Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Explaining the Differences

(This is part 6 in a series evaluating Dinesh D'Souza's reasons for accepting evolution.)

In his otherwise excellent book, What's So Great About Christianity, Dinesh D'Souza seemingly takes off his thinking cap in the chapter about evolution. We have already dismissed (as both fallacious and false) two of his four reasons for accepting the evolutionary myth of our day. The other two reasons he offers (his reasons #3 and #4) are found in this paragraph...
The great strength of evolution as a scientific theory is that it makes sense of two huge facts about life. On the one hand, all living things from trees to cats to humans are formed from the same genetic material. Beyond this, it is evident that many groups of organisms show similar characteristics. So there is a unity to life. At the same time, living creatures exhibit incredible diversity. There are literally millions of living species with widely varying characteristics. Evolution accounts both for the similarities and the differences. It accounts for common characteristics by positing that the creatures possessing them descended from the same ancestor. It explains the differences by suggesting that creatures evolved new traits over a long period of time under the pressures of survival.
My first reaction to reading this paragraph was "Hello? Is that supposed to be an argument?" D'Souza notes two things about life on Earth; it is both diverse and yet similar. It so happens that people throughout history have noted these same two things, so Darwin broke no new ground there. It would be a poor theory about life's diversity that did not attempt to account for these two hallmarks of living things, but what we need from such a scientific theory is supporting evidence, verified predictions, coherence with the available record. But what's more bothersome is that D'Souza gives no indication that he understands the issues at all. He does not (except in the hand-waving sort of way typical of the evolutionists he is here parroting) make any attempt to support the claim that evolution accounts for these things.

In the next post, let me deal with the similarity or unity issue. This is the one that seems to impress many folks today. For this post, let me focus on the fact that life is diverse. And let me break it down very basically...

Let us say, for the sake of simplicity, that there are only two scientific explanations on the table. One is evolution, the idea that all life evolved from a single common ancestor through a gradual, unbroken chain of normal reproduction. On this view, the mechanisms invoked are random genetic mutation and natural selection. The other theory is that the same transcendent, personal Being who created the universe also created life, both first life and subsequent versions.

Now, in exactly what way does the fact of there being a great diversity of life somehow argue in favor of the former and against the latter? I'm not seeing it at all. And if there's something here that I am missing, D'Souza was remiss in not making it clear. It seems, on the face of it, that an appeal to the great diversity of life provides absolutely no positive support for evolutionary theory and quite a bit of refutation of it. That life is diverse was known long before Darwin came along, and offers no refutation of the default view that diverse life forms are not linked by evolution but were created as diverse life forms.

If there were, in fact, evidence that life has bridged the great gaps between diverse forms, than we might take such a claim seriously. But the very diversity that impresses D'Souza in favor of evolution was seen by Darwin as a real and valid objection to his theory, and he hoped that further paleontological work would demonstrate a continuum bridging the diverse groups. It has not, of course.

Let me put it another way. Darwin's theory was never (contrary to D'Souza) about explaining the similarities between living things (we'll reiterate that in the next post). It was an attempt to explain the differences. And while it is true that modern evolutionists claim that their theory accounts for the differences, the fact remains that the hoped-for evidence is entirely missing. Evolution as an explanation for the differences among living things remains nothing but a story, much like the expensive new clothes bought by the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's short story.

Regarding evolution's success at such an explanation, all D'Souza offers is this...
It explains differences by suggesting that creatures evolved new traits over a long period of time under the pressures of survival.
He's close to the truth here. Evolutionary theory merely suggests, but offers no supporting evidence for that suggestion. It appeals to long periods of time (as though the seemingly impossible becomes plausible by such an appeal to time). But whereas Darwin assumed that his theory had infinite time in which to work its hidden marvels, today's evolutionists naively ignore the findings of modern cosmology, which show that the universe is instead quite finite. And then, the "pressures of survival" (natural selection) can now be seen as a force that keeps living things from changing, and not one that magically helps them to produce new traits.

The failure of evolution to account for the differences between living organisms is exemplified by the gap between chimpanzees and humans. The genomes of these two creatures are far more similar than evolutionists hoped or feared, and yet that similarity utterly fails to explain why humans are on a completely different level (consciously, intellectually, technologically, spiritually, with regard to moral awareness) than this species with such a similar genetic make-up. And on this issue, the default (and competing) scientific theory remains viable, unrefuted by the evidence. That theory claims (and has always claimed) that humans and chimps were created as different species, and that no purely materialist differences will be sufficient to account for their significant differences.

We have now seen through three of D'Souza's four reasons for accepting evolution. Last, we'll tackle the similarity among living things...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Another Darwinbot

Once again, while blogging about the inadequacies of evolutionary theory, I received a comment from a Darwinbot. Go here to read what a Darwinbot is and what my own rules are for dealing with a Darwinbot infection on my blog. (In this case, the Darwinbot was both anonymous and a steamroller, and so I was forced to excise his comment. I will, however, quote portions of it here to give you the flavor.)

The comments were not (as we would like to see in response to our own argumentation) arguments supported by evidence or deductive premises. Here's an example...
Evolution is a scientific fact, not a "belief."
This is Darwinbot argumentation of the finest order. Indeed, I 'd be a rich biologist if I received a nickel for every time someone uttered this vacuous phrase in the belief that it has some meaning and validity. How about this comment?
Virtually 100% of biologists love evolutionary biology.
This is modeled on the debating method known colloquially as "Is not!" The trick is to deny another's claim, loudly and repeatedly, and hope that the tone and repetition might fool someone into not noticing that you have no evidence to support that denial. In this case, a single biologist who denies evolution would invalidate the 100% claim, and so the "virtually" is necessary since any number of such counterexamples could be named. Regarding my own views, the Darwinbot wrote,
If you're really a biologist you're a disgrace to your profession.
Thankfully, this is the closest my anonymous commentor came to digressing to mere name-calling. But actually, upon all accounts, I have done nothing to disgrace my profession. My biological services are in reasonably high demand, and I continue to make a decent living providing biological research. Moreover, I am considered an expert in (fairly narrow) areas of my chosen disciplines and have traveled throughout North, Central, and South America presenting the results of my research. In part, this is because, as I have argued elsewhere (go here and here), macroevolutionary theory is entirely irrelevant to conducting biological research.

Here's more of the powerful argument left by the visiting Darwinbot...
If evolution is false, how do you explain the diversity of life? Do you invoke God's magic to explain life? Do you think magic is scientific?
It's difficult to follow the misunderstandings twisted together in this series of three questions. The questioner seems to think that the first two involve the same issue, when they are in fact quite different. The neo-Darwinian theory represented an attempt to explain the one--the diversity of life--but made no claims about the other--life itself. Nonetheless, Darwin himself recognized that if God was necessary to explain the latter, then his theory (for explaining the former) was completely unnecessary and useless. Given the findings of modern science (about the finitude of the universe, the complexity of the simplest living cell, the lack of a prebiotic soup, and such) the origin of the first life does indeed seem to require God (that is, fiat miracle) to satisfactorily explain it. (Indeed, the modern intelligent design movement began--in 1966, at Wistar--when mathematicians and probability theorists attempted to apprise Darwinists of the fatal problems their theory faced--and faces--from such modern research findings.)

There are and always have been perfectly good explanations for the diversity of life. The one that gave rise to modern science is the one that I believe best fits all of the facts. That is, of course, that the transcendent, eternal Creator attested to by astronomy, cosmology, physics, and such and revealed in the Bible purposed to make the Earth a fit place for life and then filled the land and seas of this planet with a rich diversity of life that He created.

As for my Darwinbot's conflating "magic" with "miracle," this merely demonstrates how shallow is his understanding of theology and of the rich philosophical debate (over the centuries) about miracles. For now, let me merely say three things: 1) the actual physical evidence about the history of life on Earth fits better any theory that involves some degree of fiat miracle than it does any naturalistic and gradualistic evolutionary theory, 2) defining science (as to exclude appeals to miracle) is not the task of scientists but of philosophers of science, and 3) philosophers of science agree that no such criterion can be successfully defended.

In his defense, the anonymous commentor did raise one legitimate piece of evidence contrary to my claims. He asked how I would explain the presence of endogenous retroviruses in identical places in the human and chimpanzee genomes. As this has to do with the two reasons (given by Dinesh D'Souza for accepting evolution) with which I have yet to deal, I'll save my response to the ER evidence until I have laid that groundwork.

D'Souza Recap

Having first recommended Dinesh D'Souza's book What's So Great About Christianity, I have been spending several posts demonstrating what's wrong with his thinking in the chapter on evolution. At this point, I'm halfway through the four reasons he gives for his acceptance of the macroevolutionary story. (D'Souza is clear to dismiss the naturalistic/atheistic portion of modern evolutionary thought, but my contention is that there is no good reason or evidence that would compel one to accept that evolution--even theistic evolution--is the accurate understanding of life on Earth.)

