Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Yellowstone Adventure Part Two

The next installment of silliness.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Yellowstone recap

As you know, I intended to update regularly with videos on my trip to Yellowstone, but that was a bit more involved than I anticipated.  Mostly because I was pretty exhausted at the end of the day.  I will continue working on them, but they will go up once I get home.

In the meantime, here's a quick recap.  For those who might be wondering how I can afford to go to Yellowstone on my meager income, this trip was planned and paid for by my parents.  This was a big family trip they always wanted to do, and they've been talking about it for years.  I am immensely grateful to them for this amazing vacation.

The first thing I think everyone notices about the park is how big it is.  I knew how big it was but experiencing it is something entirely different.  We saw almost all the wildlife you might hope to see: moose, elk, deer, pronghorns, bison, marmots, chipmunks, birds galore, a coyote, six black bears, and two grizzlies.  The geyser basins are eerily amazing.  Beautiful, but it's unnerving to think that I'm standing on top of a gigantic volcano that makes all these pretty displays.

My wife and I also hiked up to Specimen Ridge, home of Yellowstone's petrified forests.  The guidebook described the trail as "inhumanly steep," which is an understatement.  At the top, we spent several hours examining the trees and logs, and I even brought a portable microscope to check out the tree rings.  That's one of my lesser micrographs above.

All in all, an amazing trip, and I'm still processing it all.  I can't wait to go through the hours of video we shot.  Trying to edit together coherent videos will be a lot of fun.

Especially the grizzlies.  Did I mention the grizzlies?  My mom spotted two of them, and we filmed and photographed them for about five minutes.

Grizzlies.  It was awesome.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yellowstone Adventure Part One

Monday is my day to update with some thoughtful article about this or that, but this week, I'm kind of busy with other things.  And here it is:

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The new australopithecine and the multiplying of species

The headlines on my newsfeed this morning are all excited about the newly announced Australopithecus deyiremeda, and some are hailing it as a "human ancestor."  I doubt that it's related to humans, but I think there's a much more interesting story that most of the news outlets won't pick up on.

First of all, what was discovered?  Some jawbones and teeth (see above).  That might not seem very exciting, but these jawbones and teeth are really different from others that have been found from previously-known hominins.  They're different enough that the researchers feel justified in announcing a new species in an article in Nature.  Looking at their graphs, the teeth definitely have a set of characteristics that is different from anything else we've seen before.  The authors think that constitutes a new species, but I'm uncomfortable making a firm baraminological judgment based only on jaws and teeth.  The authors did not include Au. sediba in their comparison sample (presumably because they were focusing on east Africa, and sediba is from South Africa), and that might have helped me decide what to say about it.  My admittedly non-expert gut feeling is that this is probably another form of australopith ape and not related to humans.

What makes this interesting to a creationist?  Well, that's a different story altogether.  For years, you may have noticed new hominins announced with some regularity.  Ardipithecus ramidus, Ar. kadabba, Australopithecus anamensis, Au. bahrelghazali, Au. sediba, Homo floresiensisHomo gautengensis, Au. garhi, and now Au. deyiremeda are all species that have been announced since I've been reading scientific papers, and those are just the names that I recall off the top of my head.  There are probably others I forgot about.  Speaking of which, add Sahelanthropus and Orrorin to the list!

So that's a lot of species!  In fact, some paleoanthropologists have become concerned that there are too many species to realistically live together at the same time.  Typically, species living together in the same area need to be different in some way.  For example, they can't all eat the same food or prefer the same nesting spots.  If they did, they would be in direct competition for those resources, and eventually one would win and there would be fewer species living in that area.

When we see very similar species living together in the same area at the same time, this suggests that either they're not really different species or they are subtly using the environment in different ways.  I really want to emphasize that this multiplication of species is not a problem for evolution per se.  There are plenty of examples today of very similar species living in a particular location.  Examples include the honeycreepers of Hawaii and the finches of Galapagos.  These different species can inhabit these limited locations by using different resources.  For example, Galapagos finches with big beaks eat big seeds, and those with small beaks eat small seeds.  So it's not impossible to imagine a bunch of australopith ape species all sharing the same habitats in east Africa, as long as they had slightly different ways to exploit the environment.

For me as a creationist, however, I'm excited about this discovery for a very different reason: I expected it.  According to my understanding of kinds and species, the "two of every kind" that left Noah's Ark experienced a rapid and unprecedented increase in diversity in those first generations after the Flood.  I don't know how many generations this diversifying lasted, and I don't know how diverse each kind became.  In general, I think every kind diversified to an extent, and some generated many new species.

Remember your ecology, though: If you have too many similar species in one environment, it's not likely that they will all survive.  I think that explains why when we look at the post-Flood fossil record, we find all manner of species that have gone extinct.  In the exuberant rush of new species originating after the Flood, not all could survive, especially with the gigantic environmental fluctuations occurring as a direct result of the Flood.

All that to say that the multiplication of newly discovered australopith and human "species" in the recent years doesn't surprise me a bit.  It's exciting to find more groups that experienced rapid diversification after the Flood.  I think it's yet another confirmation that we creationist biologists are on the right track.

Haile-Selassie et al. 2015. New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity. Nature 521:483-488.

Photo credit: Haile-Selassie, copyright Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Conflicted responses

Last week's post by Darrel Falk stirred up some very interesting reactions, and they were all over the map.  What makes them interesting is that I have the very same reactions in my head during our conversations.  Usually these reactions happen all at once, and that makes figuring out an actual response very challenging.  It's like I'm hearing ten voices all shouting different things at the same time.  So I was very gratified to see that you the reader have the very same reaction!  Thank you for validating my sanity.

First, there was this reaction from Darrel himself:
I should have given a title for my blog.  I really didn't want it to be perceived as one more essay on love.  I was hoping to make the point that for our conversation what we're doing  is about humility in the face of truth. When this exists love is the natural bi-product.  This, I think is the grounding for what Paul is doing in the I Cor. 13.
I'm sorry about that, Darrel, but it is a good object lesson on one of the struggles of conversation: I often don't exactly get the point, and sometimes we struggle to voice what we're really thinking.  Thankfully, Darrel has been longsuffering in our discussions, so here is another opportunity for him to practice that grace!

Next, this creationist reader happily agreed with Darrel:
Actually, I very much like what he wrote.  Hard to do, yes, but there must be a commitment to behave in a way which includes concern for the well being of others.  That is captured in the Old Testament concept of truth - emet, which includes the idea being factually correct and relationally faithful.
Yes, I too like the ideal that he communicates: the idea of Christian humility and love, even amidst difficult disagreements.  That is very appealing.

Others were far more suspicious of unspoken motives of gathering influence and personal power to eliminate resistance:
...these “take-no-prisoners” communities of evangelicals will eagerly throw gasoline on any sparks of dissent in conservative colleges, broadcast it to the world, and hope progressives take the colleges. Is this love? 
Yikes!  You know, I have the same kind of worries all the time, especially as we make part of our conversation more public.  On the one hand I think that we're doing a better job of handling our disagreement than a lot of others in the current debate.  On the other hand, I am deeply concerned that my activity will merely promote Darrel's views.  After all, if I can sit in a room with Darrel and affirm that he is a brother in Christ, then maybe someone might think that his views on evolution are also acceptable?  So my attempt to address what I see as a severely defective debate becomes an opportunity for unsavory opponents to destroy me and Christians like me.  It's like going to war to demonstrate a commitment to passive nonviolence and getting killed in the first skirmish.

(Let me clarify that I don't believe that Darrel is an "unsavory opponent" who desires my destruction, but I know that many people in his "camp" would use the vulnerability of our conversation against me and against creationism.  I've spent enough time with Darrel to know very personally that he is absolutely sincere in his motives to increase our mutual understanding.  He's not out to get me.  In fact, I think he kind of likes me.)

Of course, the risk is not just mine.  I'm not some creationist loon looking for bigfoot or finding Bible codes; I'm not easily dismissed as a crank.  I've got the training and background and experience to make very articulate and thoughtful arguments in a winsome way.  All that, and I'm humble too!  (These are the jokes, folks.)  Our conversation could also swing bystanders to my way of thinking, so there is mutual risk.

Other readers were nitpickers, and boy, can I relate (I'm only using the term nitpick because I can't think of a better word for "raise lots of factual objections all at the same time.").
... he has more faith in his "God-given mind"  Really??!!  It has been proven over and over that our minds can fool us and they do fool us.  Eve used her "God-given mind" and was fooled and she knew God "face to face" and Adam was persuaded by Eve.  His mind also was fooled. "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." IS.5:21
This happens a lot in our conversations.  I ask a question, and Darrel gives a long response full of things I want to nitpick.  It goes the other way, too.  Every time we open our mouths, it's like we open a can of worms.  Over and over and over again.  That's why after nearly two years, we're still at it.  We're buried in worms.

Should we really trust our minds?  I think not.  Of course, we could raise the same question about our ability to understand the Bible, but I nevertheless think there is something important in this objection.  The heart is deceitful above all things, and nature does not speak for itself.

I also got this curious claim:
I think our model of origins is based more on our assumptions about the world than science. We normally only admit evidence that supports our assumptions about origins. And most people do not feel secure enough to let their assumptions be challenged by what others consider to be evidence. There are exceptions, of course, but I think they are exceptions. Those who do change their beliefs about origins, do so because they change their assumptions about origins. And I think this is usually for non-scientific reasons. Someone might do so for scientific reasons, but I am not sure.  This may sound like I am pretty skeptical about science. But I fully support science - if it is used to tell us about God's world. I am only skeptical about it telling us about origins.
Honestly, I don't think that way.  The thing about assumptions is that they often run into data like a car hitting a mountain.  I don't think that any old origins model can fit the data, whether the data come from the Bible or from creation itself.  This point might be challenging for nonscientists to understand, or it might simply be difficult for scientists to explain.  But the basic idea is that data only fits well with some assumptions but not others.  Scientists have been working for centuries on things we cannot directly observe, and in that time poor models (phlogiston for example) are replaced by better models.  Ideology can and does play a role in that process, but scientists aren't free to make any old claim they want.  I might not think that creation is as perfectly clear as Darrel does, but I don't think I'm free to impose on it ill-fitting interpretive models.

That said, I do have my darker moods that make me wonder if we're ever going to make any progress at all.

Finally, I got this:
God is a God of love, but He is also a God of judgment and we don't like to think about that part.
Yes, I keep reminding everyone reading and listening that truth matters.  Grace is awesome, but truth matters!  I think of it like Paul's admonition about sin and grace: God's grace covers our sin, but that isn't a license for us to live like the devil so that "grace may abound."  So too, I think that God's grace covers our erroneous beliefs, but that isn't a license to ignore or downplay bad theology.  We really ought to care about truth, even while we recognize that truth isn't the only thing we're called to care about.

OK, that's enough for now.  I have my own reaction to Darrel's most recent essay, but I'll wait until next week to post that (and it will have a fun lesson in sociobiology too).  In the meantime, I'm enjoying the knowledge that Darrel will now experience his own chorus of conflicting reactions to my readers' comments.  Ha ha!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.