Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data. 

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

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Greg Ganssle explains the problems of evil and suffering

I found these three videos on Apologetics 315. They are each about 5 minutes long.

Here’s the first one:

Description:

Part 1 of a trilogy. Greg lays out a classic argument that God does not exist, called ‘The Problem of Evil’. He distinguishes two versions of that argument, which are sometimes called ‘the deductive’ and ‘the evidential’ version. He goes into some details on the deductive version.

And the second one:

Description:

Part 2 of a trilogy. Here, Greg gives a response to the deductive version of the Problem of Evil on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. In thinking about this response, we need to think about whether God can make contradictions true, and whether God can have good reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

And the third one:

Description:

Part 3 of a trilogy. Greg considers the evidential version of the Problem of Evil, and gives a response on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. This involves considering whether God might have a good reason to allow bad things to happen.

This is very practical and you won’t find a shorter introduction to the problem of evil than these videos. When things go wrong as they sometimes will in your life it’s very important to understand that we shouldn’t be surprised by suffering and evil.

Probably the most important thing to understand about evil and suffering is that God is not our cosmic butler. It’s not his job to provide happiness for his human pets. You would never get the idea from the Bible that God is interested in making people feel happy, especially if they ignore him and his moral laws. Everything God does with people is meant to make them know him better and serve him better, and many things that happen to us that don’t make us happy, but they do give us the opportunity to either grow towards God or away from him.

If the story of Jesus tells us anything, it tells us that you can be morally perfect and still get whammed while you learn how to be obedient to God. Being good is no guarantee of happiness. Doing God’s will is no guarantee of happiness. There just is no guarantee of happiness, no matter how righteous you are. But what there is for us is a promise that God works through evil and suffering in order to make those who respond to his leading as much like his Son Jesus as they can be. And that has to be enough for us. We have to learn how to trust God through suffering. Knowing the logic of the problems of evil and suffering can help us to develop that trust.

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Mike Licona lectures on historical methods and the New Testament

Here’s a quick overview of Michael Licona’s latest book on the resurrection, entitled “The Resurrection of Jesus“.

60 minutes of lecture, 20 minutes of Q&A.

Summary:

  • Dr. Licona’s background and education
  • The definition of history and philosophy of history
  • Postmodern approaches to history
  • Historical bedrock: facts that are historically demonstrable
  • Historical criterion 1: Explanatory scope
  • Historical criterion 2: Explanatory power
  • Historical criterion 3: Plausibility
  • Historical criterion 4: Ad Hoc / Speculation / non-evidenced assumptions
  • Inference to the best explanation
  • Investigating miracle claims: is it possible? How?
  • Objection of James D.G. Dunn
  • Objection of Bart Ehrman
  • New Testament sources: Gospels and Paul’s letters
  • The Gnostic gospels: are they good sources?
  • The minimal facts
  • The hallucination hypothesis
  • The best explanation

While watching this lecture, it struck what good preparation it was for understanding debates. This lecture is more about historical methods, but if you’re interested in Mike’s minimal facts case for the resurrection, here’s a video on that:

This is the case he uses in his debates with Richard Carrier, Dale Allison, Bart Ehrman, etc.

Mike Licona’s ministry is here: Risen Jesus but there is more to his work than just the resurrection. He co-edited a book on 50 evidences for God from many different areas with William Dembski. He likes evidence from every discipline you can think of, and then some.

If you are looking for a good book to read on the resurrection of Jesus, the best introductory book on the resurrection is “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” and the best comprehensive book is “The Resurrection of Jesus“.

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William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[...]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!

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Friday night movie: The Crossing (2000)

Here’s tonight’s movie:

IMDB mean rating: [7.5/10]

IMDB median rating: [8/10]

Description:

The drama is about George Washington crossing the Delaware River and the Battle of Trenton during the American Revolutionary War. The film opens with the retreat of the Continental Army across New Jersey after repeated losses and defeats during the campaign of 1776.

After the army narrowly escapes across the river to the Pennsylvania shore, Washington, realizing that something must be done or the Revolution will collapse, conceives a plan to cross the river and conduct a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton.

Despite their own fatigue and the winter weather, Washington manages to lift his weary soldiers’ spirits, allowing the army to cross the river on Christmas night. The crossing is done in one night, allowing the troops to attack Trenton at eight o’ clock on December 26, 1776.

