Sunday, 30 November 2008
A previously found Ediacaran trace fossil. Image from Wikipedia.
Marine biologists have found a grape-sized creature off the coast of the Bahamas. Mikhail Matz from the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues discovered a group of single-celled creatures called Gromia sphaerica. A distant relative of the amoebas, it is believed to be the earliest living fossil.
The discovery, soon to be published in the journal Current Biology, was reported recently by BBC News and Discovery News. Both publications hailed it as an astounding find.
While G. sphaerica is a mere three centimeters or 1.2 inches in diameter, for a unicellular animal it is almost a giant. It left a 50-centimeter (20 inch) long trail on the seabed. Scientist did not believe that single-celled creatures could leave trails. They had supposed that all existing “trace fossils” or animal trails were made by multicellular animals.
Charles Darwin knew about the Cambrian Explosion, which weakened the credibility of his theory of evolution. However, he thought that the lack of fossil evidence for gradual evolutionary change was due to “the Imperfection of the Geological Record” as he put it in The Origin of Species (1859).
But the new discovery suggests Darwin was wrong. Matz explained that the find means that the Cambrian Explosion was real. “It must have been a diversification of life on a scale never before seen”, Discovery News quoted him as saying. He compared the find to a “burst out of a magic box”.
"There's a 1.8 billion-year-old fossil in the Stirling formation in Australia that looks just like one of their traces, and with a discoidal body impression similar to these guys," Matz went on to say. "We haven't proved anything, but we might be looking at the ultimate living macroscopic fossil."
Previously, the oldest trace fossil was believed to be 580 million years old. The new discovery pushes back their age a further 1.2 billion years on the evolutionary timescale.
This might cause us to question the credibility of the idea of millions of years of earth history. Moreover, all too often a single discovery has caused Darwinists to re-write vast sections of their supposed history.
'Grape' is key to fossil puzzle. BBC News. 21 November 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7739703.stm
Reilly, Michael. 2008. Single-Celled Giant Upends Early Evolution. Discovery News. (20 November). http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/11/20/gromia-cambrian-print.html
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Here is part of the evolutionary good news. Wikipedia image by José-Manuel Benito Álvarez.
It’s not often that I get an e-mail that begins with “Dear Fellow Evolutionaries” but today it happened. The sender was The Evolutionary Times, a newsletter launched by Reverend Michael Dowd.
If you think evolution is not a religion you have probably never heard Rev. Dowd speak on what he calls "our common creation myth — The Great Story of cosmos."
Michael Dowd, the author of Thank God for Evolution, seems to be a man of great expectations. Describing himself as an evolutionary evangelist, he travels throughout North America, “sharing in religiously inspiring ways the 14 billion year history of the Universe given by mainstream science”.
Yes, Dowd is saying that evolution is religiously inspiring. He not only began the e-mail with “Dear Fellow Evolutionaries” but he also ended it with “Co-evolutionarily yours”. Moreover, he has a habit of using phrases like lizard legacy and monkey mind to illustrate his good news that we are part of the animal kingdom.
In the first issue of The Evolutionary Times he outlined his goals:
Our Two-Fold Vision: (1) By 2050, we see the majority of religious and non-religious people worldwide joyfully embracing an evolutionary, ecological worldview. (2) We also imagine, by mid-century, that humanity, in symbiotic partnership with our technologies and social structures, will have largely transitioned to a mutually enhancing relationship with the larger body of life of which we are part.
It seems that Rev. Dowd’s aim is to bring about a new secular religion that combines the two great quasi-scientific truths of our time, goo-to-you Darwinian evolution and the fight against man-made global warming.
On Dowd’s website, playwright Bill Bruehl has this to say about Thank God for Evolution: “This is a much needed book, even a Holy Book, a scripture for a spiritual renewal available to all religions as well as people living outside organized religion.”
Unfortunately, this “spiritual renewal” is diametrically opposed to the claims of traditional Christianity. The Apostle Paul might have called it a great delusion. Scientist will do well if they call it a pseudo-religion.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Robbing Genesis? Image from the Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum.
I hate to admit that I have been robbing Genesis lately. I made this astounding discovery when reading LiveScience’s recent article on Karl W. Giberson, a physics professor at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts. He suggested that a historical-literal understanding of Genesis “robs it of everything that is interesting."
