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Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Evolution Refuted" video, from Answers in Genesis

The Evolution Refuted video, from Answers in Genesis, (AIG) a leading Young-Earth Creationist organization, was published in 2011, but I hadn't seen it until recently. (The video is a little over two and a half minutes long.) I'd like to muse about it.

Evolution Refuted makes two claims:
1) "Fact One: There is no known observable process by which new genetic information can be added to an organism's genetic code."
2) "Life has never been observed to come from non-life."
Let me consider these claims, in reverse order.

Life from non-life
My own position is that life would not be present on earth without God's activity, however and whenever that was.

The second claim is true, but trivial. Either life has always been present, since the beginning of the universe, or it somehow came to be, from non-life. Few, if any, people believe the first alternative. The second is true, whether or not anyone observed this. The claim, quoted above, includes not only natural processes (if any such exist) but God's creative actions. Neither of these have been observed. Does AIG wish to claim that God didn't create, because no one observed it? Surely not.

The claim stands in for a more specific, less trivial claim, which was not expressed in the video. That claim is that life can't come from non-life by natural means. Perhaps not. Perhaps it can. We can't observe the entire biosphere all the time. Far from it. It is possible that, somewhere, perhaps in an ocean, a microscopic new living thing has just come into existence, from non-living precursors. If that were to happen, how would we know this? How could we be sure, in the very unlikely event that we found the resulting living organism, that it didn't descend from some previously unknown type, that's been around for a long time? If a new living thing really came to be, in this way, most likely it would not be as good at obtaining energy, reproducing, and protecting itself, as organisms that have been around for a while in the same location, and subject to adaptation and natural selection. So, most likely, it would quickly go extinct, and we would never know of its existence.

(For all we know, God is creating some new form of life right now, somewhere, as far as that goes. We can't really disprove that!)

Can life come from non-life by natural means? As I said, maybe, maybe not. If it did, it couldn't be through natural selection, the mechanism of evolution. (Natural selection really does exist. There's no reasonable argument about that, but there are arguments about its power. See below.) Natural selection requires reproduction, and variety in the offspring. Non-living entities don't reproduce. 

What AIG is really against is not exactly evolution. Evolution, through natural selection, is a fact, for example in the descent of different racial groups from the original human stock. The Bible teaches that. AIG is really against two ideas. One of them is the idea that the earth is billions of years old, rather than a few thousand years old. The other is naturalism. (See here and here for a discussion of the Young-Earth part of Young-Earth Creationism.) Naturalism should be opposed, and is opposed by most Christians, and others. Even if things take place through natural processes, that doesn't mean that God didn't create the processes.

So, for the first claim, the video is really against the possibility of living things arising from non-living by natural means. As indicated above, the claim that this has never been observed is correct. But AIG accepts God's creative activity, and that hasn't been observed, either. But what if natural processes really can be observed to bring about life from non-life? What if, in some yet-to-be-invented experimental system, life is observed to come from a mixture of non-living substances? So what if this did happen? The Bible doesn't rule this out, and it was God who planned for the Carbon atoms that are central to life, and, somehow, brought them into being. It was God who planned for, and brought into existence, the processes, the energy, the substances, necessary for life. Such a discovery would not rule out God's creativity and intelligence.

New genetic information
What about the second claim, which is that new genetic information can't be added to an organism's genome?

One proposed mechanism for this is by duplication, followed by mutation. For example, there are four different globin proteins in humans, including hemoglobin. This article has a table, comparing the amino acids (building blocks of protein) found in all four of them. The table indicates that the four different proteins are similar in their make-up, and scientists believe that all four of them descended from an organism that had only one gene for hemoglobin, but, over time, that gene was duplicated, due to some error in copying, and, once a second (or, eventually, in another organism, a third or fourth) copy existed, it was not critical to the organism, since the first one was still present, so changes in the second copy weren't selected against, and, eventually, it produced a protein with a somewhat different function, because changes eventually led to organisms with these changes were selected for. There are a number of genetic systems where the same thing seems to have happened. New genes, with new genetic information, have become critical to the life of organisms. Can we prove that God didn't specially create these four hemoglobins? No, of course not. But natural processes can explain the existence of similar, but different, functional genes from a single gene ancestor. The AIG claim is really that there is no way this could have happened, without a miracle. All that is needed to refute that claim is to show that there are such mechanisms.