To recap, D'Souza's first reason for accepting evolution is that "virtually every" biologist accepts it. I identified several problems with this reason. First, it is simply false; there are many biologists who doubt the evolutionary story, though many keep their doubts to themselves since airing those doubts could cost them their job or result in the denial of tenure. Moreover, to the extent that most biologists believe in evolution, it is because continuance in a course of biological study depends in large part upon acquiescing to neo-Darwinism as handed down by the Darwinists that teach and write "virtually every" biology course and textbook.*

Second, D'Souza's reasoning here is fallacious. It commits one of the informal fallacies of relevance, specifically the ad populum fallacy. The truth or falsehood of a claim (or theory or paradigm) is not dependent on its popularity, on whether it enjoys majority (or even unanimous) acceptance. To put it another way, the degree to which an idea is accepted is irrelevant to whether that idea is true or false. In commiting this rather obvious fallacy, D'Souza shows that his thinking on this particular issue is much more confused and less critical than that which he brings to most other subjects. He writes,
While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.
It should be obvious that every scientific revolution--every significant change in scientific thinking--was preceded by a time in which "virtually every" scientist (in the given field) complacently accepted the reigning theory and the naysayers were few in number (or even a single individual). That D'Souza cannot see this fatal flaw to his reasoning is (I believe) telling.

D'Souza's fourth and final reason (I have not yet dealt with the second and third) for accepting evolution is what he calls a "single invariant trajectory" in the complexity of living things. I took several posts to document the problems with this reason. In short, the geological and fossil record does not in fact show such a trajectory, but at every turn falsifies the expectations of Darwin and the claims of his modern defenders. The actual fossil record demonstrates sudden bursts of new life, fully-formed, fully-adapted, and part of complete ecosystems, followed by long periods of stasis (in which the organism does not show any change throughout its tenure in the fossil record). I went on to explain that the reasons that (what we call) more advanced organisms arose later in Earth's history had nothing to do with evolution and everything to do with Earth's changing suitability. Specific life forms were not created until the planet provided an environment in which they could thrive.

In the next post, I'll begin to interact with D'Souza's remaining two reasons for accepting evolution. As you might expect, they too involve muddled thinking on this issue.

*I'm not here describing some evil conspiracy. It's simply the way of science to encapsulate in textbook form the reigning paradigm in a given field, and to present that paradigm as complete and unquestionable truth. The intention is not to indoctrinate or brainwash students (though that may appear to be the result); rather, the point is to bring each generation of students as quickly as possible up to speed, so that they can break new ground from that foundation (and not waste time reestablishing in their own mind the validity of that paradigm). This is in part why (in the specific case of Darwinian evolution) one recieves such loud, insistent, and uncomprehending resistance today when one raises the tiniest doubt about whether evolutionary theory is adequate or true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

A few thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth my family will celebrate today and tomorrow...

Even 2000 years later, more people celebrate this one man's birth than that of any other person who has ever lived.

More works of art have been inspired by Jesus' life and death than that of anyone else.

More songs--by far--have been made about Him than about any other. Indeed, the number of songs about his birth far eclipse the songs about any other great person.

The vast majority of all the hospitals, orphanages, and universities of this world have been founded by His followers, as was the great nation in which I live.

From a purely historical perspective, no life has had a greater impact on the world. When He died, his followers, a small, ragtag band of uneducated fisherman and peasants, outcasts in an insignificant nation subjugated by the might of Rome, went into hiding, confused and disillusioned. But His death and subsequent bodily resurrection changed the course of history. Today, we name our pets Nero and Caesar, while we name our children after those first Christ-followers, John and James, Mary, Peter, Paul. Our dating system acknowledges His coming in the flesh as the central point in all of human history.

Everything about His life--and death--was prophesied centuries before the actual events. Though hardly recognized as royalty during His life, this Jesus alone (of all who have ever lived) was King over the universe before His birth and reigns as sovereign King over all ever since His resurrection.

The birth of Jesus, that paradoxical, humble, sinless, dying-and-rising-again, miracle-working, eternal God-man, was an actual historical event. And though we can't know for certain what the actual date was, we can rejoice with people of every nation and from throughout the centuries that God so loved us that He sent His Son to bring us life abundant and life eternal.

May you and yours experience the full meaning of the birth--and continuing life--of Jesus of Nazareth!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Earth's Changing Habitability

(D'Souza on Evolution, Part 5)

We have seen in recent posts that the actual geological and fossil record does not support the idea that life's history has been represented by a single steady trajectory from simple to complex, that indeed the evolutionary paradigm is at every point falsified by the evidence. Nonetheless, there exist today living things (including humans) that didn't exist during earlier time periods. What's more, we think of many of today's organisms (again including humans) as more complex or more 'advanced' than earlier living things. If evolutionary explanations fail to account for this situation, what better explanation is there, or are we at a loss to explain the trend that impresses Dinesh D'Souza?

Fortunately, the results from a number of other disciplines--some of them unknown in Darwin's day--can be brought to bear on this question. These disciplines include astrophysics, chemistry, geology and paleogeology (and new models such as plate tectonics), climatology, and others. And the two-fold answer is, in reality, a quite simple one. First, the more advanced life alive today could not have survived the conditions that existed on Earth throughout the vast majority of its history. And secondly, all of the previously-existing lifeforms have played critical roles in changing the conditions of the planet and its atmosphere to make Earth habitable by the forms that live today, including humans.

To repeat, it is now clear that the land and seas of the Earth have been filled with life from the earliest possible moment, indeed from long before it would be expected according to naturalistic (and evolutionary) scenarios. Moreover, the conditions of Earth today--including such things as the ratio of land area to water area and the juxtaposition of the land masses (with respect to the planet's axial tilt)--are optimal for the maximum biomass and the maximum diversity of life! On any objective view, everything about the Earth is designed for life, and the actualization of life has been the striking characteristic of Earth's history.

But what is also clear is that the Earth's conditions have been (throughout its prior history) drastically different than they are today, and that in a number of ways relevant to the question we've been examining. This discussion may only scratch the surface of these differences (as scientists are only beginning to understand many of the conditions of earlier periods in Earth's history).

The Earth's rotation is slowing down (due to ongiong gravitational interaction with both the sun and moon). In earlier periods, the rotation period was far shorter than 24 hours. This means that day and night were much shorter and that what we consider hurricane-force winds would have been constant, and that when winds were less than 100 mph at ground level, they might have exceeded 2000 mph at six feet above the planet's surface. At the same time, the Earth's luminosity--and thus, the amount of heat reaching the Earth--was much less. Except for single-celled life, Earth was indeed a very inhospitable place for the first four billion years.

Of course, life itself had little to do with slowing down the planet's rotation rate. But other characteristics of the early Earth--conditions inhospitable for advanced life--were improved by the earliest life. A short list of things essential to birds and terrestrial mammals (including humans) that 1) were not present (or not present in life-friendly concentrations or forms) or necessary for 'simple' life and that 2) are as they are today largely as a result of the existence (for billions of years) of those earlier life forms includes: an oxygen-rich atmosphere, a protective ozone layer, topsoil, and trace elements (life-essential but toxic in other quantities or form). Other by-products of eons of life history that are necessary for a technological humanity include limestone, coal, oil, and natural gas.

In short, the trend toward 'more advanced' life, far from supporting an evolutionary explanation for life's history is much better understood as the careful design of the planet by its Creator to make it maximally suitable for the greatest diversity and abundance of life throughout its history, culminating (in these recent times) with the most advanced life, including technologically-advanced humans capable of understanding the Creator's purposes for the universe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 4)

I have been assessing (in the last few posts) Dinesh D'Souza's claim that the "single invariant trajectory" (from simple to complex) of the history of life on Earth is evidence of evolution. I have argued that it is only superficially true, and also that the claim as given represents circular reasoning. I intend to demonstrate a better--non-evolutionary--reason for even a superficial increase in complexity. But before I do that, I want to clarify the degree to which the evolutionary story is falsified by the actual fossil record. That is, I don't wish to leave my readers with the wrong impresssion that the trajectory that so impresses D'Souza is real.

According to Darwin's theory--and its modern synthesis--life is expected to have originated once, and that origination (from inorganic chemicals) would have been gradual, taking place over a long time and being completed rather late in Earth's history. Once that origin took place, life itself is expected to have evolved gradually, with increasing complexity the steady trend. While some pauses might be acceptable under this naturalistic scenario, no breaks or interruptions (at least none that would involve starting over) in this upward trend are predicated.

None of these expectations match the history of life on Earth as recorded in the geologic and fossil records. Instead, life originated early, suddenly, and repeatedly. Indeed, life is evident in the earliest rocks found. Fossils of living things trace back to 3.85 billion years ago, and rocks that are even earlier than this contain carbon signatures that indicate organic processes. These early life forms lived throughout a period when heavy bombardment by extraterrestrial objects was common, when Earth's habitability was in continual flux. Life did not arise once, but over and over again. Moreover, this early life was ubiquitous and diverse. There was not just a single form of bacteria, but a number of different ones, some that were chemoautotrophic in various ways and some that were photosynthetic. What's more, the simplest early life was every bit as complex as (and indistinguishable from) single-celled organisms alive today.

Nearly 90% of Earth's history is filled with nothing more than single-celled organisms (we'll see in the next post why this is true). The first significant move towards greater complexity was a sudden leap (some 530 million years ago) during what is called the Cambrian explosion. There was nothing gradual about this burst of life. Rather, life went from single-celled (and conglomerates of largely undifferentiated cells) to multicellular organisms with fully developed tissues, tissue systems, organs, and organ systems in a period of just a few million years. Long known form the Burgess shale of British Columbia, these Cambrian fossils have been greatly augmented in recent years by findings from Chengjiang, China. It is now recognized that virtually all the extinct and extant animal phyla sprang suddenly into existence in this late and brief period of Earth history.

