The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Tardigrade

From today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, the most bizarre, alien-appearing animal on Earth, the tardigrade:

tardigrade_eyeofscience_960_thumb

Go to APOD to see it much bigger (I have only shown it as a thumbnail for copyright purposes).

I’ve thought tardigrades were pretty amazing since I first learned about them in Invertebrate Zoology a long, long time ago. Here’s APOD’s description:

Explanation: Is this an alien? Probably not, but of all the animals on Earth, the tardigrade might be the best candidate. That’s because tardigrades are known to be able to go for decades without food or water, to survive temperatures from near absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, to survive pressures from near zero to well above that on ocean floors, and to survive direct exposure to dangerous radiations. The far-ranging survivability of these extremophiles was tested in 2011 outside an orbiting space shuttle. Tardigrades are so durable partly because they can repair their own DNA and reduce their body water content to a few percent. Some of these miniature water-bears almost became extraterrestrials recently when they were launched toward to the Martian moon Phobos on board the Russian mission Fobos-Grunt, but stayed terrestrial when a rocket failed and the capsule remained in Earth orbit. Tardigrades are more common than humans across most of the Earth. Pictured above in a color-enhanced electron micrograph, a millimeter-long tardigrade crawls on moss.

I didn’t know that tardigrades even have their own phylum.

Grace and Peace

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Biology | | 2 Comments

What the Bible says directly about biological evolution

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January 13, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Biology, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 1 Comment

Jesus is for geologists (and other scientists)

I’ve always known that Jesus is for geologists, as well as for biologists, chemists, physicists, archeologists, astronomers, and all other sorts of scientists.

There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.

Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.

The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:

Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.

As the review says, this would be a great book for

  • Professional scientists
  • Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • High school teachers and students
  • Members of the general public.

Buy this book at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Grace and Peace

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Archeology, Astrobiology, Astronomy, Atheism, Biology, Chemistry, Christianity, Evolution, Geology, Origins, Physics, Science Education, Theistic evolution | , , , | 2 Comments

C.S. Lewis, evolutionist

Dr. Jay Wile has an excellent summary of C.S. Lewis’s beliefs about evolution on his Proslogion blog: Another Point About C.S. Lewis.

To summarize the summary:

  • Lewis refused to join or endorse the Evolution Protest Movement, even though it was led by a personal friend.
  • His writings state acceptance of biological evolution [and, I should add, an ancient Earth (and Mars!)].
  • Lewis believed that evolution posed little threat to Christianity.
  • Lewis didn’t even believe in a literal Adam and Eve
  • Despite these beliefs, most would consider Lewis very orthodox in his Christian beliefs.

Grace and Peace

October 24, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Biology, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 1 Comment

Arsenic in DNA – maybe

Figure 1 -- Phosphorus and arsenic on the periodic table.

News of surprising biochemistry: Thriving on Arsenic (NASA Astrobiology Magazine)

NASA microbiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon has discovered bacteria that apparently can use arsenic in its DNA in place of phosphorus. Most biochemistry can be done with six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur (CHONPS). Smaller amounts of a variety of other elements are also necessary to varying degrees depending on the organism, such as sodium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Arsenic is similar enough to phosphorus (same column in the periodic table, Figure 1) that within these bacteria it may be able to play the same role.

From the Astrobiology Magazine article:

The recent discovery by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of an organism that can utilize arsenic in place of phosphorus, however, has demonstrated that life is still capable of surprising us in fundamental ways. The results of her research were published December 2 on Science Express and subsequently in the journal Science.

The organism in question is a bacterium, GFAJ-1, cultured by Wolfe-Simon from sediments she and her colleagues collected along the shore of Mono Lake, California. Mono Lake is hypersaline and highly alkaline. It also has one of the highest natural concentrations of arsenic in the world.

On the tree of life, according to the results of 16S rRNA sequencing, the rod-shaped GFAJ-1 nestles in among other salt-loving bacteria in the genus Halomonas. Many of these bacteria are known to be able to tolerate high levels of arsenic.

But Wolfe-Simon found that GFAJ-1 can go a step further. When starved of phosphorus, it can instead incorporate arsenic into its DNA, and continue growing as though nothing remarkable had happened.

“So far we’ve showed that it can do it in DNA, but it looks like it can do it in a whole lot of other biomolecules” as well, says Wolfe-Simon, a NASA research fellow in residence at the USGS in Menlo Park, California.

