Blog Archive

Followers

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label creation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creation. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Message Systems Come from Minds

Egypt holds fascination for many people. The practice of mummification, the pyramids, and all those hieroglyphics shrouded the ancient Egyptians in mystery and wonder for hundreds of years. It was widely known that Egyptian hieroglyphics were used as the primary way of written communication in their day, but no one could read them until the French discovered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking the secrets of the pictorial message system and allowing scholars to read and understand the thoughts of those who lived 3500 years ago. Before the decoding of Egyptian hieroglyphics, studying ancient Egypt was a lot of guesswork. After finding the Rosetta Stone and deciphering hieroglyphics, archaeologists could suddenly understand so much more about who the Egyptians were, what they believed, how they lived, and why they built the pyramids and created mummies.

In recent years, modern scientists have discovered another Rosetta Stone of sorts. The DNA molecule that exists in every cell of our bodies was first successfully modeled by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. Crick, after further investigation, also provided a model for how the genetic code in DNA is transferred within the cell.1 Soon it was understood that our DNA functions like a set of blueprints; it holds all the instructions to build your body so you look like you. But such a find is more than amazing when you think about it. You see, message systems are very special things that have certain attributes — attributes which can come only from minds.

What Makes a Message?

In 1976, NASAs Viking I spacecraft had reached Mars and was taking close-up photographs of the planet for the first time ever. One photo immediately caught the attention of everyone in the project. It seemed that there was a face carved into the Martian surface that measured over two miles across! NASA released the picture with the caption "huge rock formation ... which resembles a human head ... formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth."2



 Now, scientists have discovered rocks that look like humans or animals before. Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba, Canada has many different tone shapes like the one you see in photograph #2. These stones are in an arrangement where they look to resemble a man. So, why did the NASA scientists immediately assume that the face on Mars is a natural formation while archaeologists looking at the stones in Whiteshell Provincial Park assume that these were placed by prehistoric people? What's the difference?

In a nutshell, the difference is the rocks in Canada have three traits of an information-bearing system, all of which are necessary for us to assume that something is trying to be communicated:

  1. They are orderly. The rocks at Whiteshell park are placed in a very specific arrangement. Most rocks one sees on the ground are randomly located. This squares with the idea that all things will tend towards randomness unless otherwise constrained. The "face" on Mars doesn't rely only on order, but also on shadow. If you look again at the picture, you can see that over a third of what would make up the face is obscured. The shadows themselves become part of the feature-making surface, so we cannot tell if the surface below holds the same order as the well-lit area. The Whiteshell rocks are unmistakable ordered and one can see where there is a start and a stop for each glyph.
  2. They are complex. While order is more rare than randomness in nature, it does happen do to certain chemical or physical constraints within a system. Ice crystals, for example, are very orderly in their form. Water can push on rocks and line them up in a sequence. However, the Whiteshell rocks are not merely orderly, they are complex in their order. The rocks are found at 90 degree angles and places on a sequence that would be nearly impossible to explain through natural processes. For example, the rocks are all close to the same size, they are all equally spaces, yet those in photograph #2 are set a different angles and then they stop until another formation is found with the same ordered complex arrangement.
  3. They are specific. The final piece in identifying an information-bearing system is that the rocks are placed very specifically in patterns that are recognizable to another mind. The angles of the Whiteshell rocks in the photo are in perfect proportion of a human being. If one were to invert the angle at the bottom of the image, the image of a stick figure is marred and the concept is lost on the viewer. The rocks must be specifically placed so the idea that the creator has will be properly received. This is true for any message system. Replace one letter in "I Love Mary" and you get wither confusion ("I live Mary") or a radically different message ("I love Hary")!
And no matter if were looking at ancient stones or looking for messages from outer space, these are the traits we look for to determine whether what we find is an accident of nature or generating from a mind: order, complexity, and specificity. Since DNA shows those same three traits, it should be reasonable to conclude that there was a mind behind the creation of DNA.

References

1. For an extensive history of how Watson and Crick uncovered the shape of the DNA molecule and its further understanding, see Stephen C. Meyers comprehensive treatment in Signature in the Cell. (New York:Harper Collins, 2009).

2. NASA Science. "Unmasking the Face on Mars." 24 May 2001. 24 August 2010 . Web. http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast24may_1/

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Understanding the Imago Dei is More Crucial than Ever

In the very beginning of the Bible, it states that man is created in God's image. In fact, the phrase is repeated three times in Genesis 1:26-27, which is the ancient Jewish equivalent of typing in all caps to underscore the point. Theologians throughout the ages use the Latin imago Dei when speaking of this unique aspect of human creation, however most people are still a bit fuzzy as to what being made in the image of God means.



Some people misunderstand the concept of being made in God's image to mean that God modeled our physical attributes after his own. This is a mistake as Jesus clearly taught that God is not physical but a spirit (John 4:24). As I've explained elsewhere, bearing the image of God means that humans are fundamentally different from every other animal created on the earth. Part of the imago Dei is the capability we have to reason and the ability to exercise our free will and make meaningful choices.

Recently, though, asked a question that I expect many other Christians may have about this definition. A person asked "What about those who are mentally ill, though? How can they bear God's image if they lack the ability to reason or make decisions for themselves?" This is a good question that reveals bias of our modern culture that has larger implications across a variety of moral issues.

More Than a List of Skills

Today, much of what is valued in society is based on "what can you do for me" or "what skills do you have" mentality. So, it may be natural for people to assume that the imago Dei is measured by one's ability to reason, thus the question above about the mentally impaired. But one isn't considered a person because of one's ability but by nature of being human. We are designed to reflect God's image in ourselves and the design doesn't change even if we cannot properly execute the elements implicit in that. For example, a car is a vehicle whose design and purpose is to move across land, while a boat is a vehicle whose deign and purpose is to move across the water. The can may have a broken axle or the boat a hole in its side that prevent it from executing its normal function, but no one would look at a boat with a hole and say that it changes its function. Boats cannot move across the land unaided because so doing is counter to all of its design. The vehicle may need repair but one can quickly see whether it is a land or sea vehicle.

The reason this concept of design and purpose (what's known in philosophy as the telos or end purpose of a thing) is that it is crucial to the dignity of all human persons. It is not merely the mentally-ill who cannot reason, but the embryo has not yet developed reasoning capacity either. If the imago Dei doesn't apply to the embryo, then why should Christians oppose abortion? However, if the telos of the embryo is a functioning, rational adult who can make free decisions and can have a spiritual sensitivity, then the embryo shows as much uniqueness as any other human being. It is human nature to be social, to be creative, to be relational, to be rational, to have a sense of the moral, and to be spiritual. All of these reflect God's character and all sit in distinction to other animals in creation.  And every being that so reflects God's image in this way is intrinsically valuable because God values these things.

Photo courtesy diegain and again and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Amazing Evidence of God in the Design of Our World

Yesterday, I began a discussion on how the universe is finely-tuned for human existence. We started with an analogy of being lost in a wood and stumbling onto a life-saving cabin. Then, I noted that just like our cabin, we see three key areas that are necessary for our shelter to sustain life. If you haven't read it yet, make sure you do.



Last time we looked at how the area is just right - that is  the laws of the universe allow life to exist. Today, I'd like to look more closely at the other two features that make life possible: our solar system is built for life and our planet itself is just right.

