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

Perspectives

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.

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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.

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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.
     
 

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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. 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

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While there seems to be lots of evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection occurs on the scale of microbes, how much evidence is there that it occurs on a "macro" scale, meaning evolution of species?  From the initial publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 until today, those who have been skeptical of Darwin say there isn't evidence of macro-evolution, meaning on the scale of species; and  in particular, there hasn't been evidence of "transitional species." 

What is meant by "transitional"?  As an example, the theory suggests that at some point, life forms made a transition between the seas and land.  What evidence, then, is there for such transitional species?  Opponents of Darwin like to point out that he, himself, acknowledged that if evidence of such transitional species couldn't be found, the theory would fall apart.  The answer is, yes, there is evidence, just not a lot.  The interesting thing is, biologists and other scientists say two things: 1) there is evidence of transitional species; and 2) it should not be surprising there is very little evidence.  Let's consider why this is the case.

Most anyone who has ever been to a science museum has seen fossils.  Scientists over past 200 years have uncovered and catalogued at least 250,000 different species of fossils.  That sounds like a lot, until you consider that just today, there are at least ten million different species alive on Earth.  That doesn't take into consideration all of the species that have gone extinct over time.  Darrell Falk, a well respected biologist as well as committed evangelical Christian, estimates that only one percent of all species that have ever lived on Earth have fossil remains.

An obvious question to ask is, given all of the research that has been done, why are there only fossil remains for about one percent of all species?  Falk, in his excellent book called Coming to Peace with Science notes the following: "As wonderful as fossils are for exploring the history of life, fossilization is an exceedingly unlikely event.  Only a minuscule fraction of organisms happened to be at the right place at the right time to be preserved in perpetuity.  Usually when an organism dies, it decays, leaving hard parts that are eventually subject to microbial decomposition, scavenging or chemical destruction.  In order for it to be converted into fossil form, most often the body has to be suddenly buried in a rapid accumulation of sediment.  The overwhelming majority of organisms, especially land organisms, would never be in the right time and the right place to be preserved forever in this manner."

One percent is a small percentage, but in certain cases, that's actually a pretty large percentage.  Take polling of voters in an election.  For example, the USA has about 200 million people eligible to vote in a Presidential election.  Organizations such as Gallup routinely sample about one or two thousand likely voters and are able to predict the result with plus or minus three percentage points.    A sample of 2,000 out of 200 million is far, far less than one percent, so what's the problem?  The answer is that those conducting the voter poll know the entire population, so they can select a representative sample of voters to poll.  Paleontologists can't do that with fossils because they don't have any data on the missing 99% of species that have never been fossilized.

Darrell Falk offers another very interesting analogy.  Imagine one wants to get an idea of what life in the USA is like.  In order to do this, imagine that someone launched a drone with a camera.  The drone can take as many pictures as it wants, with two conditions: 1) each picture can be of an area of only 1,000 square feet (that's a square with a length of about 32 feet (10 meters) on each side; and 2) the pictures need to be taken randomly.  Think of each 1,000 square foot picture as analogous to a fossil.

What kind of results would the drone's camera record?  For the drone to record everything in one square mile (approximately 2.6 square kilometers), it would have to take 27,878 pictures, each being of a 1,000 square foot area. That's just one square mile!  The USA's total land mass is 3.797 million square miles!    So how many pictures would the drone have to take of the country to get a representative idea of what life might be like in the USA?  Falk notes that if the drone took 250,000 random pictures, there would only be a 25% chance that at least one of the pictures actually had a human in it!   Based upon my calculations, if the drone took one billion random pictures, it would only cover about one percent of the land mass of the country. 

But there's even more to it than that.  Falk notes that transitional species are most likely to occur in tiny populations.  To demonstrate this idea, he envisions two populations of the same species of bird.  On the mainland there are 100,000 birds while on the island, there are only 100 of the birds.  Now envision that on the island, a genetic mutation occurs that creates a bird with a much longer beak than usual.  That means one  out of one hundred birds will have this characteristic.  Now envision that the mutation makes the bird better able to hunt food.  The bird has a greater probability of surviving and reproducing.  Now, also envision another genetic change occurs that causes females of the species to prefer males with longer beaks.  Over time, a greater and greater percentage of the population will have long beaks.  Given that the population of birds on the island was small to begin, the birds will become inbred.  Dog breeders are certainly familiar with this.  Most likely, even after a relatively short period of time, virtually all of the bird on the island will possess long beaks.

On the mainland, however, if the same genetic mutations occurred, it would spread far more slowly in the population of 100,000 birds. The more likely place for the mutation to spread is in the small, isolated population.  Falk continues: "But how does that relate to the scarcity of transitional forms in the fossil record?  The main point is that where species change their characteristics, they tend to do so in small, isolated populations.  And remember that fossilization is an exceedingly unlikely event.  Thus, when fossilization does happen, there is a much higher probability that it will happen somewhere in the larger landmass."  Moreover, Falk notes that, "Similarly, if the transitional forms are present for only a relatively brief period of time as compared to the larger stable populations, then this further lowers the probability of being able to "catch" a transitional form in the fossil record … This is not surprising; it is exactly what geneticists would predict."

And yet, despite the low probability of finding transitional fossils, they have in fact been found. An excellent example, called Tiktaalik, is cited in my book, The Unexpected Perspective.  Tiktaalik (see an artist's representation above) was discovered near Ellesmere Island in northern Canada.  It's name is an Inuit word for "big freshwater fish."  The Tiktaalik was about the size of a crocodile, with scales like a fish and fins like limbs and an elbow joint that could push the animal off the ground.  One of the members of the discovery team said, "It's like a fish that can do push ups."  Tiktaalik most likely lived in the Devonian period near the Equator, in an environment similar to the Mississippi delta.  After 400 million years of continental drift, the fossils ended up in the Canadian north.  Darrell Falk cites other examples of transitional fossils in Coming to Peace with Science.

While comparatively few transitional fossils have been found, it is important to note that they have been found, thus providing additional evidence to back up Darwin, evidence of evolution by natural selection on the scale of species.

 

           

           

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A Brief Introduction to Biologos, as Well as Report on the Annual Conference

This week I had the distinct pleasure to attend the annual three day conference of Biologos.  If you're not familiar with Biologos, I encourage you to take a closer look.  On its website, it describes itself as "invit[ing] the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God's creation."  Biologos was founded about ten years ago by the eminent scientist Francis Collins.  Collins is currently the head of the National Institutes of Health, but is probably best known as the head of the Human Genome Project, which sequenced the entire human genome.  He was appointed to head the NIH by Barack Obama, and has been asked to continue to head the NIH, at least for now, by Donald Trump.  The organization literally began as a website dedicated to the "science versus faith" issue, but has since grown into a funded organization, currently headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, and a worldwide following.

            While the mission of Biologos is multi-faceted, I believe its most fundamental one is to overturn the commonly held notion that there is some type of a religion versus science tradeoff and, more particularly, that there is some type of a tradeoff between the Christian Bible and science.  It's clear that certain groups want to promote in the public consciousness the notion that there is such dichotomy.  At one extreme, a small group of atheist scientist writers, most notably Richard Dawkins, evangelize the idea that if one believes in modern science, one can't possibly believe the Bible.  While coming from the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, certain evangelical Christians seem to promote the very same idea: if you believe the Christian Bible, you can't possibly accept the conclusions of modern science concerning evolution and the Big Bang Theory.   While many Christians, particularly evangelical ones, subscribe to this idea, perhaps the best known proponent is a group called Answers in Genesis.  This group emphasizes a literal interpretation of the Bible: that the Earth is no more than about 6,000 years old, and that the story of the Garden of Eden, recounted in Genesis 2 – 3, happened exactly as reported. 

In contrast, Biologos emphasizes the idea that the Christian Bible is not, and never has been, a science textbook, so it should never be used to draw scientific conclusions.  While some might think this is a new idea, it clearly isn't.  In fact, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and even St. Augustine all believed that one should never try to read the Bible as some sort of science textbook.  From that starting point, the organization promotes a concept called evolutionary creationism.  This is the idea that one can accept the very same findings of modern science to which people like Richard Dawkins subscribe, but that behind all of that one will find the same loving God portrayed in the Christian Bible.  Once one stops thinking of the Bible as some type of science textbook, it becomes very easy to embrace modern science as well as the Christian message of a loving God who is ultimately in control.

Biologos has attracted both very serious scientists and very well known theologians.  For example, Deborah Haarsma, the current president of the organization, has a PhD in Astronomy from MIT.  Her husband has a PhD in Physics from Harvard.  Collins, of course, has impeccable scientific credentials.  Among theological scholars associated with the organization is Nicholas T. Wright, a British New Testament scholar and author, as well as John Walton, an Old Testament scholar from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.  In short, there is clear intellectual "heft" behind the organization, both in science and theology; but equally, there is fervor to embrace the Bible and the love of God.

While there were many interesting presentations at the three day conference, let me point out two in particular.  First, Francis Collins gave a keynote address to the gathering.  As part of his presentation, he noted three things that are of particular concern to him:

#1: the perception by many that science and faith are incompatible (he definitely disagrees with the perception);

#2: the observation that Christian scientists so often feel they must hide their views about faith while at work; and then feeling the need to hide their work when they go to church;

#3: many new scientific developments bring tremendous promise, but equally they bring ethical challenges; and the Christian church needs to be a participant when these ethical issues are discussed, but won't be so long as the "faith versus science" debate continues to rage. 

The second very interesting presentation to note was one given by Elaine Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston (and my alma mater).  Ecklund specializes her research on the subject of attitudes about religion and science, especially as they relate to how Christians and scientists interact.  She has published a number of books and papers on the subject.   Ecklund reported that about 36% of evangelical Christians believe that science is hostile to religion.  Her conclusion is that evangelicals as a whole don't seem to have problem with science, and aren't hostile to science, just that they perceive scientists to be hostile to Christianity. 

Quite a number of those in attendance echoed the point made by both Collins and Ecklund, that too many Christian scientists feel they must hide their faith at work, and hide their work in their place of worship, for fear of a very hostile reaction.  One other speaker, a biologist, gave a particularly moving testimony about her personal experience with this "need to hide", both at work and at church.

I look forward to attending next year's conference but, in the meantime, certainly look forward to following the Biologos website, as well as corresponding with those associated with the organization.  If you're interested in questions of science and faith, I doubt you'll go wrong by keeping track of this group.

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Creationism Is Being Embraced in Seemingly Unlikely Places

Stephen Jay Gould, the famous late scientist and writer, made the observation that belief in "creationism" is pretty much limited to certain groups in the USA.  He said, "I hope everyone realizes the extent to which this is a local, indigenous, American bizzarity."  Many outside the USA seem to share the belief.  Ronald Numbers, a Professor of History and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and perhaps the world's foremost authority on the study of creationism, says that Gould's idea is a complete myth. 

Numbers is perhaps best known for having written The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism.  He has devoted a significant portion of his career to the study of the emergence and propagation of creationist ideas.  He has also edited a very interesting book entitled Galileo Goes to Jail, and Other Myths About Science and Religion.  He personally wrote the chapter describing the myth about creationism being a purely American phenomenon. 

It is certainly true that the creationist movement started in the USA, and it continues to be very strong here.   What appears to be a myth, however, is the idea that creationist ideas are a purely American phenomenon and haven't taken hold in other countries.  In fact, Numbers has meticulously recorded evidence of strong creationist groups outside the USA.  For example, he notes that creationist thinking has been very positively received in both Australia and New Zealand.  Closer to home, he observes that Canada may have more creationists per capita than anywhere else.  Even though less than one third of Canadians attend church regularly, survey data show that 53% of adults in Canada reject the theory of scientific evolution.

One normally doesn't think of people in Europe, especially Western Europe, as having strong religious leanings, yet creationism has definitely taken hold there.  Numbers cites a United Kingdom poll that shows four in ten people in the UK think that religious alternatives to Darwin's theory should be taught as science in the schools.  Surveys show that only 45% of respondents believe that evolution best represents their personal views.  On the other hand 22% identified themselves as supporters of creationism, while 17% endorsed Intelligent Design.

Elsewhere in Western Europe, Numbers notes that 20% of those surveyed appear to believe in special creation.  Young earth creationism, the most conservative version, is widely endorsed in various countries.  For example, surveys show that 21.8% of the Swiss say they're young earth creationists.  Lest you conclude that yodeling or Swiss chocolate may have inflicted some unintended consequences on the populace, 20.4% of Austrians self-identify as young earth creationists.  The number in Germany is 18.1%.

In Latin America, a similar phenomenon is occurring.  Belief in creationism has skyrocketed in Brazil, for example.  In Asia, belief in creationism also seems to be on the rise, particularly in Korea.

Perhaps even more surprising is the data Numbers has compiled about non-Christians outside the USA.  He notes much interest expressed by Muslims in Turkey.  A creationist movement has emerged there, too.  Not to be outdone, Jews in Israel have also been embracing creationism.  In fact, Numbers cites the emergence of the Torah Science Foundation in Israel to promote creationist ideas.  A particular variation on this is what is called "Kosher evolution".  This involves an acceptance of micro-evolution but rejection of macro-evolution.

The obvious question to ask is, how did this come about?  Numbers notes that various groups have been evangelizing the creationist message.  One group in particular, based in Kentucky and called Answers in Genesis, has definitely been proselytizing.  Just as Christians have been faithfully following the Great Commandment to spread the Gospel, so have creationists been adhering to a Great Creationist Commandment to do the same with respect to creationist doctrine.

The spread of interest in creationism outside the USA has been accompanied by an increasing desire to teach alternative scientific theories to evolution by natural selection.  Just as creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design have pushed to have alternative science taught in schools, the same is true outside the USA.

Numbers has observed that secular scientists in many of these countries are shocked at this development, seemingly thinking that the impossible has come to pass.  However, just as atheist scientists in the USA are absolutely shocked and appalled that, notwithstanding all of the scientific evidence, about half of the USA adult population is skeptical of Darwin, and only one quarter of Christians embrace Darwinian thinking, is it really a surprise that attitudes are the same in other countries?  This again seems consistent with the notion that there is no science/religion continuum.  The idea that the more one believes in science, the less they'll believe in religion … and vice versa … is a myth.  Moreover, it is a worldwide myth that applies throughout the world.

Just as the embrace of creationism by many in the USA has led to a battle about what science is taught in the public schools, so are similar battles emerging in countries around the world.  Scientists are understandably horrified by this, but they really shouldn't be surprised.  When all is said and done, there is nothing uniquely American about creationism, intelligent design, and other forms of opposition to Darwin's theory.

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Announcing My New YouTube Channel

I'm pleased to announce my new YouTube video channel.  I'm launching it with a series of short videos that provide simple explanations of my book.  Feel free to share it your friends who don't care to read a book, but might love watching short videos that explain the book.  Click on the "Subscribe" button and you'll automatically receive new videos as they're posted.  There will also be other interesting videos on topics related to science, technology, ethics and Christianity.  I hope you enjoy it!  Click here to see "The Unexpected Perspective" YouTube channel.

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Scientists are getting closer to synthesizing yeast. What are the implications?

Chromosomes are a core constituent of life.  Humans each have 23 pairs of them.  Every other living creature has them, too.  Even yeast … something you don't normally think of as a living creature … has chromosomes.  I understand that yeast has sixteen chromosomes.

 

That wouldn't be particularly newsworthy until you consider that it has now been reported that scientists around the world have synthesized six of the sixteen chromosomes in yeast. (see Synthesizing Yeast).  There is hope that the remainder will be synthesized before the end of 2017.

 

Yeast is obviously something very simple, and the significance of this may not be particularly apparent.  Beer lovers, of course, may beg to differ.  Who knows, could the ability to synthesize yeast, an important element in making beer, lead to better beer?  I don't know whether we can count on better lagers, ales, and stouts in your steins in the future, but most likely, we'll end up with the ability to synthesize more complex chromosomes.

 

A little bit of speculation may lead one to the idea of synthesizing far more complex organisms some time in the future.  Does that sound a bit like "playing God"?  Obviously, there will be lots of questions that need to be answered along the way.  In my mind, Christians need to be part of any such discussions.

 

Once again, a scientific discovery points towards two dramatically different outcomes, one good … and one potentially very bad.  The ability to synthesize chromosomes could provide many benefits.  The prospect of better beer is a very mundane potential one.  However, as has been the case over and over, the potential for benefit from a scientific discovery once again brings the potential for serious, if unintended, consequences.  We need to proceed cautiously.  Moreover, in my mind, Christians need to be right in the middle of the discussion.

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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.

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