Education

Reflections from the Whiting School Class of 2013

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I am a finance person by trade. I am a mediocre student of science and engineering at best and never progressed very far in my disciplines (relative to those in my circles), but I am curious about many things, and I love internet debates. Internet debates aren’t science, I don’t represent that anything I write on blogs is worth the reader’s time, but I write them anyway because blogs are an extension of my thought process as I try to understand the world around me. These blogs and discussions are a public diary of my quest to understand the world around me.

Many engineers near where I live are hired to construct satellites and space probes, and in order to familiarize the engineers with the nature and challenges facing these satellites and space probes, it is sometimes helpful for the engineers to get additional training in areas of physics beyond the cursory introduction they get as undergraduates. For example, it may be helpful for engineers to learn more physics in order to appreciate the effects of general and special relativity on some of the ultra accurate clocks in space probes and satellites. And engineers might find plasma physics helpful in understanding environmental challenges facing space probes and satellites as well as Earth-based systems since there are many plasma phenomenon in the solar system and beyond.

To meet this need for retraining engineers in physics, the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) offered classes specifically geared to retrain engineers in physics. The Whiting School has a modest ranking of #26 overall in the US, but #1 in Biomedical Engineering. Being a former engineer, I decided I’d enroll in the WSE’s Master of Science Applied Physics program which was usually taught at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). APL is not to be confused with its more prestigious little brother, The Henry Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy that boasted a Nobel Laureate in 2011 by the name of Adam Riess for his work on dark energy. The Applied Physics Laboratory boasts a budget of around 1 bilion dollars. The Henry Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy is rich in prestige, whereas the The Applied Physics Laboratory is just rich. 🙂

One of the former faculty members of the Whiting School of Engineering, Daniel Schectman, won the Nobel in Chemistry the same year Adam Riess won the Nobel in Physics. Ironically, Schectman left the Whiting School in disgrace because his claim of discovering quasi crystals was viewed as an embarrassment. Linus Pauling quipped, “there are no such things as quasi crystals, only quasi scientists”.

In 2007, I decided to enroll in the Whiting School’s program of Applied Physics. Only a few months before, Robert Marks invited me get a Master’s degree and work as his assistant at the Evolution Informatics Lab in Baylor. I had degrees in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Math, so I was supposedly qualified. The Baylor Darwinists shut Marks lab down, while that same week I got an acceptance letter from the Whiting School. Happily the evolution informatics lab was reopened, and instead Winston Ewert succeeded where I did not. Marks’ plight was featured in the movie Explelled, the Baylor president who shut down the lab was fired, and Baylor issued an apology. Score one for ID!….

My fellow students at the Whiting School were incredibly bright coming from schools like MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Cal Tech…you get the picture. I came from that little old creationist factory known as George Mason (yes, at least 4 PhD biologists associated with George Mason are creationists or pro-ID). Regrettably I dropped out for a few years to mend my financial business, and it looked like I would never return to school, but I returned. Thus it is with incredible embarrassment that I admit, after a shaky start, several times dropping out, I maintained an A- GPA and completed my MS degree August 2012 and was invited as part of the 2013 commencement. Yay!

So what did I learn in engineering grad school? My classes were:

Modern Physics
Mathematical Methods
Quantum Mechanics
Classical Mechanics
Astrophysics
General Relativity
Solid State Physics
Plasma Physics
Cosmology
Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

One may wonder how I can be sympathetic to Young Earth Creation given what I learned in these classes. It would be fair to say what I learned in these classes casts enormous doubt on the viability of the Young Earth Creation model, and at some point one must be willing to accept irresolution or even error in what one believes. For YECs to find resolution to the problems that physics poses for their religious beliefs, they’ll have to face the challenges offered by the subjects listed above, and then some. The resolution is above my pay grade, and I’m willing to accept alternatives…Some of my YEC friends get upset that I might even question their YEC ideas, and I tell them, “redo Maxwell’s equations to account for distant starlight, redo nuclear physics to account for radiometric dating, etc…then we might have basis for a reasonable discussion”…

Now what did I learn in relation to ID? I learned how utterly irrelevant evolutionism is to most of modern science, medicine, and engineering. To be fair there are disciplines like population genetics (such as developed by Joe Felsenstein) which are important to creationists. Felsenstein’s software is being used to find genes related to the high priest Zadok in the time of King David, and I would presume YECs are using Felsenstein’s work to go back even farther than David!

Can someone understand science without understanding evolution? It would be fair to say someone can understand almost all fields of science without evolution. Darwinists often argue that creationists are anti-science because they reject evolution. Well what if we required evolutionists to become proficient in general relativity before they practice evolutionary biology? The field would absolutely shut down! So what if a creationist can’t do evolutionary biology, there are many other science fields like physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and even within biology that don’t require a profession of faith in evolution.

