Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Insect Taxonomy and Evolution

Carolos Linnaeus (1707-1778) originated one of the most long lasting classification systems in the world of science. Linnaeus developed binomial nomenclature for living things. He had an early fascination with botany, but his two term Latin scheme for classification of both plants and animals has earned him the title of Father of Taxonomy. He became one of the most acclaimed scientists of his time. He wrote the first edition of Systema Naturae in 1735, a major work which perfected the Linnaean system of taxonomy for the world of science. It was written in Latin, customary for scientific literature of his day. Many revisions and perfections followed during and after his lifetime. The Latin double name classification system persists to this day. He believed his classification system reflected the glory of God’s creation.

When Linnaeus developed the taxonomic system, the prevailing theory was that each species represented an independent act of creation by God. He stated, “The Earth’s creation is the glory of God as seen from the works of nature by Man alone. The study of nature would reveal the Divine Order of God’s creation, and it was the naturalist’s task to construct a natural Classification that would reveal this Order in the universe.” Linnaeus himself claimed, “God created, Linnaeus organized.”

In the 1735 Systema Naturae, Linnaeus listed only 10,000 species of organisms. As a botanist, we may understand why he included 6000 plants but only about 4000 specimens from the animal kingdom. Even in 1753 he believed the number of plants in the world would only reach 10,000. He classified 7700 plants during his lifetime. Two and one half centuries later, we now have 950,000 classified insects, with many more unclassified and undiscovered.

As we examine some of the 950,000 insect species classified under the Linnaean system, several insights come to mind. Each insect has its own design features, its own beauty, its own adaptations, and its own ability to reproduce. The reproduction process inspires reverent awe at the creative ingenuity necessary for the existence of each and every extant species on earth. It is understandable that the wonder of human reproduction garners substantially more attention. The reproductive process of the many diverse species on earth, insects included, is also worthy of our study. Zoologists know far more about such wonders than they do about the speculative and inferential processes supposedly driving the evolution of living species.

Concerning the inferential character of evolution, scientists must develop new and different apologetics for evolutionary theory on a continuing basis. Rumblings within the evolutionary camp are becoming louder that natural selection and mutation as a cornerstone of evolutionary theory may be eroding. Examples are evolutionary scientist Masatoshi Nei, winner of the prestigious Kyoto Prize, cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor, and the Altenberg 16. The latter group met in 2008 to discuss alternatives to natural selection. Lynn Margulis, wife of Carl Sagan stated, “Mutations create impaired offspring.” These few examples illustrate the necessity of “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis” supporters to acquire reinforcements in their battle against creationist and intelligent design theorists.

One need not be a student of the complete history of the development of the evolutionary paradigm to understand that evolutionists and creation/design proponents are locked in a very intense struggle. Contemporary evolutionists have transitioned to topics like gene flow, developmental plasticity, genetic accommodation, phenotypic innovation, and epigenetic inheritance to bolster their confidence, even as they admit that natural selection and mutation are inadequate to support the belief in the “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis,” today’s widely accepted account of the theory of evolution.

How does this discussion relate to our announced post topic of “Insect Evolution?” An extensive and helpful Wikipedia entry on “Insect Evolution” may give us clues that the evolutionists and creationist/ID proponents are far from being on the same page in their discussions. Numerous insect orders have appeared suddenly in the geologic record ever since the first insects appeared on this Earth in the later half of the Paleozic. Thereafter, the term “major radiation” occurs frequently. Major radiation means a sudden appearance and profusion of new forms. The term applies to the sudden appearance and profusion not only of insects, but also of virtually all living things in the fossil record of life on earth. In the case of sudden appearances, the term major radiation applies to the appearance of fish, reptiles, land plants, birds, and mammals.

Hundreds of book-length treatises on these topics exist. Most biological authors are evolutionists. They are untroubled by (1) sudden appearances, (2) lack of legitimate antecedents, (3) missing transitional species, and (4) stasis (unchangeableness) of existing species. All of the experts quoted above are evolutionists, some avowed atheists. Their commitment to the paradigm of evolution impels them to justify their evolutionary beliefs by revising or modifying the mainstays of evolutionary theory.

