biology

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Book Review: “The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth- Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” Edited by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney

gcmaeThe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is one of the best analyses of young earth creationism on the market. In this beautifully illustrated text, the Grand Canyon is used as a test site to analyze Flood Geology, the notion that Noah’s Flood radically shaped the face of the Earth and can account for much of the sedimentary layers we observe. The Grand Canyon is an especially appropriate test case because there are young earth creationist (hereafter YEC) books published on the Canyon, and many YEC works reference the Grand Canyon in explanations of their theories.

Part 1 outlines two views of the Grand Canyon: that of flood geology, in which the vast majority of the Canyon’s sediment was laid down during Noah’s Flood; and that of conventional geology, in which long time periods and observable, repeated processes can account for the Canyon. This part includes chapters contrasting the time frames of flood geology and conventional geology, showing the massive difference between the two views conclusions about how the Canyon formed. Part 2 is entitled “How Geology Works” and covers things like sedimentary rocks, plate tectonics, and time measurements. Part 3 looks at fossils and what they tell us about the age of the Grand Canyon. Part 4 surveys how the Grand Canyon was carved. Part 4 gives a verdict on flood geology from the evidence provided.

The authors provide an introduction to geology generally speaking, and then focus what is covered onto the Grand Canyon. Throughout the whole book, the Grand Canyon serves as the testing ground for what modern geology teaches about the Earth. Then, it is contrasted with what YECs claim about the age of the earth and the processes that formed it. Time and again, this shows that YEC claims are found wanting. The chapters on fossils are particularly telling in this regard.

For example, Joel Duff demonstrates, in “Tiny Plants – Big Impact: Pollen, Spores, and Plant Fossils” that there are entire, massive chunks of sediment without any pollen or plant spores contained therein. And these layers aren’t just randomly distributed; they’re in the oldest layers of the rock, such that it demonstrates what conventional scientists have claimed, that there simply were no pollinating plants long ago. But if flood geology is to be believed, these sediments were laid down during Noah’s Flood, which would have entailed all kinds of mixing of dead plants and animals as the surface of the Earth was radically changed. How then, are there thousands of feet of sediment without any pollen? How did microscopic plant matter manage to get sifted out in such a clear distinction from other layers? This is the kind of in-depth look at the specifics of flood geology that abound everywhere in the book. YEC arguments are subjected time and again to direct refutation like this, making the book invaluable.

The book is also valuable simply as an introduction to geology as well as some biology and other sciences. I learned an extraordinary amount from the book, and I feel fairly confident that I had a working knowledge of geology. In other words, the book is not simply a refutation of flood geology in the Grand Canyon, it can also serve as a valuable introduction to several related topics.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the beauty of the book. There are breathtaking full-color photographs of the Grand Canyon throughout the book, accompanied by numerous graphs and charts. But these illustrations do more than just look pretty, they are almost always explicitly tied into the text in meaningful ways. I found myself thoroughly poring over each and every one, whether I was looking for the division between layers of rock in a photograph or flipping back to a chart repeatedly as I came to understand it better. These illustrations are perhaps made more impressive by the modest price of the book ($26.99 regular price on Amazon). Simply put, you can’t get books with this much information and as beautifully put together as this for that price, yet here it is.

There are only two minor points I’d like to mention as negatives, but they are closer to nitpicking than anything else. First, although the introductory chapters (and a few other places) note that the young earth creationist arguments about the Grand Canyon are scientific and expressly stated as being testable, I suspect many YECs will respond to the book by appealing to some presuppositional theological perspective. Though this would be a mistaken response, it would have helped the book to perhaps include one chapter showing how the YEC claims about the Canyon are inherently scientific and can be tested without a specific theological narrative. Again, this point is made, I just think it could have been elaborated a bit more. Second, there was the briefest mention of one of the most popular arguments for Intelligent Design, that of the Cambrian explosion. The mention was so short that it is difficult to see what the authors were intending.

