Saturday, February 25, 2017

Richard Brewer: A Tribute

What did he do?

This morning, as I was reflecting on how to tie up the ends of this blog before it is too late, it occurred to me that one of the friends I usually meet for lunch about once a week had played a significant role in the discoveries I have presented in this blog.  It may come as a surprise to him as much as to me because we are usually on opposite ends of the creation/evolution debate.  The debate is seldom discussed as our entrenched positions are usually ignored, possibly out of mutual respect.

Richard Brewer joined the Western Michigan University faculty in 1959, a year before I did in 1960.  We both retired in 1996, but he had a much more productive record in research, publishing, and teaching.  It was so much so that at least once I had nominated him for the Distinguished Faculty Scholar award.  You can verify his many contributions by examining his website - - and find such things as his most recent book on the Land Conservancy or the land trust movement.

He started as a ornithologist and had a prominent role as editor and contributor of Breeding Birds of Michigan.  His texts and lab manuals  on Ecology published by Saunders had considerable success.  He was an original and long time board  member of the Kalamazoo Nature Center as well as Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.  He was a dedicated teacher and the major professor of many ecology graduate students.  He was instrumental in arranging for the deposit of the library of an early American ecologist into the C. Adams Center Collection of Western Michigan University Library, the collection was for many years housed in the Biology Department.

So how did that help my discoveries related to the Pogonophora?

The Adams Center was the vehicle for publishing a periodical, Occasional Papers of the C. C. Adams Center for many years.  It provided a vehicle for subscription exchanges with other science periodicals, including a Norwegian periodical, Sarsia.  The two periodicals were not likely to be encountered in most libraries.  So it is unlikely that, in their absence, I would have seen the three research papers published in Sarsia by M. Webb, two of which helped me see the extreme longevity of the group, and the other helped show the connection to the Hemichordates.

Why talk about this now?

I have a realization that I won't live in the earthly realm forever.  In fact, I am certain that God has extended my stay here to help others realize that evolution and natural selection are part of His plan, and that I have a role in helping others see that is true.  I am not the only one to see that God and evolution share that relationship.  But it seems to me that I have overwhelming evidence that my findings are far beyond coincidence and serendipity.

The role that God had in my findings is apparent to me, but I have not given all the evidence and somewhat hoped to leave it for posthumous publication of details.  How I know that is mysteriously tied up in the faith, reason, knowledge of scripture, and knowledge of nature that God has given me.  God is equally generous with his gifts to others.  The gentleness of God is infinite like God's love and shown by how good many are that live admirable lives without recognizing God.

Joseph G. Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    February 25, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Akyol, Mustafa.  The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.  St. Martin’s Press.  288 pp.  [Reviewed by Tom Heneghan.  2017.  Muslim writer explores current relevance of Jesus’ message for Islam.  National Catholic Reporter, 53, no. 10, p. 15 & 18.]

I have not read the book, but found the review noted above very informative  and in agreement with a much more favorable view of Muslims than those following the recent campaign and election might have developed.  Akyol is a Muslim from Turkey that found Jesus, as depicted in the Christian Epistle by St. James, very much like the one depicted in the Quran as a prophet second only to Mohammad.  Heneghan quotes Akyol's book as saying

"As Muslims, who are latecomers to this scene, we have disagreements with both Jews and Christians," he writes in the book's final paragraph. "But we have major agreements as well.  With Jews we agree a lot on God.  With Christians, we agree that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was the Messiah, and that he is the Word of God.  Surely we do not worship Jesus, like Christians do.  Yet still, we can follow him.  In fact, given our grim malaise and his shining wisdom, we need to follow him."

For Christians, it may also be a problem to get their minds around the fact that Jesus is fully human, but as the Son of God is divine for all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the One True God.  But I am sure Jesus appreciates those who get his message of love.

We may try to put limits on God.  Maybe reading the following post may help you see God's love is broader than many may think.

Joseph Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan    February 23, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


In my second blog post (Asteroid strikes, May 11,2013) I talked about the probability of a big asteroid that strikes the earth actually hitting Kalamazoo is less than once in 100,000 over a lifetime of one hundred years.  It was over 50 million years ago that the big one that was part of the disruption leading to the extinction of dinosaurs struck the earth.  The post was to help people understand that such events are probably dropping in frequency, but were an important part of the early history of life selecting for the survival of forms such as the pogonophora to repopulate the post-strike world.