2.  Our planet and solar system are poised for life (the cabin is built right)

Going back to our cabin analogy, it's not merely that the area where the cabin is built is just right for you to survive—the cabin itself has to be made the right way with the right materials, otherwise it will do you no good at all. Imagine if the cabin had huge holes in the walls and ceiling. It would let the heat and the cold in and not sustain your life. Imagine also if the cabin was made out of paper or sand, which would quickly give way to the wild beasts outside or simple erosion. None of these situations would be of benefit to you when you needed it most.

Similar to the cabin, our little neighborhood in the universe, our solar system and the planet Earth, also show remarkable design for life. In their great book Rare Earth, scientists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee note just how unlikely it is that another planet in the universe would have the perfect conditions for life that our planet Earth does. We live in a spiral galaxy, but not in a portion crowded with stars. Our sun sits far enough away from the center of the galaxy, yet in-between two of its more densely-packed arms, what Ward and Brownlee call the "Galactic Habitable Zone." They note that the distance of our Earth from the sun is also perfect , not letting the oceans boil away (possibly like Venus) or freeze over permanently (like all water on Mars). 5

Our sun is also the right kind of star. Did you know that 95% of stars in the universe are smaller than our sun?Planets need to be closer to smaller stars in order to get enough warmth for life, but when planets do get closer, the star's gravity keeps one side of the planet constantly facing toward it, freezing out the atmosphere. If our sun were much smaller, it wouldn't put out enough heat, and if it were larger, it would be so hot that it would sterilize the planet of all life.7 And because our sun is not too red (which would also make it too cold for life) or too blue (which would burn too quickly to sustain life), we are able to exist.8Everything seems to be not too hot nor too cold, but just right for life to exist on this particular planet.

Lastly, the fact that we have the gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) at the outside of our solar systems allows life on earth to continue. According to Ward and Brownlee, these gas giants not only carried elements such as carbon, nitrogen and water to earth in the early stages of its formation, but they continue to provide an invaluable service of catching large asteroid-type bodies that would otherwise smash into earth and extinguish all life on the planet. 9

There are many other examples of how our solar system is perfectly fit for life, but these will do well for a start. This is why Ward and Brownlee write, "With the best of intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials, it is unlikely that Earth could ever truly be replicated. Too many processes in its formation involved sheer luck." 10 You can see why Paul Davies calls the Anthropic Principle, "the Goldilocks Principle." Just as Goldilocks found to porridge and the bed that suited her, we've stumbled onto a cabin that suits us perfectly.

3.  The Earth is stocked for life (the cabin is properly equipped)

We've talked about the area being right for our cabin and the cabin being built properly to sustain us, but both those things wouldn't do us much good if we had to ride out several months of winter in a cabin not stocked with all the things that keep us alive. So it is with the Earth. It's not enough that it be in the right place with the right laws in the universe; it also has to protect and provide the ongoing sustenance for any life that may be found here. But yet again, we find that the Earth is just right to allow mankind to not only live, but to thrive. For example, the fact that our planet is 70% water has a major impact on supporting life. If there were too much water, then no dry land would appear to allow advanced life. Too little water and the temperatures on Earth would vary too drastically for advanced life to thrive.

Whereas most substances have very predictable behaviors based on their molecular construction, water seems to be unique in how it violates these expectations. For example, changing from a liquid to a solid means that as the molecules of most substances slow down, they get closer together, making the material heavier in its solid state. However, water does just the opposite: just before it freezes, it expands, allowing ice to float on liquid water. If this didn't happen, then all of the Earth's bodies of water would eventually freeze from the bottom up. But instead of freezing, the ice provides a cover over the liquid water, helping to retain the liquid water and therefore also adding to its stabilization of the surface temperature of the Earth.

Beyond water, other factors make Earth just right for life. The gases that make up our atmosphere help regulate the Earth's temperature, keeping it even too. Too many gases and we'd over heat, but too few and life would die from the radiation penetrating the atmosphere from space.11 Astronomer Hugh Ross gives us an impressive list of dozens of such conditions for life to thrive on earth: If the oxygen-to-nitrogen ratio in our atmosphere were larger, advanced life functions would proceed too quickly; if it were smaller, advanced life functions would proceed too slowly. If the Earth's crust were thicker, too much oxygen would be transferred from the atmosphere to the crust; but if thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would be too great. Water vapor levels in the atmosphere are just right; if greater, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop; but if less, rainfall would be too meager for advanced life on the land. 12

The fact that our Earth has a single, sizable moon also becomes crucial to our existence on the planet. In their book The Privileged Planet, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards write that the Moon serves to stabilize our planet's rotation, keeps the Earth's axis at the perfect tilt to allow consistent seasons, and — by raising the ocean's tides — it delivers nutrients stirred up from the ocean floor and delivers them on land while it simultaneously promotes ocean currents distributing heated water throughout the different oceans.13

Is it All Just a Coincidence?

Perhaps someone desperate might hope to find a cabin in the wood, but to find it filled with the presence of your favorite food, stocked with insulin in the medicine cabinet, and containing all the clothing in your size is far beyond a stroke of luck, especially since these things are not contingent on each other. In finding so many of these "coincidences," it would be irrational to draw a conclusion that this was all chance. You may not be able to explain why it all works out, but it's obvious that whoever built this cabin had you in mind and did it on purpose. And scientists are finding more and more that the sheer number of "coincidences" in the universe of physical laws being just right for life is simply too much to dismiss. Paul Davies goes on to say:
"Certainly the existence of life as we know it… would be threatened by just the tiniest change in the strengths of the fundamental forces, for example. The laws that characterize our actual universe, as opposed to an infinite number of alternative possible universes, seem almost contrived — fine-tuned some commentators have claimed — so that life and consciousness may emerge. To quote Dyson again: it is almost as if 'the universe knew we were coming'."14
Indeed, the mountain of such factors points to the fact that someone "rigged" the system. Perhaps some of these factors are found elsewhere in the universe — there are other spiral galaxies and yellow suns, though not plentiful, that do exist. However, I think that when taken together, this evidence implies much more than mere coincidences. Robin Collins quotes philosopher John Leslie correctly saying, "Clues heaped upon clues can constitute weighty evidence, despite doubts about each element in the pile."15 If the universe itself is put together correctly to support life, then we can't stop at the universe as an explanation for our existence. We have to go to something or Someone who existed before the universe, Who designed the universe with the purpose of creating it so humanity can live and thrive in it. The design of the universe argues for the existence of God.


References

4. Ward, Peter D. and Donald Brownlee. Rare Earth; Why Complex Life is So Uncommon in the Universe. (New York: Copernicus, 2000) p.28
5. Ward and Brownlee. pp.16-20
6. Ward and Brownlee. p.23
7. Barrow and Tipler. p.338
8. Smith, Quentin "The Anthropic Principle and Many-Worlds Cosmologies". Australasian Journal of Philosophy VoI. 63, No.3; (September 1985)
9. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
10. Ward and Brownlee. p.37
11. Ward and Brownlee. pp.50-51
12. Adapted from Hugh Ross' table 4.5 in "Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God." Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1994. 165-169.
13. Gonzalez, Guillermo and Jay W. Richards. The Privledged Planet: How our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Washington D.C.: Regency Publishing, Inc., 2004. p.5-6
14. Davies. Templeton Adress.
15. Collins, Robin. "A Recent Fine-Tuning Argument." The Philosophy of Religion Reader. Ed. Meister Chad. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Three Ways Our Universe is Designed for Life

Just the fact the universe exists at all is pretty good evidence for God. It's an amazing thing that our universe exists and that we exist! But to stop there would be to do a disservice to what science continues to uncover about how our universe works. You see, it's not simply that the universe exists and we happen to live within it. Modern scientists have found that the universe could have existed just fine in many different configurations, but the laws that govern this universe are tuned very precisely. The way our planet is positioned within the universe is also very unique. What scientists continue to find is the universe is meticulously designed just so that it is capable of supporting life like our own. It's been rigged for life, if you will. The universe is finely-tuned for human existence.


