Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reality of Mind and Body

As very young children we may not have considered the mind/body duality of our existence. Our needs were simple—food, sleep, comfort, amusement, and interaction with other people. The desire to fulfill those needs exceeded awareness of how the mind functions within the framework of material matter.

We might ask when a young child becomes conscious of the interface between two realms of existence—mind and body. Children may be more conscious of the duality than we think. Over the Christmas holidays the answer became clearer to us. Under the category of Art Linketter’s “Kids say the darndest things,” we illustrate our point with an amusing story about our granddaughter, not quite three years old. Her uncle asked her a question. We do not remember what the question was, but we vividly recall the essence of her answer: “I haven’t thought about that yet.”

Philosophers and theologians have long investigated mind/body dualism. Historically, some scientists, philosophers, and even theologians have embraced a concept termed monism which denies the distinction between mind and body. Most modern theologians would conceive of mind and body as separate. Similarly, most theologians would distinguish between God and his created works. They caution that God is separate from His created works. The concept of unity and separation of realms has generated many philosophical, scientific, and theological discussions.

With respect to the workings of the human brain, some of the most fascinating speculations arise from the ongoing research concerning how the brain functions in contrast with the behavior of ordinary matter. The autonomic nervous system controls, for example, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. These events are coordinated by centers in the brain. Such functions may be more easily understood than brain activity producing high order, creative thinking. High order thinking surpasses purely cause and effect phenomena which are sometimes explained by the term “reductionism.” Even more complex effects are creatively described by a phenomenon termed “emergentism.” In the latter, effects are spontaneously generated or “arise” mysteriously from other properties but are not merely the sum of the previous properties. These statements describe an effect. They do not come close to explaining the causes.

The Stanford Encyclopedia has an interesting description: “Emergence is a notorious philosophical term of art… There has been renewed interest in emergence within discussions of the behavior of complex systems and debates over the reconcilability of mental causation, intentionality, or consciousness with physicalism.” We wonder: Is the concept of free will reducible to the actions of atoms and molecules (reductionism) or to a spontaneously generated effect (emergentism) which arises mysteriously from other properties?

Lisa Zyga, in an article in, states, “But perhaps the ultimate example of emergence is in the brain where thousands of randomly firing neurons spontaneously reach a coherent state of collective, periodic firing that underlies all brain functions. Despite significant progress, the mechanisms responsible for the origin and maintenance of spontaneous neuronal activity are still poorly understood.”
Our previous post on emergence may be of interest to our readers. Creative scientists speculate on the concept of emergence as it may relate to the behavior of both mind and matter.

We recognize the physical causation of conditions such as insomnia, anesthesia, or coma, and dysfunction or mental disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. The physical basis of brain activity in the above-mentioned phenomena as well as the volitional, creative, and free will capability of the human mind are all relevant, wonder-provoking subjects for contemplation and study. Our physical bodies are subject to deterioration while our minds are still capable of enormous imagination and creative power.

Scripture is clearly dualistic referring to the dichotomy between managing our intellectual activity and spiritual choices in contrast with the physical world surrounding us. In each realm, mind and body, God has gifted us with free will choices to live in a manner pleasing to Him. 2 Timothy 1:7 is a favorite verse for advocates of free choice. I quote the traditional King James translation for its emphasis on the gift of a sound mind. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Other translations of 2 Timothy 1:7 translate sound mind with other terms of personal behavioral choice—self control, self-discipline, sound judgment, sobriety, and discretion. Let us give thanks to the Creator who provides his people with opportunities to serve and please Him freely.  


Friday, December 19, 2014

Problems of Dualism

Ontological Dualism is not ordinarily a coffee table topic. Before raising such a topic, one should be confident the foundation is laid for such a weighty discussion. The physical constants of matter ordering our everyday lives in the physical world may fascinate our friends at some level, (they may profess a fondness for science), but soon the subject may become too challenging. Add the topics of the human mind and human consciousness to the discussion and the conversation may clearly outdistance the ordinary attention span. With this introduction, we hope to supply some insights into the relationships of matter and mind. Physical matter and its relationship with the human mind and human will is fascinating and complex.

We begin by reminding readers of past discussions of physical constants. The universe could not exist  if these constants assumed values different from what we observe. We repeat—our universe would not operate if even one or just a few physical constants were altered. There are dozens of physical constants upon which life in our universe depends.

The proposition that the universe would not be conducive to life, particularly human life, “is discussed among philosophers, scientists, theologians, and proponents and detractors of creationism” in Wikipedia’s opening paragraph discussing the “Fine-tuned Universe” concept. The meaning and significance of physical constants of the universe are sometimes hidden from science laypersons by esoteric definitions of physical constants such as “a physical constant is a physical quality that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and constant in time.” While correct, this definition may obscure the significance of physical constants.

Scientists agree that existence in our physical world is governed by a set of constants. We have lightly termed them “rules of the game.” Some have proposed the philosophical scenario that our world is a completely material, physical world. If no life of any type existed, such a case could be proposed. No sapient life associated with humanity or even conscious life in lower life forms would theoretically exist in such a lifeless universe. We assume such a world could be ordered and free of chaos. No living things would be present, however, to make this judgment.

Locked in a physical world governed by constants, philosophers have long speculated on a complex reality termed ontological dualism. They made a distinction between matter and mind. In Christian theology, mind may relate to the distinction between physical matter and the soul/spirit. At serious risk of oversimplifying a topic of intricate complexity, we shall inject a theological component into the long-standing discussion.

In terms of physical constants, the universe has no “choice” but to be governed by them. The physical order of our universe has been fixed by the Creator of All Things. Free will for humanity is a different reality superimposed by God in a different realm. God creates different realms for different purposes. The world of God’s physical creation is a backdrop for the existence of “free-will” beings with minds. It is the will of God that humans are free either to love and serve him, or not. In this fashion we might say that the soul/spirit (mind) co-exists with the world of ordered matter. This is a divine plan of incredible depth and beauty.

The Apostle Paul in the Book of Ephesians describes the will of our Heavenly Father that we should choose to walk in free-will obedience to him. Formerly, Paul stated, we all willfully obeyed “the ways of the world.” But it was God’s will that we should walk, by our choice, according to good works: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

We thank God for his created, orderly constants. How much more do we thank God for creating an ontologically dual world in which we have freedom to enjoy the predictable physical world and also willfully serve the Creator.        


Friday, December 12, 2014

Coping with Gravity

One of the first lessons infants and toddlers experience is the phenomenon of gravity—how it acts on their bodies and how they must cope. If our young children’s ability to think or reason were better developed, their awareness of gravity may initially be negative. They are not aware how the force confining them to their bed or holding them to the floor acts in a beneficial manner. Perhaps at some level of awareness children in their early walking stage may realize their muscles and sense of balance compensates for their body’s tendency to fall when they are learning to walk. The body’s reaction to gravity consumes much early learning.

When our preschool grandchildren began to visit our home in the country, they were fascinated with the discoveries available on our lot. These included all manner of plants and animals, including a few astronomy lessons before going off to bed. One source of concern for us grandparents, perhaps worthy of less caution than we feared, was the steep, curved paver block driveway we had installed. Most children are tempted to run pell-mell down an incline. It is a wonder more facial abrasions and broken limbs do not result from tumbling down such threatening inclines. My stern warning, “Watch out…gravity will get you!” went unheeded. I needed to remind myself the children were more focused on healthy fun than caution.

At the risk of becoming overly esoteric, we discuss briefly some of the governing characteristics of our privileged planet known as physical constants. Our planet is ruled by dozens of physical constants. Science authors generally agree that the universe would be impossible with even slight changes in the numerical quantities defining the physical constants. The popular expression “law of gravity” implies at least one physical constant—the numerical quantities defining the strength of gravity as it operates in this universe. Physical laws such as the “law of gravity” involve constants which are changeless wherever you are located in the universe and whenever they occur.

One writer stated it is “spooky” that even tiny changes in almost any physical constant would result in making life in the universe impossible. While small changes in the strength of gravity—greater or less—may seem to make it easier for my grandson to charge up or down our driveway, physicists have identified the chaos ensuing in our world if gravity would increase or diminish even by a tiny amount. Life processes of plants and animals would be thrown into hopeless confusion by even a minute change in gravity. The domino effect on other physical constants would be catastrophic. Life would cease and conditions in the universe would descend into chaos. These changes would result from alteration of the parameters of only one physical constant—gravity.

Gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces in the universe. Of these four forces, gravity is far and away the weakest, but its effects operate at an infinite distance. Every object exerts a gravitational pull on every other object. It is the glue which holds together entire galaxies and keeps planets in orbit. It holds our bodies on earth and governs the trajectory of baseballs, footballs, and soccer balls. We must keep in mind that the gravitational constant together with all other physical constants keep our universe functioning in an orderly manner. We embrace the meaning of “privileged planet” as the production of the Creator who fixed the physical constants at the moment of the initial creation and every divine work of creation since that time. Even the formless, empty earth of Genesis 1:1-2 was governed by the physical constants still in effect in today’s world.

As a science teacher I sought to present our world’s physical constants in an accessible and reverent manner. Metaphorical humor was often useful as a teaching tool. Many students identified with athletic imagery and the necessity of playing their games by the rules. These posts are from the archives of 2009:



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Order and Purpose

Pictures of “The Blue Marble” and “Pale Blue Dot” taken during explorations of our Solar System have helped the human race focus on the role and position of our planet in the grand scheme of things. Does this planet, our home in the cosmos, exist in a very special location in this vast universe as it provides a home for the human race? So far as is known, Earth is unique in its ability to harbor life because no other planetary system has been found with life supporting conditions remotely close to Earth. Add the presence of human life to the cosmic coincidence. These are two remarkable concurrences, a coincidence without precedent: Unique human life supported by unique conditions for life’s existence.

The sixteenth century Copernican discovery that Earth is not central in the planetary scheme of things was merely the beginning of a cascade of cosmic discovery. Earth was removed from centrality in terms of our planetary location. Along with Earth’s demotion from geocentrism, centuries later it remained for Georges Lemaitre, Edwin Hubble, Carl Sagan and others to pose that our environs are merely “a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.” Remarkably, we are less than one hundred years removed from Edwin Hubble’s telescopic discoveries of universal vastness. On a personal level I calculate with wonder the fact that early in my parents’ lifetime the vastness of the universe had yet to be discovered.

The discoveries of Edwin Hubble from 1921-1926 revealed the true magnitude of the universe, including the idea posed in 1927 by Belgian physicist Fr. Georges Lemaitre that the universe was expanding from from its initial singularity. Later, details of the Big Bang were conceptualized. In the sixteenth century naturalistic scientists began posing the Copernican principle, variously suggesting that in the incredible vastness of space, man’s importance seemed diminished. As millions of additional galaxies were discovered populating the vastness of space, the probability of abundant, habitable, life supporting planets appearing by chance seemed increasingly more likely. The concept of Earth as a special and unique place harboring a divinely created race of men also seemed easier to reject. Naturalistic world views have evolved in the days since Copernicus first proposed his inspired scientific discoveries.

Guillermo Gonzales’ and Jay Richards’ Privileged Planet DVD highlights discoveries of characteristics of Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe as manifesting multiple traits pointing to the Earth as a place specifically designed by God for human habitation. The DVD subheading reads “The Search for Purpose in the Universe.” Purpose and design are dual partners in a universe divinely created with humanity in mind. The hour-length production touches on fundamental parameters which make this universe a place designed for human habitation. They are a planet (1) having the proper distance from the sun (2) having liquid water (3) that is terrestrial (4) having tectonic plates (5) protected by large planets (6) orbiting the correct type of star (7) having a large moon (8) having a magnetic field and (9) being oxygen rich. The outline of these parameters is merely the beginning of wonders.

The same factors which make Earth uniquely habitable also provide the best conditions for scientific discovery. The DVD product description “explores a startling connection between our capacity to survive and our ability to observe and understand the universe.” Modern world views of atheistic, naturalistic materialism do not locate an overriding purpose for our existence in this sphere. The very concept of purpose is foreign to much modern thinking. The Copernican Principle, later named by scientists and philosophers who did not share Copernicus’ Christian faith, was articulated by scientists who developed more pessimistic, materialistic views of the role of humanity.               

The theistic Christian worldview recognizes specific purpose and order in our planetary abode. The human race and millions of species have been created by God both for our enjoyment and for His. Our environment has been created and designed with an overwhelming characteristic of order. Moreover, the Creator enables us to discover and comprehend his created works.          



Friday, December 5, 2014

Overview Redo

The Apollo 8 and Apollo 10-17 astronauts who either journeyed to lunar orbit or landed on the lunar surface submitted exhilarating accounts of how the “overview effect” impacted them. Wikipedia defines the Overview Effect as a “cognitive shift in awareness…while viewing the Earth from orbit or the Lunar Surface.” Their accounts surpassed any previous reports of man’s interaction with our cosmic home on this wonderful planet. The astronauts were able to view Earth directly from outside Earth’s dominant gravitational influence. Their vision of Earth has been captured photographically for posterity. One photograph is famously called “The Blue Marble.” Beyond the thrill of seeing Earth as no humans had ever seen it, their reactions ranged through speculations of mystic unity, expressions of awe and wonder, and voiced reverence for the Creator demonstrated by the Apollo 8 crew’s recitation of Genesis 1.

The most startling “overview” photograph may be a famous picture snapped of Planet Earth taken long after the Apollo flights from a remote camera on its way out of the Solar System. It was taken in 1990 from Voyager 1, a space probe designed to collect information about the four giant outer planets of our Solar System. Launched in 1977, the Voyager cameras turned back toward the inner Solar System following completion of the main assignments of the mission at the suggestion of cosmologist Carl Sagan. The photograph was later named the “Pale Blue Dot.” The concept of Earth has suffered historically from the view that the Copernican Revolution “demoted” our home planet from the center of the Solar System to a subordinate position as just another tiny planet circling the “real” center of the Solar System—the Sun.

In terms of our personal “overview” of earth, whether from an Apollo spaceship, or a remote photographic “overview” of Earth from beyond the orbit of Pluto; whether by one of the mere 24 human beings who have experienced the “overview effect” in person, or by one of millions of humans who have vicariously enjoyed the famous Voyager “Blue Dot” photograph; our view of Earth is either that (1) our planet is uniquely special, created specifically by the benevolent provenance of the Creator for the benefit of humanity, or (2) our planet is not particularly special, being merely one of many billions of planets in the universe.

Guillermo Gonzales and Jay Richards of The Discovery Institute produced a brilliant DVD in 2004 entitled “Privileged Planet.” You may review my previous entry here:

Privileged Planet uses the Voyager photograph to pique the readers’ interest in the smallness of our home planet in the vastness of the universe. The Discovery authors cite many physical parameters which must be fine-tuned all across the universe for life to exist. The physical constants of the universe are present all over the universe. Nevertheless, there are some characteristics which benefit earth life across only a small range of locations. For example, at the inner margins of the “habitable zone” the temperature is almost too hot to sustain water in liquid form while at the outer reaches of the habitable zone water would freeze solid. Our Earth in particular is the beneficiary of hundreds of designed life supporting conditions.

The professional science community is not amenable to the concept of an intelligently  designed cosmos. When we examine the natural world, the intelligent design proposal is intuitively sound. Scientists, however, go to extreme lengths to dismiss the concept of an acting “designer intelligence.” For them, only naturalistic explanations satisfy. They forcefully resist other explanations. Skilled scientists like Gonzales and Richards are denigrated by the science community. Misinformed laypeople may avoid The Privileged Planet as a result. Anyone may view the production on YouTube. 



Monday, December 1, 2014

Overview Effect

Twenty-four humans have left Earth for a journey to the moon, the only humans to directly view the far side of the moon. Twelve astronauts actually set foot on the moon’s surface. Six of these drove the lunar roving vehicles on the moon’s surface. Only twenty-four men have escaped the gravity of low earth orbit. Eight astronauts ages 79-84 have walked on the moon and are still living as of this writing.

Former astronauts have communicated their emotions as they experienced the demanding launch process and bodily separation from the constraints of earth’s gravity. As their space vehicle continued beyond the launch process the demands on the astronauts in carrying out the many technical responsibilities at first overwhelmed their temptation to visually observe what was happening to them. The TLI (translunar insertion) occurred nearly three hours from launch. From that time to the Lunar orbit insertion (LOI) three days elapsed. The astronauts had time to gaze at the scenario unfolding before them. 

Different astronauts have related their emotions on seeing the Earth from space. They were overwhelmed at the beauty of our planet. Some turned the cameras back toward earth, seeing a profound view of Earth hanging in space. They viewed the stars  and sun in a dark sky. The view of the stars and the sun was profound, but not to be compared with looking back at the Earth to see the line of separation between day and night. Lightning appeared as fireworks, light from cities highlighted population centers, auroras appeared as dancing curtains of light, and meteors were visible below the spacecraft. Earth clearly appeared as a living, breathing mechanism.

Was the mission primarily a discovery process of uncharted waters? Did the astronauts look ahead, or look back on the beauty of our home planet? Edgar Mitchell “realized that the molecules of my body and of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just an intellectual knowledge—it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy—a transformational experience. The experience was so powerful that when he got back to earth Mitchell started digging into various literatures to try to understand the experience.” The space scientists reported they spent much of their free time earth gazing, struck with the truth that the earth is a living, breathing organism.” The paper thin atmosphere, barely hugging the surface, sustains and protects seven billion people with its fragile dynamics.

The three Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas eve, 1968, startled the world with the recitation of Genesis 1:9-10 as they orbited the moon. Just a few months before man’s first steps on the moon, there was a riveting live television broadcast to the earth from the moon. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, while in moon orbit took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 while transmitting images of the earth. Included in the reading were verses 9-10, a most explicit description of earth as seen from space: And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

That live broadcast had a stunning impact on me and many other listeners.