What do Neanderthals Tell Us about Human Uniqueness?

Both archaeology and palaeontology give evidence for hominid creatures that lived before human beings. For example, the species called Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal) seems to have existed between 200,000 years and 30,000 years ago in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Almost thirty complete skeletons have been discovered.[1] Evidence of Homo sapien (Human) civilization dates back to about 80,000 years and so there is an overlap between Neanderthals and humans in ancient history and there may even be some evidence of interbreeding between these two species in our contemporary human genome.[2]

It is often said that there is an evolutionary connection between Neanderthals and humans. But what if there was a fight for dominance between Neanderthals and humans? Either could have survived. What if both species fought for survival and it just happened to be that the humans won? I think there is good evidence to suggest both these ideas are wrong.

A big reason for saying that is that there is a massive difference in the capability of the first humans in comparison to the Neanderthal. While Neanderthal capabilities were very basic and appear to remain consistent for 100,000 years or more, when humans suddenly appeared they had capacities that far exceeded everything that had come before. Human exceptionalism is evident, the human super-predator, the unique being who is made in God’s image.

 

Use of Fire

There is evidence of charcoal and primitive hearths in Neanderthal sites. But does this mean Neanderthals mastered pyrotechnology? Not to the various researchers who recently concluded that Neanderthals made opportunistic use of natural fire when it became available to them. They used it when it presented itself, rather than had mastery over it. But humans were uniquely able to create and curate fire in a sophisticated way.[3]

 

Creation of Tools

It appears that Neanderthals were able to produce and use tar as an adhesive when making spears. Does this suggest complex cognitive behaviour? The method they used is thought to be very basic and naturally occurring. They would not have to discover a precise method for distilling the tar. Also, when we compare the Neanderthal behaviour to current Chimpanzees and observe they too produce spears from tree branches using a six step process, make stone tools to open nuts, form insect repellent and exploit wildfires. So the Neanderthal behaviour isn’t so exceptional compared to Chimpanzees. [4]

Human behaviour is much more sophisticated, involving analysis of different tar production methods and choosing the most efficient production method for the maximum production yield. Human cognitive ability was superior to Neanderthals.

 

Cooking Food

Humans have always had the capacity to gather, but also to cook our food and to use implements. Based on some chemical residue at a Neanderthal site, Smithsonian paleoanthropologists concluded that the Neanderthals also cooked. But – age could have resulted in the sort of chemical residue. Worse, no grinding implements have been found to prepare matter for cooking, and there is evidence that they had not mastered fire. So – it seems we lack evidence that Neanderthals intentionally cooked their food.[5]

 

Use of Medicine

Humans do medicine. It appears that Neanderthals consumed plants that had no nutritional value, but had anti-inflammatory properties. So perhaps they did have a primitive type of medicine. But so do chimpanzees, who will eat certain leaves to cause vomiting to rid their digestive system of parasites.

 

Cave Paintings

There are many sites dated to between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. But Neanderthals were dying out by then. It seems more likely that humans were the cause of the case paintings. Painted shells have been found which are dated to around 45,000 years ago. Again – this is around the time Neanderthals were disappearing. “All claimed evidence for symbolic activities among Neanderthals is highly debatable. ..currently there is little compelling reason to conclude that Homo neanderthalensis was a symbolic creature in the same sense as modern Homo sapiens.”[6]

 

Symbolic Thought

Many studies have shown evidence suggesting Neanderthals lacked the cognitive sophistication of humans. For example, anthropologists notice human societies have the concept of division of labour, specialization based on sex and age. This promotes economy and allows human society to thrive in harsh environments.

The evidence suggests Neanderthals only hunted large game. By way of contrast, humans hunted a wide variety of creatures and developed many types of tools to assist them and clothing as well. This suggests a division of labour in human society that was lacking in the Neanderthals. It is thought that an inability to divide labour in this way led to small population groupings in fewer locations and the eventual demise of the Neanderthal species.[7]

 

The Use of Language

There is disagreement about whether Neanderthals could speak. Anatomical features remain inconclusive and while the Neanderthal genome appears to contain certain key genes, this doesn’t mean they used language. Animals communicate in many ways, but they don’t use syntactical language in a sophisticated way as humans do.[8]

The evolutionary paradigm doesn’t explain the appearance of language. Often it is linked to the ability of the species to vocalize and make sounds. But humans have a language capability that is independent of vocalization. Vocalization is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for language. The best way to study the appearance of language seems to be through evidence of symbolism and symbolic cognitive capabilities. And this is unique in the record to the human species, appearing around 80,000 years ago. While basic Neanderthal capabilities remained consistent for hundreds of thousands of years, humanity and its language capability appears suddenly.

 

Conclusion

There seems to be a good argument to suggest that humans are exceptional, of a different order from the start. So the idea that humans competed with Neanderthals for survival does not seem to be supported by the evidence. Neanderthals were very limited in their abilities, and when the human super-predator arrived, there was no comparison between them. This is consistent with the Biblical teaching that man alone is made in God’s image – the imago Dei.

