Monday, January 22, 2007

Gradual Descent

It is not uncommon, when sitting at the gate before scheduled departure time, for passengers boarding my airplane to stick their head in the cockpit and ask if they can take a look. Most often those who do so are nervous flyers (who want to see if they trust us), aviation enthusiasts (who want to take pictures), or a fascinated little kid (who wants to push some buttons). But on occasion, the cockpit visitor is a seasoned veteran or frequent flyer who simply wants to ask a favor. They have a cold or a sinus infection and they are having trouble clearing their ears. They want to know if we can take it easy on the descent toward our destination. As long as operational necessity does not prohibit it, I am always happy to oblige.

With no conflicting traffic or weather to prohibit it, and minimal throttle movement to affect the pressurization system, we can actually make it hard to tell the airplane is descending at all. And though the pressure change from the top of descent to landing is exactly the same as it would always be, the result is a happy passenger who arrives at our destination pain free -- and nobody else is the wiser.

As "Sanctity of Human Life" Sunday approached, some of my reading reached a "harmonic convergence" that struck me with the applicability of this simple practice to the attitude our society holds on the abortion topic. Two issues in particular jumped off the pages of history.

The first regards the American Medical Association. Serge can address this issue better than I could but a review of Frederick Dyer's book, The Physicians Crusade Against Abortion, chronicles the efforts of the AMA toward stricter abortion laws during the mid-nineteenth century. Though the contemporary conventional wisdom holds that doctors' concerns have always centered on the safety and welfare of the mother, Dyer shows that it was a different issue that led Harvard Medical School's David Storer to write and lecture against abortion. Storer and his son Horatio encouraged the AMA to study the subject of when life begins.

As reviewer John F. Quinn notes, their work led the AMA to call on their colleagues to do all in their power to: enlighten the general public about the fact that fetal life begins at conception; urge doctors to press state legislatures for stronger anti-abortion laws, and offer rewards for the best anti-abortion essay published by a doctor.

That was in 1864. Today, the AMA's position is as follows:
H-5.990 Policy on Abortion
The issue of support of or opposition to abortion is a matter for members of the AMA to decide individually, based on personal values or beliefs. The AMA will take no action which may be construed as an attempt to alter or influence the personal views of individual physicians regarding abortion procedures. (Res. 158, A-90; Reaffirmed by Sub. Res. 208, I-96; Reaffirmed by BOT Rep. 26, A-97) [emphasis mine]
Why the difference? Since the AMA held its mid-nineteenth century stance on abortion, the practice has been legalized. In addition, medical technology has certainly improved, lessening the risk of both pregnancy and abortion to both mother and baby. In other words, the much-touted concern for the life of the mother is not the AMA's real issue. At the same time, ultrasound technology has only added further confirmation to Storer's archaic assertion that life begins at conception.

No, the difference between the AMA's contemporary abortion policy and the one it held in 1864 is not medically based. It wasn't then and it isn't now. It was grounded in the moral case that the fetus was a human being from conception. Instead, the AMA's change in policy is a reflection of the false notion of moral neutrality that has fermented within the culture since then -- the notion that the issue is a matter of "personal values or beliefs" which should never be allowed or construed "to alter or influence the personal views" of another.

I can only imagine the horror with which Dr. Storer would have viewed what is euphemistically described today as "the rare procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion." Storer, still cruising along at a mid-nineteenth century moral altitude, would have felt within his bounds to see "partial birth abortion" for what it really is -- infanticide -- and rallied his professional association to put and end to it.

Which brings me to the second observation.

Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Professor Emerita, Department of English, at John Jay College, CUNY, offers what for me is a stunning synopsis of the views of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger -- most notably her view of "evolution."

