Monday, 26 December 2011

Thought of the day - creation is about purpose

You will find a lot of catchy phrases used in Christian discussions about origins, of which theistic evolution has a fair few. One of the most well known is perhaps that science tells us how, the Bible tells us why. This has been paraphrased numerous times, including "the Bible tells us how to get to Heaven, not how the heavens go" or the more scientifically appealing "the Bible is the rock of ages, it does not teach us the age of rocks". But saying that the Bible teaches us the why of creation leaves a lot to be desired. The overall theme of Genesis 1 is purpose, which itself deserves to be repeated. It is this point which seems to be missed by not just creationists, but Christians of all stripes. A theology of creation cannot simply be about how God produces creation (whether you see it as using naturalistic processes or not) but must also strongly emphasise purpose.

I've said many a time that when God created the light and separated it from the darkness, He set them in a proper relationship with each other in order to created something new - day and night. (I use this point for two reasons, as God is not said to have created darkness, but also the emphasis of proper relationship, which can be used to understand the presence of death in evolution.) Day and night have purpose. The purpose of the first day might be explicitly clear, but this is not quite so for the other days; fortunately we can see for ourselves what purpose they hold just by observing those created things (does anyone believe dry land is useless?).

The whole issue of "kind" in Scripture is a sticking point for many creationists. Earlier today I read the following listed amongst some theological "non-negotiable" points (according to Douglas Groothius apparently):

2. God created each “kind” specially, not through a long naturalistic process of macroevolution. However, we cannot say with certainty that a biblical “kind” corresponds to what biologists call a “species.”

I have a few points I would normally use to respond to this and would like to expand upon one of them:
  • Evolution is, in a sense, reproduction after the "kind". Or, to put it scientifically, the daughter clade is always part of the parent clade. 
  • Kind is not defined in the Bible, so any attempt to use it to dictate science is flawed. 
  • The creationist usage of kind rests on some philosophical presuppositions which are not inherently Biblical (for more on this point, see here). 
  • The description in Genesis is about what God wants from them, not how He created them. 
The final point is the one I would like to expand upon (though I am sure many more points could easily be made). In some of my discussions on Genesis I have emphasised that creating according to their kind is to bless them to reproduce; as can be seen from simple observations, organisms continue to reproduce with members of the same "kind" and produce offspring of the same kind. In line with this blog post's theme, it is not enough to say that is simply a blessing. Instead, while it is a blessing, it is also their purpose. In creating them according to their kinds, God is giving them purpose and blessing them with it. 

This theme of purpose is most evident when humans enter the scene. The ancient Hebrews would have seen their own purpose in the creation story, it fit them right into God's created order. Man is given dominion, then God blessed them and told them to multiply. The creation week is even rounded off with the blessing of the seventh day, giving it purpose. 

So to sum up, creation is not about what God was doing at a specific point in history, it is about purpose. It is about the purpose of man in creation, of every organism, of the celestial bodies and so on. These purposes are ongoing, just as creation itself is. Any theological reading of Genesis which focusses solely on how things were made, with no mention of purpose, is not capable of doing justice to the text. Genesis 1 is not about the how of creation, but the purpose of all that God has made. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Art

So far I have shown three pictures I have drawn, here is another, quickly drawn for Christmas. Sorry about the poor quality image:


Yep, that's an ankylosaur dragging a present sack, with a Rhamphorhynchus on its back carrying mistletoe and wearing a Santa hat, while underwater is a Santa hat sporting ammonite swimming near a Christmas tree crinoid. I won't pick at this picture, it could obviously be significantly be improved, but it was a quick and cheerful sketch.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Helpers of your Joy

Over the past few weeks I found myself discussing on a Facebook group called Helpers of your Joy and have no idea how I got there. I mostly ignored it, as they all bicker about the same, very dull, theological ideas and it is proving to be a very poor group for helping anyone's joy. I spotted that a friend had posted there about Genesis and decided to join in, as the majority there appeared to be very uninformed creationists.

I gained quite an audience in doing so as well. My discussions with them went public, with any of my friends on Facebook being able to watch. Many found it entertaining, some were horrified with how I was being treated, and many even made it clear that Christianity is difficult to take seriously when it is represented by the people in that group.

I tried discussing Scripture with them, but they would only ever tell me that I was ignoring the Bible, despite the fact that I was explaining how I understood those verses. I tried discussing the science, but they were only capable of saying that the science was wrong or that there was some mass scientific conspiracy or that Satan was involved. In other words, their arguments were extremely poor and intellectually impoverished.

A common tactic on that group was to declare me brainwashed and make unsubstantiated conclusions about how I came to accept evolution and reject a literalistic Genesis. I informed them that I have never seen Genesis as literal, even as a child, to which they continued to make their unsubstantiated claim. I also informed them that I believed in God before understanding evolution, but again, they ignored my personal claims for their own claims which have no backing.

It might seem clear, but they were often not Christian in their actions. One even spoke to me constantly as though I was an atheist, despite my protestations. I continued to try to plough through their lack of charity, their lack of humility, their pride, their anger, their theological and scientific ignorance, and discuss with them, but to no avail.

Last night I got blocked, with no warning. I was told that the discussion on evolution should stop, so I suggested that a few other topics should stop as well, just to be fair. Here is the admin's explanation for why he removed me from the group:

 I told Jason we should just drop it and change the subject, and he come back with his, well people shouldn't speak about their personal lives, and what all God is doing in there [sic] life, etc etc

This discussion board is no place for that..........we are here to talk about the Bible, not man's theories.

There are so many problems with his claim, that I felt it might be worth addressing here.

