Posts tagged with: science

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Friday, December 22, 2006

A climatologist reflects on his visit to AGU’s conference last week. Salient bit here:

What I see is something that I am having a hard time labeling, but that I might call either a "hangover" or a "sophomore slump" or "buyers remorse." None fit perfectly, but perhaps the combination does. I speak for (my interpretation) of the collective: {We tried for years – decades – to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the "it’s happening" side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side. But knowing the science, we knew the stakes to humanity were high and that the opposition to the truth would be fierce, so we knew we had to dig in. But now they are listening. Now they do believe us. Now they say they’re ready to take action. And now we’re wondering if we didn’t create a monster.

Read the whole thing. I wonder when this will spread among anti-global warming Evangelicals. (hat tip)

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

Our week-long series concludes with a reflection on the implications of the great biblical theme of the consummation of creation into the new heavens and the new earth.

Consummation – Revelation 22:1–5

To the extent that we are able in this life, Christians are called to the path of holiness. This path begins with the recognition of the boundaries God has set up, in the created and preserved world and in his law, both in its divine and natural promulgations. We can be sure that there will be an eschatological reality in which “no longer will there by any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV).

And this assurance gives us the hope to spur us on to more wholeheartedly work for the good during our time on this earth. One way in which we can begin to live out this calling is to work against the effects of sin and evil in the world.

Attitudes which reduce animals (or humans) to having merely instrumental value reflect sin and corruption, not righteousness and restoration. Creating mice with human brains so that they can be killed in utero violates the value conferred upon animals as sharing with humans “the breath of life.”

But even more seriously, these actions violate the created dignity of human beings who bear the image of God. Both the perpetrators and victims are effected negatively.

Quite simply, human beings, as God’s image-bearers, are placed in a position of unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than that of plants, or even animals. This doesn’t devalue the rest of creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head. This inherent and overarching value of the human person is what Jesus points to when he states, “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).

The possible “benefits” from the research in human-animal cellular and genetic mixing do not provide justification for crossing the boundaries that God has set up. Such pragmatic arguments are inadequate.

Simply because Adam and Eve could take the fruit and eat did not mean that they should. Simply because people could build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” did not mean that they should. And simply because we humans are able to create chimeras does not mean that we should. Indeed, the Bible gives us good reasons that we should not.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 28, 2006

The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.

Redemption – Romans 8:18–27

Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.

The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).

Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.

The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.

The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.

We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.

That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Last week, marketing guru Seth Godin quoted the 17th-century Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián y Morales:

Know how to sell your wares, Intrinsic quality isn’t enough. Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value. People like to follow the crowd; they go someplace because they see other people do so. It takes much skill to explain something’s value. You can use praise, for praise arouses desire. At other times you can give things a good name (but be sure to flee from affectation). Another trick is to offer something only to those in the know, for everyone believes himself an expert, and the person who isn’t will want to be one. Never praise things for being easy or common: you’ll make them seem vulgar and facile. Everybody goes for something unique. Uniqueness appeals both to the taste and to the intellect.

Marketing has come a long way since this advice. In today’s NYT, Kenneth Chang examines how “more and more retailers are also using more rigorous scientific techniques to improve their bottom line.”

In “Enlisting Science’s Lessons to Entice More Shoppers to Spend More,” Chang writes that “OfficeMax is one example,” of a company engaged in this in-depth marketing research. “It has hired Envirosell, a market research company based in New York that takes an anthropological approach to understanding how shoppers navigate stores. Other companies turn to statistical methods used in testing nuclear weapons. New scientific technologies like brain scans also allow companies to peer directly into consumers’ minds.”

That last line is no doubt a bit of hyperbole, but the physicalist/materialist assumptions of many scientists and marketers become rather obvious as you read through the story. Marketing, it seems, has “evolved” in more ways than one since the days of Baltasar Gracián y Morales.

Earlier this week Pope Benedict XVI told his fellow Germans, and other modern Western societies, that they are shutting their ears to the Christian message when they insist that science and technology alone can combat AIDS and other social ills. His description of the problem is one that will stand out for me for the foreseeable future. He refers to this acute spiritual malady as a “hardness of hearing.”

What a great description of modern life that expression provides. We are so enamored with our human insights and scientific discoveries that we have developed a spiritual condition that can be only called: “Hardness of hearing.” Benedict elaborated on this comment by saying “we are no longer able to hear God—there are too many different frequencies filling our ears.” And he added, “What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.” He then told the crowd of over 250,000 pilgrims, gathered in Munich, that “People in Asia and Africa admire our scientific and technical progress, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason.”

Reason is always a great servant but it is a tyrannical master. Western man lost his way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and our societies are now crashing on the shoals of modernity and postmodernity. We desperately need to learn how to hear God again. This “hardness of hearing” is now sweeping across the peoples of the United States. The tragic results of this malady will impact us precisely as they have European cultures before us. Only a true awakening will preserve us in the end. How can anyone doubt this? Those who tell you otherwise are getting terribly close to the message of the false prophets of ancient Israel.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Two pieces on Christianity Today’s website this week are worthy of comment. The first, “Despair Not,” reminds us that “there is something worse than misery and death.” The author Stephen L. Carter interacts with C.S. Lewis’ famous book, The Screwtape Letters, to show that “the terrible tragedies that befall the world work to Satan’s benefit only if we despair. Suffering, as Screwtape reminds his nephew, often strengthens faith. Better to keep people alive, he says, long enough for faith to be worn away. The death of a believer is the last thing the Devil wants.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer criticized the impetus to deny the value of suffering in this life. In his Ethics he wrote of modern nihilism and Western godlessness:

The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking. Every inner development, every process of slow maturing in personal and vocational life, is abruptly broken off. There is no personal destiny and therefore no personal dignity. Serious tensions, inwardly necessary times of waiting, are not endured. This is evident in the domain of work as well as in erotic life. Lasting pain is more feared than death. The value of suffering as the forming of life through the threat of death is disregarded, even ridiculed. The alternatives are health or death. What is quiet, lasting, and essential is discarded as worthless.

The other CT piece is a book review by David Fisher of Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine. The book’s authors argue that “modern medicine… emphasizes the autonomy of the individual and holds up the supreme end of bodily perfection. These goals are not only unattainable, but more importantly, are inconsistent with the Christian faith. The book points out the dangers of society’s worship of and allegiance to medicine for its perceived ability to defeat or forestall death. While our Christian beliefs should protect us from this deification of medicine, the authors remind us that we often fall into the same trap.”

Indeed, the authority and influence of medicine on our lives and behavior can be seen as a kind of scientism, in which science, in this case in the form of medicine, takes on “a priestly ethos — by suggesting that it is the singular mediator of knowledge, or at least of whatever knowledge has real value, and should therefore enjoy a commensurate authority. If it could get the public to believe this, its power would vastly increase.” Authors Joel Shuman and Brian Volck issue “a call to transformed Christian living, one that emphasizes the importance of viewing medicine through the lens of the larger community of the body of Christ.”

With respect to the worship of health and life in and of itself, or “vitalism,” Bonhoeffer says,

Vitalism ends inevitably in nihilism, in the destruction of all that is natural. In the strict sense, life as such is a nothing, an abyss, a ruin. It is movement without end, without goal, movement into nothingness. It does not rest until it has everything into this annihilating movement. This vitalism is found in both individual and communal life. It arises from the false absolutizing of an insight that is essentially correct, that life, both individual and communal, is not only a means to an end but also and end in itself.

One important and indeed hopeful way to talk about death as an end, in addition to death as a means to an end, or “our entrance into eternal life,” is in this way: as “an end to our sinning.”

Hunter Baker, blogging at his new home on the American Spectator Blog (recently added to our blogroll), responds to a post by James G. Poulos, which emphasizes President Bush’s “proposed emphasis on math and science education, to the patent detriment of the humanities.”

Says Baker, “Although I am a faithful disciple of the humanities, I often take comfort in the fact that the majority of students won’t have much exposure to the offerings on hand. Better they remain busy with their business and engineering degrees than that they should hear too much of the soul-killing discourses that reign in the older buildings on campus.”

I have pointed out the funding disparities between the humanities and the sciences before in a paper given earlier this year (for a visual example of the disparity, click here). And Baker may well be right: what passes for the “humanities” in the acadmey today isn’t worth funding.

But in response to Poulos, the humanities, as they ought to be pursued, should receive more attention and funding commensurate with their value as the classical basis for Western civilization. But I also don’t think it’s in keeping with the humanist spirit to make their pursuit dependent on government funding, which is why I also point out, “public sources of funding, or the lack thereof, are not the end of the tale. Most freely available digital history initiatives are underwritten in whole or in part by private charitable foundations.”

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, June 30, 2006

The clash between scientists and moralists that Jordan highlights below is displayed also in reaction to the recent comments by Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family concerning excommunication of those involved in embryonic stem cell research.

The comments are reported here, and scientists’ reactions here.

Meanwhile, the Church wholeheartedly supports the use of adult stem cells (which has already proven effective), as indicated by this story about a Missouri priest.