Thursday, October 27, 2011

Theological Notes on Elephant Ears


Walt Disney greatly wondered the meaning of elephant ears that first caused such laughing among those ravens. He suggested a very useful function for them in the lovely animated movie Jumbo.

Thinking man
My point in these blogs is that the process of creating a hypothesis or theory to explain the evolution of elephant ears requires a lot of hard facts and also some very serious critical and creative scientific thinking.

But we know that Nature does not think. It just follows those laws of nature someone has set for it. We try to figure out in our scientific ways and by using our methods what those laws are and what environmental conditions were required for them to work and what special - perhaps punctuated - events have guided the evolution of elephant ears.

Thinking God of Israel

Nature is anonymous even if some evolutionary biologists give it divine impersonal abilities.

But the personal God of Israel claims that He is the Who, the I AM.

In His own word written by people inspired by the Holy Ghost that a personal I has made everything.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Gen 1:1

This implies that behind and in everything that exists there is a thinking person - a very creative one, whose closest image is the human being, thinking and creative man and woman.

This is not science, this is religion, and knowing the Who does not explain the How.

Let us rejoice and praise Him
When wondering elephants and mammoths let us rejoice and praise Him who has made them.

Let us not be like those idol worshippers Apostle Paul is writing about in his letter to the Romans

"For 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 people are without excuse.  For 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."
Romans 1:20-21

Instead, let us, evolutionary scientists and laymen alike, glorify God in our writing and walking and talking and give thanks to him.

For without faith in God we do not really comprehend what is going on.

By faith we understand.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3

By faith we also rejoice - at least some of us - when science explains how God created that amazing elephant ear using the toolbox of environment, genetics and evolutionary principles. And how he gave us the ability to figure it out.

By faith we know personally the Who because He has made it possible. And He is the source of our eternal rejoicing and worthy of praise!

Amazing elephant ear facts quoted from Wikipedia 
The large flapping ears of an elephant are also very important for temperature regulation. Elephant ears are made of a very thin layer of skin stretched over cartilage and a rich network of blood vessels. On hot days, elephants will flap their ears constantly, creating a slight breeze. This breeze cools the surface blood vessels, and then the cooler blood gets circulated to the rest of the animal's body. The hot blood entering the ears can be cooled as much as 10 °F (6 °C) before returning to the body. Differences in the ear sizes of African and Asian elephants can be explained, in part, by their geographical distribution. Africans originated and stayed near the equator, where it is warmer. Therefore, they have bigger ears. Asians live farther north, in slightly cooler climates, and thus have smaller ears.

The ears are also used in certain displays of aggression and during the males' mating period. If an elephant wants to intimidate a predator or rival, it will spread its ears out wide to make itself look more massive and imposing. During the breeding season, males give off an odor from the musth gland located behind their eyes. Joyce Poole, a well-known elephant researcher, has theorized that the males will fan their ears in an effort to help propel this "elephant cologne" great distances.[

Do you not agree that these facts learned by scientists do not reduce anything from our praise of the wisdom of God who has created this wonderful animal!

Message from Manny

Manny the Mammoth in Ice Age has a serious grudge against us humans

Let us pay attention to what Manny has experienced. For recent evidence again indicates that our ancestors possibly hunted to extinction in their fight for survival those marvellous majestic woolly mammoths of the Ice Age. (The dispute about the cause of their disappearance still continues.)

As responsible to God of Israel, our Creator, regardless of our greed for ivory let us not allow the hunt of modern-day elephants to extinction.

The Evolution of Elephant Ears

Hello, evolutionary biologists!

We do know that elephants have very long memory but probably they do not themselves remember how they evolved those ears and for what purpose. Neither do we.

So let us study and work towards a scientific theory that would explain to our satisfaction how elephant ears have evolved and for what purpose..

The more brave ones among the evolutionists will even use the active expression "Elephants have evolved their ears for the purpose of..."

Less brave scientists do not think that animal species actively evolved anything. It is generally assumed that all the features of an elephant are the product of many natural processes and have a given logic that operates on random genetic mutations as the living raw material in a specific natural environment.

