Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Peppered Moths

Yesterday, I shared about an artificial (and rather poor) illustration of natural selection in action ("Green Toothpicks"). The most famous (and much-cited) example of natural selection in the wild is the changes in coloration of the Peppered Moth, changes that occurred as a result of industrialization in Great Britain. These changes were noticed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as Peppered Moth populations went from being mostly white (with a few melanistic individuals) to mostly dark (with a few light individuals). In the 1950's, Bernard Kettlewell, a British biologist and physician, began a series of experiments that led him to believe that this change could be explained as a result of natural selection. He concluded that the moths were eaten by birds (visually-oriented predators) as they rested on tree trunks during the day. Kettlewell reasoned that before industrialization, light-colored moths were more prevalent because they were better comouflaged on the light-colored (and lichen-covered) tree trunks. But with increasing pollution, tree trunks became darker (and lichens died), light-colored moths were less camouflaged than darker ones, and the phenotype of the population became predominantly that of the dark individuals. This elegant example from the wild remains to this day the classic textbook example of natural selection at work.

Subsequent research has cast a great deal of doubt on this entire scenario. It turns out that Peppered Moths don't normally rest on tree trunks but in the crown of the trees, that researchers (including Kettlewell) released moths by day (even though they are a nocturnal species), that many (not including Kettlewell) in fact pinned dead moths to trunks rather than use live ones in their capture-recapture experiments. In addition, neither the distribution of the various color morphs nor that of the lichens fit the patterns predicted by pollution rates, either during the industrialization or following emission controls (when white moths made a comeback in some regions). The problems unearthed have been so serious that what had been called "Darwin's missing evidence" has been deemed invalid even by evolutionary scientists. (For a summary of these problems, the reader is referred to chapter 7 of Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution.) Nonetheless, since evidence for the evolutionary paradigm is so scant, this invalidated tale is still a prominent feature in most modern textbooks (with no mention of its problems).

But again, suppose we ignore (for the sake of argument) the fact that subsequent research has shown that the Kettlewell scenario does not provide the evidence for which Darwinists hope. Let us be generous and grant that perhaps further research will discover a mechanism (consistent with natural selection) that explains the change in Peppered Moths. Then, as evidence for macroevolution, we have the same problem here as we had with the green toothpicks. We have--at the end of the experiment--merely a different frequency of the same phenotypes already present at the beginning. Phillip Johnson has stated the problem well (in Darwin on Trial)...
Why do other people, including experts whose intelligence and intellectual integrity I respect, think that evidence of local population fluctuations confirms the hypothesis that natural selection has the capacity to work engineering marvels, to construct wonders like the eye and the wing? Everyone who studies evolution knows that Kettlewell’s peppered moth experiment is the classic demonstration of the power of natural selection, and that Darwinists had to wait almost a century to see even this modest confirmation of their central doctrine. Everyone who studies the experiment knows that it has nothing to do with the origin of any species, or even any variety, because dark and white moths were present throughout the experiment. Only the ratios of one variety to the other changed. How could intelligent people have been so gullible as to imagine that the Kettlewell experiment in any way supported the ambitious claims of Darwinism?
At least two pitfalls (obstacles to objective truth) can be seen in the Peppered Moth story. First, moth researchers used invalid methods and jumped to wrong conclusions primarily because of an inordinant desire to provide evidence for a popular--but evidentially-impoverished--theory. Second, had their conclusions not been spurious, these same researchers (and their popularizers, including textbook editors still today) have been guilty of failing to see the scalar limitations of their results. Evidence of natural selection working at the level of a species quite simply is irrelevant as evidence for macroevolution.

As a scientist, I only hope that the Peppered Moth may serve as a reminder to avoid these pitfalls long after it has been finally discarded as a significant piece of evidence for Darwinian evolution.

Monday, February 26, 2007

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 strew 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 ended with. 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 morphology and the genetic basis for their morphology, respectively). That microevolution occurs is a well-accepted, non-controversial idea. Let us say that the population of green toothpicks is a good example of something having undergone microevolution. The claim of neo-Darwinism is that it is this same mechanism--natural selection acting upon genetic variation (mutation)--that accounts 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.