I would never have made that discovery without an almost unbelievable set of coincidences in my life that is most unlikely to be duplicated and may almost be beyond serendipitous discovery in the future if I cannot help my peers understand it.

Calculating the odds

I think it was necessary for me to study a peculiar group of crustaceans in Tasmania (the center of their distribution).  The comparison made with a Michigan species (of a different group) was instrumental for my understanding how longevity and ecology impact evolution of species.  I was the only Fulbrighter at the University of Tasmania that year and probably the only one that had ever studied crustaceans there.
The probability for this is likely less than one in 200,000,000.

The probability of that rare individual also composing a chapter for an invertebrate zoology text book and learning pertinent facts about the pogonophorans is very low.  Perhaps a few dozen biologists have done so in the United States out of several thousand.  That may be about one in a hundred.
Probability of 1 in 200,000,000 times 1 in 100 = 1 in 20,000,000,000.

The probability of being an INTP type of personality and jumping to new topics or studies before fully disseminating the knowledge or topic may be about 1 in 20.  If I had stayed on track I would have pursued things to completion and never have combined the necessary information to understand the evolutionary points I make.
Probability of 1 in 20 times 1 in 20,000,000,000 = 1 in 400,000,000,000.

The probability of having the childhood and later circumstances could be described  but are unique for everyone, even identical twins.  Some of those events may be described later, but it makes me almost certain the chance of someone doing the same is a practical impossibility.  We share a lot, but you will be the only you, just like me.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan    February 22, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017


A small sample

Life is full of coincidences; we probably experience many more than we are ever aware of.  Sunday, the obituary of a distinguished dentist, president of the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry among many other honors, was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

To my knowledge, I never talked to him (Harold Ward Fountain) when he was in my town driving a red convertible and looking to me like a movie star while he was courting his wife, Glenna; they married in 1943.  Her parents lived at the time where their lot backed up to our lot.

I later noticed he was a dentist in Kalamazoo where no contact was made during the 33 years we both were here.  He retired in 1983 and they then moved to Arizona.  Perhaps I saw him when he was a teenager in his home town of Remus when my father took me with him when he was delivering butter wrappers to the Remus Creamery.

After marriage he entered the Navy as a dentist until discharged in 1946.  The Navy called him back in 1950 and loaned him to the Army.  He was sent to Germany and provided dental service to the U.S. soldiers and their dependents.  When they had free time they toured postwar Europe.  It is kind of dumb to think about the possibility of meeting them by chance there when I was visiting similar places in 1952.

Perhaps I think about such things because I have had chance encounters with people I knew from elsewhere.  Two buddies stationed with me in Munich were on a three day pass in Paris.  I had taken an earlier leave and had made a circuit around northern Europe ending up in Paris on my way back to Munich.  I was leaving a show late at night and heard "Joe" from them seated at a street cafe on a nearby street.  We spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets of Paris.

I met an older couple on the train from Chicago to San Francisco in 1956.  Then they were on the same cruise ship from San Francisco to Sydney.  A younger lady on the same ship that was part of a social group that developed on the trip was in the crowd several months later moving in the opposite direction around the Olympic stadium in Melbourne.

The following year on the trip across the Indian Ocean one of the travelers I met stayed with the ship all the way to England.  I had gotten off in Marseille to do some sightseeing on my way to catch a different ship from Southampton to New York; in London we happened to notice each other in Trafalgar Square.

What is the chance?

Are such coincidences remarkable?  Probably not.  There are billions of people in the world.  Those traveling are a much smaller subset.  Travelers also use mostly a limited part of the worlds transport system and visit with a much higher focus on "must see" travel destinations.

How do we zero in on those we know in such circumstances.  I came from a home town of about 4,000 people.  The ones I saw in my neighborhood were almost always people I knew.  You expect to recognize and greet people in such places, the habit of scanning crowds for familiar faces is probably not unusual.  It is probably not unusual in the animal world; consider the penguins returning to a large number of seemingly identical penguins and easily finding their mates.

I think it was in 1952 when I was visiting the London Zoo and was outside the lion exhibit.  A small group of people were watching a large lion resting in seeming boredom not far from the fence.  All of a sudden his head perked up and he alertly looked toward people farther away on the walk.  He may have had an early warning from clicking heels of a young well-dressed young lady approaching.  She stopped in front of him and they looked at each other, perhaps sharing more communication than I was aware of.  I suspected she had a role helping him through his early development.