The evolution of elephant and its ears, trunk, tooth and all the rest of this amazing animal has taken millions of years.

"The earliest known ancestors of modern-day elephants evolved about 60 million years ago. The ancestor of the elephants from 37 million years ago was aquatic and had a similar lifestyle to a hippopotamus."  (wikipedia)

The evolutionary explanation of elephant ears should be something that can reasonably be assumed to have helped the species in nature's ongoing fight for survival. For this it is necessary to figure out what could be the practical advantage of having such nice big ears.

The theory explaining the evolution of elephant ears should help us understand the differences in the ear sizes of modern Indian (Elephas maximus) and African (Loxodonta) elephant species.

Of course, it would be very important also to define what changing environmental factors have been at play in elephant ear evolution. What would be the best angle to explain in a systematic and rational way the strange growth of elephant ears? They are (according to my limited knowledge) quite unique among the known animal species that have ever been living on this planet.

Dwarf elephant skull 

The theory would be crowned by the discovery of fossil evidence demonstrating many ear size and shape variations to show from what kind of ear(s) the evolution started and to prove the existence of mutant variations from which natural laws gradually selected the most fitting ear model for the animal.

Unfortunately to science, softer parts of organisms do not survive well when buried underground or at the bottom of lakes so much of the study must be based on bony skulls of elephants and their ancestors - perhaps the skull features can tell something about the changes in the ears?

Luckily for science some of those enormous mammoths were buried swamps and deep muds and frozen under Siberia's extreme climate. Perhaps study of mammoth ears can suggest something about the evolution of elephant ears?

Good luck!

Homework 1:
Take the role of God of Israel, the Creator of the world, and design the head of a woodpecker so that it does not get head injury when looking for wood. Its head moves about 6m/s (20ft/s) at each peck enduring a deceleration more than 1,000 times that of gravity.

(For one recently suggested solution to this difficult task you may take a look at the work of Ming Zhang of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University here)

Homework 2:
Take the role of God of Israel, the Creator of the world, and describe how to use the lathe of environmental change and natural selection to create such a head for the woodpecker.

(If you figure out a reasonable solution, you can send it for review to Science or Evolutionary Biology as a pioneer researcher of the subject.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kurt Russell Dark Blue (2002)

Kurt Russell said about the movie Dark Blue in which he acts Detective Eldon Perry:

"Perry's a change from characters I've played in the past," says Russell. "This is a contemporary film about real people, and Perry is as real as it gets. More than any other character I've played, he's a very real person; he's got a full 360 degrees to his character." (CBS News)

I could not agree more.

In this dark and thought evoking film resembling a documentary Kurt acts as Eldon Perry, a human being who in five days goes through dramatic change in his moral standing realizing what is really important in life. The fictional character, Eldon Perry, is a member of Los Angeles Police department's elite Special Investigations Squad (SIS) who has fully adopted the famed Jesuit principle - good purpose justifies any method of action, including murder.

The powerful and perhaps somewhat underrated movie is based on a story about police brutality and corruption written by American crime fiction writer James Ellroy (1948) who was inspired by the case of Rodney King and the ensuing violent LA riots in 1992.

Rodney Glen King (born April 2, 1965) is an American best known for his involvement in a police brutality case involving the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on March 3, 1991. A bystander, George Holliday, videotaped much of the incident from a distance.
The footage showed LAPD officers repeatedly striking King with their batons while other officers stood by watching, without taking any action to stop the beating. A portion of this footage was aired by news agencies around the world, causing public outrage that raised tensions between the black community and the LAPD and increased anger over police brutality and social inequalities in Los Angeles.
Four LAPD officers were later tried in a state court for the beating; three were acquitted and the jury failed to reach a verdict for the fourth. The announcement of the acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A later federal trial for civil rights violations ended with two of the officers found guilty and sent to prison and the other two officers acquitted. (wikipedia)

Ron Shelton (1945), the director of Dark Blue, is known for his movies about sport. In my opinioin his work is quite special because of the narrative method he uses to examine significant social issues as, for example, in White Men Cannot Jump (1992) which he both wrote and directed. (Can you put cultural and racial issues more succinctly then when the black man tells his white friend "You can hear him but you cannot listen to Jimi Hendrix!")

