Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Artist’s rendition of Gansus yumenensis
on a lake in Changma Basin, China approximately 115-110 million years ago.
Illustration: Mark A. Klingler / CMNH.


In 1984, a paper was published in China (in Chinese) that described a new bird species from the early Cretaceous period, based on part of a fossilized left foot bone that had been discovered in northwestern China by a team of paleoichthyologists in 1981. This bone was determined to be part of an ancient tern-sized bird, later named Gansus yumenensis (for the Chinese province of Gansu, and Yumen, the nearest somewhat large town to where the fossil was found). This fossil bird appeared to be more closely related to modern (neornithean) birds than even its famous cousin, Archaeopteryx. Even though this bone gave paleontologists a tantalizing glimpse at an early neornithean bird, this fossil was too fragmentary to provide much more information than that.

Yet, despite this and several other exciting discoveries, these remote fossil beds were difficult to access so they remained virtually untouched for 20 years. Until recently, that is. Several years ago, an international team of Chinese and American scientists organized an expedition to the Xiagou Formation near Changma, in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu, to search for more bird fossils, and their efforts were well-rewarded (map: You et al. click here for an enlarged map).

After cleaning and preparing the fossils, the scientists realized they had discovered five new partial skeletons of Gansus, which collectively include bones from every part of the bird’s body except the skull and the first few neck vertebrae. Further, the team were surprised to find that this nearly complete composite skeleton of Gansus revealed a very modern-looking bird (image, You et al., Gansus; right; also see skeleton at the bottom of this essay).

“With a few exceptions, you could put any of its bones next to those of a modern bird and you would be hard-pressed to see major differences,” remarked paleontologist Jerald Harris in a late-night telephone conversation. Harris is a co-author of the paper and the Director of Paleontology at Dixie State College in Utah.

Yet surprisingly, these fossils are approximately 110 million years old, only somewhat younger than both Archaeopteryx, which is 145 million years old, and the more primitive fossil birds found in “feathered dinosaur” quarries in northeastern China. Yet, despite its antiquity, this species neatly fits into an evolutionary gap for modern birds — a gap that had previously spanned 40 million years.

“In terms of its anatomy, Gansus appears even closer to modern birds than some of the birds known from 80 million-year-old rocks in North America that have long been known to be close to modern birds,” Harris explained, saying that the bird resembled a modern-day loon.

“This tells us that the evolution of the anatomical features that we use to characterize modern birds evolved very quickly during the Early Cretaceous — there were some powerful selective pressures acting on bird evolution at this time.”

Gansus, along with other fossilized birds and feathered dinosaurs recently found in the Liaoning Province in northeastern China, have considerably expanded our current understanding of avian evolution. The picture that is emerging reveals that, after the appearance of Archaeopteryx and a few other very primitive birds, the avian evolutionary tree split into two main branches (pictured below; also refer to this tree).

One branch, the Enantiornithes (“en-AN-tee-OR-nih-theez”; the branch on the right side in the above figure), which lived at the same time and in the same places as Gansus, is extinct today — they appear to have gone extinct along with all other non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. This is ironic, noted Harris, because during the first half of the Cretaceous, beginning about 130 million years ago, the Enantiornithes were the most common avian fossils that one could find.

The Enantiornithes are nicknamed the ‘opposite birds’ because the bones in their shoulders and in their feet fit together in the opposite way from those in modern birds.

The other branch, the Ornithuromorpha (“OR-nith-YUR-oh-MOR-fuh”; the branch on the left side in the above figure), gave rise to all the modern birds. This branch has a poorer fossil record, which leads scientists to believe that these birds may genuinely have been much rarer at the time than were the ‘opposite birds.’

“In terms of where it [Gansus] seems to lie on the bird evolutionary tree, it is about two branches below the ‘cap’ of modern birds,” on the Ornithuromorpha branch, said Harris.

Another interesting feature of Gansus is that it was obviously an aquatic bird. This is important because, if a person only studied modern birds to understand how all birds are related to each another, that person would predict that all modern birds evolved from earlier birds that were primarily adapted to living on land.

However, Gansus is interesting because its physical adaptations for life in water, such as webbed feet and a big, bony crest on its knee, for example, are also seen in the knees of loons and grebes. Loons and grebes are modern birds that dive deeply and swim underwater in pursuit of fishes.

But surprisingly, most birds on the branch of the avian tree leading to modern birds possess a variety of anatomical features that strongly suggest they were also adapted for life in and around water, explained Harris. Because Gansus has these features and yet is very close to modern birds, this suggests that early modern birds evolved in an aquatic context and only later in their evolution — sometime between Gansus and the first modern birds — did they lose those anatomic features when they returned land.

This, in turn, tells scientists that terrestrial niches had to first be emptied of these ‘opposite birds’ before modern and near-modern birds could move out of the water and back into those niches, said Harris.

How and when these niches were emptied is not well understood, although it is tempting to speculate. But the team noted that 80% of the bird fossils found so far in Gansu Province belong to Gansus, which makes this the oldest known bird fauna that is dominated by the Ornithuromorpha instead of by the ‘opposite birds.’

“Previously, the dominance of near-modern birds in most faunas were known only in the latter half of the Cretaceous — Gansus may be the first step near-modern birds took toward taking over in dominance from the ‘opposite birds.’ ”

This nearly complete fossil skeleton of Gansus yumenensis
preserves the brown-black impressions of feathers around both wings
(Image: Hai-lu You/CAGS).

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Note: The name of this piece came from the documentary (DVD) and the book with the same name that document middle Mesozoic fossils from Central Asia and the scientists who study them — both of which I want, and very badly! The documentary airs in the USA on 19 June 2006 on the Science channel.

Sources:

Jerry Harris (telephone and email)

A Nearly Modern, Amphibious Bird from the Early Cretaceous of Northwestern China by Hai-lu You, Matthew C. Lamanna, Jerald D. Harris, Luis M. Chiappe, Jingmai O’Connor, Shu-an Ji, Jun-chang Lü, Chong-xi Yuan, Da-qing Li, Xing Zhang, Kenneth J. Lacovara, Peter Dodson, & Qiang Ji (Science, 15 June 2006, vol 312:1640). [abstract]

Another story that here appeared awhile ago, describing how the expedition to China to seek these fossils was financed. (This blog entry also includes comments from Jerry Harris that you will want to read).

Also;

A new fossil bird from the Early Cretaceous of Gansu Province, northwestern China by You Hai-lu, Jingmai O’Connor, Luis M. Chiappe & Ji Qiang (Historical Biology 2005, 17:7-14).

New Enantiornithine Bird From the Marine Upper Cretaceous of Alabama by Luis M. Chiappe, James P. Lamb, Jr., and Per G. P. Ericson (Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 2002, 22:170-174).

A second enantiornithean (Aves: Ornithothoraces) wing from the Early Cretaceous Xiagou Formation near Changma, Gansu Province, People’s Republic of China by Jerald D. Harris, Matthew C. Lamanna, You Hai-lu, Ji Shu-an, and Ji Qiang. (Already published somewhere, but I was working from the final manuscript and will provide citation when I find it)

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Darwin is Dead blog carnival, July Issue.

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Comments

  1. #1 Dawn
    June 15, 2006

    Amazing, Congrats! nice write up!

  2. #2 Dendroica
    June 15, 2006

    Thanks for the write-up. It is interesting that modern birds developed from water -> land rather than the other way around. I guess the next question will be when this happened.

  3. #3 coturnix
    June 15, 2006

    Brilliant and beautiful! Thank you for this write-up and for the heads-up. This is so exciting!

  4. #4 CanuckRob
    June 15, 2006

    Thank you for this informative and interesting post.

  5. #5 biosparite
    June 15, 2006

    I am intrigued at the reasoning that opposite birds had to vacate terrestrial niches before near-modern birds could expand into them. Comes on the question of why the terrestrial lifestyle proved fatal for opposite birds upon occurrence of the K/T extinction. Were wetland and aquatic habitats hammered less severely? Water does have a high specific heat; did this buffer some of the effects of the disaster such that food sources for birds in wet habitats were compromised less severely?

  6. #6 biosparite
    June 15, 2006

    P.S. I forgot to say the story is very well presented. Plus, it is hard to compass the evolutionary succcession that would lead from aquatic or shore birds to an owl. Any recall of past lives that could help us puzzle it out, Hedwig?

