Monday, September 15, 2014

Resuscitation and some old fleas

I've recently been enduring "encouragement" (that's a nice word) to revive and resuscitate my blog, mostly from one person who continues to suggest articles I ought to write and even tells me what he thinks I could say.  It's kind of like the persistent widow and the unjust judge, which makes me the unjust judge.  In the face of his relentless enthusiasm for my opinion (which I admit is a little odd), I have decided to try posting something once a week.  That's a schedule that might be too ambitious, but hopefully I can come up with something every week that's worth writing about and the time to write about it.

The past few weeks have had some interesting science stories, from alleged genetic testing on Jack the Ripper (which Smithsonian mag finds legitimately doubt-worthy), to the world's largest sauropod (behold Dreadnoughtus), to a 24-year old woman born without a cerebellum (How is that possible!?  Check it out.), but being the odd bird that I am, I'm going to talk here about a report of Cretaceous fleas.

Why fleas?  Well, as you know, I'm a young-age creationist.  As such, I believe that God created the world in some form of physical goodness, which it no longer displays because of human sin.  Beyond that belief, I find it somewhat difficult to pin down the specifics, especially as a biologist.  I look at biology, and I find predators, parasites, pathogens, and poisons that make me wonder whether such features were part of that original creation or not.  For example, what about ebola or anthrax?  Are these things that Adam would have to watch out for?  Or lesser things, like mosquitoes or fleas?  Were such creatures always the way they are now?

That's my context for being interested in a paper by Gao et al. in BMC Evolutionary Biology reporting an exquisite fossil flea with a distended abdomen.  There are other fossil fleas from the Mesozoic, but what caught my eye this time was the distended abdomen.  The authors suggest that this flea had just feasted on blood before it died.

Another point of context: As a young-age creationist, I view a big chunk of the fossil record as the remnants of the Flood of Noah's day.  Instead of depicting millions of years of development, I think that Flood-deposited fossil record tells us something about what the world was like just before the Flood.  So when Gao et al. interpret their results in terms of flea evolution and the origin of modern fleas' blood sucking adaptations, I look at this as a hint about what fleas were like just before the Flood.  And fleas were apparently blood-sucking parasites then too.

What do these fleas mean for creationist interpretations of earth history?  Well, there's sort of a tendency among my fellow creationist (and me too) to view the Fall as an event where God basically allowed things to fall apart.  That idea would suggest that the modern world of disease and death developed slowly as life on this planet adapted to the new reality of death, which was absent from God's original creation.

In recent years, though, I've been thinking that this idea doesn't work very well.  Our modern world of death is too well-designed to be some random adaptation to death.  Death works too well.  I'm beginning to think that if the Fall brought physical death to creation (which I think it did), then it must have involved a considerable re-design of what the original creation was.  I think these pre-Flood fleas fit this idea of re-design quite well, in that they were blood-sucking parasites.  There's no hint here of a pre-blood-sucking-parasite existence, which suggests that fleas were fleas from the moment God re-designed the world at the Fall.

Or maybe fleas aren't part of the Fall at all?  I don't know.  That might be a little too radical.

Read all about it:

Gao et al. 2014. The first flea with fully distended abdomen from the Early Cretaceous of China.  BMC Evol Biol 14:168.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Upcoming Origins conferences

I'm just now getting a little bit settled from the big Colorado trip, and I wanted to update everyone on the major announcement from the Origins2014 conference.  We've planned out the next three conferences, and here they are:

Origins 2015

July 23-25
Truett-McConnell College, Cleveland, GA

Origins 2016

July 21-23
Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA

Origins 2017

July 20-22
Venue TBD

The 2017 venue is still up for grabs, and we are considering proposals now.  If you'd like to host a conference in your area, email me and I'll tell you what we need to know.  We'll make our final decision on 2017 at the next conference.  God willing, we'll keep this pace up and start planning two years in advance instead of just one.

The 2015 call for abstracts will be available shortly.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Origins 2014 abstracts published

I'm at the Origins 2014 conference right now, and I wanted to let everyone know that the geology and biology abstracts are published now at the JCTS website.  Check them out!

Origins 2014 biology abstracts
Origins 2014 geology abstracts

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Last call for Origins 2014

We've got two weeks left before Origins 2014, and there are still tickets available.  The full schedule is online, and we will have a great time Saturday touring the Garden of the Gods.  The conference is being held at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, July 23-26.

Register Here

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wow! PC(USA) rejects endorsement of evolution

Well, I didn't see this coming, but maybe that's my own unfamiliarity with the denomination.  According to an article by Michael Zimmerman at Huffington Post, a committee at the 2014 general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted overwhelmingly (47 to 2) against a measure that would have designated an "evolution Sunday" wherein the denomination would have advocated evolution.  In essence, the proposal would have approved The Clergy Letter Project, which claims to be about the compatibility of science and religion, but is more about advocating evolution, as even a cursory glance at their website will tell you.

I'm surprised, because I've always understood the PCUSA to be the sort of "liberal" wing of Presbyterianism.  Again, I confess that I'm not really up on my Presbyterian politics, so I might be unduly influenced by all my conservative friends who know more about Presbyterians than I.  Nevertheless, given what I've heard in the news, I suspect that the average PCUSA pastor and I would disagree about a whole pile of things.  So I would have expected them to go ahead and endorse evolution with no problem.  Obviously I was really, really wrong.

Zimmerman of course thinks this is terrible, because he started the Clergy Letter Project, and he seems to think that acceptance of evolution is the only way for religion to move forward.  Given that many PCUSA pastors and theologians probably have no problem with evolution, I'm curious why they stopped short of endorsing "evolution Sunday."  Zimmerman doesn't cite many reasons, but one comment really struck a chord:
...there was concern that the entire topic was simply too controversial. The latter view was best expressed by the person who said, "I have people in my family who believe in evolution and those who don't. Why add fuel to the fire?"
Now I'm sure the average creationist would be upset that the PCUSA won't endorse creationism, just as Zimmerman is disappointed that they won't endorse evolution.  Personally I find their response really intriguing, and I don't find it cowardly at all.

Think of this: The majority of evangelical Christians in the pews (Presbyterians included) accept some form of creationism.  Acceptance of evolution among the rank and file is pretty rare (some surveys indicate maybe 1 in 20 evangelicals think that evolution is OK).  So what exactly does a strong endorsement of evolution do for a denomination where the leadership knows their own families are split on the issue?  It divides them, pure and simple, and as we know from Proverbs 11:29, "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind."

So what's the way forward?  I'm convinced that the church at large needs better information and better understanding of science and faith before they can dive into the complexities of the interactions of science and faith. Forcing a huge majority of some church or denomination to accept a position they don't really understand much less agree with won't help.  It'll just give people something more to fight about.  At Core Academy, we want to help Christians better understand and appreciate science.  As a creationist, I hope that better understanding will lead to an appreciation and acceptance of creationism, but knowledge is a risky thing and people don't always react the way I'd hope.  Education isn't indoctrination, and the future unity (or further fractionation) of the body of Christ is too important to leave to raw indoctrination efforts like "evolution Sunday."

Beyond just education, my friends at The Colossian Forum have helped me to appreciate that basic Christian unity is something we cultivate through the sharing of prayer and fellowship, even across ideological divides over evolution.  Honestly, two years ago, I would never ever have thought I would count an evolutionary creationist among my friends.  Now, things are different.  Through the practice of prayer and honest discussion, I've discovered that "all things hold together in Christ" (Col. 1:17) and that building Christian unity doesn't necessarily require unanimity.

So despite the disappointment of zealots, I think the PCUSA decision is fairly wise.  Evolution really isn't worth destroying congregations over.  I pray for the day when the PCUSA (and every other denomination) can address evolution and creation with wisdom and without fear.  I pray for the day when disagreements over origins bring us together as the body of Christ rather than drive us apart.

In the meantime, hesitation about these divisive questions isn't such a bad thing.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.