Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The latest in my Talk to the Fossils series - Denyse O'Leary

Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it's not your evolution any more
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), sometimes called lateral gene transfer (LGT), is a profound recent discovery in genetics: Genome mapping has shown that bacteria can acquire genes from the bacteria around them --that is, horizontally -- rather than from a previous generation (vertical transfer), as when a parent cell divides into two daughter cells. They can transfer multiple segments of DNA at once to fellow species members.
But that was hardly the critical finding. This is: Because bacteria are found everywhere and are comparatively simple, they can move newly acquired genes between life forms in the other domains of life. They can produce heritable changes with no recent common ancestor. …
So we are a long way from when biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013), grudgingly admitted the significance of horizontal gene transfer, noting that it "... has been recognized as a major complication when attempting to use molecular data to reconstruct the tree of life."
It certainly has, because where HGT is in play, there just isn't a tree of life. Even popular science writers are beginning to recognize the significance of this fact. More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpgEpigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you're wanted in the conference room!
To recap, Darwinism entails vertical transfer of genes from a common ancestor to descendants. Horizontal gene transfer means transfer of genes from one organism to another on contact, irrespective of the ancestry of either life form. HGT is a form of evolution, yes. But it drastically weakens the status of Darwinism as the "only known theory." Any Darwinian claim about evolution must first rule out HGT as a possible explanation. And, as we shall shortly see, it must rule out epigenetics as well.
Why does this historic shift in the burden of proof receive comparatively little attention? Probably it's due to the overwhelming acceptance of Darwinism as a cultural metaphor and philosophy of life. One thinks, for example, of Amazon citing "purposeful Darwinism" and taking Darwinian Theory to the max as a defense against a recent exposé of the firm's labor conditions. The concepts Amazon advances are scientifically meaningless but culturally meaningful. And culture drowns out science.
Thus, when talking to fossils (or current living forms), our challenge is to listen to what they have to say, not what the Darwinian interpreters of the fossils (and of almost everything else) have to say.
Which brings us to epigenetics. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was an early evolutionist who proposed that life forms could acquire information from their environment and pass it on in their genes. He was dismissed, when not ridiculed, by Darwinists for many decades (though not, as it happens, by Darwin). But the basic thrust of his idea has recently resurfaced in epigenetics.
There is an irony in the way the resurgence came about. A key science achievement of the 1990s was the mapping of the human genome.
Who guessed that the genome, of all things, would be, not Darwinism’s triumph, but its grave?
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg Devolution: Getting back to the simple life
Most of the time, when we think of evolution, we mean mechanisms for the growth of complex new information. After all, entropy (the tendency for disorder to increase over time) can satisfactorily explain loss of information. Yet, in the history of life, some forms survive while -- or even by -- losing information (devolution). Their history may tell us something useful too.
We all know devolution when we see it -- a jar of pennies becomes a doorstop, a computer becomes a boat anchor, the XYZ volume of the Encyclopedia props up a too-short table leg.
But interest in devolution of life forms spiked with the recent discovery of giant viruses, which a 2014 editorial at The Scientist considered a possible fourth domain of life.
The giant mimivirus for example, unlike conventional viruses, "carries many genes thought to be unique to cellular life, suggesting that it evolved from a cell."
If so, strictly speaking, it "devolved" from a cell. More.
Devolution caused researchers to think Incorrect thoughts. Talk to the Fossils 3.jpgLife continues to ignore what evolution experts say (look, this is becoming a habit!)
Readers may well wonder about the term "mechanism" of evolution, as used here. Consistent with Michael Behe's question, "How, exactly?", it means a process observed to account for inherited change. If a bacterium is observed to absorb antibiotic resistance genes from another bacterium and pass them on during cell division, we will term that a mechanism. It is not a theory about what "must have happened" over vast tracts of time; it is an event we have witnessed, produced by causes we can identify.
But what drives the process? That is, why do living cells attempt to protect themselves in ways that rocks and rotting wood do not? As we shall see, a number of non-Darwinian biologists now focus on the way that cells have changed and do change themselves to respond to challenges in their environment -- natural genetic engineering. More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg Natural genetic engineering? Natural popcorn? Or something more important?
