Creation and God

“If we perceive the spiritual principles of visible things we learn that the world has a Maker. But we do not ask what is the nature of that Maker, because we recognize that this is beyond our scope. Visible creation clearly enables us to grasp that there is a Maker, but it does not enable us to grasp His nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17646-50)

Natural theology has its limits according to the Fathers of the Church.  Creation tells us there is a Creator, but creation cannot reveal to us the nature of the God who created us.  Our ability to read creation like a book of theology requires us to have more experience and knowledge than creation alone can give us.  God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself and His nature to us, a revelation found in the Holy Scriptures as well as in the sacramental life of the Church and also in the spiritual lives of the saints.  Even the Scriptures alone do not give us the full experience of God’s revelation and grace.  St. Basil  the Great notes about the book of Genesis:

In saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the sacred writer passed over many things in silence—e.g., water, air, fire, and their effects—which, all forming in reality the true complement of the world, were without doubt made at the same time as the universe. By this silence, the text plainly wishes to train the activity of our intelligence, giving it a weak point for starting, to impel it to the discovery of the truth.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc.  Loc. 3593-96)

Scripture does not tell us everything there is to know about creation – it is silent about many things, but for St. Basil, this silence is exactly telling us there is much more to know.  The fact that Scripture does not give us every detail about creation tells us we need to search and discover the truth which is in creation and which leads us beyond creation to the Creator.  The Scriptures speak to us about the Creator, but they are not a scientific text book.  Humans have pursued a study of God’s creation and uncovered a great many facts and truths about the material cosmos.  What we commonly call science is really the result of human study into the truths of the natural world, the things about which the Scriptures are silent.  God reveals to us the natural order and allows us to discover the truth about nature, as when in the beginning God allowed Adam to name all of the animals of creation and God waited to see what the human would name the animals (Genesis 2:19-20).  God rejoices in our scientific curiosity and our search into the nature of the universe.  In allowing the human to name the animals God was giving us opportunity to understand the nature of each part of creation.

Of course some have decided the empirical world is the only reality we can know, but the godly realize just as there is more to know about nature than the Scriptures reveal, so too there is more to be known about creation than science can reveal.  St. Gregory Nazianzus comments:

“For we should not neglect the heavens, earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them and honored God’s works instead of God; instead, we should reap whatever advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers, not raising creation as foolish people do in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker and, as the divine apostle says, “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” [2 Cor 10:5.)”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4004-8)

As St Gregory notes, just because some people might use scientific investigation to proclaim the empirical creation as the only thing that exists and so deny the Creator, that is no reason for us to completely reject science itself.  Those denying the Creator’s existence are wrong about God but that doesn’t mean that science is therefore wrong about all of its claims.   Science does know things about the physical creation not found in Scriptures, and we in the modern world live with the many advantages of science, technology, medicine and industry.

Scripture was not written to be science, but do reveal the truth to us.

“The creation stories are ancient and should be understood on that level. Rather than merge the two creation stories—the scientific and the biblical—we should respect that they each speak a different language. The fact that Paul considered Adam to be the progenitor of the human race does not mean that we need to find some way to maintain his view within an evolutionary scheme. Rather, we should gladly acknowledge his ancient view of cosmic and human origins and see in that very scenario the face of a God who seems far less reluctant to accommodate to ancient points of view than we are sometimes comfortable with.”   (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3131-35)

God chose His own time and place to make His revelations known, and the people to whom He made those revelations recorded them with all the limits of their time and place.  As Peter Enns points out, God was willing to accommodate Himself and His revelation to the point of view of the ancient world.  God did not leave the ancients in the dark saying “no use to reveal myself until the people have a better understanding of creation through modern science.”  God was comfortable with revealing Himself to a people whose “ancient” way of thinking caused them to  understand the revelation and the creation in their own pre-modern terms.  God did not wait until the modern times to make Himself known.  It is we moderns who have trouble with pre-modern understanding, not God.    Enns continues:

“In my view, reading the Adam story as it was intended to be understood by those who shaped the Bible—primarily as a story of Israel within the larger stage of universal world history—is the most fruitful approach. The Adam story is not an obligatory nod on the part of ancient Israelites to account for how humanity came to be. The primary question Israel was asking was not, ‘Where do people come from?’ (a scientific curiosity), but ‘Where do we come from?’ (a matter of national identity).”   (The Evolution of Adam, What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Kindle Loc. 3179-82)

Israel needed to discover its own identity to know its relationship to the rest of history, of the world, of the entire universe.  Scripture gave them that identity which helped them understand themselves in the bigger picture of humanity as well as the entire cosmos.  In understanding themselves, they could then understand creation, the empirical world.  It is in this learning process that they came to know their Creator and the importance of the created world in realizing their place in it.

“Creation is the accuser of the ungodly. For through its inherent spiritual principles creation proclaims its Maker; and through the natural laws intrinsic to each individual species it instructs us in virtue. The spiritual principles may be recognized in the unremitting continuance of each individual species, the laws in the consistency of its natural activity. If we do not ponder on these things, we remain ignorant of the cause of created being and we cling to all the passions which are contrary to nature.”  (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 17632-39)

The created order, the empirical world contextualize our place in the cosmos.  Our task is to learn from both nature and the Scriptures about our role in God’s creation.  The scientific study of the empirical world also helps us realize our relationship to the rest of creation including our moral responsibilities since we are creatures with free will whose choices have consequences for the rest of creation.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalms 104:24)

 

Genetics: Ethics and Editing

DISCOVER MAGAZINE’s January 2016 issue is devoted to the top science news stories of the year 2015.  I’m not a scientist but am fascinated with what science is doing, especially on the cutting edge.

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Number 10 on the list of stories is “The Ethics of Editing Human Embryos.”  Science is never simply about data and proving or disproving theories.  All activities in science and technology involve decisions that can affect human life and therefore have an ethical dimension.  There are two very different questions when it comes to any specific scientific experiment:  Can it be done?  AND  Should it be done?

