• The First Brain

    You know, y’all are an unusually quiet bunch of readers. I would bet money I don’t have that a freakishly high percentage of you are Introverted Intuitives on the Meyer’s Briggs Personality Test. Which isn’t a complaint, of course. I’m an Introverted Intuitive myself. But it does mean that I know far less about y’all than most writers with an audience my size.

    However, a few of you have been bold enough to reach out and make yourselves known to me. And I have to assume that the rest of you are really awesome because my readers who I’ve gotten to know have turned out to be some of my favorite people. I even consider many of them friends.

    One of the first readers who connected with me is a professor of biology at The University of West Chester Pennsylvania named Oné R. Pagán. Over the last nearly two years, Oné has become a friend and has been a source of encouragement to me. I’m certain he would be shocked at just how often certain things he has said to me have kept me going when selfdoubt and discouragement came prowling. He has been a true blessing.

    The reason I am telling you about dear Dr. Pagán is because not only is he a professor and great guy, he’s also a blogger and a newly published author who I think you should know about. You can find his blog at Bald Scientist where he writes mainly about science with an aim to make it understandable and interesting to lay people. A new Carl Sagan in the making.

    PLUS, Oné’s first book was recently published by Oxford Press (he’s a fancy, impressive guy that way). It’s called The First Brain. It’s about brains. And flat worms. And drugs. And aliens. Ok, not aliens. But if you like reading about science and have any interest in neurobiology, you should check it out. Because then you’ll be smarter and the world will be a better place. And we all want the world to be a better place, don’t we?

    Anyhow, I wanted to pass that along to you, my dear, mostly silent, anonymous audience. And offer a proper congratulations to Oné for the publication of his first book. You can learn more about the book as well as get a code for 20% off a hard cover copy of The First Brain here. I would put up a picture of the super cool cover for y’all to see, but I’m having no end of technical difficulties, so you’ll just have to follow the link and be impressed.

    And, reader? It’s OK to speak up from time to time, k? :)

  • dinosaurs save the world

    Consciousness and Genesis 1

    I want to write about my personal theory on the story of creation told in Genesis 1 today, but I can’t think of any interesting or clever way to start the post. So I thought maybe I could find a good joke about creation to use. After looking for awhile I found this little gem:

    A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot.
    They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake.
    Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and
    jumped in the water.

    Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying
    their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come
    along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in
    time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi
    covered his face while they ran for cover.

    After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the
    minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather
    than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in
    MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”

    Of course that joke has nothing to do with creation, but it’s funny so in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided that’s what counts. Now . . . moving on to the story of creation.

    One of the oddities of the story of creation in Genesis 1 is that the order in which things were created makes no sense. First there’s day and night and then later, after there was land and plants, but before there were animals, the sun, moon and stars get made. Water was apparently pre-existing and had to be separated from air to make the sky. So on and so forth.

    For creationists, none of this matters because somehow that’s just how God did it. For people who run a wee bit deeper and wider than that, both logic and science say that it couldn’t have happened like that. Those who reject religion say the creation story is just something people made up to explain the world and really means nothing. Christians who don’t blasphemously reject the evidence of God’s own creation in favor of man’s understanding of scripture figure the point of the story is that God made everything, he made it with purpose and it is good.

    I personally have my own pet theory about why the order of creation is all jumbled up in Genesis 1. Continue reading

  • deficit

    Apparently My Week Has 8 Days In It

    I started to do these “Best of the Week” posts a few weeks ago and it seems that my week is consistently 8 days long.  Which I have no doubt that people who have to deal with me would agree is pretty much how I work!  But hey – it’s my blog and it’s free!  (Although you can make a donati0n to support the site using that tip jar over there.)

    So, here’s what I’ve found interesting in the past week:

    Seriously – why is any man in the USA so powerful that he can assign people to hunt down every word said about him and have them go after a high school senior with 65 followers for cracking wise about him on twitter? This is what power being abused looks like. Good for this smart-alecky teen for not giving in!

    Here’s my politics for the week:

    I love neuroscience.  And it’s absolutely fascinating what scientists are starting to parse out from DNA in regards to questions like what makes us human and how our biology influences our thinking and behavior.  Here are two interesting articles on the subject:

    Neanderthal Neuroscience and Neuroscience and Free Will

    I enjoyed this blog post on God or the Bible at Overweights of Joy:

    “Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ personally” (John 17:3). We have perhaps defined eternal life as living eternally in heaven. But that was not how Jesus defined it. Eternal life has nothing to do with going to heaven or escaping hell. It has to do with knowing the Lord. To know God intimately and personally has been the passion of my life and the burden of my heart.

    And:

    If Bible knowledge could produce holiness, we should be having the godliest people in history living today. But we don’t. Satan himself would have been holy if Bible knowledge could produce holiness – for no one knows the Bible as well as he does.

    Back into the realm of the scientific: But I Raised Them Right! – What Your Child’s DNA Can Tell You About Parenting.  I am 100% certain that  my two boys have the genetic variant that is associated with not being able to learn from one’s mistakes and negative experiences.

    And on that note, let me just share my parenting thought for the week.  When a family has children with a wide range of ages, it is often observed that parents seem to become less active and more lax than one might expect with the last child.  This is usually attributed to the parents being tired and worn out.  I am here to report that this is not, generally, the problem.  What happens is that by the time you get to your last child, the limits of your ability to shape another human being – even your own child – have become amply clear.

     

  • drop-of-water-on-a-blade-of-grass-thumb5544980

    I Love Evolution! (A Christian’s Perspective)

    One of the primary purposes of creation is supposed to be to provide a testimony of who God is.  It’s a shame that so many religious people fail to get that.  But for anyone who cares to look, the details which emerge are amazing.  They are amazing in their own right, but they are also amazing because these details are ones that God put in place.  Every physical reality points us to a spiritual truth. (Coming later this week – a blog post on The Theology of Poop! Subscribe now!)

    Interestingly, the set of details which religious people are most likely to insist aren’t there – evolution – points us to those spiritual truths which are pretty much completely lacking in most people’s theology as well.  Like growth.  Like getting down to tiny details.  Like knowing that survival relies on adapability and that life is moved forward by mutations, not preseved by purity.

    I love the elegance of evolution.  Have you ever looked closely at a blade of grass?  It’s ridged.  That helps to channel water towards the ends of the blade so it will fall to the ground and water the plant.  It’s why grass can grow so close together and part of what made grass successful in places where trees and mosses can’t thrive. It’s so purposeful.

    Evolution creates these neat little puzzles to work out.  (people love puzzles!  Wasn’t that nice of God to put that in there?)  Why are panda’s black and white?  Could it be related to their baby’s vulnerability?  Maybe just like with human babies they are attracted to black and white, so the babies with black and white parents were more likely to respond and survive.  Maybe we’re just making stuff up, but if we really want, we can run experiments and see if  we’re right!  Ooooo – what kind of experiment?  This is fun!  Why on God’s green earth would you want to deprive your children of the opportunity to learn this way of seeing and interacting with the world?  Because you didn’t come from no monkeys?  Well, sorry Sparky, but you’re not in charge here.  If God wanted your great to the kajillionth generation grandmother to be part monkey on her father’s side, then so be it.  Who are you to tell him otherwise?

    The spiritual implications of the systems and methods of evolution are fascinating.  Think of all the references to the cycles of nature illuminating deep spiritual truths (seasons changing, grain falling to the ground and dying, etc).  As we understand the way God works in creation with more and more precision we will have new insights into how God works spiritually as well.

    The ancient Hebrew way of meditating was to take two seemingly conflicted things, hold them together in one’s mind until they started making sense together.  If God is love and creation reflect’s his handiwork, what does it mean to live in a world with predators?  What exactly is God’s relationship with creation if he was able to make a good creation by setting loose a set of rules, principles and material rather than by directing it like a construction foreman?  These are fascinating questions, I think.

    Evolution doesn’t deny scripture and scripture doesn’t deny evolution.  (How can reality deny reality?)  But evolution sure does make it clear that we don’t understand it as well as we think we do.  Which is hardly a bad thing.  Spirituality is still in the dark ages in a lot of ways.  Why wouldn’t we want to understand things better, more accurately, more deeply than we do now?  It’s done a world of good in the physical world.  Perhaps its time for the spiritual world to start catching up.  Make our own evolutionary lead forward.

     

  • Illustration from The Upside Down World by my sister Cindy

    I think about weird things

    .

    Illustration from The Upside Down World by my sister Cindy

    At the very end of my book The Upside Down World – A Book of Wisdom in Progress, I have a section which I called “Quantum Christianity”.  It consists of several pages of fairly random notes about a variety of subjects ranging from quantum physics to abortion.  I don’t usually makes notes, but I do usually think about a variety of odd things.  I like thought experiments.  I like logic puzzles.  I like looking for odd connections between seemingly unrelated things.  My favorite item from this section of the book is this thought experiment: What if everything in existence -galaxies, quarks, people, cells in your body – experienced its lifespan as a hundred years long?

    I don’t know why, but I do spend an unusual amount of time thinking about weird things.  My 16 year old keeps telling me that I need to get a hobby – other than thinking.  So, in the spirit of “Quantum Christianity”, here are some of the odd things that I’ve been thinking about lately:

    1. Motion as a source of clean energy.  I have heard of using the motion of vehicles and foot traffic to create power, but I wonder if there might be a way to capture the deep motions of the earth in order to create power.  Perhaps technology from a super sensitive seismograph machine and material that amplifies motion together?

    2. How the progression of technology – particularly new forms of communication – affect our understanding of God and spirituality.  Until a little over 100 years ago, no one had ever heard the voice of someone who wasn’t there  unless they were mystics or crazy.  But now its common place.  Does the experience of carrying on a relationship via telephone enhance our ability to have a real relationship with God?  What about internet relationships?  Some of them are very real and rely on typed words to be created.  Does this make us more open to interacting with the words of scripture in a more dynamic way – since we are more familiar with the potential problems associated with communicating via written words alone?

    3. The similarity between regular dysfunctions and addictions.  Both can seem impervious to our attempts to change and both are forms of coping with a world that is too much for us.  Both require learning new, healthier ways to cope with the stresses of life.  Perhaps the reason that we hear so much about various shopping or sex or internet addictions is because the pathology of addiction is essentially the same for all forms of dysfunction.  We just don’t label it addiction unless it has physical rather than relational and emotional effects.

    I would love to hear about any weird things other people find themselves thinking about!  More kindling to the fire. ;)

    BTW, If you like the things I write here or found this story interesting or intriguing in any way, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy of my book, The Upside Down World.  It’s an ecclectic collection of essays, short stories, poetry, ideas, spiritual memoir and more.  In it are many of the things I have written that I personally go back to for inspiration and comfort when I need it.  The book can be purchased on Amazon.  I am also offering a buy-one-give-one deal on full price copies of the book ($12 plus $2 shipping) ordered directly from me.  For each copy of the book purchased directly from me, I will donate a copy to Transport for Christ or Freedom Works Prison Fellowship.  These are two local groups who have agreed to give copies of the book free of charge to people they minister to.  If you are interested in the buy-one-give-one offer, please email me at ratrotter73@yahoo.com with “b1g1″ in the message.

  • creationism

    Why Creationism Does Not Honor God

    I’m going to start my day by ticking people off!

    Just let me say at the outset that I am not saying that people who hold a belief in what is called “biblical creationism” do not honor God.  They may or may not.  But the belief system itself does not honor God.  Why?  Because it denies the work of God’s own hands.  The creation is very important to God.  “It is good,” was his judgement on it.  Scriptures tell us that the created world speaks so clearly of the reality of God that even those who have never heard the name of Christ can be judged because of the truth that it proclaims.

