Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Shorebird’s beak inspires researchers to design new water collection strategy

The shorebird's beak is more interesting than you might think

The shorebird’s beak is more interesting than you might think

Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe tweeted this cool example of biomimetics from Science Daily.

Excerpt:

A UT Arlington engineering professor and his doctoral student have designed a device based on a shorebird’s beak that can accumulate water collected from fog and dew.

The device could provide water in drought-stricken areas of the world or deserts around the globe.

Xin Heng… a doctoral student in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Cheng Luo, MAE professor, have made a device that can use fog and dew to collect water.

Cheng Luo, professor in the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department, and Xin Heng, PhD candidate in the same College of Engineering department, published “Bioinspired Plate-Based Fog Collectors” in the Aug. 25 edition of ACS’ (American Chemical Society) Applied Materials & Interfaces journal.

The idea began when Heng saw an article that explained the physical mechanism shorebirds use to collect their food — driving food sources into their throats by opening and closing their beaks. Luo said that inspired the team to try to replicate the natural beak in the lab.

“We wanted to see if we could do that first,” Luo said. “When we made the artificial beaks, we saw that multiple water drops were transported by narrow, beak-like glass plates. That made us think of whether we could harvest the water from fog and dew.”

Their experiments were successful. They found out they could harvest about four tablespoons of water in a couple of hours from glass plates that were about 26 centimeters long by 10 centimeters wide.

Now, if we are lifting designs out of nature, then shouldn’t we give honor to God for putting the designs in there in the first place? I really think it’s important to give God credit where due for his clever designs, even if you’re not a big fan of the shorebird. I also think it’s interesting that it’s engineers who made this application of something in nature, not biologists.  Also, I feel I have to mention that the birdy is also cute, which is not insignificant, if you like birds as much as I do.

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What is pre-suppositionalism? What is presuppositional apologetics?

The Messianic Drew has a post up where he explains seven reasons, and I’ll add a still more important reason below.

His introduction:

While most Christians will agree that there is a need to defend the faith, many will not realize that there is a debate regarding methodologies. This paper will address the various apologetics methods, and then analyze before critiquing the relatively new method of presuppositionalism. While this method has a lot to offer from a practical apologetics standpoint, it cannot be held rationally as a worldview. This paper will give seven reasons why this is the case.

Before addressing presuppositionalism, an introduction to other apologetic methodologies is in order. The main form of apologetics used historically is called Classical Apologetics. Under this method, the apologist gives arguments for the existence of God, and then proceeds to develop Christian evidences for the Christian worldview. Arguments like the moral argument, and other reason-based argumentation tend to dominate this method.

If classical apologetics is a two-step method, evidentialism is a one-step method. The evidentialist will usually forego rationalistic argumentation and will simply bring out evidences for the Christian worldview. The method of Gary Habermas is an example of evidentialism.

Those methods as well as presuppositionalism are the main methods of apologetics. There are others as well, such as fideism, which tells people to just believe without argument. Polemical apologetics seeks to attack other worldviews. There are cumulative case methods of apologetics, where two worldviews face off for which one better answers life’s deepest questions. There is also eclectic apologetics, which seeks to borrow methods from other schools of apologetics depending on the need.

This brings the discussion to presuppositionalism, which seeks to examine the underlying assumptions of any worldview. In short, presuppositionalism states that one’s foundational views are the only truly relevant factor in discussing worldviews. The founder of modern presuppositionalism is Cornelius van Til.

Here are his 7 points:

  1. Presuppositionalism is circular reasoning
  2. Presuppositionalism minimizes common grace
  3. Presuppositionalism confuses ontological priority with epistemic priority
  4. Presuppositionalism presupposes a highly controversial theory of knowledge
  5. Presuppositionalism often forgets that Christianity is, at least in principle, falsifiable
  6. Van Til’s apologetic might not even be Christian, but may be merely theistic
  7. Presuppositionalism faces the problem of incommensurability

And here is #6 in detail:

John Johnson gives a devastating critique as to why Van Til’s system is wholly inadequate when addressing other faiths, such as Islam. Van Til argues from Romans 1:18-21 that non-Christians suppress the truth, and that a presuppositional technique is necessary. However, this section of the Bible deals with knowledge of God, but not theological issues about the Trinity, Jesus, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. [12] Instead, it only says that unbelievers are without excuse for denying monotheism. Paul reinforces this in Acts 17, when he talks about the statue to an unknown God. Paul deals with the Athenians on their own ground.