  7. #7 Jules Levin
    June 15, 2006

    I wonder where roadrunners would fit on the family tree?
    Seeing them here in the desert, I have been struck by their
    seemingly “primitive” habits and appearance. They prefer running to flying, are graceless flyers, and eat snakes and lizards! And they have an almost dinosaur-like facial appearance.

  8. #8 Jerry D. Harris
    June 16, 2006

    Hi All! — I promised Grrlscientist I’d try to answer any questions that came up here, so here we go! Biosparite inquired about the necessity of “opposite birds” having to vacate niches before more modern birds could move in. That’s certainly possible, and probably did happen in some instances. However, during the latter half of the Cretaceous, there is some indication that “opposite birds” were dwindling in diversity and more modern, ornithuromorphs were rising. Some of this may have been due to competition: for some particular niches, the ornithuromorphs may have been better adapted and out-competed the “opposite birds” that occupied those niches into extinction. Note that I say this is possible, but there’s very little fossil evidence for this yet: most of the ornithuromorph fossils, even in the later Cretaceous, are found mostly in rocks that were deposited in or near oceans; enantiornitheans (“opposite birds”) still predominate in more inland settings (one notable exception that comes to mind is in Wyoming, and in Mongolia, the proportion is more equal between the two kinds). We need more fossils to sort this out! Biosparite also mentioned the transition from shorebirds to owls (e.g.) — I agree, this is a difficult transition to wrap ones head around, but in essence, owls and ducks are not hideously different in their essential anatomy — if you took away the duck’s beak and webbed feet, and the owl’s recurved beak and talons, the two are more or less identical in anatomy, so the kinds of changes involved were not as great as it might appear. Yes, Gansus does appear to support the hypothesis that modern birds originated in aquatic niches, but that does not state that those birds were incapable of coming out of the water: Gansus could most certainly fly and waddle around on land, so ecologically speaking, it wasn’t a huge jump to an animal that stayed up on land. There’s also a possibility that what we have in the fossil record is somewhat biased: things that live in and around water typically have a better chance of becoming fossils than things that don’t. In a forest, for example, something dies and falls to the ground, it is broken apart by insects, worms, bacteria, etc., long before it usually has a chance to get washed into some little basin where it can be buried with sediment. Things that live near water — or in it — can be buried more quickly. So the fossil record that tells us modern bird ancestors were aquatic may well be affected, to some degree, by this bias. (It is interesting, in this light, though, that in northeastern China, the famous lake rocks that produce all the spectacular feather-covered dinosaurs and primitive birds, most of the dinosaurs and birds represented are NOT adapted for an aquatic lifestyle — they are all land-dwelling or arboreal animals, so clearly this bias does not apply universally and that there are exceptions!)
    Jules Levin inquired about roadrunners: believe it or not, roadrunners belong in the cuckoo group of modern birds; within modern birds, cuckoos are pretty derived (advanced). Behavior-wise, they have indeed reverted (or re-converged with) their dinosaurian ancestors in being adapted to a ground-based hunting lifestyle! (Some other, non-North American birds, like secretary birds and seriamas, are even more like their dinosaurian ancestors, the seriamas even going so far as to have an enlarged claw on the second toes, rather like Velociraptor!) As for the face — well, to a mammal, most birds have very unusual — some might say disquieting — facial appearances and habits, what with the constant head turning and tilting to look at you from various angles, very unlike what mammals do…but very similar to what other reptiles do! Personally, I find it quite fascinating, but I’ve known people who find birds quite alien in that respect!

  9. #9 blackskimmer
    June 16, 2006

    nice story Hedwig.

    In what geographical areas did the enantiothornes live? interesting that they followed the dinosaurs to extinction, but the water birds survived? no OTHER aquatic dinosaurs made it either though. In what geographical areas were these? Curious game. in what ecological niche where Gansus and their relatives hiding?

    what a fustrating science, gotta wait for the dice to fall favorably and find a useful fossil!

    why find it surprising that waterbirds can evolve into landbirds? birds can have very plastic behavior! every time i see an english sparrow, i see them doing something i’ve never seen them do before. last time it was hovering over the surface of the water to pick things out of it!

    seagulls seem to span both niches!

  10. #10 Jerry D. Harris
    June 21, 2006

    blackskimmer inquired:
    >In what geographical areas did the enantiothornes live?

    As far as we can currently tell, pretty much everywhere. In the Early Cretaceous, their fossils are found in Spain, China, Japan, and Australia; in the Late Cretaceous, add all of North America, Argentina, Mongolia, France, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and probably some other places I’m forgetting at the moment.

    >interesting that they followed the dinosaurs to >extinction, but the water birds survived? no OTHER >aquatic dinosaurs made it either though.

    Well, there are no other aquatic dinosaurs known. If you’re thinking of things like plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs, those aren’t dinosaurs. Mosasaurs are actually related to snakes; plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs both predate dinosaurs and have their origins among reptiles that are long-since extinct. As for the water birds surviving, see below…

    >In what geographical areas were these?

    The ornithuromorphs in the Late Cretaceous are found in the U.S. and Canada, Antarctica, Chile, and again in Mongolia and various former Soviet republics.

    >Curious game. in what ecological niche where Gansus and >their relatives hiding?

    Not certain what is being asked here, but it’s not at all clear that being tied to water in some way helped them survive the end-Cretaceous extinction event. Even if it did, no one seems to have a handle on what adaptations were the critical ones. To be sure, the global environmental conditions that induced the mass extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous persisted for many years, so it’s not as if anything underwater survived a big, initial “blast” and that’s all there was to it — they had years of environmental hardship ahead of them after that.

    >why find it surprising that waterbirds can evolve into >landbirds?

    It’s surprising because if you examined ONLY living birds and used them to try and figure out something about the origin of birds (as many people do with DNA and various other biomolecules), the most primitive members of the Neornithes (that is, the ones that branch first off the tree) are the paleognaths — ratites, like ostriches, emus, and tinamous. All known paleognaths are fully land-based animals. The next branch off contains chickens and ducks; chickens and their “fowl” relatives are also entirely land-based. So based on this, one would assume that birds originated from things that lived on land, not in the water, and that aquatic adaptations were secondary.

    As you noted, though, birds seem to enjoy a much more evolutionarily plastic means of changing through time (much more so than mammals in many ways!), and this might explain the ease with which birds move in and out of various ecological niches. In this instance, however, we might be dealing with a potential bias in the fossil record: things that live in and around water have a better chance of being buried (sediment usually being carried and deposited by water) than things living elsewhere. So it’s possible that our perception of modern birds having their origins in aquatic niches is the result of that kind of bias. The only way to test that is to keep looking for fossils and seeing what they say! On top of that, the same people who examine biomolecules for hints at the evolutionary history of birds continually back-calculate that the origin of all modern birds must have happened in the Cretaceous. That is, the oldest neornithean must have existed in the Cretaceous. If they are also correct that paleognaths are the most basal birds, then it means that there must have been Cretaceous paleognaths (possibly the ancestors of ostriches, emus, etc.) running around in the Cretaceous, but no one has found fossils of them yet. If this is correct, then it means that there were land-based ornithuran birds in the Cretaceous that survived the end-Cretaceous extinction event alongside any aquatic ones, meaning that living in and around water wasn’t what allowed this lineage to survive.

    I hope that helps!

  11. #11 SkookumPlanet
    June 21, 2006

    All right, I give in. SciBlogs featured this post on the home page, so I’ll return to this review, finish it, and post it…

    This post is apropos. Last week I received, and today [Sunday] finished, Mark Norell’s book, Unearthing the Dragon, The Great Feathered Dinosaur Discovery. Ten days ago, for my eight-year-old niece’s summer reading, I bought artist Luis V. Rey’s Extreme Dinosaurs. A chapter takes on the new Chinese feathered dinosaurs. It’s great compliment to Norell, especially because [hint from a non-science-trained reader to writers of mass-audience science] it has a pronouncing glossary of species’ Latin binomials. An otherwise Sysiphian task for the uninitiated.

    I’d recommend these as introductions to any non-science-trained, non-dinophile adult [and kid for Extreme Dinosaurs]. My only negative comment about Norell’s book is that it’s too short.

    Norell’s book is profusely, elegantly, and beautifully designed and illustrated. Only a quarter of the pages are without illustration and many of these have faint screens and friezes behind text. There’s commissioned calligraphy on the cover and the full-page chapter titles. Almost all illustrations are superb photographs by Mick Ellison, Norell’s assistant and artist of many years, who has traveled to China with Norell repeatedly and is listed as co-author [photos and illustrations]. There are many photos, especially in collages, of Chinese culture and the fossil photos are so finely done and printed a magnifying glass is worthwhile. One of many memorable photos is a full-page, and detail on another, of a pigeon-sized pterosaur completely covered in long, hair-like filaments, even it’s wings!

