Friday, September 26, 2014

Science and Faith Interdigitation

Interdigitation signals the interlocking of concepts like the interlocking fingers of two hands. When the term is used for the relationship of science and faith we might envision a mutually supportive relationship between them. Sadly, some see science and faith in a warfare relationship. Our blog is themed to focus on the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. Contemporary observers, however, do not commonly perceive science and faith in a complementary relationship. In our society theistic topics are considered to reside in a different category of reality, often lower on the pecking order of importance.

Many acknowledge our lives are increasingly impacted by the discoveries of science. Several writers have used the term “interdigitate” when expressing the faith/science relationship, but most people would acknowledge that science has achieved a more exalted position in our secularized society. In many subject areas, science enjoys a “legal” shield borne of the public perception that science is a factual, sure thing while faith is worthy as a personal, subjective, and devotional project.

Our mundane existence centers on how we enhance our ability to cope with life successfully. We work to sustain our successful existence in myriad roles—in work, in family and social relationships, and in pursuit of personal interests, comfort, health, and happiness. When our lives are described in this manner, life seems reasonably simple. Faith and science both impact our existence to one degree or another. The question concerning how they “interdigitate” does not have an easy resolution.

Some people stumble in their effort to achieve “successful existence” as described above. The achievements of science are heavily utilized in our quest. Applied science has wonderfully enriched our quality of life in terms of comfort, convenience, health, and nutrition. But science technologies may produce stress, overload, imbalance and distortion as well as benefit. Lately some journalists such as Bill O’Reilly on Fox News have highlighted ubiquitous science-enabled technology such as cell phones and internet. Among young people, in particular, these technological wonders may produce alarmingly out-of-balance, distorted lifestyles.

These modern phenomena have impacted the course of our lifestyles and cultural experience only in the last several decades. Like it or not, our personal, spiritual dimension is heavily impacted both positively and negatively. Retired people look back one or two generations with incredulity, even shock and disbelief. In terms of the effects of this complex technological, cultural, and political evolution, the question occurs whether the trajectory of our society has spun out of control. The science which enables cell phone and internet dependence may impact the quality of our personal faith. These technologies afford information access and entertainment unimagined a generation or two ago but they also serve to distract us and reorient our traditional value system.

Science and faith have interdigitated in various ways throughout the recent era of technological, cultural, and political ferment. The two spheres are often perceived as merely co-existing. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today has characterized the relationship as “integrative, not disjunctive.” This is an idealized view. Increasingly, the magisteria of science and religion have been forcibly separated. In our personal lives, the relationship between science and faith, however, is tangible. 

The NOMA principle articulated by Stephen J. Gould in 1997 dominates our societal thinking. In NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria) Gould proposed a respectful but independent relationship between the magisteria. In truth, however, secular science professionals willingly maintain a well-defined dichotomy between science and faith. The authority of science has been ascendant while faith may be on the wane. In view of our societal obeisance to burgeoning technology, the relationship issue is worthy of our attention as it affects our behavior and Christian worldview.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Denigrating Design

Intelligent Design and creationism have been relegated to non-science by the majority of the world science establishment. The perception of ID and creationism publicly suffer from this relegation. These concepts are assigned to a place of low esteem during discussions on origins. Church members frequently refer to the topic of origins in connection with their studies of the biblical Genesis account. Those groups consider themselves creationists. According to scripture, the world and its living things, including man, originated in a transcendent miracle. In contrast, secular world scientific discussions on origins only permit naturalistic explanations of phenomena in the natural world. When evidence indicates a possible miraculous origin, scientists beg the question—only a naturalistic explanation is permitted.

William Paley in 1802 penned a famous work entitled, “Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.” Paley’s work is frequently cited as an early expression of belief in the Intelligent Design concept as well as a devotional statement of worship. Historically, many theistic writers have recognized design in the natural world as an expression of God’s handiwork producing order and grandeur. Only in the last two or three decades has ID been more actively proposed as a formal concept to recognize the work of a Designer-God along with the more traditional theological concept of Creator-God. In early legal challenges brought by citizens opposing the teaching of evolution in public schools, the first formal mention of intelligent design occurred in 1997 in a case from Louisiana. In Dover, Pennsylvania, the term received frequent mention from a ruling judge in 2005.

Intelligent design and creationism have both acquired a bad name among the science community, purportedly because they are not scientific concepts. The ideas are raised in connection with cause and effect explanations. Naturalistic scientists desire to offer their explanations of phenomena in the natural world without introducing the concept of God or religion. When education authorities are challenged concerning the teaching of evolution, their legal teams proclaim that ID or creationism are “not science.” Rather, the lawyers claim ID and creationism are “religion.” Evolutionists win such cases on the strength of the constitutional “separation of church and state” principle. The science profession has succeeded in painting creationism and intelligent design with the brush of “non-science.” In the past few decades there have been a number of notable court cases where the “separation of church and state” model has transcended recognition of evidence for supernatural events in the world of nature.

Discovery Institute’s websites describe intelligent design as “a scientific theory.” The establishment science community rejects this claim because as a whole, they reject the proposition that a divine hand acts in the world of nature. Discovery Institute elaborates on scientific theory. The scientific method is defined as follows: A four-step process involving observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Intelligent design produces complex and specified information (CSI). Not everyone has exactly the same view of science methods. Discovery Institute claims a scientific theory should elevate traditional scientific method over naturalistic philosophy. 

We must analyze our beliefs about the interface between objective truth and personal philosophy. If we assign undue importance to definitions of science and science philosophy, we may be bypassing the truth concerning physical causality. What are the causes of what we observe in the natural world? Did God design? Did God create? In any case, we ask if observed phenomena are natural or supernatural? The Creator has given us ability to discover truth about his actions.    



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Brain: Causes, Effects, and Design

Basic knowledge of the human brain is an appropriate launch point for a discussion of the currently popular concept of intelligent design. The brain is the control center of an elaborate living system. Knowledge of its anatomy and function are merely introductory to an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the design of the brain. Consider as an example the knowledge possessed by a young man or woman when considering the purchase of their first automobile. The prospective first time buyer knows the appearance he or she wants in the car. Next, awareness of how the car will perform becomes paramount. Unless the young person was mentored by a knowledgeable auto mechanic, most first time car owners are concerned about little else than the car’s appearance and how it will satisfy transportation needs.

Knowledge of the thousands of individual physical components of an automobile combined with familiarity of how the vehicle operates is a preliminary step in our automotive knowledge. Likewise, diagrams of the brain along with a general description of the brain as the body’s control center serves as an introductory account of the intelligently designed brain.

Internet search engines help us place the wondrous functioning ability of the brain and its design in perspective. The ExtremeTech website tells us, “The brain is a deviously complex biological computing device that even the fastest supercomputers in the world fail to emulate…..Using the NEST software framework, the team…succeeded in creating an artificial neural network of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4 trillion synapses. While impressive, this is only a fraction of the neurons every human brain contains. Scientists believe we carry 80-100 billion nerve cells, or about as many stars as there are in the Milky Way.”

A Science channel article claims, “Humans can integrate information from many different variables and stimuli, and they can learn by experience, observation, and experimentation…..The things that make humans truly unique (emotion, empathy, self awareness, ambition) are beyond the capacity of computers.”

Stephen Smith, professor of molecular and cellular physiology, says the new images revealed the brain to be vastly more intricate than we had ever imagined: “One synapse (a junction between two nerve cells across which impulses pass by diffusion of a chemical neurotransmitter) by itself, is more like a microprocessor - with both memory storage and information processing elements - than a mere on/off switch. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on earth.”

Fruitful investigations of brain anatomy and function—both the what and the how—may be found in many fine AP biology textbooks. One example is Biology by Campbell and Reece—over 1200 pages. This resource deals extensively with multiple life science topics. This highly rated textbook handles the topic of naturalistic evolution as a presupposition to explain changes in every biological entity since life first appeared on earth. This means every living thing on earth has descended from a common ancestor through an evolutionary process, they intone.

The complexity of the natural world has long been cited as evidence of intelligent design. This term has not been formally promoted until the last quarter century. In  that time proponents such as William Dembski, who popularized “specified” complexity, and Stephen C. Meyer, who specializes in the origin of biological information, have risen to prominence in the movement.

In science, the issue of causes and effects has always been vital. As we study the human brain, one must ask, what is the cause for the incredible specified complexity of the brain? And what is the source of information by which information responsible for the appearance of the human brain arose along the timeline of bio-history from our purported first common ancestor until now?

Naturalist scientists obscure the importance of such questions as the naturalistic science community has difficulty answering them. Subjective intuition suggests to intelligent design theorists that the effect of the brain as a “deviously complex biological computing device” and the brain as “vastly more intricate than we had ever imagined” cannot be attributed to a naturalistic, natural selection-driven cause.

Many intelligent design theorists attempt to shield themselves from criticism in the scientific world by failing to identify the identity of the Designer - aka the Cause. They fear that to identify the Judeo-Christian God as the source of (1) specified complexity, and the source of (2) new biological information, insulates them from the accusation that ID is a creationist concept. Yes, actually, it is. We live with the reality that the science profession, especially the bio-science profession, has successfully established that theists and scientists may not cross each other’s borders. The naturalistic world view has declared victory in this border dispute. The close sibling relationship of creationism and intelligent design has been relegated to the status of distant relative. I recommend this post for related reading:






Friday, September 12, 2014

ID by Design

Our recent blog study of physical sound and human hearing is one of many subjects to inspire confidence that God intelligently designed the physical properties of sound energy as well as the human auditory sensory system. Our understanding of the production of compressions and rarefactions of air molecules is matched by fascination at our bodily ability to detect such sound impulses, interpret them, and react to the sound stimulus. Remaining sensory contact with our surroundings extends to vision, chemical senses of odor and taste, pressure detection, and sense of balance colorfully termed equilibrioception.

For this post we have chosen the topic of living things to highlight our discussion of intelligent design. ID is a relatively new concept. Cosmologist Fred Hoyle claimed in 1982 that, “…biomaterials with their amazing measure of order must be the outcome of intelligent design.” Some modern ID enthusiasts claim identity with such statements as their own. Hoyle, nevertheless, was an atheist who held some unusual beliefs such as panspermia—the belief that life originated from outer space.

Preceding Hoyle’s statement were utterances of scientist/philosopher Michael Polanyi. In 1970, shortly after the cracking of the DNA code, Polanyi anticipated the principles of intelligent design in several statements contained in a submission to PSCS, the journal of the American Scientific Association (ASA). He argued that the information in DNA could not be reduced to physics and chemistry. The statement seemed to reference a guiding intelligence operating in the design of material matter.

Three scientists, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen jointly published The Mystery of Life’s Origin in 1984. Later Thaxton used the term “intelligent design” in an attempt to give the concept an empirical foundation. 

In the 1990s the Intelligent Design movement became more mainstream. Several of the notable players were Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Stephen C. Meyer. All are prominent authors in the landscape of ID. For their efforts they have endured heavy bombardments from skeptics in both naturalist and theistic evolutionist camps. The exchanges between evolutionists and advocates of ID are often extensive and sometimes laced with derision. The foregoing brief discussion is obviously incomplete.

Intelligent design is a simple concept, as explained in this brief excerpt from a CSC (Center for Science and Culture) link. CSC is a program of Discovery Institute:

Intelligent Design refers to a scientific research program, as well as a community of scientists, philosophers, and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection….

The term intelligent design has burst upon the scene only in the last 25 years. Prior to the popularization of ID, theistic creationism was the primary counterbalance for naturalistic evolution. Young people may not recall when ID was not part of our lexicon. There is still confusion concerning the difference between creationism and intelligent design as these terms have been defined.

As we examine biological systems and read descriptive resources about them, intelligent design as defined above in the CSC passage is an easier concept to grasp than creationism. In our recent posts on sound and hearing, for example, the design conclusion seems unavoidable and compelling. We reason that the sensory system of audition from the outer, middle, and inner ear, the remarkable transduction of mechanical sound impulses to digital electrical action potentials prior to their arrival at the cerebral cortex, and finally the brain’s ability to translate the signals and interpret them for our conscious use—the conclusion that an intelligent agent designed the system is virtually impossible to deny!

No person alive today is the observer of past accomplished divine acts of creation, but we are able to physically observe thousands of intelligent design features which powerfully bespeak the work of the God of Creation. The message of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is reinforced by our observations.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Electric Intellect

Our post title, Electric Intellect, is intended to be humorous, but it may be more realistic than humorous. “Electric” connotes something thrilling or exciting; intellect refers to mental powers.

Electric charges are possessed by virtually all matter. Electric charges occur in protons and electrons in the atoms and molecules out of which all matter is composed. These charges respond with attraction or repulsion in an electric field. The force of electric charges is ever present in all matter, including our bodies. As a former science teacher I still hear myself declaring to my classes, “All matter is electrical in nature.” Electricity, therefore, plays a role in every activity, every situation, and every event of our lives.

Our blog series on sound and audition established that mechanical sound impulses are converted to digital signals after traveling through the components of the outer, middle, and inner ear. From the cochlea to the auditory cortex and beyond to the lobes of the cerebrum, the impulses become entirely electrical. These digital signals manifest themselves as nerve impulses, or “action potentials.” We repeat: All matter is electrical in nature. Our human intellect, our mental powers, run on electricity. Human intelligence is electric!

The cerebral cortex is more recognizable than most other parts of the brain. It may be described in a number of ways. Visually, we could divide the cerebral cortex into four topographical areas. Each area is responsible for processing the various inputs received from the sensory systems. Other brain areas function in other ways. In our recent posts we followed the sound impulses to the primary auditory cortex. This small region of the brain is associated with the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex. The temporal lobe is one of its four frontal lobes.

The auditory cortex is the most highly organized sound processing unit in the brain but knowledge of its physiological processes is not entirely clear. It is certain that pitch and other information about sound is preserved. Further processing of sound ensures that we detect and understand speech and subtleties of music. The temporal lobe also has a role in visual recognition of faces, objects, and scenes. Notwithstanding our pride in scientific knowledge, much of what happens in different areas of our brain remains speculative and uncertain. Our usual sense of thorough understanding must be replaced by pure wonder.

A second lobe of the cerebral cortex is the frontal lobe. It is the source of human ability to reason, use expressive language, and achieve higher level cognition. Motor skills are also related to frontal lobe function. The parietal lobe processes tactile sensory information such as pressure, touch, and pain. Verbal memory and certain language skills originate in this area. Finally, the occipital lobe receives messages transmitted from the retina of our eyes and interprets the visual stimuli.

Does our discussion do justice to the electrical wonders of human intellect? Hardly at all! Our treatment touches only minimally upon the field of brain anatomy and function. Textbook and web diagrams covey a bewildering array of graphics on brain anatomy. Written resources fill medical libraries with the expertise gained by specialists. Medical schools pride themselves on their practical knowledge. These sources are able to convey wonder at the complexity of the human brain. At the same time we experience surprise that so little is known about this difficult subject. 

We abide in reverence for the useful knowledge mankind has gained about the anatomical geography of the estimated 86 billion neurons in the human brain. The functional information bank stored in 3.3 pounds of human neural tissue triggers an electric response by those who choose to probe its mysteries. In the human brain abides the essence of the Image of God.