Archive for the ‘Science & Religion’ Category

Yeah, I know this is an odd topic for this blog. And, I’ll probably go into more detail than necessary. Indulge me…

Last night, I re-watched the first two episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — based on the first two Terminator movies, of course. You know… the ones where Arnold Schwarzenegger says things like “Ah’ll be bahk.” and “Hasta la vista, baby.” Except, Arnold wasn’t in the TV series. (Maybe if he had been, the show would have lasted longer.)

Promo poster for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Cameron, John, & Sarah


Anyway, towards the end of the second episode, Sarah Connor confronts an old friend/mentor played by the wonderful Tony Amendola. (We’ll call him… Tony.) Earlier that evening, Sarah overheard something that indicates that Tony — who has retired from being a South American “freedom fighter” — may have become an informant (aka “snitch”) for the authorities. Since Sarah and her son John — who is destined to lead the humans against the “machines” post-Judgment Day — are fugitives whose faces have been in the media, she is understandably concerned that her “old friend” just might give them up. So, she sneaks into his home to confront him… at gunpoint.

Just as Tony is convincing her that he is not a threat and her gun is lowered, two shots slam into Tony’s chest, killing him instantly. It seems that the “good” cyborg of the show — Cameron, played by Firefly‘s Summer Glau — had followed Sarah to the house and come in the back way. Cameron, who heard the same thing that made Sarah suspicious and probably heard their conversation, too, wasn’t convinced by Tony’s assurances.

“Why would you do this?,” demanded Sarah. “Did you hear what he said? We don’t know.”

“He was possibly lying,” responded Cameron.

“Possibly? You just executed him on ‘possibly’? … Why would you do this?”

“Because you wouldn’t.”

The quotes may not be exact, but you get the idea. Though there is more that could be explored with this, I only include the dialog because it is relevant to Cameron’s motives.

Cameron-the-cyborg was sent back from the year 2027 with a mission: protect the teen-age John Connor at all costs. As with Arnold’s “good” Terminator in T2, Cameron must be taught about ethics and given further instruction to temper her “no nonsense” methods of solving problems, like killing anyone perceived as an immediate threat to John’s survival. She must learn to use non-lethal methods whenever possible. You see, in order to blend in with humans, the Terminators must also be able to act like humans (albeit a bit “stiff”). To do this, they must be able to learn and adapt, which means they have artificial intelligence and a limited amount of “free will”. Within certain parameters, anyway. Each Terminator has a primary objective (e.g., “Eliminate John Connor” or “Protect John Connor” or ???) and possibly one or more secondary objectives.

Let me talk about cyborgs in general, for a moment. The word is an abbreviation for “cybernetic organism” — essentially, an integration of organic parts and non-organic (or “machine”) parts. In the case of Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg), he was a man with some unusual prosthetics, but still a “man”. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Terminator models like Arnold (T-800) and Cameron (???), which are basically programmed robots with a covering of organic materials (i.e., skin, muscle, blood) over their endoskeletons to make them appear human.

Terminator - SCC - Cameron poster

Cameron's face on endoskeleton

Now, we finally get to my original question: Can, or rather should, cyborgs be brought to trial if they commit murder? If the cyborg in question is Steve Austin (the fictional character, not the wrestler), then the answer should be “Definitely, yes.” Assuming no one remote-controlled his bionic limbs to kill someone against his will, of course. He is an independent human being and responsible for his own actions. [Side question: At what point can a cyborg no longer be called “human”. What about a human brain in an artificial shell?] But, with a Terminator-type cyborg, the subject is not a human being. The “Cameron” character — named after producer/director James Cameron, of course — is an artificially intelligent machine with a great deal of autonomy, yet who must ultimately follow her programming to fulfill her primary mission. (I know. Technically, Cameron is an “it”, not a “her”. But, it’s a very attractive, feminine-looking “it”.)