Truth about dark side of life
There are no simplified caricatures so common to USA movies aiming to please the crowds and to make some bucks. This one is uncompromising, cruel and depicts life as it is. Yet, in some deep way the sad story is very rewarding as it also brings out what is good in humanity and emphasizes positive values in the midst of the anarchy and violence. (Especially the depiction of the LA riots is amazing - can this kind of things really happen in modern United States?)

In Dark Blue Kurt Russell gives a performance of his life, powerful, believable and unforgettable. With very fine lines he draws the internal change that happened in Eldon Perry from a hardened investigator ready to commit crimes himself to the wakening of his conscience watching the ambushed Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) die at 12657 Juliet. When Sergeant Beth Williamson (Michael Michele) looks at him and tells "I wish you burn in Hell" we all believe, she means what she says.

The two men, Darryl Orchard (Kurupt) and Gary Sidwell (Dash Mihok), are chilling images of human beings living without any respect to the laws of the society or the Ten Commandments of God, our basic guide to life in this world. Sadly, they also are so convincing - there really are people who can kill four totally innocent shoppers in a grocery store just for a few dollars, which they, at the end did not even get from the corrupt Commander Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson).

Truth about the best among us
Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) is a handsome, well-dressed highly moral character who aims to become the first African-American police chief in the racially tense city of Los Angeles. In most crowd pleasing Hollywood movies he would be depicted as the hero of the movie - what he is - and without blemish.

But as is the case in the Bible, even the best among us have their blemishes. Talk about King David and Batsheba, for example, a cold murder of heroic Uriah.

The complexity brought to the personal life of the character Arthur Holland greatly increases the reality of this movie and the noble behaviour of his beautiful wife Janelle Holland (Khandi Alexander) tells about the power of love and forgiveness in subdued tones that are therefore so much more impressive.

Family values
Family values - or lack of them - are a significant theme in Dark Blue. Sally Perry (Lolita Davidovich) is so effective as the desperate housewife who gets enough of her neurotic overworking husband and whose departure leaves the house cold and empty. She returns to the scene at the end of the movie with their son who is depicted beside her as a non-corrupted version of his father and grandfather.

No wonder Sally is filmed with such skill and intelligence - Lolita is after all the wife of director Ron Shelton and mother of their two children!

Movie about us, human beings
Although Dark Blue concentrates on police work and the impact on them of the very dark side of society they are constantly dealing with the movie is really a realistic and truthful description of us, humans.

Similar temptations, similar roads to corruption, similar total loss of human values, can happen in many different professions and even if the results are not as violent as in the world of police or army, they can be as devastating.

And yet, amidst all this evil that we people do, there is something deep inside every person, no matter how hardened criminal, that the Bible calls conscience (συνείδησις syneidesis, to know with).  Something built in every person by God and something that can have such dramatically good results as the downfall of Commander Jack in this movie.

Apostle Paul 
 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Romans 2:12-16 NIV

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I know that my Redeemer liveth!

I know that my Redeemer liveth by Georg Friedrich Händel is among the most beautiful and deeply spiritual Christian songs ever written to the female voice. This aria from Messiah oratorio shines the marvellous and wonderful light of Christ upon us people in the same way as the alto aria Agnus Dei in the B-minor Mass of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's demanding coloratura soprano aria et incarnatus est in the C-minor Mass.

Each one of these three arias belongs to the greatest masterpieces of Christian music and each one has a different background in the life of the composer and different message about our Saviour Jesus Christ.

J.S. Bach and W.A. Mozart
J.S. Bach was already old and approaching death when he finalized the B-minor Mass, arguably the finest composition in the history of music. In Agnus Dei the aging composer is humbly and honestly praying and asking grace from the Lamb of God. There is nothing theatrical, nothing artificial in this alto aria - it is pure music and pure prayer of human heart kneeling in front of the Lord.