Why does the animal want to live?
We can build machines -- we create them to do what we want -- and then put them out with the trash. But not free-living life forms. They try to survive. To deny this would require us to say, as Barham notes, that purpose is an illusion.
Part of the problem between Barham and Shapiro, which led to an exchange of views, sounds conceptual. What does Dr. Shapiro mean by "natural" processes, as opposed to "more than strictly material" ones, as above? A strictly material process would be a series of events fully explained by material processes (for example, what happens when a loose stone falls off a cliff).
But some entities in nature are not material at all: the number 7 comes to mind. Some philosophers have argued that we can construct a theory of items grouped by sevens without using a concept like 7. But whatever advantages these philosophers' suggestion may offer, it does not represent what people do. We have an immaterial concept of 7 that organizes items and events, instantiated in various media at various times. It is natural without being material in any meaningful way. More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpgNatural selection: Could it be the single greatest idea ever invented?
Darwin's theory of evolution (natural selection acting on random mutations) is a cultural icon, like the Big Bang, or e=mc2. One needn't know anything specific about any of these ideas. Indeed, media professionals can be passionately devoted to Darwinism without knowing anything about it at all.
That makes sense. Professed loyalty to Darwin is an admission to good parties. And Darwinism's relationship to modern warfare and eugenics is drowned out by cultural support. True, hillbillies thump the Bible against it, to the groans of the better educated. But what if...?
First, what exactly isDarwin's theory anyway, other than an invite to the approved parties?
Here it is: Information can be created without intelligence. That is, natural selection acting on random mutation explains the order of life we see all around us. What can't survive won't, and that explains how very complex life forms and structures -- including the human mind -- get built up.
True: Things that can't survive don't. But why would that fact alone drive nature to produce anything as simple as a kitten, let alone a math genius?
We've looked earlier at documented ways evolution can really happen -- if all we really want to know is how life forms can change over time. That said, I spent the last fifteen years trying to understand the cultural part. Darwinism isn't just about evolution as such. It is also a way of looking at life. It tries to explain life without assuming that there is any actual mind at all, dispensing with traditional philosophies and religions. More.
And how is that working out? Also, just out of interest, why do so many Christians support it? Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg Can sex explain evolution?
Picture a triplex: Tom, a world class cribbage addict in Apartment A, does no work and has no money (apart from social assistance and charity). Dick, in Apartment B, works eight shifts a week in trucking, so has no trouble paying his bills. Harry, formerly in Apartment C, went off and became a multimillionaire (legally) in packaging and shipping for the software industry.
Does work alone explain Harry's success? Did he work a thousand times harder and more often than Dick? Is that even possible? Or is it all an accident of fate, such that Tom or Dick might have stumbled down the same way and done the same thing?
Most human beings tend to doubt that it is so simple. Also, there are not a billion generations between Tom, Dick, and Harry. Not even one, actually.
And if each of these guys somehow ends up with fertile heirs, is any of them "unfit"?
Very well, so let us now look at Darwin's other theory, sexual selection: More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg Could we all get together and evolve as a group?
No subject apart from religion has vexed Darwin's followers more than why people sacrifice themselves for others. They have embraced the ambiguous term "altruism" because it does not clearly mean "compassion" or "heroism." Rather, it is to be seen as the same natural force that causes worker ants to pass on their genes by serving their queen, who lays lots of eggs, instead of reproducing themselves (kin selection). Maybe this force creates the change we are looking for.
A champion of this proposed mechanism was evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson.
But then Wilson dramatically abandoned kin selection in 2010 in a Nature paper, "The evolution of eusociality," co-authored with mathematicians. He argued that strict Darwinism (natural selection) "provides an exact framework for interpreting empirical observations," dispensing with the other theories he had promoted for decades. Over 140 leading biologists signed a letter to Nature, attacking the 2010 paper. Some called his new, strictly Darwin model "unscholarly," "transparently wrong," and "misguided."
What? All this is said of a Darwin-only model? More.
Read there, argue here. See the other series:  The cosmology series is here. The origin of life series is here. The human evolution series is here. The human mind series is here. Follow UD News at Twitter!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Living in the Present Tense by Rose McCormick Brandon

