Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Happy Common Cup!

January 1, 2018

Well, Happy New Year as well.

But here’s another article from smart science folks reminding everyone what the Church has been saying for a very long time – the risk of contracting an illness from partaking in the common cup at Holy Communion is negligible.  Certainly no greater than the risk from shaking hands with and talking with sick people after the service.  Or sitting next to them during the service.

While the theological description of what the Lord’s Supper is and why we do it  is inaccurate, the rest of the article is very helpful and hopefully reassuring.  If you’re sick, don’t take the Common Cup.  Consider it common courtesy to your neighbors and a way of reassuring them.  Also, if you’re terrified and can’t think about anything else the whole time, then don’t take the Common Cup.  While I prefer the continuity of the Common Cup, I don’t argue that there is a strong theological or Biblical argument against using individual cups.  And this article is a reminder that there is no strong medical or scientific evidence to argue against using the Common Cup.

In case you’re wondering what is wrong with the description of the Lord’s Supper in the article, my denomination would alter the statement this way (I think):

  • Holy Communion does not replicate the Last Supper, it continues it.  There was only one historical last supper, and Holy Communion is not a historical reenactment of that evening.  Rather, it is the faithful response to Jesus’ instructions to “do this in remembrance of me”.
  • But it is more than mere remembrance, because Jesus told his followers – and by extension those who followed after them – that they were actually receiving his body and blood.  The bread doesn’t just represent Jesus’ sacrificed body, it contains it and is it in a fundamental way we can’t explain adequately.  Likewise the wine is not merely symbolic of Jesus’ spilled blood, but it actually is his spilled blood.  Yet at the same time the elements remain also actual bread and wine.
  • As such, when Jesus says that we participate in this for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-29), the opportunity to taste, to physically connect with the spiritual reality of our forgiveness, we actually receive what He promises – his body, his blood, and therefore forgiveness.




Long Life

December 14, 2017

You know how some people want to dismiss the Bible – or at least the beginning of it – because it talks about people living incredibly long times?  Like hundreds and hundreds of years?  That’s ridiculous.  Nobody lives that long!

Presented for your consideration, though, this 500-year old shark.  Or perhaps it isn’t quite that old – people aren’t entirely sure.  But it could be that old, and it doesn’t seem to be surprising people too much.  So perhaps the idea that human beings once lived a lot longer than we do now isn’t such a far-fetched notion after all?


Nearby Paranoia

November 17, 2017

In case you found yesterday’s post about bombarding alien civilizations with unfettered communiques a bit on the paranoid side, here’s something that might be a little more disconcerting.

Robots are doing back-flips now.

While we can muse about whether artificial intelligence is equivalent to actually being human (as ludicrous as that conversation sounds), we can easily acknowledge that robots are increasingly capable of physical flexibility that puts the majority of the human population to shame.  And the little victory stance at the end did nothing to ease my anxiety.  Once again, the rush to see what we can do certainly seems to outpace our interest in discussing what we should do.

Historically speaking, this hasn’t always ended well.

Making Friends or Ending the World

November 16, 2017

While everyone has been preoccupied with the astounding news that people with power and money sometimes try to take advantage of people with less power and money, nobody has been paying any attention to the scientists.  Perhaps as their own attempt to deal with the sinful nature of our species, a group of scientists have taken it upon themselves to beam a message to a solar system they think might have planets capable of sustaining life.

I know this sounds all Star Trek-y wonderful and stuff.  And Lord knows, the hope for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe grows as we are continually reminded of our own stupidity.  But I can’t help but wonder who gets to make the decisions about who sends messages out to possible alien civilizations and who doesn’t?  Despite the enamor of some with a one-world government, nobody is apparently in charge of determining who speaks on behalf of humanity, or even what they’re going to say.

The problem is actually a lot more interesting than it appears on the surface because the expectation in the scientific community is that everyone can and will say whatever they want (and probably have started already).  Although these particular scientists showcased our intelligence, others might be broadcasting Gilligan’s Island reruns and nobody has any say about it.

It will take years for the message to be received, if there’s anybody on the other end capable and interested in receiving it.  And as uneasy as I am with the idea of people sending whatever they want into the vast reaches of space, I’m equally uncomfortable with the idea that we could be held hostage on our planet by whatever agencies of the state might wish to suppress such communications.  The concept of freedom of speech – even as battered and torn and abridged as it is today – is something I resonate pretty strongly with, and perhaps I’d prefer that we risk stirring up unpleasant and hostile alien interest in our little corner of the universe to being silenced completely.

I’m not the only one to think about this sort of thing, but perhaps it’s the sort of thing we want to focus more of our attention on.  Once we get over our mock indignation at human nature.

Machines in the Holy Ghost

November 14, 2017

This New Yorker article hypothesizes on whether one day human-like robots (though frankly, why need they be human-like, so long as they have artificial intelligence [AI] of some sort?) will be accepted as members in faith communities.  The author cites some interesting anecdotes from speculative Jewish and Muslim religious writers before moving on to a rather awkward and brief reinterpretation of Genesis 1 & 2.

The author chooses to utilize Kierkegaard’s definition of passion vs. proof as a means for discussing this question. Kierkegaard argues that faith is not a matter of intellect, or at least solely so.  It must needs involve something deeper, the uniquely human aspect of passion or desire, with faith the highest form and expression of such passion.  Kierkegaard was reacting against a philosophical tradition that held reason and rationality to be the highest aptitude and defining characteristic of humanity.  The author of the article sees Kierkegaard’s definition as a strong argument against the ability of an AI creation to have faith.

The references to Jewish and Muslim speculation on the ability of non-humans to be part of a faith community is interesting.  It reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,  with the issue ultimately being less one of whether faith is possible to non-humans, but whether human community should belong to such creations or aberrations.

More problematic for me is the reinterpretation of Genesis 1 & 2.  The author asserts that Adam and Eve were designed to be learning machines.   But I would argue that both these terms are misleading and inaccurate, contextually.  Adam and Eve were capable of learning, but there is no insinuation that they did not possess, directly from their creator as part of being a creation, knowledge already – certainly enough knowledge to know how to respond appropriately when warned of something bad and dangerous.  And Adam and Eve were certainly not machines, but rather human beings.  Distinct in all of creation as bearers of the imago dei – the image of God.  Adam and Eve were not de facto fated to sin, either out of the necessity of learning or due to the inadequate ‘programming’ they received.  Were either of these to be the case, the issue of moral guilt before a righteous God, and therefore the need of salvation, would be eliminated.  Adam and Eve were created with the capability and the default mode of right relationship to God – they were proper creatures in every respect of the word.

Robots might gain consciousness and turn against their creators, but this would be the result of how we, as imperfect beings, created them imperfectly.  The Biblical account says something very different, and locates the source of the pain and misery and suffering that we inflict on one another and ourselves not in what we learned from God, but in the inevitable reality of being broken, improper creatures no longer in sync with anything or anyone else.

Just because a robot looks and acts human does not make it human.  Programmers and artists and engineers can gift a robot with many attributes to make it more acceptable as human companionship, but they cannot gift it with the spiritual essence.  The transmission of the imago dei is left to the realm of procreation rather than creation.  While the lines may become blurred as we dabble in the realms of human cloning, it is important to remember that God is both the creator of faith, and the creator of the spiritual apparatus – the soul – capable of receiving such faith.  Just because we can create something that looks like it is capable of faith does not mean that it is.

(Un)Common Sense

November 7, 2017

I can’t find any sense in the growing insistence over the past 50 years that gender and sexuality and gender roles and all such related things have no real meaning beyond whatever we choose to assign to them.

As a Christian who believes that we were divinely created specifically in the image of God, and that male and female together comprise the whole of humanity, the idea that we can redefine these things however we want of course makes very little sense, and certainly runs strongly against the grain of Scripture.  The Church is called to maintain the very uncomfortable but very historic teaching that men and women exist, that they are equal in essence, but not necessarily in function, and should stand against those who would deny and unravel these identities as well as those who would abuse and exploit them.

I don’t see how someone who holds with natural selection and evolutionary theory could reasonably see these as arbitrary constructs suitable for rearranging or redefining on personal whim either.  Millions of years of evolutionary chance and natural selection are somehow to be completely discarded as irrelevant?  Doesn’t this amount to a monumental arrogance, that we are capable of undoing or redoing what has been done over and over again for very good and important reasons?

Common sense is no longer politically correct, but that is not the same as saying that it isn’t still true.  Here’s another article summarizing several aspects of current research into the importance of gender roles (mother) particularly in the early years of a child’s life.  Of course this is to be rejected by those who insist such roles are arbitrary and even completely unnecessary, and that children can just as well (or even better!) raised in a pre-school collective as in the home with their actual mother.

To those mothers who might read this and realize that they have hurt their children because they weren’t there for them in the way they needed to be, we must be quick to speak forgiveness.  Multiple generations have been lied to about what is good and healthy, based on nothing more than ideology.  We are always prone to being misled in one direction or another, sometimes to harmful ends.  Research and articles like this are not cited in order to condemn, but rather as a means of encouraging current and future generations to think carefully about the choices they make and why, because they may have long-term repercussions.


Yay, Insurance!

November 3, 2017

So, if you’re wondering some of the upshots of mandatory health insurance coverage, consider all of the possibilities waiting to be added to the list of covered procedures.  Your still-rapidly-increasing-premiums could one day – soon apparently – be funding things such as uterus implants and pregnancy care for people born male but who have decided they want to be female instead.

It’s really great that as increasingly controversial treatments and procedures are innovated, we are being given less and less freedom to reject these things personally in terms of our finances.  I strongly suspect that if we had the freedom to pick and choose, these sorts of procedures wouldn’t find a whole lot of support in the free market system.

Inconvenient Truths

October 28, 2017

Common sense says that a child needs their parents.  Common sense says that a child would have a special bond with the mother that has carried him or her for nine or more months.  Common sense would say that this bond is unique and special and should be honored.

Common sense is really inconvenient to ideology, however.  And sometimes, so is science.

The author of a book detailing how important it is for mothers to be primary caregivers for the first three years of their child’s life is being shunned by liberals dismayed at her scientific findings.  No matter that the author herself is ideologically liberal.   The problem is that she validates an inconvenient truth in the continuing war on motherhood (and parenthood in general).  Parents matter.  Mothers matter.  Mothers and fathers are not created equal but both are necessary in order to provide children with the best possible circumstances in their most vulnerable years of life.  Replacing mothers and fathers with younger and younger pre-school and early childhood caregivers has potential long-term consequences that have nothing to do with the collective good intentions of all involved but everything to do with how we are created.


Because Science

October 26, 2017

I love this comic (though it is not always entirely child friendly).

I often talk with people who have been raised or who have self-educated themselves to assume that science has things all figured out.  We evolved from nothing.  Random chance.  Statistics.  How do we know these things?  Because we have it all figured out.  We know the timeline.  These people sometimes talk as though everything has been nailed down solid, as opposed to us squishy people of faith who don’t have facts to back us up.

The reality is that natural selection and evolutionary theory are far from proven, and far, far less nailed down than grade-school or grad school science teachers would like their charges to think.  Even among those who still think that evolution and natural selection are an adequate description of how and why we’re here, there are constantly evolving ideas and facts based on new data.

Just this week, we have data that challenges the accepted timeline of human evolution (or, more likely, challenging questions about how we date things).  Fossilized teeth in Germany are millions of years older than teeth that they are apparently quite similar to – but only known in Africa.  And another article asserts that saber-toothed animals were around a lot longer than scientists originally thought – and may also be linked to similar animals in North America.

In other words, the facts aren’t always the facts.  Natural selection and evolutionary theory remain interesting theories, but are hardly the set-in-stone Truths that some people would like others to believe they are.


Who Is Mistaken?

October 24, 2017

So, as I understand evolutionary theory and/or natural selection theory, it works something like this.  A series of genetic changes – purely random and by chance – over immense periods of time have resulted in all of the living organisms in the world.  Each one the product of millions of years of natural selection and evolutionary mutation.

Yet, in the comparatively few years since we have been able to really study genes and map them, we’ve developed a tool that can correct the errors in our genes.


We know enough in a few short years of working with genes to safely decide that we can begin editing the genetic code for life?  That we can simply snip off the naughty genes and give us diseases?  That we understand completely how this incredibly complex set of data interacts with itself to create us?

I don’t doubt that we can edit our genetic sequences.  But I’m so totally not convinced that we know enough to start doing this.  And the thought that there are very intelligent people out there who are perfectly comfortable with this idea is terrifying.