Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham

I was asked about my response to the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate. I will admit I had mixed feelings about the debate which apparently is what most of the web felt. You have some that loved it, some that hated it and many that were ambivalent about it.

My initial response was wow, what a setup. It was an elaborate stage with a wonderful technology and a professional setup. But looks aren’t everything…

My response quickly changed to one of disappointment.  A definition of a debate is “a structured argument.  Two sides speak alternately for and against a particular contention usually based on a topical issue.” The topic at hand was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?

Neither side seemed to focus on the topic. And while the debate seemed structured, the arguments were not.

Mr. Ham started in a good way by putting forth a definition of the term “science”. He posited two kinds of science, observational and historical.  Observational is the current method of exploring the universe. Historical then takes the observational and extrapolates it back to origins. He continued by speaking of secularists hijacking the word “science”. They define science as naturalism and outlaw the supernatural. Ham then defined “origins” as creation vs. evolution. And that was what the debate was really about.

Mr. Nye opened with a story about his family and bowties.  Entertaining but completely unrelated to the topic.  Then he brought up science as shown on the popular TV show, CSI, an entertaining show, but with little to do with real-world science. He continued with a series of disjointed statements about the flood and billions of non-Christian’s religious beliefs about creation. This debate quickly became unstructured.

What followed were both sides giving good decent presentations of their particular model of origins.

Mr. Ham had the more cohesive presentation.  He started with the need for defining science and evolution and stayed with that mostly.  He strayed a bit with questions to Mr. Nye about where naturalism gets logic, and which technology requires a naturalist belief. He came back around to his two kinds of science argument from his opening. Then he focused on “evolution” as another hijacked word.  The definition of evolution has changed over the years. He finished by stating that naturalism and evolution are just another type of religious worldview. In the middle, he had teasers of evidence of creation origins (see his website for more information).

Mr. Nye’s presentation was at best disjointed and, at worst, very confusing.  Even when he had valid scientific points, he put them together in an awkward way. His arguments centered on the short time frame in the creation model. He went from layers of ice to tree rings to number of species to working at Boeing to large boulders lying around the state of Washington. This jumping from point to point was hard to follow.  Then he talked about how Noah’s ark wouldn’t work and they wouldn’t be able to feed the animals based on the National Zoo which was imaged from a satellite in space which would baffle his grandfather (more head scratching). If you could hang with his line of thought, there were some evidences given that should be considered as one has time.

Now to be fair, this is a very difficult topic to debate.  There are a lot of complexities involved with origins that can’t be explained adequately in one or two hours. That is why many people think it is a waste of time trying to debate topics of creation/evolution.

You see, creation as defined by Ken Ham has the earth created in 6 literal 24-hour days about 6000 years ago with God guiding the entire process. Bill Nye defines origins as about 4.5 billion years ago with evolution guiding allowing life’s changes from slime to humans (and everything else alive today).

Let’s just look at the timing.  How long is 6000 seconds?  If you do the math, 60 seconds per minute and 60 minutes per hour you get just under two hours (actually 1.667 hours).

Now how long is 4.5 billion seconds? Continuing with the math, it comes out to be just under 143 years.  This is the difference you’re trying to make scientists believe.

Two hours compared to 143 years.

If I hold to the young earth model, I cannot even come close to discussing spiritual needs and how God’s love works with most scientists. The young earth model becomes a stumbling block for them hearing the gospel. So in my circle, I steer towards spiritual discussions and the gospel rather than origin debates.

dsb

That’s Life…what’s life?

Well, I’ve decided that I may not be particularly fond of blogging…for two reasons. First, I tend to have a lot more to say as I run out of space (so sequels may be in order), and second, I tend to have more topics invade my brain as I’m trying to finish the thoughts of the current blog. This is a prior invasion…

The joke goes: Well, that’s Life… what’s Life?… its a cereal…really, how much does it cost?… $2.50…I only have $2.00…well, that’s Life. ba dum tsh.

This blog is about life.  You see, I am a biologist by training. By definition I am one who studies life. But it is hard to actually define life.

