Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Creation vs. Evolution Frameworks

I hear all the time that evolution has disproven the Biblical account of creation. For some, this even leads them to discount Christianity or even theism all together. But is the evidence really so strong for evolution?

I have a master's degree in biology from a secular university. I've studied evolution in depth, and the evidence simply doesn't add up. It's not that there isn't any evidence. There is, but a lot of it depends on your interpretation. There are alternate interpretations that also make sense of the same exact data - and often some data that are more difficult for evolution to explain as well. That's why, overall, the creationist explanation fits better with the evidence. When you actually study the data and understand both frameworks well, you can evaluate which fits better. I've done that.

The main problem is that too many people evaluate the data with an incorrect view of the creation framework. They think, for example, that evolution is about change and creation is about staying the same. So when they see evidence of biological change, they think it's evidence for evolution and evidence against creation. But the truth of the matter is that both frameworks agree to a large extent on what we should see today. Both incorporate change. So you have to dig into the details of HOW that change occurs to really tell the difference.

Here is a very brief and simplified overview of the two views:

Evolution claims that organisms can become more complex over time and that information can be added to the genome through random mutation and natural selection. Evolution also claims that all organisms originated from a common ancestor and have gradually diverged into the many forms of life we have today through the buildup of these mutations.

Creation, on the other hand, claims that organisms were created by God as separate kinds that reproduce only within their kind. Creation also claims that random genetic changes, while they certainly do occur, will generally be neutral or degradative with respect to information content (though degradative changes aren't necessarily harmful to the organism and may sometimes be a good thing in some environments) and that some genetic changes may occur due to directed or programmed mutation rather than random mutation.

That’s not as simple as change versus no change.

Notice that to determine which of these frameworks is correct, one has to dig into the genetic mechanism for each observed change rather than going on more superficial characteristics like whether it is helpful to the organism.

For example, in the case of antibiotic resistance in bacteria (which is widely touted as strong evidence for evolution), in nearly every case, the actual genetic mechanism that confers resistance to the antibiotic involves dismantling or turning off some component of the cell. In some cases, for example, it's a pump in the cell membrane that, in normal bacteria, brings substances into the cell, which allows the antibiotic to enter the cell and kill it. In resistant bacteria, the pump doesn't work and thus the antibiotic isn't pumped into the cell. This is very beneficial to the bacteria, of course.

But the kind of change that provided the benefit isn't the kind of change that explains how the bacteria got there in the first place. It doesn't explain how bacteria might develop into a more advanced organism. It doesn’t even explain how the pump in the cell membrane could have developed. The bacteria didn't add new information. It didn't develop a super power that dissolves antibiotics. It didn't grow stronger. In fact, in most environments, the non-resistant bacteria have the advantage because they have a working pump that does what it's supposed to do. That's why, in the absence of antibiotic pressure, bacterial populations become non-resistant again. The normal, non-resistant bacteria outcompete the broken ones that are antibiotic resistant. The actual change in the resistant bacteria was a degradative one at the genetic and cellular level. This also explains how antibiotic resistance occurs so easily. There are lots of ways to break cellular components and, thus, lots of individual mutations that will have the same effect.

So, when you look deeper, you'll see that antibiotic resistance is actually good evidence for the creation framework because it isn't the kind of change that would produce upward evolution or create new structures. Instead, it's actually a degradative change on a genetic level, just as creation predicts, which happens to be beneficial to the bacteria in some circumstances.

Another good example of something that is thought to be evidence for evolution is speciation. Many people mistakenly believe that the creation view involves fixed species. This is not the case. What the Bible says is that God created organisms to reproduce after their kinds. Assuming that “kinds” and “species” are the same thing is a common mistake. The modern species concept is useful as far as it goes, but it is largely subjective where you draw the line. There is no reason to suppose that the species reflects an actual divide between significantly different organisms. Thus, there is no reason to think that there could be no speciation events within Biblical kinds.

The Biblical kind is actually thought (by creation scientists) to be roughly equivalent to the Family level of taxonomy, although it may vary in different organisms because the man-made taxonomic system may not always reflect the difference in kinds consistently. Thus, while speciation has been observed and there are also many other cases where the evidence for speciation is good, none of those cases provide any evidence against the creation viewpoint. We creationists expect speciation and variation within the Biblical kinds. What we don’t expect (or observe) is evidence of common ancestry for all life.

There are many examples like these where something looks like evidence for evolution at first glance, but on deeper investigation turns out to be consistent with creation or even supports creation better. For those who don’t understand the actual creation framework, it can look like evolution has mountains of evidence to support it. When you understand what the creation models actually predict, you realize that it’s more complicated than that. And when you start evaluating the real creation framework versus the evolutionary one, you start to see the evidence tip in favor of creation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Culture of Shamelessness

Our culture has a knee-jerk reaction to shame. The hedonistic culture we live in hates shame because we don’t like to feel bad for our sin. Thus, we have people trying to “ban shame” and who refer to “shaming” someone as if it were…well, shameful.

We now have a culture of people who have largely lost their shame and refuse to admit to any guilt or feel any bad feelings for their wrongdoing. Rather than view wrong actions as something to be ashamed of, they view the feeling of shame as the evil to be avoided.

The truth is, shame is a good thing. It’s like physical pain in that it’s a warning sign that something is wrong. People without pain receptors often injure themselves and may even kill themselves without realizing they’re causing damage. Shame is similar. Feeling shame is a warning sign that we have done wrong and that we need forgiveness from God. It’s the normal, proper response to committing sin that God programmed into us. We’re supposed to feel shame when we sin so that we realize our need for a Savior. People with a blunted sense of shame, like people without pain receptors, may continue to damage themselves (spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and in their reputations) without realizing it and without seeking the forgiveness and healing they need.

Trying to remove shame by avoiding or denying the feeling only takes away the symptom, not the actual guilt. It doesn’t solve the real problem. It hides it.

Of course, people can feel false shame where they feel guilty for something that wasn’t wrong. And people can hypocritically point out the shame of others while ignoring their own guilt. Both of those are bad. But shame, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. It’s meant to turn us to God.

Many people in our culture would rather remove the bad feelings of shame than to address the underlying issue by admitting their guilt and their need for a Savior. A culture, like ours, that is focused on abolishing shame is a culture of people who are desperately trying to ignore their own sinfulness and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Chicken Thighs and Brown Rice

Here's a very easy crock-pot recipe that makes the most delicious chicken and rice. I'm not usually a fan of dark meat, but these chicken thighs are really good and even this die-hard chicken-breast-only girl will eat them readily. My little ones love this meal too. With the whole grain brown rice, it's a fairly healthy choice for supper. It's also a pretty inexpensive meal, so it's win-win for everyone.

4-6 chicken thighs (with skin on)
2 cups brown rice
4-1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter, divided
Lemon pepper
Black pepper

Pour the water into the crockpot and add the rice and about a tablespoon of butter. Add rosemary, thyme, sage, and salt. I use about 3/4 teaspoon rosemary, 1/8 teaspoon each of thyme and sage, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. I never measure it, but that's approximately how much to use. Stir the water and rice well to make sure each rice grain gets wet on all sides. If you have a lump of dry rice at the bottom, it makes it stick together in a big lump as it cooks.

Melt the remaining butter. Add lemon pepper, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Again, I never measure, but it's approximately 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon each of thyme, sage and pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix the seasonings with the melted butter.

Tip: I use the same seasoning blend for several of my chicken recipes, so I usually just mix up a big bunch of it and keep it in an empty seasoning bottle. It makes it so much easier to season up chicken in a hurry, whether that's this recipe or my butter baked chicken, roast chicken, or even lemon pepper chicken strips.

Now it's time to get out the chicken.

Tip: I buy chicken thighs in the big packages when they go on sale and freeze them in freezer bags with 4-6 thighs per bag. Then, when I want to make this recipe for dinner, I just pull out one bag from the freezer and thaw it in warm water in the sink for an hour or two. If you've ever tried thawing chicken that was frozen in the original packaging, it's a pain! This is so much easier.

Loosen the skin from the chicken thighs, but don't remove it. Coat the surface of the meat with the butter and spices.

I usually put a little bit of the butter and spices on the underside of the thighs too. Put the skin back over the top of the thighs and try to cover as much of the meat as you can. There's usually a long flap of skin that I wrap under the thigh also. Place the thighs on top of the rice in the crockpot.

Put the lid on the crockpot and turn it on high for 5 hours or until the chicken is tender and the water is absorbed by the rice. That's it! You don't even have to stir it during cooking.

To serve, take the chicken thighs out and place them on a warmed plate or platter. Then stir the rice in the crockpot to mix in all the seasonings and juices.

You can serve the chicken and rice as separate items or de-bone the chicken, cut it up, and stir it into the rice for a dish that's more like a casserole.

Serve with a vegetable dish of your choice. I recommend green peas. Other good choices are squash, carrots, green beans, or a green bean casserole. Enjoy!