Archive for July, 2010

Pre-Cognition = Removal of Free Will?

I have one of my frequent commenters to thank for passing this opinion article along from the New York Times. The first couple of paragraphs of the article provide the basis for the rest of the article:

In an influential article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Joshua Gold of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Shadlen of the University of Washington sum up experiments aimed at discovering the neural basis of decision-making. In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

The implications are immediate. If researchers can in theory predict what human beings will decide before they themselves know it, what is left of the notion of human freedom? How can we say that humans are free in any meaningful way if others can know what their decisions will be before they themselves make them?

I have already given these responses to the source of the article, but as free will is fair play in this article, I feel it necessary to point out some flaws with this argument:

1) An assumption about what it says regarding the free will of humans is premature until the experiment is actually performed on humans. There is no guarantee such an experiment will work.

2) It equates free will and moral choices with a fraction of a second. Any reasonable thinking person knows that it takes considerably longer to carry out such a decision, which allows for the ability of someone to change their mind and is why people change their minds all the time.

3) Even the ability to predict these decisions doesn’t limit free will; all it does is tell us what choice is being made. It doesn’t change the identity of the decision-maker, nor does it change the actual decision. This is what morality and free will are all about.

Interestingly, the movie Minority Report has already run with this concept of pre-cognition. While ultimately the movie exposes a flaw in the system created, the idea that the pre-cogs could tell what was going to happen didn’t change whether or not the event was going to take place. It only allowed the protagonist the opportunity to stop it. Free will was not changed (e.g., the man still chose to kill his wife); the execution, or carrying out, of that will was all that was thwarted.

So in short, such an experiment means absolutely nothing with respect to free will and morality. The writer of the article pretty much agrees, but this kind of stuff is dangerous if you don’t stop and reason through it properly. As Christians we need to constantly be on guard for such claims, so as to not be swayed or allow those around us to stumble into these traps.

Chicken Or The Egg?

Of course it’s the age-old question of which came first. Apparently it finally has an answer.

Science has determined that the egg had to have come first. This article explains the secular science viewpoint about why the egg had to have come first. To quote the article:

Chickens evolved from non-chickens through small changes caused by the mixing of male and female DNA or by mutations to the DNA that produced the zygote. These changes and mutations only have an effect at the point where a new zygote is created. That is, two non-chickens mated and the DNA in their new zygote contained the mutation(s) that produced the first true chicken. That one zygote cell divided to produce the first true chicken.

Prior to that first true chicken zygote, there were only non-chickens. The zygote cell is the only place where DNA mutations could produce a new animal, and the zygote cell is housed in the chicken’s egg. So, the egg must have come first.

However, a recent development made by British scientists suggests that science is, in fact, wrong in this conclusion. This article states that these scientists have proven that the chicken had to have come first. To quote this article:

The scientists found that a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg, according to the paper Wednesday. The egg can therefore only exist if it has been created inside a chicken.

The protein speeds up the development of the hard shell, which is essential in protecting the delicate yolk and fluids while the chick grows inside the egg, the report said.

“It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first,” said Dr. Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University’s Department of Engineering Materials, according to the [Daily] Mail.

“The protein had been identified before and it was linked to egg formation, but by examining it closely we have been able to see how it controls the process,” he said.

While it not only gives us a seemingly definitive answer to a question that has befuddled philosophers and scientists alike, it also seems that this scientific discovery may force science to flat-out reject the evolutionary theory that previously supported the “egg first” idea. Interestingly, while rejecting the idea of evolution to produce the chicken, it also supports the creationist idea found in the Bible; Genesis 2:19 says “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” If the chicken came first, it becomes not only possible but extremely plausible that an Intelligent Designer created it, especially given the exactness of balance needed for an egg to be the right hardness and have the proper oxygen intake and release in order to produce a baby chick and further sustain “chickenkind.”

God is good, and His Word stands forever!

How Old Was Methusaleh?

Most people who have read the book of Genesis know the answer to the question in the title of this post. Methusaleh holds the record for living the most number of years in the history of man, according to the Bible. Yep, this man even outlived Adam, which is amazing considering Adam was 930 years old when he died. Methusaleh “weighed in” at a whopping 969 years to his life. End of story, right?

That’s what I thought until yesterday. WIFE was wondering if Adam was alive at the time of Noah, so we did some quick math on the ages. Here’s how it plays out:

Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Adam: 130 years old);
Seth was 105 when Enosh was born (Adam: 245 years old);
Enosh was 90 when Kenan was born (Adam: 335 years old);
Kenan was 70 when Mehalalel was born (Adam: 405 years old);
Mahalalel was 65 when Jared was born (Adam: 470 years old);
Jared was 162 when Enoch was born (Adam: 632 years old);
Enoch was 65 when Methusaleh was born (Adam: 697 years old);
Methusaleh was 187 when Lamech was born (Adam: 884 years old);
Lamech was 182 when Noah was born (Adam: dies when Lamech is 46).

So he almost made it. Amazing that I had never thought of the possibility that Adam and Noah could have been walking the earth at the same time. Unfortunately it was not to be, but then back-tracking led me to another conclusion.

Lamech died when he was 777, but had Noah at 182. That means that Noah was 595 years old when his dad died. Genesis 7:6 says that Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood, meaning Lamech died only five years before the Flood. But that’s not where it ends.

Genesis 5:26 says that after Lamech was born Methusaleh lived 782 more years. We know Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born, leaving 600 years of Methusaleh’s life. How old was Noah when the Flood happened? 600! It’s quite possible that Methusaleh died in the Flood!

Two questions then arise. First, how old could Methusaleh have been if he were to have died of natural causes (which is still possible; the Bible doesn’t state how he died)? Could he have made it to 1,000? Second, was Methusaleh part of the wickedness that God felt He needed to destroy by sending the floodwaters? Could the son of Enoch, who “walked with God” and was one of two men in the Bible to never experience death, have been so evil that God decided He needed to be wiped out?

The Bible isn’t clear on either account. But the fact that Methusaleh died the same year of the Flood is not mere coincidence. I don’t know if this is a question I will ever get answered in heaven (or need to get answered for that matter). What it demonstrates to me, however, is the truth found all throughout the Bible — that God does as He pleases, and who is able to thwart His plan? Amen!

Financial Peace

I’m guessing at least some people on here are familiar with Dave Ramsey. I was only peripherally so until February of this year, and now I can say I am intimately acquainted with Dave’s principles. The reason I’m writing this is because when I was at Quizno’s the other day picking up some subs for WIFE and myself I used cash from Dave’s envelopes and the cashier commented that it was a “cool way of doing things.” I explained to her what was going on and encouraged her to go to Dave’s website to learn more.

Dave Ramsey is a guy who had it all, lost it all and since then has spent years figuring out what happened and relating the principles he used to get it all back to everyday people like you and me. It’s no surprise that debt is a HUGE issue in the United States; one very plain example is the fact that our national debt rose $1 trillion in just six months under the current administration. It’s safe to say that our country, from the top down and from the bottom up, is in a spending frame of mind.

And why shouldn’t we be? We are taught from a young age that capitalism is the way to go (since that is what brought us into prosperity in the first place), that spending is fun and that when you spend it helps others get paychecks or sales tax can be used to fund programs that help the underprivileged. However, this idea that your life will be better if you go into debt to get something you really want (e.g. that nice car, a fun family vacation, or a couple of nights a week eating out so Mom doesn’t always have to cook) is a backwards way of thinking. If you’ve ever gotten calls from a collection agency, you know what I mean.

So what does Dave Ramsey teach? For those unaware, he teaches basic principles that help you get out of debt and stay out of debt. Nope, it’s not one of those debt consolidation concepts or get-rich-quick schemes. This is using sound judgment and “gazelle intensity” to find ways to pay off existing debts so you can focus on building wealth and not running from problems.

What is “gazelle intensity”? Dave coined this mindset after reading Proverbs 6:1-5, which says thus:

1 My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,
Have given a pledge for a stranger,
2 If you have been snared with the words of your mouth,
Have been caught with the words of your mouth,
3 Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself;
Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor,
Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor.
4 Give no sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids;
5 Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

That means run like crazy from the debts that are trying to hunt you down and seize you. That means do whatever you have to do to get out of debt so it’s not chasing you forever. In Dave’s words, it’s “living like no one else so later on you can live like no one else.” That is, sacrificing now for the sake of eliminating debt so later on money only goes to savings and not to paying off credit cards, and you can build a better life for your family and not have to wonder where all of your money went.

So how do you do it? Dave has 7 “Baby Steps” that I’ll list here briefly, though I encourage you to go to daveramsey.com to learn even more about them.

1) $1,000 in an emergency fund. This should be done immediately.
2) Debt Snowball. This is knocking out your smallest debt first while paying minimum payments on all others and then using whatever you were paying on your smallest debt and adding it to the next smallest debt to knock that out, then keep that process rolling until you knock out all of your outstanding debts except the house. It’s much better explained by Dave than myself.
3) Build up 3 to 6 months living expenses in the emergency fund. Just in case something happens where income gets halted (e.g. medical emergency, laid off the job) and you need a little buffer to get by for a while. You won’t be worrying how to fund such emergencies because the money’s already there!
4) Invest 15% of your income. This begins the wealth-building portion. Dave recommends Roth IRAs.
5) College funding. Can be done simultaneously with baby step 4. Starting early can ensure your kids have a head start to their lives without having to go into debt themselves with student loans.
6) Pay off your mortgage early. Can be done simultaneously with baby steps 4 & 5. This is getting that last debt knocked out so you can truly call yourself “debt free”!
7) Build wealth and give. Now you’re living like no one else, but in doing this you’ve also gotten to the point where you can GIVE like no one else.

WIFE and I are on baby step 3, having paid off somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 in debt during the 13-week Financial Peace University class hosted by our church. It’s not always easy, as our budgets for things are a lot smaller than we are accustomed to. However, I can say without a doubt that this is one of the biggest blessings in our lives, particularly because it has caused us to be continually unified in what we are doing with our money (a big deal since the majority of marriages that end in divorce do so because of financial issues). But we have our minds fixed on the prize, and we’re working on our 3-6 months of expenses right now. Since every dollar has a name in our house, we never have to worry where we are getting the money for this thing or that thing. It’s all part of a plan, and we are well on our way down the road to financial peace. If you’ve never heard of this plan, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Remember When?

Today at my office I had a Barq’s root beer. It’s weird to me that the moment I opened the can and took a sip, immediately I flashed back to my mid-school days. See, one particular day when I was in mid-school, I put down my open can of Barq’s root beer to play with my friends during lunch time recess. When recess was over and I went to go take a sip from my Barq’s root beer, I got a nasty surprise. A bee had made its way into my can and when I put the can to my lips, Mr. Bee decided he was ready to plant his ole stinger right on my lip. Ouch!!!

It’s amazing what our memories are and can be to us. Often times I am able to recall names, dates, even colors of shirts from occasions when I was 4 or 5 years old. These details are trivial in the grand scheme of things, but a lot of times things get placed in our paths that trigger a memory, and in many instances bring it back vividly with full detail.

I remember the name of the boy who made fun of me when I was in 1st grade that sent me crying back to my house and leaving my best friend to stick up for me. I remember which direction my pre-school class room was facing. I remember what it said on my wife’s shirt the first day I ever met her. And still I often forget what my wife was talking about when she was reminding me to do something as I walked out of the door this morning. Is it selective memory? Am I choosing not to remember my responsibilities? But then how do I hang on to these memories?

The memories that hang with us definitely play a part in shaping who we are. When I think about the boy who made fun of me, I usually tense up and determine to be a stronger person. When I think about my pre-school classroom, I remember fondly the teachers and assistants and how worth it that it is to respect your elders. When I think about the writing on my wife’s shirt, I think about how important it is for me not to try to drastically change who I am inside, because she accepts me for me. I feel like God wants us to remember the things that will point us in the right direction going forward, and that direction is to Him.

But I also think God wants us to remember what it was like before we really knew Him. While I definitely have some good memories from back in the day, I know that I definitely can’t remember being as close to Him as I am today (and as a result being as happy as I’ve ever been), which instills me with confidence. I am seeking first the kingdom of God, (Matthew 6:33), and it brings to life times past when I realize I could have been doing more to be with Him but I wasn’t. I also remember times when God was steering me in the right direction without me knowing it, because I can see who I could have become without His unseen hand.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to realize how important it is to look back at all of these memories as if I were watching a slideshow with God and hearing God tell it from His perspective. What was He trying to accomplish during that time? Seeing God in my memories, even before I knew who He was really, teaches me more and more about His lovingkindness, compassion, grace and mercy, as well as His constant desire for me. I guess God really has had His eye on this sparrow (Matthew 10:29-31), bee sting and all.

The Teleological Argument

I never realized until now that God has been training me even since I knew what it meant.

I grew up in a Christian home that was never short on Bibles. When I was growing up, my favorite Bible was a New Century Version because interspersed throughout the Bible were stories (both fiction and non-fiction) or some facts you might find in a science or history book that were pertinent to what Scriptures were on the page. I don’t remember what the Scriptures were for, but I do remember one such excerpt talking about the idea that if the earth were a few thousand feet closer to the sun we would burn up, and if it were a few thousand feet further away from the sun we would all freeze. The purpose, of course, was to point out intelligent design.

In reading up in Systematic Theology by Norman Geisler, I realized that such arguments are under the banner of a bigger argument for the existence of God: the Teleological Argument. This argument contains 2 pieces. One is the “anthropic principle,” which encompasses what I talked about above and I’ll get into some more detail about later. The second piece is one I hadn’t heard of until my Bible study went through the Truth Project recently. That second piece is the notion of “irreducible complexity.”

Let me explain this concept the best way I can. The term “irreducible complexity” is actually a term taken from Darwin. In Chapter VI of his book “On the Origin of Species,” Darwin explains that one of the bases for his theory is the ability for organisms to undergo slight modifications over a period of time to evolve into their current state. His conclusion says thus: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.” He goes on to say that such an organ would be “irreducibly complex,” and would destroy his theory.

The interesting thing is that modern biochemistry seems to have found what Darwin could not — an irreducibly complex organism. Ironically, this organism is the basis for all human life. It is the structure of the human cell. It has been determined that if any one piece of the cell’s make-up were to be removed, the entire structure of the cell would fall apart and cease to be. If every single piece is necessary, then there is no “evolutionary link” that could have been lacking any part of its structure. The cell either exists in full form or it doesn’t exist; there is no middle ground.

One other such example is the bacterial flagellum, which requires all parts in order to be a fully functioning organism. Those attempting to refute this idea suggest that not enough is yet known about the bacterial flagellum with which to make this conclusion to a certainty. Another interesting concept is the idea of blood clotting. If this process evolved the way other processes evolve, then the starting point or middle ground would have meant that blood would not clot properly, in which case a person (or ape, or whatever) would simply bleed out because nothing could stop the bleeding. If all of these creatures were dead, then how could they evolve? It appears that Darwin’s theory is breaking down.

The anthropic principle is equally important to emphasize the nature of a Creator with intelligence and a perfect knowledge of what we need. My understanding of this principle is that there is evidence suggesting some intelligent design in the way the Earth was created for us to be able to sustain life on it . Some examples given by Geisler:

1) Earth’s atmosphere is 21% oxygen. If this ratio was 25%, fires would erupt; if it was 15%, humans would suffocate.
2) If the gravitational force were altered by merely one part in ten to the 40th power (ten followed by 40 zeroes), the sun would not exist and the moon would crash into the earth or veer off into space.
3) If the universe were expanding at a rate one-millionth more slowly than it is, the temperature on Earth would be 10,000 degrees Celsius.
4) If the earth’s crust were thicker, too much oxygen would be transmitted to support life. If it were thinner, volcanic and tectonic activity would make life untenable.

Albert Einstein may have summed it up best when he said, “The harmony of natural law…reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”

What’s most telling about the teleological argument is that its claims are made based on scientific discovery, which is the primary rebuttal against a pro-theistic stance (no evidence of intelligent design in science). From what I’ve seen in debates on YouTube and other websites (which of course, is filled with bias both ways and what I’ve seen in no way represents every mention of the subject), it appears that evolutionary biology is scrambling to find answers to these questions posed to them. I admit that I entered this realm with a definite bias, but this type of science leaves me with fewer questions and more answers, which is more than I can say about evolution at this point.

I guess ultimately what I’m saying is that I’m so glad to have a God that is omniscient and can foresee our needs, and as a result tailored together such a wonderful thing that can support our existence. I’m sure similar posts are forthcoming, as this is only chapter two in volume one of systematic theology. I’m anxious to learn more about our great God!