Sounds interesting. A glance at the background might be in order. LiveScience reported on professor Giberson’s discussion with Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine at the Harvard Club. The event was prompted by Giberson's new book Saving Darwin, published by HarperOne. He recommends that instead of getting bogged down in the details of Genesis, readers should “recall that the Bible repeats the refrain that God found what he made ‘good’ and looks at the world as good.”
Giberson was editor of Science and Theology News that I used to read until it became extinct in 2006. The monthly newsmagazine was the brainchild of the John Templeton Foundation. It attempted to tread a middle ground between theistic evolution and all-out atheism. Giberson practically excluded all views that would have presented creationism and intelligent design in a positive light.
While the publication included some insightful views on the reality and significance of spirituality, its “let all religious flowers bloom” approach failed to convince would-be subscribers and it soon went extinct.
However, Giberson eventually found other forums for his approach to origins issues. For instance, he recently debated Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis at Beliefnet.com.
Attempts at reconciling Genesis and evolution have not gone extinct. As Darwin’s 200th birthday approaches, we are probably doomed to hear more on the topic.
When we take a detailed look at the pros and cons of a mythological approach to Genesis, we might reach a conclusion that differs from professor Giberson’s stance. After all, Jesus believed in a literal Genesis and came to redeem mankind because of a literal Fall.
Reading the daily paper might soon give a clue to all but the most downright optimists that the created world is no longer very good, which might lend some support to the view that Genesis is still relevant.
In the meanwhile, methinks I will go on robbing Genesis. After all, I am not utterly convinced that it would mean the end of “everything that is interesting.”
Lloyd, Robin. 2008. God and Evolution Can Co-exist, Scientist Says. LiveScience (18 November). http://www.livescience.com/culture/081118-god-evolution.html
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Nature Celebrates Darwin in Advance
If (Neo) Darwinists were more disciplined, they would celebrate the birthday of their Founding Father on February 12 when Charles Darwin turns 200. However, following the very example set by him they have decided to begin their celebrations in advance. The journal Nature already published a special section on Darwin and we will probably hear a lot more about natural selection before the party is over.
Nature’s editorial Beyond the Origin lifts up natural selection as the prime mover of sorts in evolution although natural selection was known before Darwin’s day, being discovered by Edward Blyth (1810—1873), a British chemist and zoologist who of all things believed in the Genesis account of creation.
In their rush to celebrate, Nature might have forgotten that natural selection can only select from pre-existing genetic material. Everything else would by definition be classified as intelligent design, which from an orthodox Darwinian viewpoint would amount to heresy.
When heaping praise on Darwin Nature cannot be accused of modesty:
Darwin was arguably the most influential scientist of modern times. No single researcher has since matched his collective impact on the natural and social sciences; on politics, religions, and philosophy; on art and cultural relations, and in ways that the man himself would never have imagined.
Charles Darwin had no formal scientific training. His only academic credentials were in theology. However, suffering caused him to doubt the goodness of God. Some 2300 years before Darwin’s time Greek philosophers who only believed in material causes came up with the idea of species slowly changing into other species, which would suggests that Darwin’s hypothesis as such was not much of a novelty.
After the death of his daughter Darwin rejected the Bible’s teaching on human origins and designed a structure in which God was basically superfluous. In The Origin of Species (1859) he potentially reserved a minor role for the Creator but by the time he wrote The Descent of Man (1871) natural processes were all that were needed.
In 1859 Darwin published a theory although he still did not have intermediate fossils or other evidence needed to support his view. He excused this by appealing to the "imperfection of the Geological Record", hoping that the day would dawn when real ape men are found.
We have waited 150 long and weary years. All that we have are a few disputed specimens such as Lucy (a.k.a Australopithecus afarensis) and Archaeopteryx. We lack real evidence. So, would someone please tell me why Nature is heaping an incredible amount of praise on Charles Darwin?
Darwin 200. Nature 456. http://www.nature.com/news/specials/darwin/index.html
Beyond the origin. Nature 456, 281 (20 November. 2008)
Sunday, 16 November 2008
The father of Jurassic Park was critical of "consensus science". Image from the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum.
