Intellectual Humility

Earth from Space

Take a look at the comments section on a controversial youtube video at the intersection of science, philosophy, and faith of any kind, and…  In fact, I can’t in good conscience recommend that you actually take a look at one of those comment sections because quite honestly, they tend to be filled with vulgar, immature and profane filth.  On the occasion that I do decide to take a look at the comments, I normally learn nothing and regret being exposed to such distasteful and negative content.

We are all, as human beings, on this strange and wonderful journey through life together.  Since when did disagreeing, even about extremely serious issues, become grounds for hatred and attacks on each other’s intellects and characters?  What if we all just sat down together and reasoned through things peacefully?

I’m speaking to believers and atheists, creationists and evolutionists, liberals and conservatives, everyone equally here.  Could it be that you become so outrageously defensive about your position because you are either personally insecure, or secretly uncertain about your position?  If not, maybe you are overly defensive because you’ve subscribed to false notions about the nature of those who disagree with you.

And if your opponents are indeed vile, wicked human beings, let me ask another question.  How should someone such as yourself, with your personal wisdom and knowledge of the truth, feel about someone so depraved?  Enraged?  When Jesus looked down from the cross on his executioners, He felt pity.  He prayed that God would forgive them in their ignorance.  What a beautiful sentiment.

I’d like to claim that with great knowledge comes great humility.  Here are some reasons why.

1) Objective proof is a myth.

Theory of mind is the ability to realize that you, and others, have unique autonomous minds.  Why is it called the theory of mind, because honestly there is no way to verify its truthfulness.  I know that I have a mind, “I think, therefore I am,” but I can only assume that anyone else does.

I also don’t know that my memories are things that actually happened.

So even in a world where “reason” and “faith” are often portrayed as opposites, reason itself rests on many faiths that we take for granted.  That’s humbling.

2) Phenomenology.

In psychology, phenomenology is the study of how our perceptions may differ from reality.  In cases such as schizophrenia, the concept is obvious.  But research, and reflection on personal experiences with yourself and others, reveals that your mind is interpreting sensory inputs and ideas in its own biased way.

If you can’t admit that you have bias, you’re living in a dream world.  If you don’t realize the need to think as objectively and humbly as possible when discussing issues with those of different views, you are probably talking past them.

Which brings me to the third and final reason for humility.

3) Circumstances.  

Think about the circumstances that brought you to the beliefs that you hold today.  Somewhere somehow you learned what you believe to be true.  Just like the supporters of slavery in early American history.  Just like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists all over the world.

And if what you happened to learn from who you happened to learn it happens to be true within this vast sea of wrong ideas that covers the earth, I can’t think of a more humbling experience.  You are lucky.

And also in that case, I’m guessing you’re able to sit down and have a civil, thoughtful, insightful discussion on the subject.  After all, you’re the expert.

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Morpho Butterflies: Amazing Hidden Technology in Nature

morpho butterfly

Maybe you’ve seen an image of one of these beautiful butterflies before.  They are called Morpho butterflies.  There are several species with wingspans ranging from 3 to 8 inches.

Their beautifully colored wings have a metallic sheen that varies noticeably in color depending on the angle at which you view them.

morpho butterfly wing

Antonio Donato Nobre, who has spent many years studying the Amazon Rainforest and who gave a talk that inspired me to research Morphos, describes the beauty of seeing one of these insects in the wild:

“When we see the morpho butterfly in the forest, we feel like someone’s left open the door to heaven and this creature has escaped from there.”

What if I told you that these beautiful colors were not due to pigment?  The blue morpho doesn’t actually have blue pigment at all!  To discover what makes them blue, we will have to take a closer look.

morpho butterfly scales

Viewing a few of its scales reveals that they are largely translucent, but still doesn’t reveal the stunning technology present on this butterfly’s wings.

Take a look at this image, at 10,000 times magnification, of a morpho scale.  The ridges you see are something like the strait rows of a forrest of photonic crystals.

morpho butterfly scale magnified 10000X

With 15,000 times magnification we can see the actual shapes of these crystals in a cross- section.  These christmas tree shaped structures are not made of a blue material or colored with a blue pigment.  They operate on a principle of physics known as interference, or wave propagation.


morpho butterfly 15000X magnification
According to Nobre, these crystals are so sophisticated that at the time of their discovery, man had not developed a comparable technology.  This type of structure has since been used to create some very beautiful color display monitors.

Man often borrows his inspiration, or even his actual technology from nature.  But imagine the kind of creativity present in a Mind that could conceive of these things out of nothing.

morpho butterfly technology

Consider finally the difficulty of explaining this kind of biological technology from a macroevolutionary standpoint.  The evolution of a structure would require that it change slowly from some less sophisticated or at least different structure into the new one over thousands or millions of years.  This evolution would include countless transitionary phases that lacked the sophisticated functionality of the final product.

So what feasible transitionary stage is there between using pigment and using a perfectly organized and elegantly designed microscopic forrest of highly sophisticated crystals which are in fact not colorful themselves but create stunning colors through light wave interference?

Only in their fully developed form would these crystals create the desired effect.  Evolution would have had no incentive to labor through countless years of worthless transitionary structures to get there.

God on the other hand, had a beautiful incentive.  To show us the grandeur He was capable of putting into His creation.  To give us, as this creature has given Nobre and his associates, a glimpse into the kinds of beauty we may one day see in heaven.

Where Does Consciousness Come From?

pebbles_beach_

I recently saw an extremely interesting TED Talk by the brilliant Philosopher David Chalmers entitled “How Do You Explain Consciousness?”

During the talk, Chalmers, who calls himself “a scientific materialist at heart,” struggles with the question of why we as humans have a subjective experience of the world around us.  Why are we not robots, mindlessly receiving inputs from our environments and responding with predetermined outputs?

We know that certain areas of the brain correlate with certain experiences, but we do not know why they correlate with these subjective experiences, or what causes them.

Chalmers states plainly the consensus of the philosophical and scientific communities to date: “right now, nobody knows the answers to those questions.”

This is where the talk gets particularly interesting.  Chalmers states that “we may initially need one or two ideas that seem crazy before we can come to grips with consciousness scientifically.”  I would completely agree.

As Chalmers points out, his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett believes that “the inner subjective movie” that we are viewing in our minds is actually all an illusion.  Spend very long at the intersection of science and philosophy and you will find that at every turn great minds are working vigorously to reduce objective meaning and purpose, morality, and even consciousness itself to rubble.

Chalmers’ idea is much more beautiful and elegant.  He believes that consciousness is a fundamental property of reality, like time, space, or fundamental constants.  I think his rationale is good: “If you can’t explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals, then as a matter of logic you need to expand the list.  The natural thing to do is postulate consciousness itself as something fundamental.”  He goes on to suggest that information processing correlates with consciousness, so the more information an entity processes, the more conscious it is.

He expands and explains his theory and states that it is the leading theory in the scientific world today.

Did you catch that?!  The leading theory in the scientific world today concerning consciousness is that it is a property as fundamental as time or space.  Suddenly the “materialist” at heart is blurring the lines between the natural and the supernatural.

Of course, science has been migrating inevitably that way for decades.  The evidence for the supernatural is just too strong.  Science turned out to show that the universe had a beginning, rather than itself being eternal.  And since Einstein had already shown that time and space are part of the same continuum, we know that whatever caused the universe, it was timeless, spaceless, and immaterial.

Stephen Hawking responds with a line that recently showed up in the movie “God’s Not Dead:”

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

Okay, so scientists admit that the universe is not eternal, but maintain that the laws that govern it are, and that they necessitate its existence. Those laws turn out to be extremely, beautifully organized and fine-tuned in a way that cannot rationally be chalked up to random chance.

And now, to top it all off, we are coming to the conclusion that consciousness is a fundamental property either of these timeless laws, or directly caused by them.

Science has slowly migrated from “the matter in the universe is eternal” to acknowledging the timeless, spaceless, immaterial existence of a large amount of very specific information, including consciousness or directly resulting in it.

The lines between the natural and the supernatural are blurring.  In fact, they are becoming obsolete.  Science is discovering God piece by piece all over again.

Love: the Cosmic Glue of the Universe

Hands_of_God_and_Adam

The Bible teaches in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians that in Christ “all things hold together.”  Christ is the cosmic glue that creates order out of chaos.  

He does this, as many apologists have pointed out, in defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  He reaches into a reality that by its own natural laws ought to move from order to disorder – from having pockets of heat and activity to being calm and cool throughout, from being organized to being chaotic – and He orchestrates its ongoing organization and meaning.

Thus we find ourselves, in a world bursting with meaningful information and beautiful, elegant complexity.  We find ourselves conscious, a fact that stuns and stumps atheistic scientists to this day.  We find ourselves in a world with bananas and oranges conveniently waiting to be picked, peeled, and eaten.  With chickens producing eggs like factories for us to crack and fry.  With tides and winds that have moved our watercraft for centuries.  With a moon and starts that taught us about the times to plant and harvest our crops.  It is a world with language, emotions, morals, and ideas.  A world phenomenally balanced between any extreme condition that might make it immeasurable more mundane.

So how does He do it?

Jesus glues the universe together (Colossians 1:17,) Jesus is God (John 1:1,) and God is love (1 John 4:8.)  Therefore I suggest that love is that glue that orchestrates and solidifies this universe.

But I want to define love far more broadly than the emotional feeling that we typically associate with the word.  Love is an affinity of one entity for another, even despite resistance or opposition.

By this definition, the planet earth loves the sun.  Despite the inertia constantly pulling it out into the darkness, away from all warmth or order, it gravitates towards the sun with all of its mass so that it may stay nearby.

Yes, by my definition there are four physical loves that accompany the other emotional or spiritual ones: gravity, electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.  

And so atoms bond when their affinity for each other overcomes their resistance.  They form molecules which may build up into beautiful and orderly crystals or, by the intelligent hand of our designer, our very DNA.  These molecules also work together to build our tissues, which build our organs, which work together in various organ systems to build our bodies.  Our bodies in turn build societies and organizations.

Order.  Dictated by the laws of attraction.

Many scientists today acknowledge these physical loves but deny the spiritual ones, writing them off as illusions.  Even their love for their own families and friends they boil down to a meaningless electrical and chemical event.  They acknowledge the exchanging of electrons in the formation of ionic bonds, but they refuse the forgiveness of a God who would welcome them into a familial bond with Him through His Son’s sacrifice.

In then end, all things devoid of adequate physical love will not hold together physically.  It follows that all things devoid of sufficient spiritual love will not hold together spiritually.  The Bible’s description of hell as a place of fire turns out to be a very insightful description.  The breakdown of order.  The stripping away, piece by infinitesimal piece, in a beautiful but horrible display, of all that once constituted a meaningful whole.

Even as they learn to preserve and improve their own buildings and bridges, physical environments, and even their own bodies, they neglect their own souls, and unchain themselves from the Son.

http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970108b.html

Why Macroevolution Isn’t Real Science

dna

Science enjoys a prominent status in the minds of millions as the gold standard of academic disciplines.  While philosophy, religion, art, music, etc. are created by humans and thus fallible, science is distinguished from them as an infallible discipline which uncovers incontrovertible truths.

I’m well aware that the majority of informed scientists would concede that nothing can be truly proven with 100% certainty, and I agree with them, but the fact remains that scientists go around claiming to have discovered things that simply cannot be denied by any rational person.

It bears consideration that we would exalt our certainty in one discipline above others.

Why are they so confident?  Why are we, as a society, so comfortable with holding up science as the pinnacle of certainty in such an uncertain and all-too-human world?  Human error saturates our relationships and experiences, but science, we feel, is different.  Are we justified in feeling this way?

In many cases, I think, yes.

We are justified in holding up science as a pinnacle of certainty, relatively speaking.  Not to the same extent that we can be certain of the rules of math and logic.  Not to the extent that I hold a personal conviction in the existence of God due to my own personal experiences.  But in a world where nothing is – technically speaking – certain, science has an impressive integrity that it derives from some corrective measures that it includes in its definition.

I should make it absolutely clear that at this point I am speaking of science as a method of gaining knowledge about the world around us and using that knowledge to make accurate predictions.  I am certainly not speaking on behalf of every branch of, and assertion made by, the field of academia known in the contemporary world as science.  But science, inasmuch as it can identify constant and therefore predictable behaviors in the world around us when variables are manipulated, is a pretty sure thing.

To give an extremely simple example, the laws we have discovered about gravity dictate that if I drop a rock out of my window, it will fall to the ground.  I do not technically know for sure that this will happen unless I try it, but this experiment has been performed so many times with the same results in so many places in so many time periods of human existence that my degree of certainty is extremely high.

So the reason why we lift up science as a pinnacle of certainty is because it involves repeated experiments and observations.  When we discover long term, stable, repeatable results from an experiment, we begin to trust those results as things of certainty.

This has allowed us to systematically create some amazing machines in the worlds of computers, engineering, and technology.  It is truly phenomenal what bright minds have done with science in the past several decades especially, and indeed in the last several centuries also.

So, does macroevolution qualify as this kind of science, and thus receive the status of certainty that we confer on other scientific discoveries?

Earlier this year I watched the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate concerning evolution vs. creation.  Ham repeatedly stated that evolution was historical science rather than observational science, and thus it was essentially reduced to mere conjecture.  I think Ham may have been on the right track, but his distinction was overly simplistic and lacked practical weight.

Yes, some sciences are historical, because they deal with understanding the past.  But it doesn’t necessarily follow that this makes a reasonable degree of certainty about the past impossible.  For example, on a crime scene, we expect investigators to dust for fingerprints, collect DNA samples, observe the many markers that the crime may have left on the scene, and come to relatively certain conclusions based on the data that they collect.

Now, does this kind of science lose a little bit of certainty.  Yes, a little.  Just because someone’s fingerprints are on the knife, and their DNA is on the victim, and rubber from their tires is on the street at the victims house, and they had a good reason to kill the victim, and an honest person said they saw the suspect do it, doesn’t make us certain that they committed the crime.  But to simply dismiss all of this evidence as “historical science” because it wasn’t actually observed is not justified.  Using observations made in the present to make reasonable assertions about the past is a practice strong enough to hold up in court.

And in fact, creationists do it, too.  We didn’t observe creation.  We weren’t there when God made the stars or the plants or the animals. But we have a satisfactory degree of certainty about the event based on what we have seen within our short lives.

So now I’d like to expand and adjust the argument Ham made:

Macroevolution isn’t science because its consistency is only demonstrated through “explanatory and predictive power,” and these are indicators of correlation, not causation.

Please let me clarify.

Macroevolutionary biology is championed by atheists and widely propagated by the scientific world.  Its validity is supposedly demonstrated by its power to explain why the world is the way that it is, and its ability to predict new discoveries about the way the world is.  No, macroevolution cannot be observed, but it can explain why we find the correlation we do between the morphological and genetic hierarchies of organisms, and a fossil record that matches both of these.

But can I just point out that there could literally be millions of theories that could explain perfectly why the world is the way that it is?  If I discover that morphological, genetic, and fossil data all cross-confirm each other and then say “AH HA!  The Flying Spaghetti Monster – sometimes used by atheists for satirical purposes – created the world so that it would be exactly this way!” then objectively speaking, my explanation has just as much explanatory power as macroevolution.

The point here is that you can’t observe the way the world is, then ask what could explain the world being that way, and then assume that this theory is true simply because it has “explanatory power.”

I would also like to point out that of course, if God used DNA as the blueprints for the physical features of all organisms, then wouldn’t we expect those organisms with more similar physical features to also have more similar DNA?  Then if we consider the possibility of a worldwide flood a few thousand years ago, I’m already seeing some plausible explanations for the fossil record, including the “Cambrian Explosion” that gives evolutionists such a hard time.

The “predictive power” of evolution can be investigated by a simple google search and a critical investigation.  This field, like any field, is much too vast to be addressed in one short article.  I think you will find that data is quite frequently interpreted to reinforce the predictions which the scientists already expected.  Here is an area where human error can easily creep into science: we tend to perceive what we expect.

If we say “evolution predicts that we will find transitionary fossils between other primates and man,” and we expect it to be so, and we also have millions of dollars of grant money on the line (sometimes I get the idea that the people with all the money want to degrade our morals,) then when we find an ancient skull with a larger jaw than the average human, we say “AH HA!” and invent a new species out of it.

I know I don’t have time to get into real scientific depth here, but all of the “transitionary fossils” that we find could easily be accounted for by variations within the bone structures of the organisms we see in the world around us today or in recent history.  That’s why the “evolutionary tree” illustration is actually more like a mile wide bush, getting wider and wider with new fossil discoveries.  But that wouldn’t look very nice in TIME magazine and would require a several page fold out.

And the methods used to date all of these discoveries over the decades?  Carbon 14 dating.  Which may actually be completely and wildly unreliable.  Researching dating methods a couple of years ago really opened my eyes to the uncertainty of the scientific community over dating things anywhere close to accurately.

I’m going to reign it back in now.

The underlying principle here, is that a correlation between what a theory explains or predicts and the reality that we find, does not prove that the theory is true, only that its explanations and predictions correlate with the data.

On these grounds I find evolution and creation rather equally matched.  Both accurately explain and predict things about our world.  Neither can be observed or objectively, universally tested.  Of course, in my opinion, when you bring the human experience and philosophy into the picture, Creationism comes out squarely on top. But the point of this article is that Macro Evolution is NOT science because the correlation between its “explanatory and predictive mechanisms” and our reality is woefully insufficient grounds for certainty. 

Besides the fact that there are no plausible explanations as to how we got the first living organism, with all of its necessary proteins, by mere chance with no intelligent intervention, or that genetic mutations, even when beneficial, don’t create new meaningful information in the genetic code and thus evolution has no viable mode of progression.

I suspect that within my lifetime – this is if the masses are not brainwashed beyond recovery – we may have dispensed with the idea altogether.