments

More Thoughts on the New Coronavirus

An infographic adapted from one produced by the CDC (click for larger version)

A few readers have sent me questions regarding the coronavirus that is spreading across the world, so I thought I would make a post answering those questions and providing some resources you can use to deal with the issue. Please note, however, that I am neither a medical doctor nor a biologist. As a result, I don’t claim any expertise on the matter. However, there are some misconceptions about the virus that are easily cleared up, and there are some facts that anyone who can understand the scientific literature should share.

First, a few facts. The term “coronavirus” refers to a very large group of viruses that circulate mostly among mammals and birds. However, some are able to infect people. Most coronaviruses that infect people produce mild illnesses, but some (like this one) produce potentially fatal ones. The coronavirus that is in the news right now is one that has not been seen before. This is not unusual. When an animal is infected with two different versions of the coronavirus, they can mix together, producing a new (usually called “novel”) coronavirus. This particular novel coronavirus has been charmingly named SARS-CoV-2, and it causes the disease referred to as COVID-19. Because of that, it is sometimes referred to as the “COVID-19 virus.”

The reason it has been given the name SARS-CoV-2 is that its genetic sequences indicate it is very similar to the virus that caused the SARS outbreak of 2003. Based on that sequence, it is thought that the virus originated in bats, but it might have passed through another animal (possibly a scaly anteater) before infecting people. Most importantly, there is strong evidence against the idea that it was genetically engineered. This is because the way it infects people is quite different from what would have been predicted given our current knowledge about these viruses. In other words, it is very hard to believe that anyone knowledgable enough to engineer a virus would purposefully make the genetic sequences that end up allowing the virus to be so good at infecting people.

The illness caused by this virus is flu-like, but it is much more serious than the flu. The death rate caused by the flu changes from year-to-year, depending on the strains that circulate. However, on average, the flu has a death rate of about 0.1%. That means for every 1,000 people who get the flu, 1 will die. Even though that is a low death rate, a lot of people get the flu. As a result, millions of people die from the flu every year. We don’t know the death rate for this new virus, since we don’t really know how many people have actually been infected, but the best estimate so far is that the death rate is about 2%. That means this virus is thought to be 20 times more deadly than the flu virus.

Second, the resources. The infographic above has been adapted from one that was produced by the CDC. The university at which I teach has asked all its professors to post this electronically as well as wherever students might be found. It is basic, but nevertheless, it does contain some helpful information. This link will take you to the latest information regarding where the virus has been detected, how many people have been infected, and how many people have died.

In general, the best way to avoid being infected by this virus is to avoid other people and avoid going to places where it has been found. The virus spreads most effectively when an infected person is within a few feet of an uninfected person. However, it might also be transferred by surfaces. If someone sneezes on a surface and someone else touches that surface, the virus can be transferred to the hand. Then, if that person touches his or her mouth, nose, or eyes, it is possible for the virus to begin an infection. Thus, you need to wash your hands a lot and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth in between washings.

The most important thing to remember is that while the illness caused by this virus has a death rate that is thought to be about 2% on average, it is significantly higher for elderly people, people who are already sick with something else, and people with weakened immune systems. Thus, if you show any of the signs of the illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and think you might have been in contact with someone who has the virus, you should seek medical help.

While there are several groups working on a vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus, the earliest a vaccine could possibly be ready would be at least a year from now. My guess, given that I am anything but an expert about these things, is that it will not be needed. The disease seems to have already plateaued in China, and I expect other countries to be a bit better at reducing the spread. Thus, I expect that the spread of the disease will slow down significantly before a vaccine can be approved for use. I could easily be wrong about that, however.

Posted in Answered Questions, Medical Science, Modern Science | 7 Comments

No Other Explanation: Dinosaur DNA!

Cells In two different stages of mitosis. The dark areas represent DNA, which is most likely damaged but still at least partially arranged in chromosomes.
(image from paper being discussed)

Despite the overwhelming evidence, there are some who are skeptical that soft tissue can be found in dinosaur fossils. Even among those who think that there may be soft tissue in some dinosaur fossils, there are those who think that there is no way complex molecules like DNA could possibly be found in that tissue. Well, Dr. Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues have recently published a study that, as far as I am concerned, should put all doubts to rest. Yes, dinosaur fossils do contain soft tissue and original dinosaur biomolecules, including DNA.

The study involves a detailed investigation of fossils from duck-billed dinosaur (Hypacrosaurus stebingeri) nestlings that are supposed to be 75 million years old. The authors examined cartilage tissue under the microscope and found what were obviously cells. Of course, that’s nothing unusual. The Dinosaur Soft Tissue Research Institute has some really great examples of dinosaur cells and other delicate structures from dinosaur fossils. They also have evidence for RNA in the fossils (see here, here, and here).

What’s new (and in my mind definitive) about this study is that they applied two different DNA stains to the tissue. The stains are designed to bind only to DNA, and when you use two different stains and see them both bind to the same structures, you have doubly confirmed the presence of DNA. Of course, what they saw could be DNA stains binding to DNA that contaminated the fossil, right? Wrong! The image at the top of the post indicates why. If I ask anyone who has taken a good high school biology class what the red box is drawn around, he or she should be able to tell me.

