Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Very Thought-Provoking Movie

Peace and blessings,

Given the recent post on Phillip Johnson's "Darwin on Trial," I am really looking forward to the movie
  • Expelled,
  • Which talks about some of the same issues that Johnson raised. Namely, the movie talks about how scientists and others in general are "bullied" by those who are "riders" for Darwinism. The movie raises the question of why those who disagree with Darwinism are not given the same respect and platform to present their thinking as those who agree with Darwinism. Check out the extended trailer and let me know what you think. Have a blessed weekend and speekonit...

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    A Few Thoughtz: Darwin on Trial, pt. 2

    Peace and blessings,

    I just wanted to briefly clarify my position on Darwin's theory of evolution (as well as the idea of evolution in general), because I realize that it was not clear in the previous post. As someone who is training to be a social scientist, I have the upmost respect and appreciation for science, theories of evolution included. After all, our ability to hypothesize about the world and search out to test those hypotheses is one of the characteristics that make us human.

    Before proceeding, I must preface this discussion by acknowledging the fact that my take on this issue is heavily influenced by my Christian beliefs. The issue I have with some scientific theories, however, is that some theories try to replace God's ever-important role in the creation of the earth and in humanity. I feel that because we as humans could never possible understand the complete nature of God's creations, then the best that we can do as thinkers and scientists is to identity and analyze to the best of our ability, observable phenomena. In doing so, we must realize two things:

    1) we will never get it "fully" right because there is way too much variation in human actions and observable phenomena for our human (limited) faculties to catch everything, let alone accurate describe it.

    2) regardless of how accurate we get at identifying and analyzing the things we are able to observe and grasp, we cannot deny the fact that there are many things that we will simply never be able to observe, but yet are nevertheless "real" in every sense of the word.

    By realizing these two things, I feel that it is perfectly normal for the "things of God" and science and intellectual inquiry to co-exist, insofar as it is understood that the former always precedes and takes priority over the latter. Therefore, I do not deny that evolution does not occur in certain instances, such that for example, over time dogs who live in regions where they have to constantly run from predators will probably develop stronger legs than dogs who live in regions where they are not threatened by predators (I know that wasn't the best example but bear with me, lol). What I do deny is the claim that evolution is so encompassing that it can explain the origin of life itself, and that it can account for all types (or at least most types) of purpose-driven developments, structures, and behaviors.

    What do you think? Take care, God bless, and speekonit...

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Random "Why" Question of the Moment

    Peace and blessings,

    Here is a question that dawned on me today while picking up a prescription:

    Why is it that doctors' handwriting is often illegible?

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    A Few Thoughtz: Darwin on Trial, pt. 1

    "I do not think that many scientists would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle, without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that is true. But there is an important difference between going to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible alternative, and going to the evidence to look for confirmation of the only theory that one is willing to tolerate. We have already seen that distinguished scientists have accepted uncritically the questionable analogy between natural and artificial(e. g. intentionally breeding species to increase chances of survival) selection, and that they have often been undisturbed by the fallacies of the "tautology" and "deductive logic" formulations (e. g. the fittest of species are those who survive/evolve, and the reason why they survive/evolve is because they are the fittest). Such illogic survived and reproduced itself for the same reason that an apparently incompetent species sometimes avoids distinction; there was no effective competition in its ecological niche."

    - Johnson, p. 28-29 (words in parentheses are mine)

    Peace and blessings,

    One of my professors often emphasizes the importance of scientists (social, physical, electrical) to having a default orientation towards theories and ideas (including their own) that is skeptical. In other words, he says that the purpose of our research is not to seek to confirm our theories and ideas; but to dis-confirm them. One of my favorite TV shows is "CSI" (Las Vegas), one of the reasons being due to the importance they give to evidence and its ability to reveal "truth." Although there are exceptions and there are times when even the evidence may be misleading in certain situations, for the most part, the path to truth lies in following the evidence. As a Christian, there are all kinds of evidence that I witness (first and second hand) that reveal the truth of the presence and sovereignty of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. while the evidence sought on CSI requires the use of our physical eyes and for Christians the evidence of God is seen both through our physical and spiritual eyes (e. g. our ability to see things in the spiritual realm and the things we are assure of through faith), the idea is the same: one of the best ways to seek truth is to follow the evidence.

    In Phillip E. Johnson's book, "Darwin on Trial" (1991), he applies this relationship between evidence and truth within the context of Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection. As with any issue that is controversial and/or involves academic/intellectual inquiry, it is important for those involved to acknowledge potential personal biases and to do their best to check them. Johnson does this from the jump:

    "I am a philosophical theist and a Christian. I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead. I am not a defender of creation-science, and in fact I am not concerned in this book with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical accounts and the scientific evidence....My purpose is to examine the scientific evidence on its own terms, being careful to distinguish the evidence itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our interpretation of that evidence. I assume that the creation-scientists are biased by their pre-commitment to Biblical fundamentalism, and I will have little to say about their position. The question I want to investigate is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of
    the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism." (p. 14)

    As a law professor, Johnson approaches Darwin's theory not from a scientific perspective, but from a legal one. Therefore, the book is sort of organized like a quasi-court case, where Darwin's theoretical formulations and concepts are each outlined and examined in terms of its related evidence, and the conclusions Darwin made and his proponents made and continue to make, based on this and other evidence. In addition, he discusses Darwin's theory on a more ideological level, and poses the question of whether or not the popularity of the theory as well as the potential "power" it could yield if it were actually true, work to shape/create dominant interpretations of the evidence so that anything that could potentially be evidence is treated as valid and anything else treated as not valid.

    Of the many aspects of Darwin's theory addressed in the book, I will only mention a couple of them here. The first is Darwin's notion of natural selection, which is pretty much the meat and potatoes of Darwin's theory. This notion has two related parts. The first part holds that new species exist as modifications of old species , and that this trend can be evidenced throughout life's history. The second part holds that such evolution with modification can account for pretty much of life on earth, because all life originated from common ancestors. One of the points Johnson (1991) raises is that a necessary piece of evidence needed to strongly support this notion are transitional fossils, which are for the most part absent from scientific findings. A very simplified example of a transitional fossil is the following: If it is true that humans evolved from fish, then there should exist fossil evidence of a fish-man. To elaborate on this point, he asserts,

    "The question is not whether natural selection occurs. Of course it does, and it has an effect in maintaining the genetic fitness of a population. Infants with severe birth defects do not survive to maturity without expensive medical care, and creatures which do not survive to reproduce do not leave descendants. These effects are unquestioned, but Darwinism asserts a great deal more than merely that species avoid genetic deterioration due to natural attrition among the genetically unfit. Darwinists claim that this same force of attrition has a building effect so powerful that it can begin with a bacterial cell and gradually craft its descendants over billions of years to produce such wonders as trees, flowers, ants, birds, and humans. How do we know that all this is possible?" (p. 16)

    The other issue I wanted to briefly touch on was the fossil problem. Johnson (1991) notes how that the famous "Piltdown Man," which was believed to be a pre-human fossil and thus groundbreaking evidence for Darwinian thought, was a hoax (it turned out to be nothing more than a modern human head placed on the body of an orangutan). Further, he notes that the "Nebraska Man," which was was claimed to have included a pre-human fossil tooth turned out to be a misfire, as the tooth actually belonged to a kind of pig. Darwin's theory claimed that (pretty much) all life could be traced to common ancestors and classified according to those ancestors. However, the Burgess Shale fossils contain 15-20 fossils that cannot be related to any known group, and should be classified as separate phyla (i. e. a level of species classification). Lastly, he mentions two characteristics of most fossils that appear to not support Darwin's theory. The first is "stasis," or the fact that most species exhibit no directional change while on earth, therefore their fossil record shows very little change if any. The second is "sudden appearance," which is the fact that in any local area, species appear all at once and fully formed, therefore not exhibiting any evidence of transformation (evolution) from earlier ancestors.

    Overall, Johnson (1991) concludes that to be so widely supported in many scientific circles, Darwin's theory has not appeared to be subjected to the same rigorous scientific testing as other theories are normally (and should) undergo. Why the easy pass and wide acceptance without conclusive evidence? Johnson suggests that Darwin's theory represents not just a theory, but an ideology. Further, it is the only "contender" against the belief in divine creation. In this sense, hardcore supporters of his theory without conclusive evidence and/or despite evidence to the contrary is no less a demonstration of fundamentalism and close-mindedness than the religious fundamentalists the theory contends with.

    What do you think? Any thoughts on Darwin's theory? Divine Creation? Similarities/differences between the two? Take care, God bless, and speekonit...

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Holding It Down: Maria W. Stewart

    "It is not the color of the skin that makes the man, but it is the principles formed within the soul."

    - Maria W. Stewart, p. 29

    "Alas, O God! Forgive me if I speak amiss; the minds of our tender babes are tainted as soon as they are born; they go astray, as it were, from the womb. Where is the maiden who will blush at vulgarity? And where is the youth who has written upon his manly brow a thirst for knowledge; whose ambitious mind soars above trifles, and longs for the time to come, when he shall redress the wrongs of his father and plead the cause of his brethren?"

    - Maria W. Stewart, p. 31

    "When I consider how little improvement has been made the last eight years; the apparent cold and indifferent state of the children of God; how few have been hopefully brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus; that our young men and maidens are fainting and drooping, as it were, by the way-side, for the want of knowledge; when I see how few care to distinguish themselves either in religious or moral improvement, and when I see the greater part of our community following the vain bubbles of life with so much eagerness, which will only prove to them like the serpent's sting upon the bed of death, I really think we are in as wretched and miserable a state as was the house of Israel in the days of Jeremiah."

