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Origins + Science

Origins and Science

Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis on “Gene Theory”, Mutation, and Descent with Modification in 1751

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Could we not explain in this way [mutation] how from two individuals alone the multiplication of the most dissimilar species might have resulted? Their origin would be owing only to certain fortuitous products [chance], in which the elementary particles failed to retain the order they possessed in the father and mother animals; each degree of error would have created a new species; and by dint of repeated divergences there would have come about the infinite diversity of animals that we see today; which will perhaps still increase with time, but to which the passage of centuries will perhaps bring only imperceptible additions.

Dallas Willard on Scientism and Inquiry Being Shaped by Its Subject Matter

Go We say “science,” but in actuality there are sciences like physics and biology. We say “religion,” but it would be more accurate to say religions like Christianity or Buddhism. Scientists will tell you that they do have a method, but the method of one science doesn’t work in another science. The method of validating a theory in biology doesn’t work particularly well in astronomy. Method is always tied to subject matter, and in dealing with life in general there is no such thing as a single scientific method. This has become the quandary of our culture, because everything that really matters in guiding life falls outside of science.

Who Was Adam?

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Who was Adam? Was he the result of still ongoing natural processes or a unique creation? Observations seem to validate at least some aspects of evolutionary theory, but long before Darwin a man named David discerned that there’s more to humanity than nature alone can account for. In the original publication of Who Was Adam? (2005), biochemist Fazale Rana and astronomer Hugh Ross discussed cutting-edge research in junk DNA, the human fossil record, human and chimp genetic similarities, and more. They proposed a new scientific testable model for human origins. This robust 10-year update provides rigorous testing of the evolution and creation scenarios. New discoveries in genetics and paleoanthropology, especially, provide helpful evidence. How has RTB’s biblically aligned model for human origins fared? Can human evolution be declared a fact? Or does a creation model make more scientific sense?

Kirk Dunston on Uncritical Faith in Science

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Many people today regard 21st-century science as a shining, monolithic spire of truth rising above the landscape of human ignorance and superstition. As a result, I often talk with people who fully apply all their critical thinking skills, and their full Internet-scouring abilities, to see if they can discover a weak link in evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs, but who have a complete, unquestioning faith in science. … As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the “good science” part is drowning in a mess of everything else. ¶ To distinguish between good science and the other rubbish in 21st-century “science,” one must first understand what constitutes good science. Good science, properly practiced, requires very little faith and can be trusted insofar as we can trust anything that human beings try to do well.

Yuval Noah Harari on What Drives Science

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In academic circles, many are naive enough to believe in pure science. They believe that government and business altruistically give them money to pursue whatever research projects strike their fancy. But this hardly describes the realities of science funding. ¶ Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal. For example, in the sixteenth century, kings and bankers channelled enormous resources to finance geographical expeditions around the world but not a penny for studying child psychology. This is because kings and bankers surmised that the discovery of new geographical knowledge would enable them to conquer new lands and set up trade empires, whereas they couldn’t see any profit in understanding child psychology.

Noah J. Efron on Opposing Narratives of Science and Religion

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A Newtonian might put it this way: for every myth there is an equal and opposite myth. Consider popular accounts of Christianity’s relations to science. Everyone is familiar with the myth that popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and pastors all saw it as a sacred duty to silence scientists, stymie their inquiries, and stifle their innovations. Lately, a new account of Christianity’s link to science has been put forth, opposite in attitude to the first but equally bold and, in the end, equally wrong. In this account, not only did Christianity not quash science, but it and it alone gave birth to modern science and nurtured it to maturity. And the world is a far better place for it.

Dennis R. Danielson on Heliocentrism as a Promotion

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Rather scandalously, heliocentrism was seen as “exalting” the position of humankind in the universe and pulling the earth up out of the cosmic sump that Copernicus’s predecessors thought it occupied — and conversely, placing the divinely associated sun into that central yet tainted location. To preempt this charge, Copernicus and his followers did what they could, rhetorically, to renovate the cosmic basement … Copernicus tried to enhance the status of the center by envisaging it as an advantageously located throne (solium) that formed a poetically fitting place from which the kingly sun (sol) could illuminate and govern his subjects. In Copernicus’s cosmology, the center was transformed into a place of honor, while at the same time earth was promoted to the status of a “star” that “moves among the planets as one of them.”

