Archives for October 2016

The tilma of Juan Diego

guadalupe1[Author’s note: this article was originally published several years ago when I wrote as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner at Examiner.com. The article’s original contents have not been edited, requiring a correction: the tilma was not weaved from cotton, but agave plant fiber. As I say below, I’m not Catholic. I don’t need for this story to be true; I merely find the alleged details fascinating. Strangely enough, my atheist friends seem to desperately need the story to be false.]

I present the following information for your cogitation acknowledging that it is anecdotal in nature, but included there are some very interesting claims made by scientists involved in the story.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I’ve never been to Mexico to personally examine the tilma of Juan Diego.

Given the current climate and tendency of drug cartels to shoot or chop of the heads of people, I don’t consider it a tourist friendly travel destination. Therefore, I have planned no trips for the purposes of conducting a personal examination. Besides, we’ve firmly and cheerfully established my lack of credentials in certain natural sciences and my aversion to microscopes and lab coats.

My primary source of information for this story of Juan Diego’s tilma came from a book titled Divine Interventions by Dan Millman and Doug Childers.

Internet sources appear to confirm much of the information that I found in their book.

Juan Diego’s story begins on Saturday, December 9th, 1531 — the day Catholics celebrate as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

It is believed to be the day of Jesus’ conception, which is sort of odd considering I know Catholics also celebrate Christmas in December.

If accurately celebrated, it would be mean either the baby’s gestation period lasted a full calendar year. If the day celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is correct, according to the calendar Jesus should have been born in August or September.

Personally, I don’t think it matters when we celebrate Christmas, but that we recognize the birth and death of the promised Messiah.

But I could be wrong. It’s been known to happen.

An Aztec peasant converted to Catholicism, according to the story Juan Diego experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary at a specific hill approximately nine miles outside of Mexico City. The vision sent Juan Diego on a mission to convince the bishop of Mexico City to build a shrine for her at the site.

Although he spoke no Spanish, Juan boldly approached the bishop to relay her request. After listening to the translator with little interest the bishop summarily dismissed him. A dejected Juan Diego departed for home.

The vision of Mary greeted him with encouraging words on his return journey. Juan confessed his failure and begged Mary to find a more suitable and articulate replacement.

Undeterred, the vision sent Juan back to speak with the bishop a second time.

This time Bishop Zumarraga found it more difficult to simply dismiss the determined peasant. He was troubled by his persistence, but needed more proof.

He thoroughly interviewed Juan Diego through their interpreter. The bishop wavered before committing resources to build the remote shrine on the word of the Aztec peasant who could not even speak Spanish. The authors of Divine Interventions write, “Finally, he told Juan that he required a sign; let the Lady decide what kind of sign to give—but he, the bishop of Mexico City, could not build a temple based on fantasy.” (pg 157)

It seems that for a purportedly religious man, Zumarraga took a very cautious and skeptical approach. I respect his conservative point of view as opposed to taking a blind leap of faith.

Greeted by the vision on his return home, she told Juan Diego to relax. The following day a sign would indeed remove all doubt from Bishop Zumarraga so the church would be constructed.

Juan returned home, only to find the uncle who raised him as his own dying from an arrow wound. His uncle begged Juan to fetch a priest, in order to receive last rites. Juan hurried to find a priest for his uncle, but the vision of Mary stopped him on his way at the same hill.

She told Juan not to worry; his uncle would recover. She sent him to the crest of the hill. There he found a wide assortment of flowers that were blooming out of season.

He gathered the blooms in his tilma — a long thin cotton poncho — believing they were the miraculous sign the bishop expected.

Juan Diego arrived at the bishop’s residence, who at the time was hosting another bishop named Ramirez and the governor of Mexico.

The bishop’s staff ushered Juan Diego into the room. He explained through the interpreter how he found the flowers as their powerful scent filled the room.

Juan released the bottom fold of his tilma that he’d curled up to hold the flowers. The petals dropped to the floor.

After a moment of stunned amazement the other men in the room also dropped to the floor on their knees, stunned into reverential awe.

According to “legend”, Juan Diego looked down and saw that the flowers had left a perfect artistic impression of the Virgin Mary on the thin cotton fabric. According to Millman and Childers,

Modern experts say the fifty six inch tall on the tilma of Juan Diego equals the artistry and beauty of the works of Da Vinci, Raphael, and Rembrandt. But the manner of its appearance on the tilma is more miraculous than its eerily vivid lifelikeness. For Bishop Zumarraga testified that he saw the image of the Mother of Christ appear on the tilma at the very moment he looked up from the flowers. Four centuries would pass before modern technology would unravel even more mysterious aspects of this unparalleled work of spiritual and artistic perfection. (pg 159)

So now let’s try to separate fact from fiction. Here’s what we know is fact.

