Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Darwin's Startling Predictions

Good science is predictive. The Theory of Evolution is no different. Below I list some of the predictions made by Darwin himself.

1-When Darwin formulated his theory the prevailing scientific opinion was that the earth was only thousands of years old. Calculations done by Lord Kelvin based upon the possible limit for the age of the sun put the age of the earth at no greater than 20-40 million years. Darwin said that the earth would have to be at least hundreds of millions of years old for his theories to be true. Other scientific disciplines, including astronomy, geology, and radiometric dating have proved that Darwin was correct. Darwin's theory was the first piece of science to predict an earth that was this old.

2-At the time of Darwin the dominant scientific view regarding the inheritance of traits was that traits would be diluted in subsequent generations. For instance if a person was extra tall, over time his offspring would generally reduce in height towards the pre-existing average height. A tall human and short human would produce a medium sized human. For Darwin's theories to be true there had to be a means of retaining desired variations. The re-discovery of Gregor Mendel's work has confirmed Darwin's view that traits are not diluted, and genetics has helped explain why this is the case. This again was a bold prediction that contradicted the current views.

3-Based upon studies of human anatomy as well as the anatomy of other primates, Darwin and Huxley predicted that humans and other apes shared a common ancestor that most likely originated in Africa. DNA studies have shown that chimpanzees are our closest evolutionary relative. Many fossil finds in Africa, including such animals as Australopithecus africanus have confirmed Darwin and Huxley's predictions. Australopithecus afarensis is the oldest hominid species ever discovered, and was of course discovered in Africa. What makes this prediction even more amazing is that no hominid fossils had been discovered while Darwin was alive.

4-When Darwin formulated his theories fossils had not yet been discovered dating from the pre-Cambrian era. His theories required that this era would have to have been swimming with life. There must be life in this time frame. In the last 50 years abundant fossils have been discovered from pre-Cambrian eras.

Other predictions of the Theory of Evolution

1-Humans have 23 chromosomes, whereas other apes have 24. If we share a common ancestor with the other apes then two of our chromosomes must have fused to form one. A chromosome has what is called a telomere on either end, which functions to keep the chromosome from falling apart. Kind of like applying heat to the end of a rope to keep it from fraying. The interior of the chromosome has what is called a centromere. These are necessary for chromosome duplication. If humans and other primates share a common ancestor we should find that one of the human chromosomes looks like it is really two chromosomes butted up against one another. This new single chromosome would have a telomere on either end, two centromeres, and two more telomeres at the very center. So what do we see? Human chromosome #2 has exactly these features, with one of the centromeres deactivated.

2-Most mammals manufacture their own Vitamin C, whereas humans must acquire Vitamin C from food sources. If evolution is true our DNA should reveal that we have the genetic mechanism to create our own Vitamin C, but this mechanism has been de-activated for one reason or another. And of course this is exactly what we find. A mutation has de-activated the DNA that allows us to create or own Vitamin C. Furthermore other primates likewise have the identical de-activated Vitamin C manufacturing sequence.

3-As I discussed on the radio with Bob Dutko, there are certain viruses that transcribe there own viral DNA into the cell they have invaded. These are called retro-viruses. If a retro-virus attacked reproductive cells, then the offspring that result would retain the viral signature natively. Evolution would predict that animals more closely related to us would share more virus signatures in common with us, and these virus transcriptions would occur at the corresponding locations within the genome. Animals less closely related to us would have less. What does the DNA evidence show? Exactly what the theory of evolution would predict. To this point 7 shared ERV's have been identified between humans and chimpanzees. Less with other, less closely related animals. For instance, mice and humans share a common ERV. As evolution would predict chimpanzees also have this virus. Mice and humans share an older common ancestor, so you wouln't expect mice and humans to share an ERV that chimpanzees don't also have.

4-The Theory of Evolution predicts that four footed fish like creatures must have emerged about about 375 million years ago in the Devonian period. Rock of this age was exposed due to tektonic movement in Canada, so geologists went there looking for a fossil of a four footed fish like creature. And this is exactly what they found. It is called Tiktaalik.

5-Evolution predicts that whales were once land animals that drank fresh water. They moved first to fresh water, then to salt water. It is possible to determine if an animal drank fresh or salt water by measuring the slightly different oxygen isotopes that result. Sure enough the two oldest species of whale discovered contain oxygen isotope concentrations that show that they were fresh water animals. The later specimens were salt water animals.

What non-trivial, unexpected predictions has Creationism produced? None that I know of.

Friday, January 23, 2009

So I Went to See Bob Dutko

Here's an interesting story. At least to me. Bob Dutko was going to be speaking in Flint at a church on the topic of evolution. This is not far from me, so I thought I'd go. It worked out pretty well because I had car repairs being done that were only about 10 miles from the church, so I picked up the car and headed up.

What I didn't realize was that this was a youth event. I knew it was sponsored by the youth ministry, but I didn't realize that it was basically exclusively teenagers. This church youth ministry was unlike anything I had seen. As I entered there were two rows of teenagers on either side of the doors that lead to the youth room. They cheered you like you were a football player coming out the tunnel. "Hey, thanks for coming!! Way to go!!" Inside Christian music is blasting. Foosball tables, pool tables, xbox, wii, a bar with popcorn and (non alcoholic) drinks. It's a huge party.

I walked right by Bob Dutko who was sitting at a desk trying to sell his CD's, not realizing it was him until the last second. I paused, then went back and introduced myself as "Jon in Commerce." This didn't ring a bell for him. I told him I called and argued with him on the air about his errors. "What is it that I'm wrong about?" "Oh, everything." He laughed. I told him I'd like to maybe argue a little after his talk, but that I wouldn't make a ruckus or anything and would be discreet.

Fortunately there were lots of people, so I didn't stand out too badly (I don't think). They started with this toilet paper race thing that I won't describe. Then it was the very loud band. Finally Bob Dutko gave his talk "The Missing Think: Why Evolution Doesn't Make Sense". Nice title.

Most of the talk was material I'd heard on his radio show. Marco Polo described a dinosaur. Lack of fossil evidence. He gave an interesting analogy using the movie "My Cousin Vinny". He used the movie to show that if you only get one side of the story, like when you've heard the prosecution's case only, the defendant might look pretty guilty. It's the other information that is left out that actually reveals the truth. It's a worthwhile analogy, but as I sat in the audience I couldn't help but think how this applied more to his listening audience than it does to biology students.

Afterwards I didn't approach him immediately. I wanted to give him plenty of time to sell his CD's and talk with the kids. I ended up gabbing with a a parent that happened to be there. A little too long, because as we talked I could see Bob was packing up. So I broke off the conversation to speak with Bob for just a moment. I brought up Tiktaalik and Lucy. We went back and forth a little on that.

What I expected was that we might have a little more of an even exchange. When I call on the radio I understand that it is his show, and he's going to dominate the microphone. But there's no need for that now. But as our discussion progressed he dominated the conversation even more than he does on air.

His assistant Jen, did indicate she remembered me. Bob is in the middle of making a point as she said this, and also told me to call in again Friday and she'd put me through. I said I would. Bob is still arguing some point, but I try to get him to recall me. "Remember, we talked about Iraqi sanctions" I said. He nodded yes, but kept arguing.

Jen interrupted him to say in a half laughing voice "Please Bob, we really gotta go." Bob didn't miss a stride as he kept talking at me, simply acknowledging with his eyes that he had heard her. I laughed a little and tried to bring levity to the discussion and said "Boy Bob, you and I could have so much fun arguing if we had more time." Bob did not smile at all, but just grew more intense. As he continued talking I interrupted him to say "I know you gotta go. We can walk towards the car if you want to keep talking." So they walked towards the car as Bob continued to talk, with me inserting one or two sentences here and there which he would take and run with.

Jen asked if I could help with directions as Bob continued to talk at me. It was almost like we had a little mini-conversation as I stood in silence while Bob talked. I grabbed my hand held GPS to show her things as Bob kept going. Unfortunately my battery was dead and she said don't worry. She'd just call someone. All the while Bob is still going at it. He's getting even more irritated and I'm barely talking. He slams his trunk shut angrily. He opens his car door and says something, and if I quickly reply he can't allow himself to get into his car. He must have the last word.

All in all a pretty weird, completely unproductive conversation. I was obviously getting on his nerves. I don't know if he realized who I was and decided he didn't like me or what.

So I dutifully called him as I said I would. Listen here. We talk about how ERV's are powerful evidence for evolution. Bob had no idea about them and didn't reply on substance one bit. He just denied that they showed evolution.

I didn't intend to describe my evening with Bob, but when I called in towards the end he suggested that I am not letting things go, just like I didn't let things go in the parking lot, and he says that he was trying to leave and I wouldn't let him go. If you listen you'll see that I was about to set the record straight, but I decided not to. But the fact is Bob is the one that would not let things go. I was not holding him up. He was holding himself up.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So Now the Constitution Matters?

Obama took the oath of office a second time because Judge Roberts didn't read the oath exactly as the Constitution specified, and this caused Obama to likewise err. Gotta do it over. We wouldn't want to violate the Constitution.

Meanwhile, we're involved in two wars that were never declared by Congress, and the Constitution specifies that the Congress is to declare war. Using gold or silver as currency is illegal, though the Consitution says that only gold and silver are to be used as legal tender. The Constitution does not grant the federal government the authority to heap upon foreign nations money used to control their citizens, but we heap billions upon such nations. The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, yet certain political speech, such as say a paid television advertisement, is illegal for ordinary citizens in the weeks prior to an actual election. The fourth ammendment protects us from searches without probable cause. Apparently this means a state can't regulate abortion, but doesn't mean that the government can't monitor our internet usage or phone calls.

So why bother with a second oath. The Constitution is already irrelevant.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Are Israeli Attacks on Civilians Accidental?

“In South Lebanon we struck the civilian population consciously, because they deserved it…the importance of Gur’s remarks is the admission that the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously…the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets…[but] purposely attacked civilian targets even when Israeli settlements had not been struck.” — Israeli military analyst, Ze’ev Schiff (Haaretz, May 15, 1978). Link.

There is a rationalle for the above sentiment. Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban explained:

"there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities." Link.

In light of these comments, what should we make of the incidents described below.

A ship attempting to bring humanitarian aid is rammed by the Israeli Navy in international waters. Israel charges that they were involved with terrorist activities. An onboard CNN reporter and former U.S. rep Cynthia McKinney, who was also aboard, call these charges misinformation.

Israel bombs a UN School. Israel claims militants were launching shells from the school. The UN claims there were no militants at the school.

100 civilians herded into home, which is subsequently shelled.

Water supplies cut off. Sewage systems damaged.

Israel destroys UN food storage facility.

Israel engaging in chemical warfare in Gaza.

If this isn't accidental, how is it different from what Osama bin Laden did?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Jesus Project

Richard Carrier recently offered a fascinating summary of the events of the recent Jesus Project conference. Well worth reading.

I'll summarize two of the most interesting items in my opinion. First, Gerd Lüdemann, a critical scholar that clearly affirms the historicity of the person of Jesus, has concluded based upon his research that no reliable information about the historical Jesus can be gleaned from Paul's letters. He finds that for Paul Jesus is not an earthly person at all, but in fact is a celestial being. This is not to say that Jesus is a mythical character of course, but wow. This is quite far from where I understood Lüdemann to be. I think he even went so far as to say that Jesus was in some sense resurrected.

Secondly, Carrier briefly described a theory argued for by Dennis MacDonald against the existence of Q which posits that Luke as written is using both Mark and Matthew as well as the Dominical Logia referred to by Papias. The Dominical Logia reconstructed on this thesis would appear to be a work based upon the Septuagant version of Deutoronomy (if I'm understanding Richard correctly.) Sounds pretty fascinating.

I note that these points and others dovetail very nicely with arguments I long ago found persuasive argued by Robert Price. Price has argued for Luke being dated to the 2nd century for a long time for various reasons, and also he's championed Earl Doherty's thesis that for Paul Jesus is a celestial being. He's called a kook for such positions. Laughed at a lot. The tide may turn on this. I'd predict that his credibility will continue to improve. Not that I am qualified to reliably predict such things.

How to Resolve the Palestinian Conflict: Surrender

To the Palestinians of Gaza:

What's happening today in Gaza is awful. What's happened to you for decades is awful. Your children were killed. Your wives and mothers, husbands, sister, and brothers destroyed. Your wealth has been stolen. You have been wronged. Will it ever end? I don't know. But it could. If only you would give up.

I understand why you weren't happy about the massive influx of Jews in the 40's. Muslims and Jews had previously lived in peace and harmony for centuries prior to WWII. Now huge numbers of European Jews were entering your land. Nobody else would accept them. Even the United States. We didn't want a huge influx of foreigners, just like nobody else did. You were stuck with them. Your land was taken. Believe me, Americans can identify with this. You should see how fired up some people get about a little illegal immigration from Mexico.

I know that it was Israel that violated the recent cease fire. I know they killed gunmen. I know that your people are starving and dying due to the embargo imposed since Hamas was elected. And frankly, I understand why you elected Hamas, and why you want to see Israel destroyed after all you've gone through. Americans understand that revenge is sweet.

Retaliation with your rockets was certainly understandable. And I know you didn't kill anybody with them, since the rockets are so impotent. But now Israel has retaliated back and killed a thousand people. They're dumping white phosphorous on you. They're blowing up your schools. They're killing your kids. All because you reacted to their aggression in a very expected way.

Has it been worth it? Are you still holding out hope that the world will recognize the injustices perpetrated against you and do something to stop it? When will you learn that this is not going to happen? Sure, plenty of resolutions condemning Israel have passed at the U.N., but what has that accomplished?

Here are the facts. You have sticks and stones. Israel has GPS guided missiles. You have home made bombs. Israel has F-16's. You have pathetic rockets that usually land in the street, hurting nobody. Israel has 400 nuclear warheads. Do you seriously think there is anything you can do?

If a group of foreigners approached my home with 30 tanks, 40 fighter jets, and a few nukes pointed at me and said "Get lost. We're taking your house." you know what I'd do? I'd swallow my pride and evacuate my house. I love my wife and kids too much. And frankly, I kind of enjoy life too. I'd live in a tent if necessary. I'd get by.

Say to the Israeli's: "You are our masters. We will do whatever you say. We will give you our homes. We will not involve ourselves in politics if you prefer. We will pay the poll tax. What rightfully belonged to us is now yours."

Is it right? Of course not. But at least you will grow old with your spouse. At least you will see your kids grow up. Life is not fair. Justice is not served. But you have no alternative.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul's 7 "Authentic" Letters

A Christian by the name of PaulSkeptic is struggling to reconcile the Paul of the Epistles with the Paul of Acts. He leans towards the view that the epistles do not accurately portray Paul, but Acts does. I wrote a comment which would support his view that some of the so-called authentic letters of Paul in fact are not genuine. I reproduce the comment below.

I should note these are arguments I learned from Robert Price on his webcast "The Bible Geek." What a great show.

Hey Paul Skeptic.

A very interesting post. As you may know, you're not far from the position of some skeptics (like myself) with these arguments. Of course skeptics likewise don't think Acts is reliable history. Most though regard at least 7 of Paul's letters as authentic and pointing to more reliable history. I, however, have become convinced that none of the letters were written by Paul. I'll offer below a couple of reasons why.

The first point to note is that many of the supposedly authentic letters from Paul contain this anxiety from Paul making sure he points out that he's writing with his unique writing style to give his letters an authenticating mark (I Cor, Gal, Col, 2 Thess, Philemon). Even if you accept these as genuinely from Paul this tells you already that there must be a cottage industry of Pauline forgeries even at these earliest stages. And we know that spurious documents similarly offer the pretense of concern about spurious texts. Bart Ehrman discussed these during a series of TeachCo lectures, which I've transcribed.

One of the ways of throwing an audience off the scent of ones own deciet was by telling the reader not to read documents that had been forged in the name of the author. You wouldn't expect a forger to say "don't read documents that are being forged." Well in fact this happens somewhat commonly in forged documents. One of the most interesting instances of this is in a Christian book written of the 4th century which is called The Apostolic Constitutions. It's called The Apostolic Constitutions because it's a book which claims to be written by the apostles of Jesus immediately after the resurrection. We know it wasn't written immediately after the resurrection because it reflects knowledge of later Christianity. Clearly this wasn't written by the apostles of Jesus. Yet within this book these "apostles of Jesus" warn their readers not to read books that falsely claim to be written by the aposltes of Jesus. Well, why would they do this? So that you wouldn't suspect that they themselves are forgers.

At a minimum Paul's concern means we must approach any text supposedly written in his name with skepticism, since we know at least that we already have forgeries in circulation.

Ehrman also notes that statements that include "I, blankety blank" are questionable. Like "I, Moses" or "I, Thomas, the Israelite relate to you the choldhood deeds of our Lord." Claiming to be somebody overtly was a common technique by forgers. We see this sprinkled throughout the Pauline epistles.

What about the texts specifically? Let's start with Ephesians. Critical scholars regard this as spurious because what it seems to do is start with previous texts regarded as from Paul and pastes portions of them into this new text and simply links them together with clauses. It produces these odd long sentences in Greek. I think the entire first chapter is only two sentences. The portions that aren't directly copied from another Pauline work are right out of the Septuagant. It makes really good sense as a Pauline pastiche rather than a genuine letter.

Phillipians is regarded by critical scholars as genuine. But note that it reads sort of like a last will and testament. Kind of with the attitude of "What would the great man have said on his death bed." This is a genre that is inherently pseudipigraphical. It is filled with irony as Paul discusses his last moments leading up to his trial, with the reader knowing full well what had happened to him. Oh, to know and understand the sufferings of Christ. And he hasn't reached perfection yet, but he strains on, runs that race for the higher calling. All the while the reader knows that Paul did suffer, and did attain the perfection by dying as a martyr. Paul says he will soon either die or be re-united with the Philippians, and though he'd rather die and be with Christ, he can't help but think he'll be spared so the Philippians can joy in his salvation and he can minister to them (which of course he does continue to minister to them by virtue of these spurious letters written in his name). So pregnant with irony in light of what is known to the reader this just seems to me clearly to be written by someone that just knows too much about exactly what happened to Paul, and he wrote with that in mind.

With Galatians and I Corinthians you have independent factions with rival conceptions of how Paul operates. In Galatians he's an independent maverick that got the gospel from none other than the risen Christ himself. As opposed to I Cor which says that he got the very heart of the gospel directly from the Jerusalem apostles. There are indications that these texts are patchwork quilts. For instance, what of sectarian strife? At the beginning of I Cor Paul knows all of the issues, what's going on who's involved. Later (11:18) he talks about how he hears there are divisions and he's tempted to believe it, as if he knows nothing of it. In one section women can prophesy in public (11), a few chapters later (14) suddenly they can't. Then you have these comments that look like retrospective statements about Paul's ministry as if it's over and done with. Reference to "traditions" as he taught them. That implies that this is somebody else writing long after the fact. Paul as a maverick missionary of a brand new religion is unlikely to refer to his own teachings as "traditions." Then there's the whole "I, Paul, laid the foundation here, Apollos built upon that and others will continue to do so." This again looks like we're looking back on Paul's ministry as if it is a thing of the past that can now be evaluated.

Romans implies knowledge of the destruction of the temple. Chapter 11 talks about how the Jew's table has become a death trap, and that the Jews en masse had rejected Christianity. Can this really be clear to anybody writing no later than 63 under Nero?

Another big problem contained in a couple of texts is stuff like what you see in Galatians 6:11. Did you notice, PaulSkeptic, that this is written on bold? What a strange way of writing. Since you can already see that it is bold, what is the point of describing to you that it is bold? This is a literary device used to pass off a document as if it is from Paul that would not be used by Paul had he actually wrote it. If you have a strange way of writing you don't within the body of a written document discuss the idiosyncratic loops and markings. You just let the exaggerated writing style speak for itself. However, if you are somebody other than Paul and you want to pass a document off as if it is from Paul you have to actually talk about the strange writing style and describe it. This way when a person that is reading what they think is just a copy of what was earlier written by Paul, the message is communicated to them that as originally written this letter contained Paul's unique writing style.

You may ask, how else would Paul communicate this to these people? Remember Paul never tells anyone to copy his letters. He would communicate his writing style by writing with his own hand, and anybody looking at the letter would be able to see it. By describing it in this way the forger exposes this as a literary device, which assumes the whole thing is fake.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Neanderthal DNA

Bob Dutko has claimed that Neanderthal DNA falls within the range of normal human variation. Over at The Panda's Thumb Jim Foley explains how this is not true and also explains where it is that Bob got this information.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Good Science

Evolution isn't just an idea that sounds good to biologists. It is good science because it makes predictions about what we should expect to find in our world. Evolution says that if members of the same species become separated for a period of time, they may take different trajectories in their evolutionary development, depending on the environment. Here's an interesting photo that I believe is of a member of an isolated tribe called the Korowai. Go here for other amazing photos of them.

This photo is from a youtube clip, which explains why it is grainy.