A more practical example is what I call Artscroll Judaism. This is a fundamentalist sect of Orthodox Judaism, with its own think tanks which can give you an answer to anything. Anyone who is willing to take the leap into the system will find it every bit as coherent as one would find the Reformed Christian view.

John Warwick Montgomery gives a fable about a conversation between two presuppositionalists from two different religions: the Shadok religion, and the Gibi religion.

Shadok: You will never discover the truth, for instead of subordinating yourself to revelational truth (The Shadok Bible) you sinfully insist on maintaining the autonomy of your fallen intellect.

Gibi: Quite the contrary. [He repeats the same assertion substituting the Gibi Bible for the Shadok Bible.] And I say this not on the basis of my sinful ego but because I have been elected by the Gibi God.

Shadok: Wrong again! [He repeats the exact same claim, substituting Shadok Election for Gibi Election.] Moreover, the sovereign election of which I am the unworthy recipient has been the very work of God the Shadok Holy Spirit. And all of this is clearly taught in the self-validating Scripture of our people, which, I should not have to reiterate, derives from the true God and not from sinful, alledgedly autonomous man.

Gibi: How dare you invert everything. [He laboriously repeats the preceding argument, substituting Gibi election, the Gibi Holy Spirit, and the Gibi Bible.]

Shadok: Absurd! This is the inevitable result of your colored glasses.

Gibi: It is you who have the glasses cemented to your face. Mine have been transparent through sovereign grace and Gibi election, as proclaimed by the Gibi God’s word.

Shadok: Your religion is but the inevitable byproduct of sin—a tragic effort at self-justification through idolatry. Let’s see what the Shadok God really says about his word.

Gibi: I will not listen to your alleged “facts.” Unless you start with the truth, you have no business interpreting facts at all. Let me help you by interpreting facts revelationally.

Shadok: Of course you will not listen to the proper interpretation of facts. Blinded by your sin, you catch each fact as you would a ball—and then you throw it into a bottomless pit.

Gibi: That’s what you do with what I say—a clear proof of your hopeless, pseudo-autonomous condition. May the Gibi God help you.

Shadok: May the Shadok God help you![13]

As Montgomery notes, this encounter is hopeless, since neither side can appeal to neutral facts to solve the dispute. Both sides are reduced to chest-thumping, loud assertion, and empty fideism.

It’s funny but it’s true! This is presuppositionalism in action. It’s arguing without appealing to any facts.

And here is my eighth point from my post on presuppositionalism.

Excerpt:

My view of presuppositional apologetics is that is as a system, it is circular reasoning. It assumes Christianity in order to prove Christianity. But there is an even worse problem with it. It’s not a Biblical way of doing apologetics. It’s man’s way of doing apologetics, not God’s. I think that the best way to understand Van Til’s apologetics is by saying that it really just a sermon disguised as apologetics. The problem is that Van Til’s sermon has no basis in the Bible. Wherever he is getting his view from, it’s not from the Bible. When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that people can learn about God’s existence from the natural world.

Romans 1:18-23:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For 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 men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

And in Acts, Peter appeals to eyewitness testimony for the resurrection, and Jesus’ miracles.

Acts 2:22-24, and 36:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And finally from the same chapter:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Professor Clay Jones of Biola University makes the case that the use of evidence when preaching the gospel was standard operating procedure in the early church. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Intro:

In 1993 I started working for Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law School) which offered an M.A. in Christian apologetics (Craig Hazen was the director). Much of my job was to promote the school and although I had studied Christian apologetics since my sophomore year in high school, I decided I needed to see whether an apologetic witness had strong Biblical precedence.

It does.

As I poured through the Scripture I found that Jesus and the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ as the sign of the truth of Christianity.

What follows are some of the passages which support the resurrection witness.

Here is my favorite verse from his massive list list of verses in favor of the evidential approach to Christian apologetics:

Mat. 12:39-40: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection was deliberately given as a sign to unbelievers to convince them. (“The Sign of Jonah” = the resurrection)

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific and historical methods. Can anyone find me a clear statement in the Bible that states that only pre-suppositional arguments should be used? I could be wrong, and I am willing to be proven wrong. I think we should use the Biblical method of apologetics, not the fallen man’s method of apologetics.

Presuppositional arguments, like the ontological argument from reason or the epistemological argument from reason are good. Presuppositionalism as a system is not good. It’s good to learn presuppositional arguments, but as part of a quiver of arguments – not in isolation.

