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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’


Scientists have discovered seven genes that will allow doctors to predict how aggressive a patient’s cancer will be.  The findings may lead to further research that will be able to predict patient survival and drugs that target the culprit genes.

Cancer Genome Research

Cancer Genome Research

Hundreds of gene mutations may contribute to brain cancers, the seven discovered are central to driving tumors’ growth.  Researchers looked at the gene profiles of brain tumor samples from more than 500 cancer patients.  The researchers specifically examined the interactions between genes. 

Using this system analysis, they found 11 hub genes that are the key elements of a much larger web linked by biological functions, which in turn lead to emergent behavior.  A risk prediction could be calculated for a patient from a sample of tumor, but only to a certain degree of certainty. 

The Cosmic Perspective

Gene mapping is a wonderful idea.  Doctors could possibly be able to diagnose and preempt diseases that have not even shown symptoms.  Problem-causing genes could be treated before the disease they cause hits.  But, with this new procedure, comes great risk.  The possibility of eugenics, the removal of unwanted genes, comes to full light.  We must remember, our variations is what make us strong in the face of calamity.  Removing a cancer causing gene is one thing.  But what happens when one wants to remove genes that cause short stature?  Or remove the genes that cause black eyes?  How far is too far?  In Jurassic Park, Dr Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, said, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

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Happy Thanksgiving for all on Earth!

Happy Thanksgiving for all on Earth!

The Canticle of the Creatures

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.

-St. Francis of Assisi

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Atheism

First off, lets divide up atheists into two groups, strong atheists, and agnostics.  It is important to show the differences between the two.  Atheism has not really been a big player in the world until the eighteenth century when people wished to rise above the oppressive authority of the government and the church.  But at the time, there was no big hubbub about it.  Even Newton, a great scientist, published more articles about God than physics. 

Richard Dawkins

Famous Atheist: Richard Dawkins

Atheism gained major fuel after Sigmund Freud made some comments about God.  Today, prominent scientists like Richard Dawkins argue against God.  He has several arguments.  First, he claims, there is no need for God, as evolution accounts for all of life.  Although this argument does prove that God did not magically make all living organisms, it does not disprove the idea that God worked out His creative plan through evolution.  His second argument is that religion is irrational.  I find this interesting because Dawkins claims that science demands atheism, but this goes beyond the evidence.  If God is outside of nature, you cannot use science to prove or disprove God.  Also, his definition of faith is flawed: blind trust in the absence of evidence.  This does not fully encapsulate faith.  Surely, arguments by CS Lewis and Thomas Aquinas proves that serious thinkers can intensely believe in God.  Finally, he argues about all the bad created by religion.  As I already mentioned, however, despite the evil, have not great things been done?  Also, how do you pin that on God; is it not humans being imperfect containers for God and Moral Law?

Agnosticism

Agnosticism is the belief that knowledge on God’s existence cannot be achieved.  Note that agnosticism can, but does not need to be, a cop out.  It should only be affirmed after a full consideration for and against the existence of God, and just about everyone who considers themselves agnostics do not do this.  Science cannot be used to justify discounting the great religions of the world, which rest upon history, moral philosophy, and the evidence of human altruism.  It is very deceitful and vain to say that you know for sure one way or another, as even people of great faith had doubts, but saying you know that God does not exist is just as wrong.

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All major religions have their creation stories.  All of them, should be taken metaphorically, rather than a detailed history.  They were simply written for people to understand the world around them and be taught spiritual truths.  Since Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, and Kepler made our universe and world’s creation a bit more complicated, we should move further away from creationism. 

An Artists Rendering of the Big Bang.

An Artist's Rendering of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang

At one point, the universe was together in one entity and “exploded,” in a single moment.  Calculations say it happened around 14 billions years ago.  This particle was a infinitely dense, dimensionless point of pure energy.  That everyone, religious or not, should agree on.   St. Augustine says that we should not mix the Bible with a scientific article, it should be seen as a moral play. 

Before the Big Bang

So what happened before the Big Bang?  Nobody knows.  To me, the Big Bang requires a supernatural response.  I cannot see how nature created itself.  St. Thomas Aquinas proposed a certain proof of types, which simply kept asking what happened before that, to each step.  Eventually he said, everything boiled down to something outside of nature: God. 

More Evidence for God

After the Big Bang, Anti-Matter and Matter were made in unequal amounts.  Why?  It is more natural for it to be created in equal amounts, but this would cause all matter to disappear, leaving only radiation.  If the rate of expansion after the Big Bang was smaller by even one part in 100 thousand million million, the unibverse would have collapsed and nothing would exist.  Also, if the strong nuclear force holding together protons and neutrons would have been only slightly weaker, only hydrogen could have formed, never allowing for life.  Also, the universe after the Bang cooled off at a perfect rate: had it been faster, no elements could form.  Even Stephen Hawking says, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging are enormous.  I think there are clearly religions implications.  I think it would be very difficult to explain why the universe began how it did except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” 

Possibilities

This leaves us with 3 options:

1.)  There are infinite numbers of universes, with different physical constrains.  Ours is not miraculous, only an unusual product of trial and error.

2.)  There is only one universe, we are just very, very, very lucky.

3.)  There is only one universe and the conditions that arose reflect the action of a “creator,” revealing himself through the Big Bang.

Analysis

Clearly 2 is the least plausible/rational.  Number 1 fails Occam’s Razor (the best answer is the simplest one) and is almost incredible, the only one left is 3.  If one is willing to accept that the Big Bang required a creator, then it is not a quantum leap to believe that the same creator set up the physical parameters to accomplish a goal: a universe.  We must note, that science may reveal more answers, but at this point, I say we go with what we got.  Just a side note: which is less crazy: a particle outside space time or a god outside of spacetime?  Neither is particularly appealing, but based on the above, I say the later is the best option.  Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle indicates that any initial configuration of matter in the universe is impossible to be certain. 

Proof

If God exists, He is supernatural.

If He is supernatural, He is not governed by natural laws.

If He is not governed by natural laws, time does not affect Him.

His not affected by time, He is past present and future.

He could exist before the Big Bang and could exist after the universe disappears.

He could know the pricise outcome  of the formation of the universe before it began

He could know of a small planet that could harbor life.

He could know that the planet could support intelligent life through the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.

He could know that the thoughts and acts of that life could not be governed due to free will.

I wil explain more about this in the days to come, but this is a good baseline.

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Everyone has  bit of a sceptic in them.  I myself have been called a doubting Thomas on many an occasion.  Here are some common questions regarding religion, spirituality, and God.

Is God Just Wishful Thinking?

Is God just a figment of our collective imaginations, resulting from our desire for there to be more to life and fear of death?  Many people think so.  But once again, C.S. Lewis has the answer.  Lewis said that if we were thinking wishfully, God would not be so strict and have so many rules.  What to do heroin?  Sure.  Want to hire a lady of the night?  Why not.  Instead, gods do not pander entirely to our self-indulgent desires, but instead sets up that Moral Law we all abide.  Also, if somebody allows the possibility that God is something that humans want, does that make it not real.  Again, Lewis to the rescue.  He says that creatures are not born with desires that have nothing that can fulfill them, just as a baby wants to drink milk, there is milk. 

What about the evil done by “Religion?”

I will be the first to admit that terrible wrongs have been done as a result of ideologies.  They can be in the form of jihads, crusades, or ethnic cleansings.  But, have not wonderful things been done as a result of religion as well?  When you name one way religions have worked to oppress somebody, I can think of two more when they helped relieve oppressions.  If you still don’t buy this, let me say that humans are not perfect.  They are like rusty buckets.  You can pour clean, delicious water into them (Moral Law, God, Religion), but they will make it tepid and undrinkable.  An old saying sum it up well: “Would you condemn an oak tree for being used to make a battering ram?

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

What about suffering?

This for me was the most difficult problem in my spiritual journey.  My own answer is this, if God is good, he would wish his creation (not literal), to be happy, and if he were almighty, he could make it so, but since not is all good in the world, one of these statements must be false.  I chose the later.  Not to say that God is not powerful, he simply cannot rescind the laws of nature.  You cannot blame God for not saving you from falling of a cliff, they you are just stupid and did not understand gravity.  Which brings us to our second point, we humans have free will, most of the evils in the world are man-made, like wars and murders.  God cannot force his desires upon us if we have free will.  If you want more info, check out The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

How can scientists believe in miracles

Although, the problem of pain was my most difficult spiritual quandary, this was my greatest scientific one.  A miracle is an event that appears to be inexplicable by the laws of nature and is held to be supernatural in origin.  If you do not allow any room for miracles, none will be found.  Miracles, to be credible, must convey a deeper understanding than could have been without.  Thus, don’t chalk up everything to miracles, it just makes the rest look bad.  Note that I am not saying that we should stop searching for scientific answers to “miracles,” but just don’t be surprised when none can be found.  For example, terminal cancer patients being cured is often cited as a miracle, but atheists will turn around saying that rare events sometimes just happen.  Why is this a better response than a miracle?  Both attribute an occurrence to a random power, one just assumes it is supernatural, the other pure (very, very, infinitesimal) chance.  Note again, that science should still be employed to find an answer, and if it does, I will quickly rescind my statement.

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As a scientist, I hear many other students and even professors saying that believing in a god would be like scientific suicide.  Others believe that religious faiths have interesting cultural ties, but no actual possible grounding in truth.  I find that, despite what shows like House and Bones lead us to believe, that many scientists, however, do believe in a God, particularly physicists and doctors.  Doctors witness many cases with individuals dying terrible deaths, yet holding onto their faiths.  If faith is a psychological crutch in these circumstances, then it is a very strong one.  If religion is only a tradition, why aren’t these people throwing it down?   Why are they not angry with God, this supposedly loving superpower?

 

Or friend and mentor who is sorely missed.

C.S. Lewis: Or friend and mentor who is sorely missed.

One of the biggest proofs of God for me is what C.S. Lewis, a convert, called the “Moral Law.”  It is only seen in humans.  Although sometimes animals show some tiny speck of morality, they are not common, nor consistent.  But is this state I shall call conscience intrinsically human or just a result of cultural ubringing?

Many people today buy into a philosophy called post-modernism.  Here, there are no ultimate truths, and all right and wrong is subjective.  But then how can post-modernism itself be true, as there are not ultimate truths? 

Now for more about Moral Law.  One of the greatest forces for this Modern Law is altruism: our conscience urging us to help others even if we do not receive any benefits, or even if it causes us harm.  Note: altruism is not give and take, it is simply give.  C.S. Lewis coined this selfless love agape.  This goes against pretty much everything evolutionists say ought to happen naturally.  They say that people’s motives are driven by a desire to perpetuate their gene pool.  But how did Mother Theresa’s helping the lepers of Calcutta help her gene pool?  Some say that this is a positive attribute in mate selection.  But nonhuman primates do the exact opposite.  Instead of helping others raise their young, for example, most chimps will practice infanticide so that his genes are more dominant.  Others say that these acts will help us in the future, but this does not account for the favors somebody does for random people he will never meet again.  Still others say that altruism will help the whole group, but almost all evolutionists agree that mutations arise in individuals which then become successful, or weeded out in turn within the population thorugh natural selection.

So if Naural Law or Moral Law is not cultural or biological, then how did it come about.  Again, we return to our friend C.S. Lewis “If there was a ctonrolling power outside of the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts in the universe, just as an architect cannot be a wall of the house he designed.  He (or she) could only show himself inside ourselves as an influenc trying to get us to behave in a certain way, just as we find.”

So how can such beliefs be held by a scientist?  What about data?  Well, fortunately, this is only part one.

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Over the next week or two, I will interrupt my regularly scheduled programing to provide you with a special series: God and Genes: How Religion and Science Can Coexist.  My recent post about Theory vs theory was popular, so I just wanted to throw this out there for some intelligent discussion.  I hope everybody enjoys it.

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