Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.

It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.

It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.

Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bird Brainpower

Bird Brainpower
In the February issue of National Geographic, there is a fascinating article about what birds can do. The skills of bird brainpower include puzzle solving, using tools, studying others, vocal learning, socializing, remembering, and social playing.

These abilities are all related to the size of the forebrain compared to the total brain mass. Bird brains vary enormously. Some species such as ravens have very large brains with 80% of the brain involving the forebrain compared to a pigeon having a very small brain with only 48% in the forebrain. In some cases, birds work together pooling their bird brainpower with each having a different role. Some birds prefer certain kinds of music while others seem to show empathy.

It is important to understand that some scientific questions could be raised about the claims that the article makes. In one case, for example, when air was blown on a chick’s fathers, the mother’s heart rate increased. The investigators claimed that shows empathy. A strong wind can be dangerous to any bird. So the question is whether the mother was feeling empathy for the chick or was she concerned over the cause of the wind and what it might do to her.

The article also mentions a cockatoo who rocks in time to the Backstreet Boys tune “Everybody” and a starling who “is happiest when his owner is playing a classical movement on the piano.” The article says the starling likes Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. However, it doesn’t say how you measure starling happiness, or what the owner likes and repeatedly plays in the bird’s presence.

It is a fact that birds show high levels of certain kinds of intelligence, and they can do things that seem almost human-like. However, the things birds can do are not attributes which the Bible ascribes to humans. Many animals are intelligent and can learn from humans, so it is easy to see how the characteristics discussed in the article help the bird survive.

The attributes of being created in the image of God, which is how the Bible defines humans, do not involve any of the characteristics in the article. The creation of art, the creation of music, and the expression of worship are human functions. Also, the expression of the”agape” type of love which does not promote survival or have sexual connotations is a human trait. We don’t see the capacity to be sympathetic and compassionate in these interesting studies of bird brainpower.

The more we learn about the creatures in the world around us, the more we are amazed at the design built into their DNA. This design allows living creatures to navigate, occupy environmental niches, and reproduce in amazing ways. It is all part of knowing that God exists through the things He has made. (Romans 1:18-22)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Adapts to a Sealed, Poison Cave

Life Adapts
In southeastern Romania in Constanta county near the Black Sea scientists discovered a cave that had been cut off from the outside world throughout history. Yet, even in a sealed, poison cave, life adapts.

Scientists estimate that the cave was sealed off 5.5 million years ago, and its air is low in oxygen (10%) and high in carbon dioxide (3%). That is almost one-third the amount of oxygen and 100 times more carbon dioxide as the air we breathe. The air and water in the cave also contain high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. The cave is named Movile Cave, and it is full of life. Biologists have identified 48 species, and 33 of them are found nowhere else.

The food chain in the cave is based on chemosynthesis using sulfur instead of photosynthesis which requires sunlight. Bacteria which oxidize sulfur and methane release nutrients used by other bacteria and fungi. They, in turn, create microbial mats on the cave wall. Those mats are grazed by herbivorous creatures which are consumed by carnivorous creatures such as spiders, leeches, and water scorpions. Contrary to what the media has reported, life didn’t start in the cave. Instead, life has adapted to the cave environment.

Scientists have found life around thermal vents deep in the ocean and under the Arctic ice. We find it amazing that life adapts to hostile environments. We also believe this is a demonstration of the wisdom involved in life’s design. And in spite of what the media have reported, this is not necessarily an argument in favor of life under the crust oceans of Europa and Ganymede, the moons of Jupiter.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
To find more information click here, and click here.

Anthropomorphism Extreme

Anthropomorphism
It is very easy to anthropomorphize the behavior of animals. According to Wikipedia anthropomorphism is, “the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities…It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.” When your dog cowers after you scold it for doing something, is the dog indicating guilt or remorse? It may look that way, but it may be that the dog has learned that by showing that behavior it will receive less scolding.

There has been an upsurge of scientific material suggesting that humans are not unique in their expressions of grief, guilt, patriotism, devotion, love, hate, etc. Several books have been written promoting the view that no human emotion is missing from members of the animal kingdom. How Animals Grieve by Barbara King and Beyond Words–What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina are two examples. There have also been numerous articles in scientific journals promoting anthropomorphism.

The problem is that it is very difficult to avoid anthropomorphism of animals. Frequently we see articles describing how an animal reacts to the death of its offspring. A recent magazine has pictures and discussions of giraffes, whales, dolphins, elephants, gorillas, baboons, chimps, and zebras seeming to grieve at the death of an offspring or a mate for periods of days. (National Wildlife magazine for February-March 2018 page 30-39) The question is whether this is an evolutionary trait of all life and humans are just more highly evolved, or whether we are anthropomorphizing the behavior we see. We have all been influenced by Disney with stories like Bambi, so the question is complicated.

The biblical definition of humans is that we are the life-form created in the image of God. We see that image reflected in the things that humans do that are not physical in nature. We worship. We create art and music and express our emotions in art and music. We feel sympathy and experience guilt. We have an agape type of love that is unrelated to reproduction or survival. We can be taught to think. These properties are made possible by our spiritual nature. We can debate whether all of these characteristics are really unique to humans or whether they have survival value, but our uniqueness as a species is not a function of our intelligence or any physical characteristic.

The difficulty in interpreting animal behavior is that we cannot easily ascertain the role of instinct. Reproduction in animals is instinctively driven. In most mammals the role of the female is determined by her reproductive capacity. It is the lioness that drives the pride, not the male lion. The wonderful work that has been done on gorillas and chimpanzees has shown the role of reproduction in determining the social structure of the entire troop. Study of baboons and chimps shows that stress hormones called glucocorticoids increase when a close relative dies. The release of the hormone oxytocin which inhibits glucocorticoid increases when there is physical contact with other partners after the death of a close relative. What we see in animal behavior is the result of the instinctive drives being disturbed.

There is no question that animals think and that they have emotions, but we should avoid excessive anthropomorphism. Animal emotions are tied into their instinctive drives–not to political or religious values. We suggest that those instincts are part of the design of these animals which provides them with the greatest probability of survival.

The unique nature of all humans should motivate us to value human life. We are not instinctively-driven robots that obey the drives built into our DNA. We can change the world in which we live both physically and spiritually. Valuing all human life and working together to solve the conflicts that divide us is a necessary product of understanding our spiritual uniqueness. When Jesus taught us to love our enemy and to do good to those who do evil to us, He was calling us to express that which makes us human–our spiritual nature created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton

Star-nosed Mole: Star of the Mole World

Star-nosed Mole
If you mention the word “mole” in my neighborhood, you will see my neighbors reflect all kinds of negative emotions. This tunneling varmint that tears up the manicured lawns of America is not on the “most loved animal” list of anyone I know. There is a unique member of the mole family that has scientists scratching their heads at the complexity and remarkable design of a mole known as the star-nosed mole. This mole is so unique that it has its own genus identification Condylura.

This six-inch long animal lives in wet lowland areas of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. A star-nosed mole possesses 22 fleshy appendages called rays that surround its snout. In addition to using thick claws to dig like all moles, the star-nosed mole can swim which other moles cannot. This species of mole can blow between five and ten air bubbles per second, and these bubbles are aimed at fish or crustaceans. After the bubbles contact a possible target, the moles suck them back into their snouts to test the scent in the bubbles for possible prey. This is the first time scientists have observed a mammal capable of using olfactory skills under water.

The complexity of this animal has caused scientists to call it “a neurological wonder.” The 22 appendages of the snout have 100,000 nerve endings crammed into an area roughly the size of a human fingertip. By comparison, your entire hand contains about 17,000 nerve endings. The rays can touch as many as ten different objects in a single second. The animal can identify individual prey in less than two-tenths of a second and in eight milliseconds determine whether or not it is edible. Researchers say the star-nosed mole eats faster than any other mammal on Earth.

When we find an animal with such highly specialized equipment, we are left with some hard choices in trying to explain its origin. Evolutionary scenarios stretch credibility to the limit. Dr. Ken Catania who has been studying star moles for some 30 years says that the star-nosed mole is a poster child for extreme evolutionary adaptations. We suggest that an intelligence was involved in the creation of this incredible animal. The star-nosed mole speaks loudly to the biblical statement that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: National Wildlife, February/March 2018.

Alvin Plantinga Receives the Templeton Prize

Alvin Plantinga Receives the Templeton Prize
One of the world’s most important prizes in academics is the Templeton Prize. Nominees for this prize of over a million dollars must have qualities “of creativity and innovation, rigor and impact… and above all a substantial record of achievement that highlights or exemplifies one of the various ways in which human beings express their yearning for spiritual progress.”

The 2017 winner is Dr. Alvin Carl Plantinga. Time magazine (April 5, 1980) described Plantinga as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.” In 1982 he was appointed as the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame where he taught until 2010. As a graduate student at Notre Dame during those years, I was personally affected by Dr. Plantinga’s work. I have followed his teachings as he returned to Calvin College in Grand Rapids where he and his family started their careers. Dr. Plantinga has degrees and honors from major universities all around the world including Harvard, Yale, University of Michigan, Oxford, and Glasgow, just to mention a few.

What qualifies Alvin Plantinga is not his degrees or honors, but his work. The question of how to comprehend the existence of evil in a world where God is omnipotent and omniscient has been the focus of Plantinga’s work. The relationship and compatibility of scientific and religious belief and evolutionary arguments against naturalism are two of the main themes that Plantinga presents and defends in his books. He also challenges the militant atheism and materialism that exists in the minds of many people today. He argues that the real conflict is not in the disciplines–not between science and religion–but rather between theism and naturalism. Plantinga’s reviews of atheists Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins concludes that their work is “poor philosophy masquerading as science.”

This ministry is not involved in philosophical debate, but when the academic community honors an outstanding and well-recognized Christian philosopher, we want to join in the applause. We have learned a great deal from Dr. Alvin Plantinga. Every time I read anything he wrote, I realize how much more I need to learn. That is the greatest compliment anyone can give a lifetime of work. The Templeton Prize got it right.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Ancient Animal Butchering by Humans Is a Croc?

Ancient Animal Butchering Is a Croc
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.

“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.

The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.

The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.

Data from Science News December 9, 2017, and the November 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Yeti or Yogi Bear?

Yeti or Yogi Bear
The Yeti is a legendary creature of the snow-covered Himalayas. He has been described as an ape-like creature taller than a man and covered with white fur. In the 1920s a reporter for a newspaper in India gave the creature the nickname of “the abominable snowman.”

The general public continues to be fascinated with stories about Yeti or his temperate-weather cousin Bigfoot or Sasquatch. Some of the fascination is that there are folks who suggest that this creature offers a proof or disproof about the evolution of humans. The fact that Bigfoot continues to be a show on the Animal Planet network indicates that the value of these mythical creatures is more for entertainment than education.

The first point that we would like to make is that if a human-like creature existed, that science had not discovered yet, it would not have evolutionary implications. Neo-Darwinists would say it was just another dead-end in hominid evolution. Creationists would say that God had created another creature that was previously unknown. Quite often previously unknown species of various creatures are discovered somewhere in the world.

On November 28, 2017, the Proceedings of The Royal Society B, released a report of genetic studies of the remains of bones, teeth, skin, and hair that people claimed were from Yetis. All of them turned out to be from bears. The genome of a bear is distinctive enough that scientists can know with great certainty what creature left the sample. While the report probably won’t cancel any TV series on Bigfoot or interest in Yeti, it does give a rational answer to some of the claims.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Science Standards Battle

Science Standards
During September and October of 2017, the New Mexico Public Education Department was embroiled in a battle over what was called The Next Generation Science Standards. Those standards were edited by the department to weaken the treatment of evolution, climate change, and the age of the Earth. There was a major outcry led by the National Center for Science Education against the attempts to weaken the standards.

This battle over science standards continues in state after state, with religious groups and creationist organizations trying to stop the teaching of these concepts. The battle is unnecessary, and the attempts to stop the teaching of these subjects is misguided. The opposition is often based on denominational beliefs that are not biblical, and a poor understanding of science. Taking the three subjects that were the focus in New Mexico:

Evolution: The subjects being taught are factual change in living things which is the basis of agriculture and animal husbandry. The Bible speaks about these things in the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 30. There is little if any emphasis on theories about human history in the standards, and atheistic concepts are not in the textbooks.
Climate Change: The climate of planet Earth is changing, and it has changed in the past. Much of the area where Jesus walked and taught is different climatically today than it was in His day. Global warming has happened in the past, and all evidence shows us it continues to happen. The Bible makes no statements about climate change. The fact that humans have caused much suffering by our mismanagement of what God has given us is not contestable. This certainly includes the wastes that we put in our waters and our atmosphere.
Age of the Earth: There are major Protestant denominations that have a doctrinal position called dispensationalism. This doctrine teaches that the planet has seven dispensations that are each roughly 1000 years. The doctrine is that Jesus will come to Earth to war with Satan, and establish a political kingdom in Jerusalem on David’s throne for 1000 years. This denominational teaching does not take the Bible literally and contradicts what Jesus said His kingdom was about. (See John 18:36.) For a review of this teaching see “Destructive Dispensationalism” in our journal for November/December 2008, page 11.

We bring reproach to Jesus and the Bible when we oppose things that are clearly factual in educational science standards. There is no battle between science and the Bible. Human creeds and misunderstandings contradict facts and are eroding the faith of many of our young people. We need to follow 1 Peter 3:15 by understanding what the Bible teaches. We also must avoid false science and atheistic traditions.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Our Ancestor Was a Rat

Our Ancestor Was a Rat
The headline of a lead article in USA Today for November 8, 2017, said: “Our Ancestors Were Rats.” Written by Doyle Rice, the article claims that fossils prove our distant ancestor was a rat.

According to the article, Steve Sweetman of the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. says we know about this ancestor of ours. He said it is “undoubtedly the earliest yet known from a line of mammals that led to our own species.” The article further said that line of mammals included blue whales and pygmy shrews. Sweetman says the mammals they have discovered “were small furry creatures.” He speculates that they were nocturnal, possibly burrowers, and ate insects and possibly plants.

Would we not assume that this newly discovered fossil had a skeleton and traces or impressions of fur? Wouldn’t we have found coprolite (petrified poop) to make claims about what the animal’s diet was or perhaps plant or insect material in the animal’s stomach? Would we not also assume that the biosphere in which the animal lived was well documented by fossils of what the animal ate? Are we not assuming that the “line of mammals that led to our own species” has been so well documented that no reputable scientist would deny it?

The fact is that an undergraduate student was sifting through rocks and fossils in a box in his geology lab when he found two teeth which he showed to Sweetman who is a mammal expert. That is all the evidence we have for this rat which was supposedly our ancestor. How do you determine the animal had fur from two teeth?

There is great controversy about the phylogenetic trees that various scientists have constructed to develop theories about the history of life on planet Earth and human life. Many scientists believe that multiple trees and cladistic techniques better explain the history of life than the our ancestor was a rat version that Sweetman promotes.

We have said that when there is a conflict between faith in God and science, it is because of bad theology and/or bad science. Maybe bad journalism is another source of problems. This story is grossly misleading and represents the source of many of the conflicts that young people have between what they hear at Church and what they hear from the media.
–John N. Clayton © 2017