    Conversational in tone, easy reading, Norell’s writing gives a sense of his repeated invitations and trips to China from 1997 on to see the latest unbelievable discoveries out of northeast China.

    There’s much more undoubtedly to come. Hundreds, soon likely to be thousands, of specimens of single species of these dino/birds have been found. The beds contain what appear to be numerous, repeated mass deaths in the deposits, likely from volcanic gasses, after which animals were rapidly, or instantly, covered with ash, often sinking to the bottom of ponds. Of the resultant fossil assemblages, Norell says, “We are not merely getting an intimate look at the feathered dinosaurs, but the habitat, the ecosystem, the world that was once theirs. The rich detail of the landscape that is emerging is unprecedented in paleontology.” [my italics]

    The book’s not about field work, Norell wasn’t doing that. He was a consultant and co-author on some of the seminal papers. Apparently a sinophile of long standing, years of digging in Mongolia and bringing Chinese post-grads through his museum earned him contacts and trust that probably no other non-Chinese has. This isn’t a book about the science, per se, although it’s cogently explained. It’s part travelogue/adventure, part cuisine-review/adventure, part cross-cultural comedy, part inside-look at the joys of scientific collaboration and discovery, and all ringside seat at one of the most astonishing discoveries about Earth’s past, ever. And a joy to read.

    In the latter chapters he discusses Enantiornithes and Ornithuromorpha a bit. It’s almost all the former in the Chinese beds. In those chapters he also speaks about BAND, a small group of scientists who are still skeptics of the dino-bird link. I was struck by the similarity of their tactics to those of DI/creationists. Then further struck by the irony that while such behavior is useful to them short-term, long-term it proves an arsenal to the anti-science forces on the move now.

    Norell is the Chair and Curator, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History. Cool job! Years ago I saw, a couple I think, PBS science shows on-location with him on his historical Gobi desert dino-fossil hunts.
    _________________________________________

    There’s a third comparable resource, the Discovery Channel series, Dinosaur Planet, which was made recently enough to have some feathered therapods, including the protagonists of 2 of the 4 hour-long stories. They all have somewhat anthropomorphized lead characters, but that never gets in the way of scientific accuracy.

    That series, along with the BBC’s complete Walking with… and Chased by…. series, are excellent, highly realistic recreations of specific animals and their ecosystems from specific times in the distant past. Any kid, even adults, with interest in dinosaurs will be overjoyed to receive these as gifts, and they’ll be viewed repeatedly. The total running time of the primary programs in these three is 20 hours. Add in the DVD extras, like “making of ….”, interviews, even BBC science programming, and the total must approach 30 hours.

    These productions are of the highest quality nature programming available, and will likely stand for years, perhaps decades, as the best, most vivid visualizations of this fantastic past, short of the invention of time travel.

    We can expect something similar, ideally from the BBC Walking With.. producers, on the Chinese biota which will include flightless, feathered dinosaurs on the ground and bizarre, clawed-wing and toothed-beaked early birds and fluffy and shaggy pterosaurs in the sky, no doubt all done in exotic, eye-popping color a la Rey’s book. A totally mindboggling tableau. It’s a strange, strange planet — a skookum planet.

  12. #12 AL
    June 22, 2006

    Pretty soon…just like every other “missing link” scientists claim they’ve discovered….it will be proven a DUD…a big, fat dud, just like evolution is to begin with. it will never be proven, and people just need to deal with that and stop living with a L-I-E. Everything in our textbooks growing up…the peppered moth, darwin’s finches, etc…have all been proven either fabricated or impossible. This bid, in time, will have the same fate.

  13. #13 AL
    June 22, 2006

    your little green tree is very, very funny. i am so amused!

  14. #14 GrrlScientist
    June 22, 2006

    your little fact-free fantasy world is very, very funny. i am so amused!

    by the way, for shits and giggles, tell me exactly how evolution is “less proved” than the bible’s account of creation, which anyone could have written for any reason (for example, WERE YOU THERE when the world was created? NO?? then how do you know the biblical account is true? (keep in mind that the bible is internally inconsistent on creation and many other stories because it contradicts itself — but you already knew that because, as a good christian soldier, you have read and memorized significant portions of the bible, haven’t you? or are you smoking crack cocaine between prayer sessions?).

    but, as fantasy worlds go, i vote for either Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings; both of which are more interesting and entertaining (there’s much LESS rape than in the bible, for example) and far, FAR more internally consistent.

  15. #15 SkookumPlanet
    June 22, 2006

    What strikes me about AL-types, besides what little snots they can often be [yeah, we’ve got little snots too], is how emotionally tone deaf they are. Here I did all this work on my review and AL doesn’t even acknowledge it! Just kidding.

    But I’m serious about the emotional tone deafness. Posts like AL’s fulfill an emotional need somehow. Perhaps it’s like going into the lions’ den. Certainly it exhibits a kind of flat affectual perception, of others and themselves. I can almost see AL covering his/her ears with both hands while posting — “I can’t hear you.” Except for the evolving of a second pair of arms and hands.

    I especially liked the missing link lie canard right after I’ve described there being hundreds of individual specimens of intermediate-type, hybrid-like fossils of a single species. Obviously that’s why they’re coming out of China — cheap labor. Paleontologists can afford to have lots manufactured. [Norell has photos of quarries — BIG quarries — that are being dug just for fossils by Chinese farmers.}

    AL, afraid to use her/his brain to compete, instead uses it to conjure up imaginary scientists on whom to vent the frustration of her/his life. AL imagines generations, hundreds of thousands of scientists who, while remaining extremely professionally competitive, have managed to form a world-wide, cross-cultural cartel in which many more hundreds of thousands of highly detailed, highly quantified, mathematically structured research reports are reviewed millions of times [counting each reviewer of each article], are published for anyone to read and ponder, all of which must be, in some critical way, lies. AL further imagines that through all of this over the course of a century, nobody has defected, nobody has had misgivings on a deathbed and confessed, “Lies, all lies I tell you. All of us, all the research, all the papers, the labs and equipment, all the graduate school classes, and the journals! my God, month after month the wasted paper — Not One Word of it True!”

    This makes the da Vinci Code seem like a 15-second spat between toddlers, forgotten by all parties a minute later. It would be the biggest, most successful conspiracy in the history and the future of Earth. It wouldn’t be in a class by itself, it would be in a ranking system by itself.

    And, of course, because AL sees no need to read, follow, nor understand science, AL doesn’t realize this massive amount of reviewed and published data is inextricably interwoven with everything else in science. All these lies in evolutionary science feed all biological sciences, like medicine, and vice versa.

    The same realities of quantum mechanics that explain the workings of the exiton-“holes” that cause silicon dioxide to semi-conduct so that a computer-chip transistor functions, and so control the radar in the collision-avoidance system in the last airliner AL traveled on, that same reality of quantum mechanics is used to figure out how many millions of years those feathered dino fossils have been in the ground. This idea has never occurred to AL.

    So, AL’s imaginary world of science not only means all scientists everywhere have to be in on it, this deluge of lies manufactured by evolutionary science must be done in a way to has no unintended consequences somewhere else in the modern world. Otherwise, the whole evolutionary house-of-cards collapses.

    It’s a shame these brilliant minds that could, by the 1940s before DNA was discovered, create and publish thousands of lies so expertly they would not be uncovered even 60 years later when recombinant DNA technology, and a host of other unforeseeable, astonishing biotech and bioknowledge is flourishing, its a shame these minds devoted their life’s work to deceiving humanity. It’s obvious that the many hundreds of biographies, in scores of languages, written about these scientists, from scores of cultures over 100+ years, are all lies too. Which means the biographers are part of this also.

    This imaginary bogeyman inherent in AL’s post/mind is a reflection of AL’s emotional tone deafness, not so much to the emotion of others [though evident here] but to AL’s own emotional state. Otherwise, I can’t imagine how anyone would lay bare to the world, even anonymously, such a stingy, bitter, corrosive soul. Whatever physical age AL is, the inside is as shrivelled up, by fear, as 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.

    I’m done. Now everyone can go back to awe and wonder, early birds and feathered dragons.

