Saturday, September 21, 2013

Caught in the Act: Priest Abusing 15-Year-Old Boy

Priest caught abusing 15-year-old boy
His Bishop: “Gee, I don’t know what the four medical leaves of absence were for in his career as a priest”.

A Catholic priest in Pennsylvania has been charged with molesting a teenage boy after police said he was found in a car on a college campus with a 15-year-old who was wearing no pants, according to a police criminal complaint filed Friday in Lackawanna County.

The Rev. W. Jeffrey Paulish was charged with one felony count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and one felony count of unlawful contact with a minor after Dunmore police say they found him and the boy on Thursday in a car on the Worthington Scranton campus of Penn State University, according to the complaint.

According to the CNN report, “the teen seemed emotionally distressed”. When Pope Francis was alerted to the incident, he shrugged and said, “who am I to judge?”

Of course, I made up that last Pope Francis quote, but one can just hear him saying that. On a more serious note, the Rev. Joseph Bambera, the Bishop of Scranton said in an official statement:

"I wish to acknowledge how unsettling this is to me personally and to countless others, that yet again a priest has been involved in such inappropriate, immoral and illegal behavior," the Bishop of Scranton, the Rev. Joseph Bambera, said in the statement.

However, according to, Paulish has been on four medical leaves of absence since being ordained in 1988. I’m wondering what “Bishop Bambera” knew about those four medical leaves of absence.

On Mark Shea’s blog, there is indignance, as Shea reported “Oh yeah, well, it’s not so bad because some school teacher somewhere is probably abusing another 15-year-old boy, and the Holy Church is still Holy because this does not affect any doctrine.” 

P-branes dropping apples from the shoulders of giants

Who said what? Each of the following quotations is from a different renowned scientist. Answers below.

  1. Science is powerless to answer questions such as "Why did the universe come into being?" "What is the meaning of human existence?" "What happens after we die?"

  2. I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today, and even professional scientists, seem to me like someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is, in my opinion, the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.

  3. Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind, what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? . . . To such questions no answers can be found in the laboratory.

  4. There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare – particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for – that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or "pseudo-questions" that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer. . . . The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things – questions such as: "How did everything begin?" "What are we all here for?" "What is the point of living?"

  5. Science puts everything in a consistent order but is ghastly silent about everything that really matters to us: beauty, color, taste, pain or delight, origins, God and eternity.

  6. How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a Creator? . . . Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Jim Crow Arminianism

Former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace vowed "segregation forever" and blocked the door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, in Tuscaloosa, Ala, while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. (File/USN&WR)

Roger Olson is to Arminianism what George Wallace was to segregation. And Roger has many white-hooded friends in the combox:


I thought I might say a word or two about mutations since neo-Darwinists often cite natural selection acting on "beneficial" mutations that occurred by random chance to bring about macroevolutionary changes:

Science: the religion that must not be questioned

Jewish faith & criticism

I defend the historicity of Scripture all the time. The value of this article lies in given us a window into the state of modern Judaism–for better or worse:

Creation Days - Real or Analogy?

Williamson's article is weakly argued. Byl also plugs an article by Sarfati (in response to Craig), which–not surprisingly–is more adeptly argued (although it's not above criticism).

Of greater interest, however, is Byl drawing attention to an ostensible self-contradiction in the position of Poythress:

The principle of prokaryotic plenitude

From Edgar Andrews (Who Made God?):

Numerically speaking, the vast majority of living things on planet earth are simple organisms like bacteria. These creatures are so well adapted to a huge variety of environments that they exhibit neither the need nor the tendency to evolve into earthworms or earwigs - nor yet to vanish into evolutionary obscurity as they are superseded by later models. If, as is alleged, evolution is driven solely by reproductive efficiency and optimized survival, then by rights all life forms should be striving to become bacteria, which perform superbly by these criteria. Yet in spite of having near perfect adaptation as a class of living creatures, evolutionary theory insists that bacteria (or something very like them) did evolve - otherwise you and I would not be here. Laboriously, they hoisted themselves up the evolutionary tree, becoming all the while decidedly more complex and environmentally 'picky'. That is, they evolved into vulnerable creatures that, according to the fossil record, regularly got themselves snuffed out by extinction. Why, I wonder, would they do that, seeing that their un-evolved bacterial cousins lived on in happy adaptation to every conceivable environment, sublimely unaware of the hazards of climbing trees?

The Flintstones

Are dinosaurs a problem for Bible-believing Christians?

i) There are many examples of now-extinct animals which were contemporaneous with man in the past. Several Ice Age animals are familiar examples, viz. wooly mammoth, mastodon, saber-tooth tiger, cave bear, Irish elk, dire wolf. 

There are various conjectures on why they went extinct, viz., climate change, overhunting by humans. 

One might ask how humans could drive T-Rex into extinction. Well, I can't say for a fact. But certain scenarios come to mind. They could kill it by setting a wildfire: it burns to death. Or by using torches to scare it off a cliff. Or by setting an underground animal trap, where whatever falls in will be impaled on sharp wooden stakes.

