Monthly Archives: March 2019

Krakatoa, the day the world exploded

Krakatoa August 27, 1883, The Day the World Exploded is Simon Winchester’s title for his most fascinating book. It’s a bit of over speak to be sure, the world didn’t explode, but it must have seemed like it for many. Shock waves were recorded travelling eight times around the world. Nearly 40,000 people died. Sunsets all over the globe were terrific for three years after the explosion happened because of the dust in the air. Even in America, fire brigades were assembled on a couple of occasions to fight what looked to be distant fires on the horizon. The red glow turned out to be a Krakatoa caused illusion made by dust and sun. The sound of the explosion was heard over 1000 miles away. The tsunamis caused were in some places 100 feet high, and wave increases were measured as far away as England. The genius of a Winchester book, however, is not in the regurgitation of details connected to this incredible geological event, it is the many fascinating cultural, religious, sociological, and historical nuggets that he masterfully weaves into the overall narrative. When one reads Winchester on Krakatoa, one learns about far more than merely volcanoes.

  • Krakatoa, fulfilled prophecy & radical Islam — In the centuries before Krakatoa, Muslims from Indonesia were liberal, to say the least. Half naked Muslim women walked the streets. They worshiped local gods along with Allah and generally lived in freedom from hard-line Islamic legalism. After Krakatoa there was a dramatic shift, radicalism became normalized, rules were enforced, and infidels unwilling to convert became the focal point for violent jihad. What happened? A local Muslim leader had been predicting the coming of the Madi. (Islam’s version of the Messiah) To precede his coming. Four cataclysms were predicted. 
  1. Cattle in unprecedented numbers would die — Krakatoa accomplished that.
  2. Rain would turn red — The dust in the air turned local showers reddish brown for months on end.
  3. Flooding — Coastal villages, almost without number were destroyed by Krakatoa caused Tsunami’s. 
  4. Death. — Nearly 40,000

The timing of Krakatoa’s eruption couldn’t have been more perfect for this Muslim cleric. Overnight he had the ear of the people. In the prophecy, Holy war was to follow the calamity which would then usher in the return of the Madi and final judgement upon all infidels. People fell in line, and the Dutch East Indies became a volcano of Islamic unrest and radicalism. 

The Power of a Book — In 1860 a Dutch civil servant made the trip to the Dutch East Indies. What he witnessed horrified him. He saw exploitation of local populations at such extraordinary levels that he was unable to continue in his work. We travelled back to Holland and wrote a book excoriating the VOC (Dutch trading company) and the Dutch people as a whole for their maltreatment and abuse of indigenous people in their colonies. To the consternation of the VOC and all those who profited from the exploitation and violence, the book became an immediate bestseller. This book made an entire nation feel guilty. The civil servant had to flee to Germany to save his life, but the damage was done, the Dutch demanded change. New rules were drawn up and enforced that made colony governors responsible for the health and well being of all peoples under their domain.

Too Much Freedom or not enough? —The Dutch granted freedom to travel and lowered taxes. Life became better for local Indonesians. However, the immunity granted also provided fresh wind in the sales of Muslim activists who felt compelled to follow their leader into Jihad. The trip to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia was prohibited before the freedoms; now the Muslim faithful rushed to make the pilgrimage. The Dutch knew that the trip had a radicalizing effect on the population, but with the new laws, they could do little to stop it. In the end, freedom enabled the rebellion that the Dutch were hoping to avoid.

Geology and Nihilism — According to Winchester, a prevailing philosophy coming from 19th-century geological study and discovery was the incredible insignificance of man. The conclusion that we are, but specs of dust on a continually moving very dangerous earth helped to spiral man into a depressed state of nihilism. The science didn’t leave a lot of room for a loving God.

Plate Tectonics — He even made plate tectonics sound interesting! One belt of earth moving north lowly crashes into another belt of crust heading south. One slides under the other. One belt heads down and melts into the core of the earth. Mountains rise from the collision and earthquakes, and volcanos come alive along these fault lines. If plate movement per year is more or less consistent (that’s a big if) Then I wonder if one accurately guess the starting point of when the earth was one single land mass. 

Elephants and Spiders — All sorts of humorous bits are scattered throughout. Whether that be the story of Miss Lockheart smuggling her pet elephant into her hotel room in Batavia to catastrophic ends, or his optimistic words describing the first life that either returned or emerged from Krakatoa “This pioneer of the renovation was discovered spinning a web. This arachnids optimism was admirable.” (I also discovered that the “returned vs. emerged” debate was very spirited among 19th-century scientists).

Capitalism — There is a whole section in the book about how the Dutch Trading Company became the first publicly funded company and how that economic approach set the course for our modern capitalistic system.

The first shared worldwide event — The 1816 eruption of Tambora was much worse. The growing season in the USA reduced from 160 days to 70. It became known as the year without summer and sparked massive famines worldwide. The global temperature reduced for over a year. Tambora’s worldwide impact was unparalleled, but it wasn’t near the news event that Krakatoa was. During the time between eruptions, telegraph cables had been laid all over the world. As a result, news for the first time could travel around the globe at speeds faster than ever imagined. Competitive news media outlets hungry for a story also fanned Krakatoa’s fame, so much so, that the story of the volcano permeated the imagination of the world for generations.


Darwins Doubt

Darwin had a problem, and he knew it. 

    The difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory were no doubt somewhere accumulated before the Cambrian epoch, is very great…I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.

    Darwin’s doubt about the Cambrian explosion centred on the problem of missing fossil intermediates. Not only have those forms not been found, but the Cambrian explosion itself illustrates a profound engineering problem that fossil evidence does not address— the challenge of building a new type of animal life by gradually transforming one tightly integrated system of genetic components and their products into another. 

    Wrestling with uncooperative evidence to try and point it back in the direction favourable to a Darwinian explanation is proving increasingly difficult for scientists. So much so, that other explanations are becoming popular. There is only one rule to keep when asserting a new theory explaining the sudden appearance of unique organisms in the fossil record. One must express one’s opinion in strictly materialistic terms. Adherence to this rule is the scientific equivalent to the rigid religious dogma.  Richard Lweontin speaks for much of the scientific community when he says “Materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” Admittedly, this book takes on a rebellious tone, it simply cannot abide by this rule. Cue the music from Twisted Sister “No, we are not going to take it anymore!” Meyer appeals to his readers: “Let’s break some rules and follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

    So what is making so many scientists grumpy and rebellious with Darwinian theory? 

  • Irreducible complexity — Complex biological systems depend for their functions on hundreds, of independent, yet jointly necessary parts. As the number of essential components increases, the requisite number of coordinated changes increases too, rapidly driving up the difficulty of maintaining the functional integrity of the system while modifying its parts. When modifying the design of a machine, an engineer is not bound by the need to maintain a real continuity between the first machine and the modification. The evolutionary problem is, in a real sense, the gradual improvement of a machine while it is running. The more functionally integrated a system is, the more difficult it is to change any part of it without damaging or destroying the system as a whole.
  • Mathematical impossibility — The idea that new genetic information arising from random mutations in the DNA runs smack into the problem of “Combinatorial inflation.” Mathematically inclined scientists have realized that if the mutations themselves were truly random— that is, if they were neither directed by an intelligence nor influenced by the functional needs of the organism (as Neo-Darwinism stipulates) — then the probability of the mutation and selection mechanism ever producing a new gene or protein could well be vanishingly small. Why? The mutations would have to generate, or “search” by trial and error, an enormous number of possibilities — far more than was realistic in the time available to the evolutionary process. The math doesn’t work out.  
  • Junk DNA is not Junk — For a long time the rejoinder to silence scientists dabbling with intelligent design was as follows:  “If the information in DNA provides such compelling evidence for the activity of a designing intelligence, why is over 90% of the genome composed of functionless nonsense sequences?” It isn’t. “Junk DNA” as it has been called, doesn’t actually exist. According to a landmark study concluded in 2012, every part of the genome is overwhelmingly functional. 
  • Random mutation doesn’t cut the mustard — Mutations of any significant quality that could alter a body plan to the degree that it becomes a different creature separate from its ancestor would have to happen during the embryonic stage of life. But if you screw around with embryonic development in hopes of creating a significant mutation, you will find that early stage manipulation results in catastrophic failure for the embryo every time. Microevolutionary changes do not create new body plans, and the macro-level mutations are always harmful. 
  • DNA as language — All Body plans have blueprints. Blueprints are highly specific instructions pre-built into each organism. It’s like each organism is a book. Each book has arranged the alphabet into specific words strategically sequenced to make a complete story. Random mutation is when the letters of the words in the book get scrambled. Is it possible for an entirely new story to be produced by the random scrambling of these letters? Moby Dyck does not become the Hunger Games by randomly scrambling the letters. There is no way one book becomes another no matter how many times the words are rearranged.     