  1. A church was built on that site.
  2. Juan Diego’s tilma still hung in the church when Divine Interventions printed in 1999.
  3. The normal life span of such a garment is twenty years.
  4. Though currently protected by a thin layer of glass, the tilma was exposed to candle smoke and other pollutants for hundreds of years without discoloration or ill effect.
  5. A bomb planted directly underneath the tilma exploded on November 14, 1921. Though the church suffered significant damage, witnesses reported not only was the garment unharmed, the glass protecting it didn’t even crack.
  6. Two fibers from the image were examined by the director of the Chemistry department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Heidelberg. He concluded “no coloring agent of any kind [existed] in the fibers.” The authors added, “The source of the color was untraceable, being neither animal, vegetable, or mineral dye. Yet no synthetic coloring existed before the 1800s.” [pg 160]
  7. Scientists using a microscope examined the image and declared no visible brush strokes were present.
  8. Using an ophthalmoscope, Dr. Rafael Lavoignet examined the eyes in the image and announced in the cornea of the eyes, a human image could be seen that had been imposed with the correct optical imagery produced by a “normal” eye. The date the image was created has been established as 1531. The nature of corneal eye reflections were not scientifically verified until 300 years passed. The image has been identified by matching it to a painting of Juan Diego.
  9. In 1962, an optometrist and his wife magnified a photograph of the image 25 times and announced they had discovered two more faces reflected in Mary’s eyes: Bishop Ramirez and translator Juan Gonzalez, identified from painting of the men.
  10. Professor Philip Callahan examined the image using infrared technology in 1979. The professor, an expert in the field of infrared radiation and an accomplished painter, wrote about the image on the tilma, “it’s color rendering and the preservation of its brightness over the centuries are inexplicable. There is no sizing and no protective over-varnish present on the image. Without sizing the tilma should have rotted centuries ago, and without protective varnishing the picture should have been ruined long ago by prolonged exposure to candle smoke and other pollutants. Under high magnification, the image shows no detectable sign of fading or cracking—an inexplicable occurrence after 470 years of existence.”

Those are the salient facts about the story I can provide that can be easily verified: the age of the church, the approximate age of the tilma and its failure to adhere to normal laws of physics that govern entropy. Experts in their respective fields have made remarkable claims about the garment in question.

Several other anecdotes about the history of the shrine include:

  1. The vision of Mary appeared to Juan’s dying uncle and healed him as she promised Juan. She told the uncle her name was “the Ever Virgin Mary Tequetalope, an Aztec word meaning “Who saves us from the Devourer.” This last word in her name was phonetically translated into Spanish as Guadalupe.” (pg 159)
  2. The day after Christmas in 1531, during the celebration of the swiftly completed construction of the chapel, some celebrants fired arrows into the air in jubilation. One arrow allegedly struck a man in the neck and killed him.

Millman and Childers write,

“His corpse was carried into the chapel and laid beneath the sacred image. The crowd prayed aloud to Mary for a miracle. Minutes later, the man opened his eyes and rose, healed. Spaniards and Mexicans – mortal enemies – now embraced one another with joyous affection.” (pg 159)

Whether or not these two anecdotes are true, we know for a fact that within a few years, more than nine million Aztecs converted to Catholicism. An estimated one billion pilgrims have since visited the shrine over the past four centuries.

As with the Shroud of Turin, the known facts surrounding the tilma of Juan Diego are fascinating if true.

But they don’t really prove anything.

My own tendency is to emulate doubting Thomas. I usually need to see the wounds for myself before I really allow myself to believe a story like this. But I don’t have to go to Mexico City to see proof of a miracle. I’ve met Matthew Botsford in person.

When I first learned of his story on Biography Channel’s I Survived: Beyond and Back, it was hard to believe someone who looked that good could have ever been shot in the head.

The camera didn’t show everything, staying from the neck up. You couldn’t see his paralyzed left arm, or the leg brace on his left leg.

It was hard to believe he still had a bullet in his head until I held his most recent CAT scan image in my hand. When I saw his tracheotomy scars, I really began to believe the truth of his story that he’d been through hell and returned.

I can’t prove any of this: that Juan Diego’s tilma still hangs at the shrine for Our Lady of Guadalupe, or that the events happened as described. I can’t even prove the personal experiences that Matthew Botsford claims to have had are real.

For that matter, how do I prove that my own personal experiences are real unless I’m somehow able to apply the scientific method in real time?

Maybe life is just a figment of my imagination.