So the magazine reports researchers are applying those to questions to human genetic engineering.  The potential for good is very alluring.

doublehelix“Imagine if genetic diseases could be removed from the very biological code of our species — a future in which the likes of hemophilia, cystic fibrosis or dozens of other afflictions are simply edited out of human embryos.”

If doctors could simply remove the code for certain diseases from the human genome, there would be great rejoicing in the medical world and in the population as a whole.  The trouble comes with the word “simply” for indeed a tool has emerged in biology which makes changing the DNA of embryos fairly easy:  the gene-editing system known as CRISPR/ Cas9.   However, the success of the technology on human embryos has had not positive results.  Chinese scientists tested the technology on 86 human embryos, “But the editing worked for only four of the embryos and created numerous unintentional mutations.”  It is these unintentional mutations that have alarmed some scientists.

“Those accidental mutations illustrate the concerns some scientists have about using the tool in humans. Earlier in the year, when the Chinese team’s experiment was still a rumor, 18 researchers co-authored a letter in Science that called for the community to address the ethical questions and potential hazards of using CRISPR in humans. Until we can wield CRISPR more precisely and understand the implications of its use more fully, said the scientists, it should not be used on humans.”

Introducing “unintended” consequences into the human gene pool should alarm all scientists.  This is science fiction horror come to real life.   Once such mutations were introduced into the gene pool, the entire future population of humans could be at risk.  So a battle against certain diseases might be won, but a war on being human would be lost.

In the same issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE, story #66, “One Little Gene Could Explain Our Big Brains”, we read about what a difference one gene can make.  Neurobiologists discovered a “DNA snippet” that is present in humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans, but not in chimpanzees.  These scientists are becoming more convinced that this one gene might in fact explain the difference between human and chimp brain size and development.

The introduction or removal of one little gene in the human genome can have massive effects on the species – as big as the difference between chimps and humans who otherwise share 99% of the genome. So those researchers and scientists who are alarmed about using the new technology to tamper with the makeup of human embryos have much to be concerned about – as do we all.  DISCOVER MAGAZINE notes:

“Despite the concerns, in September researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London applied to the United Kingdom’s governing authority on fertility research for permission to use CRISPR on human embryos. The need for clear guidelines has spurred the organization of an international summit on human gene editing. As of this writing, it was scheduled for early December in Washington, D.C.”

It is not only scientists who have a stake in this.  This is of concern to all humans.  And while some will label those concerned about where science might go with this technology as being reactionary or alarmist, all humans should be concerned about the ethical issues of this science.  And it should be noted that even if scientists propose “clear guidelines” on the use of this technology on embryos, guidelines won’t stop researchers who want to push the limits of science or ethics, not to mention the very big concern these days over terrorist and rogue governments.   As is reported in the magazine articles, even with some scientists issuing alarms about what is happening in genetic editing, there are already scientists applying for permission to go ahead with the research.  What ethics guides them?

This is why Christians need to be following what is trending in science.  Humans, though created in the image of God, can have that image altered genetically.  And God only knows what that will introduce into the human race.

DARWIN’S DOUBT IS Meyer’s Doubt (PDF)

Darwins DoubtThe blog series that began with Darwin’s Doubt and Intelligent Design is a reflection on Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.

The series of blogs is now also available as a single PDF document at DARWIN’S DOUBT is Meyer’s Doubt.

You can find links to all my blog series which have been converted into PDFs at  Blog Series PDFs.

Signs of Design

Darwins DoubtThis is the third and final blog in a series looking at the book  Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer.   The first blog is DARWIN’S DOUBT and Intelligent Design.  The previous blog is The Science that Doubts Darwin.

Stephen Meyer presents in his book the science that doubts Darwin – this is not scientific evidence he has manufactured, but evidence that scientists committed to Darwinian evolution have brought forth which challenges some aspect of the current theory.   He presents this science to call into question the materialistic basis of the science itself and then offers Intelligent Design as a solution to issues which Darwinism itself cannot right now answer.  Evolutionary scientists have debated the evidence and the questions raised but most so far have not seen his solution – Intelligent Design – as truly solving any problematic issue that science raises. Most scientists do not see materialism as being the problem which needs to be solved.

So whereas evolutionary scientists and Intelligent Design defenders might both point to problems with aspects of Evolutionary Theory and the extant evidence in the fossil record, they are miles apart in the philosophical issues which Meyer in the last part of his book presents as an argument for Intelligent Design.  Meyer attempts to use the fact that some scientists question some aspects of Evolutionary Theory to suggest that there are major cracks in the Theory and its collapse is inevitable.  But as far as I can tell despite recognizing some problems with the Theory, most scientists accept it as the best approximation of reality that humankind has been able to develop to this point.   Meyer is a Philosopher of Science, and in this part of the book he deals more with the philosophy of science, trying to show why he believes Intelligent Design is science based on scientific principles, reasoning and logic.

Meyer’s criticism of science is exactly that it has made a philosophical commitment to atheistic materialism; this is a philosophical commitment not a scientific law.