  1. I never said that people should not speak about their personal lives, I specified careers and hobbies. If there is a moratorium on evolution, then this stops me from talking about my career (or rather, intended career) and hobbies. I am an undergrad palaeontologist, so if we talk about our careers I am entitled to speak about evolution, it is part of my course and part of my intended career. Additionally, as with any palaeontologist, I collect fossils occasionally and count that as a hobby, and fossils show evolution. Furthermore, I spend some of my spare time reading about evolution. So, to be consistent, it would only be fair if others were not allowed to talk about their careers or hobbies, otherwise evolution should be back on the table.
  2. I never said anything about stopping talking about how God works in our lives. What I actually said was that others should have to stop talking about how THEY do God's work. When I discuss evolution with creationists I believe I am doing God's work. I believe God led me to science and did so for a reason - so that I could show that the discoveries made studying God's creation are compatible with Christian thought and Scriptures. This means that if I talk about my work for God, then I am entitled to discuss evolution. Therefore, in order to be consistent, they should stop others from discussing their work for God if evolution is off limits. 
  3. When discussing evolution I discuss the Bible. I see the two as compatible. If anyone brings up any aspect of creation (which I also said should be off limits) then I am entitled to discuss creation as I see it - through evolution. If they do not like that then they should make a better Biblical case for their own creation beliefs. Really, they should do as God clearly does in Genesis 1 and respect diversity. Christians have different creation beliefs and we should be allowed to discuss them openly. On that group I met hostility, ad hominem attacks, censorship (eventually) and no respect at all. Is that the Christian way?
  4. They say they will not discuss man's theories, which is interesting (especially as many did not understand what a theory is). Young earth creationism fits their definition of "man's theories". So in order to be consistent, all creationists should be silenced. (I tried explaining to them the roots of creationism and how it is influenced more by man's philosophies than Biblical truth, but that went ignored, as it always does.)
There are some things they did not grasp, which could do with repeating:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.
Our differences on how creation occurred should be negligible compared to what is contained in the creed, but the actions and attitudes of creationists such as these is creating a gulf and causing damage to Christianity. What should occur is that we present our diverse understandings of how creation occurred, of how we approach science, and listen to each other carefully, in order to discuss fruitfully. Those in Helpers of your Joy are incapable of proper discussion and would rather be abusive and arrogant. If you ever stumble upon that group, please do not see it as representative of Christianity; it is not quite the loony fringe, but it is full of uninformed people so full of pride that they cannot acknowledge a simple fact we should all face in life: we might be wrong even when we feel certain that we are right. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Letting the Bible lead science?

I've posted a picture before which showed the ancient Hebrew understanding of the cosmos, see here. It is a useful image because it shows how a literalist should see creation if they base it on Genesis, yet few, if any, creationists see the world that way. If we turn to the Bible to dictate science, then these are the views of the world we get. Many creationists claim that the Bible does determine what is true science and also claim that the Scriptures got many things right which we are only just figuring out through science. If they were to do this properly, then the following image would be their world-view.


This image is found on the outer panels of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights by 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch. An artist I am fond of, Bosch is well known for his often grotesque depictions, such as the image of Hell on the same piece of art. The outer panels, however, show the third day of creation, and it is clear that this understanding of the world does not match our modern understanding. This is how a creationist should view creation, yet they dishonestly do not.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Thought of the day - evolution, death and theodicy

Too often, creationists claim that evolution is a process which requires death in order to function. An example from Answers in Genesis is, "Evolution says death plus struggle brought man into existence".

There are a lot of questions we can ask here and a lot of potential answers. Did death come before the Fall? Does the death in evolutionary history contradict Scripture? Is there a Biblically consistent solution to this problem? In many of my writings on theistic evolution I have addressed this problem and do not intend to address it in the same way right now. Instead, I want to explain why I believe AiG and other creationists have made a mistake in their claim that evolution means death and suffering.

It is undeniable that death is common in the history of life (though suffering is not so simple and will be ignored for the time being). However, death is not a necessity for evolution. What evolution requires is differential reproduction, which means that organisms producing more successful offspring will find their genes proliferating. Being successful does not necessitate the deaths of others, but simply being better able to acquire resources and mate (for sexual organisms). Of course, being successful is better demonstrated when death is involved, but such death is not a necessity.

One might then claim that death is a consequence of evolution, but this is not so either. Death is a consequence of "go forth and multiply" as this increases competition for finite resources. Death is an evolutionary product in the sense that organisms are effectively programmed to grow old and die, but it is not a necessity even if it is likely to evolve.

So what a Christian really should be asking is "can God use death in a positive and fruitful way?" In order to answer that, they should look to Christ and the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Pretty things and excuses

I have genuine reasons for neglecting my blog lately, as it has been crunch time for a lot of the work I have had. I've had essays, assorted assignments, presentations, practical work, and, of course, my dissertation (which I have fallen behind on). I do intend to share some essays on here at some point and also need to do an increasingly lengthy post about my dissertation. But for now, here are some nice images for you to look at.


The above chunk was found last year at Saltwick Bay, Whitby, and is a favourite find of mine. There's so much going on, with the imbricated belemnites and assorted ammonites throughout the piece (though note that the belemnites are only found on the top). Recently, I decided to have it cut in half, which I then polished and had varnished. Inside, the piece is even more beautiful, with the ammonites in different orientations and showing different diagenetic features, with some interesting infilling in the chambers and a fair amount of pyrite (which turned my hands black during the polishing). I gave one half away as a present for the palaeo Secret Santa.


 Below is the happy bivalve I found whilst doing a university assignment. This bivalve is Eocene age and I refuse to look up what species it is.


This is a Chasmosaurus I drew (or something similar) for a friend as part of their Secret Santa present. I based it on an image from a Japanese dinosaur book and changed it a little, such as giving it a little fuzz because I do that kind of thing.


This picture did not quite go as planned. I decided to do it as I had a presentation on stegosaur osteoderm function and the lecturer is an expert in pterosaurs. I could only find one picture online where pterosaurs and stegosaurs were in the same image, so I decided to draw my own. The pterosaurs are meant to be Dimorphodon and look a bit larger than intended, especially the one on the left, which also went wrong a couple of times. I'm pleased with the one on the right, though its tail needs to be moved a little, and the stegosaur (I think I based it on Tuojiangosaurus but I have already forgotten) is fine except for the thagomizer, which looks like it is the wrong way (it was supposed to look twisted, but I failed). Not a bad idea though, which I might expand upon, though I also might do a picture of a stegosaur from the side, with pterosaurs perching on the plates/spines.


I spotted an albino squirrel in Victoria Park, Portsmouth! This little critter was difficult to take pictures of as he scampered away, though a little later on he came right up to me as I ate my baked potato, he looked me in the eye, then ran off before I could get to my phone. Cheeky git.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ankylosaurus

I am by no means a palaeoartist, but I did draw this the other day, for a friend. I'm not capable of looking at dinosaur skeletons and reconstructing them, so I simply look at artwork from dinosaur books and modify it a little.


