Friday, October 30, 2015

Basis of Consciousness

When our neighborhood birds decided to engage in high-spirited, ebullient behavior, our thoughts wandered toward, “What caused this sudden display?” Description of the behavior is easy; explanation is complex and difficult.

Our previous post on “Exuberant Wildlife” described the collective antics of thirteen different bird species in the woods behind our home one recent day. Their behavior seemed to express energy, excitement, and enjoyment. Their more ordinary and deliberate activities were put on hold for roughly 45 minutes, replaced by what appeared to be an instance of simple fun. Their antics were somewhat reminiscent of playground antics of human children. We were tempted to anthropomorphize this group of animals.

The term “consciousness” may be interpreted in many ways. Without formally defining the term, we would agree that humans have a high degree of consciousness from an early age. Humans are self-aware and aware of their surroundings. What about our birds? Are they self-aware? Are they aware of their surroundings? Do they have emotions? Memories? Sensations? Human consciousness has been studied and reported on in thousands of books and articles. Consider: Do higher level animals experience consciousness in a manner similar to humans?

For this discussion we will take these aspects of consciousness: the ability to sense conditions in their surroundings and make behavioral decisions. It was obvious that each of our neighborhood birds observed their avian companions and made a “decision” to frolic with the group. Their decisions brought enjoyment to themselves and their human observers. Perhaps the individual bird’s “decision” was a reflexive expression of a mysterious group action, but we do not have full knowledge about the dynamics of this event. 

Either way, we are aware of mental phenomena in living things which result in physical responses. These mental phenomena are the basis for consciousness. What actually happens in an animal’s brain? The wondrous brain is composed of simple matter—primarily chemical combinations of a few dozen of the approximately 100 known elements we studied in Chemistry 101. Have you ever wondered how the interactions of simple atoms in a living entity produce consciousness—sensory awareness, emotion, fear, joy, pleasure, pain, response to stimuli, intelligence, memory, and freedom to make decisions and choices?

Commentators have stated that mind and matter are interconnected at the atomic level. Consciousness, whether in neighborhood bird groups or in human beings, relates in some unknown way to physical atoms and molecules. Scientists have been discussing the problem of consciousness for centuries. The literature on this topic is overwhelming, perhaps because the nature of consciousness is one of the last major unsolved problems in science.

We ask readers to contemplate the mystery of how ordinary matter in the form of atoms and molecules may come together under some conditions to produce a conscious living creature, while the same atoms and molecules could assemble in a non-living configuration. Fundamentally, this is a mystery to science, but not to the Creator.

Job 33:4 (NIV) is offered to help us contemplate the mystery of consciousness and from where it springs: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”  



Monday, October 26, 2015

Exuberant Wildlife

Looking out across our back deck into the trees of our northwest Illinois neighborhood in autumn, our birds (I’ve called this area “bird heaven”) occasionally stage an impressive drama. Several times each fall we are favored by an event we must characterize as “exuberant bedlam.” On 10-16-09 I first called attention to this phenomenon in a post titled “Bird Exuberance,” linked here:

Since 2009 we have enjoyed these periodic reprises of exuberance. The events take place in autumn following the earlier seasons’ boisterous territorial claims and production their new generation, followed by their enjoyment of a few weeks of quieter peace, perhaps to celebrate their success in fledging young. By October our avian friends sometimes discover ways to celebrate communally with mixed species. Recently we witnessed the most extensive display of shared avian excitement we have yet experienced.

In just less than one hour, we positively identified thirteen different species of birds. Catalyzed by an immense assemblage of cedar waxwings, the following species took part in lesser numbers: blue jay, catbird, cardinal, house wren, red-bellied woodpecker, nuthatch, downy woodpecker, bluebird, chickadee, phoebe, robin, and goldfinch. We observed some birds feeding on cedar berries, but the main activity—flying here and there for no reason obvious to us—seemed to center merely on pure joy and excitement. There were no inter-species squabbles.