rainbow2Some day everything will come together; all the stray ends of our imperfect lives will be gathered and tied into an elegant bow. So we wait . . . for perfection, for health, for money.
We defer joy.
A woman once described a day when all the stars of her scattered life seemed to align. The sun shone. She walked to a beautiful park hand-in-hand with her only grandson. They sat on a bench, ate hot dogs, played soccer, chatted with neighbours, then strolled back home to snuggle up together with a book.  "For a few hours my world was perfect. If only every day could be like that," she said.
If only . . . so many days are ruled by that phrase. If only my child would call me. If only my husband would find a good job. If only I'd fall in love with Mr. Right. If only I had a child. If only my body would cooperate with my mind. A life lived in the "if onlies" can't find joy in the present.
Finding joy in the present means accepting present imperfections - little things like messes, unpainted walls, dreary weather and big things like unemployment, sickness, pain, divorce. Joy won't wait. It doesn't dwell in the past or wait for us in the future. It lives in the present - as God does.
When asked, "who are you?" the Father answered I AM. And Jesus carried that message into His ministry.
"Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”
 Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”
So Jesus said to them, “You rightly say that I am.” Luke 22:69-70
Are you living in the I AM of God, in His present? Each day is a joy gift from God; joy can't sit on the back burner, it's a today experience.

Lord, thank you that today you and I are at peace because you have forgiven my sins. And that peace brings me joy. My circumstances will never attain perfection but my friendship with you is perfect. And that gives me deep, heart-warming joy, holy joy, present joy.

Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books, including One Good Word Makes all the Difference and Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children. Visit her website at: and read her blogs Promises of Home and Listening to my Hair Grow.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Will They Hear Angels Sing? (by Peter A. Black)

It is obvious – the people are in haste,
heading towards who-knows-where.
They trudge along a rugged road in the dark, their way illuminated only by small lights in the heavens. They – men and women from youth to old age, and yes, little children too – bear bundles on their backs as they press forward, leaning into the night. In the foreground a man, his body straining forward, toils between the shafts of a spoke-wheeled wagon bearing his family’s earthly goods.

WWII. Credit: (Not the same
as was in the book; that was a night scene.) 
This sombre black and white and grey-toned picture, so full of action and human pathos, stirred something in me when my eyes first alighted on it. I recall a sense of feeling sorry – of compassion, for “those poor people.” (Do I remember correctly that those people also strove against wind-driven snow? I think so.)
I was about five years old.
That picture was featured in a book containing simple piano arrangements of Christmas carols. The book was a gift to my older sister, Chris. The publishers chose that illustration to accompany the carol, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”*

(Not the picture in the book)
 But why this dark, sombre and sad picture?

The book was published shortly after WWII had ended. But it would be a year or so before I knew about refugees who, in the millions, fled their homes in numerous countries across Europe and beyond, to escape the ravages of the war. I then readily made the connection in my young mind between the people in the picture and what I now knew.
Currently we’re again seeing people fleeing by night and by day, heading towards who-knows-where, propelled by danger, drawn by the light of hope amidst the darkness of their plight. Now, through pictures and movie news-clips, young minds and hearts are again getting sensitized by pictures to the plight of children like them, half a world away – kids who want to laugh and love and play with chums at school and in their neighbourhoods and enjoy life with their families.