  16. #16 LiberalDirk
    June 23, 2006

    I have actually taken your comment and stored it in physical form SkookumPlanet.

    I think it will be useful the next time I speak to some one from the anti science crowd.

    However I do not think it was the correct response to “AL”

    To me a correct response to “AL” would be. “Why did you say that?”

  17. #17 Neil
    June 23, 2006

    Pretty sure the most correct response to AL is none at all, given the entrenched irrelevance, though I appreciate the acidity of Hedwig’s retort.

    I’m inclined to favor preservational bias rather than pleisomorphic aquaticism especially given the disparities shown in the stem Ornithuromorphs. If these birds do have essentially “modern” avian skeletons, it’s reasonable to suspect that the fossil record would favor those dwelling in lacustrine or shallow marine environments. Only a futher boning out of the fossil record will tell I suppose.

    Congrats to Dr. Harris and Hedwig for a stellar post.

  18. #18 AL
    June 23, 2006

    Were you there when the Big Bang happened? When amino acids formed out of nowhere? You can’t accuse someone of not being there when the world began, when you weren’t either.
    And no, I haven’t memorized significant portions of the Bible, I am fascinated by science, and I do not smoke crack cocaine. You are good at making assumptions.
    And what is this about being emotionally tone deaf? Wow.

  19. #19 GrrlScientist
    June 23, 2006

    and that is the difference; i don’t need to be there when things happened because there is evidence to support my assertions (this piece describes some of the fossil evidence) whereas there is nothing, not even a teensy nibblet, of information to support any creationist claim.

    evidence works like this; let’s pretend that someone breaks in to your house and steals your TV, stereo and the jewelry that has been in your family for generations. you discover this crime when you return home and you immediately call the police, who come out to investigate; they dust the place for fingerprints, take photographs of the crime scene and collect other evidence, including identifying information for the stolen objects from you, such as serial numbers, a written description of each piece, photographs, and insurance information. later, they catch the guy trying to sell one of your unique heirloom pieces of jewelry at a pawn shop, arrest him, and go back to his place where they find your other stolen property, along with other people’s stolen property. they arrest the guy, toss him into jail and later, at the trial, he is convicted and sent to prison. all based on circumstantial evidence collected at your house and at other people’s houses.

    now, let’s pretend you are a creationist and the same scenario happens to you. but this time, when you call the police, the cop on the phone asks you one question; “did you see who did it?”

    to which you reply, “no, i was gone when it happened.”

    “well, we can’t help you unless you saw exactly who did it with your own eyes.”

    the difference: scientists present evidence collected from the scene of the crime, while creationists sit around and say that you can’t believe anything that anyone says unless you observed it first-hand — ignoring of course, that no one was “there” to witness the fantastical creation events described in the bible, ignoring that the events described are impossible anyway, and ignoring that the bible is no more or less believable than any other religion’s holy book, either (so how do you choose which to believe?).

    okay, which approach is more practical for figuring out how things happened?

  20. #20 SkookumPlanet
    June 23, 2006

    An examination of AL’s initial two posts indicates AL’s “fascination” with science is all negative. Al, henceforth “he”, calls the entirety of evolution a “lie”. He calls every “missing link” a dud. [Doubtless his knowledge of such is scant and comes from highly prejudicial sources only.] He says “everything in our textbooks” was either fabricated [again, a lie] or proven wrong. He’s derisive of the clado-tree without mentioning anything about it except that it’s green.

    He not only besmirches the ethics, morality, and truthfulness of the great majority of scientists, he literally slanders them, while presenting not a single word of evidence.

    [Note: So to the conspiracy I mentioned above, add science textbook writers and all the great American publishing houses. No, forget about the conspiracy. AL’s sitting on the biggest class-action suit possible! And also sitting on, as potential defendant, the largest libel tort imaginable. All he need do is start “naming names”.]

    All in 91 words.

    This isn’t the behavior of a psyche that wants to discuss or learn anything about science. AL has zero intention to do anything here but vomit out talking points at everybody and is so dishonest he will never admit to that. All indications, admittedly from a tiny sample, is that AL will prove to be all-spew, no knowledge; all-accusation, no evidence; all-irrational-condemnation, no self-awareness. Indications are also AL does not realize how repetitive his schtick will be for the rest of us.

    Otherwise, why open a conversation that way? If AL was truly fascinated by science he would start not with accusations and condemnation but with questions and celebration. The smarter ones usually start out pretending to be interested in science.

    AL saw a group of people enjoying an excited conversation among themselves about a subject near and dear to them, all of it very positive. He ran over to them, yelled “Nya-na-na-na-na-nya”, stuck out his tongue, rotated his head across the direction of all the surprised faces looking at him, then ran away.

    Classy introduction
    .
    .
    I don’t disagree with the points about the appropriateness of responding as I did, but we’re all entitled to vent occasionally. I’ve done my share of long, patient exchanges on this question with commenters who refuse to commit to anything, or done similar like 3 days ago at PZ’s. [See my preceding comment there for some DI/irreducible-complexity satire.]

    Also, a technical point. I obviously don’t know what’s in AL’s mind. I started off by saying “AL-types”. But the use of that was unsustainable for the whole piece. And using the third person creates a “they” [AL-types] and a “they” [scientists] which quickly sunk the prose into a mire a differentiating clauses. The intentionally long, run-on sentences would have been impossible. Using a specific first person always results in more direct, effective language. Please accept that as “poetic license.” The analysis of type still applies. And please change “while remaining extremely professionally competitive” to “while remaining extremely competitive professionally”.

  21. #21 rafael
    December 8, 2007

    IN THE BIBLE GOOD MAN GO TO HELL

    Mr dawkins and his arrogance on the subject of God’s moral standards are very naive yet subtle , and his advocates do not fall far from the tree.
    “Dawkins later talks to Reverend Michael Bray, who speaks out in defence of his friend Paul Hill, who was sentenced to death after murdering an abortion doctor and his bodyguard. Although Bray was actually quite articulate and in some ways more serious and intellectual in defence of his beliefs, he was still blinded by his faith, which leads him directly to the justification of murder.
    And Bray doesn’t stop there; here’s Bray, who Dawkins describes as “fighting to reverse centuries of human progress”, talking to Dawkins about adultery:Bray: “I think that execution for adultery is not rejected…”
    Dawkins: “Not rejected by whom, by you?”
    Bray: “No, by the New Testament…”Dawkins: But what about you, do you favour execution for adultery?”
    Bray: “I think it’s fair to say that it’s still a proper punishment that the state ought to prosecute.”
    Who wants to put their hands up and agree, and say that this biblical inspired morality is one you’d like to sign up to? Religion doesn’t seem to doing much good in a moral sense, especially among those that take it really seriously. But what about the message in the printed book? Doesn’t that say what’s right, and provide a map for a moral life?”

    Is the bible, not religion , that does not have as a subject moral standards, neither good ethics, or holiness. Is higher than theese.
    Please before you judge God and the bible on the grounds of morality, think before you speak or at the least read what you call the text book.

