Monday, October 20, 2008

No Entirely New Features Have Evolved

It is true, no entirely new features have evolved, ever. I know this as a fact. And, rather than being a denial of evolution, it is one of the strongest evidences against creationism.

Every "new feature" that has evolved is a modification of previously existing features. The bat's wing is not a de novo appearance. The bat's wing is a modification of tetrapod forelimbs which are themselves modified sarcopterygian pectoral fins. An entirely new feature, appearing out of nowhwere, would be an evidence for creationism.

I am going out on a limb to make this claim. It can appear as though complex new features appear suddenly if one separates the lineage by too many years. Hence, if one takes a single-celled paramecium from the Paleozoic and compares it to an aquatic mammalian cetacean from the Cenozoic, it will be obvious that there are new features. However, the features that are "new" on the cetacean are yet modifications of previous adaptations from her ancestors.

This claim seques into the reality that there is such an interconnectedness in life that screams of common ancestry through evolution that I do not see how it can be logically and pragmatically reconciled with creationism. It would not take much to create significant discontinuities in life. For example, a centaur with a equine body and a homind abdomen and head would be discontinious with previous life. Why wouldn't a creater make discontinuities to demonstrate a fingerprint rather than making life so explicable through phylogeny and homologies?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mantid Wastefulness and the Divine Nature in Creation (Creatures that Defy Creationism)




"She's on your foot! She's on your foot! Don't move or you'll squish her," I yelled to my oldest son yesterday. A praying mantis was climbing up onto his shoe, and, fearful that he might dislodge and squish the enormous insect, I told him to remain still. The mantis climbed down, and we watched her for the next five minutes. It was about six in the evening on October 12th, and the sun was orange with its rays extended horizontally through warm evening air.

The mantis was exposed. She sat in the mowed grass and would have been an easy meal for many a chordate. Her location inspired me to attempt to feed her. My kids and I caught a grasshopper and tossed it into the immediate field of the mantis' vision. The mantis saw the movement. She began to sway like a twig in the breeze. The grasshopper froze. I took a narrow twig and prodded the grasshopper into movement, and she moved just enough to remain in the mantis' sights. The mantis coupled her praying arms together, held close to her abdomen. Suddenly the grasshopper was held in her death grasp; she had caught her next meal.

It was a somewhat gruesome sight. The mantis began to eat the grasshopper immediately, tearing off and out large portions of the still squirming, still moving, still living prey. The grasshopper resisted for the next two minutes as the mantis grasped her in an unforgiving clench—ripping off pieces, each tear a step closer to the grasshopper's death. On two occasions the mantis looked away from her prey and stopped eating to investigate a nearby movement. I told the kids to remain still because a distracted mantis will readily drop a half-eaten, though quite alive, prey if she spies another food opportunity.

When I kept a mantis captive for a few weeks in the Fall of 2005, I was rather disturbed by its wastefulness. If more prey options were in sight, it wouldn't finish eating one insect at a time. Instead, it would capture a cricket, take a few bites, drop it, and capture another cricket to repeat the process. This would continue until there were up to a dozen crickets squirming on the bottom of her terrarium. With large portions of their midsections gone, the crickets would hang on to life for anywhere from a few hours to a day. Some would get up and walk; others would slowly move their legs or merely display life through the metabolic moving of their abdomen.

Ferocious and wasteful creatures these mantids are. As we were hunched over the mantis, I rehearsed how the mantis was incongruent with the Young-Earth Creationist model of a deathless world before the Fall. In the Young- Earth Creationist (YEC) pre-Fall world, there was no death; hence, the mechanisms of predation and defense would be superfluous. The mantis defies YEC incorporation. She displays superior predation adaptations through her developed, flesh-tearing jaws; abilities to mimic a swaying branch to avoid detection of her predatory advances; strong, large front legs for catch and grasping prey. Additionally, she is equipped with leaf-like wings and twig-like legs that prevent her from becoming someone else's meal. What functions would these adaptations play in a deathless world?

Paul tells the Romans that God's "everlasting power and divine nature" are manifest in God's creation. As a non-theist, I experience a sense of humility, awe, and grandeur when I fellowship with the mantis. However, I scarcely see the manifestation of a benevolent deity in her death grasp and wanton wastefulness, nor do I see a creature consistent with the predictions of Young-Earth Creationism. What benefit would large death claws have for the vegetarian mantis? I see the workings of natural selection and millions of years of specific refinements in the mantis. I do not see God. Paul was wrong.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Deap in the waters of Baldwin Lake...



I caught this gal sun bathing on the banks of a central Michigan lake in late April. She had just positioned herself out of the water where I had seen here a few hours before. Catching turtles like this is one of my specialties.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Critical Response to: Evolution and the Challenge of Morality by Lisle

Dr. Lisle authored Evolution and the Challenge of Morality which is available in full text on the Answers in Genesis website at: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2008/04/14/evolution-challenge-of-morality.

Dr. Lisle presents morality in rigidly-defined categories of right and wrong with the Bible as the final arbiter between the two. He posits the Bible as the only absolute source of ethics and morality. In contrast he presents evolutionary worldviews as morally nihilistic and devoid of absolute. Lisle’s contrast is presented well in his following assertion:

All things belong to God (Psalm 24:1) and thus, God has the right to make the rules. So, an absolute moral code makes sense in a biblical creation worldview. But if the Bible were not true, if human beings were merely the outworking of millions of years of mindless chemical processes, then why should we hold to a universal code of behavior? Could there really be such concepts as right and wrong if evolution were true?

Hence, on the one hand moral absolutism is sourced in the Bible as the express will of a Creator who has the ontological right to “make the rules.” On the other hand a view of morality that lacks the Bible while sourcing biological reality to “mindless chemical processes” is internally inconsistent.

Lisle’s simplistic upholding of the Bible as a source of moral absolutes assumes a degree of textual perspicuity that is untenable. He fails to acknowledge that the Bible is not a simple code of ethics and morality and that the biblical reader arrives at morals from the text by a complex process of merging embedded subjective propriospect with variegated levels of exegesis. Finally, Lisle’s pejorative view of morality apart from the Bible—specifically against the backdrop of an evolutionary worldview—demonstrates profound ignorance of the dynamics of evolution at work with socio-biology.

Despite Lisle’s promise that the Bible is an “absolute moral code,” the Bible contains context specific ethics. The Bible is anything but a clear and unambiguous ethical guide or a casebook on ethical behavior. In the Bible, morality is filtered through culturally and context specific case law embedded in concrete historical circumstances and unique social exigencies. Proper biblical exegesis must take into consideration the context of a biblical reading—asking the question of what the reading meant to the initial readers. Historical reconstruction of context is a fallible process; hence, the context that one might construct for a passage might be revolutionized in time with the discovery of new and relevant information.

Unfortunately, most biblical readers are undisciplined exegetes. They lack the tools and training to read biblical texts with hermeneutical precision. As a result, modern-day assumptions about what is right and wrong creep into their readings. Despite the clear teaching of the Bible (specifically the Old Testament), for example, that women are male capital and have less rights than men, few biblical readers realize the presence of this idea in the texts. Instead, they read their present cultural paradigms back into the text.

There is no easy way to use the Bible in ethical reflection. Exegetical discipline results in readings that are dependent on fallible historical reconstruction (e.g., Paul’s opponents in Galatians, the nature of “boiling a kid in mother’s milk”, etc.). Any ethical reflection built off of exegetical energies is even more contingent than the original reading. Popular, non-exegetical, reading of the Bible is fraught with the merger of modern morality with the ancient texts resulting in de novo readings. Ultimately, the derivation of meaning or morality from the Bible is a human process. And, unless one is willing to claim that her reading of the Bible is inerrant, her reading is as fallible as the next.

Morality makes sense from the perspective of evolution. Humans are social mammals. In social contexts we evolved morality and ethics as a means to social cohesion. Behaviors that are moral and altruistic result in greater degrees of social or tribal cohesion and hence better the chances of gene dispersal (natural selection). It is asinine to assert that ethics fail to exist apart from the Bible. Frankly, biblical ethics are as much a product of evolution as any type of workable ethical situation.

I have not answered all of the points in this article, but I have articulated my priority thoughts. There is more that can be said, and, if interest develops in the form of responses, maybe they can be brought to the fore.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Darwin



And the Winner Is...


Darwin is the name for our new ferret.


Darwin was the functional name of our pet while we waited for the survey results here and on Sara's myspace account. Of course we took other factors into consideration, but the poll was helpful.


Darwin is a lot of work. He has ear mites along with an intestinal parasite that requires twice-a-day medication by mouth. Other treatments are not appropriate for the public record. He is growing, and he is growing on me. Though he is yet a kit and is fond of nipping toes and other digits, he is also quite affectionate. When he wakes up he enjoys having his belly rubbed, and when he tires out from play, he will cuddle up for a nap in one's lap.


Why was Darwin one of our options? As is already known, I am fond of Charles Darwin, one of the early advocates for the theory of biological evolution. The theory of evolution boasts explanatory abilities unrivaled by any competing model, especially the various ideologies of "biblical" creationism.


Though for years I resisted the overwhelming logic of evolution, I kept my logic subdued by my affections for King James and the pantheon Morris, Ham, RATE, and Humphreys. The maturing and refining of my applied biblical hermeneutics coupled with a developed yet growing knowledge of science eventually won over this idolatry allowing me to forgo commitments to intentional ignorance. Now the god of my affections is she who is yet a product of homid evolution and best revealed in the script of nature. As much as humanity needs her for existence, she also needs humanity.


Darwin, as one of the early popularizers of the theory of biological evolution, and as an icon representative of the intellectual liberation experienced in the shadow of this theory, is an appropriate name for my pet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Un-named Mustelid









This is our new pet. He seems to be getting along okay with our cats. He is still called "the ferret," and we need a name for him soon. Please reply to the name poll so that we can use your input to help in this important decision.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reflections on Revelation and Mythology

Fundamentalists generally view historical narratives in their scriptures as actual, factual retellings of events, true to life in regard to detail. Such a view of sacred history results in the elevation of historical narrative into sacrosanct holy cows. Despite archeological and historical evidences to the contrary, these enshrined cows remain aloof—immune to the touch of skeptical inquiry.

The primary fundamentalists that I have in mind are Muslim fundamentalists. Oh, how quickly and gleefully the Christian fundamentalist will delight in my criticisms, but reader beware: the same criticisms applied to the Quran constitute the opposite end of the same two edged sword when applied to the Bible.

The quranic portraits of biblical history betray its sources. While the traditional biblical narratives might form a foundation to a given quranic retelling, the Quran is also quick to incorporate folk and apocryphal sources as well. For example, the Quran draws from midrashic traditions when it tells of the holding of Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel or of Abraham being a stargazer. Similarly, apocryphal sources constitute likely analogues and sources for the pericopes of Jesus making birds out of clay (compare to the Gospel of Thomas) and the deliverance of Abraham (compare to the Book of Jubilees).

When evaluated beneath the lens of historical accuracy, such narratives are found to be obviously non-historical and mythological. Most of the sacred history incorporated into the Quran is myth, not history. Does this make the Quran any less of an inspired book? My answer is no.

The Quran’s purpose was not the retelling of accurate history. Incorporation of mythic material from the faith traditions of Judaism (e.g., the Exodus from Egypt, the kingdom of Solomon) and Christianity (e.g., the virgin birth) serve not as a stamp or seal of historical reliability but rather as a means of rooting the infantile faith community of Islam into the ever-evolving complex of Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic religion.

The Bible is mythical as well. Most assuredly the 7-day creation story, the misunderstood Eden epic, the Flood of Noah, the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham, the Exodus, the Sinai theophany, the kingdoms of David and Solomon, the virgin birth, and the Easter tomb are the stuff of myth. It shocks me that so many today still accept these narratives as literal history. And, in so far as the intent of these stories was to retell accurate history, thus far these books are mundane and uninspired. Yet, I find inspiration and the veiled face of Ultimate Reality in these narratives.

Frustrated with the mundanity of the Bible and the Quran, I could readily reject belief in God. Disappointed with biblical law and quranic jurisprudence, I am ready to give up. Having given up on reconciling science with scriptures, I consider further attempts a waste of breath. But, I choose to hold on with the hope that underlying inspiration will one day enlighten me. For the record, I am considering Universal Sufism…albeit, as a Christian agnostic who meditates on the Hebrew Bible and the Quran.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fear

"You scare me, Peter. Don't you scare yourself sometimes?"

Fear—a force that confines. The individual who fears the water is spared the risk of crocodilian ingestion, but she also forgoes access to the life partner on the far bank.

Fear is sourced through both acquired learning and instinct. A mother knows what risks lurk beneath the sands and amongst the intertwined roots of the mangroves during high tide. She has learned to fear the hide tide through experience—having barely escaped a crocodilian assault in her youth. The mother instructs her child not to enter the mangrove during high tide, and the child instinctively feels fear at the thought of insubordination toward his mother's instruction. He heeds her words, does not linger in the groves for high tide, and is afforded growth to maturity through avoiding the threat of tetrapod attack. He does not learn to fear high tide through a narrow escape as his mother had, he instinctively fears disobeying his mother—an evolved trait of primate and hominid social strictures.

