Friday, December 29, 2006

Holding Paradigms Too Ptightly

When the ancient astronomer Ptolemy (100-175 AD) woke up every morning, the Sun was coming up in the east. As his day wore on, the Sun moved across the sky and set in the west. All the stars and planets followed suit. It was perfectly obvious to Ptolemy and his contemporaries that the Earth was the pivot point around which the rest of the cosmos revolved. Copernicus’s so-called “revolution” (so-called because it wasn’t really the revolution it's been made out to be – but that’s a whole different story) stemmed from his claim that Ptolemy was mistaken and that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun. Later confirmation by Galileo proved the Copernican theory to be correct. But both Copernicus and Galileo were considered nutcases for challenging the “obvious,” expert-supported understanding of The Way Things Were. The idea that the Earth is the center of things was so ingrained in the minds of people it took a violent brain-shaking to overcome it.

I was reminded of the Ptolemy thing as I read a new book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topics discussed here – Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt’s, A Meaningful World. The book is packed with scientific and historical insights about the abject failure of Naturalism/Materialism to account for the intricacy and wonder that exists in even the simplest forms of biological life. Their book is captivatingly successful in its mission to show “how the arts and sciences reveal the genius of nature,” but I particularly enjoyed the historical parallel they drew between previously accepted scientific “facts” and the presumptive acceptance of the Darwinist paradigm that pervades scientific inquiry today. Take phlogiston for instance.

In their primitive attempts to unmask and define the secrets of the elemental substances, the alchemists tried to unlock the compound relationships between the elements (earth, air and water) by using the fourth element (fire) to burn and melt all variety of things into investigatory submission. In this effort, Joseph Priestley became the primary promoter of Phlogiston Theory, a widely accepted explanation for the alchemists’ observations, in which flammable materials were held to contain phlogiston, a substance that was released in the burning process. Phlogiston theory made perfect sense ...

If, for example, you placed a lit candle under a glass globe, as Priestly and others had done so many times, eventually (so they maintained) all the phlogiston would be released from the candle and saturate the globe. When the air in the globe could hold no more phlogiston, the candle went out … [or, with] … regard to the burning of metal, since the pure metal burned red-hot, it must (supposedly) have phlogiston in it. As the phlogiston was steadily released, the metal degraded, like a burnt log. Thus, the metal was dephlogisticated … [and] turned to a whitish, chalky calx (Latin for chalk) that, when reheated with charcoal … would return to its pristine [re-phlogisticated] condition.

Priestly’s work in this area led to the discovery of oxygen, which we now know is the real culprit in answering the burning question. Interestingly, he is credited with discovering oxygen himself in most textbooks and history accounts. But Priestly actually went to his grave “vehemently denying that oxygen even existed.” He was too tied the phlogiston paradigm to accept the physical evidence provided by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier. Lavoisier explained not only the phenomena Priestly observed as being the result of burning oxygen, he devised a way to isolate oxygen, which led to the parallel discovery that oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water. He did so because he overturned the phlogistian paradigm that everyone else accepted. He insisted that phlogiston did not even exist and proved it experimentally.

Though I won’t go into it here, a similar story can be told about the existence of “ether.” Scientists (including Michelson and Morley) made all manner of attempts to explain the invariant measurements of the speed of light away by invoking ether-based explanations for their results. It wasn’t until the introduction of his Special Relativity theory that Einstein proposed the wildly controversial view that “there was no ether.”

Old theories die hard. In all these cases hold the following in common:

  • The “commonly accepted” theory enjoyed popularity and unquestioned devotion among the scientific expert authorities of its day
  • The old ideas were challenged by maverick researchers with evidence to back up their claims
  • Those who held to the “commonly accepted” view belittled and ignored the new understanding primarily because it was a minority view
  • The old view proved to be not only wrong, but wildly inconsistent with the real world

Twenty-twenty hindsight allows us to look back at Ptolemy and phlogiston as bizarre examples of goofy science. It’s hard to see from our point of view how in the world anyone could ever have been so stubbornly committed to them in the face of obviously condemning evidence. When you are firmly planted in a paradigm, human nature proves time and again that it is nearly impossible to extricate yourself from it. It’s hard to do. Human pride and the idolatry of human reason inhibit our ability to see things clearly. But good science, backed up by solid evidence, demands that we consider the possibility that we may be wrong.

Now it might be coincidence that both these examples of paradigm shift involve subjects (Ptolemy and phlogiston) with the weird silent and/or unusually pronounced “p” thing going on. There is no logical explanation for why this might be. But, considering the ramifications of these ideas and the parallels that can be drawn between them and the commonly accepted naturalistic worldview - vs - Intelligent Design debate, I would like to propose alternate spellings for some terms we have all come to so readily accept: Pnatural selection and Pneo-Pdarwinian evolution.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Hyde

Pro-Lifers will be missing one of their greatest public advocates next month when the new Congress returns to Washington. Henry Hyde (R, Illinois 6) chose not to run for reelection. Hyde has served for 32 years in the U.S. Congress and has been one the pro-life movement’s staunchest advocates.

As Scott has argued here many times, the ways to achieve the pro-life agenda are many and varied. Sometimes they are not as obvious as they may seem and sometimes the politicians who can help achieve them are not the most obvious choices. We wrestle with these issues in the real world and must make our choices accordingly – even if it means having to swallow some pretty tough pills to back some less than optimal candidates along the way. Henry Hyde disappointed many of us when some of his moral failings came to light after the Clinton impeachment debacle. This proved nothing more than that Hyde, like the rest of us, is a fallible human being. But when it comes to advancing pro-life issues, few can hold a candle to him.

Like many social conservatives, Hyde started out as a Democrat, became disillusioned with the left-wing agenda of that party, and switched to the Republican Party as a result. In a recent issue of National Review, Hyde admits that, like many of us in our younger days, he “had never really thought much about abortion.” But that all changed when a fellow Illinois state congressman asked him to co-sponsor a bill to liberalize Illinois abortion law. Hyde considered the legislation by reading a book: The Vanishing Right to Live, by Charles Rice “[and] became convinced that abortion was evil.” Hyde’s subsequent self-education on the issue led to the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1977, a bill that, by the “fairly conservative estimate” of The National Right to Life Committee’s Douglas Johnson, “has saved 1 million human lives in the 30 years that it has been in effect.”

Henry Hyde’s success in this area can be traced to a couple self-evident truths on which he based his opposition to the so-called “pro-choice” agenda. In his 1984 rebuttal to a Mario Cuomo speech at the University of Notre Dame, Hyde condemned …

the rise of militant secular-separationist perspective on the constitutional questions that seek to rule religiously based values “out of order” in the public arena

and specifically targeted “abortion liberty” as …

a profoundly narrow-minded, illiberal position; it constricts rather than expands, the scope of liberty properly understood (emphasis mine)

On behalf of those million human beings he helped save, I would like to thank Henry Hyde for his commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Would that there were more politicians with the same principled conviction.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

No Pagans Here

Many Christians these days make a scene about boycotting Christmas. That's their choice but I'd like to humbly offer a rebuttal to the notion that all the Christmas symbols (trees, mistletoe, Santa Claus, gift-giving) and, most notably, the date we use for Christmas are nothing but an acceptance of paganism with which no "real" Christian should agree. I don't accept that. Here's why ...

First, what's wrong with stealing stuff from the pagans? Before I go any further with this, please hear me out. I know that probably sounds flippant but I don't mean it that way at all. Not to mention, I don't accept it. But here's the thing -- if we co-opt some formerly pagan practices and use them to celebrate our holiday, I don't see a problem with that. The pagan connections have long since disappeared. I, and my family, have never even considered their pagan roots (if indeed they even have any). They have always, and will always, be Christian images, symbols and practices to us. We associate them with the incarnation of Christ and celebrate that fact in our home. We've never considered otherwise. So please don't accuse me of capitulating to paganism. That's not what I do.

Besides, in keeping with the often-invoked Great Commission, and with Paul's exhortation to "be all things to all men," I don't see a problem with using those pagan symbols to attract pagans, then redefining them in Christian ways. In this way, the pagans are redirected from their journey down the wrong path and onto the path to the real Truth. I think that's a good thing.

