Saturday, November 26, 2016

Genetics--King of Domestication

Our recent blog posts have highlighted the human agricultural revolution which occurred about 10-12,000 years ago. The transitions were not uniform in all areas. Some changes had begun earlier in an era when human population growth was limited. The full scope of the agricultural revolution, however, delivered a positive jolt to human population growth. Human societies changed.

Many changes have been spectacular. A problem in modern biology consists of understanding the changes that shape the diversity of our natural world. The modifications of plants and animals during the course of the agricultural revolution were not major alterations of DNA structure. The phenomenon of animal and plant domestication does not produce a new species, but involves significant changes in genetics. One oft-repeated term is, “It’s in my genes.” A gene is a small “stretch” of DNA. Genes comprise only 1% of the three billion nucleotide letters of the huge DNA molecule, but small differences in genes can make a large difference in what biologists term an organism’s phenotype, the physical expression of an animal or plant.

Genes are components of chromosomes. Animals and plants have two sets of chromosomes—one from each parent. They are known as diploid. When both chromosomes contain identical genes at a given location, they are termed homozygous. If they contain different genes for a given trait at the given location, they are termed heterozygous. Variant forms of two different genes are termed alleles which sometimes result in diverse physical manifestations in their offspring. Early human agriculturists noticed these different traits and selected individuals with the most desired variations to reproduce. Over long periods of time the new traits became more and more manifest as the process of selection proceeded. The population changed somewhat but did not become a new species. Chromosomes have many genes which act to produce many proteins—physical building blocks of an animal or plant.

 As we look back on animal and plant domestication coming into play fairly suddenly about 10,000 BC, some questions occur. During the existence of full humanity extending back several tens of thousands of years, nothing like the agricultural revolution had occurred in human history. Until then the modern fully human population had been limited by Earth’s ice age climate. The Garden of Eden could have been located in the Persian Gulf area  during the Ice Age when sea level was considerably lower. Earth’s temperatures close to the equator were mild, unlike the Ice Age climate in the northern US Midwest and northern Europe. Theologians who see Adam and Eve as a literal, initial couple according the scriptural account of man’s origin, and secular paleontologists who have postulated a sort of population bottleneck somewhere in the area of the Middle East share some measure of agreement based on the evidence of human paleontology.

Plant and animal domestication since 10,000 BC has changed the landscape of hundreds of living organisms with which man has interacted. In some cases the domesticated plant or animal is considerably different from the pre-domesticated organism even though the domesticant is still the same species because they were able to interbreed with the original species. Were humans to travel back 12,000 years in time, he would perceive that many organisms alive in that day were very different. Human agriculturists have succeeded in substantially altering the organisms’ phenotypes.

Humans at the beginning of the agricultural revolution did not understand the workings of genetics. However they did discover that application of artificial selection of certain specimens with desirable traits resulted in different improved traits in their offspring when repeatedly selected over many generations. In prehistoric times it made sense to select the fittest specimens to reproduce. Most often animals were selected for their more docile behaviors and more favorable interactions with humans. Later agriculturalists also selected plants and animals for more abundant, attractive, convenient, useful, or tasty products they supplied.

The website writer K. Kris Hirst has produced thoughtful and informative articles concerning the domestication phenomena of plants and animals. From her site  “Animal Domestication—Table of Dates and Places” we quote: “Animal domestication…is a millennia-long process that creates the mutually beneficial relationship that exists today between animals and humans…All of the animals that we share our lives with today, such as dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, camels, geese, horses, and pigs, started out as wild animals but we changed them over the hundreds and thousands of years into more sweet-natured and tractable partners in farming.” One of Hirst’s most colorful quotes describes, “…changing the lean, nasty wild boar into a fat, friendly farm animal.” Many changes resulting from domestication in the world of plants have been even more phenotypically spectacular.

Is domestication an example of organic evolution? Notwithstanding the ambiguous analysis of evolutionists, we propose it is not. The accepted modern textbook meaning of organic evolution has very specific implications. It is a naturalistic theory which does not include a hint of original or ongoing divine miracle. Some theistic evolutionists claim God oversees the process of natural selection acting in concert with mutation to produce a new species and ultimately many millions of new species. Naturalistic evolutionists do not see God overseeing or standing by to observe the developmental process—God is not part of the equation at all. In their view, every living thing descended from a common ancestor. In effect, the expressions molecules to man, particles to people, or life from non-life, some of which are meant to be humorous, describe the essence of the belief system of naturalistic evolution.

In contrast, humans’ artificial selection process resulting in domestication of animals and plants is an intelligently designed feature of Earth’s living things. If God has created all things, we may see the outcome of generations of human artificial selection as a gift of the Creator enabling humanity to “subdue the earth” as commanded in Genesis 1:28. Our blog recognizes healthy “evolution” defined simply as change. The Creator enables man to accomplish healthy change in animals and plants to enhance the quality of his existence. 




