Random Summer Topics: Good Eats and Music

It being summer, I’ll take a break from the usual serious topics of  science and faith to share a few culinary and other finds.

( 1 ) Refrigerator or “Icebox” Cake

I like baked items like cakes, pies, and bread, but prefer to not heat up the kitchen with baking in the oven during the summer. I recently re-connected with an “icebox” cake recipe I remember having long ago. It consists of simply layering Nabisco “Famous Chocolate Wafers” with real whipped cream. The wafers by themselves are dry and (to me) unappealing. But layered with the whipped cream and left to set overnight in the refrigerator, they soak in just enough moisture to bring out rich chocolate flavor. The stacking can be done in various configurations. A classic way is to make a long “log”, then for cut it at 45 degrees to create a zebra stripe effect for serving.

Source: https://www.snackworks.com/recipe/famous-chocolate-refrigerator-roll-53331.aspx

This is a photo of the end product, with the “log” sliced on the diagonal. (That photo shows a somewhat thicker coating of whipped cream on the exterior than I would use). Here is a specific recipe I used with success:   https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/220495/zebra-cake-iii/

Further thoughts here: I once tried using whipped cream from a spray can for this recipe when I could not whip up some real cream. That was a fail – – the artificial whipped cream shrank away to almost nothing overnight.    If your local grocery store doesn’t carry these chocolate wafers, see if they will order some for you, especially if you commit to buy say four boxes worth. (I usually double this recipe, consuming two 9 oz boxes at a time; with a group of any size, it all gets eaten right away). Don’t succumb to the temptation to order these wafers via Amazon – – you will pay 2-3 times as much, with a high probability that the fragile, brittle wafers will arrive all broken up in transport.

There are many other recipes that use the layering concept to create moist cake-like desserts without baking, e.g. here. Some of these recipes use graham crackers and are themed around fruit instead of chocolate.

( 2 ) Barley

For dinner starches, I usually reach for rice, pasta, or some form of potato. However, we have had a small bag of pearl barley (Bob’s Red Mill brand) sitting around for many months, and I decided to start consuming it. I threw a cup of it into 3 cups of boiling water, with a bit of salt, and simmered it for 50 minutes. Simple, and it came out really good. Nice chewy-but-firm texture, and pleasant nutty taste that blends well with other flavors. I just spooned chicken/cream sauce over it, but folks use barley in soups and in salads a lot.

I also tried a small box of quick-cooking barley. It only needs to boil about 12 minutes. I can’t recommend this – it had flabby texture and insipid taste, besides being more expensive than the pearl barley.

(3) Indian Flatbreads: Roti/Chapati and Naan

I am used to bread requiring yeast as an ingredient, and taking hours to rise and then requiring a hot oven for cooking. In pondering a way to make fresh bread without heating up the kitchen so much, I became aware of roti or chapati. This is widely made in India. In its simplest recipes, it consists of just flour, water, and a little oil and salt. After the dough “rests” for 30+ minutes to let gluten form chains, this dough is rolled out into a circle or oval, and cooked on a hot skillet. If all goes well, a skin forms on the outside, trapping steam inside. The steam causes the bread to puff up, like this:

There are many recipes out there that seem to work. I liked the ones with half whole wheat flour. It seems to be key to have enough moisture in the dough for the steam generation, and to have a very hot pan, and to flip the bread after the first ~10 seconds so it quickly develops a “skin” on both sides. It can help to lightly press the bread disc against the hot pan surface to get it to puff up.

I found it was possible to make some decent flatbread this way, but the wet, sticky dough made rolling out and handling the dough just enough of a chore that I decided this was not worth the effort. Also, I sometimes smoked up the kitchen with frying on a hot cast iron surface. However, a friend who had an unloved electric flatbread maker gave it to us. This turned out to be a big labor saver, and it doesn’t heat the kitchen as much as having a big gas flame burning under a griddle. The particular model is a 10” diameter Chef Pro flatbread or tortilla maker; many similar devices are available. It has upper and lower heated nonstick surfaces. Per YouTube reviews, some users are frustrated with this sort of device. Again, technique matters. I was greatly helped by various comments on the internet. I make the dough with the ingredients below, let it rest 25+ minutes, plug in the flatbread maker, and wipe the cooking surfaces with a little vegetable oil.

When it is hot, open it up, and roll ~ 1.75-inch (~4.5 cm) sphere of dough, place it a little to the back of the lower plate, and quickly squash down the upper plate to spread the dough out into a thin ~ 8 inch diameter patty. After a few seconds, open the plates to continue cooking on the bottom plate. (If you don’t open the plates up soon enough, steam will jet out sideways to escape and split the dough). After about 10 seconds, flip the roti and cook about 30 seconds; flip again to brown another 15-20 seconds, then gently lower top plate to press lightly on the upper surface of the roti for maybe six seconds. If all goes well, at this point the roti will puff up and be done.

Here is a picture of a typical flatbread maker in the open position, with a blob of dough ready to be squashed:

Source: Amazon CucinaPro Tortilla Maker (1443) – 10″

Ingredients for flatbread (roti):

1 cup white (all-purpose) flour + 1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ teaspoon salt, 2.5 tablespoons oil or melted butter

Mix these ingredients, then add 2/3 cup warm water and knead to make a slightly sticky dough.

Naan bread is sort of a flat bread (like pita), with yeast as an ingredient and needing time to rise. Traditionally, naan is cooked inside a very hot “tandoor” oven, but it can be cooked on a skillet. This recipe worked well for me. The dough was not sticky, so rolling it out was easy. As is typical with classic breads made with just flour, yeast, salt, and water, with little added fat or egg and no special preservatives or texturing agents, the fresh product tasted great, but the next day it tasted like just flour and water. The chemistry of “staling” is interesting. To some extent, the starch decrystallization process which (in a hot oven) converts a flour-and-water dough into bread gets reversed when the finished bread sits at room temperature or in a refrigerator. Stale bread can be partially resuscitated by reheating it, but it might be best to freeze whatever portion is not eaten right after cooking.

( 4 ) Benefits of Playing and Listening to Music

I guess it is obvious that listening to music, and playing it, can be good mental stimulation. I was impressed, however, by some articles I ran across, e.g. here and here, which describe studies which quantified these sort of benefits, especially for the over 60 crowd and including those suffering from Alzheimer’s. These benefits include improved cognitive function, fewer falls, improved mood, strengthened immune system, etc., etc., etc. A couple of examples:

  • Music has been found to stimulate parts of the brain, and studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, including a study conducted at UC Irvine, which showed that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer’s patients improved when they listened to classical music (Cheri Lucas, Education.com, “Boost Memory and Learning with Music,” pbs.org).


  • Adults age 60 to 85 without previous musical experience exhibited improved processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice, whereas the control group showed no changes in these abilities (Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson, “Music Training: An Antidote for Aging?” Hearing Journal, Vol. 66, No. 3, March 2013).

Armed with this fresh motivation, I am deliberately playing more classical music on my iPad, and have taken up playing the harmonica again. There are many tutorials on YouTube for learning almost any instrument. If you wonder whether a harmonica can produce music other than wailing blues, check out this rousing five-minute YouTube of Buddy Greene playing several classical pieces, including the William Tell overture, in Carnegie Hall.

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American Scientific Affiliation 2019 Meeting, “Exploring Creation”

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of evangelical Christians who are degreed scientists and who gather to discuss how their science and their faith interact. I have posted summaries of annual meetings for some past years: 2015, 2016 (emphasis on mind/brain issues), and 2018.

The 2019 annual meeting of the ASA was held in late July at Wheaton College, located west of Chicago. The stated theme of the meeting was “Exploring Creation.” In addition to talks dealing with some of the perennial issues of relating faith and science, there were some specific tracks dealing with teaching faith and science in various venues (college, high school, church), dealing with digital technology, and dealing with sustainability, climate change, and other “creation care” topics.

A list, by speaker name, of all the talks, with titles and links to abstracts (click on “Details” to see abstracts) is here. That page has links to YouTube videos of the plenary talks, along with slides and audio for some other talks. I will also link directly to these YouTube videos in my descriptions below.  A pdf file of the program schedule, with the talks grouped by topics and in chronological order, and with abstracts shown, is here.

I will summarize here a number of presentations that I attended, which I have grouped into the categories below.


Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds”

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life”

Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure”

Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”

Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin”

Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Biblical Models for Creation

Digital Technology

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Plenary Talks

Deborah Haarsma,   “Exploring Many Worlds

Calvin College physicist Deborah Haarsma is currently president of Biologos. She speaks here of how we understand Christ to be the Creator of our universe, which we now understand to have trillions of planets. In particular, what would intelligent life on other planets mean for our understanding of Christ as our Incarnate Savior?

She shared some interesting space finds, including an image of the emissions in vicinity of a black hole (at 10 minutes into the video). At 31 minutes she showed the figure below, noting that measurements/modeling now have the sensitivity to firmly estimate that there are billions of planets with conditions much like earth’s.

Screenshot from Deborah Haarsma, “Exploring Many Worlds”. talk at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Considering that life on earth appeared relatively soon (say 500 million years) after the earth cooled enough to have liquid water, many scientists consider it likely that some of those other planets harbor life as well. However, we still have little understanding of how life actually arose on earth, and it took another 3.5 billion years or so for intelligent life to appear on earth. So this is all fairly conjectural. (Deborah noted parenthetically that science fiction films tend to minimize the likely difficulties in translation should we actually encounter intelligent aliens). She offered various perspectives on the intersection of faith and science, including highlighting ways in which Christian faith can ground scientific investigation, and how scientific discoveries can inspire deepened appreciation for God’s creation.

James L. Sherley, “Living a Scientist’s Life

James L. Sherley is the founder and director of Massachusetts stem cell biotechnology company Asymmetrex, LLC. Asymmetrex develops and markets technologies for advancing stem cell medicine, including the first-in-kind technology for specific counting of adult tissue stem cells. James has a joint MD/PhD, and has held academic appointments at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston Biomedical Research Institute. He shared many aspects of his life as a scientist, including barriers that he and other African-Americans in science have encountered and continue to encounter. He also noted the difficulties faced by Christians if they publically acknowledge their faith, since their credibility as scientists may immediately become suspect. He suggested identifying with some larger Christian group (e.g. ASA) as opposed to trying to explain your individual beliefs. He also encouraged believers to try opening up in private with some of their colleagues – – there is of course the risk of rejection and ridicule, but also the potential for fruitful dialog.


Kenneth R. Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”

Ken Miller is professor of biology at Brown University, co-author of widely-used biology textbooks, and author of several popular books, including Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution and The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will. In 2005 he served as lead witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on evolution and intelligent design in Pennsylvania.

Among other things, he gave a historical perspective on the struggle over teaching evolution and intelligent design in public schools. The common perception of the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee tends to be colored by the play/movie Inherit the Wind, where it seems that the anti-evolution side is disgraced and the pro-evolution side is vindicated. The reality is that the Scopes trial upheld the state’s ban on teaching evolution, and teaching evolution remained outlawed in six southern states for another forty years. The really impactful case was a suit brought against the state of Arkansas in 1965 by a young teacher named Susan Epperson in Little Rock. She eventually appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she prevailed.

Ken shared anecdotes from the 2005 Dover trial, and highlighted some key pieces of evidence for evolution he presented. For instance, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 total) whereas other great apes (chimps, gorillas, orangutans) have 24 pairs. Evolutionary theory predicts that at some point in the human-specific lineage, two chromosomes must have fused into a single one. Since chromosomes have distinctive regions containing telomere sequences at both ends, at the site of a fusion between two chromosomes one should find these distinctive sequences. [1]

With the advent of DNA sequencing, this dramatic and specific prediction was verified:

Screen shot from Kenneth Miller, “Darwin, God, and Design: Grandeur in an Evolutionary View of Life”, talk at 2019 ASA meeting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-B3Xcqbn84 . Shows fusion site of two chromosomes in human chromosome 2, with distinctive telomere elements. At the top are shown the corresponding chromosomes in the chimpanzee and orangutan genomes.


Ken offered a number of observations on the compatibility of religious faith and science, and on how the harsh aspects of evolution like death and differential survival are (in the natural world we live in) essential to life and development. Richard Dawkins’s famous atheistic take on evolution is, “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”. Ken looks at the same phenomena from a theistic perspective: “The [Darwinian] universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of human freedom.”


Gerald Gabrielse, “God Decides, We Measure

Gerald Gabrielse is a leader in super-precise measurements of fundamental particles and the study of anti-matter. He formerly chaired the Harvard University physics department, and is now director of the Center for Fundamental Physics at Northwestern University. In this talk he offered observations on a number of science and faith topics. He described how he and his students isolated and maintained a single electron for many months, in order to make precise measurements of its properties in a strong magnetic field. Some other remarks (from my notes, not exact quotes):

He draws insights regarding God and creation from the book of Job. This is an epic tale of suffering and redemption. It has much to say about how involved God is with his creation, and how pleased he is with it.     The God who is responsible for our complex universe must be more complicated than we can hope to understand.

From science alone, we cannot conclude whether God exists or not. As Calvin noted, the Bible is like a pair of eyeglasses by which we can see the God who is behind the science.

When Moses asked God what his name was, the reply was, “I am who I am.” Not just a greater Pharaoh or other super-human, but beyond human categories.

Christians who argue over the details of the Genesis creation story are missing the whole point of it, which is that everything came into being because God willed it.

In physics, there is much we do not understand, but that does not justify abandoning science. Similarly, there is much we do not understand in Biblical teachings, like how God became a man or how Jesus’s death can lead to my eternal life.

No contradiction between doing science and praying. A God worth having is so unlimited that we can seek his help in ways that science cannot comprehend.

Everyone has faith in something ultimate, has some underlying assumptions. If you are in disagreement with someone, it helps to identify those assumptions and God-substitutes.


Gayle E. Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation

Gayle E. Woloschak is a professor of Radiation Oncology, Radiology, and Cell and Molecular Biology in the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. In this talk she brings insights particularly from her Eastern Orthodox tradition. She included the slide below with a classic statement and title by the (Orthodox) evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dhobzhansky. This 1973 statement notes that the evidence clearly demonstrates that present-day organisms developed via evolution, even though the details of the evolutionary mechanisms are not fully understood.

From 1973 Theodosius Dobzhansky article. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.


I thought the slide below was also interesting. It illustrates some of the inferred gene duplication events which gave rise to bone formation in the vertebrate line (the Sarcopterygiana at the bottom here are the ancestors of tetrapods, including us mammals):

Gene duplication events during vertebrate bone evolution. Screenshot from Gayle Woloschak, “Perspectives on Life and Creation”, at ASA 2019 Annual Meeting.

Gayle noted that humans pass along a cultural heritage as well as a genetic heritage. Cultural evolution for us has in some ways transcended biological evolution, being swifter and more effective. For instance, it took birds millions of years to develop wings for effective flight, whereas humans invented airplanes in much less time. As with other speakers here, she noted that the life/death cycle is required for evolutionary progress. She also described some strong links between being cognizant of evolution and appreciating ecology.

Humans share elements with the earth, and share genes and metabolic pathways with other species, yet we are unique. We are the part of the creation that contemplates. Humans are both earthly and heavenly, both material and spiritual. As St. John Chrysostom said, our human task is to be “the bond and bridge of God’s creation.”


Jennifer Powell McNutt, “The Mirror of Creation: An Unfailing Witness in Scripture and in the Theology of John Calvin

Jennifer McNutt is professor of Theology and History of Christianity at Wheaton College, and a Fellow in the Royal Historical Society. She started by noting the significant religious dimension to the Apollo moon exploration program. The Christmas Eve reading from Genesis 1 on Apollo 8, looking back at the earth from space, was the most widely-viewed broadcast of its time. Lunar astronauts were allowed to take a small “Personal Preference Kit”, and NASA made a 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch (3.8 x 3.8 cm) microfiche version of the whole Bible for the purpose. On the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin read from Psalm 8 upon landing, but that was not broadcast by NASA due to a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 reading. Also, one of the first things Aldrin did was to take communion from the blessed elements he brought. This was the first meal ever eaten on the moon. To my knowledge, these religious features were all scrubbed from the movie First Man.

Per the title of her talk, Jennifer discussed John Calvin’s theological outlook on the physical world. Calvin encouraged study of astronomy and medicine, and emphasized the importance of “delighting” in creation. To meditate on God’s work in nature is a key part of a Christian’s devotional life. According to Psalm 19 (“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…”) creation is not merely a passive object to be studied, but an active agent of revelation to all peoples of all times. In providing this revelation in nature, the Creator stoops to accommodate our limitations. Creation does not fail to give its witness; if we fail to perceive it, the fault lies in us.

Calvin likened the revelation in creation to a view in a mirror. In his day mirrors were made of polished metal or glass. These mirrors gave much information, but they did not reflect a clear, complete image. In his 145th (!) sermon on Job, Calvin said that God offers us creation as a mirror so we can better contemplate his power and wisdom. However, creation can only reveal a fraction of what we need to know about God. The Scriptures, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, give a truer, clearer revelation of the redemptive purposes of God. Although God is the Creator and we are part of creation, he is free to bridge the gap between us and he chooses to do so.

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Science as Understanding God’s Creation

Seth Hart, “The Fifth Way: Teleological Language in Biology and a Thomistic Natural Theology”

Teleology is an explanation for something as a function of its end, purpose, or goal. In the twentieth century, defenses of the use of teleological language in biology appeared from scientists as Francisco Ayala and Ernst Mayr. For instance, if you understand everything about each atoms in a bird’s wing, including their relative positions and bonds, but that is all you know, you are missing some key understanding. You also need to know the function of the wing, i.e. what the wing is “for” (Aristotle’s “final” cause”). To grasp that function, you need to understand something of what the whole bird is.

It is argued that thinking in terms of teleology is useful in framing experiments (e.g. some systems like those in cells must be understood as functioning in unison), in natural selection (selecting for traits that are suited to a particular purpose), and in understanding what a species is (based on shared essences). These considerations led Georg Toepfer to declare that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of teleology”. The appropriateness of such language has been debated. The biologist J. B. S. Haldane observed that “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.”   The speaker suggested that the existence of natural teleology in biology may provide evidential support for the fifth of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways of understanding or demonstrating God. [2]


Jonathan Bryan, “Sacramental Principle in the Science-Faith Dialogue”

From the Abstract for this talk:   The nature of divine action in the cosmos remains a central question in the science-faith dialogue. Some would restrict divine quantum uncertainties or chaotic systems, or the transmission of pure information. Others propose dual agency (carpenter-hammer), panentheism (nature inseparable from divine presence and action), or the world as God’s body (divine action analogous to mental activity). In all cases, the nature of the interaction between divine initiative and the material (the “causal joint”) is inherently, and necessarily unknowable. This is inescapable so long as we believe in a transcendent Creator who, no matter how related or attached to nature, is nonetheless truly other than the material creation, and so beyond the conceptual reach of any scientific assay. Divine action cannot be articulated in scientific categories.

This ontological gap between matter and spirit does not mean they are unrelated. Their relation may be approximated by the theological concept of the sacred or sacramental, in which otherwise natural phenomena (objects, places, actions, words) “participate in a reality that transcends them.” They possess additional meaning and dimension that is inseparable from them. By the sacramental principle, we understand nature as more than mere matter, or the complexities and effects of matter. A sacramental understanding invites us to begin the radical project of truly integrating science and faith. We illustrate with a consideration of biblical pneumatology and the nature of life [connection spirit, life, breath, cf. Acts 17:25, Ps. 33:6, Ps. 104], the cruciform fabric of the ecosphere, and the sacramental implications of the Incarnation for Creation. [end Abstract]

Sacred objects or actions carry hidden meanings. For instance, with the Eucharistic bread and wine, the sacred aspect cannot be seen physically.  Sacred things do not merely represent the deeper reality in a symbolic way, but actually participate in that deeper reality.

Some more remarks from the talk, on the “cruciform fabric of the ecosphere”: This notion may help us come to terms with death. There is a necessity of sacrificial death for life at many levels of reality. For instance, the death of stars produces the elements for life. The seed falls into the ground and becomes no longer a seed, to bring forth a new plant and many more seeds. And in the words of Jesus, “If you lose your life, you will gain it.”

Ronald T. Myers, “Physical Basis of Fine Tuning”

First, a little background. According to Wikipedia, the “Standard Model” for particle physics, which describes the material world at very small scales, has 25 fundamental particles (counting 8 types of gluons and two different W bosons), whose properties and interactions are described by 19 parameters, such as the masses of the electron and other particles and various coupling or mixing parameters. The values of these parameters for our universe can be determined experimentally. Extensions of the Standard Model with massive neutrinos need 7 more parameters, for a total of 26 parameters. For describing things on an astronomical scale, the main current cosmology model (Lambda-SDM) has six independent parameters (physical baryon density parameter; physical dark matter density parameter; the age of the universe; scalar spectral index; curvature fluctuation amplitude; and reionization optical depth).

Some of these parameters can be combined to form dimensionless ratios, such as the proton-to-electron mass ratio, or the “fine structure constant” (square of the electron charge, expressed in Planck units). Martin Rees, in his book Just Six Numbers, discussed six dimensionless constants, whose values he deemed fundamental to physical theory and the structure of the universe.

This talk addressed the Fine Tuning argument for faith in God. The argument goes something like this: for a number of physical constants or parameters, a wide range of values is theoretically possible. However, stable matter capable of supporting advanced life-forms is only possible if these parameters have values within certain narrow (in some cases exceedingly narrow) ranges. Although it would be vastly improbable for a randomly assigned set of values to all fall within these ranges, these parameters do in fact have these values. This remarkable fact has been remarked on by a number of scientists, leading to various formulations of the “anthropic principle”. Many scientists shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is; if these parameters didn’t have these values, we would not be here.” Some theists, however, argue that this casual dismissal is premature, and that the cosmic fine-tuning is evidence that the universe has been intelligently designed to support intelligent life. Theists also note that the earth has particular characteristics conducive to the development of advanced life (medium distance from a stable sun, etc.). This line of reasoning is popular with Christian lay people, being fairly easy to comprehend, but it is important to be accurate on the science involved.

Ronald Myers addressed some of these issues in his talk. He did not address the nature of the underlying physical laws themselves. Also, he did not much discuss the impact of the multiverse concept. [3] He dismissed considerations of the “local” conditions that make our earth conducive to life – – given that many of the 10^22 (where “^” denotes exponent) stars in our universe will have planets around them, it seems likely that many other planets exist with conditions similar to those of earth.

He primarily looked at what ranges of certain parameters are required in order to support advanced life. The literature of the last ten years suggests the allowable ranges on some parameters are wider than previously thought, if we take into account alternative nucleosynthetic paths for making biophilic elements.   He concluded:

(a) Use of dimensionality of space remains a strong apologetic [i.e. the existence of three space dimensions and one time dimension does seem essential to life].

(b) Proton-neutron and electron-proton mass ratios are weak apologetics [because the allowable electron-proton ratio has an allowable range of 10^4, and the proton-neutron ratio has only a lower bound].

(c) Constraints on the electromagnetic constant need to be re- examined and therefore should not now be used as an apologetic.

(d) Constraints on strong and weak force leading to stars and biophilic elements have been significantly weakened (i.e., now broader), making them unusable for an apologetic for fine tuning.

He added some general comments on the theological use of fine-tuning arguments:

– Fine tuning is an argument from improbability.
– The determination of the state of being fine-tuned and improbable seems to be based more on intuition then on any objective criteria.
– Percentage of parameter space is not useful since parameters go to infinity so any finite range is an infinitesimal portion of the available parameter space.
– So is God at work in 1/10^9 or 1/10^29 or 1/10^129 or 1/infinity ?
– Without objective answers to this, all fine tuning apologetics are tentative.

In the Q&A session, he added another caveat – – the cosmological constant seems so very tightly constrained that it is likely that something else is constraining it, i.e. that it is not really an independent parameter.


Adam Wright, “Explore Material Creation on Its Terms and the Creator on His Terms: The Confusion behind Sean Carroll’s Scientific Investigation of God’s Existence”

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll has tried to make the case that naturalistic models account for the world we observe better than theistic models. In this presentation Adam Wright explains Carroll’s methodology, including the formal Bayesian formulation of abductive reasoning he uses. Carroll’s strategy is to list features of the world that he thinks should exist if God created the world, and then point to the lack of these features.   These “expected” features include: no evil or suffering; frequent miracles; all religions independently reach the same conclusions; the cosmos only contains what’s necessary for human life (e.g. not billions of galaxies); spirits of those long dead visit often (ghosts); each person’s happiness in this life is proportional to their moral virtue; and so on.

The presentation notes some fundamental flaws in Carroll’s methodology. Scientific methods are designed to strip the human element from the truth-seeking process, limiting its scope to the objective and non-personal material world. This is appropriate for investigating material creation, since it is tangible, unsurprising (i.e. reproducible), and subject to our manipulation, which makes observation, prediction, and replicable experimentation possible. Conversely, God the creator is invisible, personal, and inscrutable, making science an ill-suited tool for investigating the God hypothesis. Science is successful precisely because it explores material creation on its own terms. However, God must be sought on his own terms, by personal relationship and revelation.[4]

(I would add: How does Carroll know that God would prevent all evil or suffering, or would create only physical matter which is necessary for human life, or would rigorously reward virtue in this life, or would promote visitations by ghosts? In many of these criteria it seems to me that Carroll has rigged the game by smuggling in a naturalistic worldview which takes no proper account of an eternal afterlife. In fact, the Bible explicitly or implicitly teaches against many of Carroll’s theistic “expectations”: Jesus stated that there would be (at least as a general rule) no miraculous “signs” for unbelievers beyond his resurrection, and the whole New Testament teaches that virtue will be rewarded and evil will be judged in the next life but typically not in this life. )

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Teaching Faith and Science in Church, College, and Cyberspace

Dale Gentry, “Education in the Twenty-First Century: Addressing the Intersection of Science and Faith on YouTube”

Dale noted that there are many books dealing with the integration of science and faith, but these rarely percolate down to the typical person in the pew. He noticed that his students often go to YouTube first, as a quick, often reliable source of information. There are many good YouTube channels on science, economics, arts, etc. But he did not find one that consistently addressed faith/science issues. If we can’t talk about God as an answer to scientific questions, maybe we can’t talk about God as the answer to any question. He found a model for communication in The Bible Project. The videos on this YouTube channel consists mainly of snappy 4-7 minute dialogs, with animated illustrations, that give an overview of a section of Scripture or treat some concept like justice or exile or biblical poetry. These videos have been very successful in engaging people in thinking about theological issues. [Per article in April, 2019 Christianity Today, “Sixty-four percent of viewers are men, most aged 18-34 – a demographic often dismissed as being disconnected from faith”]. Dale plans to produce a set of animated videos formatted similar to The Bible Project, dealing with faith/science issues that may be of interest especially to younger viewers. Initial topics will be evolution and ecology, to be followed by human biology, the brain, and cosmology.

He has formed a nonprofit organization, Disciple Science, to accomplish this using crowdsourcing for raising funds to pay the animators. He also plans for a weekly podcast, a blog, and study materials, which might be used in Sunday school classes. Videos will be aimed initially at the adult level, with the possibility of later retooling them for younger age groups. The approach will be more education and advocacy than trying to prove God by science (apologetics). All truth is God’s truth, so there should be no conflicts if texts and facts are interpreted correctly. He aims to avoid false dichotomies (e.g. miracles OR natural processes, reason OR imagination, causality OR meaning) and push back on humanistic idolatry of science as the complete hope for the world. Science is the study of how God works – – perhaps using occasional miracles but mainly through intelligible processes. Just because a consistent scientific explanation is available does not mean God is not involved. Thus, faith does not lead to passivity: God works through secondary causes, and we humans are “secondary causes”….so if we see a problem, we should act!


Jason Lief and Sara Sybesma Tolsma, “Jesus Loves You and Evolution Is True”

Current research shows young people abandoning institutional forms of religion, and suggests that a part of this phenomena is the disconnect they perceive between contemporary science and faith. Thus, youth ministry must provide young people the opportunity to explore the relationship between Christian faith and the faithful engagement of the created world through science.

There are transversal spaces where biology and theology overlap, allowing important conversations about what it means to be made in the image of God, and what the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ means for the embodied, lived experiences of young people. This dialogue between biology and theology provides insight into issues facing youth ministry, such as sexuality, anxiety, cutting, and identity formation.

The presentation focused on the primary thesis of their work: the theological engagement of evolutionary theory from the vantage point of the incarnation provides an opportunity for the Christian community to reclaim an embodied view of salvation as the foundation for an embodied eschatological vision for human identity.

Some further thoughts presented on these topics:

Evolutionary theory presents creation as a work that is still in progress.

God’s creation shows the goodness of embodiment – God loves material stuff.

“Imperfection” can be redefined as opportunity.

Evolution points to our connectedness with the rest of creation – – we depend on it, have the same genetic code, etc. This gives motivation toward responsible action regarding climate change, race, and justice.

Evolution reframes suffering and death – -death paves the way for flourishing.

The cross depicts God’s love as sacrificial suffering, a death that makes room for our flourishing.

For today’s youth there is no longer much in the way of sacred spaces (e.g. hallowed church buildings); they find transcendence more in experiences, such as a rock concert. Some facet of science might be for them a transcendent experience.

Evolution can inform us how to live, helping us to embrace being the finite, embodied image of God.

Denis Lamoureux, “Online Science and Religion Materials for High School Students

In this session, Denis introduced two sets of online materials intended to assist high school students from stumbling over science, and in particular, evolution. The first set is a 4-hour series of 5 lectures with handouts and class discussions ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/wlhs.html ). He presents a range of possible positions on creation and evolution, and discusses principles for Bible interpretation, intelligent design, and the thinking of Galileo and Darwin. Handouts and discussion templates are provided for all five lectures. These lectures have been successful in Roman Catholic schools over the last 8 years.

The second set is an 11-hour introductory course on Science and Religion with 100 pages of notes, 100 pages of handouts, and 25 class discussions. Topics include Models for Relating Science and Religion, Scientific Evidence for Evolution, Intelligent Design in Nature, Galileo’s Religious Beliefs, Darwin’s Religious Beliefs, Interpretations of the Biblical Creation Accounts in Genesis 1–3, and the Modern “Evolution” vs. “Creation” Debate ( https://sites.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/150homepage.html ). Denis has found that an efficient use of class time is to have the students watch the lectures at their own pace, before the class, so the class time can be used for discussion or other interactive activities (a “flipped classroom” format [5] ).

