Extinction episodes as a challenge to faith

Hey, Mr. Dinosaur, you really couldn’t ask for more
You were God’s favorite creature, but you didn’t have a future
The Police, “Walking In Your Footsteps”

In a previous post I summarized the atheistic account of evolution:

The cosmos has no guiding intelligence behind it; evolution proceeds disinterestedly from cause to effect, with no telos (ultimate objective) in view.

Christians beg to differ. Those of us who accept that the theory of evolution is true nonetheless insist that it was set in motion by the Creator. God had a telos in mind and continued to work toward it.

The proportions of the timeline are admittedly problematic, as we explored in the previous post: a 4.55 billion year old cosmos, with human beings arising only in the last 40,000 years. But God is eternal: to contemplate the passage of billions of years may boggle the human imagination, but presumably it isn’t such a big deal to God.

However, there are other problems confronting a theistic account of evolution. In this post, I want to talk about extinction episodes.

Most people are familiar with one extinction episode. Dinosaurs once ruled the earth and then, shockingly, they were wiped out. I suggest that this is a problem for anyone who thinks evolution is a telos-oriented process. Why would God create a whole order of animals, establish them as dominant over the rest of the animal kingdom, and then wipe them out? How does that constitute progress toward a goal?

It comes as a bit of a shock to dig a little deeper and learn that there were other extinction episodes, some of them even more dramatic. Here I am summarizing data gleaned from Richard Fortey, Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. (The geological time lines are conveniently laid out here.)

Age Date Episode
End of Precambrian 543 million years ago “This is an important development: for the first time, something has been taken away, never to reappear; previously, change was wrought by the successive addition of more and more kinds of organisms.” (p. 83)
End of Ordovician 443 million years ago Due to a little-known ice age, “many kinds of animals became extinct; in fact, well over half of all the species previously living.” (p. 135)
During the Devonian 417 to 354 mya “There was a series of extinctions … which have only recently been recognized, and whose cause is still debated.” (p. 180)
End of the Permian 248 million years ago “The greatest of all extinctions … was probably a double event [about 10 million years apart]. … The transformation was evidently greatest in the sea, where it has been claimed that up to 96 per cent of all species died out (and nearly 60 per cent of the families, the higher units of classification). … Many of the land-based vertebrate animals [likewise] suffered an extinction (but less marked).” (pp. 203-5)
End of Cretaceous 65 mya The dramatic demise of the dinosaur and other animals, including marine animals.

Extinction episodes present a significant problem for any theistic account of evolution. I have no easy, tidy solutions to offer. (In any event, I would rather provoke you to think than tell you what to think.)

Suggestions, anybody?

copyright © 2006, Stephen

The man who mistook his truck for a house

(If you don’t immediately recognize the reference in the title of this post, it comes from a well-known Oliver Sacks book.)

My trip to the cottage involves driving down some back roads … as any cottage worthy of the name should!


Sometimes, along such an infrequently travelled road, you will see an unusual sight. Earlier this year I managed to snap a photo of a deer through the car windshield.


But that’s not so unusual. This, on the other hand …

half house, half truck

Now that’s unusual! There must be a perfectly logical explanation:

  1. This was the homeowner’s first truck. When the engine died, he couldn’t bear the thought that he would never sit behind the steering wheel again.
  2. The homeowner is a big game hunter, and this is the biggest thing he ever bagged. He decided to mount it on the outside of the house for maximum exposure.
  3. When the homeowner divorced his wife, she demanded half the house and half the truck. After hard negotiations, she settled for one fifth of the house and four fifths of the truck.

The wagon wheel in front seemed a little incongruous, but eventually I got it: we have a little transportation theme going here.


Sunrise through the fog

Brule Lake, Friday morning. (Click for a larger image.)

sunrise through fog 1

sunrise through fog 2

They get their good looks from me

My teenaged daughter threw a Halloween party last weekend.

group photo
What can I say? She attends a school for artistic kids, and her friends are all from the drama department.

This beauty is mine. Until some guy snatches her away, of course.

beauty #1
I hesitate to admit it, but this one is mine, too.

beauty #2
Here’s the group again, from a more flattering perspective.

group photo #2

Early music videos

Aaron commented on the video I posted of Elvis Costello’s Radio, Radio:

Not the world’s best video, but definitely a great tune.

Actually, Radio, Radio is representative of the music videos of that era. I remember, because I graduated from high school in 1981. Radio, Radio was made in 1979 — pre MTV (launched Aug. 1, 1981).

There are two early videos that stand out in my mind. First up, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, made way back in 1975. It must have been years later that I saw it for the first time. According to Wikipedia, this video “has been widely hailed as the first true pop promo, launching the MTV age”.

Pretty low tech to be cutting edge! But remember, videos were edited by hand back then … never mind computer generated images.

The other video that stands out in my memory is Sting and the Police performing Every Breath You Take. The images here fit the brooding music and sinister lyrics perfectly. But we’ve jumped all the way to 1983 and the MTV era.

Wikipedia gives a special nod to Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer (1986): “to this day, considered one of the most important and influential music videos ever created … the most-played video in [MTV]’s history”.

Wikipedia adds, “Most of Gabriel’s videos employ sophisticated animation and other cutting edge special effects, and he has long been considered one of the music video’s foremeost innovators”. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who was familiar with the theatricality of Genesis when Peter Gabriel led the band.

In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, I’m partial to British acts.

Playing cat and mouse with Blogger

I’ve been blogging for eighteen months now, and I just switched from Blogger to WordPress. I must say, I was reasonably impressed by Blogger. It has glitches, to be sure. But it’s a free service, so I never felt I had much cause for complaint.

But I felt like a change, and I admit I’m suitably impressed by my new blog home. I particularly appreciate:

  • WordPress’s preview function (unlike Blogger, WordPress shows you exactly what the post will look like after publication);
  • how easy it is to categorize my posts;
  • the page-by-page stats;
  • recent comments are displayed on the index page; and
  • I was able to customize my blog header by adding a photo, without having the fiddly labour of using CSS to modify the template.

I took advantage of the “import” feature to instantly publish all of my Simply Put posts here on Outside the Box. It was a great time saver … but it also set in motion a fascinating “cat and mouse” exercise.

Most of my Simply Put photos were stored on Blogger’s server. Blogger immediately blocked access to them from my WordPress blog. The html is there; the photos even show in preview mode; but they do not appear on the blog. Blogger cleverly discerned that I was stealing their bandwidth for a WordPress blog, and they put a stop to it.

So I came up with a clever compromise. I uploaded a smaller version of the photos to WordPress, but I replaced only the “src” url. If you clicked on the photos, the full size version would pop up … but you were accessing a page on Blogger.

Snidely WhiplashThat worked for approximately forty-eight hours. Now you get a message: Forbidden / Error 403.

Curses, foiled again!

I’m painstakingly working my way back through all my old posts, uploading any photos to WordPress. What a nuisance! But I concede, Blogger is in the right.

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