The childish atheism of Richard Carrier

RichardCarrierSM

Dr. Richard Carrier has a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University, but he might be best known for his zealous evangelism for atheism.

Dr. Carrier is a historian, not a scientist, yet he is unafraid to wander away from the focus of his professional training to offer opinions on diverse subjects ranging from theology to cosmology and the origin of the universe, or his apparently uninformed thoughts on the chemistry necessary for the origin of life.

In a relatively short (11+ minute) video seen by clicking on this link, Dr. Carrier enumerates the following four points to explain why he’s not a Christian. His reasons are:

God is silent.

According to Richard Carrier, God doesn’t exist because no messages from this deity have been universally communicated so that every human on earth has a fundamental understanding of what God wants and doesn’t want us to do.

Dr. Carrier says, “In every culture everywhere, God’s gospel would have been preached to them by God Himself, he wouldn’t need intermediaries. So we’d be able to confirm, yes, there’s this guy called God somewhere, who’s giving us all the same information, and we we would what that information is, and we would all still have the freedom to reject that message, or not care about it or whatever, but we would all agree on what that message was, there wouldn’t be disagreements on it.”

Obviously, Dr. Carrier rejects the Bible as being the word of God, in spite of the fact there are (allegedly) 300 specific Old Testament prophesies that were reportedly fulfilled by the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Personal disclaimer: I believe that Jesus is God, so the wisdom and the information he shared with his followers came from God. But I also believe that my belief cannot be construed as proof for someone else that God exists.

On the other hand, the mere fact that biblical scholars can point to 300 passages in the Old Testament where the life and agonizing death of Jesus Christ appear to have been predicted centuries prior to his birth would seem to skew the scales of belief in favor of my opinion over the opinion of Dr. Carrier on this particular subject. Jesus said that the two most important things were to love God with all of your heart and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This might seem counter-intuitive to a species conditioned to believe in survival of the fittest, but philosophically and morally, it’s brilliant.

What sane and reasonable person could argue that hating others or throwing stones at them would be a good thing? God has most certainly not been silent. However, we humans are proud creatures, with lofty ideas and stiff necks, unwilling to bend them in humility. If people like Dr. Carrier would stop talking so much (mostly just to hear themselves talk) and just listen for a change, they might be able hear God when He speaks.

In the Book of Psalms, we are told,”Be still, and know that I am God.”

Indeed.

God is inert.

According to Dr. Carrier, there’s no reason to believe in a supernatural God because God doesn’t “do anything.” Carrier giggles like a gleeful child when the interviewer asks his opinion on miracles, which he declares are a correlation fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc), meaning of course that correlation does not equal causation. His point is that just because Dan Barker and Jerry DeWitt claimed to have prayed for unlikely events to occur and those specific unlikely events did in fact occur does not mean that their prayers were answered. However, neither can we assume their prayers were not answered because the “answer” was not always the one they wanted.

If you call my cell number and I happen to miss the call or decline to answer the phone, should you assume that I don’t exist, or that I’m dead?

Using rudimentary statistics and simplistic logic in an attempt to illustrate the point, Dr. Carrier suggested in the interview that in a nation with a population in excess of 300 million people, up to 300 individuals per year could be expected to experience “1-in-a-million” sort of stupendous good luck.

However, in doing so Dr. Carrier appears to be making his own logical error, committing what is known as the gambler’s fallacy. He has assumed that if some purported miracles can be disregarded as the result of good luck instead of divine intervention, then every alleged miracle can be successfully disregarded for that exact same reason. To be brutally honest Dr. Carrier seems to be committing quite a few logical fallacies in his four arguments, but lacking any formal training in philosophy and sufficient motivation, I’m reticent to try and identify them all.

Probably the most significant problem with his cursory dismissal of the idea  that true miracles have occurred is that even atheists have investigated and confirmed them. Additionally, several quite prominent atheists have admitted they have prayed for an extremely unlikely positive outcome, during a crisis with potentially dire consequences, and received the outcome they desired.

Later, after the fact, once they decided to become atheists, these people seem to have developed amnesia about what actually happened — but they do still confess to making their prayers for divine intervention, and receiving the benefit of the very unlikely outcome immediately following their prayers, as an almost instant gratification.

It is also true that we know inexplicable events have occurred which are considerably more unlikely than a mere “million-to-1” shot, events for which there are no rational explanations. Those scientific “miracles” will be discussed in a moment, when we address the fourth and final point of Dr. Carrier.

Yet another problem with Dr. Carrier’s ad-hoc example to dismiss miracles comes with his choice to use the number 300, which coincidentally was the same number of Old Testament prophesies that the life and death of Jesus allegedly fulfilled. What an unfortunate number for him to pull out of thin air!