Since genes, like English sentences, contain sequence-specific functional information, multiple changes in the genetic text will inevitably degrade function (or fitness) long before a new functional sequence will arise — just as random changes in a meaningful English sentence will typically destroy meanings long before such changes produce a significantly different sentence.

  • Micro-evolution leading up to macro-evolution is a baseless assumption: Because of what we know of DNA and epigenetic information. It won’t do any more to look at finch beaks and butterfly wings as pointers to Macro-evolution. There is a big difference between shuffling and slightly altering preexisting sequence-specific modules of functional information and explaining how those modules came to possess information-rich sequences in the first place. 
  • Does design actually demand a designer? Some scientists like Stuart Kauffman are promoting “the self-organization” theory. He says “life bubbles forth in a natural magic beyond the confines of entailing law, beyond mathematization.”  For scientists less inclined to the mystical materialism of Kauffman the only option is to hang on doggedly to large scale sudden macro-mutations as explanations for the Cambrian explosion.“A bird hatches a reptilian egg”— says Otto Schindewolf.  Jeffrey Schwartz speaks of animals suddenly originated “full-blown and raring to go.” Other theories hold on to a specific mutation of the Hox gene as the explanation or geographical location being the necessary cause for macro-evolution of the quickened variety.  

Whatever the materialistic explanation, all scientists today speak of the appearance of design. Selection and mutation function as a kind of “designer substitute” says Ernst Mayr. Fransicsco Alya says that natural selection explains “design without a designer”  Richard Dawkins himself says that the digital information in DNA bears an uncanny resemblance to computer software or machine code. He explains that many aspects of living systems “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Nevertheless, to be faithful to Darwinian orthodoxy all must agree that evidence of design is illusory. Natural selection, though it appears in every way to the contrary, must be wholly blind and undirected. 

The question comes down to is “Is design real or illusory?” Intelligent design theory contends that it’s real. Intelligent design does not negate science or even much of evolutionary theory, but it does argue that living organisms look designed because they actually are designed. This conclusion is based on evidence first of all, not religion.  

Good Illustration:

The Easter Island statues — Archeologists, still don’t know the exact means by which they were carved or erected. The ancient head carvers might have used metallic hammers, rock chisels, or lasers for that matter. Though archaeologists lack the evidence to decide between various hypotheses about how the figures were constructed, they can still definitely infer that intelligent agents made them. In the same way, we can conclude that an intelligence played a causal role in the origin of the Cambrian animals.  Even if we cannot decide what material means, if any, the designing intelligence used to transmit the information, or shape matters or impart its design ideas to living form. 

Good Quotes: 

  • After giving a lecture in America J.Y. Chen, a Chineses scientist vociferously critical of Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy was asked why he wasn’t nervous about his anti-Darwin perspective. He gave his answer with a wry smile “In China, we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin!” 
  • Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest, the question of origins remains unsolved. 
  • Michael Polanyi argues that “chemistry and physics alone could not produce the information in DNA any more than ink and paper alone could produce the information in a book.”