    Rafael

    Please read the this:
    This portion of the Bible is a parable told by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He said that two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, one of the best of persons, and the other was a tax collector, one of the worst of persons. The Lord Jesus said that as a result of their prayers, the wicked tax collector was justified and the good Pharisee was not justified. What does “to be justified” mean? To be justified is to be declared innocent in a law court. To not be justified is to be declared guilty and to receive punishment. “Justified” is what believers usually mean by “saved.” Making it more plain, “to be justified” is to go to heaven. To not be justified is to perish and go to hell. The Lord Jesus said that a good person goes to hell and a wicked person goes to heaven. A good man goes to hell! And a wicked man goes to heaven! Yes, this is what the Lord Jesus said.We all think that the good person should go to heaven and the wicked to hell, but the Lord Jesus said that the good person would go to hell and the wicked person to heaven. Do not be surprised and think that this is new or strange. If any person is going to heaven, he must be a sinner. In heaven you cannot find a good person. In heaven everyone is a sinner! What about hell? There are plenty of good people in hell! Do not think that you will not go to hell because you are good. Let me say that there are plenty of people in hell just like you! Some are even better than you! By themselves, those who are both wicked and good should go to hell. By believing in the Lord Jesus, however, good men can go to heaven and wicked men also can go to heaven. In this parable, our Lord Jesus Christ told a story of a good man going to hell and a wicked man going to heaven. Those who label themselves as a righteous person and think of themselves as an excellent man among men, please listen to the Lord Jesus’ words: good men may go to hell! Those who humble themselves and confess that they are sinners, judging themselves not worthy to be saved, should not be discouraged because wicked men may go to heaven!We need to consider the good man, whom the Lord talked about, who was perishing. We want to see how good he was, and if he was a good man, why he would still go to hell.Verse 10 says that he was a Pharisee. Very often we think that Pharisees were hypocrites, the worst people. But this was not always true; they had many good qualities. Pharisees zealously kept the law (Phil. 3:5). They were not like the modernists, the Sadducee’s, who did not believe this or that. They believed in God’s Word and kept God’s law and dared not doubt one word. Even so, the Lord Jesus said this Pharisee perished!Christians, when coming to revival conferences and walking on the street, often feel shameful when they are seen carrying a big heavy Bible. We would rather leave it at home and come to the meeting without a Bible or with a small New Testament to avoid men’s eyes. We are afraid that people will call us superstitious. We are afraid of being ridiculed. But it was not so with the Pharisees: they wrote Scripture on the fringes of their garments, they were not afraid of being ridiculed, and they were bold to confess to everyone that they believed in God.I know of many Christians who dare not pray and give thanks for the meal before men when they go to an unbeliever’s home or an unbelieving friend comes to their home for a meal! Since their consciences bother them if they do not give thanks, they pray to God in their heart with open eyes! How shy they are! How timid! They dare not admit that they are Christians before others. This was not the situation with the Pharisees. They would pray at the crosswalk. Let us not mention what kind of motive they may have had; their outward performance alone was much higher than that of ordinary Christians. However, the Lord Jesus said that this Pharisee was fallen and would go to hell. Pharisees were high class people in the society of those days. They were a very gentle, noble, and cultured people. But God does not care for social status. He is righteous; He will not regret sending you to hell if you deserve it. Do not say in your heart, “Is it possible for people like me–so fine, so gentle, so smart with a Ph.D. degree, and so rich–to go to hell?” Let me say that there are plenty of people just like you in hell, even some wiser, prettier, richer, and gentler than you! A person is never too good to go to hell! The Lord Jesus said that this Pharisee would perish. Although he was one of the high class, he would perish. So please do not depend on your social status. When this gentle Pharisee came to pray at the temple, he prayed, “God!” (Luke 18:11). Please listen to this word, “God.” He was neither an atheist nor a fool, since he did not say that there was no God; neither was he a wicked person doing evil and abominable deeds (Psa. 14:1). He believed that there was a God. Even though he could not see Him, he knew that God is clearly seen since the creation of the world (Rom. 1:19-20). He was not an nonreligious person; he believed that there was a God. In spite of this, he still was not saved. He could not avoid going to hell and perishing. He was a very pious and religious man; he came to God’s presence and prayed. He was a good man. Nevertheless, the Lord said that this pious, good man was going to hell. Please remember that a good man, who even believes that there is a God, can go to hell! What will happen to those who do not believe!The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men,” and then he named many types of sinners. He told the Lord that he was not evil like the rest of men, that he had not committed as many sins as others and that he was among the best of men, unlike others. Indeed, this Pharisee was a good man! He was rare among men! Yet the Lord said that this unusually good man would go to hell and perish forever. You may think, “Perhaps this Pharisee was going to hell because he was a hypocrite. If he was genuinely good, he would surely go to heaven.” But there is no indication that he was a hypocrite. I can tell you that he was indeed rare among men, yet there are other people who are also moral. He was truly a morally perfect man. He prayed saying that he did not sin as others and had many good points. The Lord did not deny this; He did not say that the Pharisee’s words were false. For this reason we know that he must have been a good person. Furthermore, in verse 9 the Lord indicated that he was “righteous.” This proves that he was an ideally good man. But good men go to hell, and good men should go to hell!We should remember that he said to God, “I am not like the rest of men.” Many times when I preach the gospel, I ask, “Do you know that you are a sinner and that you need a Savior as a substitute to redeem you?” Many have replied, “I have never killed anyone and burned down buildings. In what way have I sinned? I do everything according to my conscience. I am much better than my friends and neighbors. I am better than all.” An unbeliever might add, “I am even better than many Christians! I am better than they without even believing in Jesus.” Yes, maybe you can say this to me, but can you say to the Lord, “God, I thank You that I do not sin like the rest of men. I am better than all others”? I am afraid you can only utter self-justifying words to me but not to God. You dare to boast before men of your virtues. But you would not dare to say before God that you are better than all others. You may deceive men but not God. You may boast to me. You may deceive parents, husband, wife, children, relatives, friends, and the world. But you cannot deceive God. What you dare to say before men, you dare not say before God because God examines your inward parts. The Pharisee acted according to his conscience. He not only boasted to men that he was a perfect and righteous man, unlike others who had committed sins, he dared to say even to God, “God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” His conscience did not even slightly condemn him; he could boldly declare his righteous acts before God. Truly, he was better than others, better than you and I. But the Lord said that this good man, who was rare among men, would go to hell. If such a good man will go to hell, then what will happen to those who are not as good as he, who do not come up to his standard, and who have sinned as the rest of the world? Should they go to hell and receive more punishment? “If they do these things with the tree full of sap, what will happen with the one that is dry?” (Luke 23:31) If an extremely good person goes to hell, what will happen to us sinners? Do not be so self-confident. Although you are good, you cannot escape the fire of hell. Oh, you who are self-righteous, please do not be at peace. Your own righteousness cannot save you.He was not an extortioner. Extortion is taking what should not be taken by force or by power. This Pharisee did not extort others, even though he had the power. I wonder how many of you reading this message have extorted someones riches by your own power. You know it; God also knows it. What a common thing it is to dominate others by means of your power! But this Pharisee did not do this; he did not extort. Yet the Lord said that he could not be spared from going to hell. Good men go to hell. If a good man like this Pharisee was going to hell, then what about extortioners?Furthermore, he was not unjust. Whatever is not fair is unjust. Being unjust is the most common sin today. Not only is there much unjust conduct, but there are many unjust objects. In your home, bedroom, classroom, living room, and office is there anything that is not yours, but has become yours? Please search your bedroom, living room, closet, pocket to see if there are items that were obtained in an unjust way. Please check your own heart, and ask yourself if there is anything that you have gained in an unjust way. It is still unjust, even if it is only one dress or one penny. To put it politely, we acquired these things in an unjust way; putting it frankly, these things were stolen from others! To be unjust is to steal! Did you ever steal any money from others? Did you ever steal any article? Did you borrow from others and never return the borrowed thing? All this is unjust!Once I held a meeting at Changchow. A young student who had stolen five dollars from her teacher was there. After she attended the meeting, she realized that what she had done was a sin. The Spirit urged her, and she confessed to her mother and returned the money to her teacher. Another young girl student who had stolen two loquats from her supervisor was also there. Her supervisor was a very strict person; the students were afraid to talk to her. After this young student received the Lord’s grace, she realized that she should clear up this unjust matter; she went to her supervisor and boldly confessed her sin.Two weeks later I went to the Kulangsu Bible Association. The manager told me that he had received a letter and dictionary from Changchow. In the letter the writer stated, “I took this book from the Association without paying for it. I now know that this is unjust so I am returning it.” Oh! Brothers and sisters, I do not know if there is any injustice among you; I hope that there is none among you, but I am afraid that there are some unjust ones among us, and I am also afraid that there are some unjust things among you! This Pharisee was not unjust. He dared to say to the Lord that he was not unjust. But the Lord said that even though he was a good man and not unjust, he