Tag Archives: Life

Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez lectures on intelligent design and habitability

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here is a lecture that talks about intelligent design and eclipses. There are 5 video clips that make up the full lecture.

The playlist for all 5 clips is here.

About the speaker

Guillermo Gonzalez is an Associate Professor of Physics at Grove City College. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1993 from the University of Washington. He has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and at the University of Washington and has received fellowships, grants and awards from such institutions as NASA, the University of Washington, the Templeton Foundation, Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the National Science Foundation.

Learn more about the speaker here.

The lecture

Here’s part 1 of 5:

And the rest are here:

Total time: 43 minutes.

Topics:

  • What is the Copernican Principle?
  • Is the Earth’s suitability for hosting life rare in the universe?
  • Does the Earth have to be the center of the universe to be special?
  • How similar to the Earth does a planet have to be to support life?
  • What is the definition of life?
  • What are the three minimal requirements for life of any kind?
  • Requirement 1: A molecule that can store information (carbon)
  • Requirement 2: A medium in which chemicals can interact (liquid water)
  • Requirement 3: A diverse set of chemical elements
  • What is the best environment for life to exist?
  • Our place in the solar system: the circumstellar habitable zone
  • Our place in the galaxy: the galactic habitable zones
  • Our time in the universe’s history: the cosmic habitable age
  • Other habitability requirements (e.g. – metal-rich star, massive moon, etc.)
  • The orchestration needed to create a habitable planet
  • How different factors depend on one another through time
  • How tweaking one factor can adversely affect other factors
  • How many possible places are there in the universe where life could emerge?
  • Given these probabilistic resources, should we expect that there is life elsewhere?
  • How to calculate probabilities using the “Product Rule”
  • Can we infer that there is a Designer just because life is rare? Or do we need more?

The corelation between habitability and measurability.

  • Are the habitable places in the universe also the best places to do science?
  • Do the factors that make Earth habitable also make it good for doing science?
  • Some places and times in the history of the universe are more habitable than others
  • Those exact places and times also allow us to make scientific discoveries
  • Observing solar eclipses and structure of our star, the Sun
  • Observing stars and galaxies
  • Observing the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Observing the acceleration of the universe caused by dark matter and energy
  • Observing the abundances of light elements like helium of hydrogen
  • These observations support the big bang and fine-tuning arguments for God’s existence
  • It is exactly like placing observatories on the tops of mountains
  • There are observers existing in the best places to observe things
  • This is EXACTLY how the universe has been designed for making scientific discoveries

This lecture was delivered by Guillermo Gonzalez in 2007 at the University of California at Davis. If you like this lecture, but maybe want something a bit more user friendly, check out “The Privileged Planet” DVD, or watch it online here (first 60 minutes of that video).

If unborn babies don’t have consciousness or don’t feel pain, may we kill them?

Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics
Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics

Was having a conversation by e-mail yesterday with a pro-abortion atheist, and he gave two reasons why he supported abortion in the first and second trimester. First, he said that unborn babies can’t feel pain, so it’s OK to kill them. Second, he said that unborn babies don’t have consciousness, so it’s OK to kill them. I thought it might be useful to link to something that answers both of these objections.

Frank Beckwith is the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“, which was published by Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote four easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal. Part IV is the one that has the response to the two questions raised by my atheist friend.

Part I. The Appeal to Pity

Part II. Arguments from Pity, Tolerance, and Ad Hominem

Part III. Is The Unborn Human Less Than Human?

Part IV. When Does a Human Become a Person?

Excerpt:

Some ethicists argue that the unborn becomes fully human sometime after brain development has begun, when it becomes sentient: capable of experiencing sensations such as pain. The reason for choosing sentience as the criterion is that a being that cannot experience anything (i.e., a presentient unborn entity) cannot be harmed. Of course, if this position is correct, then the unborn becomes fully human probably during the second trimester and at least by the third trimester. Therefore, one does not violate anyone’s rights when one aborts a nonsentient unborn entity. [13]

There are several problems with this argument. First, it confuses harm with hurt and the experience of harm with the reality of harm. [14] One can be harmed without experiencing the hurt that sometimes follows from that harm, and which we often mistake for the harm itself. For example, a temporarily comatose person who is suffocated to death “experiences no harm,” but he is nevertheless harmed. Hence, one does not have to experience harm, which is sometimes manifested in hurt, in order to be truly harmed.