Second -- and this applies mainly to the date we use to celebrate Christmas -- who says it has pagan roots?! Many people claim that Christianity uses December 25th as the date because we have caved to the Sun worshippers who give spiritual significance to the Winter Solstice. Not so. For starters, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st. But that's just the beginning.
Additionally, there are very distinct Christian-based reasons for selecting December 25th as the date of Christ's birth. For an excellent analysis of those reasons, please read William J. Tighe's, Calculating Christmas. It is a fascinating article that chronicles the origin of the date. I offer a brief summary here:

  • There was a common belief called the Integral Age of the great Jewish prophets that claimed they were born, or conceived, on the same day they died.
  • "Modern scholars agree that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33."
  • By the time of Tertullian the Western church had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. In keeping with the Integral Age theory, Christ's conception would be the same date -- putting his birth 9 months later -- on December 25
  • The Eastern Church, for a different set of reasons (and with a different set of calendars), concluded that Good Friday was actually April 6. Using parallel reasoning, the Eastern church began celebrating Christ's birth on January 6th -- and still do today.

As shown above, calendar differences necessitate that these dates are probably not correct. But that is not the point. The point is that the date for Christ's birth was not adopted from pagan sources. It was the early church's best effort to get it right. It was a carefully calculated, conscientious decision, based on Jewish tradition that led to the dates we use today.

So I won't accept the pagan accusations or the scorn of those who try to put them on me. My family will celebrate Christmas on December 25th like we always do. We do so because we accept the historicity of the incarnation and the reality of the salvation it brings us all. We hope you'll do the same.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Butting Heads (nicely)


Yesterday, a reader ("Mr. Dawkins") left the following comment regarding my previous post ("CopyCats") which I feel is worthy not just of a reply, but of its own dedicated post. Here is the entire comment in context. I will respond below ...
Your alleged case against naturalism is inherently flawed. Just because naturalism has not yet explained consciousness or thought life doesn't mean it never will. That is to say, your whole post forecloses on the possibility of a naturalistic explanation for these things when there is still a possibility naturalism can account for them. Or, to quote one of the favorite lines from you theists, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Given the extraordinary claims of theism, you bear an extraordinary burden of proof. Pointing out a few things naturalism has not yet explained won't make your case.
I want to thank Mr. Dawkins for his comment. I really do appreciate it and have only chosen to respond in this way because it displays such a textbook example of the naturalistic paradigm, it sets itself up as a great example of why I began this blog in the first place.

First, the post he mentions is not in any way intended to be my "case against naturalism." Maybe I wasn't clear, or maybe Mr. Dawkins missed my point, but the case against naturalism is vastly greater than the small observation I made here. Actually, the article I cited just caught my eye because of the creativity issue. But Mr. Dawkins' comment brings up several points I'd like to make:

First, the primary shortfall I addressed really only requires a short rejoinder. In this specific case, I was just pointing out that it is not just that science has not explained "thought life or consciousness." The point is that, under the naturalistic worldview, such things cannot even exist. I would not demand that Mr. Dawkins (unless he is THE Mr. Dawkins) provide a scientifically verifiable solution to the problem. I'm just asking that those who share his view offer some minimal philosophical justification for a phenomenon that is internally incoherent within that view.

Second, Mr. Dawkins, like many who share his view, makes an appeal to wait a little longer for our proof by asserting that "just because naturalism has not yet explained consciousness or thought life doesn't mean it never will."

True.

Maybe science will eventually explain such things. If it does, it will be self-refuting because it will require a complete admission that Naturalism must be re-defined to include the actual existence of non-physical entities. When theists try to offer, "God did it" (a phrase that makes me cringe, by the way) as an explanation for things that are otherwise inexplicable, naturalists call it an appeal to "The God of the Gaps." So, in fairness, I would say that Mr. Dawkins is appealing to a parallel " Science of the Gaps." No matter who makes the Gap appeal, it is an intellectual evasion. My view is that we should all examine the evidence and take the evidence where it leads. An intellectually honesty search for the truth demands it.

Third, Mr. Dawkins accuses me of "foreclosing on the possibility of a naturalistic explanation." But I do no such thing! I am open and waiting for such an explanation but if someone were to find one it would not in any way threaten my worldview. The naturalist, on the other hand, DOES fear a theistic explanation for anything and therefore denies its possibility by eliminating it BEFORE he examines the evidence. Darwinists do this all the time. They disparage the Intelligent Design movement not due to the evidence they find in complex biological systems, but in spite of it. This is what disturbs me about naturalists. Their presuppositions eliminate explanations BEFORE they examine the data.

Finally, Mr. Dawkins demands that my view requires an "extraordinary burden of proof." I agree. So does his. I do not presume Mr. Dawkins to be an atheist when I say this, but the burden to "prove" that God does NOT exist is greater than mine. No one denies the "appearance of design" in the universe. In the same way, no one can deny the existence of the non-physical thoughts/ideas/imaginings we all share. So, as obvious as the evidence for those things is, on what basis would Mr. Dawkins "prove" the non-existence of immaterial reality in general or God specifically? Let's be fair -- we both bear an extraordinary burden of proof. And, once again, I believe that intellectual honesty, devoid of the presupposed elimination of possible explanations, requires that we examine the evidence and accept the implications of that evidence.

I thank Mr. Dawkins for challenging me to do so and I hope he accepts my challenge for him to do the same. I believe that an honest pursuit of the truth will lead us to theistic conclusions and I think the evidence weighs heavily in my favor or I wouldn't be spending my time writing here. I look forward to more dialog along these lines in the future.

CROSSPOSTED AT: truehorizon.org


Monday, December 18, 2006

CopyCats

Look around you. Everything you see: Space Shuttles, computers, DVDs, cell phones, automobiles, skyscrapers ... the physical materials needed to make those things has always been laying around in the very fabric of the very earth beneath our feet …
  • Noah could have built an aircraft carrier.
  • Joshua could have used his cell phone to let the boys in Jericho know their time was up.
  • Paul could have emailed his letters to the churches at Ephesus and Corinth.
  • Shakespeare could have marketed his work as a reality TV show.
  • Christopher Columbus could have taken the red-eye from Rome to New York.

... the potential for each of these people to have done each of these things has always existed – in someone’s untapped imagination. None of those things was made manifest until it first popped into the mind of someone just like you ... as a thought.

Most of us never consider the profound and powerful nature of our thoughts. Thoughts are the fountainhead of human creativity. Once you do consider it however, the concept should not be terribly controversial. It is not even very profound – unless you subscribe to the naturalistic paradigm. In that case you have to explain how non-physical things can give rise to physical manifestations. It is naturalism’s greatest challenge.

Human creativity is grounded in the thought process – in the imagination of each and every one of us. But there is no physical explanation for the existence of this process. Inanimate electrons pinging around in the synapses of our gray matter offer us no physical explanation for the ethereal existence of abstract ideas, let alone how it is that those ideas can lead us to construct physical creations. Though naturalism claims that our thoughts somehow “emerge” from the actions of electrons, the claim is inconsistent with the parallel claim that non-physical entities don’t even exist. If hardcore Darwinian evolution is true, it is relegated to act on random variations in physical properties. Such a process offers no credible justification for the “emergence” of non-physical imaginings about physical entities that do not even exist in the “real” world!

So where would such a thing as “creativity” come from? In her new book, The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen describes the source of creative genius as:

the process that starts with a person – an artist, musician, inventor or even someone who's trying to figure out a better way of doing a task at work or at home ... the process can go by in a flash or it can take years.

Agreed. But defining creativity as a “process” does nothing to identify the source or trigger mechanism that serves as the impetus for the process. What would prompt an irrational, undirected batch of neurons in my brain to suddenly want to find a “better way” of doing something?

I don’t know Andreasen’s philosophical point of view (I haven’t read her book) so I have no intention of disparaging her well-established expertise. I simply read her interview and found it to be a good example of the nearly universal mindset that prevails in our society – a mindset that assumes everything can, and must, be reduced to a scientific explanation.

Maybe creativity is swimming around in your gene pool? Andreasen notes that Johann Sebastian Bach was only the most famous member of a family of more than 20 other eminent musicians. Fascinating. But, in the next paragraph, Andreasen admits that:

…creativity is not limited to the masterpiece work of art but can be found in everyday tasks such as cooking or gardening

In other words, every one of us shares some degree of creativity. It is a common human trait. Not everyone is a creative master but every one of us creates. And, therefore, every human being possesses the mind-blowing, naturalistically-inexplicable, easily-taken-for-granted, potential to imagine things which don’t yet exist in the material world and find a way to bring them to manifestation.

