Thursday, February 15, 2018

Another school shooting - I need to do something

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but...

I just sat and watched a half hour of news coverage of the latest school shooting, and I am shaken. Seventeen people died in the fifth incident of 2018 in which a student or former student killed someone on high school property. If that wasn't bad enough, the latest headline on our local paper says, "Report: Man threatened shootout." Right here in little, old Dayton, Tennessee! As much as I'd like to pretend otherwise, we live in a dangerous world, and the danger is right here.

And I can't just sit here and be sad again. I need to do something.

So I'm asking today for money to help improve the security at our local Christian school, Rhea County Academy. This is not an official, sanctioned RCA fundraiser. I am doing this on my own. I am a part-time teacher there, and I am a concerned citizen of Rhea County. I do not want to see this sort of tragedy here. I watched an interview this morning of a teacher in Florida who said that her security training helped her know what to do when the shooting started. I'm happy to say that we RCA teachers have had training on multiple occasions, but the RCA facility could use improvement. The security fence needs upgrading, and they could really use additional security cameras all over the school. As I'm sure you know, it's difficult for a small Christian school to afford these kinds of improvements, since they can't just double tuition or hike your taxes. So I'm hoping to raise $6,000 to help the school make these important upgrades. I honestly don't know if that will cover everything, but it will help!

I really wish we didn't have to think about such things, but we do. If you know anyone at RCA - a child, grandchild, younger sibling, niece, nephew, neighbor, friend, whatever - will you please consider contributing to their safety? I'm raising money right now through Facebook. If you can't help financially, will you share this fundraiser? If you don't like giving through Facebook, I understand. I'm sure the RCA office would be happy to take any checks or cash. Just tell them what it's for. Their mailing address is P.O. Box 925, Dayton, TN 37321. Make checks payable to "Rhea County Academy."

And hey, if you don't really want to support Rhea County Academy, why don't you call your local school and see if there's anything you can do to help them there?

Let's do what we can right now to make sure that we won't be mourning our students and teachers here in Rhea County. Thank you!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Origins 2018 call for abstracts

The Creation Biology Society updated today with a call for abstracts for Origins 2018.
The annual summer conference of the Creation Biology and Creation Geology Societies will be held at the Crown Plaza Green Tree hotel in Pittsburgh, PA on July 29, 2018.  We invite high-quality abstract submissions relevant to the life and earth sciences and the issue of origins.  Submissions must offer positive, constructive interpretations or criticisms.  All abstracts will be reviewed by an editor for suitability and content.  Submissions will be judged on scientific merit, adherence to the guidelines, and relevance to creationism.  Authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to present at the conference, and all accepted abstracts will be published in the Journal of Creation Theology and Science.
The conference will be held on Sunday just before the International Conference on Creationism, so if you're going to one, there's no reason not to go to both.

Abstracts are due May 11, 2018.  Check out the details at the CBS website.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Is early cellular evolution plausible?

Southwestern Greenland from 30,000 feet, where the
conventionally oldest rocks on earth contain the earliest
putative traces of living things.

I have a reader's question this week, and this is going to be extra science-y for those of you who like that sort of thing.  For the rest, well, God bless you.  Bear with us as we explore early cellular evolution.

First, a paraphrase of the question:
If all cells possess similar structures that are supposed to have been inherited from a common ancestor, is that something we would have expected?  After all, we're talking about billions of years of evolution!  That's a long time, and many things could change.  The idea that cells still have similarities inherited from the very beginning of life seems unbelievable or at least unexpected.
I'm not sure "expecting"  is the right question.  The reality is that all cells, from Archaea to Bacteria to Eukarya, have have a common core of metabolism and proteins. They all use DNA/RNA/proteins. They all replicate DNA, transcribe RNA, and synthesize proteins. They all synthesize proteins using ribosomes.  So there is a tiny handful of proteins that are found in just about every living thing.  By tiny handful, I mean around 20-30.  Evolution explains this as functional constraint. The common ancestor must have been a cell with DNA/RNA/proteins and ribosomes, and now all descendants have the same thing. Since those metabolic processes were essential to the ancestor, they were less amenable to alterations than other parts of the ancestral cell's genome.  This seems to me to be a reasonable explanation of the current pattern of similarities and differences present in all cells.

Now, one could claim that these universally common features have a different explanation, for example, common design. In that case, one would need to account for both the similarities and differences, which evolution does with the notion of divergence from a common ancestor (to generate difference) and purifying selection (to maintain the similarity).  It's not clear to me that design accounts of similarity ever progress very far beyond saying, "They're similar because of a common designer."  The differences are also a key part of the pattern, especially the differences that reveal a nested hierarchy of similarity.  That is in need of an adequate explanation.

As to the implicit plausibility of the evolutionary explanation, I am deeply skeptical of any attempts to evaluate it.  I would certainly and enthusiastically agree that abiotic scenarios for the origin of life can be evaluated critically and rejected, but once a cell actually exists, I'm not at all certain we can say how it would or would not behave in an environment about which we can surmise very, very little.  Problems that I see: What was the ancestral population of cells like?  What was their DNA replication and cell division like?  Was it good or prone to error?  What was the environment like?  And what was the environment like over the ~1.5 billion years from the origin of life to the origin of the eukaryotes, and for the 2 billion years from the origin of the eukaryotes to the present?  How well or poorly was purifying selection operating in the vastly different life forms that diverged in early cellular evolution?  How well or poorly was purifying selection operating in those early divergences in cellular evolution?  How does the apparent presence of ubiquitous horizontal transfer operating in early cellular evolution alter this scenario?  The vast number of assumptions that have to be made (even though some of them may be plausibly estimated from other sorts of evidence) to even begin evaluating the plausibility of one particular evolutionary scenario means that any attempt at such an evaluation will be vulnerable to enormous error from making an incorrect assumption.

Ultimately, these sorts of concerns are the same concerns I have with most evolutionary modeling.  Models are great for rejecting very specific models that are insufficient to account for the present data, but life and its interaction with the environment is enormously complex and full of surprises.  To think that a model somehow adequately captures and accounts for all possible scenarios in real life strikes me as hubris.  That goes both for those who think their models adequately account for data (such as those who claim that we can reliably reconstruct ancestral population sizes at the evolutionary emergence of Homo sapiens) and for those who claim that their models invalidate entire classes of explanation (such as those who claim that all possible models of evolution and common ancestry are invalidated by simulation and those who reject all possible design/creation explanations based on a casual, shallow thought experiment).

To quote a particularly annoying chaos-tician, "Life finds a way."

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Another way the origins debate needs to change

Ted Davis has an interesting blog post over at BioLogos.  I don't usually link to BioLogos (because, you know, we're mortal enemies and all), but this article struck me as something worth responding to.  Ted writes about two things that he would like to see change in the current origins debate.  The first is sacrificing truth to service agendas, and the second is educating rather than indoctrinating.  Your reaction to his essay will vary, of course, depending on what you think about creation, creationists, and BioLogos.  I for one am always disheartened to see BioLogos position themselves as the "reasonable" middle ground between extremists like me and Richard Dawkins.

Rather than complain about BioLogos though, let me instead offer my own habit that needs to change in the origins debate.  It's a habit that I confess that I've indulged in, even right here on this very blog.  It's also a habit that I've come to dislike more and more over the past few years as I've gotten to know Darrel Falk.  Let's call it "Diagnosing the Enemy."

Diagnosing the Enemy usually works like this: A person (let's call him Doug the Diagnoser) reads a book, article, social media post, or random comment on the internet with which he vigorously disagrees.  Instead of saying something like, "I vigorously disagree," Doug instead writes, "Here's your problem: ____."  As if Doug, merely by reading someone's writings, could accurately diagnose the enemy's "Real Problem."

I have encountered many diagnosers in my career.  My "Real Problem" ranges from refusing to grow up and give up my childish beliefs in creationism to scientific ignorance to believing bad theology to just being a garden-variety idiot.  Some diagnosers are blatant: "Your problem is...."  Other diagnosers can be more subtle: "I just wish you understood ..."

Diagnosing goes the other way too: Why do Christian biologists continue to believe, endorse, and promote theistic evolution?  They're looking for respect from their secular colleagues, AKA trying to please "the world."  They're ignorant of the science against evolution (sound familiar?).  They don't believe the Bible.  Grant money.

There's two big problems I see with Diagnosing the Enemy.  First of all, it's just a profoundly arrogant thing to do.  How can anyone seriously think that reading a Facebook comment or blog article would actually reveal all the intricacies and complexities of human thought?  Some days, I can barely put two words together, and you think that's going to actually reveal the inner workings of my mind and years of study and research and prayer and thought?

Also arrogant is the ulterior motive of Diagnosing the Enemy: I have the cure.  Because, let's face it, diagnosing a problem isn't really the point, right?  The point is: if only my enemy would watch my video or read my book or do what I tell them, then everything would be fine.  Because not only can I diagnose your problem by engaging in a superficial reading of superficial comments, I'm the guy who's gonna cure you!  When you think about it like that, it's obviously and embarrassingly silly, but it still doesn't stop us from reading certain triggers and sticking people in that pigeonhole.

Which brings me to the second big problem: It's dehumanizing.  Instead of complex people with complex thoughts and attitudes and personalities, we reduce our enemies to one simplistic issue.  There aren't just ideas out there that float around having battles by themselves.  Ideas are held by real people with real personalities, and histories, and values, and fears.  And all of that immensely complicated personality gets entangled with the way we think about the world and our faith.  When disagreements pop up, though, these people for whom Christ died suddenly become defined by one perceived "defect."

One of the biggest surprises of getting to know Darrel Falk is discovering how complicated he was.  He had heard my objections to evolution, and for some he even had decent answers.  These weren't just casual thoughts, mind you.  These were my zingers.  My huge objections.  They should have left any evolutionist speechless.  Yeah, I diagnosed my enemy, and he just smiled and explained some pretty sophisticated responses to my objections.  He'd given every one of those things a lot of thought.  I had de-humanized him to a single defect.

Darrel also wasn't as well-versed as I thought he should be, which was also humbling.  When he would talk to me about his problems with creationism, I would respond just like he did.  I would explain basic creationist thinking on a wide range of matters, and he seemed to be hearing many things for the first time.  This isn't intended to criticize Darrel at all.  Quite the contrary.  It was just a shocking thing to see two guys who are from all outward appearances experts in the creation/evolution debate, but neither of us really knew much about what the other one actually thought or believed.

So maybe the next time you see some outrageous statement on the internet or even in a book, take the time to think about the person doing the writing.  Before you go off questioning their competence or venting your outrage, maybe try asking questions first.  You never know what you might learn.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Video Lecture: A history of the supposed war between science and Christianity

Hey, look, I'm back!  I've been busy lately trying to get a paper done that was due four months ago.  Ha ha, OOPS!  Anyway, here's my presentation from the first Core Academy public lecture series.  Enjoy!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.