Thursday, 27 March 2008

Expelled is the Hottest Item in the Blogosphere



Joel Kontinen

Ben Stein’s film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, due to open on April 18, has become the hottest item in the blogosphere. Expelled documents how Darwinists oppress and threaten scientists and science teachers who dare to suggest that everything has not come about and developed through chance alone.

Darwinists are furious. Richard Dawkins, who is interviewed in the film, managed to attend a screening in Minneapolis although he was not invited. Dawkins relied on a minor trick: he gave Clinton as his first name. Technically, he was not lying since his full name is Clinton Richard Dawkins.

PZ Myers, another prominent critic of Intelligent Design, was barred from attending the movie and he wrote a bitter response in the Panda’s Thumb forum. Myers demanded that the supporters of Intelligent Design should be met with ”some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.”

It is odd that an atheist would publicly speak about righteous fury. After all, righteousness is a Judeo-Christian concept. One might think that Darwinists would not bother with ethical issues but perhaps they do, after all.

Mark Mathis, the producer of the movie, commented on the reaction of Myers and others, saying it was strange since ”these men applaud when professors throughout the nation are fired from their jobs and permanently excluded from their profession for mentioning Intelligent Design.”

Expelled documents how Darwinists endanger academic freedom. It seems that they are now afraid that their monopoly is about to end.

See the trailer here.

Source:

EXPELLED Controversy Top Issue in Blogosphere. Premise Media press release. http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20080325006175&newsLang=en

Sunday, 23 March 2008

He has risen!


Christ carrying His cross. El Greco, 1580. Image from Wikipedia



Joel Kontinen

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:1-6, NIV)

There is strong evidence for the historicity of Jesus. Of non-biblical writers, Josephus (37–100), Tacitus (55–117), Suestonius (69–140), Plinius the Younger (ca. 61–113) and Lukianos (125–190) either mention Him by name or refer to the crucifixion. Even those who were antagonistic towards Christianity were unable to deny that He was a real historical person.

Jesus’ resurrection is neither a myth nor a legend. A legend is story about what saints or holy people did. While it may be true, it might also be false. The legend of Peter and Christ meeting in Rome inspired the Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz to create his world-famous novel Quo Vadis. However, the encounter of Christ and Peter at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21) is a historical event and it is thus included in the New Testament.

All legendary material has been excluded from the New Testament. Luke writes in the introduction to his gospel (1: 1-3): ”Therefore, since I myself carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

The objectivity of the Bible narratives is one of the strongest evidences of its historical reliability. Scriptures do not shy away from the failings of the great heroes of faith. The Bible tells us that Noah became drunk, David committed adultery, Peter denied knowing Christ and the disciples did not at first believe in His resurrection. Apart from the stories about Greek gods with their human foibles, legends do not usually tell us about the failures of great heroes.

The resurrection changed the disciples so completely that a week after it they began to meet on a Sunday, the resurrection day, instead of the Jewish Sabbath. This was a real miracle since the early Christians were all Jews who continued to observe the decrees and rules of their religion meticulously.

The idea of the mythic nature of Bible stories stems from the extremely subjective views of some skeptical Bible scholars, such as the documentary hypothesis advocated by Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) and others and Rudolf Bultmann’s (1884–1976) view on the mythical worldview of the Bible writers. However, these are very controversial stances. Many of their claims were shown to be false several decades ago.

Other scholars have advocated strange hypotheses about the development of religion. E. B. Tylor (1832–1917), for instance, claimed that religion had evolved from polytheism (the worship of many gods) to monotheism (the worship of one God) but his views have been since been refuted and few cultural anthropologists would consider them valid today.

Some views about the origin of religion, such as the one suggested by Sigmund Freud (1856–1918) are so fanciful that serious scholars do not consider them to be credible.

The Bible includes profound mysteries, such as the Trinity of God, but that does not nullify its reliability.

We can thus with good reason trust the Bible when it says, “He is not here; he has rise.”

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Arthur C. Clarke: Brilliant Visions But Bad Scientific Blunders


Arthur C. Clarke is known for this film. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.





Joel Kontinen


Arthur C. Clarke, who died on March 19 at age 90, was one of the most popular science fiction writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Its film version was directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke served as a radar specialist during World War II and realised that geostationary satellites could be used in telecommunication. They are satellites that orbit almost directly above the equator and appear to be stationary to an observer on the ground. Clarke popularised the concept in a paper called "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?"published in the magazine Wireless World in 1945.

Clarke had a great trust in the progress of human civilisation. However, at times his optimism bordered on scientism although some of his views were at odds with mainstream science. For instance, he toyed with the idea that an ancient alien civilisation might have produced the human race.

Writing in Skeptical Inquirer in 2001, Clarke outlined his religious beliefs. He called God a hypothetical entity and said, “early in the next millennium the rise of ‘statistical theology’ would prove that there is no supernatural intervention in human affairs. Nor does the ‘problem of evil’ exist; it is an inevitable consequence of the bell-shaped curve of normal distribution.”

Such views have nothing to do with science. Modern science was born and developed in the western world, thanks to a belief in a rational Creator God who designed natural laws. The great pioneers of modern science, such as Johann Kepler, Blaise Pascal and Sir Isaac Newton, were devout Christians.

Christians have not eschewed rocket science, either. Wernher von Braun, the “father” of the Apollo moon program, was a Christian who actually believed it was wrong to exclude the teaching of creation in science classes. The astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders who orbited the moon in December 1968 chose the opening verses of Genesis as their Christmas message to earth.

Clarke, however, had little respect for Christianity. He was a firm believer in extraterrestrial life. He supported the SETI@home community that tries to get proof of alien intelligence by monitoring messages they might send us.

It is strange that the SETI people spend billions of taxpayer dollars on listening to messages that might never come. At the same time, they ignore the message coded in our DNA that speaks volumes of intelligent design. But, as Ben Stein shows in his soon to be aired film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed most mainstream scientists do not tolerate any dissenting voices.

Science should be a quest for the truth but unfortunately staunch Darwinists have used their preconceived ideology of naturalism or the stance that nature is all that there is to exclude all views that deviate from theirs. Regrettably, Arthur C. Clarke, the great science fiction writer, chose the side of those who do not want to allow discussion or dissent.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Crab That Forgot To Evolve



Horseshoe crabs. Image from Wikipedia.



Joel Kontinen

A recent study in the journal Paleontology includes a paper on the discovery of a horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) fossil said to date from the Upper Ordovician period or some 445 million years ago. The study, conducted by David M. Rudkin of Royal Ontario Museum and colleagues reported on a recent find in Manitoba, Canada. The crab is “strikingly similar” to other horseshoe crabs, including those that are still found alive today.

The oldest horseshoe crab fossil is practically indistinguishable from its present-day descendants, showing no evolution at all. Some species seem to resist change at all costs. Darwinian evolution desperately needs evidence of change, especially transitional forms or fossils that would link different species, but the fossil record displays a very different kind of story.

The late Harvard zoology and geology professor Stephen Jay Gould wrote in Natural History in 1977, "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils." Gould and Niles Eldredge proposed the punctuated equilibrium view of evolution, i.e. that evolution consists of stasis or long periods of no change at all and then sudden changes happening too quickly to leave any fossil evidence. However, it is a stance that argues not from evidence but from silence.

The horseshoe crab is just one example of numerous living fossils or animals that have not changed for aeons of time. The most famous living fossil is the Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) that was thought to be a link between fish and amphibians. Unlike “ordinary” fish, the Coelacanth gives birth to live offspring. Yet, the Coelacanth, dubbed the dino fish, is clearly a fish and not a half mammal. Evolutionists believed it used its fins to walk on the seabed but observations have shown this to be false. Scientists suspected that it became extinct some 65 million years ago, but in 1938 a living specimen was caught off the coast of Madagascar and since then several others have also been sighted living.

Other living fossils include the Wollemi Pine and the salamander. The blue-green algae or cyanobacteriae have resisted any change for 3.5 billion years on an evolutionary time scale. While dating methods involve many assumptions and potential sources of error, the absence of change in some of the most “primitive” life forms is a strong case against the Darwinian “just-so” story of molecules-to man-evolution.

The horseshoe crab also tells a story that differs entirely from the Darwinian version.

You can read about another living fossil, the tuatara, here.

Sources:

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1977. Evolution's erratic pace. Natural History, 86:5, 12-16. (May 1977).

Rudkin, David M.& al. 2008. The Oldest Horseshoe Crab: A New Xiphosurid from Late Ordovician Konservat-Lagerstätten Deposits, Manitoba, Canada. Palaeontology 51:1 , 1–9 (January 2008).

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Hobbits Becoming More Human



Hobbit skull. Image: Wikipedia


Joel Kontinen

A new study suggests that the hobbits, a diminutive people whose remains were found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 and 2004, were real humans after all. They were originally classified as Homo floresiensis, a species distinct from Homo sapiens but the dispute about their status has never abated.

Named after J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth heroes, they became known all over the world after scientific journals published a drawing by Peter Schouten that describes a tiny ape-like man carrying a furry animal on his shoulder.

Many researchers think that the hobbits’ small stature (one meter or just over three feet) and small head were the result of microcephaly, a neurological disorder that still causes some individuals to have an abnormally small head. They maintain that it is not justified to classify them as a distinct species. For instance, in 2006 Pennsylvania State University published a study stating that the small head of Homo floresiensis was due to microcephaly.

As reported by ScienceNow, a new study conducted by Peter Obendorf and Benjamin Kefford of the RMIT University of Melbourne and Charles Oxnard of the University of Western Australia at Crawley concluded that the small stature of the Homo floresiensis was not the result of genetic defects. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that the hobbits’ size was caused by a condition known as cretinism. This is due to a lack of iodine. Comparing the pituitary flossa in a hobbit skull with individuals suffering from cretinism, they found a significant match and thus suggested a new theory.

The remains of twelve hobbits were originally found in a cave in Liang Bua. Obendorf stated that it is an area where people still suffer from goiters that results from iodine deficiency. The new study even mentions that local myths include stories of tiny people who lived in caves.

While it may be too early to discard the microcephaly hypothesis altogether, the case for hobbits being real humans is much stronger than before. We should probably do well to forget the image of an ape-like man carrying a furry animal on his shoulder and start describing hobbits as real people. It seems that the distinction between hobbits and humans is found only in Tolkien’s Midde-Earth but not on this earth.

Read more about hobbits here.


Source:

Culotta, Elizabeth. 2008. Were the Flores Hobbits Really Cretins. ScienceNow Daily News 5 March 2008. http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/305/3

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Moses on Drugs: A Brave New Theory or Extremely Bad Science?



Moses by Jusepe de Ribero in 1638. Image from Wikipedia


Joel Kontinen

It has become easy to predict when Easter is coming even without looking at a calendar. Each year we get to hear about some new astounding discovery and the authors of the sensational find get their moment of fame and occasionally some extra money, also.

This time last year the Discovery Channel announced “the archaeological discovery of the century”. The find turned out to be a commercial for the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus. Filmmakers James Cameron and Simca Jacobovici bypassed the peer review process and took their evidence (two empty ossuaries or bone boxes) straight to the media. At the end, almost all serious scholars dismissed the discovery as mere hype with little if any substance behind it. There was no hard evidence that the boxes had ever contained the earthly remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

In 2006 it was the Jesus Walked on Ice hypothesis that was actually published in a scientific journal. The idea of anyone walking on an ice floe on a lake that obviously never freezes is rather bizarre.

For a change, this year’s hype is about the Old Testament. Benny Shannon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published a 24-page paper in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture in which he suggested that Moses’ experience at Mount Sinai was caused by drugs. The paper, Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis is an updated and a more detailed version of his 2002 paper Entheogens: Reflections on ‘Psychoactive Sacramentials’, which was mostly about shamanism and the use of psychoactive plants in various non-Christian religions, such as the use of hallucination-inducing plants by some native American tribes, but it also included a discussion on Moses and his Sinai experience. The present paper focuses more on Judaism and the exodus.

Nothing in the biblical text about the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai even hints of any kind of hallucination. Shannon acknowledges this. However, he says that two plants, Peganum Harmala and Mimosa hostilis, which now grow in the Sinai Peninsula can potentially cause hallucinations. Shannon tries to see parallels between some of the details (such as fire) in the Exodus text with for instance the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the use of LSD but it seems that he is jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

Professor Shannon is honest enough to disclose that his “finding” is based on his presuppositions. He reveals that he does not think that the Mount Sinai event (i.e. when Moses received the Law) could be historically reliable or that it could be a myth so for him the only remaining alternative is that it was the result of a hallucination caused by a plant growing in the Sinai Peninsula.

While it is true that some religions do use drugs that produce hallucinations, Shannon’s hypothesis seems to have nothing to do with real science and everything with his own past.

Shannon acknowledged that in 1991 he tried ayahuasca, a tropical plant that causes strong hallucinations, during a religious ceremony in Brazil. This seems to be the only real reason for supposing that Moses might have experimented with something similar.

It might be good to keep in mind that the novelist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), whom Shannon mentions in his new paper and who is remembered for his Brave New World (1932), admitted experimenting with mescalin and LSD. But this does not necessarily mean that Huxley produced all his literary works under the influence of drugs. The case for Moses’ use of drugs is even weaker.

There is an expression known as March Madness. In this case, it seems to have more to do with professor Shannon, his past and his bizarre hypothesis than with Moses. His Brave New Theory turns out to be extremely bad science.


Sources:

AFP News: Moses was high on drugs: Israeli researcher. 4 March 2008.

Shannon, Benny. 2002. Entheogens. Reflections on ‘Psychoactive Sacramentals’. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9:4, 85-94.

Shannon, Benny, 2008. Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis. Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, 1:1, 51-74 (March 2008).

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Darwin’s Revenge


Tierra del Fuegians greeting HMS Beagle. Watercolour by Conrad Martens. Image from Wikipedia

Joel Kontinen

Montezuma’s Revenge is a colloquial name given to a variety of illnesses mostly caused by bacterial infections that many tourists suffer from when visiting Mexico. The name is derived from the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II (c. 1466-1520) whom the Spanish conquistador Hernándo Cortés defeated.

While Montezuma’s Revenge might have obnoxious consequences, such as diarrhea, vomiting and fever, history knows of a more severe form of revenge. Have you ever heard of Darwin’s Revenge?

Montezuma’s Revenge has practically nothing to do with Montezuma. But Darwin’s Revenge is an altogether different story, and a more severe one.

In his youth, Charles Darwin used to pray. As a young man he even planned to become a clergyman. But Darwin gave up his intention of taking holy orders and on his historical journey on the HMS Beagle (1831-1836) he read the first volume of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology that had just been published and later also became acquainted with the second volume.

Like James Hutton, Lyell rejected the biblical timescale of earth history and espoused the idea of millions of years instead. Hutton was the father of uniformitarism or the idea that the present slow and gradual geological processes are the keys to understanding the past history of the earth. Darwin found inspiration in Lyell’s ideas.

By the time of the Beagle’s voyage Darwin no longer trusted in the Old Testament and soon afterwards also lost his faith in the New Testament. Then in 1851 Darwin’s 10-year old daughter Annie died of fever. Like many other skeptics after him, misfortune caused him to abandon biblical Christianity altogether. For instance, the actor Dana Andrews (1909-1992) lost his faith when his two sisters died suddenly. Darwin could not understand that God could so mercilessly take away his daughter.

Darwin obviously failed to understand how a good God could allow evil things to happen to people he thought were innocent. Abandoning the Bible’s explanation of the world, he made up a great story of his own in which the struggle for existence and the survival the the fittest played major roles. While the idea of evolution had its roots in Greek philosophy, Darwin was the first to associate it with natural selection, a concept he borrowed from Edward Blyth (1810-1873), a well-known zoologist and chemist.

What Charles Darwin failed to realise was that we no longer live in the original very good world but on a planet that is groaning because of mankind’s sin, as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:21-22. Darwin was well aware of William Paley’s book Natural Theology. Paley’s argument for design was popular in Darwin’s time but it was not able to account for the presence of evil and sin in the world.

Darwin’s rejection of historical Christianity had disastrous consequences. Darwin’s views caused many others to abandon the biblical worldview and brought about or encouraged evils like racism and eugenics that were a corollary of his ideas. This confirms a biblical truth. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, deeds always have consequences. The same truth seems to apply to ideas.

We cannot do much to escape Montezuma’s Revenge when we visit Mexico the first time. But the good news is that we do not have to be infected with Darwin’s Revenge. There is a remedy for it – the gospel of Jesus Christ. By knowing Him "you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).


Sources:

Brentnall, John M. & Grigg, Russell M. 1995. Darwin's slippery slide into unbelief. Creation 18:1, 34–37. http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/1025/

Humanist profile: Dana Andrews. The Humanist 62:4, 2 (July/August 2002).

Read more about our fallen world here.