Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eagle Trapping Season

It's the time of year for trapping Golden Eagles, in this case for affixing a telemetry unit (which will use satellites to acquire information on the bird's hourly location). This adult male is one of many year-round residents in my area (there are at least 10 Golden Eagle territories within 10 miles of our home). The photo below shows a bit of the capture method and conditions.

It's tough work, but hey, someone's got to do it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Let me just take this opportunity to wish a very blessed Christmas to all my readers. Here in Central Oregon, we did have a white Christmas, but purists might point out that no new snow fell. Rather, we're still cold enough to retain the 8 or so inches that fell last weekend.

It was a cozy, comfortable day here, with lots of wonderful homemade gifts. My youngest daughter, Willow, has made a tradition of writing poetry and including it in gifts, and a number of homemade bracelets, necklaces, and hair barrettes were also acquired. Books, of course, and music, were also among the presents.

I'm always fascinated by the number of stores and folks at this time of year that do the "Happy Holiday" thing, not expressing the word 'Christmas' for fear they might offend someone. Statistics show that something like 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas, with 91% of them explicitly acknowledging it as the birth of Jesus. Now, I'm not so naive as to think that all such folk actually stop to pray to Him or to give thanks for the gift of that life (and death) 2000 years ago.

Nonetheless, I take comfort in the undeniable fact (testified to, in part, by the uniquely worldwide celebration of Christmas) that that gift remains the central event of all human history, the one that most radically changed the world for good. I only hope that you, my reader, have experienced the joy that comes from personally knowing that Prince of Peace, and that--through His redeeming Resurrection power--you too are a vehicle of goodwill to all men. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Laryngeal Nerve in Giraffes

In the past couple of weeks, I received two requests to address Richard Dawkins' claim that the recurrent laryngeal nerve in the modern giraffe provides proof of evolution. To hear and see this claim, go to this YouTube video. The heart of Dawkins' argument is that the unnecessary length of the giraffe's recurrent laryngeal nerve is an example of an imperfection that is the sort of historical accident that one would expect if there is no intelligent Designer. Here's my response...

Since I don't know you, I can't simply respond to Dawkins' claim without first making sure that you understand the larger picture, which is the bankruptcy of Dawkins' overall view, neo-Darwinian evolution (NDE).

Twenty years from now, no one will seriously be defending the form of evolution in which Dawkins believes. His critics, whether theists or fellow-evolutionists, rightly accuse him of living still in the 19th century. Stephen Jay Gould (the leading paleontologist of the last several decades) said that "neo-Darwinism, as a theoretical paradigm, is effectively dead." Geneticist James Shapiro (like Gould, committed to some form of evolution) last year told a packed auditorium in Chicago that "Richard Dawkins is a man who lives in fantasy."

And the reason Dawkins' pet theory is dead is because there is no evidence supporting it. The fossil record was contrary to Darwin's theory when he proposed it, and years of looking for his predicted transitional intermediates have only made the situation worse (for evolution). The apparent heirarchical look of living things remains intact, despite efforts to turn it into a continuous tree. Every life form that has ever lived appeared in the fossil record fully formed, fully functional, and fully adapted to its time on earth and its role in the ecology into which it was created. Every life form has remained unchanged throughout its tenure in earth's history. The only ancestors of Dawkins' modern giraffe for which there is any evidence are modern parent giraffes.

The only other evidential argument for evolution--similarity among living things--suffers from a number of problems. For one thing, similarity among living things is equally well (or better) explained by the view that there is a single Creator (one who repeatedly uses efficient designs rather than make each living thing according to entirely new plans and with entirely different materials). Thus the evolutionist argument is viciously circular: its starting point--that similarity only arises from common ancestry--is the claim that is at issue, and cannot be assumed in order to prove itself.

There are numerous other modern discoveries that make evolution surpassingly implausible, but which are completely ignored by Dawkins. These include the discovery that the universe did indeed have a recent beginning (13.7 b.y., whereas Darwinism assumed an eternal universe, such that natural selection had a nearly infinite amount of time at its disposal), the vast complexity of even the simplest living cell (greatly increasing the gap between non-living chemistry and first life), the information content of DNA, the fine-tuning of the universe for life on this one planet, etc, etc.

It is therefore in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence that Dawkins offers the 'proof' of evolution in the form of the laryngeal nerve of the giraffe. Really?! Really?!?

This is an example of a class of arguments for evolution that involve identifying seemingly 'bad,' imperfect, or suboptimal designs. This line of reasoning is unconvincing--or even downright refuted--for several reasons.

1) It assumes a God-like understanding of the anatomy in question, an understanding that neither Dawkins nor anyone else possesses. Further research is likely to discover good reasons that the nerve in question does not take a more direct route between the brain and the larynx.

2) In all of the more well-known examples, this form of argumentation has indeed been seen to involve ignorance. For a long time, it was the inverted retina (in the human eye) that was lauded by evolutionists as poorly designed, until further research discovered the elegance of it. ("Oops, let's not use that example any more! Let's try the length of the giraffe's laryngeal nerve.")

3) There will never be empirical proof that such a design does not serve an elegant (albeit yet undiscovered) purpose. That is, this argument can never be more than a "seems-to-me" sort of argument. Good science is generally thought to be more rigorous and empirical than this.

4) Even if it could be proved that such a thing constituted a bad design, it is a non-sequitur to conclude that there was no design involved. There was a period during which the Ford Pinto had a rear-end fuel tank problem, which led to numerous explosions, lawsuits, and recalls. But no one concluded as a result that the Pinto arose naturally. The premise of poor design does not yield the conclusion of no design.

[As an aside, it is the obviously fallacious reasoning so frequently employed by Dawkins (as in this case) that causes even atheist philosophers to be embarrassed by him, his books, and his public appearances.]

5) At the outset, Dawkins begins with an statement that is oxymoronic. He says that evolution "would expect" or "would predict" such an arrangement. This involves a problematic mixing of tenses. Now if evolutionists had at a certain time predicted the discovery of such an arrangement, and that prediction was subsequently borne out, then there might be some scientific validity to such a claim. But that, of course, is not what happened. No, however Dawkins may try to spin it, he is not here documenting the predictive success of his theory but rather claiming after the fact (of discovery) that it was the sort of thing that evolution... what? "could have predicted?" "should have predicted?" "might have, but just never got around to predicting?" I trust you see the problem.

6) Again assuming for the sake of argument that the laryngeal nerve in the giraffe is either a poor design or even undesigned, the argument for evolution (and against a Creator) depends upon our believing that there is NO design in the universe. That is, if Dawkins is right, then not only the giraffe's laryngeal nerve but the giraffe, and not only that but all living things, life itself, Earth, the solar system, the universe, everything is undesigned. Indeed, on Dawkins' worldview, even the Ford Pinto was not truly designed because the engineers working on it were merely carrying out the completely deterministic programming of their evolutionarily-derived brains. And it is at this point that Dawkins' beliefs require far more faith than the contrary belief--the default belief of nearly everyone throughout Western history--that things appear so exquisitely designed because they are in fact designed. It is at this point that Dawkins' worldview is most readily seen as that of the Fool of Psalm 14:1.

I know that Dawkins' 'arguments' can seem well-packaged and present a superficial challenge when first encountered. But neither this nor any other of his alledged evidences for evolution can withstand even a little bit of serious scrutiny.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Atheist Pastors

So, a couple of weeks ago, there was an article (here) about a couple of pastors who, despite having become atheists, remain in ministry because they don't know how else to make a living. Here's a lengthy excerpt from the article, including quotes from the men themselves
..."I spent the majority of my life believing and pursuing this religious faith, Christianity," Jack said. "And to get to this point in my life, I just don't feel like I believe anymore."

"The more I read the Bible, the more questions I had," Jack said. "The more things didn't make sense to me -- what it said -- and the more things didn't add up."

Jack said that 10 years ago, he started to feel his faith slipping away. He grew bothered by inconsistencies regarding the last days of Jesus' life, what he described as the improbability of stories like "Noah's Ark" and by attitudes expressed in the Bible regarding women and their place in the world.

"Reading the Bible is what led me not to believe in God," he said.

He said it was difficult to continue to work in ministry. "I just look at it as a job and do what I'm supposed to do," he said. "I've done it for years."

Adam said his initial doubts about God came as he read the work of the so-called New Atheists -- popular authors like the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins. He said the research was intended to help him defend his faith.

"My thinking was that God is big enough to handle any questions that I can come up with," he said but that did not happen.

"I realized that everything I'd been taught to believe was sort of sheltered," Adam said, "and never really looked at secular teaching or other philosophies. ... I thought, 'Oh my gosh. Am I believing the wrong things? Have I spent my entire life and my career promoting something that is not true?'
Where shall I begin? I guess with the last quote, "everything I'd been taught to believe..." I assume 'Adam' was taught what to believe both during his upbringing in the church and by his subsequent seminary education. It's pretty clear that he wasn't also taught (either at church or at seminary) how to think. Those 'new atheists' whose arguments he found so persuasive trade in logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and rhetoric that embarrasses real philosophers, even atheist ones. And it is very likely that Adam was taught a lot of nonsense that has nothing to do with historic Christianity. ('Jack' referred specifically to the 'story of Noah's ark.' Yes, as told by many modern evangelicals, that story is quite absurd, involving as it does a global flood and pairs of every species of animal that has ever lived. But that, of course, is not what the Bible teaches, but only a modern, superficial interpretation of the passage.)

Yes, many of our churches and seminaries are failing us, both by teaching bad hermeneutics and bad theology and by failing to teach people how to think. But there's a more basic problem that surfaces in this article. And it has to do with the nature of Christian belief.

For these men, belief in God and Christianity seems to be a weighing of the evidence, which is (apparently) only slightly tipped either in favor of or against the Christian worldview. These men of the cloth seem to accept the idea that belief in God is a purely academic exercise. In truth, Christianity claims that the Creator has revealed Himself to us throughout the creation, through history, through Scripture and His Son come to Earth, and in personal experience. That is, true believers are not those who merely weigh all the available evidence to see if God's existence is the slightly likelier option. Those of us who are followers of Christ are such because we have encountered--and fallen in love with--our Creator and Redeemer.

To be sure, saving Christian faith is reasonable and based in evidence. The evidence of God's existence, design, and love are all around us, and it is the task of the apologist to point these out. But may God save us from pastors who have never had a personal encounter with the living Lord, and who moreover don't have the critical thinking skills to spot the absurdity of the arguments of the likes of Richard Dawkins.*

*I understand that true followers of Christ can go through periods of doubt, times at which God seems far from them and they question for a period the reality of His presence in their lives. But when such times come upon pastors who have truly experienced a relationship with God, the response is not to carry on in secret but to go on sabbatical, having first honestly shared with and asked for prayer from one's elders and mentors. The cases of 'Jack' and 'Adam' are like those referred to in I John 2:19, "They went out from us, because they were not of us" except that, for reasons purely of self-interest, 'Jack' and 'Adam' have not gone out from us but shamefully remained as leaders of their congregations.