On an Undeniable Review

UndeniableBillNyeIn February 2014, Bill Nye debated Ken Ham (President, Answers in Genesis, AIG) about evolution-creation at AIG’s Creation Museum on Cincinnati’s Kentucky-side of the river. This book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, is a result of Nye’s preparation for and participation in the debate.

Although Nye initially trained and worked as a mechanical engineer, the general public got to know him as The Science Guy through his television shows in the early 1990s.

Bill Nye is noted for a fast-paced, engaging style to explain scientific topics in laymen’s terms to the masses – and that style is what readers get in this book. His wit, sense of humor, knowledge, and ability to stay at the layman level is his brand. Those familiar with him may even hear his voice while reading.

The chapters a short – actually rather bite-sized with most chapters being less than 10 pages. Nye intertwines stories and analogies amid the chapter’s main premise while using historical and present-day applications.

Typically, each chapter focuses on a specific topic; and Nye covers a wide range of topics, such as evolution, natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, biodiversity, fossils, thermodynamics, convergence, competition, extinction, gene flow, genetic bottlenecks, homologous structures, selection, mutations, and population isolation. Given these topics and his simplistic approach, Nye explains the natural process of evolution.

Although Nye frequently mentions claims made by Ham about evolution, he does not address faith … but to his defense, faith is not the intent of this book. Those desiring more about the interchange between science and religion will be disappointed.

Given that’s the science-religion interchange is not his intent, I don’t like the “Science of Creation” portion of the book’s title … but that’s me because of my level of understanding about the interchange. On the other hand, the “Undeniable” portion of the title is very appropriate – even for the pun lovers who see UndeNEYable.

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation is Bill Nye’s latest effort in bringing science to the masses. Given the debate about appropriate subjects in public school science classes doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, I applaud Nye’s efforts because the majority of the public is poorly informed.

One for the bookshelves? Maybe, depending on the reader’s background … but definitely not for those with a firm understanding of evolution and its subtopics. Yes, it covers the basics, thus Undeniable is a primer … a good place to start … but it lacks the depth and breathe that others may desire because Undeniable is not a book for extensive study of evolution.

Bottom line – the reader must decide if this is a good book for them … but for the vast majority of people, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye is a good read.

On Evolution

Contrary to what some believe, Charles Darwin did not develop or invent the concept of evolution as thoughts of origins and evolution go back to the Greeks (Democritus), Romans (Lucretius), and the Chinese (Tao). Within Christianity, the concept dates back to at least to the fourth century with Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 C.E.) and St. Augustine (354-430 C.E.). Darwin merely explained the how evolution occurs – and that is natural selection.

Darwin’s studies included theology, medicine, and geology; thus like many in at this time, William Paley’s Natural Theology influenced his view of nature. Since studying nature was Darwin’s primary love, in 1831 his five-year journey as the ship’s naturalist on the HMS Beagle began – a trip upon which he took copious, detailed notes about anatomy and geology.

Karl Giberson (Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, 2008) writes the following about Darwin’s journey and thinking.

He (Darwin) started his career as a naturalist viewing the world through the lens of natural theology and seeing intelligent design. But he began to notice that things didn’t fit: here is an animal with webbed feet on dry land; there is a bee that dies after stinging its prey, its stinger serrated in a way that prevents extraction after insertion; here is a cat apparently torturing a mouse before killing it. … (Later regarding the webbed feet) If this was the handiwork of God, it was surely a cruel joke, as anyone who has ever tried to walk in flippers knows only too well.

As we know today, Darwin also knew about how we use selective breeding (artificial selection) to produce offspring with favorable variations; and thus wondered if a similar selection process existed within nature. By continuing his studies after his journey, an essay by Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) about competition for food stimulated more thoughts. Since living things struggled for a limited resource, the most-fit organisms survive to reproduce – thus natural selection.

Variations are slight differences between organisms of the same species. Looking at the human face one sees two eyes, two ears, nose, mouth, various characteristics about hair, and numerous other features. On the other hand, consider all the variations that humans display in their face alone. Examining the orange breast of multiple robins shows differences as the interspersed white is not identical from bird to bird, thus variations of a trait within a species.

Natural selection favors organisms with the most favorable variations, so over time a population adjusts within species, and even the creation of new species. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote the following without knowledge of genetics:

Thus the small differences distinguishing varieties of the same species, steadily tend to increase, till they equal the greater differences between species of the same genus, or even a distinct genera.

Darwin did not publish his thoughts for 20 years, yet, a paper by Alfred Russell Wallace explaining natural selection from his studies in southeastern Asia pushed Darwin to publish. Yet the two men eventually jointly presented (in absentia) the theory of natural selection to the Linnean Society – and to think that Wallace is the one who coined Darwinism, which was also the title of his book (1889).

Knowledge about fossils and biology at Darwin’s time was shallow. Although the concept of a very old earth was already emerging, Darwin figured more answers would come over time with the discovery of life’s story within the fossil record lying below our feet.

Today, evolutionary scientists use genetics, DNA comparison, comparative anatomy, embryology, and the growing fossil record to determine life’s journey over time. Fossil discoveries continue to demonstrate that change obviously occurred and the sacred texts had not recorded these events. Meanwhile, the genetic changes Darwin described happen in genes, which Mendel and others discovered later.

Evolution is in action today through nature. Consider a tropical butterfly population evolving resistance to a killer bacteria or the increasing leg length in a toad species in their quest to secure the best habitat in a newly-introduced region. Think about impacts our daily lives today as flu vaccines are adjusted yearly in response to evolving viruses, or how bacteria become resistant to the antibodies we developed to protect ourselves against them.

Evolution is also a unifying concept serving as a common thread running through other biological concepts as maintaining a regulatory balance (homeostasis), the need for energy, organizing matter within life, continuing life through genetics, developing an organism from start to death, and organisms interacting with each other and with their surrounding environment. As evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Meanwhile, one can have a misunderstanding about science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

One can ignore science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

One can disagree with science, but that does not mean science is wrong.

Opinions in the Shorts: Vol 12

On Gas Prices
Why have gas prices risen since December while oil prices decline? It’s a matter of supply and demand. Consumers are comfortable and suppliers are not operating refineries at full capacity.

On the Dominos of Life
Life is full of many domino-effect events. Months ago while listening to a person I got one of those “I should” ideas. About a month ago from reading a blog entry rekindled that same “I should” idea. Last week I received an email from church about a need, which triggered the same “I should” idea. This past Saturday I acted on that idea by sharing a story at my church’s monthly men’s breakfast.

On Baseball Downfalls
Sports figures have  a great propensity to be in the news and spot a negative light on to themselves, their sport, and the community they represent. With that in mind, and with the baseball season gearing up, Real Clear Sports listed their Top 10 Tarnished Baseball Reputations.

On Partisan Politics
Regular readers know I continue to rail against the partisans on both sides of the aisle. In that spirit, I appreciate this column from the New York Times.

On Great Posts of the Week
Here are several challenging posts I loved this week.

On Other Blogs
Written by a cartoonist that you may know the BizarroBlog provides wonderful stories and commentary accompanying the illustration of the day. Definitely for those with an offbeat sense of humor … and clicking the links is part of the experience.

American Heartland Bar & Grill is one of my early stops in the day. After all, they were the first to recognize my efforts. There primary efforts are with politics and college sports, they also link readers to other worthwhile posts.

On Evolution and Religion

Last week the world commemorated the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. I had a post, and as well as countless of others. I read my share of them, and even commented on a few. There were also many posts critical of Darwin. As a sequel to my prior post, below are some interesting tidbits.

Tidbits

I stated that many Christian denominations support evolution. Oh no, this isn’t a recant, but the Pew Research Center supports my point.

I also wondered about how many people against evolution actually know what they are against. This Gallup poll supports that point as well.

The American Scientific Affiliation (AFA) is a group focusing on science and religion together. From their site:

The ASA is a fellowship of men and women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science.

The story of Alfred Wallace is interesting. In a nutshell, Wallace did his in Indonesia and independent of Darwin. In those days scientists exchanged papers before possibly presenting to a scientific society. Wallace sent Darwin his paper, upon which Darwin saw confirmation of the findings he determined 15-20 years earlier. Consequently, Darwin and Wallace jointed presented, and Wallace actually was the first to use “Darwinian.” See this National Geographic article for more details.

Actor and writer Ben Stein is quite smart. With degrees in economics and law, his resume is impressive. He also produced Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary about Intelligent Design. Here’s an interesting review by movie critic Roger Ebert.

I’ve read posts from the other side and continue to be amazed by their use of misconceptions, half-truths, total falsities, and even hate; all in the name of a loving God who granted us wisdom. Sorry, I will show my bias by not providing any links.

Epilogue

God has given humans many gifts, including curiosity, awe, problem solving, and the ability to learn. Spirituality is another gift that develops in various traditions and cultures.

Within those gifts is also science, the search for the explanation for what we observe in nature. Whereas we as humans are a product of many cultures, science is about our natural world, thus why science can’t answer questions about the spirit.

To me, this is what Darwin meant when he said, “A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections — a mere heart of stone.” That is, faith cannot get in the way when studying science; but it does not mean science cannot be incorporated into faith. Faith and science are partners within each one of us.

Whereas some claim one must chose between God and science, God initiating the evolutionary process isn’t a compromise. It is with the spirit and sense of awe and amazement I continue to believe in a much grander creation than the creationists ever credit God.

Thank you Lord for your spectacular creation; one so grand that there is still so much more to learn. Amen.

On Supersonic Kangaroos

Since yesterday was Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary (and the subject of my post), my contrarian nature led to this follow-up post.

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is an organization dedicated to providing answers through the book of Genesis. AiG believes in a young earth, a literal understanding of biblical accounts to explain creation, and also operates the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (near Cincinnati).

For the purpose of this post I’ll use these AiG positions:

  • Two land animals of every kind were on Noah’s Ark
  • Pangea, the supercontinent, existed
  • Continental drift rates proposed by Dr John Baumgardner, a scientist quoted by AiG

Situation

The crows-fly distance from Mt. Arafat, Turkey (possible location of Noah’s Ark) to Pemba, Mozambique (a current city close to wear the Australian continent would have separated from Africa) = 5800 km (5,800,000 m)

The maximum kangaroo hop is 30 ft, or 9 m

If continental drift occurred at 0.37 m/sec, to drift 9 m takes about 24 seconds

Therefore, a kangaroo on Noah’s Ark would have to travel 241,667 m/sec to be able to reach the point (Pemba) in time before the plates are too far apart. (5,800,000 m/24 sec)

Since the speed of sound @ 20 degrees Celcius is 343 m/s, the kangaroo travelled at mach 704 —- which is more than 30 times the maximum velocity of the space shuttle (7.68 km/sec) — thus not supersonic, but hypersonic!

Two Questions

  • Since a wombat is slower than a kangaroo, did the 2 kangaroos carry wombats in their pouch upon leaving the ark?
  • Did kangaroos evolve into something slower?