Also, the evolutionary ideas of gradual improvement struggle to account for the large sudden appearance of human sophistication. Combining this with the related but different anatomy of human and Neanderthal species, it seems that we must make the data fit the evolution theory rather than the data suggesting an evolutionary connection between humans and Neanderthals. And this is not a good way to explain anything.

 

[1] Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity, 2nd ed, (Covina: RTB Press, 2015),184

[2] Rana and Ross, 267

[3] Dennis M. Sandgathe et al., “Timing of the Appearance of Habitual Fire Use,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 108 (July 19, 2011), E298, doi:10.1073/pnas.1106759108Paul Goldberg et al., “New Evidence on Neandertal Use of Fire: Examples from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV,” Quaternary International 247 (2012), 325–40, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2010.11.015; Dennis M. Sandgathe et al., “On the Role of Fire in Neanderthal Adaptations in Western Europe: Evidence from Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, France,” PaleoAnthropology (2011), 216–42, doi:10.4207/PA.2011.ART54.

[4] Fazale Rana, Did Neanderthals Make Glue?, Reasons to Believe, January 10, 2018, accessed July 22, 2020, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2018/01/10/did-neanderthals-make-glue.

[5] Rana and Ross, 315

[6] Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey H Schwartz, “Evolution of the Genus Homo,” Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37 (2009): 81, quoted in Rana and Ross, 319

[7] Rana and Ross, 321

[8] Rana and Ross, 323

Evolution and the Origin of Information Problem

My smartphone pings and the screen lights up. What do you do when you notice a message? Well, if I know the language it’s written in, I can’t help but read the message so I can understand what it is saying to me. What do I assume about this message? “Someone wrote it for a reason.” What thought NEVER crosses my mind? “This message arrived out of the ether without someone having written it first.” I’ve never ever considered that as a possibility. Even automated messages from my phone carrier company Vodaphone…were originally conceived by a person, even if they were sent automatically.

The message was from my wife. “What time are you home tonight for tea?”

It seems to me we make consistent assumptions about the personal source of messages, and this holds in virtually every area of life … except maybe one. Biology.

I was having a conversation with someone recently about the Darwinian theory of evolution and I brought up the problem of the origin of the information that is embedded in life’s biological structures. “Where does this information come from? Doesn’t this matter?” These questions seemed to be no barrier to believing that life occurred in a naturalistic evolutionary way for my friend. The origin of the information did not seem an issue, biological change and adaption of different species was the important thing to him. He seemed happy to accept that life developed naturally, simple single celled organisms all the way up to complex animals with skeletal structures and body plans.

One of my big problems with naturalistic evolutionary models is the origin of information problem. We know so much more than Darwin did in the 1860s. We’ve discovered that life carries a staggering amount of digital information around within it. Instructions like DNA, managing the production of proteins, systems to correct the errors that occur in the copying of the genetic code through natural means, and the hardwired instructions for building a particular animal body plan. This is a problem for evolutionary theory.

I’m not alone in being sceptical about naturalistic evolution as an explanation for the presence of life on this planet. Stephen Meyer puts it like this:

“Whenever we find functional information – whether embedded in a radio signal, carved in a stone monument, etched on a magnetic disc, or produced by an origin-of-life scientist attempting to engineer a self-replicating molecule – and we trace that information back to its ultimate source, invariably we come to a mind, not merely a material process. For this reason, the discovery of digital information in even the simplest living cells indicates the prior activity of a designing intelligence at work in the origin of the first life.”[1]

It seems to me that the issue is not whether genetic mutations and natural selection both occur. They certainly do. There is much natural evidence of both of these phenomena, although mutations tend to have a negative influence on particular beings (one dreads a cancer diagnosis in a family member). No – the question is, can random mutation and natural selection account for the rich volumes of digital information that scientists read and interpret in the various genome projects underway today?

Information theorist Henry Quastler observed this – “The creation of information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”[2] Information can’t find it origin in naturalistic processes. This is simply a category error. There are multiple categories of explanation available to us when explaining anything. Something may happen as a result of natural causes – or an agent may cause the event to occur. When it comes to explaining the origin of information, the rational way to go here – is to assume the originating influence of a conscious agent.

Lennox is fond of explaining it this way. To explain the car engine, we might discuss the physics of internal combustion, or we might talk about Henry Ford. Both are rational explanations and both are necessary for accounting for an engine. In terms of life origins, we can therefore expand out the analogy to say this. God no more competes with science as an explanation of life than Henry Ford competes with science as an explanation of the car engine. God’s an Agent-Creator explanation of the universe, not a scientific explanation.[3]

Evolutionary theory has great influence on how people think about and understand the world and its history. There are many different forms of this theory, and not all struggle with the problem I am pointing to in this blog – the origin of information. But naturalistic evolutionary theories – the ones that want to render God unnecessary in nature – certainly do. It’s a headscratcher for sure.

[1] Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, (London:Harper Collins, 2013), 72

[2] Quastler, “The Emergence of Biological Organization,” 16, quoted in Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, (London:Harper Collins, 2013), 72.

[3] John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything, (The Good Book Company, 2019), 384.