Science fiction writer Michael Crichton is probably best known for his book Jurassic Park (1990). Its film version began a veritable dinosaur boom around the world. Crichton, who died on November 4, was also a scientist and took an interest in various issues, such as global warming and extraterrestrial life. He could at times be rather critical. He even went as far as suggesting that the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI) was not science. He said, “SETI is unquestionably a religion.”
Recently Wall Street Journal re-published part of a lecture Crichton gave at the California Institute of Technology on January 17, 2003. His talk had a rather interesting name: “Aliens Cause Global Warming”. He warned against what he called “consensus science”, saying, “There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.”
He went on to point out, “Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.” Crichton’s lecture suggested that he was not a true believer in global warning, which, of course, is understandable given the haphazard reliability of weather forecasts. He said, “Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we're asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?”
I recently heard a geologist speaking along the same lines as Crichton. He lamented that global warning is more of a religion than science and that the media rarely give critics the chance to respond to articles that regard it as an indisputable fact.
Cricthon’s views do not make him into an anti-environmentalist. He saw the dangers of dogmatic science that instead of evidence was based on consensus, which, after all, might turn out to be less than actual fact.
We need to conserve, recycle and take good care of this planet of ours. But we also need to beware of elevating some scientific “truths” into dogma. This is the legacy of the father of Jurassic Park.
Crichton, Michael. 2008. 'Aliens Cause Global Warming'. Wall Street Journal. 7 November.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
David and Goliath by Caravaggio (c. 1599) at the Prado in Madrid. Image from Wikipedia.
Archaeologists have found the earliest known Hebrew text near the area described in the Bible as the battlefield where the young David defeated the Philistine giant Goliath. In June 2008 archaeologists began excavating a tenth century B. C. fortress 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of present-day Bet Shemesh.
In a recent press release, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that they had found an old pottery shard (known as an ostracon) with five lines of writing on it. While the inscription has not yet been deciphered, a preliminary examination suggests that the text at least contains the roots of the words “judge”, “slave” and “king”.
The excavations were led by professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University. They discovered the shard in a building at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the site of a huge Jewish fortress with a 700-meters (0.4 miles) long city wall built of massive stones. The ostracon contained some organic material, enabling it to be carbon dated. A carbon-14 analysis at Oxford University and a comparison with other ancient pottery indicated that it was approximately 3000 years old.
According to the Hebrew University’s press release, the find “is thought to be the most significant archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls”.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1947 at Qumran by a Bedouin shepherd, contained hundreds of religious documents and biblical texts including the entire book of Isaiah on a single scroll. Old Testament scholar Samuel J. Schultz says these discoveries confirmed that the Jewish scribes who copied the biblical texts were extremely careful, since the earliest Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) dated from A. D. 900 and although the Qumran texts were a thousand years older they were almost identical.
The ostracon resembles pottery found at other sites in Israel. The existence of a huge fortress suggests that there indeed was a strong central government in Israel at the time of King David.
Some archaeologists known as minimalists have doubted the historicity of the Old Testament account of King David and Solomon. However, recently a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that the remains of King Solomon’s mines were found near Petra in Jordan.
The recent discovery supports the view that David was no mere legend but that the Old Testament writers described their times accurately.
This would be no surprise. We would expect the Bible to be a record of true history.
Recently, an old seal impression found in Jerusalem indicates that the old Testament writers recorded history meticulously and accurately.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.2008. Earliest known Hebrew text in Proto-Canaanite script discovered in area where David slew Goliath. News Release 30 October. http://www.huji.ac.il/dovrut/Osctreconrelease.doc
Schultz, Samuel J. 2000. The Old Testament Speaks. 5th ed. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Let my people worship. The Vatican calls for religious freedom for minorities. Image from Wikipedia.
More and more mosques are springing up in what was once a Christian Europe. While muezzins call faithful Muslims to prayers on Friday, we do not often hear church bells ringing in Saudi Arabia.
To discuss this issue and many others, Catholic leaders have been meeting with Muslim scholars in Rome. At the end of their three day forum (November 4 to 6) they issued a final declaration in which they also took up the issue of religious freedom for minorities. They said,
Religious minorities are entitled to be respected in their own religious convictions and practices. They are also entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.
It sounds good on paper. But former Muslims who turn to Christ should also have the right to worship freely with their new brothers and sisters without fear of losing their lives.