Besides new genes arising by duplication, it is also possible for new functions, from new or modified genes, to arise by mutation. One example is the rise of the ability to use citrate (see also here) in an experimental population of bacteria.

See here for more on the addition of information to an organism's genome.

AIG's claim is really that there is no way that genetic information could be added to an organism's genome, except by Divine action. That claim is false.

In summary, at best, the claims of the AIG video are over-simplistic. At worst, one of those claims is false. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sunspots 481

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Christianity: "7 Signs we may be worshiping the family," instead of encouraging our family to be worshipers.
Health: In parts of Pakistan controlled by the Taliban, polio vaccination is not being done, according to National Public Radio. NPR also reports that, even in other parts of Pakistan, keeping people from getting polio is difficult.
Humor: (Or something) Wired on how lots of human cultural groups have had the idea of werewolves. (Even from places where there are no wolves.)

(Or something) NPR reports that Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, has halted a program designed to make some of its workers sound less Southern.

Science:  Wired tells us that sleeping more than usual doesn't satisfy, and why.

National Public Radio reports on a significant science fair project by a sixth-grader.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Did Jesus say that some are born gay?

A web page, from Whosoever, "an online magazine for GLBT Christians" has this title: "Jesus said some are born gay."

That was news to me, but worth consideration. I wish to muse about that web page.

Why would being born homosexual matter? Here's what the page says:
Some Christians confidently assert that God did not create homosexual people "that way." This is important because they realize if God did create gays "that way," rejecting them would be tantamount to rejecting God’s work in creation.

Those are two interesting sentences, and there's some mushy thinking in them, or mushy thinking is assumed to take place in others. I think that what the first sentence means is not that some Christians claim that God did not create homosexuals, but that some Christians claim that no one is born homosexual, but homosexuals become such by their own choice. And, presumably, they can choose to stop being homosexual. Some Christians do claim that. They are at least partly wrong. Some homosexuals are born with such tendencies, and cannot change that.

Did God create homosexuals? Did God create NBA power forwards, kleptomaniacs, people with perfect pitch, or people with Tourette syndrome? Well, yes and no. God created humans, and humans are born with various physical or mental gifts or characteristics, including some that are clearly inherited, and others that can be developed with exposure to certain environmental factors, such as being raised in a musical household. Most of our characteristics are influenced by both heredity and environment. It is possible that God specially created zygotes, or sperms and eggs, so that they would lead to a person with perfect pitch, or a person who was prone to alcoholism, but most people don't really believe that. They believe, rather, that God allows such things to happen, whether usually perceived as good or ill.

If Christians reject hereditary influences on sexual preference, they are, most likely, wrong. It's a complex and controversial subject, but the preponderance of evidence seems to be that both hereditary and environmental factors influence sexual orientation. It would be surprising if they didn't.

Now, as to "rejecting them would be tantamount to rejecting God's work in creation." Well, some Christians may believe that way, but it is certainly not necessary to do so. We live in a fallen world. Most Christians, I suppose, would believe that cancer was not part of God's original creation, but is now present because of The Fall. Chemotherapy, using sunscreen, or abstaining from tobacco products, is not rejecting God's work in creation, but taking caution in a fallen world. It is possible that some homosexuals are born that way, because we live in a fallen world, just as some babies are born with various kinds of physical and mental challenges. Stating that some people are born with homosexual orientation is not rejecting God's work in creation, any more than allowing that the fact that some mosquitoes carry malaria is a rejection of God's work in creation.

The web page makes an important claim. That claim is about this passage:
Matthew 19: 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so. 9  I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries her when she is divorced commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to him, “If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.”
11 But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but those to whom it is given.12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He who is able to receive it, let him receive it. (World English Bible, public domain)

The claim is that "eunuchs who were born that way . . ." refers to homosexuals. Well, maybe. The only other use of the word, eunuch, in the New Testament is in Acts 8, the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. There is no indication as to how this man became a eunuch. There is reference to eunuchs in a few places in the Old Testament. They include Deuteronomy 23:1 He who is emasculated by crushing or cutting shall not enter into Yahweh’s assembly.
Isaiah 56 3b Do not let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For Yahweh says, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
and choose the things that please me,
and hold fast to my covenant:
5 I will give them in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters.
I will give them an everlasting name, that will not be cut off. 

Jeremiah 52:25 and out of the city he took an officer who was set over the men of war; and seven men of those who saw the king’s face, who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the middle of the city. (The word, "officer," is rendered as eunuch in other translations. See here for a Bible dictionary article which discusses "eunuch" rather thoroughly, including the connection between eunuch and officer.)
The references in the Bible indicate that eunuchs were made so by an operation, or possibly by an accident. Occasionally, a man may have been born with no testicles, or with greatly reduced sexual capacity, and that that is most likely what Jesus was really speaking about.

However, even assuming that the web page is correct, which is a dubious claim, so what? The passage in Matthew, quoted above, seems to be about sexual abstinence, anyway.

Here is a link to five Bible dictionary articles about eunuch, including the one mentioned above. None of them support the idea that Jesus was talking about homosexuals in Matthew 19:12.

The first paragraph of this post, by me, a previous discussion of homosexuality, lists all the Biblical references to it, with links to those scriptures. There are eight of them. All of them refer to homosexual activity negatively. (None of them refer explicitly to homosexual orientation, as opposed to homosexual activity.)

A Wikipedia article on Homosexuality and Judaism also indicates that, although there are differences of opinion, most Jewish theologians believe that homosexual activity is sinful, but that homosexual orientation is not.

I conclude with a quotation from my wider discussion of homosexuality: "God is not ever unfair. He may demand more of some than others, in certain aspects of their lives. All of us are born with tendencies that we must control in order to live Christian lives. It isn't just homosexuals that are called to life-long celibacy -- some heterosexuals are. All heterosexuals are, until they are married."

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 45

Ten: Do we become disembodied spirits, and go to heaven, right after we die?

It is assumed that Christians believe in life after death, as opposed to denying any survival after death, and that every sort of life after death must therefore be the same kind of (Christian) thing. (N. T. Wright. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008. p. 12)

What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and color to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a “hope” that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth. (N. T. Wright. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008. p. 25)

This chapter was influenced by Wright. He points out that current Western society includes people who hold these views of what happens after death:
1) Nothing. Death is the end of personal existence.
2) Reincarnation. The dead person returns as a baby, or in some other form.
3) “At death one is absorbed into the wider world, into the wind and trees.” (p. 11)
4) You become a ghost.

Wright says that none of these beliefs is orthodox Christian belief, although sometimes one of them, usually the third view, is taught in Christian churches.

The main reason for these views is misinterpretation of the Bible, or just ignoring it entirely.

The above material is an excerpt from my self-published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series, on the topic of whether a redeemed person can lose their salvation, is here. God willing, the next post in this series will consider a different topic. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

God's voice: Impressions, by Martin Wells Knapp

IMPRESSIONS -- HOW TO TEST THEM (quoted from Impressions, by Martin Wells Knapp. Public domain)
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." -- 1 Thes. 5: 21.

"To the law and the testimony if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no truth in them." -- Isaiah 8:20.

God has made such ample provision for the guidance of His children that they may be just as sure that they are led by Him as that they are saved.

In order to do this it is needful to apply to every doubtful impression certain detecting tests. To do this sometimes requires keen spiritual sight, yet is a privilege which the least of God's children may enjoy. "His sheep hear His voice" and "follow Him," and we would not be commanded to "try the Spirits whether they are of God," if there was no danger from them, or if we were powerless to distinguish them. All impressions which are from above bear the four following distinguishing features. They are:

1. Scriptural. In harmony with God's will as revealed in His Word.

2. Right. In harmony with God's will as revealed in man's moral nature.

3. Providential. In harmony with God's will as revealed in His providential dealings.

4. Reasonable. In harmony with God's will as revealed to a spiritually enlightened judgment.

Martin Wells Knapp was one of the founders of my own church, The Wesleyan Church. He wrote hymns (that link leads to a list of them, and a brief biography), helped to found a Bible school, which still exists today, and wrote books. He died in 1901.

One of Knapp's books is Impressions. The quotation above gives perhaps the most important part of the book, but there's much more. For one thing, Knapp believed strongly that some impressions don't come from above. The book may be found, in .PDF format, here. It is also available, for less than a dollar, from Amazon. In doing an on-line search for Knapp, I discovered that James Dobson referred to his ideas within the past 20 years.

Thanks for reading!