Another post called attention to the writings of Old Testament figure Job. His observations and insights concerning the wonders of wildlife are beautiful poetic musings. Job suggests the animals of our environment have much to teach us:

We close with but one more example of collective autumn bird behavior. One recent evening we observed autumn flocking and roosting behavior of common crows, visible from the same local vantage point we described above. By our estimate several thousand crows took part in an assemblage in the sky and woods. Soon they departed to an unknown overnight roosting location. It was a scaled down, but still impressive gathering of one of our most intelligent birds. Crows have been observed to congregate in groups much larger, even up to a million. We have seen other more spectacular autumn flocking events in species such as blackbirds, but not in our local Illinois environment.

The natural world provides many other sources of wonder. Animal behavior cannot adequately be explained in human terms. Collective wildlife decision-making is a result of a mysterious ability implanted by and known to the Creator. Human explanations of causes and effects do not provide us with definitive answers.   


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Supermoon Eclipses

Public attention is directed toward unusual and spectacular phenomena from the natural world by media accounts. The editorially injected “super” used in media descriptions generates added hype and sometimes well-deserved excitement. An example is “Superstorm Sandy,” the second most costly US hurricane which slammed into the east coast in October 2012.

Several weeks ago many world residents were alerted to a wondrous natural astronomical event not seen since 1982 and not to be observed again until 2033. A supermoon lunar eclipse would occur and would be visible to all earth residents able to view the moon during predicted hours on the evening of September 27. As a science teacher I looked forward to alerting my students to natural astronomical and meteorological wonders. In many years of teaching my subject matter received a welcome boost by comets, planetary conjunctions, eclipses, severe weather events, and other natural phenomena. These events provided natural motivation as we were temporarily relieved from our responsibility to supply classroom motivation on ordinary days.

We will now offer readers an abbreviated tutorial on this special eclipse after its occurrence: review supplements preview. Both “views” are necessary in good educational strategy.

In our solar system, motions of objects provide opportunities for one body to pass in front of another, obscuring the view of an observer. These out of the ordinary occasions add an extra dimension to already fascinating motions of solar system satellites—motions governed by physical laws. Ordinary physical laws of gravitation and motion, interesting as they may be to the science minded, are enhanced by the occurrence of unusual eclipses. A supermoon lunar eclipse? This is an example of what science instructors treasure to add mystique to their science education.

Before dealing with our recent supermoon eclipse, we remind readers that more ordinary lunar and solar eclipses occur frequently. In a lunar eclipse the earth casts its shadow on our neighboring moon. Normal sunlight is blocked from the moon. We see only a very dim, reddish lunar body during “ordinary” total lunar eclipses which occur 85 times during this century. There will be 230 lunar eclipses during the 21st century, but many of them will be partial or even less spectacular penumbral eclipses. In the 21st century there are also 224 solar eclipses, 68 of which are total with the remainder partial or in a special category termed “annular.”

The 2015 supermoon total lunar eclipse was part of a lunar tetrad: four consecutive total lunar eclipses occurring about six months apart. Tetrads occurs in groups every few hundred years. Eight tetrads occur this century but from 1600 to 1900, none occurred. 

This particular eclipse is a supermoon lunar eclipse because coincidentally, it occurs at perigee—when the moon is at the closest point to the earth in its orbit. The moon appears larger then because it is closer. The moon revolves around earth about once per month, so it is also at perigee (closest point to earth, about 226,000 miles away) about once per month, and at apogee (farthest point from earth, about 252,000 miles away) about once per month. The coincidence of the correspondence of a full moon lunar eclipse (sun, earth, and moon in line in that order) with the precise moment of perigee (moon closest to the earth) is rare indeed. If we add the coincidence of the September 27 eclipse occurring as the last of a tetrad of lunar eclipses, and also being this year’s harvest moon (the annual moon closest to the autumnal equinox) we have a series of rare and noteworthy coincidences.

We mentioned that the moon appears larger because it is at perigee. Its diameter is about 14% larger and consumes 30% more area in the sky. Consequently, it is also about 30% brighter than a more distant moon near apogee. On a comparison graphic this difference is startling on paper. The celestial view of the supermoon revealed a wonderfully large lunar orb. Our family spent several hours moon gazing with naked eye and binoculars that night in awe and wonder as we observed our special planet casting its shadow through space to our lunar companion.