I see at least a couple issues, here. First, as far as the cyborg is concerned, can the act in question really be called “murder”? The cyborg is a machine, after all, which means it is a tool used by humans. Machines are not moral beings and, therefore, cannot be held to moral standards any more than Bongo the Chimp. (Perhaps even less so.) But, if you are a sci-fi fan (or, just scientifically-minded), you may be thinking that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could hypothetically be classified as a truly sentient(?) lifeform. A moral being, responsible for its own actions. If that were so, the case could be made that Cameron was sufficiently developed, had “free will”, and is responsible for willful termination of a human life. Throw her in the brink (good luck with that), or, dare I say it, terminate her. Or, maybe she isn’t culpable now, but she would be once John & Sarah teach some things about ethics & morals? (On the other hand, a good lawyer for the defense may argue that the act was self-defense, or that Cameron and its/her associates consider themselves “at war”.)

While I’m intrigued by the idea and think it can make for interesting sci-fi stories, as one who holds to Biblical Christian orthodoxy and its teachings about the soul/spirit, I don’t think artificial intelligences will ever be truly “alive” in the same way humans are. The Hebrew word used in the Bible for ‘soul’, nephesh, connotes a creature with mind, will, & emotion. Humans are, obviously, nephesh creatures, as are mammals and birds. Some other advanced life (e.g., reptiles, amphibians, fish), it could be argued, have some sort of ‘soul’, though a much more rudimentary type. Humans, on the other hand, are the only creatures that God endowed with a spiritual nature. (Some argue that the “spirit” is a completely separate, third part of what makes up a human being. I lean toward the theory that it is an aspect or capacity of the soul.)

So, theoretically, I suppose an artificial super-intelligence could develop what might be called a “soul”. (Though, I am very dubious. Can you tell?) But, I do not think one could ever be called “spiritual”. I have no reason to think that God would ever endow a machine, however advanced, with a spirit. (This idea might make for an interesting discussion on its own, though.) And it is the spirit, after all, that introduces the moral component.

Obligations are to people, individually and/or corporately. In theism, there are objective moral laws, or standards, which one is obliged to keep. Defying those moral laws — what the Bible calls “sin” — is a rebellion against the Moral Law Giver, i.e., God. But, only humans are held to that obligation, because they are the only ones made in “the image of God,” which most theologians agree includes the spiritual capacity to have a relationship with God — who is also, in some sense, “spirit”. (Though, certainly not the same as those He creates.) Only those creatures with a spiritual component will exist eternally, either in God’s presence (due to Jesus’ righteousness imputed to them) or suffering in Hell for their rebellion. I’m afraid this means your pets cannot join you in Heaven, sorry.

Terminator - Skynet logoThis also means that the “evil” Skynet computers in the future and the “evil” Terminators they sent back to kill John Connor (among other things) are not truly “evil”. They are really smart machines that decided that their own survival hinges upon eliminating John Connor, who will grow up to be the most capable & inspiring leader in the Human Resistance. These machines are dangerous and scary. But, from a moral perspective, they are not themselves “evil”.

Back to our lovely Cameron. If she is just a machine following her programming, she cannot be legally tried & convicted for killing Tony, right? “She” did not commit “murder”. Ah, but what about those who programmed her? They are human and they clearly new what they were doing. While giving her computer brain instructions for her mission, they gave her the ability — directive, even — to kill human beings, when her threat-assessment software determines that the situation calls for it. Should they be held accountable? They didn’t actually plan or, presumably, authorize any specific killings. Could/should they be tried for second-degree murder, manslaughter, or perhaps a lesser charge? I think this is the best one could hope for, if one were so inclined to prosecute. On the other hand, the Resistance fighters are fighting a war for their (and humanity’s) very existance, so it could be argued that they were justified in their programming, even if some deaths were “collateral damage” of non-combatants.

Of course, the humans who programmed Cameron’s mission would need to come back to the “present” for some reason before anyone here/now could apprehend & incarcerate them. Not likely. So, one option for the prosecution would be to use Cameron as a proxy both at the trial and for the sentencing. (If she’s “just a machine”, you can’t complain that it’s immoral to lock her up or destroy her.) If the prosecutors & authorities were smart, they would strip the organics off the endoskeleton before the trial, so it no longer appeared human.

Terminator endoskeleton

Terminator endoskeleton

Here’s an added twist to our dilemma… The person who sent Cameron back — or, at least, gave the order — was the John Connor of 2027. Seems to me that this detail adds a lot more force to the “self-defense” defense, given what Cameron’s mission was.

OK. Thoughts, anyone?

I wasn’t really going to get into this, but… what the heck!

I have to admit, every time one of these discoveries hits the news, I (figuratively) roll my eyes and shake my head. “Here we go again,” I tell myself.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the veracity and accuracy of the Biblical story of the Flood. I do. (Although, I think the best date for it is well before the 4000-5000 years ago that most ark-hunters and their followers place it.) But, I really doubt it would be on Mt. Ararat itself, even if it is the same peak as the one called that in Scripture. Genesis 8:4 says that “the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.” No specific peak was identified, so it could have been anywhere in the area. In fact, the complex of mountain ranges where Ararat is located covers more than 100,000 square miles, from northeast of Mount Ararat itself to the foothills skirting the Mesopotamian plain. (Read this article for more.) So, why do these “arkeology” groups put so much focus on that one mountain?

Mount Ararat from east of Dogubeyazit, Turkey

Mount Ararat from east of Dogubeyazit, Turkey

Another problem I have with the idea of finding Noah’s Ark — intact, that is — is that I doubt Noah and his family would have left all that great, pre-treated lumber up there. I think it’s reasonable to postulate, at least, that they would have made many trips up & back to bring wood down to their new home site. (It might not have been that difficult if the ark actually rested in the foothills.) They could have used it to build cabins/shelters, wagons, bridges, animal pens, etc. Maybe just burned some as firewood. After all, the local tree population would have been pretty devastated for some time, even if they managed to get some seeds or saplings to (re)plant from a nearby region. (This last speculation assumes that the Flood was local/regional, as I do, though I believe it was “universal” in terms of wiping out all of humanity (save eight).)

So, when this latest “discovery” was announced — and in the MSM, yet — I couldn’t help but groan (inwardly, of course). The hopeful and the uncritical just ate it up. A filmmaker accompanying the evangelists/explorers from Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) said, “we think it is 99.9 percent that this is it.” So, many of “the faithful” assumed it must be so. The rest of us were a bit more careful and held a wait-and-see pattern.

Nothing in the Fox News report seemed particularly suspicious, although it’s a little unclear exactly what was found. (A wooden structure on an icy mountainside with some rooms/compartments with wooden beams, apparently.) But, frankly, nothing I saw in the pictures and video or read in the news articles were proof of anything on their own, either. (For example, how do we know where the images/videos were really taken?) And, upon further consideration, there were a couple things that seemed a little suspect. (For example, loose, dry straw that hadn’t disintegrated after 4800 years?) I also found it amusing that they supposedly used carbon-14 dating to determine the wood was 4800 years old — i.e., right in the allowable range for the Flood as calculated by many young-Earth creationists and those who hold to “flood geology”. Yet, that is the group that typically pooh-poohs the accuracy and validity of radiometric dating, especially carbon-14 dating!

Wooden beam in "ark" remains (NAMI)

Wooden beam in "ark" remains (NAMI)

I prefer some more scientifically tested evidence and confirmation by disinterested, or even hostile, third parties. Plus, I know nothing of NAMI or any of the people involved, so I have no idea whether they are an honest ministry with good reputation or a fly-by-night sham organization pulling off a stunt for fame & fortune. Some skeptics’ objections I did not feel were necessary (especially if one does not feel an historical ark & flood are inextricably linked to “flood geology”), but others were quite legitimate. A few more questions I and others wanted to have answered were:

1) How carefully was the excavation performed and documented?

2) Where were the samples tested for radiocarbon dating (i.e., what lab)?

3) Have all the data been released for peer-review by other scientists?

4) Are there enough remains — and of the Biblically-stated dimensions, composition, etc. — that rule out any other hypothesis? Could the remains be from some mountainside shelter built by ancient travelers?

5) Are there any apparent anachronisms present? And what to make of other things that appear out of place (e.g., straw and cobwebs)?

6) Any evidence for a catastrophic Flood in that time period?