Creativity is a reflection of the Creator – a small but not insignificant trait He has allowed us to share. He creates a universe. We create a tossed salad. He creates real things out of nothingness. We make copycat representations and call it talent (even genius!). In our own pipsqueak way, our creativity is one aspect of our being made in the image of God (imago dei). We should honor that capacity within us, hone it, and recognize it for what it is to every one of us – an unimaginably generous gift.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Lead Singer


Though my initial reaction is to retch at the ideas of Peter Singer as discussed in the October issue of Touchstone magazine (“Livestock Exchange”), I must admit I have grown to appreciate his writing for one reason: the tactical and strategic advantage he gives to our side. Singer is a rare commodity. He is an articulate, consistent, coherent spokesman for the materialist worldview. Unlike many of his ilk, he is forthright in taking his philosophical presuppositions to their logical conclusions. Many who hear his views tend to dismiss them as being extreme, grotesque, or absurd.

Exactly.

I offer a sampling of some of those views for consideration:

Singer proposes, in his tome, "Practical Ethics," that the abortion debate does not hinge on the ethical considerations surrounding the status of the unborn as being valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are. Instead, the worth of a human in Singer's view rests on its instrumental usefulness -- its functionality.

Singer comes to this conclusion because he holds that "that the right to physical integrity is grounded in a being's ability to suffer and ... among other things, the ability to plan and anticipate one's future." Attacking the common syllogism …
It is wrong to kill an innocent human being;
a human fetus is an innocent human being;
therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
Singer challenges the second premise, on the grounds that an unborn baby is not rational or self-conscious, is owed no moral protection, and therefore has no intrinsic value.

Following this reasoning, Singer avoids even the most universally accepted squeamishness most of us feel when discussing partial-birth abortion. Singer argues that it is not only non-controversial for the attending physician to kill a newborn on the spot, but that it is also ethically acceptable to do so for 30 days after birth.

Precious, isn't it? But that's not all ...

Singer also believes that there should be no ethical concern regarding "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature between humans and animals and that such activity should remain legal unless it involves what he sees as "cruelty." (Here one has to wonder how Singer could establish the definition of such a thing as "cruelty"). Though he admits that sex between species is not normal or natural, he insists that it should not be objectionable because humans are not different in kind from animals. We are only different in degree to which we have evolved.

There is plenty more where this comes from, but all of Singer's views are based on the underlying presupposition that naturalism is true; That only the physical world exists; That there are no such things as abstract ideas about values and morals, and that only materialistic processes define us. Most hard-core naturalists are not so bold or consistent in following their philosophical views to their logical ends. Most people, because they cannot escape the fact that they are made in God's image, have an inherent, inescapable intuition that Singer's ideas are grotesque. Even if they can't describe why, they know that there is something horribly wrong with accepting such notions. Singer seems to repress these natural inclinations, either for the notoriety it gains him or because he honestly doesn't feel them. Either explanation is sad but the result is that he offers us a bold proclamation of what we should expect from a worldview devoid of deity.

He is the lead Singer on the naturalistic bandwagon many are blindly following to their own destruction. For that reason, I think Peter Singer has unwittingly become one of our most powerful allies in the culture war. He provides us a perfect example of where, if left uncontested, naturalism will lead us. We should pray for him, show him respect and kindness – and quote him loudly and often.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Same Language, Different Dialect

The head of the Human Genome Project has crawled out on a precarious political limb in his new book, "The Language of God." I admire Francis Collins for the balancing act he seems to pull off so well. Collins is an unabashed promoter of Biblical Christianity and has chosen this forum to say so. This is a courageous project in the professional culture within which he works, especially because he is in such a powerful position -- one that demands adherence to the naturalistic paradigm I so often discuss here. Collins is a brilliant scientist and a man of God. Those two are not supposed to mix.

So, first I have to say that his willingness to write such a book is laudable. But that doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. None of us will ever agree on everything and, having heard him interviewed concerning some of the issues discussed below, I know he is respectful of those who disagree -- unlike some of the more vocal proponents of some of his beliefs. It is no secret that Collins is off the ranch with most orthodox Christians in his view of the origin and diversity of life (he is fully acceptant of Darwinian Evolution). But it is also true that he respects those who accuse him of being there.

My problem with Collins' view is that it seems strangely inconsistent. On one hand he has no problem with the notion (as discussed in several of my previous posts) that the origin of the universe bears all the marks of a Grand Designer who created it all ex nihilo. So far, so good.

But on the other hand, he finds no basis for accepting divine intervention in the creation and complexity of life. On the universal scale, it is OK to recognize the fingerprints of God. But when it comes to evidence for divine action in nature, that is not allowed. The claims of the Intelligent Design (ID) folks are therefore deemed unsupportable. Why the differentiation?

I suspect that much of it has to do with the political and intellectual status Collins has to uphold. It would be suicidal to side with those whacky IDers and still maintain any credibility with the "accepted" scientific establishment. By this I do NOT suggest that Collins is being hypocritical. I honestly believe he thinks this way because, well, EVERYBODY THINKS THIS WAY. It is just the way science is done. Questioning that fact simply never enters one's mind. But, being confident that Collins and the rest of the scientific establishment wakes up every morning hoping to read my latest post, I offer the following critique of his position:

Collins shares Howard Van Till's view of a "fully gifted" creation that is compatible with theistic evolution. Phillip Johnson has taken Van Till to task on that subject - calling such a view incoherent. I think Collins demonstrates this incoherence in the fact that it seems completely incompatible with the view he has of design in the creation of the universe.

Johnson's biggest problem with this approach is that it is not evidentially based. He sees Van Till and other Christian intellectuals as capitulating to all the "accepted" scientific methodologies by simply offering theological interpretations of those methods. His difficulty with Van Till's approach stems from the fact that he (Van Till) does not view the search for truth in these matters as encompassing all aspects of reality. By eliminating supernatural intervention as an option before doing the science, Van Till and Collins limit the possible interpretations of the data they collect. This leads to a warped science that accepts evidence consistent with its presuppositions as confirmation, but ignores evidence that may conflict with it. Johnson has uncovered a valid philosophical criticism. He shows that the actual scientific data does not support a view like that held by Francis Collins.

Johnson may be wrong, but his stance is based on the evidence itself, not on what he wants the evidence to tell him. Collins et al are not just limiting the definition of science. They are limiting the definition of reality itself for reasons that are elusive except for the fact that they are more palatable to the scientific peers with whom they want to maintain credibility.

If God has acted in nature throughout history, there is no reason to demand that we will be unable to detect that action. IF the scientific evidence points to such action, and there is no other credible explanation for that evidence, I do not understand why Collins, or anyone else, would be so inclined to ignore it.

One reason he give is that a perfect, omnipotent God would have no reason to inject himself into time in order to "tinker" with, or intervene in, a creation he had designed. But saying that ignores one of the attributes of God with which Collins seems to have no beef -- that is his timelessly eternal nature. If God is not constrained by the limitation of time (like we created beings are), then his actions within time are not dependent on it. God can act in eternity in ways that, to us, only seem to be temporal. This is not an earth-shattering concept to someone like Collins. Augustine spoke about it almost 1000 years ago.

My hope is that Collins will reconsider his views and let the evidence speak for itself. I would just hope that he, and others like him, would see the incoherency exhibited in their stance and pick the side that is consistent with their view of the origin of the universe. One cannot continue to operate on both sides of the issue. Sadly, this reality is demonstrated in the life of Howard Van Till who, unable to reconcile his "fully-gifted" creation with the evidence of divine action, chose to remain consistent by leaving the faith.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Immaculate Deception

The AP news flash on my ISP homepage caught my eye yesterday:

"Melissa Etheridge, Partner Have Twins."

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Melissa Etheridge and her partner, Tammy Lynn Michaels, are the new parents of twins, the couple announced Friday. Michaels gave birth to a boy and girl Tuesday: son Miller Steven and daughter Johnnie Rose.

Knowing that Etheridge is a lesbian, the wording of the piece is bizarre. Was this some kind of miraculous conception ... two women have somehow found a way to become "the new parents of twins"? A quick look at Etheridge's website didn't help.

"Tammy and the babies are in excellent health," Etheridge said ... "The creation of life brings about immeasurable love, and pours hope into the future. The joy will help carry us through our upcoming sleepless nights," the couple said in a statement.

In my (albeit horribly out-of-date) 1977 vintage dictionary, a "parent" is defined specifically as "one who begets or brings forth offspring; to ORIGINATE, PRODUCE." Apparently things have changed since 1977. Way back then, you probably would not have imagined a description of the the "couple" like this one either:

Etheridge, 45, and Michaels, 31, held a commitment ceremony in 2003. The
Grammy-winning singer has two children from her relationship with former partner
Julie Cypher: daughter Bailey Jean and son Beckett.

