Kind of an Awesome Exchange

Or, in the very least, it will give you a chuckle. And I keep my thoughts about the subject matter of the exchange all to myself (but you won’t catch me listening to kanye west even if i’m dead).

@derekwebb: RT @amazonmp3: Today only, get @kanyewest’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for just $3.99: http://amzn.to/d9V8Zj #blackfridaydeals

@BenBuckley8: serious question: why are you promoting Kanye?

@derekwebb: because he’s a great artist. i trust him

@BenBuckley8: I largely agree, but for me, that no longer overcomes his public boorishness and acrimonious conceit

@derekwebb: were you an english major?

Young Dogs

On Sunday we went up to the Peaks of Otter and had a picnic lunch. It was good.

On the way home we stopped at a Kroger to pick up some ice cream (it was also good). Some of the kids wanted to go in, but others wanted to stay in the car. So I picked one to come with me, and off we went. One other protested at being left, but she was still in her seat and I thought she could stay.

But as we were walking away from the car a shout came forth, “Even the dogs get the crumbs!”

So she got to come with me also.

Goal!

So, once upon a time in 2007, I listed some goals for myself.

Now, in 2010, I can report that one of those goals is underway. I began work this summer for a Master’s degree. Two classes (and I got an A in both), and I’m registered full time for the fall semester. If all goes well, I expect to be finished Dec 2011. So yay for accomplishing goals, even if it is years past when you expected.

Let it Flow

My name is Richard, and I like to cry.

Okay, so maybe ‘like’ is too strong a word. And maybe it isn’t fitting with the theme of this post to insinuate I am admitting a fault, like an alcoholic at an AA meeting.

What I really want to say is that I’m now 35 years old and finally I cry about things. I’m sure I cried a lot as a kid, and I know I’ve cried at significant, like-altering moments as an adult. But yesterday I listened to Andrew Peterson’s new album, Counting Stars for the first time, and two thirds of it had tears welling up in my eyes. Megan and I took the kids to see How To Train Your Dragon at the dollar theater a week or so ago, and I cried. There are a few books that have me crying every time I read them. It’s always funny when the kids see it and they freak out, wondering what in the world is going on.

As an individual, I still consider myself emotionally defective. But maybe I’m moving in the right direction.

In Feast Or Fallow

I understand that in good writing being clear is more heavily weighted than being clever. All I want now is persuade you to listen to this album, so, no gimmicks here. This is going to be straight clarity. Perspicuity with a capital ‘P’.

In Feast Or Fallow is Sandra McCracken’s 7th full length album, and if you were to ask me, I would tell you that it is the crown among them. At this point I don’t feel like I can praise it enough. IFOF succeeds in everything it sets out to accomplish. It is beautiful, convicting, encouraging, edifying, and inspiring.

Sandra McCracken is a pioneer in the movement to write new hymns, something the church needs badly. I only have a download of the record (for now), so I can’t check liner notes to be certain, but I believe all but four of the 15 songs are written, music and lyric, by McCracken and/or her friends. Those songs not on this list (Give Reviving, I Glory In Christ, 980 Anne Steele, and Faith’s Review and Expectation – a reworking of the classic Amazing Grace) are older hymns, but set to new music. The lyrics of all the songs are powerful and effective. They do just what hymns are supposed to do… point out our failures, and Christ’s successes. Repeatedly as I listen to the album I am convicted of my self-reliance, and assured of my salvation on the basis of Christ alone. By the end I am run through the wringer, but there isn’t any trip that’s more encouraging to take

The sound of the album matches the lyrics in excellence. Derek Webb produced, and he did a spectacular job. It has a very organic, natural feel, but technology is clearly used to add textures and sounds to the music. It adds atmosphere and weight musically, that is quite fitting to the lyrical content.

I encourage to buy it (for less than $6 at amazon), but if you’re hesitant, at least pop on over to http://www.newoldhymns.com and listen to the whole record streaming for free. You can also hear an interview about the album at https://www.noisetrade.com/sandramccracken to get some insight behind individual songs. Be wise and discerning; stock up during the years of great plenty.