was not justified and could not be saved! A good man can go to hell! If a just man can perish, how much more will unjust ones perish and go to hell? Needless to say, you and I should go to hell.He did not commit adultery. I do not know how many reading this message have committed adultery. You know and God knows. The sin of adultery is filthy! But many have defiled their beds through their flesh! If we agree that lusting in the heart is committing a sin, then there will be very few perfect people in the world! The Lord said, “That every one who looks at a woman in order to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Today few keep their bodies clean; even fewer keep their minds clean. God surely will punish those who commit this kind of sin. He has to punish sin. This Pharisee was a moral person; he did not do anything unclean. He never committed adultery. But the Lord said that the good Pharisee, who did not commit adultery, would perish and go to hell. The destination of a good man is hell! If such a good person is going to hell, then what about evil ones and adulterers? Will not adulterers, all the more, go to hell?The Pharisee not only abstained from many evil things on the negative side, but did many commendable things on the positive side. He “fast[ed] twice a week” (v. 12). I am afraid that many people have never fasted once since they became a Christian! They may not even know what it means to fast! But this Pharisee was very strict; he mastered his body and did not give in to the passion of his lust. He was a self-disciplined person. He served God in a godly and dedicated way. The law did not require a man to fast twice a week. He had even fulfilled what the law did not require of him. Despite all this, the Lord said that he would perish and go to hell. Surely those who are worse than he will receive a more severe punishment. If this is the case, how can one hope to be saved?He gave tithes of all that he had acquired. He was not a miser; he was a very generous person. His principle was to tithe. Very few Christians today give even one percent, much less ten percent. When offering time comes, many think that a silver dollar is too big and a silver dime too small. But a copper coin is neither too big nor too small, so they offer it! This was not the case with the Pharisee. He was full of thoughts about accumulating wealth in heaven. Yet the Lord said that he would go to hell. A person who gives his labor and money still can suffer perdition! If a good man can go to hell, what kind of punishment will miserly ones receive?From these points we can see that the Pharisee was a good and perfect man. Not only was he good in men’s eyes, but he was also perfect and without blemish in his own eyes. We cannot say that he was a saint, but he was a very rare and good man in this world. Nevertheless, the Lord declared that he was not justified, that he was not saved, and that he was going to perish! If we think that we can be saved by doing good or that we are saved because we are good, we should realize that even if we are as good as this Pharisee, we still cannot be saved. How can we be saved by doing good? How could the Pharisee possibly have been saved just by being a good man? Therefore, good people should not be complacent! We should not think that we can be saved because we are good. We have to realize, according to the Lord’s judgment, that we still belong to hell! Sinners, do not think that we should improve ourselves gradually and then be saved after we have been good. Let me tell you that this is Satan’s gospel. Not only are we incapable of doing good, even if we could do as well as this Pharisee, we would still go to hell! What use is it to do good? The Lord purposely chose this ideal and good person and said that he was still going to perish in order to disappoint those who rely on their self-righteousness and let them know that their self-righteousness cannot save them. The way of salvation has nothing to do with ourselves (Eph. 2:8-9). If anyone wishes to be saved, they should not look to the way of self-improvement. In order to be saved, one has to believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).Since this Pharisee was such a good man, why did he end up going to hell? What are the reasons? Now we will see the reasons why this good man would go to hell.First, he was one like those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). He was an outstanding person according to moral standards. He was very content and thought that he could be saved. It seemed that no one else could go to heaven if he could not go. To “trust” means to depend upon. He depended upon his own righteous works and thought his righteous works could justify or save him. He did not realize that “all of us became like him who is unclean, / And all our righteousness are like a soiled garment” (Isa. 64:6). None of these things can cover our shame and shelter us from God’s condemnation. He did not know that in God’s eyes, “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). He thought that he was “not like the rest of men,” that he was the one and only righteous man on earth! He thought that he conducted himself according to the law and even did more than what the law required. Therefore, he thought he would surely be justified. He is just like many others who think that they can be saved by good works. But the Bible says, “Out of the works of the law no flesh shall be justified before Him” (Rom. 3:20). It also says, “For we [the apostles] account that a man is justified…apart from the works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). “A man is not justified out of works of law…we might be justified…not out of the works of law, because out of the works of law no flesh will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). “By law no one is justified before God” (3:11). “Not out of works in righteousness which we did…He saved us” (Titus 3:5). “The works of law” mean good works. Not being justified by the works of the law means that one cannot be saved by doing good works. This has been repeatedly made clear in the Bible. Although the Pharisee had righteous works, he did not realize that his righteous works could not save him. He was one of those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” He wanted to go to heaven, but eventually he ended up in hell. How pitiful! He thought his own righteousness was sufficient and did not seek the righteousness which was prepared by God in Christ Jesus. As a result, he fell into perdition. Man’s righteousness does not satisfy God; He will not save anyone unless He sees His own righteousness. Because this Pharisee was “ignorant of God’s righteousness and sought to establish [his] own righteousness, [he was] not subject to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). To not be subject is to rebel. This man was a rebel in the face of God. How could he have any hope of being saved?Oh, how numerous are the descendants of this Pharisee today! Many still think that they are a good man, that they are therefore saved. Many think that they should do good in order to be saved. But the Lord said that good men go to hell. If you are this type of person, please turn back quickly and believe in the Lord Jesus because your good works cannot save you. Nothing in this world is less dependable than your own righteousness. The righteous Pharisee who depended upon his own righteousness has already gone to hell and has become a pattern to those who want to be saved through doing good works. Why should you suffer by following in the same footsteps?He not only was one who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” but also “exalt[ed] himself” (v. 14). Self- exalting ones go to hell. As a preacher, I have never seen a proud person become saved. If a man wants to be saved, he must admit that he is a helpless and hopeless sinner, unable to save himself and unable to trust himself. He must admit that he deserves hell. He needs to prostrate himself before the cross to beg for grace and believe in Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified in a shameful way to be his vicarious Savior. How humbling this is! Without humbling ourselves, who can do this? There is nothing under heaven more humbling than to believe in the Lord Jesus as the Savior! Worldly people are very unwilling to confess that they cannot do good! Self-exalting ones are not willing to come to the despised cross to seek grace. A self-exalting man cannot be saved. He likes to say that he can do good and can patch up all his wrong doings with his own good works. Even if he cannot, he will try to bear his own responsibility. It is hard for him to confess that he is a sinner and that Jesus Christ is his Savior! Oh, proud one, please do not be so proud anymore. Humble yourself before God. Otherwise, your pride will cause you to go to hell!Moreover, the Pharisee did not ask God for grace. He thought that a person as qualified as he was did not need to ask God for grace. If a righteous man like the Pharisee is sufficiently qualified to be saved, why ask God for grace? Since he already has done good works, why is there a need for him to lose face by asking for grace? Although he went up to the temple to pray, the Lord said that he “prayed these things to himself.” Please read verses 11 and 12 again and see whether or not he prayed. He did not come to the temple of God saying, “God, I have this and that shortage. Please fill me.” He did not say, “God, I cannot save myself. Please save me.” Rather, he said, “God, I thank You, because I can be good without Your help. I never did this or that evil thing. On the contrary, I have done many good things.” He did not pray! He did not beseech God! He thought that he was the top person and that he was good to the uttermost. He did not come to pray; he came to give a report! He came before God just to give Him a report and to let Him know all his merits. He seemed to be saying, “God, I thank You, I did not do many sinful things; instead, I did many good things. I am afraid that You do not know about it, so I came to give You a report.” He did not ask God for grace. He was truly a good man, according to his own estimate and others’ evaluation. But he was an outsider to God’s holiness. He had never seen God; he did not know God. So he dared to boast before the God of all holiness and all goodness! If the eyes of his heart had not been completely blinded, he would not have been so foolish. Even though he and all the others thought he was a good person, in God’s eyes he was still a sinner. He was not justified, and he needed to be saved. If he would not be saved, he would perish and go to hell. In the same way that a great sinner needs a Savior to redeem him and suffer the penalty of sin for him, this so-called righteous person needs the same in God’s eyes. But he was blind to this need. He never knew God or God’s grace. Therefore, he did not know that he was also a sinner before God. He also needed a Savior. He was too self-content and too proud! He thought that he was capable and able! When he arrived in hell, he surely was shocked and thought he had gone to the wrong place! Little did he realize that this very place was his real home!The Pharisee had already perished. We need to take this case as a warning. He made two great mistakes regarding salvation: (1) he thought that in order to be saved he should do good, and (2) since he was good, he was surely saved. He did not know that these thoughts were absurd. When we read Ephesians 2:8-9, we can see that we are not saved by our good works but by believing in the grace of the