Thoughts on “The Myth of Junk DNA”

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I really enjoyed this book, and was pleased at how much I learned about current research in this area. What is meant by “junk” DNA refers to the part of the human genome that doesn’t code directly for a protein. Proteins are the machines that do all the work in the cell. With only 1.5% of the human genome coding for protein, that leaves a lot of junk around, apparently serving no purpose, looking like old viruses, and has been a source of proof for Neo-Darwinists and ridicule for Intelligent Design.

The book’s premise is simple and straight forward: it spends a chapter referring to statements made by prominent Neo-Darwinists using “junk” DNA to support evolution (going so far as to make theological comments on a God or Creator that would make such junk, even). The book then advances in a tour de force of example after example from mainstream journals showing the functionality of “junk” DNA. It has been shown that the other non-coding “junk” DNA is both conserved between species and widely transcribed. According to evolutionary theory alone, these two facts alone show probable function. Pseudogenes, Introns, repetitious DNA, elements that appear derived from virus (ERV), those parts that were thought to be functionless is being found to have important roles within the cell.

I think the information in the book is presented well and is at an understandable level, but I do have a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, so some of it may come off as too technical. The Neo-Darwinist argument goes something like this: “if most of human DNA is junk, then Darwinism is true and ID false; most of human DNA is junk; therefore Darwinism is true and ID false.” In my opinion, this book thoroughly discredits the myth that “junk” DNA is “flotsam and jetsam”. Drawing an inference to Intelligent Design is advanced in the last chapter, and the answer is left up to the reader. My own opinion is that, as the human genome explored and more data is generated, the evolutionary argument will transition to a “Darwin of the gaps” position.

“Defenders of Intelligent Design Deserve Our Gratitude”

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I saw this post this morning and thought I would immediately repost.

These are the words of noted atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and was taken from his new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Yep, you read that right: Atheist. And yep, why the materialistic Neo-Darwinian worldview is Almost Certainly False. Typically, proponents of intelligent design are labeled as IDiots and mischaracterized into religious zealots. It is extremely refreshing to read this article and it’s quoted material:

In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

Of the Darwinian worldview, Nagel has this to say:

I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement…. (emphasis mine)

The people at the Discovery Institute and Evolution Views & News must be feeling a certain amount of elation at Nagel’s words. Not that it necessarily matters. The questions they raise about the Neo-Darwinian evolution are valid, thought-provoking, yet mocked.

On Nagel:

Nagel is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Balzan Prize for his work in moral philosophy. He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other institutions. He is one of America’s top philosophers. Obviously, he also is a man of great courage and independence of thought. (emphasis mine)

John Lennox debates Peter Atkins

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This evening my wife and I enjoyed watching this debate with another couple over pizza. It generated a lively and animated discussion. Our teenage daughters watched with us for a while and we were able to discuss some of the points being debated. I highly recommend this video, not only just to watch, but to watch in a group setting and discussion tool. Yes, it is a bit long, but it is well worth it.

As a Christian, I found Lennox’s arguments convincing and I am very much in favor of an evidence-based faith. As Lennox states, a belief in God, a Creator, does indeed make scientific discovery more wonderful, and the rise of science in the Middle Ages was rooted in the Christian faith. Far from being a show stopper, as is stated by Atkins, it was this belief in a rational and ordered universe that inspired scientific investigation. Atkins consistently (i.e. over and over and over…) labels belief in design as laziness. As one commenter to the Youtube link asked, “how many times can one man say ‘Intellectual laziness’?” We were asking the same. Yet it was Atkins who demonstrated laziness in dismissing the conversions of prominent atheists like Anthony Flew, Francis Collins, C.S. Lewis and Alister McGrath as premature senility. This “laziness” is simply a straw man argument, packed from a stereotyped blind-faith anti-intellectualism and used to “prove” that belief in design is this show stopper. Those that fit this description, who fall back on various versions of God of the gaps explanations in place of genuine inquiry, are misled and hopefully few.

Regardless, they do not represent those that do look at the ever accumulating scientific data on our world and universe and decides the evidence points to a Designer. This is the importance of evidence-based faith. Given several examples of designed items (his own book, a 747, Paley’s watch), Atkins is unable to make the connection between these designed items and a designed universe. He is more comfortable attributing creative powers to matter and chance.

Overall, we found Atkins arrogant, a bit fidgety, but with a delightful accent. Ironically, as a scientist, he described himself as deeply humble. We were left to conclude it was so deep as to be unseen. John Lennox was lively and defined his arguments well. As to science, he considers it “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”.

We couldn’t agree more.

Clearly, Without Distortions

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For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. –Romans 1:20 (emphasis mine)

The true scientific model of the origin of species, by design not by chance, can be demonstrated by com­mon sense and the simplest of sci­entific experiments with any species, particularly of butterflies; whereas it is scientifically impossible to sustain the evolutionary model without having to distort objective truth itself. –Bernard d’Abrera, The Concise Atlas of Butterflies of the World (emphasis mine)

I wanted to follow-up on my last two posts in which I was critical toward Answers in Genesis and the RATE Project by ICR. Some may think I may think I was just bashing them. I do not mean to, but there is a reason why I have a deep conviction about this: scientific data should be able to stand as neutral. God makes it clear in nature that he can be understood. We should never have to bend or distort data to fit a philosophy, whether religious or atheist.