Human hunters can be very ingenuous. In brain v. brawn, brainpower usually wins–if given enough lead-time to make necessary preparations. 

But there's also the climate change explanation. 

ii) Apropos (i), on a YEC chronology, dinosaurs were contemporaneous with man. However, if man originated in Mesopotamia, the fact that men and dinosaurs occupied the same period doesn't mean they occupied the same place. If man stayed in the Mideast before the flood, he might have had little or no occasion to encounter a dinosaur. Depends on their respective ranges.

I'm not making a claim one way or the other. I'm not qualified to say. Rather, I'm saying we often come to the issue with unexamined assumptions. So biogeography is one of the questions we need to take into account. Assuming YEC is true, did men and dinosaurs have overlapping ranges? 

Assuming a global flood, all would have perished in the flood except for juvenile pairs taken aboard the ark. But they were unable to survive in the postdiluvial world.

iii) On an OEC chronology, God introduced dinosaurs by fiat creation into the world long before he made man, and they went extinct long before man. So that's not a problem for OEC, both because OEC espouses a local flood, and in any case the survival of dinosaurs would be moot since, on OEC chronology, they were already extinct long before the flood. 

Monkey's uncle

i) One of the prima facie challenges for Bible-believing Christians is how, if at all, we are related to extinct "hominids." I'm going to use "hominid" for convenience. By conventional definition, that term implies a relationship. My use of the term doesn't prejudge our relationship, if any. I use it for ease of reference.

I'm no expert, but since Christians are expected to take a position on this issue, I'll give my 2¢, 

ii) In terms of fossil evidence, from what I've read this usually consists of skeletal fragments, sometimes collected from different sites. So our understanding (if you can call it that) of extinct hominids usually consists of composite reconstructions, in which paleoanthropologists rearrange fragments into an assumed pattern, resorting many interpolations and extrapolations to fill in the trace evidence.

More recently, this has been supplemented by comparative genomics. 

Our popular impression of extinct hominids is based on highly imaginative artistic representations. The raw evidence in situ is far more ambiguous. Or so I've read, from multiple sources.

iii) Both Darwinians and creationists often make very self-confident statements regarding the human or inhuman status of fossil hominid evidence. From what I can tell, their confidence is often overrated. Due to the shifting sands of paleoanthropology, remains are frequently reclassified. 

iv) On YEC chronology, extinct hominid remains are postdiluvial. On OEC chronology, extinct hominid remains could be prediluvial to varying degrees. 

v) One putative evidence for human evolution is encephalization. Bigger brains indicate a later stage in human development–or so goes the argument. But that's subject to significant qualifications:

a) To some extent, brain size is correlated to body size. How much did a given hominid weigh? A smaller brain of a smaller hominid might be proportional to a human brain. So we must make allowance for the brain to body mass ratio.

b) The relationship between brainpower and intelligence is mysterious. Social insects famously exhibit intelligent behavior. Even the lowly amoeba exhibits intelligent behavior. That's not attributable to brainpower. How to interpret intelligent behavior in "brainless" organisms poses an interesting question. At the very least, they mimic intelligence. And that's something to take into account when we try to gauge the intelligence of extinct hominids from trace evidence of intelligent behavior. That can be deeply misleading. We are tacitly using ourselves as the frame of reference, because we understand what that would mean if we were doing it. Yet we discount that facile inference in the case of "brainless" organisms.

vi) The definition of "species" in modern biology is unsettled There are competing concepts. Wider and narrower definitions. 

vii) Did some hominids actually become extinct? Or were some of them absorbed into "modern man" through interbreeding? 

viii) Consider all the different dog breeds. If all dogs became extinct, and all we had to go by were skeletal fragments, imagine a Darwinian arranging the fossil evidence into an evolutionary sequence of different species. Proto-dogs. Imagine how Darwinians would fight over the right classification for this or that canine fossil. 

ix) To some extent, human eidonomy is adaptive to climatic conditions. If all paleoanthropologists had to go by were skeletal remains of Eskimos, Maasai, and Watutsi, would they classify these as members of the same species or different species? Would they arrange them in an evolutionary sequence?

x) Suppose the great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) were extinct. Would paleoanthropologists classify them as hominids? 

xi) Apropos (x), compare the great apes to Australopithecus or Homo erectus. Because chimps, gorillas, and orangutans are our contemporaries, because we can study them, both in the wild and in the laboratory, we have a fairly good understanding of how they are both like and unlike us. As one wag put it:

The idea that human beings have been endowed with powers and properties not found elsewhere in the animal kingdom–or the universe, so far as we can tell–arises from a simple imperative: Just look around. It is an imperative that survives the invitation fraternally to consider the great apes. The apes are, after all, behind the bars of their cages and we are not. Eager for the experiments to begin, they are impatient for their food to be served. They seem impatient for little else. After years of punishing trials, a few of them have been taught the rudiments of various primitive symbol systems. Having been given the gift of language, they have nothing to say. When two simian prodigies meet, they fling their signs at one another. More is expected, but more is rarely forthcoming. Experiments conducted by Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth–and they are exquisite–indicate that like other mammals, baboons have a rich inner world, something that only the intellectual shambles of behavioral psychology could ever have placed in doubt. Simian social structures are often intricate. Chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas reason; they form plans; they have preferences; they are cunning; they have passions and desires; and they suffer. The same is true of cats, I might add. In much of this, we see ourselves. But beyond what we have in common with the apes, we have nothing in common, and while the similarities are interesting, the differences are profound. D. Berlinski, The Devil's Delusion (Crown Forum 2008), 155-56. 