I drew another picture earlier tonight, but I can't upload it yet, so it will be on here in a week or so. This may even become a regular thing...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Toys needed...

I've been a bit ill the last few days, some flu type thing, so I wouldn't mind having somebody or something to cuddle. I have nothing here. I'm also a big kid and still love toys, so here are some palaeo themed toys and cuddly stuff I would love to have.

Dickinsonia toy


This is a Yowie toy, whatever one of those is (something to do with Cadburys). They released a Dickinsonia model as part of their Lost Kingdoms range. I want one, even though it is labelled as a 'Giant Disc Jelly' and is clearly meant to be some sort of worm or jellyfish (some crown group) and seems to have the wrong symmetry (many Ediacarans have glide symmetry). Interesting choice of colours too. I never expected to see such a toy, so I want it.

They did others too, including Mawsonites, which strikes me as an odd choice:
There's also this cool Devonian trilobite toy, and I want this one as well, a Wiwaxiid:

Japanese models


Whilst searching for those Yowie toys, I found these cool models, which I know nothing about:

I would love a Kimberella model, especially as it is one of my favourite Ediacaran forms. A Charniodiscus would also be cool:

And so I am not stuck in the Ediacaran, here is Pterygotus, a eurypterid:
I also found two different takes on Hallucigenia:


Cuddly Toys


All of these are taken from a single website and some can be bought here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/PaleoGirlCrafts

Another Wiwaxia, one which I would love to have in my bed. Plus the awesome artist custom makes them in different colours:

There's also the fearsome Cambrian predator Anomalocaris, though it looks very cute and cuddly here. Again, I want one!




Trilobites and eurypterids are quite common, I particularly like this mini trilobite:

Their loving creator even makes keyring sized ones and I can't decide which I prefer:

Walliserops (a trilobite)
A baby eurypterid















These can all be viewed here, along with a large variety which goes beyond the invertebrates here and even includes scarves: http://paleogirl.deviantart.com/gallery/?offset=0

More cuddly beasties!


This next bunch I actually came across a while ago whilst researching nudibranchs (sea slugs) as Weird Bug Lady makes cuddly nudibranchs, such as the one below, as well as many cuddly extinct organisms too.

Phyllidia exquisita
And these cuddly Ediacarans (Tribrachidium?) are only around £20 (hint hint):



The shop for these can be found here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/weirdbuglady?page=1
Check out her Flickr as well, as I round off this blog post simply by posting some of my favourites (as links, due to the way Flickr works): http://www.flickr.com/photos/weirdbuglady/

An awesome trilobite: http://www.flickr.com/photos/weirdbuglady/4622474158/in/photostream
A tardigrade and Opabiniahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/weirdbuglady/4413564691/in/photostream
Hydrothermal vent creatures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/weirdbuglady/4356727920/in/photostream
A cute Panderichthys: http://www.flickr.com/photos/weirdbuglady/4285594257/in/photostream
I'd post more, but I can't work out how to post the images instead of links.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Ptorydactyl

I'd never seen this image before, until today. It is by Gerald Scarfe, the artist known for the album artwork of The Wall by Pink Floyd. In case you can't tell, it is Margaret Thatcher. Thanks to this image, he has just had a pterosaur named after him, Cuspicephalus scarfi, the paper describing it is currently in press.

I'm from what used to be an old mining village and my grandparents worked dahn't'pit. Naturally Maggie Thatcher is loathed in my area and even though John Major was prime minister when I was at junior school (I think) we still sang a song about Thatcher, which involved drawing on the hands and went something like this:


Here's Maggie Thatcher,
Throw her up and catch her [gesture throwing into the air and catching]
Squish squash, squish squash [rub hands together]
Here's Maggie Thatcher:


Facebook and the end of an era...

I came across this image on Facebook recently and found it very amusing, despite the fact that I have been paying no attention to anything with "we are the 1%" mentioned.

One of the good things about this image is how true it is, regardless of the political climate. Such beautiful diversity exists out there, yet we tend to focus on those which are cute and cuddly, especially in conservation. This could be a good platform for a rant, but I am rather under the weather right now and want to talk about something else.

I've been on Facebook discussion boards for around four years now. In that time I have developed a lot of my views, shared them with others, helped people learn and refine their own views and had a good laugh, making many online friends (some of which I have met and intend to meet in real life). I found that I most enjoyed discussing evolution on those boards, which were Christian boards, making me one of the few theistic evolutionists able to engage in the science and willing to engage in the theology. There are others out there, but they generally are not so outspoken. I tended to stick to a single discussion board, occasionally branching out into others, but always returning to my main group, where I often built a bit of a reputation (generally good). Every so often I would migrate to a new board and find lots of creationists to debate with, but before long they would all disappear or keep quiet (I can't claim I didn't have a hand in that, but I can't claim I did either). Only the last group I was on seemed to have a steady influx of outspoken creationists.

Facebook has now removed those discussion boards. This looks to be the end of my time on those boards and is perhaps a good point in life to get away from them (it is rumoured they might return). It is a shame though, as I did enjoy it. It also means a lot of my old discussions are no longer archived and I can't pick up where I left off with people with whom I was discussing. Sometimes it got in the way of my life, causing me to neglect people, and, naturally, housework. I've wasted many useful hours on those boards, so I should be saying "good riddance," but I will mostly miss it. No other format appeals to me, though I do like blogging every so often.

So, goodbye Facebook discussions, it has been an interesting ride!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Hollyoaks & Geology?

For those of you who don't know, Hollyoaks is a British soap opera aimed mostly at teenagers, known for constantly having beautiful women (and apparently men). In the last few months there has been a serial killer storyline and it has been dragged on ridiculously. Still, I wanted to see how it turned out. I hadn't watched it at all last week, when the story reached its climax, so I've just watched four episodes online in my on time (despite a temperamental internet connection). So there, I admit it, I occasionally watch Hollyoaks.