By the way, Eric Chabot posted a fascinating discussion between presuppositionalist James White and Richard Howe on this topic, where the point about how presupositionalism cannot prove Christianity in particular came up.

Presuppositionalism is not a Christian methodology. It’s neither Biblical, nor can it be used to prove Christianity. It’s man’s system of apologetics, not God’s.

UPDATE: David Haines posted a couple of criticisms of presuppositionalism here.

UPDATE: A rebuttal to the first of Messianic Drew’s points is here.

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Philip E. Johnson lectures on science, evolution and religion

I found this fun lecture by the grandfather of the big-tent intelligent design movement, Berkeley law professor Philip E. Johnson.

I’ll bet you guys have all heard of him, but you’ve never heard him speak, right? Well, I was a young man, I used to listen to Phil’s lectures and his debates with Eugenie Scott quite a bit. This is one of my favorite lectures. Very easy to understand, and boilerplate for anything else in the origins debate. This is a great lecture – funny, engaging and useful. You will definitely listen to this lecture several times if you listen to it once.

The MP3 is here. (91 minutes, 62 megabytes)

The Inherit the Wind stereotype

  • Many people get their understanding of origins by watching movies like “Inherit the Wind” (or reading science fiction)
  • The actual events of the Scopes trial are nothing like what the movie portrays
  • The law forbidding the teaching of evolution was symbolic, not meant to be enforced
  • The actual Scopes trial was a publicity stunt to attract attention to Dayton, TN to bring business to the town
  • The ACLU advertised for a teacher who would be willing to be sued
  • They found a substitute physical education teacher who would be willing to “break” the law
  • The movie is nothing like the actual events the movie is a morality play
  • The religious people are evil and stupid and ignorant and bigoted
  • The scientists and lawyers are all intelligent, romantic, and honest seekers of the truth
  • The religious people think that the Bible trumps science and science is not as reliable as the Bible
  • The movie argues that the reason why there is ANY dissent to evolution is because of Biblical fundamentalism
  • The movie presents the idea that there are no scientific problems with evolution
  • The movie says that ONLY Biblical fundamentalists who believe in 6 day, 24-hour creation doubt evolution
  • The movie says that Biblical fundamentalism are close-minded, and not open to scientific truth
  • The movie says that people who read the Bible as making factual claims are misinterpreting the Bible
  • The movie says that smart people read the Bible for comfort and feelings and arbitrary values, not for truth

Guided evolution and methodological naturalism

  • What scientists mean by evolution is that fully naturalistic, unguided, materialistic mechanisms caused the diversity of life
  • Scientists do not allow that God had any real objective effect on how life was created
  • Scientists think that nature did all the creating, and any mention of God is unnecessary opinion – God didn’t DO ANYTHING
  • Scientists operate with one overriding rule – you can only explain the physical world with physical and material causes
  • Scientists DO NOT allow that God could have done anything detectable by the sciences
  • Scientists WILL NOT consider the idea that natural, material processes might be INSUFFICIENT for explaining everything in nature
  • You cannot even ask the question about whether natural laws, matter and chance can explain something in nature
  • Intelligent causes can NEVER be the explanation for anything in nature, and you can’t even test experimentally to check that
  • Scientists ASSUME that everything can be explained with natural laws, matter and chance – no questioning of natural causes is allowed
  • Where no natural explanation of a natural phenomenon is available, scientists SPECULATE about undiscovered natural explanations
  • The assumption of naturalistic sufficiency is called “methodological naturalism”
  • To question the assumptions that natural is all there is, and that nature has to do its own creating, makes you an “enemy of science”
  • But Johnson says that naturalists are the enemies of science, because they are like the Biblical fundamentalists
  • Naturalists have a presumption that prevents them from being willing to follow the evidence where it is leading
  • Experiments are not even needed, because the presumption of naturalism overrides any experimental finding that falsifies the sufficiency of natural causes to explain some natural phenomenon

What can natural selection and mutation actually do?

  • what evolution has actually been observed to do is explain changing populations of moths and finches
  • finches with smaller or larger beaks are observed to have differential survival rates when there are droughts or floods
  • no new body plan or new organ type has been observed to emerge from these environmental pressures
  • the only kind of evolution that has been observed is evolution within types – no new genetic instructions are created
  • in textbooks, only confirming examples are presented – but what is required is a broad pattern of gradual development of species
  • if you look at the fossil record, what you see in most cases is variation within types based on changing environments
  • the real question is: can natural law and chance be observed to be doing any creating of body plans and organ types?

