Friday, December 4, 2009

Human impact on Evolution

My brother-in-law pointed me to this article on one species (soon to be 2!) whose evolution has been influenced by humans. This study looks at birds who have begun wintering in England, due to the prevalence of bird feeders providing food, and whose evolutionary path has altered because of it. Nifty!

Coming soon, as soon as I get the book back from the library - review of Denis Alexander's "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?" I read it a month or so ago and meant to post, but never did. Excellent book!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our "newest" ancestor

Nope, we didn't come from apes!

New fossil predates Lucy and gives insight into human evolution. Nifty stuff!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Origin of Skepticism?

I have just learned from a Facebook friend about a new "celebration" happening this year on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. Kirk Cameron, actor turned ultra-conservative evangelical, and a friend have gotten together and written a new introduction to Darwin's famous book. Their plan is to hand out the book on college campuses this fall. What makes this newsworthy is the introduction's content (and, more importantly, its intent). Cameron, who is quite clearly a creationist (read: anti-evolutionist in this case!), and his friend have rounded up all the dirt they could find on Darwin and Evolution and their "seedier" associations, and gotten them published as the 50-page intro to Origin. They include such things as Hitler's "undeniable connection" to evolution, Darwin's "racism" and "disdain for women", and assorted misleading ideas like the"hoaxes" of evolutionary theory and the "lack of intermediate fossils". One woman has put out her own rebuttal of Cameron's video introducing his new scheme. It's a bit ... crass, shall we say, for my tastes, yet she makes most of the points I had thought of watching his video. Mr. Cameron, THIS is how you look to non-believers. This is how you look to BELIEVERS who share your faith in Christ, but don't believe there is a contradiction between the processes of evolution and the awesome power of our God - who is powerful enough to have created them.

First off, Cameron attempts to link Darwin and evolution to such horrible things as Hitler, racism, etc. What if we were to do this for the Bible and Christianity? Yikes. Crusades, murders, torture, racism, oppression of women, the Holocaust. I don't think we want to go down this road! Ms. ZOMGitsCriss proposes writing an introduction to the Bible (it's public domain, too, you know!) detailing all it's associations. I rather think we would not like how it would make Christ look. Yet, we believe.

Cameron also mentions in his video a number of scientists who believe God created the universe. That's all well and good - but most of them are dead. At least give us some living ones! Also, what about all the CHRISTIANS who believe God created evolution in order to create the universe? There are plenty of us out there, but we get no mention.

I have to wonder if Cameron thought at all about the ramifications of his approach. In effect, he is telling people that Darwin and his theory are evil and incompatible with Christianity. I'm sure that's what he was going for, but again, it's not true. They are quite compatible. Like I said, there are lots of us who believe God created the process of evolution to create the earth and its inhabitants. What this says to many non-Christians is that you can EITHER believe evolution (and there is a lot of evidence for it, including in the fossil record), OR you can be a Christian. Not both. This strategy he has come up with, using Origin to tell people how "it's a lie", is telling people who likely already believe evolution that they have to leave it if they want to follow Christ. That's a lie! It is chasing people AWAY from Christ, not leading them to him! This approach does far more harm than good, all the while making Christians look foolish. Darwin himself started life in the Church. He even considered going into the priesthood. But the church chased him away - they told him his evolution was incompatible with their Church, and he believed them, and died an agnostic. The church is the reason Darwin died as a non-Christian! I wish these guys would think about how they are portraying the faith, and the effects it might have on those who read this "new and improved introduction".

I know many Christians think the earth has to be young for Genesis to be "true". But many of us do not - the parables didn't have to be "literal" to speak "truth". There is more than one option here. One person's views rarely express the ultimate truth, yet Cameron (and a great many others) make them out to be, chasing people away from Christ as a result. This kills me. I wonder, if we were not so elitist, not so rejecting of science and logic, how many more believers there might be?

A better introduction for the Origin would focus on the response of Darwin's church. If they had accepted his ideas, how might the world have been different?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is our goal?

The so-called Great Commission gives us, as Christians, our "homework", shall we say, from God.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
A couple of recent events stick out in my mind, reminding me how utterly unimportant to fulfilling the Great Commission the "creation-evolution debate" is. Really, does it matter, ultimately, how God created the earth? Will it impact your faith? Your salvation? What if God seeded earth with creatures from some other planet - would it change a thing?

I rather think not.

On the other hand, consider the results of arguing the point.

This past year was the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and the 150th anniversary of his publication of the Origin of Species. As a biology teacher, naturally I had to do SOMETHING to commemorate it. I started reading a few short bios of Darwin's life. (Yes, this is relevant, bear with me!)  I knew before I started that Darwin started his life in the Church. However, I learned a bit more about him that was somewhat surprising - and very sad. Darwin initially intended, at the urging of his father, to enter the priesthood. That was before his travels on the Beagle. We all know the story - naturalist on the HMS Beagle, visited the Galapagos and saw the finches (and a whole lot more, but they're the ones who got famous), proposed the idea of Natural Selection, and became the black sheep of the Church.

The thing that hit me about Darwin's story, though, was that he started as a Christian! In the end, he gave up his faith, because he found too much evidence for natural selection. Not just that though - the Church told him that his ideas and the Bible were incompatible. It was not natural selection, evolution, studying nature that drove him from God, but the Church itself.

Around the same time this year, some friends shared with me about their granddaughter and her friend (I'll call them Alice and Bill, just to make this easier). Alice is a Christian; Bill is an atheist. Alice and Bill made a deal - he'd come visit her church if she came to an atheist's meeting with him. The meeting Alice ended up going to was a birthday party - the 200th birthday of one Charles Darwin.

Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ; atheists grasp on to Darwin, as the man who made God unnecessary for the creation (beginning, I suppose) of life. What if Christians didn't so forcefully reject Darwin, natural selection and evolution? Six days, ok, fine - but why the big deal about it?

The Christian church (the vocal part of it, anyway) has turned the HOW of creation into dogma, rather that the minor footnote it should be in our walks of faith. The result? We are driving people AWAY from the Church, and the Christ we are called to make disciples for. Is it really that important?

I'm fairly confident that if we asked Jesus whether it was more important to make disciples or to make 6-day-creationists.... the creationists are not the winning answer. It is time to drop the small stuff and come back to the main point - glorifying our God and Creator through spreading his message. The important one.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Radiometric Dating: The earth is old, or God has deception down to a science

This is a fantastic article on radiometric dating by Dr. Roger Weins, published in the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. Dr. Weins explains how a number of different radiometric and non-radiometric dating methods work, how they have been cross-calibrated, and addresses many young-earth critiques of dating that seems to suggest an old earth. A long, but good and educational read!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


First, I am a Christian. Second, I am a Biologist. I've been asked before, by someone certainly a bit uninformed, if that's possible, to be a Christian and a Biologist.

"Um, yes. Why wouldn't a Christian want to study God's creation?"

All around me, every day, I see the evidence of His work - the plants, animals, rocks, clouds, sun, moon and stars that He made. NOT to study it, not to learn about it, not to appreciate it and be intrigued by what it has to say about HIM - that, to me, is sin. Not to care for it, steward it, that is sin.

"But what about evolution?"

I remember several conversations I had in school that still stand out in my mind as defining in my ideas about creation. The oldest was with a neighbor, the father of one of my friends, and a Catholic. I don't recall why, but we got to discussing what would have caused the Big Bang. I remember him asking, "Why not God?"

That simple question, so long ago, opened a new line of thought. My home church was not one that dwelt on issues of "Creation vs. Evolution" (for which I am thankful!), so I had not ever thought much about it. I remember rearranging the continents to form Pangaea back in elementary school without questioning the age of the earth. But nevertheless, "Why not God?" helped me to think about it - about what I believed.

Later, in AP biology, I remember studying the earth's timeline and looking at what emerged when. Hmm, it sort of lines up with Genesis, more or less. And Genesis 1 is a bit poetic, anyway - like something written to make a point, not give details. Besides, "a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day." Well, then, why not a million? God wrote it, right? God-breathed and such? Old-earther, to be sure. But still, every bit of biology I studied, I became more and more convinced of a God behind it.

A few years later, I sat in Biology 101 at my Christian college. The first week of class was spent looking at several different views of creation. We didn't spend a whole lot of time on the "6-day" variety, though obviously many students came in with that perspective. Gap theory (bit wacky, if you ask me), Day-Age theory (what? you mean there are other people who agree with my high school musings?), and Theistic Evolution (I learned later there are more shades of theistic evolutionists than there are colors of crayons).

Four more years of college, two years working at that college with those professors (not a 6-day-er among them, by the way), and two years teaching high school biology and looking more at the evidence that exists that led to the Theory of Evolution - every new thing I learned pointed more and more to evolution as the process that created our earth and everything on it.

But God? Here I'll steal from a speaker I heard once (sorry, can't remember his name!). Which is more impressive: a God who "waved a magic wand" and everything poofed into existence, or one who created a universe and all the laws in it such that at a word, a beautiful, elaborate system would begin, that over billions of years would by itself produce the world we live in now and all the living things in it? I have to lean toward the latter.

Remember, we are called to wisdom. We are told that creation itself speaks to God's truths. Should we then set aside wisdom and reason when looking at God's creation? I think not. Creation is God's, and he has given us the ability to reason - to waste that would be to say to God we do not appreciate his gifts to us. All signs in nature point to an old earth, and many more to the evolution of species on earth. I choose not to believe in a God that deceives, planting evidence in His creation to lead us astray. That is not my God. I choose instead to honor my God by valuing his creation and studying it to learn more about him.

Is scripture not important? Certainly that is not my meaning. But all written text (even this, which you probably read in your own native language), MUST be interpreted. Think about the word "no". Think about the near-infinite number of meanings this one word might have, depending on tone of voice, context, and more. Remember the parables of the New Testament. Did the prodigal son really exist? Does it matter - does it change the meaning of the story - if it did not?

The same is true for Genesis 1. Read it - then read, say, Genesis 25. The latter is certainly narrative, but the former? It is possible, at least, that it is instead a story. It tells us clearly that God created, and valued his creation, and I believe that was it's intent. The HOW of the creation is not the focus of the story - nor is it the least bit theologically important.

Biologically, the HOW is fascinating and useful. It helps us understand the world we live in, the relationships between different living things (different parts of creation!), the ecology of different areas, the potential impacts of changes to an ecosystem, and so much more.

This blog has been rolling around in my mind (never being started for lack of a name... this current name is on trial!) for quite some time. My goal is to share articles, ideas, and arguments relating to science, evolution, and the interplay between science and religion. Comments are welcome, but please, thoughtful, respectful posts only. Questioning, intellectual discussions are the goal!