In addition to making all this material available on-line, Denis is willing to hold a remote discussion with church or other groups; the expectation is that the members of the group would watch one of his on-line lectures, then Denis would call in to moderate a discussion on the subject. Denis has authored a number of books in this area. The one he recommends for high schoolers is Evolution: Scripture and Science Say Yes. Here are some quotes Denis shared regarding compatibility and conflict between evolution and Christian faith:

“The number one reason young Christians leave the faith is the conflict between science and faith, and that conflict can be narrowed to the conflict between evolutionary theory and human origins as traditionally read in Genesis 1–2.” – Scot McKnight, in his co-authored book with Dennis Venema, Adam and the Genome (2017)

“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist. … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” – Charles Darwin, letter to John Fordyce, May 7, 1879.


Luke J. Janssen, “The Bible Tells Me Otherwise; Besides Even Scientists Don’t Believe This Stuff, and It’s Not My Problem Anyway”

Results were presented which show a large gap between the views of many evangelicals and those of practicing scientists. In 2014 the Pew Research Center surveyed members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 98% of those surveyed agreed that human and other living things have evolved over time (either with or without divine guidance), as opposed to having existed in their present forms since the beginning of time. For working PhD scientists and active research scientists, 99% held to evolution, and only 1% believed that living things existed as-is from the beginning.

Among the general U.S. adult population, 31% held that living things existed as is from the beginning (i.e. reject evolution). Among religious subgroups, rejection of evolution was highest (60%) among white evangelical Protestants. People in the general population tended to grossly overestimate the degree to which scientists are “divided” over issues like evolution and the Big Bang, as opposed to “generally agree”.   29% of U.S. adults (and 49% of white evangelical Protestants) held that scientists are “divided” over evolution, whereas, as noted above, only 1-2% reject evolution. Similarly, 52% of Americans believe that scientists are “divided” over the Big Bang origin of the universe, which again is not so.

Some 59% of Americans agree that religion and science are “often in conflict”. The perception of such conflict is even higher (73%) among those who seldom or never attend a religious service. This perception of conflict is a significant factor for people leaving the church or who might otherwise consider Christianity. In a different poll, a common answer (54%) to the questions of why you left the Christian faith or what is the greatest obstacle to belief in the Christian God was, “Christian teachings that conflict with the findings of modern science”.

The Barna Group surveyed 1296 people who attended church in their teens but later left the church. Here are some of the answers given to the question “Why did you stop going to church?” :

“Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%)

“Christianity is anti-science” (25%)

“been turned off by creation-vs-evolution debate” (23%)

The Barna Group commented:

“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group… Only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture

… The university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples. [6]

… Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul, not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school.”

The presentation closed with a slide contrasting the trajectory of humanity according to traditional views of the Fall, versus the picture that emerges from examination of the physical evidence for evolution. In the first view, humanity started off perfect, and has only gone downhill. The physical evidence indicates, however, that the capabilities for higher functions such as language, abstract thought, and moral reasoning have developed gradually over millions of years, so the human lineage has been on a net upward trajectory. In this view, humans may be viewed, not as fallen from some earlier perfection, but as having “missed the target” or “fallen short” of the ultimate, full potential God has in mind for us. [7]


Faith Tucker Stults, “Cosmology & Contact in the High School Classroom”

[I did not attend this session, but the Abstract seems worth sharing:]

Many students from Christian backgrounds feel that some consensus scientific theories— such as evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and climate change— are in conflict with their Christian faith. These students are likely to feel they must choose between science or faith, resulting in either a loss of faith or a loss of scientific engagement. My desire to relieve students from this unnecessary choice led me to work in Christian education. For the last five years, I have taught high school physics and astronomy at an interdenominational Christian high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In this presentation, I will share two projects that I use to help students think critically about science and faith. In my astronomy class, our unit on cosmology carefully weaves together the nature of science and faith, the history of cosmology, and evidence for Big Bang cosmology. Throughout the unit, students write a series of personal journals to reflect on what they are learning.

In my physics class, the students watch the movie Contact (1997) and respond to a variety of science and faith related prompts through art, creative writing, essays, or other formats. These responses then lay a groundwork for an extended class discussion on the relationship between science and faith. These projects are consistently among my students’ favorite parts of the courses and have been beneficial tools in helping Christian students better understand the methods, motivations, and claims of science, and in relieving their sense of conflict with their religious beliefs.

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Biblical Models for Creation


Joel Duff and Gregg Davidson, “Young-Earth Evolutionists? Adaptation of Young Earth Creationist Models, and Implications for the Church”

This presentation pointed out a disconnect between what leading Young Earth (YE) creationists are now saying about the number and types of animals on Noah’s Ark, and the traditional, straightforward interpretation of the biblical account. A key Bible passages is:

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.   They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings.   Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.   The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah.   (Gen 7:13-16a)

Conservative Christians have long taken this to mean that one pair of every air-breathing terrestrial species was taken on board the Ark. For instance, two lions, two tigers, two jaguars, two cheetahs, and so on. However, there are some 33,000 living species of such land-dwelling, air-breathing animals, and an estimated 200,000 such species if now-extinct species are included. YE creationists have in recent decades acknowledged that in terms of space on the Ark and logistics of caring for all of them, it would not have been possible for Noah and his family to have hosted that many animals.

A response of YE creationist thinkers has been to claim that only a relatively small number of “kinds” of animals were originally created, and only one pair of each “kind” was taken aboard the Ark. After the Flood, each “kind” very rapidly differentiated and evolved into the many thousands of now-identified species. One YE creationist proposal in the 1990’s was that each “kind” corresponded roughly to the genus level, such that pairs of some 8000 animals would suffice to represent each “kind”. The Ark Encounter museum in Kentucky, backed by the prominent Answers in Genesis organization, now claims that there were only about 1500 “kinds”, and that typically all the current animals which are now classified within a single animal family evolved from a single “kind” from the ark [8]. For instance, in this model the entire cat family – – lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, lynx, bobcats, ocelots, cheetahs, cougars, saber-tooths, domestic-type cats, and other species – – all evolved from one ancestral feline pair in less than 4500 years. (Some of these species are quite different from one another. Lions can breed with tigers, but probably not with cheetahs.) This means that each “kind” differentiated into at least 20 different species, on average, in the years since Noah’s Ark ran aground around 2500 B.C. [9]

The presentation pointed out some problems with this approach. It posits an enormously fast rate of evolution, far faster than biologists normally observe today and far faster than seen for conventional evolution per the fossil record. YE creationists have long denied genetic mechanisms and features such as gene duplication, punctuated equilibrium, and transitional fossils, but now these features are invoked to justify the hyper-fast development of current animals from ancestral “kinds”. [10]

Moreover, this proposed grouping of animals and hyper-evolution of species seems to be at odds with the treatment of species and reproduction in the Bible. There is no mention of new species appearing in Scripture. Within the biblical chronology, sheep beget sheep, not goats or cows. Dozens of animals are mentioned in the pages of the Bible, and pictured in contemporaneous Near Eastern art forms, and they all correspond to known species, not some intermediate forms. The presentation also noted problems with the YE creationist claim that all animals were originally created as herbivores, in the light of the exquisite adaptation of carnivores such as the cat family, and also in light of the celebration of the natural world (including predation) in Psalm 104. [11]


Hugh Ross, “Testing Biblical Creation Accounts with the Latest Science”

Hugh Ross, and his Reasons to Believe ministry, hold to day-age progressive creationism. He is probably the best-known proponent of this view, which in the early-mid twentieth century was by far the majority position among conservative Protestants in North America, but which has since been largely displaced by young earth creationism and by evolutionary creationism. In Ross’s model, the six days of creation in Genesis are six consecutive long periods of time, spanning the 13 billion years since the Big Bang origin of the universe. The point of view of the narrative is not looking at the earth from outer space, but rather looking up from the surface of the earth or the waters on the earth.

He imposes some non-traditional interpretations on the biblical text to make this scheme work. For instance, on the fourth day when the text says the God made the sun and moon and set them in the heavens, Ross says that does not mean the sun and moon were actually created then. Rather, this language describes the first clear appearance of the sun and moon as viewed from the earth’s surface, as changes in the earth’s atmosphere transformed it from being translucent to being transparent.   Ross rejects macroevolution, positing instead (as I understand it) the supernatural creation of new families of plants and animals throughout geologic history.

In this talk, Ross discussed some recent literature results which seem to support his model. Taken literally, the text in Genesis 1:6-7 of the events on Day 2 (“And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it “) describes the formation of a solid dome in the midst of the primordial waters, with liquid waters (not vapor) above the dome and a space beneath the dome where liquid waters still covered the earth’s surface [12].   Ross, however, takes this text to describe the establishment of a stable hydrological cycle, citing a parallel passage Job 37-38, where six different forms of precipitation are mentioned. He proposed that this development was tied to a massive asteroid impact which created the moon and which stripped away some 99% of the earth’s atmosphere and surface water.     In the Reasons to Believe model, the earth’s surface was initially all covered with ocean waters for billions of years before the continents appeared on Day 3 (per Genesis 1: 8 , “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”). Although scientists in the 1960’s thought continents had existed from very early in earth’s history, more recent results indicate that dry land did not appear for more than two billion years, and then it appeared fairly abruptly, as part of the “Great Oxygen Event”. Ross sees these results as vindication of his model, and indeed vindication of the biblical text which he sees as giving a scientifically accurate description of astronomical and geological events over the past 13 billion years.


Digital Technology

Timothy Wallace, “The cyber problem: history, outlook, and responses”

This talk started with a quick tour of computer systems history:
1960s… Operating systems almost never crashed
1970s… Some networking, not secure
1975 UNIX came out, defined by only 10,000 lines of code
1980s… PCs and malicious actors. PC systems still fairly reliable.
1986, first PC virus… “Brain, from Pakistan
1990s. Microsoft dominant. Windows 3.1 had 4.5 million lines of code, Windows 95 had 15 million. That’s more than any one person can keep track of. It was decided that adding and keeping features was more important than reliability, hence the code bloat.

2000s…More complexity, vulnerability. Windows XP 2001 35 million lines of code, 2009 Windows 7 had 40 million lines of code. Viruses took off. First major cell phone virus 2005.
2010‘s… More devices and attacks… Zero day exploits…Black market, ransomware. Internet of things (IOT), as chipmakers pushed their wares into other devices as sales of chips in the PC market flattened. IOT opens whole new realms of hacking and mischief.

Capitalism is a proven way to build a large economy, but it is not good for minimizing security risks, because it’s typically cheaper in the short run to operate insecurely. Some examples were given of major security breaches. Congress recently passed a law to reduce digitization in infrastructure, maintain some human intervention, since otherwise utilities are seduced into squeezing a few percent more financial efficiency out of their systems by mass internet integration and automation. This could open the door to catastrophic hacking by other countries, analogous to the Russian cyber-attacks on the Ukraine electrical grid.

One practice that could be improved on is calling large general software libraries or subroutines, where only a few lines of code is really needed for the functionality. For example, a free flashlight app for your iPhone only needs a few lines of code. It is in fact a complex program because it is all about tracking your personal habits and information for sale, targeting ads, etc. Christians who work in programming have an ethical obligation to utilize responsible practices when they develop software.

Several practical tips for protecting yourself against hacking:

Don’t do financial on your cell phone. If you need to do money, buy a gift card at Walmart, which limits the amount of money at stake.

For password recovery, give false, weird answers. Otherwise someone might guess your answers. Example: some kid hacked Sarah Palin‘s email by researching her information then guessing her answers correctly.
Avoid social media.

Protect against ransomware by back-ups and more back-ups. Auto back-ups may not work so well, if they are encrypted. Use off-line backups, for instance a flash drive. Also, store some back-up copies offsite, for instance in a safe deposit box or relative’s house.


[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome_2   for more on this fusion event. See https://evograd.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/reviewing-replacing-darwin-part-7-a-nuclear-catastrophe/  for debunking of various false young earth creationist claims regarding this fusion region in chromosome 2.

[2] A brief presentation of Thomas’s Five Ways is given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Ways_(Aquinas) . These “Ways” were not intended to be formal proofs of the existence of God, but rather ways of understanding God.   The Fifth Way has to do with the overall governance of the world, not with the appearance of “design” for any particular objects in the world: “We see various non-intelligent objects in the world behaving in regular ways. This cannot be due to chance since then they would not behave with predictable results. So their behavior must be set. But it cannot be set by themselves since they are non-intelligent and have no notion of how to set behavior. Therefore, their behavior must be set by something else, and by implication something that must be intelligent. This everyone understands to be God “.

[3] Skeptics argue that some physics theories imply the existence of a practically infinite number of universes with a wide variety of possible physical laws and constants. Thus, it is hardly surprising that at least one universe has the characteristics to support intelligent life. Theists note in response that (a) even these multiverse models involve certain parameter values, so the issue of fine tuning does not go away (and nature of the underlying laws, as well as the parameters, calls for explanation), and (b) it seems that empirical confirmation or falsification of the existence/properties of other universes will forever be out of our reach, so these multiverse proposals may not qualify as science.

[4] Adam Wright has further commented (personal communication 7/26/2019):

“Carroll is essentially presenting eight features his creation would’ve had if he were God.   He hopes they will resonate with the reader, and he’s probably right, because it’s common to think of God as a big, powerful, more perfect version of ourselves. Constructing a model of God in our own image will inevitably lead us to expect the world to reflect the creation we would have made if we were God. But the whole idea of God is that he is not like us. If our ideal conception of creation doesn’t match the world we see, it could easily mean that those elements of perfection were lost, or that we don’t understand God properly.

Most of Carroll’s eight proposed features are not all that likely under theism if we think of God as he is revealed in the Bible…

Unlike atheism, theism actually does make a few predictions unambiguously: it guarantees that you’ll at least have a world, it’ll have people capable of relating to God, it will have believers, etc. Atheism doesn’t really make any predictions about the world, in fact it doesn’t necessarily predict that there will be a world.”

[5] In a “flipped” classroom, many of the traditional locations for various learning activities are reversed. In traditional learning styles, most of the classroom time is devoted to one-way impartation of information in the form of lectures, while the students’ interaction with the material occurs mainly outside class in the form of homework assignments. Per Wikipedia: “In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home while engaging in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of a mentor… The flipped classroom intentionally shifts instruction to a learner-centered model in which time in the classroom is used to explore topics in greater depth and create meaningful learning opportunities while students are initially introduced to new topics outside of the classroom”.

[6] I think this pithy statement gets to the heart of why youth often fall away upon going to college.

[7] Luke Janssen develops this concept of sin, and how the death of Jesus addresses sin, more fully in his article in the ASA publication Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2018/PSCF3-18Janssen.pdf ]

[8] From the Ark Encounter website:       “…The biblical concept of created “kind” probably most closely corresponds to the family level in current taxonomy. A good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created “kind”. It is a bit more complicated, but this is a good quick measure of a “kind.”…. Recent studies estimate the total number of living and extinct “kinds” of land animals and flying creatures to be about 1,500. “

[9] Dividing 33,000 living terrestrial species by 1500 gives an average of 22 species per “kind”; accounting for all of the 200,000 living plus extinct species would drive that number up considerably.

[10]   These supposed “kinds” have also been termed “baramins”. For a history of baraminology see: https://ncse.com/library-resource/baraminology

The subject is critically reviewed here: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Baraminology .

[11] The presentation noted that, in some cases, there was more diversity among the descendants of a supposed ancestral “kind” than there was among the ancestral “kinds” themselves (this may be hard to appreciate without seeing a diagram). This is the sort of cladistic observation which actually supports conventional macroevolution – – as you go back in ancestral history, you find the common ancestors of the various carnivore family more and more like one another, supporting the evolutionary hypothesis that each of these common ancestors were all descended from a yet older common common ancestor.

[12] For more on the “firmament” as a solid dome, see Was the “Expanse” Overhead in Genesis 1 a Solid Dome? ]

Posted in American Scientific Affliliation, Evolution, Intelligent Design, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tanis Site: The Day the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Hit


Sequences of Fossils in Sedimentary Rock Layers

K-Pg Asteroid Strike

The Tanis K-Pg Event Site

More Findings from the Tanis Site

Other Dinosaur Finds: Tracks, Eggs and Feces

Location of Dinosaur Fossils in the Rock Layers: Is a Recent Global Flood Credible?

More on Paleosols and Vertebrate Burrows

Closing Thoughts on Significance of the Tanis Site


Sequences of Fossil in Sedimentary Rock Layers

When canal builders surveyed the rocks of Britain in the early 1800s, they noticed that certain fossils only appeared in certain layers, and that the order of these fossils from layer to layer was typically the same all over the country. The same tendency of a well-defined sequential order in fossilized species has been found to hold all over the world. For instance, rock layers containing trilobites are found below, never above, layers containing modern clam species. Rocks with horse fossils are found above, never below, rocks containing dinosaur bones. Well before Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, it was realized that this pattern of fossils showed that the sedimentary rock layers were not the result of a single, year-long global Flood. Rather, these layers were deposited over many years, and the species of plants and animals alive at any one time changed from one age to another.

Fossils which have a wide geographic distribution but a relatively short time of appearance in the rocks are called “index fossils”, since they are useful in determining the relative ages of the rocks in which they occur:

The index fossils shown here were all sea creatures, so this rigorous ordering cannot be the result of, say, fleet-footed clams getting buried in higher rock layers because they ran to higher ground as the Flood-waters rose while the plodding trilobites were left behind to be buried first.

At all levels of rocks there are fossils of animals that are big and small, skinny and fat, so this sequence is not a result of hydrodynamic sorting during one big Flood. Rather, the order of their world-wide appearance in the rock layers reflects their actual temporal appearance, then disappearance, across the times of deposition in the sedimentary rocks in which they are found. As noted in Simple Evidences for Old Earth, geologists find many features that cause them to believe that these deposition times extended over millions of years. These features include angular unconformities, and thick limestone layers and caves in the midst of the rock layers.

In any given locality, it is often possible to identify several distinct rock layers (“formations”), with their characteristic fossils. A sequential set of perhaps five to fifty formations might be conceptually grouped together in a “period”. The geologic time spanned by a period is typically tens of millions of years, as determined by various physical markers [1]. The end of some periods are marked by widespread extinctions of species, with the subsequent appearance or expansion of different types of species.

Here is a list of the geological periods that span the past half billion years:

A number of clearly identifiable animal forms, such as arthropods and mollusks and primitive jawless fish, first appear in the Cambrian period. Fossils of jawed fishes are evident in the Silurian period. Many varieties of fish flourished during the Devonian (the “Age of Fishes”). During the Devonian, too, the first tetrapods (amphibians, at this point) appeared. A number of tetrapod-like fishes and fish-like tetrapod fossil intermediates are known from this time, illustrating the evolutionary development of amphibians [2]. Reptiles first appeared in the Carboniferous period. They were effective herbivores and carnivores, and became the dominant animals on land and in the oceans and the skies during the Mesozoic era (the “Age of Reptiles”), comprising the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. Dinosaurs, including familiar names such as stegosaurus, triceratops, and tyrannosaurus, ruled every continent during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Mammals arose during the Mesozoic era, but were overshadowed by the dinosaurs. A sequence of fossil intermediates between distinctive reptilian and mammalian jar and ear structures supports a gradual evolutionary transition between reptiles and mammals. Most early mammals were small insectivores or omnivores. They stayed in burrows during the day, presumably hiding from reptile predators, and crept out at night to feed. ( The rest of this article on dinosaur fossils goes on for many pages. To see other articles on this blog, look for recent titles listed along right-hand side of screen, or go here for listing of articles by topic. )

K-Pg Asteroid Strike

Dinosaurs abruptly vanish from the fossil record on every continent at the end the Cretaceous, along with some 75% of all land and sea plant and animal species. With the exception of some sea turtles and crocodiles, no tetrapods weighing more than 25 kilograms (55 lb) survived. This catastrophe is known as the K-Pg or K-T extinction event: “K” and “Pg” are abbreviations used for the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods. It is dated to about 66 million years ago.   Before around 2000 when a nomenclature change was agreed on by the geology research community, the geological stratigraphic range that we now term the Neogene and Paleogene periods was called the “Tertiary”, and the upper boundary of the Mesozoic era was thus known as the “K-T” boundary, but current nomenclature is K-Pg.

There may be multiple factors that drove this mass extinction, including massive volcanic eruptions in the Deccan Traps in the Indian subcontinent. It is generally agreed, though, that a key driver was the large Chicxulub asteroid strike in the Yucatan area of Mexico. This impact was massive enough carve a crater some 110 miles (180 km) wide and to send up a giant cloud of incandescent debris to the northwest which probably incinerated the surface of western North America. What seems to have wreaked havoc worldwide was the dust sent into the atmosphere, which shut down photosynthesis for months or years thereafter. There were hundreds of feet of calcium sulfate (gypsum) rocks where the asteroid struck; when those rocks were vaporized by the impact, the result was a fine aerosol of sulfuric acid which blocked the sun and caused acid rain.

A large amount of melted rock was ejected into the atmosphere, and rained down in the form of small glassy blobs (tektites) hundreds and thousands of miles away from the impact site. Tektites from this asteroid have been found at various sites, though with time and water exposure the original glassy material often decomposes into clay. Some asteroids are relatively rich in the element iridium, which is nearly absent from rocks on earth. An iridium-rich layer of dust (transformed into a clay layer) has been found in many locales around the world at sites which are dated by other means to around 66 million years ago. The Ir-rich clay typically lies above the clay derived from the tektite ejecta; the millimeter-sized ejecta would have mainly fallen out of the towering impact blast cloud within 1-2 hours, whereas the Ir-rich dust settled over a longer timeframe. The clay layer formed by the decomposed and compacted fallout from the impact is also referred to as “tonstein”.

Below is an example from the K-Pg boundary visible near Dogie Creek, in eastern Wyoming. The K-Pg boundary layer here has two intervals. The black arrow points to the contact of the two intervals. The lower interval contains visible spherules which have all the characteristics of Chicxulub impact spherules, but these have been altered to goyazite (hydrous strontium aluminum phosphate) in their rims. The upper interval contains shocked quartz and a high concentration of iridium. The pollen in the boundary layer consists almost entirely of fern spores.

The K-Pg boundary ejecta layer near Dogie Creek, Wyoming, USA Source: https://www.geo.vu.nl/~smit/debates/western.html , with additional description at https://www.geowyo.com/k-t-boundary.html

Above the Ir-rich K-Pg layer, worldwide, no dinosaur fossils have been found. [3]  While many dinosaurs in the Americas may have died in conflagrations immediately associated with the asteroid impact, presumably the worldwide extinctions were due to herbivores starving due to the shutdown of photosynthesis, followed by carnivores starving for lack of prey.  With the removal of dinosaurian competitors, mammals diversified and enlarged during the Cenozoic to become the dominant land animals. For instance, a fairly complete set of fossils documents the evolution of modern grass-eating horses from early Cenozoic twig-nibblers that were about the size of a fox.

The lush Mesozoic stands of angiosperm and gymnosperm terrestrial plants vanish at the K-Pg boundary. In many places on the planet, ferns were practically the only plants growing for many years after the K-Pg event. This shows as a “fern spike” in the sediments at or above the boundary. Ferns have been observed in modern times to be among the first plants to become established following volcanic eruptions that destroyed all local vegetation. The figure below for a New Zealand site, on the other side of the globe from the Yucatan impact site, depicts the relative abundance of spores and pollen from different types of plants below and above the K-Pg boundary. This boundary is identifiable by a spike in Ir and in Co, which are more common in asteroids than on the earth’s surface. Below the boundary, gymnosperms (mainly conifers) dominate, along with some angiosperms (flowering plants or trees), with relatively little sign of ground ferns. Immediately after the K-Pg event, ground ferns and then tree ferns proliferate, while other types of plants nearly disappear for some time. The sudden replacement of other pollens by fern pollens is observed world-wide, and typically in rock layers that sit atop hundreds or thousands of feet of prior sediments. These features are consistent with slow accumulation of these sediments over many years as plant ecosystems on the land wax and wane. They are not consistent with these all these sedimentary layers being laid down rapidly in the middle of a year-long worldwide Flood.

Geochemical signature and abundance of main spore and pollen groups through the K-Pg boundary interval at Moody Creek Mine, New Zealand. Source:Vajda, Vivi, J. Ian Raine, and Christopher J. Hollis. “Indication of Global Deforestation at the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary by New Zealand Fern Spike.” Science 294, no. 5547 (2001): 1700-702. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3085296

The fossil record indicates that the only mammals to survive the K-Pg impact were about the size of modern rats. The size of mammals increased to the size of beavers over the next 200,000 years, as the supporting plant community recovered from ferns to palm-like plants to more diversified vegetation.

A geological map of Montana is shown below, showing surface exposures of rocks from various eras.

Geological exposures map of Montana. Source: http://www.mbmg.mtech.edu/sp28/geology.htm

The Precambrian (mainly Proterozoic) sedimentary layers in the western part of Montana can be 35,000-50,000 feet thick. Paleozoic rocks are up to 10,000 feet thick, though these layers have been eroded away in most places and also buried under later sediments. Sedimentary layers that are relatively younger (Mesozoic, Cenozoic) are exposed in the eastern part of the state, again through erosion. During the Mesozoic era, highlands in the western part of the state were eroded down and about 5000 feet (1500 m) of sedimentary rock were deposited across the eastern half of the state. These include formations that are famed for dinosaur fossils, such as the Hell Creek formation at the very top of the Cretaceous in eastern Montana, and the Morrison formation at the top of the Jurassic in south-central Montana and in states to the south. Up to 4000 feet (1200 m) of sedimentary rock deposited during the Cenozoic, as mountain-building uplifts in western Montana contributed more sediment to be deposited in the flat lowlands in the east that were then near sea level. Much of the Cenozoic rock has since eroded away, as this area of the High Plains became elevated well above sea level. [4] The K-Pg boundary in Montana would typically be found at the interface between the green (Mesozoic) and yellow (Cenozoic) color-coded areas in the map above.

Here are some of the identifiable formations within these sedimentary layers in southeast Montana. The Hell Creek Formation is highlighted with a blue box. Many dinosaur fossils have been recovered from Hell Creek layers, including a Tyrannosaurus rex and a hadrosaur which preserved some flexible tissue within their femurs. We have discussed these specimens in “ Dinosaur Soft Tissue “. The K-Pg Ir-spike boundary is typically found between the Hell Creek and Fort Union formations or within the upper portion of the Hell Creek formation. [5]

Figure modified from Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication No. 28 May, 1963 (Sioux Arch region of southeast Montana) http://www.mbmg.mtech.edu/sp28/images/pr32st.jpg


Here is a photo of the K-Pg boundary layer between the Hell Creek and the overlying Fort Union Formation at Mud Buttes, in southwest North Dakota, just across the border from eastern Montana. There is a 1-cm-thick ( 0.4 inch) lower pinkish boundary clay, formed from low-angle ejecta from the asteroid strike. Above that is a 3-cm-thick (1.2 inch) orange layer containing altered spherules, derived from high angle ejecta that arrived at this site later. The top portion features shocked quartz and the maximum concentration of iridium. A small burrow has been dug into the top portion, presumably by a worm or insect. This 2-inch thick layer of clay and spherules marks the day, probably the very hour, when the age of reptiles ended and the era of mammals began.

K-Pg Boundary at Mud Buttes, ND. Source: Vivi Vajda and Antoine Bercovici, The global vegetation pattern across the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction interval: A template for other extinction events. Global and Planetary Change, Volume 122, November 2014, Pages 29-49. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921818114001477


The Tanis K-Pg Event Site

Maverick paleontologist Robert DePalma has identified and excavated an unusual site at the top of the Hell Creek Formation in eastern Montana. He has operated mainly on his own, without the usual support from large institutions. His colorful story is told in a recent New Yorker feature article by Douglas Preston, and summarized in a Wikipedia draft article . DePalma has published or presented several notable findings in the past, including the first amber-trapped insect from the Hell Creek, and a tyrannosaur tooth embedded in a hadrosaur tail, indicating that tyrannosaurs were indeed hunters rather than merely scavengers.

The site, which DePalma has dubbed “Tanis” (evoking the ancient Egyptian site in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) appears to contain deposits from tsunamis caused by the K-Pg asteroid impact. Thus, the fossils in these sediments were entombed on the very day of the impact. DePalma has published some key findings in a recent PNAS article, with a set of highly respected co-authors, including Walter Alvarez. Walter Alvarez, along with his father Luis, proposed back in 1980 that the K-Pg extinctions (then called K-T) were due to a large impactor, whose Ir signature might be observable in the K-Pg boundary layer. What follows are several figures from that PNAS paper, and from its Supplement .

Source: Figure 1 in DePalma, et al, A seismically induced onshore surge deposit at the KPg boundary, North Dakota. PNAS, April 2019 https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2019/03/27/1817407116.full.pdf

Figure 1 (above) depicts and reconstructs the event site and its sediments. Frame (A) shows the location of the Tanis site, and its position relative to the interior seaway at the time. (B) shows a side photo of the site, with and without lines which trace out the sediment beds. As shown in (C), there was a regular sort of river flowing mainly eastward, toward the finger of ocean (Western Interior Seaway, WIS) which was present east of the Tanis site. The river channel was incised into bedrock, and a “point-bar” sandy deposit was present along one side of the channel. Such point bars are commonly observed on the inside of the loops of meandering rivers today. This point bar deposit is shown in yellow. The event deposit is shown in magenta. This deposit is about 1.5 m (4.5 ft) thick. Analysis of its layers indicates that it resulted from two massive flood waves which rolled up the river channel from the ocean. As these waves receded, they left a mass of dead fish amongst the sand and mud sediments. (See Figure S23 in the Supplement  for a mash-up of these fish remains, oriented in the direction of flow).    Here is the original caption for this Figure 1, slightly edited:

Original Figure 1 caption: Map of the Tanis study locality. (A) Tanis within a regional context (large map) and on a national map (Inset). Black dots in Inset are previously documented KPg tsunami localities; star denotes Tanis. Kf, Fox Hills Formation; Kh, Hell Creek Formation; Kp, Pierre Shale; Qor, Holocene; QTu, Quaternary and Upper Tertiary; Tp, Slope Formation.    (B) Photo and interpretive overlay of an oblique cross-section through Tanis, showing the contact between the angled point-bar sandstone and the gray Hell Creek bedrock.    (C) Simplified schematic depicting the general contemporaneous depositional setting for the Event Deposit (not to scale). The Event Deposit (1) covers the slope of a prograding point bar of a meander (2), which incised into the Hell Creek bedrock during the late Cretaceous. Location of the densest carcass accumulations (3) along the slope; location of KPg boundary tonstein directly overlying the Event Deposit (4); location of KPg tonstein overlying the adjacent overbank (5); location of Brooke Butte (6), the closest KPg outcrop to Tanis.

Rivers erode material in steeply-sloping highlands, and deposit some of this material in the flatter alluvial plains downstream. Periodic local flooding of rivers helps move material out of the river bed and onto the surrounding floodplain. The Hell Creek Formation was deposited in such an alluvial setting [6]. DePalma et al. observe that the (relatively small) Tanis event deposit is much different than the usual Hell Creek formation sediments:

In modern fluvial depositional environments, as with the Hell Creek Formation, major high-energy depositional events or hydrological surges are related either to massive storms or to river flooding. The sedimentological features at Tanis, particularly the large-scale bidirectional flow, high runup, thick deposit, and draped sediment package of relatively even thickness, are incompatible with storms and river flooding and do not ally with other common terrestrial or marginal-marine depositional mechanisms such as tidalites. The depositional mode and sedimentology at Tanis compare most favorably with an inundation surge, with the physical characteristics of a tsunami that could have emanated from the impact site up the WIS or, alternatively, due to a more localized seiche. The large inland-directed surge complex at Tanis, incompatible with either river flooding or storm deposits, was a rare and unusual occurrence in the Hell Creek Formation.

Figure 2 (not shown here) in the paper displays many details about the layers and sublayers which comprise the event deposit.

The Chicxulub asteroid impact generated giant tsunamis, which left traces around the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico areas. A normal tsunami would take at least 18 hours to travel along the surface of the water from the point of impact to the Tanis site. However, the millimeter-sized ejecta from the Chicxulub asteroid strike would have nearly all finished falling by 1-2 hours after the impact. Thus, the water surges that deposited the sediments at Tanis could not have come from a tsunami rolling all the way up the interior seaway. The preferred explanation at this point is that the massive earthquake resulting from the impact led to the water surges in the vicinity of the Tanis site. This type of seismic water surge is called a seiche.

The timing for the seismic waves to propagate through the earth to reach the Tanis area works out to match the timing of the ejecta falls. The phenomenon of a far-distant earthquake causing a substantial water surge has been observed on occasion. For instance, the large 2011 earthquake in Japan caused a 1.5 m (5 ft) seiche in a Norwegian fjord some 5000 miles away.

Below are sections A-E of Figure S1 in the Supplement. Section A shows the upper surface of the Event-Deposit, topped by an Ir-rich K-Pg claystone layer (“Tonstein”) which is a little over 1 cm (0.4 inch) thick, and then a carbonaceous shale layer rich in fern spores (“fern spike”). Section B shows a similar stratigraphic section from a nearby site (Mud Buttes, S.D) where the K-Pg boundary is also exposed [7]. That site also shows the K-Pg tonstein layer, and the fern-spore-rich carbonaceous shale. However, the formation just below the tonstein at Mud Buttes is an ordinary paleosol (i.e. a soil layer, which has been buried under later sediments).  The “TP” arrows in the profile point to “Terrace Paleosols” on the upper surface of the Tanis point-bar sandy deposit. These are relatively flat spots on the sandbar where enough soil developed to support some local small animal life. Among these structures are found burrows made by vertebrates (shown in section C), and by invertebrates such as insects (D). The oxidized walls of these burrows indicate that they had exposed to the air for a considerable time before the event surge came and filled them with sediment.

Supplement S1, Frames A, B

Supplement Figure S1, Frames C-E. Stratigraphic cross-section of Tanis, with select key features Source: Figure S1 of Supplement to “A seismically induced onshore surge deposit at the KPg boundary, North Dakota.” PNAS, April 2019. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/suppl/2019/03/27/1817407116.DCSupplemental/pnas.1817407116.sapp.pdf


 The original caption for this Figure S1 is:   The Event-Deposit forms a drape of relatively even thickness, sharply overlying the angled point-bar slope, and is capped by a thin layer of tonstein overlain by a fern spore-dominated horizon (A), indistinguishable from Mud Buttes (B), and common for the Western Interior.   Terrace paleosols (TP) underlying the Event-Deposit bear abundant pedogenic structures such as (C) vertebrate burrows, (D) invertebrate ichnofossils, and (E) oxidation halos, indicating prolonged subaerial exposure and occupation prior to inundation.   Tunnels of insect burrows (D) are filled with sediment contiguous with the basal Event-Deposit and bear reddened oxidized walls, indicating subaerial exposure and open chambers up until the time of inundation.

What about all the millimeter sized spheroids from the asteroid impact that we see in other K-Pg sites? It turns out that these particles were raining down during the two water surges which laid down the event deposit. After the first surge (which deposited “Unit 1” of the event deposit) had receded or was receding, there was a brief time when it presented a soft wet silty surface to the sky. At that point, a number of ejecta spheroids came whizzing in at terminal velocity and thunked into the soft sediment near the top of the Unit 1 layers, warping the layers of existing sediment as they buried themselves several centimeters deep in their “craters”. These craters where quickly filled in by sediments in the second water surge, which laid down the Unit 2 layers. Figure 4 from the paper, shown below, has a cross-section (“E”) illustrating such an impact. The spherule is still visible (black arrow). In addition to these impacted spherules, some ejecta particles were concentrated in a few particular levels of Unit 2 sediments. This figure shows where these “lenses” of ejecta were found. Section A of this figure (with zoomed-in views in B and C) shows one of these lenses. Section D is a thin section micrograph.

In situ ejecta spherules at Tanis. Source: Figure 4 of DePalma, et al., PNAS, April 2019 https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2019/03/27/1817407116.full.pdf


More Findings from the Tanis Site

A great number of fishes were swept inland with the tsunami surges, and died as they were caught up in the silt-laden water and stranded in shallow, receding waters. As some of these fish were frantically pumping water through their gills, they took in many of the ejecta spheroids which were raining down into the water at the time. These spheroids can be seen in X-ray sections of the gill sections of these fish, as shown in Figure 6 of the main paper. Figure S15 in the Supplement (shown below) shows some of these spheroids which were visible in fish gills, in the field excavations. Section A of this figure shows DePalma pointing to a paddlefish fossil imprint which is being unearthed. We added a red arrow pointing to the gill region, just behind the curved jaws. Section E below is a view zoomed in on this gill region, clearly showing the spheroids concentrated there.

Fossil paddlefish; red arrow points to gill region, where ejecta spherules can be seen. From Figure S15-A of Supplement to DePalma et al., PNAS, April 2019. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/suppl/2019/03/27/1817407116.DCSupplemental/pnas.1817407116.sapp.pdf


Spherule-enrichment in the gills of a fossil paddlefish. From Figure S15-E of Supplement to DePalma et al., PNAS, April 2019. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/suppl/2019/03/27/1817407116.DCSupplemental/pnas.1817407116.sapp.pdf


The DePalma PNAS paper notes that some tektites were trapped in amber in blobs along tree trunks. Being thus protected from chemical contact with the environment, these tektites were preserved in a relatively unchanged state.

In a 2017 presentation Robert DePalma described another intriguing finding: a mammal burrow which had been dug down into the Tanis event deposit from above, with bones of the mammal still in it. [8]

A long-standing controversy in the extinction of the dinosaurs is the “3-meter problem”. This is the observation that fossil remains of dinosaurs have not generally been found in the three meters (ten feet) of late Cretaceous rock just below the K-Pg boundary. This has led to speculation that dinosaurs had already died out before the K-Pg event. However, at least one dinosaur fossil has been found    a mere 13 cm below the K-Pg boundary, so it seems that this 3 meter dearth of fossils does not reflect actual extinction.

In the PNAS article, DePalma et al. report the finding of a ceratopsian hipbone at the top of the event deposit (see Figure S29 in the Supplement). The owner of the hipbone had died some time before the Tanis water surges, yet this find suggests that dinosaurs were still alive around the time of the K-Pg event.

The New Yorker article claims that far more dramatic dinosaurian remains have been found in the lowest level of the Tanis event deposit:

At the bottom of the deposit, in a mixture of heavy gravel and tektites, DePalma identified the broken teeth and bones, including hatchling remains, of almost every dinosaur group known from Hell Creek, as well as pterosaur remains, which had previously been found only in layers far below the KT boundary. He found, intact, an unhatched egg containing an embryo—a fossil of immense research value. The egg and the other remains suggested that dinosaurs and major reptiles were probably not staggering into extinction on that fateful day. In one fell swoop, DePalma may have solved the three-metre problem and filled in the gap in the fossil record.

DePalma says that these results will be disclosed in future refereed publications. The purpose of the April, 2019 PNAS article was just to describe the geological setting of the Tanis deposits.

Other Dinosaur Finds: Tracks, Eggs and Feces

Dinosaur Tracks

Many traces of dinosaurs besides their bones have been found in Mesozoic rocks. Tracks made by dinosaurs walking on soft ground have been discovered in various parts of the world, including sites close to Montana. Here is a track of dinosaur footprints in the Hell Creek Formation at a site in South Dakota, along the eastern border of Montana [9] :

A track of footprints assigned to an oviraptor, in the Hell Creek Formation. Posted by Anthony Maltese. https://rmdrc.blogspot.com/2013/12/giant-oviraptor-tracks-from-hell-creek.html

The tracks below were found in the Morrison Formation at Dinosaur Ridge in central Colorado, south of Montana. The Morrison Formation is late Jurassic, dating to about 150 million years ago, some 80 million years younger than the Hell Creek. As might be expected from this time difference, the species of dinosaurs found in the Morrison (e.g. Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus, and carnivorous Allosaurus) differ from those commonly found in the Hell Creek (e.g. Triceratops and carnivorous Tyrannosaurus).

Dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Ridge, Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark, Colorado https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaur_Ridge


Dinosaur Eggs and Nests

Fossilized dinosaur eggs and nests have been found in various locations, including the Two Medicine formation in northwestern Montana. These finds include eggs with embryos in them, and nests with young hatchlings. The Two Medicine Formation, which is up to 2000 ft (600 m) thick, is dated to about 71-83 million years ago, or a few million years before the Hell Creek Formation in eastern Montana. Here is a clutch of fossilized Troodon eggs in a nest found in the Two Medicine Formation.

An egg clutch of Troodon from the Two Medicine Formation. This specimen is part of a permanent exhibition at the Museum of the Rockies. https://serc.carleton.edu/research_education/mt_geoheritage/sites/augusta_choteau/paleontology.html


Fossilized Dinosaur Dung (Coprolites)

Fossilized feces are called coprolites. It takes unusual conditions for the relatively soft feces on the ground to become mineralized, but it does happen. It requires the feces to be deposited intact on the ground, and then covered over by sediment. If a dinosaur evacuated its intestines while being swirled away in a global Flood, the fecal matter would disintegrate.

Analysis of coprolites gives valuable information on animal diets. Dinosaur coprolites have been found in many locales, including Montana’s Two Medicine Formation.    This 18 inch (44 cm) long specimen from the Frenchman Formation in southwest Saskatchewan (just north of Montana) is attributed to Tyrannosaurus rex :

King-sized coprolite at the United States Geological Survey by Karen Chin (Image public domain) https://www.forbes.com/sites/shaenamontanari/2015/11/25/the-5-coolest-dinosaur-droppings-prehistoric-pukes-and-ancient-emissions/#e2182bb730ed

The Natural Historian blog has articles (eg. here and here) on the implications of fossilized dung deposits for the ages of sedimentary rock layers.

Location of Dinosaur Fossils in the Rock Layers: Is a Recent Global Flood Credible?

The Rise of Modern Young Earth Creationism

By 1840, nearly all practicing geologists (many of them devout Christians) concluded that the earth was far older than the 6000 year age indicated by a literal interpretation of the Genesis chronology. Features in the sedimentary rock layers such as angular unconformities could not have formed as part of a year-long global Flood.

From about 1860 to 1960, nearly all Christians in Europe and North America, from the most liberal to the most conservative, were reconciled to an earth that was many millions of years old. Fundamentalist Protestants mainly subscribed to the “gap” theory, whereby a gap of millions or billions of years was held to interpose between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This interpretation, popularized by the Schofield Bible notes, accommodated a very old earth, while allowing for recent creation of the human race. W.B. Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, stated in the 1920’s that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing”.

This all changed with the 1961 publication of Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, which promoted a young (6000 year old) earth. The book claimed that the entire surface of the world was scoured by a global Flood about 4500 years ago, which covered the highest mountains and deposited stupendous amounts of sediments. As described in Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism, the scientific picture in Genesis Flood was largely lifted from a bogus Noahic Flood geology devised by Adventist George McCready Price. He, in turn, was driven to devise this Flood geology due to his adherence to a cult prophetess who claimed that God showed her visions of a literal worldwide Flood. [10]    Although this Flood geology was contradicted by many clear evidences of an ancient earth , Young Earth (YE) creationism was enthusiastically embraced by many conservative Protestants, particularly in North America. Something like 20%-40% (depending on how the questions are phrased) of Americans believe that the earth and its plants and animals were formed less than 10,000 years ago. Citizens who care about science literacy are naturally concerned about this outcome.

Organizations such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International currently publish books, journals, magazines and web articles to promote YE creationism. The evidences for a young earth presented by these groups seem convincing to eager laymen, though these evidences fall apart upon close inspection.

When young Christians who have been told that a young earth view is an essential part of the faith eventually realize that that view is based squarely on falsehood, the impact on their faith can be devastating. Geology and biology professors report disillusioned YE creationist students coming to their office in tears.   YE creationism also skews the dialog between believers and nonbelievers. Besides providing insufficient grounds for faith, it provides unnecessary grounds for skepticism. Scientifically literate people will be unable to give the gospel a fair hearing, if they are told that a recent, sudden creation is an essential part of Christianity [11].

What Would Flood Geology Deposits Look Like?

In Flood geology, the main sedimentary rock layers were all laid down in a roughly one-year Flood, which occurred about 4500 years ago, and about 1500 years after the creation of the world. For forty days, the Flood waters rose upon the earth from rainfall and from subterranean water sources, until all dry land was covered. The waters stayed above the highest mountains for 150 days, and then started to slowly recede. Some months later appreciable dry land appeared.

Where the rock layers are many thousands of feet or meters deep, the rate of deposition must have been very high.  Arguably the sea level may have sloshed back and forth during the first forty days, occasionally exposing the surface of the sediments and leading to variable deposition rates, but something like a foot an hour (24 feet per day) would be a typical average rate for the Flood year to account for the mile-thick thickness of sedimentary rock layers in many areas of North America to accumulate in one year. After the first 40 days, there was no exposure of any dry land for at least 150 days. In Eastern Montana, where the sedimentary rock layers are more like 4 miles thick, the average deposition rate for a year would be some 100 ft (30 m) per day.

Some general chronological groupings of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks recognized by geologists include the Precambrian formations, and the Paleozoic (540-250 M years ago), Mesozoic (250-66 M years ago), and Cenozoic (66 Mya–present) eras. YE creationists often acknowledge the existence of these general groupings, although they dispute the ages assigned to them. They typically assign the Paleozoic and Mesozoic layers to deposits from the Flood. There is not unanimity on where the Flood deposits start and end. In western Montana, the Precambrian rocks are up to 35,000-50,000 ft (up to 10 miles) thick. There seems to be no reasonable way these could have deposited in the scant 1500 years that the earth existed before the Flood. Likewise, in eastern Montana there are some 4000 ft (1.2 km) of Cenozoic sediments overlying the Mesozoic layers. Again, this seems difficult to account for unless the Flood activity is extended well into the Cenozoic layers.

After the first, say, 1000 feet (300 m) of sediment have been deposited for hundreds of miles in every direction, it would be safe to assume that all terrestrial vertebrates have been eliminated from that region, by being swept away or buried. Thus, in that region, we would not find evidences higher up (in the middle of thousands of feet of rock layers) of soil formation, or of large vertebrates digging burrows, laying eggs in nests, or defecating on the ground. But that is just what we do find. We have described the evidences for large animals, especially dinosaurs, doing all these activities, living out their normal life activities on a more or less dry land surface.

Comparing Flood Geology Expectations to Reality for Eastern Montana Rock Layers

The figure below shows what Flood geology would predict for the rock layers in eastern Montana. As noted earlier, the Paleozoic rock layers there are up to 10,000 ft thick. These deposits extend for hundreds of miles in all directions. After the first thousand feet or so of Flood sediments had deposited, surely all large terrestrial animals in the region were dead. Also, after the initial stage (first 40 days) of the Flood, no land was exposed for at least 150 days, and probably much longer.

Therefore, within the Mesozoic rock layers, there cannot be any evidence of large land animals performing their normal activities on the ground, such as walking around, making nests and laying eggs, defecating, or digging burrows. But, as noted above, that is exactly what we find in these rock layers. This completely invalidates Flood geology. There are many other lines of evidence which further disprove Flood geology and a young earth.

Reality vs Flood 2

Reality versus Flood expectations for dinosaur traces in eastern Montana


The general pattern of skeletal fossils likewise does not match expectations from a global flood. If great walls of water swept across the entire North American continent, sweeping away all terrestrial plants and animals, nearly all of these plants and animals should have been buried in the very lowest Paleozoic rock layers. The upper Paleozoic and the Mesozoic layers, thousands of feet above, should be essentially devoid of plant and animal fossils. But that is not what we actually find.

There are no terrestrial animal fossils at all in the lowest Paleozoic layers (e.g. Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian), and when these fossils do appear in the higher layers, they are not all jumbled together as expected from a great Flood. YE creationists invoke mechanisms such as ecological zones or hydrodynamic sorting to explain the observed ordering of animals, but these fail to account for the fossils which are actually there. See The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth for a complete discussion of how the YE creationist attempts to explain the observed fossil order and geographical distribution in terms of a global Flood do not succeed. Although hippopotami and some dinosaurs are both large, swamp-dwelling animals, their fossils are never found buried together.

More on Paleosols and Vertebrate Burrows

Geologists can distinguish soils from plain sand or silt deposits by various physical and chemical characteristics. It typically takes many years to develop deep soils with characteristic soil horizons. Yet just such soils (paleosols) are found in the midst of thousands of feet of sedimentary rock layers (see here, here, and here). Here is an example of a well-developed paleosol (the brownish layer across the middle of the photo) in the Morrison Formation which dates to about 150 million years ago and extends over Colorado, Wyoming, and southern Montana.  In this layer are whitish fossilized burrows made by vertebrates. All this simply could not happen under the raging sea while many feet per day of sediment are raining down, and thus the existence of these paleosols and burrows invalidate the notion that the sedimentary rock layers were deposited during a recent worldwide Flood.

Source: Radiometric Dating, Paleosols and the Geologic Column: Three strikes against Young Earth Creationism”, by Joe Meert http://www.gondwanaresearch.com/hp/paleosol.htm


Only a long sequence of events can account for this formation. Thousands of feet of sediments were deposited, covered by more sediments, to turn them into rock. Then this formation was lifted above sea level by plate tectonic motion, and the rocks eroded down. Erosion formed a layer of soil, and some animals lived there and dug burrows. Later this area got covered with water again, and more thousands of feet of sediment were deposited, and eventually turned to rock. Once again, this area was raised out of the sea and the solid rock eroded down to the present level.

Closing Thoughts on Significance of the Tanis Site

The K-Pg asteroid impact led to a catastrophic set of extinctions, killing off nearly all the large reptiles which had dominated land and sea. These extinctions in turn cleared the way for the rise of mammals, including primates and ultimately humans. Most sites which preserve a record of the K-Pg impact show only a snapshot, only a thin layer of ejecta and dust fallout. The deposit at the Tanis has been described as more like a high definition video recording – – it furnishes a unique record of the events of that asteroid strike as they unfolded minute by minute at that site, and it provides a diverse sampling of the flora and fauna which were alive on that very day.

The observations from the Tanis site reinforce the general pattern of physical evidence which is consistent with an old earth, not a young earth. The Hell Creek Formation lies atop many thousands of feet of prior sedimentary rocks, with thousands of feet of additional Cenozoic sediments on top of it. At the Tanis site, most of the Cenozoic rocks have eroded away, exposing the top of the Hell Creek Formation, where the event deposit is found.

As noted above, the state of the burrows found in the point bar just below the event deposit shows that the surface of the point bar was exposed to the atmosphere (subaerial exposure) for considerable time before being inundated with the event deposit:

Composition and structure of the Event Deposit and subjacent point bar imply an abrupt inundation of a paleosurface that was subaerially exposed for considerable time before deposition. Prolonged subaerial exposure is corroborated by colonization of the point bar by terrestrial organisms, open burrows that are filled with sediment from the overlying basal Event Deposit, pedogenic structures, and invertebrate fossils found entombed in some of the burrows.

As noted repeatedly here, this sort of exposed surface, inhabited for an extended time by terrestrial animals, could not exist in this locale where many thousands of feet of sediments lie below it, and further rock layers lie above it, if these rock layers were all laid down rapidly as part of the global Flood.

Will any of this evidence make the slightest impression on a dedicated YE creationist? Probably not – – it has been my general experience in interacting with YE creationists over the years that they simply ignore whatever facts do not fit their model. When I am able to demonstrate to a YE creationist beyond rebuttal that any particular argument of theirs cannot be sustained, they just move on to the next and the next. The busy folks at Answers in Genesis supply an unending stream of such arguments.

However, there are some devout Christians who have been taught YE creationism but who are willing and able to critically consider alternatives. Those folks can benefit from presentations which demonstrate the infeasibility of Flood geology. I know this to be the case, since articles like this played a key role in my own journey out of YE creationism.



[1] A variety of radioactive dating methods can be used to cross-check the date of when igneous rocks solidified. Young earth creationists attempt to discredit these methods, but their objections fail. See, for instance, Radiometric Dating  A Christian Perspective   (This is a classic, in-depth discussion of radioactive dating of rocks, by an evangelical scientist) and  What evidence is there for the earth being billions of years old?  (Brief discussion by Russell Downs at BibleQ.net of radioactive dating of rocks, answering objections raised by YE creationists.)

[2] For discussion of fish-amphibian intermediates see Reasonable Expectations for Transitional Fossils .

[3]  Finding a fossil of an animal with highly derived characteristics in rock layers dated to hundreds of millions of years before those characteristics are found in any other animal fossils would be a challenge to evolution. For instance, finding a fossilized rabbit in Precambrian rocks would be problematic: a rabbit is a fully terrestrial tetrapod, with fur, mammalian jawbones and placental reproduction, but the full suite of these traits elsewhere in the fossil record only develops hundreds of millions of years later.

On the other hand, finding fossils (or living representatives) of some animal family long after they were thought to be extinct poses no challenge. This is an expected consequence of the sparseness of the fossil record. Thus, finding clear in-situ fossils of dinosaurs in rock layers well above the K-Pg boundary would not threaten evolution in the slightest. To date, though, no such confirmed fossils have been found. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene_dinosaurs. It is expected that some previously buried fossils can be eroded out of their original positions and re-deposited in more recent sedimentary layers. Geologists use physical and chemical tests to help identify such “reworked” fossils. See, for example, Staron et al. (2001). Dinosaur fossils found in Cenozoic rocks have generally been characterized as reworked Mesozoic fossils.

Side note: since birds are believed to have descended from dinosaurs, they are considered as dinosaurian survivors of the K-Pg event. To be more technically accurate, one could qualify every reference to “dinosaurs” in this essay with the adjective “non-avian”.

[4] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_Montana  for a summary description of Montana geology.

[5]   By convention, the lithostratigraphic boundary between the Hell Creek and the Fort Union formations is considered to be demarcated by a dark layer of carbonaceous shale, or coal. This carbon-rich layer, presumably resulting from a swampy deposition environment, is considered to be the base of the Fort Union formation. However, this coal-type layer does not instantly appear everywhere in eastern Montana on the same day. It appears at different times in different locales, and is altogether absent in some places. See Bryan Turner, “Testing the Local Diachroneity of the Terrestrial Lithostratigraphic KPg Boundary, Northern Montana “   , Master’s Thesis, Montana State Univ. 2010 https://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/2457/TurnerB0810.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
The K-Pg boundary layer (as marked by a fern/pollen shift, and by the Ir spike in some places) may fall at the very top of the Hell Creek ( i.e. just below the coal layer), or some distance below the top of the Hell Creek formation. That is, the chronological K-Pg boundary is not always identical with the lithostratigraphically-defined Hell Creek/Fort Union boundary.

[6] Bryan Turner’s thesis provides an illuminating discussion of sediment deposition in river floodplains, as applied to the Hell Creek and Fort Union sediments. https://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/2457/TurnerB0810.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[7] Just for clarity: We showed above another close-up photo of the K-Pg boundary at Mud Buttes, from a different journal article.

[8] R. A. DePalma., “LIFE AFTER IMPACT: A REMARKABLE MAMMAL BURROW FROM THE CHICXULUB AFTERMATH IN THE HELL CREEK FORMATION, NORTH DAKOTA”         GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA – 2017   Paper No. 113-16 https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2017AM/webprogram/Paper305627.html

From the Abstract: “… The burrow, with a long, narrow entry tunnel and several simple flask-shaped chambers, penetrates through an ejecta-bearing inundation deposit that was laid down immediately after the Chicxulub impact. Sediment filling the burrow’s interior is high in palynotaxa typical for the upper Hell Creek (ie. high percentages of Aquilapollenites and Wodehouseia, low pine or fern), indicating it was excavated and abandoned very shortly after impact, predating the post-impact palynological shift that was strongly recorded in the sedimentary record. Scattered mammal bones within the burrow indicate a mid-sized (~1 to 2 kg) individual that compares favorably with the Cimolestidae…”

[9] For the official write-up of this Hell Creek trackway, see Lockley, M.G., Triebold, M., and Janke, P.R. 2014. Dinosaur tracks from the Hell Creek Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Maastrichtian), South Dakota. In Fossil footprints of Western North America. Edited by M.G. Lockley and S.G. Lucas. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 62. pp. 459–468

[10] It is perhaps ironic that today’s fundamentalists, who claim to base their faith on the Bible alone, adhere to a physical model driven by extra-biblical trance visions reported by Adventist cult prophetess Ellen White. The Adventists trace their roots to New York State farmer William Miller’s widely-believed predictions that Christ’s Second Advent would occur on October 22, 1848. See the full story, from failed prophecy to failed science, in Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism. (Today’s Seventh Day Adventism, which has many admirable features, is quite different than mid-nineteenth century Adventism.)

[11] A missionary to the former Soviet Union noted http://paleo.cc/paluxy/joshzorn.htm :   The worst aspect of YECS [Young Earth Creation Science] teaching is that it creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church… How many have chosen to give up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture? How much have we dishonored our Lord by slandering scientists and their reputation? How much have we sinned against Christian brothers holding another opinion by naming them “dangerous” and “compromisers”?… We are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already.


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Annual Layers (Varves) in Lake Sediments Show the Earth Is Not Young

Formation of varves

Sand and silt are washed into lakes, and settle to the bottom. Also, various types of algae bloom, die, and settle to the bottom. For many lakes in northern latitudes, there is a seasonal rhythm to these deposits. Where winters are severe, as in Sweden and Finland, streams and lakes surfaces freeze solid. Thus, during the winter the only sedimentation is the settling of very fine particles that had been suspended earlier in the lake waters. These winter layers are typically dark-colored. When the snow melts in the spring, large amounts of eroded sand and silt get washed in, forming lighter colored layers on the lake bottom.

In other lakes, even without such severe winters and without large input of sand and silt from streams, there can still be strong seasonal cycles of sediment deposition. In the spring there is vigorous growth of single-celled organisms with a solid silica shell or organisms which precipitate carbonate grains. As these die and fall to the bottom of the lake, their remains form light-colored layers. In the colder, darker winter months, growth slows down, and finer material settles out, forming darker layers.

The mechanism of layer formation in some Swedish lakes, including both organic (biogenic) and mineral (clastic) sediments, is depicted in the figure below:

Schematic model explaining the sediment cycle of the seasonally deposited lamina in biogenic/clastic varves. Modified from: Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626

If a lake is relatively narrow and deep, these seasonal layers can remain undisturbed and will accumulate year after year, to form a visible record of annual deposition. This is not just a theoretical proposal; these annual layers have been observed to form in real time. Each annual dark-light (e.g. winter-spring) sediment couplet is called a varve. Varves can be studied by drilling a core into the sediment at the bottom of a lake, and bringing the cores to a laboratory for examination.

The photo below from Zillen et al. (2003) shows varves from a Swedish lake which is subject to winter freezing and an inrush of mineral sediments in the spring. Labels have been added for some of the layers (laminae). The layers are numbered i-iv as in the figure above. The dark winter and light spring laminae are sufficiently visible to clearly define the annual layers. The summer and fall laminae for this lake are sometimes less distinct, but that does not affect the varve count.

Caption: A microphotograph of biogenic/clastic varves from Sarsjon, a lake in northern Sweden. The different layers (laminae), which constitute a general varve, are labelled as in the figure above.
(i) light-colored spring
(ii) light (brown) summer
(iii) light-colored autumn (not always visible)
(iv) dark brown winter
Source: Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626 . Labels redrawn.