What kind of effect requires an intelligent cause?

  • the thing to be explained in the history of life is the functional information sequences
  • you need to have a sequence of symbols or characters that is sufficiently long
  • your long sequence of characters has to be sequenced in the right order to have biological function
  • the only thing that can create long sequences of functional information is an intelligent cause
  • intelligent design people accept micro-evolution – changes within types – because that’s been observed
  • the real thing to be explained is the first living cell’s functional information, and the creation of new functional information

Critical response

The next 15 minutes of the lecture contain a critical response from a philosophy professor who thinks that there have been no developments in design arguments since Aquinas and Paley. He basically confirms the stereotypes that Johnson outlined in the first part of the lecture. I recommend listening to this to see what opposition to intelligent design really looks like. It’s not concerned with answering scientific questions – they want to talk about God, the Bible and Noah’s ark. It’s our job to get people like this critic to focus on the science.

Here’s my snarky rendition of what he said:

1) Don’t take the Bible literally, even if the genre is literal.

  • all opposition to evolution is based on an ignorant, fundamentalist, literal reading of the Bible
  • the Bible really doesn’t communicate anything about the way the world really is
  • the Bible is just meant to suggest certain opinions and experiences which you may find fetching, or not, depending on your feelings and community
  • if Christians would just interpret the Bible as myths and opinions on par with other personal preferences, then evolution is no threat to religious belief

2) As long as you treat the design argument as divorced from evidence, it’s not very effective

  • the latest and best version of the design argument is the old Paley argument which involves no experimental data, so I’ll critique that
  • this 200-year old argument which doesn’t rely on science has serious problems, and unnamed Christians agree with me!
  • Christians should NOT try to prove God’s existence using evidence from the natural world (as Romans 1 says), and in fact it’s “Pelagianism” to even try
  • Christians should divorce their faith from logic and evidence even though the Bible presents faith as being rooted in reason and evidence
  • Christians should not tie their faith to the science of today, because science is always changing and the theism-friendly evidence of today might be overturned tomorrow
  • It’s a good idea for me to critique the arguments of 1000-year old people who did not know anything about the cosmic fine-tuning argument – that’s fair!
  • I find it very useful to tell people that the argument from design is false without mentioning any design arguments from DNA or cosmic fine-tuning
  • We need to assume that the natural world is explainable using only natural causes before we look at any evidence
  • We should assume that natural causes create all life, and then rule out all experimental evidence for intelligent causes that we have today
  • As long as you accept that God is a personal opinion that has nothing to do with reality, then you can do science
  • The non-Christian process theologian Teilhard de Chardin accepts evolution, and therefore so should you
  • Remember when theists said God caused thunder because he was bowling in the clouds and then we found out he didn’t? Yeah well – maybe tomorrow we’ll find out that functional sequences of amino acids and proteins have natural causes! What would you do then?

3) What the Bible really says is that you should be a political liberal

Q&A time

The lecture concludes with 13 minutes of questions.

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Study finds that gay parents are more likely to raise gay kids

A peer-reviewed study about gay parents raising gay kids in AOL News.

Excerpt:

Walter Schumm knows what he’s about to do is unpopular: publish a study arguing that gay parents are more likely to raise gay children than straight parents. But the Kansas State University family studies professor has a detailed analysis that past almost aggressively ideological researchers never had.

[...]His study on sexual orientation, out next month, says that gay and lesbian parents are far more likely to have children who become gay. “I’m trying to prove that it’s not 100 percent genetic,” Schumm tells AOL News.

His study is a meta-analysis of existing work. First, Schumm extrapolated data from 10 books on gay parenting… [and] skewed his data so that only self-identified gay and lesbian children would be labeled as such.

This is important because sometimes Schumm would come across a passage of children of gay parents who said they were “adamant about not declaring their sexual orientation at all.” These people would be labeled straight, even though the passage’s implication was that they were gay.

Schumm concluded that children of lesbian parents identified themselves as gay 31 percent of the time; children of gay men had gay children 19 percent of the time, and children of a lesbian mother and gay father had at least one gay child 25 percent of the time.

Furthermore, when the study restricted the results so that they included only children in their 20s — presumably after they’d been able to work out any adolescent confusion or experimentation — 58 percent of the children of lesbians called themselves gay, and 33 percent of the children of gay men called themselves gay. (About 5 to 10 percent of the children of straight parents call themselves gay, Schumm says.)