According to developmental researchers, fear is the most elementary motivator in human moral development.
The four-year-old wants to color with a permanent marker on his sibling's arm. He scopes for adult attention, and, having observed an absence of adult awareness, he proceeds to mark up the exposed skin. Had an adult been watching, he would not have colored. Why? Adult presence translates into immediate punishment. His moral world is guided by fear—the fear of punishment.

Maturity of moral development is characterized by altruism. The altruistic does not allow fear of punishment to preclude right conduct. That is, even in the event that established norms of right and wrong, be they perceived divine or human, prohibit a specific behavior, the altruistic realizes that a higher good can be served through transgressing a norm when necessary.

The altruistic Jesus broke the Sabbath commandment, according to Matthew 12, when he permitted harvesting on the Sabbath. The altruistic driver runs a red light, despite fear of an accident or law enforcement personnel, because she knows the sick child in the back seat needs to get the emergency room.

Fear is a force that confines, albeit, for largely selfish reasons. It asks the question, "What can I do while yet shunning punishment (divine or human)?"
It prevents the fearful from partaking of the perceived forbidden.

I used to fear doubt. I used to fear the logical contradictions of my belief system. It scared me to realize that the Bible was refuted by basic science. I was afraid of accepting this conclusion for fear that it would propel me off of the precipice of impiety and punishment. Later I feared transgressing accepted norms. First, I feared eating unkosher chicken. Later, I feared eating unkosher beef. Still later, I feared eating pig. Yet, I have passed these thresholds.

I am not bound by fear. I do not fear wrath. I do not fear God. I do not fear demons or a nefarious numen behind every mishap. I am not afraid of reading the Quran. I am not afraid of questioning the existence of God. I am not afraid of myself. I am not afraid of the pig. I am not afraid of logic, science, the Bible, and any information available for my perusal.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sara N ' Me

Recent Pictures






Hello All,

I have not shared many pictures of my kids. Though I generally do not use this blog for sharing personal information, I thought that I might momentarily diverge into sharing the following pictures taken on January 13th of my kids.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Born-Again Agnostic

I am a born-again, regenerate agnostic. What, a born again agnostic? Let me explain.


The essence or the guiding drive of the unregenerate (those who are not "born again") is the flesh. "The mind of the flesh cannot please God," Paul advises us. I have always been appreciative of Paul's use of the word "flesh" in Romans 8. It is the perfect exemplar of what it means to be unregenerate or "of the flesh." Paul chose this word, in the KJV mind you, because it carries a secret, embedded message. Spell the world flesh backwards and you get h-self. With a slight degree of anachronistic political correctness Paul refrained from inserting an "im" for "himself" or an "er" for "herself."


"The minding of the flesh" is the minding of oneself. It is a life focused on selfish gratification. However, selfishness or self-interest need not take the simple form of immediate gratification as there are many fleshly, self-interested individuals who, while acting in their own interests, forgo immediate gratifications for delayed benefits. These individual's may appear noble and self-controlled on the outside, but their hearts' desires are often revealed through their treasures....frequently the accumulated capital of ruthless pursuit for the bottom line.


When the unregenerate loves, it is out of selfish interests. By loving a daughter, the unregenerate fulfills her maternal instincts. By nurturing a feral cat, the unregenerate feels warm and fuzzy inside. Though displaying love, the pursuit of the unregenerate is not the interest of the object loved unless such betters the interest of the unregenerate.


There are many Christians in name who are unregenerate or not born again. Their sole focus in life is the self, the flesh. Though they have professed a moment at which they have "asked Jesus into their hearts," they have never forgone self interest. Their sole goal is the flesh. So, while they perform good works and charity, an underlying drive for the gratification found in ritual and outward benevolence reigns.


In contrast to the condition of the unregenerate, the pursuit of the regenerate is the best interests of others. The regenerate loves the other for the benefit of the other without the condition of self interest; hence, the regenerate, the one "born again," displays true love, true benevolence of the most altruistic avidity.


I am regenerate. I am growing weary of being called unregenerate due to my want of faith in the Bible. I am a benevolent person, aware of my selfish nature, who yet operates as a guiding principle in the interests of others. I do not claim to be perfect, but my profession is benevolence or love.


I am a born-again agnostic among the ranks of the many non-Christian regenerate of all the religions and people groups.