Saturday, March 15, 2014
During the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, I heard lots of recommendations of books related to the civil war. Somewhere, I heard about a set of fact-based fictional books telling the stories of the battles in the west. I read both A Blaze of Glory and A Chain of Thunder by Jeff Shaara. The third and fourth books are still to come.
A Blaze of Glory specifically deals with the Battle of Shiloh on the Tennessee/Alabama border. A Chain of Thunder details the siege of Vicksburg. Both use both actual historical figures as well as fictional characters.
Because reality has a large cast of characters, the first book had me confused. Too many people with too similar names. I learned my lesson and in the second book I kept a list of characters and some identifying characteristics. This made the books so much more understandable.
I recommend these books because telling history in this way can be much more memorable than a dry history book. I certainly learned a lot more about the two battles in a way that will stick better than simple facts and figures. In addition, he focuses on the battles in the West because the East got a lot more press. These battles my be known to us by name, but the details are few.
He treats both the Union and the Confederacy as equals, with no appearing to take sides. I realized after a while that he was jumping back and forth from one side to the other with each new chapter. This gave the book a “meanwhile, back at the farm” kind of feel that gave humanity and credibility to both groups. He details the thoughts and actions of both generals and townspeople, thereby linking these two diverse groups as well.
I’m curious to see what the next two books will be about.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
I was so excited to read Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen C. Meyer. I’m not sure where I got the recommendation, but apparently many people have heard of Meyer and were interested in his book. It proved a fascinating read and I bookmarked it galore!
He explains the title and thesis of the book in the prologue, “This book addresses Darwin’s most significant doubt and what has become of it. It examines an event during a remote period of geological history in which numerous animal forms appear to have arisen suddenly and without evolutionary precursors in the fossil record, a mysterious event commonly referred to as the ‘Cambrian explosion.’ As he acknowledged in the Origin, Darwin viewed this event as a troubling anomaly -- one that he hoped future fossil discoveries would eventually eliminate.”
In short, has the Cambrian explosion been explained satisfactorily? Or does Darwin’s doubt still stand? The rest of the book explores various explanations and the reasons they fall short of explaining this perplexing period in the fossil record.
Despite Darwin’s theory of slow, gradual changes that he believed would show up in the fossil record, scientists are forced to confront an actual record in which, “the first animal forms seemed to spring into existence... as if from nowhere.” The problem of the Cambrian record is that, contrary to Darwin’s theory, whole phyla spring into existence and then diversify into orders, families, genus, and species. Darwin’s theory expostulate that the opposite would be true. The actual fossil record is upside-down compared to the theory.
Scientists, believing the theory before the facts, searched for some pre-Cambrian ancestor that would explain the explosion. They encountered a dilemma, however. The creatures of the Cambrian were highly differentiated. An ancestor that showed early traces of the specific differentiations could not be a common ancestor for all the wildly different phyla. An ancestor that was simple enough to conceivably evolve to all the other diversified life forms leave no evidence of evolving into the more complex creatures. Not only were there no “missing links,” logically, there couldn’t be. What kind of a creature could instantly give rise to a widely diversified group of animals?
Since the fossil record simply cannot and will not explain the Cambrian explosion, scientist postulated another theory of “deep divergence.” Basically the different anatomical features were percolating in the DNA, waiting to be expressed many generations later. Yet knowing what we do now about genes, this theory ran into serious problems. Even starting with the assumption that there MUST be a common ancestor, geneticists could not agree on the sequence in which the DNA evolved. Various attempts led to confusing and contradicting “timelines” of evolution. Deep divergence has proven to be a dead-end.
So back to the fossil record. Apparently, scientists cannot even agree on the basic “Tree of Life” we’ve seen in all the high school textbooks. Analyzing anatomical vs. molecular differences led to different evolutionary timelines. Differences in traits appear to be randomly distributed among different animal groups. Some animals are similar in one way and completely different in others, while being similar in other ways to a very different, unrelated group. This makes grouping them difficult enough, but to determine which trait came first has proved impossible. Basically all that the trees show is that we assume there IS a tree of animal divergence. They are not proof in themselves.
The frustration of explaining the Cambrian explosion has led to the theory of punctuated equilibrium. Basically the theory states that evolution occurred in rapid stops and starts. Changes would be occurring under the surface only to pop out in what appears to be a great rush of new traits. But this theory suffers from lack of ANY intermediary specimens and the begs the question of HOW does this happen. Can changes burst on the scene as the theory proposes? Why does an organism keep genetic changes that are not manifest physically in the hope that someday they will be relevant? In addition, this contradicts Darwin who proposed natural selection, long periods of time, and multiple generations as the way traits are kept and passed on. If the trait is buried, waiting to burst out, what does natural selection have to work with? This theory simply returns us to where we began.
Onto other issues that cannot explain the Cambrian explosion. Darwinists (or neo-Darwinists as they are called who deal with DNA and genes in a way Darwin could only speculate about) believe that given enough time and enough generations, the DNA will randomly combine to create a fortuitous adaption. Yet if DNA is the language of life, as it has been called, what other language can tolerate random changes without destroying meaning? He gave a great example to illustrate this. Suppose we start with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and seek to change it into Hamlet. These two are actually very similar and contain many of the same words and construction. Imagine making one or even multiple changes to Macbeth, that not only do not destroy the meaning, BUT ACTUALLY IMPROVE IT. Imagine if each change brings us closer to Hamlet. We also need to be careful, lest we at any time degrade the meaning, for that is the instant death of our project. And this is with an “intelligent designer.” Now imagine doing it randomly. It is simply not possible. In fact, random changes to the DNA to create meaningful and beneficial traits has been rejected because of its absolute impossibility. In Darwin’s time, when genes and DNA were as yet undiscovered, he can be forgiven for theorizing that random mutation was a possible explanation for evolution. Today’s scientists do not have that luxury.