    - Maria W. Stewart, p. 32

    " I am of a strong opinion that the day on which we unite, heart and soul, and turn our attention to knowledge and improvement, that day the hissing and reproach among the nations of the earth against us will cease. And even those who now point at us with the finger of scorn, will aid and befriend us. It is of no use for us to sit with our hands folded, hanging our heads like bulrushes, lamenting our wretched condition; but let us make a mighty effort, and arise; and if no one will promote or respect us, let us promote and respect ourselves."

    - Maria W. Stewart, p. 37

    Peace and blessings,

    I know I have mentioned this phenomenal woman before, but last summer I had the opportunity to read "Maria W. Stewart: America's First Black Woman Political Writer" (1987), which is a compilation of her essays and speeches. Instead of outlining the man things she did throughout her life, and the significance those actions had back then and to this day (because doing so could take hours), I will keep with my usual pseudo book-review format and just touch on a few highlights, with the hope that you engage in further inquiry yourselves.

    In the introduction, the editor of the book, Marilyn Richardson, describes her best as,

    "...the first American woman to lecture in public on political themes and leave extant copies of her texts, was a woman of profound religious faith, a pioneer black abolitionist, and a defiant champion of women's rights. Her message was unsparing and controversial, intended as a goad to her people to organize against the tyranny of slavery in the South and to resist and defy the restrictions of bigotry in the North." (p. xiii)

    Her first "political" lecture took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 1832 in the midst of a black and white crowd. Her focus during the lecture was on speaking out against the colonial movement, which sought to send Black Americans to West Africa for subjugation and oppression. In a nutshell, her lectures and writings (many of which were composed during her time as a writer for the abolitionist journal, "The Liberator") focused on two distinct, yet in her eyes related themes. The first theme was more pertinent to the social, political, and historical context of the times, and dealt with the abolition of slavery and the freedom of Blacks (domestically and abroad) from their white oppressors. If a woman running for president represents a huge step forward in the U.S. today, you could imagine the extent to which women (especially black women) were denied access to prominent, public-figure type leadership roles during the early and mid 19th century. It was also huge for her exert her ideas during a time when the "big names" in the abolitionist movement with regards to orators centered around a Black male, Fredrick Douglas. Both were intelligent and morally motivated (I think Fredrick Douglas was a Christian as well), and both were doing there thing. Unfortunately, however, she was not as "popular " amongst the public as Fredrick Douglas or other abolitionists for that matter. Potential reasons for her unpopularity will be discussed shortly.

    The second, and I would argue more controversial theme, that Stewart focused on was self-improvement through moral conduct and intellectual pursuit. One of her major textual references used in her speeches and writings was the bible. One of the books she to which she gave considerable attention was the Book of Jeremiah, as she likened the condition of the Israelites during that time to the state of Americans during her time. In essence, she believed that while Blacks had to demand and thus deserved their human rights from their white professors, they could not afford to do so passively. Namely, they could not sit back and wait for social change to happen. Instead, they had to continually work to change them selves, morally by living a life pleasing to God and intellectually and embracing education and the expansion of the mind. By doing these things on an individual level, she believed, social change must follow suit. As with anyone who touches on topics which make audience members feel convicted in one way or another, she had difficulty garnering support and was often criticized and ostracized by those she was advocating for. Come to think of it, this may be why she like book of Jeremiah, as he was undoubtedly ostracized and criticized as well. This is not to say that he had no followers or made no "real" impact. Her lectures and writings have inspired many different people, and her work as a teacher in New York once she left Boston most assuredly impacted her students' lives in a positive way.

    I'm always fascinated in people who do documentaries on the life of a figure who, although may not have had the mainstream success of more well-known leaders, nevertheless made a commitment and sacrifice to encourage us as humans to better reflections of who God intended us to be. I have finally found that person for me: Maria W. Stewart. If I did decide to do one of those documentaries, it would definitely be about her life. What do you think? Take care, God bless, and speekonit...

    A fun, educational way to make a difference

    Peace and blessings,

    I came across a website a while back called
  • , which is a sister site to
  • The goal the site is to increase people's English vocabulary while helping alleviate world hunger. The website basically consists of a ongoing vocabulary "test," and for every correct answer, 20 grains of rice is donated towards alleviating someone's hunger. You can play as long and as many times you want, and I guarantee you that it will get addictive, lol. Plus, you can track your "vocab score" as you go along to track your progress.

    Once you try it, share your thoughts on it and let me know what you think. Take care, stay blessed, and speekonit...

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    Random "Why" Question of the Moment

    Peace and blessings,

    Here is the most recent "Why" question I have been pondering lately:

    Why did I ask an employee at a Christian book store what times they were open on Sunday?