Sunday, November 27, 2011

Point Two: Life

There are four dimensions of living beings. Such beings are agents, goal seekers, self-replicators and fourthly, they are semiotically driven (their existence depends on the interplay between codes and chemistry). Each and every living being acts or is capable of action. And each such being is the unified source and center of all its actions. Since these agents are capable of surviving and acting independently, their actions are in some fashion driven by goals (nourishment), and they can reproduce themselves; they are therefore goal-seeking, self-replicating autonomous agents. Moreover, as Howard H. Pattee points out, you find in living beings the interaction of semiotic processes (rules, codes, languages, information, control) and physical systems (laws, dynamics, energy, forces, matter).

Of the books (by new atheists) under study here (in Appendix A of There is a God), only Dawkins’s addresses the question of the origin of life. Wolpert is quite candid on the state of the field: “This is not to say that all the scientific questions relating to evolution have been solved. On the contrary, the origin of life itself, the evolution of the miraculous cell from which all living things evolved, is still poorly understood.” Dennett in previous works has simply taken it for granted that some materialist account must be right.

Unfortunately, on even the physico-chemical level, Dawkins’s approach is manifestly inadequate or worse. “But how does life get started?” he asks. “The origin of life was the chemical event, or series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection first came about . . . . Once the vital ingredient—some kind of genetic molecule—is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow.” How did this happen? “Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers. The beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here.” Given this type of reasoning, which is better described as an audacious exercise in superstition, anything we desire should exist somewhere if we just “invoke the magic of large numbers.” Unicorns or the elixir of youth, even if “staggeringly improbable,” are bound to occur “against all intuition.” The only requirement is “a chemical model” that “need only predict” these occurring “on one planet in a billion billion.”

Atheists often accuse believers of invoking the power of the God-of-the-Gaps to save them from the unknown. How did life arise? God did it. How do we have consciousness? God did it. How does there exist some sense of morality? God did it. Of course to simply say this and leave it at that is absurd and yet atheists use the same argument but instead of invoking God they call upon the magic of large numbers. How did life arise? Naturally, but it took billions of years. How do we have consciousness? Through natural processes, but it took millions of years. How does there exist some sense of morality? It evolved in us, it just needed millions of years. For atheists, who love to rely on the power of scientific observation, these claims can be described as extremely unscientific.

Science is all about observation and experimentation and yet with regards to origins (of life with regards to this post anyway) many take natural process over intelligence despite a complete lack of evidence. In fact, life has only ever been demonstrated or observed to come from pre-existing life and yet despite this observed requirement we seem to be able to overlook it by invoking the magic of large numbers. Can life arise naturally without a pre-existing form of life? Yes, it only needs x amount of years. Is this really the best answer?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Point One: Rationality

The first point Varghese argues is basically an appeal to human rationality. Believers and atheists argue that something had to always exist either the universe (which we could define as just a single clump of matter at one point in time) or God. I do not think that we necessarily have to believe that God created the universe “out of thin air” or out of nothing. The Hebrew word in Genesis that is used for “create” is “bara” which essentially means to form (or to fashion) which indicates that God is creating the universe with available material (perhaps in the Big Band from a single ball of matter). This is purely speculation on my part but I think it is worth contemplating. However, the point still stands that there had to be something that always existed. Something does not come from nothing.

Prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the others ask, “Who created God?” Now, clearly, theists and atheists can agree on one thing: if anything at all exists, there must be something preceding it that always existed. How did this eternally existing reality come to be? The answer is that it never came to be. It always existed. Take your pick: God or universe. Something always existed.  It is precisely at this point that the theme of rationality returns to the forefront. Contrary to the protestations of the atheists, there is a major difference between what theists and atheists claim about that which always exists. Atheists say that the explanation for the universe is simply that it is eternally existing, but we cannot explain how this eternally existing state of affairs came to be the way it is today. That is, came to support and give rise to life. It is inexplicable and has to be accepted as such. Theists, however, are adamant in pointing out that God is something that is not ultimately inexplicable: God’s existence is inexplicable to us at this point in time, but not to God. Inserting God into the equation, and by God I mean a superior mind, solves the problem of life, morality and consciousness which are things that lie outside the realm of science to some extent. You might not agree with me in this point but I will go into more detail when I discuss those three phenomenons in coming posts.