According to biblical experts, several different authors wrote the Old Testament books that included 300 unique and specific predictions about the promised Messiah. Furthermore, several centuries separated the lifespans of those authors and the birth of Jesus. New Testament authors documented how Jesus fulfilled those Old Testament prophesies found in Zechariah 9:9, Micah 5:2, chapter 9 in the Book of Daniel, and Isaiah chapter 53, to name a few of the better known examples.

In the next section about the “wrong” evidence for God, we shall use statistical analysis to show the true importance of the number 300 which, in fact, destroys these four arguments that Carrier has given to justify his atheism.

We have the “wrong” evidence for God.

Dr. Carrier is not a mathematician. Nor does he appear to have the slightest idea about how to apply statistical analysis to complex problems.Unfortunately, he has absolutely no hard data to substantiate his claims. He’s literally making up numbers that vaguely sound reasonable as support for his glib opinions. On the other hand, a highly qualified mathematician named Dr. Peter Stoner once made a serious attempt to quantify as a statistical probability the likelihood that 8 of the 300 Old Testament prophesies about the life, execution, and death of Jesus would hold true for any man who has ever lived. Dr. Stoner calculated the probability that any 8 of the 300 Old Testament predictions would be true for any human who had ever lived was only about 1 in 1o to the 17th power, which is an infinitesimally small fraction a single percentage point.

The numbers truly became staggering when Dr. Stoner increased the number of fulfilled prophetic predictions in his analysis from only 8 up to 48 out of 300, generating numbers that become difficult to contemplate and virtually impossible to put into perspective for someone else using words. Basically it’s a “1 in 10 to the…” number with so many zeroes after it, the results look silly.

Compared to fantastic odds-aganst-success like those, Carrier’s 1-in-a-million lucky shot sounds almost like a sure thing. Whatever number comes after billion and trillion — is it gazillion? Does it matter? It’s a really, really large (or in this case, extremely small) number.

Nevertheless, according to the Bible, Jesus was 300 for 300 in fulfilling Old Testament prophesies with his life and death.

To be fair, Dr. Carrier is a Jesus mythicist, meaning that he doesn’t believe Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. He believes that the authors of New Testament books created a fictional character with contrived details in order to proclaim the fulfillment of these prophesies, like sort of a weird application of (urban legend) tandem story writing.

That sort of places Dr. Carrier in a “1-in-a-million” category of his own — historians who deny the historical existence of Jesus.

This fact alone might help explain why he’s teaching online introductory courses on atheism instead of serious college-level courses that he’s certainly qualified to teach at an institution of higher learning.

We have the “wrong” universe.

The fourth and final argument of Dr. Carrier against the existence of God is perhaps the most bizarre. In his opinion, the universe that exists is the one that only random chance could have created. Dr. Carrier seems to believe that a universe larger than our own solar system is superfluous. And how does he reach this remarkable conclusion? He doesn’t actually say, but Dr. Carrier does spend a lot of time talking about what he would do, if he were God.

Unfortunately for this wannabe source of omniscience, experts in physics and cosmology such as Sir Martin Rees have studied the unique composition of our universe. Dr. Rees proposed that there are six crucial cosmological factors, for which even the slightest variation in their current values would have caused this universe to fail, immediately following the Big Bang.

Sir Roger Penrose then attempted to quantify the statistical likelihood of our universe and calculated that the probability the Big Bang would have randomly created this particular universe from nothing is an infinitesimally small fraction of a single percent, only about 1 in 10 to the 300th power.

And according to experts in existential chemistry such as Dr. James Tour, the odds of a purely accidental origin of life don’t get any better.doogie1

Dr. Richard Carrier tries very hard to cast himself as a scholar and a teacher, but he has confused actual knowledge with what he thinks he knows, and believes to be true.

This leaves one with the unfortunate but almost inescapable impression that Dr. Carrier is roughly the equivalent to “Doogie Howser” in academia, but that seems more than a bit unfair.

Unfair to Doogie Howser, of course. He always sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

 

Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution

Ernst Mayr

Ernst Mayr

Once upon a time, I wrote online for Examiner.com as the Atlanta Creationism Examiner. Now that all the links to my work have been disabled and can no longer be found on their website, I’ve decided to republish some of the better material here on my own website, since I wrote it and own the content of the article.

The title of the article has not been changed. The links in the originally published post have been deleted, however, since most of them were no longer functional.

