It is so turned around these days.

Monday, June 19, 2006

One Step Closer to Knowing....

The London Times published an interesting article about the lead researcher in the Human Genome Mapping project. In a world that is so ready to lock the debate over evolution, I find it refreshing to see such an article that is so blatantly open to the possibility of (a) God. Of course this article will not "seal the deal" for converting atheists but it is a huge statement when a scientist like Francis Collins can be swayed by honestly looking at what the research suggests.

I am no genetic engineer by any stretch of the imagination. But I do feel if I am going to claim to be a Christian, I should at least do my best to try and understand the scientific philosophical implications of what this scientist is suggesting for a couple of reasons.
1) To reaffirm my Christian worldview
2) To rationally explain it to those who disagree.
I have recently read 3 books concerning this.

Can a Darwinian be a Christian?
The Case for a Creator
Total Truth:

From my own reading, here is what I have found concerning human genetics. These are paraphrased, borrowed ideas mixed with my own interpretation. So take them for what it's worth.

Like words on a page of paper so are the words of DNA. When you look at a piece of paper that has text on it your first thought is not "how did these random 26 letters affix themselves on the page in such a way to create logical sentences?" You naturally assume that there was a writer behind it. The same would be true if a box of Alphabits cereal was spilled on the counter top. And the Alphabits cereal spelled your name, address and phone number. You would assume that somebody was behind that. Now it is possible to spill Alphabits and get words like, "to,cat,is,am etc." But you wouldn't get anything with much complexity. And on top of that to get those small words to form even a basic street name or city would be next to impossible. Just like words DNA contain information. When you start to string the words together you start to create sentences. But sentences on a page are just sentences. It's when they are read and a message is conveyed that the purpose for writing comes full circle. For our example the "message" from DNA is life. The words and message line up too clearly to be passed off as mere chance. I know that this is probably over simplistic and under scientific, but it makes sense to me. And my point with all of this is not to try to convert you to the Judeo-Christian religion, but to open you up to the possibility of God. But to tie this into Christianity.....I love how the Bible addresses this in the first chapter of John.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Coincidence? Possibly....but at least God knew how to cover his bases.

To wrap this up I would ask this. Within the scope of our known reality what would you be willing to bet all you have on? You have a 50-50 chance here.

1) The idea that our lives and life on Earth came from chance combinations of genetic material.


2) The idea that behind our lives and life on Earth is some sort of higher power. For this example lets not limit it to the Christian God... could be Aristotle's idea of a Prime Mover if you'd like.

To me the latter seems to be the most realistic.


At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have presented a false choice in that it is entirely possible to believe that life evolved on earth while also believing that God created all we see. I think that it would be rather arrogant of us to believe that He could not work his will in this way.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger BJ Aberle said...

Please elaborate. I don't think I understand your point. I do not rule out the possiblity of an evolutionary rise of life. I just don't see how it disproves the existance of God.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Eyebrows McGee said...

This statement really bothers me, BJ:

"it is a huge statement when a scientist like Francis Collins can be swayed by honestly looking at what the research suggests."

As if all scientists are anti-Christian or anti-God? As if many of the great advances of science didn't come under the aegis of the Church or from men who were men of deep faith AND men of science?

Having attending a Catholic university for undergrad and a nominally-Protestant one for grad school, I can think of an awful lot of scientists who would be offended by your statement that scientists have to be "swayed" into believing in God. Many of them come to science BECAUSE of their belief in God and desire to better understand God's "Book of Creation."

Also: "Within the scope of our known reality what would you be willing to bet all you have on? You have a 50-50 chance here."

Pascal's Wager has always been annoying, is currently annoying, and always will be friggin' annoying. People don't place BETS on questions of eternal truth, and they don't MAKE UP THEIR MIND about the reality of God based on whether it's PROBABLE or not. That's so ... I don't know, so cheapening. As if God is the property of of Vegas or Atlantic City. It also seems to deny or cheapen the honest and deep struggles many people have with the existence of God.

I'm more a DesCartes woman (the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of) than a Pascal woman when it comes to the "why" of belief.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger BJ Aberle said...