Even in the recent 10% of Earth's history--a period from which the fossil record is much more complete and easily discerned--there have been major extinction events that contradict evolutionary predictions. The best known are those that ended each of the three dinosaur eras. Most people are aware of the meteorite collision (on the Yucatan Peninsula and in adjacent waters) that brought an end to the Cretaceous and caused the extinction of the last dinosaurs, but similar events are known to have wiped out first the dinosaurs of the Triassic and then the subsequent dinosaurs of the Jurassic. In each case, new life forms (completely unlike those wiped out) arose to fill the planet anew.

At whatever scale one chooses to examine the record of life on Earth, one sees not the gradual and steady increase in complexity that evolutionists (and D'Souza) pretend is the case. Rather, life always appears suddenly, fully-formed, fully-adapted for the conditions of that time, and as part of full ecologies. Preceding such appearances are large gaps devoid of anything that might constitute evolutionary precursors, and all of the evidence conspires to demonstrate that these gaps are actual (not the result of imperfections in the record). Moreover, following the sudden appearance of any group or species, its tenure in the fossil record is always characterized by stasis and not (as expected by evolutionary theory) change.

In other words, when D'Souza appeals to an invariant single trajectory in the history of life on Earth, he is merely parroting evolutionists, whose claims represent what their theory would require but not what the actual fossil evidence shows.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 3)

(Third post in a series about the four reasons Dinesh D'Souza gives for his acceptance of evolution. Reading the previous posts might enhance the reader's understanding of this one.)

So, what about the "single invariant trajectory" of the fossil record to which D'Souza appeals? Let us assume (contrary to fact) that the record does indeed show the invariant trajectory from simple to complex life that D'Souza supposes. What would this observation prove with regard to distinguishing between evolution and, say, intelligent design or some form of creationism?

First, it would seem that the observation itself is somewhat meaningless without any attempt to define complexity. That is, it seems to be circular reasoning to say that more complex life is that which has arisen later, by way of evolution, and then to use this increasing complexity as proof that evolution has occurred. I don't believe that this is what D'Souza means to claim. Given his acceptance of evolution, however, I suspect that his thinking here hasn't really risen above uncritically seeing increasing complexity from an evolutionary perspective.

There are, in fact, single-celled organisms alive today that--in their ecologies and life histories--are quite a bit more complex than many multicellular organisms. Likewise, there are invertebrates whose life histories are significantly more complex than those of many vertebrates. Take, for instance, the caterpillar whose entire body goes through a complete dissolution in midlife and starts anew with a totally different morphology (indeed, not only the morphology but the diet, physiology, mode of mobility, reproductive capability and a number of other things about the butterfly couldn't be any different than it is). If we define complexity according to life history and ecology, then D'Souza's claim is refuted.

If nothing else, these considerations demonstrate that D'Souza's single-cells to invertebrates to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals trajectory is simplistic. To be sure, it also seems intuitively true that the butterfly is more complex (in some ways) than the earliest invertebrates, or even the earliest members of the same phylum (the earliest arthropods would probably be the seemingly ubiquitous extinct marine creatures known as trilobites). But again, it seems to beg the question to discuss increasing complexity without defining it independent of alleged evolution.

Comparative anatomists and physiologists would tend to define increasing complexity according to a movement from single cells to conglomerations of unspecialized cells to collections of tissues to organisms whose specialized tissues form specialized organs to those with organ systems. On this view, the organism with the most different organ systems (circulatory, nervous, muscular, digestive, etc.) is more advanced than the one with fewer organ systems, which in turn is more advanced than the one with organs but no organ systems...

The main problem (for evolution) of this view is that life on earth leapt from the lower levels of this scale to the highest levels of this scale overnight (as it were, in geological time) during the Cambrian explosion (530 million years ago). Prior to that time, there existed single-celled organisms, multicellular creatures with little or no cell specialization, and some living things that were multicellular that had specialized cells (differentiated cells, or those with different roles). Suddenly, there arose--fully formed and fully adapted--organisms on the extreme advanced end of this anatomical and physiological spectrum, animals with not only specialized tissues and organs but with a number of organ systems. Members of all of the known animal phyla existed by the end of the Cambrian explosion, though members of only a few existed prior to it. And so D'Souza's claim finds no support here, if complexity is viewed in this traditional (and reasonable) way.

In short, one cannot use the history of life on Earth as evidence for evolution unless one has first been able to get outside of an evolutionary perspective to ask more penetrating questions about the differences between "advanced" and "primitive" living things. I believe that doing so will enable one to arrive at a more correct explanation for the history of life, one that--far from supporting Darwinian evolution--shows at every stage the desire of an intelligent Creator to fill the planet with the most (and the most 'advanced') life possible.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 2)

In the last post, I identified some really bad thinking in Dinesh D'Souza's first (of four) arguments in defense of evolution. Skipping (for the nonce) over reasons 2 and 3, I want to here address his reason #4 for accepting evolution.
One of the strongest proofs for evolution is that the geological record, for all its imperfections, shows a single invariant trajectory. The oldest rocks contain only single-celled creatures. Later strata show the appearance of invertebrates. Then we see the first fish, then amphibians, then reptiles, and finally mammals. Man appears latest on the scene. The fossils are found in exactly the places and at exactly the times that we would expect if Darwin's theory is correct. Not a single fossil has ever been found in a place where it is not supposed to show up. If we ever discover the fossil of a single reptile in a rock so old that fish had not yet arrived, or if we find human skeletons at the time when dinosaurs also lived, then Darwin's theory will be proven false and biologists will have to come up with a new one.
As in the "reason" I examined in the last post, here too D'Souza's ignorance of the actual evidence (in this case, the fossil record) is difficult to disentangle from his inability to think critically on this one issue. He is right on target with his arguments in other chapters, and I wonder whether his many errors on this issue stem from gullibility, a desire to keep one sophisticated foot in the evolutionist camp, or some other factor. Nonetheless, I'll have a go first at teasing apart the circular reasoning and the factual errors involved here, before mentioning relevant findings (of which he seems completely unaware) that lead to a much better explanation for the invariant trajectory that impresses D'Souza. (This will likely take me at least a couple of posts.)

Perhaps a little game of "What he said/What he should have said" will clarify things. He said:
Not a single fossil has ever been found in a place where it is not supposed to show up. If we ever discover the fossil of a single reptile in a rock so old that fish had not yet arrived, or if we find human skeletons at the time when dinosaurs also lived, then Darwin's theory will be proven false and biologists will have to come up with a new one.
What he should have said:
The actual fossil record shows a number of places where creatures deemed to be evolutionary ancestors appear much later than the creatures considered their descendents. This very problematic evidence is so abundant that a name has been coined for the phenomenon--the "temporal paradox." Together with the other evidential problems from the fossil record, the many instances of temporal paradox should long ago have led objective scientists to abandon the Darwinian theory and look for a better one.
A classic case of the temporal paradox is that of birds and theropods. Theropods are--according to evolutionists--the dinosaurs from which birds evolved. Though a variety of therapods are well-represented in the fossil record, none appears prior to 20-30 million years after the first birds. My question is whether--when he is apprised of such evidences--D'Souza will be true to his word and consider Darwin's theory to have been proven false.

What he said:
The fossils are found in exactly the places and at exactly the times that we would expect if Darwin's theory is correct.
What he should have said:
The continued acceptance of Darwinian evolution by academics and media personnel is largely the result of the ability of Darwinists to cast whatever evidence--no matter how contrary to their expectations and predictions--in such a way as to make it seem to support rather than refute their theory.
Go here for support for this claim, but the truth is that Darwin himself (and the paleontologists and geologists of his day) recognized the fossil record as contrary to his theory. Moreover, the leading paleontologists of our day agree that Darwin's theory has been refuted by the fossil evidence.

Nonetheless, there is a sense in which D'Souza's very simple claim about a single trajectory is superficially true. In the next post we'll begin to examine whether this has anything to tell us about the merits of evolutionary theory.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution

In reading What's So Great About Christianity, I've been impressed by Dinesh D'Souza's communicative skills and his ability to see the big picture and the crux of the various apologetic issues he tackles. His book is a welcome addition to the modern apologetic literature; I highly recommend it. Nonetheless, there are points at which I take real issue with his arguments and conclusions.

In general, D'Souza's treatments are insightful, perceptive, and outstandingly well-reasoned. Thus it is all the more startling when--on one or two issues--he displays a lack of comprehension of the facts and a rather sophomoric reasoning. The prime example comes in chapter thrirteen, titled "Paley was right: evolution and the argument from design." In this section, D'Souza acknowledges his acceptance of the macroevolutionary story (albeit without the naturalistic component) and offers four reasons for that acceptance. It is here that he betrays himself as "in over his head" regarding the relevant facts and (as a result?) unable to think as clearly on this issue as he does elsewhere.

So, I'll address D'Souza's four arguments in favor of evolution (taking only the first in this post). He writes,
I am not a biologist, but what impresses me is that virtually every biologist in the world accepts the theory of evolution. While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.
Having read some really perceptive arguments in the previous chapters, I almost couldn't believe what I was reading here! I would hope that every freshman philosophy student would (first of all) recognize this argument as fallacious. The truth value of a claim (or theory) does not lie in its popularity, and such an appeal to popularity is irrelevant to determining truth. This informal logical fallacy has a name--the ad populum fallacy--and is among the easiest to spot. I still find it incredible that D'Souza's defense of evolution begins with such a glaring error in reasoning.

This claim also betrays D'Souza's ignorance of the history of science. Many have been the times when virtually all scientists believed a wrong theory; and in each case, the acceptance of a better theory began with a few (or a single) scientist(s) boldly challenging the popular view. Before Einstein, "virtually every" astronomer and physicist accepted the idea that the universe was eternal and static. Einstein himself was so persuaded by that view that he distrusted his own equations (since they led to a contrary conclusion). He inserted a fudge factor of sorts (a cosmological constant for which there was no evidence) that had the effect of negating the expansion of the universe, thus preserving the static, eternal picture of the universe. Einstein later called this the greatest mistake of his life, and we now recognize that "virtually every" scientist of that day was dead wrong on that issue.

Any number of other cases could be cited. The fact is that major paradigm shifts within science always begin with a handful of intrepid, truly objective scientists skeptical of the reigning (popular) paradigm.

D'Souza's argument also spotlights his ignorance of the sociology of science. The extent to which it appears that all biologists accept evolution is in large part an artifact of the stranglehold that naturalistic neo-Darwinism has on the sciences in general and biology in particular. The expression of even the slightest doubt about evolution can result in the loss of one's job or the denial of tenure. This is especially true of biologists, but the Guillermo Gonzalez case at Iowa State University demonstrates that it is not confined to biology. So D'Souza's claim has at least two sociological problems: one, belief in evolution has become a pre-requisite for success within biology (despite its relative uselessness in practical terms), and two, those biologists skeptical of evolution dare not voice that skepticism (with the result that one might be fooled into thinking that virtually all biologists accept evolution).

Perhaps more importantly, the claim is simply false. Many are the biologists today, in the United States and elsewhere, who do not accept macroevolution, and that for evidential (not religious) reasons. In point of fact, macroevolutionary theory in general--and natural selection acting upon random gene mutations particularly--suffers from having a dearth of supporting evidence. It is its metaphysical and atheistic implications and not evidence that has caused the popularity of (indeed, the religious zeal toward) evolution among scientists.

Last, a word about the philosophy of science. Had D'Souza ever read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he would recognize in today's debate an existing paradigm in its dying stages. In particular, the defense of macroevolutionary theory not by appeals to the evidence but by ad hominem attacks and attempts to silence or discredit its critics is characteristic of a theory unable any longer to withstand empirical and logical scrutiny.

Again, I highly recommend D'Souza's book. But he was ill-advised to address biological evolution, a subject on which his knowledge and reading is clearly shallow, narrow, and one-sided and about which, as a consequence, his otherwise crisp thinking lets him down badly.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fundamentalism vs. Traditional Christianity

One of the things that a Christian apologist does is to attempt to clearly and accurately articulate what it is that Christians believe. This post is part of such an effort.

In the last post, I shared a quote from Dinesh D'Souza in which he alluded to a significant distinction between traditional Christianity and Fundamentalism. He went on to argue that the New Atheists have used Fundamentalism as a straw man, a mischaracterization of true Christianity that is easily knocked down. And I think he's absolutely right.

So what distinguishes Fundamentalism from traditional Christianity? What is there in Fundamentalism that is absent from the orthodox faith? Both involve belief in the inspiration of Scripture, in creation ex nihilo, in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and in His substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and eventual second coming in judgment. So what is there in Fundamentalism for which you will search in vain the creeds to which all believers (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) have assented and that have retained their vibrancy and relevance throughout the centuries?

Just one thing... belief that the Bible teaches that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old. This belief became (for Fundamentalists) a central tenet in the early 1900's as a response to the widespread teaching of naturalistic evolution.*

Of course, there are some corollary ideas that make Fundamentalism even more problematic, and D'Souza probably had some of these in mind as well. All are logically necessary to belief in a young earth, and all represent obstacles to the acceptance and understanding of true Christianity. These include biblicism, the notion that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge. This idea involves a rejection (in large measure) of the traditional doctrine of dual revelation, which says that God has revealed Himself both through the Bible and through the creation. (On the biblicist view, science is completely unreliable, and the only accurate scientific conclusions are those made by Christians who are also believers in a young earth.) Hand in hand with young earth beliefs is the interpretation (again a very modern one) that the flood of Noah's day (recorded in Genesis 6-8) was not only universal (applying to all humans and the region they inhabited) but actually global. This leads, for example, to claims that the Grand Canyon was carved out in less than a year, that all terrestrial life was represented on the ark, that dinosaurs and people existed simultaneously, and more. Other corollary aspects of Fundamentalism are a hyper-literal approach to Scripture, fideism, and a general tendency toward anti-intellectualism.

I'm with D'Souza on this one. I'm irritated that many modern Christians are unfamiliar with what constitutes traditional Christianity and willing to accept as biblical a superficial interpretation that is so indefensible. Because Fundamentalism has become so widespread within the American church, much of apologetics--defending true Christianity--requires first explaining what the Bible does not say--that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old or that there was a global flood.

* Regular readers of this blog will realize that subsequent discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries have made naturalistic (or even gradualistic) evolution a dying paradigm (although the theistic implications of those discoveries have caused many scientists, educators, and media personnel to cling to Darwinism despite the evidence). Primary among such discoveries is the recognition that the universe had a hot "big bang" beginning only 13.7 billion years ago. This finite beginning to the universe both undermines a central assumption of naturalistic evolution (an eternal universe) and supports claims that the Bible has made all along.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Horse-Kick Christianity

I'm almost finished with Dinesh D'Souza'a What's So Great About Christianity. Parts of the book are excellent, and others not so stellar, and so I'll probably use it as a springboard for a few blog posts. Here's a quote from the introduction that's worth sharing...
Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy. They have been flogging the carcass of "fundamentalism" without having to encounter the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity.
In the next post, I'll offer my thoughts on the distinctions between "fundamentalism" and traditional Christianity.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Thought

Thanksgiving is easily one of my favorite holidays, and that because it is so inextricably tied to America and Christianity. I'm not saying that it can't be secularized (I've heard people refer to it as 'Turkey Day'); but it would be really hard to even try to make a reasonable case that would somehow sever the historical ties of this holiday to the gratitude of early American men, women, and children expressed to the one true God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Motivation in Science Teaching

I'm finally getting around to reading Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity, and it's the sort of book I love. It has, of course, a strong apologetic component, and mixes in a good deal of history. I also appreciate D'Souza's wit and logic.

In chapter 4, he discusses the atheist agenda to indoctrinate our children with anti-religion, which begins in the science classroom. D'Souza quotes an editorial in The Economist,
Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of Genesis.
D'Souza goes on to make the point that Darwinism has friends and supporters for exactly the same reason. Indeed, the whole reason for teaching Darwinism is in order to marginalize theism, and especially Christianity. (Go here to see how impractical and unnecessary is an understanding of evolutionary theory to actual scientific, medical, or pharmaceutical advance.) According to D'Souza, it might seem possible that
the Darwinists are merely standing up for science. But surveys show that the vast majority of young people in America today are scientifically illiterate, widely ignorant of all aspects of science. How many high school graduates could tell you the meaning of Einstein's famous equation? Lots of young people don't have a clue about photosynthesis or Boyle's Law. So why isn't there a political movement to fight for the teaching of photosynthesis? Why isn't the ACLU filing lawsuits on behalf of Boyle's Law?
He continues,
The answer is clear. For the defenders of Darwinism, no less than for its critics, religion is the issue. Just as some people oppose the theory of evolution because they believe it to be anti-religious, many others support it for the very same reason. That is why we have Darwinism but not Keplerism; we encounter Darwinists but no one describes himself as an Einsteinian. Darwinism has become an ideology.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Green Toothpicks

In the class I'm teaching this semester at Kilns College, I had the opportunity last night to address naturalism and evolution. Among the many illustrations this allowed me to resurrect, one of my favorites has to do with green toothpicks.

I took an undergraduate biology class from Dr. "Mad Dog" Johnson, in which he tried to demonstrate natural selection in action. We went outside to a lush, uncut, well-fertilized portion of the campus lawn, where we scattered a known number of toothpicks of different colors--red, yellow, blue, and green. We, the students, then acted as predators--the agents of natural selection--foraging through that patch of lawn capturing as many toothpicks as we could find. As I recall, we found all of the yellow and red toothpicks, most of the blue ones, and almost none of the green, so well-camouflaged were they among the long blades of grass. The lesson was that natural selection works just so on populations of living things.

There are at least a couple of serious problems with this experiment as an illustration of natural selection at work. If--as is claimed--natural selection acting on genetic variation is the mechanism by which evolutionary advance is made, what we demonstrated would seem to be just the opposite. Our toothpick population began with a much higher genetic diversity than it had by the end. The population, which now consists almost entirely of green toothpicks, would seem to be much less able to adapt to a changing environment than when it contained the greater diversity of phenotypes. It has ever since seemed to me that we demonstrated that natural selection has a far greater capacity to tend toward extinction than to adaptation and advance.

Another problem with this illustration is just as important. Let us be unreasonably generous and grant that the resulting population of toothpicks is somehow better prepared to adapt to some future environmental change. That is, let us say--for the sake of argument--that what we witnessed was an instance of microevolution. Microevolution refers to the idea that species (and populations and such) are not static, but change over time in both their phenotype and genotype (their form and the genetic basis for that form, respectively).

That microevolution occurs is a well-accepted, non-controversial idea. But granting that the population of green toothpicks is a good example of something having undergone microevolution provides no support for the claim of neo-Darwinism, which is that this same mechanism--natural selection acting upon genetic variation (mutation)--can account for macroevolution. In other words, the diversity of all life is explainable by this sort of natural selection acting over vast time scales. In the specific case of the toothpick illustration, we are to believe that if we waited long enough (as the toothpicks bred generation after generation) and continued preying on those toothpicks most easily spotted, eventually those toothpicks would give rise to species of dental floss, of toothbrushes, and even, eventually, of electric toothbrushes, all without the input of any sort of intelligence or designer.

The fossil record shows that there have existed--over the course of Earth's history--different life forms. But macroevolutionary theory, as an explanation for how that record came to be, has yet to be substantiated by any evidence. Rare cases of microevolution have been documented, and then we are asked to make the unreasonable and unsupported extrapolation that such minor changes can be invoked to explain all of the advancing complexity witnessed in the fossil record. For me, Professor Johnson's toothpick demonstration has always served as a reminder of the absurdity of the grander claims of evolutionists.

(A version of this post originally appeared on 26 Feb 2007.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Black Vote on Prop 8

In the last post, I addressed the question (arising out of the aftermath of California's Proposition 8), "Why are homosexuals in California behaving as terrorists?" In this post, I want to address a second question, to wit,
Why did blacks overwhelmingly vote for Prop 8, in favor of traditional marriage?
Now, there are undoubtedly a number of reasons that could rightly be offered, and I in no way want to suggest that mine is the primary one. Nonetheless, I think it worth a mention.

I believe it has been a gross strategical error on the part of gays and lesbians to seek to equate their efforts with the civil rights movement. At best, this equation is a faulty analogy; at worst it trivializes the great injustices perpetrated on people of color and the sacrifice and suffering that they went through (and go through) to see those injustices end.

An analogy is faulty (and thus fallacious) when the differences (between the two things compared) are more significant and central than the similarities. In the case of civil rights and "same-sex marriage," the similarity is this... two groups, both minorities, desired a change in the laws affecting them.

Here are some of the differences... Blacks were (and are) being denied basic rights available to everyone else. These included job opportunities, educational opportunities, the right to eat, ride, and sleep where others (of the majority) were allowed. As a result, blacks were underpaid, undereducated, second-class citizens in every way. By contrast, homosexuals are not denied education, job opportunities, or any other rights. Homosexuals in America have more education and higher income than the average citizen, and can eat, ride, and sleep wherever they want. They are denied no rights offered everyone else.

Indeed, gays and lesbians can even get married just like anyone else. The problem is that they don't want to enter into the longtime, heterosexual commitment that is (and always has been) marriage. What's more, no one is preventing them from engaging in the relationships that they have chosen. So, the only thing that they lack is the wholesale respect and blessing of their aberrant relationships by the public at large, and the minor financial incentives that the government has offered to married couples. Parenthetically, the government has recognized the importance to a nation of strong traditional families; while it is apparent that homosexuals would benefit (at significant cost to the rest) from such incentives if marriage were redefined, there doesn't seem to be any benefit to the nation or government for so promoting such alliances.)

It really isn't any wonder that blacks do not tend to buy into the gay agenda; they have every reason to be outraged at the claim that "gay rights" are an extension of the courageous fight for equality in which people of color have been engaged for so long. This problem is probably too obvious (to most of my readers) to even warrant this post, but it seems that homosexuals can't somehow see it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prop 8

I thought it might be worthwhile to answer a couple of questions that arise out of the passage of California's Proposition 8 and the resulting violence...
1) Why are homosexuals in California behaving as terrorists?
In general, terrorists believe that the ends they desire cannot be achieved peacefully, meaning either through logical argumentation (or negotiation) or political means. In California, homosexuals were hoping to receive approval for their relationships through the political process (activist judges), but Proposition 8--which affirmed marriage as between one man and one woman--was passed by the voters of their state. This puts them between a rock and a hard place, because the other peaceful means (logic) doesn't work for them. Let me put it another way.

The question of whether a state should redefine marriage to include the union of two men or of two women is a question of morality. And when wrestling with a particular moral question, the larger question that naturally frames it is, "Where does morality come from?" or "On what do we base morality?" Homosexuals, as you might expect, reject the traditional answer, objectivism, which says that there is a transcendent Natural Law to which we seek to conform our national, state, or local laws. The reason gays and lesbians cannot appeal to that Law is that it ends up defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Despite the fact that homosexuality has been around throughout human history (and even, to varying degrees accepted as an alternate sexual preference), there has been no society that has sought to confuse it or to equate it with marriage, which has always been understood as applying to heterosexual individuals. Once accept a transcendent Moral Law (and a moral Law-Giver), and the gay agenda is doomed.

But there's another option in our postmodern society, and that's what's known as conventionalism. Conventionalism represents a denial of objective morality in favor of the view that "one ought to behave according to the dictates of one's own culture" (this view is also known as prescriptive cultural relativism). This understanding of morality has fatal logical flaws (as I discussed here), but that's beside the present point.

Here's what's happening in California... Homosexuals cannot receive the societal respect and blessing they crave through appealing to objective morality. So their only hope (for achieving that goal peacefully) was through legal means, by convincing rogue judges (those willing to go beyond interpreting the law to creating the law) to side with them. But then along comes a referendum ballot--which is quintessentially a conventionalist approach--arguing the contrary (traditional) view of marriage. As long as the vote on Prop 8 was still undecided, an appeal to convention as endorsing their untraditional view of marriage was still a live option. But Prop 8 didn't go their way, and where does that leave gays and lesbians in California?

They still cannot appeal to objective morality, because it argues against a homosexual relationship being called 'marriage.' Nor can they (now) appeal to a conventional understanding of morality, because the convention that holds in California is that marriage is heterosexual. They lose either way. I feel sorry for them (in more ways than one), at least those among them that haven't in the election aftermath resorted to terrorism.

Next post, "Why did blacks overwhelmingly vote for Prop 8?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Kilns College Next Semester

The classes being offered next semester at Kilns College (in Bend, OR) have been posted. It's a pretty interesting list and a great group of teachers. Go here to check 'em out, and get a jump on planning how you'll take advantage of these great educational opportunities.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Weekend


We had such a successful Apologetics Conference right here in Bend this weekend! It featured Drs. J.P. Moreland, Craig Hazen, and Scott Rae from BIOLA and Talbot Seminary, and was extremely well-attended. As the first annual such event, we of Kilns College and the Apologetics Guild, were thrilled with the interest, the turnout, and the caliber of the eleven messages delivered.

Many kudos to Rich Waller for making this exciting event a reality, and thanks to Emi Popa and all of those who served behind the scenes. I can't wait to do this again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"All Scientists Agree.." (Part 2)

In the last post, I took issue with the claim "All scientists agree (about anthropogenic global warming or macroevolution, or whatever)." I argued that such a claim is generally false (as with evolution and global warming) and that such statements are red herrings, efforts to evade the real issue, which is whether the evidence and reason should lead us to believe that the larger claim (that man-caused global warming is occurring, e.g.) is true.

But there's another interesting thing to notice about such claims. And that is the fact that they are not themselves scientific claims but rather sociological claims. That is, a claim about what "all scientists believe" falls within the discipline known as sociology of science, not within any scientific discipline such as biology, evolutionary biology, or climatology. Therefore, whenever it is a scientist (biologist or climatologist) making such a claim, he is outside of his area of expertise (and generally doesn't realize it).

Rightly understanding this has important implications. Our culture is greatly affected by idealogies that are based upon a high regard for science and an uncritical acceptance of what scientists claim. But most of the time, the real issues (whether intelligent design theory should be taught in government schools, or whether science should seek only naturalistic answers to the questions it pursues) are not issues that a scientist has any training or qualification to address. Rather, these are issues rightly addressed by second-order disciplines.

The sciences--chemistry, physics, biology, and such--are first-order disciplines, fileds that study particular sets of phenomena. There are other disciplines that are second-order disciplines, which means that they involve the study of other disciplines. Those second-order disciplines that are important to understanding what science is (and should be) and how scientists work are at least four: sociology (of science), psychology (of science), history of science, and philosophy of science (with the latter two being the most important).

So, when a scientist makes the claim "All scientists believe..." he is likely talking through his hat, or at least wearing a hat disingenuously (speaking as an authority in an area in which he is not an authority). As important as this is with regard to questions of whether anthropogenic global warming or neo-Darwinism are accurate understandings of reality, it is even more important with regard to the question "What is science?" And here again, though we allow scientists all the time to tell us what science is and how it is done, most scientists have no training in these issues. Thus, the scientists allowed to testified in court cases regarding the teaching of intelligent design are completely unqualified to address the issue of what science is. Instead, it is philosophers of science and historians of science who should be allowed on the stand.

The problem is that any philosopher of science would tell you that intelligent design theory and even theories about the universe that begin with an understanding of the world that is based in Genesis are scientific theories. Whether they fare better (than naturalistic theories) is another story, and will be discerned based on evidence and explanatory power and such. But where we are at present is this: on the issue of what science is, we have uncritically accepted the uneducated opinion of scientists who are sadly unqualified to answer the question. And the result has been devastating not only to the teaching of science but to our entire educational and political systems.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"All Scientists Agree..."

My regular readers will realize that I care about the environment, that I see care for the creation as a part of God's unrescinded "dominion mandate" and something in which Christians ought to be leading the way.

That said, I've never bought into the anthropogenic global warming scare. There are several reasons for this. They include (but are not limited to) the fact that the issue has been so hijacked for political purposes, the recognition that the alarmists tend to ignore the incredible design of the atmosphere (and the existence of the Designer), the existence of a wealth of contrary evidence, and others. But perhaps the most obvious reason for my skepticism about such claims is that the so-called argument takes a form that is fallacious and untrue, and one that is increasingly used (in this issue and others) in lieu of good evidence and reason. I'm thinking here of the claim
All scientists agree that...
There is no disagreement among scientists about...
You may right away recall at least one other issue where this claim is made, and that is with regard to evolution. Of course, anybody that's been paying attention at all realizes that there's quite a bit of controversy among scientists as to whether natural selection acting upon random genetic mutations is an adequate explanation for the diversity of life. But the claim--even if it were true--would be irrelevant to whether evolution is true. It's an example of the ad populum fallacy, and is a thinly-veiled attempt to divert attention from the actual evidence itself (which overwhelmingly and increasingly contradicts neo-Darwinism).

And the same problems exist when the claim is made with regard to global warming. Again, the claim is untrue; many experts disagree that man-caused global warming is occurring on a scale that warrants concern. But more importantly, it's fallacious, and what really matters is what the evidence says. And (if you've bought into the global warming hype, here's where you can breathe a sigh of relief), the evidence is all the other way now, and that with a vengeance. The polar ice is back to normal levels (only a year later), and there's no longer any need for you to start considering captive-breeding polar bears. But my favorite news item on the global warming front this week is this, that while British Parliament is putting the finishing touches on a costly and misguided law aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, London is blanketed by the first October snowfall since 1922.

Global warming alarmists continue to do their best to ignore contrary evidence. Increasingly, it seems that the environment itself seems to want a say in how obvious and abundant such evidence is.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Apologetics Conference

Less than two weeks now til the first Apologetics Conference here in Central Oregon, and I'm really looking forward to it. J.P. Moreland, one of the leading philosophers of our day and author of a number of books that have greatly influenced me, will be the keynote speaker. It will be my privilege to introduce Craig Hazen, head of the Apologetics Program at BIOLA, who will speak to us a couple of times. Scott Rae will also be there, and he'll be talking about ethics issues and how a Christian worldview should inform them. (I'll have the opportunity to speak on naturalism in science during one of the break-out sessions.)

This is all happening at New Hope Church (on Bend's south side) the evening of Friday, November 7th and all day Saturday the 8th. Cost for the whole thing is only $20, and you can go here to register. See you there!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Indoor Soccer

I thought some of my readers might be interested in this sports news from the Central Oregon Indoor Soccer League (Men's A) and the Antioch Church team for which I play goalkeeper and my sons Nathan and Jasper both play.

In the last game of the regular season Wednesday night, the Antioch team surprised the men of Chivas Bend with a strong all-around performance that resulted in a 10-4 drubbing. Chivas, who would go on to win the playoffs the following night, were never in this one, as they trailed 5-0 after a first half in which the Antioch defense played with clinical precision and the offense was firing on all cylinders.

Antioch, a young team beginning to gel at season's end, could do little wrong, and the visitors were reeling under an offensive onslaught. Nathan Gerhardt opened the scoring with a hammered right-footed shot from the left side. Gary Christensen made it 2-nil when he deftly converted a header from the top of the box. When Tyler Fetters slotted home a shot from no less than the midfield stripe, the Antioch fans (Courtney, Joelle, and Krea) went wild.

But the home side was not done. Awarded a free kick in the offensive zone, Nathan Gerhardt caught the Chivas napping (well, actually, busy arguing the call). He back-heeled the ball to his brother Jasper streaking down the right side, who fired it just inside the far post. Brandon Groza volleyed in a cross from Nathan to finish off an inspired first half.

Once the Chivas decided to return after the break, the men of Antioch found the play a bit more balanced, and time and again their defense was put to the test. "Gary played out of this world!" said awestruck keeper Rick Gerhardt. "He personally blocked more shots than I was called on to save." Jasper Gerhardt was also an immovable force in defense, calmly turning away every rebound before the Chivas forwards could reach them.

Nonetheless, the visitors managed to find the goal net three times in quick succession, before Emi Popa made a telling run down the right side and slammed in Antioch's 6th goal of the night. Nathan Gerhardt scored his second of the evening after dribbling through most of the opponent's men, and then a Jasper Gerhardt cross led to an own goal on the part of Chivas' beleagured defense. When Kip Jones notched home a header in the 35th minute (given a nifty pass from Popa), each of Antioch's field players had managed a goal. Chivas would score once more, but Nathan Gerhardt's goal on a breakaway completed his hat trick and the home side's rout. Another goal by Popa set a cap on the victory, despite its being ruled as having crossed the goal line subsequent to the game-ending buzzer.

With this convincing win at the end of the fall campaign, Antioch has shown a promise of even better things to come in the spring, and the team's fans (Courtney, Joelle, and Krea) have every reason to expect great things from future matches.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Crux of Cosmic History

Last night, the Antioch family had a wonderful time of fellowship and communion at Summers Wood Flooring. I had the privilege of making some remarks about the historical event we commemorate whenever we celebrate communion.

I first argued that the atoning death of Jesus on the Roman cross (together with the Incarnation that made it possible and the Resurrection that made it worthwhile) is the central event of all church history. Though Christ-followers today have disagreements about the number of sacraments they celebrate, and the details and frequency of those sacraments, all believers worldwide partake of communion and have been doing so ever since the resurrected Jesus ascended.

But more than that, we can see that the Cross is also the most decisive event in all of human history. Not only do we who came after it look back upon it, but for more than a millenium and a half the people of God (the Israelites) looked forward to it. They did this whenever they celebrated the Passover, which was a type of the Messiah's lamb-like offering (Isaiah 53:7). They also did this whenever they offered atoning sacrifices for their corporate and individual sins. Such sacrifices did not of themselves forgive sins, but acknowledged Messiah's future, once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10) that would effectively deal with humanity's ultimate problem--separation from our Creator due to our sin and rebellion.

But even to say that the Cross is the focal point of all human history is to understate the case. The fact is that Christ's redeeming act of obedience on the Cross transcends cosmic history, and that both as to eternity future and eternity past. Revelation 5 contains a vision of Heaven, of a time and place outside of our universe. And even there, we (in our own glorified, resurrected bodies) and the angels will be focussing on the Cross and crying "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!" And we are told (in several Scripture passages, including Titus 1:2 and Ephesians 1:4) that our redemption in Christ was promised before the creation of the universe. II Timothy 1:9 says that God
saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
The Greek here means "before times eternal."

Throughout this discussion of the Cross, I used words like 'central,' 'decisive,' 'important,' and 'critical.' But there were a couple of words I didn't use, and that for good reason. In stressing the centrality or importance of a particular moment or event, we sometimes use the words 'crux' or 'crucial.' Crux means 'a pivotal or essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome.' Crucial means 'important or essential as decisive or as resolving a crisis.' (Again, the crisis resolved by the Crucifixion is our eternal separation from God by our own sinfulness.) But had I referred to the Crucifixion as the crux of human history or the crucial moment in cosmic history, I would have been guilty of redundancy. That's because both of these words have as their root the Latin word meaning 'cross' or 'torture.'

In short, whenever we employ the words 'crucial' or 'crux,' we are tacitly acknowledging that the standard of centrality, importance, and decisiveness against which all other things must be measured is the substitutionary death upon a Roman cross of the eternal Son of God outside Jerusalem in AD 30.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prevalence of Carnivory

I've been discussing the issue of animal death and carnivory, and how it is perceived by many moderns as a problem difficult to reconcile with the goodness of God. For Christians with this perception, the issue leads to strange interpretations of the Bible, and ones that do serious damage to the doctrine of God's sovereignty.

As an apologist, one who spends his time defending the truth claims of the Christian world- and life-view, it is frustrating (to say the least) to read and hear other Christians airing truth claims that are not biblical and that are contrary to both evidence and reason. Prominent among such views is this notion that predatory animals were not created by God because they are somehow evil.

Several years ago now, my oldest son was asked (along with the other students in his Sunday school class) to think of something created by God for each letter of the alphabet. Being a snake enthusiast, when he came to 'V,' my son wrote down 'venom.' The teacher asked him to think of something else, since she wasn't sure that God had created venom (she apparently perceived of all such things as rattlesnakes, scorpions, and bees and wasps as evil or fallen). Many Christians today likewise see predatory animals--those that eat other animals--as bad, and therefore not directly created by God.

Let me assume, for the sake of argument, that this were true, and see what the implications of that view include. By way of comparison (with those implications), we'll keep in mind that what the Bible actually claims (in many different books written by various human authors) is that God alone is the Creator of all living things. As just one example, here's Psalm 104:24-25...
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
What I want to do is to delineate for you the types of animals that are carnivorous--those that, on the view I'm critiquing, must be viewed as NOT created by God. For simplicity's sake, I'll confine the discussion to extant animals and those living in North America.

There are seven orders of mammals alive in North America (not including humans, whose order, primates, is primarily omnivorous, eating both palnts and animals). Of the seven, three orders consist entirely or primarily of herbivorous animals. These orders are the lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, and pikas), the rodents (some of which are not above eating eggs and young birds), and the even-toed ungulates (deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, and sheep).

The other four orders of mammals are entirely or primarily carnivorous (or, in the case of the opossums, carrion feeders). Chiroptera (bats) are primarily animal-eaters, though some species (especially outside North America) are fruit-eaters. The Insectivora (moles and shrews) are exclusive in their diets, eating only other animals. Then, of course, the Carnivora are flesh-eaters, with a very few species departing from the strict rule and occasionally eating berries or carrion. The Carnivora are a varied group, represented (in North America) by eight different families; they include, the dogs, the cats, the weasels, the skunks, the bears, the raccoon family, the eared seals, and the hair seals. On the "predators are evil" view, we must disqualify the vast majority of these diverse, unique (and well-adapted) species as not intended or created by God.

Among birds, the situation is much more weighted in favor of herbivores, with many passerines (perching birds) thriving on seeds and fruit. Nonetheless, many other passerines eat invertebrate animals. Moreover, whole groups--including hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, gulls (and similar species), most other seabirds and shorebirds, shrikes, crows and jays, and others--eat animal prey exclusively. Are we--without any scriptural warrant--to claim that God made finches, but that the origin of eagles, killdeer, penguins, and all these others must be explained some other way?

Among the reptiles, the vast majority are exclusively meat-eaters. This includes all of the snakes, all of the crocodiles, and nearly all of the turtles. (A few turtles supplement their diets with fruit and vegetables, but even these species are not strictly vegetarian.) Lizards are a bit more of a mixed bag, but those that eat plant material exclusively are the clear minority.

Amphibians (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are likewise an entire class of animals that prey mainly or exclusively on other animals. The same is true of the bony fishes (Osteicthyes) and, of course, of the sharks and rays (the cartilaginous fishes).

According to this cursory glance at just the vertebrates, we can see that four of the six classes (cartilaginous fishes, bony fishes, amphibians, and reptiles) are comprised mostly of animal-eaters. Of the remaining two classes (birds and mammals), entire groups are meat-eaters. In other words, the clear implication of the view that I am critiquing is that most of the animal species inhabiting North America today were not part of God's plan, and that He is not to be praised for the creation of eagles, flamingoes, bobcats, raccoons, dolphins, or sailfish. I find this a really strange position for any Christian to take.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Night

We interrupt this series on the "problem" of animal death to bring you (in response to public demand) another poem by my youngest daughter, Willow. This one she wrote a year ago (as a 9-year-old), and the last line is telling.
The evening is cool, the moonlight is bright.
The owls are calling all through the night.

While children are sleeping, each snug in her bed,
here come the stars, marching ahead.

Some creatures are moving all through the night,
while others are sleeping, waiting for light.

Down goes the moon, up comes the sun.
Here come the children, ready to run.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Pains of Animals

By way of review (if only for my sake), we've been discussing the supposed problem of animal death and suffering. I have suggested that this is a very modern concern, and one that involves a naivete about ecology (though I haven't yet fleshed out the latter claim). We have also seen that efforts by Christians (especially those who hold to a "young earth creationist" view) to use Scripture to explain animal death as not a part of God's intent in creation are demonstrably flawed. In each case, the Scripture passage appealed to does not say what these believers try to make it say. Moreover, other Bible passages are explicit in claiming for God the responsibility for creating and sustaining those animals that prey upon other animals. Today, I want to look at an interesting section from the writings of C.S. Lewis, which will set the stage for later posts on the subject.

The essay I have in mind comes from God in the Dock, and is titled "The Pains of Animals." It is actually more than an essay; it presents an 'inquiry'--from C.E.M. Joad--regarding chapter nine of Lewis' The Problem of Pain followed by the latter's reply.

I find a couple of Lewis' quotes worth sharing. In attempting to clarify his earlier claims, he summarizes the least speculative part of his original treatment...
The data that God has given us enable us in some degree to understand human pain. We lack such data about beasts. We know neither what they are nor why they are. All that we can say for certain is that if God is good (and I think that we have grounds for saying that He is) then the appearance of divine cruelty in the animal world must be a false appearance. What the reality behind the false appearance may be we can only guess.
As an ecologist (and as I have perhaps hinted already), I take issue with the widespread perception that the animal world is "cruel." That is, I would heartily affirm that the appearance of cruelty is a false one, or (better yet) a subjective perspective. But my main point here is to affirm Lewis in his willingness to remain agnostic about the issue, to give God the benefit of the doubt where his (Lewis') knowledge remains imperfect.

Lewis himself arrives (a bit further on) at the recognition of the subjectivity involved here. This, too, is perceptive, and constitutes an important counterpoint to the argument against God made by appealing to animal death.
If I regard this pity and indignation [at the suffering in the insect world] simply as subjective experiences of my own with no validity beyond their strength at the moment (which next moment will change), I can hardly use them as standards whereby to arraign the creation. On the contrary, they become strong as arguments against God just in so far as I take them to be transcendent illumination to which creation must conform or be condemned. They are arguments against God only if they are themselves the voice of God... That the mere contingent Joad or Lewis, born in an era of secure and liberal civilization and imbibing from it certain humanitarian sentiments, should happen to be offended by suffering--what is that to the purpose? How will one base an argument for or against God on such an historical accident?
In other words, one very reasonable response to the perceived problem of animal suffering is that God's workings in the planet's ecology are not what some modern people perceive them to be. That is, perhaps God has good reasons for creating a world that involves animal death, and our perception of such death as bad or evil is wrong. As I see it, the types of evidence that lead to this conclusion include historical, Scriptural, and ecological. That being so, both those who appeal to animal death in arguing against God and those who build strange Bible interpretations around a felt need to absolve God of responsibility for animal death are sadly misguided.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Genesis 1:29-30

Another Scripture verse often cited by those who see the prelapsarian (i.e., pre-Fall) world as devoid of predators is Genesis 1:29-30. Ralph D. Winter, for example, has this to write,
Yet in the very first chapter of the Bible both the animal life and humans mentioned there are clearly described as non-carnivorous, meaning that they did not kill each other {Genesis 1:29}.
But the verses in question simply do not characterize the animals at all. Rather, they make a positive statement about God's being the One who provides for man and all the animals. In Genesis 1:29-30, there is absolutely no prohibition made, and only a modern desire to absolve God of the creation of predatory animals could lead to anyone's inferring such a prohibition. Here are the verses (from the ESV)...
And God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.
The context here is what is known as the dominion mandate. God is here telling man that he has both the privilege and responsibility of caring for the rest of the created order. It is likely that God is emphasizing the fact that green plants form the basis for the food chains of all land life. It may also be that God is emphasizing that all such plants are meant to be useful as food. (Genesis 1 is, of course, the most abbreviated of creation accounts; in the longer version that appears in chapter 2, there is a prohibition made--one not mentioned in chapter 1--when God says that Adam is not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree.)

Whatever God's revelatory intentions in Genesis 1:29-30, they do not include saying that carnivory was not a part of life up until that time. Such an understanding requires eisegesis--reading into the passage something that is not there.

Perhaps a similar example will clarify this. Let's say my family is going on a two-week vacation that happens to coincide with the week during which you will have moved out of your old home but are unable yet to move into your new one. We arrange that you willl stay at our house while we're gone. As we are leaving, my wife says, "We stocked the refrigerator for your sakes--make sure the kids know to help themselves." Do you take that as a prohibition against your eating the fruit in the basket on the kitchen table? Will you deliberately avoid the fresh-baked bread on the counter or the goodies stacked in the pantry? Of course not!

Using the Genesis 1 passage to build a doctrine denying animal death (at that stage of creation) is likewise logically untenable. And the motivation for doing such hermeneutical gymnastics is a modern misunderstanding about the beauty of the ecologies with which God has filled the land and seas ever since He first created life.

As serious students of God's revelation to us, we should at all costs avoid building doctrines around what amount to mere inferences on our part. This is especially true when the rest of His revelation to us--the remainder of Scripture and the evidence from nature--strongly asserts a contrary conclusion. God is indeed the Creator and Sustainer of all life--including the lion and the eagle--and He calls all that creation "very good." (So do I.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Romans 5:12

(3rd post in a series)

We're discussing the very modern view held by many Christians that animal death is a bad thing and that therefore predation could not have been a part of God's original creation. Two of the Scripture passages used to defend this view are Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. According to Ken Ham,
Physical death and bloodshed of man and animals came into existence after Adam sinned (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15).
These two passages say much the same thing, so we'll concentrate our analysis on Romans 5:12. I think it will be easy for my readers to come to a more accurate conclusion--than does Ham--of what this verse is and is not saying. Here's the verse (in part)...
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin...
Let's stop there for a moment. The apostle Paul writes a good deal about death (Greek, thanatos), and often further identifies the death in view. Sometimes, it's "death to sin" or "death to the law." Many other times, he has in mind the spiritual death of humans; occasionally he mentions his own physical death or that of other men. If the "death" here and in Romans 15 is meant to include animal death, these would be the only places in all of his writings where he concerns himself with such. For the moment, let's provisionally accept that this is a possibility, and wait to see if further investigation sheds any light on the issue.

What about the word translated "world?" The Greek word kosmon must--in Ham's view--refer to the entire planet Earth. While this is, in fact, one of the definitions of kosmon in the Greek of New Testament times, it is difficult to find any New Testament passages where this is the most likely meaning. More frequently, the Greek word translated "world" refers to the entire universe, to all humanity, or to a subset of humanity. An example of the latter usage can be found in this very same letter of Paul's. In the greeting, Paul writes (1:8),
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
Theologians and New Testament scholars are unanimous in understanding this "all over the world" to reference a subset of humanity, the people inhabitating the region of the world known at that time to Paul and his readers.

So, before reading the rest of the Romans 5 passage, let's recap what sort of clarifying information we're seeking. The death referred to here could be a number of different things, and we're most interested in whether it explicitly or implicitly includes the physical death of non-human animals. As for "world," we want to discover whether it is best understood as referring to 1) the entire universe, 2) the entire planet Earth (as seemingly required by the view I'm critiquing), 3) all humanity, or 4) a subset of humanity. Now we can read verse 12 in its entirety.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned.
It seems to me that Paul (or the Holy Spirit through Paul) could not have made it much clearer than He did. The definition of kosmon in view here is #3 above--all humanity. Moreover, the death in view is that which comes to all men, and the death which comes as the result of sin (which further identifies it as human death).

Far from supporting the interpretation that there was no animal death before Adam sinned, this passage (like the one in 1 Cor. 15) very carefully and specifically addresses only human death, a death in which all humans share--apart, that is, from the life made available by the Second Adam (of Rom. 5:15 and following), Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Genesis 1:31

By way of review, many modern Christians insist that because (in Genesis 1:31) God called what He had created "very good," that must mean that there was no predation or animal death associated with that creation. As Henry Morris has it,
There was, therefore, nothing bad in that created world, no hunger, no struggle for existence, no suffering, and certainly no death of animal or human life anywhere in God's perfect creation.
Such insistence warrants several responses.

First of all, it is worth noting that this view that animal death is bad is a very modern and urban problem. Our great-grandparents, who, if they wanted to eat meat, had to do the butchering themselves, had a much more accurate and biblical understanding of the vast differences between animals and humans (as do those who still live much closer to the land today). (In this regard, those modern Christians decrying animal death as bad have seemingly adopted some of the misunderstandings of the very evolutionists against whom they argue.) To be sure, animals (especially birds and mammals) experience pain. But they do not in dying worry about their children left behind or expect to stand before their Maker in judgment for their sins. Simply put, this view of animal death as a bad thing is a culturally-derived concept and not one that comes from Scripture.

Second (and to piggy-back directly off that last statement), where Scripture speaks of animal death and predation, God unapologetically takes responsibility for it and seems to view it as good. God tells Job that it is He who provides animal prey for the lion and the raven (38:39-41), and for the hawk and the eagle (39:28-30). In speaking of the created animals, the psalmist praises God, saying
...when You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust, When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the ground. (Psalm 104:29-30)
So the Bible itself praises God and gives Him glory for the creation and sustenance of predatory animals; it would seem presumptuous (at best) for us to stand in judgment over Scripture in this regard.

Third, the Hebrew words translated (in Gen. 1:31) "very good" do not mean "perfect." This can be seen by the fact that the very same words are used to refer to Rebekah (in Genesis 24:16), where they are generally translated "very beautiful." Again, the phrase is used (by Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14:7) of the land of Canaan, where it is translated "exceedingly good." Thus, the creation prior to the fall of Adam should likewise be understood as having been exceedingly good or very beautiful.

Fourth, even if we were to read into these words of Genesis 1:31 some sense of perfection, we would have to understand that perfection as applying to God's purposes for the created order. What Morris, Ham, and others do is to judge the creation (and its ecology) by their own standards. Logically, this entails the corollary view that ever since the fall we are living in a sort of cosmic Plan B. But the whole of Scripture makes clear that the central event of all human and cosmic history--the atoning death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection of Jesus--was planned from before the foundation of the Earth. (For a wonderful contrast of these two quite different understandings, I highly recommend Mark Whorton's Peril in Paradise, from which I have derived much of my understanding of these issues.) The original creation was perfect for God's purposes for it, not perfect according to the arbitrary sensibilities of modern Americans (or Australians).

Fifth, the claim being made by these well-intentioned but misguided Christians is eerily similar to one for which Jesus strongly rebuked Peter. In Matthew 16, Jesus had just commended Peter for rightly understanding that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But then Jesus began to share that He would go to Jerusalem to suffer and be put to death. Peter said,
Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.
In effect, what Peter was saying was, "My view of God has no place in it for this sort of suffering!" Though we read of Jesus' rebuke of him, modern Christians are guilty of the same sort of thing: "My view of God does not include His having a purpose for millions of years of animal suffering!"

Sixth (and lastly for now), the view that animal death is bad betrays an utter ignorance of ecology and a naivete about life itself. I'll be glad to discuss this one at great length at another time, but for now let a teaser statement suffice. While it is easy to blithely talk about life without death, such life (at least given the physics of this universe) would of necessity entail no reproduction, no eating, no movement, and no metabolism.

We who are Christians have every reason to affirm with Scripture that the world God created and the life with which He filled it were--and are--"very good." But when we go on to read into Scripture our own ideas about what is and is not good, we run the risk of blaspheming the very Creator we should be praising.

(Next up... Romans 5:12.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Animal Death and Theodicy

A "theodicy" is a defense of God. It generally involves a defense of God's justice in view of some circumstance, argument, or condition that is seen as calling that justice into question. In our day, one condition (of the world in which we live) that is commonly understood as requiring some sort of theodicy is predatory behavior in the animal kingdom and animal death generally.

At some point (at the end of what I hope will be a brief series of posts on this subject), I'll argue (as an ecologist) that predation is a beautiful, necessary, exquisitely-designed part of life on earth, and thus something that needs no apologetic. But before I make that case, I want to deal with some of the other misunderstandings that have led to the modern confusion (among Christians and skeptics) about this issue.

But the goal of this first post is even less ambitious; it is merely to convince you that there is in fact widespread belief that predation and animal death are bad, and therefore cannot have been intended by an all-powerful, benevolent God. To do so, I'll appeal to three diverse views held by Christians today, each of which is at its foundation an attempt to absolve God of the blame for the ecology of our world, containing as it does animals eating other animals.

The first view is the theistic evolution (TE) view held by biologist Kenneth Miller. Miller, a Catholic, is outspoken in his disdain for proponents of Intelligent Design, insisting that not only is neo-Darwinian macroevolution true but that God only set the process going and then never intervened. (Over against the very different form of TE endorsed by, for example, Francis Collins, retired head of the Human Genome Project, Miller's view might better be called "deistic evolution.") But here's the point that is pertinent to our discussion... By insisting that God did not intervene, but allowed evolution to run its course unhindered, Miller believes he is absolving God of things (predation, parasitism, and suboptimal designs) that he (Miller) considers bad or for which he sees no purpose.

The second view is the Young-Earth position of Henry Morris or Ken Ham. In the face of overwhelming contrary evidence from the universe around us, and despite significant flaws in their interpretation of Scripture, Morris and Ham (and many others like them) insist that their view must be true primarily because they cannot reconcile long ages of animal death (prior to the fall of Adam) as being deemed by God "very good." Writes Morris,
The completed creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31), with nothing bad or unfair or hurtful--certainly no "struggle for existence" or "survival of the fittest," or any lack of anything needed by any of God's created beings or systems.
Likewise, according to Ham,
The main point is that death, bloodshed, and suffering of living creatures were not possible before the fall. It was a perfect world...
Similarly, Ralph Winter offers what I can only consider a bizarre view (of how to reconcile God's Word with God's world) in a speculation I only recently came across.* Winter accepts the evidence for an ancient universe and earth. But he, too, gets hung up on seeing predation as irreconcilable with God's "very good" creation. His speculation is that (though Scripture nowhere implies such a role for them) it was the job of angels to assist God in the creation of living things. He goes on to suggest that the Cambrian explosion (during which all the animal phyla or body forms suddenly appeared without precursors) coincided with the fall of Satan and thus that predatory creatures (then and ever since) cannot be blamed on God but on Satan and the demons that rebelled with him.

I'm not making this up, and, believe me, I don't post it here in order that even more scorn might be heaped upon Christians for some of the silly things they believe. But if my brothers and sisters are going to be free to write such stuff, someone (like I) needs to be able to demonstrate what's wrong with it--and by that I mean where they misunderstand nature, where they misunderstand Scripture, and where they are guilty of poor reasoning. I'll begin (in the next post) by addressing some of the Scriptures these folks use to argue that animal death and predation are bad.

The bottom line is that Scripture and the record of nature--both rightly interpreted--are in perfect agreement and that animal death and predation provide no reason for questioning God's justice and perfection.

* Note to grammar geeks (others please ignore): Relative to most people, I'm kinda nutty with regard to doing my best to avoid dangling participles. But here's one of those cases where I give up the struggle. I simply can't quite bring myself to write, "...speculation, across which I only recently came."