In some lakes, varves can be counted back for many thousands of years. Regular varves going back more than 7000 years in a lake where the light colored layers are composed of carbonate-rich products of microorganism growth were described by Richard Foster Flint, an expert on Quaternary geology. He wrote (Flint 1971, p. 400),

A rhythmite deposited in a lake near Interlaken in Switzerland consists of thin couplets each containing a light-colored layer rich in calcium carbonate and a dark layer rich in organic matter. Proof that the couplets are annual, and therefore varves, is established on organic evidence, first recognized by Heer(1865). The sediment contains pollen grains, whose number per unit volume of sediment varies cyclically being greatest in the upper parts of the dark layers [i.e. in spring]. The pollen grains of various genera are stratified systematically according to the season of blooming. Finally, diatoms are twice as abundant in the light-colored layers as in the dark. From this evidence it is concluded that the light layers represent summer seasons and the dark ones fall, winter and spring. Counts of the layers indicate a record that is valid through at least the last 7,000 years B. P. [Before Present].

The composition of these varves demonstrate that they were indeed formed by seasonal (summer/winter) processes, not by storms washing in several layers of sediment in a year. So these 7000 varves represent 7000 years of largely undisturbed sediment accumulation.

Implications of varves for young earth creationism

The young earth (YE) creationist model popularized by the 1961 book The Genesis Flood assumes a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative and genealogies, and thus holds that the earth was created about 6000 years ago. Also, this model holds that about 4400 years ago, the entire surface of the world was scoured by a global flood which eroded away enormous amounts of material, and deposited it in layers that were sometimes several miles or kilometers deep; these deposited layers have since hardened to form the massive sedimentary rock formations visible in the Grand Canyon and many other canyons and mountains.

If this picture is physically accurate, should be no lake anywhere where the varve counts go back more than about 4400 years. However, for the Swiss lake described above, and the two Swedish and two German lakes described below, we can observe well-defined annual layers which can be counted back through the presumed flood era (4400 years ago, or c. 2400 B.C.), with no significant disturbance whatsoever. These varves can counted even further back, beyond the supposed 6000 year old (c. 4000 B.C.) date of creation of the earth itself.

[ The rest of this article on varves goes on for many pages. To see other articles on this blog, look for titles along right-hand side of screen, or go here for listing of articles by topic. ]

Two Swedish Lakes with Varve Counts Going Back More Than 9000 Years

Zillen et al. (2003) conducted a study of the varves in two lakes in central Sweden, Furskogstjarnet and Motterudstjarnet. (The umlaut-type markings in the Swedish names of these lakes are not reproduced here in the text). As shown in the figure below, varves could be counted back to more than 9000 years ago in both lakes. These varves had the typical structure of the biogenic/clastic varves described above. Fine light grey mineral material (representing the spring flood) transitioned to dark organic lamina (representing the primary production in summer and its subsequent deposition). Fieldwork showed the addition of a distinct new cycle of lamina for each year, which confirms that the couplets of light and dark lamina indeed form an annual varve.

The sedimentation rate in both lakes has remained largely constant over this time period. The validity of the varve chronologies in these two lakes is supported by comparison of their palaeomagnetic secular variation (PSV) curves with PSV curves from other varved lake sediments in northern Sweden and in central Finland. For Furskogstjarnet, the varves were distinct all the way down. For Motterudstjarnet, the vast majority of the varves were distinct, except for some in the 6000-7400 year old range where they were visible but less well preserved.

Caption: Sediment depth (y-axis) versus dates from varve counts and from carbon-14 dating of samples from sediment, for two Swedish lakes. Thick lines are the varve counts. Thin lines on either side of the thick lines represent the estimated cumulative uncertainty in the varve counts. “Isolation” is when each lake became isolated, as the Ice Age glaciers in Sweden receded. Modified from Zillén et al, Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4 December 2003 Pages 612-626. Dashed “Flood” and Creation lines added.


Vertical dashed blue lines in this figure mark the date of the raging worldwide Flood, according to the YE creationist model (c. 4400 years before present). However, there is no significant disturbance in the varve deposition there or at the 6000 year old date of the creation of the earth.

Carbon-14 Dating of Lake Sediment Layers

The vast majority of carbon on earth consists of the stable isotopes carbon-12 (12C) and carbon-13 (13C). However, some carbon-14 (14C) is generated in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays interacting with nitrogen. This 14C quickly forms carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere. At present, about one in a trillion molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere contain 14C, rather than 12C or 13C.

14C is unstable, and spontaneously decays back into nitrogen with a half-life of 5,730 years. That means that after 5730 years, the amount of 14C remaining in the sample will be half of its original value, and after 10,740 years (i.e. 2 x 5730 years) the 14C will be a quarter of its original, etc. As a plant takes in CO2 from the atmosphere to grow, it incorporates the trace 14C along with 12C and 13C in its cells. However, from that moment on, the 14C in the plant material will continuously decay. The ratio of 14C to total carbon will decline in a well-defined pattern. This allows scientists to measure the amount of 14C in an ancient artifact and use that measurement to estimate the age of the artifact, or more precisely, the time when the plants grew whose materials that were used to make the artifact.

As might be expected, proper sample selection and treatment are required for successful application of 14C dating. Contamination of an old sample with modern carbon (which contains much larger proportions of 14C) will make the sample look younger than it is. On the other hand, if a sample tree that grew around 1600 was used as a house beam, which was subsequently cut up to make a set of chairs in 1700, the chairs will be carbon-dated to 1600, not 1700. Tree rings are excellent candidates for carbon dating, since each growth ring is protected from contamination by the outer layers of wood.

Early carbon dating work in the 1950’s used a value of 5568 years for the 14C half-life, and also assumed that the fraction of 14C in the atmosphere thousands of years ago was the same as today. It is now known that both of these features are incorrect. The actual 14C half-life is 5730 years, not 5568 years, and studies have found that the 14C content in the atmosphere has varied with time. Tree-rings and other annual records have been used to determine a “calibration curve” for the actual fraction of 14C in the atmosphere over the past several thousand years. For consistency with earlier studies, carbon dating results are typically first calculated and reported (as “Conventional Radiocarbon Age” BP), where BP (“Before Present”) means before 1950. These radiocarbon ages (which are known to be incorrect) are then converted into “calibrated” ages, which are actual calendar years BP. The differences between 14C ages and calibrated ages can be significant; for instance, 11,000 14C BP converts to around 12,900 cal BP. There are further complexities associated with the application of 14C dating, which we will not attempt to explain here. A detailed explanation of radioactive dating methods by Richard Wiens is available.

For these two Swedish lakes, remains of plants were extracted at intervals from the sediments and subjected to carbon-14 dating. The 14C dating was calibrated using primarily tree ring data. The trend in the 14C dating lines up with the varve counts; the 14C dates increase fairly regularly with depth of sediment. Most of the 14C dates agree with the varve counts within the expected interval of experimental uncertainty. However, there is more scatter for some of the 14C dates in the middle of the Furskogstjarnet and near the bottom of the Motterudstjarnet sediments.

This suggests possible issues with the sampling procedures, such as contamination with more recent carbon, or perhaps the organic debris being sampled had grown and then existed for a number of decades in the forest or soil before being washed into the lake and being deposited in sediment. This “reworked” material will impart a 14C age to the sample which is older than the actual varve formation date  . The varves in these lakes are produced from largely from the freeze/thaw cycle, where significant amounts of eroded material wash into the lakes in the spring, and this active transport regime sometimes results in more scatter in the 14C results than seen in other lake cores. [1]


Varves in German Lake Meerfelder Maar Go Back More than 12,000 Years

Brauer et al. (2000) published a comprehensive study of the sediment layers in Lake Meerfelder Maar, in western Germany. A diagram of these sediments is shown below.

Caption: Lake Meerfelder Maar sediment record with four main lithological units and two volcanic ash layers: UMT=Ulmener Maar Tephra; LST=Laacher See Tephra. Source: Brauer, et al., RADIOCARBON, Vol 42, No 3 (2000) p 355–368. Annotations added.

The topmost section (0-1.75 m) is only partly varved. The section 1.75-9.6 m is nearly all well-varved, with some 12,700 varves counted there. The upper portion of this section (section II in the figure) shows seasonal depositions of different types of diatoms. These are microscopic organisms whose silica skeletons sink to the bottom after they complete their life cycles. Section III contains both organic layers and primarily-mineral (“clastic”) layers, but both types of layers display annual cycles of varves.

Below 9.6 m, the sediments are again only partly varved. Both in this lower region and in the upper 0-1.75 m section, it is possible to make an estimate of the average sediment deposition rate from the varves that can be observed there, and thus to estimate the time elapsed for these sections. However, a rigorous varve count is not possible in these regions.

Samples containing plant remains were recovered from various depths in the sediment, and subjected to carbon-14 dating. The results are shown below. The open symbols represent samples which were determined by microscopic examination to contain reworked material, and hence to not represent the age of deposition of the sediment section.

Uncalibrated carbon-14 dates for plant samples in Lake Meerfelder Maar sediments versus sediment depth. Data plot from: Brauer et al., RADIOCARBON, Vol 42, No 3 (2000) p 355–368. Trendline and labels added.

We have drawn a trendline through the solid symbols. For the dated sediments below about 700 cm (7 m), corresponding to about 10,000 14C BP or 11,600 calendar years BP, there is very little scatter in the 14C data. This zone of the sediment (2 – 7 m) is dominated by seasonal deposition of organic material. The scatter increases at longer times, as more of the deposition comes from minerals transported in by stream flows.

Since the topmost 1.75 m (175 cm) is only partly varved, we cannot directly measure the years it took to deposit this section. We added dashed green lines to show graphically how one might use the 14C data to estimate an elapsed time of about 1500 years for the 1.75 m top section. Alternatively, one could estimate a rate of sediment deposition in this section using the widths of the varves that can be discerned, or by extrapolating the rate of sedimentation in the later sediments just below the 1.75 m level, to again arrive at an estimate of roughly 1500 years for this section. A more sophisticated mathematical fit to the 14C data gives a value of 1560 years for this top section, which is used in the study to adjust the varve chronology for this lake.

From reading the figure above, we estimate the 14C ages of the sediment at 1.75 m to be about 1600 14C BP, and at 9.6 m to be 12,300 14C BP. We used the online OxCal tool , with the IntCal 13 calibration curve, to convert these two 14C dates to calibrated dates of about 1500 cal BP and 14,300 cal BP. This gives a span of about 12,800 years from radiocarbon dating for the 1.75-9.6 m sediment interval.

Comparing this number of 12,800 years (from radiocarbon dating calibrated mainly with tree rings) with the varve count of 12,700 spanning this sediment interval shows that two completely different dating methods gave nearly the same results. This is strong confirmation that the counted varves are indeed annual. While it is only based on eyeball analysis of the raw data, our figure of 12,800 years from radiocarbon dating is slightly higher than the initial varve count of 12,700, which suggests that something like 100 varves may have been missed in the varve counting process. The trendline in the figure above shows a steep step at about 650 cm (6.5 m) sediment depth, indicating a time of slow deposition there. Examination of the sediments showed that in the region of 6.44-6.60 m, the varves were in fact very thin and difficult to count reproducibly, and there was a transition there between different types of varve layering as the amount of minerals washed into the lake apparently waned and waxed with time. Thus, it is likely that some years passed in this zone without leaving clear annual layers. To get an improved match to the overall carbon-14 data, the authors added 240 years to the varve count in this zone. This is an adjustment of less than 2% for this interval.

Volcanic ash layers confirm dating for Meerfelder Maar varves

Brauer et al. (2000) identified two ash layers in the sediments, the Ulmener Maar Tephra (UMT) and the Laacher See Tephra (LST). Deposits of the Laacher See Tephra have been found in many locations in central Europe. Lane et al. (2015) analyzed additional sediment cores from MFM and identified some additional varves in the 13,000-14,200 cal BP range, extending the range of continuous varve preservation back to 14,230 BP. They also identified a number of additional layers of volcanic ash by their unique chemical and physical signatures. The Vedde Ash and the Neapolitan Yellow Tuff are of particular interest, since they are so widespread that they offer the means to correlate sediments across much of Europe.

Map showing the known distributions of tephra from the Vedde Ash (VA), Laacher See Tephra (LST), and Neapolitan Yellow Tuff (NYT). Some key sites are numbered. Source: Lane et al., Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol 122, (2015) Pages 192-206. Yellow labels added.

From youngest to oldest, the four ash layers identified in the Meerfelder Maar sediments are:

Ulmener Maar Tephra (UMT) – – Ash from this relatively small eruption is found at several other lakes or peat bogs close to Meerfelder Maar (MFM). The MFM varve date for UMT is 11,000 BP. This matches the varve count for UMT in nearby Lake Holzmaar. Likewise, the (uncalibrated) radiocarbon dates for the sediment layers adjacent to the UMT match those of Lake Holzmaar (Brauer et al., 2000). These radiocarbon dates of about 9600 BP convert to about 11,000 cal BP when corrected by standard calibration curves, which matches the varve counts in MFM and Lake Holzmaar. (The varve counts for each of these lakes were adjusted by radiocarbon dating calibrated primarily by tree ring data; the fact that the UMT ash horizon appears at the same varve count in both lakes is independent confirmation that these adjusted varve counts are correct).

Vedde Ash – – The Vedde Ash came from a massive eruption in Iceland, and is found in Greenland glacier cores, on the floor of the North Atlantic, and in lake sediments in Norway, Sweden, and Germany. The MFM varve date for the Vedde Ash is 12,140. That compares well with a date of 12,171 BP from counting annual layers in the Greenland NGRIP ice core (Lane et al. 2015) and dates of 11844-12388 and 11833-12571 cal BP from radiocarbon dating of lake sediments in Norway and Sweden, respectively (Lane et al. 2012).

Laacher See Tephra (LST) – – The Laacher See Tephra is found across Germany and Switzerland and beyond. The MFM varve date is 12,880 BP. The MFM (uncalibrated 14C) dates for this layer [Brauer 2000] are similar to those in Lake Holzmaar and Swiss Lake Soppensee (Hajdas et al. 1995b). These raw radiocarbon dates of around 11,200 BP convert to about 13,000 cal BP. Further confirmation is provided by Ar/Ar dating of sanidine mineral crystals from Laacher See eruption deposits yielding 12,900 +/- 560 BP (van den Bogaard 1995).

Neapolitan Yellow Tuff – – The Neapolitan Yellow Tuff came from an eruption in southern Italy, some 1200 km (700 miles) from MFM. The MFM varve date is 14,230 BP. This compares closely to a varve dating of 14,120 BP for this ash layer in a lake in southern Italy (Lago Grande di Monticchio), and with calibrated radiocarbon dates of 14022-14366 cal BP for multiple sites in Europe (Lane et al. 2015 and references therein).

The agreement between the Meerfelder Maar (MFM) varve dates for these ash layers and dates for these ash layers determined independently by other methods at many other sites provides powerful confirmation that the varves observed in the MFM sediments are indeed annual. These four ash layers are noted in the figure below, which gives an overall summary of the sedimentary layers at MFM. This figure shows the 1560 year assignment to the first 1.75 m of MFM sediment based on matching radiocarbon dates for samples within the sediments, and the 240 year insertion as discussed above.

Schematic profiles of Meerfelder Maar (MFM) and Holzmaar (HZM) sediment profiles indicating sections of missing varves. The number of missing varves is determined by varve counting in the opposing profile and/or tree-ring-calibrated 14C data. Taken from Brauer et al., RADIOCARBON, Vol 42, No 3 (2000) pp 355–368. Annotations added.


Lake Holzmaar (HZM), lies about 10 km away from Lake Meerfelder Maar and also has varved sediments. For most of the period of interest here, the annual layers are easy to discern. Pale diatom-rich layers from spring and early summer alternate with dark layers of organic and mineral detritus. Over 12,900 varves have been counted visually. Thus, this lake is a minimum of 12,900 years old.

Some data for Lake Holzmaar are depicted on the right hand side of the figure above. As with Meerfelder Maar, there is a section where sedimentation rate was very low or the diatom-rich sublayers were not present, so some of the annual layers are cannot be distinguished. Adding 350 years to the measured varve count in this 3600-4500 BP region gives a tight match with tree-ring calibrated carbon-14 dated samples in the sediments through about 12,000 years. 350 years is less than a 3% correction for this time span.

The region between the UMT and LST ash layers in the Meerfelder Maar sediments is well-varved, and so the count of about 1,880 varves between these two layers is considered robust. The counted varves in the corresponding region in the Lake Holzmaar sediments fall below this count by about 320. Since the Lake Holzmaar sediments are not as clearly defined throughout this region, the difference between the two lakes was made up by adding 320 years to the Lake Holzmaar varve count there [2].

Varves in Japanese Lake Suigetsu Go Back Over 50,000 Years

Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, who are both geology professionals and evangelical Christians, have described the varve system in Lake Suigetsu in Japan (Davidson and Wolgemuth 2018). These varves go back more than 50,000 years. As with the varves in Lake Meerfelder Maar described above, there are some complexities in the Lake Suigetsu data, but matters are readily resolved by combining several analytical tools. The authors have broadened the scope of the article to address many of the objections raised by YE creationists to these results:

By combining independent measurements such as counts of tree rings, counts of lake-sediment couplets that appear to be annual deposits, and carbon-14 content, we can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the trees put on one ring per year, the sediments in question formed annual layers, radioactive decay rates have not changed over time, estimates of past atmospheric production of carbon-14 are accurate, and the history of Earth goes back far beyond a few thousand years.

At the same time, speculative arguments made by young-earth advocates can likewise be objectively tested and shown to be untenable. This will be done in a stepwise fashion, beginning with tree rings, then incorporating carbon-14, and finally adding the annual sediment couplets (varves) from Lake Suigetsu.

Our second objective is to shed light on the typical methods employed by young-earth writers to turn confidence into doubt. This is an important part of the story, for the best scientific explanations go unheeded by many in the church if the alternative explanations provided by young-earth advocates sound equally convincing. After each of our steps that describe how we can test and verify specific hypotheses, we follow with example arguments that young-earth advocates employ to create doubt in the validity of those tests.

This article is long but well laid out and quite readable. Paul Braterman has written an introduction/summary for the Davidson and Wolgemuth study; this introduction also contains a good general discussion of radiocarbon dating. I highly recommend it.  Both of these articles discuss why carbon-dating of objects that are more than about 50,000 years old is simply not technically feasible.

Some Objections by Young Earth Creationists

Non-annual layers are observed in other lake sediments

As might be expected, YE creationists do not accept the validity of these varve results. YE writers have raised several objections. One common objection is that storms and other processes can create multiple sets of sediment layers in a year, and so we cannot assume that any given set of light/dark couplets are strictly annual. YE authors cite various published studies which describe extensive non-annual layering in sediments.

This is a typical example of how YE proponents mislead their audience. Of course there are sediment layers in various places that are non-annual. Any close observer of nature can see that. However, the fact that some layering is non-annual does not mean that all layering is non-annual.

Scientists are well aware of these issues, which is why they do NOT simply assume that all sediment couplets are annual. They look for corroborating evidence of seasonality, such as regularity and composition (e.g. washed-in spring sand/silt vs. winter fine settling, or spring/summer blooms of algal remains vs. winter fine organics). These aspects are not easily mimicked by rapid flood depositions. Carbon 14 dating and volcanic ash layers can also serve to confirm the yearly nature of varves.

Also, scientists are generally careful to distinguish between clearly visible, countable varves and less-distinct layers. The result is that varves are generally under-counted, not over-counted. In some lake sediments that do have annual layering there are some sections where there has been sediment deposition but without clear varves to count. Thus, if 9000 varves have been counted for a certain lake, we can be reasonably sure that the sediments there go back at least 9000 years, though they may be even older. The discussions above for the Swedish and German lake sediments demonstrate how this works in practice.

A literature reference which is used again and again by YE creationist writers to cast doubt on varves is a 1979 article by Lampert and Hsu which described rapid formation of layers in the Swiss lake Walensee. For instance, Steve Austin (1984) wrote: “Thin, rhythmic silt and clay layers found in lakes are frequently called ‘varves,’ with each layer being considered to represent annual repetitions of a slow sedimentary process.  Lambert and Hsu present evidence from a Swiss lake that these varve-like layers form rapidly by catastrophic, turbid water underflows.  At one location five ‘varves’ formed during a single year.” However, as usual, YE authors do not tell the “rest of the story”. In that same 1979 article Lampert and Hsu made it clear that there ARE lakes that demonstrate annual layering, and that scientists know how to tell the difference. They stated:

“We do not intend to make an unwarranted generalization that no varves are deposits of annual cycles.  Figure 4 shows varves from the mesotrophic Lake Zurich where the light laminae represent chemical sedimentation prevailing during summers and the darker laminae detrital sedimentation during winters.  A comparison of those varves with the non-annual varves of the oligotrophic Walensee shows that the annual rhythms of Lake Zurich varves are more regular, while the irregularity of the Walensee ‘varves’ reflects the unpredictability of the weather.” (Lambert and Hsu, 1979, p. 453-461)

Here is their figure, which shows the difference between the non-annual and annual layering:

Source: From A. Lambert and H. J. Hsu, Sedimentology, Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 453–461, June 1979. Posted on-line at https://morton-yec-archive.blogspot.com/2016/04/age-of-earth.html


Circular reasoning with varves and carbon-14 dating

Another objection sometimes raised is that scientists are using circular reasoning if they use carbon-14 dating to adjust a varve chronology, and then use the resulting match between the varve-chronology as validation of either method of dating. This can be a legitimate concern if scientists are not precise in describing their results. For instance, if carbon-14 dating of the sediments is used to assign 1560 years to the upper 1.75 m of the Meerfelder Maar sediments, it would indeed be insupportable to display a plot showing the good match between the adjusted varve count chronology and the carbon-14 dating of the sediments, and then use that to claim that carbon-14 dating vindicates the varve counts for that section of the sediment.

I was aware of that pitfall, which is why I did not display such a plot here. I confined my semi-quantitative analysis of the Meerfelder Maar sediments to the 1.75-9.6 m section where there were continuous varves to count, and showed that the raw varve count there was nearly identical to the span in years for that section calculated by applying tree ring calibrations to the raw 14C data. Thus, in that section spanning over 12,000 years, the varve count was confirmed by a completely independent dating method. Also, whether or not a precisely correct span of years is assigned to the first 1.75 m of sediments that lack continuous varves, the ages of the remaining distinct 12,000+ varves far exceed the dates of the Flood and of Creation that are mandated by YE creationism.

This concern does not arise at all with the two Swedish lakes described above. Both Furskogstjarnet and Motterudstjarnet are continuously varved, such that the varves can be simply counted back more than 9000 years, with a fairly constant varve thickness (i.e. fairly even rate of deposition). Although there is some scatter in the data, the calibrated carbon-14 dates on the whole line up with the varve counts, which again furnishes completely independent confirmation of the annual character of the varves.

Varve chronologies have needed massive revisions

From 1900 through about 1970, the study of varves was largely conducted by finding exposures of layered clays, hand-scraping a smooth surface with a trowel, and counting the layers by eye and with a ruler in hand:

Gerard De Geer at Essex Junction, VT in 1920. Source: https://eos.tufts.edu/varves/History/history1.asp

These exposures could be in natural cliff-sides, road cuts, or in excavations for foundations or gravel pits. A great deal of this work was done in Sweden and in New England. The main focus was on tracing the recession of glaciers, mainly in the era of 8000-14,000 B.P. As the glaciers melted back, large lakes were formed in various valleys whose water levels were higher than for present day lakes. Annual sediment layers (varves) did form in these lakes, but the location of the lakes and the varve deposition would move as the glacier front moved back and back as the climate warmed. Thus, one might find 300 varves in one spot, 700 varves in another spot, and 500 varves in a third place, all from many thousand years ago. It proved challenging to relate all these small “floating” varve chronologies to each other, and to gauge their temporal relation to the present time.

The “Swedish Varve Chronology” and the “North American Varve Chronology” were each built up in this fashion. Some of the estimates that were made many decades ago have had to be revised in the light of further information, including information from radiocarbon dating. But this is hardly surprising considering the fragmentary nature of the data these early researchers had to work with, and in no way shows that varves are not annual.

Extracting cores of lake sediments where the layers can simply be counted down for thousands of years, starting from the present, is a far simpler and more reliable means for determining ages than eyeballing little outcrops of clay layers here and there. Morner’s survey of the Swedish Varve Chronology concludes,

Continual varve sequences from lakes basins offer local chronologies of very high precision, and can be used to date a large number of local environmental changes. Today, this application of varve records seems to be more important than the building up of local chronologies like the famous “Swedish Time Scale” or “Swedish Varve Chronology”. (Morner 2014. Citations omitted)

YE creationist authors sometimes claim that the contradictions between some early versions of the “Swedish Varve Chronology” and the “North American Varve Chronology”, or the substantial revisions in them that have been made over the years, show that varves in general are not annual or reliable. But that is a deceptive rhetorical tactic: modern lake sediment cores (like we discussed above) are known to be much more straightforward and accurate than these earlier piecemeal “Varve Chronologies”, so trying to use the latter to discredit the former is inappropriate.

Conclusions and Reflections

In the young earth (YE) creationist model the earth was created about 6000 years ago, and about 4400 years ago, the entire surface of the world was scoured by a global flood which covered the highest mountains and eroded and deposited stupendous amounts of material. If this picture is physically accurate, should be no lake anywhere where continuous varve counts go back more than about 4400 years. However, for a number of European lakes, including a Swiss lake near Interlaken and the two Swedish lakes and the two German lakes described in some detail above, we can observe well-defined annual layers which can be counted back through the presumed flood era (4400 years ago, or c. 2400 B.C.), with no significant disturbance whatsoever. These varves can be counted even further back, well beyond the supposed 6000 year old (c. 4000 B.C.) date of creation of the earth itself, and are independently confirmed by radiocarbon dating of the sediment layers.

With the two Swedish lakes, Furskogstjarnet and Motterudstjarnet, the formation of annual sets of sediment layers (varves) can be observed occurring today. The nature of these varves (spring, summer, autumn, winter laminae) is well understood, and their seasonal character is confirmed by their composition and their regularity stretching back over 9,000 years. Similarly, the seasonal nature of the varves in the two German lakes (dark, fine winter sediment layer followed by light colored spring/summer layer rich in siliceous micro-algae remains) is understood and is confirmed by microscopic examination of the sediments and the regular pattern of deposition. For both of these lakes, distinct varves can be directly counted back for at least 12,000 years. (For both German lakes there are some sections were the varving is less distinct, such that radiocarbon dating is used to justify adding some years to the varve chronology, but that does not detract from the sections where the varving is distinct). For Meerfelder Maar, four volcanic ash layers have been identified. The dates for the radiocarbon-corrected varve counts for these ash horizons in the Meerfelder Maar sediments are corroborated by independent age measurements for these ash layers in other sites across Europe.

These sediment layers in these lakes show every sign of being true annual phenomena. The fact that other lakes can form multiple layers in a year is irrelevant. This straightforward evidence shows that there was no raging worldwide flood 4400 years ago, and that earth was not created only 6000 years ago.

Some further evidences for an old earth are given in Some Simple Evidences for an Old Earth     , and some rebuttals of proposed evidences for a young earth are in Evidences for a Young Earth .

Learning (or Not) from the Galileo Affair

Do these varve results mean the Bible is in error? No, it means that a particular interpretation of the Bible is in error. Unfortunately, YE creationists place their human interpretation of the Word on the same exalted level as the Word itself.

The Bible often presents spiritual or moral teachings in the form of stories or imagery which are not literally true. It is true that the simplest, most literal readings of Genesis 1-3 and other passages point to a recent creation. However, it is also true that the simple, literal meanings of many Biblical passages show that the earth is stationary, and the sun and other celestial objects revolve around the earth. These verses include Psalm 104:5 (“He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”), Ps. 93:1 (“Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved”), I Chron. 16:30 (“The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved”), the philosophical discourse of Eccl.1:5 (“The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose”), and also the historical chronicle of Josh. 10:13:

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies.            Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.

In the 1500s and 1600s, the literal interpretation of these passages was seen as an essential element of Christian belief. Here is what John Calvin in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 10-11 had to say about those monstrous, malicious, devil-possessed people who claim that the earth “shifts and turns”:

We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns. When we see such minds we must indeed confess that the devil possesses them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear. So it is with all who argue out of pure malice, and who happily make a show of their imprudence.

This is the sort of accusation that today’s YE creationists make against those who teach that evolution is compatible with biblical Christianity.

Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine, a prosecutor of Galileo, stated in 1615: “…to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and the earth revolves swiftly around the sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” Note well: “…injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scripture false.” That is what today’s YE creationists say about an old earth and evolution, i.e. that these concepts injure our faith and make the sacred scripture false.

Practically every Bible commentary since 1800 offers explanations of why these passages which depict a stationary earth need not be taken literally. Is this because our exegetical skills or our command of the Hebrew language are superior to everyone living before 1700? No, it is because by 1800 nearly everyone accepted what the scientists had been telling them about these aspects of the physical world. Once this physical picture was accepted, the theologians took a fresh look at the issue and found that, lo and behold, a literal acceptance of a stationary earth was not essential to the Christian faith after all.

Nowadays most evangelical Christians will say, obviously these verses were not supposed to be taken literally. Obviously, these passages reflect the thinking and language of ancient times, and obviously were not intended for making authoritative statements about the physical world. But that is only “obvious” AFTER one has accepted the physical evidence that the earth moves, and has recognized that it is proper to use the information we get from God’s creation to help interpret the meaning of the scriptural texts.[3]

A Way Forward

Do today’s evangelical Christians make the same mistake with the age of the earth that the church did with heliocentricity? Some do and some don’t. YE creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International vigorously promote their message, denouncing any Christians who disagree with them as “compromisers”. Since YE creationists refuse to acknowledge the evidence that the earth is billions of years old, they are repeating the mistakes of the Christians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who disregarded the evidence for a moving earth because of their insistence that the passages regarding the fixed earth must be regarded as literally true.

Hardly any Christians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even the most rock-solid fundamentalists, held to a recent (6000 year old) creation. W.B. Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, stated in the 1920’s that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing”. Riley, William Jennings Bryan (of Tennessee “Monkey Trial” fame), and many of the more educated fundamentalists held to the “progressive creation” form of old earth creationism. In this view, the creative acts of God were spread out over millions of years, and Noah’s Flood is seen as localized to somewhere in the Middle East.