I expend great effort in my attempt to understand evolution. In that pursuit I have found it to be essential to first define what one means when we use the term. When it comes to "evolution," precise definitions make a world of difference. Sanger's definition proves the point. In her mind, birth control, primarily manifested as infanticide in the ancient world, reflected the progressiveness of a society. As the civilization became more advanced, infanticide increased. From there, Sanger extrapolated that, because infanticide could not be stopped, it would lead to even more advanced methodologies. After condoning infanticide, enlightened societies would move more toward abortion which, for Sanger, consisted of:
a woman fulfilling her "highest duty" by her choice to use "the surgeon's instruments" instead of "sacrificing" all that is "highest and holiest in her -- her aspiration to freedom ..."
In the final stages of progress, society would embrace contraception as the most "evolved" form of birth control.

While there is an obvious distinction to be made between infanticide/abortion and non-abortifacient contraception, Sanger would have been unmoved by it. Her view served only to see the "evolution" of killing babies as a methodological advancement whereby the practice is simply moved farther up the birth canal. Invisibility promotes acceptability.

It is instructive that Sanger believed the "art" of killing babies was enhanced by making it harder to see. To view this as a "progressive" form of evolution is to unwittingly shed light on what has always been one of humanity's most common proclivities -- the ability to rationalize otherwise repugnant behavior by obscuring its consequences. This is why Scott believes it is so important for people to actually see the reality of abortion -- and the reason pro-abortionists so vehemently oppose his doing so.

When Scott shows his pictures, those who view them are jerked out of the lazy, gradual descent they have been experiencing and back into the reality of what is happening around them. They are forced to recognize that they are passengers on a cultural airplane ... The person who requested the descent is still sick ... The entire airplane is headed for the ground ... and nobody seems to notice.

Friday, January 19, 2007

No Engines

… continuation of “No Engines, No Wings – Won’t Fly”

The first two definitions of evolution are not problematic. It is only evolution in the third sense that won’t fly. I will refer to this form of evolution as Evolution (with a capital ‘E’) because it is the prevailing view among the influential leaders of the scientific community. This is Darwinian (or neo-Darwinian) Evolution – the view that single-cell life emerged from non-life and, after billions of years of mutation and transformation, can account for all the diversity of life we see on Earth today. Before addressing the third (controversial) definition discussed above, Evolution must first prove capable of accounting for the Origins of Life. If it cannot do that, it can never get off the ground. This is Evolution’s greatest obstacle, and the reason it still sits quietly on the runway. There are several aspects of this problem.

First, natural selection is, by definition, a process that works by rewarding an organism’s advantageous mutations. This is the source of the “survival of the fittest” concept with which we have all become so familiar. Those mutations that provide the organism with some kind of benefit are “selected” and further enhance the propagation of the species. But the early, lifeless Earth contained no organisms! The logical problem that arises is that, before life existed, there were no advantageous mutations on which natural selection could work.

Second, Evolution presumes that first
life must have emerged gradually after billions of years of geological and environmental preparation that transformed the planet into a life friendly Petri dish. The problem is that the geological and biological evidence shows that this presumption is wholly inaccurate. Instead, the scientific indications are that the Earth was being pounded by meteors and the like during the Late Heavy Bombardment which occurred between 3.8 and 3.9 billion years ago. Conditions during that time were so hostile that no form of life could possibly have survived it. However, most researchers also agree that was present on the Earth 3.86 billion years ago. In other words, life appeared almost simultaneously with the end of the heavy bombardment. This evidence runs completely counter to the Evolutionary model we are asked to accept. But that’s not all.

Third, Evolution also maintains that this first life would have been simplistic in form and chemical makeup, then gradually progressed into more complex structures. Instead, the evidence of life we see is exactly the opposite. Those organisms that popped up 3.86 billion years ago were incredibly complex – so complex that some researchers suggest there is evidence of photosynthetic processes in place from the very beginning.

Fourth, any form of life must, by definition, be able to utilize energy from its surroundings and transform that energy so that it can develop, grow and sustain itself. This we call metabolism. At the same time, the continued existence of life means that, no matter how simple the life form is, it must have the ability to replicate itself. Biologists wrestle over which of these processes must have arisen first. But, within that debate, there exists an even more intractable problem that has become a classic “chicken or the egg” scenario for Evolutionists. As biochemist Fazale Rana puts it:

This conundrum refers to the complete interdependence that proteins and DNA have on one another when it comes to their synthesis and biochemical roles in the cell … Even though scientists refer to DNA as a self-replicating molecule, its synthesis, and hence its replication, requires a suite of proteins. In other words, proteins replicate DNA [but] without DNA, the cell cannot produce proteins

In short, Evolution is left to explain how, if highly complex entities like proteins and DNA are said to emerge through painfully slow processes, one could have arisen without the other. To accept the claims of Evolution is to believe that both of these vital developments must have occurred simultaneously.

Fifth, Darwin conceived of the site where life must have first formed in a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker in 1871:

It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed

We cannot fault Darwin for speculating about what has come to be known as the “pre-biotic soup” where life first sprang into existence. We can, however, call to task those who have failed to produce such a soup for their continued insistence that we accept its existence. Research based on the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis, like the much-touted Miller-Urey experiment, have done nothing but cast further doubt on the reality of Darwin’s “warm little pond.” Miller-Urey assumed environmental conditions on the early Earth that have since been proven to be incorrect. In discovering this, scientists have run up against yet another chicken-or-the-egg dilemma regarding the presence of oxygen in the early atmosphere. Rana again …

Oxygen’s presence, either in the atmosphere or dissolved in oceanic or subterranean water, shuts down prebiotic chemistry pathways … Ironically, oxygen’s absence would also have turned off prebiotic chemistry … either way, in the presence of oxygen or in the absence of oxygen, the soup is ruined because prebiotic molecule formation is stymied

Or, as one of Jerry Seinfeld’s most famous characters might have screamed at Darwin, “No soup for you!” [I couldn’t resist] Tying these Darwinian takeoff inhibitors together, Evolutionary scientists have gone to great lengths to try to recreate the conditions of the early earth to show how life could have emerged from non-life. Unlike their blind and purposeless friend, natural selection, these researchers know the outcome. They know what it takes to constitute life. They know how cells function. They know how amino acids, proteins, and DNA are constructed (this, by the way, constitutes another mountain Evolutionary biochemistry must climb which I have not even begun to address here). They stage trials that commence with pristine environmental factors and involve researchers that “tweak” various experimental parameters, but still they cannot reproduce the formation of even the simplest building block of single-cellular life. For all their blustery pronouncements and pitiful promises, Michael Behe shows that even those inside the field admit that:

More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.

The failure of the Evolutionists in this area is so complete they have essentially given up on the project. They still refuse to surrender their naturalistic presumptions however. In a tacit admission that they have not found, and do not expect to find, any plausible explanation for the origin of life from on the Earth, the latest attempt to rescue naturalism from its abysmal failures centers on the claim that life must have arrived here from some extraterrestrial location. Panspermia they call it ...
a theory which holds that the stuff of life is everywhere and that we humans owe our genesis and evolution to a continual rain of foreign microbes. It means, simply, that we might all be aliens.
In the "non-directed" form of this theory these microbes originated elsewhere and were deposited here by interstellar “winds.” Though it is an interesting theory, it does absolutely nothing to alleviate the problems with the naturalistic case for the origin of life. It simply pushes all those problems off to some foreign world we have not yet found. But it gets better.

"directed" panspermia the search for the origin of life is said to end with us behind bars. Here, life on Earth is posited to be the project of some extra-terrestrial intelligent agent who put us here for some kind of experiment. It ends up that Earth is a zoo. In the end, the meticulously regulated actions of our most prominent origin of life researchers cannot even fathom a working model for the origin of life. The most plausible explanation naturalism can offer ends up with humanity being the project of some cosmic zookeeper.

Naturalistic scientists scoff at those who suggest that the evidence for the origin of life may point to the actions of an Intelligent Designer. Yet, at the end of the day, that is exactly what they offer us in return.
There is no plausible naturalistic explanation for the origin of life. And, for that reason, Evolution is a theory that never gets off the ground.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

No Engines, No Wings -- Won't Fly

There is an environment that makes most of the pilots I know gag. It is the sound of whirring disk drives and hissing pistons. It is the smell of hydraulic fluid and heated computer hardware. Each of these reverberates within a boxy cavern that pilots cannot help but associate with anguish, stress, fear and despair. It is a place we loathe but cannot avoid. It is the simulator.

I understand the purpose and inevitability of simulator training. I am glad that my family rides on airplanes flown by pilots who are required to undergo simulator training. I get all that. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. No one wants to endure any form of torture but that is exactly what the simulator is. Most of us call it the “sweatbox” for a reason.

That is the issue at the core of our hatred for simulators. The new, high-tech, high-speed generation of simulators is so well designed that, when you are in them, you begin to believe what you see. The picture that is projected on the windscreen in front of you looks real, right down to the last detail. The airports you land at have every light, and building, and taxiway perfectly represented. The flight and navigation instruments work just like they do in an airplane – complete with the wobbles and beeps and buzzes you would actually experience. The engines surge and push you into the back of your seat. The weather pounds you into submission. Birds fly by. Radios hiss and squeal. Your blood pressure rises. You sweat like a pig. You flinch when you hear a loud bang. You try to make smooth landings in a contraption designed to make you fail. It all looks very real – but it’s not.

They can do anything to you in the simulator. Engines catch on fire or blow up. Passengers have heart attacks. Generators fail. Hydraulic systems leak. Landing gear won’t retract, or extend. The weather can change from ice and snow to hot summer thunderstorms; from calm, opaque fog, to gusty turbulence, to driving rain – all in the space of a few minutes, or all at the same time. Pilots are used to dealing with inflight emergencies – but not with all the inflight emergencies you can think of, all at the same time.

And that is what we don’t like about simulators. On the surface, they are staggeringly convincing. But when it comes down to it, “flying” a simulator is not the real thing. A simulator looks good on the inside, but when you step back and look at the big picture, you see what an incomplete representation it really is. Pilots love to fly airplanes but simulators are not airplanes.

After you have spent four or five hours getting abused inside the "sweatbox" your instructor pushes a button to turn the “motion” off and makes the whole nightmare come to an end. You climb out of your seat in a frustrated ball of stress-induced paranoia, exit through a door that looks nothing like an actual airplane door, and walk over a narrow bridge back into the real world. If you were to turn around and look at the simulator (most of us don’t – we just want to get away from the thing as quickly as possible) you would see that it is nothing but a big, square box that sits on top of a tangle of spindly hydraulic legs and the thick, black cables that give it artificial life. It is propped up by a horde of engineers who force it to act like it is flying. But simulators will never fly. They can’t.

A simulator has no engines. A simulator has no wings.

Real airplanes need engines to get themselves off the ground. Real airplanes need wings to sustain themselves in flight. It is as simple as that. And for those two reasons, Darwinian Evolution looks an awful lot like a simulator. It has no engine to get it off the ground. It has no wings to sustain it in flight. Darwinian Evolution is a box that won’t fly, no matter how much we have been programmed to believe it really does.

There are many technical reasons why Darwinian Evolution falls short of offering us a realistic explanation for life on Earth. The more information scientific research gives us, the more the data undermines its dubious claims. The model looks great from the outside, but if you analyze the data without first assuming the truth of Darwinian Evolution, you soon realize that the data gives us a picture that materialistic Darwinian processes just can’t paint. You will never read that in a textbook or on the pages of Nature or Scientific American, but that does not change the utter inability of Darwinian Evolution to explain the existence of even the simplest forms of life.

The analogy stands. Darwinism’s missing engine is its inability to explain the origin of life. Without that, it can never get off the ground. Darwinism’s missing wings are the theory’s lack of credibility in explaining the diversity of life we see around us. Without that, it has no capability to sustain itself about even its most fundamental claims.

Fuzzy Definitions

We have to choose our words precisely when we talk about evolution. Before evaluating evolution as a theory, we have to be very careful about defining what we mean when we use the term “evolution.” There are several meanings for the word – some that are controversial and some that are not. The greatest misuse of the word occurs when these various definitions are applied interchangeably. The most common form of this is the bait-and-switch.

Here, the naturalistic scientist offers some evidence for a non-controversial version of evolution. When you agree that the evidence offered is valid you have taken the bait. While you have only been offered evidence of evolution in this non-controversial sense, the naturalistic scientist then makes the switch. She claims that by this evidence she has proven that evolution in another sense is true. The other sense is always some controversial form of evolution for which you have been offered nothing but a promise of future proof. This is easy to see once you are clear on the three definitions themselves.

The simplest definition of evolution is change over time. This is non-controversial. It would be silly to deny that our almost every aspect of our world changes over time. Mountains erode. Rivers flow. Fish spawn. Birds migrate. Plants grow. Middle age waistlines expand. The point is that "evolution" is not an evil word or one we should be afraid to utter. To say, for instance, that a human embryo evolves into a full-grown, adult human being is not in any way tantamount to admitting that we have agreed to the tenets of Darwinian Evolution.

The second definition of evolution can be called micro-evolution. This one becomes slightly more complicated even though most agree that it is non-controversial as well. This form of evolution can also be labeled adaptation. Charles Darwin wrote about it extensively and most famously in his discussion of the finches he encountered on the Galapagos Islands. Over long periods of observation, the finches’ beaks were noted to change size and shape in response to the availability of food and water on the islands.

Darwin made much of his finches and biologists have since continued the tradition. All of us can agree that it is fascinating to see the different ways that all forms of life are able to adapt to their environment in order to survive. Depending on your point of view, the implications of these observations can be used to “prove” completely different hypotheses. Evolutionists interpret this tendency in nature as offering support for their admiration for the efficiency of natural selection. Creationists interpret it as confirmation of the care and elegance with which the Designer infused His creation.

In either case the evolution in question is non-controversial, even though this example has become a classic case of the bait and switch. This is where our definitions of evolution become vitally important. By agreeing with, and even admiring, the fact that we have verification that finch beaks vary within finch populations, the Darwinian Evolutionist wants to say that, having observed the actuality of the second (non-controversial) definition of evolution, we are compelled to translate that observation as proof that a third definition of evolution is also true.

This third definition of evolution can be called macro-evolution or, in scientific parlance, speciation. This is the view that minute, incremental changes in species, amassed over long periods of time, result in changes to the original species so drastic that they constitute the appearance of a new species altogether. But, to use the example at hand, there is no scientific evidence to show that the beak morphing observed with Darwin’s finches led the birds to become anything other than finches with different sized beaks. Though the Darwinian Evolutionist wants us to accept the reality of the third definition of evolution, she is offering the second definition of evolution as her proof.

This is where the problems begin. And this is where Darwinian Evolution becomes a simulator that misrepresents topics much more important than the reality of flying real airplanes in the real world. Those topics include the foundation for our worldview and our understanding of what makes us human. The stakes are high – so high that we should not accept the Darwinian Evolutionist’s model for the appearance and diversity of life on Earth before we see it for what it really is. It is a simulator that can never get off the ground – a simulator with all the aerodynamic flying qualities of a set of car keys.

It just won’t fly.

... to be continued ...

Friday, January 5, 2007

Innovative Brits Propose Making Abortion More “Rare”

In keeping with the tenets of the Jocelyn Elders “every child a planned and wanted child” school of bioethics, England’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called for a public discussion regarding the “active euthanasia” of sick and disabled newborns. Their logic goes like this:

  • “Active euthanasia” is illegal in England but apparently widely practiced
  • Legalizing “life-shortening and deliberate interventions to kill infants” (their term) would allow parents the option of continuing pregnancies that threatened risky or questionable outcomes
  • Parents would therefore be more confident in knowing that they would not be deprived of the option to terminate their sick or disabled infants if they so chose
  • This would impact obstetric decision-making and prevent late term abortions

In summary, the promise of an unfettered right to infanticide might serve to reduce the occurrence of exercising one’s unfettered right to abortion.

In defending the proposed legal change, one member of the English government’s Human Genetics Commission, Manchester University’s Professor of Bioethics, John Harris, argues that:

“We can terminate for serious fetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it okay to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

The fact that infanticide is already “widely practiced” in England makes one wonder what practical impact this law change would really have on reducing the number of abortions there. This proposal presumes that parents who are inclined to kill their infants are basing their decision to do so on legalities. But when the effort to defend such a practice centers on a utilitarian view of the infant’s worth, it hardly seems that it matters to them where their infant happens to be when they kill it.

Perhaps the measure would reduce both abortion and infanticide by allowing the possibility that the parents might be dissuaded once they actually see the infant about whom they are making their “choice.” One could only hope. But when a society descends to such a point that condoning infanticide is seen as a way to protect life, something is rotten in Britain.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Whose Nightmare, What Dreams?

Chuck Colson's "Breakpoint" essay today dealt with an issue near and dear to my heart. You can read the entire piece here. Colson reports on "a conference recently held in Costa Mesa, California, that turned into the secular materialist equivalent of a revival meeting." It apparently became so militant that even those who were presumably in favor of the agenda thought things went over the top. One such attendee described the conference as:

a "den of vipers" where the only debate [was] "should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?"

Nice display of tolerance, eh?

These things are to be expected I guess. But what really gets me is the blatant hypocrisy of a guy like Steven Weinberg, author of The First Three Minutes. Weinberg was a speaker at the conference who told attendees:

that "the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief." According to Weinberg, "anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."

Weinberg, some may recall, is also the guy who famously said (in the above referenced book) that:

It is hard to realize that [life on Earth] is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat . . . The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless (emphasis mine)
This is purely Mr. Weinberg's opinion of course, but I wonder why he would find these assertions of his so "hard to realize?" On his materialist view, the hostility and futility of the universe are not unexpected. Indeed, they are the only logical conclusions he should expect. Does Mr. Weinberg possibly betray an undeniable, intrinsic yearning for the reality of a world beyond what he can see?

And what about this? Mr. Weinberg claims that the scientific enterprise he so idolizes offers us only meaningless inferences about the nature of the universe. The more we learn about it, the more meaningless it becomes. We irrational religious types are just engaged in wishful thinking when we seek, or think we've actually found, otherwise. Silly us. But, as Jonathan Witt points out in A Meaningful World; in the very next paragraph of Mr. Weinberg's book, he also makes the following claim:
But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
In other words, all those scientists to whom Mr. Weinberg addressed his comments in Costa Mesa spend their time engaged in an enterprise that, at its core, is a search for meaning in the data -- data which he just labeled as meaningless. So, who is being irrational? As Witt points out:
Science is a meaningful activity precisely because the universe itself is meaningful and human beings have the strange capacity to understand it.
It is sad that Mr. Weinberg holds such a view of the universe. But it is intellectually dishonest to vilify religious folks for seeing meaning when he, as a scientist, is engaged in an effort that does the exact same thing. That Mr. Weinberg does not accept the implications of that data is his own choice. But on what basis does he justify not only disallowing religious people that same endeavor, but demonizing them for trying?

Let's be clear. We theists welcome science, the data it brings us, and all the implications that go with it. Those who share Mr. Weinberg's view do not welcome the implications, or any debate about those implications. They cower from debate by vilifying their opponents before the debate starts. They disallow certain readings of the data not for scientific reasons, but for philosophical reasons. They want "the world to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief" while their worldview resulted in the Utopian dreams of Stalin, Hitler, Pol-Pot, Mao, and Hussein. The list goes on ... as does the hypocrisy and dishonesty of those who make statements like the ones made in Costa Mesa. If civilization needs a contribution, it certainly isn't from folks who think like these guys.