Finding the perfect cabin in a dangerous wood

In order to understand how this works, I would like to offer an analogy. Imagine that you're lost in a dark, dangerous wood. The temperature fluctuates from extreme heat in the day to frigid cold at night. You have no food and no water. Aside from the other life-threatening conditions, there are dangerous animals that may attack you if you stay out in the open. You need to find shelter if you are ever going to survive. By chance, you stumble upon a cabin in a clearing of the forest. Crawling through an open window, you quickly hurry inside, thankful for your good luck. Luck is all you currently perceive finding the cabin to be. I mean it's quite possible that you could have taken any number of routes through the wood and ended up someplace else, but you just happened to end up here. However, as you start to explore the cabin, you attitude begins to change.

First, you notice that there's fresh food in the kitchen, and that the food just happens to be all your favorite kinds. Then, you see that there are some medical supplies in the bathroom that are exactly what you need: bandages for your cuts and scrapes, but also insulin for treating your diabetes. In the bedroom, there's a collection of CDs from all your favorite bands, three books are on the table that are your favorite books, and the reading glasses are your exact prescription! The mattress is the exact firmness you like and all the clothes in the closet fit you perfectly. Finally, you go to the front door, but it is locked. On a hunch, you pull out your house key from your pocket and try it in the door. The key unlocks the front door and you are able to enter and exit effortlessly. After these and many, many more discoveries, you finally come to the conclusion that this is not a random cabin at all, but one designed especially for you to help you survive within this dangerous forest.

Before you can create tuna, you must first tune the universe!

Now, you may be thinking that I'm stretching the facts a bit when I give the examples in my cabin analogy above. In fact, I'm actually downplaying the amazing precision of what science is finding out about the very delicate balance of features the universe must have in order to allow life to exist as it does on this planet. As we continue to learn more about how our universe works, we are finding two very interesting things:
  • It is not necessary that those laws should come together in the way they do now. There are many combinations of laws that still would allow the universe to exist but not support life, and
  • There are so incredibly many different types of laws that must be present all at the same time for life to exist, each so delicately balanced and perfectly set, that it seems hardly a coincidence. The universe is fine-tuned for life on earth.
Sometimes because of our familiarity with a situation, we neglect to think about how many elements must be just right for the desired goal to happen. Returning to our cabin illustration, we see a cabin in a clearing and run to it, perhaps wondering why it's there, but not really thinking about all the conditions it would take to make the cabin.

Really, for a shelter to be of any use in saving someone from dying in the woods, it is important that the area where that shelter sits be just right for the type of shelter it is and the materials used to construct the shelter be made out of the right stuff. The shelter also needs to have life-supporting elements inside. Otherwise you will simply be forced to abandon it or die. Let's take these one at a time and look at them more closely. We will examine the first one today and look at the other two in tomorrow's post.

1.  Laws of the universe make life possible (the area is right)

In order for a cabin to be built and help a desperate soul lost in the woods, it must be built in a location that has specific properties. For example, no one would want to climb into a cabin and find out it was built on quicksand. The ground must be firm and able to hold a strong foundation. The trees must be cleared away so that there is adequate room for the structure. A cabin built on a severe slope or on the other side of an impassible ravine would make it impossible to get to. Swampy areas would cause the wood that the cabin is built out of to rot.

Our universe has laws that govern how its build materials fit together and react to one another. Things like the strength of gravity or the force that allows protons and neutrons within an atom to stick together are delicately balanced. For example, gravity make a huge difference in whether we would have any stars that could support life like our sun does. According to scientists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, if the force of gravity had been slightly weaker, all stars would have formed into red dwarfs, not producing enough heat to sustain life on any planet. But if it had been slightly stronger, stars would all form to be blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop.The fine-tuning of this force must be set to a value so fine that a change of less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth would be catastrophic for stars like our sun. 2

There are many other laws that have a similar crucial impact on whether our universe is just right to even allow life to exist, such as the size of an electron relative to a proton, how fast the universe expands, the age of the universe, the speed of light, the amount and uniform level of radiation in the universe, and many, many more. See table 1 for just some of these balances.

Paul Davies, a widely respected physicist and cosmologist, noted that many of the laws of the universe we take for granted are not necessary at all, but function just like that clear, level area that allows us to construct the cabin. In fact, that the universe could have turned out much differently than it did. Davies said "You might be tempted to suppose that any old rag-bag of laws would produce a complex universe of some sort, with attendant inhabitants convinced of their own specialness. Not so. It turns out that randomly-selected laws lead almost inevitably either to unrelieved chaos or boring and uneventful simplicity. Our own universe is poised exquisitely between these unpalatable alternatives."3

Continue to Part Two here »

References

1. Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).336
2. Davies, Paul. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 147
3.Davies, Paul M. "Templeton Prize Address." Arizona State University. 23 January 2010 http://cosmos.asu.edu/prize_address.htm.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two Key Problems with Darwinism (video)

Modern Darwinism teaches that all life we see today is the result of lucky chemical accidents. There is no purpose or intelligence guiding the process. However, as we better understand the complexities of life and the amazing amount of information it takes to make even the simplest of cells, the Darwinian model just doesn't work.



In this video, Lenny teaches on two insurmountable problems for modern Darwinian theory and shows why life points to an intelligent designer.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why the Darwinist Version of Life's Origin is Anti-Science

P.Z. Myers, the acerbic evolutionary biologist, atheist, and blogger is certainly no friend to those arguing for God's existence. However, he did side with at least one point that creationists argue for when debating the concept of life and its origin: Darwinists who claim that the theory of evolution has nothing to do with origin of life "is a cop-out."  An older post at his blog Pharyngula, he writes:
#15 is also a pet peeve: "Evolution is a theory about the origin of life" is presented as false. It is not. I know many people like to recite the mantra that "abiogenesis is not evolution," but it's a cop-out. Evolution is about a plurality of natural mechanisms that generate diversity. It includes molecular biases towards certain solutions and chance events that set up potential change as well as selection that refines existing variation. Abiogenesis research proposes similar principles that led to early chemical evolution. Tossing that work into a special-case ghetto that exempts you from explaining it is cheating, and ignores the fact that life is chemistry. That creationists don't understand that either is not a reason for us to avoid it.1
I completely agree with Myers in that anyone arguing for a non-Creator based model needs to account for both the origin as well as the development of the diversity of life as we see it today. I've previously written how evolutionary teaching texts and evolutionist both include the concept of abiogenesis—a 50 cent word meaning that life arose spontaneously from non-life—in their limiting the diversity of life we see today to only materialistic causes. For, if a creator is necessary to begin life, then the simplest explanation of life's diversity would be that such a creator created them with that diversity.


Passing on Pasteur

Of course, Myers, Dawkins, and company would never allow a creator to be considered in their model. 2 They hold that any such appeal is at its base unscientific. But there's a problem here. The view that life arose spontaneously from non-life has never once been observed in all of human history. If science is at its root a study of those things we can observe, then the theory that life can arise from non-life without any intelligent intervention seems to be non-science.  But abiogenesis is worse than that; it's anti science.

You see, the question has come up before. There was a time where people believed that life could arise spontaneously. People would notice their milk or bread gather mold and they thought that these life forms just popped into existence. However, the French scientist Louis Pasteur performed an extensive series of experiments to heat food products prior to packaging and he showed conclusively that new life doesn't simply pop into existence. He proved that biogenesis (from life comes life) is the scientifically viable theory rather than abiogenesis.

Pasteur's results have been confirmed millions of times over. In fact, our modern method of food distribution relies on the fact that new forms of life won't just appear. Think of a jar of natural peanut butter. The jar is an open system in which energy and sunlight may pass through. The starting material is organic; it has all the right proteins for life. Heck, peanuts are even the starting point for the plant. Yet, no one expects to find new life in their peanut butter!

Science is at its absolute best when one can verify a hypothesis through repeatable testing. The more times one achieves the same results, the stronger the hypothesis becomes. Pasteur's biogenesis is about as strong a finding as science can achieve, so why argue for abiogenesis when no one in the history of humanity has ever observed such and not even one theoretical model of how life could spontaneously arise exists? Simply, it's because the only other explanation of life is that it came from a creator. Therefore, those that trumpet science above all the loudest seem to be the most willing to dump Pasteur's science when it doesn't fit their model. Doesn't that make them anti-science?

References

1. Myers, PZ. "15 Misconceptions about Evolution." Pharyngula. ScienceBlogs LLC., 20 Feb. 2008. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/20/15-misconceptions-about-evolut/.
2. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes, "The Darwinian theory is in principle capable of explaining life. No other theory that has ever been suggested is in principle capable of explaining life." Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. New York, N.Y: W.W. Norton, 1987. Print. 288.
Image courtesy PiccoloNamek

Friday, July 04, 2014

Rights and Their Freedoms Come from God Alone

Today, millions of Americans will celebrate the 4th of July, marking the founding of our nation. Many others across the world will also take note of the day because of the uniqueness of the founding of this country. This is the first and only nation in the history of mankind not to come about because its citizens share a certain family or ethnic heritage. It didn't form because of geographic boundaries or as a group of people coalesced from war. The United States of America is the only country on earth that was founded expressly on certain ideals.



Today, Americans celebrate not simply the birth of our nation, but also the freedoms this nation offers. It is the freedoms that we cherish that make a difference. But, where do those freedoms come from? The Founders unanimously agreed that that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."1 But if God doesn't exist, would the Declaration make any sense? From where could we derive our rights if not from God alone?

In thinking about this question, it seems to me that one has only four options when arguing for the rights of persons: Our freedoms either derive from the inalienable rights granted to us by the government, the common consent of the governed, by nature, or by God alone. In the next couple of posts I intend to argue that none of the first three options make any sense. Only God can grant inalienable rights and thus it is only through God that we have any right to the freedoms we enjoy. Then, I'd like to look at a couple of those rights specifically in light of the liberal backlash against the recent Hobby Lobby court decision.

Rights don't come from governments

The first option one has in establishing our rights is the claim that they are bestowed upon us by the government. This seems problematic on its face, though, for if a government can bestow rights on an individual, then that same government can take them away. Such actions are no longer rights, but should be considered privileges that the government allows the governed. I had heard this often in high school when I was taking drivers education classes. "A driver's license is a privilege, not a right."2 The state may revoke the license if it deems you unfit to drive or if you are uncooperative by not submitting to an alcohol test, for example.

Rights are different than privileges. They are things that cannot be removed by fiat. While a government may trample on one's rights or ignore one's rights, the right itself remains. For those individuals, such as criminals who are incarcerated, they may have their rights curtailed, but that is only after a trial that shows others' rights were being infringed upon by their actions. However, no one is divorced from his or her rights.

This is what Jefferson meant when he invented the word "unalienable," it is impossible to erase rights or transfer them to another. All people have them, and that was precisely the argument the Founding Fathers were making. They were separating themselves from the government because their rights were being abused and their freedoms were being trampled. They felt it was necessary to dissolve the bonds with the government of England, so that their rights would be exercised freely. Therefore, rights cannot come from the government. Rights exist prior to governments.

Rights don't come from the governed

Because we understand that rights precede governments and that they must be unalienable, option two becomes fairly easy to dismiss. Rights cannot come from the common consent of the governed because if our rights are given by common consent, then they may be removed by common consent. The United States is a government as Lincoln put it "of the people, by the people and for the people," formed "by Authority of the good People of these Colonies" as the Declaration says. But it is not simply the agreement of the citizens of a country that bestows rights upon themselves. Such rights are again not unalienable. If they can be agreed upon my mutual consent, then they can be removed by mutual consent. Therefore, rights given by common consent are not inalienable. They are again not rights but simply agreed upon privileges.

Rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not the happiness one feels when receiving a birthday gift, but the more sublime pursuit of contentment in life) must be unalienable if they are to be rights at all. That means they must transcend any human authority, for human authorities can never bestow anything unalienable. It is God alone who can do so. The Framers knew this and they appealed to God repeatedly in the Declaration. They declared that it was necessary for them to assume "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them." They said that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They even finished the Declaration with an appeal to God and His authority: "We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States."

In my next post, I will look at the idea that rights are not derived from nature, but for now we should remember that to celebrate the freedoms that we cherish as Americans means to celebrate the rights we recognize as the basis for those freedoms. But for rights to be real, they must be grounded in Almighty God. So, say a prayer during your holiday celebrations, and thank your Creator for giving brave men the wisdom to recognize where your rights come from. Without God, there can be no freedom.

References

1 The Declaration of Independence (transcript). The National Archives. Web. 4 July 1776. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html Accessed 4 July 2014.

2 In the article "Law Talk: Who says driving is a privilege and not a right?" Barton Dieters cites the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in the case of Donald S. Miller v. the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where the court ruled that there simply is no "fundamental right to drive. See . http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/11/law_talk_who_says_driving_is_a.html for more.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The insanity of denying differences between the sexes

I enjoy parody as much as the next guy. Articles like those from The Onion are funny because they take a position and ridicule it through exaggeration. That's why I was completely surprised when I saw an article by Christin Scarlett Milloy entitled "Don't Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn" on Slate's web site and not the Onion.


In the article, Milloy paints a picture of a woman who has just given birth holding her infant when the doctor walks in and ominously announces that the newborn is due for its "treatment" which will give the child some social advantages, but also runs a risk of dangerous side effects. Milloy puts these in the mouth of the doctor:
"Oh, in 1 or 2 percent of cases, we see long-term negative reactions to this," he says with a hint of distaste. "It leads to depression, social ostracism, difficulty finding or keeping a job. Those with negative reactions often become subject to intense discrimination in society. Suicide is not uncommon."1
Then, with a theatrical flourish, Milloy supposedly drops the bomb:
It seems unlikely that doctors, hospitals, parents, or society in general would tolerate a standard practice like this.

Except they already do. The imaginary treatment I described above is real. Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents' consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It's called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It's a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals.2
Oh, please. You note the quick dismissal of sex as "nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring's genitals." That's what those who promote sexual fluidity would have us believe. The reality is that every cell of one's body defines one's sex. Even high school biology students know this; human beings have 23 pairs of genes and the last set is either XX or XY, which determines one's sex. Those chromosomes begin a process that change hormone development, brain development, muscle mass, and bone physiology. Basically, they change the entire person's anatomy.

Because a man's or woman's sex is coded into the very DNA of an individual, it's a bit more than disingenuous to claim that we don't have to identify a child's sex at birth. Even those who claim to be transsexuals cannot have any kind of surgery to remove the offending chromosome from their system. They simply wish to pretend it doesn't exist. However, as I've written before, surgery to make one appear physically as the other sex isn't the answer. Walt Heyer, a former transsexual himself, reports that Transgender suicide death rate is at 30% regardless of whether one has had transformative surgery or not:

One out of every 3 transgenders, even after undergoing a surgical gender change, will die from suicide. Gender surgery is no help in preventing or reducing transgender suicide deaths. More than 40% of transgenders will attempt suicide and 30% will not survive the attempts and die.3

This argues that the condition of not identifying with one's sex is a mental illness which can never be treated with a plastic surgeon's scalpel.

 Milloy, if you hadn't guessed already, identifies as a transsexual and is an activist for transsexual issues, and the bias is evident in every paragraph of the article, except one. In his opening sentence he writes, "Imagine you are in recovery from labor, lying in bed, holding your infant. In your arms you cradle a stunningly beautiful, perfect little being." There is simply no way a person born with an XY set of chromosomes is in view here. He is addressing a mother who has just given birth, and no amount of fear-mongering can spin that role to something else. He later writes:
We tell our children, "You can be anything you want to be." We say, "A girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse," but why in the first place must this person be a boy and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant... The world is full of possibilities that every person deserves to be able to explore freely, receiving equal respect and human dignity while maximizing happiness through individual expression.
The problem is that a boy cannot be a mother and a girl cannot be a father, no matter how much they want to be. Such roles are not up for grabs. They are too important. The survival of the human race relies on infants having XX or XY chromosomes. Without both, we can never produce another generation. To flippantly dismiss those very real differences as meaningless shows that Milloy would damn the necessary in order to maximize his own happiness. Now that I think about it, it doesn't strike me as funny.

References

1. Milloy, Christin Scarlett. "Don't Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn." Slate Magzine. The Slate Group, LLC. Web. 26 June 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/06/26/infant_gender_assignment_unnecessary_and_potentially_harmful.html Accessed 2 July 2014.
2. Milloy. Ibid.
3. Heyer, Walt. "Transgenders suicide death rate at 30%." Sex Change Info. Web. 29 Dec 2012. http://waltheyer.typepad.com/blog/2012/12/transgenders-suicide-death-rate-at-30.html Accessed 2 July 2014.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Evidence of Life's Design Fits Like a Glove

I recently wrote a post on how the origin of life argues for God's existence. In the comments section, one person replied, "I wouldn't say intelligent design is 'a priori' forbidden, but I would look for the design. Is there a map, or some kind of blueprint? Is there some kind of scaffolding left over from the construction phase? These are things we're actually looking for." Well, scaffolding doesn't continue to exist even on buildings we construct today, so that may not be the best indicator. However, other indicators of design do exist, and one points clearly to the need for a designer.



Most people realize the importance of proteins to life. Proteins make up muscle and tissue of organisms. They even form even the walls of cells, including single-celled organisms. Without proteins, life simply cannot exist. There are many different proteins, however all proteins are built with the use of only about twenty smaller units, known as amino acids.

Amino acids are interesting molecules, in that they are not all shaped the same way, even when they have all the same chemicals. They are known as chiral molecules, which means their structures have direction. One illustration that is often used is to look at your left and right hands. Even though each of your hands has four fingers and a thumb, they aren't the same. A left hand won't fit into a right-hand glove. Amino acids are like your hands; they have a "handedness" to their shape.

The Origin of Life Flips Heads Thousands of Times

Chiral amino acids tend to occur naturally in equal numbers. Just as one would expect to find about as many left hands as right hands in any random sample, nature produces an equal number of "left-handed" and "right handed" amino acid types. The left-handed and right handed versions of these amino acids have the same chemical properties, but here's the interesting thing; only left-handed (levorotatory) amino acids are the ones used to build the proteins needed for life. This means that under random conditions, you have about a 50% chance of a left-handed acid being used in the construction of a protein as well as about a 50% chance of a right-handed acid being used. Each will bond equally well to the backbone. Yet, if you were to mix these acids, you're going to do grave damage to the protein.

 Life requires all the same-handed amino acids to be chosen, but to assume that such a feat was accomplished thousands of times without someone screening out the right-handed acids stretches credulity to its limit. According to this podcast with bio-chemist Dr. Charles Garner, scientist working in laboratory conditions haven't even been able to come close to any model where such an event would happen. Just as any coin that consistently turns up heads would be evidence of tampering, so too does the same-handedness of amino acids.

DNA and RNA - The Other Glove Drops

Some may at this point argue that it is because of DNA or RNA that the left-handed acids are chosen for building proteins. But DNA and RNA have the same issues themselves. The nucleotide chains that make up these molecules are all right-handed! So if one were to start with a nucleic acid to build proteins, it still requires a model of selecting only right handed acids, even though there's a 50/50 chance of getting a left-handed one there. The problem still exists, and it is possibly made worse given the simplest life forms require some hundreds of thousands of base-pairs within the genome.

In all, we have only right-handed nucleotides able to give the instructions for forming proteins and only left-handed amino acids to be used in creating those proteins. Yet all of this was to have happened through mechanical processes with no intelligence involved. In any other field of study, such evidence would be clearly identified as purposeful organization. There is no reason to not count it so here, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Understanding Intelligent Design

One of the hot-button issues Christians face today is the conflict over evolution. Proponents of a naturalist/materialist worldview have sought to explain all of life's origin and complexity in purely mechanistic terms. Christians believe that life originates with God and the laws He put in place. Because of this, the argument has been framed as a one of science versus religion, but that dichotomy is a false one. Religion doesn't sit in contrast to science and evolution has many unexplained precepts that are assumed to be true.


There is another way of looking at the question, though. We can simply look at the data we do have and ask "is life more likely to be the result of only mechanistic processes, or does it show the earmarks of an intelligence?" This isn't a religious question; whenever forensic investigators discover a body, it is the question they ask. Does the evidence show that the person died of natural causes or was there an intelligence who set things in a certain order to cause the person's death? If the answer is there seems to be an intelligence at work, then the death is classified as a homicide, even if no one know who the killer was.

Similarly, if we look at the evidence for origin and complexity of life on earth and see signs of an intelligence, it makes sense to conclude that life was intelligently designed, even if that investigation doesn't identify who the designer is. This is the basis of intelligent design and it is what separates ID as a theory from a religious belief.

A couple of years ago, some students wished to interview me for a project they were working on concerning the theory of intelligent design. I thought they asked pretty good questions that help to clarify just what intelligent design is and why it is worthy of inclusion in science education, so I thought I'd share them here.

