Thursday, May 12, 2016

Deaconess

The Pope made world-wide news Thursday by announcing he would set up a commission to study women deacons in the Catholic Church. What a historic move! His decision came about after an international meeting with consecrated women and International Union of Superiors General. An article about the circumstances is here at the Crux website:

http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2016/05/12/pope-agrees-to-set-up-commission-to-study-women-deacons/ .

The women had written questions for the Pope (4 main topics) which more or less asked why women still do not have a say in the Church and why we are barred from being deacons. The questions can be read here:

http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/full-text-questions-francis-women-religious .

I am excited for a few reasons. I have said before that women should be deacons. They should be ordained as deacons. Married men are ordained as permanent deacons, and if the Church leadership insists on only male priests, women can at least be permanent deacons. It is just not right for the Church to have seven sacraments for men and six for women. Another reason they should be named deacons is that many do the work of deacons anyway. But men can be ordained and women not. It is just plain discrimination. I know many will say there are reasons to keep women out, but there were reasons to keep African-Americans out of seminaries at one time, including the belief they were not totally human. History does not look kindly there.

Of course, the question of who will be on the commission is next. Obviously, if the members are all conservative bishops, women will not have a chance. The pope has been fairly astute about these things. He has been placing more progressive persons in critical roles. However, the current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, is conservative. Perhaps the Pope hides behind him a bit. After a previous commission’s look into the female diaconate, Muller made a statement along the lines that women will feel discriminated against if they are allowed to be deacons but not priests or bishops.

https://zenit.org/articles/women-deacons-a-perspective-on-the-sacrament-of-orders/ .

Apparently the consecrated women who asked the Pope to become deaconesses do not have that problem.

The Internet is buzzing, including the website I follow, Catholic Answers Forums. The conversation on this topic starts here:

http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=1010543 .

We will be hearing much, much more about this topic. As I predicted earlier on this blog (link here), it is a subject that will not go away.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Smallest Cell

This headline and link are from the Washington Post. The article describes the smallest cell to which the scientists were able to reduce, and it turns out it is twice as big as they thought it would be:

This man-made cell has the smallest genome ever — but a third of its genes are a mystery:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/03/24/the-creators-of-the-first-synthetic-life-made-a-cell-with-just-enough-genes-to-survive/ .

The news is from J. Craig Venter Institute. They had previously been known for putting together a synthetic combination of DNA which survived in a cell and was capable of reproduction. Link here:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/52 .

DNA is the molecule that forms our genes. These are used for coding proteins, which do the work of our cells. Cells are the basic unit of biology. DNA is also needed for reproduction, to pass the information to offspring. Humans have trillions of cells, and most of them contain their own set of DNA. Some organisms, like bacteria, have only one cell, but still need DNA to make protein and for reproduction. As you have probably seen, but if you want you can see in the picture in the link below, DNA looks like a twisted ladder. Each step of the ladder has a smaller molecule that acts, in sequence with the other steps, as a code for the protein so it can be made correctly. There are 4 types of steps which are called bases and in bacteria it takes about 1000 bases per gene. And as the WP article points out, “to build a DNA code that will support life, you need to be pretty much error-free.”

Picture from www.creationwiki.org :

http://www.creationwiki.org/Deoxyribonucleic_acid .

Scientists have been trying to determine what is the least number of genes a single cell, such as a bacterium, can have and still stay alive. This is not a fully-functional cell in the sense it would have to be given nutrients that it could not produce itself. Scientists had thought the number would be in the vicinity of 250, but have found, at least in this approach, that more genes are needed than they thought. They came up with 473. (There are 32% they don’t know their function.) With 1000 average bases per gene, this means that close to half a million bases in exact order is the minimal amount for an organism to function.

An abstract of the new scientific paper is here:

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6280/aad6253 .

Eugene Koonin, the director of comparative genetics at NIH, estimated a fully functional cell would need about 1000 genes. These would be fully self-functional, not needing supplements fed to them. At 1000 bases per gene, that would be one million bases in exact order. The article which contains his estimate can be found here:

http://nar.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/21/6688.full .

What are the chances that even half of that, an exact sequence of 500,000 bases, could have randomly come together to start life, composing a complete genome which codes for life processes (even if there were nutrients in the environment) such as breakdown of sugar to make the structures of the proteins, reproduction and other functions, and organize all of it in tiny cells? This could not have happened by chance even in billions of years.

Praise God for His Creation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Amoris Laetitia

I just finished reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The access to the .pdf file is here. It is a culmination of two years of Vatican-sponsored meetings and input concerning the family. With the explosion of the number of divorces, there has been an increasing pressure from liberals (progressives) to change the Church’s response to those who have divorced and remarried. This is especially because these persons are not allowed to partake of the Eucharist in the mass. The divorced complained that a repentant murderer can receive communion while they can’t. On the conservative (traditionalist) side, marriage is held as a metaphor for Christ’s relationship to His church, and therefore indissoluble. One of my own interests is from the viewpoint of how women are treated by the Church, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some understanding.

Pope Francis agrees to the Christ-Church-marriage comparison, but with the understanding that people are not as perfect as Christ and therefore their marriages will not be perfect. The pope continues to hold up a good marriage as a difficult but attainable goal, worthy of all its efforts. Yet he asks for the mercy of those who interact with married couples and for the divorced and re-married Catholics who feel ostracized by not being allowed communion. The pope maintains these people are not excommunicated and should not be made to feel as such. To conservatives who don’t want change, any thought of giving them communion is a liberal viewpoint that they fear will lead to a downhill slide of the entire institution of marriage.

I found some of the most refreshing sentences in the whole exhortation Amoris Laetitia to be in Sections 36 and 37. In 36, Pope Francis comments on the overbearing emphasis of Church leaders on procreation that made Catholicism seem more about having the maximum amount of children instead of focusing on the divinity of Jesus Christ. Of course having children is important, but I don't think every married person is called to parenthood. And unfortunately not all children come to believe in God. But we are all called to worship and evangelize the nations for Jesus Christ. Section 36 has this sentence:
Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation.
Then, speaking of clergy, in 37 Pope Francis wrote: 
We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are ca­pable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.
How important this is in contrast to the effort to control people.

Another section I like is 54, which speaks of women’s rights. It says emancipation of women is not to be blamed for all the woes of marriage. The pope writes:
If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.
Thank goodness. Let us hope this is a dawn finally of a new worldview about women. I’m not saying women always will make the right decisions or discern correctly, but I believe we can be as capable as men of doing so.

It remains to be seen what will actually happen in response to the paper. The Germans have been chafing at the bit to make changes, as are progressive groups of priests in Ireland and the US. But the tensions persist because there are plenty of conservatives up in arms. One is a cannon lawyer, Cardinal Raymond Burke. He wrote an article in the conservative National Catholic Register about Amoris Laetitia, (link here) basically saying that bishops and priests don’t really have to follow it. Conservative bloggers are complaining, as seen in this post with links to others (Rorate Caeli here).

Pope Francis, though he says he encourages dialogue, has in turn had some pretty harsh words for conservatives (article here). The tensions are simmering and though it is rather fascinating to watch, it is not good for the Church to be mired in disagreements. When Catholics, leaders or lay, are so diverse, we need to pray for discernment. I’ve found, though, that persons can be so tied to one worldview, they can’t imagine any other having merits. This is a block to listening to other people.

However, what happens when different people are convinced the Holy Spirit is leading each of them but in different ways? Then we obviously have a problem of understanding exactly how the Holy Spirit leads and what He is leading toward. It may be that we need to consider what each other is saying and seek God’s will in mutual prayer. Hopefully we can all improve in discernment together.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Discernment's Center

Why is it wrong for a Christian to claim that everyone is a child of God? After all, we believe one God (in the form of a Trinity of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) created the universe and ultimately all humans. What many seem to be missing is that even though we are all created in God’s image, He gives a specific path for acceptance as His children. And this power is given through faith in the Son. Jesus Christ, Who came to the world, lived a perfect life, died and rose for our sins. God wants us to recognize that we sin and that our salvation comes through Christ. And God wants us to tell this to everyone we can--not to leave others in ignorance of Him.

In the Bible, John 1:12 (NABRE) says we are allowed to be children of God if we believe in the Word, Jesus Christ:
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…
In my opinion, this viewpoint can be seen only one way.

There are those who think God will accept everyone. Though we might think that persons who never heard of Christ may be allowed into His kingdom, we must remember that if we have heard of Him we have to evaluate our own faith. If you believe it doesn’t matter what religion other persons are, your own faith and therefore discernment are in trouble. Those who have the opportunity to know Jesus and shrug Him off as one of many choices are worse off than those who have never heard of Him. It is God’s business to decide who comes into His kingdom; it is our job to recognize that for those who do fully know about Him, belief in Christ is the only way to heaven.

This subject relates to another: many people want to see world peace, which we think of as certainly a worthy cause. Especially for those affected by war, it may seem of primary importance. Yet some Christians hold the importance of Earthly peace so high that their worldview seems to put it even above the centrality of Christianity. Here again we have the idea put forth that all religions have the same God, all are children of God. But if you believe Christianity as the only True answer, worldly peace is secondary to evangelization. We must carry the message so all can know Christ, even if it means worldly tensions.

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis claims to seek discernment. Discernment is a method by which a person determines his or her vocation, and also a life-long quest to seek God’s will. The Jesuits are a religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. In 1522-1524 Ignatius wrote recommendations for spiritual discernment in his book, The Spiritual Exercises. Through this, the members make great effort to tune themselves toward discernment of God’s will.

However, it has been shown that sometimes those who believe they are experts of God’s will have been wrong in their discernment. For example, this article (link HERE) from the New York Times describes the treatment of human slaves by Jesuits who ran Georgetown University in the 1800’s. They owned slaves and then sold these humans to plantation owners of the deeper South in order to financially save the school. Though slavery was legal at the time, it should not have been considered a moral choice by the Jesuits—those who claimed to know the will of the Lord. Even though the Bible mentions slavery, St. Paul was advising those who had to endure it due to outside influences, not endorsing it as a Christian institution. And the end--a solvent school--did not justify the means. Often when we are confronted with challenges, God will come through if we go to Him and wait for Him. They did not have to own or sell slaves.

Of course, we can't read their minds and as the article shows, some of the Jesuits did know that slavery was wrong but did not have the power to follow their consciences. Was the president of the university somehow deviated from the centrality of Christ alone? The secular Enlightenment was to eventually effect many so-called Christians in disbelieving Christ's miracles and even His divinity, reducing Him to a sage. Perhaps that worldview was already affecting the Jesuit academia. And Christ centered-ness is just the first step to proper efforts in discernment. Also we can have problems with pride or stubbornness which keeps us from considering other points of view.

Pope Francis seems to want Christianity both ways. He speaks of the need for only Christ for salvation (example HERE) but at other times telling everyone that we are all children of God, we all have the same God, or similar phrases (example HERE). He holds world peace very highly and wants to see all people get along. But this is simply not the same as putting Christ at the center. The view that it does not matter what you believe is called “Indifferentism” and at least sometimes seems to be held by the pope as well as many other Catholics.

Why is it central to being a Christian to believe in Christ for our Salvation? God gives us free will, and all humans have fallen short of perfection except for Christ. Our own sins should bring us to humility when we recognize them. The Father is just as well as merciful and imperfection of sins would keep the sinner ostracized from God's presence. The Father has chosen belief in Christ to be our doorway to Him. As stated above, Christ lived a perfect life and then died for our sins. Jesus should be given the credit for that, just as we want to be credited for our own achievements. But I believe some Catholics, as other Christians, are too casual about sins, the need for Christ for one’s redemption, and about faith in Him in order to go to heaven.

I believe that in order to have right discernment, the central starting point is belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Then we can be guided by God to wisdom in other areas. When we really believe this, our love for others should lead us to tell them about Christ, what He did for us, and that we all need to repent and believe that He, and only He, is our Savior.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

God's Not Dead 2

I went to see the movie God’s Not Dead 2 (GND2). I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I won’t write out the whole plot. But I will tell you that it was about a high school teacher who was sued by the ACLU for answering a question about Jesus Christ, using Scripture, in class. The website and trailer for the movie is HERE.

If you saw the first God’s Not Dead (GND) movie, you will recognize similarities. GND was about a student who was maligned by a college professor because he would not deny God in the classroom. So both movies are about perceived oppression of Christians in academic settings.

Though some may not believe Christians are being oppressed in our country, the credits of the movie show there can be a price to pay when people stand up for what they believe. One real life example I will give is the backlash of the exposé done by David Daleiden against Planned Parenthood. He secretly filmed PP employees talking cold-bloodedly about selling body parts of fetuses, among other shocking images. But it was Daleiden who was indicted in Texas for his undercover credentials and recently raided by California DOJ officers who confiscated his computers and videos (link of article HERE).

Daleiden's example can be linked with academia because the parts of fetuses go to trained researchers either at universities or in commercial settings. The academic worldview is very often the antithesis of Christianity, even though the medical disciplines do have a noble goal of curing people. They say they are about science and reason and not the "superstitious" religious beliefs. Perhaps that is what justifies their actions in their own minds, and the lines may not always be as clearly drawn as the GND2 movie implies. But cures can be found in other ways and it is imperative that everyone realize the humanity of those who are being killed.

Now, you might say Daleiden was breaking the law in his underground investigation. But  consider that a pastor in GND2 says we are in a spiritual war. Non-Christians often see a statement like this as way too overblown. Christians may not always realize where the war is taking place. But the pastor is right, and the people who made the movie, among many others, are in the middle of the battle. When the laws can be unjust, spiritual warriors do not always follow the laws.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Protein Levels



Proteins do much of the work of the cell, the basic biological unit. Proteins are made of subunits called amino acids, which in turn are made of atoms.

There are thousands of different kinds of proteins. I have posted previously about a set of proteins that work together, called ATP Synthase (ATPS, pronounced ATP sin-thase). The set acts together in this energy production machine. All organisms have ATPS (with the exception of viruses which are parasites and so benefit from ATPS indirectly).

Though I have pictures of ATPS elsewhere, I am putting this picture in my blog because it shows in one view the detail from three levels. The one on the upper left is the whole machine, a picture by David Goodsell at the link HERE. The next in line is the makeup of the amino acids in just one part of the machine (represented by their single letter symbols), which can be found at a protein database Uniprot HERE. As you can see, it is made up of 460 amino acids which have to be in correct order for the ATPS machine to work. (The database number here is for humans, but E. coli have the same number and the reference is P0ABB4). The next is a picture of the atomic arrangement of one amino acid (atoms are represented by their own separate letters).

If you are interested, you can see in a video at the link HERE how ATPS operates when protons flow through it because of an electrochemical gradient. The video lasts less than 4 minutes. The molecule that it makes is called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate (ah-den-oh-seen try-phosphate). This molecule is used to make proteins and DNA among other uses. Here is a picture of it:


Beyond the ATPS, other molecules are needed to set up the proton gradient that makes it work (seen at the same link HERE).

Some proteins can handle a few changes of amino acids, but some positions can't be changed or the protein will not work.

These proteins did not come about by chance, even in billions of years.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is very much in the news and on Internet chatter. The BLM group asserts that black people are treated differently by police than whites. I’d like to share on my blog a similar comment about BLM to what I made on the Catholic Answers Forums website.

Some people are very unhappy with the BLM movement, equating it with bad behavior of blacks against police. Others sympathize with the blacks and believe their complaints that they are treated differently than whites by officers. Who is right? I don't believe we are getting to the bottom of racial divides.

Many people take for granted that the black race came from non-humans in Africa and then groups of individuals came North and evolved further into the white race. I have read a scientific paper from a major journal (Science, abstract here) where a group of black people are assumed to be less evolved than whites in order to determine the mode of evolution of biological molecules (further information about the research here). It seems there is no other way to say it but that some whites believe they are more evolved than blacks. Would that not cause some very bad feelings among the blacks? Would the Black Lives Matter’s group have some reason to believe they are treated in a different manner, such as in this history of Planned Parenthood eugenics? It could be that blacks and whites both are affected in their behaviors by this common mindset, perhaps subconsciously but in some cases blatantly.

However, if a person believes in direct supernatural creation of humans by God, s/he has no question of who is most evolved: no human is significantly different from any other human.

I treat these themes, among others, in my book, Biotech Swirl. I encourage you to read this FREE BOOK which you can reach at the link HERE or clicking on the picture of the book in the right column. Download it and/or read it online. Literature often helps us think about these issues and I hope this book may do so for you.