Here’s the verse of the carol that I associated most with the picture at that early age:

2015 Syrian Refugees. Source:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.


Summer yields to the cool currents of fall and night pushes day into an ever decreasing space, while merciful nature yields her autumn fruits.

Bronze basted turkeys and hams, savoury cabbage rolls and an enormous array of delightful delicacies of a North American Thanksgiving will be upon us in no time at all. But what of the souls, whose bodies bend low as they lean, toiling in the dark night of humanity’s inability to live at peace with one another – often in the name of God or of a faulted concept of a god?

And then, Hanukkah and Christmas come around with their association of miracles, of angels and light. May the angels of heaven guide and guard those weary souls, and may flesh-clad human angels of divine mercy meet those suffering travellers at points along the way; people through whose kind words, generous deeds and warm hearts, the weary ones may hear, for the first time, the angels sing.

* Author: Edmund H. Sears
The above is a modified edition of a P-Pep! article published in Black's column, P-Pep! in The Standard Guide Advocate, September 24, 2015.

Peter's second book is a compilation of inspirational articles on a variety of themes from his weekly column. These are interspersed with brief expressions intended to encourage. Ebook edition is available through Amazon.
ISBN: 978-0-9920074-2-3 (Angel Hope Publishing)
Peter's first book: “Parables from the Pond” – a children's / family book (mildly educational, inspirational in orientation, character reinforcing). Finalist – Word Alive Press. ISBN: 1897373-21-X. The book has found a place in various settings with a readership ranging from kids to senior adults.Black's inspirational column, P-Pep! appears weekly in The Standard Guide-Advocate (of Southwestern Ontario). His articles have appeared in 50 Plus Contact and testimony, and several newspapers in Ontario.



Thursday, October 01, 2015

Thanksgiving – Looking Back Leads Us Forward. by Eleanor Shepherd

Reading the history of how Thanksgiving celebrations arose in our country, we discover reasons to celebrate and give thanks.  The aboriginal occupants of this country were actually celebrating the bounty of their harvest long before Europeans arrived on Canadian shores. They were joined by the early European settlers whose thanksgiving often focused on some special good fortune.  For example, in 1578 the explorer Martin Frobisher, in whose honour the northern bay he discovered is named, was able to offer his thanksgiving for survival of the long journey that he safely made, seeking the longed for passage from Europe to Asia through what we now know is North America. 
Recognizing this part of our history at Thanksgiving we can add our gratitude for our own survival during the difficult times in our lives or for safety as we travel over the highways and waterways that have spread out over that long sought passage from east to west to east.  Applying this to our live we can deepen our appreciation for the new discoveries that we make as we pursue our journey of life, never knowing what we are going to encounter with confidence in God’s faithfulness to accompany us all along the way.
            Historically, celebrations of Thanksgiving have often followed noteworthy historical events.  It is interesting to note that the tradition of a yearly Day to celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada was initiated by refugees who were fleeing from the Civil War in the United States. The habit developed to have a theme each year beyond rejoicing in the blessings of an abundant harvest.  Included in Thanksgiving celebration themes were the golden and diamond jubilees of the reign of Queen Victoria and the coronation of King Edward VII.    