“In this case, however, those wearing the mental blinders have elevated an unwillingness to consider certain explanations to a principle of scientific method. That principle is called “methodological naturalism” or “methodological materialism.” Methodological naturalism asserts that to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain phenomena and events in nature—even events such as the origin of the universe and life or phenomena such as human consciousness—by reference to strictly material causes. According to this principle, scientists may not invoke the activity of a mind or, as one philosopher of science puts it, any “creative intelligence.”   (Kindle Loc. 7125-29)

Meyer criticizes what he sees as rationally inconsistent the scientific commitment to materialism even when he feels the scientific evidence might suggest an intelligent design in the universe.  However, believers adhere to faith in God even in the face of contrary evidence, inexplicable events, failure of the faithful to live up to the ideal, or the silence of God in face of pleas for Him to intervene in certain situations.  There is no basic difference in how we adhere to what we believe.  Meyer is firm in his conviction however that scientists are wrong to  be so steadfast to their philosophical position:

“In 1997, in an article in the New York Review of Books, Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin made explicit a similar commitment to a strictly materialistic explanation—whatever the evidence might seem to indicate. As he explained in a now often quoted passage:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

The commitment to methodological naturalism that Lewontin describes, as well as the behavior of scientists in cases such as Sternberg’s, leave no doubt that many in science simply will not consider the design hypothesis as an explanation for the Cambrian explosion or any other event in the history of life, whatever the evidence. To do so would be to violate the “rules of science” as they understand them.”  (Kindle Loc. 7170-83)

It may be a point of frustration for believers that some scientists are committed philosophically to materialism.  But our task remains the same: to witness to what we believe is true and through our lives to offer some compelling reason for non-believers to reconsider their position and to at least consider the possibility that there is a God who created the universe.   We have to show by our own lives that belief in God contributes positively to our daily existence and to the wellbeing of the world.  Meyer makes his case as to why he believes Intelligent Design is consistent with the principles of natural science.  It is a position which many believers can sympathize with as we already accept the notion that there is a Creator God.  But, the real test case is whether those committed to scientific materialism come to see in his arguments reason to at least consider the possibility of design in the universe and a Designer who place it there.

 

Meyer pushes his argument that intelligent design logically is as scientific as materialistic evolution:

“There is another compelling, if convention-dependent, reason to regard intelligent design as a scientific theory. The inference to intelligent design is based upon the same method of historical scientific reasoning and the same uniformitarian principles that Charles Darwin used in On the Origin of Species. The similarity in logical structure runs quite deep. Both the argument for intelligent design and the Darwinian argument for descent with modification were formulated as abductive inferences to the best explanation. Both theories address characteristically historical questions; both employ typically historical forms of explanation and testing; and both have metaphysical implications. Insofar as we regard Darwin’s theory as a scientific theory, it seems appropriate to designate the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory as well. Indeed, neo-Darwinism and the theory of intelligent design are not two different kinds of inquiry, as some critics have asserted. They are two different answers—formulated using a similar logic and method of reasoning—to the same question: “What caused biological forms and the appearance of design to arise in the history of life?” It stands to reason that if we regard one theory, neo-Darwinism or intelligent design, as scientific, we should regard the other as the same. Of course, whether either theory is true or not is another matter. An idea may be scientific and incorrect. In the history of science, many theories have proven to be so.”  (Kindle Loc. 7293-7305)

Meyer makes some good points and logical sense.  But then I am already a believer in God, and his reasoning does not really change my thinking nor does it cause me any cognitive dissonance.  All thinking believers are faced with the fact that science and scientific materialism are not only competitors to the Christian faith but pose serious challenges to our understanding of truth and the Scriptures.  Personally, I find the arguments of theistic evolutionists to be more satisfying than Intelligent Design.  But theistic evolution is also more comfortable with the fact that science and faith approach the world and truth from different philosophical perspectives and we may never be able to reconcile the two perspectives.  Intelligent Design adherents seem more intent on trying to insist that faith and science, or sometimes more specifically that a literalist reading of Genesis and science are completely compatible.  I am not a biblical literalist, and am at home in a world in which the assumptions and goals of materialistic science and Christianity are simply different and on some points irreconcilable.  I don’t believe the Genesis account of creation is science in the modern sense nor do I think it ever was intended to be that.  But the fact that there is scientific truth which is not found in the Bible or even challenges Biblical claims does not to me disprove the existence of God.   I think what science does effectively challenge is a literalist reading of Genesis and some simplistic beliefs about God.  But even in the Bible itself we find people inspired by the Holy Spirit struggling to find God in the midst of historical reality and truth: “How long, O Lord..?”  “Why do you remain silent, O Lord?” Faith in God does not always make coping with life easier or more simplistic.   In can complicate life when we wrestle to figure out where God is when we need Him.

To me science is interested in researching and explaining the empirical creation.  Christianity, like most religions, is claiming that there is a non-material/spiritual world/realm as well.  Believers are interested in the material creation as it is made by God to be good/beautiful and to be united to divinity. This last aspect is not the interest of science.  Science digs ever deeper into the depths of material creation, but I would say ignores the spiritual realm.  I believe a human (and to be human) is more than biology and chemistry.  To reduce humans to physics is in fact reductionism for it does not tell the whole story of being human.   I think conscience and consciousness and free will do exist and they are every bit as important to understanding a human and what it means to be human as is biology, chemistry and physics.  Christianity is trying to make sense of the world by bringing its ideas of the soul, God, the immaterial world, and the spiritual into its understanding of material creation.  We believe the created world is far richer and deeper then the limits of its empirical nature imply.   Because we believe there is meaning to life and that it means something to be human, we look to answers beyond the limits of science and the material world.

Science based in materialism does have fundamentally different assumptions about creation than does faith, based in the accepted testimony of believers.   Believers seek meaning and purpose which science cannot reveal.   Science would be interested in design in the universe if it led to further understanding the material world.   But when one tries to take the empirical world and show that it points to a non-material creator, science loses interest.  And if the scientists are committed to atheistic materialism, they are going to see references to Intelligent Design as simply a ploy to get them to believe in the non-material world, but not truly science.

Meyer’s books was the best I’ve read defending the tenets of Intelligent Design, but it does not make me abandon theistic evolution in favor of Intelligent Design.  I think his effort is really geared at those whose faith is shaken by the claims of science and who want it to be true that science and religion are teaching the same truth and therefore cannot disagree.  The scientists who criticize his efforts as a veiled way to reintroduce religious beliefs back into the work of science probably have good cause to think what they do.   The evolutionary scientists who have criticized aspects of the theory of evolution show that they are not afraid to challenge the theory and they are interested in establishing the truth about the empirical world to the best of the ability of scientific materialism.  Their unwillingness to consider Intelligent Design tells me that they remain unconvinced that ID can help them out of any dilemmas caused by the fossil evidence.  While some scientists have a hostility to religion, it still falls on us believers to offer clear and compelling reasons to the non-believers as to what blessing faith brings.  Those who are trying to reconcile their faith with science may find Intelligent Design to be helpful.  Other believers may find theistic evolution to satisfy the two realms of understanding the universe – a spiritual and an empirical.  The fruit of Meyer’s efforts is not going to be whether believers find his arguments convincing, but whether non-believing scientists feel compelled to reconsider their commitment to scientific materialism and methodological naturalism.  Even most of those who have questioned certain tenets of the neo-Darwinian Theory have remained faithful to its basic principles and have not been convinced that accepting design in the universe changes anything.

Intelligent Design is an argument that appeals to some believers trying to build a bridge between biblical faith and scientific materialism.  Unfortunately for the most part those on the materialism side of that chasm have not been been swayed in their thinking and aren’t willing to walk on that bridge which they feel has no real foundation under it.

The Science that Doubts Darwin

Darwins DoubtThis is the second blog in a series looking at the book  Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer.   The first blog is DARWIN’S DOUBT and Intelligent Design.

Meyer presents in great detail the scientific problems with the theory of Darwinian Evolution.  In fact, several prominent scientists have expressed their own doubts about the Theory of Evolution based upon its inability to explain what we know about  biology or based upon its failure to account for the known fossil record.  Where Meyer diverges from the majority of these scientists who question the Theory of Evolution is they continue to search for explanations only in material causes, while he has accepted the notion that there is design or intention built into biology and which can be observed through the long history of the development of life on earth.   Below are a select few of the scientific reasons he offers which call into question the Theory of Evolution as it is commonly taught.  He is piggybacking on the work of various scientists who have put forth questions about whether the current theory of evolution can in fact account for the known evolutionary evidence.  He is bringing all of the various questions together to make his case stronger.  Keep in mind that  scientists committed to current evolutionary theory are also familiar with these objections, but have not concluded that the current theory needs to be abandoned.  They tend to believe that eventually the theory and evidence will compliment each other by altering the theory not by completely abandoning it.

One problem for Darwinian evolution is how to account for the appearance in cells of the mechanisms that allow cells to function both individually and as part of an organ or organism.  To date, according to Meyer, science cannot explain how the sequencing of characters might have occurred.

“The type of information present in living cells—that is, ‘specified’ information in which the sequence of characters matters to the function of the sequence as a whole—has generated an acute mystery. No undirected physical or chemical process has demonstrated the capacity to produce specified information starting ‘from purely physical or chemical’ precursors. For this reason, chemical evolutionary theories have failed to solve the mystery of the origin of first life—a claim that few mainstream evolutionary theorists now dispute.”  (Kindle Loc. 63-67)

The origins of life itself from inanimate materials is for Meyer a key problem with Darwinian evolution.  He is convinced that accepting the notion of Intelligent Design can explain how life could have emerged – it was intended to emerge.  For materialists of course his argument is a “God of the gaps” idea which science will eventually overcome:  we simply do not know YET how they happened but we will eventually be able to offer a materialist explanation for how they happened.  Meyer, however, argues:

“To those unfamiliar with the particular problems faced by scientists trying to explain the origin of life, it might not seem obvious why invoking natural selection does not help to explain the origin of the first life. After all, if natural selection and random mutations can generate new information in living organisms, why can it also not do so in a prebiotic environment? But the distinction between a biological and prebiotic context was crucially important to my argument. Natural selection assumes the existence of living organisms with a capacity to reproduce. Yet self-replication in all extant cells depends upon information-rich proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), and the origin of such information-rich molecules is precisely what origin-of-life research needs to explain. That’s why Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, can state flatly, ‘Pre-biological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.’ Or, as Nobel Prize–winning molecular biologist and origin-of-life researcher Christian de Duve explains, theories of prebiotic natural selection fail because they ‘need information which implies they have to presuppose what is to be explained in the first place.’ Clearly, it is not sufficient to invoke a process that commences only once life has begun, or once biological information has arisen, to explain the origin of life or the origin of the information necessary to produce it.”  (Kindle Loc. 104-15)

“To those unfamiliar with the particular problems…”   Meyer presents a great deal of scientific evidence, but it appears his target audience is not scientists, but the non-scientist.  So those hoping that science might support their faith, might find Meyer’s arguments convincing.  I, for one, am a non-scientist.  I think he does a great job presenting the known scientific information.  However, the strength of his argument is better measured by whether scientists themselves, who already are familiar with the scientific challenges to Darwinian Theory, conclude that Meyer is correct and that Intelligent Design is the solution to the Theories problems.   So far, though perhaps a growing number of scientists admit to problems with evolutionary theory, few have abandoned it in favor of Intelligent Design.

To summarize, Meyer writes:

“As an increasing number of evolutionary biologists have noted, natural selection explains ‘only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest.’”    (Kindle Loc. 156-57)

Meyer looks at a number of scientific papers which dispute his claims, says they do not disprove what he is arguing.

“Upon closer examination, however, none of these papers demonstrate how mutations and natural selection could find truly novel genes or proteins in sequence space in the first place; nor do they show that it is reasonably probable (or plausible) that these mechanisms would do so in the time available. These papers assume the existence of significant amounts of preexisting genetic information (indeed, many whole and unique genes) and then suggest various mechanisms that might have slightly altered or fused these genes together into larger composites. At best, these scenarios ‘trace’ the history of preexisting genes, rather than explain the origin of the original genes themselves (see Fig. 11.2). This kind of scenario building can suggest potentially fruitful avenues of research. But an obvious error comes in mistaking a hypothetical scenario for either a demonstration of fact or an adequate explanation. None of the scenarios that the Long paper cites demonstrate the mathematical or experimental plausibility of the mutational mechanisms they assert as explanations for the origin of genes. Nor do they directly observe the presumed mutational processes in action. At best, they provide hypothetical, after-the-fact reconstructions of a few events out of a sequence of many supposed events, starting with the existence of a presumed common ancestor gene. But that gene itself does not represent a hard data point. It is inferred to have existed on the basis of the similarity of two or more other existing genes, which are the only actual pieces of observational evidence upon which these often elaborate scenarios are based.”  (Kindle Loc. 3948-60)

Meyer thinks the rich information we now have about DNA in fact shows that how DNA works and is made cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution.  There is no mechanism that can account for how life emerged or how macro evolution can occur.  For basically the current science shows that genetic mutation usually ends in death, not in the development of new forms of life.

doublehelix“If mutating the genes that regulate body-plan construction destroy animal forms as they develop from an embryonic state, then how do mutations and selection build animal body plans in the first place? The neo-Darwinian mechanism has failed to explain the generation of new genes and proteins needed for building the new animal forms that arose in the Cambrian explosion. But even if mutation and selection could generate fundamentally new genes and proteins, a more formidable problem remains. To build a new animal and establish its body plan, proteins need to be organized into higher-level structures. In other words, once new proteins arise, something must arrange them to play their parts in distinctive cell types. These distinctive cell types must, in turn, be organized to form distinctive tissues, organs, and body plans. This process of organization occurs during embryological development. Thus, to explain how animals are actually built from smaller protein components, scientists must understand the process of embryological development.”  (Kindle Loc. 4815-22)

Additionally genetic science has shown that genetic development is far more complicated than first imagined by science.  The development of life is not as simple as information processing by genes for there exist multiple layers involved in the genetic process.

“But building a new body plan requires more than just genetic information. It requires both genetic and epigenetic information—information by definition that is not stored in DNA and thus cannot be generated by mutations to the DNA. It follows that the mechanism of natural selection acting on random mutations in DNA cannot by itself generate novel body plans, such as those that first arose in the Cambrian explosion.”  (Kindle Loc. 5269-72)

“The neo-Darwinian mechanism does not account for either the origin of the genetic or the epigenetic information necessary to produce new forms of life. Consequently, the problems posed to the theory by the Cambrian explosion remain unsolved.”  (Kindle Loc. 5359-61)

Meyer summarizes his arguments:

“Clearly, standard evolutionary theory has reached an impasse. Neither neo-Darwinism nor a host of more recent proposals (punctuated equilibrium, self-organization, evolutionary developmental biology, neutral evolution, epigenetic inheritance, natural genetic engineering) have succeeded in explaining the origin of the novel animal forms that arose in the Cambrian period. Yet all these evolutionary theories have two things in common: they rely on strictly material processes, and they also have failed to identify a cause capable of generating the information necessary to produce new forms of life. .”  (Kindle Loc. 6289-93)

For Meyer the great test case which Darwinian theory fails is the sudden appearance of so many new life forms in what is called the Cambrian explosion.

Dinosaur fossil skull
Dinosaur fossil skull

“The features of the Cambrian event point decisively in another direction—not to some as-yet-undiscovered materialistic process that merely mimics the powers of a designing mind, but instead to an actual intelligent cause. When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer—based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles—that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.”  (Kindle Loc. 7085-92)

For Meyer the problem science faces is not that it lacks theories or data, but rather that it is philosophically limited by and blinded by its commitment to atheistic materialism.   Science has bound itself to showing the material cause for everything in the universe, and thus cannot admit to what it cannot explain, nor can it allow itself to think outside this restrictive box.  So it continues to search for theories and explanations which ignore some of what the known evidence points to – that there is design in the biological life of our planet.  However one may account for it, design is built into life.

Scientific materialism on the other hand is interested in a different set of questions.  It might be similar to finding an ancient music score.  We see the signs and symbols telling the ancients how to play the music.  Yet we have no idea how to translate the written symbols into sound.    Science is more interested in what the symbols tells us that can then be translated into music.  What should the music soundlike?  Intelligent Design says the music is proof of a composer, but for science that doesn’t help us know how to play the music, how to read and interpret the score.  This is where there is a huge chasm between what Meyer is arguing versus what science seems interested in.   Even if we has the musical score there is a vast difference between seeing it on paper and hearing a symphony orchestra performing it.

Next:  Signs of Design

DARWIN’S DOUBT and Intelligent Design

Darwins DoubtIn Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, Philosopher of Science, Stephen C. Meyer (founder of the Discovery Institute and advocate for Intelligent Design), offers scientific evidence which questions the Theory of Evolution and advocates for why he believes Intelligent Design can in fact explain the existing fossil evidence (particularly the Cambrian Explosion) for which Darwinism cannot fully account.   Meyer says the problems with neo-Darwinian theory can be readily accounted for by the notion of Intelligent Design.  It should be noted that a number scientists who do accept the overall concept of evolution have publicly pointed out problems with the theory – so what Meyer is offering is not news nor a surprise to scientists committed to neo-Darwinian theory.

The impasse is that even many of the scientists who have serious reservations about evolution still stick with purely materialistic explanations of how life evolved on earth.  Meyer thinks that is a limit imposed on science by atheism but is not itself a scientifically verifiable premise.  It is a philosophical assumption.   He says many of the dilemmas existing in the evolutionary theory of scientific materialism can be readily resolved by simply acknowledging that intentional design is part of what happened.  Of course for those who deny the possibility of design, they cannot by their own belief system admit to the possibility of a designer.  Meyer argues that one does not have to acknowledge the God of the Bible, even if one sees design in the universe.  His argument is that in fact design (and thus intention) are obviously there even if we cannot account for it.  He does not assume all explanations must be found in materialistic explanations so is willing to look beyond scientific atheism to understand creation.  And just like not every scientist agrees with the current theory of evolution, not every Intelligent Design advocate believes in a 6000 year old earth.  Meyer wants everyone to be clear that Intelligent Design is not related to the ideas of biblical literalist’s New Creationism which insists the world is only about 6000 years old based on the history gleaned from the Bible.  Many atheists who oppose Intelligent Design try to lump the two ideas together, but Meyer points out this is a ploy to discredit the science supporting the ideas he presents for Intelligent Design.  He seems to accept the notion that the universe is in fact billions of years old.  However old the earth may be, Meyer is not convinced that the time periods are enough for macro evolution to have incurred as envisioned in Darwinian theory.

The first half of Meyer’s book is his look at the scientific challenges to evolutionary theory.  The last part of the book is more a philosophical argument for Intelligent Design.  Meyer summarizes his scientific evidence against the current theory of evolution this way:

darwinwrong“This book has presented four separate scientific critiques demonstrating the inadequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism, the mechanism that Dawkins assumes can produce the appearance of design without intelligent guidance. It has shown that the neo-Darwinian mechanism fails to account for the origin of genetic information because: (1) it has no means of efficiently searching combinatorial sequence space for functional genes and proteins and, consequently, (2) it requires unrealistically long waiting times to generate even a single new gene or protein. It has also shown that the mechanism cannot produce new body plans because: (3) early acting mutations, the only kind capable of generating large-scale changes, are also invariably deleterious, and (4) genetic mutations cannot, in any case, generate the epigenetic information necessary to build a body plan.”   (Kindle Loc. 7644-50)

According to Meyer an increasing number of prominent scientists admit that the evidence we currently have cannot account for how life might have original arisen, nor can it account for the Cambrian explosion.  In the next blog we will look at some of the evidence Meyer offers.  But he admits that scientists still are committed to finding a materialistic explanation for everything, and with this philosophic commitment, they will not even consider the merits of Intelligent Design.  In a future blog I’ll offer a few quotes from Meyer on why he considers Intelligent Design to be true science, and why he sees a commitment to materialism to be a philosophic not scientific choice and belief.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

“During the nineteenth century, biologists regarded the adaptation of organisms to their environment as one of the most powerful pieces of evidence of design in the living world. By observing that natural selection had the power to produce such adaptations, Darwin not only affirmed that his mechanism could generate significant biological change, but that it could explain the appearance of design—without invoking the activity of an actual designing intelligence. In doing so, he sought to refute the design hypothesis by providing a materialistic explanation for the origin of apparent design in living organisms. Modern neo-Darwinists also affirm that organisms look as if they were designed. They also affirm the sufficiency of an unintelligent natural mechanism—mutation and natural selection—as an explanation for this appearance. Thus, in both Darwinism, and neo-Darwinism, the selection/variation (or selection/mutation) mechanism functions as a kind of “designer substitute.” As the late Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr explains: “The real core of Darwinism . . . is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the ‘design’ of the natural theologian, by natural means.” Or as another prominent evolutionary biologist, Francisco Ayala, has put it succinctly, natural selection explains “design without a designer.”  (Kindle Loc. 6315-27)

Darwinius
Darwinius

Scientists tend to discredit Intelligent Design as not truly answering the questions science is asking about how things did, can or do happen in the existing world.  Claiming there is design built into the universe just creates a different mystery and at best solves nothing in their minds, but, even worse, adds a non-material being into the equation which does not help science understand how the empirical universe works.   A number of scientists who have identified themselves as theists and who accept evolution have tended to doubt the current theory of Intelligent Design for similar reasons.  Theistic scientists tend to assume science has to look for materialist causes as science is in fact focused on the material world.  They accept the existence of a Creator God but do not try to make God part of any scientific formula or equation.  Intelligent Design on the other hand accepts that the very existence of a Creator explains some aspects of the material world which science cannot account for by its current theories.  For ID defenders simply saying there is a Creator is sufficient explanation for some mysteries.  Materialistic science looks only for cause and effect in the material world, and does not see how claiming there is design in the universe helps us understand how the material world in fact works.

Next:   The Science that Doubts Darwin

Seeing The Truth of Colors

The truths of science can help us spiritually because they can challenge our understanding or misunderstanding of the world around us.  What we see may not give us the exact insight into what is actually transpiring on a scientific level. Vision in itself is a perfect example of this as there is a difference between how we conceive of sight and what is happening in scientific terms.  Consider for example the colors we see every where and every day.  We can function perfectly well in the world with a non-scientific understanding of sight and color and can assume that things all have color in them.  But if we look into the scientific understanding we come to see the world quite differently.  Take for example the description of color and sight from  Rodney A. Brooks,  Fields of Color: The theory that escaped Einstein (Kindle Loc. 941-54)

“Colors are determined by the frequency of radiation, with red being the lowest visible frequency, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, in that order. When all colors are present, as in sunlight, our eyes perceive the result as white. The component colors of white light can be demonstrated by passing it through a prism, or by looking at the rainbow created by “nature’s prisms” (water droplets). However, and it’s a big however, the colors we see do not exist outside of our minds .”

It is actually our brains that turn the wave frequencies into color.  Our eyes translate the wave lengths into colors.  Our eyes and brains are thus constantly interpreting the world around us which help us to distinguish things and to make sense of them.   Brooks continues his description of Electromagnetic (EM) radiation:

 “EM radiation has no color; it is simply an alternation in the EM field intensity. It is only when this radiation reaches our eyes that it starts a process that turns the oscillations into sensations of color. What happens is this: There are three types of photosensitive molecule in the eye that respond predominantly to three different frequencies of light. (This is why display devices such as a TV screen are able to reproduce the full range of color using only three phosphors.) Each photosensor, in turn, is connected by a different neural pathway to the mysterious part of the brain where the sensation of color is created. However, we are not aware of the separate intensities of the three neural signals; our brain combines them to create a host of color sensations, depending on the amount of each component that is present.”

“It’s a bit like a chef mixing different flavors to create a new taste, or a composer putting tones together to create a chord, except that a good chef can detect the individual elements in a mixture and a good musician can distinguish the component tones in a chord. This is not the case with color. The component colors do not survive, but are lost to the new color sensation produced by the combination. For example, if red and blue combine to produce purple, the red and blue hues can no longer be separately identified (although they are still present). Our brains process color very differently from the way they process other sensory signals.”

The observer (you, me, any human) interprets and makes sense of the radiation waves which strike our eyes.  It is a marvelous and mysterious process in which the brain is translating the various wave lengths into the sensation of different colors.   What is also known is that other creatures on earth whose eye structures are slightly different than human eyes, “see” the world slightly differently than we do.

What fascinates me in this scientific world is the essential role of the observer in being able to see anything, let alone understand it.  Objective reality is dependent on an observer.  This is a truth which quantum mechanics fully recognizes as well.  Even the mathematical truths of the universe are there only in as much as there is a conscious observer of them, someone who can then make use of them for further action.  At the heart of science and math is the need for an anthropic principle: the observer is essential to doing math or science.  Circumference and radius only have a mathematical relationship if there is a someone to relate them and to make use of that relationship.   That is the simple truth which is reflected in Shroedinger’s thought experiment for quantum physics.

The existence of conscious beings in the universe brings us to an understanding of the universe that enables us to interact with the universe and even cause change in the nature of events.  Cause and effect are operative, but humans can and do alter the causes of things and the effects of things.  Just by observing things, we can alter the course of cause and effect.  It is an anthropic principle.  Humans are changing the course of events merely by observing them at the quantum level.  We also have the ability to change the course of events because we know how to interrelate with our universe at a macro level as well.  The mere existence of humans, or really of any sentinel beings, means the course of the universe is being altered.  Humanity interacts with the universe and affects the course of events.  The cause and effect initiated by the Big Bang is not a mindless process for it produces minds which interact withe the process and can change the course of events.

And obviously for believers, there never was a time when the universe wasn’t being observed by its Creator.  And as we know from science, the very existence of an observer changes everything.

The “In the Beginning” Conundrum

universeIn my blog, Science and Creation from Nothing, I referenced Steve Nadis’ September 2013 DISCOVER MAGAZINEarticle, “Starting Point,” regarding the beginning of the universe.  The article focused on the research of Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin  whose research has led him to conclude “that before our universe there was nothing, nothing at all, not even time itself.”  Vilenkin claims that a concept of the universe having always existed, does not match the data that we know.

“Indeed, says Vilenkin, among all the ideas we’ve thought of so far for a universe without a beginning, none of them seem to work. ‘So the answer to the question of whether the universe had a beginning is yes, it probably did.’”

With Vilenkin’s ideas, one does not have to engage in an endless discussion of cause and effect trying to determine what caused the Big Bang.   He thinks the current science shows there was a true beginning.

“One virtue of the picture, if correct, is that the spontaneous creation of our universe gives a definite starting point to things. Time begins at the moment of creation, putting to rest the potentially endless questions about ‘what happened before that.’”

St. Augustine
St. Augustine

Speculating on the beginning of the universe is not just a problem caused by the modern scientific mindset of a material cause yielding an effect.  Brandon Gallaher writing in a recent issue of the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly (“Chalice of Eternity: An Orthodox Theology of Time“) notes that in the 5th Century St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430AD) also pondered the same question, though from a theological point of view.  Gallaher notes:

“Augustine attempts to respond to the question: ‘What was God doing before He created all things?’  To which Augustine responds:  nothing as doing (sc. creating) implies time.  Time which came to be with God’s act of creation, for God is timeless or immutable and changeless unlike creation, which is temporal, mutable and changing.”   (SVTQ  57:1 2013, p 8)

Not only is it impossible for empirical science to know what happened before or caused the Big Bang, it also makes no sense for believers to ask what God was doing before creation existed.  Our scientific and theological knowledge comes to its limit when we come to the very beginning of creation and what existed “before” that.  God in His essence is unknowable to us.  As created beings we humans can only know God in and through His creation.  And we can only know creation back to the nanosecond in which it came into existence.   Beyond or before that is really meaning to us who exist in space and time.  We can only marvel and wonder at the mystery of creation and the revelation of our Creator.

 

Genetic Disposition vs. Genetic Determinism

doublehelixBecause I frequently ponder questions like “what does it mean to be human?” or “what is it to be human?”, I find genetic studies to be fascinating for what they contribute to our understanding of what a human is.   So I read with interest the article, The Social Life of Genes, by David Dobbs in the PACIFIC STANDARD magazine. There were many “hooks” in the article that drew me in.   I recently published a couple of blogs on bees, and Dobbs’ article starts off looking at some fascinating studies in the genes of bees.  Young bees were taken from killer bee hives and put in regular honey bee hives and young honey bees were put into killer bee hives.  Lo and behold, the bees learned the behavior of their new hives.  Dobbs writes about studies done on the DNA of the transplanted bees:

“The move between hives didn’t just make the bees act differently. It made their genes work differently, and on a broad scale.

What’s more … the adopted bees of both species came to ever more resemble, as they moved through life … the bees they moved in with. With every passing day their genes acted more like those of their new hive mates (and less like those of their genetic siblings back home). “

The significance for refuting absolute genetic determinism has to be noted.  I wonder if the Jerry Coynes of the world are seeing what science is showing.  Genes may influence a great deal, but they don’t predetermine everything about any species.  These new studies tend to indicate that adherence to strict determinism is a philosophical choice, not a scientific one:  determinism is not in the biology but in one’s beliefs about biology.  As the article notes:

“Your DNA is not a blueprint. Day by day, week by week, your genes are in a conversation with your surroundings. Your neighbors, your family, your feelings of loneliness: They don’t just get under your skin, they get into the control rooms of your cells.“

A number of scientists working in epigenetics and related studies are coming to see that there are many factors which shape and change a life, including shaping and changing gene expression.

“Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live.”

In other words, we are not controlled completely by our genes, but decisions we make and events in the world around us shape our lives in ways which preclude complete genetic determinism.  Thus, even our  thinking can modify our gene expression.

“This fresh work by Robinson, Fernald, Clayton, and others—encompassing studies of multiple organisms, from bees and birds to monkeys and humans—suggests something more exciting: that our social lives can change our gene expression with a rapidity, breadth, and depth previously overlooked.

Why would we have evolved this way? The most probable answer is that an organism that responds quickly to fast-changing social environments will more likely survive them. That organism won’t have to wait around, as it were, for better genes to evolve on the species level. Immunologists discovered something similar 25 years ago: Adapting to new pathogens the old-fashioned way—waiting for natural selection to favor genes that create resistance to specific pathogens—would happen too slowly to counter the rapidly changing pathogen environment. Instead, the immune system uses networks of genes that can respond quickly and flexibly to new threats.”

In a sense neither environment alone nor genetics alone nor evolution alone determines what it is to be human.  Rather, all these elements interact but how these interactions become expressed in the lives of individuals or species cannot be complete predicted.  Evolution itself is not this mindless and completely random passing on of genes.  Evolution occurs within the living context of organisms relating to their environments.  Some species and individuals are quite adaptive to new conditions.  Humans consciously engage the environment and even create a social environment which studies now show affect their genetic expression.   Both the individual through choices and the society we live in have real and lasting effects on our genetic make up and expression.   The biological system is creative and far more quickly adaptive than pure evolution would suggest.  While evolution calls for change over huge periods of time as a species plods through history, some noted changes can occur within a lifetime of an individual or a species as was shown in the experiment mentioned above with the killer bees and honey bees.  Dr. Steven Cole says:

“Your experiences today will influence the molecular composition of your body for the next two to three months, or, perhaps, for the rest of your life. Plan your day accordingly.”

That thought has obvious implications for those theists who do accept aspects of evolution.  If experience can influence the molecular composition of your body, then sin does have a biological effect on what it is to be human.  The world of the Fall is not merely abstract thinking but begins to describe what we experience and witness everyday in human behavior.

In Dobbs interview with Dr. Cole, the implications of this new research become apparent.

“He wanted to add one more thing: He didn’t see any of this as deterministic.

We were obviously moving away from what he could prove at this point, perhaps from what is testable. We were in fact skirting the rabbit hole that is the free-will debate. Yet he wanted to make it clear he does not see us as slaves to either environment or genes.

“You can’t change your genes. But if we’re even half right about all this, you can change the way your genes behave—which is almost the same thing. By adjusting your environment you can adjust your gene activity. That’s what we’re doing as we move through life. We’re constantly trying to hunt down that sweet spot between too much challenge and too little.”

In this thinking, one might add that repentance, prayer and fasting, and actively participating in the communal liturgies of the church become not just a way of life for Christians, but a way in which we do our own form of genetic modification!  The effects of the Fall are not merely spiritual, they are biological as well – death has become part of our existence.  Conversely, life in the Body of Christ, is not only spiritual but also a social experience which influences epigenetics, and  has biological implications for our health as well as our being.

Stem Cells and St. Irenaeus

All of the Patristic writers of the Church lived in what we would call the “pre-scientifc” age.  Sometimes that adjective “pre-scientific” is used in a pejorative sense, implying that even the wisest of people in those days were superstitious or scientifically ignorant.  However, many of the Patristic writers were among the educated and intellectuals of their day and had an acute interest in science – at least as science was understood in their day.  They did not try to promote ignorance and superstition and in fact exposed fraudulent religion as encouraged people to become enlightened with the best knowledge available to them.

Because they were good observers of nature, they also occasionally touch upon an idea that while having a different meaning in their day comes close to ideas that we now hold through scientific inquiry rather than seeing them as revealed by God.  So we can read from the National Institutes of Health a description/definition of stem cells.

“Stem cells are important for living organisms for many reasons. In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lung, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues. In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.”   (NIH, “What are stem cells and why are they important?”)

Siamang Gibbon hand

Stem cells are involved in the formation of specialized cells, body parts and organs within an organism, and also account for the differences in organs and body parts between species.

With that explanation of stem cells in mind, it is interesting to compare it with a thought from St. Irenaeus, who died in 202AD and so was really a 2nd Century writer.  He’s writing on the development of a human’s body.  He knows nothing about stem cells, and yet describes the miracle of how various body parts and organs form.  He gives glory to God for this miracle but is also giving recognition to a process which can be observed in nature.

“And that flesh shall also be found fit for and capable of receiving the power of God, which at the beginning received the skillful touches of God; so that one part became the eye for seeing; another, the ear for hearing; another, the hand for feeling and working; another, the sinews stretched out everywhere, and holding the limbs together; another, arteries and veins, passages for the blood and the air; another, the various internal organs; another, the blood, which is the bond of union between soul and body. But why go [on in this strain]? Numbers would fail to express the multiplicity of parts in the human frame, which was made in no other way than by the great wisdom of God. But those things which partake of the skill and wisdom of God, do also partake of His power.”   (Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 7508-13)

Tiger cub paw

For St. Irenaeus, the development of the parts and organs of a human body are really the work of the wisdom and power of God.  Obviously for him, this development of a human being does not unfold according to random processes, but according to a plan.  Organization and an organism emerge from material that is physical.  It is a movement against entropy and toward meaning and design.  Although nature moves towards entropy, chaos, disintegration, reproduction and genetics pushes towards organization, purpose and meaning.