Today’s young earth creationism sprang almost entirely from the 1961 publication of Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, which quickly became the new orthodoxy in the conservative Protestant world. As described in Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism,  the scientific picture in Genesis Flood was largely lifted from a bogus Flood geology [4] by George McCready Price. Price was driven to devise a young earth geology by visions of Noah’s Flood seen by a cult “prophetess”, Ellen White. Her Adventist cult [5] was spawned by the widely-believed prophecies by William Miller, a farmer in upstate New York, that Jesus would return in October of 1848. Thus, modern young earth creationism did not develop from improved Bible exegesis or new geological findings. Rather, it derived from extra-biblical revelation or assumptions, and scientific claims known at the time to be false. This approach is at odds with the historic Christian understanding of God’s works. However, YE creationism is not the only way that modern Christians can interpret the Genesis narrative.

There are various points of view which comprehend both the facts of the physical world and a high view of the Bible. Several approaches may be grouped under “Old Earth Creationism”. Solid Rock Lectures  and Old Earth Ministries  focus on the evidence for an old earth and on why this is compatible with the Scriptures; they note that if young people are taught that a young earth is an essential part of Christianity, they are set up to lose their faith if they are later exposed to geology or biology in depth. Some of these Old Earth approaches are explicitly skeptical regarding evolution. Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe      organization is an example here. My impression is that many Intelligent Design advocates and educated evangelicals today would fall into this general category.

Other evangelicals are comfortable with the entire sweep of current science, including evolution. These “evolutionary creationists” hold that God has used natural processes such as the Big Bang and cosmological and biological evolution to providentially accomplish his purposes in the universe. The Biologos  organization promotes this point of view, with articles such as   Why should Christians consider evolutionary creation? and   Is Evolutionary Creation compatible with biblical inerrancy?  . I sketch my evolutionary creationist hermeneutical approach here .


[1] For instance, compare the scatter shown for these Swedish lakes with the minimal scatter found in the carbon-14 dating of sediments from Steel Lake, Minnesota, U.S.A., where the sediments derive mainly from organisms growing in the lake, rather than from material washed in by streams (Tian 2005). The carbon-14 (calibrated) dates there tend to be about 8% older than the varve counts. This is consistent with occasional indistinct varving in the Steel Lake sediments, which implies that the varve count will fall short of the actual elapsed calendar years. However, the overall carbon-14 versus sediment depth data show very little scatter about their trendline.

Also, in the sediments for the two German lakes discussed here, the figure above shows there is relatively little scatter in the radiocarbon dates for the first 12,000 years or so, when the sedimentation is heavily dominated by deposition of the remains of diatom blooms in the lakes rather than by mineral material washed in by streams.

This discussion illustrates a principle which scientists are aware of, that no method of measurement should be employed without awareness of possible sources of error. YE creationists can always find and cite instances of revisions or of unresolved questions for various specific 14C datings and certain portions of tree-ring dating, in attempts to cast doubt on all such dating. However, the overall matchings of dates determined in different locations and by independent methods provide grounds to believe that tree ring and 14C dating generally provide reliable information.

[2] For Lake Holzmaar there is a steep step in the carbon-14 dating versus sediment depth trendline around 900 cm depth and 10,700 14C BP (around 12,600 cal BP), suggesting a period of diminished deposition and thus poor varving there. See Figure 2 in Hajdas et al (1995a).

[3] The Copernican controversy is not entirely behind us. There are still fundamentalist groups, both Roman Catholic (e.g. ” GalileoWasWrong “) and Protestant, who maintain that true believers must retain the plain, literal sense of the biblical passages on the earth and the sun, and that the physical facts support a stationary earth; Christians who go along with the moving earth are denounced as compromisers.

Image from “Galileo Was Wrong” pro-geocentricity website. http://galileowaswrong.com/about-2/

[4] Some versions of Flood geology, i.e. that today’s sedimentary rock layers were laid down by Noah’s global Flood, were proposed by British “Scriptural Geologists” in the first half of the nineteenth century. However, these men (unlike today’s YE creationists) were willing to alter their interpretations if the physical evidence indicated it. As evidence mounted that the earth was far older than 6000 years, and that the sedimentary rock layers could not be explained by a single year-long Flood, this school of thought largely died out.

George McCready Price drew on the ideas of these earlier men, but added distinct aspects to make his novel system. First, he proposed that essentially all the fossil-bearing rocks were laid down by the Flood (a view abandoned early on by the Scriptural Geologists).

Price recognized that he must come to terms with the observations by geologists that a regular sequence of fossilized plant and animal species could be observed in the rock layers around the world. Evolutionists readily explain this faunal succession in the rocks as reflecting the actual temporal appearance and extinction of these species over the millions of years of geologic history. The earlier Scriptural Geologists acknowledged this order of fossils.

Price’s novel contribution here was to simply deny the existence of a regular order of fossils in the rocks. He ended up staking his whole system of thought on the observation of “out-of-order” rock layers in certain locations, especially the Lewis Overthrust in Montana and Alberta. As described in   Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism , Price (as do subsequent YE creationists) simply ignored the facts showing that these out-of-order rock layers are the result of plain geological faulting. Thus, Price (unlike the Scriptural Geologists) initiated the YE creationist approach of systematically denying and distorting the facts, in order to fit a Flood geology model mandated by a theological construct. Despite being advised by geologists that it was incorrect, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris took over Price’s Flood geology and repackaged it in The Genesis Flood (1961). Whitcomb and Morris downplayed the connection with the Adventist George Price, in order to gain a better reception for their book among fundamentalists.

[5] Today’s Seventh Day Adventism, which has many admirable features, is quite different than mid-nineteenth century Adventism. See the link     Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism  for details on Ellen White’s visions and her influence over George McCready Price.


Steve Austin, 1984. Catastrophes in Earth History ICR Technical Monograph 13, (El Cajon: Institute for Creation Research, 1984), p. 272, cited in Age of the Earth, by G.R. Morton. https://morton-yec-archive.blogspot.com/2016/04/age-of-earth.html

Achim Brauer, Christoph Endres, Bernd Zolitschka, and Jörg FW Negendank 2000. AMS Radiocarbon and Varve Chronology from the Annually Laminated Sediment Record of Lake Meerfelder Maar, Germany. Radiocarbon, Vol 42, No 3(2000) p 355–368. https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/download/3828/3253

Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, Testing and Verifying Old Age Evidence: Lake Suigetsu Varves, Tree Rings, and Carbon-14. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 70, Number 2, June 2018, pp. 75-89. https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2018/PSCF6-18Davidson.pdf

Richard Foster Flint, 1971. Glacial and Quaternary Geology, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1971), as cited in Age of the Earth, by G.R. Morton. https://morton-yec-archive.blogspot.com/2016/04/age-of-earth.html

Hajdas I, Zolitschka B, Ivy-Ochs SD, Beer J, Bonani G, Leroy SAG, Negendank JFW, Ramrath M, Suter M. 1995a. AMS radiocarbon dating of annually laminated sediments from lake Holzmaar, Germany. Quaternary Science Reviews 14:37–143. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/027737919400123

or http://paleodiversitas.org/PDF/127.pdf

Hajdas I, Ivy-Ochs SD, Bonani G, Lotter AF, Zolitschka B, Schlüchter C. 1995b. Radiocarbon age of the Laacher See Tephra: 11,230 ± 40 BP. Radiocarbon 37(2):149–54. https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/viewFile/1658/1662

A. Lambert and K. J. Hsu, 1979. “Non-annual cycles of varve-like sedimentation in Walensee Switzerland,” Sedimentology, 26, pp. 453-461.

Nils-Axel Mörner (July 25th 2014). Varve Chronology, Geochronology – Methods and Case Studies, Nils-Axel Morner, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/58630. https://www.intechopen.com/books/geochronology-methods-and-case-studies/varve-chronology#B32

C.S. Lane, S.P.E. Blockley, J. Mangerud, V.C. Smith , Ø.S. Lohne, E.L. Tomlinson, I.P. Matthews, A.F. Lotter. Was the 12.1 ka Icelandic Vedde Ash one of a kind?   Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 33, 6 February 2012, Pages 87-99.   http://www.academia.edu/1331855/Was_the_12.1_ka_Icelandic_Vedde_Ash_one_of_a_kind

Christine S. Lane, Achim Brauer, Celia Martín-Puertas , Simon P.E. Blockley , Victoria C. Smith, Emma L. Tomlinson. The Late Quaternary tephrostratigraphy of annually laminated sediments from Meerfelder Maar, Germany.   Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol 122 (2015) Pages 192-206.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277379115300020

or  https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77415456.pdf


Jian Tian, Thomas A. Brown and Feng Sheng Hu 2005. Comparison of varve and 14C chronologies from Steel Lake, Minnesota, USA. The Holocene Vol 15, no. 4 (2005) pp. 510-517.   https://www.life.illinois.edu/hu/publications/Tian_et_al._2005.pdf  

Paul van den Bogaard   1995.     40Ar/39Ar ages of sanidine phenocrysts from Laacher See Tephra (12,900 yr BP): Chronostratigraphic and petrological significance. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Volume 133, Issues 1–2, June 1995, Pages 163-174. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0012821X9500066L

Lovisa Zillén, Ian Snowball, Per Sandgren , Tania Stanton 2003.  Occurrence of varved lake sediment sequences in Varmland, west central Sweden: lake characteristics, varve chronology and AMS radiocarbon dating. Boreas, Vol 32, Issue 4   December 2003 Pages 612-626. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1502-3885.2003.tb01239.x   or  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=A4F700B39A0B3F024A156E25CBEAAB35?doi=


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Was “World War II” Just a Myth?

The following is excerpted from “Letter from a Higher Critic” by Stewart Robb, which appeared in pp. 239-244 of the collection Analog 6, ed. John W. Campbell, Conde Nast Publications 1966, 1968; Pocket Book edition 1969.


May 5, 2415

[To:] Mark Livingstone,

25 The Standards,

Verneville, Alassippi

Dear Mark:
in your last letter you made one palpable hit, but only one: I admit that the atomic wars of the Twenty-first Century and the cataclysms of the Twenty-second Century destroyed so much of our cultural inheritance, including nearly all our Nineteenth and Twentieth Century history, that there is very little we can turn to of those times that is authentic. Apparently that is the only point we will be able to agree on.

I cannot possibly believe, for instance, as you do, that there ever did exist an Abraham Lincoln as so glowingly portrayed by our two or three surviving “history” digests; nor can I believe there ever was a World War II, at least such as they described. Wars, yes – there have always been wars, and a World War II may have occurred – but certainly not with such incredible concomitants.

In short, your history is much too fictional for me.

So pardon me if I prove my point by doing a hatchet job on this medley of stuff you seem so sure of, this history which is about as reliable and as imaginatively romantic as the Bible myths. My method of demolition will be identical to that of those commendably clearheaded iconoclasts of earlier days, the Higher Critics. What they did to the Bible, including the Moses and Christ legends, I shall do with our nearly equally revered American history, so-called, and perhaps more thoroughly.

Let me begin my act of demolition by making an analogy, one that is possible thanks to the fortunate survival of that now famous Lord Chumley collection of English plays. In browsing through some of these playwrights of the Elizabethan, Restoration and even later periods I noticed that they had a cute habit of giving names to their characters that fitted the parts they played in the plots. For instants, Sir Giles Overreach was overreaching, Abhorson was a nasty fellow, Sir Fopling Flutter was an effeminate dandy, Wellborn was a fine young gentleman, and so on.

Now it is precisely this fictional method of applying names that dismays me when I see the obvious evidence of it in our so-called American history, and thus I am led to the inescapable conclusion that what so many of us regard as history is not history at all but pure romancing by flag-waving minstrels, though it has come down to us as sober fact. Not that this legend-building is anything new. The Song of Roland and the deeds of Arthur and the Knights of the Grail were all once considered historical. Those romances, with a little history mixed in, or simply the troubadours’, skalds’ or minstrels’ exploitation and exultation of their respective heroes and lands.

Now let me get down to brass tacks with higher criticism and start in with “World War II”. This terrific conflict, so the story goes, resulted in the victory of right over wrong, of decency over tyranny, of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (mainly) over the wicked Teutons! There was a big bad wolf in this fairytale named Adolf Hitler, a German ogre who burned people alive in ovens by the millions and nearly conquered the world! Now don’t you think that whoever made up this part of the yarn knew that the name Adolf in Old High German means Wolf Prince? And isn’t it a coincidence that he descendent like a wolf on the fold of the innocent sheep nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other helpless countries? This name is a fancy of the poets, surely!

Let us proceed. The great nation France is beaten to its knees by the mighty marauder, whereupon a folk-hero named De Gaulle arises who fights on against all odds, and later, with the coming of peace, assumes rule over a united Gaul. His name was beautifully tailored for his part. Note that it means “of France” or “of the French”, indicating that he was a true patriot, French of the French.

The names of the Russian leaders in this war also indicate the poet’s imaginative pen. The Wolf Prince meets with real resistance in his invasion of Russia, because the opposition here was headed by Stalin, which means Steel, and his head henchman Molotov, which signifies Hammer. (Probably the names also represented the Hammer and Sickle, symbols of the Communist cause.)

This mythical invasion of Russia by the German tyrant is no doubt simply a furbishing up of the earlier yarn of an invasion of the same land by the equally fabulous Napoleon, that is, Apollyon, the Destroyer, which the name means in Greek. Both conquerors invade with mighty multitudes, and both conquerors were trounced. Justice must triumph!

Now across the channel, at the outset of the Great War, so the story goes on, the British Empire was ruled by a mere servant-leader, fittingly named Chamberlain. But so desperate did the danger of the Wolf Prince’s invasion become that the chamberlain was forced to give way to the Master Defender of the British Isles, Churchill, the Church on the Hill, of course, representing the staunch, unshakable faith of the stubborn bulldog British. This name was clearly chosen for its positive, spiritual sound.

And across the Atlantic, where the Giant Ally of the Church on the Hill was preparing for war, the names of the protagonists were equally descriptive of their functions. As America was one of the good nations the names were selected for their affirmative sound. The great war-time president was Roosevelt, which is Dutch for Field of Roses. A name of excellent odor! Fabled to have written the presidents wartime and other speeches was Rosenman, that is, the Rose Man, the gardener who takes care of the flowers of speech of the Field of Roses. And the secretary of the treasury, the man who had had charge of the finances that kept the nation functioning was Morgenthau, symbolizing that he supplied the refreshing morning dew for the roses. And the secretary of state, that is, the ship of state, was of course good old Hull.

Well, I could go on and on, for our romancing historians enjoyed the creation of such curious coincidences. Here’s another obvious one: just as they had dusted off the Napoleon Apollyon legend to reapply it to the Wolf Prince, so in like manner they borrowed a still earlier so-called historical event, reversed it to disguise the source, and applied it to the Great War. In 1066, so it was fabled and generally believed, Normandy invaded England. At the head of the invading troops, so the minstrels reported, was a minstrel-warrior named Taillefer, a hero who struck the first blow of the war. So our latter-day minstrels fabled just had as Normandy invaded England, England and the Allies now invaded Normandy. And to the leader of the conquering forces the poet historians gave that same name of Taillefer, only this time they translated it first into German, Eisenhower. Both names, you are aware, mean Iron-Hewer, a most fitting epithet for men of war!

Now let me ask a rhetorical question. Do you really believe that these names: Adolf Hitler, De Gaulle, Molotov, Stalin, Chamberlain, Churchhill, Roosevelt, Rosenman, Morgenthau, Hull and Eisenhower could have sprung up by chance? And yet if they are real historical names, chance and chance alone must have operated in their selection. Therefore, I say that this history, that you and so many others credit as true history, is as legendary as the Bible stories, and for similar reasons. True history is meaningless and springs by happenstance from a meaningless world.

I note that you also mentioned in your letters, and frequently, that American folk-hero, Abraham Lincoln, and you actually seem to be convinced there was such a man. I, too, should certainly like to be able to believe the human race capable of producing so noble a being, but here is just another instance where the facts firmly forbid me to do so. As usual, let us first analyze the name. Abraham was well chosen. It immediately suggests father Abraham, the Bible patriarch. The name in Hebrew means Father of a Multitude. All this Lincoln was. He loomed above the Civil War like a Colossus, holding the nation together and keeping it one and indivisible. Preserver of his nation, saviour of his people, he was veritably the father figure of a multitude, was he not? And a father figure on which the conspirators could vent their malice.

Notice, too, how frequently he is likened to the Savior of Mankind…Our poet-patriots made up a perfect parallel between him and the solar myth savior of mankind. As follows:

Christ was a martyr.
Lincoln was a martyr.

Christ was slain on Good Friday.

Lincoln was slain on Good Friday!
So Lincoln joins the crucified saviors of mankind.

Now whatever the story is, it is not history. It could not possibly be. It stands to reason that the assassins of Lincoln would not have liken him to the All Good Man, so they could not have martyrized him on the one and only day that would in the minds of mankind ineffacably symbolize him as a type of Christ. Understand the story for what it was, a sentimental, Bible-type legend, and the creation of such a parallel is poetically, beautifully justifiable – though, of course, extremely far-fetched even for fiction.

No, sir, Abraham Lincoln is to be added to Moses and Christ as another myth!…You see, friend, a great deal of what has survived of our American history is, in my opinion pure legend, created by very human poet-patriots, whose burning desire was to show our nation in the most favorable light possible…Such bosh warms my heart but it splits my head. It’s beyond reason…

As ever,

Your friend,
Frazer Boughton

Posted in Biblical History | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

Science and Faith at the American Scientific Affiliation 2018 Meeting

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of evangelical Christians who are degreed scientists and who gather to discuss how their science and their faith interact. The 2018 annual meeting of the ASA was held last week at Gordon College, located north of Boston. A general theme of the meeting was “Bioethics and Biotechnology.” A list of links to all the talks, with audio and slides (and video for the plenaries) is here.    Videos of the plenary talks are also available here. That link might stream the plenary videos better than the general meeting link.

I will summarize here a number of presentations that I attended, which I have grouped into the categories below.


Plenary Talks

  Douglas A. Lauffenburger, “Humanizing Therapeutics Discovery”         

  Nigel M. de S. Cameron, “A Human Century?”

  Francis S. Collins, “The Joyful Complementarity of Science and Faith”

  Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self”

  Jeffrey P. Schloss, “The Question of Purpose in the Living World: Does Evolution ‘Lead to Love’?”

Teaching Science to an Evangelical Christian Audience

More on Faith, Science, and Implications of Evolution

Three Responses to a Critique of Evolutionary Creationism

Workshop: “Reworking the Science of Adam”. Facilitated by S. Joshua Swamidass

The Image of God


Plenary Talks

Douglas A. Lauffenburger, “Humanizing Therapeutics Discovery”

Describes approaches using new technology to speed the discovery of beneficial medicines.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, “A Human Century?”

The confluence of massive, cheap, distributed computing power with artificial intelligence algorithms and robotics and the internet and endless data-gathering may lead to unprecedented human flourishing or to oppression by a digitally-enabled power elite. He noted that in China the government now has in place a program that monitors all the accessible political and social behaviors of people and then denies them privileges such as being able to get train or plane tickets if the government is not pleased with them.

I discussed with him afterwards what might be practical policy measures to help mitigate the effect of massive job displacement, as artificial-intelligence-enabled robots are able to perform more and more tasks. There is a prospect of ever-fewer humans stressing out while working full-time to support an ever-growing welfare class sitting on their couches collecting unemployment or other transfer payments. Nigel noted that the low headline unemployment numbers are partly an artifact of people dropping out of the workforce. He suggested that extending health benefits down to say 20 hours/week could draw more part-time people into the workforce and thus even out the workload.


Francis S. Collins, “The Joyful Complementarity of Science and Faith”

Francis Collins led the Human Genome Project which gave the first complete readout of human DNA around fifteen years ago. He is now director of the National Institutes of Health. In this talk he first shares his personal journey from atheism to faith in Christ, and then describes some powerful techniques to edit a person’s genes to potentially cure certain genetic-based diseases. Profound ethical questions are raised with germ-line gene editing, which can in theory be used to produce “designer babies”.


Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self”

Explores the feasibility and implications of uploading your thinking processes to a computer. (I found this talk so intriguing that I describe it in more detail below).

Jeffrey P. Schloss, “The Question of Purpose in the Living World: Does Evolution ‘Lead to Love’?”

Describes various key evolutionary transitions, such as prokaryotes to eukaryotes, single cell to multicell organisms, asexual to sexual reproduction, solitary to (eu)social, and primate sociality to human sociality. Although the mechanism of evolution involves competition and survival of the fittest, the overall trend is that these evolutionary transitions lead to increased cooperative interdependence and eventually to the unique capabilities of humans for collective intentionality, moral norms, and religious faith.


Noreen Herzfeld, “Cybernetic Enhancement and the Problem of the Self: Are We More Than Minds?”

Ray Kurzweil (The Age of Spiritual Machines) laid out a vision for achieving immortality by uploading our consciousness into computing machines:

“As we cross the divide to instantiate ourselves into our computational technology, our identity will be based on our evolving mind file. We will be software . . . Our immortality will be a matter of being sufficiently careful to make frequent backups.”

The U.S. Brain Initiative and the European Human Brain Project are working to map out the functions of the circuitry in our brains. But the brain is really, really complex, especially when we factor in the roles of neurotransmitters which actually carry the signals across synapses, so it will be some time before this sort of mapping is completed.

Francis Crick told us that, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will . . .You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” But are we more than just abstract information? Does it matter that our consciousness is embodied?

Our bodies are an important part of ourselves: They give us continuity over time, they provide the locus of our intelligence (how we learn and how we remember), and they let us feel. It is argued that human emotions are closely linked to our bodies, literally, how we feel.

There are people today who lack emotions such as empathy, remorse, anxiety and embarrassment. We call them “sociopaths”. Is that what a purely thinking being could be? (One could presumably program a virtual being to think nice thoughts, even if he/she/it didn’t “feel” like it).

Christian theology has always affirmed the value of our bodies, over against teachings such as Gnosticism and Docetism. The final state we anticipate is not to float around heaven as disembodied spirits, but to be resurrected with bodies, albeit of a different kind than our present flesh.

In the Q&A session, someone asked something like, “What would a virtual person do all day? Just sit around and think?” The speaker noted in response that she is not aware of many women who are excited about living in silico. She pointed out that self-instantiation in software is mainly proposed by men, and nerdy men at that. Also in the Q&A, she noted that there is no actual “cyberspace”. Information is always instantiated on some physical hardware. Thus, the notion of becoming independent of the physical world is illusory.


Teaching Science to an Evangelical Christian Audience

There were a number of presentations dealing with faith and science education. I will describe four of them.

Kathryn Applegate, “BioLogos INTEGRATE: New Christian Worldview Supplement for High School Biology”

Currently, teachers at Christian schools and home schoolers must choose between secular biology textbooks, which offer no Christian worldview context, and Christian-published curricula, which often are written from young earth creation or Intelligent Design perspectives, which do not accurately convey the science. To address this dilemma, BioLogos is developing an on-line Christian worldview supplement to accompany existing standard biology textbooks such as Miller and Levine. Topics include ways of knowing (in science and theology), creation care, fossils, age of the earth, etc. Five out of a planned fifteen modules have been completed. These include videos, hands-on activities, Scripture meditations, exploration of theological/philosophical concepts, and integration exercises. Interested educators, including home schooling parents, can contact Kathryn at BioLogos to discuss participation in piloting this supplemental program.

Katherine referred to a recent TEDx talk, “The E Word” by April Maskiewicz, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University.

In this talk, Prof. Maskiewicz describes how her pastor told her that she had to choose between Christianity and evolution, leading her to become an atheist. Some years later she came back to faith, and then had to wrestle through how to integrate that with her science. Katherine showed a slide with some discussion questions to follow up a viewing of this TEDx talk. (I believe this slide was presented as an example of the type of discussion material that is in the BioLogos INTEGRATE supplement).


Gladys Kober, Susan Benecchi, Paula Gossard, and Ashley Zauderer, “High School Curriculum: The Crossroads of Science and Faith: Astronomy Through a Christian Worldview–Outreach Phase”

A team of astronomers and educators have developed a complete 1-year curriculum for teaching a high school course in astronomy, preferably at an advanced (junior and senior) level. This curriculum consists of two parts: (1) an introduction to the science and faith dialogue and (2) astronomy as a discipline, including many interviews with professional Christian astronomers to engage and inspire students (more information at www.GlimpseofHisSplendor.com ). The textbook is long and lavishly illustrated.   Unfortunately, not many Christian high schools offer a full year course in astronomy, but this curriculum seems to me to be a great resource for home schoolers, who may have more flexibility in setting their coursework.

Patricia Fitzgerald-Bocarsly and Andrew Bocarsly, “The Science/Faith Dialogue in the Local Church: A Leap of Faith”

This wife and husband team offered a seven-week adult Sunday School in their non-denominational evangelical church in the Princeton, New Jersey area. Although this church includes a relatively high concentration of practicing scientists, congregants include people with young earth and other perspectives on creation.

One motivation for this course was to address the perception among young adults that churches are antagonistic to science. A 2011 Barnett group study of why many young Christians are leaving church turned up responses like this: “Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%) and “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). They have been “turned off by the creation versus evolution debate (23%).

The course theme was that God reveals himself through his two books: the Bible and his creation. God is the author of both books (see Colossians 1:15-17). The curriculum comprised the following topics:

– The beauty and wonder of creation

– The history of science and faith, beginning in the middle ages

– The scientific method

– Cosmology and the age of the universe

Some proposed topics for a follow-up discussion series include creation care (including global warming), a history of Darwin and the response of his contemporaries, and models of origins (without taking a particular stance).

The starting text was a booklet published jointly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), When God and Science Meet. That booklet can be purchased, or downloaded for free at https://www.nae.net/godandscience/ . It treats topics like the history of science and faith, the validity of scientific knowledge, worshipping God through science and discovery, and science as a Christian calling. It is clearly favorable towards evolution, but only touches on that subject briefly.

Patricia and Andrew skirted the subject of evolution and human origins, and focused on less divisive topics. In so doing, they apparently managed to get through this class with minimal outcry from young earth creationists. (One couple was upset, and asked for and received permission from the church elders to offer a two-week Sunday school class presenting the young earth viewpoint.) They received many thanks from university students and post-docs, who said how important it was to have the science/faith topic addressed, and how much it meant to them to see their professors praying in class.

Their ASA slides included the following prescient quote from James McCosh, president of Princeton University:

“I have all along had a sensitive apprehension that the undiscriminating denunciations of evolution from so many pulpits, periodicals, and seminaries might drive some of our thoughtful young men to infidelity, as they clearly saw development everywhere in nature, and were at the same time told by their advisers that they could not believe in evolution and yet be Christians” [Bedell Lectures, 1887]

McCosh insisted that the Darwinian hypothesis, rather than calling into disrepute the existence of God, served “to increase the wonder and mystery of the process of creation.”


Mark Strand, “Teaching Evolution to Young-Earth Trained High School Sunday School Students”

From the Abstract:

Scientifically informed positions on scripture play an important part of the intellectual and spiritual formation of Christian young people. The creationism movement, particularly Answers in Genesis (AIG), has used books, videos, and conferences to establish themselves as the most influential source of information for evangelical Christians wanting to understand origins. Therefore, young earth creationism has shaped the thinking of young people and curricular decisions of many Christian schools and home schoolers.

In 2015, funded by the Templeton Foundation, Trinity International University began The Creation Project, to catalyze a field of study around the doctrine of creation that is faithful to scripture and informed by scientific evidence. This became the inspiration for the project presented here, which was to design a 6-lesson course to introduce evolution to high school students in a Sunday School class in a Midwestern evangelical church. A 19-item survey was created and administered pre- and post-course.

The purposes of the Sunday school series were to:

– Help students understand that the doctrine of creation is essential

– Learn to do exegetical Bible study

– Be able to describe that a variety of scientific interpretations of Gen 1-3 are possible, and

– See that science is a method, not an enemy, and an opportunity for ministry

Some challenges were that the kids seemed unfamiliar with exegetical Bible study, some parents were concerned about the topic, and student views on some issues did not change (e.g., “The Bible is a source of scientific information”, “Because Genesis is true then evolution is false”, etc.).

Lessons learned included:

– Some of the students are either fearful of or disinterested in science

– Creating a safe atmosphere was important

– It took six weeks with the issues to sink in

– 17–18-year-old students need to be pushed out of their comfort zone

– Students seem ready to expand their understanding of science and scientists in a positive way

– They were afraid of revisiting absolutist views they hold on the Bible

– We need to begin where the students are at, not where a person is at after studying this issue for many years

– Humility and agnosticism: As scientists we need to be cautious when passing judgment on creation doctrines, and theologians should be similarly cautious when evaluating the scientific theory of evolution.

– There are different epistemologies in play: empirical, personal, ethical

– The series was as much an activity in pastoral care as it was an intellectual activity


More on Faith, Science, and Implications of Evolution

James Sideras, “The Need for Generation Z Christian Apologetics”

The exact dates are not agreed upon, but it is common to call the generational cohort born about 1995-2010 “Generation Z”. These folks are now aged 8-23, and make up about 26% of the U.S. population. This is a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers (born 1947-1963) or the Millennials (Gen Y, born about 1980-1994).

Gen Zers have never known life without the internet, and are the first widely post-Christian generation.  Some implications of the Internet are: Listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings; Independent and self-directed; Chasm between information and wisdom.

Gen-Z communicates with symbols, speed and images. Suggestions for reaching them include:

  • Engage with their objections. (Why can’t I have sex outside of marriage? Why do bad things happen?)
  • Visual storytelling.
  • Start with a hook. (You may get only eight seconds to grab their attention. It may help to define some opening statement that highlights a benefit.)
  • Be succinct. (They want bite-sized answers. It’s OK to leave them wanting more. This differs from traditional apologetics approaches which often involve long scholarly treatments of subject matter.)
  • Address emotional issues. (Many young people have grown up with helicopter parents, and so may need coaching on how to handle the stresses of the real world.)
  • Address spiritual vacuum and illiteracy. (Many in this generation don’t have even the memory of the gospel content.)

James has written a book on apologetics, where he pares each argument down to about 500 words, or three minutes of verbal presentation:   101 Good Reasons to Believe: A Comprehensive Case for Christianity .