Way back then, your average person understood a "couple" to be a man and a woman, boy and girl. There was no such thing as a "commitment ceremony," and everyone would have assumed that describing someone as "having two children from a previous relationship" would entail the death or divorce of either the man or the woman who was the parent of those children.

Not so in the modern, enlightened, progressive present.

I must admit that buried deep in the story was the fact that all the proud couples' children were the result of sperm donations. But the headline and gist of the story was, either consciously or unconsciously, meant to portray the lesbian relationship of the proud "parents" as perfectly normal. It was meant to cast the artificially-produced children in this "family" as being the offspring of their natural parents.

Those who influence our culture are shrewd and deceptive in their efforts to pass off the aberrant, unnatural corruptions of our God-given humanity as being perfectly normal. It has been that way for thousands of years (Read Romans 1) and it will continue to be that way for those who choose to condone such actions.

I don't.

The hope is that, hearing about such perversity long enough will numb us to it; make it seem that "that's just the way things are now," and eventually wear us down enough that we will accept it.

I won't.

As a follower of Christ, I will love these women and their children. I will pray for them each to come to know the Truth. I will treat them with kindness and respect. I will attempt to help them see the difference between parents and caretakers. But bad ideas are just bad ideas ... no matter how new or old your dictionary happens to be. Corruption of the creation is what it is ... and what it is, is something we should never condone ... no matter how "intolerant" we are accused of being for doing so.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pushing Strings

While some skeptical scientists have had the temerity to question the speculative “Science of the Gaps” inherent in Superstring Theory and its Multiple Universe progeny, they have not abandoned the notion of a GUT. The August, 2006 issue of Scientific American reports that Alain Connes of the Collège of France in Paris, wants to expel Rube Goldberg from the discussion altogether. In place of the physical reconciliation of the macro/micro paradoxes of general relativity and quantum mechanics, Connes’ proposes a mathematical solution. By use of what he calls “noncommutative geometry,” Connes aims to replace the Cartesian definition of space with an altered geometry that recognizes the peculiarities of quantum theory and the spacetime implications of general relativity.

Unlike its Superstring predecessor, Connes’ mathematical model removes the requirement for actual infinities that have dogged its Superstring alternatives. Where “[Super]string theory cannot be tested directly … noncommutative geometry makes testable predictions.” According to Connes, his approach not only better “reflects reality,” it allows physicists to “peer into the complexity” of physics to reveal the “hidden jewels” behind it.

The physics and mathematics behind both Superstring Theory and noncommutative geometry are literally beyond the ability of most of us to comprehend. Superstring Theory may be headed for the ash heap of history. Connes’ new geometry may be its replacement. Time will tell. But the implications of each are the same.

The existence and emergence of the entire ensemble of forces and particles that comprise our universe does not in itself explain the synergy with which the different components of the system operate. This nature, a nature described so well by the language of GUT mathematics, is, says Max Tegmark in the same article noted above, “an abstract, immutable entity existing outside space and time” that allows for the orderliness and invariant properties we observe in nature. It is “something bordering on the mysterious” that has “an eerily real feel” to it and satisfies “a central criterion of objective existence.” Stephen Hawking asks where such characteristics as mathematics, and the laws of physics and chemistry, could have originated. Even the supreme atheist Bertrand Russell once remarked that mathematics holds both truth and supreme beauty.

The astounding implications of these cosmological theories have driven naturalistic scientists to infinite ends in their many and varied attempts to explain them away. But they are not going away. Theories come and go but the implications of those theories remain steadfastly in place.

Monday, October 9, 2006

All Strung Out

Theoretical physics has confirmed agreement between the predictions of General Relativity Theory and its correlation to the physical world to within a trillionth of a percent precision – a precision that cannot be written off to chance. On the macro-scale, where general relativity predominates, this makes nature quite predictable. It also offers implications, the most profound of which is the suggestion that the universe must have had its beginning in a “singularity” of infinite density where all matter, energy, space and time were condensed.

At the same time, Quantum Mechanics has proven to be an extremely fruitful scientific discipline for predicting and understanding the micro-level workings of our universe. At the quantum level, indeterminacy reigns. But the probabilities describing unpredictable events succeed in some way to end in a predictable array of outcomes. Quantum mechanics offers its own view of the origins of the universe that also includes issues regarding the singularity. General relativity and quantum mechanics do well at describing their separate realms but they do not seem to be compatible with one another.

For many years the search has been on for some way of quantifying and describing this micro-level/macro-level paradox. Science believes the answers lay in some kind of Grand Unified Theory (GUT) that is capable of offering an integrated view for how the universe operates in its current fashion, and to understand the singularity from which it appears the entire universe emanated. The most promising version of a GUT, which first emerged in the late '70s, has been Superstring Theory, a theory that explains all the known forces and observed particles as having been produced by vibrations in tiny “loops of energy” called strings.

The theory is esoteric but the most comprehensive form of it requires the universe to have originated in ten dimensions, six of which quickly “rolled up” into a compact, invisible coil that exists everywhere within the four observable dimensions. Physicist Hugh Ross summarizes Superstring Theory as follows:
"It is the only theory that self-consistently explains all the known
properties of the known fundamental particles (now numbering 58), all the
properties and principles of quantum mechanics, all the properties and
principles of both special and general relativity, the operation of all four
forces of physics, and all the known details of the creation event."
Sounds like a winner ... or at least it did. Recently, doubters (and there have always been some) have become more vocal about the fact that they believe Supersrting Theory may be unraveling. Critics claim that Supersting Theory has become "a Rube Goldberg contraption" in its most recent, complex iterations. Interestingly, the reason for their skepticism lies in the fact that, to reconcile the complex implications of the theory, naturalistic scientists have been driven to postulate that an infinite number of universes exist and that they are all different . We just happen to be in the one that has all the parameters just right to allow for life to exist.

Notice that the theory, put forth by a plethora of scientists who demand that all scientific proposals must be empirically measurable and falsifiable, proposes a solution (an infinite number of external and therefore undetectable universes) that is both unverifiable and unobservable.

The hypothesis originally devised by Princeton graduate student Hugh Everett was at one time described as an “outrageous” interpretation of quantum mechanics because, as Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton explain in their 1994 book, The Soul of Science, “…the idea of innumerable, unobservable universes co-existing alongside the one we see at any instant is too extravagant to be widely accept.”

More recently however, in the cover story for the May, 2003 issue of Scientific American titled, “Infinite Earths in Parallel Universes Really Exist,” physicist and astronomer Max Tegmark stated that, "The idea … seems strange and implausible, but it looks as if we will just have to live with it, because it is supported by astronomical observations."

Whoa!

Let's think about that one for a second. Notice that Superstring Theory does not attempt to explain the level of complexity (design?) that exists in our universe. It recognizes these astronomical observations and accepst them. Then, in order to impose a naturalistic explanation for this complexity on those observations, the existence of an infinite number other universes has been inferred.

In other words, naturalistic scientists have unwittingly admitted that the complexity exhibited by our universe can only be explained as having emanated from a potentially infinite source.

Now isn't that interesting? And isn't it also interesting that some skeptical scientists have actually exhibited some backbone by questioning such an explanation. Don't get me wrong. I'm no physicist and could not begin to explain the details of Superstring Theory to anyone. I don't know if Superstring theory is flawed or just in a slump. But I can recognize its implications.

And in this case, the implications are Divine.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bang?! (Part II)

It would take a larger space than I have (or could fill for that matter) to chronicle the many views of the universe's origins that have existed through history. Suffice it to say that, because there was no scientific way to analyze or verify any of them, they stood as philosophical speculations. Plato thought that experimental science was unworthy of the attention of great intellects (like himself). Aristotle, Plato's student, thought it self-evidentially obvious that the Earth could not move because it had already found its way to the center of the universe.

Newton, who tried to apply scientific evidence to the issue, determined that gravity, because it entails the attraction of all particles toward one another, would have caused the edges of the universe to collapse toward the center. Because this obviously was not going on the universe could not be finite. He therefore deduced that the universe must be infinitely large and matter evenly distributed within it. In the mid 18th century Kant's cosmology added that, for various reasons, the universe had to have no beginning in time and be infinite in extent.

For a couple of centuries there were no scientific cosmological developments that could unseat these dogmatic views. So, as Hugh Ross points out in The Fingerprint of God, Newton's static, eternal, infinite universe was "cast in concrete" and readily accepted by all thinking people, most notably those who saw this fact as removing any need for a cosmological First Cause -- or what some of us might call, "God."

That's when Einstein came along and upset the apple cart. Struggling to put forth a theory to explain gravity, Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity in 1915. Part of his struggle was with the rascally, inconvenient implication his equations kept bringing up. No matter how many times he recalculated things, he continued to be bothered by the fact that, if he was correct, the universe had to be expanding. Scientific dogma disallowed such an implication so, in an effort to maintain professional respectability, Einstein inserted a cosmological constant into his equations to cancel out the expansion.

The key point in all this is that Einstein (and others) rejected the idea of an expanding universe not for scientific reasons, but for philosophical reasons! You see, if the universe is expanding as time goes on, running the clock backward tells us that, at some point (now referred to as the "singularity"), the universe must have begun to expand from a single point -- the point at which a universe-sized Cause must have set the expansion in motion.

Einstein's theory had divine implications.

By 1929, Edwin Hubble published his finding that, not only was the universe around us expanding in every direction, but the farther out he looked, the faster it was expanding. This data fit perfectly with Einstein's equations and forced him (Einstein) to admit that his cosmological constant was uncalled for. He later described his insistence on including it the "biggest mistake of his life."

The upshot of all this is to point out that atheist scientists hate the idea of the Big Bang, not for scientific reasons, but for philosophical ones! Sir Arthur Eddington called the idea that the universe had a beginning "repugnant." Fred Hoyle was prompted to sarcasm and was the originator of the term "Big Bang." Hoyle meant the name to be a derogatory label for a concept he could not bring himself to stomach. The problem is that today, scientists have verified the accuracy of the Big Bang so extensively that many refer to it as a “law” instead of a theory. Christian Theists need to realize that the Big Bang is not something we should fear.

Cosmologically and scientifically speaking, The Big Bang may be our greatest ally.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bang?! (Part I)

It is interesting to me how negatively many folks view the Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe. There are two groups of people in particular who fiercely resist accepting it – but for completely different reasons. Today I will address the first group – Young Earth Creationists.

Many Christians are violently opposed to the idea of the Big Bang for one or both of the following reasons:

First, they believe that the Big Bang is a ploy, perpetuated by those who worship at the altar of scientific divinity, to promote the idea that the universe is old enough to allow time for Darwinian evolution to explain life on Earth. While many naturalistic scientists do promote this notion, the fact is that time is not what the evolutionists need. What they need is vastly more unattainable than a whole lot of time. They can have all the time they want. What they need is the ability to account for multiple reversals of, or the ability to completely dispense with, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Darwinian evolution simply cannot account for the self-organization that would have to occur to allow life to “emerge” from non-life.

Complex biological life demands explicit instructions and information content that cannot be brought about by random, chance events. As Dean Overman points out in his excellent Case Against Accident and Self-Organization:

“Because there are thousands of different enzymes with different functions, to produce the simplest living cell [requires] that about 2000 enzymes were needed with each one performing a specific task to form a single bacterium like E. coli. Computing the probability of all these different enzymes forming in one place at one time to produce a single bacterium [it has been calculated] that the odds are 1 in 10 to 40,000th power … The total number of atoms in the observable universe are estimated to be only approximately 10 to the 80th power.”

It is not the case that the amount of time normally understood to have elapsed since the Big Bang (about 14 Billion years) is sufficient to overcome these odds. In fact, no amount of time is sufficient to turn an entropy-increasing universe like the one in which we exist into the kind of entropy-reversing universe needed allow for this kind of self-organization to occur.

Secondly, they believe that the Big Bang describes a catastrophic, chaotic, out-of-control “explosion” that could not have originated with a perfect God. But the idea that the Big Bang was chaotic is just plain false.

Rapid, yes. Chaotic, no.

The level of order and complexity that had to have existed within the Big Bang singularity is nearly (if not actually) infinite. All four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces) have been experimentally verified to be in place within 10 to the minus 11th seconds after the creation event. Quarks, the building block particles of protons and neutrons, showed up 0.00000000001 seconds later. The characteristics (strength, weight etc.) of each of these (and many more) had to have been exquisitely fine tuned to allow for life to ever be possible.

In short, the Big Bang was not a random explosion. It was the superbly ordered, delicately engineered product of the Divine Mind. If Christian Theists were to imagine the kind of event that that would result when “In the beginning, God created …” it is exactly the kind of thing they might picture.

To accept the pejorative description of the Creation Event as being otherwise is to buy into the atheistic sarcasm of the guy – Fred Hoyle – who gave the Big Bang its name. Next I’ll look at why he did so and hopefully give Young Earth Christians a reason to consider why they share a fear of the Big Bang with atheistic scientists. While I understand, and share, the motivation of Young Earthers to honor Scriptural authority and vehemently oppose any attempt to deny God’s hand in the creation, I believe they need to consider the concept of Dual Revelation more seriously where the origin of the universe is concerned.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Empty Space

“Call it a hobby. Call it an obsession. Call it the new way of socializing in the networked world … Call it “friending,” the way millions of teens and young adults obsessed with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are making connections … Friendship always has been a tricky game, especially for teens. But in the past it was played out in school hallways, on playgrounds and in late-night phone calls. … These days it is happening in full color on the computer screen … “

On-line “relationships” are trendy these days. MySpace is the place to be – so much so that, according to psychologist Susan Lipkins, teenagers now judge their social status by the number of “friends” they can claim on their buddy lists. Those with short lists are considered social rejects and suffer with self-esteem issues because they are judged by the number of friends they can collect.

The news media focuses on the dangerous perversions that have arisen from such social networks. In fact, the same issue of USA Today in which the article quoted above appeared also contained the story of former Department of Homeland Security higher-up who used his online access to send pornographic pictures of himself and brag about his high-powered government position, in an attempt to arrange an illicit liaison with a 14-year old girl.

No doubt the anonymous nature of these social networks can be dangerous – but why? Why does anonymity lead to perversion and trouble?

I would contend that the root of the problem lies in the fact that, while an on-line relationship may be a “fun” way to share information and even discuss shared interests, it is not really a “relationship” at all. At its root, it is not based in ultimate reality because it condones the absence a crucial aspect of what constitutes our humanity -- the social context.

Sharing information is not all there is to a relationship. Modern technology allows us to view information with stunning detail and an authoritative presentation that implies credibility where there may be none – and interpersonal communication where none really exists. The ubiquity of such information, and effortless access to it, has shrunk our world to the point that we can “experience” nearly anything we desire without ever leaving our desk.

We can: shop for supplies, sell our possessions, buy products that arrive at our doorsteps within hours, contribute to charitable causes, earn college diplomas, carry on conversations stripped of body language, make “friends,” destroy our marriages and families by falling in love and arranging sexual liaisons; all without any form of actual human contact. This ability is not just unique to our time, and not just possible because of technology, it is a capacity that would never have been conceivable without it. And it is completely antithetical to the Biblical concept of a properly functioning human person.

Within the doctrine of the Trinity, and as consummated on the day Adam received his helper, the social dimension of the person is unique to our design. Yet the Internet allows us to bypass it at our will. Anonymity not only shuns accountability, it permits both an unchecked retreat into the dark corners of the corrupted human self, and the denial of reality concerning personhood. The Internet cannot be solely blamed for the tendency of man to withdraw into himself, but it is a devastatingly proficient modern vehicle for accelerating that inclination. Marriages, families and congregations of believers all suffer from the damaging effects of a technology driven mindset that cultivates an injured and isolated human soul.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Larry Bird, R.I.P.

We just buried our family’s pet cockatiel, Larry. He was not an extraordinarily bright or talented bird – he thought he had a twin brother who matched his every dance move when he stood in front of a mirror or even in front of the shiny faucet of our kitchen sink. But he could whistle approvingly at you when you walked into a room, or offer his rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 716 times in a row while you were trying to watch a television show. He could hiss at you when you tried to take him out of his cage at a time when he preferred to be taking a nap, or try to peck holes in your fingers when you tried to put him back in. He spent many a day alone and ignored in his 2’ by 3’ birdcage. Larry was a hit attraction four years ago when he first graced our family room on Christmas morning. He was well taken care of. But Larry had long since lost his status as the center of attention and popularity at the Perry house.

And that’s why I was surprised at the outpouring of grief and volume of tears that flowed following his unexpected death a few days ago. My boys – two of which are tough-guy, too-cool (by that I mean “typical”) teenagers – were devastated when the found Larry lying lifeless in the bottom of his cage. Their sobbing returned when we buried him in the backyard the next day.

Why would a silly, annoyingly loud, exceptionally messy little bird bring about such a reaction from the boys for whom Larry’s novelty had long worn off?

Larry also spent many an hour rubbing his fuzzy head on my son’s neck while getting his own neck massaged gently with a loving finger. Beside his piercingly shrill whistle, he could also chirp and coo you to sleep. He longed for attention and was quick to return it to the son with whom he bonded as a baby bird.

Larry had no creative will – we built the ladder he used every day to clamber around in his cage. He exhibited no moral awareness – he would just as soon take your eye out with his beak or steal the earring out of my wife’s ear. He had no thirst for knowledge – it took untold hours and treats to coax him into that “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” rendition that he would never have conceived of on his own. He had no appreciation of beauty – even of his own.

But despite all the differences he exhibited between we spiritually imbued humans who are made in God’s image, Larry was nonetheless a living creature, created by a loving God, and possessing some form of a soul. We can never explain the full extent of what constitutes the substance of life in any form but somehow we recognize its worth. In some way we are aware of the beauty and precious nature of that life because, whether we knowingly embrace it or not, it is built into the fabric of the universe. When a life to which we are emotionally attached comes to an end, that fabric is marred and the blemish touches our own soul.

In that way we recognize that Larry shared our dependence on the Creator, and our value as an object of His loving purpose for our existence. In that way we can connect to an annoying little bird because we somehow share the gift of life itself with him. This is not to equate the value of human life with the value of a little bird – but it is to acknowledge our commonality in its Source.

We’ll miss you, Larry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Anthropologist: Neanderthals More Normal Than We Are

This is a Neanderthal, and, lest you have any doubt about your status as an inhabitant of planet Earth, anthropologists have confirmed that he is "more normal than you are." Isn't that comforting?

Question: How did these anthropologists determine Mr. Neanderthal's normative status?

Answer: By assuming the validity of certain philosophical presuppostions, conforming their "findings" with those, and then making their philosophical assumptions sound scientific results. This is what is referred to as circular reasoning.

Consider the scientific facts documented by Fazale Rana in his book "Who was Adam?":
  • Nine mitochondrial-DNA studies conducted since 1997 have repeatedly shown that Neanderthal DNA sequences display only a 3.7% variation between specimens. This lack of genetic diversity implies that Neanderthals began as a small population in a specific geographic region.
  • That region (in Germany's Neander valley) is distinct from the widely accepted location of modern human origins in eastern Africa.
  • Repeated studies of human mitochondrial-DNA sequences reveal sharp and consistent genetic differences between Neanderthals and humans.
  • Neanderthal DNA does not show evidence of being modern human DNA which became exitinct. Rather, it reveals the unequivocal trademarks of a seperate species.

Though there is more detailed evidence available in Rana's book, the point is this: For almost 10 years, anthropologists have known that Neanderthals and humans are gentetically unrelated species. Though Neanderthals (and others) may exhibit human-looking traits, looks aren't everything. For claims of common ancestry to be legitimate, the devil is in the genetic details.

In other words, the scientific evidence is clear about the relationship between Neanderthals and humans. Yet those who write the popular literature continue to insist, and encourage others to accept, that we humans are just another branch on the evolutionary ape tree by making statements like these:

"But in terms of evolution of our family tree, the genus Homo, we're the
outliers and the Neanderthals are more toward the core."

Humans are not at the inevitable end of a sequence, Trinkaus said. "It just happens that we happen to be alive today and Neanderthals are not."

Why would these folks insist on inferring linkages that have been proven to be non-existent? Because the naturalistic paradigm requires it to be true. They assume materialist explanations for human origins, then mold their conclusions to the presuppositions with which they begin -- scientific evidence be damned.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What Would Mohammed Do?

In remarks he made last Tuesday when he spoke to professors in Germany, the Pope quoted 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus as saying:
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached, Benedict quoted.”
Muslim leaders were quick to attribute the 14th Century quote to Pope Benedict himself and thus fuel an incensed and irate reaction from around the Muslim world. Italian police were forced to raise the alert level at the Vatican as a result.

In Basra, Iraq, an indignant al Qaeda linked militant group vowed a war against the “worshippers of the cross” in response to the pope's speech (as if the war this group called for was not already underway). In defiance of the Pope’s outrageous claim – which suggested that the “evil and inhuman way” of Mohammed was to “spread his faith by the sword,” – these Muslim leaders showed the extent of their disgust for such an idea by issuing the following statement:

“We tell the worshipper of the cross (the Pope) that you and the West will be defeated, as is the case in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya,” said an Internet statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, an umbrella group led by Iraq's branch of al Qaeda, according to the Reuters news agency."

“We shall break the cross and spill the wine. ... God will (help) Muslims to conquer Rome. ... God enable us to slit their throats, and make their money and descendants the bounty of the mujahideen.”

… a statement that might be summarized to say, “we will use evil and inhuman ways to spread our faith by the sword.”

As a follower of Christ, who is repeatedly forced to explain and defend the Crusades, the witch trials, and the Inquisition to those who bash the Christian faith for its hateful intolerance, let me say that I do not defend any of those things. Nor do I deny their historicity.

What I do point out, however, is that each of these was a corruption of the teachings of Christ. They each involved sinful human actions that in no way represent what Christ taught. They are a bastardization of Christianity.

Conversely, the Muslim clerics quoted here, who vow to “slit our throats, break our cross, and spill our wine,” are expressing the unequivocal religious philosophy of their prophet Mohammed whom I quote from the Koran:

Surah 2.191: And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers
It is a fact that many Muslim believers denounce the tactics of these militant groups. They should be applauded for doing so. But when we ask, “What would Mohammed do?” the answer is clear, not only from his writings, but from his actions. The clerics of Basra, and their terrorist minions, are committed to spreading the word by the sword – just as their religious mentor taught them. The sooner we admit this, the better off we’ll all be – Muslims, Christians and Jew alike.



Friday, September 15, 2006

Lying to Themselves

To follow on from yesterday, the journal Discover reports on the work of:
“researchers [who] wanted to see whether brain scans can even pick up a significant difference between brain activity during lying versus when telling the truth.”
First, one is compelled to ask the materialist scientist on what premise this research is based. After all, if the human mind is nothing but a complicated mass of meat which has come to be what it is through an irrational, physical process, why would they expect to detect any physical reaction to such an abstract idea as truth?

There seems to be no reason why unguided evolutionary mutation would in any way connect physical reactions with abstract notions. Yet …
“the brain scans revealed unique areas that only lit up during lying. However, the researchers point out that there isn't one telltale spot in the brain that can automatically indicate a lie. “There really is no one lying center,” Faro says. "There are multiple areas in the brain that activate because there are a lot of processes that have to take place.“
Second, if evolutionary processes could explain a physical reaction to a moral standard of behavior, it would seem logical to assume that that reaction would be centralized to the specific area in which evolution had brought about the divergent speech pattern. There seems to be no reason that this would involve multiple areas of the brain – unless those areas were holistically connected in some way. This, however, is exactly what one would expect to find on the Christian worldview – that moral awareness resides in the soul so that breaching a moral boundary would effect the entire being of the person who did so.

Third, why would researchers care about such a thing? What would cause a scientist to have any notion of what lying is, unless that researcher was aware of an objective standard by which one determines right or wrong – a standard that cannot exist on the naturalistic worldview. The very fact that these scientists are compelled to study such a thing is evidence that objective morality is real and that its effects are inescapable.

Finally, and a little humorously, the research showed that …
“’In the group that lied there were two times the number of areas throughout the brain that showed activation compared with the group that was telling the truth,’ Faro says. ‘That's because to lie, you have to actively suppress memories that are triggered by the question, which takes more effort than simply asserting the truth,’ he says.”
And that …
“One of the most important of these is that the brain has to work much harder to lie than to tell the truth.”
On the naturalistic worldview, there is absolutely no explanation for these findings. The state of the human brain is just the way it is because of a chain of deterministic evolutionary events that brought it to its current form. On this view there is no right or wrong so there should be no impetus for the brain to have to “work harder” to achieve any one outcome rather than another. After all, no one outcome is in any way superior to another.

The only way to make sense of this research, or to understand why the research was even done in the first place, is to accept the fact that the human mind is more than just a clump of gray matter.

Scientists who deny as much are just lying to themselves.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mind Games

Working on the assumption that we are nothing but a conglomeration of physical stuff that has evolved into a massively complicated biochemical system, if follows that the mind we all think we have (ponder that phrase for a second), is really just a neuron-firing, chemical-reaction-based epiphenomenon of a massive computer made of meat.

“Huh?”

What I said is what the naturalistic paradigm demands to be true about your mind. Because there can be no reality beyond the physical stuff that makes up your brain, those pesky non-physical “thoughts” you have cannot really be non-physical. They must have a physical explanation in line with the tenets of materialist dogma. This is one of naturalism’s greatest challenges. For how could it be that non-physical, abstracts (your thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams, ponderings) could have emerged from something purely physical? To admit that thoughts are not physical things would be to undermine the naturalistic assumptions about ultimate reality and thus destroy the foundation of the materialist paradigm. We can’t have that.

Instead, in their attempt to explain the enormous differences in capacities between humans and animals, naturalistic scientists have constructed the theory that what we perceive to be non-material “thoughts” are really just highly complex chemical phenomena that have “emerged” from enormously complex neurological activity that has evolved over millions of years.

You just think you have a mind. You really only have a brain.

Dr. Stephen Barr offers a brilliant critique of this assumption in his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. There he utilizes the work of Roger Penrose and John Lucas to apply Gödel’s Theorem to the notion that the human brain is really just a computer made of meat. As it turns out, Barr uses mathematics and logic (the language of naturalism) to show that intellect has the capability to create computers but the reverse is not true. Computers are not capable of creating intellect. In fact, Barr notes …
“…the idea that man can be nothing other than a machine is really nothing other than a pure deduction from atheism. There is not a shred of positive evidence that a material system can reproduce the human abilities to understand abstractly and will freely.”
But that’s just the beginning. An even more fascinating find has just been published in Discover Magazine. You can read it here to see if anything blatantly theistic jumps out at you.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wide But Not Deep

Recently, Senator Barack Obama, in his call to allow faith a place in the public policy debate, asserted that:
Americans are a deeply religious people. Ninety percent of us believe in God,70% affiliate ourselves with an organized religion, and 38% call ourselves committed Christians.
It seems to me that he statistics cited here belie, or at least partially undermine, the claim that we are a “deeply religious people.” Wide maybe, but not deep. One must wonder what “god” it is that 90% of us claim to believe in, when an actual public commitment to that “god” results in a 20% drop in claiming affiliation to it, while only 38% of the “deeply religious” among us are committed to the most dominant religion in the land.

In his attempt to find common ground in the areas of politics and religion, Mr. Obama has actually exposed the actuality of a prevalent and privatized view of faith. The American culture, though it claims to believe in God, prefers a god whom each individual is free to create for himself. Inevitably, the “god” we choose to worship bears an eerie resemblance to ourselves. It is a deity who demands no change in our character and prescribes no cost for our discipleship. Instead of aligning ourselves with some judgmental “organized religion,” we apparently prefer to partake in a disorganized religion of our own making. This is the value system that, consciously or unconsciously, a majority of the people who walk through our church doors have been trained by society to accept. It is a value system that has separated spiritual things from intellectual things – a value system that has made us understand our spirituality to be a passive set of emotions that we may experience only once a week during Sunday morning worship. And we have bought into it.

The church has allowed the culture to accentuate the supremacy of God’s grace and compassion to the exclusion of God’s justice and sovereignty. But we cannot choose which attributes of God we will honor and we certainly cannot allow society to choose for us.

As long as our society continues to view faith as a purely private matter; as long as we continue to buy into the false notion that we “can’t legislate morality;” as long as we continue to exalt the non-constitutional notion of a "separation of church and state," the possibility of reaching a harmonious relationship between religion and politics will continue to elude us. This does not entail the threat of a “theocracy” that secularists so readily use as a scare tactic. It requires only that we recognize that ultimate reality consists not just of the physical world we can see, but also in the notions of objective morality and metaphysical reality that apply to any religion grounded in the idea that truth, goodness and beauty are real and knowable.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Pseudo Explanations

More along with what I would expect from Scientific American, we find yet another blatant demonstration of what caused Philip Johnson to become “Darwin's Nemesis.” Though someone like Fuz Rana or Michael Behe could better address the gaping holes in the scientific community’s flawed assumptions about pseudogenes, it amazes me that even a former Marine like me can spot the inanity in the lengths to which some naturalists will go to account for them.

Long written off as the dead relics of eons of evolutionary mutation, the writers allow that:
“recent evidence of activity among pseudogenes, and their potential resurrection, suggests some are not entirely dead after all.”
Like the poor guy in the wooden cart (from “Monty Python & The Holy Grail” – sorry) who has the audacity to claim “he’s not dead yet,” evolutionary biologists would love to club those rascally pseudogenes over the head. But they just won’t go away. This is not a startling new revelation. Intelligent Design theorists have predicted it. When “Darwin’s Black Box” was published 10 years ago, Michael Behe quoted biologist Ken Miller’s assertion that:
“The theory of intelligent design, cannot explain the presence of non-functional pseudogenes unless it is willing to allow that the designer made serious errors, wasting millions of bases of DNA on a blueprint full of junk and scribbles. Evolution, in contrast, can easily explain them as nothing more than failed experiments in a random process of gene duplication that persist in the genome as evolutionary remnants.”
Not so fast Mr. Miller. At the time, Behe responded to Miller by citing three shortcomings with his claim:

1) Because the use of a structure has not yet been discovered, it does not follow that none exists. Miller’s appeal is to a naturalistic explanation that assumes what it should be trying to prove – a kind of a naturalism of the gaps.

2) Even if the pseudogenes have no function, that fact provides no explanation for how they arose in the first place. The simple reproduction of a pseudogene requires more than a dozen sophisticated proteins to separate, align, copy, reconfigure and reinsert nucleotides back into the DNA. Evolution provides no explanation for how such a process could have come to be.

3) Implicitly required in Miller’s claim is an assumption that Intelligent Design proposes that these pseudogenes arose in the recent past. But Intelligent Design makes no such claim. The fact that a complex system shows evidence of being designed is completely devoid of any claim about when this might have taken place.

Behe went on to speculate about potential uses for pseudogenes:
“includ[ing] bonding to active hemoglobin genes during DNA replication in order to stabilize the DNA; guiding DNA recombination events; and aligning protein factors relative to the active genes.”
Back to the article ... Ten years after “Black Box” was published, the authors have found that pseudogenes are found in great numbers across the genomes of many life forms. A comparison of these reveals …
“a puzzling phenomenon [in that] … a few pseudogenes appear to be better preserved than one would expect if their sequences were drifting neutrally … more than half the heavily transcribed sequences [in the genome] map to regions outside of known genes. What is more, a number of those transcriptionally active intergenic areas overlap with pseudogenes, suggesting that pseudogenes may have life left in them.”
They go on to describe the possibility …
“that pseudogenes play some ongoing part in regulating the activity of functional genes.”
That Mr. Behe may seem to be getting the last laugh where pseudogenes are concerned is satisfying. But what is more relevant is the irony embedded in the naturalistic “explanation” for Behe’s apparently successful prediction. The authors find it …
“hard to imagine that these pseudogenes had the specific role they now perform when they first arose. Instead their activity may be the result of selection preserving happy accidents or of nature having figured out an efficient way to reuse the broken parts of genes by converting them to regulatory elements … pseudogenes may be considered not only as dead genes but also as potentially unborn genes: a resource tucked away in our genetic closet to be drawn on in changing circumstancesIt is already clear that a whole genome is less like a static library of information than an active computer operating system for a living thing.”
These are pretty lofty claims for the irrational, random, unguided, non-teleological process naturalistic scientists call Darwinian Evolution. Inanimate, irrational, unguided processes do not encode, preserve, access and maintain informational libraries or “figure out” more efficient ways of doing things. The information-laden, intelligent-action-suggesting language used to describe the characteristics of these entities formerly known as the “evolutionary road kill” is pretty astounding. I welcome it and look forward to hearing more. For if these are the kinds of explanations we will be asked to choke down in order to keep the naturalistic paradigm alive, its funeral can’t be too far away.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Spiritual Expertise

OK, this is weird. I never thought I'd find a spiritual truth outlined and defended in Scientific American but I guess there is a first time for everything. There is no doubt that the editors did so unwittingly, but their August, 2006 cover story, "Secrets of the Expert Mind," might as well have been written by Dallas Willard.