I wouldn't normally admit to such things so publically, but I spotted something in the background which interested me:


Did you see it? It says "Precambrian times" on the banner in the background. If I remember correctly, it also says "the lophotrochozoa" though I am not sure why. The Precambrian loving geek in me could not help but hit print screen. I'll go to bed and reflect on my sad life now...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Movember!

The month of November is here, meaning the month of Movember is here! These days I am well known for having facial hair, yet I have never participated in Movember, the charity event where men stop shaving properly and grow moustaches, see here for more details. This time last year I had a girlfriend who hated facial hair, so every time I saw her I had to shave, making Movember impossible. I'm not complaining, she was worth it. I had even shaved my first bushy beard off just so that I could have a chance with her before we got together, though I told everyone that I was shaving it off for summer, as I would end up with a silly tan (I'm not sure she knows the truth about that yet). This year I am single and my face is mine, so get ready for a silly 'tache.

Ideally I would upload photos of my progress, but that will only happen if I can find a way to transfer photos from my phone to my laptop. For now you will have to make do with photos of past facial hair. This month I am growing my first moustache, shaving away the rest of the beard. I am currently fresh faced and about to go have my picture taken ready for the before and after comparison.

The above picture shows my first proper beard, which I allowed to simply become bushy. Below is roughly what I had before my recent shave. I took pictures during the shaving, so stay tuned.


So, if you would like to sponsor me, my profile can be found here: http://mobro.co/JasonSherburn

A rant about discussion boards...

Facebook recently announced that they were shutting down discussion boards, though it seems to have not happened. When the deadline was looming I reflected back on my many years on those boards and how I was perceived. At first I was not very active, mostly observing, but before long I gained respect and even appeared to be intimidating to some. In recent months the respect seemed to decline and instead I am simply known as an argumentative know-it-all. I am clearly argumentative, or else I would not be on a discussion board, but if they met me in person those views might change, as I am shy and reserved.



What really stuck in my mind, and prompted this post, is the "know-it-all" accusation. Many have noted that I show confidence in the things I present, that I rarely if ever state that I don't know or that I might be wrong, and people find this surprising, a negative character trait even. I only wish they would read my blog! On discussion boards I mostly end up discussing the basics of evolution, those things which are beyond reasonable doubt in the scientific community, things which I have been studying for several years now. Why would I be anything other than confident in that situation? Why would I say that I don't know, when we are talking about the basics, about things I do know? I have often acknowledged that I could be wrong about evolution, but that the chances are so slim that it is not worth thinking about.

When we get into more complex aspects of evolution (try reading Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection by Peter Godfrey Smith) then my certainty steadily diminishes, I openly acknowledge that I might be wrong or that I don't know. On this blog I believe I have stated openly that I do not know whether contingency or convergence is the dominant trend in long term evolution, so I am critical of both Gould and Conway Morris. But really, anyone who has read my posts on Ediacarans should know that I prefer topics where I lack all of the knowledge, but sadly nobody on a Bible discussion board wants to talk about Ediacarans.

Ediacarans are a group where people have good ideas concerning what they are, but nobody really knows. They constantly defy classification. The small shelly fossils, which I am working on for my dissertation, are similar in this sense, though many of them can be classified. I am intending to make my career saying "we don't know, but let's try our best". That's what many palaeontologists, many scientists in any field, do. In fact, that's how science really works. Saying "I don't know" is a big part of science, as long as it motivates one to find out. So the know-it-all accusation is really unsupported, they just need to broach a subject which is not so simple and beyond doubt.

If you ever engage in such discussions, try doing what I do and stick to what you know, stick to your strengths. Mine are evolutionary biology, palaeontology, geology and theology of nature. But in sticking to those topics which favour your interests/qualifications, you risk being dismissed as an arrogant know-it-all.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Creationist Concept of Kind

Introduction

This will not be a post about the ambiguity surrounding the term kind when used by creationists. The lack of taxonomic clarity can be largely ignored, as the philosophical ideas expressed through the term need to first be addressed. Kinds, in this post, will simply mean a discrete group of closely related organisms. I will attempt to demonstrate that the common creationist usage of kind goes beyond what Scripture teaches, being instead an interpretation of the possible meaning of the term, rather than its actual meaning. Many creationist arguments focus on this term, yet these, I hope to show, are not inherently Biblical.

What the Bible Says

Genesis 1:11-13 (emphasis mine)

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

Genesis 1:20-23

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

Genesis 1:24-25

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

When we look at the term kind based on Scripture alone, there is no definition given. It seems that we can say with certainty that they could reproduce and likely also that we could group them together. Trying to interbreed separate kinds would be seen as unnatural, based on Genesis 1. Anything more than that is not invalid, but cannot claim to be wholly Scriptural. (The term is used in other places in Scripture, such as Genesis 7 and Deuteronomy 14, but in no way which adds to our understanding.)

Creationism and Essentialism

The creationist concept of kind goes beyond the ambiguity of Genesis in an attempt to make more scientifically robust claims. Kinds can vary, but new kinds cannot be produced and the separate kinds are not related. This is a form of essentialism, which, when applied to biology, claims that species are unchanging through time. Creationists now have to acknowledge that species do change, but they are considered to be either deviations or well within the essential range of the kind in question (the classic example is that dogs vary enormously, but will always have the defining characteristics of dogs). 

Essentialism is a philosophy which stems from the ideas of Plato, particularly Platonic idealism, which has been unwittingly embraced by creationists. In order to understand the implications of kind, creationists have been using what I will label an "essentialist theology of kind". This is widely considered to be the common biological understanding before Darwin's work favoured population thinking. The essentialist theology of kind is an explanation and interpretation of the Biblical term, but it must be acknowledged that it is not the only possible explanation and interpretation of kind. 

The Purpose of a Theology of Kind

A theology of kind is developed to provide a more thorough understanding of what the Bible is saying about creation. It is effectively trying to bridge a gap between our scientific knowledge and our Scriptural knowledge with regards to biological classification. It is nothing more than an interpretation, one we could almost label a hypothesis, which must be consistent with the Bible and with the scientific data. If it cannot fit them both, then it is insufficient and subject to either change or rejection for a better model. 

The essentialist theology of kind is often used improperly by creationists. It is presupposed as the only Biblically consistent explanation and instead of being tested against the scientific data, it is used to dictate it. Their definitions of kind are clearly Biblically consistent, but break down when tested against the biological data.

