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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.

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Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why it Is Reasonable and Scientific to Consider the Soul

A 2008 article in the magazine New Scientist by Amanda Gefter criticized several Christian philosophers for rejecting a purely physicalist account of consciousness. However, Dr. Angus Menuge provides a compelling rebuttal as to why it is both reasonable and scientific to consider a human being as one who is made up of both a body and a soul:
At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available
evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
Gorra, Joseph. "EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On 'Creationism' and Materialism."  EPS Blog. Evangelical Philosophical Society, 23 Oct. 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. http://blog.epsociety.org/2008/10/eps-philosophers-respond-to-new.asp

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Answering the Bias Objection

There's a concept held by many today that neutrality is to be valued when discussing important ideas or events. It seems to pop up in diverse conversations about abortion, the reliability of the Gospel accounts, or the debate over creation versus evolution. The claim that because one holds a particular position makes them "biased" and therefore unqualified to objectively weigh a matter is widely assumed, but it's completely mistaken. While biases can lead people to ignore or deny certain facts, biases are absolutely necessary to be an informed human being.


What is a bias?

Just what is a bias? The word has become associated with the concept of prejudice or, as Wikipedia puts it, the inclination to "hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view."1 Yet, that's not the only definition of what bias is. Bias can be any leaning or predisposition towards a point of view as the Oxford English Dictionary definition notes.2 In other words, anyone who leans towards one position over another in any field will have some kind of bias. But that isn't a bad thing. For example, Jonas Salk had a belief that the same approach to developing an influenza vaccine could be applied to polio, even though prior polio vaccination attempts had been disastrous, causing paralysis and even death in those who had taken it.3  Salk assembled a team and worked for seven years creating a dead-virus version of the vaccine that ultimately proved hugely successful, and it was Salk's bias towards the vaccine method that drove him to keep trying.

It makes sense that bias would be necessary for advancement in a field like medicine. It is simply unreasonable for a person who after years of study and research and to remain neutral and uncommitted about his or her specialty. We expect experts in their field to have some bias towards certain theories or procedures. Bias in this sense is a good thing. As Robin Collins puts it:
Not every bias distorts: some biases can help us decided ahead of time what's worth paying attention to and what is not… I am biased against the possibility that the number of puppies in a litter has anything to do with the number of legs the father has, so I would never pay anyone money to study what the relationship is."4

The myth of being "bias-free."

Of course, the corollary to the "bias is always bad" myth is that there are certain disciplines that are somehow bias-free. Folks assume that journalistic standards or the scientific method can provide unbiased observations about the world. This simply isn't true, either. I've written before about how one man's bias became scientific dogma that we are only now finding to be false. His resilience influenced other scientists, and his bias was accepted as the scientific consensus, shaping national dietary guidelines and doctor recommendations for some fifty years. That's just one example. In any experiment, one cannot measure every aspect of a scenario, so scientists look to measure the "relevant" factors and exclude any "irrelevant" ones. But it is one's previous biases, as with Collins' dog litter example above, that shape what one considers relevant. Thus, he notes "Some biases can distort: people who think that all human behavior can be explained by our genes have a bias that blinds them to moral realities. So, we cannot promise that science is without bias; and we have to assess—by critical thinking—whether that leads to sound or unsound conclusions."5

Looking for the truth value

So, bias is not the determining factor in finding out truth. Some biases, like Salk's, help us to discover new things. Others are unwarranted and lead us away from the truth. The big question is the one Collins asked: can we use our critical reasoning to weigh these things and determine if the biased are appropriate or simply prejudice? That means examining the facts, something that tends to be missing from the conversations of those who seek to shut you down with the simplistic objection of "you're just biased."

References

1. "Bias." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias.
2. "Bias." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18564?rskey=S5Ld2w&result=1#eid.
3. Brodie, M., and W. H. Park. "Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 105.14 (1935): 1089-093. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1154662.
4. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
5. Collins, 2003. 31.
Image "Research Bias"  courtesy Boundless.com and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is Science, Anyway?

What is science? That may seem like a simplistic question, but the answer is neither easy nor unimportant, especially in this day and age. We live in an era where the scientist has become the one assumed to hold the answers to a wide diversity of questions, even those that are not scientific. Michael Shermer just published an article where he credits "scientific thinking" for human moral progress since the enlightenment.1 I've had people ask me to prove God's existence scientifically, and of course discussions on creation of the universe or the emergence of life on earth put science right in the middle of the debate.



Given how modern society places its nearly unquestioning trust in science, it's easy to see why someone would seek to dismiss God's existence or intelligent design with a wave of a hand and the claim of "that's not science." But just what is science, then? As a recent video by Stephen C. Meyer (included below) points out, science has been notoriously difficult to define. Let's take a look at some definitions of what supposedly qualifies something to be science.

Collecting data through observation

One of the more common definitions of science pivots on how one goes about gathering their evidence for their hypothesis. Robin Collins writes , "I remember being taught as a boy that 'science' is, at its simplest, collecting data from observations of the world, and then organizing those observations in a way that leads to a generalization called a 'law.'"2 Meyer states in the video that "If a theory is going to be scientific, it must not invoke unobservable entities." Yet, as he then references, the entire field of theoretical physics is currently dealing in objects and concepts that by definition are unobservable. No one can see quarks. Quantum vacuums are unobservable. Does that mean that Stephen Hawking and those in his field should not be considered "doing science" when they invoke such causes?

The criteria of falsifiability

A second definition is one that philosopher of science Karl Popper made famous, the concept of falsifiability. Yet, falsifiability is really the other side of the observability coin. Popper, who had a "teenage flirtation with Marxism,"noted that Marxist explanations of history conformed with observed facts, such as the greater economic influence of the lower classes. However, competing economic models used the same set of historical data to fit their explanations as well. Later, Popper found that Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was too capable of explaining every situation. There was never a situation where Freud's theories would be shown to be false; every circumstance could be justified in some way. Thus Popper came to the conclusion that a theory is scientific if there's a way to prove it false.4 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sums it up this way:
If a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.5
The problem here, though, is similar to the one above. If certain fields of study are unobservable, how can someone observe their falsification? Modern evolutionary theory posits mutations and intermediate forms that, as Meyer points out, are unobservable. We cannot see into the past and there is no way to know that one fossil is a transaction from another, those are all inferences. Therefore, using this criteria, Neo-Darwinian theories are not based on science, but (as Popper labeled them) pseudo-science.