Lord Jesus. “He who believes into Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe has been condemned already” (John 3:18). Whether a person will be saved or will perish depends on whether or not he believes and receives the salvation that has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus on the cross. It does not depend on our own goodness or badness. Since we are not saved by doing good, someone who is just good cannot be saved. Dear readers, do not think that you can be saved by accumulating good works little by little. I know and God knows that you are unable to do good. Even if you are able, the God of all goodness does not consider your goodness as good. Good works can never save you. You cannot buy God’s salvation by doing good. You should first be saved, then do good works. Do not change the order, thinking that first you should do good works, and then you will be saved. Please come now and receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior and be saved.Now we are going to see the wicked person who was saved, and find out how wicked he was and why he could go to heaven. He was a tax collector (Luke 18:10). According to the situation in Jewish society at the time, a tax collector was the most despised among all classes of people. The Chinese consider a robber to be the worst man and a harlot to be the worst woman. We have a saying, “a man-robber and a woman-harlot.” For the Jews, the lowest, most ignoble, wicked, and dirty profession for a man was to be a tax collector! For a male to be a tax collector and a female to be a harlot is the most despicable thing! But the Lord Jesus said that even though he was despised by men, he was justified by God; he was saved and could go to heaven!In those days the Jews were under the dictatorship of the Roman government, and the Romans taxed the Jews by the system of collecting tribute money. The government would set the amount of tax in a certain place and then hire people to collect it. These tax collectors collected tribute for the Roman government. When they took the job of collecting tribute, they would extort a tribute of their own choosing, so that the excess tax would be theirs. As a group, they helped evildoers do evil and cared for even the smallest, trifling amounts. They only cared for their own gain; therefore, they were considered by society as the most low and despised of men. This was the tax collector in the eyes of the world. If you asked a Jew which kind of person was the worst, he would certainly answer, “a tax collector.” But the Lord Jesus said that the tax collector would go to heaven. Wicked men can go to heaven! If the sinful and wicked, such as this tax collector, can be saved, what is possible for those who are less sinful!He was a sinner (v. 13). His own conscience accused him. Everything he did was against God’s laws. He could not keep God’s commandments. His thoughts were filthy. His eyes beheld things that should not be seen. His mouth spoke things that should not be spoken. His hands did evil and his feet walked in wickedness. He was totally filled with lusts and all things of ungodliness. He only knew how to take advantage of others. He was a miser; he only cared to fill his own bag. He did not care for anything, much less righteousness or morality. He turned his ear away from the cries of orphans and widows. As long as he accumulated thousands and tens of thousands for his wealth, he did not care whether others were sinking in the mire. He did not worship God. His deeds, behavior, and motives were all against God. In brief, he was a sinner. But the Lord Jesus said that this tax collector was justified and that sinners can go to heaven.O sinners of this world, you know that you are a sinner. You think that you are incurable and not worthy to be saved. When you examine your own thoughts and behavior, your conscience condemns your sins and convinces you that you deserve to perish. Dear sinners, let me say that you do not have to be disappointed or worry. The Lord Jesus said that the wicked can go to heaven. Oh, distressed ones, you do not have to be discouraged. Here is the gospel. Even though you are a sinner, sinners can obtain eternal life. You cannot save yourself, but you can be saved. The way of salvation is in the Lord Jesus. Come and receive His salvation! The Pharisee said he was “not like the rest of men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (v. 11). From this statement, we can deduce that this tax collector was an extortioner, an unjust person, an adulterer, and one with all kinds of sins. This tax collector usurped power to oppress and extort people. Everything he did was full of injustice. In his house there were articles which he owned illegally; he had used crafty methods to obtain them. He committed adultery, sinning against his own body. He got involved in all kinds of unclean things and committed all kinds of sins. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus judged and said that this tax collector could go to heaven.From a worldly point of view, this type of sinner deserves more than perdition. According to worldly judgment, nice people should go to heaven and evil ones to hell. If we made the decision, only good people would be saved and wicked people would perish. If we made the decision, the Pharisee would certainly receive eternal life, and the tax collector would be sentenced to condemnation. Fortunately, there is no room for men to say anything regarding salvation and perdition. Fortunately, it is our Lord Jesus Christ who set the rule by saying that good people should go to hell. Since the evil ones can go to heaven, we have a chance to be saved. There are very few good people in the world; all are sinners (Rom. 3). If only good people can be saved, then how many will be saved? Will not all perish? Fortunately, the Lord Jesus made the rule that sinners can go to heaven. Therefore, we sinners have the hope of being saved. Praise the Lord!Once I took the Lien Shien Steamer from Shanghai back to Fukien. I shared the gospel with a well-known businessman from Fukien. I told him the gospel of the Lord Jesus’ vicarious death and His redemption. He answered by saying, “What Confucius said was the best: `One who sins against heaven shall not be forgiven.’ ” I asked him, “Sir, according to what you have heard and seen, how many people have not sinned against heaven?” He was silent for a while and answered, “I am afraid that there is not one!” I asked, “Very well then, since all have sinned against heaven, can anyone be forgiven? If this is so, what else can be said? We are all here waiting to be sentenced.” He could say nothing. Yes, we all are sinners and should perish. But God is full of grace; He has the gospel. Although everyone thinks that they have sinned against heaven and cannot be forgiven, God has bestowed grace upon everyone who has sinned against heaven. He has prepared a Savior to die for them to redeem them so all sinners can have a chance to be saved and go to heaven. Therefore, sinners, come quickly and receive God’s salvation. The evil can go to heaven; this is the gospel.This tax collector was a most wicked person. Yet he was saved. Does this mean that we should commit sins and become evildoers in order to be saved? Does this mean that we can sin as we please in order to obtain salvation? No, absolutely not! The Lord Jesus said that sinners can be saved. He did not say that sinners would be saved because they commit sins. By himself, a sinner will perish. If he relies on a third party, he can be saved. Now we want to see the reason why this tax collector, who had committed such sins, could actually be saved. In this way we, who are sinners like him, can learn from him and obtain salvation, so that evildoers like us can also go to heaven.Although he was sold to sin, he was not proud before God and did not presume that he had anything. The Lord Jesus said that he humbled himself before God. The Scriptures say that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). He knew his own deeds. He knew he had nothing to boast about. He saw his many defects. He knew he deserved to be condemned. So he humbled himself before God. When he came to the temple of God, he stood “at a distance, [and] would not even lift up his eyes to heaven.” He knew that God is most holy and most righteous and that a person like him was unworthy of coming close to God or looking to Him. He had no good works to report to God. He knew he could not save himself, so he came to God for grace.”God…gives grace to the humble.” If you are proud, thinking you have everything and are short of nothing, may the Spirit open the eyes of your heart so that you will see all your shortcomings and come to God for grace. If you know your shortcomings, I hope you will not be proud and deceive yourself and end up perishing. Pride has misled many to not believe in the Savior, and therefore, they perished. I hope that pride will not mislead you! He prayed before God, “God, be propitiated to me, the sinner!” (v. 13). He was not like the Pharisee who despised “the rest,” speaking about the sins of others. He confessed that he himself was a sinner: “me, the sinner!” How hard it is for men to utter these words! Men are willing to admit that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), but are not willing to say “I have sinned.” Men are willing to admit and say that all are sinners (Rom. 3:10-12), but they are not willing to say “me, the sinner!” Saying this is very shameful! This tax collector put himself in the position of a sinner. This is the position that everyone who wants to go to heaven should and must put himself. Let me say, if there is a saved person in this world, that person must be a sinner. No one who is not a sinner can go to heaven. If you go to heaven and ask those who are already there about their past qualifications, they will unanimously answer and say that they all were sinners in the past. Everyone who is in heaven is a saved sinner who has received grace. They have nothing special. Heaven is specifically prepared for sinners. If one does not confess himself that he is a sinner, he has no qualification to enter into heaven! Heaven only welcomes tax collectors and harlots. All the sinners who believe in the Lord Jesus may come!The Lord Jesus said, “For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). He also said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). If you are a righteous man, His coming is not to call, seek out, and save you. But He will save you if you admit that you are a sinner and are lost. Putting yourself in the position of a sinner is the first step in salvation. Although this tax collector was a sinner, who should have perished, he was saved because he did not pretend to be a person without sin. He admitted that he was a sinner.The renowned British preacher Spurgeon had a dream one night. In the dream he saw himself standing outside the gate of heaven, and a group of bright and glowing saints were standing in a line holding banners of victory, singing and marching through the gate of heaven. As soon as they entered through the gate, Spurgeon heard many joyful voices and praises welcoming them. Then he asked one angel, “Who are these ones who are so welcomed by heaven?” The angel answered, “They are the ancient prophets.” Spurgeon said, “Alas, I am not a prophet, I am not worthy to enter in with them.” Later, another group also marched through the gate and received a great welcome. He asked the angel again, “Who are they?” The angel answered, “They are the ancient saints.” Spurgeon knew that he was not one of the ancient