Monday, December 29, 2008

Goodbye 2008



We're still doing some holiday family visiting & catching up from the year-end rush. By next week I should be ready to get back into descriptions of biological design.

Have a very blessed New Year and drive carefully!

Friday, December 26, 2008

ID Advocates

I really like the people who advocate for Intelligent Design Theory (of course I know of them mostly through the Internet). They are smart, brave, and dedicated. I think they are able to see the clash between certain limits of physical laws and the make-up of biological organisms. There is something that doesn't fit, such as the complexity of DNA compared to molecular movements in the kinetic theory of matter, and the ID people are hot on the trail.

Now, I am not saying the arguments of these advocates are perfect.

For one, some design advocates may concentrate on biological life and think about how it differs from non-living matter. Others focus on the universe and what we call the "Anthropic Principle," which describes the physical "coincidences" that have made our universe amazingly hospitable to life. However, if both the universe and biological life show aspects of design, the ID people are not proving design when they say one is more complex than the other. That just compares them. There may be discontinuities between designs, which is still significant, but not lack of design in one or the other.

Beside the first point, we must make the distinction between those advocates who believe in God and those who don't. This would be the first thing ID advocates would not want done, because they are saying their science of design detection is not related to any religious belief. I think they are wrong.

A Christian goes to church every Sunday (we hope) and says the creeds of that church or if not attending at least holds the creeds of that church. Christian creeds state we believe God created heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

Therefore, the Christian does not have to scientifically detect design or prove it. S/he believes it is everywhere, and that science is the study of designed entities. That any of us recognize and admire design is an innate quality that God gave us in the first place. Christians do (or should) stand apart from the mainstream which has insisted for so long that science is supreme. Often secular scientists intimidate others who do not think the same way.

Even non-believers have the potential appreciation of design, though they may not yet have arrived at the belief that God is the Designer. Some of the ID advocates are not of an organized faith, yet recognize design in nature.

That leads us to the basis for our lives. It is Faith that is the foundation of our knowledge, not Science or even Reason (although we have to think to be functional, at least). Faith is what gets us on the right track and keeps us there. Then we can learn science to our heart's content, and praise God for His creation every step of the way.

Faith is a mystery. Perhaps I will write more about it as time goes on.

Update 1/21/2013: My interest in Intelligent Design Theory (ID) has changed to what is called "Special Creationism," the belief that God created species separately and directly. Much of the biological science in ID is similar to Special Creationism.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas and New Year


May you have a very blessed Christmas this year.

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I'm already carrying out New Year's resolutions and it is still over a week away. I decided I really need titles on my posts. I've never been very good at thinking of titles for some reason. But I'd like sometimes to do more than one subject in a single day and I need titles for that. I found once I added them I like having them. It looks better and the archives are more organized and helpful for locating past subjects. I see that they replace the partial sentences that were used to identify the post. This is much better.

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Congratulations to the Penn State Women's Volleyball 2008 Champions--one of the best teams ever!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Evolution Not a Fact Now

In the last post I talked about "Abiogenesis," which refers to materialistic, naturalistic origin of life. I had looked up the topic in Wikipedia and found short summaries of various theories for this origin. They also listed some of the problems to the theories. Though "Origins" research is not quite the same as "Evolution," some say that molecules evolved to form simple life which evolved to form more complex life. In any case, materialist, naturalistic origins would imply chemicals coming together under the laws of physics and chemistry to form organisms.

With continuing discovery of microbiological mechanisms, almost all Darwinian tenets of small change and survival have been found lacking, both in origins and in biological life in general. These discoveries have only made for more questions which have not yet found answers. It is OK for scientists to continue to question, hypothesize, experiment and learn. I'm sure there are plenty of grants out there to learn more about science. But scientists also should be willing to analyze and apply the past 50 years of discovery to the present and state where evolution stands now. As of now, evolution is not a fact. The chemicals do not go together in a way that forms life under physical and chemical laws as we know them now. Then why are people, often scientists, saying it is?

Those of us who do not insist on evolution being fact can only speculate. Can it be that the other hypothesis, that God created the world and life in one fashion or another, is not acceptable to them? When one holds two possibilities at a time, some call that open-mindedness. It seems that scientific discovery should take us to conclusions, not the other way around.

Classroom study of science should be called something like "Scientific Theory, Method and Discovery" (STMD). That would take away the insistence of theories as Truth and simply present what various scientists think, how they proved it, what problems remain, and leave the students to think about it themselves. And for goodness sake, include creationist scientists. Is the mention in a classroom of a scientist who believes in God a criminal act in this country?

As Christmas speedily approaches, my posts will probably be short. After the New Year, I'd like to dwell more on Origins of life and the relationships between the 3 major types of cells: bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes (true cells). Now that I'm done with my book I hope to have time to do more descriptions of biological science in my blog. Because biology is in such a state of exponential discovery, the facts are coming fast and furious. Therefore it's hard to summarize and/or make simple to understand. But I can make a start and hope that when people see the facts, they will be able to conclude for themselves what the commotion between creationists and materialistic, naturalistic evolutionists is really about.

Update 1/21/2013: My interest in Intelligent Design Theory (ID) has changed to what is called "Special Creationism," the belief that God created species separately and directly. Much of the biological science in ID is similar to Special Creationism.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Comment on Abiogenesis

Blogging on the fringes of cyberspace as I do, I am happy to receive comments whether they be yea or nay. There was a comment in the last post, which I'd like to thank the commenter for taking the time to make. I'll try to give an answer. He referred to whether biological life started by chance and that research in abiogenesis, the study of beginnings of life, presumably refutes chance origins. The commenter is correct that we should be aware of origins research. I have a list of evolution-related references (link in right column) that address some of these issues. But it is always easier to read literature that supports one's own theory, and I've meant to do more reading in this field. A challenge from someone else often moves a person to stop procrastinating. I went to Wikipedia for a start and printed out the "Abiogenesis" entry and read it. Wikipedia may be looked down upon by some, but it is a good place to get started on a technical subject and to get references.

I had written posts early-on in my blog about chance. One of them was from March 30, 2008, so I will not re-write the whole thing. But I do want to repeat that one of the references was from the book, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. He is a mathematics professor at Oxford University, so has a pretty good idea of what chance is about. He gives the probability that one protein of 100 amino acids formed by chance as 1 in 10^60. This includes only the chirality of the amino acids (whether they are left-handed as in organisms or right-handed) and the particular chemical bond they take, and not whether the protein is even functional (no information theory included). Therefore the chance that 3 such proteins formed with just the correct chirality and chemical bond exceeds the universal probability bound that is given by William Dembski (in other words, less than 1 chance in all the events of the universe so far). The smallest bacteria that I've seen has 1100 proteins, and free-living Cyanobacteria, thought to be one of the earliest organisms, has ~3500 proteins.

The example from Lennox directly addresses one of the theories of abiogenesis: that amino acids are made from natural processes which turn the "pre-biotic soup" into long chains of proteins that can then carry on metabolism. Yes, some amino acids on meteorites show a preference for "handedness," and maybe the numbers would change if you factor in those proportions, but only to a certain degree. One cannot say the problem is solved. Though this example covers only one of the models, the others meet similar types of so-far insurmountable blockages, some of which the Wikipedia author states.

As to whether the chance occurrence was needed only once in the theorized march of evolution, ScienceDaily reported here on Nov. 18, 2008 that many orphan genes are being discovered (the original scientific paper is here). These are unique genes which seem to make species-specific differences in organisms. The paper reports that these genes have no known homologs. In other words, they are not found in any other species and have no known shared ancestor. Granted, we are discovering new species all the time, and our knowledge is growing exponentially. Someday we may figure out where these genes came from , but do not know now.

The Wikipedia article about Abiogenesis has the statement (under Current Models):

There is no truly "Standard model" on the origin of life.
The article gives many theories of models from many possible starts, but they are theories. Therefore, evolution is not a fact now. This is the distinction that seems to get lost when we talk about evolution and/or teaching evolution. Intelligent Design Theory does not necessarily exclude "descent from common ancestor" as a possibility. But it excludes entirely materialistic, naturalistic evolution--that which occurs only by the laws of physics and chemistry as we know them now.

Another quote from the Wikipedia "Abiogenesis" article says:
The question "How do simple molecules form a protocell?" is largely unanswered but there are many hypotheses.
This is under the heading, "From organic molecules to protocells."

The problem is that I don't think we can convince those who are totally materialistic, naturalistic evolutionists of scientific proof that life did not come in that way. The unequivocal, totally convincing scientific proof against materialistic, naturalistic evolution may never come for some because they will always think a proof of "total-natural evolution" is just around the corner. And so, I think the real difference is our opinion of what we think is true, whether it will be proven or not. I'll try to expand on these points in my next post or two.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cardinal Dulles

I gave a short introduction in the last post to my interest in the New Evangelization in the Catholic Church. There are perhaps many ideas of how to develop this new approach to teaching and re-teaching the faith. I am excited by the prospects. I read about it a few years ago, when I was a student in theology at Aquinas College. The book was The New World of Faith by Avery Dulles, S.J. (Huntingdon, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2000). On page 111, he explains that evangelization has always been a part of the Christian faith, but there are several reasons that the late Pope John Paul coined the term "New Evangelization."

For one, the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's renewed the call to the laity to be part of the preaching church. In particular, we are called to
join the profession of faith to the life of faith. This evangelization--that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the witness of [our] lives--acquires a special character and a particular effectiveness because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world. (Lumen Gentium, no. 35)

I think this applies to our modern world and the current scientific situation in an interesting manner, and I hope to elaborate in various ways in the future.

Another reason Dulles gives for the "New" part of evangelization is that many Catholics have fallen away from the faith, and should be "re-evangelized." There are young people who were not brought up in the teachings of the Church, and older ones who became disillusioned or convinced that religion is a myth. I think science, or better said the modern mind-set associated with science, it is a big part of this falling away. I think there are good reasons to evaluate what is happening and correct certain misconceptions. Also, we tend to act in ways we don't even realize, and our un-thought-out words and actions give away deeper values.

Some say that it is important that America continue to be first on the scientific forefront. They worry that with the introduction of Intelligent Design theory, we will lose our edge and be relegated to scientific backwaters. We may not be able to continue to produce Nobel Prize winners. Surely it is important to continue the scientific quest for medical cures and other legitiamte needs. But whether Americans win the Nobel Prize or not is certainly not the best reason to motivate our actions.

The new evangelization may mean for some a "re-catechization." I found a great section in the latest Catechism of the Catholic Church (St. Paul Books and Media, 1994). It says:

To adore God is to acknowlegde, in respect and absolute submission, the "nothingness of the creature" who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world (sec. 2097).
It is hard to put into words the problem with science and scientists today. Research and inquiry are of course important, and our scientists are smart and sincere. Many scientists are not religious and some of the more vocal ones are outright obnoxious. But many science promoters who say they are religious still come across as caring more about science than religion. It is not the details of science that are the problem here. It is the mindset that says Nobel prizes and even money grants are so important that other considerations must take a back seat.

This does not even take into account whether evolution is right or wrong. It sets the stage for the discourse. Priorities we set show through in our speech and actions, whether we be religious or not.

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Evangelization

I have written about things in which I am interested besides Intelligent Design, but I think I forgot to list one of the most important--evangelization. I am interested in the Catholic Church's New Evangelization, and want to learn more about it. John Paul II had talked about it in his document "At the Beginning of the Third Millennium" (section 40). Benedict XVI mentions it once in a while. My book, Unto Others, uses characters to show the importance of belief in Jesus Christ.

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My husband, Thomas Carlson, and I have listed some of our books on eBay! Several years ago, Tom wrote a historical novel, Sawdust Fires, about the logging industry in Muskegon, Michigan. It's set in the late 1800's, when logging was coming to an end because of depletion of the pine forests near the Muskegon River. The lumbermen came up with audacious schemes to move their investments west. We have had very positive feedback from people who have read this book. Tom also put together many scenes of the lumbering days in a pictorial to provide a background for the novel. This is called Muskegon at the Peak of the Lumber Era. The book and pictorial are in the Muskegon County Museum which has provided a wonderful outlet for them.

I wrote a book, Mission: Faithful, about 10 years ago. Before the digital revolution, Tom and I had to print out quite a few of our first 2 novels to bring down the individual cost per book. We still have some! As I've said, we are writers, not marketers. But now is our opportunity to sell some through the Internet. And included with our eBay lot, of course, is my latest book, Unto Others. This set can be found on eBay here. It was listed Wednesday and goes for 7 days, until Wed., Dec. 10. After that, we hope to list again soon. We'll give you the link again when we do. These books would make great Christmas presents!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Young Earth, Big Bang

Evolution has become a contentious issue among Christians. The obvious division is between those who think God created people and animals and the Earth about 10,000 to 14,000 years ago and those who think He created the universe through a Big-Bang 14 billion years ago (bya) or so, with life coming about on the Earth sometime around 3.8 to 3.5 bya. This is a pretty big difference, all right. Some of the Young Earth Creationists (whom I affectionately call Yeccies) are concerned with matching their ideas with scienctific discoveries, such as carbon-dating, and others start strictly with Bible readings and let the chips fall where they may.

The other area of contention is between Christians who believe God started the complete design of life at the Big Bang and never needed to intercede since then. Life as we know it therefore came about by the physical and chemical laws placed within the fabric of the Universe. These people are called Theistic Evolutionists. On the other hand, we have those who believe God made the Universe in the same way (Big Bang), but interceded to make life. They believe that life shows a more direct Design that is counter to the laws of physics and chemistry. These are the ones who hold to Intelligent Design Theory (IDT). To confuse things more, not all advocates of IDT are Christian. Some believe in other gods, others think there is another designer. But many are Christian.

It seems we get quite emotional about which motif the Lord chose to create us. There are some key theological issues that are involved. For the Yeccies, the point is that the Bible tells us that death came about by human sin. They take it literally that no one died, including animals, before the sins of Adam and Eve.

Others see possibilities of reconciling this doctrine with evolution, such as human awareness of sin and death coming at some critical time in evolution. Or, some say, animals and plants evolved but God made humans directly and when Adam and Eve sinned they became destined to die.

It is not trivial to seek an answer to these questions, but there are several layers of priorities here, I think. The first is to worship God and praise Him for His creation, no matter how He did it. Another near the top is to respect the opinions of fellow believers in discussing these matters and behave accordingly. Each has his or her own reasons for believing a certain scenario.

Another priority for us is to not presume we know all that God knows or why He does what He does. Isaiah 55 tells us His thoughts are above our thoughts and His ways are above our ways. We humans can only speculate. For example, though some say He has revealed everything about Creation in Genesis 1, a different description appears in Genesis 2. And so it seems not quite as black and white as Yeccies profess.

Whatever else I believe, I believe God can do whatever He wants to do. It is not for us to impose, but to understand what God imposes upon us. He tells us to "Be Holy for I am Holy" (see 1 Peter, Chapter 1). That's the priority.