Natural Law reconsidered

Natural law as a grounding for morality  is basic to Roman Catholic ethics, though it is variously embraced or rejected by Protestants.   As contemporary society tries to normalize sexual behavior long considered not just immoral but unnatural, natural law ethics have come back into vogue among those who insist that sexual morality is not just a narrow religious conviction but something applicable to everyone.

Protestant philosopher R. J. Snell has written a new book that attempts a new formulation of natural law, one grounded in love.  After the jump, an excerpt from the book that first explains what we mean by natural law.  (And note how the concept that nature has a “design”–c.f. the intelligent design movement–is integral to the idea.)

Later, I intend to post something on the Christian case against natural law theory, and we can weigh the issues. [Read more...]

DNA encodes two languages, not just one

Scientists have discovered that DNA contains not just one but two languages, superimposed over each other.  They knew about the one that determines how proteins are made, but the other embedded language “instructs the cell on how genes are controlled.”

We sure are lucky that random processes led to the evolution of these two languages!  But don’t you need reproduction in order to have evolution?  And don’t you need both of these functions of the DNA to be already in place before there can be any reproduction?  I’m curious how Darwinists explain this.

The news story about this, quoted after the jump, uses terms like “language,” “writing,” “reading,” “meaning,” “information system,” and “instructs.”  So underlying all of life is language; that is, what the Greeks called a logos, the cosmic organizing Word. As in John 1:1-3.

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“A mind not a material process”

Intelligent Design scholar Stephen Meyer has a new book out, Darwin’s Doubt.  Emily Belz of World reports on a talk he gave in New York City in which he says that various scientists, from a purely secularist point of view, are challenging Darwinism and proposing alternative theories.  The issue, he says, is the growing evidence that the data in the universe points to “a mind not a material process.” [Read more...]

Stephen King on Intelligent Design and God

Stephen King is the living master of horror fiction and a pretty darned good writer by any standard.  NPR has an interesting interview with him on the occasion of his new novel, Joyland (which sounds like a good one), in which he affirms his belief in Intelligent Design. [Read more...]

If materialism is wrong, what can replace it?

Alvin Plantinga is surely one of the best living philosophers.  He is also an evangelical Christian.  The New Republic, no less, has printed his review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.  Nagel, an eminent philosopher, is an atheist, but he recognizes the force of the intelligent design arguments and in this book (published by Oxford University Press), he dismantles the materialists’ assumptions.  What is especially interesting, though, is how Plantinga interacts with Nagel and challenges his atheism:

Nagel rejects nearly every contention of materialist naturalism. Mind and Cosmos rejects, first, the claim that life has come to be just by the workings of the laws of physics and chemistry. As Nagel points out, this is extremely improbable, at least given current evidence: no one has suggested any reasonably plausible process whereby this could have happened. As Nagel remarks, “It is an assumption governing the scientific project rather than a well-confirmed scientific hypothesis.”

The second plank of materialist naturalism that Nagel rejects is the idea that, once life was established on our planet, all the enormous variety of contemporary life came to be by way of the processes evolutionary science tells us about: natural selection operating on genetic mutation, but also genetic drift, and perhaps other processes as well. These processes, moreover, are unguided: neither God nor any other being has directed or orchestrated them. Nagel seems a bit less doubtful of this plank than of the first; but still he thinks it incredible that the fantastic diversity of life, including we human beings, should have come to be in this way: “the more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes.” Nagel supports the commonsense view that the probability of this happening in the time available is extremely low, and he believes that nothing like sufficient evidence to overturn this verdict has been produced. . . .

he thinks it is especially improbable that consciousness and reason should come to be if materialist naturalism is true. “Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science.” Why so? Nagel’s point seems to be that the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, neurology—cannot explain or account for the fact that we human beings and presumably some other animals are conscious. Physical science can explain the tides, and why birds have hollow bones, and why the sky is blue; but it cannot explain consciousness. Physical science can perhaps demonstrate correlations between physical conditions of one sort or another and conscious states of one sort or another; but of course this is not to explain consciousness. Correlation is not explanation. As Nagel puts it, “The appearance of animal consciousness is evidently the result of biological evolution, but this well-supported empirical fact is not yet an explanation—it does not provide understanding, or enable us to see why the result was to be expected or how it came about.”

Nagel next turns his attention to belief and cognition: “the problem that I want to take up now concerns mental functions such as thought, reasoning, and evaluation that are limited to humans, though their beginnings may be found in a few other species.” We human beings and perhaps some other animals are not merely conscious, we also hold beliefs, many of which are in fact true. It is one thing to feel pain; it is quite another to believe, say, that pain can be a useful signal of dysfunction. According to Nagel, materialist naturalism has great difficulty with consciousness, but it has even greater difficulty with cognition. He thinks it monumentally unlikely that unguided natural selection should have “generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances.” He is thinking in particular of science itself.

Theism would account for all of this and Nagel mostly agrees, though he raises some objections that Plantinga easily disposes of.  But here is where the issues get especially interesting.  What is Nagel’s reason for atheism, even though he cannot accept materialistic naturalism?  In an earlier book, quoted by Plantinga, Nagel is very honest in articulating what, I suspect, lies behind much atheism:

I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers…. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

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What “junk DNA” does

A major discovery:

It turns out that “junk DNA”, once thought to comprise most of the genetic material packed into our cells, isn’t junk. Instead, it plays a complicated — and still shadowy — role in regulating our genes.

That’s the essential insight of a five-year project to study the 98 percent of the human genome that is not, strictly speaking, genes. It now appears that more than three-quarters of our DNA is active at some point in our lives.

“This concept of ‘junk DNA’ is really not accurate. It is an outdated metaphor to explain our genome,” said Richard Myers, one of the leaders of the 400-scientist Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, nicknamed Encode.

“The genome is just alive with stuff. We just really didn’t realize that before,” said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in England.

The new insights are contained in six papers published Wednesday in the journal Nature. More than 20 related papers from Encode are appearing elsewhere.

The human genome consists of about 3 billion DNA “letters” strung one to another in 46 chains called chromosomes. Specific stretches of those letters (whose formal name is “nucleotides”) carry the instructions for making specific proteins. Those proteins, in turn, build the cells and tissues of living organisms.

The Human Genome Project, which identified the correct linear sequence of those letters, revealed that human cells contain only about 21,000 genes — far fewer than most biologists predicted. Furthermore, those genes took up only 2 percent of the cell’s DNA. The new research helps explain how so few genes can create an organism as complex as a human being.

The answer is that regulating genes — turning them on and off, adjusting their output, manipulating their timing, coordinating their activity with other genes — is where most of the action is.

The importance and subtlety of gene regulation is not a new idea. Nor is the idea that parts of the genome once thought to be “junk” may have some use. What the Encode findings reveal is the magnitude of the regulation.

It now appears that at least 4 million sections of the genome are involved in manipulating the activity of genes. Those sections act like switches in a wiring diagram, creating an almost infinite number of circuits.

“There is a modest number of genes and an immense number of elements that choreograph how those genes are used,” said Eric D. Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the federal agency that paid for the research.

via ‘Junk DNA’ concept debunked by new analysis of human genome – The Washington Post.

So every cell of every living organism contains not just genetic information but a whole system for activating, directing, timing, and animating that information.

We sure are lucky that millions of years of random mutations and natural selection evolved into something so infinitely complex.

Oh, wait.  All of that had to be in place in order to make reproduction possible; that is, before natural selection could happen.