Serendipitously, I discovered John Milton‘s views of science while reading Paradise Lost. In Book 7 of this fictional account of the fall of Satan and temptation of Adam and Eve, the angel Raphael explains to Adam the 6 days of creation and the events in Heaven on the seventh. In Book 8 Adam’s awe is so great that he seeks to detain Raphael with a question about why God created such an expanse of stars and space if just to support so small a planet. Raphael quips, what if the earth has “three motions” (alluded to as spinning for day and night, rotating around the sun, and tilting for seasons), of what consequence is such useless knowledge to Adam? Several interesting insights unfold from this dialogue, published in 1667: First, Milton must have been aware of Galileo’s 1632 publication of Dialogo, out only 35 years before Milton’s own book. Second, Milton did not wish to disclose a personal opinion on these propositions. Third and most tragic, Milton’s solution to the dilemma was that science was irrelevant to faith. It is understandable that he would want to comment on this issue, even while being non-committal. He published at the same time that the Puritan minister Cotton Mather was fighting the established church in support of the Copernican system. The established church had bought into Aristatle’s model of the universe by bowing to the science of its day, not something mandated from Scripture; and as a result, believers were again at odds with each other, as well as with true science. This sounds vaguely familiar to today’s “scientific” pull on the Church into believing and defending evolution, to the extent of not even tolerating the contrary evidence.
Archive for November, 2006
Last night I saw a commercial disguised as a public service announcement. Perhaps you have seen it, too: Someone says, “Did you know that cervical cancer is caused by a common virus?” The reply is, “A virus. I didn’t know that!” It mentions that the virus is human papillomavirus (HPV), and then encourages women of all ages to get a pap smear regularly. “Tell someone you love,” they say; “I’m going to tell my daughter,” is one of the closing lines. Does that sound like love to you?
All that is said is true, but they fail to mention that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, in other words, behaviorally avoided. They fail to mention that condoms offer virtually no protection against HPV. They mention that the body can cure itself of some strains of HPV, but fail to mention that others have no medical cure, and that it is the most common venereal disease, responsible for half of all venereal infections annually. Why would medical professionals pay the money for a commercial to inform people how to detect and treat an incurable disease, and not tell them how to prevent it?
It is politically incorrect to tell people that they can control themselves. It is not just from a sense of American liberty. That has been around since at least 1776. This new concept crosses national boundaries. This new concept is one of shedding responsibility for our own behaviors. This new concept of irresponsibility ties closely to the evolutionary concept of our animal heritage. Animals cannot go against their drives, and since we are just animals a little more complex, we can’t help ourselves either. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we are told we can’t control ourselves, we are likely not to try. One thing is for sure: If we don’t believe we can control ourselves, we won’t. Our culture is not even trusting our young people with the knowledge to decide this one for themselves. If I tell me daughter about pap smears and don’t tell her what causes the need for pap smears, does that sound like love to you?
Recently I had a scientist make that all-too-common comment to me that science and religion have no conflict for him. Each has its own domain. I actually have no problem with this idea conceptually. The difficulty comes with where the line falls between them. According to Wikipedia’s summary of the Oxford Dictionary definition, “science in the broadest sense refers to any system of knowledge attained by verifiable means.” The Key word that distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge, such as poetry, history, and religion, is “verifiable.” It is verifiable to say that a fossil bone was found in a certain place in a certain matrix. Likewise it is verifiable to say the bone resembles bones of a certain species, alive or extinct. But it is not verifiable to say that the bone was buried at a certain time in the past or that its species gave birth over time to certain other genus. These are opinions or proposals to be argued based on the evidence. The evidence itself is NEVER conclusive for these latter propositions, because they involve one-time events in the past. Pure science always involves the ability to demonstrate repetition of the findings under controlled conditions. Science by definition cannot prove an historical event. Science also by definition cannot make a proposition about the intervention of God, i.e., whether there was a supernatural force involved in a past or present event. Therefore the conflict between science and religion is not that they do not have separate exclusive domains; it is that some “scientists” have moved the line over into the domain of religion, and fail to recognize it as a religious position.
A balanced story of stem cells is difficult to find. Many in favor of embryonic stem cell research fail to use the word “embryonic” and imply that research in general is being obstructed. They don’t acknowledge that the incumbent president has approved more stem cell research than the previous president. Those favoring only adult stem cell research never acknowledge any reason for embryonic stem cell research except cloning. I have a moral opinion, but that same morality dictates that I give voice to both scientific sides, not just one. There are some simple facts that are not getting said about either position:
First only adult stem cells have yielded successful results in humans or otherwise–about 40 different treatments by my last awareness. I met someone in Atlanta once whose son was successfully being treated for a blood disorder. Cells found in bone marrow, nasal tissue, placenta, etc, have been found to be “stem,” meaning they have not yet been programmed as to what form the cell will take. As far as we know, once that form is determined, a cell becomes that tissue and can never change again. Adult stem cells placed where cells are needed can become the tissue needed to replace damaged or missing tissue. What’s more, if the adult stem cells come from the person who needs the damage repaired, there will never be organ rejection, and the immune system need not be compromised with drugs for life, as is the case with current organ transplants. So why not just do adult stem cells and forget the controversial embryonic ones? The limitation of adult stem cells is that they cannot reproduce–one stem cell can become one specified cell. It can’t replace a whole organ. Fresh collection is continuously needed for treatments and research.
Embryonic stem cells have some kind of switch flipped that allows them to reproduce. This could allow not only the replacement of whole organs, but also the continuous supply of cells for more research. (This is what cloning is–continously splitting and reproducing human embryos for reasons other than allowing the human to mature, like harvesting a crop.) So, are there any biological problems (besides major moral ones) with embryonic stem cell research? Embryonic stem cells are switched on for reproduction, yes, but just as we don’t know how to turn the reproductive switch on for adult cells, we don’t know how to turn it off for embryonic ones. The result? Unchecked growth, better known as tumors or cancer. So far all animals treated with embryonic stem cells develop tumors. If humans learn how to turn the switch off, there could be no stopping the use of human embryos for experiments. On the other hand, if humans learn to turn the switch on in adult stem cells, have we not converted the cell to an embryonic cell, thus creating a new human? Without a moral guide, the moral consequences may outweigh the advantages, and there would be no way of turning back.
A Google search for <“John Kerry” Iraq soldiers> this morning yielded 2,820,00 hits, so there can’t be much left to say. Still, I haven’t found mention of the link with his military generation and his faux pas. (Kerry and friends are calling it a “botched joke;” opponents are arguing it as a “Freudian slip.”) I would point out that his college years were in the Viet Nam era, when the draft was in place. His comment was a through-back to the message he heard then—stay in school or get drafted. He knows the current facts, I’m sure, but he hasn’t culturally or psychologically connected with the military of our times. Our volunteer military is sharp. I know because through Troy University I teach them in Master’s level courses every day, either in class or online. Some are in my classroom; some are aboard ships in the Mediterranean; some are on the ground in Pakistan, and yes, Iraq. These men and women know how to lead teams in class as well as in the field. Their work is on time and it is right. They literally drive the curve, sometimes to the point of causing a bimodal curve. This does not mean our other students are weak. They are in general, well, average adult students. The military ones are exceptional. I am proud to serve them as a teacher.
In the 1300′s Dante wrote The Devine Comedy. In Pergatorio, Canto XXV, he describes the development of an embryo. In so doing, he illustrates how a Christian may accept as fact the “science” of his day, and then import it into their theology, even when it contradicts Scripture. This is a prime example of what occurs all too often in our own day as Christians accept evolution without investigation.
Nov 2 begins a conference at which Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund presents findings from her year-long study of Religion Among Academic Scientists (RAAS). Collecting data from 1,646 academics in natural and social science from 21 major universities, she makes some interesting observations. As one might expect, 60% of scientists poled identified themselves as atheist or agnostic compaired with 8% of the general population. What I found more interesting was her observation among these scientists that, “Childhood religious backbround, not exposure to scientific education, seems to be the most powerful predictor of future irreligion.” That suggests to me that scientific education is less than compelling in its irreligious arguments. But it also suggests that irreligious persons are more likely to go into academic science professions than the general population. Perhaps it is only that religious persons are less likely to get through the filter to become academic scientists. I hope that is not the case, but it certainly sounds like my personal experience. Also interesting is that those surveyed indicated greater interest among students to discuss religion with their teachers, and teachers would like materials to help them with the discussion. This is good? It may depend on what help they get. They feel ill equipped for the discussion, but if they mean they want materials to defend their own view..
Dr. Echlund provides a good summary of her findings here, but access is only for subscribers to the Chronicle of Higher Education.