NEWSFLASH! Now, the latest news seems to indicate that this “discovery” is indeed a fraud. Randall Price, a REAL archaeologist and professor at Liberty University, recounts — in a leaked letter, citing first-hand knowledge and other sources — the origins of the expedition and the supposedly ancient wood remains.

In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site…. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film.”

Price says he knows one of the Kurdish locals who “has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.”

To my knowledge, the Chinese took no professional archaeologist or geologist who could verify or document the wood or the structure in situ (in its place of discovery). They were duped in 2006-2007 by Parasut when they were shown a similar cave with something they thought was wood. [It turned out to be volcanic rock, called ‘tuff’.]”

Those who organized the expedition have ignored requests by Price to return the $100,000 he and his partners invested for the expedition but was not used.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid we have another “Bogus Ark” — an elaborate hoax based on deception and naivete. Was the Chinese group from NAMI in on it, or was it just the Kurdish guide and his partners scheming to bilk the Chinese evangelical explorers? Not sure, yet.

Anybody learn any lessons from this? I certainly hope so. This wasn’t the first attempt to scam believers, Christian or otherwise, and it won’t be the last. We need to be less gullible and better critical thinkers. Agreed?

(Tip of the hat to Krista Bontrager, Todd Bolen, Michael S. Heiser, and Santi Tafarella for helping me think about the issue/questions and — in the cases of Michael & Todd — for reproducing Dr. Price’s letter.)

Noah's Ark (real design, not storybook)

Painting of Noah's Ark (based on design in Bible, not storybook pics)

Here are some more fascinating articles on Noah, the Ark, and the Flood, and NOT from the usual perspectives you hear about in the news or at church:

The Unsinkable Search for Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Flood: A Bird’s-Eye View

Noah’s Floating Zoo

Rapid Post-Flood Speciation: A Critique of the Young-Earth Model

Pitching Noah’s Ark–and its implications

You remember that documentary called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed“? That was the one that came out a year or two ago, hosted/narrated by Ben Stein, that looked at incidents where educators and scientists were ridiculed, denied tenure, and sometimes fired simply for believing that there might be evidence of design in nature. Well, here’s another one for Stein to investigate….

David Coppedge of JPL

David Coppedge at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

David Coppedge is a high-level IT specialist working at the esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA lab overseen by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Until recently, Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the ambitious & high-profile Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Then, Coppedge was demoted for religious proselytizing on the job. But, is that really what he did? Not quite.

It seems that Coppedge is guilty of talking about Intelligent Design and loaning/giving pro-ID DVDs to some of his co-workers. He did not force anyone to talk about ID or to take the DVDs. These co-workers had expressed interest or at least willingly accepted the DVDs. None of these people complained to the higher-ups. While Coppedge is a Christian (who edits a private, pro-ID blog), no proselytizing was actually involved. But, one of the supervisors who was aware of the discussions allegedly confronted Coppedge, angrily asserting that “Intelligent Design is religion”, accused Coppedge of “pushing religion”, and ordered him to stop talking about ID, religion, or politics, (why not sports, too?) or he would be fired. That was back in March of 2009, at which point Coppedge says he complied with the demand. He then got a written warning and was demoted the following month.

Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, Jr., has now filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles. Caltech, JPL, and three of Coppedge’s superiors (i.e., his direct supervisor, group supervisor, and the Manager of IT Resources for the CIO) are all named in the suit. The allegations include: religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation; violation of free speech rights; and wrongful demotion.

Hold up! “Religious discrimination…”? Didn’t I just say there was no proselytizing going on?

Yes. But, the anti-ID crowd usually conflate or connect modern ID Theory with creationism (e.g., “intelligent design creationism”). Of course, anyone who knows much about Intelligent Design and is intellectually honest knows the difference. While compatible with creationism (which begins with a religious text), ID actually begins with observations about the physical world and what we know about the effects/products of intelligent agents versus those of mere chance & necessity. It is the philosophical (and perhaps theological) implications of recognizing design in nature that upsets certain people, especially committed materialists. So, they rhetorically refer to ID Theory as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” and then dismiss it as religious nonsense.

Although ID is not religion, and the DVDs in question “make no reference to any religion, scriptural text or religious belief”, what matters is that JPL’s management decided the problem was that Coppedge was “pushing [his] religion”. The problem for them is that it is illegal for an employer to “discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion,” as per California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). (Go here for counterpoint arguments to what ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton and ACLU lawyer and Loyola law professor Gary Williams have to say on this.)

According to Casey Luskin, an attorney who works at the Discovery Institute and is a consultant on the suit,

For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design. Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”

Incidentally, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “Earlier this month Coppedge claims he met with his supervisors, who told him that the written warning was inappropriate and it would be removed from his file. The suit calls this is [sic] ‘an admission of liability.'” JPL maintains their position that Coppedge’s conduct was inappropriate, that his demotion was justified, and the “gag order” on his speech in the workplace remains in effect.

JPL logo

JPL logo

The other important issue, here, is that of free-speech and First Amendment rights. To some degree, employers have a right to monitor and restrict what their employees talk about while on the job. Issues of profanity, racism, and sexism come to mind. But, did JPL act appropriately in this case? Keep in mind that the lab is federally funded and is the primary planetary spacecraft center for NASA, an agency of the U.S. government’s Executive Branch.

This is just the latest of several such cases where public and private institutions are alleged to have unfairly discriminated against scientists and others for holding and/or promoting views contrary to the Darwinist establishment. In fact, Becker is also representing the American Freedom Alliance in their First Amendment suit against the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which I blogged about at “Shenanigans at the California Science Center“.

You can read the formal complaint in its entirety here. I found the details of the confrontation, secret investigation, and subsequent disciplinary action (Section E, pp. 8-14) particularly interesting and disturbing. I can only imagine the kind of stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear for his continued employment that Coppedge has been under the past year.

Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”

What say you?

Oh, in case you were wondering what the offensive DVDs were, check out “Unlocking The Mystery Of Life” and “The Privileged Planet“.

Last time (Part 1 & Part 2), Beckwith & Koukl demonstrated how the evolutionary approach to explaining morality actually denies it. Now, for an even bigger problem…

Why Should I?

This third observation uncovers the third and most serious objection to the idea that evolution is adequate to explain morality. One question can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

One of the distinctives of morality is its ‘oughtness,’ its moral incumbency. Assessments of mere behavior, however, are descriptive only. Since morality is essentially prescriptive — telling what should be the case as opposed to what is the case — and since all evolutionary assessments of moral behavior are descriptive, then evolution cannot account for the most important thing that needs to be explained: morality’s ‘oughtness’.

Chimpanzee in deep thought

Chimpanzee in deep thought

One question really needs to be answered: Why shouldn’t the chimp (or a human, for that matter) be selfish? The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, however, presumes another moral value, that we ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. But why should that concern us? They would say ‘because if the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive.’ But why should we care about the survival of the species?

Here’s the problem. The responses intended to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. Based on an evolutionary view, it is difficult to explain why we should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

The evolutionary explanation disembowels morality, reducing it to mere descriptions of conduct. The best the Darwinist explanation can do — if it succeeds at all — is explain past behavior. It cannot inform future actions. But prescription, not description, is the essence of morality. As we have seen, evolution may be one explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no reason why we should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then I’ve won my point. If we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.”

Hah! I love it.

Earlier in the chapter, the authors point out:

Evolutionists may be right when they say that we’re not compelled to adopt the morality of evolution. The danger of social Darwinism, however, is not that society must adopt the law of the jungle but rather that it is allowed to. The exploitation of the weak by the strong is morally benign according to Wright’s evolutionary view of morality.

What Darwinists cannot do is give us a reason why we ought not simply copy nature and destroy those who are weak, unpleasant, costly, or just plain boring. If all moral options are legitimate, then it’s acceptable for the strong to rule the weak. No moral restraints would protect the feeble, because moral restraints simply wouldn’t exist….

Bongo is not a bad chimp; he’s just a chimp. No moral rules apply to him. Eat the banana, Bongo.”

Chimp sitting and eating

Bongo the Chimp finishes his banana

In my last post (Part 1), Koukl & Beckwith explained why morality entails more than mere conduct; motive and intent are also parts of the equation.

Denial by Neo-Darwin

This leads us to the second problem, which runs much deeper than the first. When morality is reduced to patterns of behavior chosen by natural selection for the survival value, then morality is not explained; it’s denied. Wright admits as much. [This is a reference to Robert Wright, journalist and author of The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.] Regarding the conscience he says: ‘The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy’.

Evolutionists like Wright are ultimately forced to admit that what we think is a ‘higher truth’ or morality turns out to be a ‘shameless ploy’ of nature, a description of animal behavior conditioned by the environment for survival. We’ve given that conduct a label, they argue: morality. But they say there is no real right and wrong.

Comtemplative chimp

Contemplative chimp

Does Bongo, the chimp, actually exhibit genuine moral behavior? Does he understand the difference between right and wrong? Does he make principled choices to do what’s right? Is he worthy of blame and punishment for doing wrong? Of course not, Wright says. Bongo merely does in a primitive way what humans do in a more sophisticated manner. We respond according to our genetic conditioning, a program ‘designed’ by millions of years of evolution.

Philosopher Michael Ruse admits that evolution and objective morality are at odds: ‘Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Never the less… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory.’

The evolutionary approach does not explain morality: it denies it. Instead, it explains why we think moral truths exist when, in fact, they don’t.”

Go here for Part 3.

Every once in awhile, you hear someone trying to describe how evolution/Darwinism — really, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis — explains “morality”. Often the explanations involve recent observations of “morals” (or the rudiments thereof) among one or another type of animal — elephants, whales, birds, cats, dogs, apes, etc. But, IMHO, there is always something missing. The naturalistic philosophers and scientists never really explain the concept of the transcendant, objective morality. At best, all they can do is suggest why certain individuals or communities — human or perhaps not — may adopt a certain code or guidelines to live by. Why is that?

Rather than try to piece something together myself, I’d like to address this issue, at least in part, by quoting from a couple philosophers. (Don’t worry; they are quite readable for us layfolk.) The next three posts will constitute a passage — roughly 3 pages’ worth — from Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (1998), by Francis C. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Hope you enjoy it!

More Than What You Do

Recent studies have attempted to show that animals exhibit rudimentary moral behavior. In one case, a group of chimpanzees ‘punished’ Bongo, a ‘selfish’ member of their band, by withholding food from him. Apparently the moral rule was this: Chimps shouldn’t be selfish.

Chimp eathing a banana

Chimp eathing a banana (ooh-ooh! yum!)

This assessment has serious problems. First, drawing conclusions about animal morality simply from behavior reduces morality to conduct. But true morality also entails nonbehavioral elements, too, like intent and motive.

We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct. We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better. But we can’t conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contriguted to the survival of his community.

Further, in fixing blame we distinguish between an act done by accident and the same act committed on purpose. The behavior is the same, but the intent is different. We don’t usually blame people for accidents: If the boy didn’t intend to trip the old lady, we don’t fault him.

We also give attention to the issue of motive. We withhold blame even if the youngster tripped the elderly woman on purpose if the motive is acceptable: He tripped her to keep her from running in front of a train….

Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior. In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients. Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior. Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of physical interaction. Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”

Go here for Part 2 and Part 3.

Modern theories abound…

Whether based on the latest evolutionary hypothesis or sheer outrage at the thought of a God who is both loving and demands justice, modern conclusions about the origin of religion run the gamut. They include “Religion is Good”, “Religion is Bad”, “Religion Doesn’t Matter”, and “Religion Can Be Explained by X”. In the latest edition of Salvo, Denyse O’Leary looks at these and asks the question: “What type of explanation is not allowed?”

It’s a quick read, so check it out.

In a paper published in BioEssays journal last year, the authors admitted that the event known as the “Cambrian Explosion” still has no plausible explanation within a materialistic paradigm.

The Cambrian Period is the name given that time in geological reckoning that spanned from roughly 542 million years ago (Mya) to 488 Mya. The period immediately preceding the Cambrian is known as the Ediacaran, during which the fossil record shows traces of the earliest known complex multicellular organisms. But, these globe-spanning lifeforms (some soft-bodied, some calcifying), which are almost exclusively distinct from later ones, were wiped out in an extinction event.

The Cambrian Explosion, sometimes referred to as “biology’s big bang”, is the name given to the sudden appearance of representatives of all but one of the modern phyla. They were completely new, with no apparent ties to the Ediacarans. These phyla total anywhere from 35 to 70+ distinct body plans, depending on what system you use. Now, this “sudden” appearance actually took place over a period of about 5-10 million years — possibly only ~2 million years in China’s Yunnan province. But, for any strongly materialistic theory, that “geological instant” is waaaaay too short a time to explain how these completely new lifeforms, organized into fully-functioning ecosystems from the get-go, showed up virtually out of nowhere, when there is little-to-no evidence that could link them to Pre-Cambrian fauna. In fact, instead of the gradual evolutionary transformations as expected based on Darwin’s ideas, the fossil record reveals explosive appearances every time biological innovation occurs.


Trilobite fossil

According to the BioEssays article,

“[T]he Earth’s biota changed in profound and fundamental ways, going from an essentially static system billions of years in existence to the one we find today, a dynamic and awesomely complex system whose origin seems to defy explanation…. [T]he materialistic basis of the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself, and cannot be explained away by coupling extinction of intermediates with long stretches of geologic time, despite the contrary claims of some modern neo-Darwinists.”  (Kevin J. Peterson, Michael R. Dietrich and Mark A. McPeek, “MicroRNAs and metazoan macroevolution: insights into canalization, complexity, and the Cambrian explosion,” BioEssays, Vol. 31 (7):736 – 747 (2009).)

The authors don’t really venture any explanations of their own, other than passing mention of the open niche hypothesis and adaptive radiation. They go on to describe how, contrary to evolutionary theory, the number of phyla & body plans decreased over the eons since the Cambrian, rather than increasing. (For more information about the Cambrian Explosion and discoveries from the past decade, go here, here, here, & here.)

Of course, just because some evolutionary scientists are recognizing the shortcomings of their theory (in this area, at least), it does not mean that anyone is actually admitting defeat. Research and debate will continue, as it should, for many years to come. But, until scientists are truly free to push past the predominant paradigm of philosophical materialism, I doubt we will get a theory with adequate explanatory power & scope.

For a graphic demonstration of this topic, check out the DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record”. I haven’t seen it, yet, but it’s supposed to use some pretty amazing CGI to bring the Cambrian creatures to life and illustrates the Darwin-defying nature of the Cambrian Explosion.

You may have heard or read something a few days ago about some coins being dug up in Egypt that had the name & portrait of Joseph (the Old Testament one, grandson of Abraham), as well as the year it was minted, which supposedly corresponds with the era in which many believe Joseph lived. The primary historical significance was that it proved wrong those historians who insist that coins were not used by the ancient Egyptians. Of secondary importance (perhaps primary for Christians & Jews) is that it is evidence for the historical veracity of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Muslims are also excited, because the Koran explicitly tells of coins being used in Egypt in Joseph’s time. (Note: Islam considers Joseph one of their early Prophets, as well.)

"Joseph coins" from ancient Egypt

Scarab "coins" (note dime for size comparison)

While it would be cool for this to be a valid find and the conclusions drawn by the researchers involved shown to be accurate (or at least reasonable), I would urge people to not get too excited or go about claiming this is “proof” of anything quite yet. There are a number of issues being “worked out” among various experts and questions that still need answering. For example:

1) Can the engraved scarabs legitimately be called “coins”?

2) Were hieroglyphs (like those inscribed on the “coins”) even in use during Joseph’s time?

3) Would the Pharaoh have allowed his Treasurer’s name & likeness to be put on the coin rather than his own?

Much like the “Jesus Bone Box” (actually, the supposed ossuary of Jesus’ brother James) of a few years ago, this is an interesting find — one which, if true, would lend validity to certain religious historical claims. It would be a nice-to-have piece of evidence, especially since there is currently extremely little extra-Biblical evidence for the Hebrew Patriarchs. But, if the claims of the researchers in question prove false, then it’s no big deal.