Category Archives: Science

Review: “God According to God”

Cover of "God According to God: A Physici...
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God According to God, by Gerald Schroeder (HarperOne 2009)

If the discoveries in physics over the past century are correct, then that physically condensed energy of the big-bang creation is totally the expression of metaphysical wisdom (cited in Gen. 1:1) or information (J.A. Wheeler) or idea (W. Heisenberg) or mind (G. Wald).  Physics not only has begun to sound like theology.  It is theology (p 156).

God According to God, written by a MIT trained physicist and applied (Jewish) theology professor Gerald L. Schroeder, is a fascinating read (even if the subtitle, A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along, seems a bit of a stretch).  It’s an important read, too, if one takes the accolades on the cover seriously.   For example, “A remarkable book.  The science as well as the meaning of this universe and of life are discussed with insight, rigor, and depth,” says Nobel Prize (physics) awarded Charles H. Townes.

What’s really amazing about this book is that it combines modern science with theology in such a human way.  It’s written for the layman, yes, but it is written to show that not only is belief in God not inimical to science, but that modern science is actually proving God (or at least the metaphysical), and that taking God and the Bible seriously (and not simplistically or superficially) reflects reality and how we are to live in it.  The God of the Bible is simply not the god the critics so energetically and often vehemently criticize.

“The world gets its share of free reign and when a mess arises, the God of the Bible may enter to aid in the repair.  Nipping the potential evil before allowing it to flourish would be a compassionate world-management system, but that fails to match the blueprint brought by the Bible.  The logic lies in the need for an unhampered free will.  God hides the Divine presence sufficiently to allow each of us to make our own choices, for better or worse, freely within the confines of our physical and social landscape . . .“ (p 205).

After the introductories, Schroeder presents issues regarding the origin of life, and how much “science” popularly held is not accurate or true.  For instance, there is no logical reason why RNA would have developed on its own in our prebiotic world; everything is against it happening.  He refutes Stephen Hawking’s (and Scientific American’s) embarrassingly optimistic view of life happening on its own, providing data on how it would be impossible for random mutations to create the variety of proteins used in earthly life.

Earth itself is unique and improbable.   The elements in our universe that make life possible are surprising and improbable too, with carbon being the most unlikely.  While carbon is common, it is not at all easily made.   The astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, who was an agnostic before the means by which carbon could be abundantly formed was discovered, later said:  “Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule” (p 62).

For the Christian who has read other layman-oriented resources regarding origin of life and evolution issues, and facts about the specialness of earth, I recommend reading this book as well.  In combination it is about the most informative and wonderfully written as you’ll find.   Also for the Christian, Schroeder offers some eye-opening insights into Genesis and the possibility of nature as rebel (his other biblical interpretations from the Jewish perspective are also very much worth chewing on).  He ties in the possibility of nature rebelling with what we are learning of nature at the quantum level.  We now know that atoms are not the smallest units of matter, but the particles that make up atoms do not behave like matter.  They may even be waves, and they seem to behave in way that indicates “mind.”

The European conception of “evolution” includes the metaphysical, and apparently many leading scientists are leaning toward the view that nature has “mind.”  Neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, Jr., talks of the “microbial mind,” Freeman Dyson (physicist, Institute for the Advanced Study, Princeton) and others show that “Atoms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances.  They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities . . . .  It appears that mind . . . is to some extent inherent in every atom” (p 95).  Mathematician and physicist Sir James Jeans wrote (pp 90-91):

“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.  Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter.  We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.”

We cannot see or understand this “mind” in nature, and we cannot even understand our own brain-mind connection.  We may know that chemical reactions take place in our brain that are related to specific activities, but we still do not understand how we remember, think, or imagine.  Just as there is something else to nature than predictable natural laws, there is more to us than the physical.  “The dogmatic myth of materialism has been proven to be wanting, more fantasy than fact. . . . in the words of Nobel laureate and biologist George Wald, ‘The stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff.  It is mind that has composed a physical universe’” (p 151).