“The world is rational,” noted the great mathematician Kurt Gödel. The relevance of this rationality is that “the order of the world reflects the order of the supreme mind governing it.” The reality of rationality cannot be evaded with any appeal to natural selection. Natural selection presupposes the existence of physical entities that interact according to specific laws and of a code that manages the processes of life. And to talk of natural selection is to assume that there is some logic to what is happening in nature (adaptation) and that we are capable of understanding this logic.

So I hope this gives you something to think about and I’ll post a write up next on Varghese’s point 2: Life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Critique of ‘The New Atheism’

The first of two appendices in There is a God by Antony Flew is a critique of the ‘New Atheism’ by co-author Roy Varghese. Varghese argues that there are some phenomena that are only explainable in terms of the existence of God (p. 161). His view is that atheism is a result of a deliberate refusal to look at the evidence, which is readily available in our immediate experience (p. 163). I think this goes hand in hand with Romans 1:20 which states, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." In my experience powerful cases for both the existence and nonexistence of God can be made but it seems to me that it really boils down to how one interprets the evidence available.

I'm using this post as an introduction to five of the reasons why notable former atheist Antony Flew left atheism for deism. It is important to note that he did not become a christian theist, he simply looked at the available evidence and concluded that a superior mind is a more likely cause for why we have something rather than nothing, as opposed to naturalistic explanations. The following is a quick summary of Roy Varghese's work in There is a God and as I said I will go more in depth in each of the five points he makes later on.

First, Varghese argues that something had to always exist, either God or the universe (p. 165). He maintains that the theist argument is superior because the atheist says that the eternal existence of the universe is inherently unexplainable, but theists argue that the eternal existence of God is not inexplicable, just incomprehensible for humans (p. 165). The atheist view also fails to explain why something exists rather than nothing, and why the something that exists obeys the laws of nature (p. 171).

Second, Varghese contends that most of the ‘new atheists’ do not even address the origin of life. Only Dawkins attempts an explanation; he claims that ‘a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here’ (p. 173). Varghese criticizes this as ‘manifestly inadequate or worse’ (p. 172) and as ‘an audacious exercise in superstition’ (p. 173), and indeed not even such an inadequate model exists.

Third, atheists have to deal with consciousness. Although certain areas of the brain are associated with consciousness, they do not produce consciousness—a certain area of a person’s brain may show activity when thinking about a certain idea, but a neurologist cannot tell from that person’s MRI what he is thinking about. ‘Consciousness is correlated with certain regions of the brain, but when the same systems of neurons are present in the brain stem there is no “production” of consciousness’ (p. 174).

Fourth, ‘beyond consciousness, there is the phenomenon of thought, of understanding, seeing meaning’ (p. 176). ‘At the foundation of all of our thinking, communicating, and use of language is a miraculous power. It is the power of noting differences and similarities and of generalizing and universalizing—what the philosophers call concepts universals, and the like. It is natural to humans, unique, and simply mystifying’ (pp. 176–177). The brain plays a part in this process, but there is clearly a non-physical part to it, as well. Varghese argues that ‘they are the acts of a person who is inescapably both embodied and “ensouled”’ (p. 178).

Fifth, the atheists have to deal with the emergence of the self, which he calls ‘the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism’ (p. 181).

Most of this post was taken from: Review of There is a God

Keep in mind I do not believe any of these points are "proofs" of the existence of God. I just think that they are some examples of purely natural phenomenon (as opposed to supernatural) that can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a "god."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can Life Be Merely an Accident?

“Can Life Be Merely an Accident?” That was the title of a talk I went to yesterday at Loma Linda University which featured Dr. Robert Piccioni, a cosmologist and author of “Atoms, Einstein and the Universe.” Basically his talk today was a variation of the Fine-Tuning argument except that Dr. Piccioni did not mention God even once in his talk until the question and answer period which I will describe later. So here is my summary of the talk.

Dr. Piccioni started stating, “Modern science has discovered that the conditions necessary for life are extraordinarily improbable. Let’s divide the requirements into four categories, all of which are essential for the existence of life: a viable universe, the right atoms, a habitable environment, and an effective genetic code.”

He stated that the universe has about 20 “knobs” or “dials” that must be precisely tuned to the right values to allow for life to exist and flourish. For whatever reason, the planet we call home happens to have all the dials set to these right values. I’m sure those of you who are reading this are familiar with the Fine-Tuning argument but I’ll give you a few of the examples he gave us at the talk.

First, he brought up how important even the smallest things are in the universe. He stated that the mass of a proton was one of the 20 knobs that are precisely “tuned” to the appropriate value.  If the proton’s mass was ¼ of a % either heavier or lighter no life could exist. For example, if the mass was heavier free neutrons would fail to decay to form protons resulting in a universe full of neutronium and no other elements (hydrogen, carbon, oxygen) could exist.

Secondly, he talked about how everything in the universe appears somewhat symmetrical except for the ratio of matter to ant-matter. If matter and anti-matter were in equal proportions they would cancel each other out and we would be left with a big universe full of nothing.

Thirdly, he talked about stars and their role in dark matter, gravity, the strong nuclear force, and the weak force. Stars are basically necessary for the formation of the elements of life. I did not quite catch all he said on stars so this will have to do.

Fourthly, he mentioned how the expansion of the universe is set to just the right speed that any faster or slower would have resulted in a “Big Crunch” after the Big Bang and again nothing would be able to live in the universe.

He then began taking about how “good planets are hard to find.” He stated that the majority of observable planets in the universe orbit 1 or 2 stars in an elliptical orbit. Earth is in the minority in that its orbit is more circular. Because of this, earth is able to stay within what is called the “Goldilocks Zone.” This allows for earth to have liquid water all year long. If the orbit was elliptical earth would pass between having a completely frozen surface and a barren desert. He also mentioned that if the sun was heavier or lighter in mass it would affect the earth in such a way that no life could survive. The outer planets, like Jupiter, provide protection from large space debris and so does the moon. Earth’s moon is also the only moon in our solar system that affects the axis of its planet. The moon actually acts to balance the earth in such a way as to allow for life. Also when the moon was formed (after breaking off of earth, possibly in an asteroid collision) it left earth with its high iron core that thus acts to protect the earth from the sun’s particles. He mentioned that the mass of the earth was just right to capture and hold the right gases needed for life (unlike Jupiter for example which captures too much helium). He also stated that the surface of the earth is renewed by plate tectonics to control the balance of carbon in the atmosphere. Without this renewing no life would be able to exist on earth. Carbon acts as a shield to protect the earth from things like meteorites and radiation.  Of course this is all just a very brief summary of his talk without a lot of the details. 

Then he began talking about the genetic code. He stated that human DNA consists of about 3.2 base pairs, or about 100 million atoms, and is 99.9% the same throughout all of humanity. He began talking about research being done titled “The Minimal Genome Project.” This research aimed to discover the minimal number of DNA base pairs that needed to assemble in order to create/sustain life. They found that the absolute shortest that DNA could be for a living organism was still an astounding 460,000 base pairs. He proceeded to show everyone how the maximum number of DNA base pairs that could possibly come together at one time, and in one place, was only 230 base pairs. A far cry from the 460,000 needed for life.

After his talk he opened the floor to some questions and answers with the audience. Some fellow came up to the front and asked him. “Do you believe God created evolution?”

His response was simple, to the point, and I thought was very appropriate. He said, “I am here simply to represent science and only scientific facts. My goal is only to increase interest in science. I am not here to tell anyone what to believe about God. I have my personal beliefs and I am not here to share them. I am just here to talk about the science behind the universe.”

So then that is my VERY brief summary of Dr. Piccioni’s talk. He went in to a little more depth in his actual presentation. I thought it was very interesting to hear him speak on the universe and its apparent fine-tuning without mentioning God once. He simply stuck to the facts accepted by scientists.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NASA says we might all be aliens

"Whether or not you believe in life outside of our solar system, the fact that we are all here means that the stuff we're made of must have come from somewhere. After studying meteorites and discovering ready-made components of DNA present, NASA has concluded that the building blocks of life as we know it may have crashed down on Earth from above.

Researchers at the Goddard Space Flight Center discovered portions of DNA on chunks of crashed space rock in both Antarctica and Australia. The extraterrestrial visitors contained various types of nucleobases, which are thought to be essential in the creation of DNA, and life in general. The scientists were able to isolate the compounds and prove that they weren't created here on Earth. This was particularly important, as critics often cite contamination as the reason for these compounds appearing on meteorites that have been studied in the past.

The team also concluded that certain space rocks — depending on their makeup and speed — work like manufacturing facilities for these biological precursors. The implications of the discovery are far-reaching, and suggest that humanity may owe its existence to a well-placed meteorite in the early days of the Earth, and that without it the planet might be a rocky, watery wasteland."

I thought this article was very interesting. Nasa says we might all be aliens, Christians already knew this. In all seriousness, whatever your beliefs, hopefully stories like these peak your interest.

From yahoo news
From Nasa