First of all I appreciate your response. I think it is a little unfair to think that I imply that towards all scientists. I don't know how you could infer that. (unless you're pickin' a fight??!!?!?) I say that about Collins because he was a self proffessed atheist. Have you read any books by Rodney Stark? I don't think many scientists will be offended by the ideas and opinions of an "ex rock star/ICC Drop out"

I can understand how you may not like my Pascal like question, but that will not stop me from asking it. It is not a matter of "probable." Heck it's "probable" that a turtle created all of this...not likely but probable. I don't think it cheapens it at all. I think it only brings clarity to ones worldview. In any situation I prefer clarity OVER agreement. Because if you believe that this is all random and be it. At least now we know where our discussion can start and end. My post is not to convert people but to promote a little bit of rational thinking and discussion.

So for the sake of discussion what would have been propper DesCartes question/idea to post? Thanks for reading!!

At 10:20 PM, Blogger BJ Aberle said...

Oooooh I just thought of this......I am not asking "why" you believe. I am asking "if" you believe. I think there is a big difference there........ok time for bed.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Eyebrows McGee said...

"I don't know how you could infer that. (unless you're pickin' a fight??!!?!?)"

Probably because I have terrible insomnia and read blogs when I can't sleep, lol and because:

"I say that about Collins because he was a self proffessed atheist."

I must have missed this bit in the article. :)

"I don't think it cheapens it at all. I think it only brings clarity to ones worldview. In any situation I prefer clarity OVER agreement. Because if you believe that this is all random and be it."

I assume this is the generic "you" rather than me in particular. I'm not sure if you know but I have two degrees in theology and attended seminary. I'm definitely not in the random and godless camp. :)

I don't think Pascal's wager does bring clarity, nor do I think it particularly promotes rationality. Pascal himself, in his "wager" piece, admits that religion is not a rational belief. He says IF one could make oneself believe, to believe would be the best "bet," but that one obviously cannot force oneself to believe or not believe.

It's just so glib. It's like how people always say "There are no atheists in foxholes." Oh, horsehockey. Those people obviously haven't read much about war or anything written by people in war; as many people have LOST their faith in God from seeing the horrors humanity can inflict on humanity in war as have "found" faith by praying desperately in a foxhole. (Which, I'm guessing, 9 times out of 10 isn't a very meaningful faith anyhow, although qua Thomas Aq. and others, fear can be the first of the seven steps to wisdom and faith ... fear, piety, um, six other things, then wisdom.)

Also, if I don't believe in life after death, I'm not really going to CARE what I bet "all I have" on because after death it's so much food for worms. And if I DO believe, I ought to be building up treasure in heaven, not on earth, so I shouldn't have much to bet with. :)

But primarily I think Pascal wager (or your version) doesn't promote clarity so much as present a false choice. Yes, okay, in the final analysis there is either God or not-God. It's (probably) a binary choice. But humans don't work that way, particularly in matters of belief. Oh, I've thought of how to explain it. A philo prof of mine in college said, "There are two kinds of questions in the world: How far is it from South Bend to Chicago? and How should we fix poverty? If you think there's more than one answer to the first question, you are drunk. If you think there's ONLY one answer to the second, you're an ideologue."

Any and all questions relating to that God, are DEFINITELY questions of the second kind. There are true answers and untrue answers, but there is not ONE, clear answer. We see through a glass darkly. I have never known a priest, or sister, or minister, or theologian who has not gone through terrible moments of wracking doubt. The answer to the question of "Is there a God?" can't be, as Pascal's wager wants to put it, a simple "Yes" or a simple "No." It HAS to be an "I believe." Pascal's wager wants to simplify both God and our humanity to a point of meaninglessness, not clarity.

And now I have to take a call so I have to cut off there whether I've answered well or not. :)

At 10:13 AM, Blogger BJ Aberle said... is obvious that I can not come close to the depth of your knowledge. But I am fascinated by Theological ideas and discussion. I appreciate your kind correction and am not too proud as to acknowledge your points. Like I said....I dropped out of views are continually being challenged by books I pick up at the library. My Christian faith lay dormant for about 10 years until about 2 or so years ago. Now I want to know more. I see the wisdom of God's will and creation. It makes sense to me. So please forgive me if I have some theologically infantile ideas. I am excited about further discussion with you Eyebrows. Two Theology degrees!!! That's awesome!!

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Eyebrows McGee said...

I certainly don't think they're infantile or I wouldn't bother responding. :) And I certainly don't think theology makes me a "better" Christian than you (or anybody else, except that guy with the WWJD license plate who cut me off in traffic, big jerk); just a Christian who really likes theology. I'm not really blessed with gifts like patience, but by golly can I theologize, so I guess that's what God meant me to do.

And yeah, bachelor's at a Catholic U and master's at a Proestant one. Kept me outta trouble while I got my law degree. ;) I may go back for a Ph.D. one day, but I think I should pay off the student loans I've already got before acquiring more of them! (And theology not so much a paying gig, you know? Well, not for Catholic women, anyway. Wrong chromosomal setup.)

What with all the religiously-inclined bloggers in Peoria (you, CJ, me ...) we could start a cabal!

But yes, Pascal's wager has always really pushed my buttons. If faith were clear and obvious, people wouldn't struggle with it. I think it really ... (searching for words) ... removes a lot of the complexity and beauty of God and Creation when we try to reduce it to an either/or thing, or simplify it, or make it something humans can clearly understand.

I can't recall the exact quote but one of the church fathers talked about Scripture being like a pool of water "so shallow a babe can swim in it and not drown, but so deep a grown man can swim forever and never find the bottom." (only in Latin and the word used for "shallow" doesn't have the implications of superficiality it does in English.) That's a lot how I feel about it; Faith is at once so utterly simple and so deeply complex that I guess I resist efforts to make either SO simple that it must be "obvious" or "easy" (I'm sure you know it isn't!) or SO complex that we should just give up because it's too hard.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger C. J. Summers said...

"clarity over agreement"

Now where have I heard that before? Ah yes! The Dennis Praeger Show! You really are a disciple of Praeger, aren't you, BJ? :-)

Good discussion, Eyebrows & BJ. Just out of curiosity, 'brows, how do you use your theology degrees since, as you stated, you can't really get a paying gig in the Catholic church?

At 8:34 AM, Blogger BJ Stone said...

Like C.J. said, enjoyable and thought-provoking discussion, even for someone like me who awaits proof of even the existence of such a being.

Well played.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Eyebrows McGee said...

CJ, I mostly use them to decorate my brain. I of course use them daily in my relationship with God (and in my practice as a lawyer; I like to think it helps me not be an asshole) ... I'm definitely one of those people for whom LEARNING more makes me feel more awe and wonder and so forth. I'm a spiritual geek as well as everything else I geek at.

One area I do more actively use my theology degrees is in my legal practice. It's helped inform HOW I want to practice and what sorts of things I want to take on. But more concretely, one of my areas of specialty is non-profits, specifically religious non-profits, because I understand the special needs of religious groups. I also can speak their language - a lot of religious types get frustrated with their lawyers who talk corporate-speak and don't seem to understand what the church (or synagogue or temple or mosque) needs because they're speaking entirely different languages. I have a book about 1/2 done on law for pastors dealing with things beyond "first amendment" questions; I have some interest from a religious publishing house, but starting my own business has sucked up a lot of my free time so it's a bit stalled right now. I also give a few talks to seminary students, usually 3rd-years, about legal responsibilities and liabilities of pastors. I really enjoy those, but I need to get out and "market" them ... again, starting my own business just eats all my time for other things.

I'm also starting to get a fair number of calls from other lawyers when they have a church being sued saying, "I'm trying to understand if the (governing body) has legal responsibility for the (local body) or the (hired worship leader) and they keep explaining it in theological terms that have no real meaning for the law!" I can usually either tell them what the legal structure is, or point them to the right people to talk to or right documents to read, to find out who's legally responsible for what.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger BJ Aberle said...

God bless you Eyebrows!!!

What a cununndrum a Lawyer that has a soul. (rimshot!!)

Sorry it's too easy of a joke to not pass up.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Eyebrows McGee said...

I know it! When people tease me about "a lawyer with a divinity degree? How does that work?" I always say, "Oh, I'm going to practice ... what I preach!"

(I wish I could say I'd made it up but a very clever 16-year-old friend of my sister fed me that one and I've used it ever since.)


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