That there have existed--over the course of Earth's history--different life forms is readily acknowledged. 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.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Central Oregon Symphony

Last Monday evening, our family was able to attend the Central Oregon Symphony, which is always enjoyable for all. Beginning the program this time around was Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, with soloist Ron Blessinger. Both the concerto and Mr. Blessinger were wonderful.

After the intermission, we were treated to Three Dances from "The Bartered Bride" by Smetana and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Each of these was memorable and interesting, but all the more-so because of the approach of our beloved conductor, Michael Gesme.

We--Dawn and I, the kids, everyone around us at such a concert--absolutely love the casual, caring, and educational way Michael has with the folks in the crowd. (I don't know Michael, and have no reason to be on a first-name basis with him, but it just seems what he would expect, given his informal, conversational style.) He generally previews interesting sections of one or more of the night's pieces, helping us to know what to listen for once it's played "for real," and explaining some of the nuances of what the composer was intending. I don't know whether many other conductors take this refreshing approach (it's unique in our admittedly-limited experience), but it has certainly captured the hearts and ensured the loyalty of the symphony-goers fortunate enough to live in Central Oregon.

We've enjoyed the Central Oregon Symphony--and its conductor, Michael Gesme--for many years now. Another great thing about blogging is that it affords me the (electronic) chance to finally express to a larger audience the appreciation we've always had of everyone involved in the symphony, and especially Michael. We're looking forward to their next offering.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yellow-bellied Marmot

You're all familiar with Groundhog Day, February 2nd. A Groundhog (or Woodchuck, technically Marmota monax) is said to appear for the first time following an underground hibernation. If he sees his shadow (as seems always to be the case), folks can expect six more weeks of winter weather.

Here on the High Desert of Central Oregon, we don't have Woodchucks (which are found throughout the east, northeast, midwest, much of Canada, and into Alaska). Instead, we have the similar Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris, known to locals as "Rockchuck"). These large rodents likewise hibernate underground for the winter. In fact, they first estivate (that is, enter a semi-torpor in response to heat), entering their burrows in July as the grasses and forbs on which they feed have lost their moisture and nutrition, and not reappearing until February.

Last Saturday (Feb. 17th) was (by my unofficial declaration and for this year only) "Yellow-bellied Marmot Day." We had a real spike in temperatures, as it reached the 70's that day. We had had a high in the 40's the entire week prior, and by Sunday, that was where things stood again. Today, we are having snow. But for that glorious Saturday, we experienced an exciting foretaste of Spring, and I saw my first Marmot of the year.

My boys and I spent the morning hiking the six-mile-long trail that loops around Smith Rocks. (Smith Rocks, if you hadn't heard, is the world-class rock-climbing Mecca located here in our backyard, and it appeared that every available rock face had folks scrambling up it or waiting their turn.)

Meanwhile, that Marmot certainly saw his shadow, and it will likely be a few weeks before I see another Marmot or feel the sun's heat as on that day. But even that brief period of warm temperatures had a lasting effect on those bulbs I planted last Fall. Within 24 hours, I could see the tops of Crocus, Daffodil, and Miniature Narcissus poking their way through the soil (and now through an inch of snow).

I was grateful for the sight of the Marmot and am thankful for the continuous sign of the flowers. Both serve as reminders that new life and warmth are just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Privileged Planet

Twice this week, and again tonight, I've had ocassion to recommend The Privileged Planet by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher Jay Richards. It's a wonderful read, a must for anyone interested in the philosophy of science. Its primary thesis (which is backed by a wealth of evidence and examples) is that our place in the universe is designed as an optimal compromise between habitability and detectability. The authors go beyond the anthropic principle (that the cosmos is designed with human life as its goal) to show that human discovery (about aspects at every scale of the universe) is another design goal of our universe.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Great, Unsolved Mystery

This quote comes from Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness,
The human brain is the only object in the universe that can predict its own future and tell its own fortune. The fact that we can make disastrous decisions even as we foresee their consequences is the great, unsolved mystery of human behavior.
I want to briefly interact with this last line. Before doing so, however, I need to make the disclaimer that I have not read the book, or even the larger context in which this sentence is set. The fact is that I found this quote on the side of a Starbucks Coffee cup (The Way I See It #168).

