Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A response to “Seven theses on the age of the earth”

[Editor's Note: this post was edited for clarity in the paragraph following the quote from Augustine.]

This post was inspired by a blog post published on March 7, 2014, by Douglas Wilson. I would encourage you read it at Blog and Mablog (which, by the way, is the greatest blog name ever) before you continue. My article begins by laying a foundation and then responds to his seven points.


The created world is as much the word of God as scripture, and they both have the same author. We call the created world “general revelation” and scripture “special revelation” (and usually forget Christ and the Holy Spirit in our simplistic dichotomy of revelation, but that is another story for another day). To dismiss nature as fallen, and therefore unreliable, is to deny its status as general revelation at all. If sin so marred nature as to make its lessons untrustworthy, then any revelation that it does provide cannot be trusted. The psalmist’s assertion that creation declares the glory of God (fallen creation, with its suffering?) or Paul’s belief that those who reject God are without excuse because creation itself declares God, must simply be wrong in a chaos-strewn fallen world. But these declarations are found in special revelation, the source of revelation that is generally considered unfallen and reliable – is there not a tension here?

Monday, May 06, 2013

United with Creation - Red Deer Creation Care Conference, Sermon #1

The following is the first sermon in a series of talks I gave in Red Deer on April 12-14, 2013, on creation care. This text provides the gist of what I said, but of course I riffed a bit. I also had PowerPoint images to go along with this talk. Note that when I talk about creation, I am in no way disparaging evolution. One can affirm creation and evolution, without doing too much damage to the definition of either. To read the introduction of this series, click here.


How similar are we to animals? Recently, discoveries in biology have suggested that animals share more in common with humans than previously thought: culture, emotions, humour, long term memory, math, tool use, none of these are considered unique to humans any more. In the past, it was assumed that animals lacked these things, and thus we could do whatever we wanted with animals. But that is no longer the case. Environmentalists use this to declare that humans and animals are equals, and have equal rights.

What is the Christian response to this? Usually Christians respond with a scoff and some statement about how we’re better than the animals. But I would like to suggest that the environmentalists are not all wrong. There is more similarity between humans and animals than Christians like to believe. But I don’t have to base this off of biology – we see it quite clearly in scripture.

Monday, April 29, 2013

An Introduction to Creation Care: A Talk Given at Davenport Church of Christ, Red Deer, April 12, 2013

The following is the introduction to a series of talks I gave in Red Deer on April 12-14, 2013, on creation care. This text provides the gist of what I said, but of course I riffed a bit. I also had PowerPoint images to go along with this talk. Note that when I talk about creation, I am in no way disparaging evolution. One can affirm creation and evolution, without doing too much damage to the definition of either.

I opened with a story that I did not write down, about my bizarre encounter with a strange neon blue marine worm in Halifax, NS, in which I picked up this creature and accidentally dropped it. Its body burst in two, white liquid poured out, and then its smooth face curled up in my direction, its face peeled back and this white puffy flesh emerged. On the end of the flesh were two black, curved fangs. Needless to say, I ran away pretty fast. Only later did I learn that these polychaetes turn a bright blue during the breeding season. They swim to the surface, where part of their body detaches and explodes in a shower of gametes. The white flesh I saw was its esophagus, which it shoots out of its mouth to impale its prey.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ceratium, Alberta's Carnivorous Alga

Ceratium hirundinella, featured above, is a single-celled dinoflagellate, which may very well be the coolest non-dinosaur name given to a creature. Its name is well-deserved: Ceratium is a monster. It is the fastest moving of the algae, and it is a carnivore, actively hunting down other algae while also generating food from the sun. During periods of stress, they can form cysts that are resistant to winter temperatures and dehydration. The hardiness of these cysts has enabled Ceratium to spread throughout the northern hemisphere. It is apparently also making inroads in South America.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dileptus, the Carnivorous Elephant of Albertan Ponds

I'm getting more comfortable using my microscope to identify the incredible diversity of organisms living in Alberta's ponds. Rather than keep this to myself, I thought I'd post every now and then on some critter I've identified. Of everything I have seen so far, the species featured below has given me the greatest heebie-jeebies.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vitamin C Provides Evidence for Human Evolution

Hello everyone and happy New Year. Now that I have finished teaching my course on Science and the Christian Faith at Alberta Bible College, I actually have time to write on this blog again! My New Years' resolution is to post one blog a week (I began this resolution today, so ignore the fact that I missed the first week). I certainly have a wealth of things to share from the last semester! Today though I would like to discuss what I consider to be a fairly compelling piece of evidence for the evolution of humans from nonhuman primates, and it comes from a strange source: vitamin C.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why Care for the Planet? My (Brief) Article in Bow Valley Life

I was asked to write an article on the Creation Care component of the Social Justice League for Bow Valley Christian Church's newsletter. You can see the text (with one minor grammatical correction) below:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Your Opinion: Heaven for Animals?

I came across this beautiful poem this morning while reading The Groaning of Creation (2008) by Christopher Southgate. I will have more to say about this book later. Its central premise, however, is that evolution presents a difficulty to Christian theology, in that the suffering of individual animals is not a product of sin, but is integral to the creative process. The only way out is to posit some sort of redemption for the created world. This leads to James Dickey's vision of what a redeemed world might look like, for predator and prey.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Five Scariest Parasites

I enjoy the occasional horror movie, but it is always nice to know that those vampires or zombies or Stay-Puff Marshmallow men are fiction.  Their existence ends when the movie ends.  Nature is not so kind.  It has creatures that make The Exorcist look like Casper the Friendly Ghost.  And they COULD BE ANYWHERE!  Maybe there is a parasite behind you right now...

This Halloween, enjoy my top five most terrifying parasites of all time.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Your Opinion: Is the Creationist Use of Dinosaurs in Child Education Underhanded?

Answers in Genesis has an interesting little article about the use of dinosaurs to promote their work.  They have been producing a series of billboards featuring ferocious and beautifully drawn dinosaurs, in hopes of attracting people to their creation museum.  This has sparked some outrage online - how dare Creationists use dinosaurs to lure children into religious teachings!  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Did Humans Walk With Dinosaurs? A Look at the Paluxy Tracks

Giant humans, or fakes?  These human tracks were claimed by locals to have
 been found at Paluxy and sold during the Depression.

A few months ago I stumbled on a little Creationist classic at a used bookstore - John Morris' Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them (1980).   It is about the discovery and filming of a famous set of fossilized footprints found along the Paluxy River in Texas.  Although fossilized footprints are not rare, this particular finding sparked the early years of scientific creationism in the United States.  Because here, preserved in the hardened mud along the shore of the mighty Paluxy, in a layer of ancient limestone dating back to the Cretaceous, were dinosaur footprints co-existing with those of man.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#3: We Have Kinship with Creation

'What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.' (Psalm 8:4-6).

'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.'  (Genesis 1:27)

You've got to admit, we humans are pretty awesome.  We are creative.  We have an incredible sense of humour unrivalled in the natural world.  We have the most complex and flexible language capabilities of any species on the planet.  We experience transcendence and immanence.  We worship, have rituals, show a depth of love that is likely unparalleled.  We have science and technology and complicated politics.  We have the most complex form of culture on the planet.  And according to the Bible, we are made in the image of God, beings just a bit lower on the hierarchy than angels, but higher than, and rulers of, the animals.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Home: A Sermon

The following is a sermon I gave at Pine Lake Life Camp (formerly family camp) over the 2012 May long weekend.

Read Luke10:25-37

HOME: What images or words does this word conjure?

The point for this morning’s talk is quite simple: we all desire home, so loving your neighbour as yourself, being a neighbour to others, means bringing home to the world.  That is the church’s mandate, and it needs to be the basis of our daily living decisions.  We’re going to go through Genesis 1 and 2 to see what home is.  We’ll see how humanity became homeless, but not just humanity; and then we will consider the work of Christ to make this world home again.  Finally, we will see that as Christians we are called to restore this home for others.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#4: Creation Provides Knowledge of God

Romans 1:19-20 reads, '...since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.'

Monday, June 25, 2012

Crazy @%%&^ Life in a Pond

Creation Groans was on Saturday, and it was a huge success.  As part of the day, I brought out my microscope and showed life in a drop of water, as an example of my 'Ecological Happy Place'.  Below are some videos that I took the day before and after the event, of some really amazing creatures.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creation Groans

Should Christians care for the environment?  This is the leading question at a workshop being put on by myself and Ryan Scruggs on June 23 at Bow Valley Christian Church.  Yes, that's right, a scientist and a theologian are working together to discuss the environment!  If you know anyone who might be interested, please pass this on to them.  It should be a rewarding but challenging discussion, as we discuss the tension between evangelism and environmentalism, climate change, overfishing, the theology of creation care and much more!  Snacks will be provided.  See the poster for more information, or go to http://www.bvccweb.ca/creationgroans/index.htm

We are asking that people register ahead of time so we have an idea of numbers, but we will certainly accept people at the door!  If you have questions, please let me know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Life in a Pond

Yesterday a new toy arrived in the mail for me (as a graduation present!) - a Celestron digital microscope!  I immediately acquainted myself with the denizens of a pond at the University of Calgary - below are my first images, as I attempted to master this amazing piece of technology.  The main lesson from this is that there is a lot of life in our ponds (these images come from about seven drops of water), and that I am terrible at identification:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Letter from the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution to Minister Ashfield and PM Harper

My former supervisor, Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, current President for the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution (of which I am a member) sent the following letter to Keith Ashfield, and distributed copies to all members of the CSEE.  I post the letter below so that my Canadian friends can see the concerns that leading Canadian scientists have about the state of science and our biological resources under the Harper government.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Natural Selection - Chapter 4 in the Origin of Species

So far in our tour of the Origin we have seen that pre-Darwinian scientists defined species as distinct entities created by God, and varieties as deviations from the species-type, such deviations occurring due to natural means.  Darwin, in part by observing the human-caused production of domestic organisms argued that varieties evolve within a species, and as they become more distinct they in turn become new species.  There is, therefore, nothing directly divine about the production of species (although God could still be operating behind the scenes, directing the evolution of species).  In chapter three, Darwin argued that organisms produce more offspring than can possibly survive.  Through some mechanism unknown to Darwin, these offspring differ from one another by a small degree; those individuals that have beneficial variations will outcompete those that do not, and will be more likely to survive and pass on their traits to their offspring.  This is the foundation of natural selection.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Evolution and the Churches of Christ

It has been an interesting few months for my particular flavour of Christianity, the Restoration Movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement).  The Restoration Movement began in America (and is indeed more popular in America than in Canada) in the early 1800s as two separate movements, one led by Barton Stone and the other by the father and son team of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, both of whom sought to bring the church back to its New Testament roots (hence 'restoration').  It emerged within the context of the Second Great Awakening at Cane Ridge.  Justice and equality were important virtues for Restoration Movement followers - the Campbells began their work in response to the exclusivity within their Presbyterian churches, in which the poor and outcast were not allowed to participate in communion.  From this simple beginning the Restoration Movement churches - Churches of Christ (independent), Churches of Christ (a cappella) and the denominational Disciples of Christ - were founded.  The independent and a cappella churches are considered to be non-denominational, their slogan being 'we are Christians only, but we are not the only Christians.'

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#5: Creation Brings Glory to God

We are halfway through our top ten reasons for creation care, and this just in time for Earth Day this Sunday!  Rather than go through the previous five points, let's jump right into this one:

5. Creation brings glory to God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

#6. We are to seek restoration in all relationships

Sorry I've been off for a while, I took a week long challenge to stay away from all forms of electronic entertainment, which included this blog.  But I'm back to carry on with our top ten reasons that every Christian should care for the environment.  To recap:

10. The world is good.
9. God blessed his creation.
8. God cares for his creation.
7. God imposed restrictions on our use of the natural world.

Today we are looking at the concept of shalom, and how God asks us to seek restoration in all of our relationships.

Friday, March 23, 2012

#7: God Imposed Restrictions on Our Use of the Natural World

We're continuing on with our top ten reasons that every Christian should care for the environment.  Specifically, these are scriptural reasons, that presume that the Bible has some form of authority over our lives.  We have, to date, seen that in the Bible there is a theme about the value of creation.  God declares his creation to be good; he blesses his creation; and he cares and provides for his creation.  These three points alone should be sufficient to cause Christians to re-examine their perspective on ‘rule’ in Genesis 1:28.  If God had given creation over to us to use and abuse as we see fit, then he would not be exercising his own rule over it, nor would he institute blessings that might not be in the best interest of our rule.  Today we will explore this in more detail, by looking at Old Testament passages and seeing that God put moral restrictions on our rule over creation.  It becomes increasingly obvious, the more we study, that ‘rule’ cannot mean ‘as you see fit.’

Monday, March 19, 2012

#8: God Cares For His Creation


Today we continue our countdown of the top 10 reasons every Christian should care for the environment.

10. The world is good.
9. God blessed His creation.
8. God cares for His creation.

Today’s point consists of three smaller points:

a) God brags about His creation

In Job 39 God asks Job a series of questions out of a whirlwind, with the intention of reminding Job of God’s might power.  Many of these questions center around both wild and domestic animals.  One gets the sense that God believes his power to be evident in creation, and that he is proud of the works of his hand.  Read, for instance:

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Struggle for Existence - Chapter 3 in the Origin of Species

Locust swarms involve intense competition for resources
At this point in our tour of Darwin’s Origin, Darwin has questioned the 19th-century view of species as distinct entities created by God, and varieties as deviations from the species-type.  Instead, Darwin has presented compelling evidence, in large part through domestic organisms, that varieties and species are not different in kind, but only in degree.  That is, varieties, when they become especially well-marked, are identified as species.  A species evolves into different varieties; those varieties, in turn, may evolve into new species.

Darwin has also argued that there is a considerable amount of individual-level variation that exists in wild populations, and it is this variation that is the fuel for what he calls ‘natural selection’, a metaphorical phrase that he took from the phrase ‘artificial selection’.  Artificial selection occurs when humans look at a population and choose the individuals that have the best features for breeding.  Natural selection, although there is no conscious choice occurring, is the equivalent process that occurs in the wild.  Survival of the fittest.

In chapter three, Darwin sets the scene for his next chapter on natural selection.  Here he argues that waste and death is the hallmark of nature and is essential for speciation, rather than direct miraculous intervention from a beneficent God.  Babies die, and they die in large quantities.  This is an essential truth, if we wish to understand evolution. 

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Every Christian Should Care for the Environment - # 9: God blessed His creation

We continue our countdown of the top 10 reasons every Christian should be taking care of this planet, in preparation for Earth hour at 8:30 pm on March 31. 

10. The world is good
9. God blessed His creation

We Christians have made a great deal of Genesis 1:28: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Every Christian Should Care for the Environment - # 10: The World is Good

Beautiful Birds Wallpapers

Saturday, March 31, at 8:30 pm is Earth hour, in which people around the planet will be unplugging the electric items in their house and turning their lights off to raise awareness for environmental care.

As an Albertan resident and a member of a fairly conservative branch of Christianity, I have encountered time and again over the last few weeks just how little many Christians think or care about the environment, and how little they think of people who do.  Environmentalism is almost a curse word for many conservative Christians, as if earnestly seeking to restore the beauty of the planet is at best a waste of time and at worst an act of paganism. One particular Christian college recently conducted a survey about their effectiveness.  One respondent was concerned that the college was becoming theologically liberal.  In particular, this respondent was bothered by lectures on environmental care that were being taught in a social justice class.  This boggles my mind.  And so the next ten blog posts are not written for non-Christians or those who already care about the planet.  From now until the end of March whenever I finish I am going to provide the top 10 scriptural reasons that every Christian should care for the environment.

Today we begin with number ten: The World is Good

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Dr. Daniel Dennett in Calgary Saturday!!! (revised)

Update: Due to mechanical failure, Dr. Dennett's plane did not arrive in Calgary on time.  His talk has been rescheduled for Saturday Feb 11, 4:30 pm in ST140.

Exciting news - Daniel Dennett is the speaker for the University of Calgary's 27th annual Darwin Dinner, and I (along with a friend) get to pick him up from the airport tomorrow!  For those of you who are in town, his lecture, entitled 'The Evolution of Reasons' will be held in Science Theatres 140 at 4:30 pm.  If you can't make it, you can get a taste of Dr. Dennett at 7:20 am on CBC radio.

I've been reading Breaking the Spell, Dennett's most famous contribution to that seemingly ubiquitous genre of anti-religious treatises.  I can say that it is likely the best that any of the big four (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins) have produced, and am finding it to be stimulating rather than infuriating (although brace yourself for a less-than-sensitive opening metaphor).

I'll let you know how the talk goes, along with the behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Tyrrell Museum I will be taking with Dr. Dennett on Saturday (if everything goes as planned)!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Variation under Nature - Chapter 2 in the Origin of Species

The giraffe species is divided into several populations, each exhibiting a region-specific colouration pattern on the hide.  These have become identifiers for dividing giraffes into distinct subspecies.

In the first chapter of the Origin of Species, Darwin looked to domestic animals and concluded that the varieties of domestic breeds were created by man by selecting individuals with slight variants and accumulating these changes over numerous generations.  He referred to this as artificial selection.  In chapter two he begins to show how artificial selection can inform us of how species are formed, through the more powerful ‘natural’ selection.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Variation under Domestication

This semester I am taking a course on Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species.  I thought that I would post chapter summaries of the Origin as I read it, to help keep the material straight in my mind and hopefully introduce you to one of the most important texts of the past 150 years.  If you are a creationist, perhaps you will find less in this book to fear than you had thought; if you are a scientist, you might be surprised by how prescient Darwin was in many ways.  If you are neither, you will still be impressed with the power of Darwin’s arguments.  If you would like, you can follow along by reading the Origin with me – the first edition is free online at http://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/pdf/Origin_of_Species.pdf

I will be skipping over the opening quotes (read my thoughts on them here) and the introduction, and will dive right into the meat of the thing.  This one's a long one...it should be shorter in the future!