I wasn't planned, the meeting in Trafalgar Square.  I was crossing to go to a museum, she was killing some time waiting for her train home.  But there are probably many possible coincidences that do not occur because the time of travel intersecting does not match; a minute could make the difference.  And today you might be too busy with your cell phone.  Will you see a friend in the picture you are taking when you get home?

Joe Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    February 20, 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



The continuing error of accepting divergence times from genetic evidence without adjusting for generation time is shown by a new study (Wilf, P,, M. A. Carvalho, M. A. Gandolfo, and N. Ruben-Cuneo.  2017.  Eocene lantern fruits from Gondwanan Patagonia and the early origin of Solanaceae.  Science, 355:71-75).  I think they got it right.

Their research shows a minimum divergence time for fossil lantern fruits of the Pysalinae of 52.2 million years ago.  That differs greatly from three different molecular divergence estimates of ~30, ~11, and ~9 million years ago.

Therefore, it seems evident that the error described in my blog of May 31, 2013 applies to some work on evolutionary, or ancestral, trees of plants as well.

If you read the blog post [ ]  you may recognize GIGO used to describe the algorhythms used in molecular phylogeny that do not include a generation time correction.  Early generations of computer programmers used it to mean GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT when errors were input into programs.  The principle still applies when conceptual errors are not accounted for, it isn't the computer that is making the mistake,

The generation time error is especially gross when applied to distant relationships.

Joseph G. Engemann     Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo   February 15, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Alternative facts seems like either oxymorons or sources of cognitive dissonance.  At best they may be due to failure to have agreed upon definition of terms, at worst they may be deliberate deceptions.  In between those extremes are areas of foggy thinking or reliance on gurus of varying degrees of competence.

To my embarrassment I re-read my February 2015 post on "Evolution: the body cavity".  I did so to see if was really so good that more people have recently been viewing it more than all 160 of my other posts put together.  I noted the first sentence of the third paragraph had an "alternative fact".

Evolution- my embarrassing alternative fact

Pseudocoelomates were placed in an evolutionary sequence between acoelomates and coelomates.
There is no factual basis for that statement.  In fact, it is more likely the pseudocoelomates are a separate line from the turbellarian flatworms just as the coelomates are a separate line from the turbellarian flatworms.  There may have been other origins of pseudocoelomates besides the aschelminths (gastrotrichs, rotifers, kinorhynchs, and nematodes) that evolved from the turbellarians via the gnathostomulids.

Politics- alternative facts

The headlines responsible for the the popularity of alternative facts may be due to unwarranted reliance on the pronouncements of an adulated guru.  Neither conservatism nor liberalism is always right or always wrong in their particular definitions of how the constitutional God-given rights of people should be interpreted..  The "Bill of Rights" should help us realize that and see the value of an interaction of the legislative, administrative, and judicial branches of government in reaching prudent solutions.

Religion- alternative facts

Literal based interpretations versus a message carried in varied literary forms, as ways of getting God's message in scripture have long plagued Christians.  I suspect similar problems have led to the divisions seen among Jews and Muslims.

Roman Catholics are currently undergoing divisive problems with a few cardinals trying to "correct" the Pope with what seems to be a reaction to his trying to replace privilege with more Christ-like behavior in the hierarchy.

Science- alternative facts

We have come a long way from when we believed everything in the world was composed of four elements such as fire and water.  Evolution, following the acceptance of natural selection's importance, has seen anatomical studies, the fossil record, embryology, and molecular genetic principles being successively accepted principles guiding natural selection and the placement of species in correct genealogical order.  Unfortunately, reliance on the most recent fad has brought unrecognized chaos to parts of the view of the tree of life.  My earlier posts on pogonophora, the deep-sea, isopods, and longevity might help you update yourself on what the current science literature is missing.


I appreciate the many individuals students, faculty, family and friends that contributed to my thinking and development. Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, The University of Tasmania, The United States Fulbright Commission for International Education, and Aquinas College all had significant input into the process of my development of new ideas in my blogs; however, I take full credit for any errors that may be involved.

Joseph G. Engemann    Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan     February 2, 2017