I owe everyone at ACG a sincere apology as I've been negligent in my duties as editor of The News! This is the first issue put out since last Fall. When elected newsletter editor, I had originally planned to put out four issues of The News! each year but this has proven to be unrealistic as there are not enough member contributions to support four issues of the newsletter. There was simply no news to publish in the Winter 1999/2000 issue.
The Spring 2000 issue, however, was another story. There was enough material to publish an issue but I neglected to do so due to professional committments and some personal problems. I'm sorry and I ask all of your forgiveness for not fulfilling my committment to all of you as editor of this newsletter.
I plan on putting out the next issue of The News! in late October immediately before the annual GSA meeting in Reno, Nevada. Any news or announcements regarding the GSA meeting should be submitted by early October for inclusion in this issue. I am, of course, also looking for any other member contributions.
The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice: the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.
|Psalm 93: 3-4 (NIV)|
Since the ill-conceived action of the Kansas Board of Education, I have become quite active in issues of public science education and in the public understanding of science/faith issues.
As part of that involvement I have been elected to the board of directors of Kansas Citizens for Science, a group of scientists, educators, teachers and interested citizens dedicated to the establishment of quality science teaching in the state's public schools. (The organization's web site at http://www.kcfs.org/ contains information about the science standards issue in Kansas including line-by-line comparisons between the document approved by the KBOE and the rejected document written by a committee of 27 scientists and educators). I have had the opportunity to speak in various contexts about both the science of evolution and my own theology of creation.
Last November I participated in a debate on "God or Causality? A Creationist-Evolutionist Debate" in Kansas City, sponsored by the Campus Freethought Alliance, arguing a "compatibilist" position. In February I gave a "Darwin Day" lecture at Kansas State University, and in April I participated as a workshop leader in a AAAS conference on "Science, Teaching & the Search for Origins" at Kansas University and spoke at the annual conference for Kansas public science teachers. In all of these formal opportunities, as well as in many informal ones, I have had the privilege of articulating my evangelical Christian faith in a way that is very natural. I have found many people, both Christians and non-Christians, who are eager to hear a position that treats both the scientific enterprise and the Christian faith seriously and with integrity.
The Polanyi Center of Baylor University hosted a conference on “The Nature of Nature: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Role of Naturalism in Science” on April 12-15, 2000. This conference was a fantastic potpourri of talks examining the relationship between the supernatural and the natural in a variety of scientific areas from cosmology to molecular biology to paleontology to psychology. At times the discussions became animated.
The conference began with a heavy emphasis on philosophy with the opinions varying wildly. Robert Koons advocated that naturalism was incompatible with scientific realism because the cause of Nature's laws can't be nature itself. Michael Williams, a pragmatist philosopher, argued that the entire concept of truth should be dropped from science because it only tells us about propositions not nature. Michael Toole gave a survey of arguments for the existence of God, saying that every one was weak or invalid. Alvin Plantinga presented an evolutionary argument against naturalism. If behavior is caused only by physical mechanisms then beliefs are not the cause of behavior and not to be trusted. If we our beliefs can't be trusted, then neither can our belief in naturalism. William Talbot presented what he believes to be a refutation of that argument.
The conference then turned to the history of the conflict between science and Scripture. Everett Mendelsohn gave a brief history of how science banished religion from one discipline after another until religion played no role at all in nature. Ernan McMullen's most notable contribution was that he made Augustine sound like an evolutionist. Ron Numbers presented a similar outline of history as Mendelsohn. He said that Christian views of ontology were ejected from science often by the Christians themselves.
One of the most interesting anti-evolution talks was by Paul Nelson who examined developmental pathways in animals, showing that the information for embryonic development had to be in the DNA before development was begun. Any mutations to the development plan would have far reaching consequences on the ontology of the organism, indeed, they are almost always fatal. But natural selection can only work on adult organisms who go through the developmental pathway. So the problem for evolution becomes how can the developmental program be changed in such a way as to allow the organism to live to adulthood where natural selection can work.
One of the most dramatic moments of the conference was the contrast between the speeches of Steven Weinberg and Henry F. Schaeffer III. Weinberg said that religion involved belief in gods like Zeus, Apollo, Jehovah, Allah, and since he didn't want to offend any of these sects, he wouldn't name them but just call them by the collective, faeries. (You could hear the audience gasp). “My experience tells me that just as it is not worth my time to spend any effort on the crackpot mail that I receive, it is also not worth my time to think seriously about faeries,” he said. Weinberg went on to display an incredible knowledge of history, literature and philosophy. Schaeffer, who was supposed to be there as a counter to Weinberg, presented a talk that consisted merely of quotations from scientists saying that it is ok to be a scientist and a Christian.