A Darwinian Theology of Kind?

Darwinian population thinking has replaced essentialism in our understanding of biology. Is it possible to have a Darwinian theology of kind which can replace the outdated essentialist theology of kind which creationists favour? In theory the answer should be yes, as it would clearly be consistent with the biological data. The problem is when we ask if it is consistent with the Biblical claims.

Creationists, using their essentialist thought, would reject the Darwinian understanding outright. Darwinian evolution makes claims which go contrary to their essentialist ideas, however, it is not the essentialism which is inherent in the Bible. Based on Scripture alone there is no real inconsistency between a Darwinian theology and the Biblical term kind. In evolution, organisms can be argued to be reproducing after their kind, as evolution is a branching process which does not involve organisms suddenly leaping across the evolutionary tree; such an occurrence would be evidence against the modern theory of evolution. Evolution produces a pattern of nested hierarchies, groups within groups, or, to borrow from the Bible, they can be seen as kinds within kinds. 

The following image is from a creationist website:


It shows dichotomies, with the groups diversifying, yet remaining the same kind. Turn it upside down and change some of the arbitrary details (the use of circles, for example) and you will probably be reminded of the following type of diagram:


The modern understanding of kinds as used by creationists is suspiciously similar to the Darwinian concept. The only differences really are their arbitrary distinctions of kinds and the time-scales involved. Look at the phylogenetic tree and follow a line from the bottom to the top; all the way along that line were ancestor-descendent relationships which can fit a Biblical definition of kind. 

Conclusion

The essentialist theology of kind used by creationists is not sufficient to explain the biological data and should not be considered synonymous with the Biblical use of kind. It can potentially be replaced with a Darwinian concept of kind, one which is Biblically and biologically consistent. This, however, is unnecessary. There is no need to bridge science and Scripture using a term which has no pragmatic meaning. Sticking to what Genesis says allows for both theologies of kind to be entertained, but there is no reason to embrace either, for we risk forcing those views upon the text instead of allowing it to speak for itself. With the Bible allowed to speak, it is clear that all organisms are blessed by God to reproduce, anything more and we are going beyond the book. 

Creationist dishonesty? Can't be...

I don't follow very many blogs, but amongst the ones I do follow there are a couple of creationists. I've critiqued them before and contrasted them both. If you follow this link, you will see my first critique, which was of a blog post by Daniel Mann. I don't know if he ever read my response to him, but even so, I responded to another of his posts, as you can see here. I was very blunt in one of those posts, describing his arguments as "unconvincing, sloppy, overly simplistic and readily [using] dishonest tactics."

It is Mann's blog I will be responding to yet again, as he recently wrote a post titled Commonalities Fail to Prove Common Descent. I originally intended to respond on his blog, but the format is awkward and word limits prevent one from being able to say much. He also censors comments on his blog, so this seems like the best option.

Some creationists are more of a challenge than Mann, see here, here and here for my exchanges with one such example. I don't expect Daniel to pay any attention to this, but it is here nonetheless. I should also not make comments about his character, but Mann has openly admitted that he lacks scientific understanding, yet he happily turns around and declares that the majority of biologists are wrong. His sort need to be kept quiet through education.



Commonalities Fail to Prove Common Descent?

When I first started reading his blog post, I expected to just ignore it, but he mentioned palaeontology and I felt the urge to write this. He states "They attempted to [prove evolution] with the fossil record. However, this record has stubbornly resisted efforts to conform it to evolutionary orthodoxy." This, to me, quite clearly shows that he is at least twenty years behind modern palaeontology. The rise of palaeobiology in the 70s sparked a lot of debate about the relationship between palaeontology and evolution, a debate which creationists have twisted horrifically. That debate raged for a decade or so and eventually evolutionary biologists started to really get their heads around what the fossil record really showed with regards to evolution. For the past twenty years, transitional fossils in particular have been cropping up near constantly (especially since China opened up to collection).

Mann then goes on to quote Stephen Jay Gould, using a quotation which I am sure he has been corrected on before as it is a blatant quote mine:

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as a trade secret of palaeontology…The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with the idea that they gradually evolved:

1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear…
2. Sudden appearance. In any local area a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’”

One of the first things to note is the age of the quotation. Gould has actually been dead for nearly ten years now, but these words of his are much older than that. Considering how much palaeontology has progressed in the last few decades, this quotation is clearly out of date. It must also be noted what Gould is talking about, as he is addressing the rarity of transitional forms at the species level, as this change happens too rapidly to be recorded geologically. However, there are some examples which even Gould and Eldredge acknowledged. Additionally, Gould wrote often about transitional forms above the species level. This quotation does not support Mann's claims at all. For a bit more detail on Gould's views, I wrote this piece about punctuated equilibria a few years ago, in which some examples of microevolution are acknowledged.

The beautiful mammalian jaw/inner ear bone transition.


He then quotes Mark Ridley in a quotation from 1981:

"No real evolutionist…uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation."

Again, this is outdated, and again, it is out of context. Ridley goes on to explain the evidence which is used for evolution and even that is outdated, as he makes no real reference to the genetic data which has also become voluminous over the past couple of decades. Mann has often been accused of quote mining, even though he is simply parroting the quote mines of others, but he should surely have realised by now that it would make sense to check his sources to make sure they are saying what he thinks they are saying. 

He then quotes Gareth Nelson, in what is probably his worst misunderstanding:

"It is a mistake to believe that even one fossil species… can be demonstrated to have been ancestral to another."

I wholeheartedly agree. Nelson's point is that we have no way to test and confirm whether one fossil species was ancestral to another, but his point is not that we cannot confirm whether or not they were related. Palaeontologists these days are aware that claiming an ancestral relationship in the vast majority of cases is not scientific. Instead, you will find them pointing out that they possessed a transitional morphology and were closely related to other such forms. 

The transition from fish to amphibian. Note that these are not claims of direct ancestry.


Convergence is a problem for evolution??


Convergence between placentals and marsupials. Note that the convergences are functional.


In his post, Mann considers these to be nails in the coffin of common descent. Clearly he has not achieved this, but either way he declares that "[biologists] have sought out commonalities in other areas to support their belief in common descent." 