If our readers wonder about the significance of the 2015 super moon in relation to Bible prophecy, we energetically dismiss any significance. The tetrad is of no prophetic significance. Tetrads have occurred for thousands of years. Many commentators have recently commented on “blood moons.” Blood moon is a dramatic description of the coppery tint present during total lunar eclipses but do not have prophetic significance. Total lunar eclipses have provided subtle colors during their occurrences for uncounted millennia of man’s sojourn on this planet.

Scriptural passages such as Joel 2:31 could have been applied to thousands of blood moons over the millennia. The term has been popularized lately by predictive utterances of mortal men. A history of failed human prophecies could fill many volumes. We should take note that future events are firmly in God’s hands. Connecting end times events with discernible astronomical events is not a gift bestowed on humans except in the general sense that future events will certainly occur and are known to God only, according to Acts 1:7 (NIV): “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

As we conclude this post, we are reminded of a wonderful visual treat in the morning sky of October 2015. Planets Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury are all naked-eye visible in the eastern pre-dawn heavens. As I write on October 18, Jupiter and Mars are experiencing a spectacular conjunction, a mere one-half degree apart. We do not attribute this or any other unusual or awe-inspiring grouping to astrological or prophetic events. Rather, we give praise to the Creator who gives humanity the ability to visualize and recount past astronomical events and predict future ones within milliseconds of their occurrence according to the regularity and orderliness of God’s creation.



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cambrian Connection

Why call attention to the famous “Cambrian Explosion?” The John Ankerberg Show recently highlighted this remarkable event in the history of Earth’s life. We again invite our readers to review the full archive of Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s seven interviews on the the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute (ATRI) website at  The programs may be easily accessed under the Daystar symbol on the Ankerberg homepage.

We also call attention to one of our several past posts in which the Cambrian Explosion was cited:

Evolutionists who believe in a common ancestor and common descent for all living earth creatures are intensely challenged by the Cambrian Explosion. They recognize that new forms of life appeared suddenly. In the context of historical geology, suddenly is a relative term. It is difficult for non-scientists to imagine the 5-10 million year time frame of the explosion as a sudden event. But evolutionists would concur—it was sudden! That sweeping phylogenesis occurs in this limited frame of time, if indeed it could, is a hypothesist’s dream.    

New phyla have appeared on earth in “fits and starts.” This term is defined as repeated bursts or sudden flurries of activity.  Persuasive incidents of transitional forms of life appearing sequentially in the fossil record are not found. Stasis (a state of inactivity or equilibrium) is the rule. Gradual change in life forms is not.

The theory of evolution in our educational system and in our culture is firmly entrenched. The discussion concerning evolution has been pronounced “settled” by establishment scientists. Evolutionists connect their belief system with what they have affirmed to be the best science available and prevail upon non-scientists to accept the theory for that reason. Unique anomalies of the Cambrian Explosion must not disrupt the firmly held structure of the evolutionary paradigm. The sudden appearance of multiple new phyla of animals in a geological eye-blink is optimistically explained as having no conflict with the evolutionary model. 

For creationists and believers in Intelligent Design, the Cambrian Explosion supports their model. We propose that the Cambrian Explosion may be the single best evidence from the natural world for intelligent design theory and a creation event. Evolutionary theorists, on the other hand, are severely challenged by the Cambrian event. To a lesser extent, they are challenged by other radiations cited in the link to our post of 10-29-13.

We acknowledge that details of Cambrian events as evidence of an intelligent designer are not outlined in our current post. Likewise, details of the apologetic for evolutionary events in the Cambrian, are not included in this post. We encourage readers to research the many resources available on these topics for themselves.

In the blizzard of support for the evolutionary paradigm in our modern culture, we stress the importance of the issue for discussion in our churches, our schools, and the general public. Theistic evolutionists claim God created all things, including the ability of life forms to speciate thousands of times from the Last Common Ancestor to modern humanity within the timeline of life’s history on Earth. Sometimes this is termed “molecules to man” evolution. In the face of increasing difficulty of evolutionists to account for speciation by weakening evidence for the traditional pillars of mutation and natural selection, we propose that naturalistic and theistic evolutionists reconsider their belief system concerning the history of life.

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer has repeated many comments and questions asked by theists as well as non-theists in our day. The question is not whether Intelligent Design theory is “scientific” according to science professionals. Those science professionals would say, “Intelligent Design is not scientific.” Many scientists, however, would agree with famous atheist chemist Linus Pauling, “Science is the search for the truth.” Therefore, a more appropriate question would be, “Is Intelligent Design true?”     


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cambrian Fossil Mystery

In June 2013 Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s popular volume Darwin’s Doubt appeared on bookshelves. In their fervor to uphold the proposal that 19th century Darwinian theory had been established as a prominent scientific icon of the day, many contemporary critics of Intelligent Design (ID) attacked Meyer’s treatise as “unscientific.” Believers in common descent evolution are happy to join this popular chorus. Adherents of ID such as Meyer respond that the argument between evolutionists and ID theorists is not a classification discussion concerning what is science and what is non-science. Rather, Meyer appeals that the argument should remain “on point:” The on-point question is, “Are the claims of ID true?”

In any assertion that common descent evolution is true, we search for evidence that a slow progression of life forms from simple to complex has been manifest in the fossil record in a branching pattern. Ideally, the branching tree imagery should be clearly in evidence. The single trunk represents the initial common ancestor. The hypothesized complex multi-branched tree foliage represents today’s millions of species branching away from the common ancestor. However, precursor Pre-Cambrian fossils are not in evidence. Meyer calls this the “mystery of the missing fossils.”

Meyer’s series of interview programs on The John Ankerberg Show in July and August 2015 highlighted the startling evidence for a sudden inception of a large number of phyla never before seen. The sudden event was termed “The Cambrian Explosion.” This explosion of life forms was a geologically sudden appearance of complex structures such as compound eyes, spinal cords, and articulated limbs in a metaphorical blink of an eye. If we represent the entire duration of Earth’s planetary existence on a 24-hour clock, the Cambrian Explosion of new animals occurred at about the 21st hour and lasted only two minutes. A majority of the 36 phyla (major body plans) in existence today appeared quickly in the Cambrian period beginning 530 million years ago. Most of these phyla are still extant today.

Only a few life forms had appeared prior to the Cambrian. Fossils of blue-green algae floated on the oceans very early in Earth history. Sponges (porifera) appeared much later in the Pre-Cambrian, organized into colonies of cells. Other simple life forms existed. Then, a spectacular burst of innovation and diversity in animal forms appeared. The descriptive imagery of an “explosion” is entirely appropriate. It is also as though we awaken to a foggy morning and have it quickly replaced by spectacular sudden clarity with bright sunshine after the fog dissipates.

Darwin’s doubt about evolution originated in his early experience from 1831. Geologist Adam Sedgwick was assisted by Darwin as a young student at Cambridge University before his trips to the South Seas. An apparently dramatic event initially manifest in Cambrian rocks mystified the geologists. Sedgwick and Darwin had become curious about the enigma. Darwin’s mystification persisted until the end of his life but his Origin of Species theory had gripped him and many in the scientific world by that time. Perhaps the startling discoveries of many additional Cambrian fossils in the next century would have turned the tide of Darwin’s thinking. He died in 1882. 

Geologist R. G. McConnell had discovered “stone bugs” in the rocks on the slopes of Mt. Stephen in the Town of Shield, British Columbia in 1886. They were fossilized trilobites! In future explorations of the area a plethora of unique fossils was found in the Burgess Shale. In 1909 Charles Walcott made additional startling discoveries. His studies continued in that area for many years. Cambrian animals are examples of pure innovation in multiple body plans—a study in structural and functional creativity. In the 1970s a young geologist, Simon Conway Morris, began unlocking more secrets of the Burgess Shale fossil treasures; expanded discoveries of fabulous Cambrian animal diversity still continue. Preservation of soft body parts is astonishing.

But these animals are a puzzle, even according to avowed evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins: “It is though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” Advocates of evolution expect to observe a gradually branching “evolutionary tree.” Branching evolutionary trees remain literary icons of evolutionary texts. Instead, an evolutionary “lawn” is in evidence—a sudden appearance of many individual, diverse specimens with little if any evidence of predecessors or transitional forms. This scenario was inscrutable for Charles Darwin. It is still enigmatic for modern evolutionary theorists, but they remain entrenched in optimism that evolution will ultimately be proven. To the present day the theory has not been proven. With time the theory may be headed for refutation instead of proof.

I close with a personal anecdote. In the summer of 2013 the Reasons to Believe organization sponsored a “Burgess Shale Adventure” in the Canadian Rockies. Among other visits to geological sites was a visit to the famous Burgess Shale site on Mt. Stephen in the town of Field, BC. The trip was led by scholars Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana. The 900m ascent on a 9 km, 7 hour hike up Mt. Stephen to the site of this world famous geological treasure proved more than challenging for me personally. The trek is aptly described as “strenuous.” My wife and I made it half way up before turning back. We settled for splitting a slab of trilobite-bearing shale provided by the Mount Burgess Geoscience Foundation guides when the hikers returned. Our memories consist of our personal “We were there” story: We hiked to within a few hundred feet of the Burgess fossil beds—one of the most famous geological sites attesting to divine creativity and intelligent design.  




Thursday, October 1, 2015

Intelligence Discovery

Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer and ATRI’s John Ankerberg produced a series of interview programs on the John Ankerberg Show in July and August 2015. Meyer is Discovery Institute’s Executive Director. In that role he is a well known, articulate spokesman for the concept of Intelligent Design in our physical universe, including its life forms. That our universe and its life forms are not the product of a naturalistic process, but instead have been produced by an intelligent agent, is a truth of utmost importance to all humanity as we refine our worldview.

We point out an interesting feature of the Meyer/Ankerberg interview series. Dr. Meyer does not discuss the Genesis creation account. The Genesis account is a theological commentary on creationism: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Dr. Meyer does not wish to be known as a creationist, even though he is a Christian. Describing features of our universe and its life forms as an example of intelligent design leans more toward a scientific topic. Meyer believes ID is scientific. Most scientists in the secular science profession do not. 

The concept of a Divine Designer is somewhat distinct from God’s broader role as the Creator. Describing God as the Designer of all physical characteristics of the universe and its life forms is, however, one of the chief descriptors of God as Creator. Comparing the concepts of create and design is not a matter of deciding which is superior. God is both Creator and Designer, but the concepts are not synonymous. References to God as Designer is only one of many descriptive terms for Him.

Intelligent Design theory is primarily evidence-based. Early in the television series, Meyer instructed viewers concerning the wonder that novel Cambrian animals appeared so suddenly in the fossil record. Observing that Cambrian animals appeared in a geologic blink of an eye is evidence that an intelligent agent acted to produce them. In the second half of the series, the focus was on the production of coded new information—also evidence of the actions of an intelligent agent. The weight of evidence is one of many ways in which ID adheres to the traditional standards of science.

We trust our current series of posts helps readers clarify subtle differences between creationist beliefs and intelligent design theory. Creationism is a more faith-based concept. Intelligent Design is more evidence based. Agnostic doubters have attempted to conflate these terms in an effort to diminish believers’ confidence in both. We will attempt to discuss Dr. Meyer’s presentation in more detail in upcoming posts. 

Dr. Meyer has said that endorsing the concept of Intelligent Design has world view, philosophical, and religious implications. He has also said that ID is theistic friendly, religion friendly, and faith friendly. We hasten to add that at the conclusion of his Ankerberg sessions, he confidently acclaimed God as the intelligent agent and Designer of all features of this universe and its life forms. Dr. Meyer, of course, is a Christian. His ministry is more focused on scientific findings which demonstrate evidence for an intelligent designer.