For the geoscientist, the best paper of the conference was that given by Simon Conway Morris. He used the phenomenon of convergent evolution to argue that evolution is not the totally random event that writers like Gould would have us believe. In fact he said that there are only certain ways in which evolution can solve problems. He showed examples of amazing convergence in different lineages to support his view, such as the similarity between the praying mantis and the mantis shrimp. Thus, unlike Gould, Morris believes that if you re-run the tape of life, you will get something very similar to what we have. Once you had a mammal, it is almost inevitable that humans would arise and with them, consciousness.
Michael Behe, Christian de Duve and Mark Ptashne, Stephen Meyer and Sahotra Sarkar discussed biological complexity and the origin of information in biological systems. Behe stated that he believed that God may have inserted information into biological systems throughout time; De Duve showed how complexity could have evolved without any divine intervention, and Ptashne showed how molecular regulatory systems evolved. But probably the most dramatic moment of the conference was a mini-debate between Ptashne, Meyer and Sarkar about how God intervenes to insert the information into the system. Ptashne and Sarkar pressed Meyer to be specific about what his model would predict and exactly how the designer worked. Ptashne asked, Does the designer make each and every new DNA molecule? It was a dramatic moment. The transcript from tapes can be found at http://www.flash.net/~mortongr/wacotrans.htm/.
Alan Guth, who first suggested the inflationary cosmology, Howard Van Till and William Lane Craig discussed the origin of the universe and the question of whether or not a designer was needed or required. Guth argued that everything we see is a consequence of the laws of physics that have been observed. Once inflation started, it would go on forever, Guth said. There was no need for a Creator. Van Till and Craig argued oppositely, that a Creator was needed to explain the anthropic coincidences seen in the laws of physics as well as in their beauty and elegance.
Saturday saw a discussion of whether evolution would be able to evolve morality and ethics. Larry Arnhart suggested that evolution could account for marital fidelity (something that has becoming less obligatory this century), communal desires and incest avoidance. He couldn't explain why it would evolve care for the sick with the attendant risk of the caretaker taking ill and dying. Dallas Willard argued that ethics simply can't be evolved and must be derived from some other source. He also raised an interesting question for every topic in the conference: If science has proven that there is nothing but matter, what physicist discovered this and in what journal did he publish his findings? Since no one can give the reference it is obvious that science hasn't proven naturalism.
The conference then turned to the question of whether or not the effectiveness of mathematics to describe nature was an indication of design. To my surprise, and maybe to the organizer's as well, both speakers said that math was not unreasonably effective at describing nature. Edward Zalta pointed out that science merely chose the mathematics that worked and ignored a huge amount of math that had no application to reality. Mark Wilson suggested that future theories may require mathematics that are too difficult for the human mind to comprehend.
Bill Dembski presented his case for why natural selection and genetic algorithms cannot work. Given that he was not speaking of the origin of life and was speaking about natural selection, which only works on living, reproductive beings, his case failed miserably in the eyes of many in the audience including young-earth creationists like John Baumgarder who told Dembski that genetic algorithms, based on random search routines, are today playing a big part of the design of many things at Los Alamos.
The last session concerned the origin of consciousness. John Searles said that consciousness would arise from our neurons. Nancy Murphy said the same thing and said that that should not bother Christians. But Howard Ducharme had the most interesting talk defending the outdated concept of dualism. He used the concept of “I” to show that what makes me, me, and you, you, can not be derived strictly from matter.
The conference was fascinating and useful. But I don't think it achieved the goals of the organizers. Many of the Christians at the conference felt that the theists did not do as good a job as the agnostics and atheists. Some had their eyes opened to the weaknesses of the ID position. In this regard the testimony of one mother is quite interesting and her e-mail can be seen at at http://www.flash.net/~mortongr/mom.htm. More details are at http://www.flash.net/~mortongr/wacovonf.htm.
We had a small group but an enjoyable time Wednesday evening at the Fall American Geophysical Union Meeting in San Francisco. The group consisted of Rob Sheldon (Space Physics, University of Alabama at Huntsville), Stuart Sipkin (USGS, Denver), Doug Wiens (Seismology, Washington University), and Roger Wiens (Planetary Science, Los Alamos National Laboratory).