Faith of the Scientist

I’ll often hear people say things like, “I have no time for faith. I live my live on reason, observation and evidence.” Really?

I see. Well – let’s see how that works, shall we?

 

Lets imagine a scientist is doing some rigorous analysis, studying something in nature. How about, the behaviour of enzymes in the human digestive system. Well – I agree. That scientist is going to use reason, she’s going to make observations and also appeal to the evidence she gathers as she reaches her conclusions. But – what else is going on as she does so?[1]

 

1 – She BELIEVES that her senses are trustworthy. In other words, she has faith that as the facts reveal themselves to her, that she has the abilities to detect them via her senses. That she can know facts using human senses.

2 – She BELIEVES that her mental faculties are trustworthy. And – she believes the peer group that reviews her work – also have trustworthy mental faculties. These scientists trust their rational faculties. They just take for granted, for example, that their rational faculties allow them to perceive, compare, combine, remember and infer. In other words, these people believe their mental faculties are reliable and can be used to reach legitimate conclusions.

3 – She BELIEVES certain critical truths that she has NOT learned thru scientific observation alone:

  • Every effect must have a cause
  • The same cause under like minded circumstances will produce the same effect.

4 – She BELIEVES it is moral and right to use her rational faculties, not to manufacture and make up things, but to accurately observe the behaviour of these enzymes, and report them as honestly and rigorously as she can.

 

That’s a lot of faith / belief before we start our scientific analysis. Don’t you think? Perhaps you and I are in the same boat whether we do science or not. People often appeal to science because it holds a lot of authority in our culture today. But what is science actually grounded upon?

Sir John Polkinghorn has said:

“Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science’s founding faith that this is so.”

Professor of Mathematics, John Lennox, has continued.[2] You cannot begin to do physics without believing in the intelligibility of the universe. And on what evidence do scientists base their faith? Lennox observes the following:

1 – Human reason did not create the universe.

2 – Humans did not create our own powers of reason either. We can hone them, but we didn’t originate them.

How odd then that what goes on our tiny heads actually gives us anything near a true account of the behaviour of the staggering universe in which we inhabit? This is truly an unreasonable conclusion…from the perspective of atheism.

BUT – for a theist – the grounding beliefs of the scientist and the observations above make perfect sense. And they resonate perfectly with:

In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … All things came to be through him.” (John 1:1,3)

[1] Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, (New York: Trinity Press International, 2007), 33-34, summarised.

[2] John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything, (Oxford: The Good Book Company, 2019), loc 526.

DNA and An Argument for God

If I was to shrink down “Ant Man style,” so that I was a couple of microns tall … and if I squeezed myself into one of the cells in your body, I would find a busy and complicated chemical factory at work. And in the cell nucleus, I’ll encounter two meters of DNA molecule.

The DNA molecule (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a coiled ladder, two chains of sugar and phosphate running in opposite directions. And on the DNA base pairs, the rungs of this ladder, are segments of biological code…called genes. This code is used in our cells for the production of proteins, the essentials components of life.[1]

Going back to my Ant-Man style exploration of your cell, imagine I peer out of the cell membrane and look out into the rest of your body. Do you know how many cells the average body comprises? Ten trillion. So…that means the average human body contains roughly 12.4 million miles of DNA!

DNA is the most efficient data storage medium on the planet today…far exceeding our traditional memory technologies. One gram of DNA (the weight of a paper clip) has the storage capacity of 4.3 million Blu-Ray discs. It is believed that if we were to encode all the information human beings have ever recorded throughout our history on strands of DNA, it would fit into a container the size and weight of two pickup trucks.[2]

No wonder Bill Gates has said, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.”[3] Atheist biologist Richard Dawkins has also expressed wonder at the capacity and function of the DNA molecule. “Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information. Genes are pure information – information that can be encoded, recoded and decoded, without any degradation or change in meaning … the fidelity of the copying can be immense … copied with an accuracy that rivals anything modern engineers can do.”[4]

New fields of scientific research, biomimetics and bioinspiration, look to biology to inspire and improve the technology produced by human beings. Using DNA as a data storage medium is only one part of this. But it raises an important question. Why is biology such an incredible source of inspiration for human technology? The same biologists who marvel at DNA in one breath, are also saying it rose accidently as a by product of material processes over long time periods. But this Naturalistic thinking makes biomimetics extremely unexpected. Why would our careful engineering be inspired by random chemical processes?

Biologist Fuz Rana has said, “if biological systems are .. kludged together [by evolution] why would engineers and technologists turn to them for inspiration … [these] should make unreliable muses.”[5] But perhaps something else is going on. Rana continues, “if biological systems are the work of a Creator, then these systems should be so well-designed that they can serve as engineering models … inspire[ing] the development of new technologies.”[6] So Rana is saying that biology isn’t simply LIKE highly engineered artifacts of engineering, they REALLY ARE highly engineered artifacts. That is the reason why biomimetics seeks inspiration from them.

If God created nature, this would explain why we can look to the workings of nature to help us understand how to solve real engineering problems today.

[1] Melissa Cain Travis, Science and the Mind of the Maker, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2018), kindle edition, loc 1936.

[2] Travis, loc 2141.

[3] Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 228.

[4] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 18 – 19.

[5] Fazale Rana, “Insect Biology Advancing Technology” in God & the World of Insects, ed. Josh Shoemaker and Gary Braness (Silverton, OR: Lampion Press, 2017).

[6] Rana, “Insect Biology Advancing Technology.”

 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

RESPONDblog: The Danger of Scientific Consensus

When discussing scientific theories, it can be tempting to appeal to the consensus view of scientists when we want to silence a new theory that we don’t like. This has been done to me in online discussions by people who disagree with my position. And – frankly – I’ve not really known how to respond beyond just saying, “okay…if you say so!” However – I’m coming to think that an  appeal to consensus is not only unjustified, but its also dangerously unscientific.
In his book “Undeniable”, the biologist Doug Axe recounts his experience as an undergraduate student sitting one of his first University exams. One test question asked which macro molecule was most apt to have been the first “living” molecule. Doug decided to give the correct answer to the question, but he then decided to continue his answer by pointing out why he felt that no molecule actually had what it takes to “start life off” by itself. He did this anticipating extra credit from his professor for his creative thinking.

What he got – was marked down.

Why?

Because, “we students were expected not only to know current thinking in biology but also to accept it without resistance. We were there as much to be acculturated as educated.” (1)

Axe goes on to point out that in the conclusion of the first edition of Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species”, Darwin voiced his hope that scientists would stop rejecting his theory of evolution, and one day they might gradually take it on board. To Darwin’s surprise (I’m sure), within a period of just three years, we read in the sixth edition of the book that

“Now things are wholly changed, and almost every naturalist admits the great principle of evolution.” (2)

What caused the change? Was it a scientific discovery? No – because as Axe points out, Darwin would have recorded the discovery and attributed the change to it. (3) No, instead “peer pressure is a part of science…scientific interests compete against one another for influence…might the sudden change in Darwin’s favour have been more like a change of power than a change of minds.” (4)

Human influence and power turned the tide opinion. Not scientific discovery. Ironically – it was Darwin at the time of his book’s first edition who was the one straying from the herd…not complying with the consensus view at the time on the origin of biological life. Consensus doesn’t move us forward. As Axe says, “those rare people who oppose the stream are the ones to watch.” (5)

In other words – scientists from the past were influenced by human factors as well as data factors. Possibly more so. Our deference to consensus seems to be about sticking with the herd and not straying too far from it. And discouraging others from straying from the consensus view. If that was true for scientists back then – its sure to be true now. Arthur Koestler talks about this principle in play during the formation of cosmology. It’s also present in biology too.

Now – I’m not suggesting accountability is wrong. Not so – our colleagues keep us honest. What I am criticising – is consensus. Or to put it another way – “group think” holds creative scientific discovery back. It hurts scientific understanding by slowing the formation and adoption of new theories.

Here are three observations about the scientific process and the dangers of group think:

First – this suggests to to me that it takes courage to be the one to stand up and disagree with the consensus – and propose a new idea. It takes courage to put forward a new theory, and back that theory up with evidences. Courage is required because, inevitably, rejection will follow from your peers.

Second – it also suggests to me that scientific consensus does not equate to truth. I wish Darwinians today could wrap their heads around this. Just because the consensus of scientists agree on something does not make their theory true, however scientifically orthodox it may currently be. Rather – the consensus is simply that. The widely held public view of qualified people today. Tho in private – they may say something else entirely.

Thirdly – it suggests to me that anyone who rejects a new theory based on the views of scientific consensus is missing the point of science, and actually behaving in an unhelpful and non-scientific way. Consensus is just the current status quo. Humanity needs people of courage to stand up and propose something that’s new so it can be examined and tested. To simply reject this on the basis of personal and consensus led bias…seems unscientific and harmful to the scientific enterprise as a whole.

The answer to a new scientific theory is not, “Don’t be so silly. No one else believes that because its stupid.” Rather – the answer should be, “That’s an interesting idea. Let’s test it together.”

Scientific consensus is harmful to the progress of scientific understanding.

Michael Crichton, who went to Medical school and taught anthropology before he authored books like Westworld and Jurassic Park, stood against scientific consensus much more strongly then either Doug Axe or myself. He calls the notion of scientific consensus “pernicious…and the refuge of scoundrels, because it’s the way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.” Oh – how familiar that problem is to me today.

I’ll end with a Crichton quote.

“I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period. . . .

I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. .” (6)

(1) Douglas Axe, Undeniable How Biology Confirms our Intuition That Life Is Designed, (Harper One, 2016), 3.

(2) Online Variorum of Darwin’s Origin of Species: first British edition (1859) comparison with 1872, http://test.darwin-online.org.uk/Variorum/1859/1859-483-c-1872.html

(3) Axe, 5.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Axe, 6.

(6) Michael Crichton, “‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’Links to an external site.,” reprinted in Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2008.