Schroeder’s thesis can be summed up thusly:

“Within the subatomic world, there is a probabilistic pattern established by the laws of nature.  Individual quanta, however, may ‘choose’ not to follow the given path.  So too is the history of humanity.  Torturous though the trend may be, God has a plan for humanity.  The microengineering of that plan is largely up to us.  There is a flow from pagan barbarity toward the elusive goal of peace on earth, goodwill to all.  Each of us, as individuals, chooses whether to enhance or impede the flow toward the Divine goal” (p 215).

 

Authors Cited

Dyson, Freeman.  “Progress in Religion” (acceptance speech, Templeton Prize), March 2000.

Heisenberg, Werner.  Physics and Beyond (New York:  Harper & Row, 1971).

Vertosick, Jr., Frank.  The Genius Within (New York:  Harcourt, 2002).

Wald, George.  “Life and Mind in the Universe,” Quantum Biology Symposium, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry 11 (1984):  1-15.

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© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012 (prior publication at Examiner.com, 2011, and at withchristianeyes.com)

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“Science & Human Origins” Informational Review

Science & Human Origins cover0001Science & Human Origins, a Discovery Institute Press book (2012) by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin, is a much needed summary of the difficult to understand sciences that are used in the study of human origins and evolution.  The scientific methods used may not be the primary problem in understanding, however, but instead, the politics and emotionalism involved.  For the person who wants to find anything beyond the “party line” in regards to the science, and what we actually know of the hominin (previously “hominid”) fossil record, a source like this may be your best hope.  Popular textbooks, museum displays, and magazines fail to present pertinent facts, and quotes found in this book by the highest of academics in the field can leave you assured of the authors’ assessment.

This small book is not perfect, in my view.  I found chapter two, on one explanation of how there is not enough time to account for the amount of evolution that has taken place, difficult to understand.  Maybe you will not have this difficulty.  It just seems like there is something missing to me.  The way the book is put together seems disjointed to me as well, and while this may be in big part due to the different scientific fields involved, I think that adding a chapter, and dividing the chapters into two related groups, would have made the book more beneficial to readers.

Chapter one combines the lack-of-time problem with the paucity of fossil evidence for ape-like creature-to-human evolution problem.  Chapter three – the longest in the book – provides a detailed account of the deception (willful or not) by some scientists regarding the fossil line of evidence for human evolution, the data we have for that supposed line of evidence, and scientific criticisms of that data from top scientists in paleontology and related fields.  Chapter five is related to these in discussing “The Science of Adam and Eve,” while chapter four provides us information on junk DNA and chromosomal fusion.  For those who want to know more about this subject before reading the book, I present below concise information and quotes from chapters one (II) by Ann Gauger, three (I) by Casey Luskin, and five (III) by Ann Gauger.

I.  Hominin Phylogeny

If you try and talk to an ardent evolutionist, you are very likely going to come across this belief and attitude that the theory of evolution is written in stone, everything that one reads about it in textbooks and in mainstream media is true, that of course humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor, etc. etc.   But as is made abundantly clear in this book, many scientists publish studies in Nature and similar professional journals, who go against this “we know all” flow.  Human evolution is not at all clear-cut and the fossil record is severely lacking.  Many fossils that had been considered within the line of ancestral humans are now held in serious doubt.  Yet, these “negative” findings don’t make the news.  These study results don’t make it on the cover of Time.

I think a significant reason for the publication of this book stem from the false statements made by Professor Ronald Wetherington in 2009 to the Texas State Board of Education.  Either this guy is a liar or he is woefully uninformed of his own line of study.  He just couldn’t say enough about how the fossil record showing human evolution was a complete sequence, how it showed gradualistic change just like Darwin predicted, and how there are no gaps in the record – and those scientists who say otherwise are not telling the truth.  Well!  Sorry to say, but Professor Wetherington is the one not telling the truth, and persons such as these influence what gets taught in our schools and their words are parroted frequently and mindlessly.

Below are synopses of the fossils believed to be within the ancestral line to humans; many of these are actually not considered in line anymore by mainstream scientists in paleoanthropology or primate studies.  A chart showing the traditional, party-line view of human evolution is also shown below (from page 49).

Toumai Skull (Sahelanthropus tchadensis):  This species is represented by one skull with jaw fragments.  ~6.5 million years old.  Reported on in 2002, it is now considered by many to be a gorilla or ape or at least not in the human line.  If this skull is ancestral to humans, then australopithecines can’t be (pp 50-51).

Orrorin (Orrorin tugenensis):  Only a few bones are known of this species, and they do not include a skull or jaw.  ~ 6 million years old.  Even though little can be determined about this species’ way of moving, the conjecture by some that it may have walked upright was enough to put it in the human line.  Human evolutionary thinking had made bipedal walking a necessary condition for a fossil to be included in the human line.  However, we now know that this can no longer be a litmus test.  Why?  Because an ancient bipedal ape was discovered, Oreopithecus bambolii.  This creature is clearly an ape, it walked bipedally, and it lived ten million years ago.  We now know that some human-like physical features, that scientists considered unique to our line, developed in other species in parallel.  Nevertheless,if this species is found to be ancestral to humans, then australopithecines can’t be (pp 51-54).

Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus):  Extremely reconstructed from very crushed and very friable and chalky bone fragments (skull and other parts).  ~4.4 million years old.  Even though the reconstruction of this fossil should have raised big doubts about any interpretations regarding it, it was in the news big time.  Even Science magazine joined in in the hype:

Science magazine named Ardi the “breakthrough of the year” for 2009, and officially introduced her with an article titled “A New Kind of Ancestor . . . (p 55).

After other scientists finally got to look at these fossil remains–which took over 15 years to “reconstruct”–claims of its bipedality were not affirmed.  Not only that, but some scientists hinted, and others said out-right, that Ardi was not a hominid, was not bipedal, and was closer to being an ape or orangutan (pp 54-57).

Australopithecines:  Because there are more Australopithecine fossils than any other, and because one in particular had become so popular–Lucy–it’s a bit hard to say only a little about this group of species.  In 2006 there was much hype over two canine teeth found of the species called Austropithecus anamensis.  I will say it again and allow the information to sink in:  there was much hype over only two canine teeth.  In any case, the author of the A. anamensis technical paper is worth quoting since he confirms Luskin’s contention:

Until recently, the origins of Australopithecus were obscured by a sparse fossil record . . . . The origin of Australopithecus, the genus widely interpreted as ancestral to Homo, is a central problem in human evolutionary studies.  Australopithecus species differ markedly from [both] extant African apes and candidate ancestral hominids . . . (p 58).

Let’s look at Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis with purportedly 40% of it’s bones found.   First off, it’s not clear that all the bones of Lucy are actually hers.  The bones were highly spread out over a gully and one of its hillsides.  Many scientists no longer think Lucy walked upright like we do, or even at all, basically.  She very clearly has knuckle-walking hands, which no one denies but some try to excuse.  It is unlikely, from an evolution theory point of view, that she would retain these characteristics if she didn’t use them.  But to make a further argument about her mode of moving, the supposedly evolved form of Homo habilis retains some of these features 2 million years later.  Unused characteristics will not hang around that long in an evolved species.

Also, a whole slew of bodily features show that Lucy was ape- or chimp-like and was not at all adapted to running.  Australopithecine ear canals (for balance and locomotion) are not like humans but similar to apes.  They have grasping toes.  Professional studies and papers from 1975 and 2007 suggest that Australopithecines should no longer be considered part of the human line (pp 57-65).

Homo habilis:  ~1.9 million years ago.  The well regarded anthropologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History said this species is “a wastebasket taxon, little more than a convenient recipient for a motley assortment of hominin fossils.”  Besides this suggestive statement (suggestive of the quality of analyses that had gone on), Spoor et al. in Nature (1994) reported that the ear canal of this species was closer that of a baboon, and another study from 1991 “found that the skeleton of habilis was more similar to living apes than were other australopithecines like Lucy” (p 66).  Another scientist stated that habilis “‘displays much stronger similarities to African ape limb proportions’ than even Lucy” (p 67).  This species is therefore not considered to be in the human line (pp 65-67).

Standard Hominin chart Wells0001

[GAP]:  There are no transitional fossils between Australopithecus and Homo.  About 2 million years ago cranial capacity of the human line suddenly about doubled.

Homo and Australopithecus differ significantly in brain size, dental function, increased cranial buttressing, expanded body height, visual, and respiratory changes” and, the authors of the paper said “We, like many others, interpret the anatomical evidence to show that early H. sapiens was significantly and dramatically different from . . .  australopithecines in virtually every element of its skeleton and every remnant of its behavior (pp 67-68). . . .  The anatomy of the earliest H. sapiens sample indicates significant modifications of the ancestral genome and is not simply an extension of evolutionary trends in an earlier australopithecine lineage throughout the Pliocene.  In fact, its combination of features never appears earlier” (p 68; from Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution 2000, emphasis mine).

The earliest fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap.  How can we explain this seeming saltation?  Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative (pp 69-70; Ernst Mayr 2004, emphasis mine).

Homo erectus:  Extremely similar to modern humans – probably only a subspecies (so it was actually human). ~ 2 million years ago.  Cranial capacity is on average smaller, but still within the overall range of modern humans (which is incredibly varied).

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis):  Very similar to modern humans and now known to be something like a subspecies of modern humans.  In fact, DNA studies show that many modern humans have Neanderthal DNA in them.  ~ .75 million years ago.  Cranial capacity on average was larger than modern humans.

II.  Evolution Time

There are no transitional fossils between Australopithecus and Homo (and some scientists, at least, no longer think Australopithecus should even  be in the homo line).  Ok.  But what time frame is there between these two species of Hominin?  About 1.5 to 2.o million years.  And how many traits arose or need to have changed?  About 16, at least, and many of these have to have occurred together – they won’t work apart from one another, or on their own they could even be harmful to the creature(s).

Based on experiments that test the rate of change at the molecular level, this number of changes within the known time frame would have been impossible.  Considering how slowly, relatively speaking, these hominins would reproduce, evolving even one homo feature from australopithecine would be basically impossible in the time frame we know exists between these species.  Gauger states:

You don’t have to take my word for it.  In 2007, Durrett and Schmidt estimated in the journal Genetics that for a single mutation to occur in a nucleotide-binding site and be fixed in a primate lineage would require a waiting time of six million years.  The same authors later [2008] estimated it would take 216 million years for the binding site to acquire two mutations, if the first mutation was neutral in its effect (pp 24-25).

III.  Are Only Two Human Parents Possible?

In Ann Gauger’s “The Science of Adam and Eve” (chapter five), she presents the history of research into the diversity of certain immune defense genes.  She does this since persons in the past used these genes, which have tremendous variety in our genomes and the genomes of our “cousin” species, to prove that humans could not have come from only two parents (like Adam and Eve).  The science involved is of course specific and complicated and I will not attempt to give am in-depth summary of it here.  What I will say is that an original study (published in 1995) found that chimps and humans shared 32 alleles of this gene (HLA-DRB1), and later study cut that down to seven and showed a whole new complication that was a mystery (different portions of the same gene yielded wildly different results).

The results were mysterious because it turns out that even though the gene has 100s of allele variations (there are a number of HLA genes, and each has hundreds of alleles), most are not recombined and therefore are known as haplotypes.  These haplotypes are inherited in blocks, and there are very few of these in humans – five, in fact.  Three are very ancient and two are, well, not as ancient (~30 mya or more, and ~ 5 mya, based on current evolutionary assumptions), and one is not shared with chimps.  Each person can carry two different alleles of the HLA gene studied.  So it is now known to be in the realm of possibility that we all came from two parents only, each carrying two different HLA alleles.

The later study, and others, provided data that may also force a change in neo-Darwinian thinking.  This newer data show that we share genes with other species that are not common ancestors.  We have some gene sequences that are more closely related to gorillas than chimps, and we have sequences resembling those from macaques – animals that are not in our hominid group.  What does this data do to the whole concept of common descent?  (pp 103 – 121).

*      *      *

So what we end up with is a hominin family tree that, if a number of scientific studies and their conclusions are to be followed (the papers being in the major journals in their fields), would be gutted.  Continuous, gradual, evolutionary change in the hominin line?  No, not at all.  We also have the science of nucleotide-binding mutations indicating that there is no possibility, given the relatively short time frame, that any fossil currently thought to represent an ancestor in the human line could have evolved into a human.  Please read the book for more detailed information, but for checking out the references as well.

Thoughts on Singing and Evolution

Cover from the “Voice of the Blood” cd, Hildegard of Bingen (from Amazon.com).

In church last weekend the thought came to me that the beauty of human singing is an example of a God given gift or virtue.  How can singing, beautiful singing, be considered a trait that evolved?  Our voices are so varied to begin with that it’s hard to think that somehow that variety evolved, but then there is also singing.  Can you imagine a chimp or ape singing?  The thought is laughable.

The theory of evolution is based on the survival of the fittest.  Surely that works at a basic level in any environment with any species.  But there are many problems with the time frame for species to actually diverge and develop (despite what basic level text books say . . . they make it sound like all is fact when it is not); and it can easily be shown that there has not been enough time for humans to have developed to their present state from their nearest assumed ancestor (for more on this, see “Science and Human Origins” Informational Review).

So besides all the other differences between us and the very small and very ape-like ancestor of ours, singing had to develop somehow, right?  As already mentioned, environment plays a factor in who lives and who does not.  But a biggy that evolutionists use is sexual selection.  I’m not writing a scientific discourse here, but am going by my past studies (I have a degree in anthropology with an emphasis on human evolution and archaeology).

Here’s an example.  Why are human female breasts so big (usually, and compared to other primates)?  Well, you can imagine the answer:  males had more sex with females with bigger breasts, producing more big-breasted females.  And you might reflect on how that answer just doesn’t seem valid based on human sexuality, that while many men find large breasts attractive, most men wouldn’t care about that when it came to the chance for sex.  And if you imagine it from a purely scientific, non-Christian viewpoint, “evolving” men probably cared even less and raped more.  At any rate, scientists may try to argue that human singing is a result of not survival of the fittest in the environment, but survival of the most reproduced based on attraction, just like the breast example.

Do you think that could be so, really?   A good singer (or any other charismatic person, for that matter), may have more sex partners – which in the past would result in more offspring.  But, considering how beautiful good singing is, wouldn’t we all be great singers by now?  Or, wouldn’t some populations have a very high per cent of great singers by now, and some have mostly lousy singers?  And, of course, this type of argument can’t account for the amazing nuances/differences of the human voice itself.

No, we were created with these traits.  Singing is often, if not always, associated with the spiritual.  I don’t mean that singing is always spiritual, but that is has always been used in spiritual contexts as far as I’m aware.  Singing is emotional, it’s often spiritual, it can induce or promote thoughts of love.   We as humans think musically and mathematically, with thoughts of the music of the spheres and the singing of angels.  This all coming from the survival of the fittest?  I don’t think so.  When we see human aggression and greed, the survival of the fittest makes sense, but when it comes to beauty like human singing, it does not.

[Edited on December 23, 2014]