The last line of this quote seems an echo down the ages of something written by the great French mathematician, inventor, philosopher, and founder of modern science, Blaise Pascal. For Pascal, human nature was the great enigma, the great mystery:
How can one species produce both unspeakable wickedness and nearly inexplicable goodness? How can we be responsible both for the most disgusting squalor and for the most breathtaking beauty? How can grand aspirations and self-destructive impulses, kindness and cruelty, be interwoven in one life? The human enigma cries out for explanation.
This characterization of Pascal's view (by Thomas V. Morris in Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life) sounds quite similar to Gilbert's quote (on my coffee cup). But whereas for Gilbert it must always remain an unsolved mystery (if I rightly infer from the first part of his quote that he maintains an uncritical acceptance of naturalism*), Pascal found the solution. Morris again:
Pascal believed that only the tenets of the Christian faith can adequately account for both the greatness and wretchedness of humanity. And he was convinced that this in itself is an important piece of evidence that Christianity embraces truth.
The tenets to which Morris here refers are these. Man is created in the image of God, and hence his potential for greatness (in art, invention, science, philanthropy). But man is fallen in sin, and hence his tendency toward the depths of depravity.

Pascal believed (rightly, I think) that the explanatory power of Christianity was strong evidence of its truthfulness as a comprehensive worldview. On this particular issue--the human enigma--it provides a uniquely satisfactory answer where naturalism finds only "unsolved mystery."

* I will not take the time here and now to make the case for "substance dualism." I will simply assert (without support, for the time being) that it is not our brains that predict our futures and make decisions, but rather our minds or souls. Our brains are the hardware often used by our minds or souls while we're in these bodies, but there is no evidence for brains making decisions or producing thoughts. Indeed, thoughts and consciousness are very problematic things for anyone committed to materialism/naturalism.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I found out yesterday that a friend and her family are eschewing beef. This is not uncommon, of course, and lots of my friends are vegetarians. The thing is, this lady and her husband own and operate a cattle ranch!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Occam's Razor

Atheists frequently invoke Occam’s razor as an argument against the existence of God. “Given two possible scenarios for the existence of the universe—creation or naturalistic evolution—Occam’s razor dictates that the simpler of the two (evolution) is to be preferred.” This argument represents a misunderstanding, a misapplication, or both, of the principle of Occam’s razor.

This principle of logic, also known as the “principle of parsimony,” has been attributed to William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349), an English philosopher and Franciscan monk. This idea was apparently not original with him, but came from an Aristotelian concept that entities must not be multiplied beyond what is necessary. Occam’s frequent use of this idea nonetheless brought the principle to a wider audience. As originally stated, it is, “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate,” which means “plurality should not be posited without necessity.”

Perhaps because of a perceived unwieldiness of the statement as given (“plurality should not be posited without necessity”), many have paraphrased this principle in various ways, such as “the simpler explanation is likely to be right.” Much is often lost in such a paraphrase, and this loss may have serious implications for the propriety of using this principle in a given context. Occam’s razor does not value simplicity as inherently better (or more likely) than complexity. Therefore, many appeals to Occam’s razor are in error because they misrepresent it in this way.

A common approach is to argue that the choice between creation and evolution boils down to a choice between one God or zero gods, and that, according to Occam’s razor, zero gods is the preferable alternative. There is, however, a clear misapplication of the principle here. Where used most appropriately, Occam’s razor establishes criteria for choosing from among theories with equal explanatory power. It is useful as an abductive argument, after all inductive arguments are compared. What I’m arguing is that if and only if two explanations—in this case the biblical creation model and the naturalistic evolution model—are equal and inseparable in their explanatory power, their logical cohesion, their empirical support, and such, and if, in addition, we have exhausted the possibility that further research will be able to separate these competing theories with regard to these criteria, are we justified in applying Occam’s razor to this important, overarching question.

