Thoughts On Morality

The question is not whether believing in God is necessary for establishing some elementary moral foundation, it seems to be fairly obvious that an individual has the capacity for honest and forthright living apart from any credence to the transcendent. Yet for me a larger question still remains; that is, are we inherently moral beings because God made us in his image? I think often the public misconception is that Christians such as myself believe that in order to be morally inclined you need to have faith in God. While I do believe something can be said for the moral instability of an ideology that establishes it self without any recourse to a higher power, I don’t believe that religion, i.e. belief in God, is a prerequisite to being a fundamentally ‘good’ person.

Those who reject moral absolutes and adhere to moral relativism typically argue that morality is simply a measure of good posturing, that ethics can be explained by some social Darwinism, in which we cooperatively coexist for the mutual benefit of our species. This seems to be fairly plausible on some elementary levels. We often see this among’st various species in the animal kingdom, a group working together as one for the survival of all. Yet for all the observation of this peaceful Darwinian coexistence, there is the occasional barbarism. For example, in order to coerce the female to mate with them, male chimps and lions are known to kill their own infants (male chimps will even go as far as to cannibalize the baby chimps.)

In a land void of moral absolutes there is really no grounds for deterring the more dominant individuals from assuming their power over others. Just as there is no grounds to say that lions and chimps committing infanticide are wrong, from the evolutionary standpoint there is nothing inherently wicked about killing the infants. After all such minor atrocities really have nothing to do with the overall survival of the species. Thus while social Darwinism seemingly offers a congruent framework for the overall cooperation of a species, it does little to repress the internal selfish instincts that characterize our day to day lifestyle. This is merely to suggest that the atheistic paradigm is inadequate for establishing a solid moral infrastructure.

On a similar note what grounds would we have to criticize the Nazi regime for seeking to establish the dominant supremacy of a modern utopia? Hitlers implementation of eugenics was simply a matter of self consciously applying principles of Darwinian evolution. There’s nothing inherently wrong with obliterating weaker atomic particles in order to establish a seamless social structure. This is simply following suit with the struggle for supremacy and survival that follows from Darwinian logic. For it is precisely the logic of social Darwinism that brings us to such moral ambiguities. I find the reality that we are uniquely aware of such injustices seems to indicate an underlining and overriding moral consciousness.

Now I fully understand that people have rationalized evil in the name of Christianity; in a similar way many have also rationalized evil in the name of liberty. However, in no way does this diminish the integrity of either in their own respect. After all, it isn’t Christianity that should be judged off it’s followers, rather it’s followers ought to be judged off Christianity. You see, no religion or set of moral codes in of it self has the power to transform someone from the inside. In the scriptures the law was given to the Israelites as mirror in which their internal wickedness was to be accentuated, that they might realize their need for forgiveness; ultimately we are to understand the righteous requirement of the law surpasses our capacity for adhering to it. Alas, it is not a religion or a code of ethics we are in need of, but rather a savior! in this way Jesus came that we might pick up our crosses and follow after Him in faith.

We do have the capacity to be modestly “good” people apart from belief in God, just as we have the capacity to be modestly “good” people who believe in God. Either way, whether your an atheist or a law abiding theist, you can never be good enough. For the wages of sin is death, and because God is a righteous God he must punish all sin. Thus if you live by the measure of your own goodness, you will die by the measure of your own inadequacy. Only when we put our faith in God will we ever be able to fulfill the requirements of righteousness.

The late Christopher Hitchens use to pose a moral challenge to believers, he would say “name me a moral action committed by a believer that could not be made by a non-believer.” The fallacy of Mr. Hitchens argument is that it’s predicated on the assumption that Christianity is false, for in doing so he precludes the obvious answer, for clearly the saving of ones soul by the preaching of the Gospel is the greatest moral action that we can accomplish, one that can only be committed by a believer.

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Naturalism And The Proverbial Rabbit-Hole

Throughout this blog I have transcribed some of the growing concerns with regard to the efficacy of Darwinian evolution in explaining the diversity and biological complexity of living organisms. I have also spent a great deal of time addressing the perennial issue of origins, shedding light on the scientific communities rather tentative approach in postulating a coherent theory which would adequately explain the origins of the first information necessary to produce life; a phenomena which surely must have transpired at some point in our distant past.

My purpose in writing this post is to provide a comprehensive critique on the contemporary orthodox perspective that an unguided naturalistic process could account for the origins of life and the rise of new complex biological novelties, as well as the origins of the cosmos – not mentioning the anthropic fine-tuning necessary for sustaining it.

One of the first things that I began to write about was the inconsistency between the fossil record and the theory of evolution, or macro-evolution, that is the gradual transition from one species into a fundamentally new anatomical creature. Darwin himself conceded the fact that in order for his theory to be viable it would have to be a very slow and progressive process because only small genetic variations meet the test of heritability; larger mutations typically result in death and/or sterility.

Thus by it own logic the Darwinian theory predicts a specific pattern of evidence when observing the fossil record. More to the point, one would expect innumerable transitional fossils illustrating a slow harmonious evolution of evolving complexity over millions and millions of years. Yet what we find is a rather abrupt beginning of life forms already in advanced anatomical stages. We see fully developed kinds that more or less remain the same until they go extinct, nothing that would seem to indicate a gradual evolution over time.

It was Steven M. Stanley, the renown American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist who wrote “Species that were once thought to have turned into others, have now been found to overlap in time with these alleged descendants. In fact the fossil record doesn’t convincingly document a single transition from one species to another.” In contrast to this notion that the fossil record supports an evolving tree of evolutionary complexity, Stanley touches on the reality that such is the diversity of life that often lends it self to plausible intermediates. But surely buried some where deep in the rocky strata there must be compiled countless transitional fossils collectively documenting the morphological evolution of life – right?

Tiktaalik, the poster child of Darwinian evolution – transitional fossil? or plausible intermediate?

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that we began to see paleontologist such as Stanley reject the concept of gradualism. Strictly adhering to the empirical data, Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge were the first to introduce the theoretical concept of punctuated equilibria. In essence this was an attempt by paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, deeply ingrained in the philosophical concept of naturalism, to tailor an evolutionary theory to fit the lack of evidence for morphological trends in the fossil record.

“most families, orders, classes and phyla appear rather suddenly in the fossil record, often without anatomically intermediate forms smoothly interlinking evolutionary descendant taxa withe their presumed ancestors.” Niles Eldredge

“indeed the chief frustration of the fossil record is that we do not have empirical evidence for sustained trends in the evolution of most complex morphological adaptations” – Stephen J. Gould

Eldredge and Gould asserted that speciation is primarily restricted to rare and relatively rapid events (punctuation), outside of these episodic events species persist in a state of stasis, where they remain relatively unchanged (equilibrium).

“The Eldredge-Gould concept of punctuated equilibrium has gained wide acceptance among paleontologist. It attempts to account for the following paradox: within continuous sampled lineages, one rarely finds the gradual morphological trends predicted by Darwinian evolution.. The punctuated equilibrium model has been widely accepted, not because it has a compelling theoretical basis but because it appears to resolve a dilemma.” – Robert E. Ricklefs

The problem with the theoretical foundation of punctuated equilibrium is that its breaking alliance with one of evolution’s greatest allies – time! Thus while punctuated equilibrium seemingly bridges the gap in the fossil record, it raises some serious questions in the field of genetic populations.

In the arena of applied mathematics, natural selection acting on random mutations to produce new anatomical novelties is by no small measure a stretch of the imagination. The ratio of functional mutations to all the possible ways of arranging the genetic sequences in the DNA is astronomically small by anyone’s scientific standards. Thus when you begin to diminish the time-frame allotted for these transitions to take place, you seriously jeopardize an already infinitesimal likelihood of reaching your desired outcome.

Moreover, when we delve further into the mathematical plausibility of the mutational theory to account for the evolution of new ‘kinds’, we must also consider that in cases where we have land mammals evolving into fully aquatic creatures we need multiple coordinated mutations taking place in roughly the same time-span. For example, in order to get a successful transition from a Protocetus to a fully aquatic whale, we would need dramatic reorganization of the kidney tissue in order to take on salt water; we need hydrodynamic properties for the skin; forelimbs transformed into flippers; novel muscles for the blow hole; modified mammary glands to nurse its young underwater, etc,. etc,.

Predicated on the competition for survival, natural selection assumes that mutations provided for an edge in reproductive success among competing organisms. In order for evolution to be viable, every mutation must create a net benefit, otherwise natural selection will sift it out. Yet because mutations are random, the odds of getting multiple coordinated mutations necessary for sustaining a healthy marine vertebrate is mathematically inconceivable. In 2008 Durnin and Schmitt calculated the odds of simply getting two coordinated mutations for a complex adaptation like the one I just mentioned, and their conclusion was that you could get these two coordinated mutations once every 43.3 million years! – wheres the punctuation in that?

So are you willing to throw in the towel and slap a Jesus fish on your bumper yet? probably not.. and I agree while many of these anomalies don’t seem to have any specific scientific answer, they don’t necessarily beg the transcendental either. Invoking such explanations are more typically reserved for describing the emergence of life and the origins of the cosmos. 😉

In light of Sir Edwin Hubble’s discovery of the expanding universe we reach two very important questions that biologist and physicist have yet to answer. In relation to purely natural processes: (1) How did the universe begin? (2) How was the first information assembled?

Up until the 30’s most scientist believed that universe was eternal and that all life could be explained by a seamless natural process – human life, simpler life, chemical life, elementary particles from eternities past. Yet It was Albert Einstein’s field equations of general relativity and his new scheme for understanding the dimensions of ‘space-time’ that first postulated the theoretical concept of an expanding universe. Though it’s philosophical implications would initially lead Einstein to hypothesize a counteracting equation known as the cosmological constant, he would later refer to this illusory constant as the “greatest blunder” of his professional career.

Hubble’s usage of the great dome telescopes to document the data for the expanding universe has proved to be one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever. If the universe is continually expanding, then what happens when we begin to wind the clock backward? In 1969 Stephen Hawking solved Einsteins field equations and concluded that if if we go back far enough in time the curvature of ‘space-time’ would become so tight that it would become infinitely tight. For most scientist this was a very unpleasant reality, because for the first time there appeared to be considerable evidence in favor of the supernatural.

“This is an exceeding strange development unexpected by all but the theologians who have accepted the word of the Bible. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conqueror the highest peak, as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been siting there for centuries.” – Robert Jastrow

Further down the rabbit hole we begin to reach the origins of life, a mystery that often invokes the most exotic and mystical explanations that you will ever hear – typically rendering most naturalist content to avoid the question all together. However, there are a few things that we do know, we know that in order for proteins to assemble they need the information coded in the DNA. Much like the syntax in language or computer programming, the DNA is characterized by what is known as sequence specificity, meaning that the specific arrangement of its parts are necessary for it’s function as a whole. Apart from this specified information amino acids do not have the capacity to organize themselves into a meaningful biological sequence. Dean Kenyon, ex-chemical evolutionary theorist argues that “the enormous problem that is neglected is the origins of genetic information it self.. We have not the slightest chance of chemical evolutionary origin for the simplest cell.”

To this day chemical evolution persist as the most inconceivable conceptual theory in the scientific community. There are absolutely no known naturalistic processes that have ever demonstrated the ability to generate the information necessary for the first life. So how does the naturalist reconcile this dichotomy between materialism and origins? well they don’t.. atheism has simply become the default among pretentious intellectuals who assert that belief in God is puerile, and anyone who disagrees simply gets stigmatized and bullied into the outskirts of the “scientific” debate.

A fact of contemporary life is that there has been a serious decline of religious faith. Thus there is a hunger for a creation story that doesn’t involve any external or transcendental explanation. Evolution and other atheistic ideologies are adopted merely on the qualification that they comply with a party-line that says ‘you may embrace any methodology that doesn’t invoke intelligence.’ Yet it is our knowledge of cause and effect that tells us complexity and design always point to an acting agent.

Intelligent design is not objected to on the grounds of inconclusive evidence, physics clearly points us to a theistic “in the beginning” type of explanation; rather, Intelligent design is objected because of it’s philosophical implications. Just as predicted, the world is perpetually becoming a darker and darker place, seeking to expel God from every political, social, cultural, and scientific thought. Information and empirical data will never be enough to sway some people from the depths of their naturalistic paradigm, because for some it’s not about the evidence, it’s about a fist-clenching dogmatic denial of God’s existence.

Intelligent Design vs Evolution: The Origins of Life

id3

How did life originate? did we appear from simple non-living chemicals? or was life designed? Those who argue from the corner of chemical evolution generally appeal to neo-darwinian evolution in attesting to an unguided process; that natural selection sifts through random mutations and identifies the most sufficient forms and system’s for life’s continuation. While those arguing from Intelligent Design (ID) argue that living systems can best be explained by the activity of a designing intelligence not an undirected natural process such as natural selection acting on random variations.

Richard Dawkins one of the leading spokesman for neo-darwinism says that

“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.”

The keyword here is “appearance”, is this idea of appearance illusory or is it real? While Dawkins and other evolutionist certainly acknowledges that life looks intelligently designed, is it possible that intelligence is in inference to the best explanation? I believe it is for several reasons which I would like to briefly explain – and no I will not be calling my faith up to the stand.

Firstly I would like to touch on the idea of specified complexity or digital information. In order to create new anatomical novelties you need new genetic code, thus generating a new biological form requires lots of new information or specified arrangements; much like you need new information to give your computer a new function. Thus a critical question in the history of life, both to the point of the origin of the first life and explaining the rise of the new forms, is where did all the information come from?

This is what ex-chemical evolutionary theorist Dean Kenyon described as a huge intellectual road block which ultimately led to his conversion to ID. He says that amino acids can’t organize themselves in a meaningful biological sequence without a pre-existing set of genetic instructions. Kenyon explains that the enormous problem that is neglected is the origins of genetic information itself. Wen you begin to think in light of information, it raises some serious questions about the power of mutations. Could an unguided process of random mutations possibly be responsible for life as we know it?

Genes are sections of genetic code, if you take a section of genetic code, a section of alphabetic text, and you begin to randomly change it blindly, are you more likely to degrade the meaning of the function that’s there or enhance it? How rare or common are the functional sequences of genes in relation to all the possible ways of arranging the base characters (genetic message) in the proteins? If it were fairly common then you could skip from one island of functionality to the next. However, the ratio of number of sequences that perform functions that are meaningful to those that don’t is about 1 to one-trillionth. I know crazy right? But it doesn’t stop there because in order to get a new organism you would need hundreds if not thousands of mutations to occur, the odds are simply astronomical for even one successful transition.

Another signature in the body that leads me to believe in ID is the discovery of nano-technology, which has revealed very tiny complex biological machinery such as the bacteria flagella motor with its rotary engine, drive shafts, and whip-like propeller. Such systems have been defined as irreducibly complex as you can see below

flagella

Michael Behe an American biochemist asserts that random genetic mutations and natural selection can not account for such complexity. We know from experience that when we find irreducibly complex systems such as internal combustion engines invariably intelligence played a roll. Thus using the idea of mutations and natural selection to explain new digital information and irreducibly complex systems would be an exotic explanation not based on the knowledge of cause and effect that we see today.

Thus the conclusion reached is that specified digital information encoded in DNA could not have arisen by any known natural cause. Ultimately intelligent design is not made from an argument of ignorance but is in inference to the best explanation. The structure of the argument is that there are no known naturalistic processes that have been demonstrated to produce the digital code necessary to produce the first life, whether through chance or law. Yet we do know of one cause sufficient to produce specified digital information and that cause is intelligence.