Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies

The cover of the book (click for Amazon entry)
The cover of the book
(click for Amazon entry)
What is the nature of science? Many think this is a fairly easy question to answer. Science is about making observations and then forming the most reasonable conclusions based on those observations, right? Well…that depends. There are many (myself included) who think that the scientific community as a whole artificially censors certain conclusions, because those conclusions don’t fit a criterion that has been imposed on science: that science can refer only to material causes. Because of this view, which is often called naturalism, many claim that science cannot deal with issues like purpose, will, the soul, or God. Of course, this flies in the face of science history, which shows us that the science we have today was formed by those who continually incorporated God into their scientific research.

The purpose of Naturalism and Its Alternatives in Scientific Methodologies is to explore how naturalism overtook science and how that error can be corrected. The book is actually a compilation of the proceedings of the 2016 Conference on Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism. As such, it is really a collection of essays written by multiple authors. Some of the authors deal with the problem of naturalism’s infection of science, others discuss how scientists can build alternatives to naturalism, and others make suggestions for how non-naturalistic causes can be used to guide research in certain fields.

But wait a minute. Science is about studying the natural world – doing repeatable experiments and coming up with conclusions that apply uniformly throughout nature. Doesn’t anything supernatural work against that? After all, if miracles can occur, doesn’t that mean I can’t trust my experiments? Couldn’t any result I get in the lab be the work of a capricious demon? Of course not, and the author of the second contribution to this book (Tom Gilson), gives us the obvious reason why.

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The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

The cover of Andrew Klavan's book (click for Amazon entry)
The cover of Andrew Klavan’s book (click for Amazon entry)
In a previous post, I discussed Andrew Klavan’s conversion story and mentioned that he had written a book about it. I said I would read and review it when I had the chance. I read it a few weeks ago, but the book requires quite a bit of reflection to review, so I have only now come to the point where I can actually write my thoughts about it. It’s not that the book is hard to understand. It’s that the book is a real mixed bag.

First, let me say that Mr. Klavan is a masterful writer. When you sit back and think about the way that he is expressing his thoughts, you realize what an artist he is with words. However, what he says varies from shamefully self-indulgent to amazingly profound. There were times I got so annoyed with the self-indulgence that I nearly put the book away, but his flashes of brilliance kept me going. He says that his first draft was nearly twice as long as the final copy and that his wife helped him clean it up. I am glad she did, because I don’t think that his flashes of brilliance would have gotten me through nearly twice as many pages!

Now don’t get me wrong. I really am glad that I read the book, and I think that lots of people should read it. I am just warning you that there are times you will roll your eyes and think, “Please don’t give me another detailed account of another memory.” Of course, I understand the problem. He’s telling you about how he made the dramatic change from a Jewish person who didn’t believe in God to a Jewish person who started following God’s Son. That’s a remarkable change, and it requires a lot of backstory. I just think Mr. Kalvan gives you too much backstory. However, dealing with the backstory is well worth it, because the overall story is both compelling and important.

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Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction

A fossil cast of a Protoceratops nest (click for credit)
A fossil cast of a Protoceratops nest (click for credit)

According to the currently-fashionable hypothesis, dinosaurs evolved into birds. Indeed, some evolutionists take this to such an extreme that they say things like:

Birds Are Living Dinosaurs

While there are some evolutionists who disagree with this hypothesis, it is part of the current scientific consensus. Of course, for a hypothesis to be considered scientific, it must make predictions that can be confirmed by the data. The more its prediction are confirmed, the more reliable it becomes. The more its predictions are falsified, the less reliable it becomes.

Indeed, one of the reasons I consider the creation model to be very strong is that it has made several predictions which have been confirmed by the data (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example). The evolution model, however, has made many predictions that have been falsified by the data (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example).

The hypothesis that dinosaurs evolved into birds has been used to make a prediction about the time it took for dinosaur eggs to hatch, which is typically referred to as the incubation period. We can’t directly measure the incubation period of dinosaur eggs, but many evolutionists have assumed that it must be similar to that of birds, which is quite different from that of reptiles. For example, Dr. Kenneth Carpenter wrote a book entitled, Eggs, Nests, and Baby Dinosaurs: A Look at Dinosaur Reproduction. On page 200, he suggests that the incubation period of dinosaur eggs should be similar to that of birds. He shows how bird egg incubation period varies with mass and then writes about a particular dinosaur egg:

…with an estimated live weight (i.e., as it might have been 70 million years ago) of 152 g, would have an estimated incubation time (from time of egg laying until hatching) of thirty-five days.

Similarly, on page 266 of Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants, we read:

The amount of time necessary for a dinosaur embryo to mature to the hatching stage may never be known with certainty, but it can be at least roughly estimated by a model developed by Rhan and Ar (1974) for birds. On the basis of comparisons with extant birds that have, in contrast to modern reptiles, a rather constant incubation temperature of about 40 oC, a dinosaur egg of 1.5 kg – the size of an ostrich egg – would require an incubation time of about 60 days to hatch.

The latest research indicates that such predictions aren’t anywhere close to being correct.

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What Happens to the Mind When the Body Can’t Communicate?

A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)
A version of the brain/computer interface cap used in the study (click for credit)

More than five years ago, I sat by a hospital bed where my Aunt Kay lay dying. Unlike my father, she was completely uncommunicative on her deathbed. She never made any purposeful physical movements, and despite repeated requests, she never indicated that she was aware of what was going on around her. I remember sitting there wondering whether or not she was “in there.” Was she able to hear the words of love people were sharing with her, or was she, for all intents and purposes, already gone? While I am here on this earth, I will never have the answer to that question, but a recent scientific paper indicates that in at least some cases, completely uncommunicative people really are still “in there.”

In this case, the study was done on four patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Their cases are so severe that they are described as being in a complete locked-in state. This means that they cannot make any voluntary movements at all. They can’t even move their eyes. As a result, they have no way of letting others know what they think or feel. One of the patients had been unable to reliably communicate with anyone for six years prior to the study. Two of them had been in a similar uncommunicative state for two years, and one of them for several months.

The researchers outfitted each of the patients with a cap similar to the one pictured above. It could communicate with a computer that recorded measurements related to the physical workings of their brains. The researchers then instructed the patients that they would be asked several yes/no questions over the course of the study. Some would have answers that could be verified. Some would be “open” questions for which only the patient knew the answer. The patients were asked to strongly think “yes” or “no” (actually, “ja” or “nein” since the study was done in Germany) in response to each question. They were specifically told not to “picture” their response. They were told to only think it.

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Politics Poison Science

In 2015, the NOAA published a "scientific" paper for what appear to have been political reasons.  We now know the data used are false and should have never been published.
In 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a “scientific” paper for what appear to have been political reasons. We now know the data used are false and should never have been submitted for publication.

From the days I started doing scientific research, I have seen that politics play far too great a role in science. Some of this stems from the fact that most basic research is funded by the federal government, and since politicians control the money, they inevitably exert influence on what kind of scientific research is done. Over the years, however, I have observed a nasty, growing trend of scientists’ own political views influencing the way they handle data and communicate their results. In some fields, the political influence is worse than it is in others, and climate science might be the most politicized field of them all. A story posted on Dr. Judith Curry’s blog is the latest in a series of revelations that show us just how bad this has become.

Starting in the late 2000’s, those who had been studying worldwide temperatures noticed that the average temperature of the earth was not increasing. This was troubling for those who believed in human-produced global warming, since the models upon which they base most of their conclusions suggest that the earth’s average temperature should be increasing with increasing levels of carbon dioxide. As time went on, this lack of warming became more and more difficult to understand under the human-produced global warming paradigm, and critics of the paradigm started calling it “The Pause.”

In 2015, however, scientists from the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced a report that was published in Science, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. According to this report, “The Pause” was an artifact of the way earlier temperature analyses were done. When those analyses were “corrected,” there was no “Pause.” As shown in the NOAA-generated graph above, the trend of global warming had remained constant since the early 1950s. While slower than predicted by the models, it had not slowed down in recent years at all. As a result of its conclusion, this paper became known as the “Pausebuster” paper.

Interestingly enough, the Pausebuster paper was published about six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. Critics of the paper noted this timing and argued with the conclusions. In fact, another prestigious scientific journal, Nature, published a paper in 2016 (after the Paris conference) that strongly argued against the conclusions of the Pausebuster paper. We now know for certain that this 2016 paper is correct, and that the scientists who produced the Pausebuster paper disregarded the NOAA’s protocols in the process of producing their paper. How do we know this? Because the scientist who wrote some of those protocols has finally spoken out.

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No Doubt About It: These Proteins are From Dinosaurs

Fossil of a Brachylophosaurus at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.  (click for credit)
Fossil of a Brachylophosaurus at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. (click for credit)

In 2005, Dr. Mary Schweitzer shocked the paleontology community by reporting that she had found soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus fossil that was thought to be 65 million years old. Since then, numerous other cases of soft tissue in dinosaur fossils have been reported (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example). Currently, the “record holder” for soft tissue is a worm fossil that is supposed to be 550 million years old!

While such discoveries have been met with skepticism, the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that there is soft tissue in many fossils that are supposed to be millions of years old. Of course, the next obvious issue to address is the chemical makeup of these soft tissues. Are the large biomolecules that we expect to find in soft tissue there? Are they intact or severely decayed? After all, most proteins are expected to decay significantly in as “little” as 30,000 years. Despite this fact, some of these fossils contain what appear to be intact proteins.

Now, of course, there is always the possibility of contamination. Fossil collection isn’t the cleanest of pursuits, and proteins are found pretty much everywhere on the planet. Thus, it is possible that the proteins which have been discovered in dinosaur bones aren’t really from the dinosaurs. However, two recent studies indicate that contamination cannot be the explanation. These proteins are real, and they really are from the dinosaurs themselves.

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