The truth is that there is a great deal of scientific evidence that allows us to assess these competing models without appealing to Occam’s razor. The two theories make numerous opposite predictions that are quite testable. The naturalistic model gained respectability under the assumption—now known to be false—that the universe itself was eternal, whereas the biblical model has always asserted that the universe had a beginning. Considering the fossil record, as another example, the evolutionary model predicts that life arose once very slowly, that transitional intermediate life forms should be apparent and common, and that life forms gradually changed throughout their tenure on earth. It is the opposite predictions of the creation model—that life appeared suddenly and repeatedly, that transitional intermediates are few or non-existent, and that each life form exhibits stasis during its tenure—that are supported by the evidence. Other aspects of life that the creation model adequately explains and that the naturalistic model fails to explain include irreducibly complex systems and the information code in DNA.

While the philosophical principle known as Occam’s razor has very specific application in certain rather abstract mathematical and scientific modeling, it is simply inappropriate for assessing the explanatory scope and power of competing explanations for the existence of the universe and the existence and diversity of life.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

An Apple a Day

In spring and summer, one of the most eerie and memorable sounds of forests of the Pacific Northwest is the song of the Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius). Descriptions of this song vary considerably, and none does it justice, but it's a series of long, drawn-out musical notes of different pitches, loudest in the middle. I've been with folks who wondered if it were the call of a distant bull elk. This delightful sound is heard most often just before--and even somewhat after--dusk.

These Robin-like birds breed in coniferous forests from Alaska to northern California (their range is primarily the Pacific coastal states and provinces, but reaches as far as western Montana). Come autumn, Varied Thrushes move south and to lower elevations, with the vast majority of them wintering in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California.

Here in central Oregon, we've had a single individual in the yard all winter long this year. She's an adult--the gender is recognizeable by the gray (rather than black) breast band and her age can be told by the shape of the individual wing and tail feathers (in the hand). While she may have stayed with us this long solely because of the plentiful juniper berries in the area, she spends most of the morning eating the apple halves we faithfully put out for her each day. She's also rather proprietary about the bird bath, making individuals of other species wait each day until she's finished both bathing and drinking.

Spring will bring with it not only a rebirth of flowers and leaves but also a new cast of birds. When that time finally arrives, the "winter" bird we'll miss the most is our familiar Varied Thrush. But come next November, we'll be putting out an apple and watching for her or her kin.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Romance

Since it's Valentine's Day, I think I'll share with you the uncensored, romantic story of our first date, Dawn's and mine.

We met at Boise State University, where we were both in a graduate degree program in Raptor Biology. It was my first semester, and I was taking Aquatic Entomology from Dr. Charles Baker (ultimately my favorite class of my entire academic career). I had missed a Saturday field trip (for a friend's wedding back in Oregon), and so hadn't been able to round out my collection of aquatic insects with an example of a syrphid fly larva. Fortunately for me, my good friend, Eric Atkinson, was willing (the next Saturday) to take me back to find this elusive grub. (Well, okay, "elusive" may not be the right word. They're certainly not quick, and perhaps not very rare. What I mean to say is that you've got to want to find them, and you have to know where to look--something Dr. Baker knew as well as anyone.)

At any rate, Eric and his fiancee, Melanie (still our good friends, now married and the parents of three of the neatest girls you'd ever want to meet), and Dawn and I left early for a morning of bird-watching and insect collecting at Fort Boise in Canyon County, Idaho.

Time has made some of the memories of that fateful day a bit cloudy. I do remember being impressed by the fact that Dawn was ready at the appointed time (6 a.m. or whatever it was, and this remains characteristic of her). I also recall that it was a foggy day, and so (reconstructing the event from what I know now) her long, beautiful hair would have had that curly, unruly look that humid mornings give it. I also remember that we saw some interesting birds, including the first Black-crowned Night-Heron I'd seen in awhile. But back to the story...

Like many of the true flies (the insect order Diptera), members of the family Syrphidae spend their larval stage as grubs in semiaquatic conditions, burrowing in the wet sediment at the botton of ponds and lakes. But whereas the grubs of other families (like crane flies, and deer and horse flies) must continually migrate through the sediments to the surface to breathe, some syrphid flies (like our quarry that day) possess an adaptation that alleviates this need. They have a slender respiratory siphon that extends up to two or three times the length of their body. They can thus stay submerged in the saturated muck and reach this siphon up to the surface in order to breathe. So, the larval form of this interesting creature is commonly known as a Rat-tailed Maggot, and it was the hope of acquiring examples of these that bound our hearts together on that first of many forays into the natural world that Dawn and I have shared.

Other lovers may keep a memento of their first date, a card exchanged, the pressed remains of a flower given, the label from a bottle of wine shared. For us, the tangible memento of our first date consists of four Rat-tailed Maggots preserved in a vial of 99% isopropyl alcohol and a label bearing the location and the date, the 7th of October, 1988.

Note: Should you wish to find Rat-tailed Maggots yourself, the procedure involves dredging up some of the saturated muck from the bottom of the pond, spreading it about an inch deep in a large tray, and then patting the muck with your open palm. The Rat-tailed Maggots will be the squishy-but-crunchy things. (As I recall, my bride-to-be's hands displayed just that certain sensitivity that made her adept at distinguishing fly larvae from the general muck.)

On Reading

Today I thought I would pass on to you the thoughts of a couple of other folks about books and reading.

From John Milton (1608-1674)...
Books are not dead things, but do contain a potency of life...as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest extraction of that living intellect that bred them.
And from Cicero (106-43 B.C.)...
Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goes out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead.
What are you reading?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Revisionist History

Well, if you've been following me the past week or so, the following thought may have arisen in your mind... "If the scientific revolution was started by Christians, and if even today the presuppositions that make science reasonable are those that come from a Judeo-Christian worldview, why was I taught the opposite? Why do I still hear the opposing claim, that it was enlightenment thinkers who wrested civilization free from the unsophisticated religious superstitions of the 'dark ages' and gave birth to science?"

One book. One widely-read and uncritically-accepted misinformation campaign. One monumental piece of revisionist history entitled History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.

Cornell University was established in Ithaca, New York in 1865. It was arguably the first institution of higher learning founded as (what we would call today) a secular university. Prior to that time, the vast majority of--if not all--universities were founded on religious grounds. (Again, the majority were Christian or Jewish, with a small number of Islamic institutions.) So Cornell's co-founder and first president, Andrew Dickson White, apparently spent a good deal of his time and energy justifying the need for such a place. White's most famous literary work was this book, published in 1896. The problem is that its claims and conclusion are grossly inaccurate, the result of a combination of poor scholarship and myopic bias.

Despite its general departure from historical truth, White's thesis has been successfully transmitted (through those with a wish to believe it) all the way down to our generation, and some of its erroneus claims are still part of our education system's orthodoxy. Lest you think I'm making this up, I'll end this post with what Wikipedia has to say...
...White's book became an extremely influential text on the relationship between religion and science. The premise of the book—known as the conflict thesis—was very prevalent among historians through the 1960s. Since the 70s and 80s, many historians of science have reevaluated the history of science and religion, finding little evidence for White's claims of widespread conflict; instead, they often blame White for perpetuating a number of scientific myths, such as the idea that Christopher Columbus had to overcome widespread belief in a flat earth.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Poor Mileage and Exotic Ecology

I had two entirely new life experiences this weekend.

Friday evening, Dawn and I headed down the road for a rare dinner date (just the two of us) to be followed by dessert at the house of friends. Our plans went awry when I was unable to avoid a large hunk of metal in the road. The left rear tire had blown, but that was no big deal. I figured that before wining and dining my bride, I'd simply have the added pleasure of impressing her with my speed and ability at changing a tire. Unfortunately, I soon realized that, having punctured my tire, the metal scrap proceeded to do likewise to the gas tank. We had filled up earlier that day, and could only watch (as we waited for a tow) as the entire fill-up leaked onto the highway's shoulder. That tankful of gas took me less distance (on life's peregrinations) than any tankful I'd ever purchased.

Saturday, I saw a sight I had never imagined seeing in central Oregon. I was driving a back road between Maupin and Tygh Valley, when a flash of bright white near the ground out the left window caught my attention. I then noticed a number of Ravens in the general area, and suspected that it had been the head of an adult Bald Eagle that had flashed into and out of my line of sight. I backed up to the same spot. Sure enough, there was a Bald Eagle sitting on and eating from the carcase of... what? It was too dark for a deer or pronghorn, not the right color for an elk, or even a cow. It was very dark grey, nearly black, and, upon further inspection through a spotting scope, it had horns. It was...

...a Water Buffalo! I hadn't even heard of anyone in these parts raising this species, and have never read of them figuring prominently in the diet of our national bird. Nonetheless, there it was, and as I continued in the direction I was headed I eventually came upon a corral containing a couple dozen of them and a sign advertising their meat for sale. In its native range, it might be a Lammergeier or Egyptian Vulture that would make the most of the death of a Water Buffalo. But--this latest experience notwithstanding--I still don't expect to see either of these species in my wanderings around Oregon.

I hope you, too, had an eventful weekend.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Motivation for Science

In two previous blogs ("The Antikythera Device" and "Foundations for Science"), I shared that modern science uniquely arose within a Christian worldview and that it is biblical presuppositions that provide the rational foundation for engaging in science. I thought it would be fun today to share--in their own words--how some of the founding fathers of science saw their Christian faith as providing the motivation for scientific endeavor.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English statesman and philosopher, is generally credited as being the first promoter of applying to the study of the world an inductive approach (observation, experimentation, hypothesis testing; often referred to as the Baconian or "scientific" method). Bacon wrote,
Let no one think or maintain that a person can search too far or be too well studied in either the book of God’s word or the book of God’s works.
Robert Boyle (1627-1691), the father of modern chemsistry, wrote,
God would not have made the universe as it is unless He intended for us to understand it.
This sentiment, incidentally, echoes through a wonderful recent book by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher Jay Richards called The Privileged Planet.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), German mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, when asked why he engaged in scientific research, responded,
...to obtain a sample test of the delight of the Divine Creator in His work and to partake of His joy.
Isaac Newton (1643-1727), the author of classical physics theory, belived that,
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being formed by the likewise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the brilliant French mathematician, inventor, physicist, and philosopher, was the first to discuss the limits of science. He recognized that while a scientific theory could be falsified, it could never be ultimately verified. He also acknowledged that while science is powerful toward understanding and improving aspects of the world in which we live, it is ultimately unable to bring men true joy and peace. Regarding a particular line of scientific inquiry in which he was involved, Pascal wrote,
If this matter be deemed worthy of further consideration, we shall attempt to push it to whatever point God shall give us strength to carry it.
This centuries-old motivation for science puts the lie to the modern naturalist's straw-man argument that appealing to a Creator/Intelligent Designer amounts to a science-stopper. For these, and many of the other founders of science, one of the common reasons for pursuing research was a desire to better understand how the universe was created and how it works, to "think God's thoughts after Him."

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

This is the Good Life

Consider this from Keri Schulz's blog ("Something about the Ocean")...
Today I realized that most of my time spent with God is like a business meeting, when what we really need is a date. I was again reminded why one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible is when Jesus says, "Come and have breakfast..." (John 21:12).
Better yet, check out her blogspot itself, This is the Good Life.

Top Five Detectives

So, here's my first "top-five" list. I'm going with five (rather than ten) to make it a bit more exclusive, so that to make the list will be a more meaningful accomplishment (I can't be bothered with judging the relative merits of 8th, 9th, and 10th place finishers). The idea for this list came from an incidental reference (to G.K. Chesterton) in Jack Niewold's very interesting comment (which I recommend your reading) to yesterday's post. I'm a big fan of literary mystery fiction, and here are my favorite detectives...
#5...Charlie Chan
I absolutely love Charlie's humility and self-effacing, oh-so-polite rhetoric. One of my deepest wishes is that Earl Derr Biggers had been more prolific, and that we could have more than a handful of stories featuring Punchbowl Hill's Charlie.
#4...Brother Cadfael
Ellis Peters' 12th-century monk and herbalist invariably manages to land himself right in the middle of intrigue, romance, and adventure (without which one wonders whether he'd ever have kept the vows committing him to celibacy and mind-numbing routine in the cloister at Shrewsbury). The easily-read novels (of which there are twenty-one by my count) have taken me through many an otherwise dreary day of riding, changing, and waiting for planes. My favorites are The Summer of the Danes and Brother Cadfael's Penance.
#3...Father Brown
Like Chan and Cadfael, Chesterton's diminuitive Catholic priest's most important detecting gift is a deep understanding of human nature. My favorite Father Brown short story is "The Honour of Israel Gow."
#2...Sherlock Holmes
I'm not a card-carrying member of any societies formed around Conan-Doyle's famous sleuth, but under different circumstances I could happily be so.
#1...Lord Peter Wimsey
Give me a comfortable chair by a warm fire and a good Dorothy Sayers novel, and I'm happy. My favorites are Gaudy Night and The Nine Tailors.

I welcome your thoughts. Who am I missing? (By the way, my favorite television detective is Peter Falk as Columbo.)

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Foundations for Science

A few days ago (in a post called "The Antikythera Device") I made the statement that all of the founders of modern science were devout Christians or at least operated within a Judeo-Christian view of reality. This assertion enjoys virtually unanimous support today among historians of science. But I received a fair question in an anonymous comment. I had further asserted that, "The very philosophical presuppositions that allowed the scientific revolution come from a biblical understanding of the world." With regard to this statement, the commentor asked whether it committed the fallacy of association, and specifically the fallacy known as "honor by association." He asked,
Did they actually come from it or is it possible that most of these great minds of the scientific revolution culturally happened to be Christians?
This thoughtful question warrants a response. My point was that the relationship between the Christian worldview and the scientific revolution was clearly not one of mere happenstance, coincidence, or even correlation. Rather, the biblical portrayal of reality uniquely provided (and provides) the philosophical justification for scientific endeavor. Here's how historian Rodney Stark has it,
The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was a natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: Nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honor God, one must fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Moreover, because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles.
We could discuss a number of philosophical presuppositions upon which modern science is founded (and I likely will at a later date in these peregrinations). But for now let's just take two, mentioned in the Stark quote above but also picked up by a number of other historians and philosophers of science. These are 1) that the universe reflects the rational nature of its Creator, and is orderly and uniform, and 2) that humans are uniquely created in God's image, and are thus capable of reasoning and discovering the order in creation.

The (modern) modern scientist operating within the artificial constraints of naturalism can only consider the presence of order and of physical laws in the universe as a fortuitous happenstance. His paradigm offers no way of explaining it. Likewise, if human senses and ability to reason are themselves the product of purposeless, undirected evolutionary processes, there is no defensible foundation for trusting them to provide us with truth about distant galaxies or biochemistry. According to physicist Paul Davies,
People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature--the laws of physics--are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least not in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.
In a similar vein, philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes,
Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.
I trust I've clarified just what it is that I'm asserting. For further support of that assertion, I recommend,

(on the history of science) Reality and Scientific Theology by Thomas S. Torrance, and For the Glory of God by Rodney Stark.
(on philosophy of science) Christianity and the Nature of Science by J.P. Moreland, and Reason in the Balance by Phillip Johnson.

Monday, February 5, 2007

67 Degrees

Here on the high desert of Central Oregon, we had record high temperatures for this date yesterday. We've had plenty of very cold days this winter, and we'll undoubtedly have more before warmer days are here to stay. But what a blessing it was yesterday afternoon to be out in the yard (in shorts and a tee!), raking up needles and tidying up the still-dormant garden beds.

To be sure, every February brings signs and promises of coming Spring, but rarely does that promise come to lighten our hearts as early as two days after Groundhog Day. I even saw my first lone Turkey Vulture of the year, more than a month ahead of schedule! Okay, I can't be certain that this bird even made the migration this year--occasionally one can't join the fall flight and ends up lingering all winter long. But that scenario is truly rare in our area, and I choose to interpret yesterday's sighting as yet another message of hope that warmer, longer days are about to make a return (as they have reliably every Spring that I've wandered this northern hemisphere).

This Spring, I'm particularly anxious to see how the new front garden looks. We moved things around a bit last fall, put in irrigation and a new patch of lawn. This left us with a border garden where we planted a variety of bulbs--tulips, iris, calla lilies, hyacinths of different colors, and miniature narcissus.

For me, Spring is a wonderful season (and by that I mean a season full of wonder). My wife and kids and I keep one another apprised of each "first" of the year--the first crocus, the first Western Kingbird, Say's Phoebe, Bullock's Oriole, or Western Rattlesnake. But this year, we several months ago gave ourselves an added gift of delight--a variety of first blooms of each of these garden flowers planted as bulbs in the fall. (I'll let you know how they do.)

Today, I'm wishing for you a promise of the warmth and light of Spring.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Antikythera Device

Arguably the first important underwater archaeological find was a shipwreck discovered in 1900 off the Aegean Sea island of Antikythera. The ship was Greek, dated from the time of Christ, and carried a wealth of statues and pottery.

Also aboard this ancient ship was a heavily-encrusted instrument, which little-by-little came to be recognized as a navigational device. It wasn't until the 1950's, though, that with x-ray and gamma-ray examination of its internal structure investigators recognized it as a sophisticated instrument that accurately mimicked past, present, and future movements of the sun, moon, and planets. Some early Greek had developed an analog computer 2000 years ago!

Historians of science recognize that several ancient civilizations besides Greece--Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt, and Islam--made impotant contributions to modern science (especially in mathematics and astronomy, but also in other areas). In the case of each of these cultures, however, such contributions (and the individuals that effected them) were rather anomalous. They weren't followed by further progress, or by a succession of like-minded individuals and similar innovation and advance. Science historian Stanley Jaki has argued that science was "stillborn" in these other cultures. Why?

Worldview. These cultures each had worldview inadequacies, aspects of their overall view of reality that stifled scientific advance. Modern science was conceived, was born, and flourished only within the Judeo-Christian worldview of 16th and 17th century Europe. All of the founders of modern science were either devout Christians (Boyle, Newton, Pascal, Kepler, Bacon, Descartes, Leibnitz, Linnaeus, Mendel, Cuvier, Agassiz, Pasteur, and others) or at least operated within a Christian understanding of reality (Copernicus, Galileo, van Leeuwenhoek, and others).

And this was not just a coincidence. The very philosophical presuppositions that allowed the scientific revolution come from a biblical understanding of the world. What's more, science only makes sense within a theistic--and specifically Christian--worldview. While science can be (and increasingly is) conducted by atheistic naturalists, naturalism fails to provide a rational foundation for science. Naturalists engaging in science do so on capital borrowed from Christian theism.

Note: More on this from time to time in future posts. But if you're in the Bend, Oregon area tomorrow, I'm kicking off a series on Analyzing Naturalism, where I'll be going into more depth on the philosophy and history of science. That'll be at the new church--Antioch (check it out at http://www.antiochchurch.org )--about which my family is so excited (and about which more later also). We meet at the Regal Theatres in the Old Mill. (The Naturalism class is at 8:15 in theater #1, and the worship service begins at 9:30 in theatre #5.)

Friday, February 2, 2007

Bilbo's Perspective

I find a good deal of wisdom while reading Tolkien.

In the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins is preparing to leave his life-long home, never to return. (Much like Abraham, he is unsure of his destination, but feels called to go.) The wizard Gandalf tells him to take care of himself. Here's Bilbo's reply:

Take care! I don't care. Don't you worry about me! I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal. But the time has come. I am being swept off my feet at last.

Then he sings softly to himself,
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

My wife (Dawn) and I made this poem a part of our wedding vows (17 and a half years ago). We changed the first-person pronouns and verbs from singular to plural, and alternately recited the phrases to one another.

I'm going to trust you to make the rather obvious application to your own life journey, to think about what Tolkien was suggesting here. What I want to do, though, is to apply this concept to blogging.

I've stepped off the porch! I'm heading down the front walk. I'm committed to the journey, and (like Frodo once he'd left Rivendell) I have comrades to help me along, friends whom I'd be ashamed to face if I turned back without getting very far. But--and here's the point--while I may have an idea about where this blog will take me (and whoever else walks beside me for however far), I really cannot foresee the twists and turns in that road.

So I expect that this blog--like life itself--will be dynamic, organic, and unpredictable, even to me (its author). And isn't that part of what makes life worth living--the adventure and uncertainty, the surprises (good and bad)?

May your life be blessed with an abundance of adventure! But as Bilbo would say, that begins by stepping out of your own front door.