Saturday, November 19, 2016

Physical/Spiritual Dualities

Our world is a world of multiple dualities. Let us give a few examples. There are many physical dualities such as day and night, light and dark, hot and cold. In the world of morality, good and evil exist. There are many dualistic manifestations of good and evil, such as kindness vs cruelty. In the more esoteric philosophical concept of ontology, defined according to dictionary sources as the nature of human existence, being, becoming, or reality, there are many examples of duality such as the distinction between body and mind. In theology we speak of the duality of our physical and spiritual existence. Our own science/faith blog might be described as a discussion of dualities. Some scientists might have difficulty relating science and faith. They may feel that knowledge of science does not form a duality with faith. Our position is that science and faith comprise a healthy duality.

The relationship of the physical and spiritual may be considered a duality. Our past blog posts mostly describe the physical dimensions with which science deals. We have attempted to blend a spiritual and scriptural dimension to the physical science issues we have raised. 

Churches in our time address the spiritual needs of their members and society. This is appropriate, for what is more important than settling eternal questions about our souls and where we spend eternity? Our pulpit ministries also remind us that God has provided for the diverse physical needs of our lives. We call this a spiritual/physical duality—one of hundreds of dualities which comprise our human existence. In the scheme of human experience both elements merge. Man’s physical existence is the framework for his spiritual existence. The blending of physical and spiritual dimensions of humanity is a concept authored by the Creator of all things.           

In the United States we live in a time of plenteous physical blessings. In our day the standard of living has advanced far beyond the acquisition of bountiful physical food, shoes, and clothing. The KJV (I Tim 6:8) echoes through my youthful memory when acquisition of “food and raiment” was of much greater concern than today. Perhaps spiritual concerns acquired more importance in those days. In our modern world, not only do we have a surfeit of supermarket food variety, but we search  for additional pleasure from an ever-expanding array of physical goods from hand-held technological wi-fi marvels to automobiles which easily run for 100,000+ miles and may soon drive themselves. Perhaps “food and raiment” has acquired an expanded modern meaning.

In this day of plenty our children and grandchildren experience difficulty identifying with their parents’ and grandparents’ recollections of what supplied physical and spiritual satisfaction as recently as the early 20th century, not to mention what life was like in distant pioneer days of our nation. For those willing to search more deeply into humanity’s history on this planet, we take a giant time leap in order to recapture the overwhelming concerns of people in much earlier epochs. If we want to stretch our awareness we could study historians’ account going back to 3000-4000 BC before the invention of writing. Predating the so-called “Rise of Civilization,” modern archaeologists attempt to recapture the duality of the physical and spiritual in the lives of even more ancient humans. No written works give us clues. Archaeological artifacts and art work tell the story of human life.

Let us travel in our time machine back to 10,000 BC. The people were mostly hunter-gatherers as we have noted in a number of recent posts. Widespread agriculture did not become a feature of human experience until roughly 8000 BC. This date marked the approximate end of the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) and the beginning of the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age).

A recent conversation with two friends raised the subject of the Ice Age. I stated that the Wisconsin glacial event ended geologically rather abruptly around 10,000 BC but that hunter-gatherer humans from that era were fully human. The human population may have been 2 to 3 million, but estimates range from 1 to 15 million. One friend opined that these residents were “cave men.” They were not, I stated, reiterating their “fully human” status. It is difficult to imagine fully human beings created in the “Image of God” not yet having discovered the benefits of agriculture, the wheel, or writing. When the onset of ancient agriculture produced a more urban, sedentary society beginning about 8,000 BC, humanity enjoyed a population explosion of sorts—tripling by the time of the invention of the wheel and the development of writing in 3000 to 3500 BC. By the time of Christ world population had expanded to 200 million.

About 9600 BC the hunter-gatherer society in Turkey built an enormous series of structures on 22 acres which is not yet 5% excavated. It is obvious from the complex already excavated that a large concentration of well-organized labor built the structures over a long period of time. It was abandoned around 8200 BC. The site is located at Gobekli Tepe. It was never occupied as a human residence. Some speculate that the structure was a religious temple. Did these hunter-gatherers have a sense of the sacred? There is intense discussion about these people who lived just after the end of the Wisconsin glacial event. The northern ice sheet did not reach them in their location in present day Turkey. With regard to food, the workers ate the plentiful wild animals and plants from the area. The agricultural revolution had not yet begun. Evidence left indicates they were aware of the duality of the physical and the spiritual. They were probably animistic, able to conceptualize spirits and the supernatural. 

The full humanity of the Gobekli Tepe hunter-gatherer population cannot be questioned. Neither should we question the humanity of homo sapiens sapiens existing on our planet for tens of thousands of years or the dozens of low population, uncontacted hunter-gather societies still currently living in remote wild areas of Earth. Hunter-gatherer people, whether modern or ancient, manifest an awareness of a realm beyond the physical. Physical-spiritual dualism has been a part of man’s conceptual awareness since his creation in the “Image of God.”

When Adam and Eve were created, God directly interacted with them, giving them divine directions for living on a high spiritual plane. They failed to follow God’s directions. We imagine that their period of innocence was brief. In a few chapters, Genesis tells of their children and other descendants, the story of Noah and the flood, and the Tower of Babel. It is likely that the events surrounding Adam and Eve took place several tens of millennia before Noah’s flood. The tower of Babel account was the most recent. It is probable that Paleo-Indians arrived in the New World between 16500 and 13000 years ago when the sea level was very low and the “earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25). The Tower of Babel incident likely took place before 11000 years ago and Noah’s flood even before that. Low sea levels facilitated the spread of humanity around the earth to Indonesia, Australia, and North and South America.

In humanity’s failure to remain innocent, he never lost his awareness of the duality of his physical existence and the reality of the spiritual. Tragically, man’s concept of the spiritual is most often an intellectual construct of his own making. Romans 1:21 proclaims the bitter truth: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 NIV).  



Monday, November 14, 2016

Autumn's Temporary Decline

Many readers count winter, spring, or summer as their favorite season. Others consider autumn  their favorite. Their reasons are abundant and diverse. Many factors contribute to one’s assignment of favorite status to one quarter of the annual calendar. Our ability to rationalize is strengthened and refined. We are able to trace interrelated factors of development and decline and their importance in an overall scheme.

Our 10/28/08 post was entitled Autumn and Early Rains:

In Israel the rains described in Deuteronomy and other passages are literally autumn rains coming at the conclusion of the current year’s harvest, and latter rains coming during the springtime when the newly planted crop is on its way to production. In one dimension of autumn we could describe the coming agricultural and astronomical renewal in store for the earth following a “period of maturity bordering on decline.” Harvest provides a time of rejoicing and thankfulness but the joyful times do not conclude even though lush, verdant fields physically “fail” in autumn. Anticipation of renewal in a new crop the following spring, summer, and autumn rekindles new hope. The beauty of a continually recycling earth is part of the Creator’s genius.

Agriculturally, temperate climates produce a majority of the world’s food. These  climates are dominated by the characteristics of seasonal cycles between tropical and polar regions—neither extremely hot nor extremely cold. Apart from the wonder of food production characteristic of temperate regions, our Creator has also provided esthetic enjoyment related to the change of seasons in these areas. Autumn leaves are especially colorful in southern Canada, northeastern US and a few other world locations. The fascination of behavioral changes in wildlife, from birds and mammals to insects and other species relate to seasonal changes. Temperate climates appeal to many residents because they enjoy meteorological variety throughout the year.

Seasonal changes have a cause and effect relationship with Earth’s 23.5º axis tilt. If the axis were exactly perpendicular to the plane of the planet’s orbit there would be no seasons at all. Earth’s life would be very different. There would be no traditional cropping patterns. Human population would be bunched around the equator. Animal migration would be non-existent. Life as we know it would be altered in multiple deleterious ways from present conditions on our axis-tilted Sun satellite.

The most significant cause and effect relationship of regular and predictable seasonal cycling phenomena is the slowly changing elevation of the mid-day sun above the horizon. In tropical regions the changing angle of the mid-day sun is less significant to the amount of heat tropical populations receive. People living at the equator (0º latitude) would observe the noon sun fluctuating about 67º or more above the horizon all year long. The Sun’s rays would always strike Earth more directly to provide more heat. Weather in the tropic zones is warm all year long. Significant seasonal changes do not occur.  

In contrast, people living at 41º N latitude where your blogger lived and taught science, would see the noon sun at 72º above the horizon at the beginning of summer. (The sun always appears directly south at noon in the northern hemisphere.) At the beginning of autumn the noon sun has gradually declined to about 48º above the horizon. When autumn ends the sun is only about 25º above the horizon. We may understand why autumn is considered a period of decline: The sun’s elevation above the horizon is reduced, solar rays increasingly must be shared over a larger area of land surface, average daily temperature decreases, and length of daylight shortens. We observe that colorful plant greenery fades as crops mature. 

Earth residents, take heart—renewal awaits. On a planet whose axis is tilted to produce seasons, our revolving earth produces seasonal recycling as it has for thousands of millennia. At the beginning of winter, the sun’s elevation slowly increases after a few weeks. The temperature in northern locations begins a gradual rise as daylight starts to lengthen. After a few weeks the earth starts to gain more heat than it loses. By late February and early March residents notice the gradual rise in temperatures which continues into the new growing season. Earth’s wonderful seasonal cycle is renewed!

The repeating cycle of seasons joins with the day/night cycle and numerous other physical and chemical cycles to provide a world described by the Creator as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Is winter too cold? Is summer too hot? Is snow or rain too heavy at times? Do severe droughts and windstorms sometimes cause discomfort or worse? Is climate change a reality? We reply, “Yes, and it has always been so.” Embedded in these observations are wonderful discoveries for environmental scientists who study the intricacies of life supporting conditions on our planet. Earth’s population has increased over sevenfold since the turn of the 19th century. Planet Earth is a place to thrive.

From January to April 2012 our blog topics focused mainly on some of the important cycles operating on our dynamic planet. Any one of earth’s many cycles is worthy of detailed study by specialists. To the non-scientist, we suggest pursuit of at least a casual overview of nature’s cycles. We recommend perusing our series of posts beginning in January and concluding in April 2012:



Friday, November 4, 2016

History and Prehistory

In 10,000 BC many changes occurred in the condition of our planet and the humanity calling Earth their home. The Ice Age had locked up millions of cubic miles of earth’s water in ice and had provided a rather harsh planetary environment for Earth residents. Agriculturalists could not thrive in the cold temperatures. Fully human hunter/gatherers, however, formed surprising cultures. Hunter/gatherers existed for tens of thousands of years prior to the onset of human agriculture. Ironically, the hunter/gatherer diet may have been somewhat more healthful than the grain-based agricultural diet which developed about 10,000 BC. The hunter/gatherer culture, however, could not produce the human population increase enabled by the development of agriculture during the so-called Rise of Civilization.

Our posts have described the agricultural revolution and its correspondence to the so-called Rise of Civilization in the 12,000 years following the close of the Wisconsin glacial events. Fascinating preludes to the revolution predate the usual “Rise of Civilization” enthusiasm generated by our teachers of human history. With respect to this complex topic, we state civilization as it is commonly perceived, arose about 3,000 to 4,000 BC. The Mesopotamian civilization continued a definite trend toward agriculture which had begun several thousand years earlier after the demise of the Ice Age. Before the recognized termination of the Ice Age, some humans, early Kebarans and Natufians, were protoagrarians experimenting with primitive agriculture.

Human history became easier to report after the invention of writing. Our modern culture is fueled by our ability to write and read. Writing did not develop until late in the history of the human race, approximately 5,000-6,000 years ago. This fact is astonishing. Perhaps our introductory high school and college history courses entitled, for example, “Development of Western Civilization” would have a very different scope had humans implemented writing and developed supporting technologies many millennia before.       

A deeper question relates to the abilities and experiences of humanity before the Rise of Civilization in the several millennia before Christ. What about the hunter/gatherer cultures which persisted before and during the early transition to agriculture? Do we look upon those early men with scorn because they had primitive lifestyles? Do we ignore or minimize the human experience of ten, twenty, or fifty thousand years ago? It is certain that human pre-history holds fascination if we could only access it more effectively. We must rely on discoveries and inferences of professional archaeologists to instruct us concerning the events of pre-history. We are grateful for their scientific skill sets.

We illustrate the value of archaeology in revealing the discovery of an early Neolithic site. Klaus Schmidt (1953-2014), a German pre-historian and archaeologist, worked at the site from 1996 until his death. It is located in modern Turkey and dates from 10,000 BC. It is called Gobeckli Tepe. Schmidt stated the site is less than 5% excavated. Gobeckli Tepe was an early Neolithic sanctuary. We quote from Wikipedia’s article on Gobeckli Tepe, an article we enthusiastically recommend to our readers:

“Up to now no traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found. The inhabitants are assumed to have been hunters and gatherers…..It is believed that the elevated location may have functioned as a spiritual center by 11,000 BCE or even earlier…..The surviving structures, then, not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel, they were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i. e., the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry around 9,000 BCE…..Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100-500 meters to the site. The pillars weigh 10-20 metric tons…..”

“Schmidt considered Gobeckli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead and that the carved animals are there to protect the dead…..Gobeckli Tepe is regarded as an archaeological discovery of the greatest importance…..It shows that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers…..”

Old Testament scripture deals mainly with the written history of Israel and the Chosen People and the New Testament relates the revelation of God in Christ. The Bible is not a detailed record of human history and natural science since the creation of man in God’s image. The Father has enabled us to discover plentiful historical information concerning human and natural events. After we accept the brief scriptural account of God’s acts of creation, we are content to supplement our knowledge of human and natural history by studying findings of skilled scientists, including archaeologists.