DNA

Of Science, Golden Calf, and Religion…

On one occasion, St. Augustine made this remarkable declaration, “The book of nature and the book of Scripture were both written by the same author, and will not be in conflict when properly read and understood.”1 More recently, in 1987, Pope John Paul II said that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Both these statements challenge the prevailing worldview that there is a conflict between science and religion. Yes, I know, I have written about this before, but this is an ongoing dialogue and there is a lot at stake.

St. Augustine and Pope John Paul II both seem to suggest that science and religion have the potential to complement each other and that they are necessary tools for expanding human knowledge about the natural and the spiritual realms. As physical beings, humans need to study and grasp the laws that govern their natural environment. As spiritual beings, they need a good and coherent understanding of the spiritual realm. Few people seem to have found the balance of being both stellar scientists and deeply religious people. Commenting on the wonders of the solar system, Sir Isaac Newton confidently asserted that “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord overall; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God “Pantokrator” or Universal Ruler.”2 This is the conclusion of one of the world’s intellectually eminent astronomers and physicists renowned for his scientific discoveries. Other scientists believe that there is a conflict between science and religion.

Stephen Hawking, another eminent scientist, has concluded that the universe created itself. Hawking argues that the laws of nature such as the law of gravity have the potential to create a universe from nothing. But he does not explain how these laws of nature already in existence could create a universe from nothing. Besides, if the laws were to create a universe, it would not be from nothing. It would be from the laws of nature! The question would be: Where did these laws come from if they were not part of the universe they created? The laws of nature do not of themselves have the potential to create anything. As John Lennox, professor of mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford argues, Newton’s law of motion has never been able to move anything from point A to point B.3 It has never moved a soccer ball from one goal post to another. As such, the laws of nature are there to describe the conditions and occurrence of events in the universe. They do not explain why.

People who mistakenly believe that religion and science are in conflict cite the case of Galileo and the Catholic Church. But, in fact, the real issue with the Galileo case was the “dogmatic embrace of Aristotle’s” teachings by the Catholic Church at that time about geocentricism.4 Galileo’s study convinced him that all planets, including planet earth, revolved around the sun (heliocentrism). Aristotle’s views were vehemently embraced by some Catholic bishops who thought Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism was wrong. This was the real source of conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church. It was, in essence, Aristotle versus Galileo with some powerful Catholic bishops rooting for Aristotle in his corner. It was not based on the teachings of the Bible.

The world is indebted to scientists and their discoveries that have alleviated indescribable suffering and have tremendously improved the quality of life. But to insinuate, let alone declare, that science is the source of ultimate truth and knowledge or that the more scientific discoveries we make, the less relevant God becomes is to slide down the dangerous slope of trying to transform science into a Golden Calf. Whatever science has discovered does not render the existence of God null and void. Rather, it points the teachable mind to the creative genius of the Agent who brought such an astonishingly, intricate universe governed by the regularities of natural laws into being. He alone sustains the laws of nature since He established them, and He is the only One who can interrupt these laws anytime to cause what we call a miracle. That is why Jesus who is the express image of God could interrupt and reverse the natural law of decomposition of a human body after death, and bring Lazarus back to life four days after death! No one else has ever done that since the universe came to be. But since He created these laws, He can also set them aside for His purpose. They obey Him.

Although science describes to us how our universe operates, it still cannot explain certain realities such as energy, consciousness, gravity… Another area in which science is limited is semiotics, which is the study of the complexity of language using signs and symbols as elements of meaningful communication among people.5 Just how are those squiggly lines and symbols we draw on boards and pieces of paper able to convey specific meaning from one person to another and propel them into responding appropriately? Who can explain, using physics, why we are able to see the letters l-i-f-e- and derive meaning from them? Talking about life, we now know that life is contained in a nucleic acid known as DNA. For human life, this DNA is a humongous database that contains a word not less than 3.5 billion letters long, and carries within it the genetic information and instructions for development of life. Science cannot explain why these letters carry the meaning they do. It can only describe the process they use to develop life. Where there is intelligible information such as the one contained in the DNA molecule, there is a mind behind it to put it together. Scripture says that is how God created the universe; using words and information to call into existence both animate and inanimate things. “He spoke…and it stood fast,” (Psalm 33:9). A great and awesome mind is behind the creation of our universe and all that is in it. Denying it does not make this truth go away.

 

Sources

1.Sheahen, T.P. (2016). Idolatry in Science. American Thinker. Accessed from http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/12/idolatry_in_science.html

2.Newton, I. General Scholium. Translated by Motte, A. 1825. Newton’s Principia: The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. New York. Daniel Adee, 501.

3.Lennox, J. (2010). Stephen Hawking and God. RZIM. Just Thinking Magazine. Accessed from http://rzim.org/just-thinking/stephen-hawking-and-god/

4.Schirrmacher, T. (2000). The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography? Creation Ministries. Accessed from http://creation.com/the-galileo-affair-history-or-heroic-hagiographyandhttp://creation.com/the-galileo-affair-history-or-heroic-hagiography

5.Lennox, J. (2007). God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Wilkinson House. Accessed from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/Undertaker.html

 

The Irrationality of Reductionism

Reductionism defines life in a bottom-up manner. That is, it explains life in terms of physics and chemistry. Reductionism claims that an organism can only be explained if it is dissected into parts-or broken down into the properties that constitute it (molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, etc.) Ontological reductionism claims that nothing in the universe exists outside of physical objects. Everything can be can be explained in terms of physicochemical objects. As such each physical thing can therefore, be explained in terms of these properties.[i] Bottom-up reductionism is predicated upon the proposition that life started in the form of simpler processes which advanced in a process known as complexification. Carl Sagan, a famous scientist of the 20th century, perceived himself and other people in this manner: “I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label.”[ii] This is what he promulgated as an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist.

Sagan’s mindset does nothing other than demean the intrinsic value of human life. His beliefs claim, implicitly, that the martyrdom, achievements, plight, and suffering experienced in this life all end at death. There is no life, no judgment, no reward beyond the grave – Nothing!!! Some reductionists argue that God is a mere concept that can be explained as a “mental state of active neurons desiring a father figure.” Needless to say this statement is not a scientific one. It is mere speculation that has never been empirically proven to be true. Personally, I require more faith to believe Sagan’s theory than to believe what the Bible says about the stature and dignity of human beings. On what do reductionists base the belief that life ends at death forever? None of them has come back from the dead to authenticate their claims. But we have One who was dead and is alive forevermore. His resurrection has been attested by His followers as well as secular historians. He alone can speak with authority regarding what lies beyond the grave. The Bible tells us that human beings will continue to exist in another dimension in God’s realm for eternity. Reductionism is not equipped to explain many experiences of human life at all. For example, how does it break down the experience of guilt or repentance or the expression of love between two human beings or even ethical behavior? Some of these concepts and experiences can only be understood from the vantage point of metaphysics where science and reductionism’s authority is vacuous.

After Carl Sagan’s death, his wife said “Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we know we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl.”[iii] But why would this be a tragedy for her if belief in life beyond the grave is just an illusion and her husband was nothing but a collection of calcium, atoms, molecules as they espoused? Wouldn’t his death be a mere disintegration of an animated piece of dust with organized DNA known as Carl Sagan returning to its creator, the universe? Wasn’t that the expected outcome unless, of course, deep down Mrs. Sagan felt a haunting whisper reminding her that her husband was more than matter? A tragedy is what happens when something of intrinsic value is lost not when a bunch of atoms and molecules disappear into nothingness. Human life is sacred. God composed a Moral Code that stipulates, in a language we all can understand, the sacredness of human life and all that defines it. “Thou shalt not kill” does not only forbid the taking of human life, it also affirms its greatness, dignity and goodness. The loss of a human life is a sobering and traumatic experience that changes us forever. Time and again when tragedy strikes, individuals, families and entire communities are gripped with bewilderment and sorrow. They reach out to each other and hold vigils and grieve together in an effort to find healing. Interfaith services are held in memory of the deceased. Not once has any of the speakers at these services ever turned to the crowd to tell them that what was lost were nothing but matter and chemical properties. This is time to turn to Jesus, the Author of life. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending of all creation, not science, not reductionism. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3, KJV).

Sources

[i] Kaiser, M.I. (2011). The Limits of Reductionism in the Life Sciences. Available from http://philpapers.org/archive/KAITLO-2

[ii]  Sagan, C. 1980, Cosmos (New York: Random House), pp. 127.

[iii] Druyan, A. (2003). Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan. Skeptical Inquirer Volume 27.6. Available from http://www.csicop.org/si/show/ann_druyan_talks_about_science_religion

www.wmturls.com/pp

 

 

 

God and the Enigma of Evil

One of the reasons non-believers give for their unbelief in God is the presence and proliferation of evil in the world. They view evil as a blight against the claims of the Christians about the goodness of their God. Very often the question advanced is: “How can there be a good God when there is so much evil in the world?” This question is veiled with a multitude of assumptions and presumptions within itself. But it becomes mind-boggling when it is asked by people who believe that human beings are a product of a mindless, unguided natural process living in a universe that has “no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good…” and that they merely “dance to the music” of their DNA. [1] In such a closed system of mindlessness with an existence that is devoid of cognitive functions, who can qualify to recognize evil, let alone to ask questions about it?
But even theists and Christians struggle with the question of evil. It is an enigma that is hard to deal with because we do not have all the answers about it yet. But we can know something about it by studying and drawing inferences from what Scriptures say.
What indeed is evil? Evil is good gone bad. It is the corruption of that which was originally good. Evil cannot exist alone. Thomas Aquinas argues that God created everything, but evil is not a tangible thing that can exist on its own as a stand-alone entity. This is not say that evil is unreal. Rather, it is to say that evil has the potential to exist in a parasitic nature in some substance that is good: “evil signifies nothing else than ‘privation of perfect being.’” [2]. When we speak of moral evil, we are talking about a relationship between human beings that has been corrupted.
God created perfect human beings. But he created them with a freewill. They were created with the capacity to love and obey God or to reject and disobey him. God did not create robots who mechanically obey him. C.S. Lewis aptly observed that God took the risk of endowing the creatures he created with a freewill because coerced love and obedience are meaningless to him. God put his image in the creatures in whom he also deposited the power to choose either to do good or to do evil. No single human being can appreciate a robot manufactured and programed to say “I love you” every 2 hours! If someone did that, they would merely be telling themselves they love themselves which smacks of narcissism. Nothing is so gratifying and heartwarming than to be the object of free, warm and uncoerced love.
But why can’t God just stop evil in the world? The only way God can stop evil in this world is to take away from mankind the freewill he gave us; to take away the capacity to choose to love him and all he stands for or to choose to reject him and all he stands for. He would have to go back on his word of creating people with freewill and make them into some form of puppets.
For those who argue that God could have done a better job at creating this world, here is what Lewis says (and I agree with him, totally): “Of course God knew what would happen if [human beings] used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty in disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will-that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings-then we may take it that it is worth paying.”[3]

Resources
[1] Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden, pp. 133.
[2] Compendium theologiae 114, 125-126; In Bill Kin (2002). Thomas Aquinas on the Metaphysical Problem of Evil. Quodlibet Journal, 4, (2-3). ISSN: 1526-6575
[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 52-53

Your Body’s Microbe Community-An Ecosystem of Its Own Kind

At the heels of the Human Genome Project came the National Institutes of Health Common Fund Human Microbiome Project aimed at encouraging and generating research resources for characterization of the human microbiota and the part they play in and on the bodies of both healthy and diseased individuals.
In a discipline called metagenomics, scientists are sequencing and analyzing the DNA of complex and uncultured microbial samples from different microbial communities. The human microbiome is a collection of microbes that inhabit the human body. Each human body is teeming with variant microbes belonging to a variety of species. They are so numerous that they outnumber the cells of the entire body by 10 to 1. This means that there are 10 microbes to one human cell. These microbes have about 100 times more genes than our genome!!! Your stomach and mine have each 100 billion bacteria for every one gram of their matter.1 The human body hosts all these microbes and many more, forming something of a microbial ecosystem. An assortment of microbes resides in the oral cavity, alimentary canal, nose, skin etc…
Scientists working with the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) are analyzing microbial genetic information in order to understand the role microbes play in etiology of disease. Each person’s microbiome is unique to them; as unique as their finger prints. Each individual can host different microbial communities on and in different sites of their body.
Scientists claim that each microbial community can be used to predict the body’s susceptibility to diseases, and other characteristics. For instance, by studying the microbiome of an individual, scientists can tell whether the person was breastfed as a child, and even their level of education. By sequencing and studying microbiomes from individuals with different diseases, they are able to establish associations between human microbiomes and disease. This is critical for identifying new diagnostic and treatment regimens.2 However, not all microbes are disease causing. Some microbes do a lot for us such as digesting food, and synthesizing vitamins.
Microbes from different sites of the body can also be predictive of other communities. This means that by examining microbes from a given site of the body, say, the mouth, we can tell what kind of community is in the person’s alimentary canal, too. This helps in the study of risk of diseases in people, and can lead to discovery of efficacious personalized therapies.
As for taking antibiotics, one has to be very careful as this can be similar to applying herbicides to the ecosystem. Sometimes, this can destabilize the system to our detriment. It can also become breeding ground for super-bugs.

Sources

Heather Kathryn Ross (2014). Is the Forest of Bacteria Inside You Your Most Precious Resource? Accessed from http://www.healthline.com/health/microbiome-discover-your-trillions-of-bacteria

Vincent B. Young, Robert A. Britton, & Thomas M. Schmidt (2008). The Human Microbiome and
Infectious Diseases: Beyond Koch. Accessed from Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases
Volume, Article ID 296873, doi:10.1155/2008/296873

SETI-The Quest for Evidence?

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, which was formerly a NASA program was established in 1959. The SETI program uses radio telescopes to probe deep into outer space to try and catch some form of radio waves that might be sent by some other civilization beside ours here on earth. In other words, the SETI project says “Who is out there?” It is a cosmic “Hi.” The advantage of radio telescopes is that they have the ability to travel way deep into outer space without being hindered by dense clouds of gas and dust found in some regions of space. The late atheist scholar, Carl Sagan, said that receiving just one message from outer space through these radio telescopes would be enough evidence to believe in the existence of intelligence in the universe besides our own! Getting a message from outer space would also confirm the hypothesis promulgated by atheist scholars such as Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the DNA double helix) and others of their ilk that life was brought to this earth by space aliens.1 This is a theory that is known as “directed panspermia.” Anything other than God, right? But we ask, how did these aliens come to be?
The complexity of living organisms itself points to purposeful Intelligence Design, for how can we account for the information that makes up the genetic code in the form of a written language spelling out life? If we reject Intelligent Design, how do we explain the information stored up in the molecular structure and function of the cell? We are talking about 30 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica-in only one single cell of a lower life form-an amoeba!!!2 The entire amoeba itself carries information in its DNA that is equivalent to 1,000 complete sets of Encyclopedia Britannica-sets not just volumes.
The average human brain is said to have 100 billion nerve cells. This is what Carl Sagan himself said about the human brain: “The information content of the brain expressed in bits is probably comparable to the total number of connections among the neurons- about a hundred trillion…bits. If written in English…that information would fill some twenty million volumes, as many as in the world’s largest libraries. The equivalent of twenty million books is inside the head of every one of us. The brain is a very big place in a very small space.”3 So, if this staggering amount of evidence is not enough to convince us that an Intelligent Designer was at hand here, how can one single message from space convince anyone of anything? Isn’t this astronomical biological information storage and retrieval system enough evidence for Intelligent Design, for a Creator God? How about the longest letter word that we have so far, the 3 billion letter word of the human genome (also known as the human DNA)? Was it a result of random mutations as well? We are not talking about a meaningless word. This word comes complete with instructions of life. Isn’t this another pointer toward Intelligent Design?
Sources

1 Scott Youngren, Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God. Accessed from http://godevidence.com/2012/01/why-life-could-not-have-emerged-without-god/

2 Nelson L. Price, Creation Part 1. 2010. Accessed from http://www.nelsonprice.com/creation-part-i/

3 Carl Sagan, Cosmos. 1980. New York: Ballantine. pp. 230.

Your Specified Complexity, Is It By Chance?

The amazing thing about living organisms is their distinctive specified complexity, which is a type of orderliness carrying specific instructions and messages and functions within the organism. For example, the human cell is of such immense complexity it is mind bogglingly overwhelming. Inside this tiny structure is the DNA molecule, which is the building block of all organisms. It is like a biological library with hundreds of volumes of information store in its molecular system. A deeper examination of the DNA molecule reveals storage of information in four-letter format, the language of DNA: A, T, C, G-which stand for Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine. The human genome has 3 billion of these letters or bases.
The four letters, A, T, C, G are also known as nucleotides. These letters are arranged into 64 3-letter words known as codons used to specify the 20 different types of amino acids used by living organisms. The 3-letter words are arranged in such a manner that they form sentence structures, known as genes.1 These genes are organized in sequential order to form equivalents of paragraphs of information known as operons. The operons or paragraphs are also arranged in chapter structures of information known as chromosomes. Finally, these chapters of information put together form a manuscript or an entire book which is the living organism itself. Such an exhibition of intellectuality can never be by chance.
Amazingly, the information found in a cell carries the same pattern of letters similar to that human beings utilize to deliver information to each other. To believe that this is a mere product of matter, time and chance is inconceivable, to say the least.
Talking about chance, read the part of satirical poem from the pen of Steve Turner below: 2

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
Disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
And when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

Sources

1 Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino (2001). Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith. Bethany House Publishers. Bloomington, Minnesota. pp. 127

2 Steve Turner, (English journalist), “Creed,” his satirical poem on the modern mind. Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man live Without God? Pages 42-44

Epigenetics- Health and Spiritual Implications-Part I

Molecular biology has successfully espoused and propagated a concept that some scholars call “The Central Dogma” which is a genetic deterministic approach that postulates that the transfer of an organism’s biological information is unidirectional, meaning that the information flows only in one direction: DNAà RNAàProteins. The implication of such as theory is that all our biological constitution is driven by our genetic code, and that we are mere helpless recipients of the genes we have been endowed with. But with the advent and growth of the discipline of Epigenetics this view has been further scrutinized and has been found wanting. Epigenetics is the study of the heritable changes that affect gene expression or the phenotype of an organism. These changes are not caused by underlying gene sequence. Rather, they can come through the modification of DNA through a process known as methylation and also through the activity of histones. A lot of diseases that have anomalous or aberrant gene expression as their main cause can be traced to the way the DNA of the organism is packaged. They can also be linked to actions of enzymes such as histone deacetylases.

All of us have tumor suppressor genes that are capable of stopping cancer cells from growing. Every cell in our bodies has these genes. But proteins known as histones are also present in our cells. Sometimes these histones can bind themselves to the DNA so tightly that the DNA becomes “hidden from the view of the cell,” according to Dr. Jean-Pierre Issa of MD Anderson Cancer Center. If a tumor suppressor gene becomes hidden, it cannot have the ability to perform its function. What this means is that the histone hugging the DNA has managed to turn off the gene that is a cancer suppressor, so that the cancer cells can grow freely.

But God in His mercy, has provided certain interventions to mitigate this process. He has provided certain foods that can counter the action of histones. For example, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and also garlic and onions happen to contain substances that are capable of inhibiting and countering histone activity, thus allowing the cancer suppressor genes to express themselves and perform their functions without hindrance. This is the reason why these foods are among the foods listed by the American Institute for Cancer Research as foods that protect against cancer. The more your diet is composed of these foods, the more your body is equipped to fight off cancerous tumors. This gives you a significant amount of power over the control of the expression of your genes. By adopting a healthy diet you can help release them to do their work effectively. Conversely, a high-fat, low-protein diet can modify epigenetic marks in a manner that can result in negative health outcomes extending to the next generation in both animal and human models. The Bible says “You shall eat no fat, whether from cattle, sheep or goats…” (Leviticus 7:23), and it also says “Whether you eat…do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). These laws are for our own benefit not for God’s benefit.

Check out this video clip on how epigenetics functions: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/intro/