Many evolutionary biologist don’t have to be proficient in physics to do science, so it’s very wrong then to disqualify someone from the scientific enterprise merely because they are not proficient in one discipline of science such as evolutionary biology. So how needed is evolutionism? Jerry Coyne put it well:

“In sciences pecking order evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics.”

It is mostly to promote evolutionism that evolutionists argue creationists are anti-science. Creationist can succeed in other disciplines of science outside of evolution. Why? Can one understand genetics without evolutionism? Yes. Anatomy, physiology, and medicine? Yes. Molecular biology? Yes. Cellular biology? Yes. Micro biology? Yes. Certain aspects of population biology? Yes. The only biology one where they might hard pressed is evolutionary biology, and yet the most central evidence for the entire field are phylogenetic trees that are conflicted!

Whatever Darwin belched out in Origin of Species paled in comparison to real science like Einstein’s Field Equations. Even if I were wrong to accept ID and creation, I could still get acquainted with far more important scientific concepts in science than evolution.

One problem is that evolutionists have is an over-inflated view of the utility of their ideas in the world of science. Another problem is that though evolutionism has low scientific utility (even possibly harmful to science), it has extreme utility philosophically and politically and even financially, such as: 40 million taxpayer’s dollars wasted on venerating Darwin.

Fundamentally the ID/creation/evolution isn’t about what is taught in public schools, it is fundamentally about the possibility of purpose in the universe. What happens in school board politics pales in comparison to this fundamental question of reality. And that is the heart of my quest…

So is there Intelligent Design in the universe? One physicist at my university said “NO” but proceeded to give reasons that an ID proponent would think “YES”. In The Quantum Enigma of Consciousness and the Identity of the Designer I pointed out that Richard Conn Henry, who is the Henry Rowland professor of physics at the Henry Rowland Department of Physics, wrote that notion of an Ultimate MIND isn’t precluded by physics, and physics even suggests, there is an Ultimate MIND. Suddenly my university began to seem slightly less hostile to ID, but that wasn’t all!

It turned out just a few years prior Paul McHugh had written an article critical of evolutionism in Teaching Darwin. And then a few years before that, a biophysicist Lee Spetner, a former researcher at the Applied Physics Lab wrote: Not by Chance which became the basis for some forms of front-loaded ID. And that book received and endorsement from a prominent professor at my university, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Christian Anfisen. But that was not the end of it, last but not least was Ben Carson! He was to be the commencement speaker until he withdrew under pressure from gay rights activists. But the fact that his creationism didn’t stop him from being invited in the first place was news in and of itself.

So those were the people, though few and far between, who supported ID at my university.

But were there at least reminders of ID elsewhere? Not explicitly, but they were always fun when found in places you’d least expect. My physics class text by Goldstein had the following tribute to the Intelligent Designer in the preface (2nd edition preface also contained in the 3rd edition):

And above all I want to register the thanks and acknowledgement of my heart, in the words of Daniel (2:23):

[in Hebrew]
I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you

Herbert Goldstein
Kew Gardens Hill, New York
January 1980

At the commencement exercise, the opening convocation prayer had the phrase that went something like:

God the creator, the architect of every cell

Amen

And finally there was the closing tribute at the ceremony Hopkins Ode:

Truth guide our university,
And from all error keep her free,
Let wisdom yield her choicest treasure,
And freedom reach her fullest measure;
O, let her watchword ever be:
The truth of God will make you free,
Will make you free!

And that theme is on the University coat of arms as “Veritas Vos Liberabit” which is Latin for that phrase from Jesus in the Gospels, “The Truth Will Set You Free”!

A science degree from the Whiting School was a detour from my current line of work in finance, but it was an important detour to bring me closer to understanding the world. And that detour was my journey to the class of 2013.

Yes indeed, “The Truth Will Set You Free”!

gilman hall
Sal in front of Gilman Hall, Thursday, May 23, 2013
sal commencement May 23,2013
Sal at the Homewood Commencement Field

7 Replies to “Reflections from the Whiting School Class of 2013

  1. 1
    Joe says:

    Congratulations on being graduated from the Whiting School!

  2. 2
    Chance Ratcliff says:

    Sal, congratulations. 🙂

  3. 3
    cantor says:

    scordova wrote:

    I tell them, “redo Maxwell’s equations to account for distant starlight, redo nuclear physics to account for radiometric dating, etc…then we might have basis for a reasonable discussion”…

    I am reminded of the following verse from Pope’s Essay on Criticism:

    A little learning is a dangerous thing;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.

  4. 4
    julianbre says:

    Congratulations Sal, something you should be very proud of!

  5. 5
    gpuccio says:

    Congratulations, Sal! 🙂 🙂

  6. 6
    BleacherBum says:

    Congratulations Sal. I enjoyed reading your reflections.

  7. 7
    DiEb says:

    Congratulations! How time flies, our discussion at Gambler’s ruin is Darwin’s ruin is now over five years old…

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