A few others wrote in to say they couldn't make it this year, but hoped to join us some other time. We trekked over to Chinatown for a good dinner. We discussed our various church affiliations and other issues affecting our faith and our careers. Part of the evening was spent discussing the upcoming special session on teaching evolution, which was to be the next morning.
It turned out that most of us were unable to attend that session, though it sounded most interesting. The special session was a late addition to the program, added as a response to the recent decision against teaching evolution by the Kansas Board of Education. Rob Sheldon reported later that many of the talks were sprinkled with ridicule for creationists. The session consisted entirely of invited talks, and according to Rob they were quite one-sided. To some extent this is not surprising, however, it would be hoped that a distinction might be made between the wide range of interpretations among "creationists" such as between those espousing young-earth creationism and those holding theistic evolutionary views.
The 2000 Fall AGU meeting is to be held over a weekend just before Christmas. As a result, I'm not sure if I will attend, though I hope to organize ACG meetings at AGU events in the future.
When? Sunday, November 8, 2000, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Where? Las Vegas area, Nevada
The ACG field trip to be conducted in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the GSA. Participants can fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, do the field trip on Sunday, and then fly to Reno on Sunday evening or Monday morning for the Annual Meeting. A modest field trip guide may be produced.
A preliminary itinerary is:
This itinerary is preliminary and subject to change and modification according to people's schedules. The geology is wonderful and I am sure will provide much discussion among ACG members.
Please contact Wayne Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 897-4040 if you need more information or wish to “sign on”. Looking forward to seeing many ACG members in “Grace City” (Romans 5:20).
This book will be of interest to any ACG members interested in paleontology or classical mythology. Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist interested in the natural history embedded in Greek and Roman myths, has documented that the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean did have a physical basis for their legends of giants and monsters – the fossilized bones of large vertebrates abundant in the area around the Greek Isles and elsewhere.
Mayor's first chapter convincingly outlines how the Greek legend of gold-guarding griffins can be traced to the Scythians and ancient gold-mining areas in the Gobi Desert region of Asia. Beaked-dinosaur skeletons, like those of Protoceratops, and fossil egg-containing nests of these dinosaurs, are abundant in this region and compare quite well to ancient descriptions and drawings of griffins in the ancient world.
The rest of the book discusses the large number of Cenozoic mammal fossil deposits in the Mediterranean area and how the discovery of these sometimes enormous and puzzling bones correlate with ancient stories of giants and other mythological monsters. Mayor argues that these stories are reasonable attempts to reconstruct the past from fossil evidence predating traditional beginnings of the science of paleontology.
The only criticism I have of this book is that it's sometimes repetitive and rather poorly-organized. It could have benefited from a good editor and some tightening up. This book is well-worth reading, however, if you are at all interested in paleontological thought in the ancient world.
I am about to (as in currently printing the final copies) turn in my dissertation, “Radiation and Convergence in the Bivalvia: Molecular Evidence on Traditional Classification” and am looking for postdoc or job in systematics, invertebrate biology, paleontology, or the like. On June 3 I will be getting married to Susan Monk, who has an indirect ACG connection in that her father was on the session with Davis Young at a church in Wilmington, NC several years ago.
I have accepted an offer from the University of Michigan for PhD work. I'll be working with Sam Mukasa, doing lots of hard-rock petrology and isotopic dating in the Alpine-Himalayan collisional belt in eastern Europe, mostly Bulgaria. I will complete my MS at Vanderbilt this summer.
I heard through the grapevine that Jim Clark will be moving from Calvin College to Wheaton College this year.
I am moving to Scotland to become the geophysical manager of the North Sea. The opportunity came to me because of the success we have had in the Gulf of Mexico. In the last 3 years we have discovered 4 very sizable oil/gas fields, three of them within the past 9 months. I will not have my books in Scotland (for 2-4 years) so I don't know how much time I will spend on Internet. I leave in little over a month. Those of us active on the Internet mailing lists on science & Christianity will greatly miss Glenn's voluminous, but always thoughtful and interesting, contributions!
As of now, I'm wrapping up my year of teaching at Calvin. I recently got a two-year post-doc at the University of Wisconsin, where I will be working with Dr. Clark Johnson on a combined U-Pb and Lu-Hf isotope study of detrital zircons in Cretaceous coastal basins of the North American Cordillera. Field work related to the project will mainly be in Washington State, Oregon, and northern California.
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