In addition, random beneficial adaptation alone are not enough to produce a trait that can be passed on. Just about every biological structure is so complex that it requires multiple components to function correctly. Can random genetic changes produce beneficial traits that are detrimental individually, but in concert produce good effects? Can evolution occur in different areas simultaneously and produce groups of characteristics? He likens it to improving a machine, while it is running! Imagine creating a better braking system on a car while driving it on the highway. This is the path to certain death. Yet evolutionists would have us believe that not only did these complex features arise in tandem, on-the-fly, without killing the host, but that it happened over and over again. This simply does not comport with reality.
In running the numbers to see if this kind of evolution, with only two coordinated mutations, is even possible, mathematicians found that it would require huge population sizes and/or extremely long waiting times. We would actually need times that far exceeded the evolutionary age of the earth or population sizes that far exceed the number of organisms that have ever existed. Obviously, this is a high hurdle.
Yet scientists, working from a theory backward to find the facts, have repeatedly insisted that this is how life must have come into being. One Nobel-prize winning study showed the effects of induced mutations on fruit flies. The researchers were able to induce some pretty spectacular and interesting mutations, yet in every instance, all the mutants died or were sterile as a result. Not once did a mutation prove beneficial. And this was directed by intelligence. In fact they discovered a great paradox, “to evolve any body plan, mutations expressed early in the development must occur, must be viable, and must be stably transmitted to offspring...” Yet these kind of mutations have never been shown to be tolerated. Thus Darwinism fails within its own framework.
Meyer than goes on to catalogue the epigenetic revolution. This startling research tends to show that something other than and outside of DNA is driving embryonic development. The epigenetic revolution introduces a whole new level of complexity that Darwinists have to overcome. “If DNA isn’t wholly responsible for the way an embryo develops... then DNA sequences can mutate indefinitely and still not produce a new body plan, regardless of the amount of time and the number of mutational trials available to the evolutionary process.” The more we know, the more Darwin’s concern about the Cambrian explosion becomes more of an obstacle.
In fact, now that we know that DNA is very hard to change at the embryonic level in a way that is beneficial, and that processes outside of DNA affect embryonic development, we have also discovered that the cells seem to have an ability to engineer genetic changes in order to remain viable. But rather than provide another possibility for evolutionist mechanisms, these facts just open up a whole new set of questions. Where did the cells get the information that allows them to pre-program and re-engineer their DNA?
Of course the obvious answer is that life has been designed. This would necessitate a designer. Some Darwinists acknowledge that life at least looks designed. But they insist that is an illusion, that random mutations and natural selection have the ability to mimic design. But what if it actually is designed?
Meyer introduces a logic that is part of the historical scientific method. Basically it logically analyzes backwards, since it is by definition trying to discover what happened in the past. He uses abductive reasoning to state:
- If the world was designed, it would look like the world we see.
- We see the world having the appearance of design.
- Therefore it’s possible that design has occurred.
This form of reasoning cannot provide certainty, but only strong possibilities. Then we can compare all the competing theories to see which is most plausible. We must use a “cause now in operation” when engaging in historical reasoning. We can clearly see how design works in the world around us. We know our technology has been designed and no one would assume it just evolved naturally and randomly. We know we design with a pre-determined purpose. We know with the right information, we can create a code that works. In short, even the skeptic has to admit that the world looks and acts designed. Intelligent design appears to be the best answer to how the world came to look designed.
Meyer then details all the ways the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) answers the conundrum introduced with the Cambrian explosion. ID explains the “persistent morphological isolation of animal forms,” “the increase and layering of functional information,” “the ‘top-down’ pattern of appearance,” and “the discrete appearance of new innovation.” These are all features of the Cambrian explosion and features of designed systems.
Because science has limited itself to the natural and material, it has willfully blinded itself to the metaphysical as explanatory. It has willfully blinded itself because it chooses not to even consider the existence of the divine. Meyer includes this perfect quote from Richard Lewontin,
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
But is it true science if it begins with preconceived notions of what is and what is not acceptable truth?
Imagine if science tolerated metaphysical explanations if they clearly provided coherent answers to the questions. Rather than focus of the “how” we might free ourselves to ask “why?” We might try to dive deeper in the purpose and meaning of our world. Rather than try to fit the facts into a pre-conceived Darwinian framework, we might wonder at the purposes of the Designer. Instead of calling DNA with no apparent purpose “junk DNA” we might come at the question a different way and ask, “What purpose could this DNA have that we haven’t discovered yet?” We would assume it is there for a reason.
Imagine if we weren’t just an accidental combination of random mutations, but we had a purpose and a reason for existence. It would give meaning to our lives and to science as well. After all, why concern ourselves so much with the “how” when it is all ultimately meaningless anyways? Science has denigrated itself in declaring everything meaningless. ID offers a way to study science with wonder and a sense of marvel as we discover the “why’s.”
I recommend this book very highly, especially to anyone interested in science. It will blow you away! I barely touched on all he had to say!!
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I read The Case for God by Karen Armstrong because I generally love this kind of a book. However, this time, not so much. I only got about half way through.
I never got to “the case for God” part, apparently. It felt as if it was simply a history of religious belief in many cultures.
One interesting chapter, entitled “Silence” detailed a peculiar practice by Christians. Since God is indescribable in any words, that is, they can only hint at the truth of who He is, but not accurately describe him, early Christians felt only silence could reflect truthfully on God. Interesting idea, however, in practice, it looks the same as an unbeliever. So while they make a point, I think God gave us language, inexact as it is, for a reason.
I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out the rest of the book, however.