In his writings on modern thought and culture, Francis Schaeffer has emphasized going back to the basic and primary question of “Is there a God?” Science and the evidence we uncover are the best way to decide that. All people, whether believers, agnostics, atheists, or whatever, should be able to use the tools of analysis and it will point to God’s handiwork. What truth do we observe?

  • A universe that came out of nothing and had a beginning.
  • The universe’s physical laws are fine-tuned to support life. For instance, if the force of gravity were any stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10100 (a 1 with 100 zeroes behind it) the universe could not support life. For perspective, there are 1080 atoms in the entire universe.
  • The Earth is uniquely situated in our galaxy such that it provides the overall best conditions for scientific discovery of the universe. (refer to The Privileged Planet dvd)

These points are all based on scientifically verified data, and they all seem to point to a Designer behind the universe. Also, this data was not generated by the religious, either. In fact, the Big Bang was a hard pill to swallow for naturalists, who believed that the universe had always existed. The data for the Big Bang forced scientists to accept the view that the universe, at one time, did not exist. And then it existed. The philosophical ramifications were obvious-it pointed to an external cause, namely a creator. Yet scientists, regardless of personal beliefs, accepted the data.

What about the theory of evolution? Does nature proclaim it as truth? Not at all.

  • Fossil evidence: researchers have been looking for over 100 years for missing links between the major species without result.
  • The fossil record of the Cambrian “explosion” demonstrates the exact opposite of what Darwin predicted. Here you have almost all of the basic body plans (phyla), rather than only a few basic types of animals that gradually divide into the phyla.
  • DNA: this discovery has only exacerbated evolutionary theory. As Bill Gates has noted, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” There is no scientific theory or explanation for the origin of the informational code in DNA.
  • Cells are nano-machines: they read DNA and make small molecular machines that perform specific tasks that are essential for life. There is also no scientific theory or explanation for the origin of cellular functioning.
  • Irreducible complexity: many aspects of cellular functioning require many parts, working together. Removal of any of the parts yields a non-functioning system. To pass on this function to off-spring, all parts must be present, which challenges evolutionary model.
  • Butterflies: the caterpillar spends its life gorging itself. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar literally dies and its body is used as food by a latent set of genes that use the caterpillar’s body to build the butterfly. The big question- how did these butterfly genes evolve?

All these facts are direct challenges to evolution and, as d’Abrera stated above, evolutionary biologists do not accept the data and have to distort truth to fit their philosophy. If it is fair to ask evolutionists to evaluate the data neutrally, outside of their preconceived notions, it is fair to ask Christians to do the same. In my view, since God made it, it is a win-win situation.

Evidences for an Old Earth

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This post started as a simple list of observations that show that the earth is older than the 6000 years that young creationists hold to. I left radiometric dating for the end because I have seen some writings saying this data is wildly inaccurate. I have linked a site with an extensive page on radiometric dating, with a quote addressing the supposed inaccuracy. Read for your self. I also found a study by the Institute of Creation Research that, just like this post concerning Answers in Genesis, disturbed me.

Evidence for >6000 years old

This evidence is either common sense, or you have to conjure the idea that God created the world to look old. 

Tree Rings: 12,000 year old trees have been found, the age determined from yearly growth rings

Varves: Lakes can form these deposits. They are composed of thin layers of clay and silt from a single summer and winter. They are of contrasting color and texture, and represent one year of deposits. Lakes actively forming varves can be found with 100,000 layers, and some ancient lakes have millions of layers preserved.

Ice Cores: Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica preserve the longest record of snow deposits. Greenland shows about 50,000 layers, while Antarctica shows about 740,000 layers.

Speleothems: cave growths (stalagmites & stalactites) form similar layers as that of tree rings. Some cave formations have over 200,000 layers.

Carbon-14 Dating: This method of dating organic material has been combined with tree ring and varves, confirming each dating method.

Supernova 1987a: Prior to 1987, this was a star approximately 168,000 light years away. On Feb 23, 1987, the star exploded and became a supernova. That is, 168,000 years ago it exploded and it took that long for the light to reach the Earth.

Radiometric Dating: Isotopes are radioactive elements that decay into a non-radioactive form of the element. This can happen quickly or slowly, depending on the element.  Here is a good explanation of the science. It is long and technical and I found it convincing. Scientists have dated rocks at ~3.6 billion years using multiple methods.

As to inaccuracy:

Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.

Extinct Radionuclides: Scientists have determined what isotopes would have formed in stars and supernovas. They have looked for these isotopes in nature and found the shorter lived isotopes missing, indicating the Earth is old enough for them to have decayed away.

Extinct Radionuclides Data Accepted by Young Earth Creationists

In doing some research on radionuclides, I found an article by Randy Isaac for the American Scientific Affiliation assessing studies made by the Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I found it very interesting because, rather than disputing the data on extinct radionuclides, the researchers affirmed it. The purpose of their project was to explain the evidence from a young earth perspective. 

The program was called the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) Project, and it’s findings were published in 2005. Isaac summarizes the key points of the book as follows:

1. There is overwhelming evidence of more than 500 million years worth of radioactive decay.

2. Biblical interpretation and some scientific studies indicate a young earth.

3. Therefore, radioactive decay must have been accelerated by approximately a factor of one billion during the first three days of creation and during the Flood.

4. The concept of accelerated decay leads to two unresolved scientific problems, the heat problem and the radiation problem, though there is confidence that these will be solved in the future.

5. Therefore, the RATE project provides encouragement regarding the reliability of the Bible.

This study is billed as “groundbreaking results,” and it is considering that the ICR researchers concede that there is evidence for “more than 500 million years’ worth (at today’s rate) of nuclear and radioisotope decay.” Isaac notes that it is a “departure from previous creationist claims that radioactive decay is much less than reported.” In other words, the ICR researchers acknowledge to the amount of decay attested by mainstream science and validates the radiometric observations.

The ICR researchers reason that during the Flood, the rate of decay accelerated to accommodate a 6000 year old earth. The problem with this acceleration, the study admits, is the amount of heat generated—enough to evaporate the earth. It requires “a most unusual heat removal mechanism that is outside the known laws of thermodynamics.” I would qualify that as an understatement. A second problem is the radiation generated by this increase—one million times greater than today. How anyone (i.e. Noah et al.) survived this proposed year-long radioactive exposure is not known.

The young-earth advocate is therefore left with two positions. Either God created the earth with the appearance of age (thought by many to be inconsistent with the character of God) or else there are radical scientific laws yet to be discovered that would revolutionize science in the future. The authors acknowledge that no current scientific understanding is consistent with a young earth. Yet they are so confident that these problems will be resolved that they encourage a message that the reliability of the Bible has been confirmed.

I find it disturbing that these researchers, clinging so tightly to literal 24-hour days in Genesis, they propose radical and fundamental changes to physical laws that only last for about a year. With the other evidence for an older earth noted above, it seems absurd to cling to this fantastic theory rather than consider an erroneous interpretation of Genesis 1. This happened to Calvin and Luther, who clung to a geocentric solar system as supported by scripture. We now know they were wrong, so one is above error.

But to gloss over the major roadblocks to this theory and hail it in support of the Biblical authority is blind, deceptive and/or both. Isaac’s concludes his assessment this way:

The ASA does not take a position on issues when there is honest disagreement among Christians provided there is adherence to our statement of faith and to integrity in science. Accordingly, the ASA neither endorses nor opposes young-earth creationism which recognizes the possibility of a recent creation with appearance of age or which acknowledges the unresolved discrepancy between scientific data and a young-earth position. However, claims that scientific data affirm a young earth do not meet the criterion of integrity in science. Any portrayal of the RATE project as confirming scientific support for a young earth, contradicts the RATE project’s own admission of unresolved problems. The ASA can and does oppose such deception.

Atheist Discusses the Merits of ID

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I ran across this podcast today and thought it was extremely interesting. With the militancy atheists have against intelligent design, I never thought I would hear of one that supports it. He is Bradley Monton, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

I just finished a great book called God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. One thing this book does well (and it does many things well) is to make a clear distinction between science and naturalistic philosophy. It seems Monton is able to do this as well. He is able to think critically about the evidence for intelligent design and follow where the evidence leads, no matter his philosophy on God. It was really very refreshing to listen to this interview (~16 min) by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Monton says:

I actually find some of the intelligent design arguments somewhat plausible and worth taking seriously within academia, and I’m unhappy with the sort of unfair and false criticisms that a lot of my fellow philosophers and academics have given of intelligent design. I’m also, for the record, unhappy with some of the intelligent design arguments. I think that, even though some of them are wrong, they could actually be given better than current intelligent design proponents are giving them. So I’m trying, really, to elevate the debate on both sides.

While listening to their discussion, Monton struck me as someone who is extremely intellectually honest. He admires those Christians who take their faith seriously and defend their worldview versus the C-E (Christmas-Easter) Christians who go to church twice a year and that is it. He is very interested in the science-based arguments for the existence of God, finds some arguments very convincing, and yet remains an atheist. I find that very interesting.

Luskin: What do you think happens when a person tries to pretend that there is no reason or room for any doubt or self-introspection in their worldview?

Monton: Yeah…I think that leads to dogmatism, in part, and this sort of emotional reaction to the people who are on the other side. Because, if you think the other side is just completely, you know, has nothing going for it, then you’re going to dismiss them and react badly to them. It’s unfortunate and I appreciate the people who aren’t that way. And unfortunately, what I’ve been encountering lately are more atheists who seem to be completely and incredibly dogmatic about their view, and then…encountering Christians who are more sympathetic.

Luskin: …when it turns to dogmatism and name-calling, it just saddens me. The debate could be so much more interesting and so much more life-giving than that.

I don’t know the reasons for Monton’s atheist worldview, but there is something that could bring him to Christ. It is love in the style of 1 Cor 13: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered, not keeping a record of wrongs. “Love never fails.” The dogmatic and hateful atheists subvert themselves and their humanity, and people seeking truth know there is something woefully wrong with their character. The same can, of course, be said of the religious who are just as hateful.

Monton finishes the interview quoting an email from a prominent ID opponent, whose attitude is that this debate was a cultural war and one must take a side and defend it vigorously. He was disappointed that one had to be on one side or the other, rather than searching for truth.

Give this podcast a listen and let me know what you think.

Re-Post of “Dissecting Darwin” article

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I’m currently on vacation, soaking up the Florida sun…and rain. So, while we are stuck inside, and I have some motivation to do so, I would like to share this article I began reading last week. It is heavily referenced and provides a great source of reading concerning the debate on Neo-Darwinism. It is really a fantastic display of scientific knowledge disputing the validity of random mutation/natural selection with regard to macroevolution and the origin of life.

The article(s) are at times technical, but I found that this particular article represents sort of a “running jump in the pool” in terms of the arguments for and against evolution (unguided, macro), the responses by Neo-Darwinists, and the sort of commentary and in-depth analysis that is going on over at Evolution News & Views, a pro-Intelligent Design website that is continually building an arsenal of information. The logic and evidence discussed here at this website is exactly why the scientific weakness of current “modern synthesis” of evolution should be taught in public schools.

I recommend reading the links as you come to them if you have the time, but this article by Joseph Kuhn in the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings is a must read. This is a tour de force of the arguments against Neo-Darwinism. Do you disagree? Read the critical comments by other medical professionals here.

Well, the rain has passed and the sun is coming back out…time to get back to the pool! Cheers!

If the Earth Moves, Can It Be Old?

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I finished the book “Seven Days that Divide the World” by John Lennox a few weeks ago, and a lot of the ideas put forth have been brewing and stewing in my mind. Although a small book (honestly, I looked at it initially and didn’t think it worth the price), it is very well written and persuasive in its themes. It attempts to address the obvious split in interpreting the days of Genesis to a young or old earth. Here is one of perhaps a few posts on this book:

A Case Study: Copernicus and Heliocentricity

Lennox begins his book with an apt example and compels the reader to not repeat the mistakes of the past. It is, in my opinion, a brilliant way to begin—a look at historical fact. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs” and started what has become known as the Copernican Revolution. Based on careful observation, he proposed that the solar system is heliocentric (the earth revolving around the sun) as opposed to geocentric (the earth is the center of the solar system and the sun revolving around the earth). He was ridiculed by the church (Luther & Calvin), which held the geocentric position (which was Aristotelian in origin, actually).

But the church had scripture to back up their beliefs. Consider these:

Tremble before him, all the earth!
   The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. [1 Chr 16:30]

1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;
   the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
   indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. [Psm 93:1]

 5 He set the earth on its foundations;
   it can never be moved. [Psm 104:5]

He raises the poor from the dust
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
   and has them inherit a throne of honor.

   “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;
   on them he has set the world. [1 Sam 2:8]

And here is scripture used by the church to support the sun revolving around the earth:

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth. [Psm 19:4-6]

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
   and hurries back to where it rises. [Ecc 1:5]

If taken literally, these verses support a geocentric view of the solar system, but we know from modern science that this is simply not true. But the beliefs of the church did not change during the lifetime of Copernicus. At some point later, though, the heliocentric model became undeniable and church changed its belief.

Unless I am missing some major revisionist history, this example is simply a fact. Is Lennox saying that the Bible is wrong? Is he trying to discredit the Bible? No, not at all. He is saying these verses, and I think this has been proven, cannot be taken literally. Or should I say, literalistically.

To the Exact Letter?

Lennox presents a definition of the word “literal” from the Oxford English Dictionary:

“That sense or interpretation (of a text) which is obtained by taking its words in their natural or customary meaning, and applying the ordinary rules of grammar; opposed to mystical, allegorical, etc.,” and “hence, by extension…the primary sense of a word, or…the sense expressed by the actual wording of a passage, as distinguished from any metaphorical or merely suggested meaning.” [Pg 22]

For the word “literalistic,” defines it as:

“Adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation: to interpret the law with uncompromising literalism.”

To illustrate the difference between these words, Lennox provides two simple examples:

  • “The car was flying down the road.”
    • Was the car literally “flying”? No, it was driving fast. “Flying” is just a metaphor, but it is a metaphor for something real—we imagine a plane zipping past and associate that to the speed of the car.
    • The only way we can learn or understand something outside of our experience or knowledge is through metaphor. (As a side note, it would be humorous to for a person, whose only experience with flying was that of butterflies, to hear this phrase. I don’t think they would be impressed by the speed of the car!)
  • Jesus said, “I am the door.”
    • Is he made of wood, with a latch and hinges? No, it is a metaphor, and again for something real—Jesus literally is a doorway into a real experience of salvation and life.

A literalistic interpretation says the car really was flying through the air and Jesus really is made of planks of wood. I have never really thought through the distinction of these words, but this makes sense to me. It applies completely to the interpretation of the above scripture, taken to support the geocentric view of the solar system.

Tremble before him, all the earth!
   The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. [1 Chr 16:30]

Can the earth be moved? If interpreted literalistically, it cannot. Since we know the earth does move, we know that this verse is a metaphor—but it is a metaphor for a literal reality that God has established. God is teaching us about physics metaphorically because it was beyond our ability to know at that time. We now know from Newton and others that the solar system is very stable. We could point to the “fine-tuning” of universal laws that modern physicists have discovered which, if their constants were altered slightly, the universe would fall apart (or never have existed as we know it).

Implications for a Worldview

A disturbing thought then occurred to me: these people firmly believed they had a Biblical worldview of the reality. They had convictions and a very real idea of the heavens. Yet, it was shattered by the discoveries of science. This situation begs the question: Are there verses we have taken literalistically that are instead meant as only as metaphors? For instance, the Bible says that God sits in heaven on a throne. Is there a literal man on a literal throne? No, I don’t think so…and yes, because it is a metaphor for a literal reality—God reigns. Whether a verse can be taken literalistically (“Jesus wept.”) or metaphorically, it does not reduce or discredit the Bible in any way.

What does this mean for our Christian worldview? How are we to see our world? What are we to accept from scientific discoveries? Do we accept every theory because a scientist proposes it? Do reject theories because the scientists are atheists? We all believe in the structure of DNA, yet Watson & Crick were solid atheists. Also, if we change our position or belief on something, do we discredit the Bible? Or, like those who had to eventually acknowledge heliocentricity, are we willing to acknowledge our error, if science can prove a theory correct?

What do we teach our children about this and other examples? If we bring up Copernicus, they may wonder what to believe. They may question leadership, or their Sunday School curriculum. If we don’t talk about it, chances are some atheist high school or college teacher will, and they will do it to prove the church ridiculous. 

Let’s return to Copernicus. He did not publish his work to defy God. He was a scientist because he believed in God and sought to discover His creation. I think his attitude needs to be our approach today. We need to be able to look at scientific investigations and evaluate them in light both of a literalistic and metaphorical interpretation. What keeps us from that sometimes is the militancy of atheist scientists and their absolute insistence that science defines atheism. They have fused science to natural philosophy and refuse to let go, and they are just as evangelical in their efforts to convert the masses to their philosophy. But science is science—philosophy, whether religious or atheist, is inherent to the observer and rests outside of science.

So, I am deliberately not stating my position on young or old earth because I think the focus of this post needs to be on a metaphor (for a literal reality) or literalistic view of Genesis 1-2. The earth may be 6000 years old, but if it is 4.5 billion, does that mean the Bible is wrong? If I believe the earth is old, am I really threatening the authority of the Bible? I don’t think so. Do you?

These are difficult questions. I am apprehensive just asking them. I am even more apprehensive at the thought of blogging this “to the world”…but here I go…

Da Vinci as Anatomist

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An interesting video on Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings. It is amazing how he wrote in mirror image with his left hand right-to-left because it was easier for him.

A Victory for Critical Thinking in TN

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An academic freedom law has just been passed in Tennessee that allows for dissenting views to be presented for controversial issues in science:

Nashville – Today Tennessee became the latest state to enact an academic freedom bill that protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning. At least ten states now have statewide science standards or laws that protect or encourage teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution.

Teachers in Tennessee are still required to teach according to state and local science standards. But under the law, teachers are allowed to objectively present additional scientific evidence, analysis, and critiques regarding topics already in the approved curriculum.

Critics claimed that this bill would promote religion instead of science, but this is simply not true.

“First, the bill expressly states that it ‘shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine,'” explained Luskin. “Second, in places like Texas and Louisiana that have similar legislation or science standards there has been no negative economic impact at all. Contrary to critics, no lawsuits have materialized in other states or districts with such policies in place.”

The point of the law is to allow debate, the kind that goes on in the scientific world but rarely surfaces to the public eye. I won’t get into the thick of the debate (because I truly don’t have time to be completely educated beyond a superficial level about the debate), but there is a debate among evolutionary scientists about the plausibility of Neo-Darwinism. Here Jerry Coyne criticizes James Shapiro, both professors of biology at the University of Chicago, both atheists, both at odds about the reliability of Neo-Darwinism. I also read a few weeks ago this article from Nature on Postmodern Evolution. Modern evolutionists apparently loathe these ideas (Evo-Devo), but some scientists are meeting and discussing how to address problems with the modern evolutionary synthesis has never been able to answer.

The point: there is debate in the scientific community concerning the strengths and weakness of theories . That debate should extend down through our educational system if we hope to have any real critical thinking development in students.

I won’t get into the lack of critical thinking developed in our educational system, in general, but a great book to read is Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, voted NYC teacher of the year twice and NY state teacher of the year once. Upon receiving his last award, he resigned and gave a speech informing those present that he had to break all the school rules in order to achieve that distinction of “teacher of the year.”

Ok, it seems I am getting into it: for instance, he wanted to teach Moby Dick, so he ordered the official school curriculum. He received and saw that it had so much commentary that it was rendered useless. Why? It did not allow the student to read the original text, think about it, discuss it, regurgitate it, argue about, write their own words about it. That is critical thinking. Instead, the curriculum told them what to think about Moby Dick, just as students are told what to think about evolution.

So, read that book (a must-read), and thank God that teachers (now in 10 states) can have the freedom to discuss both the strengths and weakness of a topic with our future citizens.

Defeating Darwinism Review

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Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds

This is a good book for students, parents and other adults alike who are looking for perspective on the claims of Darwinism. It is less technical than other books I have read, but is more for development of critical thinking. It does a great job in illustrating the bias of the media through the example of the Scopes trial, through a comparison of the facts and the distorted lens of the play/movie “Inherit the Wind.” I didn’t know much about this subject, and anti-religious bias is so clear.

One notable quote in the book is from James Shapiro, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago. He said in response to Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box”: “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations. It is remarkable that Darwinism is accepted as a satisfactory explanation for such a vast subject—evolution—with so little rigorous examination of how well its basic theses work in illuminating specific instances of biological adaptation or diversity.” Is Shapiro an ID advocate? Not in the least! Yet he can look at Darwinism and evaluate it openly for what it is and what it lacks. He thinks critically, and that is what this book seeks to promote.

Overall, a fine book. It will help you see the difference between the scientific evidence and the materialistic philosophy that dominates the culture.

The Origin of Information

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The Nature of Information

Information is central to all living systems, and is responsible for assembling the proteins that are essential to life and reproduction. Being a biochemist and taking many courses in molecular biology as well, I knew this already. But information, in and of itself, is mysterious…and that is something I hadn’t really thought about.

“Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter…the gene is a package of information, not an object. The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene. But the DNA molecule is the medium, it’s not the message.” Williams, Natural Selection, 11

Consider: if I fax a form to my bank, what I put into the machine and what comes out on the other end is not the same thing. They are different sheets of paper with different ink—the form can even be stored digitally. The actual information has nothing to do with ink or wood pulp or electrons on a hard drive. Information is completely different from “dust or particles,” and that seems to be the crux of the intelligent design argument.

This is something I had never considered before reading Signature in the Cell. It shows my ignorance of history and philosophy, for this was the dominant worldview for centuries. It was the understanding of Plato, Aristotle, Roman Stoics, Jewish philosophers such as Moses Mainonides, Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, and most of the founding scientists in the scientific revolution from 1300-1700 that mind was the primary source of reality. Material either issues from or is shaped by (or both) a pre-existing intelligence. This ignorance on my part is not surprising, though, if you think about it, since materialism dominates the modern university.

So, does information have anything to do with the DNA molecule? Or does it have everything to do with the order of the nucleotides? It is such an interesting insight to consider when reviewing data and articles on origin of life—does this experiment or result solve a material problem (producing amino acids or nucleotides in a test tube) or an information problem (the cause or mechanism of specific ordering of nucleotides)? And as I read more about origin of life, the more this delineation should be at the forefront of my mind.

What is Information?

Overall, I was really pleased with the amount of information and definitions on information in this book. What is information? Here are two definitions:

  1. The communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
  2. The attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produces specific effects.

The first definition is sort of generic and intuitive, and deals with what people do all the time: “Turn right on Oak St.” “I like you a lot.” “I loathe you and all you represent.” Knowledge is passed from one being to another, and the other can take whatever action they see fit. A right turn, a kiss, or a firm uppercut. The second definition gets into more detail of the “language” of information—sequences or arrangements that produce an effect. It’s the arrangements that have an effect, and therefore the arrangements are a cause. This definition seems more applicable to software or DNA code.

Shannon Information Theory

Not only does information communicate knowledge or an effect, there can be a varied amount of information. According the Shannon Information Theory, information and uncertainty are inversely proportional. The more information in a sentence, the more uncertainty it reduces. Consider the following:

“Someone stole my wallet.”

“A tall light-skinned man with blonde hair, pimples on his nose, a tattoo of a mermaid on his left forearm, wearing blue denim jeans and a yellow tee-shirt stole my wallet, and he ran that way…”

In the first sentence, you could be looking for anyone. The second sentence obviously provides more information and reduces the uncertainty of exactly who stole my wallet (because I want it back, I have bills to pay and mouths to feed). Here are the categories of information:

  1. Order redundancy – ABCABCABCABC etc. This kind of information is compressible and, because of its regularity, carries little information.
  2. Mere complexity – ALWIWOCZNVDWIQSAOA. This information is not compressible. It is complex, but not specific to any particular function and conveys no information (assuming no hidden code). An example from the biological world would be random polypeptides or polymers that serve no biological function.
  3. Specific complexity – “TIME AND TIDE WAIT FOR NO MAN”. This information is also complex and not compressible. It clearly serves a function, though, or communicates a message. Biological examples include functional DNA and proteins. This is a synonym for specified information or informational content.

It is this specified complexity that Intelligent Design theorists are most interested in. What qualifies DNA as information-rich is that fact that the code in DNA is translated (via RNA) into a protein that performs a function.

Yes, one can perform experiments to try to imitate what happened in the “primordial soup.” But these experiments have to do with the dust and particles, and have nothing to do with the generation of information. That is what is essential to understanding where intelligent design is coming from. Suppose it can be discerned how nucleotides came together, formed the unfavorable bond at the ribose backbone, and then formed long enough chains—that is still not the same as explaining the origin of the information formed.

Darwin Would Agree With Kirk Cameron’s Stance On Gays

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I was attracted to this article by a Facebook friend and thought I would state the obvious: Charles Darwin would agree with Cameron. No, really, I am positive he would.

When pressed to acknowledge whether homosexuality was a sin, Kirk Cameron said:

“I think that it’s…unnatural. It’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.”

GLAAD responded as follows:

“In this interview, Kirk Cameron sounds even more dated than his 1980s TV character,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD.

But you see, Darwin would say that homosexuality is…umm…unnatural. According to his theory (Law, some would say), we can only evolve if our genes and whatever special adaptation we have developed through mutation is passed on to our offspring through sexual reproduction. But, homosexuals do not reproduce (test tubes don’t count), and believe it or not, according to evolution, that is extremely destructive. Imagine this: if every person on earth decided to be a homosexual today, the human race would die on in one generation. Scary.

The irony of this argument is that, if you believe evolution is true, you must agree with Kirk Cameron. The path of logic is different, but the conclusion is the same.

As for the GLAAD comments on the acceptance of homosexuality by Christianity, why do they even reference all of us? Who cares what we think anyway. For example, if someone was a priest of Zeus, they would follow the dictates of Zeus. If they were Buddhists, they would follow Buddha’s teaching. Christians follow (you guessed it) the teachings of the Bible. Here GLAAD said:

“Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.”

Well, I don’t think Darwin would have any particular comment on this statement, but God does in 1 Timothy 1:8-11:

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

Now these GLAAD people will clearly not like this, and it is a mystery why they would want to be Christians in the first place. I mean, it’s in the Bible, for crying out loud! Is Christianity some democracy where people vote and discuss what to accept and what gets ignored? Maybe they are talking about the sect of some Jeffersonian Christians? (Thomas Jefferson ripped out all the pages of the Bible he didn’t like…)

[added March 5, 2012] This is religion fully embracing and accepting its place as a community limited to private opinion only. At this level, God ceases to have any authority or any place in a self-made reality. Scary.

A great book to read on Christian worldview is Total Truth, by Nancy Pearcey.

Darwin’s Heretic

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I finally found the time to watch this video (at least the 20 minutes provided here) on Alfred Russel Wallace. It is amazing that I have never heard to this guy before. Who really has? How can that be? He was a cofounder with Darwin, and remained an unknown to us today. How can his ideas and life be so buried from the general public?

I found Wallace’s book “The World of Life” in Kindle format on-line, and look forward to reading it this year. It is interesting to note that Wallace was not a theist. He came to his conclusion of intelligent evolution based on observations of the natural world.


ID mischaracterized as Ignorance

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I was directed to this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson from a post on Jerry Coyne’s blog (which I read from time to time), and was curious… Would I learn anything? Is it just an atheist rant? Time is very precious to me, so I debated on whether I should spend (or waste) the 39 minutes on this guy. The obvious implication from Coyne’s quote below is that the more advanced and educated a scientist becomes, the more silly religion would become. All the serious scientists should be atheists.

“The “strident” part starts at 10:30, when Tyson contrasts the pervasive religiosity of the American public with the pervasive atheism of scientists, showing that more than 90% of the former believe in God but that just 15% of members of the National Academy of Sciences accept the notion of a personal God (actually, I think the figure is closer to 2%).  Referring to the latter figure, though, Tyson says that everyone missed the big story about this disparity: why isn’t the percentage of scientist-believers zero(He mentions this later in the talk, too.) Tyson clearly thinks that science promotes unbelief.”

So, I decided to watch it, and I learn quite a bit—about Tyson and straw men, anyway.

Newton Made of Straw

Tyson uses the examples of Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and Huygens as superb scientists who, at some point reached their capacity discover, basically threw up their hands and invoked God (intelligent design). Tyson emphasizes that these were all brilliant men, especially with Newton, and so their use of (or invocation of) intelligent design cannot be just “swept under the rug.” This fact, he says, needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. But the problem is, Tyson mischaracterized them and builds them into straw men.

He portrays them as essentially irreligious during their scientific discoveries, but when it comes to confronting the unknown, then, and seemingly only then, do they give up to “only God knows.” Based on this false presentation, Tyson makes the claim, “Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance.”