Through Songs I Was First Undone

tsiwfu

Justin McRoberts is a musician and a christian. I first learned of him back in 1999 when he was on tour with Bebo Norman. I have followed him from a distance since then… always interested in what he was doing, buying a couple of the nine albums he’s released in that time, but not devoted like I am to some other artists. But when I first heard about his latest project, Through Songs I Was First Undone, I was intrigued.

I learned about it on twitter, when @justinmcroberts was first contemplating the song selection. What’s interesting about this album is that it is all cover songs, and, surprisingly, they are all what is called secular music. An odd move for a musician that, while independent, is certainly in the christian music world. Two names he tossed around were Toad the Wet Sprocket and Nine Inch Nails. Now, these two bands, at points in my personal history, have held the #1 slot on my favorite band list, and so my interest was officially piqued. When I got an email from the people promoting the album, informing me that they would like me to review his latest project, I jumped at the opportunity.

The point McRoberts is making is that God can and does use all sorts of means to accomplish His tasks. These songs, some written by unbelievers, can be used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, strengthen, shape, and mold us into the image of Christ. To rebuff us, and correct our misunderstandings of God Himself, or correct our misapplications of His Word. McRoberts has said that these songs have as much of God in them as do songs by overtly christian artists. I would add that, in many cases, they have more. He believes it is his duty to share and celebrate the presence of God in these pieces of art. You can read his thoughts on this record, the individual songs, and other topics on his blog, at http://www.justinmcroberts.com/blog.

The album opens with a song called “Georgia Lee”, written by Tom Waits. I’d never heard this song before, and I confess I’m glad I heard McRoberts’ version before the original. Waits voice would not have kept me around to be undone by the song. It is about the unsolved death of a poor black girl in California in 1997. The song questions, as do all thinking Christians, how evil can occur in a world where our loving God is ruling. The song doesn’t provide an answer, implied or otherwise. We’re just left with the reality that evil does occur in this world.

The next song, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, comes as if in answer the lingering question of the first. The only way we can deal with The Problem of Evil is by acknowledging it, and trusting in God. We want an answer that is both easy understand and easy to accept, but it is not forthcoming. Instead, God gives us what we need… revelation through His Son.

“Save Me” by Aimee Mann is the third song, and is another that I had never heard before. And its a fun one, probably my favorite on the album. The cover of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Fly From Heaven” is, on the other hand, sitting at the bottom of the pile. This, I’m sure, is due to my sentimental connection to Toad, and can’t be held against Mr. McRoberts. I don’t think anyone else could play the song in a way that would please me. “Wildflowers” is a classic version, fairly true to the original. Next is “Head Like A Hole”, originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails. Before Johnny Cash’s amazing recording of “Hurt”, I don’t think any christian musician considered recording a NIN song. NIN is atheistic industrial rock. McRoberts definitely changes the feel of the song. When Trent Reznor sings “bow down before the one you serve/ you’re going to get what you deserve”, he clearly has a sarcastic, sardonic intent. However, when McRoberts sings this line, you get the feeling that it is a sincere statement. Serve God faithfully, and you will be rewarded.

When “No One To Blame” began, I thought it was a Boston song. I remain convinced someone copied the primary chord progression in the hook. This is followed by “Stripped”, a cover of a song by Depeche Mode. I love the sound of this recording. I can’t help but smile when I hear the various guitar (I think) sounds emulating the synthetic sounds DM originally used. This is followed by a short number called “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. I’m interested to read the reasons behind McRoberts choosing this song, as its just a bare bones request for something desired, without much if any detail or context. A good song, in any case, that I find I listen to twice before continuing on with my listening.

The last song on the record (and the longest incidentally) is a cover of George Michael’s “Freedom 90″. I confess to not being a George Michael fan, and not especially endeared to this song. However, it fits nicely on the record and, despite being unfavored by me, is not a skipper.

Sonically, the album situates itself into a mostly acoustic folk/rock genre. I enjoy that style of music, but I especially enjoy other elements that were brought in on some songs to mirror the recordings by the original artists. I recommend the album as one for easy listening and (when you’re in the mood) for not so easy listening.

Books Read in 2009

2009 Books

January
#1 The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Great book, highly recommended. It has definitely changed my perspective on food and farming. Hopefully we will apply much of what was learned from this book.

