The Unexpected Perspective
The Implications of Darwin and the Big Bang for Christians ... and Everyone Else

Perspectives

This Halloween will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Nailing His 95 Theses on the Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany. Some thoughts on Luther and higher education.

Halloween this coming October will include the usual door to door trick or treating, as well as parties, to which we've all become accustomed.  This year, however, will include an additional, quite unusual celebration: the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his famous 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.

            Luther's "theses" were complaints to the Roman Catholic Church about the practice of selling "indulgences".  Christians in the early 16th century would make a payment to the church in return for the priest to intercede on the person's behalf with God, providing forgiveness for some sin the person had committed.  The Roman Catholic Church claimed it was good theology, and historians tell us it was also a very big business.  In fact, it's been reported that the German banker Jacob Fugger made a fortune in financing the sale of indulgences.  Luther, an Augustinian monk, was incensed by this practice, and made a formal protest by nailing the 95 Theses to the church door.  One thing led to another and soon the Reformation was underway, forever splitting Protestant churches away from the Roman Catholic Church.

            As Halloween, 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of Luther's act, numerous celebrations and commemorations will occur around the world.  One I've read about this week is by the 1517 Fund.  In commemoration of Luther's anniversary, the 1517 Fund is seeking to create a latter day set of 95 Theses, focusing on what it calls "America's modern day religion – higher education."  In fact, the fund is soliciting ideas for how higher education might be radically reformed, much as Luther called the faithful to reform the Roman Catholic Church in 1517.

            Much of the focus of higher education reform is on its high cost, as well as the resultant mountain of student debt, which presently is greater than credit card debt in the USA.  This is certainly a huge problem, but I'd like to focus on some other serious problems in higher education.  As a nation, we're spending exorbitant sums on higher education, yet complaints about the lack of preparation of graduates are as loud as ever.  The 1517 Fund is soliciting additions to its latter day "95 Theses" list, so let me offer two of my own "theses".  Why am writing about a subject such as this?  Well, there's clearly a need for innovative thinking on the subject.

Thesis #1: Let's create a modern day apprentice system by utilizing the power of MOOC's and the Khan Academy, but apply it to businesses.

            Employers everywhere are constantly complaining that the graduates they hire are ill prepared.  In many cases, graduates seem to have serious deficiencies in communication skills.  They often can't write very well, and they also often can't speak clearly and articulately.  At the same time, there's an ongoing problem of providing good skills training programs.  Some think American companies ought to adopt German style apprentice programs.  Those programs are often highly effective, but they're very expensive, especially for smaller enterprises.

            Here's my idea: 1) get universities and other education providers to create short courses, much as Khan Academy does for grade schools and high schools, but focused on employees in companies; 2) encourage companies to allocate one hour/day to these programs.   Here's how it might be put into practice.

            Khan Academy takes a subject such as calculus and breaks it down into short, bite-sized classes that can be watched online.  The student might watch the program during class, then do the homework at night.  Alternatively, one might ask the student to watch the program at home, then devote class time to working through the problems.  My idea is to use the very same system, but for subjects relevant to a business. 

The work of acknowledged experts such as Anders Ericsson  of Florida State University shows that the best way to learn something is to dedicate about 60 to 90 minutes at a time.  Beyond that amount of time, the mind simply can't absorb more without a good break.  If that's the case, then why not suggest that the employer block out 60 to 90 minutes each work day for continuing education purposes?

Yes, I know, the immediate response will be, "we don't have enough time to get our work done now, so how can we give up that time?"  My argument is that if proper training is provided, employee productivity will increase, possibly dramatically.  The task of training and skills development is broken down into ideal length increments, at least according to cutting edge research.  So imagine that a company adopts this approach on a daily basis?  The employee will now be spending only 6 ½ hours on regular work and 1 ½ hours on education.  Will the average employer really miss the 90 minutes of work activity?  My best guess is, no, especially if you take everyone's mobile phone away for the 90 minute period.  If anything, the other 6 ½ hours of regular work will become more productive because the employee is learning relevant skills, the very skills the typical employer says have been missing.

What will this approach cost?  If a Khan Academy or university based MOOC (massively open online course) is employed, the cost of curricula should be far less than if the employees are sent to a traditional off site training program.

Thesis #2: Let's apply the wisdom of the X Prize to a broad range of problems related to higher education effectiveness.

            Most everyone has heard of Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh's most notable accomplishment was to make the first non-stop plane flight from New York to Paris.  He made his historic flight in 1927.  While such a flight is not the least bit noteworthy today, it bordered on the unthinkable and unimaginable in the 1920's.  Lindbergh was merely one of many trying to accomplish the feat, spurred on in part by the opportunity to win a $ 25,000 prize from the French hotelier Raymond Orteig.  That same prize would be worth about $ 341,000 in today's dollars, so there was definite incentive.

            The Orteig Prize served as the inspiration in the 1990's for the creation of the Ansari X Prize by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.  The winner had to launch the same rocket within a two week time period, something that seemed almost unimaginable in the early 1990's.  After all, up until that time, rockets typically disintegrated after launch so they couldn't be reused.  This time the prize was a check for $ 10 million USD.  Twenty six teams entered the competition, which was won in 2004 by Mojave Aerospace Ventures.  Once again, the seemingly possible was achieved.

            The idea of the X Prize has spread to numerous other seemingly impossible ventures.  Each X Prize is intended to foster three key goals:

  1. Attract investment from outside the sector that takes new approaches to difficult problems
  2. .Create significant results that are real and meaningful. Competitions have measurable goals, and are created to promote adoption of the innovation.
  3. Cross national and disciplinary boundaries to encourage teams around the world to invest the intellectual and financial capital required to solve difficult challenges.

 

A quick perusal of the X Prize Foundation website shows the breadth of projects, all seemingly impossible.  What strikes me is that while the prizes tend to have large payouts, they really aren't especially large at all.  It simply shows that incentives such as these can spur incredible entrepreneurial activity.

            So what does any of this have to do with Martin Luther and education reform?  Well, please refer back to the X Prize "goals" list.  The initial one, "attract investment from outside the sector that takes new approaches to difficult problems".  This seems spot on to the whole issue of increasing the effectiveness of higher education.  The other two goals fit exactly in, too.  So how might this concept work?  One simple way would be for the Federal government to create an incentive for very high net worth individuals to create such prizes.  For example, imagine if one could get not just a charitable deduction but a tax credit for creating such a prize?  The former is likely worth much more than the latter.  Provision might be made that an independent organization such as the X Prize Foundation would have to oversee the project.  A simple way would be for the tax credit to be offered only if the prize money is given to the X Prize Foundation.   Critics will say that there will be abuse.  There may be, but if properly constructed, the resulting benefits in at least a few cases will produce great benefits.

            One way to think about this is if a portfolio of X Prize projects are created for a given field.  By analogy, an angel investor will make investments in 20 different ventures.  Most likely, at least half of the ventures will fail, and some of the rest will only provide a modest return.  What the angel investor hopes is that 10% of the portfolio is hugely successful, thus providing a great overall return.  Applying the same concept here, a portfolio of 20 different X Prizes in subjects related to higher education innovation might be created.  Assume a group of individuals or companies contribute a combined $ 200 million to create 20 $ 10 million prizes.  If two wildly successful wins result from this, the $ 200 million will be just a pittance.  Other thing to keep in mind is that the prize money won't be touched until the goal is achieved.  Thus, if the goal isn't achieved, nothing is really lost.

            Martin Luther's 95 Theses did indeed spark a world changing revolution, one still being felt today.  The 1517 Fund's commemoration of the 500th anniversary is a great idea.  I've proposed two ideas that could be added to the list.  No doubt, at least some readers of this will have other seemingly outlandish ideas.  Luther's ideas were both outlandish and heretical to the powers that be in his day.  We need more such ideas to deal with that modern form of religion, the institution of higher education.

            Please share your own outlandish ideas for how higher education might be made more effective or more reasonably priced.

post a comment

Unless You're a Nudist, You're Probably Contributing to Climate Change In an Unexpected Way

When the subject of climate change comes up, most people have images of belching smokestacks at coal plants, or polar bears standing on melting icecaps.  We all have some familiarity with these things, but I'm going to suggest something much more familiar … and intimate … to you – the clothes on your body. 

            Now, I realize, some of you may be reading this in the buff … likely while still under the sheets on your bed, but even you are highly likely sometime today to put clothing on your body.  Sooner or later, we all have an intimate relationship with our clothes. 

So what in the world does that have to do with greenhouse gases and climate change?  Well, according to the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration, the textile industry is the fifth largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the USA, after primary metals, nonmetallic mineral products, petroleum and chemicals. 

In their concern to reduce greenhouse gases, I know lots of people are trying to reduce the amount of driving they're doing, but I can't say I know anyone whose planning to give up their clothing!  So if you're not willing to give up your clothes, what can be done?

Actually, a lot!  More importantly, a lot is already being done.  Here's the interesting thing to note: a lot is being done, and virtually none of it is related to the Paris Climate Treaty.  So with respect to textiles, there's bad news and good news.  The bad news is that textiles definitely contribute to the greenhouse gas problem around the world.  The good news is that even though the US is dropping out of the Paris Agreement, there will likely be absolutely no impact on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas intensity in textiles.  Let me explain why.

As I mentioned previously, textiles represent the fifth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA.  The production of a broad range of textiles creates these gases, but polyester and other synthetic type textiles are the biggest contributors.  This is because synthetics are largely made using a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air and water.  Synthetic polyester represents 10% of the market share for all plastic materials, coming third in terms of popularity after polyethylene (33.5%) and polypropylene (19.5%).  A study done by the Stockholm Environment Institute found that 9.52 kilograms of CO2 are emitted per ton of polyester produced, and 49 million tons of polyester were produced in the USA in 2008, the latest data I was able to locate.  Non-synthetic fabrics such as cotton and hemp produce less greenhouse gas emissions than synthetic polyester, but still a lot.  For example, conventionally produced cotton creates about 5.9 kilograms of CO2 per ton, still about 62% that of synthetic polyester.  Most of this is a by-product of farm production.

The other really bad thing to note is that synthetic fibers also create problematic gases besides CO2.  Nylon, for example, creates emissions of N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.  The problem is compounded by the fact that N2O has a very long life, taking more than 100 years to break down.  It's so bad that during the 1990's, the N2O emissions from a single nylon plant in the UK were thought to have a global warming impact equivalent to more than 3% of the UK's entire CO2 emissions!

So unless you're planning to join a nudist colony, you're going to be contributing to the problem.

That's the bad news, so let's talk about the good news … and there's actually a lot of good news.  That's because of an emerging field called synthetic biology; and it holds a lot of promise, but also a lot of challenges.  A few years ago, it was hoped that synthetic biofuels might displace the use of a lot of petroleum.  Around 2008 some startups promised to use synthetic biology to produce biofuels from pond scum.  A lot of money was invested.  Unfortunately, while the technology worked on a small scale, companies had a lot of trouble scaling up: the microorganisms that produce the biofuels behaved differently in factory settings, it turned out, than in laboratories. 

Today, a new crop of startup companies is applying synthetic biology technology to textiles.  While the textile applications may still be problematic, there is some cause for hope that the outcome will be different this time.  One reason the result may be better this time is because the startups are focusing on higher margin products that have fewer market fluctuations than fuels and specialty chemicals.  The other key reason for hope is that new technologies for gene editing, as well as for scaling up biologic processes, have been developed over the past decade.

While there are a number of startups trying to develop textile products using synthetic biology, one that stands out is called Bolt Threads in Emeryville, California.  Bolt has developed technology to induce spiders to produce silk.  Bolt's CEO, Dan Widmaier, says that the synthetic fabric the company can produce is stronger than steel, stretchier than spandex, and softer than silk.  Moreover, the Bolt product is both biodegradable and does not create the greenhouse gas problem of traditional synthetics.  Bolt has built an 11,000 square foot factory to produce commercial quantities of bio-engineered silk from spider.  The company employs more than two dozen PhD scientists.  The company is presently trying to scale up its process to industrial scale.   It needs to do this because it has inked deals to sell to multiple customers, one of which is the apparel company Patagonia

Bolt isn't the only company in this space.  A German company called AMSilk is also developing synthetic bio textiles.  Beyond textiles, Boston is home to GingkGo Bioworks.  Gingko is focusing on organisms that can create new perfume fragrances and food sweeteners, among other products.  At the same time, certain investment groups are focusing on this area, one of which is OS Funds.

While there is no assurance of success, Bolt Threads and other companies in this emerging space offer an exciting potential way to produce textile products that have a far lower greenhouse gas footprint than traditional textiles.  If at least some of these companies are successful, most likely a huge amount of additional capital will be invested. 

Besides the fact that the technology is both interesting and exciting, I bring this to everyone's attention because it is a solution that does not depend upon the government.   The technology underlying these companies, as well as the companies themselves, is not the result of any international climate agreements.  International agreements such as Paris have absolutely zero impact on these companies, or the technology they might produce.  They represent just another example of how the USA can have a hugely positive impact in addressing the greenhouse gas problem even without the Paris Climate Agreement.  Not only that, if the companies are successful in scaling up the technology, people will be beating down the doors to invest.  Those trying to beat down the doors will include people who deny that greenhouse gases are causing climate change. 

What's the takeaway?  The synthetic biology industry should be encouraged.  It's happening as we speak, through investments by angels and venture capitalists.  Is there a role for government?  Yes, most likely in the form of research grants.  These can be provided both at the Federal and State level. 

Which brings me back to the bad news and good news.  Unfortunately, textiles produce a lot of greenhouse gases, so the fact that the average person wants to wear nice clothes, and probably can't afford to eliminate synthetic fabrics from the wardrobe, we can look forward to lots more greenhouse gas emissions caused by textiles.  Beyond that, as incomes in the rest of the world increase, everyone else will have expanding wardrobes contributing to the problem.  After all, as poor people begin to have higher incomes, among the first things they buy more of is clothing.  The good news is that if Bolt, and similar synthetic biologic companies, can produce very low greenhouse gas emitting synthetic fabrics, textiles will move from being one of the problems to one of the solutions.

Synthetic biology holds a great deal of promise as a technology.  It isn't a panacea, but it could help provide all of us the "dress" to address some of the problem of climate change.

post a comment

A video that reaches an astounding conclusion about Darwin and the Big Bang Theory

 

CHRISTIANS SHOULD LOVE DARWIN AND THE BIG BANG THEORY EVEN MORE THAN COMMITTED ATHEISTS. REALLY??!!!

 

 

Check out this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt_brZDJokI.

If you like it, or just find it intriguing, you can find other videos at

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4Jy5oqNrPmtqgUMC9iCTxg

Share it with your friends because no matter what their particular beliefs are, they're likely to learn some surprising things!

post a comment

A Different Perspective on How to Bridge the Gulf Between Those With Opposing Viewpoints

The mere mention of the words "should" and "want" can evoke a visceral reaction.  Here's the relevant dictionary definition of SHOULD: "used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions."

We all have things we should do, and we probably have vivid memories of our

parents telling us what many of them are:

You SHOULD get good grades in school

You SHOULD eat everything on your plate

You SHOULD treat your siblings kindly

You SHOULD (… you fill in the blank).

As an adult, there are lots of other things you KNOW you SHOULD do.  For example:

You SHOULD exercise regularly

You SHOULD make your bed every day

You SHOULD put aside 10% of your paycheck for your retirement.

And I'll bet there's a little conversation going on inside your head for each of these "SHOULDS".  One part of you is saying:

            Yes, you're absolutely right, I ought to do these things, and I'll try …

The other part of you is saying, "YA, YA, YA, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH … pass me another slice of pizza".

When it comes to WANT, the story is completely different.  Here, the dictionary definition is more soothing and pleasing: "have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for."

For most of you, such talk about the difference between these two terms is almost a flash of the blindingly obvious!  So why bring it up?  I mention it because I think it's relevant to one of the big problems we face today: our tendency to ignore, even dismiss, the ideas of those with whom we disagree. 

There's been a lot of discourse about this problem – speeches, commentary, and even books written about it.  In general, they pretty much all come to the following conclusions:

  • We are increasingly divided in our views on a whole range of issues
  • Rather than try to engage in a dialogue with those of differing opinions, we surround ourselves only with those with whom we agree
  • We live in "filter bubbles".

That's a brief diagnosis of the problem.  The widely shared prescription is that we should listen to what the other side has to say, then try to find some common ground.

            While that's the common prescription of what we SHOULD do, it isn't done very often.  I believe at least part of the reason for this is because the prescription falls within the realm of all the other SHOULD's I mentioned above.   Yes, these are things we SHOULD do, but so much of the time, we just don't do them.

            It's a real problem, with no obvious solution.  This is because we all know what the "solution" is, it's just that we really don't want to undertake it.

            I'd like to offer a different solution.  The solution can be summarized very simply and neatly: "turn a SHOULD into a WANT."  Let me explain.

            As discussed above, we all know what we SHOULD do, but oftentimes it's just tough to do, or too unpleasant to do, and it just doesn't get done.  We also know what we WANT to do, and our motivation to address a WANT is normally much stronger than the motivation to deal with a SHOULD.   Not always, but certainly true enough of the time.  So to help us deal with the problem of considering what "the other side" has to say, my solution is to "turn the SHOULD into a WANT."  This will involve addressing and answering a couple of questions:

            Question #1: what would have to happen for me to WANT to listen to, and possibly adopt, some or all of the ideas of my adversary?

            Your initial reaction probably is, NOTHING could possibly make me want to embrace any of the ideas of my opponents!  That's because they're IDIOTS!  Maybe, but even if they are idiots, I believe you'd still want to embrace some or all of their IDIOTIC ideas if the following were true: you could personally benefit from one or more of those IDIOTIC ideas! 

Now if you knew you could personally benefit, might you at least give a little consideration to the IDIOTIC idea?  I know I would, and I bet you would, too.  Of course, you're never going to know the answer to this until you at least engage in a simple exercise.  That leads to another question:

Question #2: how could I turn one or more of these IDIOTIC ideas to my benefit?

This may take a little bit of work, but see how the situation has changed?  You've moved from dismissing the other side's ideas outright to trying to search for ways you might benefit from those ideas.  Now, please understand, there is no assurance you'll find a benefit from any of those ideas.  THE ONLY WAY YOU'RE ASSURED NOT TO BENEFIT FROM THE OTHER SIDE'S IDEAS IS IF YOU DISMISS THEM OUT OF HAND.

            Please understand, this is not any sort of "touchy feely" exercise.  At bottom, a cynic would say that it's an exercise in pure self interest.  But at the end of the day, exercising our self interest is what gets each of us moving, when we do something not because somebody else told us we SHOULD do it, but because we decided we'll do it because we WANT to do it!

            Two examples, one from the realm of religion, the other from the secular world of politics. 

            The first example has to do with what Christians think about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and the Big Bang Theory, the subject of my book, The Unexpected Perspective.  Overall, about half of Christians believe that these scientific ideas fit quite nicely with the Bible, and the other half reject the idea.  That divide has existed for the past 150+ years, and little has changed.  For that entire time, those who exhorted conservative Christians to embrace modern science have been using "SHOULD" type arguments, with predictable results.  Conservative Christians have rejected the arguments.  I believe a key reason they've rejected the arguments is because no one has provided them any really satisfying reasons they should WANT to embrace the science.  Predictably, they don't.

            My proposal is to reframe the problem, getting conservative Christians to look for reasons they would WANT to embrace the science.  The book comes up with five such reasons.  This completely changes the situation!  Where before, conservative Christians had, in their own minds, absolutely no reason to WANT to embrace the science, they now will WANT to embrace it wholeheartedly.  In fact, I go so far as to say that Christians ought to love Charles Darwin and the Big Bang Theory even more than does the eminent atheist scientist Richard Dawkins!

            Now let's consider a secular example of the same.  The issue I have in mind is global warming and climate change.  A certain fairly sizeable segment of the population either doesn't believe there is a problem, or believes the problem has been overstated.  Once again, the skeptics are being told they SHOULD consider this a serious, even dire, problem that must be addressed immediately.

            The outcome is predictable: the SHOULD  arguments have failed to persuade a fairly high percentage of people.  Thus, I suggest reframing the problem.  I'll start with those on the right. I would reframe the problem by asking the following questions:

            Question #1: is there a reason why I, the climate skeptic, might WANT to believe that global warming and climate change are both real, and a problem?    The answer I come up with is this: whether or not I believe in the science of greenhouse gases, I'd be interested in this if I thought it could be financially lucrative to me.  Suddenly, we've moved from a SHOULD to a WANT: one can be the greatest possible climate change skeptic, but be highly motivated to act if he/she thought it could be profitable. 

            The good news is that there's more and more evidence that people can make lots of money trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The alternative energy sector is growing by leaps and bounds!  The funny thing is there is evidence that much of the money is being made by people who profess skepticism about a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 

            This type of thinking/re-thinking applies to BOTH SIDES.  Likewise, those on the left ought to ponder the same question #1: is there a reason why I, the person who is very fearful of global catastrophe due to climate change, might WANT to believe that the problem isn't as severe as I've been thinking, or I've mis-characterized the problem in some other way?  The answer I come up with is, YES.  I say this not because of any skepticism about the science.  I'll assume that the science is correct (and for the record, I absolutely do believe the science is correct).  What might be in question, however, relates to how to solve the problem.  Why might someone on the left WANT to embrace a more conservative view of climate change?  Well, the profit motive applies equally to those on the left and right.  As some people like to say, "I don't care whether the clothes you wear are blue or red, I really only care that what's in your pocket is the right color green." 

            But that isn't the only reason someone on the progressive/left side of the issue might WANT to embrace some alternative ideas about climate science.  Another reason is simply because government-imposed solutions often either don't work, work far too slowly, or they work but have lots of unintended consequences.  Most every governmental program has those, and they can be VERY EXPENSIVE and VERY UNDESIRABLE unintended consequences.

            For both sides, please remember, there is no assurance that exploring reasons why you might want to embrace some of the other side's thinking is going to produce the desired result, BUT FAILURE TO DO IT WILL MOST CERTAINLY ASSURE A SUB-OPTIMAL OUTCOME.

            While one example is in the realm of religion and faith, and the other in the world of public policy, they share the following elements:

  • Intransigent views on either end of the spectrum, with lots of screaming but very little dialogue;
  • Prescriptions to the other side given in the form of "YOU SHOULD", with little realistic motivation provided;
  • The potential for movement when the issue is reframed from SHOULD to WANT.

Those who study and/or practice negotiation will recognize what's really happening here.  One of the most basic principles in negotiation is: focus on your interests, not your position.  Too much of the time, today, each side gets stuck in its "position".  Instead, a good negotiator needs to understand what his or her "interests" are.  By taking the approach described herein, I believe one is really taking into consideration his or her real interests, not just the current position.

I've given two examples here, but I very much believe this approach can be very useful for just about any issue.

In summary, here's the takeaway for both those on the left and right of most any issue:

  • Stop preaching to the other side, what they SHOULD and SHOULD NOT do/believe/feel;
  • Start assuming that there likely is at least some merit in what the other side thinks, it's really just a matter of figuring out what it is;
  • Start asking, what is there in the thinking of the other side that could be beneficial for me, and others like me, that I just haven't realized/perceived/understood? 
  • Start actively looking for ways to benefit from some of those ideas.

In other words, STOP thinking in the realm of SHOULD and START thinking in the realm of WANT TO.

If you found this worthwhile, consider subscribing to my blog. 

 


 

post a comment

Scientists in South Africa have made an important new discovery of a species related to Homo sapiens.

 

Several years ago scientists in South Africa reported the discovery of the fossil remains of a new species called Homo naledi.  As reported in Scientific American, "[Homo naledi] had a curious mix of primitive traits, such as a tiny brain, and modern features, including long legs.  They determined it was a capable climber, a long-distance walker, a probable toolmaker."    The remains were found in an underground cave system called Rising Star.  This past week, Lee R. Berger of the University of Witwatersrand, as well as a group of other researchers, reported in the online journal on the discovery of remains in a separate chamber of the Rising Star cave system, approximately 100 meters from the 2013 first discovery.  The original discovery was made in September, 2013 by two recreational cavers who pretty much stumbled upon the original specimens.  The second discovery included 131 Homo naledi specimens, mostly the bones of an adult male who has been nicknamed "Neo", meaning "gift" in the local language.  What was reported has the potential to shake up many commonly accepted ideas about the evolution of mankind in Africa. 

            To be certain, the Homo naledi specimens are definitely different than typical Homo sapiens.  The researchers reported that they have a more primitive trunk, shoulders, pelvis, and femur than Homo sapiens.  On the other hand, the specimens appear to have humanlike adapatations of the hand, wrist, foot, and lower limbs.

            The first thing that has caught the attention of many about this find is the estimated age of the remains.  The scientists involved with the discovery had two labs independently date the fossils.  Both concluded that the remains are between 236,000 and 335,000 years old.  That's, of course, pretty old, but not really.

            The second reason this find is so interesting is because there is evidence Homo naledi intentionally buried their dead.  Other than Homo sapiens, there hasn't been any evidence of a species doing this.  If the evidence can be confirmed, it would imply a level of sophistication in Homo naledi not seen in other primitive species. 

How did the scientists reach this conclusion?  It has to do with the location of the burial site – deep within the cave.  The researchers concluded that the remains could only have ended up where they did if intentionally taken there, not by chance.

The third reason Homo naledi might be of particular interest is because there is some evidence that they may have been toolmakers.  Nothing definitive at this point, but there appear to be some tantalizing clues.  Moreover, the researchers didn't discover any specific evidence of this, merely hints of it.  If it turns out that Homo naledi were toolmakers, it could well overturn some widely accepted notions about the role that brain size plays.  This is because the Homo naledi specimens showed brain sizes of about 600 cubic centimeters, substantially smaller than the 1400 cubic centimeter sizing of the Homo sapiens brain.

The fourth, and possibly most controversial, reason this is an important discovery is that it may call into question accepted ideas about the role of southern Africa and eastern Africa in the emergence of modern humans.  The generally accepted view is that modern humans emerged out of east Africa, but the researchers working on Homo naledi are building arguments that Homo naledi may have given rise to Homo erectus and/or Homo sapiens.  Other experts in the field, not involved in the South African discovery, are at somewhat skeptical of these claims.  J. Tyler Faith, a paleoecologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, for example, is skeptical of the claims about southern Africa as the center of evolutionary development.  He also questions the idea that Homo naledi helped lead to Homo sapiens.  He says, "If the dates are correct, then Homo naledi is a classic example of an evolutionary dead end … [Homo naledi] couldn't possibly have given rise to living human populations today."

Berger, the principal researcher, was born in Kansas and grew up in Georgia, but now makes South Africa his home.  He has worked closely with National Geographic.  He apparently is also somewhat unusual in that he is attempting to make his research projects "open source", somewhat akin to "open source" software development projects wherein the research is made openly available for others to see, comment upon, and make contributions.  The number of co-authors in this week's paper attests to that idea.

This week's report shows that new discoveries are still being made around the world, helping to shape and refine our understanding of the emergence of our species, Homo sapiens.

post a comment

A look at a new book that offers some interesting thoughts on how to address the problem of greenhouse gases and climate change.

      Many books provide useful information that helps the reader better understand a political issue, and some books provide a way to re-frame hotly contested, passion-stirring issues.  A new book called A Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet does both. 

Its authors, Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope, are an unlikely pair.  Pope has spent an entire career as an environmental activist, most recently as head of the Sierra Club.  Bloomberg was a recent two term mayor of New York, but is probably best known as the billionaire owner of Bloomberg News, and also as a philanthropist.  He acknowledges that he is not exactly the kind of person attracted to the Sierra Club, but Pope and Bloomberg have found common ground in ways to address the question of climate change and global warming.  This is not just another book about global warming and climate change, and it doesn't recite the standard, well worn arguments.  Instead, it looks at the issue from a different perspective.

I highly recommend this book, not only because it is highly readable and informative, but also because it is thought provoking.   Moreover, it suggests a potential path to resolve the current lack of consensus on how to deal with the issue.

I believe there are three broad "take aways" from the book.  First, there are multiple sources of greenhouse gases, all contributing in varying degrees to the problem.  There isn't one giant cause of the problem (e.g., fossil fuels).  Instead, the authors cite multiple other causes, including things such as poor agricultural practices around the world, as well buildings and building materials.  That's actually good news, because it means action can be taken on numerous fronts simultaneously.

According to Bloomberg and Pope, "the best way to increase conservation is simple: make it financially rewarding."  The idea of solving the greenhouse gas problem through finance and economics is the second key takeaway from this book.  Coal, they note, is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.  Use of coal around the world, however, is declining significantly, not because of governmental mandates such as the Obama Clean Power Plan but because it is no longer economical.  Increasingly, alternative energy such as wind and solar, as well as natural gas, are crushing the economics of coal.

Progressives and others on the left have decried the fact that the US government never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and worried because President Trump is highly skeptical of the Paris Climate Accord.  But what if none of that really matters? Bloomberg and Pope point out that even though the US government has dragged its feet in addressing the climate issue, it has still led the world in reducing carbon emissions.  Not only that, the economics of non-carbon based alternative energy have improved dramatically. The chart above from the Department of Energy shows the following cost reductions since 2008: a) 41% for Land Based Wind; b) 54% for Distributed Photovoltaics; c) 64% for Utility Scale Photovoltaics; d) 73% for Modeled Battery Costs; and e) 94% for LED bulbs. This is because even in spite of this foot dragging at the national and international level, desirable results are being produced.  Bloomberg and Pope identify two key places where results are being generated: 1) the private sector; and 2) by cities.  Bloomberg thinks this shouldn't be surprising because mayors tend to be more pragmatic and less ideological than politicians on the national level.  Beyond that, Bloomberg notes that 70% of greenhouse gas emissions occur in cities, so that's probably one of the best places in which to address the problem. 

Is there any evidence to back up what Bloomberg and Pope say?  According to Bloomberg, New York City has a carbon footprint that is two thirds smaller than the national average for the USA.  While he cites numerous examples from his time as mayor of New York, he makes a point to say that many other cities around the world have implemented lots of programs that have been both unique and effective in fighting the problem.

Bloomberg and Pope are clearly looking at the issue from a different perspective than was offered recently by the March for Science.  All agree that the greenhouse gas/climate change problem is real and needs to be addressed.  The approaches, however, appear to be vastly different.  In fact, having read Climate of Hope, I have come away drawing the following conclusions about how to solve the problem:

#1: assume that little, if anything, will be done at the national or international level, and actually be happy about it!

Those who believe in climate change are never going to persuade skeptics and deniers to change their minds by: 1) calling them stupid; or 2) scaring them about an uncertain future.  How many times has that strategy worked in the past on any other issue?    My answer is, "zero times".   If we stop doing something that isn't accomplishing anything anyway, we'll all be saving time and effort.

#2: focus attention, as Bloomberg and Pope suggest, at the local and regional level

If results are being achieved at the local and regional level, as the authors suggest, concentrate there. 

#3: win climate change "skeptics" over by emphasizing the value of financial solutions to the problem.

Those who see "red" have a very hard time seeing "blue", and vice versa, but the very same people have little trouble seeing "green".  Bloomberg and Pope emphasize the idea of sharing "success stories".  New ones are appearing every day.

            The obvious question is, will the ideas that Bloomberg and Pope advance, be enough, and will they come soon enough?  It's, of course, a giant unknown, and there's no way to conduct a controlled experiment to test it out.  There is, however, a precedent to consider. 

Thomas Malthus in the late 18th century predicted dire consequences of overpopulation: the world was expanding to the point where there would be inadequate resources to feed the world.  His predictions failed to materialize.  In the middle of the 20th century, various latter day Malthusians predicted the same.  Again, the predictions failed to materialize.  In each case, the reason the predictions were wrong was because of changes in technology and economics.  Malthus and his intellectual descendants inadequately took technological change into consideration.

I believe the same thing is going to happen again with respect to climate change.  Improvements in technology are what are causing the reduction in greenhouse gases.  Here are but four examples:

.. Fracking technology has resulted in a huge increase in natural gas production in the USA, reducing the price of natural gas dramatically, and making coal uneconomical;

.. New technology has dramatically reduced the cost of solar and wind as energy

alternatives, resulting in dramatic growth in "clean" power;

.. Improvements in building materials technology, thus reducing greenhouse gases associated with those materials;

.. Improvements in battery technology, making cost competitive all-electric vehicles possible.

Please understand, I strongly believe greenhouse gases are causing climate change.  There's a definite problem.  My wife and I have personally observed it in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, as well as elsewhere.  Notwithstanding that, I am not overly concerned that the USA didn't ratify Kyoto, and I really am not worried that Donald Trump wants to bring back coal.  That's because, as Bloomberg and Pope point out, underlying economics are killing coal, and Donald Trump can't make coal great again (or at least economically viable).  Moreover, economics and technology are driving the reduction in cost of alternative energy. 

I recommend Climate of Hope.  It's an appropriate title for a timely book.

post a comment

Supporting the March for Science Seems Like a No-Brainer. But Maybe It Isn't

On Saturday, April 22nd, a March for Science was held in many cities across the USA, as well as in other cities around the world.  Many scientists, as well as many non-scientists who are passionate believers in the benefits of science, hit the streets to show their support.

            In certain respects, supporting science is something equivalent to "Mom, apple pie, and the American flag."  After all, what's not to like about good science, and who can say they haven't benefitted from scientific and technological progress?  While there are a few Luddites amongst us, they don't gather a lot of support.  And yet, over the week following the April 22nd March, numerous complaints and objections have arisen.  Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro wrote that the March on Science is, unfortunately, another sign that the progressive left is trying to use "science" to further its own agenda.  In fact, Shapiro goes so far as to say that the political left is turning "science" into a new religion.

University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, and a person considered the "go to" expert on weather in Seattle, Cliff Mass, summed up this concern on his blog:  "Science plays a critical role in civic life, acting as non-political source of information about the natural environment and as the generator of useful technologies. Scientists are credible only when their information is considered unbiased and not politically motivated. The lack of political bias is why both sides of the aisle have supported the nation's large scientific establishment over many years.

The Science March is clearly political and is an attempt to put pressure on the Trump administration. It will be seen as political by everyone and particularly those it means to pressure. Furthermore, the major concern driving this march is not science in general, but of the Trump administration's appointments and future actions regarding climate science and fossil fuel regulations."   Mass reportedly skipped the March on Science.

            As a result, "science", previously considered to be a "Mom, apple pie, and the American flag" subject, is being politicized, particularly with respect to the subject of climate change.

            Shapiro and others object to how the political left is addressing the climate change issue.  What he (and others) seem to have the most trouble with is the idea that not only is climate change an undeniable reality, but that the only way it can be solved is through massive governmental intervention and regulation.  Further, anyone who seems to object to that solution is a heretic or a "denier".

            The "politicization" of the climate change issue might just be an oddity, but it appears there are more problems than just this.  Beyond the "politicization" of science, others have objected on the grounds that there seems to be more and more "bad" science being done.  Perhaps the best example of "bad" science is the famous 1998 study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature that purported to show a link between vaccines and autism.  It's now well known that the study results were fabricated and that the author lost his medical license over the issue.  Unfortunately, the autism article was not isolated.  Several years ago, John Ionnadis published a study titled "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False".  Houston billionaire John Arnold and his wife, Laura, have a foundation that is underwriting the Reproducibility Project, an effort to try to reproduce the findings of key scientific experiments.  Unfortunately, the results have not been particularly good.  In fact, the results have been so bad, and so many scientific studies have not had reproducible results, that it leads one to start to become very skeptical.  Two examples of this are research into diet and nutrition, as well as the research underlying many modern pharmaceutical products.  Various reasons have been cited for these problems, including the pressure of "publish or perish" for academics.

            Given how important science, and scientific research are, this is certainly an unfortunate set of circumstances.  The obvious question is, who is to blame?  Those on the left have a tendency to say it's the fault of anti-science religious fundamentalists.  This brings up the old question about a fundamental split between science and religion.  As I, and others, have written, extremists and each end of the spectrum have hypothesized a fundamental split between science and religion.  Atheists at one end of the spectrum, and some religious fundamentalists at the other end of the spectrum, have each fostered this idea.  Elsewhere, I've written that the Bible was not intended to be a scientific textbook, so there is no underlying reason for such a dichotomy.  In the popular consciousness one finds the idea that Christian evangelicals are anti-science.  Those who subscribe to this idea also seem to think that scientists are somehow more rational, more unbiased, and more "truth focused" than everyone else is being advanced.  In effect, the narrative goes like this: if we only stop listening to supporters of religion, and listen to the unbiased, rational scientific community, that somehow tainted by religion, we'd all be better off. 

However, the research of Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston, shows that isn't really the case.  Ecklund found that only 15% of Americans say that science does more harm than good, and only 14% of evangelicals say the same.  If that's the case, then Christian evangelicals have pretty much identical levels of opposition to science as the population as a whole.  Thus, one can't make the argument that conservative Christian religious views are causing evangelicals to be more anti-science than others, and "tainting" or otherwise impeding the efforts of the somehow more rational scientific community.  Further, Ecklund has found that 70% of Christian evangelicals don't see a conflict between religion and science.

            If that's the case, then it's hard to make the argument that Christian evangelicals are promoting an anti-science agenda.  Could that mean that Ben Shapiro is correct in his assessment that the political left, which is clearly not strongly Christian, is the group with the political agenda?  Perhaps.  But I don't wish to draw that conclusion. 

            Instead, the conclusion I draw is one that may be unexpected.  The first conclusion is that we need good science and technology, and we also need to be assured that good science is done.  Not much controversy about that.  The other conclusion is one that will probably be surprising.  That conclusion is that the Christian church ought to be amongst the leaders of those supporting the practice of good science.  For some, that's probably an unexpected conclusion, but let me explain why I think it makes a lot of sense.  Historically, Christian churches have emphasized the importance of avoiding the sins of lying, deception, pride, and greed.  The Bible considers each of these as sins, and reminds believers to avoid these sins at all costs.  When you think about it, though, these sins appear to be rampant in the world of science.  Not that it is any worse in scientific circles than anywhere else, just that it is present every day.  The only difference is that somehow the public up to now seems to have been buying the notion that scientists are somehow more rational, more honest, and somehow different than everyone else, particularly those with religious views.  I hate to say it, but while scientists are often better educated than the population at large, they're still like everyone else.  They still embody all of the flaws of the rest of the population.  They're no more rational than everyone else, and there's no evidence that they're any less likely to succumb to lying, deception, pride, and greed than anyone else.  If that's the case, they're just as likely as everyone else to succumb to the temptations of deception, lying, pride, and greed, among other things.

            So what, specifically, could be done?  First, Christians who work in the sciences should be reminded that things like lying, deception, pride, and greed are considered sins in the Bible (and are equally objected to by atheists), so they are to be avoided.  Christian scientists need to avoid the temptation and snares of these things.  That may sound obvious, and many people may think it is unnecessary to say anything, because scientists already know these things are wrong.  Most likely so, but we can see that these problems not only are there, they may actually be getting worse.  Who will be there to provide the appropriate reminder? 

Perhaps Christian scientists should take the lead and try to serve as models for their fellow scientists.  In a sense, that might be parallel to what happened in the first century of the Christian church.  Those who became Christians started behaving in ways dramatically different that the population as a whole.  The general population started to notice this.  Perhaps that's just what is called for in the scientific community.  It might lead to some of the following:

  • Greater attention to "fudging" or omitting data from studies
  • Avoidance of projects with actual or perceived conflicts of interest
  • Avoidance of using science to advance a political agenda.
  • Greater attention to ethical issues, as they relate to scientific experiments.

As with pretty much every profession, practitioners don't normally set out to be dishonest and/or deceptive, but we keep seeing cases where people end up going where they don't plan to go.  Scientists are no exception.  Someone needs to take the lead on this.  Why shouldn't it be the Christian church, especially since Christians have played this role for so much of the past 2,000 years?  While that might seem odd, especially given the somewhat strained relationship between the Christian church and science over the past century or so, one can reach farther back in time to realize it's not so unreasonable at all.  Without a doubt, our increasingly science and technology-based culture needs good, honest science to be done.  We cannot afford a science community riven with problems of lying, deception, pride, and greed.  Absolutely no one – Christian or non-Christian – benefits from that. 

Let me know what you think, whether you agree or disagree.  If you find these posts interesting, please consider subscribing.

post a comment

Many people think the only way we're going to solve some of the massive problems facing society today is through better science and technology.

CHRISTIANITY, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Many people think the only way we're going to solve some of the massive problems facing society today is through better science and technology.  While not a panacea, it's certainly worked in the past: countless predicted world-wide famines, resource shortages, and other disasters have been avoided because science and technology came to the rescue.  Many people think we need to redouble our efforts to help deal with impending gargantuan societal problems.  While Christians definitely reject any notion that science and technology will somehow "save" society, we still care about it very much, and we're not about to stand in the way of scientific and technological progress

Science and technology aren't a panacea.  In fact, every new technological advancement brings not just a bevy of benefits, it also brings unexpected problems, even ones that have moral and ethical dimensions.  Christians definitely need to be part of discussions with any moral and ethical dimension.  But where in the past, the Christian church was very much involved in any matters related to science and ethics, the voices of Christians are being heard less and less in debates about science and technology, for a number of reasons:

Reason #1: we're increasingly perceived as anti-science and anti-technology, and Christian beliefs are anti-science and technology. 

Reason #2: we're perceived as having a weak grasp of science, and not very good.  In fact, some serious research found that. See http://www.npr.org/2016/01/14/463010075/researchers-probe-stereotype-christians-and-science-dont-get-a-long

Reason #3: the voices of non-Christians, who generally are much more supportive of science and technology, are louder and much more numerous than in the past.  The majority of scientists today are non-Christian, and a very high percentage are atheists.

This is a huge change from the past.  In the past, Christians were at the forefront of science and technology, with the majority of scientists identifying themselves as Christians; and while non-Christians may have rejected Christianity, they certainly respected Christian scientists.  Not any more.

Assuming the assessment is correct, what's gone wrong?  In short –  Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection, first proposed in 1859.  Where most scientists have strongly endorsed Darwin, Christians have often been reluctant, and sometimes downright hostile.  According to Pew Research, only about a quarter of evangelical Christians believe in Darwin's theory.  Ordinary Christians have become increasingly skeptical of science, and scientists have become increasingly skeptical about Christianity. Even worse, there is evidence that one of the key reasons young people are leaving the Christian Church – and leaving they are – is because of the perceived anti-science and anti-technology bias of Christians.  Barna Group, the foremost polling firm amongst Christians, found this as one of the six leading reasons young people disconnect from the church.

If society is becoming increasingly reliant upon science and technology, Christians need to play a leading role in any discussion, and they need to find a way to prevent people from leaving because of science.  The only way this can be done is by Christians coming up with a better answer concerning Darwin and his theory of evolution.  What would that look like?  I think it must meet the following tests:

  • It must be fully consistent with, and preferably reinforce, the Christian Bible
  • It must also accord with conventional science, meaning the science that both Christians and non-Christians agree upon.

Some would say, impossible!  I disagree.  This blog intends to re-look at the entire issue, with the objective of finding answers that meet the tests above.  Some will say, that's already been tried and it didn't work!  I'm not suggesting just rehashing old arguments.  Instead, my proposal is to re-examine the entire issue:

  • Not from the perspective of a scientist (because I'm not a scientist)
  • Not from the perspective of a Biblical scholar (because I'm not a Biblical scholar).  I am a committed Christian, and am an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

Instead, I propose to look at the problem as would an entrepreneur – because that's what I am.  
So what possible benefit does that offer?  Entrepreneurs tend to look at old problems – and this is an old problem – from new and different perspectives.  One way they do that is by asking old questions in new ways, ones that might provide a different perspective.  In the early 1980's, Bill Gates asked, why not put a computer on everybody's desk?  I don't think anyone had ever asked that question before.  At first, peopled laughed!  You know what happened next. 

So the starting point for this blog is, let's take a fresh look at Darwin's theory of evolution to see if we might discover something new.  From there, let's keep asking unusual questions until we can offer Christians a stronger understanding of what the Christian Bible has to say about science and technology in our modern world.  Christians have an important role to play in any debates about science and technology.  Let's be prepared.  But first, we need to come up with a better answer to the 150 year old enigma of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection.  I hope you'll join me on this journey.
     
 

post a comment

As With So Many Other Issues, the Question of Creation Isn't Black and White

Have you ever noticed that when a controversial topic comes up, all the attention goes to those with the most extreme views?  That's certainly true when it comes to political issues.  It probably shouldn't be surprising.  After all, the most extreme and shocking views are the ones that seem to garner attention.

         At the same time, everyone's busy.  We don't usually have lots of time to think deeply about certain issues.  Because of this, we all have a tendency to try to make things as simple and neat as possible, especially complicated things.  Nothing at all surprising about that.  The result is the following:

  • Complex topics are described in simple, black and white terms
  • All of the attention goes to those with the most extreme views at opposite ends of the spectrum
  • Any nuance, and any views in the middle of the spectrum, tend to get lost.

This certainly applies to politics … in fact I think you can say this applies to every imaginable political issue – from abortion rights … to climate change … to gun control … to tax reform;  and it also applies to religion … especially when it comes to talking about how religion relates to science.

         Something else that isn't very surprising: most people don't spend their days thinking about any of these issues.  Not that they don't care, it's just that they have more pressing matters to deal with, like doing a good job at work or school, putting food on the table for dinner, and making rent or mortgage payments; so it really shouldn't be any surprise that the average person doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about how the world was created.  But some people do, and they're usually the people who hold the most extreme views. Let's take a look at the two extremes concerning how the world was created.

         On one extreme are people who believe there is no God and that the world has no purpose.  The famous British scientist Richard Dawkins is representative of this group.  Dawkins believes that the world was created along the lines described by Charles Darwin and that the account of creation contained in the Bible is nonsensical.

         On the other extreme are Christians who believe not only that the world was created by God, but that it happened pretty much literally as described in the book of Genesis.  In fact, they believe that God created the world in seven 24 days and that the world is only about 6,000 years old.  These people are often referred to as young earth creationists.  There's also a group of people called old earth creationists.  They acknowledge that the universe is a lot older than 6,000 years, but they still tend to reject the theory of evolution, and also believe the Genesis account is essentially correct, so they're pretty close to the young earth creationists.

         The funny thing is that while these two groups (i.e., atheists and creationists) are pretty much polar opposites, they actually share some ideas in common.  One is that science and religion do not, and cannot mix.  Each group would like you to believe that if you believe in science or you believe in religion, you can't believe in the other, at least in terms of how the world came to be: Dawkins would like you to believe that if you believe in science, you can't believe in God, and you certainly can't believe in the Bible.  At the same time, young earth creationists would like you to conclude that if you believe in Darwin's concept of evolution, you're more or less consorting with the Devil.  Both extremes tend to think that any attempt to combine science and religion is pretty much a fool's errand – after all, it's a black and white world!

         In terms of creation, much of the world seems to have bought into this view of a black and white world.  As an example, consider the dictionary definition for creationism. It says, "a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis."  Thus, in the popular mind, there become just two possibilities:

  • Possibility A: Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is correct; or
  • Possibility B: creationism, meaning that the world was literally created as described in the first chapters of Genesis.

Needless to say, there's a pretty wide gap between possibility A and possibility B.  So the two opposing groups wish the average person to make a choice: either believe the scientific evidence and, therefore, rejection the Bible; or, believe the Bible and reject modern science. 

         But you know what?  It really ISN'T a black a white world!  Why not?  Well, first of all, just as I've said in my book, The Unexpected Perspective, the Bible isn't a science textbook, and never was intended to be one.  In fact, when you read the Bible, you should be careful not to try to draw scientific conclusions about what it's saying.  What that means is that the Bible can be completely true without ever saying anything about science.  That has important implications for the two extreme groups:

  • People like Richard Dawkins should stop trying to say the Bible is rubbish because the science it describes is wrong.  Well, the Bible isn't trying to say anything about science, so it's unreasonable to reject the Bible because the so-called science in the text isn't correct;
  • And precisely because the Bible isn't a science text book, young earth creationists should stop trying to draw scientific conclusions about the age of the earth or about how the earth was created.

The other conclusion to draw is that one can simultaneously embrace both modern science and the message of the Bible – a position that is somewhere in between the two extremes I described.  That's the position I take in my book – what is referred to by some as evolutionary creationism:

  • It's evolutionary because it embraces all of the same science that people like Richard Dawkins embrace;
  • And it's creationism because it also embraces the idea that God was behind the creation of the world, just as described in the Bible.

Now the two extreme groups I described earlier both believe you can't hold this type of view.  I strongly disagree.  Let's take a quick look why.

         People like Dawkins would like you to believe that because you can't prove the existence of God by some scientific means, then God cannot exist.  I, and lots of others, reject this line of reasoning.  The existence or non-existence of God is a matter of faith and isn't subject to empirical testing.  As a Christian, I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge this.  I'm just asking atheists to acknowledge the same.  Just as I can't prove that God exists, an atheist can't prove the non-existence of God.  If one accepts that idea, it's not at all hard to believe that the process of evolution can be both real … AND simultaneously under the ultimate control of God – the concept called evolutionary creationism.

         Now let's look at the question from the other side – can you be a faithful Christian who accepts that the Bible is correct and still believe in Darwin's theory of evolution?  If you're willing to accept the idea that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, it really shouldn't be difficult at all.  In fact, I believe one can simultaneously embrace the Bible on one hand and Darwin and the Big Bang Theory on the other hand.   

         So what do people in fact believe?  Pew Research last looked at this in 2013.  When questioning adult Americans, they found the following responses:

"Humans have existed in present

form since creation"                       33%

"Humans have evolved over time"   60%

No opinion                                      7%

That suggests that fully a third of the population believes either in young earth or old earth creationism, but three in five believe in evolution.  Sounds exactly like the black and white world I was describing above.  But they also found that 24% accepted the following: "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today."  That would mean that nearly half (i.e., 24%/60%) of those believing in evolution also believe that it was somehow guided by a supreme being, the balance believing it was guided by natural processes only.  They also found significant percentages of people who described themselves as religious also saying they believed that humans evolved over time by natural processes, exactly the category in which Richard Dawkins falls.  Not quite such a black and white world after all!

         As I said at the outset, we have a tendency to try to reduce complicated issues to simple black and white choices.  Furthermore, for pretty much every issue, the people at the extremes want the issue to be simplified that way, and force people to take one side or the other.   But for issue and after issue, the black and white choice is a false one.  It isn't black and white at all. In the case of science and the Bible, it definitely isn't black and white.  One can both believe in Darwin and believe in the Bible – evolutionary creationism is a realistic alternative.

         Whether you agree with me or not, please share your thoughts … and if you'd like to see more, subscribe to my blog. 

 

 

 

 

post a comment

An Ironic Way to Think About Climate Change

Barely a day goes by in which one doesn't hear apocalyptic reports about potential environmental catastrophes that are expected later this century due to climate change.  While there is a general consensus in the scientific community that climate change is real, there does continue to be skepticism expressed in certain quarters, most prominently today by the Trump Administration.  I personally believe that climate change is real, but I do disagree with many of my fellow climate change "believers" in what should be done about it.  In my mind, the problem is real, and needs to be addressed, but how it is addressed could make all the difference. 

            Many, possibly even most, "believers" tend to think that the only way to address climate change is through governmental/regulatory intervention.  This focus on governmental and regulatory solutions, ironically, may be the key reason many conservatives are climate change "skeptics".  It isn't necessarily that they deny the scientific diagnosis, they just don't like the prescription.    Today, I'm writing about another very interesting potential "market based" solution to the problem of climate change.  What I find really interesting about this solution, along with a number of others, is that one can be an absolute climate change "denier" and still think what I describe below is a fantastic idea that doesn't involve the government.

            The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to energy production.  Coal is a major fuel source for electricity generation, and the contribution of coal to noxious air pollution, as well as to greenhouse gases around the world, is well known.  The governmental/regulatory "solution" has been programs such as the Obama Administration's "Clean Power Plan", which the Trump Administration is seeking to dismantle.   The impression the average person gets is that we're faced with a binary choice.

            Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, however, may have a terrific solution that everyone could love.  I'll explain my thinking on that below, but first, let me explain the solution they've developed.  It's based upon the fact that the Earth's atmosphere allows certain wavelengths of heat-carrying infrared radiation to escape into space unimpeded.  The trick is to convert the unwanted heat into infrared radiation at the correct wavelength, then it will naturally reflect back into space and not come back.

            Back in 2014 a group of researchers at Stanford University came up with a way to do this.  Unfortunately, the solution, while technically elegant, was deemed impractical because it was both difficult and expensive to manufacture in bulk.  Now, some other researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder have come up with what could be a very cost effective solution.  They published their findings in Science magazine recently.

            The solution the researchers developed begins with a commercially available material called polymethylpentene, sold commercially under the name TPX.  TPX is manufactured as rolls of transparent film.  It is very resistant to absorbing water and also has good chemical resistance.  The Colorado researchers then added a silver sheet on one side of the TPX, the purpose of which is to reflect sunlight.  That's helpful, but still not the key to the solution.  The heat reflected off of a building still needs to be converted to the right infrared wavelength so that it will head back into space and not linger.  To accomplish this, the researchers utilized tiny glass beads.  The diameter of the glass beads determines what wavelength the heat will reflect off the TPX.  What the researchers found is that a glass bead diameter of about 8 microns would create the "sweet spot".  Thus, they coated the TPX with 8 micron glass beads. 

            The TPX film, including silver reflective backing and 8 micron glass beads, can be manufactured for about 50 cents/square meter (about 5 cents/square foot).  Applying about 20 square meters of the material to a typical house roof, the researchers estimate, will cool the house to 20 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) when the air temperature is about 37 degrees Celsius (about 98 degrees Fahrenheit).  Thus, based upon the estimates, a typical house could achieve this with a film that costs about ten dollars!  Most likely, the house will still need some type of heating and cooling to regulate the temperature throughout the day and night, but far less heating and cooling than in a conventional system.

            Applying such a system could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to electricity generation dramatically.  Both climate change "believers" and "deniers" could agree that that is a good thing.  While the two groups might vehemently disagree about greenhouse gases, they would likely both agree that the reduced electric bill at the house would be worth paying.  Moreover, developing such a solution doesn't require legislative or regulatory changes.  It's a scientific/technological solution coupled with marketplace economics.

            I can envision that amongst the very greatest supporters of the Colorado "building film" solution would be climate change "deniers".  Why?  Well, it's pretty simple.  The people most likely to embrace this solution are probably entrepreneurial.  I can picture a lot of business owners, who tend to be more Republican than Democrat, wanting to get involved with something like this because of the potential to make money.  At the same time, climate change "deniers" typically are more Republican than Democrat.  I can envision a definite overlap.  After all, I think one can simultaneously deny climate change all day long while looking for ways to make money selling products than will have the side benefit of cutting greenhouse gases.

            While this is another example of employing a scientific/technological solution to solve a problem, it points to something else.  We humans have a tendency when under stress to become very narrow in our thinking.  I believe it is part of our evolutionary heritage.  When a threat is perceived, the ability to think and respond in "black and white" terms is advantageous.  Amongst our ancestors, those who were ponderous in the face of danger likely didn't survive.  Thus, when perceived threats such as global catastrophe brought on by climate change arise, we tend to respond in "black and white" terms.  I think this applies both to "believers" and "deniers".    The ability to think in "black and white" terms is certainly very beneficial when we're really in danger, it's just that we sometimes over-react.  When considering how to deal with the threat of climate change, I think this idea applies.

            While what the Colorado researchers have come up with is not a panacea, it could be very helpful, something one could endorse even as a climate change "denier" due to the potential economic benefits.  Rather than thinking in "black and white" terms about how to address climate change, we should spend more time looking for creative solutions.  Thus, I can envision the following scenario: a bunch of entrepreneurs, who just happen to be climate change skeptics or "deniers", going into business to create and sell a product based upon what the Colorado researchers have developed.  I can easily envision this turning into a billion dollar business because it could be a highly cost effective solution.  After all, who wouldn't want to make a small investment in a roofing material in order to save a huge amount of money on the monthly electric bill?  What an interesting, though ironic, situation: a group of entrepreneurs making lots of money by helping to solve a problem they deny exists, and their climate change "believer" customers loving them for the solution?   Odd … maybe even ironic … but no more so than my crazy idea of Christians loving Charles Darwin even more than do atheists. 

post a comment

Buy the Book Now

Westbow Press · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

Get Carl's Updates In Your Inbox

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates and receive a free chapter from his latest book, The Unexpected Perspective.

Carl Treleaven is an entrepreneur, author, strong supporter of various non-profits, and committed Christian. He is CEO of Westlake Ventures, Inc., a company with diversified investments in printing and software.

CONNECT WITH CARL

© 2016 - 2017 Unexpected Perspective - All Rights Reserved.