I think it’s information worth sharing again…

They say you can’t judge a good book by its cover.  Apparently you can’t always tell from the title, either.  Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (edited by Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan) didn’t look like riveting material on first glance. Once I started reading, it proved difficult to put down.

The premise for the book was rather interesting.  In the mid 1960s, four mathematicians were attending a friendly picnic hosted by Kaplan and a fellow biologist.  During their lunch a rather spirited discussion of evolution theory spontaneously erupted.

The biologists proposed a more formally organized showdown with the four mathematicians at a later date.  After negotiating their reprieve, they recruited a pair of prominent advocates of evolution theory: Sir Peter Medawar and Dr. Ernst Mayr.

Medawar chaired the symposium.

If the reader wonders how the meeting went, perhaps biologist Kaplan’s rather peevish preface gives some indication.  He mischievously quoted a pair of mathematicians (speaking ill of their own science):

Russell said, “Mathematics is the only science where one never knows what one is talking about nor whether what is said is true.”  And Whitehead said, “I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive efforts is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him; that would be claiming too much.  But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia.  This simile is singularly exact, for Ophelia is quite essential to the play.  She is very charming and a little mad.”

Kaplan doesn’t call his mathematician friends liars or lunatics.  He merely implies they don’t know what they’re talking about.

What he says doesn’t matter. Let the biologists and mathematician’s own words speak for themselves.

The meeting began a presentation of a paper titled Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory by Dr. Murray Eden, professor of electrical engineering at M.I.T.

Dr. Eden didn’t waste any time pointing to flaws in evolution theory.  Immediately following his opening remarks, he said: “In the first place, Darwinism provided the program for a series which made plausible in explanation of species without recourse to a deus ex machina.  The notion that speciation is a continuous process governed by natural law was an attractive one to scientists. Certainly the continuity of evolutionary process has been amply demonstrated by the uses made of it in paleontology, taxonomy, in ecology and him natural history generally. However, the continuity of evolution does not demonstrate that natural laws are operative, for the laws are not known.”

This echoes a point I’ve made a number of times.  Biology offers no explanation that can account for macro evolution (or speciation, whichever term you prefer) because the mechanism of biological reproduction is sex.

Eden continued, “The notion of natural selection depends upon the empirically verifiable observation that offspring on the average reasonable there my parents more closely than they do the other members of the population, that individuals are not the same; that all environments are not the same. Concepts such as natural selection by the survival of the fittest are tautologous; that is, they simply restate the fact that only the properties of organisms which survive to produce offspring or to produce more offspring than their cohorts, will appear in succeeding generations.”

Again, this is similar to what I’ve said before, of course stated more elegantly and in academic language as opposed to my crude laymen’s terms.

Dr. Eden has reminded the biologists that two dogs will produce another dog just as two Archaeopteryx parents would produce Archaeopteryx offspring – and there is no biological means to explain how one animal could mutate into a different form over time.  As Eden points out, the offspring will invariably resemble the parents more closely than other members of the species.

(In previous articles I have acknowledged there are anomalies to every rule.)

Eden then delivers a hammer blow to the argument for evolution when he says: “Any principal criticism of current thoughts on evolutionary theory is directed to the strong use of the notion of “randomness” in selection.  The process of speciation by a mechanism of random variation of properties in offspring is usually too imprecisely defined to be tested. When it is precisely defined, it is highly implausible.  The issue of plausibility is central to my argument… [Emphasis added]”

That hit the proverbial nail on the head.

After Eden’s presentation a spirited round table discussion followed.  It got a little contentious once Dr. C.H. Waddington (a zoologist) described some neo-Darwinian statements as vacuous.

Dr. Eden adroitly defended the arguments in his presentation, using a statistical analysis of DNA triplets created from re-sequencing amino acids and the lac operon substitution of proteins in hemoglobin as examples to illustrate his point.

I’m not going to pretend I understood what he said.  I furthermore confess, I don’t care.

I don’t care to know about the lac operon substitution of proteins in hemoglobin.  I don’t need to know.  It’s not important to me.

Dr. Conrad Zirkle proved at least some of the participants had a sense of humor,when he concluded the round table discussion of Eden’s paper by saying:

“Mr. Chairman, I wish merely to indulge in a little improbability, one that is at least as great as that’s cited by Dr. Eden if we can assume, I think quite reasonably, that our parents were heterozygous for about 10,000 loci, we can see how slight the chances are that any one of us would have been born instead of some nonexisting brother or sister. The number of our ancestors also increases exponentially per generation back to appoint where everyone probably is descended from everyone but of course, in a different degree.  Now, what is the probability of any one of us being here in this room after the human race has been on Earth for about 1 million years? I am convinced that the chances against any one of us having been born is practically infinite; and this forces me to accept solipsism and to assume that this room is empty, except for myself, of course, and that the only existence any of you have is in my imagination.”

Perhaps a little exasperated by his sarcasm, Dr. Medawar responded, “That would be a good place at which to end. However, we will continue.”

When I gave advance notice of this article, I had a draft that included quotes and analysis about Los Alamos researcher Dr. Stanislaw Ulam’s paper titled How to Formulate Mathematically Problems of Rate of Evolution.  Those comments and quotations have been deleted.

Nor shall I discuss The Problems of Vicarious Selection by Biology Professor George Wald, which inspired memory of my question about the food chain. Dr. Marcel Schutzenberger’s Algorithms and the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution reminded me of my issue with reliance on computer simulations. The Principle of Historicity in Evolution by Zoologist Dr. Richard Lewontin provoked memories about my questions regarding a statistical analysis of evolution.

For the sake of brevity quotes and analysis of those other papers have been deleted or omitted.   The reader is strongly encouraged to read these other papers on their own.

The remainder of this article will be dedicated to a discussion of Ernst Mayr’s paper titled Evolutionary Challenges to the Mathematical Interpretation of Evolution and my humble effort to respond to it.

Mayr lists three kinds of “evolutionary phenomena” to defend the theory from its mathematical challengers: evolutionary rates, rates of extinction and rates of speciation.

To explain how evolutionary rates affect the math, he talks about how pesticides and antibiotics demonstrate how living organism evolve to survive their environment.  But rather than a permanent genetic mutation, what seems a more accurate description would be to say these organisms adapt to their environment.

In fact, several the very issues I frequently cite as problems of evolution, Mayr tries to make into a problem for the mathematician.

Mayr acknowledges the fact blue green alga allegedly hasn’t evolved in 1.8 billion years and must be one of the oldest forms of life on Earth…yet according to the theory of abiogenesis, we must somehow be a descendent.

His argument is “we can’t be too rigid in our parameters.”  Translation: we can’t have any.  It reminds me of Butch Cassidy’s rules for a knife fight.

In other words, there are no rules.

Mayr says:

Here we have a species not changing in 900 million years.  In other cases like the house sparrow, we see dramatic changes in a couple of years, certainly in less than 100 years.  In the case of the blue green alga, of course, there is just the bare possibility – which I am not trying to minimize – that here we truly have an organism that has no cryptic gene exchange , no sexual mechanisms, , no recombinational mechanisms of any kind. (pg 48)

Seriously?  The most ancient form of life on Earth we know about may not even have DNA or know how to reproduce?  Then where does all the life we see today come from?  How does speciation translate into macro evolution to give us birds, alligators, mosquitoes, dolphin and canines?

Mayr’s use of extinction to defend evolution theory is merely a very questionable reference to punctuated equilibrium:

Harvard biology professor Ernst Mayr: This phenomenon evolutionists have referred to as explosive evolution (usually combined with adaptive radiation).  Cases are known from paleontology in which for 50 or 100 million years a genus stayed unchanging until all of a sudden it burst into twelve, fifteen, twenty-five different genera.  After, geologically speaking, a relatively short time span, such evolutionary lines usually undergo a period of heavy extinction and then return to the previously existing stability. (Pg 53)

Explosive evolution is the same thing as punctuated equilibrium.  The problem with the theory is the Lystrosaurus alone does not explain the life we know today.

Why and how punctuated equilibrium happens were two questions he conveniently avoided.

The simple truth is that no biological mechanism (for example, sexual reproduction) supports his theory.  Absolutely none.  In fact, everything we do know about sexual reproduction indicates his theory is impossible to account for life today without divine intervention.  We’re not talking about two “species” of cichlids making a “new” species, but changes in form.

What is implied but unsaid: it must be this way or else creationism is true.

Mayr’s use of an example of cichlids in Lake Victoria to claim speciation has been observed is no more satisfactory or convincing than Jerry Coyne.  Mayr claims “any self-respecting ichthyologist would call them [cichlids] different species.” (p48)

Maybe that’s why I don’t have as much respect for the ichthyologist as he has for himself.  If Mayr’s theory of speciation were really true, you should be able to put flounder and trout in an isolated salt-water lake and create an endemic species called flout.

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, humans have races and dogs have breeds, so why are there multiple species of bear? The only way a “scientist” can claim speciation is proved is to redefine the meaning of a species so that it’s inconsistent.

How do we get cichlids, flounder and trout?  It’s not the same process by which you get an endemic species of cichlids.  Two cichlids make a new cichlid, trout have baby trout, etc.

So how does speciation, or macro evolution work?

I’ll never be Ernst Mayr.  I’ll never plot the area of islands versus the percentage of endemic species of birds for each island on double logarithmic paper like Mayr did.

I’m pretty sure I’d die of boredom before I ever got close to completing the task.

What’s really interesting is that Dr. Mayr dances around the crux of the issue and no one really challenges him on that point.  He argues that gene flow only happens within a species.  In the case of the Sphenodon, though, he says “I wouldn’t say always a relatively small population must, necessarily, change all the time.”

With evolution there are no rules.

I don’t really have a problem that Mayr can get away with inventing terms like “explosive evolution” for punctuated equilibrium, “maintenance evolution” for basic genetics, and “switch evolution” as yet another term for speciation where the animals allegedly fill this niches they happen to discover. Then evolution magically stops.  Unless it doesn’t stop.

I know I can’t get away with making up names like forked speciation, but Mayr earned the right.  He can plot plot the area of islands versus the percentage of endemic species of birds for each island on double logarithmic paper.

With these guys, anything goes except God.  Always remember, there are no rules.

Except of course, in biology, physics, astronomy, mathematics and all the actual scientific disciplines typically applied in the philosophical study of evolution.  Those all have lots of rules — just not in evolution itself.

In the discussion following his oral presentation of the paper, Dr. Mayr essentially said the same thing I have written regarding abiogenesis. (pg 57)

But because he’s smarter than me, he went even farther:

“Let us say that between the lowest prokaryotes and the highest mammal there have been 500 mutational changes per gene including successive changes. Let us also say that higher mammals have 5 million mutating genes (by no means all going back to the prokaryotes). Before we know it we come awfully close to 1 billion mutational steps between her prokaryotes and us. Therefore 10 million or 50 million would certainly not seem excessive estimates, unless there is far greater heterogeneity in the nature of cistrons than we realize.”

But how, Dr. Mayr?  Adding and subtracting genes in sexual selection when you don’t think the earliest forms of life even have a mechanism of sexual reproduction?  How do you reconcile the two issues?

It’s be nice to know why these life forms evolve after you figure out how.  Why is there a food chain?  Why does the body have an immune system?

Dr. Mayr is no longer with us.  My apologies; The question was rhetorical.

I already know he can’t answer the question or defend his theory.  However, I’ll be surprised if someone else doesn’t offer an answer that excludes a Creator.

Someone always does.  Generally speaking, because they fear being judged, these people reject the idea of God.

 

Truth

51S63V2EDNLQuid est veritas?

Perhaps the most provocative question of all time translates from Latin into English to query, “What is truth?”

According to John 18:38, Pontius Pilate asked this of Jesus prior to his crucifixion.

Some people believe that Jesus was only a man. Others believe Jesus never even existed. And there are also people like me believe the story told in the Gospel of John is basically accurate, and that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and Son of God. Now I can confess that I believe the previous statement is true, but I can’t claim to know it is true.

Get the difference?

Not everyone believes that Shakespeare wrote his own plays. A movie called Anonymous asserted that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote and published those famous plays like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet using the pseudonym of William Shakespeare. Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe have also been credited with the work of William Shakespeare, but there is no way to conclusively prove beyond all reasonable doubt  that William Shakespeare did not write his own material. We might even be able to back up our speculation with tantalizing bits of evidence, but we cannot establish something as a fact when we don’t have proof.

However, every person on Earth believes they possess absolute knowledge when in fact, we all have beliefs based on reasonable assumptions. Beliefs that are easily confused and twisted to the point where something probably real, or true has been accepted as a false, or a forgery…for example, the Shroud of Turin.

Quid est veritas? What is truth?

Is the Shroud of Turin real, or a clever, elaborate fake?

You can’t go wrong if you simply say you believe the shroud is real, or that you believe the shroud is a clever forgery, especially if you offer the most recent evidence in support of the belief the shroud is real. Or, you might cite the 1988 carbon dating test results to support your belief the shroud is not real.

What you can’t do is claim that you know the shroud is real or fake. Because you don’t. Nobody does. Quite frankly, it isn’t possible to know for sure the shroud is real, or to ever reach that conclusion. It may be possible one day to conclusively prove the shroud is a fake, but not likely given the current known scientific evidence and only limited access permitted by the Catholic church.

Once widely believed to be the burial covering of the crucified Christ, carbon dating tests conducted in 1988 allegedly proved the Shroud of Turin to be a forgery created between 1290-1360 A.D. Most recently revealed scientific evidence have provided ample grounds for dismissing the earlier results of the fatally flawed 1988 dating tests, due to contaminated sample material.

Does this mean that the shroud can be declared the authentic burial covering of the crucified Christ? Of course not.

All this new information means is that the rumors the shroud had been conclusively proved to be a forgery were just a tad premature. Likewise, the nonbeliever may wish to reject of the shroud as scientific evidence, it is only necessary to point out that lacking DNA, etc. conclusive proof cannot be established. Even if the shroud could be conclusively proved to have actually covered the corpse of someone crucified in the same manner as described in the Bible, there is no way it could ever be established beyond all doubt that the body in question belonged to Jesus. “The evidence fails to convince me personally,” is all the atheist really needs to say. However, “the evidence proves that the shroud is fake” is something the atheist cannot honestly claim.

Conversely, the Christian should be equally reticent to declare the shroud somehow proves the resurrection occurred or that it definitely covered the body of Jesus, because of the lack of DNA evidence. If your faith hinges on whether or not the shroud is real, you seriously need to focus on strengthening your faith.

Interestingly, in The Passion of the Christ, when Pilate asks his wife how to discern truth she replies, “If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you.”

So what is truth?

About the only thing I know for sure is that the title of the movie named Truth is deliciously ironic.truth_2015_poster

Sorry for the abrupt segue from religion to politics, but it is that time of year.

When I try to rank the funniest movies of all time numerically, the classics come to mind: Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment, and Broadcast News. And of course, The Princess Bride.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that Truth would be as funny as some of my all-time favorite comedies.

What is the truth? Did George W. Bush go AWOL from the National Guard during the Vietnam War? That’s what the movie wanted to convince the audience to believe.

Cate Blanchett tries to portray Mapes sympathetically, as the “courageous” journalist scapegoated for daring to ask tough questions about the sitting President of the United States during a tough campaign for reelection.

In the movie Ms. Blanchett piously shouts at Bruce Greenwood (who portrays CBS News boss Andrew Heyward) “They can’t do this! They can’t smack us for asking the f-king question!”

But with all due respect, that isn’t why Ms. Mapes was fired by CBS News. Asking tough questions didn’t cost Dan Rather his job.

Using amateurish forged “documents” to support her otherwise unsubstantiated report that President Bush had gone AWOL from his National Guard service during the Vietnam War in the heat of a presidential campaign was the real reason Mary Mapes career at CBS abruptly ended.

rathergate

Amateur sleuths on the internet quickly and easily proved the forged documents were created using Microsoft Word, which didn’t exist in the 1970s.

Pathetically, Mapes tries to redeem her reputation by arguing the documents were only a small part of the story, but that simply isn’t true.

The documents were the story. Without them, the story would not have been run in the first place.

Obviously, Mapes still believes the story that cost her her job was true, because the script for the movie was based on her memoir. It apparently has never occurred to the intrepid producer of national news with the power to shape millions of opinions that a Democrat politician (Bill Barnes) making drunken boasts at a Democratic fundraiser might have been lying through his teeth…politicians tend do that, you know. It was positively hilarious to watch Blanchett smugly assert that 60 Minutes was the “gold standard” for journalism.

Fool’s gold, maybe.

The film encourages the viewer to see Rather and Mapes as the courageous heroes of the tale, not as the blind fools who fell from grace due to their hubris.

Personally, I can think of a few other words that would have been a far more appropriate end to the career of Dan Rather. Bias, for example.

When asked by radio talk show host Don Imus about Bernard Goldberg’s accusation that his reporting exhibited a liberal bias toward conservative principles, Dan Rather famously said, “I’m in favor of strong, defense, tight money, and clean water. I don’t know what that makes me. Whatever that makes me, that what I am.”

How about “horribly partisan liberal hack former network news anchor?”

Probably too wordy, but almost certainly appropriate, considering that Rather has actually helped raise money for the Democratic Party.

The general public ought to know by now that we can’t trust the mainstream media because most media coverage is horribly skewed in favor of the Democratic Party. This problem isn’t confined to CBS News, of course.

George Stephanopoulos, host of This Week on ABC News, once worked for Bill Clinton. He also recently donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. This little tidbit of information should eliminate any mistaken assumptions that George suddenly became fair and impartial overnight, when he transitioned from acting as a political operative to become a “news journalist.”

And don’t forget CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was caught on camera drinking champagne and dancing to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, giving the general public some idea who he’d like to win.

Hollywood and the mainstream media have pulled out all the stops and done everything in their power to get Hillary Clinton elected. In spite of their best efforts, I must confess that I tend to agree with these average Joes (and Janes) than the average celebrity.

Quid est veritas? What is truth?

I don’t always know. But until I stop breathing, I won’t stop seeking truth.