Loren Haarsma, “Beyond the Free Will Defense: Natural Evil, Theodicy, and Sacrificial Love”

The problem of evil and suffering is a common theme of atheist challenges to Christianity. There are actually two distinct aspects of the problem of evil. One is intellectual, the other is emotional or experiential. No matter what we say to justify the big picture, usually no explanation is available for why some particular tragedy is permitted, and experientially, pain still hurts. This experiential aspect of suffering calls for pastoral care, and is beyond the scope of the discussion here.

With the intellectual problem of evil, it is asserted that there is a logical contradiction between the statements “God is all-powerful”, “God is all-good”, and “Evil exists”. However, this apparent problem is completely resolved  by adding a fourth statement: “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that exists, whether or not He reveals that reason to us”. It is not arbitrary to add this fourth statement, since it can be directly inferred from the first two statements (God is all-powerful and God is all-good). Atheists may complain about God not explaining His ways to their satisfaction, but that does not change the fact that the intellectual problem of evil for theism is resolved.

Technically, this is a defense, not a theodicy. It does successfully defend against the attacks of atheists. But then it stops, having accomplished its mission. A theodicy attempts to go further and explain to human satisfaction what are the reasons God could have for permitting suffering and injustice.

The early church fathers, for instance, proposed that experiencing suffering in this life, and choosing to trust God and to express his love to others, helps us to develop character that will make us more fit for living in the presence of God in the next life (the soul-making theodicy). In recent times it is commonly proposed that God places such a high value on free will, on having human beings that can choose to love or not to love, that he created a world where there is a genuine option to choose evil as well as good. These proposals probably all have some merit but we should not put too much weight on them. On this side of eternity, there will always be an element of mystery regarding the full sweep of God’s will and plan (see, e.g. Isaiah 55:8-9). We ultimately rely on God’s complex but good character as demonstrated in Jesus Christ, not in our ability to explain everything to our satisfaction now.

With all that said, I saw a presentation in the program by Loren Haarsma that looked interesting. It is along the lines of the free will theodicy but takes it further, to an emphasis on enabling self-sacrificial love [agape love, in the Greek]. The talk abstract says:

Atheists sometimes point to features of the natural world as arguments against theism (e.g., age and immensity of the universe, hiddenness of divine action, randomness, suffering caused by natural events and moral evil, evolution, the neuroscience of belief).

In response, numerous Christians have developed “free will” or “soul-making” accounts. A recent book by Christian Barrigar (Freedom All the Way Up, Friesen Press) affirms these accounts but advocates a shift of emphasis, arguing for free will as only a necessary precondition for God’s ultimate purpose of creating beings capable of understanding and living in relationships of self-sacrificial love toward each other and God.

Self-sacrificial love is especially central to God’s Trinitarian nature and revealed in Christ’s redeeming work. This “agape” account for these features of the world can be appealing to many Christians and powerfully inviting for non-Christians. It also has some implications regarding the subtlety of divine action in the natural world, and the (perhaps) inevitability of human sin, which some Christians might find theologically troubling, and are worth further discussion.

In the slides for this talk, it is noted that the features of the universe which are cited as evidence against God (e.g., age and immensity of the universe, hiddenness of divine action, randomness, suffering caused by natural events and moral evil, evolution, the neuroscience of belief) can also be explained as being enablers or corollaries of having moral agents capable of choosing self-giving love. This would be a general explanation of why these features might exist, not specific justification for why some particular person was swept away by some particular tsunami. Some examples:

Hiddenness of divine action

– “Epistemic distance”

– Satan’s charge against Job

Suffering caused by natural events

– Inevitable consequences of an over-all good system (e.g. plate tectonics, evolutionary adaptation)

– Events have predictable consequences


– Humans use randomness for purpose

– Necessary condition for freedom

– Range and distribution of outcomes still predictable


– Randomness and predictability

– Freedom to explore possibilities

– Evolutionary convergence to agape-capable beings

Neuroscience / evo-psych of belief in God

– Neuroscience / evo-psych of disbelief

– Naturalness of belief while maintaining the necessary “epistemic distance”


Three Responses to a Critique of Evolutionary Creationism

“Intelligent Design” proponents (most notably, associates of the Discovery Institute in Seattle) claim to be objectively detecting “design” in the biological world. But what they primarily do in practice is publicize gaps (which were already discovered and published by real scientists) in our current understanding of specific evolutionary steps in the past, and claim those gaps as examples of “design”. No matter how much they deny it with their words, their actions demonstrate that this is a God-of-the-gaps exercise, pure and simple. Furthermore, they grossly exaggerate the magnitude of our knowledge gaps, as we have documented with the Cambrian Explosion, with human/chimpanzee/gorilla genomes, and the general fossil record.

Although they have now had some 25 years to work on it, Intelligent Design proponents do not put forth a substantive, testable counter-proposal for how today’s species came to be. We can find in the fossil record, for instance, a whole series of fossils with transitional features between fish and tetrapod amphibians, and another series between reptiles and mammals [1]. According to the Intelligent Design model, did God specially create each species ex nihilo just in time to appear in the fossil record in the order expected by evolution? Or did He supernaturally alter the genomes of a breeding pair in each lineage once every half-million years to make each transition? Or what, specifically? The Intelligent Design proponents never say, electing instead to hide behind endless, vacuous incantations of the word “design” whenever they identify a knowledge gap.

Evolutionary creationists, on the other hand, acknowledge the reality and validity of the physical evidence for how today’s species came to be. Both genetic and fossil evidence show that all of today’s biota, including humans, were formed via evolution from common ancestral life-forms [2]. There is no evidence that God supernaturally intervened with numerous miraculous tweaks over the ages. Rather, God created a universe with the properties of matter and the initial conditions which were just right to lead from single-celled microbes to human beings. God created today’s species via the process of evolution, hence the name “evolutionary creationism” for this position.

God exercises ongoing providential care over all of creation, whether or not this providence manifests as miraculous acts. For instance, most Christians would hold (following Romans 8:28, etc.) that God superintended the mutations in your parents’ genomes, and which egg and which sperm (out of thousands possible) combined to make you exactly the individual you are, even if no supernatural intervention were involved. Evolutionary creationists see God’s normal supervision of the evolution of today’s species in terms of this sort of providential activity. Note that this is not deism, and does not preclude miraculous interventions, such as the resurrection of Jesus. This view entails taking a non-literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story.

In late 2017, a group of Intelligent Design proponents published a 1000-page attack on evolutionary creationism. This book is Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Crossway, 2017) edited by J. P. Moreland, et al. This book gets it wrong in many ways, starting with the title. The editors know perfectly well that most of today’s serious evolutionary creationists say that “theistic evolution” is not an apt description of their position, but the editors chose that title anyway. A chapter-by-chapter review of this book by Christian apologist J. W. Hartwick may be found here.

As evident from the title, there are three main prongs to this critique: scientific, philosophical, and theological. Three presentations were made at the ASA meeting, addressing each of those three areas. Due to time limitations, these talks could only cover a few points apiece.

Denis Lamoureux, “Intelligent Design Theory: The God-of-the-Gaps Rooted in Concordism”

Denis responded to some of the theological issues raised in the Theistic Evolution book. For instance, Intelligent Design proponents have carefully tried to paint themselves as objective scientists, who happen to be open-minded towards evidence for design in the natural world. They claim that they are not driven by religious concerns. This is the basis of their case for trying to get their material included in public school curricula. Their opponents are not fooled, since (as noted above) all they do in practice is identify gaps in knowledge which they claim can only be filled by the actions of some Intelligent Agent (and the only Intelligent Agent who would have the knowledge, power, and longevity to frequently inject massive amounts of new information into the biosphere over the past half-billion years would be God or some super-race of aliens), and since the proponents of Intelligent Design are mainly evangelical Christians or other strong theists. Not surprisingly, various court cases have ruled that Intelligent Design is not a scientific activity, but a religious one.

Denis points out that with the publication of this book, the Intelligent Design proponents have shown that their critics were correct all along about the religious basis of their work. As he notes in the Abstract, “One-quarter of Theistic Evolution is a strident defense of a concordist hermeneutic that ultimately undergirds this antievolutionary God-of-the-gaps view of origins”. We already knew that the Intelligent Design movement is fundamentally a religious enterprise – – the internal (but leaked) foundational “Wedge” document of the Discovery Institute gave as one of its two Governing Goals : “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God”. That is pretty clear, but that is something that Discovery Institute authors have tried to downplay over the years as they have tried to get Intelligent Design inserted into public schools. However, the fact that the Intelligent Design authors have (with the publication of this book) apparently stopped pretending that they are doing objective science seems to me a possible signal that they have accepted defeat for their effort to get into public education, and will instead emphasize their theological correctness, in order to appear more relevant for their conservative Christian base.

Denis cited assertions in the book that the Genesis creation stories must be understood as historical narrative, not as figurative or allegorical literature. Thus, it must be the case that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that Adam was specially created from dust, Eve was directly created from Adam’s rib, human death began as a result of Adam’s sin, etc., no matter what the physical evidence is.

Denis noted that the book consistently misrepresents the theological implications of evolutionary creation. The book claims that evolutionary creationism (or, as the book terms it, theistic evolution) “says no living creature in nature bears witness to God”. That is false, since the entire natural order, including all its (evolved) living creatures, bears witness to God. Another claim is that theistic evolution “completely nullifies the evidence for God‘s existence and therefore significantly hinders evangelism.” Wrong again. Denis notes the irony of this accusation, since it is the anti-evolution teachings of Intelligent Design and young earth creationism which have been documented (see poll results above) to lead many young people to abandon their childhood faith. Anti-evolutionism also greatly hinders evangelism among educated adults [3].

The accusation is further made that theistic evolution “significantly undermines the doctrine of the atonement” and that it “undermines the effectiveness of the Resurrection to give new life to all who are saved by Christ”. This is more baseless fear-mongering. Denis, and many other evolutionary creationists, make it clear in their writings that Jesus died to atone for their sins.

(I’ll add that a literal Adam and a literal Fall are not at all essential to the gospel. Paul develops the universality of sin and the solution of Christ’s atonement in Romans 1-3 with no mention of original sin. In all the gospel proclamations to both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the Book of Acts, there is not a single reference to Adam’s sin. The Fall is never mentioned in the sayings of Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus directed people away from religious speculations or blaming others, and towards their personal need for mercy for their own sins, regardless of what did or didn’t happen with somebody else 6000 years ago. See Adam, the Fall, and Evolution for more on this, including a treatment of the Romans 5 and I Cor. 15 passages dealing with Adam. )

Another citation from the Theistic Evolution book was, “A non-historical reading of Genesis 1-3 does not arise from factors within the text itself, that is, the word of God, but rather depends on a priori commitment to an evolutionary framework of interpretation.” That again is easily shown to be wrong. Denis pointed out that it was not a commitment to evolution that first drove him away from a literal interpretation of Genesis, but rather, it was seeing the ancient science and other ancient Near Eastern motifs within the scriptures. Dennis was still an anti-evolutionist at that time (!). He named some other well-known theologians who likewise abandoned a concordist hermeneutic because of biblical, rather than scientific reasons. I might add that various early church fathers proposed nonliteral interpretations of Genesis, long before Darwin.

To counteract all this misinformation about “theistic evolution”, Denis articulated several more accurate statements about evolutionary creationism. He holds that:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process.

Also: Evolution is intelligently designed and creates intelligently designed living creatures that “declare the glory of God” (Psalm 18:1).

Note that this is not “Darwinism”. The Biologos statement of faith  has similar declarations of God’s sustaining, providential activity in upholding the universe (including evolution); this statement of faith specifically rejects “deism” and “ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process”.

Intelligent Design proponents set up a false dichotomy, claiming that believers must choose between macroevolution OR divine design. But in reality, it’s both. The Theistic Evolution book claims that “any proponent of theistic evolution who affirms that God is directing the evolutionary mechanism, and who also rejects intelligent design, implicitly contradicts himself” (pp. 43-44). This statement assumes that the only way God can “direct” something is to miraculously intervene; as noted above, this contravenes the traditional Christian understanding of God’s providential supervision of the world.

Denis would like to wrest back the term “intelligent design” from the hands of the anti-evolutionists. He would more intelligently define intelligent design as:

Belief that beauty, complexity, and functionality in nature impacts everyone powerfully, pointing to an Intelligent Designer and revealing some of his attributes (beyond reasonable doubt, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1).


Randy Isaac, “In Defense of Theistic Evolution”

Randy offered a response to what is probably the key scientific argument made by Intelligent Design (ID) authors in the Theistic Evolution book as they attack evolution. That is the claim that new functional information can only be generated by an intelligent mind.

ID proponent Stephen Meyer argues as follows:

– Cause A (evolution) cannot cause Effect X (creation of new information like the genetic code in DNA)

– Cause B (intelligent mind) is known to be able to generate new information

– Therefore, Cause B (intelligent mind) can be inferred to be the cause of X (new information in the genome)

But Randy contends that:

– Cause A (evolution) CAN cause new genetic information, so there is no gap

– Cause B (intelligent mind) has NOT been shown necessary to generate new information

All Randy needs to do to prove his point is to find one example of new genetic information being generated by evolutionary processes, such as mutation and natural selection. But there are billions and billions of such examples staring us in the face. Randy points out that practically EVERY reproductive event involves some modification to the functional DNA, and thus generates new information. Thus, the case against evolution collapses immediately.

(Every human being is, due to mutations and recombinations, genetically different from his or her ancestors, and so is based on a new-to-planet-Earth set of genetic information. If the ID proponents demand an increase in the overall amount of genetic code, that is easily met by the well-known phenomenon of gene duplication combined with additional mutations. See, for instance, this study by Brown, et al., documenting multiple gene duplications in yeast, resulting in the formation of at least three new, chimeric genes.  ID proponents attempt to discredit these examples by trying to define them away, but they still stand.)

Only Abstract Information Requires an Intelligent Mind

Stephen Meyer claims that “All our experience shows that [functional] information is always generated by an intelligent mind”. He provides examples such as language, phone numbers, computer code, engineering designs, etc.

Randy counters that “All our experience in biological systems shows that functional information does NOT require an intelligent mind”, for the reasons described above. All reproductive events with mutation or recombination of alleles generate new information which is functional for every organism which survives and reproduces.

Randy makes a key observation, that abstract functional information is the only type of functional information that requires an intelligent mind to generate and act on. The meaning of information in human-designed information systems (such as all the examples cited by Meyer) is abstract, i.e. is independent of its physical embodiment. This abstract meaning, which can only be comprehended by other conscious beings, is a hallmark of the intelligent design of these information systems. For instance, the meaning of the command “Close the door!” can be expressed as “Cierre la puerta!” in Spanish or some very different symbols in Hebrew or Chinese, or reworded in English to something like “Seal the portal!”. This shows that the meaning of “Close the door!” is a concept which does not depend on the letters “C”, “L”, “O”, etc. being present in that sequence, or on the shapes of those letters. Typically it does require an intelligent mind to formulate a statement in English like “Close the door!”, and also to understand the meaning and to act on it.

In contrast, in its native state the “meaning” of DNA information is its biochemical function, which is utterly dependent on its physical embodiment and environment. Specific sequences (triplets) of nucleotides, known as codons, physically bond to matching sites on specific transfer RNA molecules which cause specific amino acids to be placed into protein chains, all operating according to regular natural laws of biochemistry. Plain physical mutations in DNA will alter the resulting proteins. Thus, there is no evidence that DNA information requires an intelligent agent for its source or its function.

One of Randy’s slides puts it this way:


    – Abstract reasoning is a defining hallmark of intelligence

    – Functionality in human-designed systems is determined by abstract relationships

– Intelligence is required

   – Functionality in biological systems is determined by offspring survival and success in reproduction

– No intelligence is required

Randy has posted his slides and an extended summary of his talk on his blog at ASA. He goes into more detail there on definitions of various types of information.

James Stump, “Did God Guide Evolution?”

This talk dealt with a rhetorical maneuver that Intelligent Design proponents use, which is based on the same confusion about providence that is noted above. From the abstract:

Part of the recent book Theistic Evolution is a “Philosophical Critique.” There are not a lot of new ideas here, but there is one rhetorical strategy that intelligent design (ID) proponents have increasingly used that needs a clear response drawing on philosophy.

ID proponents have taken to asking those of us who accept the science of evolution and traditional Christian theism, “Did God guide evolution?” and they expect a simple “yes” or “no” answer. This puts us on the horns of a dilemma: if we answer “yes,” they think we have conceded to an intervening God along the lines of ID; if we answer “no,” they claim our God is not substantially different than the God of deism.

I will suggest that there is an implied premise in the question that forces us into the dilemma, namely, that God’s action occurs at the same metaphysical level as the causes that science investigates. If that premise is rejected, we can affirm that God “guides” evolution in the same sense we affirm that God “creates,” without thereby being committed to finding gaps in the scientific explanations where God can insert himself.

The problem lies in how to explain clearly and cogently the different metaphysical levels at which God’s action occurs. Classically, Aquinas invoked notions of primary and secondary causation. That was helpful, but ultimately I will claim that contemporary philosophy of language gives us better resources to understand science and theology as different discourses. Each describes or “re-presents” an aspect of reality, but neither tells the whole story.


Workshop: “Reworking the Science of Adam”. Facilitated by S. Joshua Swamidass

Most of the discussion in this workshop revolved around the assertion that, due to the phenomenon of pedigree collapse  as you go back through many generations, it is theoretically possible that all humans today are descended from one couple, who may have lived around 500,000 years ago. This man and this woman interbred with other contemporary humans and thus were not the only humans living in their day, but they were the only ones whose genes ended up being passed down to modern humans. The lineages of everyone else from 500,000 years ago happened to die out, in this scenario.

I was not familiar with the science here, but there were four scientists on the panel, and dozens of other scientists in the audience, and nobody disputed that this was at least a possibility. This claim (that it is theoretically possible that all humans today are descended from one couple from some 500,000 years ago) is consistent with (i.e. does not contradict) some other established scientific findings, such as the fact that our genome looks exactly as it should look if we are related to other primates (see e.g. Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates ), and that the human total human population never dropped below a few thousand people in the past half million years.

Naturally, this proposal interests believers who desire to maintain a literal Adam and Eve. It does raise other difficulties, such as what were all the thousands of other humans (pre-Adamites or non-Adamites) doing in the days of this primordial couple. Young earth creationists will not be satisfied by this proposal, since they insist on Adam and Eve being the only true human beings alive in their day, which was only about 6000 years ago.

Some questions I have on this proposal:

In reflecting on this workshop, it is not clear to me why it would be so essential for all human beings to have all their DNA coming from just one man and just woman one woman, 500,000 years ago. The notion that original sin is passed along in our genomes makes little sense to me. Was there a particular mutation that occurred at the moment of the fall such that the genomes of all their descendants are slightly different than the genomes of the first man and the first woman? That implies that we might use genome sequencing and reconstructive algorithms to discover what those original sin mutations are. And then we could use modern genetic engineering to reverse those mutations, and thus re-create perfect, sinless human beings. Salvation for the human race could thus be accomplished through CRISPR gene editing. No need for the Son of God to die on a cross. I don’t think that this scenario is where the enthusiastic Christian proponents of pedigree collapse really want to end up.

Also, at about 50 mutations per generation, each of us has acquired around 1 million mutations in our genomes since the days of this putative common ancestor of 500,000 years ago. So even if we are all genealogically related to one man and one woman, we do not have their exact genes. So, considering they were not that different from all the other humans living in their day (since their children could mate with these non-Adamites), why would it be essential that 100% of our genetic material comes only from that one couple?

Anyway, these are some of my reactions to this subject. This topic may continue to create interest among a subset of evangelical Christians who accept an old (more than 10,000 years) earth and an old human race, but who want to retain  historical, individual (perhaps specially-created) Adam and Eve.

Cultural inheritance Of Original Sin?

Another notion was mentioned by some of the workshop participants. That is the cultural, rather than genetic inheritance of Original Sin. This proposal flows largely from the teachings of Renee Girard. A key point here is that much of what humans do is mimetic, that is, they imitate what they see other people doing. One suggestion was that the whole human population in the time of Adam and Eve was essentially unfallen, living in harmony with God and one another. Adam and Eve were the first to willfully rebel against God and start behaving badly towards one another. This unpleasant behavior pattern was then picked up by other people and so spread throughout the human population, according to this proposal.

The Image of God

In the Genesis creation story, there is a significant difference between humans and all the other creatures: humans (men and women together) were created to be “in the image of God”:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” [Gen. 1:26-28, NIV]

What is meant by “in the image and likeness of God”? Traditionally, theologians have considered the “image of God” to be some psychological characteristic or capacity located in individual men and women, such as rationality, free will, spiritual awareness, etc. Opinions have shifted back and forth regarding the significance of the physical appearance of the human body. Twentieth century theologians placed more emphasis on relational capacities. Barth and Brunner argued that it is our ability to establish and maintain complex and intricate relationships that make us like God. There is a tendency for various modern thinkers to read their favorite theological or socio-political concerns into the creation account.

At the “Science of Adam” workshop, a seminary professor stated that there is a growing consensus among Old Testament scholars as to what “in the image of God” would have meant to people in the ancient Near East cultures where Genesis originated. From ancient manuscripts we learn that a high king in Egypt and Mesopotamia could considered to be the “image” of the local god. This gave them their mandate to reign, since they were ruling on behalf of the god of that land. In Genesis, Yahweh is Lord of all the whole earth, and he sets mankind to rule the other inhabitants of the earth on His behalf. This mandate to rule is plain in the passage cited above: “…Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”. This is a remarkable “democratization” of the divine right to rule – – instead of a few despots lording it over the masses, ALL humans, women and men alike, are considered as being in the image of God. This in turn gives every human being enormous value and dignity, and provides a solid basis for human rights.

What sort of rule are humans supposed to exercise over the earth? Although they need to do what they need to do in order to force the earth grow the food they need and to keep animals from eating their food or them, their mandate is not an absolute right to exploit nature any way they please. They are to function as representatives of God and thus to exercise dominion justly and generously like He does. They do not own the earth. Rather, they are responsible to God for how they handle His property. This would entail paying attention to all the other directives that God gives them, and operating with the consciousness of their dependence on, and obligation to, Him.

The nature of mankind’s dominion over nature is further described in the second chapter of Genesis:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. [Gen.2:15, NIV]

In this verse Adam was told to “work” or “serve” (i.e. “tend”) the garden, and to “take care” of it. The Hebrew word translated here “take care” typically means “keep, watch, preserve”. In the Sunday morning sermon at the ASA meeting, James Davis noted that this word is used for tending or shepherding a flock of sheep. This passage clarifies that humans are called to care for creation responsibly and to preserve it from undue harm. Although we ourselves benefit from intelligent management of nature, in the end we are accountable as stewards of someone else’s property.


[1] See, for instance, Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils

[2] See e.g. Endogenous Retroviruses in Your Genome Show Common Ancestry with Primates  and  http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ .

[3] Here is a telling lament from a missionary in the former Soviet Union:

The worst aspect of YECS [Young Earth Creation Science] teaching is that it creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church. .. How many have chosen to give up their faith altogether rather than to accept scientific nonsense or a major reinterpretation of Scripture? How much have we dishonored our Lord by slandering scientists and their reputation? How much have we sinned against Christian brothers holding another opinion by naming them “dangerous” and “compromisers”? …Pastors need to rethink these issues as outlined above and teach a responsible Christian viewpoint with all humility…Christian radio and TV stations need to invite qualified speakers to wrestle with these issues in a responsible way…Finally, missionaries and evangelists need to get materials expressing other viewpoints translated to oppose the virtual monopoly YECS teaching has overseas. As I write this paper, I see YECS literature becoming more and more widely distributed in the growing churches in my corner of the former Soviet Union. We are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already.

Posted in American Scientific Affliliation, Evolution, Intelligent Design, Natural Theology | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

Prayer for Healing at Bethel Church

Preface for blog: Recently my wife and I spent a number of weeks in California. We sent various letters back to our friends, reporting on our doings. My final letter described at some length our experience at a church in northern California, focusing on what I learned about their philosophy of praying for healing. This letter is reproduced below, with a few edits and with some endnotes added to address certain questions which might be raised by a more general audience reading this here.

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Grace and I just got back from our trip to California. We spent the last four weeks in Redding, in northern California, about 3.5 hours drive north of San Francisco. Our key driver for coming to the Golden State was to get in enough quality time with the Bethel Church community here to catch the vibe of how they do life. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

I will try here to capture some of the impact from our visit, to share with our many friends who have wished us well in this adventure. This will be a fairly personal reflection. Some of the things that interested me, such as healing in answer to prayer, will be familiar to some who read this, and unfamiliar to others. If this is more information than holds your interest, please don’t feel obligated to read it all.

What was I looking for?

I’ll start with some of what I knew about Bethel before coming here, and what drew us to make this investment of time and money. We had heard speakers from Bethel at various conferences we have attended over the years, and also listened to podcasts and YouTube talks. There seems to be a consistent message of integrity and great positivity. We also know a number of people who have spent weeks and months out there, and all have returned with glowing reports. These reports are not only of emotional wholeness and cultural excellence, but also of notable physical healings.

Here is one example of how this seems to work. About five years ago, the pastor of our home church in Pennsylvania invited the senior pastor of Bethel, Bill Johnson, to speak. Bill shared with the audience that he believed that healing was God’s will, and he shared stories of people who reported dramatic relief after being prayed for. Then he invited anyone in the room who had some medical condition to stand up for prayer. He then asked the others of us in the room to gather around the closest standing person to us, and pray for them.

The closest person to me was a pastor who had driven down from Connecticut, along with his wife. This pastor had had a severe stroke 1-2 years earlier, localized in the back of his brain. He had recovered most of his function, but due to the damage to the cerebellum, he continued to experience constant mild vertigo. And if he tilted his head way back to look up, he got totally, miserably dizzy. While we prayed for this man, he said that he was feeling heat in his head. After we prayed, he was totally relieved of vertigo. He tested it further by lying on his back and looking straight up. No problem now for this man. About twenty other people in the room reported similar symptomatic relief. So this encounter with a Bethel representative helped to build my interest in that church.

I have occasionally witnessed other episodes of relief of serious conditions in answer to prayer over the years. For instance, some of us prayed for a woman in a church in New Jersey a couple of years ago, who had a condition which kept her bent over and tottering along with the use of a cane. While we prayed, she felt heat in her head. A day or two later, she found that her sense of balance had fully recovered, and she marched into the next church service waving her cane above her head and giving thanks to God.

How we view these sorts of healings will depend on the assumptions we bring. Skeptics may shrug off any number of reports of healings, no matter how strong the documentary evidence. Since there is a strong mind-body connection, it is often hard to sort out how much of a natural, psychosomatic element might be involved. My own approach is to affirm all restoration of wholeness, whether it comes through the ordinary skill of doctors, through the influence of good thoughts upon the body, or through God working in ways that science cannot explain. [1]

In a practical sense, I’m not sure these mechanistic questions matter that much. However their healings happened, that pastor with vertigo and that hobbling woman experienced genuine relief, which they had not obtained from conventional medical treatments.

What is not clear to me is what is a realistic expectation for the effectiveness of prayer. Some believers pray with very understated expectations: “Lord, if it be thy will, please heal Fred.” This is a comfortable approach, since it does not raise hopes that would then be dashed in the event that Fred is not healed. However, in my experience, the odds are very low of anything happening in response to such a mild prayer.

The more notable healings I have observed have generally came about in the context of praying with a high degree of conviction. There are a number of verses in the New Testament that link the effectiveness of prayer with the level of faith. But this robust approach raises a number of obvious questions:

Why are many people not healed? How much faith for healing is required on the human side of the equation, and how can such faith be increased? Is it unkind to build up too much hope in the people seeking healing? Does praying for them with no results make it harder for them to then accept their condition with dignity? Should we just accept death and disease as a part of the natural world we live in? [2]

The folks at Bethel have the reputation of navigating these difficult issues in an effective way. So a key goal I had in going there was to find out more about how this works for them in practice.


First Impressions of the Church Community

Here is the entrance to one of the buildings on the main campus. Note the usual California blue sky.

Bethel Church

Some churches are very much defined by the church building itself. That is not the case at Bethel. The main meeting room is plain but artistically attractive, with rows of chairs and a stage at the front. Because the attendance keeps growing, a satellite campus has been added, again with fairly plain rooms.

What struck me the most was the diversity and vitality of the people. I will describe some of the leadership below. However, the “culture” of the church has taken such hold in so many members that effective activity bubbles up everywhere with minimal formal day to day oversight. Although we attended dozens of formal larger meetings with speakers, we also made a point to meet as many individuals as we could, to check out how things really function at the grass roots level. We took people out to lunch and dinner to spend quality time in conversation. Again and again, we found people to be overflowing with kindness and wisdom and positivity.

There are all kinds of interest groups and focused ministries. There is a strong effort to help disadvantaged people in the city of Redding. There are support groups for budding artists and musicians and business entrepreneurs. There are places and times available for getting prayer for physical and emotional healing and for spiritual insight. Besides the usual weekly groups for teens and young adults, there was a “Diamond Fellowship” for 55+ folks, which we attended a couple of times. The “Firestarters” group encourages folks to encounter God experientially and to pray boldly. There was also a group for aspiring inventors. I went to that meeting, and tried to add to the discussion from my experience in inventing and patenting.

The church sponsors and hosts a “School of Supernatural Ministry”, where more than 2000 people are enrolled. These students are mainly in their early twenties, though there is a spectrum of people of all ages that attend. The students come from all over the nation and from all over the world. Most enroll for one or two years, with some staying into a third year. Most of them go back where they came from or fan out elsewhere to serve as they feel called. However, a number of them like Redding and the Bethel community so much that they end up staying here. These students and ex-students provide a lot of young but disciplined energy to make things happen around here. A summary of the school’s core values is here .

The leader of the ministry school gave a brief overview of his vision. He said the most important foundational thing is to help students develop an identity as sons and daughters of their heavenly Father. He told us that he says basically the same message to the first-year students over and over again, worded fifty different ways, during their first few months, until they start to feel in their gut that they are not cosmic orphans, but are loved by a good Father. Once that point of a secure identity is established, then they can move on to challenging things like praying boldly for others.