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Posted in Age of the Earth, Modern Science | 9 Comments

A Newly-Discovered Component of Blood!

This transmission electron microscope image shows the structure of the newly-discovered blood component: functional mitochondria enclosed in vesicles.
(click for credit)

I have been teaching science for 34 years. I have been writing science textbooks for 27 years. I can’t tell you how many times I have written about blood and its components. Indeed, I am writing a 7th-grade textbook right now (Science in the Atomic Age), and it has a couple of sections on the properties and characteristics of human blood. As usual, I discuss the cellular components of blood (red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets) as well as the chemical components of blood (blood clotting factors, water, electrolytes, various proteins, etc.). I honestly thought we understood blood pretty well. However, God’s creation is so complex and intricate, it still surprises us. In a recently-published paper, scientists have found that blood contains something no one ever noticed before, and it is neither cellular nor chemical. It is something in between!

To understand what was found, you need to know that cells in fungi, plants, animals, and people contain small structures that are responsible for burning chemicals from your food and packaging the resulting energy into small units that the cells can use. Those structures are called mitochondria. While most of a cell’s DNA is held in the nucleus of the cell, there is some DNA found in the mitochondria. Not surprisingly, it is called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to distinguish it from the DNA found in the nucleus, which is called nuclear DNA (nDNA).

I had learned quite some time ago that there was a lot more mtDNA in blood than nDNA, but that always made sense to me. Red blood cells have neither, because they eject their nucleus and mitochondria when they mature. However, white blood cells have both. When someone extracts DNA from blood, he or she is getting the nuclear DNA from the white blood cells. Well, each cell has several mitochondria and only one nucleus, so the white blood cells will contribute more mtDNA than nDNA to blood. In addition, blood platelets have mitochondria but no nucleus, so they are contributing a lot of mtDNA and no nDNA.

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Posted in Modern Science, The Wonders of Creation | 5 Comments

Our Best Computer is Positively PRIMITIVE Compared to the Human Brain

A small selection of the connections in the human brain (left) and the world’s most powerful supercomputer (right).
Image on left by the PIT Bioinformatics Group. Image on right by the OLCF at ORNL.
Creative commons licensing. Click for specifics.

I have been working on my new book, Science in the Atomic Age, which (Lord willing) will be published this summer. In the section where I cover the nervous system, I compare a mouse brain and a human brain to computers. It’s rather fascinating. Below, you will find a slightly-edited excerpt from that discussion. Please note that the students have already learned that neurons are cells found in nervous tissue and that the integumentary system is the system of organs that makes your skin:

The brain has three major divisions: the cerebrum (suh ree’ brum), the cerebellum (sehr’ uh bell’ uhm), and the brain stem. The cerebrum is in charge of most of the really complicated things that the brain does. For example, it receives signals from your eyes and interprets them so that you can see. It receives signals from your ears and interprets them so you can hear. It receives signals from all the nervous tissue in your integumentary system so that you can figure out what you are touching as well as things like whether you are too warm, too cold, or comfortable. It also helps you learn, and it stores your memories. All this takes a lot of work, so it requires a lot of neurons.

How many neurons? The average adult cerebrum contains about 20 billion neurons. That number doesn’t mean very much by itself, so by comparison, the average adult mouse cerebrum contains about 2.5 million neurons. So the human cerebrum contains about 10,000 times as many neurons as a mouse’s cerebrum. Of course, a mouse is much smaller than a person. By weight, a person is about 3,000 times as heavy as a mouse. At least part of the difference between a mouse’s cerebrum and a person’s cerebrum is due to that. But people are much more intelligent than mice, and the number of neurons in the cerebrum must also be related to that.

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Posted in Home Education, Intelligent Design, Modern Science, The Wonders of Creation | 4 Comments

68% of the Universe May Not Exist!

The history of the universe, according to the standard model of cosmology (click for credit)

Unsuspecting students are often taught “facts” that are anything but actual facts. Consider, for example, what NASA says about the nature of the universe:

It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.

What is this thing called “dark energy” that supposedly makes up more than half of the universe? NASA honestly says that no one has any idea. However, NASA assures students that we know that 68% of the universe is made up of it.

Of course, what NASA (and most astrophysicists) neglect to tell students is that the entire existence of dark energy, including its amount in the universe, is based on a myriad of assumptions, some of which are almost certainly not true. Nevertheless, they assure students that they know dark energy exists and that most of the universe is made up of it. The cold, hard truth, however, is that everything we know about dark energy is based on models, and those models are built on assumptions. If the assumptions are wrong, the models could be wrong, and if the models are wrong, the whole idea of dark energy could be wrong.

This issue was brought front and center with the recent publication of a paper that challenges one of the assumptions that is instrumental in the conclusion that dark energy exists. If the results of this paper are confirmed, dark energy will be thrown into the same trash bin as phlogiston, luminiferous ether, and the impossibility of quasicrystals.

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Posted in Modern Science, Science Myths | 3 Comments

The Inquisition Is Furious About Brazil!

The logo of the Intelligent Design Research Institute at Mackensie University in Brazil. (click for source)

Bill Nye says and writes a lot of ignorant things (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). While it is hard to choose the most ignorant statement he has ever made, this one has to be in the top five:

Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.

I have already shown how that statement is 100% false, and anyone who even casually investigates the issue would know that it is false. However, as the links above show, investigation is definitely not one of Nye’s strong suits! I was reminded of his incredibly ignorant statement when I read this article, from the journal Science.

Like Bill Nye, the author of the article doesn’t seem to understand how to investigate an issue. Nevertheless, the article has some interesting content. It seems that the federal government in Brazil has appointed Dr. Benedito Guimarães Aguiar Neto to head an agency called CAPES, which oversees Brazil’s graduate study programs. This is noteworthy, because Dr. Neto was instrumental in forming an Intelligent Design Research Center at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in Brazil. Of course, this infuriates the Scientific Inquisition, because Intelligent Design has been officially declared as heresy by the High Priests of Science. To have someone who believes in heresy positioned in a powerful educational office is unthinkable! As the article tells us, one Brazilian biologist has said:

It is completely illogical to place someone who has promoted actions contrary to scientific consensus in a position to manage programs that are essentially of scientific training.

Of course, that very statement is incredibly anti-science, because almost all of the great scientific advancements in history come from the very act of questioning the scientific consensus. I would think that every institution of higher education should have many high-level officials who challenge the scientific consensus.

As I said, the author of the article doesn’t seem to be able to investigate an issue, since he calls Dr. Neto a “creationist.” I realize that the term is very broad, but there is no indication that Dr. Neto is a creationist. In fact, all he has stated is that Intelligent Design should be introduced in Brazil’s basic educational curriculum. I suspect that he is an advocate of intelligent design for that reason, but that doesn’t make him a creationist. Dr. David Berlinski is an advocate of Intelligent Design, and he doesn’t even believe in God. However, if you are a lazy writer, it is easier to falsely label a person than it is to actually investigate what that person believes.

In any event, I can’t help but see this as a step in the right direction. The progress of science depends on questioning the scientific consensus. Whether or not it was intentional, Brazil’s government decided to appoint someone who is skeptical of the consensus in a position of influence when it comes to science education. Not only does this further demonstrate that Bill Nye’s statement is breathtakingly ignorant, but it also gives us more indication that the biological sciences are slowly emerging from the quagmire of NeoDarwinism and getting ready to truly advance.

Posted in Creationism, Intelligent Design, Modern Science | 6 Comments

Famous Australian Atheist Politician Becomes a Christian

Former Governor General of Australia, Bill Hayden (click for credit)

I have always been amazed by the many different ways God calls His people to Him. For me, God used science to convince me that there had to be a Creator. From there, I came to realize that the Creator is the God of the Bible. For others, it’s specific people who are influential in their lives. For others, it’s a specific experience or a long list of experiences that add together to lead them home. To see what I mean, read some of the accounts I have written about atheists who became Christians.

This account is of Bill Hayden, a famous politician in Australia. He worked in government for 35 years, ending his storied career as the Governor-General of Australia, the highest executive office in the land. His atheism became well known throughout Australia when he was sworn in to that post. Usually, the Governor-General swears an oath on the Bible, but Hayden ignored that tradition and simply gave an affirmation. In addition, by tradition, the Governor-General is also the Chief Scout of Australia. However, Hayden refused that position, since his atheism was incompatible with the Boy Scout Promise. Instead, he took the role of National Patron for the Australian Boy Scouts.

Why was Bill Hayden an atheist? In an interview, he gave several reasons. His father was an atheist, but his mother was a devout Catholic. He had some bad encounters with pastors and priests. He couldn’t believe some of what he called the “tall stories” in the Bible, such as Naoh’s Ark. However, the turning point in his life came when his five-year-old daughter was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street after Sunday School. A kind priest tried to help him find comfort in prayer, but he found no comfort there. That seems to be the moment he decided he was an atheist.

What called him back home to God? Once again, there were several factors. However, the biggest seemed to be a nun named Sister Angela Mary Doyle. She worked with him to pass what is now called Medicare, Australia’s socialized medicine program. In the interview, he said that when he was with her he thought:

I had been in the presence of a holy one, a holy person. I felt it was something that suffused my system. My chest felt heavily congested with the feeling that I have been lucky…that I had been with a particularly holy person.

That gave him something to which he could relate, and he eventually shed his atheism to follow Christ. Towards the end of the interview, he gives some sound advice to those who are having doubts about Christianity:

Understand your faith. Don’t let your faith be damaged by the failure of a few agents who never allowed their faith to guide them.

As a young man, he certainly didn’t understand the faith. The “tall stories” to which he refers are not hard to believe at all. In fact, they are easier to believe than the tall stories that one must believe in order to be an atheist. However, to see that, you must understand the Scriptures. When his daughter died, he didn’t understand his faith enough to see how it should have comforted him in his time of grief. In addition, we must all keep in mind that many individuals who claim to represent Christ do not actually follow Him. We should not use their actions to judge the faith that they claim to represent.

Posted in Atheists Who Became Christians | 6 Comments