This is simply not true. As Nancy Pearcey clearly shows in her book The Soul of Science, the flowering of modern science depended upon the Judeo-Christian worldview. Their belief in God drove their discovery, not hindered it. These men may have spoken of the miracle of God concerning the unknown, but that does not mean that their belief in God’s order and design was not interwoven throughout their life of discovery.

For Newton, intelligent design drove him, not hindered him. He was constantly trying to fit God into the universe he observed. For instance, Newton’s discovery and characterization of gravity was described by the Cartesians as being “an occult concept.” To Newton, he had “discovered a new active principle through which God acts through his creation.” Even Wikipedia admits he was highly religious and wrote more on religion than he did on science and mathematics. Sometimes we was wrong—like thinking God needed to tinker with the universe to stabilize it. That certainly does not imply because he “had God on the brain” he couldn’t figure out the stability of the solar system (which Laplace later did). Every person does have their intellectual limit (even Newton) and should not be faulted for it.

But wait, you said religion was a bad thing…

A very interesting example Tyson used was the period of Islam between 800-1100 AD. This was a period of high learning, and Baghdad was its center. I am not very familiar with this period, quite frankly, but according to Tyson it was Imam Hamid al-Ghazali who destroyed it. He taught that math was from the devil–scholarship faltered, declined, and the region never recovered it’s excellence to this day.

Perhaps I missed the point on this one. Isn’t Tyson making a case against religion? How exactly did this period occur within the confines of the religion of Islam? And if we extrapolate to the modern age, is he saying the intelligent design movement is saying math (or science or evolutionary biology) is of the devil? Or just those scoundrel Republicans are saying it? Newton’s theory of gravity was described as of the devil…did science come to a screeching halt then?

Tyson is trying to connect intelligent design to intellectual resignation and the destruction of science itself. If I researched this period in Islam, would I find that the Muslims did not believe God created the universe? Would I really? I just don’t think I would. Was Imam Hamid al-Ghazali an ID advocate? No, he wasn’t. He was a religious zealot.

So, if anything, religious fanaticism is a “show stopper,” not intelligent design.

Stupid Design (a Fast Tirade)

To drive the hammer home and in rapid fire mode, Tyson mocks intelligent design, or I should say the Designer. He goes on and on about how imperfect the universe is, the inefficiency of star formation, etc. He references intelligent design’s insistence that the universe is set up for life (is that just ID or do non-religious people observe that as well?).

No, Tyson says, it set up to kill you (chuckle, chuckle).

Yes, the universe is inhospitable–that’s what is so amazing about the earth. That’s the point. Yep, you got it. (Chuckle, chuckle). In an inhospitable universe, the universal constants, the earth, it is all set up in balance (here on earth) for life.

Tyson also presents a list of imperfections of the earth and human life: extinctions, 3.5 billion years to make multi-cellular life, diseases, birth defects (paused slide for effect), eating/breathing from the same hole (guaranteeing a certain percentage of people will choke to death), etc, etc.

This similar to the claim by Francisco Ayala, insisting to Stephen Meyer that Christians shouldn’t claim intelligent design because we are attributing all this observed imperfection to a perfect God. So, did God screw up? It is a legitimate, hard question.

A patient with multiple sclerosis recently visited my workplace to give a talk, and one of the things that struck me about her was how reflective she was. She did not claim any religion at all, but it was obvious that she preferred Eastern philosophy and yoga. She said, throughout the course of dealing with the disease, she had a lot of dark nights and had to “talk herself off the ledge” at times/ Having MS has helped her to slow down her Type A Go-Go-Go lifestyle and let go of many of her personal milestones. The disease has made her more reflective, gotten her in touch with life, true life, more and more. She said it has brought her to humility and compassion.

So the hard question (for me) is this: can we be spiritual in a perfect world? If we had everything, would we learn anything? Without imperfection, would we understand love and compassion? I am not saying I like adversity or disease or death, or want more of it, or delight in it, but I am saying I believe we need it for our spirits to grow. For the Christian, this life is just temporary and our hope is set on God’s preparations for our eternal home. These questions, I think, fall outside of an atheistic mindset.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

Watch that last step…

Tyson concludes his presentation saying he doesn’t want someone in the lab who believes in intelligent design, because they will give up on trying to find cures for disease like cancer and Alzheimer’s. Here he extrapolated his “philosophy of ignorance” into a realm of absolute fantasy. There is not a Christian alive who believes this or practices it, who would throw up their hands and give up. That is complete hogwash and Tyson should be ashamed of himself for even stating it.

By the way…

Intelligent design is not a god of the gaps theory…this is from Bonhoeffer:

“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.”

Intelligent design proponents look at the evidence. DNA is code-like. Evolution provides not mechanism for the generation of this code (let alone the actual assemblage of it sans information). The only known cause for codes or information is intelligence. Therefore, an intelligence agent produced the DNA code. It is a way to interpret the evidence. No one is throwing up their hands and embracing ignorance. You may disagree with intelligent design, but you cannot say it is a god of the gaps theory.