Are Shell Spirals "Merely" Works of Physics?

Article taken from www.evolutionnews.org

statement from CNRS, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, touts research in theJournal of Theoretical Biology. The news release states flatly, "Physics determined ammonite shell shape." It goes on to say that, even though individual shells of different species are "exceptionally diverse," they can all be explained by a biomechanical model.

"Their approach provides new paths for interpreting the evolution of ammonites and nautili," the article boasts. What's missing in this story? Well, it is hidden away behind the word "emergence."

The shape of living organisms evolves over time. The questions raised by this transformation have led to the emergence of theories of evolution. To understand how biological shapes change over a geological time scale, researchers have recently begun to investigate how they are generated during an individual's development and growth: this is known as morphogenesis. Due to the exceptional diversity of their shell shapes and patterns (particularly the ribs), ammonites have been widely studied from the point of view of evolution but the mechanisms underlying the coiled spirals were unknown until now. Researchers therefore attempted to elucidate the evolution of these shapes without knowing how they had emerged. (Emphasis added.)

Ammonite shells are famous for conforming to the Golden Ratio of the Fibonacci sequence (see thismesmerizing artistic video). Strangely, the news release did not mention that. All the researchers called on to do the artwork were forces and rates:

By examining various fossil specimens in light of the simulations produced by the model, the researchers observed that the latter can predict the number and shape of ribs in several ammonites. The model shows that the ornamentation of the shellevolves as a function of variables such as tissue elasticity and shell expansion rate(the rate at which the diameter of the opening increases with each spiral coil).

With their model, they believe they've got the shape solved as well as its evolution:

By providing a biophysical explanation for how these ornamentations form, this theoretical approach explains the diversity existing within and between species. It thus opens new perspectives for the study of the morphological evolution of ammonites, which seems to be largely governed by mechanical and geometric constraints....

 

More generally, this work highlights the value of studying the physical bases of biological development: understanding the "construction rules" underlying the morphological diversity of organisms makes it possible to partially predict how their shape evolves.

Here's what's missing: information. If cells were not pre-programmed with the ability to secrete proteins and minerals in the right orientations, at the right times, a spiral shell obeying the Fibonacci sequence would not result. If only forces and expansion rates were operating blindly, there would be a chaotic jumble.

What controls the tissue elasticity? The information in DNA. What governs the shell expansion rate? The information in DNA. What determines the geometric constraints? The information in DNA. The ammonite takes advantage of physics, but the shell is not merely a product of physics; it is directed by programmed information.

But critics of intelligent design could argue, don't we find the same spirals in galaxies and hurricanes? Don't they, too, conform to the Fibonacci sequence? Yes, but those phenomena are not directed by DNA to make the spirals for a function. The ammonite shell has a function: to provide a habitat for the squid-like animal inside.

We might compare a natural snowflake to a piece of jewelry imitating a snowflake. The latter has a function -- to be an adornment. No natural law acting on silver ore in the ground is going to produce a snowflake shape by chance in a reasonable amount of time.

Similarly, inanimate forces devoid of information do not pull material out of seawater and organize them into chambered spirals that function as houses for cephalopods. You'll notice that the CNRS researchers call their model a "biophysical" model, not just a physical model. Hidden in the "bio" part is the genetic information that directs the "physical" part.

If the researchers feel that physics alone can produce ammonite spirals, we might ask if physics alone can also produce the video about Fibonacci ratios in nature that we referenced earlier.

The Design Filter can distinguish between phenomena that appear outwardly similar, like the spiral galaxy and the ammonite shell. The former can be explained by natural law and chance. The latter cannot, because the forces available in seawater are inadequate and too improbable. We can therefore not only infer design, but actually observe the information in the DNA acting to produce the result.

Why would the universe be organized in such a way that the Fibonacci sequence shows up in so many places, including in non-living objects like spiral galaxies and hurricanes? If natural laws are contingent, the number of possible universes allowing such outcomes must be vanishingly small. This suggests even deeper levels of design in the fabric of the universe. As William Dembski argues in his new book Being as Communion, it's "information all the way down."

Do We Live in a "Golden Ratio" Universe?

Original Article from www.evolutionnews.org

Writing recently about the Golden Ratio, we described how spiral shells grow according to that special ratio, designated by the Greek letter phi (φ = 1.618...), based on the Fibonacci series, that the human eye finds pleasing. Since hurricanes and spiral galaxies also follow the same proportions, it seems that natural laws can explain how non-living spirals in hurricanes and galaxies will grow, but living things like ammonite shells require genetic instructions. This is evidence of intelligent design, because no natural law pulls silicon out of seawater and fashions it into exquisite spirals without being directed by a code. The ubiquity of φ in so many unrelated phenomena, both living and nonliving, suggests a deeper level of design in the universe.

Now two scientists from South Africa say that φ is the key to unifying all of science. A news item from the University of Witwatersrand ("Wits" for short) in Johannesburg summarizes an article of scientific correspondence by Jan Boeyens, a former Wits University Professor and now at the Centre for Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, and Professor Francis Thackeray, a paleontologist at Wits University's Evolutionary Studies Institute. Writing in the South African Journal of Science, "Number Theory and the Unity of Science," Boeyens and Thackeray relate an astonishing list of apparently unrelated phenomena that follow the Golden Ratio:

  • The curl of an elephant tusk
  • The shape of a kudu's horn
  • Hurricane spirals
  • The distribution of planets in the solar system
  • A biological species constant, T
  • The spiral structure of the cochlea ear-bone in a fossil hominin
  • The logarithmic spirals of galaxies
  • The structure of DNA
  • The growth of many plants (phyllotaxis)
  • The Periodic Table of the Elements
  • Spiral shells of certain mollusks, like snails
  • Spiral shells of living and extinct ammonites
  • Stress patterns in nanomaterials
  • The stability of atomic nuclides
  • The topology of space-time

Boeyens even says that "concepts associated with relativity and quantum mechanics can be integrated, through the number 1.618." He shows briefly how this is done.

To Boeyens and Thackeray, this evidence suggests a deep relationship in the fabric of space-time that includes biology:

We suggest that there is a strong case that this so-called 'Golden Ratio' (1.61803...) can be related not only to aspects of mathematics but also to physics, chemistry,biology and the topology of space-time....

Apart from the Golden Ratio, a second common factor among this variety of structures is that they all represent spontaneous growth patterns. The argumentthat this amazing consilience ('self-similarity') arises from a response to a common environmental constraint, which can only be an intrinsic feature of curved space-time, is compelling. (Emphasis added.)

In concluding, they argue for the unification of all the sciences around the Golden Ratio:

The time has come to recognise that relativity and quantum theories can be integrated, and linked numerically to the value of a mathematical constant -- whether in the context of space-time or biology.

They never explain, though, why this should be so. Is it a requirement of any universe in a multiverse that it must follow the Golden Ratio? That idea would seem hard to defend; advocates of a multiverse typically agree that physical parameters could take on any values, because they wish to avoid the conclusion that our universe's fine-tuned values were chosen by design. We live in a fine-tuned universe, they say, by luck: we won the Cosmic Lottery. A higher-level principle of natural selection dictates that complex life can only appear in a universe like ours.

Multiverse speculations might account for a finite set of lucky draws, but could it explain an all-pervasive ratio like φ? Could you have a universe with constants of gravity, electrical charges, and cosmological constant like ours, but with its space-time fabric following some other proportion? Why not? φ is an irrational number derived from a mathematical series, the Fibonacci series. There are plenty of other numerical series around. Why is a consistent mathematical form even necessary for a universe?

These are deep questions that can only be tested philosophically, because we only have one universe to observe. But it must strike any reasonable person as uncanny that so many phenomena are unified by a certain number, 1.618..., derived from a mathematical series, that permits the existence of "endless forms most beautiful." The idea that nature can be unified in this manner is consistent with intelligent design in two ways: (1) Most contingent values of fundamental constants would preclude observers, and (2) the Golden Ratio gives the universe a beautiful form that aesthetically minded observers can appreciate.

The Dating of the New Testament

Norman Geisler

When the New Testament was written is a significant issue, as one assembles the overall argument for Christianity. Confidence in the historical accuracy of these documents depends partly on whether they were written by eyewitnesses and contemporaries to the events described, as the Bible claims. Negative critical scholars strengthen their own views as they separate the actual events from the writings by as much time as possible.

For this reason radical scholars argue for late first century, and if possible second century, dates for the autographs [original manuscripts]. By these dates they argue that the New Testament documents, especially the Gospels, contain mythology. The writers created the events contained, rather than reported them.

Arguments for Early Dates (Luke and Acts)

The Gospel of Luke was written by the same author as the Acts of the Apostles, who refers to Luke as the 'former account' of 'all that Jesus began to do and teach' (Acts 1:1). The destiny ('Theophilus'), style, and vocabulary of the two books betray a common author. Roman historian Colin Hemer has provided powerful evidence that Acts was written between AD 60 and 62. This evidence includes these observations:

1. There is no mention in Acts of the crucial event of the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
2. There is no hint of the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 or of serious deterioration of relations between Romans and Jews before that time.
3. There is no hint of the deterioration of Christian relations with Rome during the Neronian persecution of the late 60s.
4. There is no hint of the death of James at the hands of the Sanhedrin in ca. 62, which is recorded by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (20.9.1.200).
5. The significance of Gallio's judgement in Acts 18:14-17 may be seen as setting precedent to legitimize Christian teaching under the umbrella of the tolerance extended to Judaism.
6. The prominence and authority of the Sadducees in Acts reflects a pre-70 date, before the collapse of their political cooperation with Rome.
7. The relatively sympathetic attitude in Acts to Pharisees (unlike that found even in Luke's Gospel) does not fit well with in the period of Pharisaic revival that led up to the council at Jamnia. At that time a new phase of conflict began with Christianity.
8. Acts seems to antedate the arrival of Peter in Rome and implies that Peter and John were alive at the time of the writing.
9. The prominence of 'God-fearers' in the synagogues may point to a pre-70 date, after which there were few Gentile inquiries and converts to Jerusalem.
10. Luke gives insignificant details of the culture of an early, Julio-Claudian period.
11. Areas of controversy described presume that the temple was still standing.
12. Adolf Harnack contended that Paul's prophecy in Acts 20:25 (cf. 20:38) may have been contradicted by later events. If so, the book must have appeared before those events.
13. Christian terminology used in Acts reflects an earlier period. Harnack points to use of Iusous and Ho Kurios, while Ho Christos always designates 'the Messiah', and is not a proper name for Jesus.
14. The confident tone of Acts seems unlikely during the Neronian persecutions of Christians and the Jewish War with the Rome during the late 60s.
15. The action ends very early in the 60s, yet the description in Acts 27 and 28 is written with a vivid immediacy. It is also an odd place to end the book if years have passed since the pre-62 events transpired.

If Acts was written in 62 or before, and Luke was written before Acts (say 60), then Luke was written less than thirty years of the death of Jesus. This is contemporary to the generation who witnessed the events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This is precisely what Luke claims in the prologue to his Gospel:

Many have undertaken to draw up a record of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. [5uke 1:1-4]

Luke presents the same information about who Jesus is, what he taught, and his death and resurrection as do the other Gospels. Thus, there is not a reason to reject their historical accuracy either.

First Corinthians

It is widely accepted by critical and conservative scholars that 1 Corinthians was written by 55 or 56. This is less than a quarter century after the crucifixion in 33. Further, Paul speaks of more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection who were still alive when he wrote (15:6). Specifically mentioned are the twelve apostles and James the brother of Jesus. Internal evidence is strong for this early date:

1. The book repeatedly claims to be written by Paul (1:1, 12-17; 3:4, 6, 22; 16:21).
2. There are parallels with the book of Acts.
3. There is a ring of authenticity to the book from beginning to end.
4. Paul mentions 500 who had seen Christ, most of whom were still alive.
5. The contents harmonize with what has been learned about Corinth during that era.

There is also external evidence:

1. Clement of Rome refers to it in his own Epistle to the Corinthians (chap. 47.)
2. The Epistle of Barnabas alludes to it (chap. 4).
3. Shepherd of Hermas mentions it (chap. 4).
4. There are nearly 600 quotations of 1 Corinthians in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian alone (Theissen, 201). It is one of the best attested books of any kind from the ancient world.

Along with 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians and Galatians are well attested and early. All three reveal a historical interest in the events of Jesus' life and give facts that agree with the Gospels. Paul speaks of Jesus' virgin birth (Galatians 4:4), sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21), death on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3Galatians 3:13); resurrection on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4), and post-resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). He mentions the hundreds of eyewitnesses who could verify the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). Paul rests the truth of Christianity on the historicity of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul also gives historical details about Jesus' contemporaries, the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), including his private encounters with Peter and the apostles (Galatians 1:18-2:14). Surrounding persons, places, and events of Christ's birth were all historical. Luke goes to great pains to note that Jesus was born during the days of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) and was baptised in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee. Annas and Caiaphas were high priests (Luke 3:1-2).

Acceptance of Early Dates

There is a growing acceptance of earlier New Testament dates, even among some liberal scholars. Two illustrate this point, former liberal William F. Albright and radical critic John A.T. Robinson.

William F. Albright wrote, 'We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about AD 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.' (Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, 136). Elsewhere Albright said, 'In my opinion, every book of the New Testament was written by a baptised Jew between the forties and eighties of the first century (very probably sometime between about AD 50 and 75)' ('Towards a More Conservative View,' 3).

This scholar went so far as to affirm that the evidence from the Qumran community show that the concepts, terminology, and mind set of the Gospel of John is probably first century ('Recent Discoveries in Palestine'). 'Thanks to the Qumran discoveries, the New Testament proves to be in fact what it was formerly believed to be: the teaching of Christ and his immediate followers between cir. 25 and cir. 80 AD' (From Stone Age to Christianity, 23).

Known for his role in launching the 'Death of God' movement, John A. T. Robinson wrote a revolutionary book titled Redating the New Testament, in which he posited revised dates for the New Testament books that place them earlier than the most conservative scholars ever held. Robinson places Matthew at 40 to after 60, Mark at about 45 to 60, Luke at before 57 to after 60, and John at from 40 to after 65. This would mean that one or two of the Gospels could have been written as early as seven years after the crucifixion. At the latest they were all composed within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. Assuming the basic integrity and reasonable accuracy of the writers, this would place the reliability of the New Testaments beyond reasonable doubt.

Other Evidence – Early Citations

Of the four Gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165), 1038 by Irenaeus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-ca. 220), 9231 by Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254), 3822 by Tertullian (ca. 160s-ca. 220), (ca. 160s-ca. 220), 734 by Hippolytus (d. ca. 236), and 3258 by Eusebius (ca. 265-ca.339; Geisler, 431).

Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, and 1 Corinthians, in 95 to 97. Ignatius referred to six Pauline epistles in about 110, and between 110 and 150 Polycarp quoted from all four gospels, Acts, and most of Paul's epistles. Shepherd of Hermas (115-140) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150) referred to Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive.

Other Evidence – Early Greek Manuscripts

The earliest undisputed manuscript of a New Testament book is the John Rylands papyri (p52), dated from 117 to 138. This fragment of John's gospel survives from within a generation of composition. Since the book was composed in Asia Minor and this fragment was found in Egypt, some circulation time is demanded, surely placing composition of John within the first century. Whole books (Bodmer Papyri) are available from 200. Most of the New Testament, including all the gospels, is available in the Chester Beatty Papyri manuscript from 150 yeas after the New Testament was finished (ca. 250). No other book from the ancient world has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the New Testament.

Jose O'Callahan, a Spanish Jesuit paleographer, made headlines around the world on March 18, 1972, when he identified a manuscript fragment from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) as a piece from the gospel of Mark. The piece was from Cave 7. Fragments from this cave had previously been dated between 50 BC and AD 50, hardly within the time frame established for New Testament writings. Using the accepted methods of papyrology and palaeography, O'Callahan compared sequences of letters with existing documents and eventually identified nine fragments as belonging to one gospel, Acts, and few epistles. Some of these were dated slightly later than 50, but still extremely early:

TextFragmentApprox. date

Mark 4:287Q6AD 50

Mark 6:487Q15AD ?

Mark 6:52537Q5AD 50

Mark 12:177Q7AD 50

Acts 27:387Q6AD 60+

Romans 55:11127Q9AD 70+

1 Timothy 3:16,4:1-37Q4AD 70+

2 Peter 1:157Q10AD 70+

James 1:23247Q8AD 70+

Conclusion

Both friends and critics acknowledge that, if valid, O'Callahan's conclusions will revolutionise New Testament theories. If even some of these fragments are from the New Testament, the implications for Christian apologetics are enormous. Mark and / or Acts must have been written within the lifetime of the apostles and contemporaries of the events. There would have been no time for mythological embellishment of the records. They must be accepted as historical. Mark could be shown to be an early gospel. There would hardly be time for a predecessor series of Q manuscripts. And since these manuscripts are not originals but copies, parts of the New Testament would have been shown to have been copied and disseminated during the lives of the writers. No first century date allows time for myths or legends to creep into the stories about Jesus. Legend development takes at least two full generations, according to A.N Sherwin-White (see Sherwin-White, 189). Physical remoteness from the actual events is also helpful. Neither are available here. The thought is utterly ridiculous with a ca. 50 or earlier Mark. Even putting aside O'Callahan's controversial claims, the cumulative evidence places the New Testament within the first century, and the lives of eyewitnesses.

Sources

W.F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel.
– From Stone Age to Christianity.
– Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands.

– 'Recent Discoveries in Palestine and the Gospel of St. John,' in W.D. Davies and David Daube, eds., The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology.
– 'William Albright: Towards a More Conservative View,' Christianity Today (18 January 1963).
R. Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate.
D. Estrada and W. White, Jr., The First New Testament.
E. Fisher, 'New Testament Documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls?' The Bible Today 61 (1972).
P. Garnet, 'O'Callahan's Fragments: Our Earliest New Testament Texts?'Evangelical Quarterly 45 (1972).
N. Geisler, General Introduction to the Bible.
C.J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.
B. Orchard, 'A Fragment of St. Mark's Gospel Dating from before AD 50?' Biblical Apostolate 6 (1972).
W.N. Pickering, The Identification of the New Testament Text.
W. White, Jr, 'O'Callahan's Identifications: Confirmation and Its Consequences, 'Westminster Journal 35 (1972).
J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament.
A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.
H.C. Theissen, Introduction to the New Testament.
J. Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem.
E. Yamauchi, 'Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History,' Christianity Today (15 March 1974; 28 March 1974).

6 Questions to ask an Atheist

Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or "proofs" for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder.

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?
2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.
3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question - are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I'm thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.
4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?
5.    If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.
6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?

Click HERE for original article

European Space Probe Lands on Comet, Heralded by Overheated Promises of Solving the Enigma of Life

The European Space Agency successfully landed its probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following a ten-year journey through space. Excellent. Now with that accomplished, let the overheated promises pour forth that the landing will solve the enigma of life's origins on Earth, or help reveal the existence of life elsewhere. Countdown: ...3, 2, 1. Go!

  • "Scientists hope the £1billion project will solve some of the greatest puzzles in science -- including the origins of life on Earth." (Daily Mail)
  • "Experts hope studying the inhospitable mountains and ice-filled craters of the comet will help to unlock the secrets of our how life started on our planet." (Express)
  • "Opinion: How comet mission helps in search for alien life." (CNN)
  • "Scientists hope that samples drilled out from the comet ... will unlock details about how the planets -- and possibly even life -- evolved, as the rock and ice that make up comets preserve ancient organic molecules like a time-capsule." (Reuters)
  • "Rosetta’s success will illuminate the origins of life -- it’s a billion well spent." (The Guardian)
  • "Rosetta has travelled four billion miles in its quest to find out, among other things, whether comets could have sparked life on Earth." (Telegraph)
  • "Another idea is that they could have 'seeded' the Earth with the chemistry needed to help kick-start life. Philae will test some of this thinking." (BBC)
  • "Some of the complex molecules thought to be the first building blocks for life may be preserved in 67P's ice." (The Verge)

European space scientists indeed deserve hearty congratulations for an amazing achievement. But as for unraveling the mystery of life here or elsewhere? Get real.

At best, closely examining a comet may illustrate a scenario whereby organic molecules were delivered to our planet, or to another. It can tell us nothing about the really vital question of how the information in life arose -- how those molecules became organized and arranged into complex living systems, the kind that successfully land probes on distant comets.

Continue Reading --->

Is the Universe Hostile to Life?

Greetings Dr. Craig,

May God continue to bless you and your ministry. In looking at various objections to the fine-tuning of the universe I stumbled upon Neil DeGrasse Tyson's objection where he states and I quote "Most places in the universe will kill life instantly - instantly! People say, 'Oh, the forces of nature are just right for life.' Excuse me. Just look at the volume of the universe where you can't live. You will die instantly.”

It seems to me that the fact that life exists anywhere at all is miraculous. Your syllogism defending the fine-tuning argument is great but I would like to hear what you would personally say to Dr. Tyson.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question and God bless!

Franquelis

 

United States

Click HERE to read Dr. Craig's answer

If ISIS’s God Were Real, Would I Be Obliged to Follow Him?

Dear Dr Craig,

You may be aware that Frank Turek has a question he will sometimes ask atheists, "if Christianity were true, would you become a Christian"? Well, recently, an atheist flipped this question around and asked me "If the Islamic State were true (by which he means, if the specific type of Allah that IS believe in, existed) then likewise, would you become an IS member?"

Now, my gut reaction is to say no. I would not follow a God whom I find so horrendous as to condone rape, mass murder and forced conversion such as we're seeing happen right now in the Middle East.

Two problems arise, however:

Firstly, if I say this, the atheist can simply reply, "exactly! And now I'm sure you're aware how I feel too. Even if your Christian God existed, I would not follow him, because I find certain things about his morality horrendous and objectionable". This would seem a conversation stopper.

But, secondly, there seems an even greater problem:

Read More

Biology's Quiet Revolution

Jonathan Wells

In 1980, I overheard a prominent Ivy League cell biologist say that all the basic features of living cells had been discovered; we just needed to fill in the details. His remark reminded me of a statement attributed to William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) in 1900: "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Of course, many revolutionary discoveries in physics were made after 1900. Similarly, many revolutionary discoveries in cell biology have been made since 1980.

Features of living cells that were known by 1980 included the nucleus, the plasma membrane that encloses the cell, the nucleolus (a rounded structure inside the nucleus), chromosomes, mitochondria (tiny energy factories inside the cell), vesicles (tiny membrane-bound compartments in the cell), and the Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum (a network of membranes inside the cell). Scientists had also discovered that DNA carries information encoded in sequences of its four subunits; that the coded information is transcribed into messenger RNAs; and that messenger RNAs are translated into proteins by complex molecular machines in the cell called "ribosomes." Indeed, it became widely accepted that DNA thereby determines the main features of cells -- and the multicellular organisms that are composed of them. Put simply, "DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us."

This view fit neatly with the modern version of Darwin's theory of evolution, according to which DNA mutations provide the raw materials for evolution by natural selection. "With that," said molecular biologist Jacques Monod in 1970, "the mechanism of Darwinism is at last securely founded, and man has to realize that he is a mere accident."

But there have been many discoveries in cell biology since 1980, including some that undermine the idea that "DNA makes RNA makes protein makes us."

Before 1980, biologists already knew that protein-coding regions of DNA in plants and animals are separated by non-protein-coding regions, and that the former could be spliced together in various ways before translation. But it wasn't until 1985 that biologists discovered the "spliceosome," a molecular machine that engaged in RNA splicing that rivals the ribosome in its complexity. Biologists subsequently learned that a single protein-coding region in DNA can yield thousands of different proteins through alternative splicing.

In 1986, biologists discovered RNA editing, by which a cell modifies the subunits in a messenger RNA before translating it into protein--so the final product is not what would have been predicted from the original DNA sequence. At first, this process was found only in single-celled organisms, but extensive RNA editing has since been discovered in humans. In 2003, biologists discovered the "editosome," which performs RNA editing and (like the spliceosome) rivals the ribosome in its complexity.

So several important structures in cells have been discovered since 1980. Significantly, these discoveries cast doubt on the old adage that "DNA makes RNA makes protein make us." If "makes" is taken to mean "determines," then in many cases it is not true that DNA makes RNA.

In many cases it is also not true that RNA makes protein. A protein consists of a string of amino acids that folds into a three-dimensional shape. A protein's function depends on its shape, but in many cases the same amino acid sequence can fold into different shapes.

In 1982, biochemist Stanley Prusiner discovered "prions," proteins that normally fold one way but can fold differently and thereby cause disease. There are also healthy proteins in which the same amino acid sequence can fold into more than one shape; these are known as "metamorphic" proteins. The first was discovered in 1992, but more have been identified since then.

In 1996, biologists discovered a protein that does not fold into a unique shape but can assume different shapes when it interacts with other molecules. Since then, many such proteins have been found; they are called "intrinsically disordered proteins," or IDPs. IDPs are surprisingly common, and their disordered regions play important functional roles.

Recently, biologists Jeffrey Toretsky and Peter Wright published a scientific review article about transient functional compartments inside cells (but not enclosed in membranes) that they call "assemblages," many of which are composed of IDPs. According to a news report in ScienceDaily, the authors are "issuing a call to investigators from various backgrounds, from biophysics to cell biology, to focus their attention on the role of these formations."

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Theistic Ethics and Mind-Dependence

Dear Dr. Craig,

I'm an atheist living in Sweden (there are plenty of us here, as you know!) with an interest in philosophy and ethics, and while I probably disagree with you on a lot of things I very much enjoy your writing and debates. Everyone knows they're in for an intense debate when you take the stand! (There might be a theistic argument here: if God does not exist it's a *miracle* you win so many debates, and therefore evidence of God! I kid, I kid)

I have a question about morality that you'll hopefully be able to answer and clarify your position on. My knowledge of meta-ethics is pretty modest, but I'm actually leaning albeit tentatively towards morality being objective (see, there's at least one thing we agree on!). I'd argue that moral obligation can be objective without God (I won't do that here though), but I'd go even further and say that IF morality is founded in God it is NOT objective. If "objective" means "mind-independent" which might be a rough definition of objective, but let's accept it for now doesn't that make morality founded in God "divinely subjective" rather than objective? Now, perhaps you'd want to object here and say this is a straw man your view is that morality is founded in God's *nature*, perhaps. But if God's nature IS "the good", I don't understand where the normativity comes in. You'll recognize this as the is/ought problem: if God's nature IS in one way and not in another, how does that commit us to the view that we OUGHT to reflect the nature of God in our actions? It certainly seems like we might have prudential reasons to do so (if it were true), but I don't see how we'd have any *moral* reasons (at least not in any stronger sense than what we'd get from basic utilitarianism which I know you reject).

My second question is more directly about your moral argument: if our moral duty is to "reflect God's nature" and God simply IS "the good" (or however you want to put it, I'm trying my best not to straw-man!) doesn't that make your moral argument circular? It seems to me it only make sense because you never define what you actually mean by "moral values and duties" (well, I've never seen you define it anyways!), if we change "objective moral values" to "God's nature" and "duties" to reflection of that very nature, we get:

P1. If God does not exist, God's nature and actions that reflect his nature does not exist. (I agree!) 
P2. God's nature and actions that reflect his nature does exist. (I disagree, this is what we're arguing about!) 
Therefore, God exists.

That seems to make it circular, cause you're just assuming that God's nature exist in premise two. Maybe you can clarify this!

So, to summarize (I know you like summaries): What's the argument that bridges the is/ought problem above, and isn't your moral argument ultimately circular? (Perhaps you could make a clarified version of your moral argument where you define moral values and duties explicitly)

Stay skeptical, keep educating and keep learning!

Love,

Rasmus

 

Sweden


Click HERE to read Dr. Craig's answer

The Reality of Time

Dr. Craig,

You have played a vital role in my apologetic development, a long with other philosophers. I am puzzled by the fact that a lot of things are taken for granted although examining their legitimacy is the job of philosophy, thus I need to ask you, why do you believe in time in the first place? Isn't just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience? I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality. These are physical constituents of the Universe that entail space and mass in a dynamical interaction. Moreover, the elements that shape events already exist in our universe, to say the time for x has not yet come, is strictly to say that the physical conditions for x to occur is not satisfied yet by the gathered factors. Can you help me identify what I could be missing here, please?

Guillermo

Nicaragua

Nice to get a question from someone with the same name as mine! Why do I believe in time? In a word, I experience time, and I have no defeater of the veridicality of that experience.

In my work on God and time, I argue at length for the reality of tensed time, which entails that time is real. I cannot think of any other belief which we have that is so fundamental and so powerfully warranted as the belief that time is real. Even the belief in the existence of the external world of physical objects can’t compare to it. For the external world is apprehended as a temporal world, but in addition to that we apprehend time in the inner life of the mind as we experience a temporal succession of states of consciousness. Even if I were a Boltzmann Brain with the illusion of a physical world about me, the experience of time would remain undiminished for me.

So I’ve argued that belief in the reality of tensed time is a properly basic belief grounded in our temporal experience. Here’s the argument as I state it:

1. Belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future is properly basic.

2. If our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future is properly basic, then we are prima facie justified in holding this belief.

3. Therefore, we are prima facie justified in holding our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future.

Since premiss (2) is true by definition of “properly basic belief,” the premiss requiring defense is (1).

I offer several arguments in support of (1), pointing to such data as our experience of the presentness of our experiences, our differential attitudes toward the past and future, and our experience of temporal becoming. These examples show how basic, deeply ingrained, strongly held, and universal is our belief in the reality of tense and temporal becoming. On any view that time is unreal, we are all of us hopelessly mired in irrationality, prisoners to an illusion from which we are powerless to free ourselves. By contrast, if a tensed theory of time is correct, our experiences and beliefs are entirely rational and appropriate. Thus, insofar as we think that such experiences are justified, we should embrace a tensed theory of time.

It follows from the above argument that we are prima facie justified in holding our belief in the objective reality of the distinction between past, present, and future. Far from being controversial, such a conclusion could be accepted even by a proponent of a tenseless view of time. What he will argue is that our prima facie justification is defeated in some way. But by what? I argue that there are no successful defeaters, including McTaggart’s famous argument for time’s unreality, of such experiences. (By the way, almost nobody agrees with McTaggart’s argument: tensed and tenseless time theorists just fault it in different ways.)

You ask, “Isn't [time] just an idea in our mind that helps us locate an event in relation to our experience?” I see no reason to think so; but even if it were, as explained above, because that experience is tensed, any idea that locates us relative to that experience will give us a tensed, temporal location.

You say, “I do not get older because of time, but because of my biological development and entropic reality.” Well, yes and no. Time does not make your body run down and in that sense age. But everything in time is getting older in the sense that it has existed for a greater temporal duration than it used to, regardless of its physical appearance. As Sydney Shoemaker once showed in a famous article, even a universe frozen into immobility can still undergo temporal passage and so grow older over time.

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