Common Descent – Part 2

Darwinian evolution predicted that organisms that share physical features will also share genetic information in common but genetic research has shown the opposite. Here is how one article recently published in the journal New Scientist puts it,

For much of the past 150 years, biology has largely concerned itself with filling in the details of the tree. “For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life,” says Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. A few years ago it looked as though the grail was within reach. But today the project lies in tatters, torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. “We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality,” says Bapteste. That bombshell has even persuaded some that our fundamental view of biology needs to change.

Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life
21 January 2009 by Graham Lawton

The article goes on to state that the evidence from DNA suggests that life is interrelated horizontally and not just vertically – like a spider web rather than the root system of a tree. This is not what genetic scientists expected if life evolved from a common ancestor.  The article then attempts to explain this anomaly.  Genetic material is not only transferred through reproduction but also on the sly by means of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT).  This is supposed to occur in three way:

1) endosymbiosis
2) viruses
3) hybrids

I don’t know enough to weigh in on the discussion but it will be interesting to see what comes of these new discoveries.  Who would’ve thought that we’d see the day when evolutionary biologists would call ‘the tree of life obsolete! 

It’s History

I was once told by a history prof that “there is no room for metaphysics in history.” I disagree!   If the job of a historian is to do more than simply collect facts but also to make sense of them then history must enter the realm of metaphysics.  And this means history may be used and abused.

History has always been twisted by evil men to justify their actions.  Nazi historians wrote long ‘scholarly’ articles that tried to prove that the Aryan race was the most pure and powerful of all the races and that Christianity actually had its roots in Aryan civilization instead of Semitic. In similar fashion, Mao used naive western journalists to whitewash the dark history of the Chinese Communist Party and transform the Long March into a propaganda piece.  Mussolini drew on the glories of the Roman empire to justify his expansion into Africa.  Ahmadinejad denies the holocaust in order to justify his vitriol against the Jews.

There is something remarkable – and all together unnatural – about the history found in the Old Testament. Compare the history of Israel to any other national history and you will immediately notice that theirs is uniquely a history of failure!  In the Exodus account alone, Israel is said to have tested God eleven times in the desert.  Even the most significant failures of Israel’s greatest kings are preserved in painful detail.  However, in the Hellenistic period some religious groups in Israel began to revise their history somewhat.  The Book of Jubilees, for example, written early in the 2nd century, revised OT history to remove some of the more glaring scandals.  It was this kind of historical revisionism that John the Baptist warned the religious leaders of his day against.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Matthew 3:7-9

There has been a lot of talk about American exceptionalism lately.  Gingrich referred to it in his victory speech in South Carolina in the context of the Federalist Papers, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.   Ginrich and others are trying to shore up patriotism but they miss what it is that makes any nation special.  What is the point in saying, “We have John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as our father!”  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

The only thing that makes a nation exceptional is the degree to which it experiences and reflects the grace of God.  The only healthy kind of patriotism is the kind that results in deep humility and gratitude to God.  Everything else is hubris.


Maale Amos to Ein Gedi

While in Israel, a friend from school and I did a hike from Maale Amos, in the heart of the Judea mountains to Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea.  A Bedouin fellow gave us ride for a small part of the way and his son showed us around their camp.  You can see in the video how he was able to get the attention of his flock.  Reminded me of Jesus words, “My sheep hear my voice…”

Along the way we visited the remains of one of the most isolated of the Byzantine monasteries in Judea. What would drive a person to sleep on a stone bench and eat next to nothing for their life time?  I know some say that these men came out of such pagan environments and had been so deeply affected by it that this was the only way they could find peace.  I don’t know.  They could not have been following the example of Jesus – he spent almost all of his time with people – with the exception of the temptation.  It is ironic that Jesus went into the desert to be tempted but the monks seem to have gone there to escape temptation. 

The area we walked through is likely where Jesus went when he was tempted in the desert.  It is a very solitary place…  I was given a GPS (thanks Mom and Dad!) before I went to Israel and it turned out to be a better gift than they probably know.  Although I didn’t have any maps for it, I had three points entered into it: the start, the end, and one land mark along the way.  Just knowing where you are and where are going is huge help – even if you can’t see the mountain in between.

We ended up walking through En Gedi park at night. It was a little unreal walking through one of the best preserved Chalcolithic temples in the world by moon light.  I can see why David chose that area to hide from King Saul.  He probably took his flock there as a shepherd and spent many a lonesome and sleepless night in that country.  He was brave when no one else was watching.  Why not let a lion take one of the lambs?  No one will know any differently.  It is interesting that both Moses and David were shepherds before they became kings.  Later, Ezekiel would lament that his people were like sheep without a shepherd and Micah looked forward to a day when out of Bethlehem would come one who would be a ‘shepherd for my people Israel’.  The Shepherd has come although his voice quiet now – so quiet.

Timed Exposure of Chalcolithic Temple overlooking the Dead Sea
The spring at Ein Gedi
Roman Fort on the Plateau above Ein Gedi