In other words, the “once a Muslim, always a Muslim” mantra should be dropped. People who turn to Islam in the west are not penalised for their decision. But all too often Muslims who find Jesus Christ as Saviour are persecuted, discriminated against and even killed in some Arab countries.
I sincerely hope that Muslim leaders would keep their promise. But promises are all too easily broken. Thus, as Christians, we will do well if we pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for following Christ in the shadow of the crescent.
Vatican Information Service. Final Declaration of Catholic-Muslim Forum.
7 November 2008.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Image from Wikipedia.
”A serious case could be made for a deistic God.” This was an unexpected acknowledgement, coming from the lips of none other than Richard Dawkins. He said this during a debate with Mathematics professor John Lennox at the Natural History Museum in Oxford on October 21.
Dawkins has a track record of regarding the existence of God as extremely unlikely. He has said that we are able to explain all life, intelligence and design in the universe with the help of ”Darwinian” natural selection and that design does not have anything to do with the birth of the universe.
Richard Dawkins’ recent book The God Delusion is a severe attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Recently, fellow evolutionist Francisco Ayala criticised Dawkins for his aggressive ridicule of religion in Scientific American.
Dawkins’ new approach seems to refute his earlier views. The design that is evident in the universe caused Anthony Flew, once regarded as the chief spokesman for atheism, to reject his godless worldview. The hopeless improbability of a naturalistic origin of life made an end of Sir Fred Hoyle’s atheism. C. S. Lewis realised that the evidence favoured theism and Monty White, the former CEO of Answers in Genesis (Great Britain/Europe), also gave up atheism having noticed that creation explains reality much better.
So, is Richard Dawkins about to change his views on origins issues? It may be good to keep in mind that when Ben Stein interviewed Dawkins for the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Dawkins acknowledged that aliens could have seeded life on earth. Later, when the news of this spread throughout the blogosphere, he explained that he had meant it as a joke.
Melanie Phillips interviewed professor Dawkins after the Oxford debate. Dawkins denied that he had changed his views on the supernatural but said that life on earth could nevertheless be the result of design. He still regards aliens a more likely source of life than God.
During the interview, Dawkins acknowledged that some of his views, such as the origin of life, cannot be regarded as being scientific. It is not possible to study abiogenesis or the birth of life from non-life scientifically so that science is unable to solve this problem.
Phillips said that although Richard Dawkins “insisted over and over again” he wanted to hold on to the truth, it was conspicuous that he “seems to be pretty careless with historical evidence”. Anthony Flew for instance has criticised Dawkins for claiming that Albert Einstein was an atheist although Einstein explicitly denied this.
Usually Deism is understood as a belief in a watchmaker type of God who created the world but has not since then actively taken part in the life of His creation, and does not answer prayer. In contrast, the God of Christianity is both transcendent (“there” or beyond our realm) and immanent (“here”). Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins’ ”deistic God” seems to live on another planet.
But it is a beginning.
Philipps, Melanie. 2008. Is Richard Dawkins Still Evolving? The Spectator (23 October)
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
The James ossuary was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum from November 15, 2002 to January 5, 2003. Image: Wikipedia.
In November 2002 Biblical Archaeology Review published an article about an old limestone box dating from the first-century AD. It soon made headlines around the world. One side of the burial box or ossuary had the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” written in Aramaic letters. This was a sensational find since it would probably mean that the ossuary once held the bones of Jesus’ earthly brother, who according to the Book of Acts was one of the early Christian marthyrs.
André Lemaire, an expert of Hebrew and Aramaic epigraphy at the Sorbonne in Paris, who wrote the article, said the inscription was authentic. Researchers at the Geological Survey of Israel likewise vouched for its authenticity.
However, when it became known that the ossuary was bought from Oded Golan, a private arts collector, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) formed a committee to decide whether the inscription on the burial box was authentic or not. At issue was not the authenticity of the ossuary as such but only of the inscription and especially the word Jesus on it.
The committee failed to issue a final report but concluded that the inscription was a forgery. While Lemaire and some other prominent scholars continued to insist that the engraved letters on the ossuary were authentic and not later additions as some had claimed, the IAA began a long forgery trial against Oded Golan in 2004.
Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, has from time to time published updates of the ossuary trial. In a fresh report, he stated that after hearing 75 witnesses, Judge Aharon Farkash, who is presiding over the case, suggested that the prosecution should drop the case for lack of evidence. Even the IAA’s main witness Yuval Goren, former chairman of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology, admitted that after all the patina on the word Jesus was original.