There are about 10,000 people who attend some service at Bethel on a regular basis. At the start of most services, the leaders invite people visiting for the first time to raise their hands. Typically about 20-50 people are visitors, and many of these have come from other countries. For a three-day conference we attended there, about a third of the 900 attendees came from other states and another third came from outside the U.S. That shows the level of outside interest generated by this church.

The global reach of the church is enhanced by its internet presence, and the high quality music composing and heartfelt worship by the resident musicians. Several services per week are broadcast on Bethel TV. For access to all the live events, a subscription is required, but many of these are available for free as podcasts, and on the Bethel TV YouTube channel.

Bethel TV YouTube

The Bethel TV YouTube channel has over 132,000 subscribers, and the BethelTV Facebook page has 342,000 followers. The Bethel Music YouTube channel, has over 1,300,000 subscribers. Those are some pretty big headcounts, which again demonstrate the wide attraction and influence of this church in a somewhat remote area of California.

The patriarch around here is Bill Johnson. Here he is in action at the end of one meeting. Hundreds of people lined up to come to the front of the room for prayer, and he greeted and blessed each one.

His vision has set the course of this whole ship. A core conviction of his is “God is good”. That seems like an innocuous saying, but Bill pushes it to some controversial limits. [3] It is common when a man or woman isn’t healed for someone to say, “Well, I guess it just was not God’s will for him or her to be healed.” Bill contends that it is always God’s will to heal. He points to the example of Jesus, who healed everyone who came to him. Jesus never turned any one away. Bill acknowledges that his experience does not yet match this ideal (i.e. not everyone that Bill prays for is healed) but he does not want to lower his theology to the level of his experience. Rather, he aims to do whatever he can to raise his experience to match his theology; Bill holds that Jesus is perfect theology.

Bethel emphasizes this line in the Lord’s Prayer: “May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This leads them to promote wholeness and integrity on all levels of life. Bill points out that there is no disease in heaven, so it cannot be God’s will for there to be disease on earth.

Bill’s convictions lead to high expectations for healing, which is evident in the Bethel community. This naturally leads to the question of “If it is always God’s will to heal, why is everyone not healed?” More on that later.

Bill is still on the senior leadership team, but things are now run by a wider set of men and women, many of whom he mentored. As just one example, here is Danny Silk, one of the speakers at the final conference we attended here. Thirty or so years ago, Danny was functionally illiterate, working as a butcher in a small town up in the mountains. Bill was the pastor of a small church there, and took Danny under his wing and counseled him personally, and encouraged him get an education. Danny has since developed teachings around promoting mutual honor in personal relationships and in the greater cultural conversation. He has published 4 books (Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Culture of Honor, etc.) and is in demand at major corporations to provide input on building a culture of mutual respect amid diversity.

Below is another photo I took while Danny was teaching, which shows more of the main meeting room.. One the far side of the stage can be seen two paintings on easels. Usually during the music time, while the band on the stage is playing and everyone is singing, a couple of artists from the congregation compose paintings on various themes as they feel moved, as an expression of worship.



Our Experiences Here

Too much happened in the past month to give a day-to-day summary of all the meetings we went to, all talks we heard, all the music we shared, and all the people we talked with. A number of people prayed with us and for us, and spoke encouraging words over us. We have pages and pages of notes. The bottom line is that we feel enormously enriched and blessed from our experience.

Most healthy churches attempt to offer correct doctrine (i.e. teaching from the Bible as they understand it, as opposed to just making stuff up that sounds good) and to promote personal integrity and love among their members and leaders. Bethel does all that, but consciously adds another, more experiential dimension to what they are trying to accomplish. They don’t want people to walk out of their services just saying, “That was a nice sermon and nice music.” They want people to sense they have had, at some level, a personal experience with the Lord. One of Bill Johnson’s mottos is “We owe people an encounter with God”.

Often, people sense divine presence when they are prayed for at Bethel. At the end of some of the services we attended, the leader asked any current or former ministry school students to form one or more lines across the front of the room. The rest of us were invited to file down the center aisle, and then walk past people praying for us. The folks praying would say a brief prayer or word of encouragement over each of us as we walked by, sometimes accompanied by a touch on the shoulder. I was not conscious of any particular sensation as I was walking through the prayer line, but as I walked away afterward, I was almost always conscious of feeling something unusual, almost like a pleasant buzz. On two of these occasions, this enduring sensation was so strong I felt I had to sit down for several minutes just to process it. For an analytical guy like me, it is odd to recall and to write about such a raw, undefinable experience. But that is what happened, however one chooses to interpret it.

On one of our last nights in Redding, Bill Johnson led the worship/teaching session. He invited anyone with a medical condition to stand, and prayed for their healing, and asked others in the room to also pray. His prayers were heartfelt, but there was no attempt to work up a lot of emotion in the crowd. Afterwards he asked anyone who was able to test whether they had been healed to do so. He asked those who could verify that they were at least 80% better to wave both hands above their heads so he could see them. (By “test” he meant whether pain you came in with had disappeared, or now you could move in a way you couldn’t before you had been prayed for, etc. Obviously, some other healings might have occurred which could only be verified in a doctor’s office).

I wasn’t tracking the results quantitatively, but I snapped a couple of photos (see below) at this point, so you can see a number of pairs of hands up. I have grayed out some faces for privacy. You have to squint to see the hands up at the far end of the room. I count about twelve people total holding up their hands in these two photos. I think there were around 30 people total in the room stating they had experienced healing.

A few of these people described on a microphone what happened. One man had suffered from dyslexia, such that it took him around an hour to read through half a page. After receiving prayer, his wife handed him a newspaper to test it out, and he was able to read straight through it.   A woman who had been in pain from sitting ever since she injured her hip in a car accident 24 years earlier was now able to sit comfortably. Another woman who had experienced chronic pain from a neck injury reported that the pain was now gone. We can of course sit around afterward and skeptically debate how severe their conditions really were, but it seemed clear these individuals experienced significant relief from longstanding problems. This sort of healing service is another aspect of how Bethel tries to make the personal experience of God to be accessible to members and visitors.


Expectations for Healing Prayer

Since I posed the questions above, I will try to bring closure here to my discussions with people on their philosophy of healing, even though that issue only took up a tiny fraction of our interactions at Bethel. The most enlightening discussions I had were with Chris Gore, who is on the church staff as the leader of their healing ministries.

Chris Gore, photo from Bethel web site https://www.bethel.com/ministries/healing-rooms/

Chris travels around the world, leading healing services where many people find relief. I bought two of his books, Walking in Supernatural Healing Power, which deals with healing in general, and his most recent book, The Perfect Gift: Seeing the Child, Not the Condition. That deals with loving and valuing special needs children as they are, even while praying for relief of their condition. Several parents share their stories of finding significant healing for their children with autism and similar conditions.

I put to him some of my questions about healing. He acknowledges that many people are not healed, and he feels the pain of that, but as a practical matter he finds it is just not helpful to speculate or dwell on that. We can focus on whatever we choose, positive or negative. Chris sees more fruit for himself and his teams when they focus on and celebrate whatever healings do occur, both under their ministry and in the wider church. That seems to build more faith and lead to more healings, in a sort of virtuous cycle. They stay optimistic with everyone they pray with, springing from their intense conviction of God’s astonishingly good character.

Chris teaches his healing teams to treat everyone with respect and sensitivity, regardless of their condition or outcomes. Whether or not they get healed, he wants everyone who is prayed for to come away feeling valued and loved.

When someone he prays for is not healed, he does not blame them (e.g. for harboring doubt or sin) or God. If anything, he takes responsibility on himself, reasoning that if he were more like Jesus, the person would have been healed. Yet he does not turn this into an exercise of introspection and self-condemnation. Rather, he resolves to press ever closer to God and become even more enamored with His goodness and majesty, so that the next time he ministers he will be more effective. He frames it this way: “If someone comes to me for healing and was not healed, then they encountered me, not Jesus.” [4]

Chris did not offer answers to the more theoretical questions, like why some people are healed and some are not. He puts that in the category of “mystery”. I should add that he lives this out in a searing personal way. One of his daughters, who is now in her early twenties, suffers from cerebral palsy, and has never been able to walk or talk, despite taking advantage of all that modern medicine has to offer. Some nights Chris and his wife have been up for hours as she is vomiting and screaming from seizures. Although he has seen thousands of people healed of many conditions, and over fifty healed of autism, his own child remains severely disabled. He was not looking for pity when he mentioned that to us, but he did cite it as an example of the choice we all face with issues in our lives: will we get offended at God if things don’t go the way we want, or will we trust in His character and ultimate plan?   Chris elaborates on this topic in the 20-55 minute section of this YouTube talk (audio only).

For Chris, pursuing healing is not a primary goal that he tries to “use” God to accomplish. Rather, loving God and being loved by God is fundamental, and healing then flows out of this relationship. The greatest expression of God’s love is that he entered our world in the form of Jesus, and experienced all the heartaches and suffering of humanity, and did whatever it took to restore relationship with us. Chris spoke of being full of Jesus, being lost in Jesus, being consumed with Jesus, and so on. Thus, if healing comes through Chris’s prayers, it is not really something Chris is doing, but rather Jesus working through Chris.

In Psalm 37 it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. An analogy may illustrate this point. Suppose I were engaged to a woman and walked into her apartment unexpectedly and overheard her telling her best friend on the phone, “I love Scott and he loves me. I don’t understand everything he does, but I trust his character and believe that he will take good care of me. It doesn’t matter what life throws at us, because we are going to be there for each other no matter what.” You can bet that hearing that would make me even more resolved to do everything I could for her. But suppose her conversation went like this: “Do I love Scott? Are you kidding me? I don’t even like him. In fact, I think he’s kind of a jerk. I just don’t get why he does a lot of things he does. I just pretend to love him because he has a good job and I expect him to provide for whatever I want. And if he doesn’t, I’ll divorce him and try my luck elsewhere.”   My observation over the years is that approaching God with this second attitude is not very fruitful.

In science it is common to have practical or experimental results for which a theoretical framework has not yet been found. For instance, mankind bred improved plants and animals for thousands of years before the DNA basis of genetics was discovered.   People found that eating limes would ward off scurvy, long before we understood the metabolism of vitamin C. The empirical observations gave sufficient practical guidelines to work with, even in the absence of an overarching theoretical explanation.

It was those sorts of practical guidelines about healing prayer that I took away from our visit to Bethel. Some tough intellectual questions remained unanswered, and perhaps they are simply unanswerable from our limited human perspective. But the folks at Bethel seem to have found attitudes and practices which make them effective in bringing healing to a wide range of people.



[1] Most of my articles on this blog deal with issues like evolution and the age of the earth. However, I have including a few posts that report on notable healings. For instance, here is my summary of an article in a medical journal of a study by a U.S. medical team in Mozambique reporting a number of people showing major improvements in hearing and vision, in response to prayer: Healing Miracles in Mozambique: Medical Journal

One of my daughters travelled to Mozambique a few years back, and told me that as far as she could tell, people really did get healed of deafness under this ministry. So this is not just some anecdote from deep in the jungle. The journal article notes that the prayer in this study was “personal proximate prayer”, which differs from distant prayer for a name on a list; the latter practice has been found in numerous double-blind academic studies to be ineffective.

Another article is: Healing of Nearly-Deaf Boy on YouTube . This links to a video which shows in real time a boy going from only 10-20% hearing to essentially full hearing ability. I can vouch for the integrity of the person praying here, Randy Clark. We spent two weeks with him on a trip to Germany, and he is sincere and good-willed.

[2] Everyone works from a set of unprovable assumptions in constructing their worldview. This letter was written within a framework which presupposes that there is a Creator who sometimes answers prayer in immediate and visible ways.

The question of why some people are not healed, or why is there disease in the first place, is a subset of the larger question of why is there evil and suffering if God is all-good and all-powerful. I do not address this general problem of evil here. I have offered some thoughts regarding that subject in A Survey of Biblical Natural Theology.


[3] Because Bill Johnson and other Bethel spokesmen at times make provocative statements without qualifying all the nuances, and they talk much more about some topics than others, some conservative Christian watchdogs denounce them as heretics. But anyone who reads the “What We Believe” statement all the way through would find that Bethel’s doctrine falls well within the evangelical mainstream.

Since the book is open in my hand, I will cite a paragraph from Chris Gore’s The Perfect Gift as a further example of how the Bethel approach to healing is linked to traditional biblical teachings:

There is no greater story to tell than the one that has been written by Jesus Christ. Before the very breath of God spoke light into existence, Jesus was there. His story began before the foundation of the world was created and it has never stopped. Over 2,000 years ago, the greatest gift we could ever be given came in the flesh in the form of Emmanuel – “God with us” and His name is Jesus. His greatest sacrifice was to give up His own life so that we could inherit life with Him. We are the joy set before Him. This book is about Jesus. Without Jesus, none of the stories you are about to read would have happened. He is our Healer and He is our Perfect Gift!

[4] Theologians have long recognized that “the will of God” can have various levels of meanings. Even human “will” can be complex and hard to define. Thus, to say “It is always God’s will to heal” doesn’t cover all the bases.

It is formally true that “Jesus healed everyone who came to him”, in the sense that he never told anyone who came to him humbly asking for help, “Sorry, I just don’t want to heal you.” But it is not the case that he immediately and automatically healed every sick or disabled person around. In a couple of cases (e.g. the man with a son subject to seizures, and the Syro-Phoenician woman with a troubled daughter) he did not heal a child before having some serious, probing dialog with the pleading parent. The implication in John 5 is that Jesus only selected and healed one man out of a whole crowd of disabled people at the Pool of Bethesda. Finally, in Mark 6, it seems that Jesus’ own healing ministry could be constrained by rampant unbelief. The people in Jesus’ home town were skeptical and offended at his messianic claims, and so “He could do no miracles there, but only laid his hands a few sick people and healed them. He was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6). He told a number of people whom he did heal that their own faith had played a key role (“Be it done according to your faith”, “Your faith has healed you”, etc.). The universality of healing in the rest of the New Testament, outside the Gospels, is similarly nuanced (e.g. I Cor 11:29-30; II Cor 12:8-9; I Tim 5:23; II Tim 4:20; James 5:16).

Other ministries and authors who endorse prayer for healing sometimes offer lists of biblical reasons why some people are not healed. See e.g. here and here .

John Arnott, who is associated with the Toronto outpouring of the 1990’s, ministers healing in a manner similar to the Bethel folks. However, he has repeatedly mentioned in his teachings that harboring unforgiveness can block a person from realizing their physical healing. This unforgiveness can be towards someone else who harmed the person, or it can be towards oneself, say if the person blames himself or herself for getting injured. He has frequently observed a physical healing to manifest after the unforgiveness has been identified and abandoned.

I don’t recall Bill Johnson ever describing any substantive reason for lack of healing, other than underdeveloped spirituality in the person praying. However, towards the end of Walking in Supernatural Healing Power, Chris Gore does acknowledge that unforgiveness and other roadblocks in a person can hinder healing. If he senses that unforgiveness is an issue, he will ask delicate, probing questions to try to expose the problem so it can be dealt with; he will avoid making the person feel accused or condemned. That said, Chris is reluctant to use these potential flaws in the other person to justify his own powerlessness. He would prefer instead to press in yet closer to God so that he could be a more effective minister of healing the next time: “I would rather go on my face before God and get a greater revelation of who He is in me and through me, and gain greater understanding of the revelation of His goodness and the power of His love.”

Posted in healing, Miracles, Suffering | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Some High Yielding Investments

Individuals choose to save money for a variety of future expenditures, such as purchase of a car or a house, college costs, or retirement. It makes sense to allocate these savings into assets which grow in value with time or which pay interest or dividends, which can be reinvested to grow the value of the savings account.

If the money is needed soon, within a year or two, it is typically advisable to hold the money in assets which are unlikely to drop in value, such as savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or money market funds. These assets have low risk, but they typically pay relatively low interest. These short-term interest rates have been almost zero in the U.S. for the past several years, although now the Federal Reserve Bank is increasing these short-term interest rates.

For longer investing time-frames, some fluctuation in values may be tolerated. Often the assets with higher volatility can give higher returns over the long haul. Two traditional longer-term investing vehicles are stocks and bonds.

Stocks represent an ownership stake in a profit-making enterprise. The value of a stock may fluctuate greatly, depending on the fortunes of the enterprise (typically quantified as earnings per share), and market sentiment. The stock in a particular company may fall from $40/share to $1/share, if business conditions radically change or some competitor takes over the market niche. Even if a company is doing well financially, its stock may drop dramatically due to general pessimism in the market. On the other hand, some stocks can double in a year. Investing in fund that holds many stocks can smooth out some of this drama, but even a broad index can drop significantly and take years to recover. However, over the long term (decades) the total return, including reinvested dividends, of the broad S&P 500 index of large U.S. stocks has been nearly 10%. Most of that return has depended on the price of the shares rising.

A bond represents a legal obligation for the issuing entity (e.g. a corporation or government) to pay a specified amount of interest plus return of principal by the time the bond matures. Unless the company or government goes bankrupt or otherwise defaults, you know exactly what the bond will pay you. “Risk-free” U.S. Treasury bonds are yielding 2.2-3.2%, depending on years to maturity. Typically longer-term bonds pay higher interest. High-quality, investment-grade bonds from stable corporations yield 2.5-4 %.  Non-investment grade (high-yield or “junk”) bonds pay 4.5-6%, depending on maturity and on how junky they are.

I wondered whether there are investing assets which, like bonds, pay regular cash returns and don’t depend on share prices rising, but which, like stocks, yield close to 10%. Looking into it, I found the answer is, “Yes, but”. Yes, there are funds available to the ordinary investor which regularly pay out 8-10% cash. These include business development companies, option-writing funds, mortgage REITs, and leveraged closed end funds holding preferred stocks and master limited partnerships. But the payouts are not as certain as with bonds, and the share prices can move around like stock prices. With these aspects understood, these funds may find a place in an individual investor’s portfolio for diversification. I have described these funds in a recent article here.

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Evolution Before Our Eyes: Complex Mutations in Microbes Giving New Functions


( 1 ) Barry Hall’s lac Bug

( 2 ) Lenski’s Long Term E. Coli Evolution Experiment

         Lenski’s E. coli Evolve Ability to Metabolize Citrate under Aerobic Conditions

( 3 ) Bacteriophage Lambda Evolves a New Protein Binding Site Using Four Mutations

( 4 ) The Significance of These Complex Mutations

         Plate Tectonics: An Example of Evidences

         Diverse Evidence for Evolution

( 5 ) The Core Issue in Rejecting Evolution

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

( 1 ) Barry Hall’s lac Bug

Lactose is a sugar that bacteria can use as a food. In order to do this, they first have to cut lactose in half, releasing two simple sugars (glucose and galactose) that the metabolism of the cell can use for energy. In E. coli, the ability to metabolize lactose depends on having (1) a gene that produces the protein (the enzyme beta-galactosidase) that cuts the lactose, (2) an appropriate regulatory region which turns on this gene when lactose is present but turns it off (to conserve metabolic energy) when lactose is absent, and (3) another protein, called a permease, which imports lactose through the otherwise-impermeable cell membrane. These three functions are normally co-located on a stretch of DNA called the lac operon.

Structure of lactose and the products of its cleavage. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac_operon

In 1982, Professor Barry Hall at the University of Rochester initiated a set of experiments using some E. coli in which he deleted the gene for the beta-galactosidase from this lac operon. The loss of this gene knocked out the operation of the three-part system, which made it impossible for the bacteria to metabolize the sugar lactose. He then let the bacteria reproduce in a nutrient mixture which contained galactose. The bacteria would only thrive if they managed to evolve a new metabolic pathway to digest galactose. The bacteria needed to evolve both (1) a gene which would produce the enzyme beta-galactosidase, and also (2) the appropriate controlling region of DNA. The growth medium contained the chemical IPTG, which promoted the cellular production of permease from the original lac genetic region, since that function had been disabled by Hall’s gene knock-out. Having the permease present in this way allowed the experimenters to detect any new mutants which had evolved the ability to cleave galactose.

As it happened, in the course of many generations, the bacterium did exactly that. Two mutations in a distant gene converted it into an effective gene for making beta-galactosidase enzyme, and further mutation in the DNA which controls the expression of this new gene gave it the needed galactose sensitivity. Neither part was greatly effective without the other. So, this is an example of a new multi-part genetic system, with a function which was new to this hacked bacterial strain, which was produced by mutation coupled with natural selection.

In further series of mutation and natural selection experiments, Hall found a new set of bacteria which had a new enzyme which was able to switch on the production of the lac permease, in addition to having the new regulated beta-galactosidase gene.

Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe has attempted to minimize the significance of these observations. His main objection seems to be that this evolution of a new function took place by various alterations to existing genetic material. But that is exactly how evolution normally proceeds! Evolutionary biologists do not claim that fully functional, whole new genes suddenly appear in the genome ex nihilo. That seems to be what Behe is demanding. Rather, evolution is typically a matter of step by step modifications in the DNA which is already there.

Ken Miller rebuts all of Behe’s objections, and concludes:

Does Barry Hall’s ebg system fit the definition of irreducible complexity? Absolutely. The three parts of the evolved system are:

(1) A lactose-sensitive ebg repressor protein that controls expression of the galactosidase enzyme
(2) The ebg galactosidase enzyme
(3) The enzyme reaction that induces the lac permease

Unless all three are in place, the system does not function, which is, of course, the key element of an irreducibly complex system.

( 2 ) Lenski’s Long Term E. Coli Evolution Experiment

Richard Lenski’s group at Michigan State University has been running a long-term evolution experiment on asexual E. coli bacteria since 1988. Six populations (Ara-1 through Ara-6) were started from a one strain, and six further populations (Ara+1 through Ara+6) from a nearly identical strain. Each population is kept in a flask at 37 C with 10 ml of a growth medium which contains only enough glucose to support about 5 x 10+8 cells per culture. Each day, 0.1 ml of the previous day’s culture is transferred into 9.9 ml of fresh growth medium, and the cells reproduce up to the limit of the nutrients. The result is about 6.64 generations per day, or 2400 generations per year. Samples of each population are cryo-preserved every 500 generations. These preserved cells can be revived and further studied as needed.  Fitness is periodically assayed by measuring growth rates versus an ancestral strain. A photo of the twelve population flasks is shown below.

Long Term Expt 12 Flasks

The 12 E. coli LTEE populations on June 25, 2008. Source: Wikipedia article “E. coli long-term evolution experiment”, originally from: Brian Baer and Neerja Hajela – http://myxo.css.msu.edu/ecoli/citrateflasksphotos.html

Over the first 10,000 generations, each of the twelve populations demonstrated significant increases in fitness.  The figure below shows the increases in average cell size as each population accumulates mutations to make them better adapted to their environment. Since then, fitness has continued to improve, but at ever-slower rates.

Growth in cell size of bacteria in the Lenski experiment over the first 10,000 generations of Lenski’s long-term evolution experiment. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment

Clearly, these bacteria are accumulating multiple, step-by-step beneficial mutations, which improve their fitness in their environment. This is evolution in action.

The plots below show the numbers of mutations retained in each population, through about 50,000 generations. Six of the populations have evolved hypermutator strains, where point mutations appear much faster than usual. These populations show in Plot (a) as having 800-2500 mutations after 50,000 generations. Plot (b) is rescaled to show more clearly the trajectories in the six non-hypermutable populations, which have accumulated 60-110 mutations apiece. Across all the cells and all generations in a given flask (population), over a billion mutations have occurred; it is likely that every possible point mutation in the bacterial genome has been sampled many times over. However, most of these mutations did not spread and become fixed in the population as a whole. See STAN3–From Micro-Evolution to Macro-Evolution: Beneficial Mutations, the Pace of Evolution, and Increasing Genome Complexity     for more details on numbers and patterns of the mutations in this experiment.

Numbers of accumulated mutations in the twelve populations of the long-term E. coli experiment. Source: Olivier Tenaillon, et al., Nature 536, 165–170 (2016)


It is worth noting that “beneficial” or “fitness” is always defined relative to a particular environment, typically the environment currently occupied by the organism. A strain of E. coli in “the wild” needs to cope with a variety of temperatures, acidities, availability of different nutrients, etc. A typical microbe therefore has versatile metabolic mechanisms to respond to variations in conditions. However, the bacteria in the Lenski experiment experience the same conditions, day after day, year after year, for thousands of generations. This particular environment is characterized by a limited amount of nutrient, primarily glucose. Thus, Lenski’s bugs have evolved to be greedy specialists in consuming glucose at a constant temperature of 37 C. To maintain other functions (e.g. the ability to metabolize the sugar ribose) in this situation is a waste of metabolic energy, and so it has been advantageous for these bacteria to accumulate mutations which disable some of these functions.

Lenski’s E. coli Evolve Ability to Metabolize Citrate under Aerobic Conditions

One of the most interesting features of this experiment is that after about 33,000 generations, one of the populations (“Ara-3”) evolved the ability to make use of the large amount of citrate which happened to be present in the growth medium. The photo below shows a close-up view of experiment flasks, where the middle (Ara-3) population is clearly more turbid (cloudy) than the others, due to the enormous bacterial cell mass in that flask.

The population designated Ara-3 (center) is more turbid because that population evolved to use the citrate present in the growth medium. Figure from Wikipedia article “E. coli long-term evolution experiment” ; original source: Brian Baer and Neerja Hajela – http://myxo.css.msu.edu/ecoli/citrateflasksphotos.html

Normally E. coli is unable to make use of citrate under the aerobic (presence of oxygen) conditions used in this experiment. The metabolic machinery for utilizing citrate exists in E. coli, and it can ferment citrate under anaerobic conditions in the presence of a reducing substrate, but it cannot transport citrate under oxic conditions.

In an effort to probe how this one population evolved this ability, the researchers resurrected (thawed) cells from previous generations in that population and let them evolve, to see whether these parallel lines would also develop the ability to metabolize citrate. A few of the lines restarted from generation 20,000 evolved the ability to utilize citrate, whereas none of the lines restarted from generation 15,000 could.

Apparently some key but essentially neutral mutation (which has not yet been identified) occurred between generation 15,000 and 20,000. This potentiating mutation (or complex of mutations) had no distinctive effect on citrate metabolizing, but under the conditions of this experiment it enabled some further mutation to produce a weakly effective Cit+ (citrate-metabolizing) variant by generation 31,500. This variant constituted about 0.5% of the cells in the population at generation 31,500, and rose to 15% and 19% at generations 32,000 and 32,500. At generation 33,000, the dominance of the Cit+ variant plummeted to 1.1%, presumably because the Cit- subpopulation produced a beneficial mutation which allowed it to out-compete the emerging Cit+ subpopulation. However, after a few hundred more generations the optical turbidity of the population took a step change to a higher level, indicating some further mutation at that point had increased the viability of the Cit+ subpopulation to a very high level. Thus, this set of mutations gave to the cells an important function (ability to digest citrate in the presence of air) which they did not have before. [1]

Young earth creationists and Intelligent Design proponents have tried to downplay the import of this evolutionary gain of function. Their usual rhetorical tactic is to characterize this as a minor tweak to the regulatory region of the existing citrate gene, as merely “turning on an existing switch in the genetic machinery” which did not involve evolution of any new information or added functionality. The graduate student chiefly responsible for this research, Zachary Blount, has stated that this description of the changes in the cells is simply “a lie”:

“….No, the ability to grow on citrate is not a matter of simply flipping a pre-existing regulatory switch.  Continuing the electrical metaphor, the evolved Cit+ function is instead about rewiring.  My dear little Cit+ cells gained their ability to partake of the previously forbidden citrate by a genetic duplication involving a gene, called citT, which encodes a transporter protein that is used during anaerobic growth on citrate.

“This duplication did something very special.  You see, one of the major aspects of gene regulation is that genes have associated regulatory DNA sequences, including what are called promoters that control when genes are expressed.  The citT gene is normally controlled by a promoter that tells the cell to turn it on only when there is no oxygen present.  As shown in the Figure below, the gene duplication put one copy of citT next to, and under the control of, a promoter that normally controls another gene called rnk.  The rnk gene is normally turned on when oxygen is present.  The new association between citT and the rnk promoter – what we call the rnk-citT regulatory module – turns citT on when oxygen is present, and allows Cit+ cells to use citrate under the conditions of the LTEE.  (To really feast on the citrate involved additional evolutionary changes, both before and after this rewiring, but I’ll leave that point aside for this post.)

“…True, the duplication responsible for Cit+ did rearrange components that were already there, but that rearrangement generated a new association between components that did not previously exist, and it produced a new function that also did not previously exist.  To argue that rearrangements cannot produce innovation is akin to arguing that a novelist has done nothing creative in writing her novels because she only used words that already existed.”  [emphasis in the original]

 Here is the figure to which Blount referred, showing schematically the tandem duplication in the population that evolved the new ability to grow on citrate. This duplication produced the new rnk-citT regulatory module by placing the second copy (“Tandem Copy 2”) of the citT gene adjacent to the rnk promoter region.

Tandem amplification in Cit+ genomes, showing altered spatial and regulatory relationships generated by the amplification. The figure comes from Blount, et al., Genomic analysis of a key innovation in an experimental Escherichia coli population, Nature 489, 513–518. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7417/full/nature11514.html?foxtrotcallback=true

This tandem duplication is the key mutation which enabled uptake of citrate, but by itself it only gave only weak performance. A further mutation just after generation 33,000 in a different spot in the bacteria’s genome greatly enhanced the cell’s growth in the presence of citrate. This second mutation involves the regulation of the dctA gene, enabling the reuptake of succinate or other C4-dicarboxylates that are exported in exchange for citrate import by the CitT system, thus completing a cycle that permits sustained citrate transport and utilization without an unbalanced loss of intracellular C4-dicarboxylate substrates. [2] It is the cells with this second mutation that grow so fast that they show high turbidity.

To summarize, at least three separate mutations were involved here: (1) a potentiating mutation(s) around generation 15,000-20,000 which of itself had no noticeable effect on citrate uptake; (2) a duplication of a stretch of DNA around generation 31,500, which created a new gene function by pairing a copy of the citrate uptake gene with a different promoter; and (3) another mutation around generation 33,000 which balanced out the cell’s C4-dicarboxylates in the presence of citrate uptake. This multistep, complex modification of the genome provided the cell with a new function (the ability to robustly take up citrate under aerobic conditions), with no loss in other functions. So again, this is clearly a “gain-of-function” set of mutations. Opponents of evolution try to downplay the significance of this complex mutational change, but the facts speak for themselves. [15]

( 3 ) Bacteriophage Lambda Evolves a New Protein Binding Site Using Four Mutations

A bacteriophage is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria cells. The Lenski lab published a study [3] in 2012 involving a bacteriophage (“ lambda phage”) which infects E. coli. More details on this experiment, and a specific rebuttal to ID claims, were recently given by Lenski [16].

