Thursday, December 1, 2016

Research Reminder in a Busy Week

Classes are drawing to a close, and I've been busy this week finishing up my ICC abstracts.  I've been working on a HUGE mammal created kinds project, which is turning out much better than I expected.  I'm trying to do statistical analyses on every mammal group that I can get my hands on.  I've done about 20% of them, which doesn't sound like much, but it's a big move forward for baraminology.

As I was working on the ICC abstract this morning, I remembered that I ought to remind everyone that the deadline for CBS members to have the CBS pay for their submission fees is Monday.  If you're a CBS member and you want to take advantage of this offer, you need to submit your abstract to the ICC then forward your submission receipt to the CBS.  Get more details at the CBS website.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, November 28, 2016

FREE booklet!

In honor of Giving Tuesday tomorrow, Core Academy is giving away a special booklet consisting of two chapters from my Introduction to Science textbook to every donor this week.  Check out the Core Academy website for more details, or just click that Donate button below!

Thanks for your support of Core Academy!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back to Basics

Happy Monday morning, everyone, and to my American readers: Happy Thanksgiving week.  I've been spending a lot of time lately pondering the future of Core Academy of Science.  It's been three years since we launched, and things are coming along.  Personally, my wife and I are moving past the crisis stage of trying to survive.  The Lord faithfully provides our needs, and I'm immensely grateful for that.  I'm also thankful for each and every donor who has provided funding to keep Core Academy going.  Your generosity has been inspirational to me.

I'm still wondering about Core Academy, though.  After all, I could conceivably get a faculty job teaching at a Christian school and run Core Academy as a little side hobby.  Lots of people run small nonprofits in their spare time rather trying to turn a tiny nonprofit into a real job (which is really hard).  I don't think we need yet another AIG or ICR, and I know we don't need another tiny ministry focused on a single individual's writing and speaking.  So what is the purpose of Core Academy?  Why is there a need for us?  Where are we going?

I have a few stock answers to these questions.  I usually say that Core Academy has a unique perspective on the creation/evolution debate that is poorly represented in the wider debate.  We don't think anyone has all the answers, about science or the Bible.  We want to seek answers and invite others to seek answers with us.  I also emphasize our focus on basic science education rather than just origins because so many people seemed confused about science itself. These are important distinctives that give Core Academy a unique identity.  But they're not enough.

In the end, Core Academy looks like a ministry about knowledge.  We focus on science and scientific discoveries.  We create curricula that promote our understanding of science.  It's all about knowledge, and knowledge is a risky thing.  The apostle Paul had some pretty strong words about knowledge to the Corinthians: "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up" (I Cor 8:1).  Later in the same letter, he wrote, "If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (I Cor 13:2).  That's a pretty staggering reality.  Faith and knowledge are not enough.  Being right about doctrine or the Bible is not enough.  We need to put that faith and understanding into action by loving God and neighbor.  Core Academy needs to go back to basics.

Honestly, it sounds a little weird to my ears, but Core Academy needs to become the faith/science ministry defined first and most importantly by love.  In this world where everyone seems to follow the template of propaganda wars, arguing past each other and insulting enemies, Core Academy needs to manifest the attributes of love: patience, kindness, and humility.  We need to rejoice in the truth, wherever it comes from.  We need to give cheerfully and generously to those in need.  We need to show grace to our enemies and listen patiently to their concerns.  And we need to be willing to admit when we've messed up.

So that's a nice idea, but how do we do it?  I'm still working out all the details, but here are a few thoughts:

  • We rejoice in truth.  We love to share new discoveries and ideas as we explore God's creation, and we don't really care where they come from. We love making our own discoveries and encouraging our student researchers to do the same. God's creation is worth celebrating.
  • We give cheerfully.  We sponsor special events and programs to encourage Christians interested in science.  Our annual creation retreat (coming up March 17-19, 2017) is a gift to our southeastern creationist community. Coming up next month, we'll announce our equipment grant awards to six Christian schools to help teachers teach science.
  • We love our enemies.  This is something we're going to work on even harder in the future.  There's a lot of enmity in the creation/evolution debate, and I personally have contributed my fair share of it over the years.  We need to break down those walls and learn to love our enemies, and we need to encourage everyone in the debate to do the same.
These are valuable things.  As we look across the wider culture tearing friendships and families apart over political choices, what better place to show the power of God's love and transforming grace than one of the most contentious corners of the culture wars?  If you think creationism is all about ignorance, arrogance, and argument, I hope Core Academy will give you pause.  If you are a young-age creationist, I hope we can show you a way to use your passion to spread faith, hope, and love.  To our Savior and Creator, thank You for giving us such a wonderful world.  Please make us more like You as we celebrate Your mighty works!

Core Academy wants to be different.  We want to transform the debate by going back to the basics of loving God and neighbor.  I think that's worthy of my commitment and investment, and I hope you'll join us.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ebola surprises again

Ebola virus (CDC)
New research published this week reveals the surprising discovery that the ebola virus doesn't always make people sick.  I've had a keen interest in ebola for a long time, after hearing a lecture in the 1990s from a CDC researcher who worked on the Reston outbreak (his name long forgotten).  As the story goes, in 1989, macaques imported from the Philippines exhibited the nasty symptoms of hemorrhagic fever, namely diarrhea, high fever, and bleeding.  US Army researchers studying the dead monkeys discovered that the monkeys tested positive for ebola virus.  Up to that point, ebola was known only from Africa, and it was well-known to be a potent and terrible killer.  During the documented ebola outbreaks up to that point, hundreds of people had died.  This was the first ebola virus (now called Reston virus) known to come from Asia, and most surprisingly, humans seemed to not show the symptoms it caused in the monkeys.  Several individuals who had worked with the sick monkeys tested positive for antibodies to ebola, and one researcher studying a monkey who had died was accidentally contaminated with the virus but did not develop the disease.  So Reston virus, a close relative of the deadly ebola of Africa, did not cause the same disease in people.

Why did this spark my imagination?  Because I'm very interested in the question of death, the Fall, and where bad things come from.  I've written on the topic of natural evil many times (see this post, for example).  Viruses are one particularly challenging aspect of natural evil.  After all, I can imagine ways that a lion or bark beetle could exist without causing death and destruction (although it might take a pretty wild imagination to do that), but viruses are much more challenging. First up, they're not really alive in the traditional sense.  Viruses only replicate when they hijack other critters' cells, usually destroying those cells in the process.  That's why viruses make us sick.  Ebola is an especially awful virus.  The most recent and most tragic outbreak saw more than 28,000 cases with more than 11,000 deaths.  It was a far greater outbreak than any other ebola outbreak on record.  Why is ebola so deadly?  What's it doing in a good creation?

This week comes new research in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases from Richardson et al. that reveals individuals from Sierra Leone that tested positive for ebola antibodies but who never contracted the disease.  They evaluated 187 individuals from a village that was a hotspot during the most recent outbreak, all of whom could have been exposed to the virus but had not contracted the disease.  Fourteen tested positive for ebola virus.  Two had reported fevers that never developed into full-blown ebola virus disease, but the other twelve denied any symptoms at all.  That means 7.5% of the villagers who did not get ebola virus disease actually had the virus in them.  This is consistent with a previous report this year that found other evidence of ebola infections that did not cause ebola disease.  Both studies estimated that about a quarter of ebola infections in people could cause no symptoms!

That's kind of an astonishing result for a virus with a reputation for being such a killer, and it raises a range of really interesting questions about viruses.  At its most basic, the fact that human beings can be infected with ebola virus without even getting sick shows that ebola is not always a killer.  Maybe the new killer ebola comes from a change in the virus?  Or maybe a change in us?

But where did ebola originally come from, and what's the point of ebola in God's good creation?  I've mentioned before that bats are known to carry the virus generally without symptoms, and that some mammals actually have what appear to be functional ebola virus genes in their genomes.  One of the more intriguing ideas I've heard about viruses came from a paper by Liu and Soper that suggested that our modern viruses (at least retroviruses) might be features that were supposed to be part of our own cells but somehow escaped, possibly after the Fall (I reviewed this idea here).  It's a very, very speculative idea, but I like the creativity of turning the evolutionary concept on its head.  Evolutionary biologists would say that we have virus genes in our genomes because of past infections.  Liu and Soper suggest that it's the other way around: our "virus genes" were the originals, and the viruses have escaped from us.  Here we have ebola viruses that don't cause damage.  The question now is what could the viruses be doing that might be constructive or helpful, if anything?  Or are they irrevocably broken something-or-others escaped from otherwise helpful cellular genes?  I don't know the answers to these questions, but the ebola story continues to fascinate.

Richardson et al. 2016. Minimally Symptomatic Infection in an Ebola ‘Hotspot’: A Cross-Sectional Serosurvey. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 10(11): e0005087.

Dean et al. 2016. Transmissibility and Pathogenicity of Ebola Virus: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Household Secondary Attack Rate and Asymptomatic Infection. Clinical Infectious Diseases 62 (10): 1277-1286.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fear giving in action

Photo: Pixabay
Yesterday I mentioned the power of fear, and the same day, The Atlantic posted the article The Post-Election Surge in Donations illustrating the very point I was trying to make.  They report that the ACLU received $7 million in donations in just five days.  The Sierra Club quadrupled its monthly donation record, and Planned Parenthood got 80,000 donations.  People fear what president-elect Trump is going to do, and rioting is not the only way they respond.

I'm not sure what to say.  I wish people were this generous out of courage rather than fear.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.