I have read dozens, perhaps hundreds of books on the debate over science and religion. That said, The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is a remarkable achievement. It provides some of the most thorough, in-depth analysis of young earth creationist reasoning that is available to date. It is beautifully illustrated with photos and charts that are directly related to the text, and it is reasonably priced. If you’re looking for analysis of flood geology from a scientific perspective, this book gives you the perfect test scenario. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Good

+Huge amount of information from geology to biology
+On-point analysis of flood geology
+Helpful charts and graphs
+Stunning photographs throughout linked to the text
+Features women’s voices
+Direct engagement with prominent YEC writings
+Reasonable price

The Bad

-Perhaps too light on the theological side
-Only the briefest engagement with ID

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (Kregel, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“What’s Behind it All?” Debate Review: Lawrence Krauss vs. Stephen Meyer vs. Denis Lamoureux

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

A debate on the topic of God, science, and the universe; “What’s Behind it All?” was had at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada. The speakers were physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, and biologist and theologian Denis Lamoureux. Meyer and Lamoureux are Christians, but differ on evolution. Lamoureux holds to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation, while Meyer advocates Intelligent Design theory. Krauss is an atheist. Here, I will sum up different parts of the debate, then offer some analysis. I skip over the roundtable discussion. It should be noted Meyer was visibly suffering from a migraine and at points had great difficulty throughout the debate due to the impact of this migraine.

Lawrence Krauss Introduction

Krauss took a good amount of time at the beginning of his introduction to “disparage” (his word) Stephen Meyer. He took time to specifically insult Meyer and others who hold to Intelligent Design.

After these remarks, Krauss went over a number of slides showing the evidence for how the universe is laid out, finally asserting that “nothing” makes energy flat. By nothing, he meant dark matter and other forms of nothing (again, according to his ). “Empty space, with nothing in it, can start to produce particles.” According to a slide he showed right after saying this, “Gravity plus quantum mechanics allows space (and possibly time) to appear from nothing.” There were no causal relations before the Big Bang, and so there was nothing to cause anything. “Classical notions of cause and effect may go out the window,” Krauss claims, due to this.

“Life is fine-tuned for the universe” rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life. Life adapts to the universe, and it is natural selection that leads to life being what it is.

Ultimately, “us [sic] and ultimately everything in the universe” is irrelevant, according to Krauss.

Stephen Meyer Introduction

Meyer notes that Krauss didn’t even critique the theory of intelligent design, because he never even explained what it was. To engage with an idea, one has to at least explain what that idea is. Meyer notes that he is defending a theistic view of science rather than a materialistic view of science.

Meyer then presented an overview of the biological argument for intelligent design, noting that DNA is a kind of information conveyance mechanism. The origin of information, then, is the difficulty that materialists are faced with. DNA information provides functional information. From an evolutionary point of view, Meyer argues, this is difficult to explain, because the number of functional arrangements of this information is vastly outweighed by the number of non-functional arrangements.

After this lengthy presentation on ID theory from a biological perspective, presented further positive evidence for ID theory alongside a few papers he cited that critique the theory. He noted that the objections fail, and that the evidence is powerful enough to show that ID theory must be taken seriously as a theory. Information, that is, relies upon mind in order to be generated. Then he surveyed a number of origin of life scenarios and noted significant problems with each.

Denis Lamoureux Introduction

There is a false dichotomy in these discussions, argued Lamoureux. One side is presented as being science, evolution, and atheism; the other is presented as being God, miracles, and the Bible. Lamoureux noted that he walks the line between these, arguing that evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming and that there is no debate whatsoever on it while also believing in the inspiration of the Bible.

The problem of intermediary fossils is often plugged in with a “God of the gaps.” Lamoureux cites the difference between Sharks and boney fish as an area where the transitional fossil was thought to be missing, but then a fish without a jaw was found that would be an intermediary between the two (an earlier fossil that could lead to both). Thus, the gaps that we have, argued Lamoureux, are best explained for evolution as gaps in knowledge, not an area to import God or design. Missing fossils may require us to wait for hundreds of years to find anything, but we keep plugging the gaps.