Intelligent Design, creationism, and evolution are not compatible belief systems. Evolutionary creationism, the chic moniker now used by theistic evolutionists to describe their brand of evolutionism, really does not differ from naturalistic evolution in any significant way. Naturalistic evolutionary processes, however, now seem inadequate to explain the incredible design complexity and functionality of earth life. Even more difficult to explain is the process of speciation (the appearance of new species) without the timely interventions of a Creator.     


           

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Insect Profusion

The recent post on the wonders of one species of praying mantis triggered our contemplation of the wondrous profusion, complexity, and diversity of life on earth, not to mention our focus on just one class of animals—insecta. Eighteenth century Swedish zoologist Carolus Linnaeus proposed the system of naming individual species by assigning two latin names—one for its genus followed by one for its species. The Linnaean system has survived the test of time. Each time a child enthuses over a specimen of class insecta in the yard or garden, her discovery could be found in a descriptive book of insect species. For example, the praying mantis, tenodera sinensus, recently discovered by our grand-daughter, is but one of thousands of praying mantis species listed in the specialized literature.

In a flashback to our high school or college biology courses, we recall the taxonomic system of Linnaeus which still dominates with minor modifications among zoologists.  The PCOFGS (phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) scheme is still used. Reading backward through the series from species to phylum, the biological groupings become smaller. Each smaller grouping includes specimens with major morphological traits in common. The top of the hierarchy, the phylum, has only 35 categories of animals. All living animals fit within these 35 categories including all named species. Included is the well known praying mantis tenodera sinensus, one of 1.3 million named species of 8.7 million existing species of animals. Many more than 1.3 million species have been described, but not yet named and many more species on earth are yet to be discovered.

One of the 35 phyla is arthropoda—animals with an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed appendages. The largest group of arthropods is included in the class insecta. Specifically, insects are arthropods having six legs and a body divided into three parts. Insects are the most numerous species of animals in the world, making up about 950,000 of 1.3 million named species. Therefore, insects are far and away the most plentiful animal species on earth—about three times as many as all other species known on earth combined! As an aside, beetles are an order of insects comprising 40% of the entire class of insects. One in four of all named animal species on Earth is a beetle.

Earth dwellers may be unwise to shrink in horror from “bugs,” creatures so dubbed by many with less than respectful favor. What accounts for the plentiful distribution of just one class of animals—insects—in the economy of the created order? This is a question without a satisfactory answer for some people. Parents and teachers of young children may do well to foster appreciation of the world’s most plentiful species. Their existence is recognized as a mainstay in the balance of nature. Recently a friend inquired if any purpose was served by annoying, stinging insects on the beach during their vacation. The answer must be given in a broad context of reality.

Why did God create so many insects? The answer has both philosophical and scientific dimensions. In the balance of nature, insects provide various products for man’s use, pollinate our crops, exert natural control of many harmful pests, provide aesthetic beauty (who does not appreciate the beauty of the monarch butterfly with its unique life cycle?), and even food in some foreign countries. In the scheme of God’s creative genius, I enjoy thinking about a Creator with imagination, enjoying his work of creating and inspecting his creation. Considering the millions of insect species, God’s imagination and creativity are virtually limitless.

Finally, an analogy springs to mind. Many skeptics have poked fun at a God who created a septillion stars in hundreds of billions of galaxies in an unimaginably vast universe, yet apparently created life on only one planet in the cosmos. That seems wasteful, even unwise, they opine. Many astrophysicists have concluded that the vastness of the cosmos is a prerequisite for even one habitable planet such as Earth.

We wonder if Psalm 147:4 is literal, figurative, or metaphorical: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (NIV). If the Creator knows the names of all the stars, we may be sure he also knows the names of millions of unnamed insects. We may be certain the God of the Bible is infinitively wise and creative, even though some of our questions have no answer in human terms.  


    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Eclipse Elation

A tiny “cookie slice” of bright sunlight slowly crept across the moon’s surface as I began writing this post. The early morning total lunar eclipse of October 8, 2014, had completed its totality phase. The moon had passed out of the total shadow cast into space by the earth. The moon was returning to full illumination as the celestial bodies revolved through space and repositioned themselves from a nearly straight line. My wife later described the increasingly illuminated moon as “a lemon slice.” Still later, the full moon set in the west while still partially obscured by Earth’s umbral shadow. The lunar eclipse setting in the western horizon while the sun rose in the east was a natural spectacle of extraordinary beauty we shall not soon forget.

This lunar eclipse is the second of four closely spaced lunar eclipses in two years. These special lunar eclipses are known as “blood” moons for reasons not entirely clear. Every total lunar eclipse, however, has a dull reddish hue owing to sunlight bending around the thin earth atmosphere and falling on the moon’s surface. The series concludes in September 2015. It is called a “tetrad” and will not recur for another 18 years. Other eclipses, both lunar and solar, occur periodically. North American observers may look forward to a once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse visible across Middle America on August 21, 2017, upstaging even the spectacular lunar eclipse of October 2014. That rare eclipse will be visible by a much smaller population and is not part of the current tetrad. Eighty-five total lunar eclipses occur in this century. Total lunar eclipses are visible by people on half of the Earth’s surface.

Calculated precision of times, locations, duration of eclipses, and other details are known with incredible accuracy centuries in advance. This is testimony to the computational skills of scientists. It is also testimony to the orderliness of our universe and the Creator who set all things in place. 

Even as the eclipse was still in progress, I checked a National Geographic website for detailed information about this eclipse. Their reader comment section was already filling with enthusiastic remarks from the public. One responder stated, “(The lunar eclipse)…ties me into something ancient and profound within the universe and our world’s relationship with it.” I share that reader’s fervor, recalling many outdoor experiences at night when the moon, planets, and stars manifest the glory of God.

While observing this morning’s eclipse before the initial rays of daylight began lightening the sky, I was able to view Jupiter with its tiny moons and Andromeda galaxy, two million light years distant. The galaxy was faintly visible as a tiny “fuzzy patch” near the constellation of Cassiopeia. While searching with my binoculars for Andromeda, I was reminded that humanity has staked a claim to exploring a small portion of this cosmos: an earth satellite slowly crossed my binocular’s field of vision. I was able to follow its steady, dim light for several minutes as it headed north to south. Perhaps it was a U. S. Polar Orbiting Weather Satellite or a polar-orbiting satellite from another country.

Speaking of astronomical events occurring at precisely predicted times, I was reminded of an early morning, live astronomy observation event I offered my students in 1997. The opportunity took place long before the sun rose. Students were obliged to rise at about 5:00 AM and arrive at our school’s soccer field by 5:30 AM. The event was optional. Not all of my students were interested in losing sleep to see Mercury and Venus rise. Those who did were treated to a memorable event I dubbed “A Moment of Worship.” Here is a link to my post of October 25, 2008:


My post from December 21, 2010 addressed the topic of eclipses, especially lunar eclipses. This article fits with today’s event:

   

  


  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Garden Predators

Last week’s photograph of our 2-year old granddaughter went far beyond the usual smiling photo sent to grandparents through the modern miracle of the smartphone. Our creative photographer-son managed to snap a shot of Juliana intently inspecting a large praying mantis at close range. Apart from its fascinating appearance, the capabilities of this insect in the scheme of the garden environment is almost beyond belief. In every neighborhood are millions of diverse creatures filling roles of both predator and prey. A catalog of predator/prey relationships may enrich our knowledge of not only our gardens and many of the creatures which inhabit them, but also of the ecology of every corner of our environment.

Some observers may shrink back from the mantis with its threatening weaponry. Others, including most children, find such critters a source of fascination. Their folded forelimbs are reminiscent of a prayer-like posture. If the mantis could actually pray, he may ask for grasshoppers, crickets, wasps, or even other creatures several times his size. Tenodera sinensis is an aggressive carnivore, a common mantis species with a voracious appetite and hunting skills to match. He quietly approaches his prey and snatches it in his serrated forelegs in a sudden eye-blink thrust. Holding the prey securely, the mantis immediately begins to devour his meal.

When I was young I recollect imprisoning a praying mantis in a large jar replete with a few stalks. I supplied my new pet with several grasshoppers which shortly vanished. They became mantis meals. A study of food resources of the living things around us reveals the interdependence of various creatures for nourishment. Directly or indirectly, living things depend on other living things for food. This dependence often amounts to direct predation. Psalm 104:21 indicates that God’s plan for created predators involved providing food for each other: “The young lions roar and seek their food from God.” The Creator has authored the beauty of ecological interdependence; these insects sometimes provide food for other predators.

Returning to our description of tenodera sinensis, we must point out that the physical structure of this mantis is beautiful beyond belief. Its jointed appendages and the overall purposeful construction of its body, including its flying capability, its unique ability to turn its head up to 180 degrees and spot prey up to 20 meters distant using an incredible compound eye system, and its ability to slice up its food with its efficient mandibles—this is merely the beginning of wonders. The beauty of its wing structure and coloration may be an afterthought for young boys more fascinated with the mantis analogy to the activity of soldiers in warfare.

As a believer in intelligent design, I cannot fathom how an evolutionist could dismiss even one unequivocal example of intelligent design in the natural world. We cite the design of tenodera sinensis as an example. Our brief description in the paragraphs above does scant justice to the information personally gained by reading an entire encyclopedic entry on this order of insects. There are about 2000 other species of mantids in 15 families of this insect order worldwide.

Finally, I watched the reaction of Juliana’s brother as he played with the plastic ladder truck he received for his first birthday. In several years he might wonder whether such a complex ladder truck could assemble itself. My suspicion tells me that in a few short years my grandson may be able to understand the ladder truck did not self-assemble. An intelligent designer at the ladder truck factory designed the physical features of the toy in addition to the functional aspects of what it may accomplish. Such analogies do not possess formal scientific proof but the intuitive lesson is powerful and difficult to avoid.

When these grandchildren are even older, perhaps when they are early teenagers, they may understand, in context, verses like Isaiah 66:2 with instruction from their parents: “Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being,” declares the LORD (NIV). Parents and grandparents should pray to have a mentoring role in the deeper discoveries of their children.

       

    





Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Restrictive Science

One of the most troubling phenomena with respect to the Design Inference and the Design Hypothesis, popularly referred to as ID, is the science community’s adamant insistence that neither intelligent design nor supernatural creation hypotheses are “scientific.” This pronouncement has obscured important possible discoveries. What really happened to produce an orderly world? What are the causes for effects we observe in the natural world? Is apparent design merely an illusion? More important, does finding an answer to these and similar questions impact our personal worldview and aid our search for meaningful truth?

To address the proposal that ID and creationism are not scientific, we begin with a positive question: “What is science and what is considered scientific?” These questions have many answers. Science is multidimensional and not easy to define. Broadly, science is knowledge. Most would agree that knowledge involves collecting facts and information about the world around us. We attempt to understand the facts and information we acquire. Humans observe the orderliness of our environment. We long to explain the orderliness and comprehend its meaning. Predictions about future events spring from our observations. Hypotheses, theories, and laws are derived from our understanding of the facts and information gained. As we describe our discoveries we recognize the process of science discovery is foundational to the discoveries themselves.

We wonder why science is so difficult to define. Students study science from earliest grades. It is likely that mathematics, language, and history are far easier to define. Most people have a concept of what science is, albeit the concept of science is multifaceted. Were laypersons challenged to define science we speculate many may stumble at the seemingly simple assignment.

Ample commentary exists on what science is. One could study brief comments or entire volumes on the question. In most articles on the nature of science, one caveat is stressed by science professionals: Science investigates only natural phenomena, never supernatural phenomena. This “rule of the game” is inviolable. Intelligent Design, if the designer is the God of the Bible, is a religious claim. Most adherents of ID would agree, but they may not agree that the claims of Intelligent Design are unscientific. They concur that ID’s claims are not all experimentally testable, but design is strongly supported by empirical observational testability. 

This inviolable caveat is defended staunchly by naturalistic evolutionary scientists and theistic evolutionists alike. Adherence to natural explanations is virtually a religion in the naturalistic community of scientists, even when the impression of design overwhelms the observational process. Ken Miller, a theistic evolutionist from Brown University, voices a hopeful tune. Miller has stated God could be responsible for the first living cells or the sudden appearance of unique animals in the Cambrian Explosion. Supernatural causes are always possible but they are above our capacity to analyze and interpret. Attributing an event to the supernatural, Miller says, we can investigate it no further, he says, using the methods of science. In contrast, our blog has a broader view of the scope of science. 

Many commentators would voice their support of the principle that scientists study not only what is natural, but also what is real. Scientists are not in unanimous agreement about a single scientific method to discover reality. The principle of methodological naturalism (MN) supports the proposition that scientists study only the natural world. Methodological naturalists agree that religious concepts are thereby insulated from scientific study. Herein is a serious error of scientists making this claim. Some scientists, even atheistic scientists, are coming to the conclusion that there is no fundamental barrier preventing science from testing supernatural claims. Charles Peirce, famous science philosopher of a century ago, proposed abductive reasoning—inference to the best explanation. Abductive reasoning is a mainstay of scientific method. It is a natural and instinctive process, suggesting fruitful new scientific investigations. Inference is central to science methodology. It must not be overshadowed by the proposition that science may not investigate supernatural claims.

An analogy may serve to illustrate our point. Our court trial system relies on legal rules for determining truth, falsehood, guilt, and innocence. Occasionally the court determines that certain evidence is inadmissible owing to a legal technicality. Apart from valid reasons for some technicalities, we may agree that some cases end in an errant verdict. Legal rules supersede discovery of truth or reality. In the case of the “trial” of ID in the science community courtroom, we search for God’s wisdom in establishing the “rules of the game” for scientific research projects. Likewise, we ask for wisdom in discovering what is real and true, not simply what is natural.   

        


    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Science and Faith Interdigitation

Interdigitation signals the interlocking of concepts like the interlocking fingers of two hands. When the term is used for the relationship of science and faith we might envision a mutually supportive relationship between them. Sadly, some see science and faith in a warfare relationship. Our blog is themed to focus on the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. Contemporary observers, however, do not commonly perceive science and faith in a complementary relationship. In our society theistic topics are considered to reside in a different category of reality, often lower on the pecking order of importance.

Many acknowledge our lives are increasingly impacted by the discoveries of science. Several writers have used the term “interdigitate” when expressing the faith/science relationship, but most people would acknowledge that science has achieved a more exalted position in our secularized society. In many subject areas, science enjoys a “legal” shield borne of the public perception that science is a factual, sure thing while faith is worthy as a personal, subjective, and devotional project.

Our mundane existence centers on how we enhance our ability to cope with life successfully. We work to sustain our successful existence in myriad roles—in work, in family and social relationships, and in pursuit of personal interests, comfort, health, and happiness. When our lives are described in this manner, life seems reasonably simple. Faith and science both impact our existence to one degree or another. The question concerning how they “interdigitate” does not have an easy resolution.

Some people stumble in their effort to achieve “successful existence” as described above. The achievements of science are heavily utilized in our quest. Applied science has wonderfully enriched our quality of life in terms of comfort, convenience, health, and nutrition. But science technologies may produce stress, overload, imbalance and distortion as well as benefit. Lately some journalists such as Bill O’Reilly on Fox News have highlighted ubiquitous science-enabled technology such as cell phones and internet. Among young people, in particular, these technological wonders may produce alarmingly out-of-balance, distorted lifestyles.

These modern phenomena have impacted the course of our lifestyles and cultural experience only in the last several decades. Like it or not, our personal, spiritual dimension is heavily impacted both positively and negatively. Retired people look back one or two generations with incredulity, even shock and disbelief. In terms of the effects of this complex technological, cultural, and political evolution, the question occurs whether the trajectory of our society has spun out of control. The science which enables cell phone and internet dependence may impact the quality of our personal faith. These technologies afford information access and entertainment unimagined a generation or two ago but they also serve to distract us and reorient our traditional value system.

Science and faith have interdigitated in various ways throughout the recent era of technological, cultural, and political ferment. The two spheres are often perceived as merely co-existing. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today has characterized the relationship as “integrative, not disjunctive.” This is an idealized view. Increasingly, the magisteria of science and religion have been forcibly separated. In our personal lives, the relationship between science and faith, however, is tangible. 

The NOMA principle articulated by Stephen J. Gould in 1997 dominates our societal thinking. In NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria) Gould proposed a respectful but independent relationship between the magisteria. In truth, however, secular science professionals willingly maintain a well-defined dichotomy between science and faith. The authority of science has been ascendant while faith may be on the wane. In view of our societal obeisance to burgeoning technology, the relationship issue is worthy of our attention as it affects our behavior and Christian worldview.






      

Monday, September 22, 2014

Denigrating Design

Intelligent Design and creationism have been relegated to non-science by the majority of the world science establishment. The perception of ID and creationism publicly suffer from this relegation. These concepts are assigned to a place of low esteem during discussions on origins. Church members frequently refer to the topic of origins in connection with their studies of the biblical Genesis account. Those groups consider themselves creationists. According to scripture, the world and its living things, including man, originated in a transcendent miracle. In contrast, secular world scientific discussions on origins only permit naturalistic explanations of phenomena in the natural world. When evidence indicates a possible miraculous origin, scientists beg the question—only a naturalistic explanation is permitted.

William Paley in 1802 penned a famous work entitled, “Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.” Paley’s work is frequently cited as an early expression of belief in the Intelligent Design concept as well as a devotional statement of worship. Historically, many theistic writers have recognized design in the natural world as an expression of God’s handiwork producing order and grandeur. Only in the last two or three decades has ID been more actively proposed as a formal concept to recognize the work of a Designer-God along with the more traditional theological concept of Creator-God. In early legal challenges brought by citizens opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, the first formal mention of intelligent design occurred in 1997 in a case from Louisiana. In Dover, Pennsylvania, the term received frequent mention from a ruling judge in 2005.

Intelligent design and creationism have both acquired a bad name among the science community, purportedly because they are not scientific concepts. The ideas are raised in connection with cause and effect explanations. Naturalistic scientists desire to offer their explanations of phenomena in the natural world without introducing the concept of God or religion. When education authorities are challenged concerning the teaching of evolution, their legal teams proclaim that ID or creationism are “not science.” Rather, the lawyers claim ID and creationism are “religion.” Evolutionists win such cases on the strength of the constitutional “separation of church and state” principle. The science profession has succeeded in painting creationism and intelligent design with the brush of “non-science.” In the past few decades there have been a number of notable court cases where the “separation of church and state” model has transcended recognition of evidence for supernatural events in the world of nature.

Discovery Institute’s websites describe intelligent design as “a scientific theory.” The establishment science community rejects this claim because as a whole, they reject the proposition that a divine hand acts in the world of nature. Discovery Institute elaborates on scientific theory. The scientific method is defined as follows: A four-step process involving observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Intelligent design produces complex and specified information (CSI). Not everyone has exactly the same view of science methods. Discovery Institute claims a scientific theory should elevate traditional scientific method over naturalistic philosophy. 

We must analyze our beliefs about the interface between objective truth and personal philosophy. If we assign undue importance to definitions of science and science philosophy, we may be bypassing the truth concerning physical causality. What are the causes of what we observe in the natural world? Did God design? Did God create? In any case, we ask if observed phenomena are natural or supernatural? The Creator has given us ability to discover truth about his actions.