In part 1 of this review, I told you the things I liked about Genesis and The Big Bang by Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder. Now I want to move on to the things I didn’t like about the book. As I already mentioned, Dr. Schroeder seems firmly committed to the Big Bang model, despite its many problems. However, that’s not my main concern. While there are a lot of problems with the Big Bang model, there are some data that support it, so it is not irrational to choose to work with that paradigm. My problems with the book go much deeper than that.
My first problem is that Dr. Schroeder has either not investigated the myriad of opinions of ancient Jewish theologians, or he conveniently doesn’t tell the reader about them. He wants to make the case that he is getting his theology from sources that have not been influenced by modern science. He chooses four theologians (Onkelos, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides) that he says have “withstood time’s test,” and he says:
Because their commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries. (p. 18)
I have two problems with this statement. First, there are many more than four ancient Jewish theologians who have “withstood the test of time.” I am not even Jewish, and I can name several more off the top of my head: Philo Judaeus, Akiba ben Yossef, Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon, Abraham ibn Daud, etc., etc.
Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder is a very original thinker. I recognized that when I read one of his previous books, The Science of God. Dr. Schroeder holds an earned PhD in physics and earth science from MIT and currently is an international consultant on radioactivity and a faculty member at Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. As an orthodox Jew, he takes the Old Testament very seriously. He believes that the days in Genesis are definitely 24-hour days, but he also believes that the earth is billions of years old. In fact, his writings indicate that he is a theistic evolutionist.
How can a theistic evolutionist believe that the days of Genesis are 24-hour days? That’s where his original thinking comes in. As a PhD physicist, he understands that defining reference frame is very important. After all, we know the rate at which time passes depends on the reference frame in which you are measuring time. For example, time passes more quickly on the GPS satellites than it does here on earth. If this were not taken into account, your Garmin would not lead you to your destination. Thus, the question in Dr. Schroeder’s mind is not “How long were the days of Genesis?” He is convinced they were 24 hours long. The question in his mind is “In what reference frame did those 24 hours pass?”
In The Science of God (and in this book), he gives us the answer to that question. He says the reference frame is not that of earth. Indeed, earth doesn’t become the focus of the creation account until after a couple of days pass. As a result, he thinks that the reference frame in which the Genesis days are defined is that of the universe as a whole. This produces an interesting effect.
Josiah, a frequent commenter on this blog, asked an excellent question in a post on my previous entry. I started to reply to his question, but I realized the answer would make a good blog entry. Josiah asked whether or not “cooperative relationships in the animal world” are a problem for evolution. He doesn’t think so, but the author of one of his homeschool books thinks it is. What do I think?
Well, let’s start with the terminology. A relationship between two or more individuals from different species is called symbiosis. However, that word has grown to refer to different kinds of relationships. It can refer to a relationship in which all participants benefit, a relationship in which only one participant benefits but the others are not harmed, or a relationship in which one benefits and another is harmed. Thus, to specifically talk about cooperative relationships, we use the term mutualism, which refers specifically to a relationship in which all participants benefit.
Josiah mentioned a couple of examples of mutualistic relationships. One was the tick bird, which eats ticks off a rhino’s skin. This is beneficial to the rhino, which becomes relatively “tick free,” and it is obviously beneficial to the bird, as the bird has a fairly safe place to find food. The tick birds also warn each other (and the rhinos) about any incoming danger. The other example was the single-celled protistans (flagellates) that live in a termite’s gut and digest cellulose. The termite (indeed, all multi-celled animals of which I am aware) cannot digest cellulose on its own, and since wood is 50% cellulose by mass, this would be a problem for an animal that eats wood. However, the flagellates in a termite’s gut digest the cellulose, which allows the termite to eat wood. Obviously, both participants benefit in this relationship. Are these kinds of situations a problem for evolution?
In 2005, Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues published an “astonishing” result – they had found soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex femur.1 Given the fact that such dinosaur bones have been supposedly lying around for 65 million years or so, no one expected them to contain soft tissue. Indeed, laboratory studies seem to indicate that soft tissue decays in a matter of 50 weeks or so,2 and it was thought that proteins would break down after only 30,000 years, unless special circumstances were present.3
Even when special circumstances are present, the molecules that make up soft tissue are not supposed to last for 65 million years. A multidisciplinary approach to the problem of biomolecule decay in fossils led to the conclusion that under nearly ideal conditions, DNA should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just 125,000 years, and collagen (a protein) should decay to the point where it becomes undetectable in just under 3 million years. 4 Nevertheless, Schweitzer and her colleagues found collagen in a bone that is supposedly more than twenty times as old.
It is not surprising, then, that many scrambled for any explanation other than the fact that Schweitzer and her colleagues had found soft tissue and collagen in the T. rex bone. For example, some researchers tried to produce a study indicating that the soft tissue found wasn’t soft tissue at all. Instead, it was a biofilm made by bacteria.5
As much as old-earthers would want what Schweitzer and her colleagues found to be anything but soft tissue, her results are now unequivocal. First, Schweitzer has found soft tissue in another dinosaur fossil that is supposed to be 80 million years old! 6 In addition, another group has made a soft tissue find, and in my opinion, it is even more remarkable.
Even though I don’t typically blog on things like this, the dives I had in the Caribbean were amazing, so I have to show some pictures. The best one, by far, was the dive in Tortola, where I got to examine the wreck of the Rhone. The ship sank in 1867, and the remains are awesome! Here, for example, is the tip of the bow:
Here are the remains of the “crows nest” that was on top of the mast:
And the remains of one of the boilers used to drive the steam engine:
There was even a section of tile floor that was still intact and not completely overtaken by coral:
While the Rhone was by far my favorite dive (it actually took two dives to see it all), my favorite pictures are as follows. First, the “serious side” of a spotted moray eel:
and these wonderful red-and-white shrimp:
All in all, it was a great set of dives!
My blog will be silent for the next few days, because I will be on vacation in the Caribbean. I’ll be doing a lot of diving, and I am especially excited, because I will be seeing things like this:
Wreck of the Rhone - Photo from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RMS_Rhone_2003_12.jpg
Underwater Sculpture Garden (photo from Flickr - http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3215/3115827590_5108c2c7a4.jpg?v=0)
Expect something the week of the 15th!
If you have been paying attention to the news this week (and quite frankly, I’ve been having too much fun to be paying much attention), you probably know that an unknown hacker broke into the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) and released hundreds of confidential E-MAILs. 1 In fact, this has been such a big story that it already has its own Wikipedia entry.
What do the E-MAILs revealed by the hacker tell us? Partly, that depends on who you read. Some say they could be the “final nail in the coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming.” 2 Others say they simply show “Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.” 3
What do I think about these hacked E-MAILs? You can find out below the fold.
I will be speaking at PHILCON again this year. This has become a yearly tradition that just keeps getting more enjoyable. My good friends Richard Stout, Christopher Stout, and JJ Brannon will be there, and we always have an awesome time.
This should be a better-than-usual convention for two reasons:
1. My old college room mate, Frank Wu will be there. He has made quite a name for himself in fantasy art, and I haven’t seen him since college.
2. While I normally speak on how realistic the SCIENCE part of “Science Fiction” is, this year, I am especially excited to be on a panel about one of my obsessions, World of Warcraft. It should be a hoot. Philcon always gives you a sign to put in front of you when you speak on a panel, but I am thinking of making a special one for this talk:
Convertmaker, Champion of the Frozen Wastes
As that is my main character on World of Warcraft.
Because I spend most of my time people-watching (there is NO better place to do that than at a science fiction convention), I won’t have time to do any blogging. Look for something after Thanksgiving!
I have a stack of journals and other periodicals that I read in order to keep up on what is going on in the world of science. Currently, I am working on the ones that came in late July. However, for some reason, the March 23 issue of Answers Update from Answers in Genesis got mixed up with the late July materials. As a result, I just read this:
The horrible school shooting in Finland in 2007 is a prime example. The killer stated: “I am prepared to fight and die for my cause . . .I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit…It’s time to put NATURAL SELECTION & SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST back on tracks!” This student was only carrying out in practice what he had been taught concerning origins, as well as the lack of purpose and meaning he found in life. Herein lies Darwin’s terrible legacy, which has affected all modern cultures. 1
In other words, Charles Darwin left behind a terrible legacy – one of violence and evil. Many other Christian works say similar things. For example, a book that claims to give people a “Biblical Worldview of God and Truth” says:
Darwin’s Tragic Legacy…his 1859 book…gave rise to the controversial theory of evolution. Sadly, 150 years later, modern evolutionary theory has become the basis for most biological studies and is taught as fact in our schools and universities, despite the truth that scientists are no closer to proving the theory after all this time. Meanwhile, the biblical account of God’s creation of the universe is no longer taught in most schools due to legal challenges brought by those who do not believe in God or the authority of His Word. 2
So according to this book, Darwin left behind a tragic legacy that has destroyed modern education.
Of course, both statements are seriously incorrect. Darwin certainly did not leave a “tragic” or “terrible” legacy. In fact, Darwin was a great scientist who left us a rich legacy of solid scientific data and conclusions. Sure, some of what he believed was wrong, but that can be said of almost every great scientist from the past. More importantly, a lot of what Darwin believed is correct. In fact, the great irony of all this is that both sources I quoted are from young-earth creationists, and without Darwin, it would be impossible for young-earth creationists to have a Biblical worldview!
As I have said before, PZ Myers is my favorite atheist. He says exactly what he thinks (no matter how stupid it is) and does so in an engaging, witty way. For example, this is probably my favorite PZ Myers piece I have ever read. It lampoons my position, but it is awesome!
So I had to feel a little sorry for him when someone with a BA in mathematics was able to fluster him during a Q&A session:
P.Z. Myers’ evolutionary equivocation
Of course, the physicist mentioned in the article also did a good job of showing how little evidence means to poor PZ.