Lamoureux appealed to the notion of teleology- purpose vs. the notion of dysteleology – that there is no purpose. Culturally, people tend to think of evolution as being dysteleological and creation as teleological, but these present yet another false dichotomy. Instead, teleology with evolution is possible. He argued that natural processes like embryology is still seen as teleology, despite the fact that we know how the development continues through the stages. That is, teleology is not thrown out by knowing how it all works. Therefore, Lamoureux argued that we can hold to evolution and teleology, a view he calls Evolutionary Creation (commonly called theistic evolution). Rather than appealing to specific examples of design, this view sees creation as artistry and all of creation pointing to the creator, despite our capacity to explain it. He continued to cite Charles Darwin quotations from late in life showing that he also agreed that theism is compatible with evolution.

Lamoureux argued that concordism- the notion that the Bible and science correspond specifically- is mistaken. The Bible, he said, reflects an ancient cosmology, and argued that we have to read ancient texts in the context in which they were written.

Meyer Response

ID is not a “god of the gaps” argument. Rather, the form of the argument presented is an inference to the best explanation. We make this kind of inference all the time. Meyer argued that the a priori ruling out of intelligence for certain kinds of causes and effects means that you will miss evidence. Rather than assume it impossible, we ought to follow the evidence where it leads.

Lamoureux Response

Meyer’s theory relies on things that we can ultimately disprove, and he noted one aspect of the Cambrian Explosion that Meyer tries to use, but has been shown to have an evolutionary path.

Krauss’s science is pretty good, but he delves into metaphysics frequently and does so poorly. Krauss’s notion of a universe out of nothing is not really out of nothing, and other physicists note that Krauss is mistaken regarding the definition of “nothing.”

Krauss Response

DNA is not the first form of life, and pointing to the most complex forms possible fails to take science seriously. An RNA world is the most likely origin of life scenario. RNA could be naturally formed, and although we don’t know the answer yet, we could find it.

Lamoureux’s position is untenable because he basically just says the Bible is scientifically garbage and then says we should follow it. The Bible, he argues, is the most immoral document he’s ever seen.

Analysis

First, the decision made by Krauss to start the debate with personal attacks on Meyer is inexcusable. Time and again, Krauss has proven himself incapable of mature conversation. To be fair to him, he did try to help Meyer with his difficulty getting his powerpoint set up later, and also at least acknowledged some of the difficulty Meyer was having with a migraine, but the fact he made the conscious decision to begin a debate with personal attacks shows his character.

Krauss continues to make up whatever definition of “nothing” suits him at the moment. If it is convenient for “nothing” to refer to dark matter, then nothing is dark matter. If “nothing” needs to be used as empty space, then nothing is empty space. He doesn’t just move goal posts, he simply carries them around, dropping them wherever he sees fit. To claim that gravity and quantum mechanics can make a universe come out of nothing is so nonsensical, it hardly warrants comment. After all, what are gravity and quantum mechanics? If Krauss is to be believed, they are nothing. But of course he isn’t using the term in any restrictive sense, because he is just using “nothing” to refer to anything whatever. For Krauss, “nothing” is something. Why? Because he says so.

It’s difficult to analyze the theory of ID in this format, because the debate is ongoing and the reasoning complex. Moreover, Meyer’s difficulty with his migraine at points meant he had to skip over explanations and examples. I believe that Lamoureux in particular offered some strong critique, particularly in his notation of the way that transitional forms continue to be found. Moreover, Lamoureux was able to show that at least one specific example used by Meyer has been shown to be mistaken. However, Meyer’s presentation does raise questions about the origin of information and its use. In the roundtable discussion, Krauss, Meyer, and Lamoureux all got into it regarding whether Meyer’s analysis presents an accurate view of evolution. Lamoureux argued it did not because Meyer approaches the question like an engineer, expecting specific mathematical permutations; but he said that evolution does not work that way. Krauss noted that natural selection removes much of the randomness of evolution, thus undercutting some of the math in Meyer’s view. Ultimately, the debate over ID will almost certainly continue, and I can’t help but feel that Meyer would have made a better showing without the migraine. He did a wonderful job despite it, and largely held his own.

Lamoureux’s position has much to commend it, particularly because he doesn’t demand a kind of reading of the Bible as a science text. However, I wonder whether Krauss’s critique is forceful: that Lamoureux effectively tosses the Bible and what it says about the natural world out, but then expects it to be believed on other aspects. Of course, Krauss quickly demonstrated a complete lack of nuance with reading of the Bible, but his point ought not be dismissed too swiftly. Can Lamoureux offer a way of reading the Bible that reconciles this seeming incongruity? Meyer’s position allows for God to be active in the world, without appealing to the notion of artistry as a way to show God’s activity. Does this show Meyer’s position is superior?

As an aside, I’d like to commend Lamoureux for using gender neutral language repeatedly in his presentation. Even when quoting Darwin at points, where Darwin used the archaic “man” to refer to humans, Lamoureux read the quotes as “men and women.” I believe he did the same in a Billy Graham quote, though I didn’t catch if the original also said “men.”

“The universe doesn’t care about us.” Quoted from Krauss in this debate, this is the summary of his worldview. Of course, his worldview does not matter, if he’s right. If he’s right, then there is no purpose for even having this debate. And that, perhaps, is what we should take away from this debate. On a worldview level, Krauss offers nothing (har har) to go on. The interesting debate, then, is whether Meyer or Lamoureux are correct.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Darwin and Design

god-design-mansonEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Darwin and Design

I’ve recently started reading God and Design, a collection of essays from both proponents and skeptics of the teleological (design) argument in both its biological and cosmological forms. In the introduction, Neil Manson outlined numerous versions of design arguments whilst also offering some analysis of each version. In his discussion of the biological design argument, he considered whether the argument could even get off the ground:

It should be possible to define a biological system such that, if it were to exist, its existence could not be explained in Darwinian fashion. If it is impossible to define such a biological system, then it will be impossible to formulate an empirical test that might disconfirm Darwin’s theory. Darwinism’s claim to be a genuine scientific theory would suffer a serious… blow. (11)

The reason Manson argues that the bare possibility of such a definition is required is because of the notion of “falsifiability” in science. While it is debated as to whether falsifiability is an actual criterion for “true” science (at least in the philosophy of science I have read), it has become largely assumed that, in some sense, a theory must be at least in principle falsifiable in order to avoid being question begging or too broadly defined.

Granting that, Manson’s point seems to be a valid one: in order for Darwinism to be viable, it must also be falsifiable. If we can’t even imagine a system that would falsify it, then that may have extremely broad implications. Whether we have imagined such systems–and whether we have discovered them–is a matter of no small amount of debate.

What do you think? Is falsifiability a required criterion for science? Are we able to such a defined biological system to challenge Darwinian evolution? Do such systems actually exist?

God and Design is shaping up to be a really solid read with differing perspectives on design arguments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Neil Manson, “Introduction,” in God and Design ed. Neil Manson (New York: Routledge, 2003).

SDG.

Guest Post: “Is There Life on Other Planets?” by Greg Reeves

If you’ve been reading the science news lately, you’ll find there has been a lot of buzz about “extrasolar planets”, or “exoplanets” (i.e., planets that orbit other stars).  For an example, see here.  The reason why is in the last several years, the number of exoplanets that we’ve discovered has increased dramatically, mostly due to the Kepler mission.  But regardless of the reason why, one interesting question this brings up is, “Are there other planets that host life?”

This is an incredibly profound question for both the religious and non-religious alike.  For the Christian, the knee-jerk reaction might be “no, of course not, God specially created the life on earth and did not do so elsewhere.” (By the way, I do not necessarily espouse this view.) For the secularist, the presence of life on other planets only adds weight to the idea that life arose here on earth by strictly naturalistic processes.  So what does science have to say about this subject?  Given the sensationalistic popular news articles, one might think the universe is teeming with alien life.  However, the data actually say otherwise.