Mozart wanted to impress his father, Leopold, with whom he had such a difficult relationship. He had fallen in love with Constanze and probably composed the aria about Incarnation of the Word so that her singing it would win his father's favour. (It did not.) But all this is forgotten when Amadeus gets into the aria and the music takes him to such a world of beauty and brilliance and delicate Bethlehem night that probably there is nothing more beautiful in the world of music than this aria and its heavenly mysterious and bright long fa... ending with flute, oboe and bassoon.

In contrast to the harmonious piety of Agnus Dei and the delicate holy brilliance of the Christmas night in et incarnatus est Händel's soprano aria has a very powerful and paradoxical content. I think that because of this it is even more powerful than majestic The trumpets shall sound.

How it is that one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed is written on one of the ugliest, most horrific and most powerful words in the Bible? Words where the suffering Job faces the reality of death, loosing his skin and worms eating his flesh:

"For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me."
Job 19:25-27

These words from the Book of Job caught Georg Friedrich Händel some twenty years before he composed Messiah.  Death had taken way too early his dearest sister Dorothy and his brother stood in the funeral with broken heart. Barely twenty year old and Dorothy was buried to the ground to be eaten by the worms, dust to dust.

At this saddest moment the priest read from the Bible those words from the Book of Job and Händel never forgot them.

There is a paradox, the utter destruction of the human body, its disintegration in the tomb - and yet, with these eyes I shall see God.

I know
We can immediately hear something about the singer of this aria from the two first words of this immortal aria.

An artist full of herself, out there to show how she knows to sing Baroque aria and how skilfully she can use her voice to interpret this most demanding music by one of the great masters ... well, that shows and the I know easily reveals human vanity and folly.

But when the singer knows what she is singing and her heart has been filled with faith in the Redeemer we can also here that her joining Händel and Job in majestic confessions of faith ... actually, it is so certain that I know. It comes with great clarity and the soprano singing the two notes beats any brass instrument, trumpet or other, in proclaiming the Christian faith in face of absurdity of resurrection.

Händel himself was so fond of this aria that he hoped it would be included in his funeral monument. And indeed, in Händel's  tomb in Westminster Abbey he is shown holding the score of I know my Redeemer liveth in his hand (the sculpture is as art - or lack of thereof - in no way comparable to his music).

Three songs - one Christ
At the end, Händel added the name of Christ to the Redeemer seen by the writer of the Book of Job already before He was born and came into flesh.

What a blessing we have in the music that interprets the Bible reaching our hearts so deep that the experience is unspeakably wonderful!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman - Clear as crystal

Dan Shechtman (1941)
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 

Jesus says in the Gospel of John "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22)

Wisely it has been said that God of Israel has given to His people an extra amount of brain-power in order that they can serve humanity in the role of mediators between Him and the entire mankind. (depends how you evaluate the work of such persons as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein)

The Nobel price record in general and also for year 2011 is a nice commentary to this idea, so far five Jews among the seven winners: Daniel Shechtman Chemisty, Ralph Steinman and Bruce Beutler (with French biologist Jules Hoffmann) Medicine, Saul Pelmutter and Adam G. Ross Physics - five out of seven so far! gives a nice commentary on this idea extended - besides the eternal gift of salvation God has blessed humanity, and occasionally cursed, through this remarkable people.

Truth and nothing but the truth
Asaf Shtull-Trauring has written a particularly interesting and pointing article in Haaretz about the rare life achievement of Professor Dan Shechtman from Haifa Technion, who has won the 2011 Nobel prize for Chemistry. (see the entire article)

Shecthman observed a phenomenon that went totally against the accepted truth among scientific circles, textbooks of crystallography and was impossible according to the laws of nature as understood by the scientific community around the world. In fact, some other scientists had observed the same phenomenon but dismissed them for one reason or other, because "they cannot be".

Haaretz article tells in touching and thought-provoking way the heavy personal price Shechtman paid and how he lost many positions and jobs and became an outcast among the community of scientists because he was stubbornly by holding to the truth of what he had seen with his own eyes.


X-ray image of crystal with ten points 
Courtesy of Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

The instrument used by Shechman for the astounding observation was initially an electronic microscope which is less often used in crystallography than X-rays as in the picture above.