1. Do you consider intelligent design a scientific theory? Why or why not?

Yes, in a broad sense. Scientific theories try to discover and explain why we see the material world the way it is, how it functions and what predictions can be made based on that knowledge. Intelligent design wrestles with those same questions starting with the same evidence.

A very famous proponent of evolution, Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, had published his theory on how evolution is the driving force behind the complexity we see in living organisms today in a book called The Blind Watchmaker. Given the same initial starting point, intelligent design proponents argue that the blind watchmaker hypothesis has many problems and intelligent design offers better explanatory value and broader explanatory scope than Dawkins’ model.

Given that both theories are seeking to answer the same questions and they are looking at the same evidence, it stands to reason that both can be classified as the same field of study. If Dawkins’ evolutionary model is considered science, so should ID. ID does not need to identify what that intelligence is (e.g. a specific "god" of any faith), but much like forensic science, it simply posits that the evidence is best explained originating from an intelligence rather than random, purposeless mutations and natural selection.

A similar example would be the scientists who are involved with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project. These scientists search the heavens looking for information rich, complex signals. If they were to hear such a signal, they would posit that it was generated from an intelligent mind. Similarly, ID scientist look at the information rich, complex structure of human DNA and draw the same conclusion. If the SETI researchers are considered scientists and their pursuits are science, then it follows that the ID scientists are similarly doing science.

2. What is your definition of intelligent design? In other words, what do you understand it to mean?

Intelligent design simply looks at the state of living organisms on our world today and, given the fact that life shows specified complexity, holds information-bearing DNA, and the improbability of life coming from non-living matter, concludes that an intelligence is the best explanation for the origin of that life.

The intelligent design movement may include young-earth proponents, old-earth proponents and theistic evolutionists, but it does not argue for any of these positions. It merely states that intelligence rather than randomness is the best explanation for the origin of the universe and complexity we see in life.

3. The Golden Ratio (Phi) has often been cited as evidence of intelligent design. Do you believe this is valid evidence? Why or why not?

No. It would not be uncommon to see certain mathematical ratios repeated throughout a three dimensional universe that share the same physical laws. This "evidence" is not associated with the intelligent design movement, but is offered by only one subset of creation proponents. It is therefore unfair to associate this line of argumentation with all of the ID movement.

4. Should intelligent design be integrated into biology curriculums at schools? Why or why not?

Part of the nature of science is to better our understanding of the world by examining currently held beliefs in the light of new evidence and new theories. We may hold to a theory that has widespread acceptance (such as the infinite age of the universe) until we uncover new evidence (such as Hubbell’s red-shift) which argues for the universe having a beginning. At that point, it is in the best interests of science to jettison the theory that provides less explanatory values and smaller explanatory scope for a more robust one.

The ONLY way science can advance is by examining competing theories in this way. Given that the blind watchmaker hypothesis has some clear problems explaining certain facets of biology, such as the specific nature of DNA, the creation of life from non-living matter and the observation of irreducibly complex mechanisms within living organisms, it cannot be considered a complete theory and other ideas should be sought out. We may find new evidence to further secure the current hypothesis OR we may find new evidence to disprove it and adopt a model such as intelligent design. However, to not teach the valid objections to evolution that ID proponents have raised does science no service and actually will hinder our growth in understanding of biology.

   4a. Is it supported by valid scientific evidence?

ID scientists are real scientists and their objections to the blind watchmaker hypothesis have been found through valid scientific research. Some examples are:
  • The fact that amino acids which make up the building blocks of life have chirality (handedness). Although they appear in nature in equal proportions, those found in life are left-handed. Random bonds in the "primordial soup" would not generate all bonds of a single handed set of amino acids.
  • Evolution argues that natural selection leaves only those changes that provide beneficial to the organism and these changes happen in small, successive steps. However, the recent recognition of irreducibly complex systems (such as the flagellum, of an e. Coli bacterium, which requires over seventy different molecular parts) that have to be present all at the same time argue against such small successive steps.

5. What are your views on evolution? Is it credible scientific theory?

It depends. The word has been over-used and normally is not clearly defined.  Micro-evolution, the idea that with a species adaptations occur within specific limitations (such as the length of finch beaks, the color of moths, or the height of dogs) is widely accepted and uncontroversial. That is credible. That makes sense.

Macro-evolution, however, doesn’t deal with the evolution of a species within itself, but rather the evolution of one family turning into another completely different family (i.e. a fish evolving into a reptile). The DNA required to produce a feather is different from the DNA required to produce a scale, and since DNA is a message system containing information, one should not assume that such information arose by chance. By its very nature, information is not random, but purposeful.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving Mountains: How an Atheist Came to Believe in God

Many times in our desire to be obedient in sharing the Gospel, we can feel like we're having no effect. We talk with our friends or family members and it seems we're no closer now than years ago when we first started talking with them. They may continue to voice the same objections over and over and it can seem like we're not making any headway at all.

But don't be discouraged; don't give up! God can do miraculous things for those who are faithful to His calling. People you would never have thought to be moving closer to the truth of the Gospel may be affected by your witness - and more than you may know. One incredible example of this is the change in belief of one of the world's foremost atheists.

The Design Argument As Evidence for God

A topic that comes up frequently at Come Reason is the existence of God, and one of the standard arguments we use as evidence for the existence of God is the argument from creation.1 The fact that the universe shows design, planning, and fine-tuning is known as the "teleological argument" for God. The argument is stated, "The universe shows signs of intelligence and interdependence beyond the probability of chance. Therefore the universe demonstrates that it has been designed. And if the universe was designed, then there must be a designer, i.e. God."

Now, this argument has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years2. However, advances in science within the past twenty years have allowed us to better understand just how intricately designed the universe, and specifically it's living creatures, are. This is why the Intelligent Design movement has been gaining so much ground recently. The fact that DNA is an information-carrying system, the concept of irreducible complexity,3 and other discoveries are providing compelling evidence that the universe was indeed designed by a creator.

Dr. Gary Habermas, professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University has been using such arguments in his debates with unbelievers. One of Dr. Habermas' more frequent debate challengers was Dr. Antony Flew, probably the most noted atheist of the last half-century. A professor of philosophy who held positons at Oxford, Reeding, and York Universities, Dr. Flew was an icon to atheists - seen as comparable to C.S. Lewis for Christendom.

Dr. Habermas recounted that he first began debating Flew in 1985. Over the next twenty years, they met several times for debates and functions, developed a friendship, and continued to dialog on the existence of God. As they continued to talk and meet in debates, Flew began to reconsider his staunch atheism. In January of 2004 he spoke with Dr. Habermas and confirmed that he had indeed changed his belief from atheism to theism.4

Following the Evidence Wherever It May Lead

I cannot emphasis enough how significant Dr. Flew's change in belief is. Here we have a legendary figure in atheism, someone who is considered an expert in evolutionary theory and was held up as one of atheism's most intelligent thinkers, abandoning his position for a belief in God! In fact, Flew even bolsters the case for creation. He tells Habermas "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins5 constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself... pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers."6

Now, to be clear, Flew did not become a believing Christian. He classified himself as a deist, along the line of Thomas Jefferson. Still, this is a truly remarkable change. In his book, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Dr. Flew explained his abandonment of atheism as simply the product of examining the evidence:
My departure from atheism was not occassioned by any new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades, my whole framework of thought had been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was never a paradign shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: "We follow the argument whereever it leads."7
Antony Flew examined all the evidence to see where the truth may be found, and it lead him to a Creator God. Unfortunately,  Dr. Flew died just a few years after his change of mind, but the fact that a skeptic who looks honestly at the creation could no longer doubt the existence of God shows just how powerful the evidence actually is.

So, take heart in your discussions with relatives and friends who don't believe. I heard a man explain that truth seems to have a way of always being uncovered. "Relentless reality" he called it. Gary Habermas spent twenty years debating and dialoging on the existence of God with one of atheism's biggest champions and the evidence persuaded him that there is a God. That same relentless reality can pervade the thoughts of your loved ones, too. But it will only do so only if they hear it.

Paul asks in Romans 10 "how can they believe in Him whom they have not heard and how can they hear without a preacher?" Our loved ones need us to preach. They need us to continue learning and growing. They need us to share. So, be encouraged. You might not know it, but your faith may be responsible for moving a mountain of unbelief.

References

1. See the February 2001 newsletter article "How To Know God Exists - The Argument From Design" at http://www.comereason.org/newsletters/feb01.htm
2. The teleological argument goes back as far as Aristotle. For more on this see our audio class "How Scientific Discoveries Show that God Exists" at http://comereason.org/resources/res030.asp#198
3. For more on evolution and irreducible complexity, see my article "Is it more reasonable to believe in Creation over Evolution?" at http://www.comereason.org/sci_bible/sci030.asp
4. Flew, Antony and  Gary Habermas. "My Pilgrimage From Atheism to Theism." http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=33&mode=detail
Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005 (article may be accessed online at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/flew-interview.pdf)
5. Richard Dawkins is a leading proponent of evolutionary theory and author of The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene among others.
6. Flew, Ibid.
7.Flew, Antony. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (New York: HarperOne, 2007). 89.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why the Law of Gravity Cannot Create the Universe

Stephen Hawking is a very smart man. I think that statement is uncontroversial. Hawking is recognized as a brilliant mathematician and theoretical physicist, and the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a position he held for thirty years. That was the same position Isaac Newton held when his writings were changing the face of science and mathematics simultaneously. Some have even called Hawking one of the smartest men alive. So when in his recent book The Grand Design, Hawking and co-writer Leonard Mlodinow seek to answer what they term "the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" people take notice.


But because someone is brilliant, especially in their field of study, it doesn't always make them right. One of those ultimate questions (they really list three) is "Why is there something rather than nothing?"1 Hawking and Mlodinow's answer is simply, "Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing"2. They rely on the simple actions of gravity at a quantum level to balance the positive and negative energy of the universe and to create matter, time, and space.

I've written on some of the issues with quantum vacuums before, but there's a fundamental problem with this scenario, that may be easy to grasp. One cannot rely on a law to do anything by itself. The law of gravity cannot be the starting point because laws don't exist if there is nothing upon which the law governs. For a familiar comparison, let's look at traffic laws such as the speed limit.

Everyone who drives is familiar with a speed limit. The speed limit is a law set by a governing body in order to control the flow of traffic and keep the drivers safe in their vehicles. Some areas such as Germany's autobahn have no speed limit. But for a speed limit to mean anything, you have to have at least two other things: a vehicle and a road. If no road exists and there are no vehicles yet invented, limiting someone's driving to 65 miles per hour is not only foolish, it doesn't mean anything. How can you limit driving when no vehicles exist? And if there's no road to drive on, then there's no way to begin forward motion.

Imagine if you will creating laws as to how high and how fast the winged horse Pegasus can fly and you might see the problem. While your laws can be very specific and detailed, it doesn't matter because there is no wined horse for those laws to govern.

In The Grand Design, the authors use John Conway's Game of Life as their example of how a simple set of laws can lead to new patterns that weren't originally anticipated3. Hawking and Mlodinow extrapolates this into how all matter interacts and says we are the result of the same kind of new, surprising patterns. But the same problem applies. Conway's rules are just fine, but if there is no grid of squares and there are no lights to "live" or "die" as his rules define, then the game never gets off the ground. There's nothing to blink, so no new shapes appear. Of course, beyond even these problems, there's still one additional question that hasn't been answered. We know that Conway wrote the rules to his Game of Life, but who wrote the Law of Gravity?

It is unfortunate for the authors of The Grand Design that in their zeal to dismiss God from the creative process they assume that the Law of Gravity can answer all their problems. The question "why is there something rather than nothing" cannot be answered with gravity because gravity is a something. It's actually part of the question. Gravity and those objects that gravity affects are part of the something that needs explaining.  Postulating gravity before the creation of anything else is simply trying to place a speed limit on a flying horse. The outcome produces no effect at all.

References

1 Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Random House Pub., 2010. 10.
2 Ibid. 180.
3 Ibid. 172-179.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Evolution's Problem of Plagiarism

The name Jayson Blair sends shivers down the spine of editors in the New York Times. It isn't that Jayson was some mass-murderer or terrorist that makes the editorial staff of the nation's largest newspaper tremble. It was the fact that Jayson Blair was a Times reporter who plagiarized stories and then the Times published them. Macarena Hernandez, a reporter from the Antonio Express-News first contacted the Times and said that Blair's story had copied “major chunks” of her story and passed them off as his own. Jayson Blair resigned and is considered to be disgraced as a journalist for stealing other people's work.



The crime of plagiarism isn't only found in the written word though. Musical acts have been accused of stealing a melody or a hook from another artist. Graphic designers will copy from well-known pieces. Students will plagiarize from the Internet to get their homework assignments finished. In each medium, the plagiarized content is identified by comparing the new work to the original. If there are enough points of similarity, then one can assume that the work in question is a derivative of the original, that is the original creation was used a second time without crediting the original author. It also implies that without Hernandez's article in the Antonio Express-News, Blair's New York Times piece would read radically different than it did.

The reason I bring all this up is that when we look at the claims of the neo-Darwinists, they face a problem very similar to that of the editors of the Times. The current Darwinian model holds to a form of common descent, where all species diverged and differentiated from a very simple single ancestor millions and millions of years in the past. As the progeny of that ancestor experienced genetic mutations, some proved beneficial within the specific environment in which they found themselves and thus became more prominent. So, the Darwinian model seeks to explain the diversity of biological systems such as why some animals have gills, fins, and scales while others have lungs, wings, and feathers. Different created systems came to be through different avenues.

Because the mutations are random and the environment that bestows that mutation an advantage is different, so the story goes, the variations can be incredibly diverse. In fact, those two features are why paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould remarked that any replay of the tape of evolutionary development “would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the one taken.” But there's problem with this picture: we don't see radical divergence in all biological structures. There are structures, such as the eye, that have the same components in animals as diverse as mammals, octopi, and jellyfish, even though those branches were supposed to have split from one another well before the animal's sight apparatus evolved.

Jonathan Morrow, writing for the Discovery Institute, gives one great example of this type of duplication in the echolocation chemistry of dolphins and porpoises, an ability they share with the bat. The aquatic mammals and the bats share at least 14 amino acid sites that are needed for echolocation. That's fourteen points of similarity on a molecular level, even though these lines would have split when their ancestors were ground-dwellers, long before echolocation became an advantage for them. Morrow goes on to list other examples, but the point is made: how does one account for such similarities when evolution can take so many divergent paths? One may wave off one or two instances, but as more and more of these convergent evolutionary systems are being discovered, it becomes harder to ignore.

With all of the data showing independent, complex systems having multiple points of similarity, what should we conclude? It would be unreasonable to think that so many systems were developed independently over and over and over again just as it is unlikely that Jayson Blair just happened to have the same thoughts and phrasing in his story as Macarena Hernandez. No, it is much more reasonable to conclude that there is a single creative source for this kind of repeating structure across divergent lines.

The simple story of evolution suffers from acts of plagiarism, and as such it simply doesn't ring true.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Review of the Ken Ham-Bill Nye Creation Debate

Yesterday, Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated their concepts of creation and evolution at Ham's Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. I watched the debate live with a group at a local church (you can watch a recording for a few more days here), and given that there were nearly 500,000 streams of the event around the globe, it would be easy to estimate that well over half a million people viewed the exchange. Many have commented on the event, but as someone who has previously participated in a formal debate, I thought I would put down some of my observations here.

The Good

I thought the debate was very well run and it went better than I expected. Both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye were respectful in tone and were genuine in their approaches. I think each participant understood that this event was important and each wanted to make his best case. CNN's Tom Foreman moderated and did an excellent job as well.

The debate platform was clean and the podiums for the speakers were spaced comfortably for both audience viewing and the television cameras to get a two-shot. (The graphics on the front of the podiums were my favorite part.) Using a pre-submitted set of questions from the audience allowed the Q & A time to flow quickly and more questions were presented in the 45 minute allotment than could be had with a queue in front of microphones.

I thought some of Bill Nye's arguments concerning the ice core evidence for 680,000 of winter/summer cycles and the abundance of species variation that argues against such diversification taking place in only a few thousand years were his strongest points. I thought that Ham did a great job in showing how science education today does hold a bias against a creator, even including a clip from a previous interview Bill Nye did. He was particularly strong when referencing a new study that shows all dogs came from a single ancestor and declaring how changes in finch beaks are variations within an instruction set. He also notes that cave fish "evolving" to have no eyes is not a net gain; there is no new information there. The fish have only lost the capability of seeing. Ham was also bold enough to present the gospel a few times during the evening, which I appreciated.

The Bad

The most unfortunate thing in this debate is that neither debater focused on the actual debate question! At the beginning of the debate, Foreman clearly stated that the debate question was "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?" Ham was to argue the affirmative and Nye was to take up the negative. Neither person in their initial opening five minute speech nor in their longer thirty minute second presentations built an argument focused on this question. Ham continually claimed that one must start with certain assumptions when trying to understand the past. However, this doesn't address whether or not creationism is a viable model. Several times throughout the night he highlighted scientists who were also creationists, although most of those had specialties that had nothing to do with creationism or evolution at all. If the debate question were "can good scientist hold to a creation model?" this would be prime evidence. Alas, that was not the topic at hand.

Nye actually changed the question when he began his 30 minute presentation. He begins by saying, "Let's take it back to the question at hand. Does Ken Ham's creation model hold up?" What? Is that now the topic of the debate? If so, I wouldn't have bothered watching because I'm not interested in Ham's version. Nye offered several strange lines of evidence, such as the shipbuilding capabilities of Noah and his family. Huh? What in the world does that have to do with creation as a viable model in science? In any account of Noah and the flood, the creation has already been established.

Nye also went off on a tangent about fish reproducing asexually versus sexually with others. He notes how asexual reproduction is less desirous but sometimes necessary (that's a straight line for too many jokes.) But again, how does this prove or disprove the question at hand? Could the fish not be designed for such contingencies? It shows neither evolution nor creation but the fact that certain fish in a certain environment have the capability to reproduce asexually. There are other animals that reproduce asexually, too. This completely misses the question.

Neither presenter provided an actual argument—you know, a series of premises and a conclusion—that I would have expected in a debate. It would have been a much more powerful presentation had the opponents laid out their arguments first and then expounded on them. And it was clear that both presenters were guilty of something I've stressed before: creation conflation.

The Ugly

There were a few missed opportunities in the debate that could have been capitalized on. The first is Nye's claim that if you can find "even one example" of a fossil crossing layers you would change science forever and "the scientists of the world would embrace you." Well, polystrate fossils have been well-documented, and it hasn't led the scientific community to embrace creationism. There are simply new theories that justify the find as a natural, not a supernatural occurrence.

The point that made me laugh out loud, though, was how Nye insisted that scientist WANT to embrace new ideas. We know that scientists resist upsetting their current models, as this 1961 article from Science shows. The more relevant work is that of Thomas Kuhn. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn demonstrates how the history of science is not one gradually increasing understanding of the world, but it is more how a certain model becomes the status quo and is accepted until someone (whom Kuhn labels "an outsider") upsets the status quo by offering a new paradigm. Thus science advancement comes in fits and stages as those who hold the existing model are forced to give way to the newer paradigm.

Two examples of Kuhn's paradigm shifts were items that Bill Nye mentioned in the debate: the emergence of plate tectonics and the abandonment of spontaneous generation after Louis Pasteur's experiments. Another I could add was the emergence of the Big Bang model from the previous steady state theory of the universe. Like the other models, the theory was not met with open arms by the scientific community, but by much resistance. Nye seemed to imply that Fred Hoyle liked the idea, when he actually named it in derision and was one of its most vocal opponents. Though it was first proposed by Roman Catholic priest Georges LemaƮtre in 1927, it took Wilson and Penzias' discovery of the cosmic background radiation in the 1960's that led it to be the primarily accepted model among cosmologists.

Another wince-inducing point was how Nye tried to assert that the Biblical text was transmitted to us through a method like the telephone game. This is simply, demonstrably false and even non-believing scholars l flatly reject such an assertion.

Ham had some egregious moments as well. When he for the third and fourth time referred to his small sampling of scientists who were also creationists, his argument moved from a non-sequitur to a fallacious appeal to authority, and it became annoying from the audience's standpoint. Ham never answered Nye's stronger points above, but simply dismissed them with the rhetorical "how do we know, we didn't see it!" Well, if that's the criteria for knowledge about historical events, then we need to fire all the CSI lab technicians and set the murderers free.

Ham also lost points in my opinion when he was asked if he was provided evidence, would he still believe in God. Instead of beginning with the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus, Ham stated that everyone has to have certain presuppositions and the Bible was his presuppositional choice. But doesn't that beg the question? Nye similarly begged the question when asked about things like the emergence of consciousness or how the Big Bang happened from nothing. He simply claimed these were "great mysteries" and we should be glad they are there to study.

The final question of the night, "What is the one thing, more than anything else, upon which you base your belief" was offered to both participants and they basically responded the same way they had been all night long. Ham said one must presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to know history and origins. Nye answered that he based his beliefs on the joy and love he receives from the information and the process of science. Their presuppositions are noted, but each is rather subjective. I know that many creationists also feel Nye's excitement and love of scientific discovery. I know there are many other people who presuppose the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, or some other text as their starting point for interpreting history and creation. Neither answer satisfies a seeker who is honestly trying to make heads or tails out of all this, and while this question may be tangential in itself, neither response helps us answer the question of the debate.

Conclusion

In all, I am truly excited that the interest in this debate was so high. I think there are many, many people who really want to discover the facts that are out there and that we as Christian communicators can find fruitful ground in providing some of those answers. There are a lot of holes left open by the participants in the debate. Let's see if we can go out and close some of them with good evidence.
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X