Schumm next went macro, poring over an anthropological study of various cultures’ acceptance of homosexuality. He found that when communities welcome gays and lesbians, “89 percent feature higher rates of homosexual behavior.”

Finally, Schumm looked at the existing academic studies… In all there are 26 such studies. Schumm ran the numbers from them and concluded that, surprisingly, 20 percent of the kids of gay parents were gay themselves. When children only 17 or older were included in the analysis, 28 percent were gay.

Here’s the paper entitled “Children of homosexuals more apt to be homosexuals?“. It appeared in the Journal of Biosocial Science.

Abstract:

Ten narrative studies involving family histories of 262 children of gay fathers and lesbian mothers were evaluated statistically in response to Morrison’s (2007) concerns about Cameron’s (2006) research that had involved three narrative studies. Despite numerous attempts to bias the results in favour of the null hypothesis and allowing for up to 20 (of 63, 32%) coding errors, Cameron’s (2006) hypothesis that gay and lesbian parents would be more likely to have gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure (of sexual orientation) sons and daughters was confirmed. Percentages of children of gay and lesbian parents who adopted non-heterosexual identities ranged between 16% and 57%, with odds ratios of 1.7 to 12.1, depending on the mix of child and parent genders. Daughters of lesbian mothers were most likely (33% to 57%; odds ratios from 4.5 to 12.1) to report non-heterosexual identities. Data from ethnographic sources and from previous studies on gay and lesbian parenting were re-examined and found to support the hypothesis that social and parental influences may influence the expression of non-heterosexual identities and/or behaviour. Thus, evidence is presented from three different sources, contrary to most previous scientific opinion, even most previous scientific consensus, that suggests intergenerational transfer of sexual orientation can occur at statistically significant and substantial rates, especially for female parents or female children. In some analyses for sons, intergenerational transfer was not significant. Further research is needed with respect to pathways by which intergenerational transfer of sexual orientation may occur. The results confirm an evolving tendency among scholars to cite the possibility of some degree of intergenerational crossover of sexual orientation.

Please exercise caution when commenting, we do not want to be Brendan Eich’d by the Obama administration.

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Obama administration issues permits to wind energy companies to kill rare birds

From National Review.

Excerpt:

We have to kill eagles in order to save them.

That’s now the official policy of the U.S. Interior Department. On Friday, the agency announced that it would grant some wind-energy companies permits that will allow them to kill or injure bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty.

The move is an unprecedented gift to the wind-energy industry, which has been lobbying for the 30-year permit for several years. Shortly after the deal was announced, the wind-energy lobby issued a statement that would make George Orwell proud. An official with the American Wind Energy Association declared that this “is not a program to kill eagles.” It is, he claimed, “about conservation.”

Well then. We can now rest easy. Big Wind is saving eagles by getting permits to kill them.

Dozens of environmental groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, the Conservation Law Center, and the National Audubon Society, opposed the deal. Under the headline “Interior Dept. Rule Greenlights Eagle Slaughter at Wind Farms,” Audubon issued a statement calling it “a stunningly bad move” and quoting the group’s president and CEO, David Yarnold: “Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check.” He called it “outrageous” that “the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle.”

[...]On September 11, some of the top raptor biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a report that found that the number of documented eagle kills by wind turbines has increased dramatically over the past few years, rising from two in 2007 to 24 in 2011. In all, some 85 eagles have been killed by wind turbines since 1997. And that figure is “an absolute minimum,” Joel Pagel, the lead author of the report, recently told me. Among the carcasses: six bald eagles.

In an interview shortly after the publication of his findings in the Journal of Raptor Research, Pagel told me that he and his colleagues have since documented additional eagle kills by wind turbines in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and North Dakota. He refused to give a number but said “it’s quite a few.” There are now 14 states where the problem has been identified, he said, adding that more than half of the eagle carcasses have been found “incidentally” — that is, by people not out looking for them. And so the total of dead eagles is likely far higher than what Pagel and his colleagues are reporting.

As someone who loves birds of all kinds and who has owned different species of parrots for the last 25 years, I am outraged by the Obama administration’s war on birds. Birds are among the most intelligent animals, and many species are capable of forming bonds with humans in ways that most other animals cannot. We should not be subsidizing “green” energy projects that result in the killing of rare birds. Although global warming theory is now widely recognized as being contrary to observations, the need to protect endangered species is real.

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