If anyone reading this blog wants to understand the true character of America, a very good thing to do is to read the book “1776” by David McCullough. It covers all of the events leading up to the crucial turning point of the American Revolution: the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. I really recommend the audio version of the book. David McCullough also wrote the famous biography of John Adams which was shown on HBO, then turned into a DVD series.

Here’s a quick history of the American Revolution preceding the Battle of Trenton:

September 1774: Delegates from each colony met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to form the First Continental Congress. It was designed to discuss colonial grievances.

April 1775: Battles of Lexington and Concord: An organized Massachusetts militia (“Minutemen”) defended colonial munitions and forced British regulars to retreat back to Boston. Mother England was stunned.

May 1775: The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

June 1775: The Continental Congress appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief of its newly established Continental Army. Soon after, British troops achieved victory at the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill but suffered severe casualties during three assaults against the determined colonial troops.

March 1776: Washington commanded the American siege that eventually forced the British to evacuate Boston. The British departed by sea for Halifax.

April 1776: The Continental Army left Boston and moved south to take a defensive position in New York anticipating a British landing. Washington had hoped to keep the British from occupying this locale. New York was a familiar base of operations from the French and Indian War. The colony of New York also had a strong Loyalist population. Additionally, the force which occupied New York would be centrally located and therefore able to keep New England cut off from the south.

July 1776: The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Second Continental Congress, officially severed American ties to Great Britain.

Summer of 1776: Though the American were successful at making a worthy stand at Lexington and Concord as well as in Boston, they soon discovered that this was only the beginning as 30,000 British troops (including their Hessians allies) arrived in New York harbor. The next few months were filled with disastrous defeats and demoralizing retreats.

August 27-30 1776: The British win the Battle of Long Island (Battle of Brooklyn)

September 15, 1776: The British occupy New York City

September 16, 1776: The British win the Battle of Harlem Heights

October 28, 1776: The American army retreats at the Battle of White Plains

November 16, 1776: The British capture Fort Washington, NY

November 20, 1776: Fort Lee, NJ falls to the British

December 1, 1776: Washington’s troops retreated past New Brunswick, New Jersey and headed toward Princeton with the British following closely behind.

December 7-8, 1776: Washington’s army crossed into Pennsylvania from Trenton. They were deployed to guard the River for a 25 miles stretch. All boats remained with Washington’s army, making it impossible for the British to follow.

December 9, 1776: “All shops ordered to be shut; the militia to march into the Jerseys; all in hurry and confusion; news that General Howe is on his march….” Washington ordered, “Spare no pains or expense to get intelligence about the enemy’s motions and intentions.”

December 12, 1776: The Continental Congress abandons Philadelphia as they fear the British approaching.

December 13, 1776: Washington received the news that General Charles Lee was taken prisoner by the British at White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Lee’s troops were slowly marching to meet Washington when Lee made a personal side trip which caused his capture. With the loss of Lee, some assumed that America would be forced into complete surrender as he was considered a highly valuable soldier.

[British commander] Howe announced that his campaigning season was over and he intended to winter in New York. Cornwallis intended to return to England for the winter, and, like Howe, he departed from the troops.

December 14, 1776: Col. Johann Rall’s (known as the Hessian Lion) regiment was left in Trenton as one of a loosely connected string of outposts which was to guard the king’s subjects in New Jersey and keep watch against an American raid. 1500 troops were stationed at this location while the bulk of the British army wintered in New York.

December 19, 1776: “The American Crisis” was published in Philadelphia. Thomas Paine wrote… These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

This essay rekindled the American people’s desire for independence and renewed the spirit of the troops.

December 20-22, 1776: Taking Lee’s place as commander, General John Sullivan delivered Lee’s remaining troops to Washington in Pennsylvania.

December 21, 1776: The Hessians thought little of the Americans, but they thought even less of their strategic position in Trenton. Thought criticized for not constructing defensive works, Rall felt Trenton was next to impossible to defend. He stated his concerns about his position as well as his troops fatigue to his British Commanders.

Rall’s regiment remained alert and concerned as to their tenuous position. They intended not to remain in Trenton but rather wait for the Delaware River to freeze allowing the Hessian troops to march across the frozen river and directly toward Philadelphia.

As you can see from the timeline, Washington has been losing battle after battle leading up to Christmas of 1776. His troops are tired, ill-equipped, sick and they must be released at the beginning of 1777 when their contract is up. Many have deserted already. What will George Washington do? Is this the end of the American Revolution? Watch the movie, and find out. Then read David McCullough’s book!

Happy Friday!

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