            The noteworthy times in our own lives can become the theme for our Thanksgiving celebrations like the birth of a child or grandchild.  The safe arrival of that child and the joy of cuddling the precious little one with all their promise and potential evoke thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving celebration can focus on the celebration of a wedding when we realize the value of the love that entwines our lives and the gift that our spouse is to us.  Even funerals when we forget the shortcomings of the one who has left us and remember with gratitude all they contributed to our lives becomes a Thanksgiving event.  Holiday times when we can break from our regular routine and enjoy family time or do something special together and appreciate the joys of family and friends bring forth Thanksgiving. Noteworthy life events create themes for our Thanksgiving.
            Historically, in Canada, from the end of the First World War until 1930, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day were celebrated on the Monday closest to November 11, the anniversary of the official end of hostilities in World War I. Then in 1931, Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day and Thanksgiving Day was moved to a Monday in October. Since 1957, Thanksgiving Day has always been held on the second Monday in October.
            As Canadians we love peace.  It is appropriate for us that Thanksgiving be associated with armistice. We know the gratitude of living in a time of relative freedom from warfare for most of us.  Our service people have largely been involved in peace keeping missions since the Second World War.  A thanksgiving subject for us is that our lives have not been interrupted by the social devastation that accompanies war. 
            The historical roots of this fall holiday give rise to themes for our Thanksgiving.  As I think of the history of my own life, I plan to take some time over the Thanksgiving weekend to chronicle some of the events on my time line.  I can use each event as an opportunity to express gratitude and thanksgiving to God for some particular aspect of it that has blessed me.  This will remind me how God has been present in my life, giving me what is good and I will have courage to move into the future, confident that whatever awaits me He will be there working for my good.  Want to join me?
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Common Ground in Differences - Donna Mann

Summer is camp weather — and we’ve done a lot of it through the last few months. We often contact people in the areas we’re travelling to see if they have time for lunch or maybe a coffee at Timmie’s. Such was the case in our recent trip.

It was a situation where we recently visited old friends of the Mennonite tradition while travelling east. We had known one another for many years; trust and friendship had developed between us.  In the past we’d learned about our mutual churches, congregations and groups within faith communities, and at times discussed biblical passages and God’s expectations.

We looked at photo albums and listened to stories from the past decade. As I coloured pictures, read stories and laughed with the children, it was like having my own grandchildren around my knees. As the father/husband asked God’s blessings on us individually before our meal, it was truly drawing us all to the same table. Indeed, we shared common ground in the oneness of God’s care and love, as well as our faithfulness and return of gratitude.

On our second day, we were scanning the roadside for a rest area, when we noticed a rural United Church building with a big empty parking lot—big enough to turn this rig around. As no one was there, we couldn’t ask permission, so I just put on the kettle and opened our lunch packages. Within the half-hour several cars came rushing in. As it turned out, the women’s group had arrived to practice a skit for an upcoming event. Later, as we talked together, it reminded me of coffee hour after church. Again common ground in location, witness and mission.

My last experience was one of urgency: later in the day, we parked in a mall lot and as Doug checked the hitches and lights, a tall foreign man came up behind him and asked for a screwdriver. “Straight” he said. At first, my fear heightened. Doug gave it to him without looking back. We watched him walk toward a huge loaded transport, to stand facing the passenger door. He obviously attempted to open the lock. Doug ventured over to offer further assistance and it happened the driver had requested permission from a grocery store to unload, but wasn’t granted consent because he was not wearing safety boots. His newly purchased boots were now in the cab, but so where his keys.

With a clothes hanger from the trailer and a little fancy manoeuvring, Doug opened the huge truck cab door.  Even with a language and culture barrier, a pressing need, and established trust (albeit short-lived), the driver was able to deliver his load before the deadline. The men had found common ground in the differences: a need and a willingness to help.

We laughed as thirty minutes later, we saw the same truck cab, minus its long trailer move in a circle around our RV, heading for the exit—his way of saying thankful.



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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Faithful to Write - Tracy Krauss

The words of Habakkuk Chapter Two resonate in the ears of many Christian writers I know - including me:

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what He will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it. (NIV)

This passage is clearly about the calling that many feel to write. And yes, I believe this applies to fiction writers, too. The fact that God uses story to reach people is well documented. After all, Jesus himself used parables to get his message across.

Stories are a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer and can influence and impact long after the entertainment factor has worn off. Take for instance Frank Peretti's iconic This Present Darkness. It continues to be a spiritual warrior's call to action, even after almost thirty years. (Apparently a revised edition came out in 2003. I still have the original 1980s version...) Authors like C.S. Lewis, Francine Rivers, and others come to mind as weavers of stories that have had a lasting and profound impact on a spiritual level.

