Does science undermine human rights? No, But Materialism Might.

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com

Image copyright Benjamin Haas via shutterstock.com.

If you have been reading this blog much, you probably know that while I am not smart enough to be one, I play at being a philosopher. As a result, I read a lot of philosophy, and I discuss it from time to time on this blog. If you have bothered to plow through what I have written on the subject, you might also know that I think the Argument From Morality is one of the worst arguments for the existence of God. Nevertheless, as any scientist should be, I am willing to change my mind on the subject, if I am presented with evidence that challenges my position. Recently, I stumbled across some of that evidence, and while it is not enough to change my mind on the subject, it makes me less certain of my derision for the argument from morality.

The evidence comes from Dr. John H. Evans, Professor & Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He wrote an article for New Scientist in which he summarizes his original research, published in an Oxford University Press book entitled, What is a Human? What the Answers Mean for Human Rights. In this research, he surveyed 3,500 adults in the United States, asking their opinions on humans and human rights.

He started by asking them how much they agreed with three different definitions for human beings:

I. The Biological Definition: Humans are defined (and differentiated from the animals) by their DNA.

II. The Philosophical Definition: Humans are defined by specific traits, like self-awareness and rationality.

III. The Theological Definition: Humans are created beings that have been given the image of God.

Here is how he describes the questions that followed:

I also asked them how much they agreed with four statements about humans: that they are like machines; special compared with animals; unique; and all of equal value. These questions were designed to assess whether any of the three competing definitions are associated with ideas that could have a negative effect on how we treat one another.

I finished with a series of direct questions about human rights: whether we should risk soldiers to stop a genocide in a foreign country; be allowed to buy kidneys from poor people; have terminally ill people die by suicide to save money; take blood from prisoners without their consent; or torture terror suspects to potentially save lives.

His results were quite surprising to me, but not to those who promote the Argument From Morality.

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A Demonstration About Inertia

inertia

My publisher asked me to record an example experiment from the third book in my elementary science series, Science in the Scientific Revolution. This one is about inertia, and I cover the topic when I cover Sir Isaac Newton. It’s a potentially messy experiment, because in your desire to hit the pie pan hard, you might end up hitting the glass of water, knocking it over. Also, if you don’t hit the pie pan hard enough, you might end up just upsetting the system, resulting in a broken egg. However, if you can do the experiment correctly, it’s pretty impressive.

The concept of inertia was an important step forward in our understanding of motion. Up until the 14th century, most natural philosophers (that’s what scientists were called back then) believed what Aristotle taught: objects have a natural tendency to be at rest. Thus, unless something kept exerting a force on an object, an object in motion would eventually come to rest. This is consistent with our experiences. After all, if I kick a rock, it bounces down the sidewalk for a while, but it eventually comes to a halt. Even though Aristotle’s teaching is consistent with our experiences, it is nevertheless quite wrong.

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Secular Jew Becomes a Christian

Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)

Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)

A very good friend of mine alerted me to a book that sounds incredibly interesting. It’s entitled, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, and it is written by Andrew Klavan, a rather prolific writer and political commentator. I have ordered the book and plan to review it as soon as I can, but I decided to do a bit of “background reading” first, and I ran across this thought-provoking interview that he did with Jews for Jesus. The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it.

If you aren’t familiar with the organization, Jews for Jesus is a group of Jewish people who have come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, and they want others to learn this as well. As a result, they do what they can to spread the Gospel within the Jewish community. Since Andrew Klavan is a reasonably famous Jewish person, it only makes sense for them to promote the fact that he has come to believe in Christ as the Messiah. What makes the interview interesting to me, however, is the fact that he described himself as a secular Jew before his conversion. In fact, he says:

After my bar mitzvah, I was done with the religious part of Judaism. Or any religion. I was always comfortable as a cultural Jew, though. I kind of liked being a bit of an outsider in that way. It didn’t mean very much to me but it was there. As for God, as I became more of an intellectual, I became an agnostic. For a brief, though important time, I was an atheist.

Note that he makes a distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist. This is an important distinction that is (unfortunately) lost on many theists. An agnostic claims neither belief nor unbelief in God, while an atheist specifically says that he or she does not believe in God. Klavan is obviously aware of the difference, and if I am interpreting his words correctly, it seems that he went from agnostic to atheist and then back to agnostic again before becoming a Christian.

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This Baby Has Two Mothers and A Father

An illustration of what was done to produce a baby without Leigh Syndrome (click for credit)

What was done for one couple to produce a baby without Leigh Syndrome
(click for credit)

Modern medicine can do a lot of amazing things these days. Diseases that used to be a death sentence are now not only treatable, but sometimes even curable. Because of the marvels of modern medicine, I have been able to benefit from the company and wisdom of my parents for many more years than I would have if I had been born but a generation ago. However, there are times I wonder whether we should be doing some of the things that modern medicine makes possible. An article I recently read in the journal Science brought that question to my mind once again.

The article describes the work of Dr. John Zhang, the medical director at New Hope Fertility Center in New York, New York. He was working with a couple who had lost two children to Leigh Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the nervous system. While there are different forms of this disease, some of those forms are the result of the mother’s DNA alone. The father’s genes don’t play a role at all.

How is that possible? Most of the cells in your body hold DNA in two different places. The nucleus of the cell contains most of its DNA, which is called nuclear DNA. Half of that DNA comes from your mother, and the other half comes from your father. However, there is a small amount of DNA stored in the cell’s mitochondria, which produce most of the energy that the cell needs to survive. They are represented by the blue, peanut-shaped structures in the illustration at the top of the post. This DNA is called mitochondrial DNA, and you get it only from your mother. As a result, any genetic disease that is produced by mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from your mother.

This fact allowed Dr. Zhang to produce a baby that is mostly the biological child of the couple with whom he was working, but the baby is also partly the child of a second woman, who served as a donor of healthy mitochondrial DNA.

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Young-Earth Creationist Wins Lawsuit

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil

Electron microscope image of three soft bone cells from a dinosaur fossil

More than three years ago, I wrote about the sad story of Mark Armitage, a gifted scientist who has become an expert in microscopy. In addition to running his own microscope company, he also worked as the Manager for the Electron and Confocal Microscopy Suite in the Biology Department at California State University Northridge. While on a fossil dig in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, he discovered a 48-inch Triceratops horn. When he and his colleague soaked it in weak acid to remove the mineral components, they recovered soft, brown tissue.

If that’s not exciting enough, he also examined the fossil with a scanning electron microscope, and he found actual bone cells! Not only that, he saw no evidence for mineralization in the cells. In other words, he wasn’t looking at cells that had gone through petrifaction. He was looking at cells that still had their original components. So not only had he found soft tissue in the fossil, he had found soft cells!

Obviously, this kind of find is amazing. Not surprisingly, he and his colleague, Dr. Kevin Lee Anderson, wrote a report on their discovery so that other scientists could learn from it. The report was published in the peer-reviewed, secular journal entitled Acta Histochemica.

Not long after that, the Darwinian Inquisition struck. He was fired from his position at California State University Northridge. As I reported previously, he decided to sue the university. Why? According to him, one faculty member stormed into his lab and shouted:

We will not tolerate your religion in this department, or your creationist projects either!

Armitage thus concluded that he was being discriminated against based on his religion.

Apparently, he was right, because his case has been settled, and he says that he is very pleased with the result.

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I’m Not Surprised, But I’m Not Sure What It Means

One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities.  It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty.  (click for credit)

One of the many results of a poll taken at 200 conservative Christian colleges and universities. It indicates that the science faculty in those institutions are more likely to be young-earth creationists than their fellow religion faculty. (click for credit)

In 2011, Answers in Genesis published a book entitled Already Compromised. It was based on the results of an interesting poll. The pollsters (America’s Research Group and Britt Beemer) attempted to contact four faculty/staff members (the university president, the academic dean, the head of the science department, and the head of the religion department) at 200 different Christian colleges and universities. Of those potentially 800 people, they ended up being able to interview 312. They asked a wide variety of questions, focusing on how those individuals interpreted different aspects of the Bible. The results are presented in the book, along with ample commentary.

The conclusion of the book is that many Christian colleges and universities have “compromised” their theology, subordinating the teachings of the Bible to the scientific consensus. In other words, they have decided that they must force their interpretation of the Bible to “fit” the scientific consensus, which includes flagellate-to-philosopher evolution and a billions-of-years-old earth.

Now please understand that I do not agree with the conclusion of the book. I don’t think that those who believe the earth is ancient or that God has created through evolution are necessarily “compromising” their theology. Non-literal interpretations of various parts of the book of Genesis can be traced all the way back to (and before) the beginning of Christendom, and there are literal interpretations of Genesis that result in conclusions other than young-earth creationism. Thus, the whole idea that people who disagree with me when it comes to natural history are “compromised” is absurd.

Despite the fact that I disagree with the book’s conclusions, I am interested in the results of its poll, especially the one highlighted in the graphic above. According to the poll’s results on this issue, the heads of the science department in these 200 Christian colleges and universities are nearly four times more likely to be young-earth creationists than the heads of the religion department!

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More Confirmation of a Creationist Prediction

The centromere is the point at which a chromosome and its duplicate attach during cellular reproduction. (click for credit)

The centromere is the point at which a chromosome and its duplicate attach during cellular reproduction.
(click for credit)

Uninformed people often say that creationism cannot make testable predictions. Since testable predictions are a necessary part of any scientific theory, these people claim that the creationist view isn’t scientific. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! Creation scientists regularly make testable predictions, many of which have already been verified by further scientific research (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

One of the more stunning examples of a confirmed creationist prediction is given by the nature of DNA. Since the 1970s, evolutionists have taught (as an indisputable fact) that the majority of the human genome is made up of useless stretches of nonsensical sequences which have been collectively referred to as “junk DNA.” However, in a Herculean study of human DNA, the ENCODE team demonstrated that a minimum of 80% is used by the cell and therefore should not be referred to as “junk.” One of the scientists on the team (Dr. John A. Stamatoyannopolous) stated:

I don’t think anyone would have anticipated even close to the amount of sequence that ENCODE has uncovered that looks like it has functional importance…

Actually, there were several scientists predicting this very result! Creationists have been doing so for years.*

Well, now that we know the vast majority of the human genome is functional, some scientists have removed the evolutionary blinders from their eyes (at least when it comes to the nature of DNA) and have begun to look at regions of the DNA that scientists have been assuring us could not possibly have any function whatsoever. When they study such regions, they (not surprisingly) find that those regions do have a function, and it is often a very important one.

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The Difference Between Energy and Power

methane_bomb

As I have mentioned before, I am teaching a thermodynamics class at Anderson University. The first few lectures were mostly composed of review. It is important to do such a review, because some concepts are so critically important that I must be sure the students remember them and understand them well. Whenever possible, I like to do demonstrations to help the students visualize the concepts I am trying to get them to understand.

One of my very favorite demonstrations involves something surprising that happens when you burn natural gas in just the right way. It can be used to illustrate several different things, but I used it in my thermodynamics class to illustrate the concept of power. I hope you enjoy it:

Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.  (click to view the article, from which this image is taken)

Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.
(click to view the article, from which this image is taken)

I have been pretty busy with the thermodynamics class that I have been teaching at Anderson University, as well as finishing up the last book in my elementary science series. As a result, I haven’t had a lot of time to write blog posts. However, I did want to share a very interesting article that I recently saw in Christianity Today. It is about another atheist who became a Christian. Her name is Nichole Cliffe. She is a journalist who grew up in Canada and went to Harvard University. She has written for different websites, including Slate, The Hairpin and The Toast, a website she co-founded.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I collect these kinds of stories, because I am fascinated by the many ways that God reveals Himself to people. This one is a bit different from the others that you will find here, however, because it has little to do with science or philosophy. Indeed, the author has no regard for apologetics. She says that coming to Christ involved figuring out what she already knew. It’s an interesting viewpoint, and I encourage you to read what she has to say:

Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

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