Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The deep mystery of existence.3. Evolution equals design

A common human weakness is to engage in utterly futile arguments. 

Looking at the fossil record gathered since the 18th century and accepting the widespread interpretation of this by biologists and zoologists, it certainly looks as though life in its present state has evolved. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), commonly acknowledged as the greatest Christian theologian and philosopher, proposed that ‘In the beginning were created only germs or causes of the forms of life which were afterwards to be developed in gradual course.’  (from Genesi ad Litteram, the Literal meaning of Genesis). This preceded Darwin by some 1400 years. 

 What many modern life science academics seem unable to admit, in the face of overwhelming evidence, is that this evolution, like that of the entire universe which preceded it, has been entirely purposeful, as though working towards some end point, and that modern physics and biology increasingly point to the whole universe being a kind of mind. 

Equally puzzling are the young earth creationists who seem afraid of evolution, despite its proposal from the 4th century.  Fundamentalist creationism became significant, though not dominant, around the time of the Reformation (c.1500AD) and stems, in my view, from a failure to look deeply at the meaning of Genesis within the Hebrew culture at the time of the God-inspired writing and redaction of the Pentateuch. See also The fittest survive: but how? 

 (We Christians differ in theology, eschatology and hermeneutics but share a belief in the bodily Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His saving by grace of all humankind from the consequences of sin here and in the state of eternal life, which starts now, in this life, and survives physical death.)

In our limited reality time obviously figures to the extent that the biological world is synchronised. It is becoming increasingly evident that events in the living world previously thought to be unconnected are in fact orchestrated and coordinated not only with each other but with the geological, oceanographic, atmospheric and astronomical arenas in which they occur. How else could the biosphere function over hundreds of millions of years as solar radiation grew by over 20%?  It is not too much of a conjecture to imagine the whole universe, including the history of civilisation, as being synchronised to some cosmic master clock. If this were the case there would indeed be a basis for assuming some relationship between celestial patterns of events and the events on earth. However, it is my strong belief that prediction of events in human affairs and the living world, other than under controlled experimental conditions, is not possible for mortal beings since this would remove free will and I take it as self evident that our Creator has endowed us with this.

Exploration and movement towards a goal seems to be a characteristic of humanity as a species. If we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1: 24) could this mean that in addition to being loving, truthful, just, merciful and creative, God is constantly seeking the fulfillment of a purpose? Yet if God merely set the whole process of physical and spiritual evolution in progress over the ages and left it to unfold how could He (I stick to the male pronoun for tidiness knowing that the essence of God is both male and female, something personal but beyond gender classification)  be interactively involved with it?  How could He respond to our free will decisions to submit to His will or reject it?

To get any kind of feel for this we have to try to imagine a God’s eye view.    In trying to imagine it we get a sense of a personal omnipotent entity beyond imagining.

To God, existing transcendentally beyond and within our parochial little universe (big only in space-time extent, but tiny compared to the fullness of God), human and cosmic history existed as a single tapestry or picture in His mind.  He chose a tapestry of perfection which could be woven through history by freely acting humans.  He knew how each person would freely act in every circumstance and chose an end time world which would be perfect yet compatible with these free decisions in the long term.


 From our perspective it seems as though time is passing, nature is evolving and human history is unfolding. God is seated outside of time, in eternity: all events - past, present and future from our perspective- appear on one cosmic tapestry or painting.  In some unfathomable way our free will decisions, made before God created our space-time-energy universe as a kind of cosmic stage on which humanity and individuals play their part,  interact with the process of creating the Holy tapestry as God works towards perfection, a new heaven and a new earth, an end point which the Creator has in mind. In this model scientists are actors on the stage diverting their attention from the drama of earthly life to investigate the construction and operation of the stage scenery and machinery.

Our pre-creation counterparts make free decisions on whether to submit to God’s will. When we  make a decision  it is a manifestation of a decision made outside our space-time-energy existence. When, in this transcendent, ephemeral  existence we voluntarily submit to God’s will the tapestry develops towards perfection smoothly and without evil consequences. When there is sin the tapestry is blemished and bad things happen (e.g. war, disease, social breakdown, these consequences affecting even the innocent while in their mortal state prior to eternal life). The heavenly existence which survives physical death is threatened or diminished in some way. Imagine God as painting a masterwork and having his arm jolted every time a sin occurs.

So the process of biological evolution is that of God weaving and refining the natural world (only a tiny part of a much richer and unimaginable reality), a process of ongoing design outside of space-time that we perceive as a flux of evolutionary events in our world of clocks, rulers and scientific instruments. Even some random events could be part of God's work, perhaps small chaotic patterns of dots within the 'painting', needed to make it complete and right in God's eye.

 Any attempt by me to understand God's scheme and purpose is doomed to failure but our Creator has designed us to make such attempts. (Also,  He has a sense of humour and is infinitely forgiving.) It just helps me make sense of the all surpassing mystery of reality and it could conceivably help others, even if it means spurring them towards some other notion. It is in this spirit, and the hope that it will do something to help end this destructive and supremely silly conflict between neo-Darwinists with faith in chance and young earth creationists forced to put God into a box by the reductionists who have come to dominate western thought,  that I present it. Christie elision (Christ have mercy).

See also
Our perception of reality, ancient and modern
 John,  cosmik.jo@gmail.com









Friday, 24 June 2016

Teleportation: science fiction or science fantasy?




Science fiction novels and movies often assume teleportation as standard. I doubt whether there has been a single episode of Star Trek in which  at least one person or alien is not turned into a beam and transmitted more or less instantaneously from A to B.



I was inspired to think about this by an article in the UK journal Prospect (July 2014) entitled ‘If your brain is vaporised…’, an interesting review by Jim Holt of two recent books dealing with teleportation and related subjects.





The standard view of the SF fan is that while this technology is way beyond us at present this may not always be so. Never say never in science. However, there are difficulties with two aspects of this phenomenon, or more accurately thought experiment, which seem fundamental to me and which were not discussed in the review:



1/  encoding and decoding the material structure of a person.



2/ the nature of the agent animating this structure and holding it in place over time.



Once the body-brain system is encoded into, say, a digital stream of electromagnetic pulses, this encoded data can be transmitted as a beam to a receiver which decodes the beam and constructs a replica of the brain-body system from chemicals stored in the receiver.  To avoid having two identical persons the original one would have to be destroyed or, alternatively, the atoms themselves would have to be transmitted through some kind of ether or converted into some form of energy which could be transmitted and decoded at the receiving end.



The assumption is that the original person is defined purely by configurations of matter called atoms and molecule, with large amounts of energy filled space between them and within them.
Much of the structural information is at sub-molecular level and so subject to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and so beyond the reach of any attempt to measure and encode it

 Unfortunately for the credibility of this thought experiment, but fortunately for us as living creatures with self-consciousness and free will, a person is not, in any case,  just a pattern of atoms and molecules. Life is a dynamic, transcendent process, not a static pattern.



 The essence of a person is some agent which not only holds the constituent particles in place at any one instant but orchestrates their arrangement over time, conducts millions of repairs to damage (e.g. radiation or copying errors during translation and transcription within a cell) each day and replaces the enormous variety of atomic and molecular systems with new ones from outside the body-brain system. Over a period of ten years all the matter in your body-brain is completely replaced. We have no idea what this causal organising and controlling agent is in scientific terms but some people call it a soul and when it stops orchestrating and repairing the body-brain system there is death.



Not only does the soul have to repair and maintain the existing patterns and processes. It has to make them grow and develop in size, structure and function in response to, and in conjunction with, the environment, which includes other organisms. It is ‘in charge’ from the moment it inhabits an embryo – perhaps even before since it may actually choose, or play a part in choosing, its own embryo out of thousands of fertilised eggs.



This is a crude attempt to give the flavour of the total scheme involved in life and death. It can't be anything else.



Could the soul (or whatever you want to call it) actually be the result of the particle arrangements? Just throw the particles together and you have an embryo with a soul to manage it. No chance. Each embryo is in some way the product of billions of years of evolution, an intelligent process, preplanned from outside of space-time (i.e. prior to the Big Bang creation event), by which our biosphere and its constituent life systems have survived and developed over the aeons. Each body-brain system plays an integral part in the biosphere. Just as the body-brain system is governed by the life giving soul so is the biosphere governed by a larger soul – otherwise it could not thrive the way it has, despite five or six mass extinctions during the 3.8 billion years of life on Earth and a solar radiation input that has increased by up to 30% as the sun has become more luminous.



Teleportation may be a legitimate concept of SF. But only if ‘SF’ stands for ‘science fantasy', not 'science fiction’. There is a literary genre distinction between the two. Science fiction is based on visions of a future employing novel technology in which the laws of physics have been pushed to the limit. In science fantasy there is no attempt to remain within the domain of even the frontiers of physics – in effect one is introducing the supernatural. Teleportation requires us to suspend the laws of physics so it is really a science fantasy concept, albeit an entertaining one which enables characters to be transferred from place to place as part of an intergalactic story line.


For teleportation to be possible in any shape or form there has to be a soul. It will be this soul that decides whether to permit teleportation and governs how it is achieved, a soul guided by the Creator.


John Sears







Monday, 13 June 2016

Our precious planet. Part 3. Built for civilization

Part 1 showed how the solar system is situated in a safe haven in the cosmos. Part 2  listed the factors which make the Earth itself unique for the development of life. 





This post deals with the special terrestrial conditions which allowed civilization to evolve.

Here they are, as far as I understand them:


Atmosphere

The oxygen content of the atmosphere is just right to allow fire (any more and all combustible material would  be ablaze, much less and we would not be able to breath). Fire has been an essential requirement for keeping warm as well as ore smelting, metal processing, cooking, medicine, heat engines, rocket motors and much else.

Approximately 4/5 of the atmosphere is nitrogen and this has been a major contributor to soil fertility. (See below.)
The atmosphere is relatively clear so that we can see celestial objects and deduce our place in the larger scheme of things. (See below.)


 Water

The different phases of water depend on the pressure exerted on them by the atmosphere and on the ambient temperature. On the Earth's surface  the pressure and the range of temperatures allows all three phases of water: solid, liquid and vapour. These conditions have existed for billions of years and allowed the development of biodiversity (e.g. by transporting pollen, viruses and bacteria around the globe in oceans and cloud aerosols).

Rivers, lakes and oceans have allowed exploration and  trade in bulk up to very large distances. They have also been a valuable source of fish, a staple food for most peoples and in combination with the atmosphere have kept the climate stable enough to permit
the  building and survival of cities. 

Largely through the Earth's unique  plate tectonics and crustal formation mechanism it has the right ratio of land to sea area (29%). The topography, the relative sizes of the continental land masses and the positioning of continents and  islands are also optimal. E.g. diverse societies evolve because they are separated and yet are still able to trade and interact, which usually leads to innovation and enrichment. 

 Soil                 

The surface soil in combination with a plethora of micro organisms have been suitable for agriculture, the main facilitator of civilization through human history. Lightning has been a crucial factor in extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere - nitrogen being a critically important nutrient for crops and other plants. Lightning also starts wildfires, leaving mineral-rich charcoal which improves the soil's ability to retain water. The origin of soil is complex but associated with rivers, flooding, rainfall and glaciation as well as earth movements and volcanoes due to plate tectonics.

Animals

 Animals suitable for breeding, training and domestication (e.g. dogs, sheep, goats, oxen, horses, falcons) have been essential in allowing hunting, agriculture, transport and communication to develop. Even if animals had evolved on other planets they are unlikely to include these or even their equivalents. Dogs, e.g., have  unique DNA which permits extraordinary variability through breeding.



Location in the Milky Way Galaxy (MWG)

Our solar system, unlike most star systems, is so placed in the MWG as to afford good views of the universe. It also enables us to measure the cosmic microwave background (‘snow’ on the screens of certain TVs) from the nascent universe, providing evidence of the Big Bang theory. Had the Sun been placed in most parts of our Galaxy we would be totally oblivious to most of the universe and its history (in a sense we still are because it comprises largely dark matter and energy; but at least we are aware that there is something there waiting to be investigated). 


Order in the sky

 The ordered movements of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars in the sky, from night to night, day to day, a consequence of the Earth’s rare stable rotation, inspired the ancients to develop mathematics and mark the seasons for agriculture. The concept of an ordered universe was born. Largely unpredictable events such as exploding stars (supernovae), meteors and comets only served to emphasize the underlying order.
Also, the Moon is 400 x smaller than the Sun but 400 x nearer. This makes them appear to be the same size in the sky and results  in the extraordinary phenomenon of total eclipses which excited the curiosity of early man; and without curiosity, civilization can't develop.
 The resulting solar eclipses enabled modern man to learn about the Sun’s atmosphere and discover helium in the Sun before it was found on Earth .The identical apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon also allowed precisely timed eclipses and new moons to form the basis of a calender.


Ice cores, sediments and fossils

 Freezing of ice over millions of years has provided ice cores giving evidence for solar, supernovae, magnetic, atmospheric, volcanic and pollen phenomena over this period. Cores of lake sediments have also proved valuable records of the past, especially climate change. This evidence would not have been available without water occurring as both liquid and ice for billions of years. No other planet we know allows this. Understanding of history is important in allowing a people to advance.
Fossils of creatures preserved in sea deposits turned to rock have given us the ability to reconstruct certain aspects of the evolution of life over billions of years.


Materials courtesy of plate tectonics and the moon

Ores and minerals –e.g. copper, tin , iron, uranium and silicon - for materials technology have been made available through fine tuned plate tectonics. Hence the Bronze, Iron, Atomic and Silicon Ages (what next?). Note that plate tectonics, as far as we know unique to Earth,  are driven by the heat released during the decay of radioactive thorium and uranium produced in stars.
 A few months ago a paper in Nature showed that the formation of the Moon has played a critical role in preventing the 'iron-loving' heavy  elements (gold, silver, iron, titanium and others) needed for civilisation  from migrating  towards the Earth's core which would make them unavailable for mining. See this article by Hugh Ross



Energy

Vegetation and fauna for coal, natural gas and oil was deposited in time for use by technology-driven peoples. Even today areas once devoted to crops are being used for biofuel plants. 

The existence of hills and mountains, again the result of plate tectonics, together with water, results in fast flowing rivers and water falls which served as power sources alongside oxen etc. in pre-modern civilizations. Tidal and wave power is also used.

Nuclear fission has been a major carbon-free energy source since the 1960s and, like plate tectonics, depends on radioactive atoms made in stars. This form of nuclear power is likely to be replaced by nuclear fusion later this century. This is a much cleaner and should involve minimal environmental damage. In my novel (2077: Knights of Peace), this is the  main power source for the world at that time (although very much a background to the main theme of fighting violence without causing more violence). Certain types of nuclear fusion technology look promising as power sources for interplanetary missions.

 Conclusion

These conditions, and probably many others, were key to the development of our civilization. No other planet discovered so far appears to have life; or, if it does, it has not evolved beyond bacteria or viruses, even over billions of years. Whatever the implications there is no doubt that humankind and the world it inhabits are in a class apart from the rest of creation.

John
Author, 2077: Knights of Peace

Reach me at
cosmik.jo@gmail.com


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Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Reversing dementia in honeybees

Bees, it seems, hold the promise of reversing dementia. This is not crank science but is  based on a Scientific American guest blog by Kara Rogers. It arises out of the observation of epigenetic phenomena.

 Epigenetics is the study of how nature's protein manufacturers, of which genes are a critical component, are controlled by the environment, both within and outside the cell, and the environment will depend on the mode of interaction which the bee undertakes in performing its role in the  colony.


Neurons are a special  kind of cell and it seems that in a honeybee at least they behave differently in different situations - they change their structure and the way they interact with other neurons according to the role of the bee. As this changes, the neurons and the pattern of neurological activity changes and this is in some way linked to cognitive ability. In bees cognitive ability changes not only with age but with social function. As a bee changes its role in the hive its mental ability changes as it encounters a different social environment and different mental qualities are required.

There are three kinds of occupant in a honeybee nest (all with identical genes):


  • queen

  • worker (sexually immature female) 

  • drone (male, whose sole purpose is to mate)

Focusing in on the workers, they start out in life as  'nurse bees', a stage which lasts a few weeks, looking after the queen, cleaning the nest and building it up.   They then become foragers, searching the surrounding flora for nectar and carrying it to the nest. As time passes the foragers exhibit physical and mental decline. But if the number of foragers grows too high in relation to the nurse population then by some extraordinary means they transform into nurses. Moreover, in the process they become more intelligent - their neurons and the connections between them reconstitute the structure associated with improved cognition, so that the transformed insects can adopt their new role in society.

 To quote Kara Rogers:

As (workers) transition from one role to another their brains change. The mushroom body (a center for olfactory processing) shrinks or expands, the brain proteome transforms, and even the microRNA transcriptome morphs. The complexity is astounding.

  The bee's brain changes its neurological functioning and in effect rewires itself. This could have huge implications on the way dementia is dealt with. At least in this case an organ associated with intelligence responds as its externally determined function changes. Could it be that as people are given different mental tasks they will in certain situations actually generate extra neurons of the right type?

 (My own untested, provisional model  is that the real person is located outside our space-time-energy world in an eternal spiritual dimension, and that the processes we detect in the brain are material manifestations of this greater reality. The universe emerged from this spiritual realm of the Triune God who for some reason created us and our universe, a stage for us to act upon in a battle between good and evil as  we resond to God's love. Forgive my metaphysics. This is not essential to my Chrisitanity but is a way I can rationally visualise God's cosmic scheme.)


I have no formal training in the life sciences but  believe there are other examples of brain plasticity in other organisms and in humans. It certainly looks as though  totally unexpected advances in research and in the treatment of dementia could come from the revolution in epigenetics which is currently underway, a revolution which could have profound implications for our understanding of evolution, the treatment of dementia and the nature of morality. Essentially, epigenetics means that what happens in our own lives is affected by and affects other generations, past and future, and potentially everything in the universe.

 If you don't want to think about these things at least you can look forward to progress in making dementia in you and your elders less likely or even reversing it.

John
author, 2077:Knights of Peace

reach me via
cosmik.jo@gmail.com

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The deep mystery of existence.1.Where does reality come from?


image from
http://www.godandscience.org/images/universe/helixnebulaart.jpg
In this first post in the series ‘The deep mystery of existence...’ I pose this question: from what does our reality originate?
 
I am not a qualified philosopher or academic.  However, like many of us, I feel driven to look rationally at the nature of the universe and our existence in it.  There won’t be a lot of citations and referencing. Much of what I say is based on the thoughts, ideas and insights of others, both published and unpublished, written and spoken;  but often I can’t remember the source and since this is not a peer reviewed scholarly article it won’t be taken seriously by  academia. Nevertheless, I believe there is a place for blogs like this  in the scheme of things. They allow ideas to be explored free of academic peer pressure and stimulate thought.

  Ironically, to be rational one has to recognize that the most important aspects of life cannot be accessed by logic. For example, human experiences of love and awe, justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, cannot be described  or communicated from one person  to another by scientific models and equations. Circumstances which commonly accompany or lead to them can to some extent be scientifically investigated, but the actual experience of them is outside the realm of reason. The nature and meaning of human experience must be the subject of philosophy, art, music, drama and literature.


First, what is reality? It is defined as ‘the totality of all things possessing actuality, existence or essence’.

 Some have tried to deny reality by claiming it is all illusion. This is a cop out, an attempt to evade the search for truth and be rational at the same time.

The main definition of ‘illusion’ in the online Free Dictionary is 'an erroneous perception of reality'. So there is no point in saying that all is illusion. The word has no meaning unless there is a true reality to serve as a reference frame. Moreover, the statement is self contradictory and so manifestly false. If all were an illusion then the statement ‘all is illusion’ would itself be an illusion, i.e. false.

Reality does exist. Or perhaps everything we experience in this life is indeed illusion but at some higher level there is a concrete reality to which it corresponds. 


So how did reality come into being?  It must have emanated by an act of will from some source which is so far beyond our understanding that it is not within our realm of investigation. It surpasses our understanding and always will do by definition.


All we can say with certainty is that we have been endowed with consciousness, relentless curiosity, a sense of justice and a desire to see it done, the ability to reason, the ability to create scientific theories to describe how natural phenomena occur, a moral conscience and the desire to procreate. To this list could be added the uniquely human and powerful gift of language which allows new concepts to be formulated and discussed, even by those who try to debunk the very idea of truth and purpose.

(NB: Any attempt to argue that reality is meaningless or without purpose defeats itself  since the words used to argue the case would also have to be pointless and meaningless. You can't  construct a meaningful argument using meaningless concepts.)

We have  been given experiences like love and hate, pleasure and pain, elation and despair. We also have a sense of the sacred or divine –expressed in people, in churches, in mosques, in stories, in holy books and in the natural world.


This must tell us certain things about the nature of the source, the uncaused first cause. But what about its purpose in creating us? There must be a purpose because our natural world is evolving with purpose, from a dimensionless point in nothingness to stars to galaxies to the Milky Way Galaxy to the solar system to the planet Earth to the living biosphere to conscious humans with the kinds of questions being asked in this and future posts.

 The source from which reality flows has purpose and a will. Our observations of the natural world and the universe, together with our reason, strongly indicate that human beings are the end point of a long evolutionary story, since the universe is fine tuned not just for life but for civilization and we are placed at a probably unique position in the cosmic space-time scheme from which its history can be observed and inferred with the minds given to us together with the gift of language.

 So the creative entity from which our reality comes has a plan for us and the will to create us.

See also
Our perception of reality, ancient and modern

 John Sears


reach me at
cosmik.jo@gmail.com



Friday, 3 June 2016

Free will, God's cosmic river and restorative justice (Father James)

Father James is a character from the novel  2077: Knights of Peace. The following reflections and ideas are not included in the novel.  Book Q&A.




Image result for pen and paperWe have freedom as individuals to choose between the way of the world and the way of Christ. This will determine our eternal destiny as individuals but it will also affect God’s plan for humanity, or rather the form of the plan, since the endpoint – a New Heaven and a New Earth – remains unaltered in God’s mind, because in that realm God’s love will be fully expressed.


I know this as a matter of faith after my epiphany; but when visiting Sister Agatha of Grasmere to meet a new intake of Knights for Enlightenment I voiced my puzzlement at how this unalterable goal could be reconciled with our free will. She said it was helpful to picture the flow of history at all levels from the parochial to the cosmic, from the individual to the nation to the human race en masse, as a river heading for the ocean. Diverse patterns and disturbances within the river of life’s events, all resulting from free decisions to do or not to do God’s will,  can then be pictured as swirls, eddies, rapids and  floating debris , moving sometimes with,  sometimes across and sometimes against the current.  These disturbances to the flow are the causes of suffering  – war, disease, accidents, natural disasters, economic or social collapse. In the end the heavenly goal is reached. How we react, endure or overcome our suffering determines the place in the heavenly realm that Jesus Christ is preparing for us.


Nevertheless, people and groups of people do have to suffer in their lives. God only rescues us when the course of events allows this and rescuing us does not totally throw the river off course and never able to reach the end point. Do we encounter pain and tragedy because of our own sin? Sometimes, but often it is because of someone else’s, even when the sinner is geographically far away or no longer alive.  Not as  a deliberate punishment by the Lord but because that is the way His reality works.  It is why sin, which starts as a thought, is forbidden by our loving creator. But Christ’s restorative justice rescues both the sinner and the sinned against, either in this life or in the eternal realm of limitless love. 
 
Perhaps that is the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son. 


This restorative justice is open to all who empty themselves of pride so that they can receive God’s love. If someone damages you because of their greed or malice there is no need to seek retribution or ask God to punish them. They will either at some point open themselves to  redemption (inner change) and receive God’s love, or they will reject it before physical death and so sentence themselves to eternity in the company of other unrepentant sinners, which is hell, in a sense by definition. Either way, if you submit to Christ you also will be immersed in God’s love. 

So do not grieve at the sinner’s reward as did the elder brother of the prodigal son when his father rejoiced as the son returned, in humility, to his father after a life of sin. Your reward will also be great, perhaps greater if it is scaled according to our earthly righteousness; but in any case rejoice with God in the sinner's repentance. 

Click here for The accumulated reflections of Father James 

John sears
author of 
2077: Knights of Peace.
cosmik.jo@gmail.com