While the case is not over yet, it seems very likely that the James ossuary is indeed authentic.
It is good to keep in mind that regardless of what skeptics claim the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a reliable account of history.
Lemaire, Andre. 2002. Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Review 28:6, 24-33. (November 2002)
Shanks, Hershel. 2008. Supporters of James Ossuary Inscription’s Authenticity Vindicated. http://bib-arch.org/news/forgery-trial-news.asp.
Ayala does not believe in this scenario. Image from the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum.
Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, is a former Dominican priest. Nonetheless, Ayala does not believe that God created life in the way recorded in the Bible but thinks that He left it all to evolution.
According of Ayala, ”bad design”, cruel predators and sadistic parasites are proof that God could not have created life supernaturally. Richard Dawkins has for instance used the human eye as an example of poor design. However, several ophthalmologists have pointed out that Dawkins’ claim is simply untrue.
The Fall recorded in Genesis 3 explains why in addition to thorns and thistles we also have death, suffering, parasites and predators.
Ayala believes that natural selection explains the existence of cruelty in nature. In spite of this, he attempts to convince his audience that there is no conflict between evolution and faith. He feels that Richard Dawkins for instance is doing a disservice to science by ridiculing believers.
Ayala acknowledges that creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design are becoming more visible. This is remarkable, given that Darwinists have silenced dissenters and have a monopoly on school education and the media and popular press only propagate the Darwinian truth.
David Berlinski, a well-known philosopher and mathematician, has said that people distrust Darwinian evolution because they are not stupid. In other words, there is insufficient evidence of evolution to make it credible in the eyes of most people.
Lehrman, Sally. 2008. The Christian Man's Evolution: How Darwinism And Faith Can Coexist. Scientific American. 299:5, 74-75 (November 2008).
Sunday, 2 November 2008
An 18th century Russian icon depicting King Solomon. Image from Wikipedia.
The Old Testament describes King Solomon as a man of great wisdom, wealth and power. Jesus Christ spoke about him in the Gospels. A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review suggested that a first century AD painting depicting his wise judgement has been found in the ruins of Pompeii.
The fame of King Solomon has also made its way into popular literature. For instance, the British writer Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) published a fictitious novel describing the adventures of Allan Quatermain, who eventually finds the mines in South Africa. Several popular films are based on the book.
However, some archaeologists known as minimalists have doubted the veracity of the Old Testament’s description of King Solomon. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University has suggested that archaeological evidence does not support the biblical record of Solomon.
A new radiocarbon dating of an old copper smeltery challenges Finkelstein’s claim. Recently, Los Angeles Times reported on a spectacular find that throws more light on the issue. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Thomas E. Levy of the University of California, San Diego, who has directed the excavations in Jordan, says a huge copper smelting plant found in the biblical land of Edom is at least 300 years older than previously thought.
While Levy does not say the find proves the veracity of the biblical record of Solomon, he says, “we've brought empirical data that shows we have to reevaluate those questions. We're back in the ballgame now."
Archaeologist William Schniedewind supports Levy. In his view, Levy “is completely right. The scientific evidence seems to be going in his favor."
While Finkelstein and other minimalists still doubt the significance of the find, the new radiocarbon dates square nicely with the biblical dates for King Solomon’s reign (971-931 BC).
The site Levy reports on is known as Khirbat en-Nahas or “ruins of copper” in Arabic. It is a 24-acre area 30 miles (50 km) south of the Dead Sea and 30 miles (50 km) north of Petra. It includes over 100 buildings. The huge amount of black slag, which is up to 20 feet (6 metres) deep, shows that the place was by far the largest iron age copper mine.
It is thus very likely that Levy is right and the remains of King Solomon’s mines have indeed been found.
This would be no surprise. We would expect the Bible to be a record of true history.
Recently, an old seal impression found in Jerusalem indicates that the old Testament writers recorded history meticulously and accurately.
Feder, Theodore. 2008. Solomon, Socrates and Aristotle. Biblical Archaeology Review 34:5, 32-36 (September-October 2008).
Maugh II, Thomas H. 2008. Copper ruins in Jordan bolster biblical record of King Solomon. Los Angeles Times. (28 October)