Mann's chosen example is an interesting one, as it allows us to explore evolution a little and was also something I had not looked into. Instead of addressing the most common lines of evidence, such as the abundant genetic data, he focusses on a morphological similarity and makes some arguments which appear to be becoming more common amongst anti-evolutionists. His chosen example is bioluminescence, but it is his how he uses it which interests me. 

The science deniers are becoming increasingly fascinated with convergent evolution. But unlike convergence enthusiast Simon Conway Morris, their fascination comes from an attempt to disprove evolution. It basically boils down to "oh look, evolutionists said similarities prove evolution, now they are saying that similarities can occur without them being closely related". There is a huge oversight going on here. Some of the best evidence for evolution comes from non-function, such as pseudogenes and retrotransposons in the genome. Instead, the commonalities Mann wants to look at are functional.

Convergent evolution occurs when function is similar or the same. Some problems have limited solutions and so we can expect that natural selection will lead to some traits occurring multiple times independently. Often the convergence is imperfect, or will have a different genetic substrate, but occasionally convergence appears to be perfect on all levels. Nature is constrained in the possible solutions available, so convergence is inevitable.



Hydrodynamic form is an excellent example, because there are very few ways in which a body can be streamlined in water. The torpedo shape is an obvious one for travelling at speed, so animals adapting to that lifestyle would be likely to stumble upon that form. That's why we can see the same basic body shape in sharks, ichthyosaurs and dolphins. When we look at them closely, we start to see some key differences, with one obvious one being how they actually move through the water. The up-down motion of the dolphin tail fluke gives away their mammalian ancestry. For my longer argument on that, see here: http://palaeobabbler.blogspot.com/2010/08/whats-that-swimming-toward-me.html

A very brief look at phylogenetics



When plotting evolutionary family trees (phylogenies) there are certain characters which need to be taken into account and there are some problems to overcome. The terms used here are synapomorphies, plesiomorphies, and homoplasy. I'll briefly look at these.

Synapomorphies: These are the derived traits, the ones which define a group. They are shared by taxa with a common ancestor which also has that trait, but whose ancestor does not have that trait. For example, feathers in birds and theropods are a synapomorphy which is shared by all in this group. Synapomorphies must be distinguished from plesiomorphies in order for cladistics to work.

Plesiomorphies: These are ancestral traits, shared by the taxa but going back to a further common ancestor. One such character for birds would be their erect gait, which is found in dinosaurs which do not belong to Theropoda. It therefore cannot be used as a defining feature of birds, as their non-avian ancestors possessed it too. 

Homoplasy: This is perhaps the most frustrating for such analyses. This basically includes any trait which is found in distantly related species but is, as Mann would call it, a "commonality". This includes convergent evolution, parallel evolution, and mimicry. Continuing the bird example, birds are warm blooded and so are mammals, but this evolved independently. These traits cannot be used for establishing phylogeny, though it is usually possibly to establish convergence as an explanation.

For more on convergent evolution, check out the Map of Life website for some amazing examples and explanations: http://www.mapoflife.org/   It is based on the work of Simon Conway Morris, who sees convergence as pointing towards God (so Christians need not think of him as having an atheistic agenda, as they are wont to do).

Biologists do not carelessly write off such similarities as convergent evolution, not without justification. Convergence is rarely precise and so can be quite obvious. Going back to dolphins and sharks, it is clear that their shape is dictated by natural constraints, so when we look at their other features it is clear that their ancestry is different. Dolphins are clearly mammals, not least due to their possession of mammary glands. The simple ability to nest dolphins within mammalia should show that convergent evolution is not just possible, but to be expected.

I will not comment on Mann's bio-luminescence example. I know little with regards to that specific adaptation and would not like to speak ignorantly. Convergent evolution, however, needs to be properly understood in order to criticise it, and no creationist seems to want to do the legwork. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tim Minchin on Evolution

A slight departure from some of the other videos I have posted, as this is comedy and therefore does not have to be scientifically accurate (it is tempting to use it as a platform for discussing how evolution works, such as putting emphasis on populations and not individuals, but I would rather laugh right now than be a pedant). Naturally I disagree with his views on religion, but still, these clips are hilarious and Tim Minchin is a talented comedian and musician. If you like musical comedy, including comedy aimed at musicians, check him out if you haven't already.




Monday, 24 October 2011

I would like...

Thanks to the repetition of "I want doesn't get" by an ex-girlfriend, I don't often declare that I want something any more. Instead I end up saying "I would like" or "I desire". Here is something I would very much like, the new Jurassic Park poster:


I particularly love that there are two scenes from the film in this image, which very well might have occurred at the same time.

On another note, I am half way through writing a couple of posts which I intended to put here before now, but other things came up. Stay tuned (they are creationist oriented, if that interests you).

Friday, 21 October 2011

Archaeopteryx Again (x11)

Two weeks ago I did a little blog about Archaeopteryx. It didn't say much, but if you are interested, see here. If only I had been lazy and waited two weeks to write about it, I could have done something much more exciting. Solnhofen in Germany has turned up an eleventh Archaeopteryx specimen, which is complete except for its missing head. This dinosaur might not be considered the first bird any more due to a study published this year (I could launch into a rant about the concept of a first bird, but I won't) but it is still an iconic transitional form and these fossils are potentially worth millions. Hopefully this fossil, like the other specimens, will yield some fascinating insights into this incredible period of evolutionary history.


I'm actually going to Solnhofen next year and like many others would love to find one of these. Chances of it happening? Slim to none. Ah well, one can dream...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Evolution Made Simple

I recently found this excellent video with Dr Yan of Bang Goes the Theory talking about evolution, using an excellent visual analogy for how random variations lead to diversity. He manages to show the cumulative effects of mutations (his mentor Dawkins will have loved him for that) and manages to slip in ideas about speciation (unsurprisingly allopatric) and even draws a little cladogram. There could have been more Liz Bonnin, but I think that about most programmes.




My only criticism of it is that it does not give the full picture. A lot of laymen mistakenly think that evolution is random and this video does nothing to really dispel that myth. Natural selection filters the random changes and is itself a non-random process. It is natural selection which really makes evolution work, so hopefully they will do a piece on that some time to complement this one. Otherwise, fantastic stuff.