I quote from the article so clearly written by Shtull-Trauring on a highly technical and difficult subject:

On a cool, clear Thursday morning in April 1982, Prof. Dan Shechtman was alone in the laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, a handsome suburb of Washington D.C., where he was spending a sabbatical. At about 10 o'clock, he examined through an electron microscope a new crystal he had produced in his laboratory. The electron beam passed through the crystal and left a diffraction pattern of points of light on the screen of the microscope.
Shechtman counted the points: 10 points, arranged in a circle around a central point. He counted again and got the same result: 10 points. He had never before seen a pattern like this. Moreover, he realized immediately that the pattern he was looking at was impossible under the laws of crystallography, the science of crystals. He went out into the long corridor outside the lab, looking for someone with whom to share this strange finding. The corridor was empty. Returning to the lab, he looked again at the peculiar pattern of dots of light.
The problem was that such a diffraction pattern of points of light was deemed impossible according to the ruling world view of Science and Shechtman was ridiculed and persecuted even for making such nonsensical claims.

Professor Shechtman was, of course, well aware about the textbooks and the unshakable facts of science:

"Since the birth of modern crystallography in 1912, when x-rays were diffracted from a crystal for the first time, until that moment 70 years later, this branch of science had relied on an unchallengeable basic tenet: the atoms in crystalline solids - such as metals, rocks or ceramic materials - are arranged in periodic order. The periodic pattern repeats itself throughout the crystal, as in a chessboard or a honeycomb hexagon. The regularity of the pattern dictates another important quality: crystals are composed of "tiles" possessing rotational symmetry. In other words, if the basic form that makes up the crystal is rotated, it will look exactly the same. A chessboard can be rotated four times, a quarter of a rotation each time, and it will look the same; the hexagon of a honeycomb can be rotated six times."

Scientific and religious truth 
The article compares the stubborn insistence of leading scientists against the observation that could be repeated to people holding on to religious truth despite of the facts.

The situation really brings to mind the discovery of Galileo while looking at a projected image of sun on a white surface - he was able to see black dots with his simple instrument, camera obscura, that nobody had seen before. You cannot just look at the sun and see the spots so it had not been done.

Yet, the religious leaders did not look at the image Galileo was creating nor did they try to understand what he was talking about. They had a "religious truth" that because the sun is a symbol for God it must be perfect and there can be no dark spots on it. Galileo is not only wrong, he is a heretic by claiming such a thing, the same fellow that claimed that earth is rotating the sun and not the opposite.

By force, the truth police, inquisition, forced Galileo to retract his godless claims and sent to exile to the eternal shame of the church of Christ.

Phos to alethinon
The light of truth!

Those ten spots seen under the electronic microscope have led to the discovery of a new world in the nature created by God. They were true and the entire scientific community, the inquisition of Academic Cannibals, was wrong.

Publication of the article provoked a brouhaha in the scientific community. The discovery of a crystalline structure possessing pentagonal rotational symmetry and overall icosahedral symmetry - a concept that until then had been confined largely to the realm of mathematical amusements - demanded a fundamental change in all the textbooks on the subject. To get researchers to believe him, Shechtman described exactly how to prepare the alloy.

This was the difference.

Instead of jealously guarding the secrets he had found to get all the glory, professor Shechtman let the truth out and wanted everybody to see what he had seen and help to unravel the mystery of this extraordinary finding.

The truth was out.

Religious truth
In my opinion holders of "religious truth" should bow their heads in shame when hearing the story of the brilliant but ah so lonely scientist holding to what he had seen with his own eyes.

The challenge is that there is no "religious truth".

If something is not true, it does not help if that untrue is venerated as holy by the scientific community or some religious group.

There is a life long quest for truth, there is walking with the personal Truth, Veritas, that is Jesus Christ.

We are disciples.

Let us listen to teachers that tell us the truth, even if it shakes our belief systems to the ground.

If our faith does not stand testing by the criteria of truth, it needs reformation!

(A ten-minute video in English in which Prof. Shechtman explains his discovery can be viewed at: youTube)