Lesley B. Cormack on the Medieval View of the Earth’s Shape

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Did people in the Middle Ages think that the world was flat? … From the seventh century to the fourteenth, every important medieval thinker concerned about the natural world stated more or less expliclity that the world was a round globe, many of them incorporating Ptolemy’s astronomy and Aristotle’s physics into their work. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), for example, followed Aristotle’s proof in demonstrationg that the changing positions of the constellations as one moved about on the earth’s surface indicated the spherical shape of the earth. Roger Bacon (d. 1294), in his Opus Maiusi (ca. 1270), stated that the world was round, that the southern antipodes were inhabited, and that the sun’s passage along the line of the ecliptic affected climates of different parts of the world. Albertus Magnus (d. 1280) agreed with Bacon’s finding, while Michael Scot (d. 1234) “compared the earth, surrounded by water, to the yolk of an egg and the spheres of the universe to the layers of an onion.” Perhaps the most influential were Jean de Sacrobosco, whose De Sphera (ca. 1230) demonstrated that the earth was a globe, and Piere d’Ailly (1350-1410), archbishop of Cambria, whose Imago Mundi (written in 1410) discussed the sphericity of the earth. Both of these books enjoyed great popularity; Sacrobosco’s book was used as a basic textbook throughout the Middle ages, while d’Ailly’s book was read by early explorers like Columbus. … With the exception of Cosmas, no medieval writer denied that the earth was spherical — and the Catholic church never took a stand on the issue.

Cornelius Hunter on the Just-Add-Water View of Life

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Evolution’s just-add-water view of life had led astronomers to expect that the universe is teeming with life. ETs should be common and if we point our radios to the stars we should eventually pick up some interesting signals. But no such signals have been found. It is a clear example of yet another falsified evolutionary expectation. … Krauss makes the common evolutionary appeal to future findings. “We currently DO NOT know,” the publicly-funded professor begins, “the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe.” ¶ I’ve seen this response many times. Evolutionists argue the science proves their theory, and when they are presented with the actual evidence they then make the argument from ignorance. So [when] the evidence is against them, future science might switch things around. ¶ Absolutely. That certainly is true. Who knows what science may discover in the future.

Religion and the Sciences of Origins

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Religion and the Sciences of Origins critically discusses issues in religion and the sciences of origins in both historical and contemporary contexts. After developing options on the relationship of science to belief — conflict, separation, and integration — the book treats three historical events: the scientific revolution, the Galileo affair, and the reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Special attention is paid to the influential yet misleading myth of the warfare between science and religion. The book examines theoretical issues —chance and purpose, the evolutionary psychology of religion, the relation between mind and body (and neuroscience and free will), and the relation of God to the good. After discussing God and the big bang, the book concludes with an analysis of evolution in the Muslim and Jewish traditions. The book, which assumes no prior background on the part of the reader, offers insights into the crucial past and into the most heated current debates surrounding science and religion.

Charles Townes on the Interaction Between Science and Religion

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Science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn’t mean that we’ve found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don’t understand. For example, we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can’t see it – it’s neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it’s there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don’t know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that’s very strange. ¶ So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.

Samuel Wilberforce on Reconciling Nature and Revelation

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He who is as sure as he is of his own existence that the God of Truth is at once the God of Nature and the God of Revelation, cannot believe it to be possible that His voice in either, rightly understood, can differ, or deceive His creatures. To oppose facts in the natural world because they seem to oppose Revelation, or to humour them so as to compel them to speak its voice, is, he knows, but another form of the ever-ready feebleminded dishonesty of lying for God, and trying by fraud or falsehood to do the work of the God of truth. It is with another and a nobler spirit that the true believer walks amongst the works of nature. The words graven on the everlasting rocks are the words of God, and they are graven by His hand. No more can they contradict His Word written in His book, than could the words of the old covenant graven by His hand on the stony tables contradict the writings of His hand in the volume of the new dispensation. There may be to man difficulty in reconciling all the utterances of the two voices. But what of that? He has learned already that here he knows only in part, and that the day of reconciling all apparent contradictions between what must agree is nigh at hand. He rests his mind in perfect quietness on this assurance, and rejoices in the gift of light without a misgiving as to what it may discover…

Samuel Wilberforce’s Review of Origin of Species

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Any contribution to our Natural History literature from the pen of Mr. C. Darwin is certain to command attention. His scientific attainments, his insight and carefulness as an observer, blended with no scanty measure of imaginative sagacity, and his clear and lively style, make all his writings unusually attractive. His present volume on the ‘ Origin of Species’ is the result of many years of observation, thought, and speculation; and is manifestly regarded by him as the ‘opus’ upon which his future fame is to rest. It is true that he announces it modestly enough as the mere precursor of a mightier volume. But that volume is only intended to supply the facts which are to support the completed argument of the present essay. In this we have a specimen-collection of the vast accumulation; and, working from these as the high analytical mathematician may work from the admitted results of his conic sections, he proceeds to deduce all the conclusions to which he wishes to conduct his readers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on God as a Stop-Gap

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[H]ow wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.

Michael H. Shank on Medieval Churches and Universities

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Put succinctly, the medieval period gave birth to the university, which developed with the active support of the papacy. This unusual institution sprang up rather spontaneously around famous masters in towns like Bologna, Paris, and Oxford before 1200. By 1500, about sixty universities were scattered throughout Europe. What is the significance of this development for our myth? About 30 percent of the medieval university curriculum covered subjects and texts concerned with the natural world. This was not a trivial development. The proliferation of universities between 1200 and 1500 meant that hundreds of thousands of students — a quarter million in the German universities alone from 1350 on — were exposed to science in the Greco-Arabic tradition. As the universities matured, the curriculum came to include more works by Latin masters who developed this tradition along original lines.

John William Draper on the Antagonism Between Religion and Science

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The antagonism we thus witness between Religion and Science is the continuation of a struggle that commenced when Christianity began to attain political power. A divine revelation must necessarily be intolerant of contradiction; it must repudiate all improvement in itself, and view with disdain that arising from the progressive intellectual development of man. But our opinions on every subject are continually liable to modification, from the irresistible advance of human knowledge. ¶ Can we exaggerate the importance of a contention in which every thoughtful person must take part whether he will or not? In a matter so solemn as that of religion, all men, whose temporal interests are not involved in existing institutions, earnestly desire to find the truth. They seek information as to the subjects in dispute, and as to the conduct of the disputants. ¶ The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

Biologists on a United Front Against ID

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The number of biologists calling for change in how evolution is conceptualized is growing rapidly. Strong support comes from allied disciplines, particularly developmental biology, but also genomics, epigenetics, ecology and social science. We contend that evolutionary biology needs revision if it is to benefit fully from these other disciplines. The data supporting our position gets stronger every day. ¶ Yet the mere mention of the EES [Extended Evolutionary Synthesis] often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation. Perhaps haunted by the spectre of intelligent design, evolutionary biologists wish to show a united front to those hostile to science. Some might fear that they will receive less funding and recognition if outsiders — such as physiologists or developmental biologists — flood into their field.

Pigliucci’s Exhortation to Skeptics, Atheists, and Secularists

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No matter their cause, every group falls short of its aspirations. Amongst skeptics, atheists, and secularists, some less fêted voices like Michael Ruse and Julian Baggini have lamented the rise of a cavalry of imperious and hostile firebrands that have become the face of atheism. More recently, Massimo Pigliucci, a member in good standing of said community, echoes their concerns. He calls upon his cohorts to reject scientism, anti-intellectualism and a number of vogue theories and instead embrace classic epistemic virtues like charity, respect, and civility. Notably, he draws particular attention to the irony that it is the so-called “community of reason” that is so often hostile to the discipline of reason: philosophy.

Darwin’s Doubt

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When Charles Darwin finished The Origin of Species, he thought that he had explained every clue, but one. Though his theory could explain many facts, Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. During this event, the “Cambrian explosion,” many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock.  In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. During the last half century, biologists have come to appreciate the central importance of biological information—stored in DNA and elsewhere in cells—to building animal forms. Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the origin of this information, as well as other mysterious features of the Cambrian event, are best explained by intelligent design, rather than purely undirected evolutionary processes.

Stephen C. Meyer on Top-down Causation

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“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation — that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Stephen C. Meyer on Explaining Cambrian Abruptness

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Intelligent agents sometimes produce material entities through a series of gradual modifications (as when a sculptor shapes a sculpture over time). Nevertheless, intelligent agents also have the capacity to introduce complex technological systems into the world fully formed. Often such systems bear no resemblance to earlier technological systems — their invention occurs without a material connection to earlier, more rudimentary technologies. When the radio was first invented, it was unlike anything that had come before, even other forms of communication technology. For this reason, although intelligent agents need not generate novel structures abruptly, they can do so. Thus, invoking the activity of a mind provides a causally adequate explanation for the pattern of abrupt appearance in the Cambrian fossil record.

Why Science Does Not Disprove God

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The renowned science writer, mathematician, and bestselling author of Fermat’s Last Theorem masterfully refutes the overreaching claims of the “New Atheists,” providing … a clear, engaging explanation of what science really says, how there’s still much space for the Divine in the universe, and why faith in both God and empirical science are not mutually exclusive. A highly publicized coterie of scientists and thinkers, including Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss, have vehemently contended that breakthroughs in modern science have disproven the existence of God, asserting that we must accept that the creation of the universe came out of nothing, that religion is evil, that evolution fully explains the dazzling complexity of life, and more. In this much-needed book, science journalist Amir Aczel profoundly disagrees and conclusively demonstrates that science has not, as yet, provided any definitive proof refuting the existence of God. Why Science Does Not Disprove God is his brilliant and incisive analyses of the theories and findings of such titans as Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose, Alan Guth, and Charles Darwin, all of whose major breakthroughs leave open the possibility— and even the strong likelihood—of a Creator. Bolstering his argument, Aczel lucidly discourses on arcane aspects of physics to reveal how quantum theory, the anthropic principle, the fine-tuned dance of protons and quarks, the existence of anti-matter and the theory of parallel universes, also fail to disprove God. ~ Publishers Description

An Introduction to Design Arguments

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The history of design arguments stretches back to before Aquinas, who claimed that things which lack intelligence nevertheless act for an end to achieve the best result. Although science has advanced to discredit this claim, it remains true that many biological systems display remarkable adaptations of means to ends. Versions of design arguments have persisted over the centuries and have culminated in theories that propose an intelligent designer of the universe. This volume is the only comprehensive survey of 2,000 years of debate, drawing on both historical and modern literature to identify, clarify, and assess critically the many forms of design argument for the existence of God. It provides a neutral, informative account of the topic from antiquity to Darwin, and includes concise primers on probability and cosmology. It will be of great value to upper-level undergraduates and graduates in philosophy of religion, theology, and philosophy of science.

Sana Saeed on Relishing Science and Religion

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I’m supposed to hate science. Or so I’m told. ¶ I spent my childhood with my nose firmly placed between the pages of books on reptiles, dinosaurs, marine life and mammals. When I wasn’t busy wondering if I wanted to be more like Barbara Walters or Nancy Drew, I was busy digging holes in my parents’ backyard hoping to find lost bones of some great prehistoric mystery. I spent hours sifting through rocks that could possibly connect me to the past or, maybe, a hidden crystalline adventure inside. Potatoes were both apart of a delicious dinner and batteries for those ‘I got this’ moments; magnets repelling one another were a sorcery I needed to, somehow, defeat. The greatest teachers I ever had were Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye the Science Guy. ¶ I also spent my childhood reciting verses from the Qur’an and a long prayer for everyone — in my family and the world — every night before going to bed. I spoke to my late grandfather, asking him to save me a spot in heaven. I went to the mosque and stepped on the shoes resting outside a prayer hall filled with worshippers. I tried fasting so I could be cool like my parents; played with prayer beads and always begged my mother to tell me more stories from the lives of the Abrahamic prophets. ¶ With age, my wonder with religion and science did not cease. Both were, to me, extraordinary portals into the life around me that left me constantly bewildered, breathless and amazed.

Dave Gelernter on Immodest Science

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The huge cultural authority science has acquired over the past century imposes large duties on every scientist. Scientists have acquired the power to impress and intimidate every time they open their mouths, and it is their responsibility to keep this power in mind no matter what they say or do. Too many have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind’s main spiritual support. Scientists are (on average) no more likely to understand this work than the man in the street is to understand quantum physics. But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer.