Friday, June 03, 2005

A Question to Begin

I've long contemplated writing about my views on abortion. To the chagrin of some of my readers who would rather have me delving into lighter matters (which--don't get me wrong--I enjoy very much), I feel the time is ripe. However, I begin not with my opinions, but with this question:

How is the abortion of a 3-day-old fetus growing in the womb of a 9-year-old raped by her father any more or less "murder" than the killing of hundreds if not thousands of innocent people (men, women, and children of all ages) as collateral damage under Just War Theory, espoused by many Christians, from St. Thomas Aquinas to President Bush?

For now, I let that settle in.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Battle Ensues

Here is my reply to AJMac's response over at Pithy Banter. Why, oh, why have we gotten into this topic? For any of you who might just now be tuning in, please know that AJMac and I have a great deal of respect for one another and do not take any of this personally. Others on opposing sides of the fence on this issue out in the blogosphere are not so fortunate. Here it is:

Yes! We've unleashed the hounds! Over one-hundred years of peer-reviewed science has revealed a methodology to us. But we're still stuck. Amazing.

First of all, let me correct two things. AJMac obviously read my post too quickly. I wrote: "Since I have no problem with God somehow making this happen (and I fall into 88% of the American population based on 20 years of Gallup polls), I'm not troubled." AJMac interpreted this to mean just the opposite, that "88% of the population is purportedly Darwinist." Perhaps he might take a break while schooling me in the fineries of debate tactics and read what I wrote. Or maybe I'm being too harsh and wasn't clear. 88% of Americans believe God either created (*snap!*) life on earth or otherwise created (by evolution or whatever process) life on earth. (By the way, I have no doubt AJMac is a better debater than I am. And I couldn't recite half the Latin he knows by heart.) Second, AJM writes: "'He employs the dismissive argument that Darwinism is science and anyone who doesn't buy it is "uneducated about natural selection' and only studying 'natural selection... for fun and in an effort to synthesize Biblical references to scientific observation.'" Evolution by natural selection is a scientific principle. I never said anyone who doesn't "buy it" is uneducated about natural selection. Being uneducated about natural selection, however, seems to be a common occurrence among those berating Darwinism. I do not believe AJMac is uneducated about it. I do believe, however, that his particular stake in making sure it's not true undermines objectivity he--like scientists attempting to falsify their data--might otherwise exhibit. But I don't want to get him started on the "ideal of objectivity" that he believes is such a crock. Third, as long as we're off-topic, AJMac speaks of "publicly-sponsored indoctrination in schools and universities for the past two generations" of Darwinism. Does he have a better idea of what one might teach about origins of life in a science classroom? Does he have any other methodology that is accepted by the vast majority of life scientists to show us? Everything in nature has come about as the result of some biological method. But not new species? Spontaneous generation was explicitly disproven long ago, and no one today would argue that mold, or for that matter, butterflies or bluegills, just appear. Has science given us anything more compelling, or are we to ask children to ignore the scientific method for a chapter and pick up Genesis instead? Maybe just as an alternative, right? Maybe as an alternative to math we should read the poetry of the Psalms or the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Maybe as an alternative to contemporary American history, we should substitute the history of the Jewish Diaspora as driven by the Exodus. I'm all for kids being open minded and learning the Truth. But in science class, they should be learning ONLY what science--based on peer-reviewed, well-accepted theory, can teach us. If science doesn't get us to God (and I think it does; but not as directly as AJMac and others want), then parents, role models, and churches need to do it.

Now I'll pause for AJMac to rip that apart because I was so juvenile. . . . OK. Back to Darwinism. As a threshold matter, I wonder why AJMac chose to ignore so many of my specific examples. That aside, AJMac writes: "This logical fallacy -- post hoc ergo proctor hoc; it followed after therefore was caused by -- is the foundational flaw in Darwinian logic. That humans resemble apes does not tell us whether humans evolved from apes or whether God created humans and apes distinctly while endowing them with similar genomes. Even if it could be established that humans appear after apes in the fossil record, chronology does not establish causation." Ah, I do respect and have a high opinion of AJMac's arguments. But he's missing the point. Darwinism is not about one species following another. Many species follow many others and have nothing in common with them. It is, however, about the ability of organisms to change themselves (or be changed by God, if you like) for the better of their species in response to their environment. I like AJMac's idea that perhaps God created human and apes distinctly while endowing them with similar genomes. OK. I can accept that. But the scientific process has yielded no evidence of this. That doesn't mean that someday science will not reveal it as true. What it does mean is that we have limited sight through science. (And, by the way, homo sapiens and the Great Apes are said to have evolved from a shared ancestor, not humans from apes, as the usual scare-tactic fallacy goes.) If that means we need to add to science for an honest understanding of the Truth--as I know AJMac agrees--then, fine. Just not in a science classroom.

AJMac also writes: "In other words, belief in speciation is the product not of scientific observation but rather, as the Accipiter puts it, of inference. Just like belief in creation by an Intelligent Designer is the product of inference. However, not all inferences are equally reasonable and the sheer mathematical improbability of speciation makes it rather fanciful, indeed." AJMac chooses to ignore my arguments and revert back to his own, which--check--is hisprerogativee. Scientific observation includes that which is both direct and indirect (or inferential). Belief in God is the product of inference, true. Belief in speciation is also the product of inference. For me, I have absolutely no problem melding both beliefs. Others cannot. As to the "sheer mathematical improbability," AJMac, without the slightest bit of his usual logical analysis, throws out the notion that "billions and billions" of years are required for evolution, and the Earth is not old enough. Darwinists and thousands of scientists whose livelihoods depend on their applying the fundamentals of natural selection don't seem to have a problem with this proferred time constraint. So why should I or anyone else believe an Orthodox Christian trial lawyer who claims to know better? For my part, I would say the sheer mathematical improbability of the anything in the universe existing apart from God is overwhelming. So, God it is. But He gave us science, and a hell of a lot of clues turned evidence that lead--if one is willing to follow the path--right to Him. Just not in the way AJMac and others who won't accept evolution by natural selection believe. Whether Biblical literalists like it or not. (And I'm not saying AJMac is a Biblical literalist, just for the record.)

Next, AJMac slides back over to the mousetrap/watchmaker/eyeball irreducible complexity argument he's read so much about. He writes: "organs and systems cannot evolve piecemeal." Says who? I'd like to poll the research M.D.'s over at the University of Colorado Hospital and see if they agree. What really surprises me is that while the irreducible complexity argument argues for God, so does the argument that organs and systems could evolve piece by piece. Whether AJMac wants to admit it or not, the vast majority of scientists out there are not the raving, illogical, senseless, evil-prone atheists he imagines. Most of them--I dare say--would admit to an awesome intelligence far beyond our understanding that could imagine forth such a puzzle as life on Earth. This next part just pisses me off: "The Accipiter might mean that an Intelligent Designer 'tuned,' 'detailed,' and expressed His 'preferences' through His own mysterious, creative processes that defy scientific explanation. Of course, that cannot be his meaning; he has not otherwise demonstrated a willingness so to surrender to the compelling logic of intelligent design." Let's see. I wrote this: "I believe--evolution by natural selection shows us how incredibly elegant, complex, and beautiful God is." And this: "As the environment forced the best traits to be exploited through reproduction and the worst ones to be eliminated, the best traits prevailed. (For me, this amounts to God making music with genes as notes.)" And this: "The eyeball--or for that matter the human brain--is so complex as to be otherworldly, or, as some would say, only within the province of God as Creator. I certainly empathize with such awe." Now, I don't know about you, but does it seem that I might just think God had something to do with making all this happen? Whether I fall into the camp of "Intelligent Design" gurus that AJMac has evidently joined with, I have no idea. But to say that I've not "surrendered to compelling logic" of their Creator version is only to say that the "logic" expounded by AJMac has not been compelling enough.

Finally, AJMac writes: "The Accipiter differs from me in his willingness to give God credit for the special design of various species, particularly humans. Instead, the Accipiter insists that "'we have incredible genes that have best adapted us to this thing we call humanity.'" Maybe I missed something. AJMac surely did. What I am saying here is that God have us our humanity. Is it special? Of course. Are we like no other creature on the planet? Of course. Do we have souls? I sure think so. I have no doubt why AJMac puts so much energy into his defense of humans. But it's not an argument with which I disagree. Just for the record, chimps and gorillas paint and sing and are on record doing so. While they might not "aspire to careers," they live lives of emotional purpose and have been recorded for the last 40 years learning and interacting with humans with great intelligence. I'm sure they create dance steps, and I'm just as sure they don't care about Valentine's day. And they certainly do long (for lost family members; it's well documented), tell stories, and (one of the only animals to do so) contemplate their existence (they're the only other species to recognize themselves in a mirror). But I don't find any of that threatening like I think AJMac seems to. Because humans resemble the Creator so much more.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

How Deep?

A quick thought on this Deep Throat revelation.

The historical and contemporary significance is becoming obvious, I think.

First, the Mainstream Media can revel in its past, enjoying the fruits of W&B's labor, newly revealed as produced without additives or coloring.

Second, MSM can use W&B's work as a touchstone for doing better, and more, investigative journalism regardless of how bloggers on the Right would paint them. While the Fourth Estate has taken enough self-inflicted blows to put big George Foreman in a body bag next to his tiny, little, no-fat grill, it somehow keeps chugging along. I don't forget that all of us depend on those throngs of reporters to give us something to chew on every day and to, well, prompt us to . . . evoke. But I hope Deep Throat in the flesh will summon the higher ethics that were left behind in loud newsrooms draped with cigarette smoke and ringing with the clang of IBM Selectric typewriters.

Three: MSM needs to give itself a lesson in sources and trust, so as, well, not to cause rioting in Arab countries that leaves dead Muslims and others crumpled in the streets. Mistakes are mistakes. But give me a break. I predicted the fall of Newsweek in the aftermath. We'll see.

Four: Whistleblowers are incredibly valuable to this country.

Five: Even 91-year-olds need a little sumpm-sumpm.

Evolution by Natural Selection

I posted this at Pithy Banter as a response to AJMac's criticism of evolution.

I hate this topic. I'm not sure if it's ignorance, or fear, or a failure to be intellectually honest, or too much faith in editorialists and website creators. But this ultimate origins debate is just another wedge plunged deep into the fabric of this divided country. How silly. It all comes, in the end, down to faith. Like I've said before, I can't tell you what happened before the Big Bang, or whether the Big Bang even happened, so the idea that God started it all and made some very cool things happen (whether one believes He's "personal" or not) makes the most sense to me. Because I cannot prove it, however, I must take it on faith.

Evolution by natural selection, in contrast, doesn't require much in the way of faith. It only requires attentiveness and real intellectual honesty. I do not feel compelled to stretch and pull and push what I have observed and what my human coinhabitants of this planet have carefully researched to comport with every word in the Bible. I believe God has it all worked out, but He wants us to work hard to understand it. To use that big brain.

Full disclosure: I do my best here, based on my best understanding. But the guys who do this work for a living are the best ones to consult. So if you don't believe me, ask them. Do a web search: the fight is alive and kicking out there.

Here goes.

Darwinism is not a religion. While I accept the notion that all beliefs are in some way grounded in faith, Darwinism has nothing to do with belief in or reverence for a supernatural power, or an organized system founded on such belief. It might be a cause pursued with zeal or conscience, but–at least to the extent by "Darwinism" AJM means "evolution by natural selection"–Darwinism is a scientific theory. It is an explanatory statement that fits the evidence. Scientists work by falsification: if they are intellectually honest, they take the theory as their best view of reality until some severely conflicting data or better explanations come along. Einstein's relativity: theory. Earth orbiting the sun: theory. Existence and characteristics of atoms: theory. Molecular interaction: theory. Electricity: theory. Movement of light: theory. Scientific theory–including evolution by natural selection–is not some pipe-dream, or unreliable, speculative wish. Neither is evolution by natural selection "illogical." In fact, like all good science, it is purely logical, having none of the trappings of human emotion: hope, adherence to authority for fear of offending such authority, or fancy. Instead, it is based on falsification: posing a hypothesis and assaulting it with potentially undermining facts. By doing this–I believe–evolution by natural selection shows us how incredibly elegant, complex, and beautiful God is. But that is not the purpose of science.

AJM says that inter-species mutation is common. He’s right. It’s called anagenesis, and it is a crucial element of the process of evolution by natural selection. It’s the reason humans spend billions of dollars a year trying to combat viruses like HIV that–by prioritizing and replicating only the its genes that best allow it to exist in and exploit its present environment–mutate faster than we can kill them. What AJM fails to accept is that genetic changes also can accumulate within an isolated portion of the species but not the whole species, as that smaller population adapts to its local environment, such as a Pacific island. At a certain point intra-species mutations make it so distinct from the main part of the population that it cannot breed with the majority. It becomes a new species. This–in contrast to what AJM contends–enjoys abundant evidence in the fossil record. What Darwin described as "closely allied" species, such as flightless rhea species in South America rather than ostrich species in Africa or moa species in New Zealand, are clear examples of speciation. Anatomical evidence also abounds, such as the existence of a detached pelvis and useless tiny legs in the skeleton of an early whale, which links this animal to ancient antelope species. DNA analysis, of course, has directly confirmed the shared similarities between divergent species, even concluding that, through a comparison of the efforts of the Human Genome Project and the Mouse Genome Project, of 30,000 total genes in each species, 99% of them had counterparts in the other species. This on top of the well-established fact that humans share 98% of the same genes with pygmy chimpanzees.

AJM says that no one has directly observed such speciation occur, however. Science relies on both direct observation and inference, like so many other disciplines. The absence of direct observation–as any faithful Christian knows–does not eliminate the existence of that being observed. That said, it is true that no one has directly observed speciation, because it occurs much less frequently than anagenesis, and occurs over time periods longer than a research scientist’s life. However, one set of scientists specializing in observation of 35 generations of fruit fly, and another looking at 20,000 generations of E. coli bacteria are very close to confirming this relatively rare event. Which highlights AJM’s observation that there is not enough time for speciation to happen. I’m not sure where he got his numbers (perhaps he needs to consult those who study evolution by natural selection for a living not just cosmologists who do it for fun and in an effort to synthesize Biblical references to scientific observation), but the numbers I’ve seen convince me–and legions of scientists–that the earth is old enough.

The irreducible complexity argument is compelling, but–at least for me–not particularly worrisome. The eyeball–or for that matter the human brain–is so complex as to be otherworldly, or, as some would say, only within the province of God as Creator. I certainly empathize with such awe. However, over time, as organisms evolved to require eyes, the eyes were formed. Each piece had its own origin, driven to purpose and to interaction with other pieces by external circumstances. Cells evolved–through genes that produced such characteristics because they were the most well adapted–sensitivity to external forces, touch, then light, then, as parts of a whole, to vision. Molecules become organelles become cells become organs become systems. It’s not as mystical as the mouse-trap analogy suggests. Geneticists today have a very good understanding of how genes control such phenotypes, and this research plays a critical role in medical research. Since I have no problem with God somehow making this happen (and I fall into 88% of the American population based on 20 years of Gallup polls), I’m not troubled.

The problem, of course, for so many who are uneducated about natural selection, is that it could not happen because it is thought to be "random." For anyone who understands natural selection, however, it is clear that the genetic preferences exhibited by changing organisms and their parts are hardly ever the product of chance or chaos. Instead, they are the product of precise, finely tuned, incredibly detailed adaptations to specific environmental conditions. As the environment forced the best traits to be exploited through reproduction and the worst ones to be eliminated, the best traits prevailed. (For me, this amounts to God making music with genes as notes.) Finally, as to human phenomena, all I can say is this: we have incredible genes that have best adapted us to this thing we call humanity. And both AJM and I can thank God for them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hubris

"History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. We think we're so terrific. We think we know so much. We think we have such genius. Well, think again." -- David McCullough, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Truman, John Adams, and 1776.

"Be open-minded. But not so open-minded that your brain falls out." -- Stan Spencer, Advanced Placement high school history teacher, 1989.

"Do I fear for this country? No. But I'd like it better my way." -- Me, earlier today.

This is Now

You all are so patient with me. I'm off gallivanting around northwest Ontario acting like a backwoods fisherman and you're still checking in to this feeble little talkbox. I appreciate it. Since I rarely transmit the bono vox I hope for, I'm virtually agog, swimming in the good graces of my readers.

So let me tell you a little bit about the big fishing trip. Eight guys, two cabins, fish, beer, boats, motors, beer, and fish. And a 30-pound fried turkey along with the 10-gallon stainless steel turkey fryer and its accessories, 10 gallons of oil and a propane tank. Did I mention eight guys?

The fishing was mediocre. We arrived at South Bay Lodge approximately 4 weeks after ice out, meaning the northern pike had already spawned, released all their aggressions, and headed for deeper water. Hence, the fast, barracuda-like topwater action in the shallows was not happening. What was happening was--at least for me--two days of 6 in which 8 or 10 hours in a 12-foot V-hull Lund with a 15-horse Yamaha and a delightful-smelling fellow man was worth it for the fish. The other 4 days were tolerable, of course, because I wasn't sitting here. By sitting here I mean sitting in this chair in this climate-controlled box or any other chair in any other climate-controlled box staring at a CRT, mind wandering to cool waters and white pines.

So the fishing was mediocre, but the guys were cool. Until the 8th day, when I had had enough of 7 other guys. It's inevitable.

A few highlights.

Two days in a row we watched an adult bald eagle focus on our shore-lunch spot from the top of a pine about 200 meters away on a tiny island (one of hundreds or even thousands dotting this 14,000-acre lake complex). After we packed up--full of northerns and lake trout, fried onions and potatoes, and pork and beans--and puttered away, he swept down, corn-yellow talons extended, and--whap!--took the largest northern pike carcass. Not five minutes later (both days), we came upon a female moose swimming--head high and chest above water--between an island and shore, maybe 600 meters distant. The second day a tiny calf accompanied her, no more than a few weeks old. She was encouraging it, swimming ahead a few meters, turning around and proding it with her nose. Incredible.

Revving the motor too much in reverse almost sent my uncle and me down a shallow waterfall at a portage lake. It was a smooth move on my part. Luckily, my brother, my cousin and I, submerged up to our necks in 53-degree water, were able to pull the boat upstream onto some rocks. There's always an adventure.

Catching northerns and walleye, one after another under the big waterfall at Premier, the portage lake, was enlivening in only a way a fisherman might understand. Rapalas and jigs.

Fishing with my cousin--with whom I was nothing but impressed on so many levels, having now gotten to know him as an adult--for lakers in the rain while the sun was setting, casting an ethereal mist-rainbow of soft light, was fantastic.

Being with my uncle when he laughed so hard he could hardly stand it was great.

My brother's jokes and stories--as always--elevated me.

I had some good conversations in the boats, and some less-serious but more rambunctious ones back at camp in the evenings. What I found most interesting is that--and I'm always surprised about this even though I've experienced it so many times--men love talking about penises. The penis is very, very funny, I know. But there's something about the fishing and the beer and the Italian beef that brings out the penis drama, the penis mythology, in all men. Sure, we talked about women, and cars, and cooking meat. And work and kids. And outlandish stories that my brother and my cousin and I delve out to push the humor boundaries. But no religion, and no politics. It was nice, actually, although somewhat empty in the deep end. (But so what. So much of what bloggers like me write about is so inconsequential in the day-to-day and, I think, in the great expanse.)

There were lots of family stories; I'm always taken with those.

Speaking of family, I was running today at lunch and realized I was 32 years old. Not that I didn't know that already. But realizing that was something else. Making it real. Incorporating that fact into the reality I experience with my senses. Fabricating it out of me parts that are usually in storage in my internal back shed.

So, that got me thinking (and what doesn't, as my boisterous friend AJM said this morning over at Do Justly, where he's putting the radical back in radical right): where do I stand in the family? And I don't mean my family, my wife, our daughter, our dog, me. I mean the family, the crucible which forged so much of my metal: my people, my line.

Let me give you some perspective. I was the first son, the first grandson, the first nephew, the first of my generation. As such, I was privileged to carry weight and break ice, grow up early, make my bones, make my way pushing against authority and absorbing all the good stuff the adults let me see, hear, taste, and know. All the big stories, the drama, the disclosures, the human stuff.

Nowadays, there are others who are or were married. There are other children other than mine. I'm no longer the first.

But having been the first leaves me out there in the expanses. You need binoculars to see me now. Because I've always gone my own way. And, as much as I have heart-tugging, warm-washed waves of memories of home, of my wonderful childhood, of my family, I still live 1000 miles away.

That doesn't mean I don't care or that I don't feel like I have a part to play. Our family is close. Sometimes anxiously close. Oft-times complex in our linkages and shared feelings. And I feel a responsibility, still. With one of three of my brothers living near me, I am often at ease. And my wife and her family are here. So I am at home. But there are times I long for the old home nonetheless. And there are responsibilities I must deal with now, as an adult.

And that brings me to my main point: In so many ways that old Home I sometimes pine for does not exist.

Most of the people do, though. And I love them. And the streets are still there. Although now they're connected to busier streets. And there are so many people I don't know. It's hard leaving a small farm town when you're 17 and coming back to it year after year as it grows into a suburb.

But my visions of yesterday are so full of color and depth and--this is key--so full of wonder because I was a child. I'm no longer a child, as much as that little rascal thrives in me. So now, and over the years of my adulthood, I have c0me to realize that my dreams are mine only because I choose to keep them alive.

Realization--this same making real of what I spoke--has completely set in. The fallibility of the adults. The idiosyncrasies that were once charming or willfully ignored or symbols of the greatness of adulthood are now profound and pronounced. The full goods and the full bads and the full-on gray areas of personality are so clear. The child in me turns away looking for warm sunset lakes and popsicles, but the adult in me sees it all for what it is.

Now, this is all pretty depressing stuff. I know that. What I cannot fail to mention, though, is that with the darkness comes a new light. A brighter, clearer, more powerful one. That is, knowing my family for who they really are--not just what I hoped or wanted them to be--is so much better. Maybe a lot of the charm has worn off, but what has replaced it is a rich understanding of the world and a rich appreciation for the power of family to uplift even me, a 32-year old son, grandson, and nephew.

I only hope my daughter will know the charm I knew for so many years, and, like I do now, keep it in her heart.