My Thoughts after Reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins

One of the reviews printed on the back of my copy of The God Delusion calls Richard Dawkins “one of the best nonfiction writers alive today.” Before reading the book, I found that description rather incredible. After reading the book, I must say that Dawkins is indeed a masterful writer. He is easy to read and often charmingly witty.

And so, if you are reading my response to his book in hopes of some “intellectual throw down” in which I mock Richard Dawkins for being a moron, you will be disappointed, and I’m not even particularly sorry to disappoint you. As a matter of fact, I intend to draw out not only what I think is shortsighted in his work, but also what I see as particularly insightful. He does, in many respects, have a piercing intellect, and I dare say that in many respects he is indeed more intelligent than I am.

To be quite candid, though, I am still a firm believer in God after reading his book. Mr. Dawkins’ chief aim is to destroy faith in God among the masses, and whatever secondary insights he may posses, this primary goal is one that I consider a grave miscalculation.

What Dawkins gets right:

  • Whether we like it or not, Einstein was something much closer to a pantheist than a proper Christian, and certainly did not believe in a personal God. While this fact has little if any bearing of the evidence for God’s existence, it is worth setting the record straight.
  • The book states a clear intention not to deal specifically with the Abrahamic God, but with the simple “God Hypothesis” in general. This is a wise choice not only because I doubt that he could constrain himself from descending into vitriol against my God and thus becoming derailed from proper argument, but I also recognize along with Dawkins that talking about a specific God isn’t of much use until you’ve decided on the existence of any God at all.
  • As Dawkins makes clear, and as was clearly stated in the Treaty with Tripoli in 1797, the United States is not a “Christian Nation” in any sort of categorical, governmental way. Nor were many of the founding fathers, such as Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, or Adams, in any way shape or form, Christian. In fact, many of them actively disdained Christianity. We, as Christians, lose credibility in all academic fields, when we try to rewrite history by cherry picking quotes.
  • Dawkins rightly admits that he does not “know” that God does not exist, but that his own inquiry leads him to believe that God’s existence is very improbably, and he consequently lives as if there is no God. Thus both he and I would agree, I think, that hard, mathematical proofs need not be furnished before we can take a stance on the issue of God’s existence. We can work with the evidence together and let it lead us to conclusions that are respectable.
  • The book contains several ridiculous or otherwise embarrassing quotes by believers. In many cases, Dawkins is right about the fact that the quote in question in ridiculous or embarrassing.
  • Dawkins is particularly adamant that it is wrong to teach children to accept blindly what they are told. They should not be taught that it is virtuous to believe something is spite of persuasive evidence to the contrary. They should not be discouraged from asking questions. I agree. Does Mr. Dawkins know that there are many Christians who encourage open and honest discussion, even among children?
  • Dawkins suggests that we should not refer to young children as “Christian children” or “Muslim children,” etc. as they are too young to decide what they believe on those matters. I understand his apprehension, and in a sense, I agree. Each person gets to decide their own religion or lack thereof, and makes those decisions, perhaps with increasing conviction, as they get older.
  • In the final section of the book, Dawkins allows himself to sort of ramble a bit about how amazing science is in general, without making any real comment on God. It is some of the best reading I have done in a while. His passion for science is evident and inspiring, and the specific insights that he shares from contemporary science are thought provoking and wonderful.

What Dawkins gets wrong:

  • The very idea that any religion makes any meaningful claim that science cannot be used to prove or disprove is simply assumed to be ridiculous. Dawkins speaks as though no question of ultimate meaning or purpose, or morality, or of any philosophical question that religion might comment on, is outside the jurisdiction of science. For someone who in other places in the book condemns black and white, dogmatic, unnecessarily bipolar thinking, this oversight of his is unfortunate. It makes the unwarranted assumption that all realities are observable by the five sense organs.
  • Dawkins thinks that superhuman aliens probably do exist because of the Drake equation, which plugs in seven variables and spits out the probability that such is so. He admits that some of the variables in the equation are still very difficult to estimate. No kidding. One of the variables is: the percentage of those planets that have conditions that are favorable to life that actually do develop life. Since we’ve seen life spontaneously arrive from non-life so many times, we should definitely have a good idea of what that number would be, right?
  • Later in the book, Dawkins suggests that the chances of life spontaneously arising from nonlife on a planet that is suitable for it are about one in a billion. I’m quite surprised that such a respected biologist believes that. I have been unable in my searching to uncover anything that makes abiogenesis even seem possible. I would encourage those interested to investigate themselves, with all of the scientific depth necessary to understand the topic, rather than take Dawkins’ word for it on this one.
  • Dawkins starts his dissection of arguments for God’s existence by presenting Aquinas’ thirteenth century proofs, and oversimplifying them. Honestly, why not address contemporary arguments as presented by leading contemporary apologists, and quote them, so as not to oversimplify things?
  • Dawkins doesn’t actually seem to understand the Cosmological argument. I’m sure he is more than intelligent enough to do so, he simply hasn’t taken the time. He is so ready to find it bankrupt that he doesn’t pause long enough to hear its claim. Throughout the book, in fact, he seems surprising inept at philosophy, despite his amazing intellect.
  • Dawkins reveals his ignorance of the cosmological argument in the comment about believers that: “They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God Himself is immune to the regress.” If he understood the Cosmological argument at all, he would realize that the whole proposition that the argument proves is that an entity that is immune to the regress of causality must exist.  You must disprove the logical structure of the argument, or disprove one of the premises, in order to refute that claim. But he doesn’t, and you can’t. It’s a solid argument for the fact that some entity that is immune to the regress of movement, causation, contingency, etc. necessarily must exist.
  • Dawkins goes on to say that even if we take the “dubious luxury” of postulating a terminator to the infinite regress of causality, there is no reason to believe that it should have any of the properties normally ascribed to God. But as contemporary apologists have pointed out, and as he fails to even address, such an entity would have been the entity that started everything in motion, as God is said to have done, and would be outside of the laws that normally govern our universe, as God is said to be. And since such an entity has no preceding cause, it seems that it would be eternal, as God is said to be. Etc.
  • Dawkins spends way too much time addressing silly arguments for God’s existence that no one makes anymore, or pointing out that various unscientific arguments are in fact unscientific. Fun reading for a smug atheist, but not contributing to the real discussion at hand.
  • Dawkins refers to God using the concept of the “Ultimate Boeing 747.” What he means by this is that a God complex enough to design our world would Himself have to be even more complex than the world, and that such a God would then need an even more complex explanation. This is very ironic since Dawkins spends so much of the book talking about how we need to have our consciousness’s raised by Darwinian natural selection so that we can realize that complex things can arise from simplicity through natural processes. If such is the case, why can God not be self-causing in the same sense that biodiversity supposedly is? In this manner he also assumes that the cause of the universe is bound by the same kinds of rules that bind the universe itself, which he would know is untrue if he had understood the Cosmological argument.
  • Dawkins seems to think that explaining how biodiversity could have arisen without intelligent guidance answers the Teleological question exhaustively. First of all, he presents no evidence that genetic mutations are sufficient to drive Darwinian natural selection. Evidence that I continue to wait for. Secondly, explaining biodiversity is such a small part of the question. What about the origin of life? What about the leap from prokaryote to eukaryote, which Dawkins admits in the book, might be even more unlikely than abiogenesis itself? Neither does he present convincing evidence as to how our universe is so fine tuned for the conditions necessary for any type of order at all. He simply points out that, however unlikely it is that everything should be so fine-tuned, it obviously is since we are here. Multiverse theories are suggested. There is no evidence presented to support them.
  • The many theories and speculations presented as to how religion might have come about as a result of evolution and how we might have evolved to be moral creatures are all very interesting. They reveal, though, just how open for speculation macro evolutionary theory is. It is a theory that deals with such an incredibly complex system in such a general way that reasonable speculations are endless and difficult to confirm or deny.
  • Dawkins continually blames the concept of religion itself for so much of what rightly ought to be blamed on ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Yes, they are using religion as license to be ridiculous, but the problem is not religion itself.

The book was a fascinating read and often enjoyable.

I was disappointed, though, by the lack of scientific depth regarding Darwinian natural selection and the processes that supposedly drive it. This is not a science book.

I was also disappointed by how little of it was devoted to addressing arguments for God’s existence. This was due to the fact that Dawkins, who appears to care very little indeed for philosophy, didn’t give them the time of day necessary to be properly understood or responded too.  Much like all of the clips that I see online of him intellectually destroying uneducated people who cannot articulate arguments well, he seemed to do a lot of demolition work on caricatured ideas that I wasn’t particularly invested in to begin with.

Ultimately, however charming his wit may be, it is tragic to see someone with such talents using them in such a manner.  It is sad that we live in a world where so many religious people do so many terrible or ridiculous things that he would be turned so far away from any kind of religious faith.  It is sad that he would be so unacquainted with what God is really like that he can speak ill of Him in good conscience.  It is beyond sad, it is a tragedy.

If I could give Dawkins some advice, it would be to take philosophy more seriously, and to use his imagination a bit more when considering what is really going on in this fantastically amazing universe.

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Can Science Explain Everything Without God?

string theory multiple dimensions

The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene has got to be one of the most interesting books I have ever picked up.  Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University who is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory.  His book explains and illustrates the fundamental concepts of relativity, both general and special, and quantum mechanics, and then explains how superstring theory is making great strides towards unifying theses models into one all-encompassing theory of everything.

The search for a scientific theory of everything, or T.O.E., has been practically frantic for decades.  In essence, a successful T.O.E. would provide one all-encompassing cohesive framework for explaining the properties and behaviors of all matter, all energy, and all forces in all dimensions.  We’ve already acquired some very intriguing insights into the nature of motion, acceleration, gravity, matter, space, and time among other things through empirically verifiable experiments, and superstring theory may one day be capable of unifying and making sense of these findings.

The search for a T.O.E. is exciting because, as human beings, we have a real hunger to understand the world around us.  We want to know the how and the why, not just the what.  If we could establish a fully cohesive, logically consistent T.O.E. that was supported by experimental evidence, we would finally know the how and the why of everything that goes on in the universe, and would no longer need God to explain anything, right?

Well, not exactly…  Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about whether our minds would even be trustworthy guides in a materialistic universe, here are some other gaps that such a T.O.E. would not close:

1) Observations that can contribute to science are limited to phenomena observable by the 5 sense organs.
Information about reality is only valid for scientific purposes if we become aware of it through the use of our senses provided by our physical bodies.  This is wonderful because it eliminates a huge amount of subjectivism from the scientific process.  But it also rules out the possibility of science describing or explaining anything that cannot be observed this way.  Therefore any phenomena not observable in any way by any of the senses is beyond the realm of science.  Science has no business saying what does or does not exist in this realm.  It is inherently limited to a description of the sensory.

Someone might point out that scientists also use logic and math that has not been confirmed by direct observation, but these concepts do follow directly from mathematical and logical concepts that we have observed at work in the real world, and are confirmed by experiment.

The bottom line is that since science does not have authority in the realm of the subjective, it cannot rule out the existence of realities that are not universally observable in the natural world.  That’s potentially a big hole in a theoretical T.O.E.  Why should we assume that all truths are universally observable in the natural world by the sense organs?

2) Implications of probability waves in quantum mechanics.
The double-slit experiment and other data indicate that all particles exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves, and that the wavelike behavior of a particle, such as an electron for instance, is modeled by the mathematical concept of a probability.

In other words, we absolutely cannot predict where a particle is going to go, we can only give the probability that we will find it at any place at any time.  This is not due to a lack of knowledge on our part, this is literally because particles do not behave in an exactly predictable manner.  There is actually an element of true, mathematical randomness in their behavior.  If the same experiment is carried out the same exact way multiple times, a particle will not behave the same way each time, even with all else equal.

This concept deeply shakes our concept of reality.  And for those interested, Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum tunneling make things even weirder.  These concepts led Richard Feynman to write of quantum mechanics that it “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense.  And it fully agrees with experiment.  So I hope you accept nature as She is–absurd.”  This is one of the most brilliant physicists since Einstein speaking.

But what if the behaviors of particles aren’t actually random?  What if they behave within a certain framework of probabilities so as to maintain order in the cosmos, but leave a certain amount of “randomness” in their behavior for manipulation by a supernatural agent?  This concept essentially provides a scientific means for the occurrence of “miracles” which would be departures from the possibilities allowed by classical, but not contemporary physics.

3) The existence of information, matter, energy, time, space, or anything.
Scientists are uncovering an ever growing body of specific information about the nature, behavior, and natural laws of our universe.  From universal constants to mathematical formulas of incredible complexity to the information encoded in our DNA that they would claim resulted indirectly from these constants and formulas.

But even if we were to identify all of the information that describes physical existence, we wouldn’t have identified where the information came from, or where the matter came from that it acted on, or where anything at all originally came from.  The materialist can choose to assume that it was just always there, and most do believe essentially this.

But notice that not only is the question of why such information and matter “always was” beyond the scope of human science, it also indicates the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, immaterial body of very specific and elegant information that has resulted in fantastic and beautiful complexity, and that this information either already contained or else resulted in consciousness (after all, it has resulted in us.)

Surely even as a cynic, if you know the basic philosophical claims that the Hebrew scriptures make, and you are familiar with contemporary scientific findings, you see that the two are in fact converging rather than moving farther apart.

I hope that in light of these principals, it is clear that while a T.O.E., if it is even possible for us to uncover and uncover reliably with our human minds, would not have authority to speak on matters whose implications are unverifiable by the sense organs, would leave the door open for supernatural agency in our world through probability waves in quantum mechanics, and would explain the behavior of but not the reason for the existence of information or anything else.

The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

planet-earth-from-space-640x359

Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.

Has Science Done Away With Faith?

science faith

In debates at the center of science, philosophy, and religion it is common to hear claims like these:

“you have your faith but I have actual science,” or “religion is just having faith when there is no evidence, but science is actually based on facts.”

These statements are received with frustration by believers who assert that “science is just another belief system, just like religion” or “believing in evolution actually requires more faith than believing in God!”

These two groups of people are clearly talking past each other.  They don’t even speak the same language.  Literally.  Because they have defined their terms differently.  When people disagree about the very meanings of the terms that they are using, not only is it virtually impossible for them to reach meaningful conclusions together, they can’t even argue with each other with much coherence!

We will never get to the heart of these discussions until we learn to speak each other’s languages.  So, this post is really all about definition of terms.

Science.

What is science?  Is it a process of gathering information and recognizing patterns in the world through observation and repeatable experimentation?

Or is it a somewhat nebulous group of millions of academics and researchers who claim to use this method, and the composite body of conclusions that they have drawn?

Faith.

Is it a blind leap into the dark based on tradition and subjective feelings of spirituality or compulsion?  Is it an insistence on holding certain views despite a lack of evidence, or even in the face or substantial contrary evidence?

Or is it a conclusion drawn where mathematic certainty is impossible, but where much real world evidence is evaluated by reason in order to make an educated and intellectually honest decision?

To complicate matters, “religion” is often used interchangeably with faith, though its definition is much more narrow and indicates not a mental process but a body of practices or doctrines.  Similarly “evolution” is sometimes used interchangeably with science, though it is neither a process of learning nor the body of evidence gathered by a branch of academia, but simply one prominent theory within that branch.

Before we even start arguing about religion or evolution, we at least ought to agree on the role of science and faith in the discussion.

Here is why atheists and believers keep talking past each other:

If faith is a belief based almost solely on superstition, subjective experience, or tradition (as atheists understand it to be), and science is the knowledge of patterns in the world gained through repeatable, testable experiments (as they believe all conclusions in the scientific community to be), then science offers far greater certainty than faith, and ought to supersede it.

But on the other hand, if faith is a conclusion, be it one without 100% objective certainty, reached by the use of reason acting upon verifiable evidence, and science is the branch of human institutions that adhere to the scientific method, then indeed, the two walk hand in hand rather than being mutually exclusive.

The contemporary atheist often tends to confuse the two definitions of science that I have provided, not even recognizing a distinction.  He understands all conclusions supported by the scientific community to be fact simply because they were reached by a community that claims to observe the scientific method.  But in so doing he not only grossly underestimates the possibility of human error, he also turns a blind eye to the truth about countless “scientific facts” that are neither testable nor repeatable but are rather touted for their “explanatory and predictive mechanisms” and rely on various untestable assumptions.

To take any assertion made by the majority of the scientific community, and claim that it is fact simply because “it’s science” without actually presenting the nature of the experiments, data, and conclusions for yourself, is nothing more than the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

Of course, the atheist would argue, the science that has disproven God is so complicated that you’ll just have to trust the experts.  It is indeed valid, but an appeal to authority is necessary since you wouldn’t understand the explanation.  This is why you often here so little science in a debate about the existence of God, why it is rare to see much scientific depth from atheists themselves in their arguments.

You want to talk science?  Let’s actually talk science.  But if you want to appeal to the authority of the scientific community, which in large part has strayed from the testable and repeatable to the “explanatory” and “predictive,” I won’t be convinced.  We learned from the dark ages not to “trust the experts” who have the “special knowledge.”

Faith does not need to be blind.  It is not always based on tradition or spiritual compulsion.  In my case, it is a conclusion I’ve drawn about what I can’t know for sure, based on all of the things that I can know.  Much of those things that I can know are indeed derived from science.  And they are repeatable and testable.  In fact, I dismiss nothing from science that is repeatable and testable, and yet I find it beautifully compatible with my faith.

Read more of my articles or start a discussion in the comments if you’d like to learn more.

Could Life Have Started Without God?

The origin of life is one of the huge questions that scientists must wrestle with.  If the course of nature is an unguided, random process, then life must have arisen spontaneously from non-life without the agency of an intelligence.

So what explanation does science give for the origin of life?  Our discussion must begin with the Miller-Urey Experiments.

In 1953, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey filled a flask with methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water.  Miller ran an electric current through a closed system containing these gases.  The electric current represented lightning, which may have been quite common on earth’s surface long ago.

The results?  Several different amino acids were found in the products.  This is significant because a variety of amino acids are absolutely essential for life.  They are necessary for the formation of proteins, which along with DNA and RNA, are present in all life forms.

So, we could present the findings this way: “scientists have proven that the essential building blocks of life can be created through natural means.”

Not so fast.  As it turns out, Miller filled his flask with a very unrealistic mixture of gases.  Analysis of ancient rocks indicates that earth’s atmosphere never had anywhere near Miller’s levels of hydrogen or hydrogen-rich gases such as methane.  What if we used a realistic mixture of mostly carbon dioxide and nitrogen gases similar to earth’s actual early atmosphere?  This article in Discover Magazine puts it lightly: “you’d have a hard time finding amino acids in the resulting brew.”

Also, there may have initially been a lot of lightning on earth’s surface, but nothing like the constant supply of electricity that Miller subjected his concoction to.

So it is conceivable that some amino acids resulted from the composition and state of earth’s early atmosphere.  But how close are amino acids to life?  Actually, amino acids are rather unexciting and simple compared to life.  We have already discovered about 90 of them in existence, of which 19 are found on earth.  The rest are out there in space.  So… apparently the presence of amino acids alone doesn’t do much to get a life cycle started.

Here is an illustration that depicts some of these acids.

amino acids

The article linked above cites scientists admitting that “amino acids are old hat and are a million miles from life.”

That’s because amino acids are like tiny little building blocks that must be put together in complex and elegant ways to make the essential elements of life known as proteins.  They also can’t give us DNA or RNA, which are also absolutely essential for life.  We would need nucleic acids for that which are even harder to come by.

But let’s humor the supporters of abiogenesis (spontaneous life from non-life) for a minute.  Let’s say that despite incredible odds and by means mysterious to us, we could get all of the amino acids and nucleic acids that we needed.

Then we would have a pile of acids sitting around doing nothing.

That’s because amino acids don’t spontaneously bond to each other and build themselves into proteins.  This is what a protein looks life, conceptualized in three different ways for your convenience.

Protein

In order to build proteins out of amino acids, you need the environment present inside a cell, complete with some very specific information encoded in RNA, and ribosomes.  A ribosome is a “large and complex molecular machine” made of two subunits that look like this:

ribosome large subunit

Bur ribosomes themselves are built from proteins and RNA.  This creates a “chicken or the egg” scenario in which ribosomes are needed to create proteins but proteins are needed to build ribosomes.

Furthermore, the instructions necessary for the creation of proteins by ribosomes are in RNA.  But nucleic acids don’t spontaneously build into DNA and RNA.  And if they did, they would be doing so randomly, not in a way that encoded them with the complex and beautiful information necessary to direct the life processes of a cell.

So lets review.  It is conceivable that amino acids could have resulted from the conditions in our early atmosphere.  One way to present that statement is this: “we can get the essential building blocks of life from nature without God.”

But what about explaining the creation of enough amino acids and nucleic acids of various kinds, and then explaining their formation into proteins, and the formation of those proteins into ribosomes, and the very presence of the specific information present in DNA and RNA?  And how did all of these pieces build themselves into a cell with a cell wall, a cytoplasm, and at least one chromosome, among other things?  After all, the instructions in DNA teach a cell how to grow and reproduce as a closed-system, not how to build itself from a bunch of pieces that are laying around like a man picking himself up by his own bootstraps.

simple cell

Even when scientists take a simple, self-contained cell with all of these pieces already in it, and pop it, they cannot coax it to come alive again.  Though all of the pieces are there in forms full of the complexity and information that they cannot explain, they still cannot convince the pieces to spontaneously begin cooperating with each other in the form of a cell.  And remember that all life is built from cells.

When science claims to understand how the “essential building blocks of life” could have arisen without God, don’t be ignorant about the very limited scope and implications of that claim.

Additional sources:

http://people.chem.duke.edu/~jds/cruise_chem/Exobiology/miller.html

The Media: What Effect is it Having on our Minds?

Media

The contemporary world is one absolutely saturated with media.  If you are reading this article then you are in fact currently consuming public media.  It seems that in almost every pocket, living room, bedroom, bar, and classroom in the modern world there is a piece of technology that connects us to the media.  By “the media” I mean simply the public broadcast of rhetorical or entertaining material.

There is really no historical precedent for this level of media saturation.  Historical peoples have had circuses, gladiators, theater, the opera.  But these pastimes were not available 24/7, on demand, on private devices.  More recent generations had the newspaper, then then the awe-inspiring radio.  But even these were not attended to for hours each day, in living color, or produced as part of an enormous, multi-billion dollar industry.

I’d like to give a scientific, a philosophical, and a Biblical principle to help us understand how to feel about these strange times.

Science: Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons were not discovered until the early 1990’s, but they have incredible implications concerning our social behavior.  Scientists have discovered that when we observe behavior performed by someone else, our own brain activity mirrors that of the actual participant.

This is what can make video-based media so engrossing.  When we see someone smile, our own brains behave as though we were smiling.  When we see someone using a hammer, our own brains behave as though we were using a hammer.

When we see television or movie characters performing sexual acts…  You guessed it, our brains behave as though we were having sex.  When we see acts of graphic violence and revenge, the same principle applies.

Now couple this principle with the fact that our brains go into a low alpha brain wave state when we stare at a screen.  This means that we become considerably more suggestible because the parts of our brains that evaluate and criticize are being turned off.

What you get is a superhighway of ideas that pour into your brain and effect it as though it were having real experiences of… whatever you choose to watch, be it pornography, graphic violence, etc.

In light of these principles, recent mass-murder sprees and their correlation with the technology saturated world, are not surprising.

If you wouldn’t do it, think twice before you watch it.

Philosophy: Distortion of Perspective

Søren Kierkegaard lived in a time before television, but his analysis of the media was very telling:

“On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.”

Malcom Muggeridge put it this way:

“Now can this really be, as the media continually insists, what life is about–this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets litter the world?”

Both men are pointing out a basic principle.  The media tells us what to view as important.  It tells us that everyone else, “the public,” is very concerned or interested or entertained by exhibit A, and that we should be, too.

In this way, it inflates the importance of subjects that only distract us from our own personal talents, responsibilities, and the great themes of human existence that aren’t directly involved with the violent shooting last night, the latest celebrity gossip, etc.

Bible: Intentions of the Heart

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  

Jesus is pointing out for us that something as simple as visual stimuli is capable of opening the door to very damaging mental processes.

He goes on to tell us later in the sermon that “the eye is the lamp of the body.”  Jesus knew what contemporary psychology and neuroscience is telling us, that what we see has a profound impact on us.

I urge Christian readers, consider the motives behind your consumption of media.  Consider the effects that television and movies may be having on your values.  And I urge us all to meditate on great themes and do great things in this world.  Do not sacrifice your mind to the media.

Speaking With Authority About Origins

demolition

In an ingenious slam poetry performance, Taylor Mali addresses the trend in intellectualism for the past several decades of doing the easy work of tearing down ideas without doing the hard work of building cohesive new ones.  The last line of his humorous performance suddenly takes a turn for the serious as he pronounces:

“Contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days just to question authority, you gotta speak with it, too.”

Atheism claims that there is no reason to believe in God anymore because we do not need Him to explain the existence of the world around us.  In science, we are told, we do not assume that something exists unless its existence is necessitated by the evidence.  The burden of proof is placed on the believer.

It really is so much easier to tear down an idea than to build one up.  To place the burden of proof on your opponent.  To point out all of the things that we can’t know.  This is really the essence of the argument against God.

In light of this principle I would like to address the use of the studies of physics and macroevolution by the atheistic movement.

In my limited understanding and exposure to the world of contemporary physics, I find it to be a substantial, respectable field.  Much of it is speculative, but much of it is also well documented and speaks with authority in describing the world around us.

I’ve got my own problems with the theory of evolution.  I don’t think it holds water.  But I will say in its favor that the theory of evolution speaks with authority about something.  It isn’t about shifting the burden of proof onto someone else.  It isn’t about pointing out all of the things that we can’t know or can’t prove.  

I don’t believe in the theory of macroevolution, but I can respect the fact that it seeks to explain, rather than to tear down.  What I can’t respect is the arrogance with which atheism takes these theories and others and uses them to tear down the idea of God.  Let me explain why.

Concerning macroevolution:

To claim that because we have a plausible theory (which I would claim is actually very weak) about how life could have evolved from a single cell into man, has little to do with the incredible questions of the universe’s existence or order.  It even leaves the question of the origin of life unanswered.

Concerning contemporary physics:

I said earlier that science claims not to need God to explain the existence and order in the cosmos.  But science has not explained why the universe exists or why it is the way it is.

The general vague idea is that the laws and constants that govern our universe are eternal and that they called the universe into existence.  For starters, this does’t explain where the laws themselves came from.  Secondly, it doesn’t explain why they happen to be so beautifully and incredibly fine-tuned.  And thirdly, this is a very primitive and unsubstantiated view of natural laws.

As philosopher and author Jim Holt points out, “physical laws are actually generalized descriptions of patterns and regularities in the world.  They don’t exist outside the world… they can’t call a world into existence out of nothingness.”  He points out that even Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe.

Why does something exist instead of nothing?  Physics, which merely explains the behavior of our universe, has no answer.

Why is there so much fine tuning in the universe?  The best atheistic answer is that there are an infinite number of universes and that we happen to live in an amazingly orderly one.  So let’s see, the chances of that are about… 1 in infinity.

Where did the first life come from?  Investigate the atheistic theories for yourself.  Panspermia simply dodges the question, and all other proposals are embarrassing and contrived.

Where does consciousness come from?  The best atheistic answer is that it is a fundamental constant of reality.  Which borders on and honestly encroaches on the existence of the supernatural in its implications.

In conclusion:

Macroevolution makes pronouncements and theories about the way things are.  Physics describes our universe with elegance and precision.  But atheism wrongly uses these studies to tear down ideas which it has no ability to replace.  It questions authority without the ability to speak with it.

If you want authoritative, substantial answers, consider a Biblical worldview.