#2 How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (audio)
Very informative. I got the feeling, though, that the author (a Roman Catholic himself) was SO positive about the Catholic Church that he must have skipped or glossed over some history. Also, he tries to argue that Socialism is a result of Protestantism.

February
Ø

March
#3 The Hobbit
Read it to the kids for the first time.

#4 The Shack (audio)
Hm. It’s essentially an attempt to answer the Problem of Evil. I give it a D-.

#5 100 Cupboards
Reread in preparation for Dandelion Fire.

April
#6 Ants At Work
Good little book. I’d say it’s about high school level or so, but it’s a good example of how science works. Observations are made, questions are asked, and experiments are designed to answer the questions. Didn’t learn as much about ants as I had wanted, but that’s okay. The book touches on a subject that we don’t know much about… colony behavior in social insects. She proposes possible explanations, but admits that we really don’t know why they act the way they do.

#7 The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture (audio – free for a limited time here)
Pretty good, but probably could be half the size. Here’s my summary: We are relevant to culture when we impact people on an individual level. We are relevant when we love one another, and the world.

May
#8 Dandelion Fire

June
#9 A Primer on Worship and Reformation

July
Ø

August
#10 Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl
I gave it five stars with around 60 pages left. Having finished it, I wish I could give it six.

What I consider the major theme of the book from page 70:

Are we on a world kick-started by a god who doesn’t know how to drive? Is this god embarrassed? Did he not know that snowflakes would come with avalanches as well as the quaint village scenes they ruin?

Of course He did. This God is big, bigger than the world. Faith is hard on the back of a motorcycle, it is hard when the Tilt-A-Whirl reverses its spin, when the bright lights blur into confusion against the night sky. But faith brings with it the only possibility of peace and joy in this world–the only possibility of laughter on this mad, made ride.

#11 Jayber Crow

September
#12 Why Evolution Is True
a few posts:
Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design
Millions of Years of Change
Final Review

#13 The Design Revolution
Audiobook from christianaudio.com. Often complicated arguments were hard to follow via audiobook. I would recommend hard copy.

October

November

December

The Greatest Show on Earth

So the Library very kindly and conveniently notified me yesterday that they were holding Richard Dawkins’ latest book for me. I barely made it in the door to get it… in fact, the only reason they let me in is because the book was held. If I had to get it off the shelf, they wouldn’t have let me (Thus, I do not have Tile Your World, which I would like to review before tiling my bathroom floor).

So, similar to my reading through Coyne’s book, I will be posting various thoughts and insights as I read the book. Last night I read chapter 1, “Only A Theory?”. Here is my summary of points:

  • Creationists are idiots.
  • Evolutionists are persecuted in schools.
  • “Senior clergy and theologians” don’t have a problem with evolution, and so neither should you.
  • Creationists are idiots.
  • Defining terms: Theories and Facts.
  • Creationists are really idiots.

We’re off to a wonderful start.

Final Review

Here’s the review of Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True that I posted on goodreads.com when I finished the book:

I’d give it 2.5 stars if I could. Seeing how I think he’s wrong, though, I’ll downgrade rather than upgrade. [I gave it two stars]

I probably agree with 70% of what’s in the book, which may be surprising, me being a creationist. I’m not going to try to untangle all the mixtures of agreement and disagreement.. but its interesting that I definitely am fully onboard with over half of the book, but still disagree with the major premise; that evolution is true.

Coyne succeeds in presenting a case for neo-darwinian evolution. By which I mean, he successfully explains observations in light of modern evolutionary theory. He paints a fairly complete systematic understanding of the history of life. I recommend the book to everyone for this reason. E.O. Wilson is correct when he writes in the blurb on the back that this is a “clear, well-written explanation of evolution.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t begin to explain the serious difficulties of darwinism (he outright denies the existence of such problems!). That’s a major drawback of the book… it presents it more as a defensive boast rather than a scientific and critical examination of evidence.

A further detriment is the apparently intentional strawman portrayal of creationists. There is an endnote on page 33 that explains the creationist position as allowing for microevolutionary change within biblical ‘kinds’. But this is the only place in the book creationists are treated this honestly. Everywhere else ‘special creation’ is caricatured as a special creation event for each and every species of organism. It is dishonest and, once again, takes away from the argument of the book.