The article describes the methods used to purify the DNA, to ensure that the arsenic was truly incorporated into the structure of the DNA rather that being associated with other molecules. Not all, however, are convinced.

But Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, FL, remains skeptical. If you “replace all the phosphates by arsenates,” in the backbone of DNA, he says, “every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes.” So “if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized” by some as-yet-unknown mechanism.

Benner suggests that perhaps the trace contaminants in the growth medium Wolf-Simon uses in her lab cultures are sufficient to supply the phosphorus needed for the cells’ DNA. He thinks it’s more likely that arsenic is being used elsewhere in the cells, in lipids for example. “Arsenate in lipids would be stable,” he says, and would “not fall apart in water.” What appears in Wolfe-Simon’s gel-purified extraction to be arsenate DNA, he says, may actually be DNA containing a standard phosphate-based backbone, but with arsenate associated with it in some unidentified way.

Microbiologists over the past few decades have discovered bacteria and archaea in increasingly hostile places, such as hot springs and deep in Earth’s crust. This has spurred on the hope that other worlds (e.g. Mars, Titan) also have places that would be suitable for bacterial life. The possibility of bacteria that can live with a chemical foundation other than CHONPS indicates that life might thrive in places where we otherwise would not have expected it to.

This discovery may not completely redefine life as we know it, but it does (if proven to be true) add one more bizarre thing that life can do.

Grace and Peace

December 2, 2010 Posted by | Astrobiology, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Nature | | 7 Comments

Pleistocene Park

From Yahoo! News/AP — One scientist’s hobby: recreating the ice age

CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

Unlike “re-wilding” ideas in the United States (e.g. Montana), where most land is used for one thing or another, this one is along the Kolyma River (of gulag fame) in Siberia, which is about as isolated as one can get.

Isn’t this a little taste of what nature was meant to be, with the earth, sky, and sea “swarming with swarms of living creatures?” (Gen 1:20,24).

Grace and Peace

Related news: Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue

November 27, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Climate Change, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Future, Nature | , , | 3 Comments

Environmental philosophies – some preliminary thoughts

I was reading sections out of Principles of Conservation Biology (Meffe et al., I have the 2nd edition) tonight just for fun*. The first two chapters lay a philosophical foundation for conservation biology, exploring various perspectives on environmental ethics and biodiversity.

In chapter 1—What is Conservation Biology?—the authors discuss the philosophical movements that have led to conservation efforts in the United States:

  1. The Romantic-Transcendental Conservation Ethic — The 19th century proponents of this position included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir. Nature was viewed as a place to escape from civilization, as something to be preserved in a pristine state. For the pioneers of this movement, there was a spiritual aspect to nature, which was viewed as a work of God, though not always “God” in the Christian understanding. This ethic led eventually to the creation of national parks and wilderness areas, and the preservationist philosophy of Muir and others is carried on today in many non-profit conservation groups such as the Sierra Club.
  2. The Resource Conservation Ethic — The first key proponent of this in the United States was forester Gifford Pinchot, who approached the natural world from a utilitarian perspective. This was a very anthropocentric (man-centered) view of nature; there are resources out there for humans to use, but they must be used wisely and efficiently so they will be available for future generations. One idea that flowed out of this was the multiple-use concept, where the land must be managed for many users simultaneously, such as for grazing, logging, recreation, and watershed protection.
  3. The Evolutionary-Ecological Land Ethic — Often referred to just as the “land ethic,” this was introduced by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac in 1949. This viewpoint integrates what we have learned about the biological world in the past one hundred plus years, recognizing that natural systems are extraordinarily complex, interrelated, and dynamic. Any change we make to one part of an ecosystem can and will effect other parts of the ecosystem, sometimes in ways that are difficult to predict even with careful analysis.

What is a Christian to make of these perspectives? I see valuable lessons that can be drawn from all three, and have a few cautionary ideas as well.

The preservationists recognize that nature has inherent value beyond what is in it for human beings. From a Biblical perspective, it is good to remember that in Genesis 1:25, God declared that the creation was already “good” at the point when all was created except for the first humans. Because of this, not only do individual organisms have value (the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Matthew 6:26-28), but so do populations, species, and entire ecosystems. Many preservationists tend towards non-Christian religious concepts such as transcendentalism and eastern mysticism, but that does not negate the observation that there are Biblical principles which are consistent with the preservationist ethic. My caution for Christians is to not confuse “creation care” with the gospel. It is good to protect animals and ecosystems, but doing so is not the good news of Christ, but part of the overall ethical package of Christianity.

The conservationists recognize that resources can be utilized by humans, but that this needs to be done in a sustainable way. The Genesis 1:28 mandate to Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and rule and have dominion over it,” when understood properly should guide us to be good gardeners rather than wasteful exploiters of the creation. The creation is not ours; we are placed here as vice-regents, with God as the ultimate owner of all. My caution here is that there are voices in the Evangelical Christian community who call for “wise use” in a way that that is presented as consistent with the conservationist ethic, but whose proposals are no more than short-sighted exploitation of resources that leave nothing for future generations.

Many Christians might be frightened away from the Evolutionary-Ecological Land Ethic by the inclusion of the word evolutionary, but I think this is unnecessary, even if one rejects biological evolution as the explanation for the origin of the living world. The land ethic recognizes the extreme complexity of the living world that God has placed on this Earth. We should not be surprised that the infinite God of the universe would create a biosphere (by whatever means he chose to use) that contains intricacies within intricacies, whether at the level of cellular biochemistry or at the level of the interactions between components of entire ecosystems. This flows from the Trinitarian view of God: there is one God but he is not a simple God, and his nature is reflected in his creation (Romans 1:19-20). The caution, as the textbook authors bring out, is that one cannot leave humans out of the picture.

Of these, I am a Christian preservationist at heart, in that I marvel at the wonders that God has placed around us and see the creation as having value in itself, apart from what it can provide for us. I am thankful that there are preserved places that are readily accessible, whether they be in suburban St. Louis, or wonderlands such as Yellowstone National Park. I am also thankful for the wild places that are not as accessible to humans. As a youth, I went on several long backpacking trips through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in south-central Montana, which has close to one million acres of land that is closed to development of any kind. Though I spend more than 99 percent of my life outside of such places, it is comforting to know that there are places that reflect the intrinsic value with which God has endowed his creation.

I also recognize the value of the land ethic. Science is a tool that God has given us for understanding his creation, and one thing that is clear is that the living world is characterized by change and interaction. The land ethic allows us to see how the biosphere works, and how humans effect the living world. If we are to be stewards of the creation for God’s glory, for the good of the creation, and for the benefit of all mankind, then we need this scientific understanding.

I have reviewed a couple books on Christian environmental perspectives in the past. For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger comes mostly from a Christian preservationist perspective, though he does have a good awareness of ecological relationships. I’ll have to think a bit more about where exactly Francis Schaeffer comes from in his Pollution and the Death of Man, but he certainly had a strong aesthetic streak in him, so his views are mostly compatible with the preservationist ethic.

A Christian author who comes from a conservationist perspective would be Calvin Beisner. I have not read any of his works.

I’ll hope to write about what chapter two says about the “Judeo-Christian Stewardship Ethic” later this week.

Grace and Peace

*I know, probably less than 1% of the population reads college textbooks for fun, but so be it.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Environment, Ethics, Nature | , , , , | 4 Comments

The best of young Earth creationism — part 2

Back in July I listed three blogs by young-Earth creationists that I think are pretty good. Of course I disagree with these brothers in Christ regarding the age of the Earth and the extent and work of Noah’s flood, but I appreciate them because they hold firmly to the Bible, have a good background in science, and, unlike many YECs, are willing to admit that not all that comes out of the mainstream YEC organizations is all that good.

Two of these blogs have recently said things that reinforce my appreciation of them:

Dr. Jay Wile, Proslogion

Dr. Wile authored a post called More Evidence Supporting The Young-Earth Theory of Earth’s Magnetic Field. Dr. Wile and I had a bit of a dialog in the comments section about this, each of us giving our reasons for and against his position. I thought my reasons were better, but I’ll write about that some other time. Another thing that caught my eye, however, was his response to an off-topic question from young-Earth creationist John Chaikowsky (a friend of mine):

You mentioned that Answers in Genesis had “theology leaves a lot to be desired”. What do you mean by that or what examples do you have that you don’t agree with? Just curious.

And here is Wile’s reply:

Thanks for the question, John. Answer in Genesis believes that the ONLY way to interpret Scripture faithfully is to say that the Genesis days were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. This is nonsense, of course, since some of the best theologians of the past and present use other interpretations, and since a 24-hour day wasn’t the exclusive view of the early church. This desire to force Christians to believe in a young earth puts them in some very shaky theological waters. For example, they claim that the idea of no animal death before the Fall is crucial for Christianity, when at best it is extraBiblical.

Now please note that I do believe the days in Genesis were 24-hour days and that the earth is young. However, I do not think it is the only orthodox way to interpret Scripture, and it is certainly not the only way to have a literal view of Scripture.

Christians of both the young-Earth and old-Earth varieties would benefit from this sort of theological openness and humility.

Dr. Todd Wood, Todd’s Blog

In the past, Dr. Wood, has admitted that

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

I suspect that not all of his fellow YECs appreciated this.

This week Dr. Wood pointed out that Jason Lisle’s “anisotropic synchrony convention” —an attempt to explain how starlight from distant stars could have already arrived at Earth if the universe is only 6000 years old—fails to be a scientific theory:

Because Lisle’s anisotropic synchrony convention does not make predictions and cannot be tested, it really falls outside of the realm of science. It’s more like medieval philosophy, where theories of ultimate reality could be bandied about because there was no way to test them. Lisle’s idea reminds me of extreme forms of the idea of creation with the appearance of age. It’s logically possible that God created the universe 5 seconds ago, with people having vivid memories of lives they never lived and events that never happened. But that logical possibility doesn’t mean extreme appearance of age is scientifically or theologically useful.

And so ends my assessment of Lisle’s solution to the speed of light problem. It just isn’t science. As he seems to freely admit, anisotropic synchrony convention is all about logical possibility, but it doesn’t actually help us understand or explain galaxies or pulsars or redshift or cosmic background radiation. He seems content to assume God made the universe exactly as it is for whatever inscrutable reasons He had. Talk about ad hoc. I suspect that those creationists like me who are actually interested in science will just shrug their shoulders at the anisotropic synchrony convention. Whether it’s true or false, it just makes no difference.

Thank you, Dr. Wile and Dr. Wood, for your gracious attitudes and desires to weed out bad science and bad theology as you hold on to your young-Earth creationist beliefs.

Grace and Peace

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Astronomy, Biology, Creation in the Bible, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 10 Comments

U-Haul trucks — geological billboards

Here’s the side of our U-Haul truck from our Colorado to Missouri move last month:

Like many U-Haul trucks, this one had a geological theme depicted on its side:

Did you know… Strange flora, previously unknown to science, were discovered in the hidden Ketona Dolomite Glades, an area often referred to as a “botanical lost world.” Why do these mysterious rare plants grow only over this unique Cambrian rock?

A further description of the plants that grow on the Ketona Dolomite, and how the composition of this dolomite affects the plants, can be found at www.uhaul.com/supergraphics/.

Thanks, U-Haul, for your contribution to Earth science education.

Grace and Peace

January 3, 2010 Posted by | Biology, Geology, Science Education | , | 5 Comments

A young-Earth biologist’s perspective on evolution

I believe young-Earth creationism is wrong, but there are a couple of young-Earth creationists who (whom?) I have a lot of respect for. Two of them are Todd Wood at Todd’s Blog, and Paul Garner at The New Creationism. I think they are completely wrong about Earth history—I believe this for both scientific and Biblical reasons—but they are respectful, well-informed, deeply committed to the truthfulness of Scriptures, and more willing than most young-Earth creationists to say that there are things in popular young-Earth creationism that simply do not work.

Todd Wood recently wrote a blog entry called The truth about evolution. Here are a few quotes:

Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

————————————-

Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn’t make it ultimately true, and it doesn’t mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution.

A few observations:

  • This won’t be very popular with a lot of young-Earth creationists who have put a tremendous amount of energy into trying to prove that evolution is a giant lie from Satan. It will, therefore, for the most part be ignored.
  • I think Dr. Wood could solve his dilemma by taking a closer look at what the Scriptures actually say. I am convinced that the Biblical foundations of young-Earth creationism are made of sand. The Bible does not say anything one way or the other about biological evolution, it does not say that animals did not die before Adam’s sin, it does not say that the sedimentary rock record was deposited by Noah’s flood, and it even does not say that the Earth was created only 6000 years ago.

Grace and Peace

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Biology, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | | 1 Comment

Internet Monk: a comment from an evangelical vertebrate paleontologist

My previous post was about pastors responding to a question about evolution. One of the readers’ comments was from a Christian paleontologist.

Here’s the comment (emphasis added by me):

You guys rule — it was a joy to read through these answers from such different Christian traditions and find such humility and realism regarding a subject that is the source of so much wholly unwarranted conflict. This quote can maybe stand as representative: “I am a pastor and a theologian, not a biologist. As such, I could not debate the individual claims of natural science on the merits of each, because I lack the resources to do so.” If only every Christian had that kind of humility.

OK, cards on the table: I am an evangelical Christian who takes the bible seriously. I am a frequent worship leader at my church, and have been a frequent preacher in previous churches. I have in the past described myself as a “fundamentalist” — not a term I would ever use now, as it has connotation that it didn’t have 20 years ago, at least here in the UK, but it’s not so much that my beliefs have changed as that my understanding of that label has “shifted”. Anyway, that’s who I am.

And with my other hat on, I am a publishing palaeontologist, specialising in the sauropod dinosaurs. (My publications are available from the site linked above; my most recent paper is on the generic separation of the African dinosaur “Brachiosaurus” brancai and the American type species Brachiosaurus altithorax).

As you can imagine, I have Christian friends who think I am sell-out for working in the field of evolutionary biology, and scientist friends who think I am a deluded idiot to be Christian; but I am far from alone — off the top of my head I could name another half-dozen practicing Christians within dinosaur palaeontology alone. Why do we so rarely hear from them? For a very sad reason: because the atmosphere in vertebrate palaeontology towards Christianity is poisonous, thanks to the efforts of creationists on one side and Dawkinsites on the other. If I could get just one message to the world’s creationists, it would be this: please have the same humility as Joe Boysel, and recognise that your knowledge of the scripture does NOT entitle you to make pronouncements on science. No, not even if you’ve read a couple of Duane T. Gish paperbacks. Would you try to tell a lawyer his job after reading Honest Bob’s Big Book Of Law? No? Then please have the humility not to try to tell palaeontologists their job from a position of similar ignorance. All you’re achieving is poisoning the well for those of us who would otherwise be in a position to engage with atheists and agnostics in our science.

Sorry if that ended up sounding a bit ranty. Let me finish by returning to my main point, which was how nice it was NOT to hear that kind of uniformed dogmatism from the Gangstas. Thank you, guys.

Great stuff.

Grace and Peace

September 15, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Biology, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 6 Comments

Internet Monk: “That Evolution Question”

The Internet Monk by Michael Spencer is one of the few blogs I read almost every day. Today he had a post in his “Liturgical Gangstas” series on “That Evolution Question.” He posed the following question to his panel of pastors:

A pre-med college student in your congregation comes to you and says “I’ve been learning about evolution at school, and I can’t recall the subject ever being discussed or talked about here at church. I’ve never really asked if there was a conflict between evolution and being a Christian. Can I believe what I’m being taught, or do I have to oppose it because I am a Christian?

Here are a few excerpts from the pastors’ responses:

Father Ernesto/Orthodox:

But, here is what is important for you to know. As Christians we need to believe and proclaim that God has created the heavens and the earth. That is what our creed says, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” We need to believe that there was a time when there was nothing but God, and that God chose to create. And, we need to believe that God continues to work within his Creation in a very active way.

But […] it is also important for you to know that there were strong discussions between the Church Fathers over how the creation was accomplished and over whether the first few chapters of Genesis were to be taken as literal or as an allegory or as a poem. You are not required to believe in a particular process for how the Creation was accomplished.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist:

I would tell that pre-med student this story in order to say, none of us, science or faith, has all the answers. I’m fine being skeptical of some aspects of evolution and find my acceptance of other aspects in no way conflicts with my complete and utter belief and experience with the Triune Creator who has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. I hope that our church wouldn’t be an obstacle to honest pursuit of truth either theologically or scientifically. I also hope that the student would find an avenue within the church to ask questions, discuss, and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ in his or her pursuit of truth no matter what.

Joe Boysel/Anglican:

Eventually, I would urge my parishioner not to lose too much sleep over the matter. Scripture does not seek to provide an historical or biological account of human origins; rather it provides a theological framework for understanding humanity (and the universe) as the handiwork of God.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:

The issue begins when philosophical leaps are made by “scientists” and conclusions are drawn, e.g., life has evolved in this way; therefore it was all by chance; therefore, there cannot be a God. Uh, no. The scientist who makes such a leap has ceased to be a scientist and is making statements he cannot make using the scientific method. So, don’t trust that kind of thing if that’s what you’re being taught. Our faith should trump these kinds of ill-drawn conclusions.

One can be a faithful, committed Christian and believe that evolution is very likely scientifically true. You can be a Christian and believe that God perhaps intentionally set the path of life on its evolutionary path, that He intentionally drew human beings out of the line, breathed His Spirit into us and made us in His Image. Some people call this “theistic evolution” – as opposed to “naturalistic evolution,” which I described in the previous paragraph. It’s not about a huge cosmic accident, but rather, about God doing exactly what He wanted how He wanted to do it. Believing this does not necessarily need to conflict with a belief in God, Jesus or even in the Truth of the Bible as God’s Word.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist:

I’m going to have to begin my answer with a bit of a confessional preface: I’ve kind of instinctively distanced myself from the issue of evolution a bit because (a) I’m often embarrased by my fellow pastors who try to speak on the subject as if they’re scientists, (b) I’m often irritated by the mindless fundamentalism of pro-evolution advocates and, (c) I’ve heard and read so many conflicting variations from scientists and non-scientists alike on the philosophical and theological implications of evolution that I’ve put it on the backburner a bit instead of jumping into what seems to be a hopelessly muddled morass of shouting.

I don’t say that’s noble of me, just that that’s the truth.

As for the question itself, though, I think I would say this: “I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that, at heart, science does not conflict with what Scripture asserts.

William Cwirla/Lutheran:

[On vacation — too bad. I suspect he is a young-Earth creationist, so we would have gotten a different perspective]

Eric Landry, PCA Presbyterian:

When I was a freshman in high school, I got my name and picture splashed across the front page of the local newspaper for debating my biology teacher. The school district had a policy in those days to allow students to skip portions of classes that dealt with objectionable material (like evolution, I guess) but I stayed and made a nuisance of myself, which generated a bit of news in our small town. The teacher wrote me a very nice note at the end of the school year and said that she hoped her children would have the same dedication to their beliefs that I had to mine. I hope she was being facetious because I never want my children to be as arrogant and simplistic as I proved myself to be in her class. It would have been far better for me to have played the part of a student and learned what my teacher had to say, asked questions in a respectful manner, and not been frightened by what I heard.


By the time I saw this, there were over 100 comments, and it is unlikely that I’ll take the time to plow through the whole thing.

Grace and Peace

September 15, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Biology, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 2 Comments

Religious belief among scientists

Here are some results of a PEW Research Center study on the religious and political beliefs of scientists:

Statistic #1
42% — Scientists ages 18-34 who say they believe in God.
28% — Scientists 65 and older who say this.

What does this mean? Does it mean that an increasing number of scientists believe in God? Or does it mean that young scientists give up their faith as they grow older? Unfortunately, this study is just a snapshot in time. It would be helpful to see the results of similar surveys done over time, or the results of studies that follow the same scientists throughout their careers.

Statistic #2
3% — Percentage of scientists who are “white evangelicals”.
19% — Percentage of Americans who are “white evangelicals”.

What does this mean? Either we evangelicals are doing a pitiful job of preparing and motivating our young people to enter the sciences, or they fall away from faith once they do enter the sciences. I place part of the blame for both of these possibilities on the dominance of young-Earth creationism in our Christian educational system, whether in our private schools, home schools, or churches. Students are either scared away from the sciences because of the perceived warfare between science and faith, or they are ill-equipped to see God’s world as it is, especially in terms of Earth history. There are likely to be a number of other factors as well.

Statistic #3
Field Believe in God
Believe in higher power
Believe in neither
Biology and medicine 32 19 41
Chemistry 41 14 39
Geosciences 30 20 47
Physics and astronomy 29 14 46

There is not as much of a difference between the different fields of science as I had been led to believe by some other studies. I had thought that astronomers were more likely to believe in God or some sort of a higher power than other scientists, but according to this study this isn’t the case.

In the geosciences, 47% of scientists are in the “believe in neither” category: atheists and agnostics. But at 30%, we theists are not all that far behind, and I find this encouraging.

One more item from the study that I found interesting, though it related to politics rather than religious beliefs:

Statistic #4 — Party affiliation among scientists

Republican
Democrat
Independent
All scientists 6 55 32

Some questions:

  • Is there a trend towards increasing faith among scientists, as indicated by statistic #1, or will these young scientists lose faith as they grow older?
  • Why are only 3% of scientists evangelical Christians? What can we evangelicals do about it?
  • Is there any significance to the differences between the various fields of science? Are chemists most likely to believe in God because their science doesn’t have as direct of a relationship to the issue of origins?
  • Why do only 6% of scientists identify themselves as Republican? What can be done about it?

HT: Christianity Today

Grace and Peace

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Christianity, Ethics, Geology, Physics | 2 Comments

Paleontologists visit the Answers in Genesis museum

The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Kentucky apparently has a nest of dinosaur eggs on display (here and here).

If you are a regular reader of The GeoChristian, you know that

  1. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God.
  2. I don’t believe much of what Answers in Genesis has to say about Earth history.

These dinosaur eggs are another reason why I don’t think Answers in Genesis has the answers. Think about it, depending on which young-Earth creationist one listens to, these dinosaur nests were deposited either in the middle or towards the end of the flood. This is what would have had to have happened:

  • The flood covers the entire Earth, eroding vast amounts the planet’s crust.
  • These sediments then start to deposit: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc… (not all geologic periods in all places, but always in the same order).
  • When it is time for the Cretaceous sediments to be deposited, there are still a bunch of (pregnant) dinosaurs swimming around.
  • The dinosaurs find places on dry ground to make nests, and there is time for the embryos to develop within the nests, and even to hatch.
  • Then there is time for more dinosaurs to make nests and their babies to hatch, because there are a number of localities where the dinosaur nests occur in multiple layers, sometimes separated by soil horizons.
  • Then there was more flooding and deposition to form the rest of the Cretaceous rocks, and perhaps Cenozoic rocks as well (again, depending on which young-Earth creationist you talk to).

Young-Earth alternatives are:

  1. The dinosaurs laid their eggs underwater.
  2. The nests were somehow transported all together by the flood, and then deposited.
  3. The nests were formed after the flood.

I don’t think any of these alternatives work any better.

Another alternative is that the Bible isn’t attempting to describe geologic history in Genesis 6-8. The Bible doesn’t say anything about dinosaurs (let’s save discussions about behemoth and leviathan for another time), and it doesn’t say that the sedimentary rock record was deposited in the flood.

So what are professional paleontologists to think of Christianity and the Bible when they tour the Creation Museum? Will they be drawn to Christ?

Seventy attendees of last week’s North American Paleontological Convention toured the Creation Museum last week. These professionals can see all the problems with the dinosaur egg display, and a host of other problem exhibits. The intention of the Creation Museum is to defend the truthfulness of the Bible and to point people to Christ. I suspect that many of these paleontologists were more likely to walk out of the museum with their minds hardened against Christianity, thinking that they would have to turn off their brains to become Christians. Will it be because of their atheistic, anti-Christian world views (not all paleontologists are atheists, nor are they all hostile to Christianity), or because the museum presents something that just isn’t true (not required by the Bible, not scientifically accurate) as apologetics?

New York Times: Paleontology and Creationism Meet but Don’t Mesh

With a love for the body of Christ, and for scientists who are turned away from Jesus Christ by bad apologetics.

Grace and Peace

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Apologetics, Biology, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 8 Comments

Another fundamentalist for an old Earth

A commenter on this blog recently implied that I am just a “so called Christian” because I accept an old Earth and evolution.

On a young-Earth blog that I have been commenting on, those who accept an old age for the Earth (including myself) have been accused of “listening to the serpent.”

I try to counter with Biblical arguments for an old Earth, and by pointing to conservative Biblical scholars and Christian leaders who either advocate an old Earth, or who at least acknowledge that the concept of an old Earth is at least Biblically possible.

Another Christian leader I’d like to add to the list is R.A. Torrey, the editor of The Fundamentals, the series published from 1910-1915 that gave us the term “fundamentalist.” Torrey stated that it was possible

“to believe thoroughly in the infallibility of the Bible and still be an evolutionist of a certain type.”

Maybe Torrey wasn’t really a Christian. Or perhaps he was just listening to the serpent.

Or maybe the Bible doesn’t really say that the Earth is only 6000 years old or that there are limits on how much species can change.

Grace and Peace

Quote from Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 262.

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Biology, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 10 Comments

Dolphin Bubble Rings

Gandalf can blow smoke rings. Dolphins can blow bubble rings!

HT: The Dynamic Earth, who has a brief discussion of the fluid dynamics involved.

Grace and Peace

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Biology, Fun, Videos | , | Leave a comment

Evolution in Texas

From Christianity Today: Darwin Divides — Christian college professors split on Texas science standards.

The state of Texas is working on revising its science education standards, and one of the proposals is to remove a requirement that teachers include weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

Christian biology/science professors in the state are divided on this one. Some Christian professors support the teaching of evolution without restrictions:

“I hope to reach others on the weightier matters of the Resurrection, hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven while I work out how evolution does not have to conflict with Christianity,” said Daniel Brannan, a biology professor at Abilene Christian University.

Brannan joined hundreds of scientists in signing a 21st Century Science Coalition petition that supports new curriculum standards for the state’s 4.7 million public-school students. The petition states that “evolution is an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Others—proponents of ID—are in favor of retaining standards that require teaching weaknesses of evolution:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged,” declared the hundreds of dissenters, including biology professors from Baylor, Lubbock Christian, LeTourneau, and other Christian universities.

Still others haven’t taken a side:

Nichols [professor of biology at Abilene Christian] said[,] “I suspect [the curriculum debate] is really more of a political/religious showcase than something that will really affect public education. “I and many others live relatively comfortably in both camps and tire from attacks from both sides,” he added. “With all the real problems in the world, this is a serious waste of energy to keep beating on this topic.”

I suspect that whatever the state standards say, high school biology teachers will continue to teach what they want to teach. Teachers who completely embrace evolution won’t teach that there is evidence against evolution. They may bring in some state-mandated evidences against evolution, only to tear them apart. Biology teachers who accept some of the ID arguments (this would actually be a substantial number of teachers, though certainly not a majority) will bring anti-evolutionary concepts into the classroom even if the statement regarding problems with evolution is removed from the standards.

Grace and Peace

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Biology, Geology, Origins, Science Education | | Leave a comment

Vatican to sort of include discussion of ID in evolution conference

From AP/FoxNews: Vatican to Discuss, but Not Endorse, Intelligent Design

VATICAN CITY  —  The Vatican will include discussion of intelligent design in a conference marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” officials said Tuesday.

“The committee agreed to consider ID as a phenomenon of an ideological and cultural nature, thus worthy of a historic examination, but certainly not to be discussed on scientific, philosophical or theological grounds,” said Saverio Forestiero, a conference organizer and professor of zoology at the University of Rome.

The Vatican under Benedict has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the evolution conference is supposed to be a key demonstration of that.

Read the rest of the article here: Vatican to Discuss, but Not Endorse, Intelligent Design

HT: Old-Earth Creation Homeschool

Grace and Peace

February 14, 2009 Posted by | Biology, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins | , , | Leave a comment

Resurrecting mammoths

woolly_mammoth

From LiveScience: Extinct Woolly Mammoth’s DNA Mapped

Scientists for the first time have unraveled much of the genetic code of an extinct animal, the ice age’s woolly mammoth, and with it they are thawing Jurassic Park dreams.

Their groundbreaking achievement has them contemplating a once unimaginable future when certain prehistoric species might one day be resurrected.

“It could be done. The question is, just because we might be able to do it one day, should we do it?” asked Stephan Schuster, the Penn State University biochemistry professor and co-author of the new research. “I would be surprised to see if it would take more than 10 or 20 years to do it.”

I’d love to see a living woolly mammoth. Are there ethical issues I’m missing?

Image from Wikipedia: Woolly Mammoth

Grace and Peace

November 21, 2008 Posted by | Biology, Geology | 2 Comments

Cicada molting

A cicada molting, from the Wikipedia Picture of the Day archive.

Grace and Peace

October 21, 2008 Posted by | Biology | 2 Comments