I don't presume to lump myself in with such glowing examples, but I have been blessed to receive feedback from readers telling me my work affected them in a positive way. I love to tell stories of redemption and grace based on characters that are less than squeaky clean, but whom God uses anyway. I think people appreciate the fact that God keeps short accounts when we come to faith in Christ. There is hope for everyone - even the most unlikely.

This month we were encouraged to write about 'Faithfulness'. I can't help but think how this applies to us as Christian writers - even those of us that have committed to write for this blog. I am grateful for the men and women who are faithful to post here each month. I know that many of us lead very busy lives and it isn't always easy to find time to write yet another blog post. As well, it takes effort to think of something new to share that is both interesting and relevant. Thanks, too, to our lovely moderator, Glynis Belec, who keeps us on track.

Keep on writing faithfully, my dear friends, both here and in the other things God has laid on your heart. It is a high calling not to be taken lightly.


Tracy Krauss writes fiction, non-fiction, and stage plays from her home in British Columbia.

Friday, September 18, 2015

SAND IN MY SHOES - by Heidi McLaughlin

The feeling of being barefoot and feeling sand squish between my toes evokes giddiness and freedom. When I flirt with the ocean I am a child experiencing the joy of the occasional splash of gorgeous, turquoise sea water and the sun warming my cheeks. I am free to frolic, run, laugh and giggle. Being barefoot in the sand unleashes a brazen abandon that I find in no other place.

When I wear shoes I do not enjoy the same freedom. It is blatantly unrealistic of me to think that I can frolic in the sand and not expect to get sand in my shoes. Those irritating grains of sand eventually find a little open crevice and rub at me until I either take off my shoes or leave the beach. Annoying, hurtful and disappointing!

An unrealistic expectation is like an irritating grain of sand-a silent thief that robs us of freedom and joy. When people do not meet our expectations we get mad, feel hurt, rejected, disappointed and blame them for letting us down.  Here is a paradigm shift to reality.

Everything in this life is a created thing and has the potential to disappoint us.  It’s a harsh statement, but once we get it, it will unleash the same kind of freedom as running barefoot on the
beach.  I have found my greatest freedom in this life by identifying and learning to let go of unrealistic expectations. How do we do that? Realize that:
1.     It is not other people’s job to make us happy.
2.     Everyone sees the world through a different set of lenses.
3.     People orchestrate their lives to make them feel loved and comfortable in the way that has been modeled for them.
4.     We can never assume anything-always check the facts.
5.     God has made us all unique, and we cannot expect people to climb into our life’s journey and be like us.
6.     God is shaping each person’s character in a distinctive manner. It is not our job to shape other people’s characters.
7.      It is unrealistic to think that granite countertops, a flashy career, a perfect spouse, a face lift, fitting into skinny jeans, or a diamond ring will bring us lasting, and fulfilling joy.
8.     Everything in this life ends up in a box…one way or the other.
9.     We need to treasure what God has placed in our hands and receive it as a gift to be held loosely while we are on this earth.
10.  When we buy into unrealistic expectations we are setting ourselves up to be robbed of our freedom.

God is so kind and gracious to us. He tells us in John 8:31, 32 “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What truth? It’s all right there in the bible-every word and story is a realistic expectation and promise to set us free from the hooks of this world. People and things were not put on this earth to give us freedom, only Christ can do that. Once we recognize and believe it, we will be empowered to make choices that will be as freeing as running near the ocean barefoot. No chance of gritty, annoying sand in our shoes.

Heidi McLaughlin lives in the beautiful vineyards of the Okanagan Valley in Kelowna, British Columbia. She is married to Pastor Jack and they have a wonderful, eclectic blended family of 5 children and 9 grandchildren. When Heidi is not working, she loves to curl up with a great book, or golf and laugh with her husband and special friends. You can reach her at:

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