Evolution: 'nuff said!

This picture was posted on Facebook and made so many points which I end up making repeatedly, and it did so succinctly. I may just use this over and over:


My only slight quibble would be the claim that life does not improve, though to be precise on that matter would have required a lot more text on the poster. Improvement is often subjective, and the way this poster means it is that things don't become "better" over time in the sense most of us would think. Evolution does, however, involve improvement in another way, because populations adapt to their environment and can be said to become "better fit" or "adaptively improved". This is, of course, dependent on the environment, so what is "better" or an "improvement" in one environment is not automatically so in another. Sadly all of the words we could use seem to be loaded in such a way which gives the wrong impression. A lot of what I just typed felt wrong because I know those words give the wrong idea about evolution.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Creation Beliefs Update

Back in February of 2010 I attempted to group together and classify the many creation beliefs that are found in Christianity. I thought I had covered all of the stand out beliefs, but now I need to update it. The original attempt can be seen here and still seems to stand up, though naturally it has some issues (and should not be taken as a prediction of origins).

A few months ago I stumbled across a blog which discussed a different view of creation, one which has its roots in gap theory (1.2.1 in my scheme) yet accepts evolution (putting it in 2.2). Perhaps I could formulate a complementary scheme which takes origins of views into account, but for now I will explain what this belief claims and how it fits into my current taxonomy.

I found this unusual view on Greg Boyd's blog for Christus Victor Ministries. It takes seriously the palaeontological evidence for extinction throughout the history of life yet tries to stick to a literal reading of Genesis creation. It is quite inventive, to say the least. Like other gap theorists, they see a gap between verse 1 and 2, but they additionally claim that nature was corrupted by demonic powers during this time. Elsewhere in the Bible, when creation is mentioned, some warfare symbolism can be seen and evolutionary gap theorists claim that this fits in between verses 1 and 2, a gap which also contains the creation and fall of angels. Then there was a cataclysmic judgement and a recreation (for which this view departs from the evidence).

It goes further than that, well into some fantastical scenarios. Ralph Winters claims that God set angels to oversee creation, angels which were also in training, which explains why it took so long. Some of these angels rebelled during the Cambrian period, hence why we have predation. Winters also goes on to claim that the rest of Genesis 1 is from the perspective of someone on Earth, though this appears to be a difference between him and Boyd and is not integral to their beliefs.

For more on evolution as cosmic conflict and modified/evolutionary gap theory, see these blog posts, as I cannot do justice to a view I know so little about:
http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/2007/06/back-to-drawing-board-on-gap-theory.html
http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/2007/07/ralph-winters-modified-gap-theory.html
http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/evolution-as-cosmic-warfare/
http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/more-on-evolution-as-cosmic-warfare/
http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/unclean-animals-and-the-corruption-of-creation/

So in my previous taxonomy this is clearly part of group 2.2 Christian Evolutionism, as it accepts evolution in the history of life. It seems to fit somewhere in or around 2.2.1 Weak Theistic Evolution, as it clings to a literalistic Genesis, even though it is still rather loose with it. I get the feeling that if I investigate more evangelical approaches to evolution, that 2.2.1 will develop its own subdivisions, within which this view, which I will keep calling Evolutionary Gap Theory, will fit.

It is not a view I buy at all, but I found it interesting nonetheless. It is a step up from a lot of the other creation views, but it does not accommodate the scientific evidence sufficiently. It seems the sort of view which would only be persuasive to theologians and evangelicals who have no proper grasp of evolution. But as I said, it is a step up at least.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Christians and Fossils: an overview

I posted this to Facebook as an overview which I do intend to do as a blog series here. Naturally it will be in much more detail, looking at each individual view and providing a critique. Some will be more detailed than others, as there are views which require more debunking and there are some where I know little about them. I also intend to do this as a possible book some day, though I intended to start it last year. 



This will simply be a brief look at modern Christian explanations for the fossil record. If any of these fit your view, then feel free to expand on what I write and explain why you believe it. If I have missed any, then please present the views I have missed.

Dismissive views:

1. Fossils can only tell us that something died. This sort of statement is often used in order not to address the fossil record or to dismiss any succession perceived in it.
2. Fossils are a test of faith. A view which allows for dismissal of the evidence.
3. Fossils were planted by Satan. This is similar to 2.
4. Fossils are fake. A rare view which invokes global conspiracy as the explanation.
None of the above views are serious attempts to engage with the evidence and so will not be addressed in any more detail.

Young Earth Creationist views:

The following four views are not necessarily mutually exclusive and all invoke a global flood.

1. Hydrological sorting. This is the view that the fossil record can be explained by organisms being sorted by density and other factors rather than evolution.http://creationwiki.org/Hydrological_sorting

2. Differential escape. This explanation is used to account for the increase in complexity seen in the fossil record. It posits that smarter, faster animals were able to escape the flood for longer, while all the slower, dumber animals died first, giving the illusion of evolving complexity. It also tries to explain the abundance of marine fossils.

3. Habitat sorting/ecological zonation. In this explanation, differing environments are used to explain fossils found in different strata and locations. The reason we do not find trilobites and man together is because trilobites are marine and humans are terrestrial, for example.

4. The European flood model. This is more complex than the other YEC models, as it does not propose the flood as an explanation for the whole fossil record. Instead, the pre-flood/post-flood boundary is in Carboniferous strata. The fossil record shows a succession of pre-flood organisms which died (all were marine because the land was destroyed), through organisms which proliferated during the flood, followed by the progressive filling of the Earth after the flood receded. A proponent of this view is Paul Garner.

Favourite evidences used by the YEC groups include polystrate fossils and fossil lagerstatte (areas of exceptional preservation). Proponents include Duane Gish, Henry Morris, Kent Hovind and the palaeontologist Kurt Wise.
http://www.bryancore.org/anniversary/04.pdf

Devolution:

I have included this one for a laugh. I once met a guy on a different discussion board who is trying to raise funds to start a museum which will explain the fossil record his way:

The greater ancestor explanation: The fossil record shows devolution, where ancestors were bigger and better in the past and have been progressively getting worse. Favoured evidence includes large mammal fossils from throughout the Cenozoic and large insect fossils from the Carboniferous.

Old Earth Creationist views:

1. Gap theory: This explains the fossil record by considering it as almost a separate creation, before God wiped the slate clean and started afresh with man and other animals. The fossil record is therefore the remnants of a failed creation.

2. Concordism and day-age: This view accepts the age of the Earth and instead suggests that there were many stages of creation and that Genesis matches what the fossils show. No large scale evolution was involved, just God stepping in to make created kinds.

Proponents of these views try to take the fossil record as a whole, though tend not to engage with it much. A prominent proponent is Hugh Ross.

Intelligent Design:

1. The patterns in the fossil record are real, but not explained by evolution. This is simply a rejection of evolution as an explanation for the whole fossil record. ID theorists differ in the degree to which God has stepped in during geological history.

Evidence given often includes the Cambrian explosion as a rapid source of new "information", and also examples such as whale evolution are used to claim that evolution would be too slow. Proponents include Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer.
http://www.discovery.org/a/2177

Theistic evolution views:

1. Evolution as cosmic warfare/modified gap theory: The fossil record is explained by cosmic warfare between Satan and good, corrupting the creation and causing mass mortality. It accepts a literal Genesis with a gap in Genesis 1.http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/evolution-as-cosmic-warfare/

2. Teleological evolution: Evolution is the explanation for the fossil record, but it also shows that there is an inevitable progression in complexity, which points to God. Proponents of this view, such as palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, use palaeontological evidence of convergence in evolution as support, combined with constraints in nature. http://www.mapoflife.org/

3. Generic theistic evolution: Simply accepts evolution as the explanation for the fossil record, based on the evidence for an increase in the spread of complexity and faunal succession, along with transitional forms and other lines of fossil data.

Proponents of theistic evolution include Kenneth Miller, John Polkinghorne, and palaeontologists Bob Bakker and Mary Schweitzer.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Jurassic Park on the big screen.

A couple of nights ago I went to see Westworld with dinosaurs. By that, I mean that I went to see Jurassic Park at the cinema. I went to the 11:55pm showing, which was difficult as I got tired, but well worth it. I watch the films a couple of times a year, yet watching it on the big screen again had me spotting details which I had never noticed before, so I thought I would share some nuggets of information.

During the scene in which John Hammond makes his first appearance in the film, the big screen made it easier to read newspaper clippings decorating the trailer. On the fridge was an article titled "Space Aliens Stole My Face". As if that wasn't amusing enough, the words "Dinosaurs on Mars" could also be seen. There are some hints at proper palaeontological literature, but it is these which really catch the eye.

One of my favourite mistakes in the film stood out even more at the cinema. When Dennis Nedry is stealing the dinosaur embryos, the labels can be quite clearly seen. One of them reads "STEGASAURUS". I find it very amusing that one of the few Jurassic period dinosaurs mentioned is not spelled correctly, as it should be Stegosaurus. 


Whilst looking up images for this post, I stumbled upon more Jurassic Park trivia and found some of the casting choices interesting. Juliette Binoche was actually offered the role of Ellie Sattler, but turned it down to make the excellent Trois couleurs: Bleu, which is a shame, as I have a soft spot for Juliette. I've also often wondered why they did not get David Attenborough to narrate during the car scenes, as that would clearly be a case of sparing no expense, though it has come to my attention recently that he is not quite as well known in America and that Richard Kiley is known for his voice over there.

It was also brought to my attention recently that during the first proper dinosaur scene, where the Brachiosaurus is seen rearing up to get to higher branches, that it does not actually get any higher. Its head stays on the same level. It still looks good though, and the timing of the music is perfect.

If it were on for longer I might have gone again to see what else I can spot, though I will simply have to stick with the DVDs.

The 'babbler family is expanding.

Astroboy; no relation to Astrobabbler
I don't think I have ever promoted another blog before, so this is a first. Until now I was the only 'babbler, though I did once find a blog called PaleoBabble which has nothing to do with me and nothing to do with palaeontology, so it can be ignored. But there is a new 'babbler on the block (I wanted to make a portmanteau of block and blog but it doesn't work) and now I am wondering if this could be expanded even more. This new 'babbler is Astrobabbler, whose blog can be perused here. As the name suggests, one of his main interests is astronomy and he intends to study astronomy and cosmology academically some day. Like many interested in all things space, he enjoys talk about aliens and other fantastical elements, including the odd conspiracy here or there. It should make for interesting reading, plus there will be other random, non-astro stuff in there too. He's fourteen years old, so his blog should keep getting better and better as he is constantly learning and mistakes can easily be forgiven.

There has only been one post on the blog, the introductory post, though I am sure there will be more soon. Already I am seeing it as like the little brother of The Palaeobabbler, as the Astrobabbler is a young lad I encouraged to do his own blog.

So how do I know him? Well, before I headed off onto my palaeobiology course, I used to be a leader at the church youth group, the RJR. It is for secondary school age kids and offers a place for them to be on a Friday evening for a couple of hours, most of which is spent playing games etc. but there is also some serious time and food. Sadly it only runs during term time, so I rarely get to go any more, but when I can I make sure that I do. They are a good bunch of kids, though I made the mistake of letting some of them add me on MSN and Facebook. This is no longer bad, but at first I was getting messages off them (the girls) which were lewd, though thankfully they stopped when I confronted them. Since then it has been positive, as some of them have come to me at times with issues and I have managed to help point them in the right direction. Some of them just like to have a good chat, which is where Astrobabbler pops up. I've been talking to him online for quite some time now, chatting about music, science, philosophy and more. He is eager to learn and explore new ideas and I hope that shows in his blog.

In an interesting twist, there might be mutual inspiration. A few weeks ago I showed him some short stories I wrote and he enjoyed them, encouraging me to write more. He had me promise to write him a short story, which is a promise I am unlikely to keep, but for good reason. A couple of days after that conversation I started getting some ideas and wrote them down. I am now entertaining the idea of attempting to write a book, but not science or theology which I intend to do some time in the future anyway, but fiction. That conversation sparked my imagination and I have begun designing the world in which my characters will live, though my storyline ideas are a bit vague at the moment and need some fleshing out.

So follow his blog and find out some interesting stuff! When I searched for an image to put in this blog post I simply Googled "astro" to see what I got. I found this intriguing film poster: