Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Making Mud Pies

Yesterday's news contained one story that threatens to rock the world … at least that’s what “they” say. Before I address specifics I'd just like to say that this story is an object lesson in man's desire to "play god." That proclivity is the force behind Enlightenment Humanism and the Fall of Man. In each case, it is the ultimate idolatry. But in any case, it unveils the idea that we humans have insatiable desires that only God can fill. Keep that idea in mind as you consider the announcement and the implication it offers that if these scientists can "create life" in a lab, it surely cannot be a big deal that life showed up here on planet earth. That's a pretty bold statement to make. But when you break it down, it turns out that both the scientists and their announcement suffer from mega-sized delusions of grandeur. You don’t have to read deep into the story to see that. The lead-in goes like this:
Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch, and they're getting closer … Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."
Create life from scratch, eh? We can put that notion to bed pretty quickly. What these scientists are really starting with are the chemical compounds adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine, (C) and thymine (T). These are the "base" chemicals that make up DNA. Here are just a few points an untrained knucklehead like me can come up with when considering whether these scientists are really "starting from scratch."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Crack In The Edifice?

Confronting the big questions

For thousands of years, people have gazed in wonder at the world about them and asked the big questions: How did the universe come to exist? What is it made of? Where do human beings fit into the great cosmic scheme? Is there a meaning to it all?

Such questions have mostly been restricted to religion and philosophy. Now, scientists are addressing them too.
On every front, science is transforming our world view and challenging age-old assumptions about the nature of the physical universe and our place within it.

Though the the above may sound like some kind of public relations announcement for a Christian Apologetics seminar. Though it may even sound like something I wrote to promote the view I've touted here concerning what I believe to be the proper relationship between faith and science -- it is neither. But in my opinion it is better than either. Read on ...

BEYOND is a pioneering international center at Arizona State University specifically dedicated to confronting the big questions of existence raised by these stunning scientific advances, and facilitating new research initiatives that transcend traditional subject categories.

Did you catch that?! This is actually the home page for BEYOND: The Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, a new think tank that has proudly published the following:

Our Vision for BEYOND

  • To create new and exciting ideas that push the boundaries of research a bit "beyond"

  • To conduct research that transcends traditional subject categories

  • To answer foundational questions in science, and explore their philosophical ramifications - what might be called "the big questions"

  • To present science to the public as a key component of our culture and of significance to all humanity
As the BEYOND introduction puts it, these are the kinds of questions that "are a key component of our culture and of significance to all humanity." The answers we find to those kinds of questions transcend the science and point us toward its ultimate cause -- toward the teleological destination that most scientific endeavors deny even exists.

Now I don't want to sound like too much of a Pollyanna here. This is by no means an announcement that will declare the end of the reign of the assumed Naturalistic paradigm that dominates the scientific community. It is not the death knell of the methodological naturalism that rules the scientific enterprise. For instance, in BEYOND's listed of stated "research themes" we find that, with regard to the origin of life issue:

We are pursuing an approach based on the hypothesis that life originated with quantum replication of nanostructures.

In this case the same old presumptions seem to be in place. That's fine. But if the monolithic acceptance of certain presuppositions represents the wall that naturalistic scientists demand separate science and faith, maybe BEYOND represents the first tiny crack in that wall.

Time will tell. But though the existence of BEYOND may represent only a microscopic crack, it is nonetheless a crack. And for that we theists should at least be sporting a smile.

{I want to give credit to Tim Boyle of Tsukuba, Japan for making me, and other Reasons To Believe volunteer apologists, aware of this story. Tim is an alumnus of ASU where he majored in Physics}

Friday, August 10, 2007

Correlation Does Not Equal Cause

John R. Lott Jr., of National Review offers an interesting report (August 13, 2007, p. 18) on the common claim among abortion supporters that abortion serves to lower crime rates. The data invoked to buttress this claim is the unexpected and rapid drop in violent crime that occurred between 1991 and 2000. Their argument goes like this:
  1. Aborted children are, by definition, "unwanted"
  2. Raised in an unwanted environment, children who could have been aborted will likely become criminals
  3. The 1973 Roe-v-Wade decision legalized abortion
  4. Children born subsequent to Roe reached adulthood in the early 1990s
  5. Because those children were "wanted" children, they were less likely to be criminals
  6. Therefore, violent crime dropped upon their reaching adulthood
This argument elicits three immediate responses.

First, so what? Even if it can be shown that more abortions lead to less violent crime, that fact would do nothing to answer the moral question around which the pro-life argument centers. The possibility of lowering crime rates sometime in the future does nothing to justify the taking of innocent human life now.

Second, it is amazing to see the height of the arrogance displayed by the deterministic assumption that the dismal, criminal future awaiting the "unwanted" rationalizes snuffing them out before birth. This makes Tom Cruise's "Pre-Crime" unit in Minority Report look tame by comparison. At least those pre-criminals were arrested and tried by those who claimed to know the criminal's future intentions. The aborted human fetus gets no such chance.

Third, there is no indication that the "violent crime" statistics include the millions of fetuses that were also victimized by premeditated homicide. Purely an oversight, I'm sure.

Those observations aside, Lott shows that the entire abortion-reduces-crime argument is a myth anyway. While there are plenty of alternative explanations ...

higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, "broken windows" police strategies, the death penalty ... right-to-carry laws, a strong economy, or the waning of the crack-cocaine epidemic
... the real answer lies in the way abortion proponents choose to manipulate the data itself. The idea that abortion reduces crime stems from a 1966 Swedish study that compared the plight of the "unwanted" children of women who were denied abortions, with "wanted" children born at the same time. While there is no doubt that environment influences behavioral outcomes, Lott notes that the authors of the original report "never investigated whether the children's 'unwantedness' caused their problems, or were simply correlated with them."

This is a common deficiency in data interpretation. While two events may seem to be correlated, the appearance of connectedness does not necessarily imply causation. It is easy to correlate data, it is quite another thing to do the hard work of determining causation.

An example of this error that comes to my mind is an infamous one in which a Navy F-14 Tomcat crashed into the Pacific Ocean on approach to an aircraft carrier, killing its (equally infamous) pilot. The press (most notably Peter Jennings) droned on about the bad fortune of the deceased pilot whose plane had crashed "because of engine failure." Yes, the F-14's engine had failed. That fact was correlated with the crash of the airplane and the death of its pilot. But what the press (and the Navy) failed to mention was what the rest of us Naval Aviators knew -- the F-14 is a two-seat airplane. The backseater of that fateful event not only survived, but was eyewitness to, and knew exactly how, the airplane's engine had failed. As it turned out, the cause of the engine failure was a pilot-induced error. The pilot had stalled the engine herself and failed at the basic aviation procedures meant to correct for such an engine failure. While the engine failure could be correlated with the crash, the actual cause was the pilot herself.

Back to the issue at hand. The aforementioned study took on a life of its own and became the cornerstone of the "abortion decreases crime" theory which later studies assumed to be true in interpreting their own data. But a closer look at the demographics in the data shows that abortion could not have been the cause of the drop in crime rates in the early 1990s. As Lott points out:
... murder rates began falling first among an older generation -- those over 26 -- born before Roe. It was only later that criminality among those born after Roe began to decline. (emphasis mine)
Likewise, data from Canada shows that:
... while crime rates in both the United States and Canada began declining at the same time, the Canadian Supreme Court [did not strike] down limits on abortion nationwide until 1988.
Note to data "correlators": The "unwanted" criminals were 3 years-old when violent crime started its decline north of the border.

In fact, Lott shows that rates of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families soared after Roe for many reasons that have been documented elsewhere. Both of these have been shown to be causal factors in the likelihood of later criminal behavior. So, a closer look at the data indicates not only that the "abortion-decreases crime" theory is false, but that its exact opposite has been shown to be true. Increases in abortion actually increase crime.

Serge and Jay have been masterful in demonstrating the devious advertising, data manipulation and outright falsehoods that have been perpetrated by pro-abortion advocates. Here we have yet another example of the data collectors, interpreters and reporters making the data say whatever they want it to say.

Not A Good Week For The Naturalists

Possible Martian bacteria fossils in a meteorite found in Antarctica. The rock, by keeping its cool, could have sustained life during its travels.

When it comes to comparing the Naturalistic and Theistic worldviews, each has its problems. The theist's biggest one, or at least the one that is most commonly thrown at him, is the problem of evil. "How could it be," it is asked, "that an omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would allow pain and suffering in the world He created." Certainly, this is the most emotionally charged issue facing the Theistic Hypothesis. It is a problem that Christian apologists have been defending themselves against for centuries. But here's the deal. Theistic apologists do two things:

1) They admit there are difficulties posed by the problem of evil and acknowledge it as a legitimate challenge to their worldview that must be addressed.

2) They offer a coherent answer that fits within their worldview and that, even if not accepted, stands as a rational, reasoned answer to the objection.

Not so with the naturalist. It is hard to decide which naturalistic deficiency is the most troubling for them to overcome but for my money I would pick the origin of life. How is it that a purely mechanistic view of the universe can account for the origination (not to mention all the diversity and non-material aspects) of life itself?

Naturalism, though it might acknowledge that the origin of life is a "difficult" issue, fails to admit the extent of the "difficulty" to its view of the world. We are always told that the explanation is forthcoming -- that we just have to wait a little longer to get it. But what we are never given is an admission that the entire subject undermines the very core of naturalism itself. We are most definitely never given a rational, coherent answer to the origin of life problem. The most we get is speculation and then only about theories that are either unverifiable (by definition), serve only to push the argument back indefinitely, or that strangely (and closely) resemble the theistic alternatives we offer ourselves.

Right off the bat, Darwinism doesn't cut it. By definition, Darwinism is a process that picks "winners" from among the variant forms of life. But, before there is any life, there can be no winner and thus nothing from which the much-touted power of Natural Selection can pick. Darwin's ideas about how to overcome this major obstacle have been proven wildly lacking in explanatory power. And in the 150 years since he published Origin of Species, things haven't gotten any better. In fact, origin of life studies have been separated from general evolution because the problems it poses are so overwhelming.

I have addressed this issue briefly in the past so I won't belabor the point here. But one of the favorite naturalistic explanations for the origin of life is panspermia. The "directed" type (aliens put life here as some sort of experimental zoo project) is one of my favorite. For starters, the idea that a transcendent intelligent agent placed life her sounds an awful lot like the Biblical creation account. But if the naturalists insist that the alien they appeal to isn't "god," their theory does nothing but push the origin of life question backward one step. Where and how did the alien life originate?

The "non-directed" variety of panspermia has thus become a favorite among naturalistic scientists. As recently as 2000, some insisted that this version was a legitimate:
One study, reported in the October 27, 2000 issue of the journal Science, shows that a space rock could successfully transport life between planets ... Another group of researchers, reporting in the October 19, 2000 issue of Nature, claims to have found and revived bacteria on Earth that were dormant, in the form of spores, hiding in New Mexican salt crystals for 250 million years. Scientists called the implications of this second discovery profound, suggesting that if further study bears out the findings, it could mean bacterial spores are nearly immortal.
Sounds great. The problem with it popped up this past week in a Rutgers study that blows the whole idea out of the water:

For the first time, there are solid data to refute a popular theory that life came to the Earth aboard a comet, Rutgers researchers said Monday.

Deteriorated DNA from microbes, frozen for millions of years in the Antarctic ice, shows that organisms could not have survived the bombardment of cosmic radiation during deep space travel from outside the solar system, said Paul Falkowski, a Rutgers biologist and oceanographer.

The fact that theistic astronomers and biologists have been making this point for years has gone unnoticed. Remember, their opinion doesn't count because they don't toe the party line by adhering to the "proper" set of presuppositions. That their science is solid and, in this case, reached the same conclusion is irrelevant and goes unreported.

Unfortunately, that's the way the system is set up. But for those of us who follow these issues, this past week was unusually notable. Early on it brought us news from Nature that the commonly accepted notion of human evolution doesn't hold water. Then, later in the week, we find that the optimistic promises of panspermia have been dashed on the rocks of the actual scientific evidence.

No gloating (of course) but let's just say it hasn't been a good week for the Naturalists.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pardon Me, But Your Presuppositions Are Showing (again)

I have touched on this subject previously, but this week's report from the Journal Nature casts further doubt on the assumptions surrounding the naturalistic account of human origins. That assumption has been that the evolutionary tree branch on which we homo sapiens live was sprouted from our ancestor homo erectus which, in turn, rose from the earlier ancestor, homo habilis. But new evidence confirms that habilis and erectus actually lived "in the same place at the same time for as much as half a million years."

The fact that these two species seem to have been contemporaries is a surprise to anthropologists, say Fred Spoor of University College London and his colleagues, who discovered the hominin fossils seven years ago.

Spoor explains further ...
H. erectus has always been viewed as similar to H. sapiens in both body shape and lifestyle. Spoor points out that the new discovery suggests a family set-up more akin to that of modern gorillas in which dominant males mate with a harem of females ... A similar set up is inferred from fossils of the earliest hominins, such as the australopithecines, but there has been a widespread assumption that sexes of more or less equal sizes arose when our ancestors ditched their more ape-like characteristics, evolving from Australopithecus into the more genteel Homo. "To find such a difference in H. erectus ... was quite a surprise, actually."
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that theories do not require updating and refinement with the gathering of new evidence. That is what science is all about. But my point in addressing this find is to show that evidence like this does not just serve to "refine" evolutionary anthropology. It does not just suggest that the branches of the evolutionary tree be trimmed or rearranged. These findings suggest that the entire Darwinian Tree model is suspect, further proving the point Phillip Johnson first made in 1991 (Darwin on Trial, p. 50) that "... the outstanding characteristic of the fossil record is the absence of the evidence for evolution."

Darwin's legendary "Tree of Life" suggests that the central, narrow trunk of early life branched gradually into a more and more diverse forms as it grew through time. That is the theory, and the paradigm lens, through which Spoor and his ilk interpret their studies. Now, however -- and here I must acknowledge and applaud Spoor's honest assessment -- the evidence paints quite a different picture:

Overall what it paints for human evolution is a "chaotic kind of looking evolutionary tree rather than this heroic march that you see with the cartoons of an early ancestor evolving into some intermediate and eventually unto us," Spoor said in a phone interview.

This comment bares an eerie resemblance to Jonathan Wells' claim (Icons of Evolution, ch. 3), made 7 years ago, that Darwin's tree of life has been turned on its head. The evidence, especially since the Cambrian Explosion 540 million years ago, is not of a tree, but of a bush -- a bush that is upside down -- wherein widely varying lifeforms appear suddenly, with great complexity and fully formed, only to remain the same for millions of years until they gradually go extinct.

But even with that, he cannot help himself in speculating about what it all means:

They have some still-undiscovered common ancestor that probably lived 2 million to 3 million years ago, a time that has not left much fossil record, Spoor said.

And there it is. Despite all actual evidence to the contrary, Spoor still tries to squeeze the accepted presuppositions into his conclusions. In the purely naturalistic Darwinian world, it cannot be the case that modern humans did not evolve from one of these hominids. There must be "something missing."

I simply cannot accept the paradigm. The evidence forces me to do otherwise. And for those who claim to be committed to an honest pursuit of the truth based on evidence, I challenge them to consider PhD Biochemist Fuz Rana's Who Was Adam?. Rana shows that for many years the actual scientific evidence has shown that we modern humans share no genetic or evolutionary link to Neanderthals, australophithecines, or homo erectus in the ways that the establishment continues to claim and on which they demand conclusions in support of their presuppositions. There the reader will find a different paradigm -- one that takes the evidence at face value. It is a model that correlates well with the molecular anthropologist's "Out of Africa" hypothesis which "posits a recent origin for humanity in a single location (apparently Africa) and from a small population" (Rana, p. 73).

If that model sounds familiar to one you may have read about in Genesis 1, so be it. Scientific evidence should not be condemned or rejected based on the repugnance of its implications to its interpreter. Rather, scientific theories should be judged and interpreted on the weight of the evidence itself.

If doing so challenges the paradigm your presuppositions demand, maybe it's time to rethink those presuppositions.