Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inner Life

The visual titled Cell Size and Scale moved Dave Kurz to write to remind us of another fascinating video that we've featured in the past but which is worth running again. It's titled The Inner Life of the Cell (produced by Harvard University), and it's a computer sim of just a few of the processes that occur 24/7 in each of the trillions of cells in our bodies.

It's simply breathtaking to see on this incredibly tiny scale such exquisite complexity and organization. Notice especially the marvelous protein transport mechanism that looks and works like a stick-figure Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders.

Now that you've watched this you might need to be deprogrammed. After all, some find the temptation to think that this was all intentionally designed by an intelligent agent to be irresistable. So, to avoid falling prey to superstitious nonsense, close your eyes real tight and repeat ten times: "This all came about by chance. This all came about by chance...."


Religious Defamation

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and nowhere is that more true than at the United Nations. Secretary Hillary Clinton deserves praise for giving what some described as a tough statement opposing a move in the U.N. to enact an anti-defamation resolution that would be binding on all member nations. This may sound like a good thing on the face of it, but in fact such policies would restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The following is from a Christianity Today report:

The United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote soon on a pending anti-defamation resolution sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

"Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," Clinton said at a press conference on Monday. "I strongly disagree."

"The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions," Clinton said. "These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse."

Experts consider the UN anti-defamation effort mostly a reaction to the 2005 publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, is lobbying against the resolution this week because he fears people could be criminalized for converting from Islam or speaking against Islamic teachings.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, expressed concern over another Human Rights Council resolution on freedom of opinion and expression passed in early October: "[The council] expresses its concern that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative racial and religious stereotyping continue to rise around the world ... and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents."

The resolution, proposed by the United States and Egypt, does not include the term "defamation of religion," but Shea worries that such language could criminalize preaching that another religion is false.

"They're introducing language about religious hatred or negative religious stereotyping that is quite new and immediately seized upon by some of the restrictive governments in the world," Shea said.

There's more at the link. We in the U.S. often take our freedoms for granted, but we need to realize that there are those both here and abroad who find the freedoms we treasure to be a decadent blight on society. We need to realize that the freedoms to discuss ideas and to practice whatever religion we choose are fragile and despised and could be easily lost should we cease to be vigilant.

If it ever came to pass that we allow ourselves to become apathetic about the what's going on in the world around us then we would be proven unworthy of those freedoms. Thomas Jefferson once observed that a nation that expects to remain ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be. He was right, and that's why we must never think that politics and world affairs are for other people to worry about.


Life's Solutions

Bradford at Telic Thoughts points us to a provocative article in the Sydney Morning Herald on biologist Simon Conway Morris. Morris is an interesting thinker, a devout Christian and committed evolutionist whose book, Life's Solutions, makes the case that evolution is not random or blind but that it's guided by principles we do not yet understand that make the emergence of conscious intelligent beings who can understand the universe inevitable. Here's a sample:

In a view considered almost heretical by ultra-Darwinists such as Richard Dawkins, Conway Morris suggests that evolution cannot explain everything in biology, that the idea of evolution as entirely random is flawed, and that convergent evolutionary processes had to produce intelligence - as they have, not only in humans but apes, crows and dolphins.

The usual mantra of evolutionists is randomness: mutations, catastrophes, virulent microbes, in which any particular outcome, including us, is a complete fluke. Not so, says Conway Morris.

"I ... suggest that evolutionary processes are endowed with a considerable degree of predictability, making humans inevitable. Sophisticated intelligence - where you can use imagination, think ahead, identify alternatives - has evolved independently a number of times, in the great apes, crows, and dolphins.

One of the reasons Conway Morris has proved controversial, perhaps, is that he is a Christian, a committed supernaturalist, though that plays no part in his biology. Another reason might be that he doesn't mind prodding the ardent atheists who have turned Darwinian natural selection into a virtual religion, finding in it the explanation for all sorts of human questions far beyond the development of species.

Conway Morris thinks that science and religion are more similar than most people realise, and that philosophical questions always accompany science.

[He] believes evolution follows a deeper structure, as do other sciences, such as physics. In quantum mechanics many things don't make sense, he says, but the suspicion is that when scientists understand what now baffles them there will be another level of understanding. "In biology, the constraints of evolution must point to a deeper level of arrangements." By this he does NOT mean God, but natural laws that transcend Darwinism. It is now legitimate to speak a logic to biology.

A particular mystery that eluded Darwin, and Darwinists ever since, he thinks, is consciousness, or mind. It is much more complicated than allowed by the "neuromythologists" (what philosopher Raymond Tallis calls those who say that mind is entirely reducible to physical processes in the brain).

"Attempts to provide a materialistic explanation haven't worked. If they had, the people who provided them would be in Stockholm getting their Nobel Prize."

We take self-aware matter (us) for granted, but in fact it's very peculiar, he says. One group, especially biologists, think consciousness is self-explanatory, emergent in some fashion; another, mainly philosophers, insist matter cannot explain minds. "Darwin's idea that the brain secretes mind as the liver secretes bile doesn't work. The roots of intelligence go much deeper than we realise, and go beyond animals. Slime moulds have something we can fairly call memory." Conway Morris pictures the brain as something like an antenna, embodied in a mind world.

In the Guardian, he suggested that if the universe is the product of a rational mind, and if evolution is the search engine that, in leading to consciousness, allows us to discover the fundamental architecture of the universe, then things not only make better sense but are also much more interesting.

What I remember taking from Conway Morris' book, which I read several years ago, is that he seems to endorse a kind of theistic evolution. This is the theory that God packed all of the biological potential for living things into the initial conditions of the Big Bang and that this potential unfolds according to laws established by the Creator to insure that what He wants to exist, will.

In other words, for Conway Morris, evolution is the means by which God produced the extraordinary diversity of living things. Perhaps he's correct, I don't know, I'm more inclined toward intelligent design myself, but I'm quite sure he's closer to the truth than are the materialists who hold that the marvels of living things are all just a grand coincidence produced by the blind accumulation of millions of highly improbable accidents.