The phage normally works by using its protein called “J” to bind to a protein on the surface of the E. coli called “LamB”. To test the ability of the phage to evolve the capability of binding to a different protein, the researchers cultured lambda phage with a population of E. coli which had mutated such that only a few of the bacteria had the LamB protein present. The phage population could subsist at a low level on this tiny minority of the bacteria, but would only thrive if they evolved the ability to infect the rest of the bacterial population which lacked the LamB protein on its surface.

In an initial experiment, such a phage was found to evolve in one out of six flasks. Analysis showed that the phage had developed the capability of binding to a different E. coli protein, OmpF, while retaining its original ability to bind to LamB. Despite the efforts of Intelligent Design advocates to spin it otherwise, this again is a “gain-of-function”, pure and simple.

Lenski’s team then repeated the experiment on a larger scale, using 96 more bacteria/phage communities. In 24 of these 96 communities, the phage developed the capability to thrive by binding to the OmpF protein. This protein has a similar 3-dimensional structure as the original LamB, but differs considerably in amino acid sequence.

The researchers did genome sequencing to identify the mutations responsible for the new function in the phage. Figure 3 of their paper illustrates their findings. A portion of that figure is reproduced below. The labels across the top denote the point mutations at specific nucleotide positions along the phage genome. The top 24 rows show some of mutations observed in the 24 phage strains whose expressed J protein was able to bind to the E. coli OmpF. For comparison, a few rows from the lower half of the figure are shown to illustrate the mutations at these genome positions for some of the phage populations which did not evolve that capability.

Taken from Figure 3 of Meyer, et al., Repeatability and Contingency in the Evolution of a Key Innovation in Phage Lambda. Science 27 Jan 2012: Vol. 335, Issue 6067, pp. 428-432.
Caption of original Figure: “Mutations affecting the J protein in phage isolates from 48 independent populations of the large-scale experiment. Isolates are shown in rows (with alternate labels offset for readability) and mutations in columns; gray fill indicates an isolate has the mutation. The top 24 rows show phage isolates that can target the new OmpF receptor; the bottom 24 rows show phage that remain dependent on LamB.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306806/

All of the top 24 rows (i.e. the strains able to bind to the different OmpF protein) shared four changes: at least one mutation between positions 2969 and 2999, mutations from A-to-G at nucleotide position 3034, from G-to-A at 3319, and a mutation at either position 3320 or 3321 (affecting the same codon as the mutation at 3319).  We have labeled these four changes “A” to “D” as they appear from left to right in the figure above.

It is likely that these four canonical mutations, alone or in various combinations, improve the binding to the original LamB protein target in the E. coli, and that this selectively drove their initial appearance in various strains of the phage. However, all four of these mutational changes together are needed in order for the phage to robustly bind to the different OmpF protein.

In The Edge of Evolution Michael Behe had claimed that the appearance of a new protein binding site which required more than two mutations was, for all practical purposes, impossible – – beyond the “edge of evolution”. As noted by Dennis Venema, the evolution of this new protein binding capability in Lenski’s phage, requiring four distinct mutations, accomplished what Behe said was impossible.

 The Significance of These Complex Mutations

Behe published a literature review in 2010 [4] which sought to minimize the significance of these sorts of experiments on bacteria and viruses in flasks. He states that in these experiments, what is observed is the “breaking and blunting” of genetic functionality, rather than an increase in functionality. In response, Paul Braterman [5] noted that Behe had to engage in numerous rhetorical contortions to press his case, and Jerry Coyne [6] pointed out that Behe had limited his review to situations which where are the least likely to yield new functional mutations. For instance, bacteria under normal circumstances can undergo substantial beneficial genetic changes by importing sizeable chunks of DNA from other microbes. However, in many of the laboratory experiments discussed by Behe, there was only one species of bacteria in the flask, so there was no possibility of such DNA exchange.

The reality is that in all three cases discussed above, a new (new to the starting organism) functionality arose via multiple mutations, which gave a significant improvement to fitness in the environment currently occupied by the organism. Moreover, in each of these cases the gain of the new function did not come about by “breaking or blunting” other important functions. This is indeed “evolution before our eyes.” [7]

That said, these changes fall far short of producing a new organelle or a whole new species. Is this all merely “micro-evolution”, with no relevance to the changes involved in, say, the divergence of modern humans from other primates?

Plate Tectonics: An Example of Evidences

An analogy may help in putting these mutation results in perspective. As Ron Miksha    pointed out in The Mountain Mystery , prior to the 1960’s geologists had no clear idea as to how most mountain ranges were formed. Today nearly everyone accepts the notion that giant crustal plates move around and crumple into mountain ranges in zones where these plates are forced together. But the notion of “continental drift” on such a gigantic scale seemed so bizarre when it was suggested by Alfred Wagener in 1912 that it was rejected by most scientists  : “Without detailed evidence and a force sufficient to drive the movement, the theory was not generally accepted: the Earth might have a solid crust and mantle and a liquid core, but there seemed to be no way that portions of the crust could move around”.

Nowadays we can use GPS measurements to directly measure the movements of the continents. For instance, we find that Africa is moving away from South America at a rate of about an inch (2.5 cm) per year. That is about as fast as your fingernails grow. If that were the only evidence we had of continental drift, perhaps severe skepticism would be warranted. In your entire lifetime, only about 7 feet (~2 meters) of relative motion will occur. Can this slow creeping really account for the tearing apart of whole continents, and the formation of a 3000 mile wide ocean?

Well, of course it can, if this process continues on and on, for many millions of years. However, if plate tectonics is real, there should be some other, corroborating evidence. And there is.  The coastlines (or more precisely, the continental shelves) of Africa and South America, and (less obviously) of North American and Europe can be fit together like puzzle pieces. Moreover, distinctive geological formations can be found in matching locations on the coasts on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Dramatic confirmation of the spreading of the seafloor came with measurements showing symmetric magnetic striping in the oceanic crust on either side of the mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is clearly explained by basalt magma welling up all along this ridge, taking on the prevailing direction of the earth’s magnetic field as it cools and hardens, and then moving away from the ridge in either direction. The earth’s magnetic field is known to reverse its orientation at irregular intervals during geologic history, typically several hundred thousand years apart. Other evidences supporting plate tectonics include the radioactive dates of the rocks of the seafloor, the geographical patterns of fossils of various ages, and the location of belts of volcanos and earthquakes at the edges of the crustal plates.

Seafloor magnetic reversals, giving rise to seafloor magnetic striping. Source: Wikipedia article “Vine–Matthews–Morley hypothesis” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vine%E2%80%93Matthews%E2%80%93Morley_hypothesis


Diverse Evidence for Evolution

With evolution, there is an analogous array of diverse evidence. If mutational changes have indeed been going on and on and on for billions of years, with accompanying evolution of today’s biota from much simpler ancestors, there should be some sort of progression visible in the fossil record, and there should be signs of common ancestry in today’s genomes.

If there has been no large-scale evolution, and thus modern plants and animals have always existed, we would expect to find modern plants and animals at all levels of the fossil record, possibly commingled with other, now-extinct creatures. But that is not what we find. What we actually find is a clear progression of initial appearances of various life-forms from the lowest (oldest) rock layers to the younger layers and on to the present, which cannot be explained away as the result of the hydraulics of Noah’s Flood [8].

In the lowest rock layers we find single-celled bacteria; after many hundreds of million years, simple multi-celled organisms like sponges and jellyfish appear. Millions of years later, in yet higher rock layers, we start to find fossils of soft-bodied animals known as Ediacaran fauna. Then in the rock layers from the Cambrian period (542 to 485 million years before the present), there is a rapid progression from mainly worms and slugs to an array of fauna which represent many of phyla which have persisted to the present [9].

The actual specimens within these phyla present in the Cambrian fossils, however, are typically quite unlike any modern species – – no modern fish or reptiles or mammals or flowering plants appear in the Cambrian. Trilobites (early arthropods which are distant cousins to today’s insects and crustaceans) always appear in sedimentary layers below any rocks containing dinosaurs, never above. Fossils of modern mammals are always found in layers above those of dinosaurs, never below. Moreover, fossils of modern marine animals like clams can be found in rock layers above fossils of large, active land animals like dinosaurs, so these sequences cannot be attributed to a world-wide Flood first burying marine creatures whilst land dwellers were climbing to higher ground.

In the vertebrate lineage, worm-like swimmers with a primitive notochord (no spine, no jaws yet) first appear in the Cambrian, followed in higher (younger) rock layers by jawed fish (fossils first seen 400-450 million years ago) , then tetrapod amphibians, then the first reptiles around 300 Mya, dinosaurs in yet higher rock layers, and finally modern mammals make their appearance. (The earlier types of animals often persist in the presence of the newer arrivals – – sponges, jellyfish, fish, amphibians, and reptiles persist in the fossil record and into the present, but the specific species of fossilized fish, amphibians and reptiles change over geological time.)

It is known that the fossil record is not complete, and the basic arithmetic of population genetics shows that transitional species will mainly occur in small, isolated populations which are unlikely to leave a fossil trace. Nevertheless, a steady stream of discoveries since Darwin’s time has filled in many of the major transitions in the animal family. For instance, a number of fossils with part fish/part amphibian characteristics, and with part reptile/part mammal characteristics, are found at about the times expected for these transitions. (See Realistic Expectations for Transitional Fossils ). Donald Prothero  states [10], “We now have abundant evidence for how all the major groups of animals are related, much of it in the form of excellent transitional fossils”, and he supplies examples which include dinosaurs and modern mammals.

With the sequencing of genomes in the past twenty years, a whole new realm of evidence supporting evolution has become available. For instance, the patterns of “endogenous retroviruses” (ERVs) in the human and chimpanzee genomes are clear evidence that humans and chimps descended from a common ancestor.   There are many other lines of genetic evidence for evolution, which are summarized by Douglas Theobald in “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution” .

The physical changes that appear from species to species to the next species in the fossil record are largely the result of ongoing mutational changes. Opponents of evolution claim that there is a some limit to mutational changes, that would prevent evolutionary changes going beyond some threshold (such as one “kind” developing into a different “kind”), but they have no actual evidence of such a limit [10]. Theobald explains:

If the general observation of geneticists was that of genomic stasis and recalcitrance to significant genetic change, it would be weighty evidence against the probability of macroevolution. For instance, it is possible that whenever we introduce mutations into an organism’s genome, the DNA could back-mutate to its former state. However, the opposite is the case—the genome is incredibly plastic, and genetic change is heritable and essentially irreversible…. Extremely extensive genetic change has been observed, both in the lab and in the wild. We have seen genomes irreversibly and heritably altered by numerous phenomena, including gene flow, random genetic drift, natural selection, and mutation. Observed mutations have occurred by mobile introns, gene duplications, recombination, transpositions, retroviral insertions (horizontal gene transfer), base substitutions, base deletions, base insertions, and chromosomal rearrangements. Chromosomal rearrangements include genome duplication (e.g. polyploidy), unequal crossing over, inversions, translocations, fissions, fusions, chromosome duplications and chromosome deletions.

It is thus reasonable to infer that the same sorts of mutations observable today have been going on and on and on for geological history, and that these accumulated rearrangements of DNA over millions and millions and millions of years have led to large changes in physical features, including new organs, etc. [12]  Indeed, the rates of genetic mutation and physical changes inferred from the fossil record match reasonably well with currently observed mutational rates and physical changes.

However, the evidence from the fossil record indicates that evolutionary changes typically proceed very, very slowly. For instance, it took something like 50 million years to evolve today’s large horses from different and much smaller ancestors. It is estimated that there are seven successive genera in the branchy lineage from Hyracotherium or Eohippus (size of a small fox, teeth for nibbling tips of branches, 3-4 toes per foot) to the present-day Equus horse (one toe per foot, large teeth for grinding up grass) [13]. This gives an average phyletic taxonomic rate of 0.13 genus per million years, or 7.5 million years per genus. Triassic and earlier ammonites evolved at a rate of 0.05 genus per million years. The last common ancestor of hominids and chimpanzees is considered to have lived around 6 million years ago. These transitions did not involve significant whole new organs, yet they still spread over millions of years.

The reptile to mammal transition was a more significant transition, including many changes to the jaws and the reproductive system and elsewhere, although these were both still tetrapods. In the fossil record, this transition is spread over some 100 million years. This all indicates that it is unrealistic for us to expect to see a major change in bodily function evolve in a hundred years or even a hundred thousand years.

We simply don’t have enough information to track each of the thousands of mutations that would be involved in the transformation of one species in the fossil record to another. We have many fossils of hard body parts, but have recovered little DNA from fossils older than a few million year. For instance, we have no clearly sequenceable DNA from any dinosaur fossils. We can tabulate all the differences between the human and the chimp genomes, but we don’t know the genome of our common ancestor some six million years back; and even if we did, it would not be possible to reconstruct the exact sequence of mutations that led from that common ancestor to the two current species.

There are some cases, however, where there is enough information to reconstruct the mutations to a particular gene which gave rise to some significant new function. Long et al. [14] describe the mechanisms of gene duplication and exon shuffling, and note 22 genes in various species whose history has been reconstructed in some level of detail, using mutational steps of the types which are routinely observed today. For instance, the Antarctic notothenoid fishes have an unusual “antifreeze” glycoprotein (AFGP) which inhibits the formation of ice crystals in their bodies in the sub-freezing (-1.9 C) Antarctic waters. The AFGP is a polymer of a Thr-Ala-Ala glycopeptide monomer. It appears that in an ancestral copy of a trypsinogen protease gene the Thr-Ala-Ala region was expanded through multiple internal duplications. The exons coding for the protease sequences were lost, to yield the present form of the AFGP gene. Thus, a gene with an entirely different function was evolved, by means of mutations which are observable today (duplications, deletions, etc.). See details here.

Young earth creationists commonly complain about what has not yet been discovered – – for instance, we don’t possess fossils of every transitional form, and we do not know all the step by step mutations that produced the genomes of today’s organisms. But if we look at the evidence that HAS been found, instead of complaining or speculating about what has not yet been found, that evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of common descent driven by evolution.

The slow accumulation of mutations and the modest production of new functions that are observable in controlled laboratory experiments over the course of a few years or a few decades is analogous to the slow creep of the continents. In both cases, slow processes operating over many millions of years can produce enormous changes.

For both plate tectonics and macroevolution, there is abundant circumstantial evidence to complement the modest changes that we are able to observe in our day. To dismiss the evidence for evolution because we cannot observe a whole new organ develop within the span of historical human observation is as senseless as rejecting plate tectonics because we cannot personally see a whole continent torn apart to form a new ocean before our eyes.

( 5 ) The Core Issue in Rejecting Evolution

Having spent this much time addressing the physical evidence, I’ll briefly mention a factor which is actually more important for many people. The folks (in North America, at least) who reject evolution come largely from a conservative religious background. They have been told that evolution contradicts the Bible, and that “Darwinism” leads to a debased view of humans. Thus, they are predisposed to believe the proponents of Intelligent Design and of young earth creationism who publish a steady stream of articles that allegedly disprove evolution. (See  A Creationist Speaker Comes to Town for my experience with a young earth creationist coming to give a workshop in my area ).

In order to become open to really hearing the evidence in favor of genuine science, these people need to realize that evolution is not a threat to their core values. The sneering and jeering of atheist biologists like Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and P.Z. Myers towards people of faith is counterproductive in this regard. Rather, it should be made known that many devout Christians, from Billy Graham to the Pope , find that “evolutionary creation” is fully compatible with their faith. Christian geneticist Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, former head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God, established the Biologos Foundation which works to share this message. This entails applying a non-literal interpretation to some creation passages in the Bible, just as the church eventually let go of a literal interpretation of the verses which speak of a stationary earth.

The core problem is that young earth creationists misrepresent what the Bible is really about. In II Timothy 3:15-17 Paul states the purpose and function of the Scriptures: they make us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”, and are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”, so that we are “equipped for every good work.” This is all theology and morals. There is nothing here about authoritatively teaching geology or biology.

Likewise, Jesus said that the function of the Old Testament was to testify about him and his saving work (John 5:40; Luke 24:44), and Peter (I Pet 1: 10-12) wrote that prophets spoke of the sufferings and glory of Christ. This is “special revelation” of divine purposes which could not be inferred from the “general revelation” of nature. This is a biblical view of the Bible’s intent, which differs from some evangelical statements about inerrancy which mistakenly over-extend the Bible’s sphere of authority into general science or history.

If there really were clear evidence (e.g. rock layers from a recent worldwide Flood) of miraculous intervention on a geologic scale, or clear evidence of the un-natural origin of the human species, that would constitute a widely-accessible supernatural “sign” for unbelievers. However, Jesus flatly declared that no such sign would be given. Young earth creationism is thus founded on premises which run counter to what Christ himself taught (see Jesus on Seeing God in Nature: No Signs, No Justice, No Fear ). For a more general treatment of Bible passages dealing with creation issues, see Evolution and Faith: My Story, Part 2.



[1] The story of this flask gets even more interesting after the evolution of the robust Cit+ strain. That strain mushroomed in numbers each generation as it fed on the abundant citrate in the growth medium. In the process of metabolizing the citrate, this strain released the dicarboxylic acids succinate, fumarate, and malate into the medium. A strain of Cit- cells then evolved to make use of those dicarboxylic acids produced by the Cit+ bacteria. These two strains co-existed in the overall flask population. “Thus, the evolution of citrate consumption led to a flask-based ecosystem that went from a single limiting resource, glucose, to one with five resources either shared or partitioned between two coexisting clades.” – – from “Evolution and coexistence in response to a key innovation in a long-term evolution experiment with Escherichia coli”, by Caroline B. Turner, Zachary D. Blount, Daniel H. Mitchell, Richard E. Lenski , http://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2015/06/17/020958 .   (The timeline in the Wikipedia article indicates that this Cit- strain later disappeared from this Ara-3 population).

[2] For details on this second mutation see:    Quandt, et al, Recursive genomewide recombination and sequencing reveals a key refinement step in the evolution of a metabolic innovation in Escherichia coli, PNAS February 11, 2014, vol. 111 no. 6, 2217-2222     http://www.pnas.org/content/111/6/2217.abstract

[3] Justin R. Meyer, Devin T. Dobias, Joshua S. Weitz, Jeffrey E. Barrick, Ryan T. Quick, Richard E. Lenski, Repeatability and Contingency in the Evolution of a Key Innovation in Phage Lambda. Science 27 Jan 2012: Vol. 335, Issue 6067, pp. 428-432. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306806/

[4] Behe M.J., Quarterly Review of Biology 85(4), 2010, 419-415.

[5] Paul Braterman https://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/12/behes-review-in.html pointed out the rhetorical maneuvers employed by Behe in his 2010 review:

Behe constructs an elaborate apparatus for classifying mutations as “gain”, “modification”, or “loss” of what he calls a Functional Coded Element (FCT). The definition is skewed to make “gain” as difficult to prove as possible. The process needs to be understood at the molecular level, rather than simply in terms of phenotype expression. This enables him to dismiss as of unproven relevance the Lenski group’s famous demonstration of E.Coli acquiring the ability to metabolise citrate under anaerobic conditions. Moreover, advantageous removal of inhibition is treated as “loss”, but advantageous disruption of a function by IS duplication and insertion is classified as “modification”, rather than “gain”. Using these restrictive and asymmetric criteria, Behe classifies most sufficiently well-understood mutations in laboratory-bred bacteria as loss or modification, although he does recognise a few gains…..

But there are numerous well-known counterexamples, many of them discussed in this review.

The next stage is rhetorical dismissal of such counterexamples. Here the strategies include limiting the search (ignoring the massive creative role of gene duplication and polyploidy in eukaryotes, and of horizontal transfer followed by selection in bacteria themselves), narrowing the criteria (new functions don’t count unless they can be demonstrated to arise from additions, rather than any other kinds of alterations, to the molecular machinery), and inventing additional constraints (creation of a new category, the FCT, classifying the process as a loss if either material or function is lost at any stage in the change being discussed, dismissing changes in function as mere transformations, rather than novelties). This stage switches the emphasis from what is possible in principle, to the demand that each case be demonstrated in practice, and fully analysed in detail, at the molecular level.

Finally, any counterexamples still surviving this moving of the goalposts and restricting and tilting of the playing field are dismissed as untypical, and therefore unimportant.

[6]   Jerry Coyne [ https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/behes-new-paper/ ] noted that Behe limited his survey to precisely the sorts of experiments which are heavily biased towards NOT observing a dramatic increase in functional complexity:

Behe has provided a useful survey of mutations that cause adaptation in short-term lab experiments on microbes (note that at least one of these—Rich Lenski’s study— extends over several decades). But his conclusions may be misleading when you extend them to bacterial or viral evolution in nature, and are certainly misleading if you extend them to eukaryotes (organisms with complex cells), for several reasons:

  1. In virtually none of the experiments summarized by Behe was there the possibility of adapting the way that many bacteria and viruses actually adapt in nature: by the uptake of DNA from other microbes. Lenski’s studies of E. coli, for instance, and Bull’s work on phage evolution, deliberately preclude the presence of other species that could serve as vectors of DNA, and thus of new FCTs (Functional Coded elemenTs).   This is not an idle objection, since we know that adaptation in natural populations of microbes often arises by incorporating new FCTs from other species. Pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance in bacteria, for example, arise in this way…
  2. In relatively short-term lab experiments there has simply not been enough time to observe the accumulation of complex FCTs, which take time to build or acquire from a rare horizontal transmission event. Finding adaptation via point mutations or loss of function is much more likely…
  3. Finally, Behe does not mention—and I think he should have—the extensive and very strong evidence for adaptation via gain-of-FCT mutations in eukaryotes. While that group may occasionally acquire genes or genetic elements by horizontal transfer, we know that they acquire new genes by the mechanism of gene duplication and divergence: new genes arise by duplication of old ones, and then the functions of these once-identical genes diverge as they acquire new mutations.   Or, new genes can arise by unequal crossing-over between different genes, so that new genes arise by mixing bits of old ones.

[Emphases added]

[7] Some readers may wonder why the “nylon-eating bacteria” was not included in these list of complex mutations which give rise to new functions. It was found in 1975 that this bacterium in a pond in Japan had developed the novel ability to digest the waste products from nylon manufacture. In 1984 Susumu Ohno proposed that a key gene for this ability had arisen as a result of a “frameshift” mutation. Most types of mutations keep most of the protein products of a gene intact, while making a change in some portion of it. Thus, the expressed protein after the mutation is largely similar to the protein before the mutation. A frameshift mutation, on the other hand, can alter a gene such that an entirely new sequence of amino acids is produced, with little similarity to the original protein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frameshift_mutation

For some years, this “nylon bug” was cited as an example of how a more or less random recoding of an entire gene product could produce a completely new and beneficial enzyme. However, papers published by Seiji Negoro since 2006 indicate that in fact no frameshift mutation was involved in the evolution of the 6-aminohexanoic acid hydrolase. Rather, it seems that the new enzyme came about by changes to two amino acids from a pre-existing gene. This is still a nice example of a new function arising from multiple mutations, but it is not as dramatic as a total remake stemming from a frameshift. See   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylon-eating_bacteria  .

[8] Some direct rebuttals of the notion that the order of fossils in the rocks can be explained by a global Flood are given here:  https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Fossil_sorting_by_the_global_flood

and here:  http://debunkingcreationism.blogspot.com/2012/11/real-geology-vs-flood-geology-via.html

Index fossils provide further evidence that life-forms have evolved over millions of years. Fossils which have a wide (sometimes global) geographic distribution but a relatively short time of appearance in the rocks are called “index fossils”, since they are useful in determining the relative ages of the rocks in which they occur:

These index fossils were all sea creatures, so it is not that the Pecten gibbus scallops all got buried in higher rock layers because they ran faster to higher ground as the Flood-waters rose whilst all the sluggish Paradoxides trilobites were left behind. At all levels there are fossils of animals that are big and small, skinny and fat, so this sequence is not a result of hydrodynamic sorting during one big Flood. Rather, the order of their world-wide appearance in the rock layers reflects their temporal appearance, then disappearance, across the times of deposition in the sedimentary rocks in which they are found.  There are sound reasons to believe that that these deposition times extended over millions of years.   The reality of this world-wide “faunal succession” in the sedimentary rock layers was recognized by geologists well before Darwin proposed a mechanism for how new species could arise.

[9] Contrary to the claims of anti-evolutionists, this “Cambrian explosion” of new life-forms is readily explicable within conventional evolutionary science. See Cambrian Contention: Disputing “Darwin’s Doubt”

[10]  Donald Prothero, What Missing Link? NewScientist, 1 March 2008, 35-41 http://www.donaldprothero.com/files/92313517.pdf

[11] Michael Behe argued for such a limit to evolution in The Edge of Evolution, but his arguments fail, as shown by the examples here. This is further discussed in STAN 4: Assessing Limits to Evolution and to Natural Selection:   Reviews of Michael Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” and John Sanford’s “Genetic Entropy”

[12] Michael Behe claimed that some biological systems are “irreducibly complex”, such that all the parts must be in place for the system to work – and hence these systems cannot be built up from step by step mutations. However, some of the examples described here directly disprove this thesis, and it has been addressed multiple times by the scientific community. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreducible_complexity

[13] Motoo Kimura, The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution, (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1983 Press) p. 63. Equus itself is excluded from the count of genera because its span is incomplete.

[14] Manyuan Long, Esther Betrán, Kevin Thornton & Wen Wang, “The origin of new genes: glimpses from the young and old,” Nature Reviews Genetics 4, 865-875 (November 2003)  http://faculty.washington.edu/wjs18/Newgenes.pdf


[15] R. E. Lenski, “Is the LTEE breaking bad?”, Feb 2019.    https://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/is-the-ltee-breaking-bad

The LTEE was designed (intelligently, in my opinion!) to be extremely simple in order to address some basic questions about the dynamics and repeatability of evolution, while minimizing complications. It was not intended to mimic the complexities of nature, nor was it meant to be a test-bed for the evolution of new functions. The environment in which the bacteria grow is extremely simple. …Indeed, the LTEE environment is so extremely simple that one might reasonably expect the bacteria would evolve by breaking many existing functions. That is because the cells could, without consequence, lose their abilities to exploit resources not present in the flasks, lose their defenses against absent predators and competitors, and lose their capacities to withstand no-longer-relevant extreme temperatures, bile salts, antibiotics, and more. The bacteria might even gain some advantage by losing these functions, if doing so saved time, energy, or materials that the cells could better use to exploit the limited glucose supply…… if one assumes the ancestral state of a gene is perfect, then there’s no room for improvement in its function, and the only possible functional changes are degradative. In my post on the polar bear case, I explained why the assumption that a gene is perfect (or nearly so) makes sense in certain situations. However, that assumption breaks down when an organism encounters a new environment, where the optimal state of a protein might differ from what it was before. …”

“…To his credit, Behe does write about the lineage that evolved the ability to consume the citrate. However, he dismisses it as a “sideshow” (p. 365), because he refuses to call this new capability a gain of function. Instead, Behe writes (p. 362) that under his self-fulfilling scheme “the mutation would be counted as modification-of-function—because no new functional coded element was gained or lost, just copied.” In other words, Behe won’t count any newly evolved function as a gain of function unless some entirely new gene or control region “poofs” into existence.

But that’s not how evolution works—unless you believe, as Behe apparently does, that God or some other “intelligent agent” intervened to insert new genetic information into various lineages during the course of history. (Suffice it to say that I don’t regard this as a scientifically useful hypothesis, because I don’t think it can be tested.) Evolutionary biology doesn’t require that new genes poof into existence. Instead, old genes and their products are coopted, modified, and used in new ways—a process called exaptation. For example, crystallin proteins in the lenses of our eyes derive from proteins that performed other functions. At a larger physical scale, the wings of birds and bats derive from the forelimbs of their four-legged ancestors, which in turn derive from fins of fishes….”

[Emphases in the original]

[16]   R. E. Lenski,  “Evolution goes viral! (And how real science works) ” , March 6, 2019.  https://telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/evolution-goes-viral-and-how-real-science-works/




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Historicity of Jesus: Class Notes

Some time ago I was asked to teach a short, informal class on “The Historicity of Jesus”. Was Jesus a real person who did and taught the things we read about in the New Testament, or did wishful believers just make all that stuff up many years after the deaths of the people who actually knew him?

I made up a handout to serve as notes for that class.  Four classes of documents are examined: Paul’s letters, the Gospels, the writings of other early Christians, and the works of non-Christian historians. I have edited that handout, and added some lengthy footnotes (endnotes) and an Appendix to deal with ancillary topics. It ended up being too long to work well as a regular blog post, so I posted it along with longer essays up at the top of this blog page. It is visible there, or you can just click to it from here: ” Historicity of Jesus

The contents are:

( 1 ) The World of Jesus and His Followers

( 2 ) Authenticity of the New Testament Text

( 2.1 ) Many ancient physical copies of New Testament have been found

(2.2) Quotes from New Testament books appear in other early Christian writings

( 3 ) Paul’s Writings: The Earliest Documents About Jesus

( 3.1) Galatians 1-2 : Paul visits other apostles just a few years after the Resurrection

( 3.2) I Corinthians 15 : Paul receives teaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection from other apostles

(3.3) Paul’s Portrait of Jesus

(3.4) The Significance of Paul’s testimony

( 4 ) The Testimony of the Gospels

( 5 ) Luke the Meticulous Historian

( 6 ) John the Accurate Geographer  

( 7 ) Differences Among the Gospels

( 8 ) Significance of Textual Variants

( 9 ) Settling of the New Testament Canon

( 10 ) Mention of Jesus Christ in Extrabiblical Literature

Josephus, Pliny, and Tacitus


APPENDIX: Historical Accuracy in the Gospel of Luke



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