First, answering the origin of life question, from a scientific standpoint, is incredibly hard.  In fact, after investigating the state of affairs on this problem in order to write a book, it has driven agnostic physicist Paul Davies to proclaim1:

 When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origin…Having spend a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding…This gulf’s not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.

He goes on to say:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There are two reasons for their unease. First they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists…Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding…

Second, even though it is a conceptually difficult phenomenon to study, scientists are incredibly confident that it will be resolved one day.  The main reason why is that the alternative to having a naturalistic origin of life would be a supernaturalistic origin of life, something that most secular scientists not only do not believe in but also that they rule out completely according to their philosophical worldview.

Third, we now know that life on our planet originated in a geological instant.  As soon as this planet became even remotely suitable for life, roughly 3.9-3.8 billion years ago, life began (our earliest evidence for life is between 3.86 and 3.80 billion years ago).  To the secular scientist, this implies that even though we have no idea how, the origin of life must be a very simple, fast process.

Fourth, because the origin of life is simple and fast, it probably is not a finely-tuned process, according to the reasoning of secularism.  In other words, all you need are some minimal requirements (liquid water, a rocky planet, some carbon-containing compounds, and a short window of time) and life will surely appear.  This principle led astronomer Steve Vogt, upon discovery of a rocky exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” (the distance from their star that would allow a planet to potentially harbor liquid water), to state, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”  (As an interesting sidenote, the particular planet he was referring to may not even be a planet. Of course, we are still discovering exo-planets, and I have been confident for some time that we would find a near-earth-sized rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone.  And lo and behold, we have.  For examples, see here and here.)

So, given this background, is it likely that such “Goldilocks planets”, which are likely to be all over the place in the universe, harbor life?  Well, there are two sides to this story.  As I laid out above, the popular secular point of view (and the point of view portrayed by the media) is that life is inevitable whenever loose conditions are met (background point four).  So of course, whenever you have a planet in the Goldilocks zone, life is inevitable.  This view springs solely from the assumption of naturalism (background point 2) and the fact that life arose on earth quickly (background point 3).  You can easily see this point of view when reading the popular news articles, which are overflowing with unbridled optimism.

The other view is that life is rare in the universe, because all of the prowess of the origin-of-life scientific community has returned a comparatively small amount of promising data (background point 1). In fact, not only has little actual progress been made towards discovering naturalistic pathways towards origin of life, but instead the more we know the more we discover how far away we are.  Problems such as the lack of a prebiotic soup, the irreducible complexity of life, the homochirality problem (all bio-molecules must be either 100% right-handed or 100% left-handed), the difficulty in producing a cell membrane, and the finely-tuned conditions needed to carry out the chemical reactions that produce biological precursors all reveal a much less optimistic story from the point of view of hard science.

The problems for the hypothesis of the naturalistic origin of life don’t stop there, however.  The more we study our planet, the more we realize that an exoplanet needs a lot more going its way than just to be in the Goldilocks zone.  There are a whole host of astronomical and geological parameters that must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to (1) exist and (2) persist on a planet.  The timing of the formation of the exosolar system, the location of the exosolar system within the galaxy, the type of galaxy the exosolar system is in, the elemental composition of the star and planet, and the existence of stable, long-lasting plate tectonics are just a few of the finely-tuned parameters that must be met for life to exist and thrive.

None of this is to say that we should not be investigating how life could have originated, or whether exoplanets may harbor other life forms.  Indeed, if God did create the universe and life, I am convinced that these scientific disciplines will serve only to glorify Him further.

But these observations do beg the question: which is it?  Is life abundant in the universe, a premise based on one data point and questionable assumptions, or is life rare, a premise based upon the empirical findings of the fields of biochemistry, organic chemistry, astronomy, and geology?  It seems to me that hope springs eternal for the secular exoplanet researcher, but the hard scientific data tells another story.

1. Davies, Paul.  “The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life.”  Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)

Dr Greg Reeves holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and is currently an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. He is the co-director of the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi. His blog can be found at twobooksapproach.blogspot.com.

The Life Dialogue: Theistic Evolution 2

This is part of a series of posts on the means by which life came about within Christianity. See other posts on the topic here.

Last time I wrote about theistic evolution I mentioned I was quite excited to get into some the scientific side of the debate. I delved into that a bit with my first post on old earth creationism as well as in my post on young earth creationism. While I think that perhaps the biggest problem with theistic evolution from a Christian view is theological, I do believe it is important to examine the scientific aspect of all sides of the debate as well. Thus, I turned to Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, a work full of essays on theistic evolution, to give me the scientific aspects of theistic evolution.

Common descent is central to the notion of atheism. Often, common descent is the source of objections to the theory of evolution (Miller, 152). Common descent is the assertion that all life on earth is descended from an “unbroken series of ancestor-descendant relationships to a single ancestral life form” (Miller, 152). Perhaps the most frequent objection to this is the sparse distribution of the fossil record.

Miller argues that the fossil record, rather than being incapable of demonstrating common descent, provides “persuasive evidence for macroevolutionary change and common descent” (153). He quickly qualifies this statement, pointing out that most often people either assert that the fossil record is so sparse that nothing can be demonstrated by it or that it is so complete that all details can be brought to light.

Miller then points out the vast problems with trying to fill in a fossil record which, according to evolutionary theory, covers hundreds of millions of years. Some of these problems include the infrequent fossilization of soft bodied or thin-shelled organisms, environmental factors such as weather, scavengers, or water levels, erosion, irregular sedimentation, etc. (154-156).

Transitional forms also encounter the problems of classification. The way species are categorized can directly affect whether a species is seen as a transitional form. “The grouping of organisms in a classification scheme does more than describe nature: it also interprets it” (158). Miller goes on to discuss two types of classification: the Linnean and cladistic classification. Linnean classification views species as types. One individual is seen as the ideal “archetype” of the species, while all others are compared to this “archetype” and then seen as types or offshoots of this individual. This, argues Miller, “exclude[s] transition[al fossils] by definition” (158, emphasis his). Cladistic classification, by contrast, assumes an evolutionary scheme and places animals into overarching schemes based on such assumptions. Thus, species may not be grouped so much by common characteristics as they are grouped by characteristics seen as having a common ancestor (159).

Interestingly, this section seems to echo one of the statements I remember from a talk on Young Earth Creation I listened to on campus, in which the speaker stated that often scientists can look at the same evidence and come up with completely different interpretations–even though the evidence is the same. I’ll be keeping this in mind in my future interactions with the varied positions in this dialogue. Here, it seems the cladistic classification is preferred, though one may ask whether this is because one wants to presuppose evolution and move from there, or if it is because the fossil record points more readily towards evolution. Did the evidence lead to the classification or did the classification lead to the evidence?

Transitional forms often are attached to misconceptions. Miller warns against assuming that such a form would appear as a logical step from one type of animal to the next. Rather, he states that “Such forms will be unlike anything living today”. This is because “transitional forms are found by moving down the tree of life into the past, not trying to jump from limb to limb” (161). Thus, when thinking of transitional forms, rather than seeing a kind of orthogenesis (one step at a time) that would suggest, perhaps, species 1 => species 2 => species 3, the view should be a branching phylogeny which looks more like a tree than a straight line. Thus, transitional fossils could be radically different from the species to which they gave rise (163).

After this point in his chapter, Miller goes into some examples of just these types of transitions viewed in the fossil record. His examples include reptile-to-mammal evolution, a land creature-to-whale evolution, horses, tapers, rhinos, etc. having a common ancestor, and others (164-180). Due to such transitional evidence in the fossil record, Miller concludes that “transitional fossil sequences between higher taxonomic groups are a common feature of the fossil record” (180).

One may question Miller on a number of points in this chapter. The different classification systems is one presupposition that must be made. Another objection that came to my mind as I was reading was the definition of transitional fossil. Again, it seems as though the definition may be changed to fit the theory, rather than the theory changed to fit the definition or the evidence. Why couldn’t it be that transitional fossils are just what intuition suggests, and there really aren’t too many? Rather, the assumption seems to be that other fossils may be used for the transitions. Why make such an assumption? Is there any reason to push the transitional definition to the usage Miller is endorsing? I don’t know.

I enjoyed Miller’s chapter greatly. It is always nice to get a breath of fresh air amidst my readings of analytic philosophy or epistemology. I have enjoyed this series greatly, and I can’t wait to continue.

Finally, in closing, I would like to note two things again. The first is my stance on this whole debate: I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, I believe that God did and does directly intervene in creation and the universe, and I believe that God has been and always will be the creator and sustainer of the universe. Thus, I am biased, just as anyone who approaches such questions is. Second, I have noted before that this series is meant to be for the in-house Christian debate on these matters. I’ve had a number of caustic comments thrown my way from those uninterested in such a debate. I welcome non-Christians to the discussion, but only if they can participate in a civil manner.

Miller, Keith. “Common Descent, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record.” Edited Keith Miller. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.  Wm. B.Eerdman’s. 2003.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Science: “Thanks, Christianity”

I remember recently I was talking to someone and they asserted that Christianity and science simply don’t mix. Often I run into the idea that somehow Christianity hinders science (and a great many people seem to believe science can hinder Christianity as well!).This is not only wrong, it is historically and demonstrably wrong. Science as it stands today would not exist if it were not for Christianity.

Christian presuppositions allowed science to develop. Science was built on the presupposition that God was rational. Because the universe was created by this rational God, “Christian Philosophers linked rationality with the empirical, inductive method” (Schmidt, 218). These philosophers included such giants as William of Ockham (1285-1347) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

Lynn White states that “From the thirteenth century onward to the eighteenth, every major scientist, in effect, explained his motivations in religious terms” (Quoted in Schmidt, 222). But it wasn’t just the motivations that were explained in religious terms. Too often it is the case that people argue, fallaciously, that they were only Christian because of the time these scientists were born into. They were too afraid, it is alleged, to state their true beliefs. Not only is this utterly without evidence, but it could not be farther from the truth. Many of these scientists spent as much time on theology as they did on science. They credited God with their discoveries. They believed that God had set the universe up in such a way as to be explored by His people. These convictions permeated the writings of scientists.

Alvin Schmidt, in his monumental work, How Chistianity Changed the World, outlines how Christianity changed science on every level. Gregor Mendel, Leonardo Da Vinci, Andreas Vesalius, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Liebniz, Pascal, Ohm, Andre Ampere, Kelvin, Boyle, and Pasteur are just a few of the almost limitless examples. All of these were Christians. It is wholly fallacious to assert that science and Christianity do not mix.

Some might immediately attack Christianity when names like Galileo are brought up. The problem with this is twofold:

1) In the case of Galileo or Copernicus, Christians were actually supporting these astronomers, just Christians of a different variety (Lutherans backed Copernicus financially and offered encouragement and support, while Roman Catholics, still basing their assumptions on Aristotelian astronomy, persecuted him [Schmidt, 231])

2) These men were, themselves, Christian. It’s easy to argue that Christians were putting down science when one can point to cases of persecution, but these men were Christians!

Perhaps it is now, however, that Christianity is opposed to science. Perhaps in the modern day, Christians are not scientists. This is not true. Take the case of Francis Collins, for example. He is the scientist who was the head of the human genome project. He is also a devout Christian and the author of The Language of God, in which he argues that science has lead him even more into his belief in God.

It is simply not the case that Christianity and science do not mix. Christian presuppositions allowed for the development of the empirical method. Christian philosophers and scientists were the “giants” on whom people like Newton (and modern scientists) built their theories (Newton himself asserts this). Science is just another of the many areas Christianity has helped transform for the better. Science can rightly say, “Thanks, Christianity.”

Sources:

Collins, Francis. The Language of God. 2007.

Schmidt, Alvin. How Christianity Changed the World. Zondervan. 2004.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,563 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason