Oh Texas, My Texas

Oh Texas, My Texas

You’re having surgery. As you wait in pre-op, your surgeon rushes in, says she is running really late, and would it be ok with you if she didn’t wash her hands or sterilize the instruments?

After all, germ theory is “just a theory.”

Want to jump out of an airplane without a parachute because gravity theory is “just a theory”? 

Newly elected Texas State Representative Terri Leo-Wilson recently introduced HB 1804, requiring Texas schools to present scientific theories in an “objective manner”, which means (according to Leo-Wilson’s bill):

“Clearly distinguishes the theory from fact”

“Includes evidence for both the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory.”

As if a science theory is simply an opinion, and yours is as good as mine. As if a science theory is just a hunch or a guess or worse, someone’s agenda.

When an idea reaches the status of a “theory” in science, it is something about which we are quite certain. When a hypothesis has been tested over many decades, by multiple scientists, in multiple labs world-wide, and that hypothesis continues to be supported by evidence and continues to predict where new evidence will be found, the hypothesis is accepted as a theory. 

A science theory. 

In a hierarchy of terms, theories rank above facts and laws. Science theories make sense of facts and laws. Science theories are tweaked as we learn more, but the foundations of theories do not change. We aren’t going to decide that it actually IS the alignment of the planets that causes disease, and not pathogens.

I bet Representative Leo-Wilson is not advocating for teaching the strengths and weaknesses of germ theory or gravity theory or atomic theory or cell theory.

Just go ahead and say it: Texas kids can’t learn about evolution.

A couple of decades ago, a group of creationists persuaded the Kansas state board of education to erase all references to the wealth of Cretaceous-era fossils (for which Kansas is world-famous) in the state science curriculum. A textbook company responded by deleting a chapter referencing Kansas’ geologic history. 

For a few years, Kansas schoolchildren sat in schools built on land with a geologic history that never happened, according to the curriculum. It took a while, but the Kansas decision was reversed.

Texas, do better. 

A Book Easter Egg

A Book Easter Egg

Last fall I announced a contract with Eerdmans Publishing for a new book and left a little HINT about the title and topic with my special signing pen!

My niece Abigail said I was being all Taylor Swift, dropping an Easter egg for the book title . . . (It’s me! It’s me! I’m the writer it’s me!)

I’ll take being the Taylor Swift of science and faith books!

Soon and very soon the new TITLE and BOOK COVER will be released – hooray! (I have to say, the art department knocked it out of the park again with the cover.)

So, here’s the next Easter egg: I found this little vintage gem on Ebay and paired it with miniature lab ware, as you do.

Any more guesses?? Stay tuned!

Dismantling the Straw Man: My Review of ICR’s “Adam or Apes”

Bubbles. Orbits. Echo chambers.

Cozy little spots where we find ourselves swaddled in the warmth of groupthink. 

Tucked away, it’s easy to think that everyone agrees and disagrees along the same lines. It’s easy to think that our bubble’s opinion is the majority opinion, and of course, it is the correct one. 

It’s also easy to shoot down a position you disagree with if you never consider the position from the actual position-holders themselves. We build a big-ole straw man out of what we think the opposition believes, tear it down, and congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

In the spirit of hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, I reserved a ticket to the premier of “Adam or Apes”, a brand-new film from the Institute for Creation Research. The Dallas-based ICR has new and beautiful facilities and produces loads of professional media. ICR’s Discovery Center hosts lots of field trips from church groups, private schools, and home schools. 

The Institute for Creation Research’s foundational principles are a young earth (less than 10,000 years), instantaneous creation, and rejection of biological evolution. ICR is a predominant source of young earth creationism spokespersons and media.

The intersection of science, faith, and culture is my passion. It distresses me to see people of faith reject science evidence for religious reasons. 

So, on a clear December night a week before Christmas 2022, I sat in a crowd of about 200 to hear – firsthand, from a premier source – why rejection of evolution and an ancient earth are both scientific and the only reasonable positions for people of faith. 

I took copious notes, but I’ve condensed it all to three takeaways from the “Adam or Apes” film and the follow-up discussion by a panel composed of the producer/host of the film and the current president of ICR. 

Takeaway #1: Evolution was all part of Darwin’s nefarious plan, according to the panel: Darwin “came up with it” (evolution) to act as a “substitute creator.” 

Furthermore, those who accept the evidence for evolution only do so because they want to live life by their own rules. It’s not the science evidence that convinces people, it’s the seduction of a “do as I please” approach to life. And – according to the panelists, this seduction equally applies to people of faith, who like me, who accept the evidence for evolution.

After the presentation, a nice ICR staffer recognized me from Facebook asked what I thought about the film. He invited me to debate or discuss with ICR staff in person or on a podcast. I thanked him politely and left it at that.

As a by-default faith-rebel in the estimation of ICR, I can’t image I’d get a fair hearing.

Takeaway #2: My goal in attending the screening was to hear the best arguments from the young earth, evolution-rejecting precinct of Christianity. Instead, I heard two hours of refuting arguments about evolution that no one is making. In 2023, ICR’s argument is still about “Piltdown Man”, a fraud exposed more than seventy years ago – and by the way – exposed by secular scientists. 

Instead of presenting peer-reviewed evidence for a young earth or special creation, a straw man built of bogus evolution arguments was dismantled.

Takeaway #3: At the end of the presentation, the panelists asked the audience to pray for ICR. Specifically, the panelists requested prayers (1) for the experiments being done by ICR researchers, (2) for results that confirm the Bible, and (3) for just one result that would catch the attention of those outside young earth creationism. 

Two hours of claiming that there is absolutely no evidence for evolution or an old earth. Claims that every bit of evidence pointing to evolution can be debunked. Claims that science actually supports a young earth and an instantaneous special creation.

Yet, the evening ended with prayers for “just one” definitive experiment.

I was there to listen and learn, so I didn’t ask a question during the Q&A time. But if I had, this would be it: If all science evidence truly supports a young earth and an instant, special creation, why are there no non-religious young earth creationists?

Happy Birthday, Gregor Mendel!

Happy Birthday, Gregor Mendel!

What do you get when you cross a short-legged, curly-haired giraffe with albinism and a long-legged, straight haired pigmented giraffe?

A curious zoological mashup?

The question might give you science class flashbacks of those checkerboard genetics exercises known as Punnett squares. Never satisfied with simple four-square crosses between tall pea plants and short pea plants, science teachers regularly threw down the challenge of sixteen square and sixty-four square crosses of multiple traits (I plead guilty). 

In a rather unique celebration of the 200th birthday of Gregor Mendel, the venerable Augustinian monk was dug up in 2022 and his DNA mapped. What would the “father of genetics” think about being hauled out of the grave 138 years after his passing?

He’d be all for it! said Daniel Fairbanks, Mendel’s biographer. 

We found out that Mendel was tall, had a big brain, and was genetically predisposed to neurological diseases, a condition that plagued Mendel during his life. 

Mendel never heard of genes or chromosomes, much less DNA. Still, his experiments with garden peas resulted in foundational genetic principles that still stand today. 

Although his work birthed a brand-new field of biology (genetics), Mendel died in obscurity. Mendel’s methodical experiments with more than 30,000 garden pea plants and his meticulous analyses were unknown until the early twentieth century. 

The most famous scientist of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin, never heard of Mendel, despite being contemporaries – Darwin and Mendel lived, worked, and wrote at the same time. In fact, in his landmark book On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: “The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown.”

Why was Mendel uncelebrated in his time? Was it because he was uneducated? Quite the opposite – Mendel was university trained in botany, physics, and math. Was it because he was a monk working in isolation in an Augustinian abbey? No, Mendel’s work was published and circulated. 

Why then, was Darwin celebrated while Mendel’s work languished on dusty shelves until years after his death?

In the nineteenth century, biologists were known as “naturalists”. Naturalists, like Darwin, observed, described, and sketched. Like Darwin, they filled journals with ponderings, commentaries, and hypotheses.

Mendel, on the other hand, described his work with mathematics – probabilities, ratios, and equations. He is, after all, the inspiration for those tedious Punnett square exercises.

Mendel’s work was not the kind of “biology” characteristic of his contemporaries, so he was ignored. 

Mendel’s laws of inheritance were the missing piece in Darwin’s hypothesis. Darwin’s hypothesis of evolution by natural selection was seismic, but Darwin did not include a reasonable explanation for the inheritance of traits.

In the early twentieth century, we rediscovered Mendel.

Fifty years later, we confirmed that DNA was the source of all genetic variation. Just one year after that, we determined the structure of the DNA molecule, opening the door to discoveries Mendel could not have fathomed.

By 2003, we had completely mapped the human genome.

By 2012, we were using molecular “scissors” to edit the genome in living cells, a godsend to sufferers of genetic disorders like sickle cell disease.

And in 2020, we sequenced the genome of a deadly pandemic virus in record time, and in months, we had a life-saving vaccine.

Happy 200th birthday, Gregor Mendel! I think he’d be pleased with the party.

(Here’s a link to a three-minute video about Mendel, hosted by a very young Bill Nye the Science Guy: https://youtu.be/aDpLDBaEBjk)

Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and . . . Young Earth Creationism

Jeans.  Coca-Cola. Dental floss.

Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.

All are American inventions, or at least, so quintessentially American we claim credit. 

A few weeks ago, I was surprised to see my first book, Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit reviewed by an Australian magazine (link below). 

Those baby dinos made it all the way to the land down under!

It was a great review, but right out of the chute, the reviewer reminded his readers of a uniquely American export, birthed right here in the U.S.A.:

Young earth creationism. 

Although creationism isn’t litigated in courtrooms and school boards like it is in America, Australians have America to thank for the faith/science angst felt in many of their churches.

Prior to the twentieth century, belief in a six-day special creation and a literal global flood was by no means ubiquitous in Christian belief. Since the early church fathers, there have been diverse interpretations of the first few chapters of Genesis. 

Early discoveries of fossils and extinctions and the evidence for an ancient earth were disconcerting to many Christians to be sure, but overall, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “I guess that’s how God did it.”

Enter Ellen G. White.

White founded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in upstate New York in the mid 1800s. White reported seeing thousands of visions sent by God, including the doctrine of the Adventist Church.

In one vision, claimed White, God brought her back in time and allowed her to witness the six-day creation of the world. 

The Genesis Flood, a book published in 1961, expanded on White’s teachings and entrenched a global flood as fact and as necessary evidence for a literal 6-day creation week – including dinosaurs living with humans. 

And . . . that’s how we got baby dinosaurs on the ark.

The Genesis Flood is credited with launching the modern version of young earth creationism. 

The cause was taken up by the growing evangelical movement in America and was exported by fundamentalists, primarily to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

A few years ago, I met a long-time Oxford professor of science and history who is also a man of deep Christian faith. I told him that I was writing a book about the rejection of evolution science by Christians. 

His response?

“Y’all are still talking about THAT?”

(Well, he’s an Oxford professor and a Brit so he didn’t say ya’ll, but ya’ll get the point). 

Oh, it’s not that Britain doesn’t have a science-faith controversy. It’s that the controversy in Britain is not “can a real Christian accept science?”

That’s an American question.

In Britain and across most of Europe, the question is flipped: “can a respectable scientist be a person of faith?”

My friend, the Oxford professor, was once mocked after lecturing at a high-powered British science conference for wearing a small cross pin on his lapel.

And although we Americans exported the “can’t be a Christian and accept evolution” mentality, attitudes can travel both ways.

The Story Collider is a popular podcast featuring speakers with real-life science stories to tell. Recently, a pediatric oncologist threw this out as an aside in his introduction:

“I was raised deeply religious, but twenty-four years of education beat it out of me.”

Research tells us that the church’s “antagonism toward science” is one of the primary reasons given by young adults who leave their faith behind. 

When forced to choose faith or science, they aren’t picking faith. 

Evolution is no longer simply a science topic in creationist quarters. Evolution is now part of a bigger battle. 

For decades, American evangelicals included opposition to evolution as a front in the culture wars, and the fallout is massive. 

A generation is choosing science and jettisoning faith, robbing the world of faith-infused perspectives on some of the most important science issues of our time. 

Swipe Left for Dinosaurs (and a recommendation for must-see TV!)

Swipe Left for Dinosaurs (and a recommendation for must-see TV!)

“Answers” Magazine was the Victorian equivalent of The Batchelor, I suppose.

 A contributor to the magazine, circa 1892, posted his Hot Sports Opinion regarding the types of “girls” men should avoid.

Turn-offs include girls who sneer, but that’s NOT the worst of it.

In the article entitled “Girls Who Frighten One”, it’s the dino-girls who are the scariest:

Another girl who fills one with fear is the one who suddenly springs upon you out-of-the-way information with respect to the fixed stars or the antediluvian animals …. there are so many things a girl should know…. That when you discover that she has, instead of being so occupied, been studying the anatomy of the plesiosaurus you feel she is a mystery beyond an ordinary mortal’s ability to fathom…

He goes on and on and on with so many words because this guy has a thesaurus and HE KNOWS HOW TO USE IT.

He sums it all up with something along these lines: 

Girls who like dinosaurs are so scary they make you want to jump off a cliff.

(And yes, I know plesiosaurs are giant extinct long-necked marine reptiles not dinosaurs, but I didn’t want to risk scaring anyone with my wealth of paleo-knowledge.)

But if you are a guy OR girl who isn’t so easily frightened by the Mesozoic, you NEED to be watching the latest streaming on Apple TV+: “Prehistoric Planet.” Seriously, clear your schedule.

It is gorgeous. It is amazing. It is all the adjectives. 

It is narrated by Sir David Attenborough, whose accent alone makes you feel smarter. 

Back to School Edition!

Back to School Edition!

Back to campus! Today I begin my 17th year of university teaching.

I’ve taught biology majors and non-majors, and I begin every first day of every semester the same way:

What is science?

We talk about what science is and is not. We talk about peer review. We talk about experimental design.

In the past, my examples were generic. Now, not so much.

The past two years of Covidness revealed a gaping hole in science education. At first, I was surprised, and then disappointed, and now, I’m worried. 

Much of the angst and misinformation surrounding All Things Covid finds its root in a misunderstanding of how science works.

I especially love teaching non-science majors. While non-majors are unlikely to be our research scientists, they will be our teachers, politicians, policy makers, pastors, school board members, and voters.

Our neighbors. Our community. 

Our citizens.

River Blindness and What You Need to Know About Ivermectin

River Blindness and What You Need to Know About Ivermectin

It’s a loathsome disease. 

It causes incessant itching, and sufferers often scratch their skin with a stick or rock until they bleed. 

Fast-flowing rivers and streams, often sources of fresh water for remote villages, provide the perfect breeding ground for black flies. The bite of a black fly transmits a larval worm. As the worms multiply, they burrow under the skin.

As miserable as it is, it is not the itching that gives this horrid disease its name.

The worms eventually migrate to the eyes, causing infection and inflammation of the corneas and destroying vision.

River blindness debilitates, but it doesn’t kill. River blindness spreads its misery in tropical countries, primarily in Africa. More than 99% of river blindness cases are in Africa. 

In the early 1980s, researchers discovered a powerful anti-parasitic compound in a dirt sample dug up near a golf course in Tokyo. The compound proved to be a powerful treatment for parasites in livestock, and a version was developed to combat the misery of parasitic infections in humans, including river blindness. 

In 2015, Satoshi Omura and William Campbell shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovery of this drug, capable of preventing so much human misery.

The drug? Ivermectin. 

Somewhere amid all the noise of our almost two-year pandemic, Ivermectin found its moment of fame as one of a few “preventatives” and/or “treatments” for COVID-19 that the medical establishment “doesn’t want us to know about.”

“What are they trying to hide?” they say. “It’s a Nobel Prize-winning drug,” they argue. 

But instead of doctor-prescribed human-sized doses, Ivermectin paste, intended for livestock, is flying off the shelves of feed stores and farm suppliers. Poison control centers and emergency rooms are inundated: nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, blurred vision, low blood pressure, seizures, coma, death. 

And even in human-sized dosages, Ivermectin treats parasitic worms and arthropods, not viruses. 

Despite these facts, Ivermectin is touted as both a preventative and a cure by political pundits and politicians, on YouTube channels, and by the “Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance”, a small group of doctors who disagree with the wider medical community.

So why the hype? 

Early in the pandemic, a study found that Ivermectin inhibited the growth of SARS-CoV-2 in cell cultures (in Petri dishes, in a lab).

Yay, right? 

Not so fast.

In order to achieve the dosage of Ivermectin used in the Petri dish experiment in actual humans, the concentration would have to be a dose 100 times higher than is approved for use in humans – a toxic level.

Multiple studies followed: is Ivermectin effective as a preventative? Does it reduce COVID-19 symptoms? Does it reduce death or severe disease? Does it prevent hospitalization?

To date, 16 randomized-controlled trials found NO evidence that Ivermectin is effective in any way against COVID-19. None.

You know what does prevent severe disease? Vaccination.

Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina said it best:

Misinformation and anti-science rhetoric is killing Americans.

Red Doors and Vaccine Refusal Hits Home For Me

Red Doors and Vaccine Refusal Hits Home For Me

London, 1665. The city was gripped in an epidemic of bubonic plague: the “Black Death”. The skin of victims turned black and lymph nodes grew swollen and painful. Death usually followed a few days later.

To prevent the disease from spreading, a victim was locked in their house, along with their entire family. A red cross was painted on the door of the home, along with these words:

“Lord Have Mercy Upon Us.” 

Last week, hospital staff at Dallas’ enormous Parkland Hospital watched with dread as red doors went up, marking “COVID-only” spaces. The red doors first went up in March 2020 and came down in March 2021. 

They’re baaaack. 

In Texas and in other areas of the country with low vaccination rates, Delta variant-driven COVID infections are overwhelming emergency rooms and packing ICUs. 

Lord have mercy on us. 

Vaccination is no longer seen as a common responsibility of all in order to protect our families and our communities.

Love for neighbor is no longer the goal. Individual rights trump all.

Jared Byas, author of Love Matters More, put it this way:

“I’m learning that “Freedom” in the wrong hands devolves into ‘You’re not the boss of me’ playground immaturity. Without love at the center, freedom becomes selfish entitlement. Paul makes a lot more sense to me now.”

This week, it hit home for me – right into the heart of my family.

My mom suffers from a rare form of dementia and reaching a crisis point, my family made the difficult decision to move her into a memory care facility.

She has been hospitalized for more than a week and the plan is for her to be dismissed soon, directly into care. She is scared and confused and has no idea what is happening. 

But during this critical time of adjusting to the care home, she will have limited contact with her family. My dad can only see her two hours a day and cannot eat any meals with her. 

Rising COVID positivity rates automatically trigger restrictions for long-term care centers in Texas. And before she even enters care, family presence in her hospital room is restricted. 

Packed hospitals, exhausted healthcare workers, and scared dementia patients are paying the price for vaccine-refusal.

Lord have mercy.

What do we know at this point about the three vaccines available in the United States?

Vaccines do not prevent you from harboring the virus. Vaccinated people can pass the virus to others for about six days, but then their vaccine-primed immune responses kick in and stop the spread.

Vaccinated people have a 59% reduced risk of having symptoms if they are infected. 

But here is the really big deal: while vaccinated people might get infected and might have symptoms, what vaccinated people are NOT experiencing is severe disease and death. This, according to epidemiologists, is nothing short of miraculous.

The vaccine keeps you out of the ICU.

The vaccine keeps you off a ventilator.

The vaccine keeps you from months and months and maybe more of long-COVID, the feeling that you’re wrapped in lead and might cry if you have to do ANYTHING. As Baylor medical professor Dr. Peter Hortez put it:

“COVID does so much more than kill.”

And this is important: a vaccinated population prevents the evolution of new variants.

Mutations (variants) can only arise in warm, human-sized petri dishes. The more a virus is transmitted, the more it has opportunity to mutate. Right now, 73% of counties in the country are in a state of “high transmission”. 

We can stop this. 

Lord have mercy.

Six weeks away and reviews are coming in!

Six weeks away and reviews are coming in!

Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit releases in less than six weeks!

Read below for reviews from Sean Palmer, Andrew Root, Don McLaughlin, Jon Walton, Karl Giberson, and Deborah Haraasma:

“It’s often unwise to judge a book by its title, yet this is the rare case when you should do just this.  Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? is an intriguing title completely backed up with an even more intriguing book.  Janet Kellogg Ray blends storytelling, biology, and biblical reflection to offer a very helpful, engaging, and important book.  All pastors, parents, and young adults will find this book an essential resource in understanding faith and science and a way to faithful embrace them both.”

Andrew Root, author of The Congregation in a Secular Age and Exploding Star, Dead Dinosaurs and Zombies: Youth Ministry in an Age of Science

“Janet Kellogg Ray combines transformative faith in God with a gritty commitment to science. Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? opens new possibilities for bridge-building between the truth of faith and the facts of science. If you are tired of clumsy science and combative religion, Ray is the conversation partner you have been looking for! This book is for anyone who seeks truth wherever truth may be found.”

Don McLaughlin, senior minister, North Atlanta Church of Christ, author of Love First: Ending Hate before It’s Too Late

“My wife, like Janet Kellogg Ray, is a science teacher. Her students and colleagues know she is married to a pastor. Each year, like clockwork, a student or fellow teacher asks her about the intersection of science and faith. Their assumption is that her allegiances lie with one faith or science, that she couldn’t hold them both appropriately. Science and faith are in a dance together, and Janet Kellogg Ray’s, Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark, helps those of us with questions about the interplay of faith and science articulate and understand our faith better. Here you will discover more of what (and some of how) God is up to in the world, how faith and science testify to one another, but even more so testify the beauty of our Creator.”

Sean Palmer, Author Unarmed Empire: In Search of Beloved Community and 40 Days of Being a Three (Enneagram Daily Reflections) andTeaching Pastor, Ecclesia Houston

“This is a well-written, insightful, and accessible book with pitch-perfect and well-balanced tone. I couldn’t help but to be drawn into the stories that punctuated the treatment.”

John H. Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One and professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College

“Janet Ray’s Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?  is a deeply personal, scientifically informed, and valuable contribution to our troubled conversation on evolution. Readers will appreciate the engaging and often humorous anecdotes.  The book deserves a broad readership.”

Karl Giberson, author of The Language of Science and Faith, Saving Darwin, and others.

(from the foreword) “If you are . . . wondering if there is any way that Christian faith and evidence-based science can work together, Janet Kellogg Ray is an able guide. She is a biology teacher and a Christ-follower who invites you to walk alongside her in her journey and provides an engaging overview of the views, evidence, and arguments on origins science.”
Deborah Haarsma, President of BioLogos

(If you missed reviews from Jared Byas, Dennis Venema, Ken Cukrowski, and Thomas J. Oord, see July 15 post “A Blaggblurp-blurb on the Road to Publishing”)