Second, if sentience is the criterion of full humanness, then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping would all have to be declared nonpersons. Like the presentient unborn, these individuals are all at the moment nonsentient though they have the natural inherent capacity to be sentient. Yet to countenance their executions would be morally reprehensible. Therefore, one cannot countenance the execution of some unborn entities simply because they are not currently sentient.

Someone may reply that while these objections make important points, there is a problem of false analogy in the second objection: the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping once functioned as sentient beings, though they are now in a temporary state of nonsentience. The presentient unborn, on the other hand, were never sentient. Hence, one is fully human if one was sentient “in the past” and will probably become sentient again in the future, but this cannot be said of the presentient unborn.

There are at least three problems with this response. First, to claim that a person can be sentient, become nonsentient, and then return to sentience is to assume there is some underlying personal unity to this individual that enables us to say that the person who has returned to sentience is the same person who was sentient prior to becoming nonsentient. But this would mean that sentience is not a necessary condition for personhood. (Neither is it a sufficient condition, for that matter, since nonhuman animals are sentient.) Consequently, it does not make sense to say that a person comes into existence when sentience arises, but it does make sense to say that a fully human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity to give rise to sentience. A presentient unborn human entity does have this capacity. Therefore, an ordinary unborn human entity is a person, and hence, fully human.

Second, Ray points out that this attempt to exclude many of the unborn from the class of the fully human is “ad hoc and counterintuitive.” He asks us to “consider the treatment of comatose patients. We would not discriminate against one merely for rarely or never having been sentient in the past while another otherwise comparable patient had been sentient….In such cases, potential counts for everything.” [15]

Third, why should sentience “in the past” be the decisive factor in deciding whether an entity is fully human when the presentient human being “is one with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts?” [16] Since we have already seen that one does not have to experience harm in order to be harmed, it seems more consistent with our moral sensibilities to assert that what makes it wrong to kill the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, the momentarily unconscious, and the presentient unborn is that they all possess the natural inherent capacity to perform personal acts. And what makes it morally right to kill plants and to pull the plug on the respirator-dependent brain dead, who were sentient “in the past,” is that their deaths cannot deprive them of their natural inherent capacity to function as persons, since they do not possess such a capacity.

These four essays are a very good introduction to common responses to pro-abortion arguments. I recommend that people get familiar with this, as once you look into it, you will see that the abortion issue can be debated with as much confidence as William Lane Craig defends Christian theism. You will have the same access to scientific evidence and rational arguments on this topic, and so you will have the upper hand. And that’s fun.

The best introductory book on the abortion / right to life issue is “The Case for Life” by pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf. The best comprehensive book is a tie between “The Ethics of Abortion” by Christopher Kaczor, and Frank Beckwith’s “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“.

Stephen C. Meyer lectures on intelligent design and the origin of life

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

A MUST-SEE lecture based on Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell“.

I highly recommend watching the lecture, and looking at the slides. The quality of the video and the content is first class. There is some Q&A (9 minutes) at the end of the lecture.

Topics:

  • intelligent design is concerned with measuring the information-creating capabilities of natural forces like mutation and selection
  • Darwinists think that random mutations and natural selection can explain the origin and diversification of living systems
  • Darwinian mechanisms are capable of explaining small-scale adaptive changes within types of organisms
  • but there is skepticism, even among naturalists, that Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of animal designs
  • even if you concede that Darwinism can account for all of the basic animal body plans, there is still the problem of life’s origin
  • can Darwinian mechanisms explain the origin of the first life? Is there a good naturalistic hypothesis to explain it?
  • there are at least two places in the history of life where new information is needed: origin of life, and Cambrian explosion
  • overview of the structure of DNA and protein synthesis (he has helpful pictures and he uses the snap lock blocks, too)
  • the DNA molecule is composed of a sequence of bases that code for proteins, and the sequence is carefully selected to have biological function
  • meaningful sequences of things like computer code, English sentences, etc. require an adequate cause
  • it is very hard to arrive at a meaningful sequence of a non-trivial length by randomly picking symbols/letters
  • although any random sequence of letters is improbable, the vast majority of sequences are gibberish/non-compiling code
  • similarly, most random sequences of amino acids are lab-proven (Doug Axe’s work) to be non-functional gibberish
  • the research showing this was conducted at Cambridge University and published in the Journal of Molecular Biology
  • so, random mutation cannot explain the origin of the first living cell
  • however, even natural selection coupled with random mutation cannot explain the first living cell
  • there must already be replication in order for mutation and selection to work, so they can’t explain the first replicator
  • but the origin of life is the origin of the first replicator – there is no replication prior to the first replicator
  • the information in the first replicator cannot be explained by law, such as by chemical bonding affinities
  • the amino acids are attached like magnetic letters on a refrigerator
  • the magnetic force sticks the letters ON the fridge, but they don’t determine the specific sequence of the letters
  • if laws did determine the sequence of letters, then the sequences would be repetitive
  • the three materialist explanations – chance alone, chance and law, law alone – are not adequate to explain the effect
  • the best explanation is that an intelligent cause is responsible for the biological explanation in the first replicator
  • we know that intelligent causes can produce functional sequences of information, e.g. – English, Java code
  • the structure and design of DNA matches up nicely with the design patterns used by software engineers (like WK!)

There are some very good tips in this lecture so that you will be able to explain intelligent design to others in simple ways, using everyday household items and children’s toys to symbolize the amino acids, proteins, sugar phosphate backbones, etc.

Proteins are constructed from a sequence of amino acids:

A sequence of amino acids forming a protein
A sequence of amino acids forming a protein

Proteins sticking onto the double helix structure of DNA:

Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone
Some proteins sticking onto the sugar phosphate backbone

I highly, highly recommend this lecture. You will be delighted and you will learn something.

Here is an article that gives a general overview of how intelligent design challenges. If you want to read something more detailed about the material that he is covering in the lecture above related to the origin of life, there is a pretty good article here.

There is a good breakdown of some of the slides with helpful flow charts here on Uncommon Descent.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Study: the early Earth’s atmosphere contained oxygen

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s a paper published in the prestigious peer-reviewed science journal Nature, entitled “The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth’s atmosphere”. This paper is significant because it undermines naturalistic scenarios for the origin of life.

Evolution News explains what the paper is about.

Excerpt:

A recent Nature publication reports a new technique for measuring the oxygen levels in Earth’s atmosphere some 4.4 billion years ago. The authors found that by studying cerium oxidation states in zircon, a compound formed from volcanic magma, they could ascertain the oxidation levels in the early earth. Their findings suggest that the early Earth’s oxygen levels were very close to current levels.

[…]Miller and Urey conducted experiments to show that under certain atmospheric conditions and with the right kind of electrical charge, several amino acids could form from inorganic compounds such as methane, ammonia, and water. Several experiments have been done using various inorganic starting materials, all yielding a few amino acids; however, one key aspect of all of these experiments was the lack of oxygen.

If the atmosphere has oxygen (or other oxidants) in it, then it is an oxidizing atmosphere. If the atmosphere lacks oxygen, then it is either inert or a reducing atmosphere. Think of a metal that has been left outside, maybe a piece of iron. That metal will eventually rust. Rusting is the result of the metal being oxidized. With organic reactions, such as the ones that produce amino acids, it is very important that no oxygen be present, or it will quench the reaction. Scientists, therefore, concluded that the early Earth must have been a reducing environment when life first formed (or the building blocks of life first formed) because that was the best environment for producing amino acids. The atmosphere eventually accumulated oxygen, but life did not form in an oxidative environment.

The problem with this hypothesis is that it is based on the assumption that organic life must have formed from inorganic materials. That is why the early Earth must have been a reducing atmosphere. Research has been accumulating for more than thirty years, however, suggesting that the early Earth likely did have oxygen present.

[…]Their findings not only showed that oxygen was present in the early Earth atmosphere, something that has been shown in other studies, but that oxygen was present as early as 4.4 billion years ago. This takes the window of time available for life to have begun, by an origin-of-life scenario like the RNA-first world, and reduces it to an incredibly short amount of time. Several factors need to coincide in order for nucleotides or amino acids to form from purely naturalistic circumstances (chance and chemistry). The specific conditions required already made purely naturalist origin-of-life scenarios highly unlikely. Drastically reducing the amount of time available, adding that to the other conditions needing to be fulfilled, makes the RNA world hypothesis or a Miller-Urey-like synthesis of amino acids simply impossible.

So here’s where we stand. If you are a materialist, then you need a reducing environment on the early Earth in order to get organic building blocks (amino acids) from inorganic materials. However, the production of these organic building blocks (amino acids) requires that the early Earth atmosphere be oxygen-free. And the problem with this new research, which confirms previous research, is that the early Earth contained huge amounts of oxygen – the same amount of oxygen as we have today. This is lethal to naturalistic scenarios for creating the building blocks of life on the Earth’s surface.

Other problems

If you would like to read a helpful overview of the problems with a naturalistic scenario for the origin of life, check out this article by Casey Luskin.

Excerpt:

The “origin of life” (OOL) is best described as the chemical and physical processes that brought into existence the first self-replicating molecule. It differs from the “evolution of life” because Darwinian evolution employs mutation and natural selection to change organisms, which requires reproduction. Since there was no reproduction before the first life, no “mutation – selection” mechanism was operating to build complexity. Hence, OOL theories cannot rely upon natural selection to increase complexity and must create the first life using only the laws of chemistry and physics.

There are so many problems with purely natural explanations for the chemical origin of life on earth that many scientists have already abandoned all hopes that life had a natural origin on earth. Skeptical scientists include Francis Crick (solved the 3-dimensional structure of DNA) and Fred Hoyle (famous British cosmologist and mathematician), who, in an attempt to retain their atheistic worldviews, then propose outrageously untestable cosmological models or easily falsifiable extra-terrestrial-origin-of-life / panspermia scenarios which still do not account for the natural origin of life. So drastic is the evidence that Scientific American editor John Horgan wrote, “[i]f I were a creationist, I would cease attacking the theory of evolution … and focus instead on the origin of life. This is by far the weakest strut of the chassis of modern biology.”3

The article goes over the standard problems with naturalistic scenarios of the origin of life: wrong atmosphere, harmful UV radiation, interfering cross-reactions, oxygen levels, meteorite impacts, chirality, etc.

Most people who are talking about intelligent design at the origin of life talk about the information problem – how do you get the amino acids to form proteins and how do you get nucleotide bases to code for amino acids? But the starting point for solving the sequencing problem is the construction of the amino acids – there has to be a plausible naturalistic scenario to form them.

Lawrence Krauss debates “A Universe From Nothing” with an astrophysicist

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

Dina sent me news of an exciting episode of Unbelievable, which features Lawrence Krauss, who debated William Lane Craig. Krauss’ book was also reviewed in the New York Times.

Details:

Lawrence Krauss is a Cosmologist at Arizona State University who describes himself as an “anti-theist”. His latest book “A Universe From Nothing” has received both acclaim and criticism for its attempt to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Debating the issue with Krauss is Rodney Holder, Course director at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. An astrophysicist and priest by background. In a lively exchange they debate whether Krauss’ “nothing” is “nothing”, fine tuning and multiverses, scientific knowledge, miracles and the usefulness of theology and philosophy.

This debate is quite entertaining, and do not be intimidated if your don’t understand science. You can understand pretty easily who is arguing based on facts and who is speculating about unobservable, untestable entities. At one point, Krauss actually denies that there is any fine-tuning in the universe, so please see this link to refute that claim as well as this podcast which explains some examples of fine-tuning. Krauss gets a bit angry at the beginning, but calms down.

Quotation marks are for direct quotes, italics is for made-up snark. See below the summary for more posts that are related to this one.

Summary of the discussion: (picked up at 9:30 when they start talking about the book)

Brierley:

  • explain your theory of how the universe can come into being from nothing

Krauss:

  • the nothing that preceded the universe is “no space, no time, no universe”
  • theists say that God is responsible for creating the universe out of this nothing
  • but the laws of nature can create the universe uncaused out of nothing

Holder:

  • Krauss sometimes writes that the nothing is really a quantum vacuum, but that is not nothing
  • He even acknowledges in his book that a quantum vacuum is not nothing
  • He thinks that the nothing has properties, even though it has no being
  • It has the property of being unstable
  • It has the property of being acted on by quantum fields
  • It has the property of being acted on by gravity

Krauss:

  • But nothing can have the potential to do things inside it
  • For example suppose you have an electron, which is not nothing
  • If it jumps from one level to another, it emits light
  • There was no potential for the light in the electron, but it was there as part of atomic structure

Holder:

  • But in cases like that, there is something physical that has the potential
Krauss:
  • Well, how did God makes the universe then if it had no potential?

Holder:

  • God existed, and the potential for creating the universe in himself

Brierley:

Krauss:
  • It was written by a philosopher, so I dismissed it

Brierley:

Krauss:
  • These book reviewers have not even read my book!

Krauss:

  • Science will be able to figure out how to make something from nothing in the future
  • We are even now speculating about interesting questions, like is there a multiverse?

Brierley:

  • Consider the critical review of your book in the New York Times
  • The author of the review claims that you equivocate on the term “nothing”
  • In order to get things to pop into being, you have to make “nothing” mean “something”
  • Reviewer: none of Krauss’ theories explain how something can come from actual nothingness

Krauss:

  • In physics, something and nothing are not that different
  • The reviewer doesn’t understand the physics
  • He doesn’t understand quantum field theory
  • You could call a quantum vacuum “nothing”, (this is the vacuum fluctuation model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)
  • Maybe there is an eternally existing multiverse that we can’t observe or test scientifically
  • Maybe it has laws that we don’t know about which allow our universe to pop into being
  • Maybe this popping into being is uncaused
  • (alarmed) Who made God? Who made God?

Holder:

  • God is eternal and necessary

Krauss:

  • (interrupting, angry) What does it mean for something to be necessary?

Holder:

  • Basically, you have to decide whether there is more evidence that the necessary being God or a multiverse

Brierley:

  • So Dr. Krauss are you willing to say that the universe is a brute fact, in some sense, and requires no explanation

Krauss:

  • (angry) Religious people are stupid because they just assume brute facts, not like me and my unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • (angry) Religious people are against the progress of science, they don’t want to figure out how things work

Brierley:

  • But isn’t it possible that naturalists can be opposed to the progress of science?
  • What about the way the Fred Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because he wanted an eternal universe

Krauss:

  • (angry) But naturalists like me let the facts determine our beliefs, like the facts about the eternal unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • (angry, shouting) Philosophers are stupid, they know nothing!

=== Break ===

Brierley:

  • Do you see any evidence of purpose in the universe?

Krauss:

  • Well maybe I would believe if the stars lined up to spell out a message from God

Brierley:

  • Actually no, that wouldn’t be evidence for God on your multiverse view
  • if there an infinite number of universes existing for an infinite amount of time, then anything can happen no matter how unlikely it is
  • therefore, no evidence could convince you that God exists, since the unobservable, untestable, eternal multiverse can make anything it wants

Krauss:

  • That’s a true statement, and very convenient for atheists who don’t want to be accountable to God, don’t you think?
Brierley:
  • Back to the multiverse, how does it solve the fine-tuning?

Krauss:

  • “We have no idea if the universe is fine-tuned for life”, even though the atheist Martin Rees who endorsed Krauss’ book wrote his own book about the fine-tuning of the universe called “Just Six Numbers”
  • Inflationary theory does suggest a way to create multiple universes, (this is the chaotic inflationary model, refuted by William Lane Craig in a peer-reviewed publication in an astrophysics journal – get the full text of the article here)

Brierley:

  • But this theory is still very much a hypothesis, isn’t it? We can’t observe or test this hypothesis can we?

Krauss:

  • “No, and that is really important to state”
  • “I’m an empiricist, so if you can’t falsify it and if you can’t test it then it’s not science”
  • In my book, I speculate about a way that we could test the multiverse theory

Holder:

  • Yes, in principle, the multiverse would be scientific if you could test it through other theories like inflationary theory
  • There are a lot of speculations about multiverse theory, but no evidence from predictions that were validated in the lab

Krauss:

  • “I agree completely with everything you just said”

Brierley:

  • Roger Penrose agrees with Holder that the multiverse theory is too speculative
  • (To Holder) Isn’t the multiverse theory better than positing a completely different kind of being, which is God?

Holder:

  • The multiverse theory is extremely speculative
  • Even if the multiverse were true, you would still need to explain the multiverse

Krauss:

  • People don’t oppose my book because it’s full of self-contradictory speculations
  • People oppose my book because they are stupid and ignorant

Holder:

  • There are things that exist that science cannot measure, like objective morality
  • It’s possible to give explanations for moral behavior by appealing to evolution
  • But that does not ground self-sacrificial morality, such as what occurs in the Christian life

Brierley:

  • Dawkins says there is no purpose or morality in in the universe, do you agree?

Krauss:

  • “There is certainly no evidence of any of that”

Brierley:

  • In the book, you talk about how we live in a special time in the universe’s history to be able to do science, (i.e. – The Privileged Planet hypothesis)
  • You also write about how all the discoveries were are making will not be communicated to anyone in other places in the universe
  • So what is the meaning of doing science on your view? And why are you sad at the knowledge that will not be available to people in the future?
  • Are you longing for some kind of purpose?

Krauss:

  • No, I just get enjoyment from studying the universe with science to gain understanding

Holder:

  • What do you make of Einstein’s statement about the unexpected comprehensibility of the universe
  • Theists would say that this is because God wanted us to study and understand and gain knowledge

Krauss:

  • “It is remarkable that the universe is comprehensible”

Brierley:

  • Why is the universe comprehensible?

Krauss:

  • Well, maybe the universe just has to be that way

Brierley:

  • What do you make of the heat death of the universe, when all life in the universe will die out?

Krauss:

  • That’s the way the universe is
=== BREAK ===

Krauss:

  • I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there was a God
  • God is a cosmic Saddam Hussein
  • “Religious people turn their minds off” and believe in God for consolation

Holder:

  • First, Jesus is the revelation of God and he is no Saddam Hussein
  • Second, the Christian life is anything but easy, we are facing some persecution already in the UK
  • Third, there is also the problem of being accountable to God when we die
  • It’s very much like science – Christianity is the way it is, not the way we want it to be

Krauss:

  • “If you don’t believe in him, you don’t get any of the benefits, so you have to believe”
  • “And then if you’ve done something wrong, you’re going to be judged for it”
  • “So I don’t want to be judged by God, I want to be… that’s the bottom line”

Holder:

  • Well, Jesus has died to pay the price for those things we’ve done wrong
  • Although we will have to face the charges for what we’ve done, believers will ultimately be forgiven

Finally, Peter Sean Bradley note that Krauss is now walking back his rhetoric in response to criticisms from people like atheist John Horgan.

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