Merriam-Webster defines Life as  :the ability to grow, change, etc., that separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks

Now I know that is a definition, but it is really about characteristics of life. We have an easy time telling life from non-life. Does it grow, change, move or just sit there like a rock?

Even children and animals can recognize life, they see a stick on the ground then, whoop! it moves so it could be a snake…

We see the characteristics and know, this is life, but what makes something change from non-life to life? What is the essence of life?

You can’t just add electricity (sorry Dr. Frankenstein…), but there is a type of electricity involved with life processes. Some form of DNA/RNA is present in life as we know it. You have to have oxygen, but not all life needs it. And with the organisms that need it, too much harms life. Water is also a necessity, but again too much is a bad thing. It’s not a simple recipe.

Scientists have 3 rules of life, called the cell theory.

  1. The cell is the most basic unit of life.
  2. All living organisms are composed of one or more cells.
  3. All cells arise from pre-existing, living cells.

But these are not the essence of life. Scientists don’t know how to take a set of non-living chemicals and put them into a cell (the basic unit of life) and make it come alive. Even the right chemical balance taken out of the cell membrane becomes “dead”.

heart

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And there is a complex hierarchy of life or different levels of life. By that I mean that we are alive as organisms (Level 1). If our brains cease to function then we die. However, our organs can remain alive if donated to another body (Level 2). We are not alive, but part of us is.

And if you break the organ down into its cells, then the organ is dead, but the cells can be kept alive (Level 3).

Then if the cells are tweaked properly, they can be grown into another organ. Or the cells can be put into a prepared egg and become another organism (theoretically at least, see last week’s blog).

My kidney is not me, but it is a part of me. If I lose a kidney, I don’t cease to exist, but how many parts can I lose before I am no longer me? And some parts seem to define me or my image of me more that other parts.

And when did I begin? Does life begin at birth? Well, a level of life might begin there or another level after we reach a certain age of independence. That was 18 back in the day, but now seems to be more like 34…

Of course another level is when the egg and the sperm unite…conception begins that process of life.

But in reality we don’t create life at conception. Cells come from pre-existing cells, or life comes from pre-existing life.

Once life began at…well, the beginning, it has not stopped. It takes a living cell to make another living cell. Mama’s egg was alive before conception (as was Daddy’s sperm).

We are part of a great continuum of life. Part of a journey. Then when do I cease to be me? …cease to exist? (Ah…add a dash of sequel dust here…)

dsb

Attack of the Clones

One of the biggest intersections of faith and science comes when we talk about genetics.  Genetics involves the study of DNA, and DNA is the molecule that forms the basis of life as we know it.  When scientists are messing with DNA, it gets people’s attention. They add and delete and manipulate to “create” better organisms and products.

Is that using scientific knowledge to benefit mankind or just playing God?

When a plant or animal has its DNA manipulated, we call it genetic modification.  A genetically modified organism (GMO) has been enhanced in some way to fight disease, to increase nutrients, to grow faster, or to live longer. Many people do not want GMOs to be in the marketplace.  They feel like it’s some kind of “Frankenfruit” if it had its genes manipulated.  Maybe the genes will transfer from our hamburger into us. Or somehow we will produce some type of “killer tomatoes” and they will attack us (…cue cultic B movie spoof from the ‘80s).

Since we really don’t understand DNA, it becomes mysterious (or terrifying) to have it altered.

Maybe it’s just when scientists are manipulating the DNA it becomes mysterious.  You see, farmers have been manipulating DNA for centuries. We call it selective breeding. We’ve altered our crops, our livestock and our pets using “natural” genetic modification. We get more disease resistance, more nutrients, faster growth, more domestic behavior, increased cuteness…but have we made better products or just swapped one set of problems for another?

Well, last year scientists made one of the biggest breakthroughs with DNA research.  They successfully completed a somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) with human DNA. With SCNT the DNA is removed from an egg cell and replaced with DNA from a skin cell. The resulting cell is tricked into growing as an embryo.

In “therapeutic cloning”, the embryo is harvested early to collect the stem cells which theoretically can become any tissue type for organ transplant or disease treatment. In “reproductive cloning” the embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother and allowed to develop into a complete animal.

A type of SCNT was used 17 years ago to clone the infamous sheep Dolly, the first mammal cloned by this method. Other embryo cell methods had worked before then, but this was the first to use skin cells. Since then they have cloned probably 18-20 different four legged mammals with this procedure.

It turns out to be very difficult to make a clone. You only get a few good embryos from hundreds of attempts. And most cloned animals have health problems that shorten their life span. Dolly died at only half the age of normal sheep.

The human clone was a therapeutic clone. The technique was perfected with monkey eggs.  More than a thousand monkey eggs were used before moving to humans. You see monkeys have not been reproductively cloned using SCNT. There is something different about monkey eggs verses other mammal eggs. It is much more difficult if not impossible to make a reproductive clone with monkeys and, in that respect,  humans.

So the issue is not about making a cloned human baby, although that may be somewhere down the road, it is about the ethics of using embryo derived cells for research. Has the science jumped ahead of our ethics?

  • Is a therapeutically cloned embryo still an embryo?
  • Does the situation change if the embryo could never become a baby?
  • Is there an ethical problem with using human eggs to make the clone?
  • Should we pay for the eggs to do this type of research?
  • Do we impose religious ethics on this type of research and if so, do we use Western religion or Eastern religion?

These and other questions will be asked as our ethics tries to keep up with the scientific techniques.

dsb

Sense and Sense-ability…

People know about the five senses:

  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Smelling
  • Tasting
  • Touching

(If you want to be more up-to-date scientifically, add Balance/Equilibrium to the list for a sixth sense.)

These senses are the way we know about the world around us.  Each sense has a special way of receiving the outside information with one or more receptors.  The receptors then send the information to our brain where we become aware or perceive it.

Without the proper receptors, we cannot sense the environment.

rainbow

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With our vision, we sense light, a small part of the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in the environment. We see the wavelengths as colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), and if all the wavelengths are present we see white light.

If the wavelengths are on either side of the rainbow, e.g. infrared light or ultraviolet light, we can’t see them.  We don’t have the receptors for infrared light or ultraviolet light.  We build artificial receptors or cameras to sense this light and produce an image that we can perceive.  Pictures made with these cameras show us images of our world that we miss just because we lack receptors for the information. These environmental cues are invisible to us.

That doesn’t mean that these things are not natural, we just don’t perceive them.

Some people seem to be more aware of their environment.  They seem to have a “sixth sense” (or seventh sense if you want to be more technically correct…see first paragraph).  That teacher with the “eyes in the back of her head” or the mother who knows when her child is in trouble.  You may have been in a room and “felt” someone looking at you.  Is it possible that these people are more “tuned-in” to the environment?

Maybe they sense invisible things in the environment such as gravity or creepy stare rays or “getting-into-mischief-vibes”.

There are many “invisible” things in our environment.  Things like radiation, air pressure, microscopic creatures, and love. When something is invisible to us, it becomes more difficult to understand. We tend to ignore it or find it mysterious or frightening. The spiritual world is a part of this invisible environment.  I find the spiritual realm to have mystery and intrigue. Many people just choose to ignore the spiritual.  So is this invisible environment “supernatural” or just a different part of the natural?

angel glass

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Sometimes God adjusts our senses to be able to see parts of this spiritual world. In Numbers 22:31, Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel with sword drawn. In 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel army upon the mountains.  We tend to forget the fact that angels are among us. They need to be visible for us to stop ignoring them. What spiritual images are we missing because we lack receptors?

What type of receptor would let us see angel armies? Instead of a sensory receptor, the receptor for the spiritual realm appears to be faith, i.e. the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is what allows people to perceive the spiritual world and make it an important part of their lives. It provides the ability to sense God working in our lives.

I like the chorus of an old Sierra song, “…in the Story of Life, I’ve found the only way I can ever survive is reading by the light of my Faith…” (Sierra, 1998).  Faith provides the “vision” to see life with its eternal meaning.

People have the ability to increase their sensitivity to the environment.  We know that people who have lost their sight have the other senses become more sensitive. Other people have focused on their senses and increased awareness of their environment. With practice and meditation they can train their senses to be more tuned-in, increasing their “sense-ability”.

This can happen in the spiritual realm also. Prayer allows us to focus on the spiritual. Meditation can train the faith receptors to be more sensitive. Maybe we can tune-in our spiritual seventh sense to become more aware of our true environment. More interaction with the spiritual world can make it less mysterious and less frightening. The increased sensitivity would allow us to be consciously aware of this invisible world that is all around us making it more “natural” in our lives.

What ways could you focus on your Faith to increase your sense-ability of God’s presence in your life?

dsb

Faith outside of Church

It’s not a simple question.  Where does my faith intersect with my discipline?  I mean, I grew up as a preacher’s kid going to Sunday school and church and camp and Bible drill and more church… even Wednesday night business meetings. I checked all the right boxes on my envelope and turned it into the offering plate. I memorized Scriptures to win a bicycle, sang in the youth choir, and went to vacation Bible school and mission trips. Born and raised Southern Baptist, but is that my faith?

I loved math and science.  I studied the earth, the sky, the outdoors, animals and the wonders of nature.  I wanted to be an astronaut or scientist.  And through high school struggled with how my faith fit with science.

I tried to merge the two areas of my life by going to a small Christian college, East Texas Baptist College (ETBC…I was here before U.) and majoring in biology.  As with most liberal arts colleges, ETBU was not known for its science education. You know, the science professors here probably couldn’t get a job at a real university so they settled for teaching at a liberal arts college.  Still I enjoyed my classes, and although the coursework was more challenging than high school, I made A’s and had plenty of time for extracurricular activities such as Christian ministries as well as pranks other social activities.

It was during these years that I discovered my so called faith was really more religion than relationship.  I spent the first two years of college as a bed-side Baptist playing the religion game. Then at one of the chapels I didn’t sleep in, or a BSU revival week, or a Bible study in the dorm, or somewhere it clicked that the relationship was more important than the religion. Even Jesus said that eternal life was getting to know God and His Son (John 17:3). The Bible became a fountain of knowledge about Jesus and God (even the Old Testament). My faith was flourishing. Obviously I needed to become a minister right? I added a minor in religion. That would take care of that faith and discipline problem.

Still had a love of science… Can a scientist be a minister?

I received my degree in biology and scored high enough to attend graduate school at Texas A&M University.  When I entered Texas A&M, I was directed to the large animal surgical ward in a neuroscience lab.  I found the professor in the middle of surgery in which he was inserting a probe into a cow’s brain.  As he operated, he described the various regions of the brain as the probe passed through them.  As he talked, I found myself totally ignorant of any of the anatomy he described.  I was embarrassed with my lack of knowledge and, in my mind, blamed the poor instruction I received in my undergraduate anatomy class.  I figured that the instructor had skipped those portions of the textbook because he did not know the material.  Of course, what should you expect from a small college where the science professors were probably second-rate or last-chance employees?

Sometime later, I was moving boxes of my old textbooks when a lab manual fell on the ground.  It was my human anatomy lab manual from ETBU. Remembering my embarrassment in the surgical ward, I took this opportunity to revisit my disgust of the former anatomy professor. I turned to the nervous system section and found a picture of the brain.  Instead of being skipped over, I found every blank filled in with proper terminology.  On top of that, it was in my own handwriting!

Not only had the professor gone over this material, he had covered it completely.  Apparently, my learning was not learning after all, but it was short-term memorizing.  I had crammed for the tests and made the grade, but did not learn the material.  My graduate work at Texas A&M took longer to finish than it should have.  I had to spend some of that time relearning the things I had not truly learned during my undergraduate years.

Intersection of faith and discipline? How about working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23)? Doing my best in all endeavors, including studying. Is that faith?

Faith intersects my Life… Not just at church. Now I look for those intersections in everyday life.  I hope to let you in on the larger intersections I find…

Ironically, I became a biology professor at ETBU, (insert God’s laughter here), where I try to encourage my students to learn it right the first time. And this job was not my last choice…It was my calling and my ministry!