RESPONDblogs: Science Cannot Explain Everything. Discuss?

einstein

Open letter to New Atheist Scientists:

I heard Oxford Professor Peter Atkins recently assert that “God is not necessary…Any argument that asserts that God did it is the sign of a lazy mind wallowing on assertion rather than climbing the intellectual Everest of comprehension.”[1] Like you, I recognise the effectiveness of scientific tools in skilled human hands. Yet I am wondering whether you truly believe the scientific method is all mankind needs? Surely there is more to life than trying to simply understand the mechanisms of existence? The point I would like to make is that, while science is useful, there are certain tasks that it is simply inappropriate for. There are some things that science cannot tell us anything useful about.

I think we both know this at an intuitive level. The Latin word “universitas” was originally used to refer to a seat of higher education encompassing many separate disciplines. The Universities I have studied with have all had Science Faculties, but they have also had departments dedicated to the Humanities, to Language, to Music and so on. Are we to believe that these departments should be closed and their subjects relocated to the laboratory? This proposal would destroy the University in favour of a College of Science. Universities operate as if there are some areas that science cannot tell us anything about.

We can go further. Not only are there things science can’t tell us about, science makes assumptions that are closed to scientific scrutiny. An example is mathematical knowledge. We probably agree with Atkins who comments that “it’s a really deep and interesting question why mathematics works as such a profound language of description of the physical world.”[2] And it is clear he believes this fact will one day itself be explained by Science and we will, “come to understand the fabric of reality. I certainly don’t think that at this stage of science we should say…this is something we can never understand.”[3] To avoid intellectual laziness, Atkins requires a scientific explanation of the usefulness of mathematics. I suggest this attitude reveals a wrong understanding of what science is for.

As we know, science is an a-posteriori realm of knowledge. Scientific study identifies particular instances of behaviour, logs these sensory inputs as experimental data, and then attempts to build a general law based on the observations.

Mathematics, on the other hand, is an a-priori realm of knowledge. Mathematical concepts are confidently asserted without appealing to any sense experience whatsoever. Our confidence comes from the self-evident nature of mathematical principles. Within science, we must do the work to justify a belief. Yet in mathematics we must recognise and form an understanding of self-evident mathematical principles. For example, when I was teaching my children arithmetic, I would reach for the fruit in the fruit bowl. I would engage their own sensory mechanisms as I taught them the principle “2+2=4”. Yet notice what is happening here. I am not appealing to sense experience to justify the existence of the mathematical principle, but to illustrate the abstract self-evident law of arithmetic itself. And those are different tasks. As Philosopher J P Moreland puts it, “If you have an understanding of what 2 is and an understanding of what sum means and what 4 is then you can know 2+2=4 in your intellect without having to look at anything.”[4]

My conclusion is that, while mathematics is the language of science, mathematics cannot be explored and understood using the scientific method it enables. These are two wholly separate but related fields of reasoning and knowledge. And to attempt to bend these laws risks our descent into irrationalism. There are some things that science cannot tell us about.

Ethics is also closed to scientific scrutiny. What is good and what is evil? Why is it wrong to torture babies for fun? Why is it right to display loyalty to our friends? These are important considerations for the legal professions, not to mention philosophy and theology. Science has nothing to say about where morality has come from and why it is as it is.

Many scientists would disagree. After all, the human race is generally assumed to have evolved. “Just as good manners have emerged for the sake of decorum and the avoidance of offense, so good behaviour has emerged for the sake of survival.”[5] The material naturalist’s trump card when it comes to morality is evolution. Survival of the fittest requires moral principles that aid our survival. Why is it wrong to murder? Professor Atkins tells us, “Because we might be murdered.”[6]

Yet I think this is to misunderstand what is going on. Anthropologists observe how societies act, they don’t speculate about what is true and good. As Computer Scientist David Glass commented while debating Atkins, “Evolution cannot account for moral duties and laws. What perhaps it can account for is particular types of behaviour. Why it is beneficial in some respects, but not if something is true or false, good or evil.”[7] The evolutionary approach smuggles in the concepts of truth and goodness and then points to why human beings might strive towards them. But this is to misunderstand the point. Where does human good and evil originate from? Science does not know.

Further, why do these moral laws exist, yet human beings appear incapable to measure up to them? “The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not…You have the facts (how men behave) and you also have something else (how they ought to behave).”[8] Ironically morality is often less about human action, and more about our inability to act in these good and moral ways. Why is this? Science has no response.

But we can take this argument further still. Not only does science not know everything, scientifically derived truths are generally more tenuous than other things we know and rely on. Like mathematics, ethics is self-evident to us. We intuitively know, “mercy is a virtue. True! There are electrons? Well – probably.”[9] We know our own thoughts and feelings but we have not derived that understanding using any scientific method. “You know it from a 1st person introspective point of view. Science does not know things from a 1st person introspective point of view.”[10] We are surer about how we think than we are about the scientific observations we’ve made. Again, there are some things that science is just not able to talk about.

Finally, were we to stand by the notion that we can only properly know something if it is known by scientifically testable means, then we are defending a self-refuting position. We cannot know this statement’s truth by appealing to the scientific method. So if it is true then it must be false because we have not appealed to science to establish it.

In summary, science is only one of many disciplines. It cannot tell us everything, and the knowledge it does give us must be treated carefully. Let us value the scientific approach while recognising its limits.

 

 

 

[1] “’Does God Exist?’ Bill Craig Debates Peter Atkins,” bethinking, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/does-god-exist-bill-craig-debates-peter-atkins.

[2] “Unbelievable? Has science explained away God? David Glass, Peter Atkins & James Croft”, Premier Christian Radio, accessed November 21st, 2015. http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Has-science-explained-away-God-David-Glass-Peter-Atkins-James-Croft.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. P. Moreland, PH.D., Christianity and the Nature of Science, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[5] “’Does God Exist?’ Bill Craig Debates Peter Atkins,” bethinking, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/does-god-exist-bill-craig-debates-peter-atkins.

[6] “Unbelievable? Has science explained away God? David Glass, Peter Atkins & James Croft”, Premier Christian Radio, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Has-science-explained-away-God-David-Glass-Peter-Atkins-James-Croft.

[7] Ibid.

[8] C. S Lewis, Mere Christianity, (Fount, 1989), 26.

[9] J. P. Moreland, PH.D., Christianity and the Nature of Science, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[10] Ibid.

RESPONDblog: The Faith Position of Naturalism

It is quite common these days to hear from some people that rational belief – and belief in a creator God – are two opposing things! Rational thought requires the assumption that – everything that is real and exists is found within the confines of the material universe. Belief in a creator who is outside of the material universe – is therefore irrational.

AND YET – to maintain this naturalistic worldview, we need to avoid a very important question. Where did it all come from in the first place? Where did all the matter in the Universe come from? In reply, many people will point out that billions of years ago the Big Bang happened…eventually leading to what we see today.

Wow – so we’ve given a name to something – Big Bang – but we don’t understand how it happened. Or indeed why!

In fact – naturalism sometimes sounds like we actually believe that it was a miraculous process that booted our Universe up…so that it all got arranged in place for us to enjoy…to live in…and to study today. From naturalist cosmology…to naturalist biology and evolution (which never seems to manage to actually identify but just assumes a miraculous ORIGIN of all the Species!)

Hey. Sounds a lot like the opening chapters of Genesis…except at least the Bible is wise enough to point out that the Universe looks designed because it actually is the work the intervention of a Designer.

This blind spot that Naturalism has – and the irony of this situation…is illustrated in this fun story:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that humankind had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point where we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and mind your own business?”

God listened very patiently to the man. After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this? Let’s say we have a people-making contest, ” to which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!”

“But,” God added, “we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”

The scientists said, “Sure, no problem,” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your OWN dirt!”

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RESPONDblogs: …but Who Made God?

dawkins

Who made God?

 

It’s an interesting question that many have pondered. Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins has expressed the question this way.

 

“The whole argument turns on the familiar question ‘who made God?’ which most thinking people discover for themselves. A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.” (Dawkins 2008: 109)

 

If God is the creator – he’s big…he’s complex…so who made him? There is the question again.

 

What is interesting is that as Professor Dawkins asks the question, he makes a crucial assumption. And the assumption is this – that any explanation must be simpler than the thing being explained. This sounds a lot like evolutionary thinking – and of course this is exactly what it is. The assumption of the gradual evolution of life from simple to more complex forms is exactly what he brings to the question of God.

 

He is saying that because God – by definition – is bigger and more powerful than the universe he has created – there surely cannot be a God. The thought is absurd to Dawkins.

 

Given his assumption, I can see his problem. And unfortunately he has passed his problem on to many vulnerable people who are taken in by this reasoning.

 

But to me, Dawkins’ reasoning makes no sense for 2 reasons. The first reason is from our normal, observable personal experience. The second is a philosophical reason.

 

First Reason – imagine an Archaeologist finds some primitive paintings on the wall of a cave. That scientist will NOT assume the cause of those marks on the wall to be simpler than the marks themselves. Instead – they will excitedly assume intelligent activity from an ancient being that is infinitely more complex than the marks themselves.

Imagine a SETI scientist detects an ordered signal amongst the random noise in our Galaxy. And that ordered signal is emanating from a star system somewhere distant in the Milky Way Galaxy.  You can bet that scientist will want to be the first to break the exciting news. And suddenly social media, news stations, newspapers and discussions around the coffee machine at work…will be full of the exciting news that alien life has been discovered! Why? Because the SETI scientist does not naturally assume the source of the ordered signal to be simpler than the signal itself but more complex…an entity with the intelligence to not only communicate, but transmit their communication over vast distances. So that complex creatures like us can detect it.

What I’m saying is this. That in many areas of Science – the assumption that the cause must be simpler than the effect – is simply an invalid one. And I would suggest – that it is also an invalid assumption to bring to the question of the origins of the Universe…and therefore the existence of a creator God.

 

Second Reason – it makes good philosophical sense to quickly dismiss the question – “who made God?” The Kalam Cosmological argument – or the argument from first cause – says this.

 

Whatever began to exist must have a cause for its existence

The universe (and we) began to exist

Therefore the Universe must have a cause for its existence

 

People naturally think in these terms. We are finite beings ourselves. We literally did have a beginning. My birth certificate and the testimony of my parents confirm it.

Anything that begins to exist – had a first cause. We began to exist. Therefore we have a first cause. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point towards our parents again for that cause. Yet my parents are entities who – themselves – had a beginning and therefore they themselves had a first cause.

We live within the ebb and flow of beginnings and first causes. And so it would be natural to project that understanding onto God. But doing so shows we misunderstand the philosophical argument from first cause.

Why?

Well – the argument begins with the words, “Whatever began to exist…”. You see we are not claiming that absolutely EVERYTHING has to have a first cause. It doesn’t make sense to suppose that God had a first cause. The creator God is by his very nature outside of our Universe. So he is therefore also timeless and space-less. So the question – who made God – is an inappropriate use of the argument from first cause. No-one made him – he’s the cause who starting everything off for all of us. He is not bound by the laws around first cause – because he is the cause of that law to begin with.

Imagine a parent of twins. And the little children are bored. So the parent digs out a bunch of big cardboard boxes. And he makes a game for them to play. He sets out the rules of the game. And then he steps back – and watches his children play! And because they are happily playing now…he’s able to safely go and watch TV! It’s a pretty silly example – but it illustrates my point. The creator of the game – isn’t bound by the rules. Rather – he has set the rules up for a good reason (in my example…because he wanted to watch telly!)

The God presented to us in the pages of the Bible IS the explanation of the beginning of it all for us – he doesn’t demand an explanation.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1, NIV

 

The cause need not be simpler than the effect. And the creator is not bound by the laws he creates. This thinking is absurd to Dawkins and so many more. Yet it is an argument that makes perfect logical sense. It makes sense as long as we stay open to the possibility that there are realities outside of the one we exist in today that we need to learn more about.

Surely this is the very nature of an honestly inquiring scientific mind?

 

RESPONDblogs: The number of Biological Lego bricks isn’t random – it matters

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Evolutionary Biologists often criticize the Scientists who propose that Intelligent Design (ID) – rather than the blind uncaring + random laws of physics – caused life on Planet Earth. This is not surprising – these two views are completely at odds with each other. They are two different ways of looking at our World.

 

The Evolutionary Biologist studies life and looks for signs that animal groups are related; that over millions of years genetic mutations have amassed as life forms have gradually transitioned from one form into another form.

 

Advocates of Intelligent Design, however, study the same life and look for evidence that it has been carefully crafted on purpose for a purpose. That it contains specifically coded information for the maintenance of life.

 

These views are completely incompatible. So no wonder there are tensions between the two groups!

 

One of the common criticisms on ID is that it does not engage in proper Science. The way Science often works is – someone comes up with a prediction (perhaps about how the coding in DNA works) – and the Scientific community work together to discover whether this prediction is either true or false.

 

The criticism that ID is not proposing scientific predictions is not completely true. Because one Scientific Establishment doing ID research – the Discovery Institute – has made a number of predictions that are being studied by the Scientific community right now.

 

For example – Evolutionary Biologists have traditionally claimed that large portions of the DNA strand in our cells is just Junk. While some parts of our DNA contain instructions that code up proteins – the Junk regions don’t do that. Think of the Desktop Recycle Bin on your laptop. The rubbish just fills up the bin over many generations. But because no one has selected “Empty Bin” it just sits there in our DNA.

 

The Discovery Institute has predicted that there IS no such thing as Junk DNA. Their prediction is that – a genetic Rubbish Bin does not exist. Instead they have predicted that we just don’t fully understand what the apparently junk regions are for. BUT – they ALSO predict that – when we DO understand more – we will find that the regions of DNA will perform very important tasks for the management of the cell and the maintenance of life, etc.

 

This is a Scientific Prediction from ID that many Biologists are investigating on both sides of the fence.

And a peer reviewed non-ID sponsored paper from “D’Onofrio and Abel” was released back in May 2014 that points to ID’s prediction being right – there is NO GENETIC RUBBISH BIN.

What do they say in the paper? Well – they are talking about Codons.

Codons are like groups of DNA instructions that contain the code for building amino acids. Amino acids and Codons are like the biological Lego bricks that are used by the cell to construct Proteins. It has long been known that there is a lot of redundancy in the Genome around Codons. In other words – there are repeats of the same Codon over and over again in the Genome. And they all seem to point to the formation of the same Amino Acid.

Evolutionary Biologists have looked at this evidence and said – there you go. Here’s more evidence of junk in the system. But this junk is useful to evolution. As life evolves and some of the Codons are mutated into different Codons…the life form will still have some original Codons remaining. So the amino acid can still be constructed. Isn’t nature lucky?

Well – the scientific community is beginning to view redundancy in Codons in a different way following “D’Onforio and Abel’s” paper.

 

What they are reporting is that – rather than these redundant Codons just being a happy accident that works in evolution’s favor – there is a purpose behind the repeating of the Codons. There is information being conveyed by the number of repeating Codons.

 

They have discovered that – while the cellular machinery reads the Codon and creates the Amino Acid from the instructions it finds there – the number of repeating redundant Codons itself is also vitally important. Why? Because the repeating codons control the speed at which the cell builds the Amino Acid. Multiple repeating Codons are like a cellular pause button. The number of repeating Codons tells the cell how long to pause. This is a highly sophisticated timing mechanism in the cell which is very similar to mechanisms found in computer software (my own personal area of work and experience) and important for any machine. Electrical, mechanical…or biological.

 

Sophisticated coding of information – and precise control mechanisms – are both predicted and expected by Intelligent Design. Traditional Darwinian Evolution doesn’t expect specific design…just the accumulation of the selected, random jumble of chemicals that have crashed together to form life.

 

In the light of this latest discovery – which understanding of Biology seems the most likely?

 

 

Further details here:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/08/paper_finds_fun089301.html

http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fgene.2014.00140/abstract

 

RESPONDblog: the Warning of Atheism

risk management

There  is a popular caricature of Christianity around today. It states that people with faith in Jesus Christ are lazy and – frankly – pretty stupid. Faith heads aren’t willing to do any work – they are happy just to point to a magic man in the sky and confidently smile – God did it. Faith is simply belief in the absence of any real evidence – its lazy.

 

Interestingly, the people pushing this picture are not Christians themselves. So they don’t necessarily have direct experience of what the Christian’s faith is all about. Rather – they have decided that Christianity is outdated, irrational and therefore dangerous.

Where has the Christian caricature come from?

 

It could be that they have seen a tendency in other religious traditions towards a sort of fatalism. Muslims have a term that tends towards this default thinking; “Insha’Allah” they say, or “What Allah wills.” Maybe the atheists are mistakenly projecting this Islamic tendency onto Christians?

 

Or it might just be that there is a grain of truth in what the vocal atheists and skeptics observe in the Christian church today? They might not realize it – but they are presenting a helpful warning that real Christians everywhere would do well to listen to.

 

What warning are they giving?

 

Well – if I claim to be a Christian but I do not actively trust Jesus Christ with everything in my life – then how can I be described as a person of faith at all? Its so easy to become a church goer that never actually lives life like God is real; never to embrace risk, never to throw myself into his hands saying – God if you aren’t there…I don’t know how this is going to work out!  How am I ever going to grow into a person of real faith in a real Saviour…if I never do the real work of trusting him?

And further – if I don’t spend time exploring the true, rational and historical underpinnings to Christianity – feeding the ample available evidence into my Christian life – then I am vulnerable for the whole thing to collapse when arguments and intellectual challenges come my way.

 

You see being a Christian actually cannot work as the atheists say it does. It cannot operate in a vacuum (an absence of evidence). Because real Christianity is about knowing Jesus. It’s about knowing his good work and his activity in my life – and for that to happen I’ve got to trust him enough with my life to allow him access to it. To lead my life, my words, my choices…everything.

 

In other words –  we need funds in our faith account so we are ready for the time when we are going to withdraw from it.

 

Bill Foster says it this way.

When we face one of life’s truly difficult situations – maybe the death of a loved one, or a big life choice –  it is a bit like going on a shopping spree with your Credit Card. We go on the shopping spree to make ourselves feel better  by buying some stuff that I have always wanted! (Retail therapy never works long term, btw) Now – what if my Bank Account was empty to begin with? What if I never had any funds in my account to begin with? Well – eventually the nice stuff I bought will be repossessed because I didn’t have the money to pay for it. The emotional lift I felt when buying the items – will crumble into despair once they are taken away from me again.

 

This is a picture of how Faith in Jesus Christ works. How does the picture work?

In life – if I am not growing in my personal practical experience of Jesus Christ as my Lord, as the one I look to first when the going gets tough – then it is like I am not feeding funds into my faith account. In the same way – if I don’t spend a bit of time studying and learning about the historical and rational underpinnings to Christianity so I can make a case for Jesus Christ to my not-yet-Christian friends and family…then again I am not feeding funds into my faith account.

 

When the hard times in life come – it is then time to make a withdrawal from our faith account…will there be anything there to withdraw?

  • When a friend gets really sick…and it comes out of the blue and we are surrounded by people who are in a state of emotional meltdown.
  • When we are speaking to an opponent of Christianity and they throw some arguments that are really devastating to us that challenge us to the core.

 

In these situations – we need to have a healthy faith account to fall back on. If the account is empty (as our atheist friends want it to be…blind faith, and all that) then we will be tempted to despair! But if our account is healthy – as it should be – then we won’t just come thru the testing times but our faith account will grow further as a result. And other people around us will be encouraged too in their faith.

 

The atheist is right – blind faith, or a Christian with an empty faith account – IS dangerous!

 

But there is no need for an empty faith account – he gives himself to anyone who calls on him. And if we have been thru a difficult period in our lives…and our faith reserves are pretty depleted right now…then help is on the way from Jesus….

 

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”  Matthew 12:18-21, NLT

 

For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6, NLT

The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18, NIV