Keep that in mind when paleoanthropologists draw confident inferences about the humanity of extinct hominids. Appearances are often deceptive. If the great apes were extinct, imagine how paleoanthropologists might readily overinterpret the signs of their incipient humanity. But because they happen to be our contemporaries, we have a direct basis of comparison. By contrast, that's conspicuously lacking in the case of extinct hominids. 

In the case of "cave men" who left paintings and petroglyphs, we can see human intelligence staring back at us. But that's exceptional evidence. 


An Open Letter to Bishop Bergoglio: “Repent …”

John Bugay, "first holy communion"
Your correspondent, age 7
Dear Bishop of Rome Bergoglio:

Your most recent interview is getting a lot of press. But if your intentions are truly as honorable as you say they are, there is only one thing that is required.

The time is long past for some pope (you or any other pope) to stop saying “the [Roman Catholic] Church should not be…” You need to say what it is and what it has been.

It is true, that would contradict official Roman Catholic doctrine about “the Church”. But that is the thing that is needed. Stop trying to “reconcile” Vatican I and Vatican II, for example, stop wasting the lives and the talents of the theologians who are engaged in such self-serving exercises, and simply admit that “the official Church – the papacy – has erred in its hubris, in its self-confident (and bombastic) proclamations of its own power and glory.”

You need to say "It has erred in its very definitions of doctrines surrounding the papacy and Mary and the Lord’s Supper. In its historical treatment of the Jews. In that it has fomented wars, that it has persecuted honest Christians, that it has rewarded deceit in many forms, that it has, in fact, been, on a historical scale (aside from or in addition to the things that good Catholics have done) one of the more pernicious and malevolent forces in history.”

The time is long, long past for some pope to stop saying “I [personally] am a sinner…” (as you had done at the beginning of the interview), to stop shifting the blame to “the sins of the children of the Church”.

If your intentions truly are what you say they are, you need to start saying, and quickly, “The Roman Catholic Church has sinned against Christ and his church and humanity” — and then, as is required by your own doctrine of confession, you need to articulate these sins clearly and in fact numerically.

It takes no imagination whatsoever to understand what these sins are.

That alone will be a show of good faith. All the rest of your happy-hopeful statements are mere window dressing and evasion and dissembling.


Someone who was once “a good Catholic”
and who rejects what the Roman Catholic Church really is.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Naturalistic evolutionists often ask, what is the origin of life on Earth?

One theory is panspermia. This is the idea that life on Earth may have originated off-planet, and found a way to Earth. Perhaps "life" (e.g. microorganisms, molecules) hitched a ride from an asteroid that crash landed on Earth, where it found an environment in which it could replicate.

But how likely are microorganisms or molecules to survive a ride in space on an asteroid or the like all the way to Earth? Seems mighty unlikely to me. Isn't there still significant controversy over whether the meteorite dubbed "ALH 84001" may have contained "extraterrestrial life" (in the form of fossilized bacteria)?

However, even if life on Earth originated from a Martian meteorite, which originated from Mars, this only pushes the question back a step. Where did life on Mars originate?

Is the naturalistic evolutionist going to say another planet or moon or other celestial object? In our solar system? Outside our solar system?

If so, then this too pushes the question back a step. And the further steps we have to go back, the worse the probabilities would seem to become, no?

Particularly if all these steps are like ALH 84001 - a random happenstance. What are the chances that a Martian meteorite carrying life would land on Earth to produce life? If the bacteria from Mars originated on a different planet, then what are the chances it would have crashed on Mars? And so on and so forth until the odds would seem to be ridiculously absurd.

Perhaps one way the naturalistic evolutionist could improve the odds is by postulating directed panspermia. That is, intelligent aliens with the capacity for interstellar travel intentionally seeded various solar systems or planets with life. This is a staple of scifi films and literature. Take the most recent Aliens flick, Prometheus, for example.

However, I'm not sure how this improves probabilities either, for then we could likewise ask, from whence did these intelligent aliens with the ability to seed our planet with life come?

Another option is something like self-replicating molecules. If so, how is this essentially different to spontaneous generation, like flies emerging from spoiled foods?

Is it different because these molecules can "self-organize"? In that case, at a minimum, the right conditions for life to self-organize need to be met. This includes not only environmental conditions, but also the operation of specific physical, biochemical, and other forces. Moreover, what keeps "life" self-organized? Are we slipping into some variant of vitalism? And, again, probabilities?

Not sure there's a whole lot left to explain the origin of life on Earth. Certainly not "Godditit"!

Guilty white liberal condescension

There is grandeur in this view of life

"Darwinism and Materialism: They Sink or Swim Together" reviews Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer.

Bohemian gravity

Evolution under the microscope

David Swift has an article titled "The Problem of the Origin of Life" that's worth reading.

He also responds in the combox of a post critiquing his aforementioned article.

Swift has a weblog as well a book by the same name. Although his weblog hasn't been updated for a while. Not sure why that is. Maybe someone out there knows?

Steve Hays on Genesis: Genesis 1-12

In case anyone has missed it, Steve Hays has been doing some commentary work on Genesis. Much of what he writes here at Triablogue is of a nature of looking at what’s going on in the world (often the world of Biblical scholarship). But in this series, Steve outlines his positive view of the Scriptures, here beginning in Genesis 1-12.

Here are the articles he’s written so far:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Introduction to Genesis:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: From first day to fourth day:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Very good:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: East of Eden:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: The Fall:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Cain & Abel:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Genesis and Genealogies:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: The Nephilim:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Introduction to the flood:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Noah's flood:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: The curse of Ham:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: The tower of Babel:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: The call of Abraham:

Triablogue: Steve Hays on Genesis: Abraham in Egypt:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who's leaving the faith

Young-earth theistic evolutionists

1) Like theistic evolution and old-earth creationism, young-earth creationism is prepackaged. Off the top of my head, these are typical elements:

i) God made the world in 6 consecutive calendar days.
ii) The universe is 6-10K years old.
iii) God made all the natural kinds ex nihilo during that one-week timespan.
iv) God directly created Adam and Eve.
v) Adam and Eve were the first humans.
vi) The flood was global
vii) Animal mortality, predation, parasitism, and pathogens are postlapsarian and/or postdiluvian developments.

Young-earth creationists disagree on whether the Genesis genealogies are open or closed. But even if they are open, that only allows for another roughly 4000 years. 

2) I'd like to focus on (vii). This generates internal tensions for YEC. 

i) YECs are ambivalent on the timing of carnivory. Is this postlapsarian or postdiluvian? On the one hand, they appeal to the cursed snake and the cursed ground (Gen 3). That would make it postlapsarian. On the other hand, they appeal to the permission to eat meat (Gen 9). That would make it postdiluvian.

ii) The appeal to the cursed snake is exegetically dubious. In the cultural context, this probably distinguishes a venomous snake in a striking position from a venomous snake in a docile position. 

Likewise, the cursed ground probably distinguishes the hospitable conditions inside the garden in stark from the inhospitable conditions outside the garden. 

ii) They appeal to the golden-age passages in Isa 11 and 65. However, many young-earth creationists are dispensationalists. They think these Isaian passages refer to the Millennium. Yet mortality is still in force during the Millennium. Presumably, that includes death by "natural causes," viz., disease, old age.

iii) Likewise, they extrapolate from passages referring to human mortality to animal mortality. But that ironically reflects an evolutionary outlook, where humans and animals range along a common continuum. By contrast, Gen 1-2 clearly distinguishes humans from animals. Although we share some physical commonalities, we enjoy privileges that animals do not. 

iii) They consider predation, parasitism, &c. to be natural evils, which are inconsistent with the "goodness" of the prelapsarian creation. However, they need to show on exegetical grounds that the narrator regarded natural "evils" (a modern classification) as not good, in terms of Gen 1-2. Ironically, young-earth creationists view the problem of animal pain in much the same way as atheists (e.g. Louise Antony, Andrea Weisberger). On the face of it, that's a preconception they are bringing to Genesis rather than deriving from Genesis.  

iv) They draw hairsplitting distinctions between different types of carnivores. Insects and invertebrates don't count.

v) They are ambivalent on what changes occurred. Sarfati says:

The Bible doesn't specifically explain how carnivory originated, but since creation was finished after Day 6 (Gen 2:1-3), there is no possibility that God later created new carnivorous animals (The Greatest Hoax on Earth, 288).

That's a key distinction–distinguishing fiat creationism from progressive creationism or theistic evolution. 

He seems to allow for predatory equipment like claws and venom to be preexisting features ("predesigned") which either weren't used before the Fall, or were used for something else (289-90).

On the other hand, he also says God programmed creatures with genetic information that was switched on after the Fall (290). And he talks about embryology (290). So perhaps he believes prelapsarian creatures didn't have the preexisting predatory apparatus. Rather, they had the genetic program. After the Fall, God flipped the switch, so that for the first time some animals began to develop these features during gestation and maturation. It's hard to make out his precise position.

Likewise, Snelling suggests this could have been preexisting equipment which wasn't used for predation (Earth's Catastrophic Past, 1:239). On the other hand, he says:

Such structures as fangs and claws could have been the result of the expression of recessive features which only became dominant due to selection processes later, or were  mutational features following the Curse instead of originally created equipment.
These would have included genetic changes so that its descendants would also henceforth slither on their bellies…if God chose to make design and genetic changes to the serpent.
God may have flipped some "genetic switches" present in His original design that caused these changes to appear immediately…If God used such genetic switches to cause physical changes in some plants in response to the Curse…then perhaps teeth in the mouths and nails on the feet of animals designed for herbivorous diet transformed into fangs and claws respectively…Similarly, it is possible that bacteria and other microorganisms…also underwent genetic changes (1:239, 254, 256).

The problem with this explanation is that it becomes a second creation. Young-earth creationists espousing postlapsarian (or postdiluvian) theistic macroevolution. Isn't the definition of macroevolution the development of novel morphology (e.g. new body parts and body plans) in response to new genetic information? 

vi) The argument suffers from additional problems. They appeal to examples of carnivores which can survive on vegetation. But that's very selective. Sure, there are exceptions. Some carnivores which normally prefer meat are actually omnivorous in a pinch. 

But that doesn't work for creatures whose digestive system is essentially carnivorous or even hematophagous, viz., anteaters, jellyfish, vampire bats. To retrofit them from herbivores to carnivores requires macroevolution, kinda like those transformation scenes where humans turn into werewolves. 

vii) For some odd reason, they think it would be morally impermissible for God to allow predation before the Fall, but morally permissible for God to allow predation after the Fall. The distinction is ad hoc.  

New High-Resolution Photographs of Ancient New Testament Manuscripts to be Available

Chester Beatty Papyri
Stunning, high-resolution images of the most ancient New Testament
manuscripts will soon be available for viewing on the Web.
Daniel Wallace and Larry Hurtado, among others, are reporting that Wallace’s Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) website will soon carry high, high-resolution images (up to 120 MB each) of the famous Chester Beatty papyri, which are among the oldest manuscripts of New Testament documents available.

(No word yet on the supposedly forthcoming first-century manuscript fragment from the Gospel of Mark).

These papyri are a real treasure – according to Michael Kruger (Canon Revisited), these and other manuscripts themselves are some of the earliest physical evidence of early Christianity that we have.

[They] hold tremendous potential in helping us understand the origins and development of the New Testament canon. For one, we have collections of New Testament books within a single manuscript that date to the second and third centuries, earlier than the time of many of our canonical “lists”. Moreover, many of the physical and visual features of these manuscripts—the codex form, scribal hand, and other inscriptional features—together provide a fresh window into the literary culture of early Christianity and how Christians would have viewed and used these texts (pg 234).

According to Wallace:

The New Testament papyri at the CBL (Chester Beatty Library) include the oldest manuscript of Paul’s letters (dated c. AD 200), the oldest manuscript of Mark’s Gospel and portions of the other Gospels and Acts (third century), and the oldest manuscript of Revelation (third century). One or two of the Old Testament papyri are as old as the second century AD.

Using state-of-the-art digital equipment, CSNTM photographed each manuscript against white and black backgrounds. The result was stunning. Each image is over 120 megabytes. The photographs reveal some text that has not been seen before.

If you’re a student of the New Testament, this is exciting stuff. This library of photography will provide new and exciting insights into the world of the ancient church.

Genes, and pseudogenes, and junk DNA! Oh, my!

I'd like to tack on some of my thoughts to Steve's post on genomics.

Keep in mind I'm simplifying the science since it may be overwhelming for a wider audience. However, if someone wants to discuss specifics, I'm not at all averse to discussing these topics in more detail if I can.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sarfati v. Craig

I think this is a mixed bag, but in general, Sarfati has the better of the argument against Craig:

Pope Francis vs Pope Benedict: “Liturgical Reform”

Pope Francis vs Pope Benedict on Liturgical Reform
Pope Francis vs Pope Benedict on Liturgical Reform
For faithful Roman Catholics everywhere who take comfort in the security and the stability of Roman Catholicism over the centuries, one pope has now shot down the deepest desires of a previous pope.

It’s a clear case of Pope Francis vs Pope Benedict on “Liturgical Reform”. One of the key hallmarks of the papacy of “Pope Benedict” was “liturgical reform”. If one recalls, Benedict first started permitting “the faithful” to use “the Tridentine Mass” again – the old Latin form that was universally (by all Roman Catholics without exception) practiced between the councils of Trent and Vatican II.

It only took him six months to do it. And he didn’t even wait for him to pass away.

One priest recently reflected on Pope Ratzinger’s “legacy” in this respect :

Only the future can tell how much the liturgical theology of Joseph Ratzinger will continue to enter into the life of the Church via the Roman Magisterium. That liturgical theology, of course, is itself the heir of the classical Liturgical Movement, applied to the problems of today in such a way as to herald a New Liturgical Movement. This renewal movement, like its early 20th century predecessor, has not been a uniform one by any stretch of the imagination. But it clearly reflects the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.

So the “thoughts of Joseph Ratzinger” have been snuffed out by this new and popular pope. Can anyone say “wolf in sheep’s clothing”?

Let’s take a closer look at what has been snuffed out:

5 points of beardinism


So does this make people like me who can't so much as grow a stubble to save their lives default non-beardinists? Alas! Shall we be forever excluded from the ranks of the elect? Or at least must suffice with a less than full-bearded theology?

If so, I submit we immediately arrange a synod at the local barber shop to begin work on the Five Articles of Smoothiness.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Collins on Walton

Paraducks in Christian Theology

Cashing in on the Duck Dynasty hit, A&E has signed James Anderson and Greg Welty to star in a spinoff: Paraducks in Christian Theology. Dr. Anderson will be sporting a costume beard.

Guns for me but not for thee

On the one hand:

“I mourn those killed today at the Navy Yard in Washington and send my thoughts and prayers to those families grieving the loss of loved ones.
“There are reports the killer was armed with an AR-15, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol when he stormed an American military installation in the nation’s capital and took at least 12 innocent lives.
“This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons—including a military-style assault rifle—and kill many people in a short amount of time.
“When will enough be enough?
“Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”

On the other hand:

The dedication. The pride. The legacy.Our mission is to protect and support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities.
Wear the badge. Feel the honor. The moment of transformation… when you slip into the uniform… put on the badge… and join our elite ranks, you’ll feel it. This is the moment you truly become a part of the dedication, the pride, and the legacy that makes the United States Capitol Police a force like no other.
What does it take to join this prestigious team? A deep sense of patriotism, unyielding dedication to protecting the public, and a passion for the American way of life are just the beginning. The desire to make a difference in the lives of many will take care of the rest.
The beginning of a legacy.The year was 1828. With the sole mission of providing security for the United States Capitol Building, Congress created the United States Capitol Police. Since that time, countless lives have been protected while the U.S. Capitol continues to thrive.
Over a century later, we've expanded in numbers, duties, and responsibilities. Today, as a CALEA accredited agency, we are dedicated to providing the Congressional community and its visitors with a full range of police services.
Our mission is to protect the Congress, its legislative processes, Members, employees, visitors, and facilities from crime, disruption, or terrorism. We protect and secure Congress so it can fulfill its constitutional responsibilities in a safe and open environment.

Things were always rotten

Lately, conservative pundits and preachers have decried the declining moral standards in current American culture. No doubt there have been some changes, imposed from the top. But it's easy to forget how things used to be–which wasn't all that different.

"Dragnet 1967" The Big Kids (TV Episode 1967) Poster

 (TV Series)

 (4 May 1967)


Capt. Lou Richey: It's not just a law enforcement problem, it's a community problem.
Sgt. John Pearson: Trouble is there's no community captain. These people come piling in from everywhere. They don't know each other and don't want to. They come out here, make a down payment on a house and move in with a couple of kids. That doesn't mean they made a home no more than givin' a name to a place
Sergeant Joe Friday: Yeah, and you get a little weary of hearing every kid give you the same excuse when you tag them. You don't understand. I just want to belong that's why I did it. Belong to what?
Capt. Lou Richey: What it boils down to is the new morality, doesn't it, a new set of values. God is dead. Drug addiction is mind expanding. Promiscuity is glamorous. Even homosexuality is praiseworthy. How you gonna fight that?
Officer Bill Gannon: It ain't easy.
Capt. Lou Richey: What you got to remember that, the vast majority of the juveniles are the kids next door. They're not hard core criminals. It's just that to them, it's a great deal more important to be accepted by the other kids than to please their parents.

Christianity And Its Evidence Keep Growing

Alex Tsakiris recently interviewed John Loftus on his Skeptiko podcast. Tsakiris makes some good points, and his comments at the end of the podcast (recounting an email exchange he had with Loftus) are especially worth listening to. Don't just read the transcript. There are significant parts of the program that the transcript doesn't include.

Tsakiris made some of his usual anti-Christian comments. At times, he'll dismiss "Christianity" without qualification. At other points, he refers to something like "fundamentalist Christians". He mentioned inerrancy. Judging by this podcast and his previous comments, I suspect that he's referring to conservative professing Christians in general. It's misleading to refer to conservative Christianity as a whole as "fundamentalism", but I suspect that's what he's doing. He wants to move beyond the disputes between atheism and the type of Christianity he's criticizing. He thinks people are "stuck on stupid" by focusing too much on atheism and traditional Christianity. He thinks work like what Loftus has done has effectively debunked conservative Christianity. He's weary of "silly, empty tomb Christianity kinds of debates". He wants to move on.

Does the Bible Conflict with Science?

Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?

Genomic evidence for evolution

I'm going to quote and comment on this article:

Before commenting on the specifics, I'd like to make a general observation. Venema is a theistic evolutionist. Therefore, he permits God to be involved in the creative process at some stage.  However, that raises the specter of arbitrariness. He allows just enough divine involvement to kickstart theistic evolution, but disallows more extensive divine involvement, viz. progressive creationism, intelligent design, fiat creationism, or omphalism. However, it's unclear how he draws a principled line in the sand. There's a sense in which Lewontin was right: once God gets his foot in the door, how do you disinvite him from further participation? 

Now, that doesn't mean anything goes. The Biblical God is not a frivolous, capricious, irrational agent. He has a good reason for whatever he does. There's a middle ground between deism and occasionalism. 

The first line of evidence, and perhaps the one most widely discussed by Christian apologetics organizations, is that of gene sequence similarity. If, indeed, humans and chimpanzees are descended from a common ancestral species, then the individual gene sequences of these two species would be predicted to have a high degree of similarity due to inheritance from a common ancestor, or homology. Moreover, homology for individual genes should exist at two levels: the amino acid level (the functional sequence of a given gene’s protein product), and at the nucleotide code level (the underlying DNA code for the required amino acid sequence). Since the nucleotide code has numerous coding options for a given amino acid sequence (i.e., the nucleotide code is redundant), genes in related organisms are predicted not only to share amino acid sequences but also nucleotide sequences, despite a large number of possible coding options. Thus, related organisms should display homology at both levels of code.
A second, unrelated line of evidence is that of synteny. Synteny is a technical term for conservation of gene order along chromosomes between relatives. Put more simply, the hypothesis of common ancestry predicts that not only will related species have similar genes, but that they will also have these genes in a very similar spatial pattern.

But this overlooks an alternative explanation: the principle of plentitude, which includes continuity and gradation. Here's a summary:

The kernel of the principle is the idea that a world containing a rich variety of beings is more valuable than one containing only one sort of creature. The natural world is thus pictured as consisting of a great hierarchy of beings, beginning at the lowest end of the scale with inanimate objects (e.g., rocks, stars), then ascending to living things that lack sentience (e.g., trees, plants), and thence to living things that are sentient but not intelligent (e.g., animals), thence to living things that are both sentient and intelligent (e.g., humans), and finally to intelligent beings that are immortal (e.g., angels). At the summit of the hierarchy stands God. And it is usually added that God has chosen to create a world of this sort because it is intrinsically better that many kinds of beings exist, rather than just one kind of being or the best kind of beings. Given this value-judgement, it is no longer obvious that God is not morally justified in creating a world that displays the variety and complexity found in the actual world.

Here's a more detailed exposition:

Back to Venema:

A third line of evidence is that of pseudogenes. Pseudogenes (literally, “false genes”) are the mutated remains of gene sequences that persist in the genome after their inactivation. Common ancestry predicts that related species should share pseudogenes that were present in the genome of their common ancestor. Moreover, these pseudogenes should be in the same genomic location in both descendant species (i.e., they should exhibit shared synteny) and retain gene sequence similarity (i.e., continue to exhibit homology) in spite of their inactivation.

This raises two questions:

i) That's one of the more superficially impressive arguments for common descent is appeal to common chimp/human mutations. Inasmuch as these are (allegedly) transcriptional errors, they can't be chalked up to common design. 

One question I have is whether comparative genomics suffers from sample selection bias. Given the sheer number of plant and animals species, not to mention bacteria, viruses, &c., I assume that science has only mapped the tiniest fraction of extant species and stains–not to mention all of the extinct species and strains. The comparative data-base of genomics is in its infancy.

Scientists map the human genome, as well as things related to humans, or deemed to be relate to humans, viz., primates, human foodstuffs, human diseases. It maps things that have been a staple of research for decades, viz., fruit flies.

If, however, we were to actually map the genomes of all or even most species and strains, I wouldn't be surprised if that turned up many shared "accidental" sequences, which–however–would usually be discounted as anomalous or coincidental.

ii) Venema's way of framing the issue carries tacit assumptions. It assumes that these parallel chimp/human sequences are mutations. As such (so goes the argument), it must have happened in a common ancestor before chimps/humans diverged.

Now, I don't know the basis for assuming it's a mutation in the first place. Does that presume the parallel sequence is useless at best and maladaptive at worst? 

For if the parallel sequence is either neutral or beneficial, then, from a Christian theistic standpoint, there's no reason to presume that's a mutation or transcriptional error. That could be how chimps and humans were created.

Of course, if we allow for guided mutations, then mutations can also be beneficial.

A related issue is how we judge whether a mutation is nonfunctional, beneficial, or harmful. Seems to me that that's both spatially and temporally variable.

a) Temporally speaking, a mutation might be neutral or nonfunctional at the time it occurred, but prove beneficial down the line. And if we allow for guided mutation, God directed the process (i.e. resultant mutation) with that beneficial outcome in mind.

b) Spatially speaking, a mutation might be beneficial or harmful depending on where the organism resides. Take skin pigmentation or lactose tolerance. Depending on where you live, that can be adaptive or maladaptive. (I'm not saying skin pigmentation or lactose tolerance are necessarily mutations. I just use them to illustrate a principle.)

The fossil record

This is a follow-up to a previous post:

I'm going to quote from a standard evolutionary textbook, citing one standard line of evidence for evolution. D. Futuyama, Evolution (Sinaur 2005), 528.

The fossil record is extremely incomplete for reasons that geologists understand well (see Chapter 4). Consequently, the transitional stages that we postulate in the origin of many higher taxa have not (yet) been found…Critically important intermediates are still being found…including feathered dinosaurs.

i) Although Futuyama treats transitional forms and intermediate forms as synonymous, they need to be distinguished. There's a sense in which semiquatic animals share characteristics of fish and land animals, but not because they are transitioning from fish to land animals, or vice versa, but because they are ecological intermediates. Their traits are suited to the ecological zone they occupy. 

ii) And, of course, they could be created that way. That's not evidence for macroevolution.

iii) Stephen Meyer recently argued that the problem for evolution is not the generally incomplete state of the fossil record, but the selectively incomplete state of the fossil record, contrary to Darwinian projections. Cf. Darwin's Doubt (HarperOne 2013).

iv) Keep in mind, too, that gaps in the fossil record preclude inferring ancestors and successors, for you can't establish a direct lineage. 

The fossil record, moreover, documents two important aspects of character evolution: mosaic evolution (e.g. the more or less independent evolution of different features in the evolution of mammals). And gradual change of individual features (e.g., cranial capacity and other features of hominids).

Encephalization is often correlated with intelligence. Larger brains, smarter hominids. Yet the facile link between brainpower and intelligence invites counterexamples. For instance:
…bees have cognitive capabilities and a plasticity of behaviors that otherwise are known only in the vertebrates, and no less surprisingly, other features such as exhibiting sleep-like states. Or is it surprising? Sleep may have several functions, but one widely agree purpose is the need to consolidate memories. 
Given that these organisms [ciliates] lack any sort of nervous system, the function of these neuropeptides is somewhat enigmatic. Nevertheless in their own way the ciliates are sophisticated organisms and use of messenger molecules is to be expected.
Other types of complexity in both bacteria and various eukaryotic microbes have been comparatively well known for many years…There is, however, newly emerging information, across a wide front of enquiry, that is demonstrating hitherto unappreciated  levels of complexity that correspond in a number of interesting ways to the social behavior of animals and higher organisms. Thus, aspects of sociality such as foraging and cooperative hunting, specialized dispersal forms, genetic altruism, and (perhaps most surprisingly) communication, using various chemicals….the social interactions, synchronized activity, and communication between microbes confer on them multicellularity of a sort. S. Morris, Life's Solution (Cambridge 2003), 202, 236-237.
Back to Futuyama:

The earliest fossil ants, for instance, have the wasplike features that had been predicted by entomologists, and the discovery of feathered dinosaurs was to be expected, given the consensus that birds are modified dinosaurs…the fossil record often matches the predicted sequences (as we saw in Chapters 4 and 5): for example, prokaryotes preceded eukaryotes in the fossil record, singles insects (the phylogentically basal bristletails) precede winged insets, fishes precede tetrapods, amphibians precede amniotes, algae precede vascular plants, ferns and "gymnosperms" precede flowering plans.

i) The basic problem with his inference is how the distribution pattern appears to be fundamentally spatial rather than chronological: 


fish>amphibians>land animals


On the face of it, these reflect different ecological zones or higher and lower latitudes. For instance, a tropical latitude has different flora than a temperate latitude. A swamp has different fauna than a desert. So it's unclear how Futuyma infers an evolutionary sequence from the fossil sequence, given his examples. 

ii) Perhaps the missing premise is superposition. Is he assuming that what's lower is older? Lower layers are earlier? 

Even if we grant that assumption, that's, at best, a necessary rather than sufficient condition for his position. After all, progressive creationists can accept the assumption that what's lower is older.

iii) I'm not a geologist or hydrologist (neither is Futuyama), so I'm not qualified to evaluate stratigraphy. But offhand, it's not obvious to me that superposition is a universal or even general indicator of relative chronology. On the face of it, beaches, sand dunes, sand drifts, and riverbeds undergo regular erosion and replenishment. Layers don't form bottom to top, but simultaneously. Underlayers aren't older than upper layers. And there's a constant process of addition and subtraction. Barrier islands and sea islands are subject to a similar dynamic. So you can't infer the duration of solidification or stratification from superposition alone. At least, that's my understanding. 

Of course, if you go down far enough, what's lower may be older. But that raises the question of initial conditions. 

I'm not claiming that's applicable to the geological column in toto. Just pointing out that appeal to superposition can give rise to hasty generalizations. 

iv)  How do young-earth creationists account for the sequence? 

a) They usually invoke their models of flood geology.

b) I'd add that if the earth is thousands of years old rather than billions of years old, then the layers don't have the same chronological significance. You don't have the same vast intervals between upper and lower layers. So, if you accept the operating premise, young-earth creationists have less explaining to do, since the sequence, even if it's chronological, is a very compact relative chronology. Of course, young-earth chronology is hotly contested. They exchange one challenge for another.

c) If, moreover, God created animals everywhere, but created man in one particular locale (e.g. Eden), then animals would be dying in other parts of the world before man fanned out from his provincial point of origin. Therefore, we'd expect human remains to be above animals remains in many or most cases.

d) I assume we also need to distinguish between fossilized wild animals and fossilized livestock. Due to selective breeding, there's a sense in which domesticated animals are more highly "evolved." So when we draw inferences from fossil record, we ought to distinguish between natural selection and selective breeding. 

e) Furthermore, whether, and in what setting, human remains are preserved isn't just a natural process–unlike animal death. Some cultures cremate the dead (e.g. funeral pyres). Other cultures bury in dead. So the distribution pattern of human remains in time and place is somewhat artificial.