The final failure of the book I will mention is the last chapter, where Coyne attempts to deal with philosophical and metaphysical implications of evolution. It is a sad attempt… while he should be praised for recognizing the need to deal with these issues, he should have stopped when he honestly stated the case: “How can you derive meaning, purpose, or ethics from evolution? You can’t.” (p225)

Here are the two posts I made while reading the book:
Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design
millions of years of change

millions of years of change

continuing through Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, and i have another comment. There have been plenty of times I would say something if I were writing a full critique of the book, but those are usually too small or too big for my intents on my blog. But this morning I came across a passage that hits the sweet spot.

Chapter two is about the fossil record, and starts in earnest by noting the ‘big patterns’. He discusses how huge the time frames we’re dealing with are, and quickly gives an overview of the forms of life as they appear in the fossil record. Humans are the new comers, he says, with our lineage branching off from that of other primates about 7 million years ago. If the history of life on earth were a year, he writes, then bacteria would appear the beginning of March, and the first human ancestors would arrive around 6am on the 31st of December (p.28).

So the last common ancestor between humans and other primates that presently share the earth with us was 7 million years ago. That means all the changes that have occurred have been within 7 million years.

The next few sections are fossilized evolution and speciation and transitional forms. He uses several examples to show how the fossils have evolved over time. To do this, they remove a core sample of the seafloor (nearly all of these samples are marine organisms), and then it can be dated from bottom to top, and all the specimens within the sample can be examined, etc. Here are the examples given in the book:

a species of foraminiferan, Globorotalia conoidea. they looked at the number of chambers in the final whorl of the shell. Over the course of 8 million years it changed from an average of 4.8 chambers to 3.3.

a radiolarian, Pseuodcubus vema. The trait examined in this sample was the width of the animals cylindrical base. In a 2 million year period, the mean thoracic width changed from about 90 microns to somewhere around 139 microns.

various lineages of trilobites were examined from a sample that spanned about 3 million years. All of these showed evolutionary change in the number of segments in the last body section +/- 2 or 3 ribs. The point here is that the different lineages changed different amounts, at different rates, and even in different directions (some got more while others got less in the same sections of the sample).

The next and last specific example given is two species of radiolaria, Eucyrtidium calvertense and E. matuyamai, which separated from a common ancestor. This time the time frame examined was 3.5 million years, and the anatomical structure was the width of the fourth segment. The size at the start of the column (the bottom, the oldest layers) was about 93 microns. At the youngest layers, E calvertense is around 80 microns and E matuyamai is about 120 microns. So somewhere there was a split and one got smaller while the other got bigger.

Coyne says there are hundreds of other examples of evolutionary change in fossils, including not only marine specimens but also terrestrial organisms such as rodents and primates. Some of these change fast, others barely change at all, he says. But, clearly, he chose the examples he did for a reason: as evidence of his point; that organisms change over geological time.

Did you notice anything about those examples he gave? 8 million years to change the chambers in a whorl of a shell. 2 million years to change 50 microns in size. 3 million years to change the number of ribs by two or three. 3.5 million years to change an average of 20 microns in size.

Humans are supposed to have evolved from our shared ancestor with other primates 7 million years ago, but in 8 million years of documented change, all we see is 1.5 less chambers in the last whorl of a shell. Sure, he said some organisms evolve faster and others slower, but this seems a bit extreme. What’s more, the changes in the examples he gives are barely noticeable, and always leave the form as it was. These changes are all working with existing genetic information. There is nothing even close to novel genetic code, which is necessary for macroevolutionary changes in body plans and categories of organisms (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, etc.).

It is alleged that reptiles evolved from amphibians over 50 million years. Granted, that’s much more time than any of the examples given, but also consider the massive changes that would need to occur in this time frame. if we’re talking about microns of difference (a micron is one millionth of a meter. Take one millimeter (~0.04 inches), and divide that a thousand times… that’s a micron) in a preexisting phenotype over 2-3 (or 8 ) million years, is it reasonable to expect that the creation of brand new phenotypes (something that has not even been shown possible) along with the drastic changes that must occur to them in 50 million years? Yes, count me as incredibly skeptical.

The evidence presented by Coyne is unconvincing that there has been enough time needed for macroevolution to occur, and also that the types of changes necessary could occur in the way darwinian evolution theorizes.