    Today we are very privileged to live in a time when people who do not even know our savior are dedicating all the days of their lives to studying the work of His hands.  What have they discovered?  That mountains really do bow down.  They just take a really long time to do it.  That rocks when studied proclaim the glory of a God whose creation has been unfolding in ways both mysterious and wonderful for longer than man can fathom.  That the very atoms of our bodies come from dust – dust of the ground and dust of exploding stars and the dust that the stars and planets formed from.  Over and over, these scientists who study how creation works are explaining the physical realities behind the poetic descriptions given to people so long ago.  It is truly amazing how accurate these poetic descriptions often are.  The writers of the bible had no way of knowing that mountains really do rise up and then get eroded away.  They didn’t know about great banks of moisture traveling over the surface of the earth which when full, spill their water to the surface – like the water jars of heaven that the bible mentions.  They didn’t know that rocks contain the secret history of the earth and the records of life growing and evolving here.  Yet somehow, Jesus knew that they could proclaim the glory of God even if no one else would.

    But then we get to evolution.  This is where many Christians lose it.  First of all, many Christians have bought into the idea that if evolution is true, it discredits God as creator and our special place in the universe.  Which is absurd.  If evolution is true, it is because God made it true.  Who are we to tell God how he may and may not create his own universe and the creatures who bear his image?  Who are we to deny the evidence of God’s own creation by insisting, “well, I read your book and as I understood it, it says you did it this way – not the way that your creation points to you making it.”  Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous?  It’s our understanding of scripture that is flawed, not the testimony of creation!

    Many Christians will point to scientists and their faithlessness as a reason to disbelieve what God’s creation is telling us.  But I challenge any believer to take a closer look at creationist materials.  They are filled from start to back with dishonest representations of the work that these scientists are doing.  Take any argument and look to see the scientific response to it and the dishonesty of these materials starts to take shape.  A very basic example: does evolution rely on random accidents?  That is one of the claims used to discredit evolution, but it is very far from the truth of what evolution has found.  I wrote a bit about this elsewhere, but the mutations evolution depends on are far from random.  Irreducible complexity only makes sense if you don’t understand the parts life has to work with.  The basic materials of life fit together in such a way that scientists are beginning to think that life is almost inevitable.  Just like snowflakes naturally form because of the shape of water molecules, the basic structures which the most primative forms of life depend on seem to be the natural result of the way that various materials come together.

    If you really believe that the creationist materials which claim to refute evolution scientifically are reliable, I have a challenge for you.  Look up the references they offer.  See what the original source material says and judge for yourself how accurately it has been represented.  If there is a quote from a scientist, see if it was pulled out of context in such a way that its meaning has been lost.  See what the scientist has to say about his or her work and what it means.  Creationist materials rely heavily on deception and count on those who are using it not to challenge or dig into its claims.  Our God is a God of truth and this reliance on deception is not His way.  And this reliance on dishonesty is pervasive among those who claim to be able to show the truth of “biblical creationism”.  In the infamous Dover PA case regarding teaching intelligent design, it was easily shown that the ID text book was simply a creationist text tweaked to remove explicit references to God.  The whole argument of the intelligent design proponents was that ID was not the same thing as biblical creationism, and yet they were so arrogant and so dishonest that they simply took a creationist text and modified it a bit. I have even heard proponents of creationism claim that God only made it appear that the world was billions of years old and that life arose from the process of evolution as a test of our faith.  These people are willing to make God himself into a liar in order to protect their own understanding! These people claim to be serving God, but the god of their own imagining is a liar who depends on other liars to protect him.  There is a father of lies, but it’s not God.

    As to the actual words of the creation story, we need to remember who it was given to: people who didn’t know what a billion was or what an atom or dna or a virus or sperm was.  Would we have preferred that God waited until our scientific knowledge caught up to the physical reality before making himself known to humanity.  Even within the story itself, there are signs pointing to a more complicated reality.  There are two different creation stories, for one.  A lot of it is vague – what is the light and the dark that God created?  And did it really not occur to God that Adam would need some way to reproduce until he decided to make Eve?  Which is not to disparage the creation stories in any way.  I’m personally fascinated by them.  I have been meditating on them for a good 20 years now and will probably continue trying to figure out what they have to tell us for many years to come.  It’s a shame that the story of the creation and fall have been treated so shallowly because they contain puzzles worthy of the greatest minds.

    I have been upset for years over “biblical creationism” because of the bad fruit it produces.  Many of the scientists that Christians like to disparage (which is NOT loving) do not believe in God because of creationism.  It keeps people from knowing God.  Creationism breeds lies and liars.  It trashes the church’s testimony.  No one sees Christians denying the reality of creation and is inspired to follow God.  It keeps people hanging onto a simplistic, immature view of God as a genie who goes “poof” and makes things happen.  It puts God on our timeline and not His own.  Having to wait on God makes much more sense when you consider that God normally works over the course of billions of years and not minutes and hours.  Creationism discredits holy scripture by trying to make it into a history book rather than the record of the revelation of God to his people.  When we insist that scripture says something that is obviously untrue, people will no longer see any reason to take it seriously.

    Often creationists try to claim that by standing up for “truth”, they are honoring God.  But if there’s anything that comes naturally to us humans it is refusing to admit when we are wrong.  Those who hold onto this very human, flawed understanding of what the scriptures say about creation aren’t being brave and faithful to God.  They are simply doing what we humans are always doing – trying to substitute our own ideas about how things should work for God’s and stubbornly refusing to be corrected.  God’s creation is telling us how He created life.  Denying this testimony does not honor God in any way.

    Of course, our scientific understanding is incomplete and mistakes get made.  But the fundamentals have been being worked out for a long time now.  The evidence keeps mounting.  Mysteries keep getting solved.  It is well past time for people of faith to take a real interest in what is being found.  This is the work of our God’s hands and he has told us that it testifies to His ways and his truth. What we really need is a new theology that doesn’t deny the reality of creation, but uses it to understand the sort of God we serve.  That is what would honor God, I believe.  But we need more and more people who are willing to let go of their own understanding and love both God and his creation to lead the way.

    It’s been a while, but I have written on this topic before:

    Raising Christian Evolutionists

    Teaching Creationism or ID? A Formula For Putting Your Child’s Faith at Risk

    Ancient Hebrews and Creation

    Disproving ID: Unlocking the secrets of cells

    In Which I Call Creationism Demonic

  • 101124-tech-glowing%20trees_grid-6x2

    This would be AWESOME!

    I know that many people are very suspicious of bio-engineering, but what if they could make trees that glow like something out of a Tinkerbell movie?  Scientists are working on making glow-in-the-dark plants that could one day replace streetlights.  How awesome (and beautiful) would that be?  Unfortunately, since the process relies on the chlorophyl found in plants, I don’t suppose it would work very well here in the north where the trees are bare 6 months out of the year.  But still . . . just imagine walking hand in hand down a street in Paris under the glowing trees.  I may not want to eat genetically modified food, but I think we could learn to live with glowing trees!

  • The Platypus and Evolution

    For people who are interested in these things, there is a fascinating article in the Washington Post about the genetic code of the platypus.  Scientists just finished mapping the odd animal’s DNA and not too surprisingly, it’s odd.  What is particularly useful about this is that scientists have been able to map segments of the platypus’ genetic code which are similar to those found in birds, mammals and reptiles.  Over the ages, and at crucial times in the evolution of life, there were probably many transitional animals bearing the imprint of multiple orders of animals.  We are just lucky to have this one living example to give us a peak at how it worked itself out.

    One of the things which I also found interesting about the article is that it repeatedly refers to evolution in anthropomorfic terms.  Evolution is referred to as trying things out, working out how to do something, deciding, etc.  One of the things which people often do not realize is that evolution is not nearly as random or unintelligent as it is sometimes portrayed.  For example, we know that there are genetic sequences which can cause similar but different outcomes in different animals, depending on how it is tweaked.  For example, the platypus makes milk which is a variation on a milky substance which its ancestors made to keep their leathery eggs from drying out.  In other animals, we see that light sensing cells can evolve into organs which detect electrical currents.  So rather than being a completely random process, evolution seems to have given life genetic sequences which act something like one of those tool kits with the different bits and sockets that can be changed out.  The basic genetic sequence is about the same, but can be easily modified to fit different needs.  This would accelerate the process of evolution as slight mutations in these genetic sequences are far more likely to be useful than completely random mutations spread over the entire genetic sequence.

    Anyhow, there’s your science lesson for the day.  Hopefully I didn’t mangle it too badly.  :)