Monday, April 22, 2013

Have a Blessed Earth Day!

On Earth Day 2013, I received a timely question from a dear friend. He asked for my thoughts on two competing ideas within Christendom (actually, Evangelicalism) today; the first is that we ought to be working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth, whereas the second sees our role as limited to "saving drowning souls from the water." Here's my response:


The "saving drowning souls from a sinking ship" idea is a false one. It comes to us not from historic Christianity, but from 19th-century revivalism. Historically, Christians have remained uncertain as to whether the New Heavens and New Earth should be understood as entirely new creations or a redeeming of the existing ones. Either way, the exclusive attention to saving human souls for eternity future is only a very thin slice of the fully-orbed Gospel of the redemption Christ initiated at His first coming. To be sure, that the redemption that Christ came to institute includes the saving of human souls from eternal Hell and for eternal relationship with Him is a huge deal, and one in which we humans ought to take great interest. But Jesus' understanding--and that of the Apostles--was that all of creation was to share in that redemption.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not so much in Heaven (much less only in Heaven in a future existence) as from Heaven, and in the prayer He modeled for His disciples, Jesus begins with what should be the desire of all of His followers--that His kingdom would truly come to reign on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Col. 1:16-19 makes this point very clear: "For by Him (Christ) all things were created, in the heavens and on Earth... All things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together... For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on Earth or things in heaven." The same Greek word is used for "all things" throughout this passage, and the "all things" created by Him are the very same "all things" redeemed by and for Him through the blood of His cross.

There are any number of reasons--and lines of reasoning--to suggest that Christians of all people ought to be leading the way in taking care of the planet and the creatures (including other humans) that inhabit it. Ours ought to be the loveliest landscapes, gardens, and house plants, since all that God created brings glory to Him. We ought to be the ones standing up for those of God's creatures that are being harmed, exploited, or run into extinction.

Indeed, we are the ones who have the greatest logical grounding for conservation. Where the secular conservationist ends up appealing for the value of other species either for their potential benefit for mankind or in a sort of vague "just because," Christianity finds intrinsic value in all life (and in the inanimate parts of creation) because they are created by God, He values them, they bring Him glory, and He commanded us to steward them.

It is just plain hypocritical for Christians to claim to know and love the Creator while exploiting, abusing, or remaining apathetic to, His creation. This is evident to a younger generation, who want very little to do with a form of Christianity that cares only about a future eternity, but who can wholeheartedly embrace true Christianity, which recognizes that God is passionate about all of His creation in the here and now.

While the 'image of God' in which humankind was created entails a number of things (rationality, morality, creativity...), in its immediate context (in Gen. 1:26), the image of God in us is specifically tied to our dominion of the creation. We are to steward the creation the way God would, which is faithfully, compassionately, patiently, sacrificially...

I could go on and on, but maybe that's enough for now. Happy Earth Day, in the name of the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Headin' North

Last week--and just in time, as it turns out--I captured another Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) and deployed a tracking device on it. Specifically, it received a solar-recharging platform terminal transponder (generally reffered to as a PTT), which I affixed as a backpack using Teflon ribbon straps.

Rough-legs winter in the northern United States, but breed (primarily on cliffs) in the Arctic of both North America and Eurasia. The goals of this deployment include learning more about timing and routes of migration, whether this species is faithful to the same wintering territory from one year to the next, and where the individuals that winter in Oregon breed in the Arctic.

This individual was the third this winter on which I've deployed a PTT. Like the other two, she is a female that hatched in 2012. As such, she's likely too young to breed this year, which is why she was still lingering here in the south (adults all seem to have left by now). But while the other two are still hanging out where I captured them, this bird headed north the day after tagging. She's already north of Calgary, Alberta, and I can't wait to see where she ends up.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Near Score of Eagles

I had a couple of good days last week, days spent in a helicopter searching for nests of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in eastern Oregon (and a sliver of western Idaho). Such a search involves examining every rock and tree that could harbor the large stick nests that these eagles build; mostly, it means flying past and looking closely at a whole lot of rimrock and cliffs. The flights were timed to find females incubating eggs, in which situation they are very unlikely to fly, preferring instead to remain hunkered down and unmoving. (I'll fly again in late May or early June to determine the outcome at the nests found active last week.)

Along with the pilot--Paul McIlvain--I saw a good variety of wildlife. This included Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, and Elk. The spike bulls and some of the 4- and 5-point Elk still carried their antlers, but the largest bulls had just dropped theirs. We saw a Raccoon sleeping in an abandoned hawk nest in the top of a Cottonwood tree, and we saw a huge black bear (on the Idaho side), one of the brown ones that make up about 30% of the Idaho population but which are much rarer in Oregon. We also watched a surprised Bobcat frantically seeking cover among the boulders at the base of a rimrock. (Cats are notoriously difficult to see from the air, as they generally find sufficient shelter at the first sign of an approaching helicopter.)

As for eagles, we found 19 active nests in the area we surveyed, an excellent total for a rather moderate and unassuming area of land. Some were associated with the Snake River and the abundant variety of potential prey that inhabits the area around such a watercourse. Others were in drier country where the only obvious prey base is Chuckar and Hungarian Partridge, both of which are introduced (non-native, and thus not historically-available) game bird species. Most of the eagle nests were on rimrocks or other large cliffs, but some were on smaller exposed rock outcroppings; one was on the wall of an old quarry, and one was in a Ponderosa Pine.

It's rough work, but somebody has to do it. (See if you can find the nest and eagle in the photograph below.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Coop Copped in Coop (Again)

This Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) was caught by my daughter Aurora yesterday in our pigeon coop. Though Aurora was at the time only ten minutes out of bed, she astutely noticed that the hawk was already banded. And therein lies a tale. This same hawk was captured in our pigeon coop on March 15, 2008. At that time, I wrote a post about her called "Coop Recap," for she was already wearing a band. She first crossed our path (she first crossed the threshhold of our pigeon coop) on March 1, 2004, when--as yet unbanded--she wore the plumage of a young bird (she had hatched in 2003).

Recognizing that she is now nearly 10 years old, Aurora wondered what the known longevity of this species was. She consulted the Birds of North America species account, and found that the oldest wild Cooper's Hawk--attested to by band recoveries--was (at the time of the writing of that account) 12 years of age. But then I went on line and accessed the Bird Banding Lab's updated longevity records. I found that a Cooper's Hawk banded in California was found (recently dead) when 20 years and 4 months old!

Of course, we're all hoping that this big female will pay us at least one more visit, some 11 years from now...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chromosome 2: A Response

In the last post, I discussed the fact that evolutionists appeal to human Chromosome 2--and its similarity to chimp Chromosomes 2a and 2b--as the 'smoking gun' of evolution, the proof that these two species shared a common ancestor. In this post, I want to lay out a response to this claim, one that involves examining the evidence more closely (not settling for a superficial conclusion). And in this regard, the 'smoking gun' analogy could not be more apt.

Let me explain. I don't really know the early history of the use of the phrase 'smoking gun.' I assume that there was a point at which it was used in a straightforward way, to mean a 'clearcut case,' an instance where one could easily arrive at the correct conclusion simply by glimpsing an evidential snapshot. The murder was committed by the guy standing over the body and holding the smoking gun.

But by now, the phrase is more often used to make just the opposite point. I wish I had a dollar for every detective story that turns upon the fact that the person caught holding the smoking gun is not, in fact, the one guilty of the murder. Erle Stanley Gardner was especially fond of this narrative device, and so at least every other Perry Mason drama involved Perry's eschewing the superficial evidence and digging deeply enough to discover what really happened.

Of course, Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, "I never theorize before having all the facts," also applies here. Modern evolutionary theory is a conclusion that seems to accomodate any and all facts, even those that--to a more reasoned and skeptical observer--ought to undermine it (and thus to suggest more profitable research aimed at discovering the truth about life's history).

So, just to be clear, let's lay out a typical 'smoking gun' scenario...

An off-duty policeman is walking past the front of a house when he hears a scream, followed by a single gunshot. He rushes to the front door and bursts through to find a man holding a smoking gun and kneeling over the corpse of a woman with a single gunshot wound. The man protests that he is innocent and that he suprised and fired at another man (who, he claimed, was the actual murderer), but the conscientious policeman arrests him and hauls him off to pokey.

The detective for the defense (whether Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, or any other crime investigator worthy of our respect) digs a bit deeper, and finds the following:
The policeman admits that he originally thought the scream he heard was that of a man, not a woman.

The bullet in the corpse does not match the ballistics of the smoking gun in the hand of the accused, and

The bullet that does match the smoking gun is lodged in the doorframe of the back door of the house, which was open when the policeman entered the front door.
The accused is released from jail, and his now-validated testimony is used to try to apprehend the actual murderer.

So how does this relate to human Chromosome 2 and its similarity to chimp Chromosomes 2a and 2b?

The common-ancestry scenario proposed by evolutionists depends upon ignoring the extreme improbability of several of its steps. I'll mention three of the most important.

First, although broken chromosomes can fuse, this particular fusion would have had to occur at the place where it is least expected. Broken chromosomes result in sticky ends, which can fuse to other sticky ends (of other broken chromosomes). But such broken chromosomes will almost never fuse with complete, intact chromosomes, and preventing such fusion is a main function of the telomeres. Had human Chromosome 2 evolved by natural processes from two intact chromosomes (in a being ancestral to chimps and humans), it would have been either through a fusion of two telomeres (acknowledged even by evolutionists as virtually impossible) or through fusion of a telomere with a sticky end of a chromosome broken very near the telomere. While not impossible, this latter scenario is extremely unlikely.

This first, unlikely step must not only have occurred, but it must (on an evolutionary view) have occurred not within one of the millions of somatic (body) cells but within the sperm or egg cell. (Eventually, of course, the evolutionary view has this rare event somehow occurring in both gametes--within a single individual--since this is the present-day condition. But evolutionists seem unconcerned by this amassing of improbabilities.) When the chromosome number of one gamete differs from that of the other, the most common results are a nonviable zygote, an embryo that lives, but with a significant deformity or disease, and a viable but infertile offspring. None of these scenarios produce the new, better-adapted species insisted upon by evolutionary theory.

Third, and assuming for the sake of argument that the first two extremely unlikely events took place, this change in the chromosome of a single individual would have had to have swept through the population (the hypothetical population of this ancestral form). Such a "selective sweep" is a favorite fiction of evolutionists, a fiction necessary to their larger project but one for which there is absolutely no evidence, and for which any argument is viciously circular. Generally, the referrent of this selective sweep claim is a single gene mutation, and applying it (in this case) to such a more significant event as a change in chromosome number ought to require (from the evolutionist) a greater level of evidential or logical support. No such support is offered, of course.

In our smoking-gun murder scenario, the problematic evidence came from the wrong scream, the wrong bullet in the body, and the right bullet in the wrong place. In our Chromosome 2 scenario, the problematic evidence includes (at a minimum) three extremely unlikely events--a fusion involving a telomere, its occurence and viability within a gamete, and its sweeping from this first individual through a significant part of a population. The common-ancestry explanation for the origin of human Chromosome 2--while superficially attractive--fails upon closer inspection. The truth about human origins lies elsewhere.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chromosome 2: The Smoking Gun?

As I have shared in numerous posts, in my long career in biology I have found no evidential support for the theory of biological evolution. Anything but a superficial examination of the fossil record finds it completely at odds with what evolutionary theory requires. Living and extinct life forms remain in hierarchical groups separated by vast gaps missing from the record of life on Earth. What's more, the 'inconceivably vast' (Darwin's words) number of the species to which evolutionists appeal for bridging those gaps remain not only undiscovered and hypothetical but also non-sensical and absurd.

Evolutionary change is not found in the fossil record, but neither is it found in real life. Every generation of living things produces in the next generation the same species, and that's the way it is. Even those still committed today to some form of naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life--and to some form of common ancestry--are abandoning the neo-Darwinian view (natural selection wotking on genetic mutation to produce gradual change) as outdated, naive, and irrelevant to whatever the real story turns out to be.

The revolution in biochemistry has offered evidence of great similarities among all living things--in elemental make-up, in protein composition, in anatomical and morphological themes, and in genetic profiles. But again, a closer look at each of these levels yields the conclusion of unbridged hierarchies between the many different types of living things.

In the rapidly dwindling set of evidences appealed to by the person who would--in the face of so much contrary evidence--continue to argue for macroevolution and common descent, the last remaining bastion is the argument that specific similarities in the genetic make-up of humans and other primates necessitate an evolutionary explanation.

I have recently been asked by two different folks to address one such argument, one that has been called the 'smoking gun' (the proof) of human evolution. This argument involves the similarity between the chromosomes of humans and those of chimps (and bonobos) and specifically focuses on the human chromome 2. Let me lay out the evolutionist's case.

The chromosomes of humans and those of chimps are very similar. They can be matched up in a nearly one-to-one correspondence right across the board, except that where humans have 23 pairs of chromosome, chimps have 24. But wait! Human chromosome 2 has very similar counterparts in two much shorter chimp chromosomes, dubbed 2a and 2b. What's more, rather than the single centromere common to most other chromosomes, human chromosome 2 has two centromeres (one of which doesn't function as a normal centromere) and an internal telomere sequence (between the centromeres) that closely corresponds to the expected sequences from the chimp genetic material.

Volia! What need have we of further witnesses? Isn't this evidence as good as a smoking gun? Surely this fusion in the human line of two chromosomes observed in chimps proves that the two species shared a common ancestor (who exhibited the condition of today's chimp rather than that of humans).

In the next post, I'll offer a response.