saints and felt unworthy to enter through the gate with them. A little later, another group came; they were the ancient martyrs. Spurgeon dared not join in with them either. Finally, another group with a multitude much greater than the first three came. Among this group Spurgeon recognized two people. One was the woman who anointed the Lord with ointment; the other one was the robber who was crucified with the Lord. Spurgeon thought that when this group entered into heaven it would be quiet, but to his great surprise, the welcome and applause was seven times greater than the welcome for the first three groups. Spurgeon asked, “Who are they?” The angel answered, “They are ones who were dead in sin and were made alive by the Lord Jesus.” Then Spurgeon rejoiced and said, “Praise be unto the Lord Jesus forever! The people in this last group are my companions.” Then he woke up. Although this was a dream, it was real! The Lord of heaven welcomes sinners.The first step the Holy Spirit takes in the heart of a man is to make him realize his sin. The first step God takes in saving a sinner is to send His Spirit to work in his heart and convict him of his sins. I once held a meeting in a certain place, and some grade-school girls were deeply moved by the Holy Spirit. They deeply realized that they were sinners. After the meeting they waited for me to fellowship with them. I saw that none of their eyes were dry. Every one of them was sorrowful for her sins. They told me that they were very sorry. They knew that they were sinners but they did not know whether they could be saved. I told them that knowing that they were sinners was proof of the Holy Spirit’s working in their hearts. I then read John 3:16 and 5:24 and other promises to them and helped them realize that since they knew they were sinners, they could receive eternal life and be saved if they believed and received the Lord Jesus as their Savior. The Holy Spirit opened their eyes and they experienced the salvation of the cross and the enjoyment of salvation. They are still joyful and rejoicing in the Lord every day. Therefore, if this very hour the Holy Spirit shows you your sins, it is because He wants to save you, not because He wants to condemn your sins.This tax collector not only put himself in the position of a sinner; he was also genuinely grieved because of his sins. He “beat his breast.” He hated himself. When he considered how he committed sins in the past, sorrow uncontrollably rose up within him. He was in anguish and beat his breast. Certainly those who overlook their sins and do not feel sorrowful for them will easily commit sins again. “For sorrow according to God works repentance unto salvation, which is without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). The Bible says that God dwells “with the contrite and lowly of spirit, / To revive the spirit of the lowly / And to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: / a broken and a contrite heart, O God, / thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51:17). Therefore, dear sinners, it does not matter how great your sins are; what matters is that you do not want to admit that you are a sinner and feel sorrowful for your sins. If you overlook your sins and refuse to put yourself in the position of a sinner, you will surely not seek after the Savior. Even if the Savior is sent to the door of your heart, you will not receive Him. Actually, humbling yourself is not worth anything. Neither is putting yourself in the position of a sinner or being sorrowful for your sins worth anything. However, unless a man humbles himself, unless he sees himself as a sinner, and unless he feels sorrowful for his sins, he surely will not seek after the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ. This tax collector’s humbling of himself, acknowledging himself as a sinner, and sorrow for his sins could not save him; it could not give him eternal life. These steps only prepared his heart to receive salvation.The one and only reason this sinner was saved was because he believed the vicarious salvation of the cross. Even though he humbled himself, the humbling could not save him. Even though he was sorrowful, the sorrow could not save him. Even though he confessed himself to be a sinner, the confession could not save him. Even though all these prepared him to receive salvation, these could not save him. Although without these you will perish, these things alone will not save you. A sinner is saved only through the salvation that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross and not through anything else.He prayed, “God, be propitiated to me, the sinner!” Other ways to translate this phrase in the Greek text include: “God, make propitiation for me, a sinner!” or “God, allow me, a sinner, to be propitiated.” This is the cross. No one can be saved without the cross. Perhaps when the tax collector was standing in the temple praying, the Holy Spirit moved his heart to convict him of his sins. Perhaps he saw from far off the priest in the outer court offering sacrifices. He saw the sacrifices slain on behalf of the sinners. Therefore, he asked God, “Make propitiation for me, a sinner.” He knew he was a sinner. He knew that there was a punishment for sins. A sinner could never be justified or go to heaven. He also knew that if there was not a redeeming Savior for his sins, he would perish. His heart looked to the Savior; his heart looked to the sin offering. He cried out to God and was saved. Surely heaven was his.He came to God not to ask God to help him change himself when he went home because he knew that he could not change. He could not improve or correct himself. He knew he had sin. He would perish because he had sins and did not have the One who could substitute for the punishment for sins. He looked to the substitutionary Savior; therefore, he was saved. Dear readers, we all are sinners and cannot save ourselves. Therefore, the Lord Jesus came specifically to save us. He did not come to be our model or to be our pattern, He came to die for us. He came to die for you and me. You and I have sins and deserve to die. The Lord Jesus came to die for your sins and mine. Therefore, you and I do not have to die. “Who Himself bore up our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). “For Christ also has suffered once for sins, the Righteous on behalf of the unrighteous” (3:18). “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). This matter is most important. Since the Lord Jesus died and propitiated for us, now we do not have to perish but can be saved. If the Lord Jesus did not die and propitiate for us, we would have to bear our own sins and die, that is, perish. It is true that the tax collector was a sinner. But he depended on the Savior who died for him and who propitiated for him. Therefore, he had no sins and did not have to die or go to hell. The tax collector was able to go to heaven not because of his own merit but because of the merit of a third party, the merit of the Savior’s saving work. Likewise, all those who go to heaven are justified not because of their own righteous deeds, but because they rely on the work of the cross of the Lord Jesus.The tax collector came before God for the propitiation of sins. “For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call upon Him into whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:13-14). The tax collector cried to God because he first believed in God. He was saved because he believed God would propitiate for his sins. Justification is by faith and salvation is also by faith. He knew well the truth concerning salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). He knew he lacked something. He also knew that except for God’s mercy, nothing else could make up for his lack. He asked God to have mercy on him. He knew that salvation was by grace and “not out of works in righteousness which we did but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). He knew God gives grace through the Savior and that he needed a Savior to die for him to propitiate for his sins. He prayed for God’s grace and beseeched for God’s redemption. He asked by faith, and He believed in his heart. Therefore, he obtained it.The tax collector went to heaven because he obtained God’s mercy and received the Savior’s propitiation for him, not because he was remarkable and outstanding. For a sinner to go to heaven, there is no need to pay a price because the Lord Jesus has already paid the full price on the cross on our behalf. The Pharisee perished because he did not have a Savior. The tax collector was saved because he had a Savior. Salvation and perdition have nothing to do with you or your behavior. A man as good as the Pharisee could not avoid going to hell, while a man as wicked as the tax collector could go to heaven. One went to hell not because he was wicked, and the other went to heaven not because he was good. The difference between them was whether or not they believed in the Lord Jesus who died for us on the cross. That was all! “He who believes into the Son has eternal life; but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him” (John 3:36). The decision between eternal life and eternal death depends solely upon whether or not one believes. Today I beg and beseech you to quickly believe in the Lord Jesus’ vicarious death, and you will be saved.The good man went to hell and the wicked man went to heaven. The good man did not go to hell because of his goodness, but because he did not believe in the Lord Jesus as his Savior. The wicked man did not go to heaven because of his wickedness, but because he believed in the Lord Jesus as his Savior. Therefore, if you want salvation, you must realize that salvation is not merchandise. You do not have to gradually behave yourself better and earn your salvation as a reward. Salvation is God’s free grace, freely given to all sinners who believe. God does not care how wicked you are. If you are willing to receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior and if you believe that His death was for you, you will be saved. The Lord Jesus has already borne all the punishment for your sins; no sin will be able to stand up to accuse you in the day of judgment. You are completely and absolutely saved. God does not care how good you are. If you do not receive the Lord Jesus to be your Savior and if you do not believe that His death was for you, you will surely perish. Your goodness cannot cover your wickedness and cannot redeem your wickedness; you will still perish. God has ordained that those who believe in the Lord Jesus will be saved and that those who do not believe will perish. Good unbelievers will go to hell, but wicked believers will go to heaven.Therefore, good man, please do not be proud, because your goodness will not save you! Therefore, wicked man, do not be discouraged, because your sins will not condemn you. Thank and praise God! How wonderful is His salvation! The people of the world are like this tax collector, helpless and hopeless sinners, and we all deserve eternal punishment in the future. Yet God caused the Lord Jesus to die for us on the cross, so that when we believe in Him and receive Him as our Savior, we will be saved. How great is this grace! So sinner, please follow the tax collector! Humble yourself before God. Confess your sins. Come before God with faith, asking God, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Save me by the Lord Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross!” God will surely save you. Thank God that He has such a salvation.

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