The truth-value of a proposition

All of this discussion on what makes us science is valuable, but it isn't the most important thing we need to worry about. We should be primarily concerned about whether or not something is true first. As I've previously written, science is not the only way we know things. It isn't even the best way to know certain things. Meyer makes the same point in the video:
I don't care whether intelligent design is considered to be science or not. That is not the most important question. That is a semantic question. The most important question is whether it is true, or whether it is likely to be true, or most likely to be true given the evidence we have. What people have done to avoid answering that most important question is repair to these semantic arguments. "Intelligent design is not science; therefore we don't have to consider the case for it. I don't think that follows."
Watch the whole thing here:


References

1. Shermer, Michael. "Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?" Reason.com. Reason Foundation, 17 Feb. 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. http://reason.com/archives/2015/02/17/are-we-becoming-morally-smarte/.
2. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
3. Thornton, Stephen. "Karl Popper." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 13 Nov. 1997. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#BacHisTho.
4. Thornton, 1997.
5. Thornton, 1997.
Image courtesy GeoffAPuryear and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Lot of Hand-Waving by Evolutionists

In college, I was a physics major. In physics, we sought to provide some precise answers to specific data presented to us. For example, we know that a car turning a corner must rely on a certain amount of friction to turn a corner. We want to know how to calculate this so we can set safe speed limits on corners. In chemistry, we seek to know just what is happening when iron rusts or an acid and a base are combined. In medicine we seek to know exactly why someone who suffers from Sickle cell disease. Doctors have traced the problem back to a single DNA point mutation which then changes the coding of a single amino acid.1 This is pure science, seeking to find an answer while examining the details.



Of course, not all science can be done in this way. There are fields such as plate tectonics that take observed data and use them to create models of how the different plates of the earth's crust will affect each other. Still, these models attempt to be very specific in just what is moving and how, and it's this specificity that makes the difference in the explanatory value of any theory. The devil's in the details, as it were.

What's Needed to Make a Whale

Yet, when I talk with proponents of evolution, the discussions are different. Yesterday, I engaged again in an exchange with a proponent of evolution. I asked his again to provide a definition, to which he replied "Evolution Is Change in the Inherited Traits of a Population through Successive Generations" (borrowing the title from this web site.) But, as I wrote yesterday, that's not a very useful definition. Just because things change doesn't mean we get new biological systems. Men can be four feet tall or seven feet tall, but not 12 inches tall or 12 feet tall. Those who inherit the sickle cell trait are immune from malaria, but their children are at risk of a painful life and an early death. Even here, the inherited immunity isn't a new feature, but a crippling of a functioning system.

So, I ask for specifics. I offered the humpback whale as an example. Supposedly, the whale evolved from a land mammal over the course of about 10-12 million years.2 One may try to explain the size increase by simple growth over time, (although a recent article in the journal Science says that such an explanation fails), there are still a huge amount of systems that must be changed for a land-dwelling mammal to change into an ocean-dwelling one. The nose must be migrated to the top of the head and turned into a blow hole. Breathing is no longer automatic but must take conscious effort. Walking limbs must be transformed into flippers. The kidneys must be changed to handle the intake of salt water. Testes must be located inside the body to keep warm. The young must be able to nurse under water, and on and on.3

How Much Change Does that Take?

You may imagine that changing one body part into something different, like a nose into a blowhole would take quite a bit of DNA rearrangement. These morphological changes not only have to all happen, but they have to happen together, for a blowhole isn't going to help if you are breathing without thinking. The animal will simply drown. But even more problematic, the vast number of changes to the DNA must happen within that relatively short window of 10-12 million years because that's what the fossil record shows. If whales came from the land mammal pakicetus, then using the traditional dating of fossils found, all these changes must take place with what would be on an evolutionary timeline, a very brief span.

Thu, my question to my interrogator was simple how quickly would the mutations of DNA have had to happen to produce all of the necessary changes to get the whale from its supposed ancestor? Does any natural selection and genetic mutation that we observe now correlate to those changes? One must remember that we aren't taking about bacteria that reproduce very quickly and have very large populations. Mammals like pakicetus are the same size as a large dog, which means that they might reproduce only after a year or two upon maturation and produce a few litters. With a smaller population and more time between generations, evolution via mutation is made even more difficult.

So, what's the model? Where's the math? What's the actual number of beneficial mutations posited generation to make this kind of a transition? I was met with nothing but obfuscation. It was all hand-waving, and talk of me supposedly ignoring "hundreds of years of hard scientific work." This is what I find all the time in discussions of evolution. Everyone claims it's an established fact, but no one offers the details. Dawkins speaks of cells that morph into light-sensitive ones, then become aligned, and eventually we get the human eye.4 However he never gives us just which genes changed, how many would've needed to change, or how fast it would have to occur. It's a just-so story that has no numbers behind it. Modern proponents seem a little too light on the details to say evolution is of the same type of knowledge as the earth revolving around the sun.5 We have the formula for gravity. We have silence regarding genetic changes.

References

1. "Sickle Cell Disease." Genetics Home Reference. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/sickle-cell-disease.
2. "Going Aquatic: Cetacean Evolution." PBS. PBS, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/ocean-giants-going-aquatic-cetacean-evolution/7577/.
3. Andrews, Max. "Darwinian Whale Evolution." Sententias. Sententias, 06 Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. http://sententias.org/2012/02/06/darwinian-whale-evolution/#more-1563. See also Richard Sternberg's video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbAzZEu13_w
4. Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996), 140-178.
5. "Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?" Evolution Resources from the National Academies. U.S. National Academy of Sciences., 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. http://www.nas.edu/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hidden Factors in Atheism

Professor of Psychology Paul Vitz was an atheist. Though he was raised in a minimally Christian home, he identified as an atheist during his college years and into his adult life. Vitz went on to study the motivations of atheists past and present, ultimately producing the book Faith of the Fatherless, where he lays out his theory that "in most cases alienation from God was a reaction to an absent or defective father."1 Vitz himself credits his strong relationship with his father for helping him come out of atheism.



While Vitz’s theory is fascinating, I think that Vitz’s personal story is just as informative. In a short paper entitled, "The Psychology of Atheism," Vitz provides a brief summary of the factors that contributed to his own denial of God. He notes that he wasn’t aware of these factors playing in his decision to abandon belief, yet upon retrospect they were the main contributors to his atheism. He writes:
The major factors involved in my becoming an atheist-although I wasn't really aware of them at the time-were as follows:

General socialization. An important influence on me in my youth was a significant social unease. I was somewhat embarrassed to be from the Midwest, for it seemed terribly dull, narrow, and provincial. There was certainly nothing romantic or impressive about being from Cincinnati, Ohio and from a vague mixed German-English-Swiss background. Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.

I remember a small seminar in graduate school where almost every member there at some time expressed this kind of embarrassment and response to the pressures of socialization into "modern life." One student was trying to escape his Southern Baptist background, another a small town Mormon environment, a third was trying to get out of a very Jewish Brooklyn ghetto, and the fourth was me.

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology. My professors at Stanford, however much they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united in only two things-their intense personal career ambition and their rejection of religion. As the psalmist says, ". . . The man greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 10:3-4).

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.

Personal convenience. Finally, in this list of superficial, but nevertheless, strong irrational pressures to become an atheist, I must list simple personal convenience. The fact is that it is quite inconvenient to be a serious believer in today's powerful secular and neo-pagan world. I would have had to give up many pleasures and a good deal of time.2
One of the most popular statistics that atheists have shared with me is the fact that the vast majority of scientists alive today don’t believe in God. For example, according to a 2009 Pew study, only one in three of those who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe on God. 3 Looking at the motivations that Vitz describes, it isn’t a big stretch to think that many who jump into the various fields of scientific study face the same pressures and will also succumb to them. In fact, these factors may be prevalent in a lot of areas, not just in scientific academics.

The fact that biased environments can increase bias among its population shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact that most atheists may not even realize unspoken factors of socialization have a real influence on their lack of belief is important for Christians to understand. When sharing our faith, hidden reasons for atheism may be very common. What’s unique is Vitz’s candor and introspection. That’s because examination of hidden motivations is difficult and can leave people vulnerable. I wonder how many atheists are willing to risk such dangerous undertaking.

References

1. Van Hove, Brian, S.J. "Atheism and Fatherlessness | A Review of Paul Vitz's "Faith of the Fatherless"" IgnatiusInsight.com. Ignatius Press, 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2008/vanhove_vitzreview_jan08.asp.
2. Vitz, Paul C. "The Psychology of Atheism." LeaderU. Faculty Commons, 9 Jan. 1996. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth12.html.
3. Masci, David. "Scientists and Belief." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 04 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Miracles May Be More Common Than You Think

"Why aren't there more miracles today?"

That's a question I hear quite often from atheists, skeptics, or even Christians questioning the accounts they read in the Bible with what they experience in their own lives. Reading through the Old and New Testaments, one can get the idea that miracles were a fairly common occurrence. Jesus would go from town to town healing people of their diseases and giving sight to the blind. Peter and John heal a lame man1 in the book of Acts while later Paul even raises a man who died after falling out a window when listening to him speak!2



With so many miraculous events recorded in the Bible, why do we never hear of miracles happening today? The question is actually more and cursory; it formed one of the objections offered by David Hume, the famous British skeptic philosopher, who held that it was illogical to believe in miracles at all. Hume writes:
A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution: he weighs the opposite experiments: he considers which side is supported by the greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. All probability, then, supposes an opposition of experiments and observations, where the one side is found to overbalance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance.



A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.3
To summarize, one of the ways Hume argues against miracle claims is that they cannot be believed simply because they occur so infrequently. (There are other arguments Hume offers, some of which I have dealt with elsewhere.)

As miracle accounts grow, what's considered unique?

However, miracle accounts may be reported and doctors may observe the results of miraculous healing more frequently than most people realize. Dr. Craig Keener, whose two volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts reports on hundreds of documented cases of miracle accounts around the world made an interesting point. In a Huffington Post article on miracles he writes "Today, however, when hundreds of millions of people from diverse cultures claim to have experienced miracles, it seems hardly courteous to presuppose a 'uniform' human experience on the subject. If any of these experiences constituted a genuine miracle, Hume's argument against miracles, which in some circles has hardened into an uncontested consensus, would fail."4

Some may say that Keener is uncritical or biased. Keener humbly understands that his capability in defining what counts as miraculous is limited. However, he doesn't rest solely on the accounts he has uncovered. He cites a fascinating 2004 survey of physicians conducted by HCD Research, a secular research company located in New Jersey. Keener states:
That some doctors would testify to miracles is not as surprising as one might suppose if one assumed that all intellectuals accepted Hume's view on miracles. In one 2004 national study of 1,100 physicians, 74 percent responded that they believed "that miracles have occurred in the past," while almost the same number, 73 percent, affirm that they "can occur today." The majority of physicians (59 percent) pray for their patients, and roughly 46 percent encourage patients to pray at least partly for God to answer their prayers. What might be the largest surprise in the survey, however, is that 55 percent of physicians claimed to "have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (emphasis added).5
The actual HCD Research press release with those findings may be found here. However, Keener's point is made. With the majority of physicians believing that they have seen a miraculous healing during their time of practicing medicine, I think Hume's argument is undermined. And those are only the miraculous interventions that physicians saw; it doesn't take into consideration all the miracles claims by people who didn't have the ability or didn't yet seek medical attention. Miracles may indeed be more common than you think!

References

1. See Acts 4:1-10.
2. Acts 20:9-10.
3. Hume, David. "On Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 30, 33. Print.
4. Keener, Craig S. "Are Miracles Real?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-s-keener/miracles-in-the-bible-and-today_b_1274775.html.
5. Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. Print. 721.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is God Limited by the Laws of Physics?

It seems that yesterday's post on the Fine-tuning argument ("A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design") struck a nerve on the Twittersphere. I was involved in a long Twitter conversation with a number of atheists concerning the implications of a universe that contains vast spaces where life cannot survive. While I won't recount the entire exchange here, here are a couple of tweets that seems to be indicative of the thinking:




This was interesting as it highlighted a couple of atheistic misunderstandings about the fine tuning argument and about the nature of God.


First, the premise of their objection rests on the idea that God can make anything He wants happen. While Christianity holds to an omnipotent God, it has never taught that God can do absolutely anything. God cannot do what is logically impossible (make a rope with only one end or create a triangle with four sides). God also cannot learn, cannot lie, and cannot cease to be. Omnipotence has always been defined as God is capable of doing anything that is within His nature. Since God is logical, his universe would follow logic as well.

Looking at the fine tuning argument then, one must understand that part of God's prerogative is how to set up the universe to begin with. If God chooses to create intelligent beings that are three dimensional, then it follows that there are certain limitations that follow from that choice, such as the beings will need to have the world in which they live also be three dimensional. Other restrictions may also follow from this, but what doesn't follow is that God is constrained by the laws of physics. To show why, we merely need to look in the kitchen.

If a chef desires to create a dessert, he or she has many possibilities. First, he would need to choose whether he wants to make a hot or cold dessert. This is entirely his preference; he has access to both the oven and the freezer and may use either However once he has made his choice, that choice will present itself in a certain way. So, if our chef seeks to make a soufflé, he won't be using the freezer, because soufflés simply are not frozen. And if our chef wants to use cherry filling instead of egg whites, he would no longer be making a soufflé but a cherry pie. The choices are free, but they begin to define the outcome.

Choosing to create a three dimensional universe that can support life requires creating certain parameters by definition. Saying God is limited by physics when creating our universe is like saying God is limited by a geometry textbook because he cannot draw a four-sided triangle. That's silly, because anything with four sides is simply not a triangle. Ultimately, the objection is simply a version of "If God is all powerful, why can't he make salsa so hot that even he can't eat it?" These are nonsense statement.

The fine tuning of the universe that we see shows, as I have said, that the Laws of the universe are set just right, the constants of the universe are set just right, and the initial conditions of the universe are set just right for life. In other words, God's recipe for our universe uses just the perfect ingredients in just the right amounts to achieve his end goal. Arguing that God should have used cherry filling instead of egg whites is not the same thing as proving there was no chef at all.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blinding with Science

Frequently when I discuss issues of science as they relate to faith, I'm often told that science shouldn't be doubted. After all, science, unlike faith, isn't about what people want to believe. It only deals in cold, hard facts, and when science reaches a consensus, like it has with the modern neo-Darwinian paradigm, it is unreasonable to reject it. Rejecting the scientific beliefs of the vast majority of scientists is equal to denying that the earth is round.



That's the story, but that isn't science. It's scientism. Fundamental to science is the concept of questioning the facts we think we know, even what can be considered well-established facts. Newton's laws were thought to hold in all applications for centuries until quantum mechanics came along and threw a fly in the ointment. Other assumptions, such as the steady state model for the universe, have also been upended.

But many of those ideas are too esoteric for the average man on the street to really grasp. However, there is currently a paradigm shift happening in the health sciences that perfectly illustrates how accepted science can be flimsy, biased, and based not on facts but strong wills and politics. The story is fascinating and illustrates how just one man can create a belief that is so strong, it affects the viewpoint other experts, changes government regulations, and becomes an embedded belief by the general population.

In her article "The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?" author Nina Teicholz summarizes her findings of a nine year investigation into the commonly-accepted belief that the more saturated fats you eat, the worse it is for your heart. I recommend you read the entire article, or if you would like even more detail, grab her well-documented book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. However, here are a few quotes of how the myth of the unhealthy high fat diets became the unquestioned standard:

1. One man's assumption led to bad conclusions

Teicholz writes that the idea to link saturated fats to heart disease was proposed by Ancel Keys, a pathologist who was "an aggressive, outsized personality with a talent for persuasion."1  Keys' studies on this link "violated several basic scientific norms,"2 according to Teicholz.  For example, Key's findings were based on a single study, claiming to look at the diets of some 13,000 men across seven countries. However, Teicholz reports that Keys did not select random nations, but only those that supported his hypothesis, and he ignored others. She writes there were other problems with the study as well:
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate nutrition data, Keys ended up sampling the diets of fewer than 500 men, far from a statistically significant sample. And the study's star subjects — men on the Greek island of Crete who tilled their fields well into old age and appeared to eat very little meat or cheese — turned out to have been partly sampled during Lent, when the study subjects were foregoing meat and cheese. This must have led Keys to undercount their saturated-fat consumption. These flaws weren't revealed until much later. By then, the misimpression left by the erroneous data had become international dogma.3

2. One man's push led to accepted dogma

The second factor that led to the widespread acceptance of Keys views was a combination of good timing and Keys' dominant personality. Teicholz reports:
He found a receptive audience for his "diet-heart hypothesis" among public-health experts who faced a growing emergency: heart disease, a relative rarity three decades earlier, had skyrocketed to be a leading cause of death. Keys managed to implant his idea into the American Heart Association and, in 1961, the group published the first-ever guidelines calling for Americans to cut back on saturated fats, as the best way to fight heart disease. The US government adopted this view in 1977 and the rest of the world followed.4
Once the idea became ingrained, it became a foregone conclusion.
There were subsequent trials, of course. In the 1970s, half a dozen important experiments pitted a diet high in vegetable oil — usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil — against one with more animal fats. But these trials had serious methodological problems: some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best…

When Ronald M Krauss decided, in 2000, to review all the evidence purporting to show that saturated fats cause heart disease, he knew that he was putting his professional career at risk. Krauss is one of the top nutrition experts in the United States, director of atherosclerosis research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and adjunct professor of nutritional studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkley. But challenging one of his field's most sacrosanct beliefs was a near-heretical act.

Challenging any of the conventional wisdom on dietary fat has long been a form of professional suicide for nutrition experts. And saturated fats, especially, are the third rail.

3. The power of intimidation affects consensus

Finally, Teicholz states that Keys himself was not as interested in advancing the science as he was in keeping his findings in the center of belief. He would belittle and mock those who would oppose his theory:
Keys aggressively criticised these observations, which were like missiles aimed at the very heart of his theory… In response to a prominent Texas A&M University professor who wrote a critique of Keys, he said that the paper "reminds one of the distorting mirrors in the hall of jokes at the county fair".

Rolling over the opposition by sheer force of will was typical of Keys and his acolytes in defending their saturated-fat hypothesis. Keys was "tough and ruthless and would argue any point", Oliver, a prominent opponent, said. Since Keys's allies controlled so many top government health posts, critics were denied research grants and key posts on expert panels. As retribution for defending the healthiness of eggs, despite their cholesterol content, Oliver was publicly branded by two of Keys's main allies as a "notorious type" and a "scoundrel" because "he opposed us on everything".

In the end, Keys and his colleagues prevailed. Despite contrary observations from India to the Arctic, too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Keys's hypothesis. The bias in its favour had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense.5
The parallels between this and modern paradigms like global climate change or neo-Darwinian synthesis are striking. Each was formed at the right time by those looking to dismiss a creator or in a time of significant environmental sensitivity. Each has had high-profile proponents. Each has claimed the scientific high ground to the degree that any deviation from the accepted consensus would be mocked and belittled, and considered professional suicide.

Many good scientists would speak authoritatively on the saturated fat-heart disease link, even today. However, the consumer needs to be more dubious of any connection between the two. While many Keys's critics gained some clout by having a well-respected journal (the Lancet and the British Medical Journal) willing to publish their work, and thus began to crack the saturated fat myth, one wonders how long it would have persisted if the British medical professionals had not investigated the claims.

The tale of saturated fat and Ancel Keys should serve as a warning to those who claim that "consensus" and "accepted science" are good enough to keep scientific claims from being questioned. They show exactly the opposite. After all, scientists are people, and people are prone to be biased. So, don't accept the tale that science is above reproach. It can be a flawed belief system, too.


References

1. Teicholz, Nina. "The Science of Saturated Fat: A Big Fat Surprise about Nutrition?" The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2014.
2. Teicholz, ibid.
3. Teicholz, ibid.
4. Teicholz, ibid.
5. Teicholz, ibid.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beyond Science: Understanding Real Knowledge

In previous articles, I looked at how many people make the mistake of assuming that science is the only way we can know something is true. We showed how this view, known as scientism, must be false since it is self-refuting. This time, I thought we'd look at the idea of how we know that we know anything at all and how to better understand the differences between knowledge and beliefs.

Types of Knowledge

Philosophers have spent a lot of time on understanding what it means when we say we know this or that. In their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig identify three basic types of knowing. The most basic type is knowledge by acquaintance which is simply that you have had some type of direct experience with an object or idea and therefore know it to be true. The authors offer an example of "I know the ball is in front of me." Because the ball is directly present in your conscious experience, you can confidently know that statement to be true. 1

A more debated aspect of this type of knowledge is basic mathematic statements and logical deductions. Some philosophers argue that we know 2+2=4 in the same sense that we know a ball is in front of us. It is directly perceived as true. You don't have to go out and observe 2+2 in different environments around the world or around the universe to confidently hold that he product will always turn out to be 4. We understand that it just is that way. Similarly, we experience the same type of understanding when we argue in this way: All men are born. Socrates was a man; therefore Socrates must have been born. That is a logical argument, but we know it to be true directly.

A second way we know something is through know-how. Know-how defines certain skills or abilities one may possess. When someone claims "I know how to play golf", they are expressing knowledge of ability. Moreland and Craig point out that knowledge of the laws or mechanics is not necessary to hold this type of knowledge. They write "For example, one can know how to adjust one's swing for a curve ball without consciously being aware that one's stride is changing or without knowing any background theory of hitting technique." 2

The third type of knowledge is what is usually debated the most. Known as propositional knowledge this type of knowledge deals with statements that make some kind of claim to fact. Statements such as "I know Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States", "I know our Sun is 93 million mionles away" or "I know humans evolved from apes" are all propositional statements.

Justified True Beliefs

One of the reasons propositional knowledge has been debated is because it has been more difficult than other types of knowledge to define completely and accurately. One of the most foundational definitions of propositional knowledge is the concept of "justified true beliefs" that Plato offered in his writing "Theaetetus". Plato said that if we claim to know something, then what we claim must indeed be true. If a claim is not true, then we didn't really know it; we were mistaken. Further, if we claim to know something we must actually believe the claim to be true. It makes no sense to know something but not to believe it. If I say, "I know the ball is on the floor, but I don't believe the ball is on the floor" I've spoken nonsense.

So truth and belief are what we would call necessary conditions for knowledge. For knowledge to exist, they must both be present. However, they are not sufficient conditions for knowing. Many people believe things, and those beliefs may in fact be true, but that doesn't mean they know those things. Take the statement "I know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night." Now, it may be the case that Jones did indeed have roast beef for dinner, and it may be the case that I truly believe Jones had roast beef for dinner, but by making that assertion without any basis, I've just guessed the right answerand thus cannot be taken as knowledge.

In order to truly know something, there must be some acceptable reason to hold that belief. Justified true belief is believing something that is true with good reason. If I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because it's a Monday and he always has roast beef on Mondays, and I smelled roast beef coming from his home, I have good reasons to believe Jones in fact had roast beef. That is a justified belief that can be counted as knowledge. If, however, I claim to know Jones had roast beef for dinner last night because I consulted my Magic 8 Ball, that's not knowledge since the reasons I've given are spurious. It becomes the same as guessing.

Knowledge and the Limits of Science

So why does all of this knowledge stuff matter? Because it helps us understand what is real knowledge and what isn't. When looking at scientific propositions, we understand we can know certain things like the speed at which an object falls or what chemical reaction is necessary to produce nitro-glycerin. Science deals with observations of the material world, so these are justified beliefs; we can say we can know such things through science. However, for other claims, such as whether God exists or whether DNA is the proper basis for measuring the similarities between humans and other animals, science has no justification to make claims of knowledge.

You see, science can only tell us facts about the material world. By definition, science has no way of meaningfully commenting on the many other ways we know things. Science can tell us whether a person's heart is beating faster and he is sweating, but it must fall silent as to whether the cause of that reaction is lying or love. Similarly, science cannot tell us about the most unique aspect of humanity, that is the human soul. When looking at propositions such as the existence of God, science has no way of "testing for God-ness". However, I can know through reasoning that universe began to exist and whatever begins to exist must have a cause. 3 I can therefore conclude that if whatever exists must have a cause and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause: God. That is a belief that has strong justification for it. It is knowledge that is outside the scope of science, but it is probably a more authoritative basis for knowing.

So, even though popular culture looks to the scientist to tell them "the facts" about all things, science is really woefully inadequate to explain many aspects of reality. Scientists may presupposes certain things like miracles cannot happen or there is no God, and then formulate other theories. But that's not knowledge, that's presupposition. Personal experience, emotions, reason, logic, and revelation all address truth-claims and all can be justifiable in their proper instances. To limit one's self to science in order to gain knowledge is like trying to build a house with only a hammer. A hammer can pound nails, but you wouldn't want to use it to drive a screw and it would be completely useless to cut wood.

References

1.Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
(Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 2003). 72.
2. Ibid. 73.
3. See my article "What the Kalam tells us about God's existence"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scientism tries to Turn Man into a Monkey

Many Christians are familiar with the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. For those of you who aren't, it's an allegory of growing in Christian faith where the protagonist named Christian meets some friends (such as Evangelist and Faithful) as well as many unsavory characters like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Hypocrisy, and Talkative in his walk down the narrow path. While Bunyan wrote in the mid 1600's,the book is amazingly poignant for today.

One particularly striking section dealt with a character named Shame. Christian's friend Faithful recounts to him Shame's accusations against believers. Specifically, Shame claims the religious are basically weak-minded individuals, not living in the real world. He goes on to point out how successful and intelligent people don't believe in such things and how believing in Christianity forces one to ignore the scientific advancements and knowledge of the day. "He moreover objected to the base and low estate and condition of those who were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also in their want of understanding in the natural sciences." 1 So, Shame accuses the Christians of being willfully ignorant. Ignoring what he holds to be the true knowledge of science, Shame charges Christian with substituting the crutch of religion to salve his wounds.

Our Popular Conception of Science

Today, we are even more apt to hear such objections to believing the biblical message. This is in large part due to the over-emphasized view science is given in our modern culture. Science is understood in today's world to be the only reliable source of truth. One has only to look at the advertisements we use to sell products to see how much we esteem the concept of scientific veracity. If you really want to make your case for the potency of a product, just have your spokesman wear a white lab coat, begin his name with Dr., or explain how "tests have shown" the item to be more effective. If science has shown something to be true, then it must be true. And if there is a conflict between beliefs and what science has shown, then most people will assume that it is our beliefs that are in error, not science.

These assumptions are unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising. As I've said before, science has helped humanity in incredible ways. Our lifespan have been extended by decades, we can modify our environment if we're too hot or too cold, and technology has made our daily chores easier. Our learning has also increased exponentially; we better understand the way the world works, we can predict certain phenomena and we've even visited the moon! So with all science has proven it can do, how could it not be real way to know truth?

Scientism's Claim to Truth

There are two problems we run into when discussing science and the way we know things to be true. The more egregious error is the one the easier to identify and argue against. That is the belief that only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable and everything else is opinion and conjecture. This view is known a Scientism, and has had proponents such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking and the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. Noted skeptic Michael Shermer defined Scientism as "a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural or paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an age of science." 2

The proponents of Scientism hold that "only things that are scientifically verifiable are truly knowable", is a true and knowable statement. However, that statement is itself unverifiable scientifically. One cannot construct a hypothesis to test for the statement's veracity. There's no way to go into a laboratory and run this idea through a battery of tests to see whether it can be falsified. Scientism, by setting a standard that cannot itself meets, undercuts its own existence. It becomes what we call a self-refuting statement. Because it does so, Scientism should rightfully be rejected as illogical.

Who Chooses the Standard of Comparison?

The main problem with our popular view of science, though, is more subtle and it therefore takes more care to identify. Because science has taken such a high role in our society, statements that are couched in a scientific approach are thought to hold more weight than other types of assertions. However, many who are purporting to advance a scientific view are really making philosophic statements - and they're making a lot of assumptions along the way.

A good example of this is one that Christian philosopher Francis J. Beckwith related to me at dinner one evening. He told of how he had become engaged in a discussion on origins through an Internet bulletin board whose members were primarily biologists and other scientists. One member was asserting the fact of evolution by noting how science has shown human DNA and chimpanzee DNA to be 98% identical. The biologist then concluded that this proves humans and chimps share an evolutionary ancestor.

Dr. Beckwith countered this claim by asking a simple question: Why do you choose genetics be your basis of comparison? It seems an arbitrary choice. Why not any other field of science, say quantum mechanics? Dr. Beckwith went on to explain that if you examine humans and chimpanzees at the quantum level, why then we're 100% identical! Our atoms move and act in exactly the same way as the atoms of the chimp! Of course, human atoms and the atoms of the table where I'm writing this also act identically. How about if we examine each via physics? Again, we're identical: each species will remain in motion unless enacted upon by an outside force, for example.

The scientists had a very difficult time understanding Dr. Beckwith's point, but it was simply this: one cannot start with science to understand the world. Science relies on certain philosophical rules in order to work at all. What was happening is the biologist was making philosophical assumptions and then using science to try and support them. The assumption in the claim above is that all life can be reduced to its genetic make-up, and everything you need to know about any living thing can be deduced from its DNA. It's this assumption that's flawed. It doesn't follow that if humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps that evolution is therefore a fact. But the scientists today aren't trained in logic or philosophy, so they have a lot of difficulty understanding that they are making flawed philosophical arguments and packing them in scientific facts.

References:

1. Bunyan, John The Pilgrim's Progress
Baker Book house, Grand Rapids, MI 1984 p.89
2
. Shermer, Michael "The Shamans of Scientism" Scientific American June 2002
Accessed online at: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000AA74F-FF5F-1CDB-B4A8809EC588EEDF

Friday, August 01, 2014

Christians in the Middle Ages Did Not Believe in a Flat Earth

Many times when I'm discussing issues of faith and science, I hear the accusation that one cannot hold the Bible to be true and accept modern scientific findings. Usually, the person with whom I'm conversing will assert how backwards the beliefs of Christian society was during the Middle Ages and that we would still believe in a flat earth had it not been for the scientific revolution brought on by the Renaissance.


The idea that the medieval Church held to a flat earth has been around for some time. In his popular historical text The Discoveres, Daniel Boorstin exemplifies the position, as he devotes a full chapter of the book, ominously entitled "A Flat Earth Returns," to the proposition.He writes:
While Christian geographers feared the close calculations of Eratosthenes, Hipparchus and Ptolemy, they cheerfully embellished their pious Jerusalem-centered maps with the wildest ventures of pagan imagination. Julius Solinus (fl. A.D. 220)… provided the standard source of geographic myth during all the years of the Great Interruption, from the fourth till the fourteenth centuries… Saint Augustine himself drew upon Solinus, as did all the other leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages."1
Boorstin elsewhere describes the Middle Ages as "a far more remarkable act of retreat."2 However, the idea that all the leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages feared an idea of a spherical earth is simply wrong. For example, at the very beginning of St. Thomas Aquinas' 13th century Summa Theologica, this leading Christian thinker writes about the spherical character of the earth. "For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself."3

The interesting thing about Aquinas' use of the roundness of the earth is that he was using the fact as an example of something well known. Thomas said that the theologian should explore theology to find its clear truths the way the astronomer or the physicist will use their disciplines to show the roundness of the earth. In other words, Aquinas is using the fact of a round earth the way the atheist would, as something no one would doubt.

By any measure, Aquinas must be considered one of the "leading Christian thinkers during the Middle Ages." Yet, here is Aquinas clearly believing in a round earth! This made me curious to investigate what some other church fathers believed. Since Boorstein brought up Augustine, I looked there next. In City of God, Book XVI, chapter 9, Augustine discusses possible races of men who may have escaped the Flood of Noah. He writes:
And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other:  hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited.  But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled.4
Note that the focus here is whether there were human survivors of the Flood. Augustine is commenting on the possibility of antipodes—people taking a boat to the opposite end of the earth, not sailing off of an edge. Augustine states that even if science does show a round earth, it doesn't follow that it has people on it.

In preaching on Psalm 61, Augustine also makes his belief known, when he comments that Christ will "showeth himself to be throughout all nations in the whole round world, in great glory, but in great tribulation."5 It seems Augustine believed, then, in a round earth. Even the fifth century father Gregory of Nyssa taught that the earth was spherical, stating "As, when the sun shines above the earth, the shadow is spread over its lower part, because its spherical shape makes it impossible for it to be clasped all round at one and the same time by the rays."6

Gregory of Nyssa lived in the fourth century, Augustine lived in the fifth century, and Aquinas lived in the thirteenth. All are "leading Christian thinkers" and all believed in a spherical earth, so Boorstin's charge itself falls flat. It simply isn't true that the vast majority of people prior to the Renaissance held to a flat earth, and to accuse modern Christians of doing the same is boorishness.

References

1. Boorstin, Daniel J. The Discoverers. (New York: Vintage Books, 1983). 110.
2. Boorstin. 102.
3. Aquinas, Saint Thomas (2012-05-17). Summa Theologica, Part I (Prima Pars) From the Complete American Edition (Kindle Locations 94-95).  . Kindle Edition.
4. Schaff, Philip. St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrine. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 2.0 Web. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XVI.9.html
5. Schaff, Philip. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 8) Web. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf108.ii.LXI.html
6. St. Gregory of Nyssa." On the Soul and the Resurrection." New Advent. Web. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2915.htm

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do Airplanes Evolve? Only If Evolution Encompasses a Designer

Evolution is a topic that seems to always be accompanied by assertion and conjecture. Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor highlighted a recent scientific journal article that compares the history of passenger airplane development with the evolution of birds.1 The abstract from the journal article begins, "The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane."2 The paper concludes with "The legacy of all flow systems (animate and inanimate) is this: they have moved mass (they have "mixed" the Earth's crust) more because of design evolution than in the absence of design evolution."3


While I don't doubt that passenger airplane design and development follow the authors' well-argued pattern of larger bodies and similar structures, the claim that this somehow allows an observer to "see" evolution as one would desire to see birds evolve shows just how loosely the term is applied even within the academic community. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the change airplanes experience are a result of intelligent designers who are constantly testing designs to select the changes that would make the vehicle more efficient and functional. These changes are not random mutations in a genome, but thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose.

If I were to say that birds evolved the way airplanes do, becoming more efficient because of design changes that were thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose, that would be a good definition of intelligent design. Darwinists would have a fit if I were to define evolution in this way, for the goal of evolution is to explain diversity and complexity without a designer.

I believe studies like this may be interesting and useful, but they tell us nothing about neo-Darwinian theory. The problem is that the evolution is famously understood as a wiggle-word as David Klinghoffer has documented. It can mean anything from change over time to natural selections acting on random mutations to all living organisms descending from a common ancestor.4

It seems that the authors of this article have taken the meaning of evolution in one its broadest senses. They define the term when commenting on the image provided above:
Yes, we should care because bird's-eye-views such as Fig. 1 open everybody's eyes to the natural phenomenon called "evolution." Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time. In biology, evolution is largely a mental construct built on imagination, because the time scale of animal evolution is immense relative to the time available to us for observations. We cannot witness animal evolution, and this places the biology argument for evolution at a disadvantage. It would be useful to have access to the evolution of one species in real time.

Looking at Fig. 1 satisfies precisely this need.5
You can see how subtly the authors try to apply the changes in airplane design to biological evolution, but such application is without merit, for they never discuss the mechanism of the change within the biological counterpart to the airplane. Who are these designers that are coming up with new bird body types? The assumption seems to be, well I'm actually not sure what it proves. Things change. Humans improve designs because they want their efforts to be efficient and rewarding, both financially and emotionally. But if passenger airplane designs satisfy the need to see evolution in action, then the intelligent design community offers a better explanation of the diversity of bird types than the neo-Darwinian model ever will.


References

1. Lewis, Tayna. "Airplane designs evolve like flying animals do, say scientists" The Christian Science Monitor. 23 July 2014. Web. http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/0723/Airplane-designs-evolve-like-flying-animals-do-say-scientists
2. Bejan A., J. D. Charles and S. Lorente. "The evolution of airplanes." J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4886855 Web. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jap/116/4/10.1063/1.4886855 25 July 2014.
3. Ibid.
4. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of ‘Evolution’." Evolution News and Views. Web. 26 Aug 2011. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/08/the_eight_meanings_of_evolutio050011.html
5. Bejan, 2014.

Image credit: J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4886855

Monday, July 14, 2014

Science and Religion Resources


Just recently, I received a request for content that deals with the supposed war between science and religion. That topic is very wide, but it is also one I have been speaking and writing on fairly regularly. As I pulled some of these resources together, I thought that it may benefit my readers, too.

While this isn’t all of the content that may be associated with that topic, it is a good sampling across the different media. Enjoy!

Web Site Articles

Podcasts:

Blog posts:

Series on Science versus Scientism:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Keep Your Maybes Away from Our Babies - Arguing when Life Begins

It is a common bromide for people to claim that taking a secular approach to moral issues is better since secular positions aren't as biased by dogma. They claim religion will yield conclusions that are unscientific and unproven. The abortion debate is a perfect example, with the pro-abortion side creating placards of "keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and other nonsense.

However, in the last couple of weeks it has been telling how much pro-abortion supporters don't want to face science; they are looking increasingly desperate in their attempts to shove the question of when a human life begins into the domain of dogma. The whole thing started when Florida Senator Marco Rubio made the statement, "Science is settled — it's not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception."1

Rubio is right, of course. Take any human being and trace their point of origin and that being begins his or her existence at the point of conception. A fertilized egg, left to its natural progression, has all the information within itself to develop into a fully functional human being. Pulling just one quote from many, The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary defines an embryo as "An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus."2 This seems like a no-brainer, right?

As you can imagine, the pro-abortion crowd went into overdrive to try and counter Rubio's assertion. Phillip Bump of the Washington Post went to a single source (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Hal C Lawrence, III, MD) and derived a comment of when pregnancy begins, not life. Bump then concludes, "'Life' is something of a philosophical question."3 Planned Parenthood's president Cecile Richards at first refused to answer the question of when life begins, claiming it is a question "that will be debated through the centuries."4 She then said that for her her three children weren't alive until they were born.

While folks like Mollie Hemingway over at the Federalist has done a good job taking apart the claim of no scientific consensus, I wanted to approach the view from another angle. If the beginning of life is something that can be debated and relativized for each person, then it stands to reason that the end of life can also. If science cannot determine if a human zygote is alive, then they cannot identify the clear signs of life at all. So, does that mean that death is a "philosophical" question that doctors cannot answer? Should doctors refrain from judging a person who claims his beloved wife is not dead? How can one pronounce a scientific assessment of death, given all its ramifications, for such a philosophical issue? Perhaps every hospital should have a staff philosopher on hand to help declare things alive and things dead!

Determining life is actually easier than determining death, as two separate entities (egg and sperm) come together to form a new thing. Death doesn't always offer such a clear hallmark; there are cases where it is difficult to determine whether or not a person is dead. However, those are usually dealing with rare situations involving minutes or hours. A person who is dead for a week is definitively dead. In that sense it makes it even less plausible to beg off the beginning of life as "philosophical" while trying to retain a medical standard for the cessation of life.

It's obvious that pro-abortion advocates are running scared in this line of questioning. They are making bad excuses and trying hard to marginalize a significant question of human existence for political and profit motives. They are trying to create a new dogma about life, while seeking to ignore the clear science that agree with the position of those who hold to the biblical view of human life beginning with conception.

References

1 "Rubio: It's 'the left' that denies 'scientific consensus' — on abortion." Speed Reads. THE WEEK Publications, Inc. Web. 15 May 2014 http://theweek.com/speedreads/index/261630/speedreads-rubio-its-the-left-that-denies-scientific-consensus--on-abortion Accessed 20 June 2014.

2 Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993. 146 Taken from "Life Begins at Fertilization." Princeton University. Web. https://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html

3 Bump, Philip. "Marco Rubio demanded people look at the science on abortion. So we did." The Washington Post. Web. 15 May 2014.. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/05/15/marco-rubio-demanded-people-look-at-the-science-on-abortion-so-we-did/ Accessed 20 June 2014.

4 Ernst, Douglas. "Planned Parenthood president: Start of life not ‘really relevant' to abortion discussions." The Washington Times. 28 Feb. 2014. Web. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/28/planned-parenthood-president-start-life-not-really/ Accessed 20 June 2014.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Without God, How Can One Explain the Origin of Life?


A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk on the origin of life and how it is providing incredibly serious problems for naturalists who seek to eliminate God from the scene. Modern biology has discovered quite a bit about the cell and its complexity, but in so discovering, they have also created quite a conundrum for themselves. How do you get any kind of life, with its requisite DNA code that carries the instructions for how things work operating together with the proteins that carry out the work? David Berlinski, who classifies himself as an agnostic, puts the problem in clear terms. He first identifies the different functions that go into creating proteins in the cell.1:
Replication duplicates the genetic message in DNA.
Transcription copies the genetic message from DNA to RNA.
Translation conveys the genetic message from RNA to the amino acids—whereupon in a fourth and final step, the amino acids are assembled into proteins.
None of the above is controversial. Biologists know that proteins are the things that do all the work of life. The description of DNA to RNA to amino acids to proteins is simple and directional. But Berlinski then notes that when we are talking about the origin of life, the description is reversed. In order to get a replication process, one must have proteins already. In fact, the famous Miller-Urey experiment sought to show that amino acids, not DNA chains, could be produced using natural processes. They were assuming that with amino acids, one can begin the replication process. Berlinski then makes an astute observation:
If nucleic acids are the cell's administrators, the proteins are its chemical executives: both the staff and stuff of life. The molecular arrow goes one way with respect to information, but it goes the other way with respect to chemistry.

Replication, transcription, and translation represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it proceeds in one direction. The chemical activities initiated by the enzymes represent the grand unfolding of the central dogma as it goes in the other. Within the cell, the two halves of the central dogma combine to reveal a system of coded chemistry, an exquisitely intricate but remarkably coherent temporal tableau suggesting a great army in action.

From these considerations a familiar figure now emerges: the figure of a chicken and its egg. Replication, transcription, and translation are all under the control of various enzymes, but enzymes are proteins, and these particular proteins are specified by the cell s nucleic acids, DNA requires the enzymes in order to undertake the work of replication, transcription, and translation and the enzymes require DNA in order to initiate it. The nucleic acids and the proteins are thus profoundly coordinated, each depending upon the other. Without amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase, there is no translation from RNA; but without DNA, there is no amino-acyl-tRNA synthetase.

On the level of intuition and experience, these facts suggest nothing more mysterious than the longstanding truism that life comes only from life. Omnia viva ex vivo, as Latin writers said. It is only when they are embedded in various theories about the origins of life that the facts engender a paradox, or at least a question: in the receding molecular spiral, which came first—the chicken in the form of DNA, or its egg in the form of various proteins? And if neither came first, how could life have begun?2 (Emphases in the original.)

References

1. Berlinski, David. “on the Origin of Life.” The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, Eds. (Wilmington DE: ISI Books, 2012). 280.
2. Ibid. 281.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Belief in God is the Motor that Drove Science

Oxford Professor John Lennox on the relational dependence of Christianity and the development of the scientific enterprise:
Science as we know it exploded onto the world stage in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Why then and why there? Alfred North Whitehead's view, as summarised by C. S. Lewis, was that: "Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver." It is no accident that Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Clerk-Maxwell were believers in God.

Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, finds the origin of the conviction, basic to science, that nature is ordered in the basic notion: "that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science."

Far from belief in God hindering science, it was the motor that drove it. Isaac Newton, when he discovered the law of gravitation, did not make the common mistake of saying: "now I have a law of gravity, I don't need God." Instead, he wrote Principia Mathematica, the most famous book in the history of science, expressing the hope that it would persuade the thinking man to believe in a Creator.

Newton could see, what sadly many people nowadays seem unable to see, that God and science are not alternative explanations. God is the agent who designed and upholds the universe; science tells us about how the universe works and about the laws that govern its behaviour. God no more conflicts with science as an explanation for the universe than Sir Frank Whittle conflicts with the laws and mechanisms of jet propulsion as an explanation for the jet engine. The existence of mechanisms and laws is not an argument for the absence of an agent who set those laws and mechanisms in place. On the contrary, their very sophistication, down to the fine-tuning of the universe, is evidence for the Creator's genius. For Kepler: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics."

As I scientist then, I am not ashamed or embarrassed to be a Christian. After all, Christianity played a large part in giving me my subject.
Portion taken from Prof. John C. Lennox. "BBC Lent Talks 2012." http://glenabbeymedia.org/bookletpdfs/bbc2.pdf Accesses 4/25/2014
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