In their analysis of what constitutes the genius behind the making of a chess grandmaster, as well as those who dominate in music, sports, art, or the mastery of any other field, we find scientific verification from “expertise theorists” that it takes enormous effort to instill “chunks” of knowledge in our long-term memory and to use that knowledge while simultaneously (and oxymoronically) thinking about what we have decided to put our minds to doing. This, say the experts in the field cultivating expertise, is not gained by:

“experience but [in the] ‘effortful study,’ which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.”
The writers go on to point out that “motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability [and that] … the preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.”

When I read the piece, I found it hard to miss its application to the seemingly futile efforts of the Christian community (in which I readily include myself), to remain in, but not of, the world. George Barna makes a living pointing out the multitude of ways in which evangelical Christians act no differently from the world around them. Yet at the same time, this little nugget jumps out of his data and grabs me by the throat: According to Barna,
"92% of self-described evangelical Christians, whose behavior is not discernibly different from the surrounding culture, view themselves as being “deeply spiritual."
How can there be such a radical disconnect between the “deeply spiritual” way in which the church sees itself, and the contradictory behaviors and beliefs it exhibits?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that society has lured us into dissecting our minds from our hearts by redefining what it means to be "spiritual." Those who display all the same behaviors as the world around them, yet see themselves as somehow being “deeply spiritual,” have not made the association between what they claim to believe and how that belief should manifest itself. They have never connected their head with their heart. Worse, the culture has misled them about what their “heart” really is.

The heart, according to the culture that has been so successful at penetrating it, is the most important thing about us – it is the place where feelings and emotions let us know what matters most. When those feelings and emotions are positive, we are on the right track. We have found the truth, and the truth has let us be. Those who have perfected this search are considered society’s most “spiritual” people.

While I agree that the heart is the "most important thing about us," I reject the conventional wisdom about the definition of the heart. It is not just the center of our emotions. It is the center of our being -- the aspect of our person that defines our true identity as a creature made in the image of the Creator -- made with the ability to understand, seek and relate to Him.

If Dallas Willard is on the right track (and I think he is), real “spirituality” is not just mental assent to truth. It is not just a “good feeling” about God. It also depends on doing the hard work of relating that knowledge to the practice of a system of behavior that manifests those beliefs without a conscious thought – to act automatically, not because we have to consider all available options, but because it has become our very nature. It is who we are. Brother Lawrence called this “The Practice of the Presence of God.” It is a dedication, motivated by joy, to the spiritual disciplines of our faith. Paul called it "righteousness" (Greek: dikaiosune)

It is "spiritual expertise."

I would not suggest for a second that this limits or excludes the work of the Holy Spirit in the renewing of our mind. But it seems to be a cop out to accept the renewal part while simultaneously avoiding the hard work that is required of us to live out the life we so easily claim to be our own. They will know us by our fruits.

If we are open to the fact that God’s Truth cannot be suppressed, I suppose it’s not so weird to find such a revelation in a magazine devoted to the defense of methodological naturalism. The Truth is the Truth, no matter where you happen to find it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Response to Mr. Massa -- It's the Embryonic Part, Eric

Recently, my friend (though he may deny that descriptor of himself, I don’t) and former college roommate, who is running for Congress in the 29th District of New York, issued a press release about his stance on Embryonic Stem Cell Research (ESCR) to which I am compelled to respond. I understand Mr. Massa’s zeal for pursuing medical solutions and being “pro-cure” (as he calls himself). As a cancer survivor, Mr. Massa’s sensitivity to these issues is perfectly understandable. I share them. So, I should preface my remarks by saying that I, and many like me, do not in any way oppose stem cell research – as long as it does not entail the destruction of human embryos.

Mr. Massa said that his opponents hold “an extreme, politically convenient belief system that favors frozen, microscopic cells over living human beings. How pro-life is that?” I believe this statement is loaded with inaccuracies and deserves a reasoned response:

1) Labeling those who disagree with his position “extremist” is not only ad hominem, it completely avoids responding to the actual arguments offered by ESCR opponents. If Mr. Massa considers an opposing position “extremist” just because someone else holds it, his position could be labeled in a like manner. It is the sign of the weakness of his own argument that Mr. Massa, and others like him, refuses to actually respond to the intellectual position of his opponents.

If Mr. Massa’s position rests on the assumption that minority-equals-extremist I would point out that polls which allow respondents to differentiate between their approval of stem cell research and research which requires the destruction of human embryos, the percentage who favor stem cell research quickly falls. In that case, polling shows that opposition to ESCR is as high as 70%.

Though these statistics are interesting, they are also irrelevant to the argument in question. The moral status of a position is not dependent on its popularity. Opposition to slavery wasn’t very popular in the South in the mid-nineteenth century, just as support for the Civil Rights Movement was lacking (mostly among southern Democrats) in the mid-twentieth century. Does that mean that slavery and racism were morally defensible?

Likewise, the claim that opponents of ESCR are motivated only by “political convenience,” makes absolutely no sense. If a majority of Americans agree with Mr. Massa’s position as he claims, what is the political benefit of voting with the “extreme” minority?

2) The position of the Catholic Church regarding ESCR is as follows:
The Catholic Church is against stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of human embryos. Pope John Paul II says embryonic stem-cell research is related to abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on innocent life.”

“The pope rearticulated his position on the use of embryos by saying: "Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to be destroyed in the process.” (Both quotes from The Catholic Digest, emphases mine)

As a Catholic himself, it would be interesting to know how Mr. Massa reconciles the teachings of his own church with the political position he holds regarding ESCR.

3) The distinction between “frozen, microscopic cells” and a “living human being” is an arbitrary one. For one thing, the thermodynamic state of an entity does not change its ontological status. The decision of an outside agent to freeze a human embryo, does not suddenly render that embryo non-human. Mr. Massa’s distinction is a false one. Every one of those embryos contains the potential (even though it is artificially mitigated by those who froze them) to develop into a fully formed human being.

Secondly, Mr. Massa (like many who share his view) seems to equate “frozen, microscopic cells” with an unborn human embryo. He then contrasts that entity with a “living human being,” claiming that we “extremists” value the former over that latter. This assertion shows that Mr. Massa grossly misunderstands the position of those who oppose ESCR.

Let me say this as clearly as I can: The problem opponents have with ESCR is precisely that we place the exact same value on the unborn human embryo as we do on what Massa calls a “living human being.” This is because we believe that the embryo is a living human being. To so flippantly shrug off that position shows at least an alarming lack of tact, at best a gross ignorance of the facts of the issue. An embryo is not a thing. It is a stage in the development of a thing.

What is that thing, Mr. Massa? If an embryo is not a human being, what is it?

If it is a human being, how do you justify its destruction for any reason?

4) There is little (if any) opposition to stem cell research. It is the creation and use of human embryos that is morally objectionable, not stem cell research in general. Along those lines, alternate forms of stem cell research, which do not raise moral objections, show more promise. As Scott Klusendorf of the Life Training Institute points out in his August 2, 2006 blog entry:

First, embryonic stem cells, though allegedly more flexible than their adult counterparts, are hard to control once implanted. They sometimes form tumors instead of usable tissue.

Second, the cloning procedures needed to produce embryos for research are hugely expensive. As Wesley J. Smith points out, "The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) claims it could take about 100 human eggs per patient—at a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 apiece—just to derive one cloned embryonic-stem-cell line for use in regenerative therapy." If true, it would be next to impossible to secure the billions of human eggs needed for widespread therapeutic cloning. And even if the biotechnology could be developed, "it would either be available only to the super rich or so costly that it would have to be stringently rationed."

Third, non-controversial adult stem cells are currently treating 65 known diseases while their embryonic counterparts are treating none, leading some scientists to wonder if embryo cells have any therapeutic value whatsoever.

Fourth, prospective investors have so far failed to pony up the cash for research which, in their view, appears highly speculative and might not cure anyone for years to come.

Finally, there's at least some research (summarized here by the USCCB) which indicates that cloning technology might never yield substantial treatments unless cloned humans are developed well past the embryonic stage.
The promises of ESCR are highly questionable. It is irresponsible to offer false hope and mislead people into thinking otherwise. Mr. Massa accuses his opponents on this issue of taking their stance for “political convenience,” but his exaggerated promises are far crueler and more politically expedient than anything his opponents are saying.

So, Mr. Massa, you asked, “How pro-life is that?” Let me respond directly by saying, “As pro-life as it gets.”

How would you respond to the arguments Mr. Massa? I look forward to finding out.